Author Archives: Ed

Sixty-40

by Ed

I love pork. Well the truth is I love almost every food product, but pork is indeed wonderful. It’s versatile, tastes great cured, roasted, and fried, and bacon tastes so good that I often chide my cooks that adding bacon to a new recipe is just lazy or cheating. Very few things taste bad with bacon. Actually I personally can’t think of anything that tastes bad with bacon, maybe caviar? But if I remember correctly I think the general Law of Bacon translates to:

Bacon= Awesome

Bacon > (meh)

(meh) + Bacon is always = or > (Good) and sometimes = Awesome therefore:

(meh) < (Anything) +(Bacon), which is either always = or > (Good) and quite possibly (Awesome)

Fortunately for me I’m not the the only one who feels this way and people as a whole have loved pork for quite sometime. The fact is that Pigs are one of the earliest domesticated animals in our history, and as with any product that is continuously bred for our tastes, the pork that we enjoy on our tables is constantly changing. A clear example of this is that the pork that we readily pick up at the supermarket today is 30% leaner than what people were able to enjoy as recently as in the 70s.

Luckily for us who fall under the banner of “a leaner pig is a less tasty pig”, there has always been a stubborn and small group of renegade farmers resistant to the call for ”[an]Other white meat”. Refusing to allow what we now consider heritage breeds to fall to the wayside, these farmers have continued to raise pigs based on flavor rather than other values, such as the ability to be quickly brought to slaughter or the procurement of a leaner meat. In the past decade or so the demand for pork with the old flavor has surged, and it’s encouraging to see a growing group of farmers dedicated to this movement, like Faith’s Farm.

One of the perks of owning a restaurant is that you get invited to some pretty amazing events. Recently the Ruxbin crew was invited to Faith’s Farm for their 3rd Annual Butcher & Booze event. The purpose of the event was to get like-minded restaurants together to share their thoughts on farm to table products and the local food movement.

A quick note on Faith’s Farm. Faith’s Farm is one of those stubborn farms that decided to raise an old-fashioned pig, and in their own words, proudly and rightfully, proclaim “All our livestock is raised the old fashion way: on free-range pasture that is not chemically treated….. They are raised with a gentle and humane hand. ” Faith’s Farm, located in Bonfield, IL is a 90 minute drive from Chicago, two hours away if you’re prone to getting lost like I am. It’s run by a woman named Kim, one of the most hospitable and strongest-willed people I’ve met. Kim turned her back to a white-collar job and willed a succesful farm into existence with basically no experience and what I presume must have been an amazing combination of grit, gumption and determination. If you’ve ever read a Michael Pollan book, imagine one of those ideal bucolic farms he profiles that are sustainable and hell-bent to be the opposite of so many of the nightmarish factory farms in our country, and that’s what Kim has been able to create with Faith’s Farm.

At the farm one of the main events was the live slaughtering and butchering of both a lamb and a hog. Watching an animal slaughtered can be a harrowing experience and there is little joy to be found in the macabre event. Even so, the organizers felt that witnessing a slaughter first- hand was important because it has the ability to bring a much greater appreciation and understanding of how food products that we’re so familiar with, under the best circumstances, reaches our table, I agree.

The Hampshire-Berkshire Hog, right before the slaughter

The hog that was chosen was a magnificent animal. A crossbred Hampshire-Berkshire hog, obviously well fed and taken care of. Taken away from his group for the first time, the hog was clearly distressed. Taking note of this, Kim ordered that the hog be quickly put down, and he was taken down swiftly with a bolt to the head.

Sam, after the slaughter, showing us how to butcher a whole hog

Next we saw the pig being butchered. Under the skilled hands of Sam, the butcher, a hog that weighed nearly 300 lbs was quickly skinned and broken down into primal cuts in less than an hour. To put this in perspective, it can take me up to 20 minutes just to skin a large pork belly. The skill and craftmanship of Sam, bluntly put, was breath-taking. After the pork was broken down, we took a tour of Faith’s Farm, had a potluck dinner, enjoyed some booze, made some friends, and at the end of night we were given a very generous parting gift: whatever parts of the hog we would like.

