Thursday, July 26, 2012

A ribligious experience

I love ribs. The kind that are slowly smoked, lovingly basted in gooey barbecue sauce and, by the time they get to my plate, falling off the bone. Woodfire Chicken and Pasta in Deerfield used to have these ribs, and for the low, low price of $11.99 for a half slab. Sadly, they went out of business this March and I have since searched in vain for a replacement. Carson's was overpriced and dry. Real Urban BBQ in Highland Park was fine (the burnt ends brisket sandwich was a force to be reckoned with however). Player's Grill was equally unsatisfactory: too much grease, not enough flavor.
Then today, my dad asked his colleague and friend who lives in the area if he knew of any good rib joints and we were directed to L. Woods in Lincolnwood. Despite some faulty directions from Google Maps and the fact that they didn't have a table ready in time for our reservation, I would describe the evening as a total success.
The host staff was apologetic about the fact that our table wasn't ready and the hostess who seated us did everything in our power to make sure we were happy. Our waitress did forget my lemonade but none of that mattered when our ribs arrived. My dad ordered a half slab of the dry rub and I ordered a half slab of the classic baby back ($16.99 each).
Biting into these ribs was like sitting down in a favorite chair: you're immediately comfortable and you never want to leave. The meat was juicy and tender and the ends were just the right amount of charred. The barbecue sauce was extremely thick and sweet with a surprising back burn that offered the perfect amount of heat. It stuck to my hands and my face and I was only too happy to lick it off. It was so good I even put it on my green beans. The dry rub was equally good: smoky and savory, but completely disappeared when paired with the barbecue sauce. It would have been more fun with a bolder rub that not only stood up to the sauce but played along with.
The steamed green beans we ordered were plentiful and perfectly cooked: still slightly crunchy and bright green. There were a bunch of other things on the menu I would have ordered, like the BBQ planked salmon or the Cajun chicken sandwich with blue cheese sauce, but the ribs were so good I honestly think I'll never try anything else.
Friendly to vegetarians L. Woods is not, but the food is well-prepared and the staff is intent upon making sure the customer is happy.
We left dinner feeling the comfort that only a good rib dinner can bestow and my only complaint is that I can't fit a full slab in my stomach.

Four smoky, sizzling stars.

Monday, July 23, 2012

But why is the rum gone?

Rum, glorious rum. Without question one of the greatest liquors there is (ties with bourbon). Aside from it's more obvious properties, rum is fantastic in desserts. You can use it to light shit on fire (also known in fancy terms as "flambé" which means flamed en Francais) and also to flavor things. Rum is ridiculously versatile in this way: it works well paired with fruit, chocolate or even aromatics. In this case, I'm talking about the already demonic combination of chocolate and mint. Girl Scouts came close with Thin Mints but this cake one-ups those cookies in a big way with the badass addition of, you guessed it, rum. This recipe is sort of time consuming in that you have to make one batter but tint it two different colors, one with cocoa powder and one with green food coloring. This isn't really such a big deal but it does mean you have to wash an extra bowl. Or you can get your house elf to do it. This recipe comes from that previously mentioned, ultra-bomb cookbook All Cakes Considered, and I changed it a tiny bit by adding more peppermint extract and cocoa powder for a higher intensity of flavor. Feel free to add more rum as well, but not so much that the flavor becomes overpowering. Also resist the urge to dump in tons of food coloring. No one wants to eat a cake that's Grinch-colored.

12-cup Bundt pan or 10-inch tube pan
Extra mixing bowl

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 sticks (1 c.) butter at room temperature
4 large eggs
3 1/2 c. sifted cake flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. milk
2 1/2 tsp. peppermint flavoring or extract
1/2 tsp. green food coloring
2 tsp. rum

1. Center a rack and preheat the oven to 350 F. Prepare the pan.
2. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar and all of the cocoa. Set aside.
3. Cream the butter and the sugar at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. In a separate bowl, dry whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together.
5. With the mixer on low, add 1 cup of the flour mixture, beat, then add 1/3 cup of the milk and beat again. Repeat until all of the flour mixture and milk are blended into batter. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Pour half of the batter into a clean medium bowl. Add the peppermint flavoring and the food coloring to one bowl of batter, mix well.
7. Pour two-thirds of the now green batter into the bottom of the cake pan. Set aside the remaining green batter.
8. Add the cocoa and sugar mixture to the yellow batter and add the rum. Beat until smooth.
9. Using your spatula, pour the chocolate flavored batter over the green batter in the cake pan.
10. Layer the remaining third of the green batter over the chocolate batter, then marble.
11. Bake for 1 hour. When the cake tests done, cool for 15-30 minutes in the pan before unmolding onto a cake rack.

On marbling:
Take a small spatula and cut through the middle of the batter ring to the bottom of the pan. Bring the spatula toward you and then up toward the side of the pan. Rotate the cake pan with your other hand and repeat. Do 2 rotations total, no more.