Summer is winding down, you can tell by the way the light reflects off the ocean and sparkles like diamonds. The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler and family & friends are starting to make plans to head back to their year round homes. While we were craving a bit of Cape Cod in Chicago back in the Spring, we are now hankering for a bit of Chicago after two and half months of enjoying the bounty of fresh seafood that is available fresh from the ocean. Swordfish, Striped Bass, Halibut, Cod, Scallops, Clams, Oysters and, of course, Lobstah!! I have been remiss in posting, but I have been cooking up a storm, creating new recipes and taking lots of photos, so all that will be coming soon.
Just as the Cape is eponymous with seafood, Chicago is famous for it’s steak houses. There are endless choices from the national chains such as Ruth’s Chris, Smith & Wollensky, Mastro’s, Steak 48, Morton’s (though native to Chicago), to the locally born and bred Ditka’s, RPM Steak, Bavette’s, Swift & Sons, Gene & Georgetti, Chicago Chop House and, perhaps the most famous, Gibsons. While they are all great, the quintessential steak house experience continues to be Gibsons, which is frequented by the “high rollers, politicians and hookers” and the waiters bring out trays of raw steaks displaying the various cuts. When restaurants were closed for in person dining, Gibsons not only did take out, but began offering their prime steaks to purchase and cook at home. We enjoyed a number of them before departing to the Cape, so it was welcome news when I received an email announcing that they had started Gibsons Steak with nationwide shipping available and I promptly placed an order.
My shipment arrived just in time to host dinner the night before the Fall Member-Member, which has become a tradition this year having brought us luck the two prior times. My regular Monday game is with great friends Darlene, Lisa and Nell, and we were all playing as partners in the tournament (me with Darlene and Lisa with Nell), so I announced that Dennis and I would host the pre-tournament dinner as a Chicago Steakhouse theme and everyone was in. Lisa offered to make dessert, Nell said she would bring an appetizer, and Darlene said she would pack her PJ’s (it’s true!). I texted to let everyone know it would be casual, to which they responded “Too Late” . . . they were dressing up, wearing heels, jewelry and makeup… and the guys were wearing jackets, just like we would if we were going out to a steak house for real. A quick shoe change and lipstick application was in order.
We started with the classic “Seafood Tower”, or rather an abbreviated one with local Barnstable Oysters and Lobster Cocktail. Nell & Tim brought delicious Smoked Bluefish Pate and Ham Biscuits straight from their home in Virginia. The salad course was Tableside Caesar Salad with homemade croutons. Dennis cooked the steaks perfectly and I made the classic sides of Au Gratin Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus, Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, all served family style. Dennis selected a delicious Handwritten Coombesville Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a perfect pairing. We saved just enough room for Lisa’s incredible cheesecake with fresh berries and caramel sauce. (Shout out to fellow BC ’87 alum Jean Boyle Johnston for her mother Regina’s recipe). It was the perfect evening of fabulous friendship and so much fun! Both teams were in the money on skins and Darlene and I ended up winning the day prize on Sunday, so it was a lucky dinner indeed and the tradition has been firmly cemented.
UNION SQUARE CAFE AU GRATIN POTATOES (adapted)
- 4 Large Russet Potatoes scrubbed clean
- 1 Clove Garlic, peeled and cut in half
- 1 tsp Butter
- 3 Cups Heavy Cream
- 3 Cups Gruyere Cheese, grated (1 pound)
- 1/8 tsp Ground Nutmeg, preferably fresh
- 1/8 tsp Ground Cayenne Pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1/8 tsp White Pepper, or finely ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350*
- Lightly butter a large oval au gratin dish or oval roaster* or 9 x 13 pyrex dish.
- Rub the cut sides of the garlic around the pan. Discard the garlic.
- Whisk the cream with the spices together in a very large bowl.
- Using a mandolin** slice the potatoes paper thin (1 or 1 1/2 setting) and add to the cream mixture.
- Add the grated cheese to the potatoes and cheese and blend well.
- Pile the potatoes into the prepared dish (dishes), making sure the potatoes are stacked flat.
- Pour any leftover cream mixture over the potatoes.
- Place the potatoes in a larger roasting pan and add hot water halfway up the sides to create a Bain Marie.
- Bake for 2 hours until bubbly and golden brown. Check at 90 minutes to ensure they are not too brown, if so, cover with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.
- Allow to cool 15-20 minutes and serve.
- No need to buy potato brush or gloves . . . simply take out a brand new scrubby sponge and use the scrubber side to wash the potatoes, then use the sponge to wash your dishes.
- *I love the Apilco Deep Oval Roasters that I buy from Williams Sonoma. The #6 is perfect for this recipe.
- There’s no need to buy a fancy mandolin if you don’t own one. OXO makes a simple one that does the trick. Microplane makes Kevlar gloves that I highly recommend when working with a mandolin or microplanes to save your fingertips and nails from the razor sharp blades.
- If you are making ahead, cook the potatoes for 90 minutes, removed from oven and cover with foil until you are ready to pull dinner together. Place in a 350* oven for 30 minutes about an hour before you are ready to eat.
- 4 ounces Crimini Mushrooms, washed & sliced 1 cup
- 4 ounces Portobello Mushrooms, washed, halved & sliced 1 cup
- 4 ounces Shitake Mushrooms, washed, stemmed & sliced 1 cup
- 4 ounces Oyster, Trumpet or Chanterelle Mushrooms, washed & sliced 1 cup
- 4 TBSP Butter
- 2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive OIl
- 2 TBSP Minced Shallots (1 shallot)
- 4 Cloves Garlic, minced finely
- 1 1/2 tsp Fresh Rosemary, minced
- 1 1/2 tsp Fresh Thyme, minced
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
- 1/2 Cup Red Wine
- Melt butter with olive oil over medium low heat.
- Add shallots and sweat until just softened, making sure that the butter doesn't brown,
- Add mushrooms, increase heat to medium to medium high, stirring frequently.
- When mushrooms begin giving off liquid and are starting to brown, add the salt, pepper, herbs and garlic. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the wine and bring mixture to a boil.*
- Reduce heat to simmer and cook until most of the liquid has absorbed.
- Serve immediately.
- May be made ahead, but add half the wine and when the liquid has absorbed, remove from heat and cover. Just before ready to serve, bring to heat and add the remaining wine and bring to a simmer and serve.
- Use a damp paper towel to clean the mushrooms. Don’t rinse in water, as mushrooms will absorb the water and won’t absorb the butter, oil and spices as well.
- Use whatever blend of mushrooms you can find.