For a restaurant Ruxbin unfortunately has very little refrigeration (no walk-in, reach-ins and lowboys only, in an apartment sized kitchen), and at the time we only had one menu item that used pork, our pork belly salad. I already had a fresh pork belly ready to cure in the fridge and wasn’t sure that if I picked up more I’d be able to sell it before it all went bad. I also knew we only had space for a couple pork-chops and a slab of pork belly. So in the end, that’s what we took.

Sun-burnt and tired from the day’s events we drove home giddy with the pork we were able to take home. The next day, with a clearer head after a good night’s sleep, I was able to take a better look at the pork belly that Kim had so generously given to us. I knew this was a good product, but under the flourescent lights of our kitchen, laying next to the pork belly that I had picked up from another purveyor, it was pretty mind-blowing to see the difference between the two. Kim’s pork belly had more layers of fat and meat. In Korea there is a prized pork belly known as “Heuk Dehji” which is loved for its five layers of meat and fat. Faith Farm’s pork belly made the prized “Heuk Dehji” seem homely, and our other pork belly emaciated.

So for the next week, unbeknownst to our customers, for the same price they were able to enjoy both a product who’s food cost would have nearly doubled what they were paying, and the finest specimen of pork belly that I or any of my cooks had ever worked with. Being able to do this as a cook brought my staff and I a lot of joy. There’s something beautiful about being able to send out a product that you know is wonderful, and allowing a guest to experience it unfettered of any grandiose background. Let the product speak for itself.

As Friday came that week, in the middle of our rush, the last portions of Faith Farm’s wonderful pork belly was coming to an end. I asked Gabe, who was working garde manger that day, how many orders we had left, and he responded “two orders, Chef”. From the corner of my eye I could see that the 2nd to last serving being plated was a generous portion of pork belly, so much so that I was about to have Gabe cut the portion down, but I stopped myself thinking that the end

to such a wonderful product should be celebratory and why not knock their socks off.

Of course that was the first Pork Belly Salad that has ever come back to our kitchen not fully devoured. I grilled the server what the problem was and she explained, with a look that could only be described as confused, that the table had said “the pork belly was too fatty and that they wanted a portion with less fat”. At this point you might expect the kitchen to be angered by such a response, but we found ourselves just laughing and incredulous. How could this be? “And no”, I said to the server “I will not send them another pork belly.” Instead I sent our expediter, Nate, to talk to the table and explain to them the origins of the pork belly we had just sent them, and to maybe clear up any misunderstanding they may have of the product. Maybe they hadn’t realized that pork belly was basically a generous portion of bacon. Minutes later, Nate came back with a grin that resembled a grimace. He informed me that the table upon his explanation responded that not only were they quite familiar with pork belly but they had much finer pork belly at many other establishments in Chicago, and that a proper pork belly should have a ratio of sixty-40, meat to fat. Gabe and I soon had a grin that resembled the one plastered on Nate’s face. This reaction was elicited by the fact that: 1. I, and any of my staff, would swear on nearly anything that you could not procure a better raw product than the one Kim had given us, and 2. neither I, nor any of my staff, had ever heard of this vaunted ratio of sixty-40.

Throughout the rest of service we joked amongst ourselves and even started using “sixty-40″ as a punchline. Sometimes the only proper response to a situation is to just try to laugh it off. The truth is I wasn’t able to laugh it off, and later that night I started to wonder how the customer had come up with this ratio. Disturbed by the experience, unable to sleep, I decided to google sixty-40 and see if it had any relation to pork belly. What I found with some quick digging is that it is possible to order pork belly at a sixty-40 ratio, which made me pause and think “maybe that table was right”, but then I started to google Berkshire Hogs and here’s what I found:

A standard Berkshire hog should have 2 to 3 times the amount of intramuscular fat that a standard commodity hog would have, and in general is a much fatter pig than the ones people in the U.S. have become accustomed to.

If that’s the case, then it seems logical that a Berkshire hog’s belly would have a much higher ratio of fat to meat, much higher than the ratio of sixty-40 that our disgruntled table had expected. So what does this mean? I may be wrong, but this is what I believe: Sixty-40 is a standard that may have come about due to the leaner hog. It is not de facto, but maybe should be more correctly understood as the minimum requirement. And yes, maybe pork belly that is sixty-40 is what people have come to expect, but that doesn’t mean that such a ratio is what’s best. As a cook, as a chef, I’ve come to believe that predetermined notions and bias should often be put to the wayside, and a better question to ask when any of us have a particular dish or meal is not whether or not it meets a predetermined standard of quality, but whether or not it is satisfying. Did it make me happy, did I think it was tasty, or maybe even delicious. Food should be enjoyed on a visceral level, and not be judged like a dog show awarding points based on a “breed standard”.

