Hanging out in Rockford: A dinner for Uncorked

Hanging out in Rockford: A dinner for Uncorked

By Mike Leifheit, Columnist

Just about a year ago, a young woman called on me to take part in an event she was creating. It was to be called Uncorked In The Rock River Valley. It was to be a wine tasting, beer tasting and food event in Davis Park. At first, I had the normal knee-jerk reaction known to any restaurateur: run the other direction as fast as you can. But she was ultra persistent. She called on me and called on me, until finally I gave in.

The event, a fund-raiser for SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) of Northern Illinois, turned out to be quite a success. And although I swore off doing events of this type—”Get a good look at me because you will never see me doing this again,” I swore in the hot July sun, I am participating in the event again this year. It will be held July 26 in Davis Park. The list of entrants is impressive and includes most of the participants from last year. This year the River District is co-sponsor.

Under the influence of too many glasses of chardonnay, I call Megan (Gallagher), “I want to host a dinner for the liquor companies to hear about Uncorked,” I say. I am not sure if I am speaking too clearly, but she gets the general idea and agrees. A couple of days later, I realize what I have offered, and I call back to cement the plans. “I am going to cook for the event, and so I would like to do it at the Irish Rose in Rockton.” Again, she acquiesces.

I cook there regularly on Fridays and Saturdays, and I am more comfortable in that kitchen. I am not sure what I am going to prepare, and I think about it for a few days. I want to have several courses, and I know definitely that I want one of them to be fish. I am not sure about the meat course until I get kind of loaded and have lamb chops late one evening. (I get the most incredible lamb chops from Nea Agora on Taylor Street in Chicago.) My menu is beginning to take shape.

Tuesday I pick up chops from Eddy at the Nea Agora. Wednesday (the day of the event) I have to write the monthly bills and take my pictures of the motorcycle accident to B&H on 21st Street for enlargement. (I have court on Monday on my year-old motorcycle accident.) It is 3 o’clock by the time I finish all of this. I still haven’t finished the menu in my mind.

I stop at the 320 Store for some ingredients and ideas. Dennis is one of the few other Rockford people to go to the Chicago market, and his selection is phenomenal. I see some snap peas, and it gives me an idea. I pick up a pint of blueberries, some ginger and some yellow cherries. Then I grab a pint of orange cherry tomatoes. After I get to Rockton, I walk across the street to the Shopping Bag looking for chicken wings. I don’t find any, but instead grab a piece of extra sharp cheddar.

I have Jose start a cayenne pepper glaze. It’s an idea I stole from a Korean restaurant in Chicago. Theirs had sesame seeds, but I wasn’t able to get any one day, and I used garlic chives instead. I liked the result so much that I now do it all the time. I fry chunks of pork tenderloin (no chicken wings, remember?) and glaze them with the chive cayenne glaze for appetizers. Jose makes a soup of roasted chicken bones, colorful vegetables and cilantro. This will be our opening course.

I throw the blueberries in the food processor with a piece of ginger, some garlic, and a small amount of cilantro and puree until smooth. To finish the dressing, I add a small amount of olive oil and some salt. The salad itself consists of blanched snap peas and asparagus, the baby orange tomatoes and the yellow cherries, the colorful vegetables contrasting highly with the purple sauce. Then I whip up a batch of scratch egg noodles.

About this time, the guests start to arrive, Jim Beksel from Paramount is first, and I give him a sample of the candied pork. He really likes it and thinks it contains ginger. “Nope, no ginger,” I say. Then the rest of the group shows up—everybody but Megan. She calls to say she will be late. I make a joke of it to the crowd; we are all used to Megan. I head back to the kitchen. I still have a lot of work to do. More, next week.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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