Frontera Grill (one of Rick Bayless's restaurants). All I got out of my mouth was "three restaurants together" and my other friend, Sam, turns around and says, "Are you talking about Rick Bayless? We're planning to go to Frontera on Tuesday and you should come." There's a reason that Sam and I get along so well. So, after several agonizing days, we finally made it to Frontera for lunch. Let me just say that it was worth the wait. It would have been worth the four hour drive to Chicago just to eat there. There were noises emanating from our table that I've never heard before... at least not in a public place. The menu changes every month, and Sam and I are already talking about making a trip to try the November menu. It started as a joke, but I think that both of us are somewhat serious.
After Frontera, the next stop on my food journey was The Spice House. I've been wanting to go there after reading Kalyn rave about it a few months ago. I would have also liked to take a trip out to Penzeys, but didn't have the time to get out to the suburbs on this trip. The Spice House was wonderful, and I was surprised that everything was very affordable (for quality spices, that is). I restrained myself from buying too much, but did get some rose water, sumac (I can't wait to try Kalyn's Chickpea soup), and their Greektown Billygoat seasoning blend that Lydia recommends (I love this stuff - I've used it on chicken, fish, and veggies already). To my surprise, Old Town Oil is right next door to The Spice House, so I had to duck my head in there. Oh. My. God. They have all kinds of oils and vinegars, and you can taste them all. Boy did I take advantage of that. I wanted to buy just about everything that they had, but finally settled on walnut oil and strawberry balsamic vinegar. There are going to be a lot of amazing salads in my near future.
I also visited the Green City Market on Wednesday morning. No matter where I am, I have to visit a farmers' market. Even if I can't buy anything, it's fun to visit, and I learn a lot about the city. I picked up some apples (from Michigan, of course) for the trip home, and also some Japanese sweet potatoes. I love sweet potatoes, so I was excited to try a new variety. They're a vibrant red on the outside, with a white interior that turns yellow soon after they're cut. I mentally wrestled with how I would prepare them, and finally decided to combine two dishes that I've enjoyed in the past: sweet potato and black bean hash (which I adapted from "Moosewood Restaurant New Classics") and sweet potato aloo gobi (from Dinner with Julie). The result was delicious. I should have bought another one of these sweet potato so that I could directly compare it with a "normal" one, but the main difference that I noticed is that these are starchier and didn't have as much moisture as other sweet potatoes. I enjoyed the flavor of them in this dish, but regular sweet potatoes would work beautifully as well.
Sweet potato, cauliflower, and bean saute (inspired by sweet potato and black bean hash and sweet potato aloo gobi)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large sweet potatoes (but not those giant mutant ones), cubed (peel if you want; I didn't)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 Tbsp cumin
salt to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (or 1 can; can substitute bean of your choice)
Heat oil over medium heat in a very large skillet. Add onion and cook until tender. Then stir in garlic, cook for an additional minute, and add sweet potatoes. Cover the skillet and cook for 5 minutes until sweet potatoes begin to get tender. Then add jalapeno, cauliflower, cumin, and salt, recover, and cook for another 5 min. Stir in beans, and continue to cook, covered, until sweet potato and cauliflower are soft (about 10 more min). Serves 4.