I know in my heart that the pork belly we served was exceptional, that the fat on that once happy pig was cleaner and more unctuous than any other pork belly that I had ever had. And yes, the fat to meat ratio was generously beyond sixty-40, but that should be expected because anything that is exceptional will naturally break any silly standard or mold.

And so “sixty-40″ has become a code word in our kitchen, it means “the minimum requirement” and in our kitchen if something is “sixty-40″ that means that you better get back at it, because if you just put in the minimum requirement that means you did things half-assed, you didn’t put your heart into it, and you didn’t try your best. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned working in the restaurant industry is that there are very few things that are meaningful in the kitchen, and in life, that can be accomplished with the minimum requirement.

With the minimum requirement Kim would never have been able to create Faith’s Farm. If Kim strived only to meet the industry standard of quality, if she didn’t push to make Faith’s Farm a place whose own standards were far above the industry norm, her pork and other produce would never have become what it is today: exceptional. In that same way, I hope that everyone at Ruxbin never settles for “sixty-40″, and instead I hope we strive and continue to push ourselves to be, in our own way, exceptional.

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So Long, and Thanks for all the Trout

by Ed

Today, we’ve approached our first year anniversary  here at Ruxbin, and it’s amazing how much has taken place in the year. There’s so much that I’m thankful for, from our reception by the public, the positive press that we’ve garnered, our continual growth and maturity as a restaurant, to the fact that in an economy that isn’t in the best of times we’re still here, and not just surviving, but in many ways thriving.

Our success has been manifold, from the staff to the decor, from blind luck to naivety, to our loyal regulars and the overall positive reaction to our food. Which brings me to the point of this post: Trout.

From the onset of Ruxbin there has been one entree that has been with us from day 1, and that has been our Pan-Seared Trout.  Trout quickly became one of our signature dishes, and (in no small part through the imploring of our customers) is the only entree that has survived each menu change.

It’s a dish that I love for a number of reasons:

1. It takes a relatively common fish and treats it with the care and attention that would normally be shown to a protein of more exotic and/or greater value. For example, we fabricate the fish in a manner similar to that of sashimi and we pan sear it like one would a filet of Dover Sole.

2. It’s a dish composed of relatively simple ingredients whose sum becomes greater than its individual parts.

3.  It tastes pretty damn good.  As one of my cooks said “the dates, bulgur, and trout might not be a traditional combination, but tastes like it should be” (and that is a mighty fine compliment).

The trout has been one of Ruxbin’s standards, and if I were to personify it, it’s been a great friend to us. It’s been with us from the beginning, through thick and thin. With all that being said as we continue to grow and mature as a kitchen, there comes a time when we have to retire a dish to make room for others.  So as we’re at the one year mark, and especially when we feel that a dish is no longer evolving, it becomes clear that we should say good-bye, for the time being, to our dear friend.  In celebration of this transition, this will be our last week of trout. And as a thank you to all those who loved this dish, I’ve posted the recipe, as well as a few photos that show part of the process that we go through to get this “common” fish to your plate.

Trout has been cleaned and filleted, and is now ready for pin-boning

40 orders of trout, depending on how fast you are this can kill your prep time, taking from anywhere to 40 mins if you're fast, and up to 90 mins if you're a slow poke

This is the light at the end of the tunnel: Trout has been portioned, 4 oz each, and is ready for either the pan or the fridge

1. Check if the skin has become crispy 2.Push flesh down with a spoon so that the entirety of the skin is in direct contact with the pan 3. Move fillets around the pan so that cooking is even throughout

We've found that the key to an extra crispy skin is that you need someone standing behind you, arms crossed, looking slightly bored. (In this pic Jason's doing his best to fill this important role.)

Accoutrements for our beloved trout

Finishing the plate you can get fancy with tweezers and spoons, but if you're at home feel free to use your fingers.

RECIPE  for PAN-SEARED TROUT w/BULGUR WHEAT TABOULEH, ASPARAGUS & DATES       yields 1 entree

TROUT (protein portion)

4 oz            Trout (filleted, belly trimmed, scaled and pin-boned, cut into 2 pieces)

1 T              Canola oil/olive oil blend

2  T             Butter

1/8 ea        Lemon (Wedge)

3 sprigs      Thyme

1 t                Shallots (finely chopped)

Procedure:

1. Place saute pan on high heat, and wait for it the pan to get smoking hot, you literally need to see smoke coming off the pan.

2. Have your trout ready by your side, and lightly season the skin of the trout with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the pan, swirl the oil around so that the pan is evenly coated, and wait until the oil has the same viscosity as water.

3. Gently skim the surface of the pan with one of your trout fillets, if the skin is starting to stick this means that the oil is not hot enough, if it doesn’t, lay the fillet in the pan. Repeat with your other fillets.

4. With a spoon gently press the flesh of the trout down so that there is even contact with the skin of the trout and the pan.

5. As the skin crisps up lightly season the flesh of the trout with salt and pepper.

6. Crush the thyme with your hand and add it to the pan, be careful as the thyme will pop as you add it to the pan, tilt the pan away from you so that you don’t get too many splatter burns.

6. After about 45 seconds, attempt to lift the fillet off the pan with a spoon. If it sticks that means it is not ready, don’t worry, have some patience, the skin will release when its ready. If the fillet releases look underneath it to gauge how crispy the skin looks, if the skin resembles the top of a creme brulee its ready for the next step.

7. Add butter to the saute pan, and swirl. Lift the fillets so that the butter can get underneath the skin of the trout. The butter will turn the skin a golden brown, and will regulate the temperature of the pan.

8. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the pan, and place rind in the pan as well, be careful as this will case splatter as well, so if you have a gas range momentarily turn off the heat and than put it back on, otherwise you’ll end up flambéing your trout.

9.  Add shallots to the pan, quickly spoon the brown butter in your pan over the trout fillets until the flesh is no longer translucent and has become an opaque white.

10. Remove fillets from the pan, skin side up, and pour the contents of the pan onto the fillets.

11. Dry fillets with a paper towel, and now your done with the protein portion.

BULGUR WHEAT TABOULEH (starch protion)

2/3  C  Bulgur Wheat (cook according to directions, and cool)

1 ea      Green Onion (chopped along a bias)

1 t         Sesame Seeds (Black)

1 t         Shallots (finely chopped)

1 T        Red Onion (chopped)

1 t          Lemon Juice

1 T         Butter

Procedure:

1. Place saute pan under high heat, and wait until it begins smoking.

2. Add butter, wait until it browns, and add the shallots, be careful that they don’t burn.

3.  Add Bulgur Wheat, flip the pan so that the Bulgur wheat is evenly coated with butter.

4. Add all other ingredients, add a dash of salt, and adjust for taste.

5. Bulgur is done when the grain becomes crispy on the outside, but still soft in the inside.

ASPARAGUS & DATES (vegetable portion)

3 ea     Asparagus ( bases gently peeled)

2 ea     Dried Dates ( rehydrated in hot water, for about 10 mins, and than halved)

1 t        Canola oil/Olive oil blend

1 t        Butter

1 t        Shallots

Procedure:

1.  In a hot saute pan, and wait until it shimmers.

2.  Add dates and wait until they brown, ~20 seconds.

3. In the same pan add the asparagus and wait until they become charred on at least one side.

4. Finish with butter and shallots, season lightly with salt.

BASIL OIL (sauce portion)

30 ea    Basil leaves

1 ea       Garlic, clove

A/N      Extra Virgin Olive oil

Procedure:

1.  Blanch Basil leaves in boiling water, less than 5 seconds, and than shock leaves in ice water.

2. Squeeze out as much water from the blanched basil as possible.

3. Place Basil in a blender with the garlic clove and add just enough oil so that basil can be blended until smooth.

4. Adjust with salt to your taste.

ASSEMBLY

1. Sauce plate first with a light drizzle of basil oil around the edges of your plate.

2.  Place Bulgur Tabouleh in the middle of your plate with cooked dates mixed in.

3.  Place finished trout on top of the tabouleh

4. Arrange asparagus so that it looks pretty on the plate

5. Put a light smear of the basil oil on the edge of each trout fillet.

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Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Note to self: Think twice before putting Chicken & Waffles on the menu!!

by Ed

Ruxbin's Chicken and Waffles

This post is a bit belated, as Chicken & Waffles have been off the menu for about a month now, but I was reminded of this sentiment when I ate at Boiler Room the other night and spoke to the chef, Cody, about how much Amish Chicken they were going through a week.

Cody told me they were going through about 3 cases a week. When we ran Chicken & Waffles, we went through 6 cases.

To put this in context:

Boiler Room seats at least twice as many people as Ruxbin, is incredibly busy and successful, and is open for lunch and dinner, whereas Ruxbin is only open for dinner. For the amount of services we’re open and the size of our space, that’s an insane amount of chicken.

It all started when I got the idea to do a riff on Chicken & Waffles for our fall menu.  The dish consisted of a pan roasted chicken breast, a cumin and cheddar waffle that was split, then stuffed with the leg and thigh which we would confit,  shred, and make nice and crispy in a saute pan, apple and red onion compote, and a savory citrus gravy. We thought it  would be fun and playful, and our fingers were crossed that people would like it.

People loved the dish, and it quickly became the crowd favorite, outpacing our second most popular entree 2:1.

To keep up with the demand we had to literally buy a case of Chicken every single day. It got to the point that we would have daily races to see who could break-down whole chickens the fastest, with me and our dishwasher/prep-cook, Andy, topping off the list, and constantly battling back and forth. We got so good that we could break down a whole case together in less than 8 minutes flat. That’s 24 chickens, both breasts and thighs removed, cleaned and squared off, divided among 2 highly motivated cooks, fabricating whole chickens at a rate of 40 seconds per chicken. To keep it fun we would make small wagers to see who could break down a case fastest, and I strongly believe that we would have gotten even faster if Andy didn’t lose his nerve in the end and back-out when I suggested that if he won I would agree to grow a mustache and if he lost he would shave his off.

At this point we were selling so much chicken that Vicki would bemoan the fact that we would need to have someone stationed just to slice the chicken breast as it came out of the oven during service.  I would half-joke that we probably sold more Chicken & Waffles than 90% of the Waffle houses in the city, and our protein cooler was quickly taken over by all the chicken wings, tenders, and the chicken carcasses that we didn’t have room for on our menu.

oh no!

Overwhelmed by this mountain of ever-growing chicken parts and not knowing what else to do, our solution was to try to consume it.  Staff meals had gone from a fairly balanced meal of protein, starch, and greens, to what just seemed like chicken, chicken, and more chicken.

Payton, one of our trusty line-cooks, was sick of making coleslaw everyday, I was sick of feeling like the head butcher of a chicken factory, Jenny was just plain sick of eating family meal, and in fear of her wasting away, I had to man-up and put an end to this whole Chicken madness.

This wasn’t an easy decision to come to; at this point there was a palpable fear that if we took Chicken & Waffles off our menu we would anger the masses. But I said to myself, “I am no slave to any one dish!”, and I finally found the courage to do so.

It also helped that as I was coming to this decision, in the middle of dinner service, the waffle maker broke down.

'twas a good and loyal waffle maker, who sacrificed itself for us

Perhaps he’ll make another cameo in the future.

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The Sum is greater…

by Ed, 1:15pm

There’s so much to do to try to get Ruxbin ready & open, and at times its been a bit overwhelming. Each day is flying by quicker than the last. And I find myself truly grasping what it means to be so busy that it feels like  “there’s not enough hours in the day.”

There was a point where I’d come home every-night with a to-do list that seemed never-ending, and I’d make it my objective to knock off 5-to-6 of those buggers off. More often than I like, I’ve come home at the end of the night, with only 1 of those tasks partially finished.

Case in point, our toilet in our bathroom has been precariously resting on shims for the past couple of weeks, as the tile surrounding it has been removed so that we could put in a new set. Well, yesterday someone got a little too frisky with the toilet and the wax seal that connects it to the waste line broke, creating a mini-disaster. No wax seal=No toilet= Big Problem, when you have a  bunch of people scrambling in the space to get the place open. We knew this needed to be dealt with right away so everything else I planned for the day was put on hold, and my hand was forced to start tiling that night and get the floor ready so that it could be in working condition ASAP!! So instead of taking a nice break from manual labor and shopping for smallwares like I had planned, my day went like this:

3-4:45pm: Nate and I get our supplies ready and prepped, Nate cuts me some concrete backer-board for our sub-floor, and I finalize the measurements we need.

5pm: I start laying down the concrete backer board.

5pm-8pm: Going @ leisurely pace, seems like it’s going to be over soon

9:45-10:00pm: Stop and have a PB & J Sandwich, and stretch out my back.

12:35 am: Taking longer than expected, call Vicki & Jen for reinforcements, ask them to please bring food rations

1:15 am: Vicki and Jen arrive w/greasy burger and fries, and much needed extra hands for manual labor.

2:30-2:45am: Vicki becomes delirious, takes nap, wakes-up saying she’s refreshed, but still seems bonkers, we can tell she’s done for the night, and we send our fallen comrade home.

3:15-3:35am: Jenny & I layout the tile before grouting it, and Jenny points out that I’m making the task harder than it needs to be, and she creates an easier and better layout.

3:35-4:15am: Tile is layed and we wait for the quick-seal to dry.

4:15-4:45: Grout the tiles, and wait 30 mins to dry.

5:15-5:30: Clean off excess grout with wet sponge, and Jen and I take a sec to quickly admire our work.

5:45-6:05am: Jen & I can hear the birds chirping outside. We clean up our tools, slightly delirious and definitely slap-happy. We quickly pack up, and go home!

If I were alone in trying to get Ruxbin open, I’d liken it to a lone warrior trying to whittle down a mountain with a butter-knife.

Fortunately I’m not alone, and I’m grateful to have Vicki and Jen as my partners, 2 of the strongest-willed Amazonian warriors tackling the FOH (front-of-the-house), while I battle with getting the Kitchen up and running. We’ve also got a new addition and minor-miracle to Ruxbin: Nate Chung, who came to us as a talented artist who wanted to intern with us, and see first-hand what it takes to get a restaurant open. Over the past few weeks he’s become so much more than just a helpful-hand.  He’s been an invaluable asset, and very much a part of Ruxbin. Something I said to Nate after a particularly stressful day, and that I can honestly say to all my other partners “I love you guys, and you make the impossible, seem possible.”

I’d also like to send a quick shout out to:

Tony & Jason (for being a much needed Mentor and advisor)

Davide & the Salvage One Crew (for helping create an amazing canvas for us to work with)

Rog (for his enthusiasm, talent, and helping friends in need)

A couple of things we've been working on. (Left)- shaved Apple & Celery salad, w/ quatered Plum, baby Arugula, and a Meyer lemon vinagrette. (Right)- thyme & garlic rubbed Sirloin, w/ baby Radishes, Dandelion greens, and country mashed Dill potatoes

Tonight, I had the chance to take a quick breather and sit down in the banquette that runs along Ruxbin’s walls, and looking at the space, knowing the food and service we’re capable of, I felt at ease. We’re not quite there yet, but our opening is in sight, the space is taking shape, and with all the love and effort we’ve put, and we’re going to put into this place, I felt rejuvenated and excited. For that moment, my heart and mind are at peace, because I know that Ruxbin is going to be special.

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Green thumbs

Micro-green seeds bought on-line @ botanicalinterests.com

by Ed, 11:53am

Let’s preface this with the fact that I’ve never been a natural gardner, and in the past I’ve had the uncanny ability to kill most house-plants no matter how hardy the variety.  So today I enter this new venture with some trepidation. My new pet-project: Growing Micro-greens for Ruxbin.

So what are Micro-greens? Micro-greens are kind-of like the in-between of sprouts (ie alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts) and the baby lettuces that most people are familiar with.

Generally speaking, sprouts have just grown their first set of leaves while microgreens are older and have grown four or more leaves. Also sprouts don’t need sunlight while most microgreens do. The next step for some kinds of microgreens would be the baby greens we find in the popular mesclun salad mixes  (http://www.rawfoodunderground.com/glossary.html)

These guys pack a lot of flavor in a little package, and are quite beautiful visually. In restaurants they’re often used as garnishes, and among the health-food heads they’re coveted for the amount of nutrients that they carry.

There’s a few reasons why I’ve chosen to grow micro-greens:

  1. They can be grown in-doors, at any time, (don’t have to worry about the unpredictable Chicago weather)
  2. They don’t take too much room
  3. They grow really quickly, estimated harvest time of 14-25 days

From everything that I’ve read Micro-greens are pretty easy to grow so I’ve included a few pics of my set-up, so that anyone interested can follow along.  If you guys have any questions please ask, and if you have any suggestions I’m all ears.

1. Get a 11"x 20" plastic tray (no holes) and fill all with water, just enough so that the grooves are filled, but not enough so that the water is pooling throughout the container (all growing supplies purchased @ Brew & Grow, Chicago)

2. Insert a 11" x 20" x 1/8" cellulose grow mat, and place about 2 Tbsp of Micro-green seeds evenly through-out the mat, spray the seeds with a fine-mist of water

3. Spray the inside of a humdity dome with a fine mist of water and cover the planter

4. Cover enclosed seeds with a cloth for the next 2 days near a warm space, spraying them with a light mist of water twice a day, and keep fingers crossed that they'll sprout.

I’ll post updates on whether or not this works, and if they sprout I’ll be documenting the next steps!

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Trust Me…

by Ed, 1:16pm

When I was seven and grandma watched us while our parents were at work, I would do little experiments in the kitchen with Vicki as my designated taste-tester and sous chef. One of the more infamous experiments was when I decided to toast a hot-dog bun, slathered it with butter and sugar, and topped it with soy-sauce. Despite her protests I was able to convince Vicki to eat it, and not surprisingly she gagged.

For all those culinary disasters, there were also some early successes, like when we would microwave bologna, just to the point that it curled up on its sides, stuff it with sushi rice, put a little kimchi in there, and then giddily eat it as a “Korean taco”. To a 7 and 5 year old, paired with a frosty-glass of barley tea, and watching “Reading Rainbow“,  that’s about as good as it gets.

The reason that I bring this up is that every once in a while, when I announce a new dish idea to Vicki, I can see that look in her eye that means she’s remembering the taste of that salty-sweet hot dog bun. Today was one of those instances.

So I’ve been working on the menu, and specifically I needed to create a signature fish dish that was both light and hearty. I mentioned the idea of doing Halibut, paired with a kimchi and pork-belly broth, to Vicki, and by her reaction of “Uhmm….Okay”,  it didn’t take a mind-reader to tell that she was doubtful that I would be able to pull it off. To be fair, when I first told Jenny about the dish, she was a bit skeptical as well. My reaction,”Trust me…it’ll work.”

Tastes like this

So here’s where my head’s at. I want to create a fish dish that evokes and reminds of a wooded forest. At the same time I want this dish to be light, and hearty, like crisp autumn air, yet with enough depth that it could sustain a lumberjack. So I’m thinking Halibut, pan seared, with lots of thyme. Halibut is a hearty fish that has a very clean flavor, and I want to give the dish more character by adding something that has a bit of punch, but not so much piquancy that it sets the mouth on fire.

Halibut- Not so pretty to look at, but tasty to eat

My 1st step is to make a kimchi broth, by braising pork-belly with kimchi, kimchi pickling juice, a little ginger, and chicken broth. After the pork-belly is nice and soft, I pull it out and then strain the resulting liquid. I then reduce the liquid to about 1/2 so that I’m able to attain a nice body in the kimchi broth. Having introduced the chicken stock, the kimchi broth has lost a lot of its fire/spiciness, but still has enough heat to remind you that its there.

Making kimchi, and no, I'm not related to these lovely ladies

The next step I take is to add a starch element to the dish. This dish is meant to be rustic, so I go with Yukon golds that I bake until light and fluffy , and then I crush them gently with a fork.

The last element is a vegetable component, and although mushrooms aren’t really vegetables, I know that they’ll be the perfect accompaniment to the dish. Plus, I had just recently gotten my hands on some beautiful mushrooms, donated by our generous friend Roger, and I couldn’t let them go to waste. I clean and reserve these mushrooms, and I’ll cook them a’ la minute in a hot pan with a lot of room so that they can get nice and crispy with thyme, and a garlic clove, to bring out their woody flavor.

So here’s how it went:

I heat up the broth, and then take the reserved pork belly and some fresh kimchi and  brunoise them, which roughly means small perfect cubes. I add the pork-belly to the broth, and place it over low heat, so that it can warm up. I fire up the burners and in one pan I start searing the halibut. In another pan I start sautéing the mushrooms. At the same time I throw the potatoes that I fluffed, into the oven so that they can get nice and toasty. When all is done, I start composing my plate. In a small pasta bowl, I lay down my pork-belly and kimchi brunoise. I then pour my kimchi broth, that I’ve brightened up  with chopped cilantro, so that it fills 1/3 of the bowl. On top of this I lay my potatoes in the middle, and then circle the potatoes with my mushrooms. Last I lay the Halibut, which after searing I lightly smeared with a delicate-horseradish mustard and a sprinkling of toasted bread-crumbs, just to add a little crunch on top.

Heres the dish, minus the bread crumbs. Note to Self: I need to get a better camera, and maybe take a photography class.

Vicki looks at the dish and expecting a stew, is pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t look how she imagined. I take a taste, and I’m excited by its flavor. This is a dish that is French in technique, European and Korean in ingredients, yet captures a feeling that is both pleasantly unique and familiar. To me it’s a dish that could have only been made with the influence of different cultures and continents. It’s not forced together, it makes sense, and because of this, it’s wholly American.

Vicki tastes it, and I wait for her reaction. She smiles, takes a small leap while simultaneously clapping her hands, and tells me what I’m already thinking “This is going on the menu.”

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Who’da thunk? Pt. 2

by Ed, 12:47 pm

It’s been a roller-coaster the past few days at Ruxbin, trying to figure out how to fix the dining-room floor. After seeing the carpet under the wood-floors first hand, my first inclination was to run over to the hardware store, pick up some crowbars and start yanking out the boards.  Vicki started having 2nd thoughts about this approach, (I think it started happening after she saw me looking up DIY Youtube videos), and both her and Jen were concerned that I might just make the situation worse.  Thankfully my 2 partners went to consult Mozart and he was able to send a member from his crew, Ian, to asses the situation.

Ian Coming up with a Plan

So with Ian as our guide we were able to come up with a plan that made sense. Jen, Vicki, and I would spend the next few days ripping up the floorboards as gently as possible, salvaging as much as we could, (which would cut costs, and be in line with our desire to use reclaimed products as mush as possible) rip out the carpeting, prep the base floor as best we could, and at that point we would figure out how much new flooring we would need.

Hard at Work

Jenny like a proud mama showing off her first board, at this point we're still bright-eyed and bushy tailed

This board is screwed in tight with a 6" screw that has a stripped head, leading to a lot of frustration and heartache

Fast-forward, many hours later, a tired and disheveled man

It took Jenny and I all night, and in the end we were able to save about 70% of the wood-flooring. When Ian came the next day he saw what we had to work with, and where most would see a problem, or come up with a sloppy solution, he saw an opportunity. Ian is more than just a great craftsman, and he saw this as a chance to flex his artistry as well. Ian’s idea was to lay the walkway with woods stained in a variety of colors that would tie in thematically with the patchiness of the rest of the floors.

We started at 10 am the next day and truth-be-told, Ian did all the work. I just stood there and watched as the sawdust filled the air. The first thing Ian did was lay down a new sub-floor, and he suggested that if we wanted we could tag the boards up. We felt that this was a great chance to make Ruxbin just-that little bit more personal, and on the sub-floor, that few will ever see, Vicki, Ian, and I decided to sign our names, write down our hopes and wishes, ask for good-luck, and threw in a few quotes that Jenny sent us via text, which we thought were poignant.

An important message

A great quote

Well wishes from Ian "Best of Luck Ruxbin"

Breaking his back, and fueled on a handful of beef jerky, a bag of Sour Patch kids, and a 2 liter bottle of Dr.Pepper, Ian busted his butt to get the job done as soon as possible. 14 hours later he created something special:

Original Floors with Carpet Underneath

Sneak Peek

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