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Monday, July 18, 2016

A Birthday Dinner at Latour in Crystal Springs and Some Thoughts on Fine Dining

Today's restaurant review comes with a couple of philosophical (maybe that word is a bit hyperbolic?) questions.

What are you willing to do to get into an in-demand restaurant?  Will you take a reservation at a crazy time?  Will you wait for an hour or two to be seated?  Would you even bother to try to get a table?

How do you feel about letting a chef choose your entire meal?  Are you adventurous enough to eat a tasting menu entirely selected by the chef with little to no input from you about your preferences (unless you have allergies)?

These are some thoughts that went through my head when considering a restaurant for my recent birthday (holding steady at 29 for 17 years now).  My birthday fell on a Saturday night, which gave me the leisure to play with ideas of what to do and where to go.  I gathered ideas for the best Saturday night possible.

Have any of my readers watched the Netflix documentary series Chef's Table?  It had a huge influence on both my birthday plans and this post.  As I watched these endless biographies of chefs and their menu creations, I noticed a trend.  Most of these chefs weren't offering a menu.  If you wanted to eat at these Michelin-starred gastronomical powerhouses, you had better have a sense of adventure and be willing to give up your ability to choose. Diners eat what the chef is making that night.  Picky eaters need not apply.

I know plenty of restaurants who have tasting menus available.  One of my favorite restaurants The Iron Forge Inn offers one.  I tended to ignore them as they always featured at least two courses made up of food I don't like.  It didn't seem worth it to me.  Then I learned about Per Se from many of my foodie friends.  Here was a restaurant that was pure tasting.  There would be no choice - no non-fish, non-pea, non-beet options.  I had to eat what was in front of me and empty my wallet for it.  That never seemed like a good deal to me.  A tasting menu is too high a risk with potentially little reward.

Chef's Table had me briefly reconsidering this.  The first episode was about Dan Barber.  He is the proprietor and chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns (also featured on an episode of Top Chef).  The restaurant is the ultimate farm-to-table experience.  The restaurant sits on the massive agricultural center Barber put together himself using his knowledge of farming and agriculture. (Chef's Table has him explaining exactly how each area of the property is best suited for raising and feeding certain types of animals and the best spots to grow each vegetable.)  Everything you eat at Blue Hill was likely picked or raised right outside the door.  Unlike most of the restaurants featured on Chef's Table, it is located quite close to me (contrary to what they said on Top Chef, it is not "upstate" New York.  It's barely an hour north of NYC).   Maybe I should try to get a reservation for my birthday.  I had been curious about it since it opened in 2004.

The menu is a tasting menu the chef determines daily.  The menu can even change during the course of an evening if the kitchen runs out of a certain ingredient.  Would I be able to take that risk?  Would the food be as spectacular as everyone says it is?  What would I do if they presented something I knew I hated?  What if both Kevin and I hated it?  The price is over $200 per person.  That would be an expensive gamble.

I thought I should take the risk.  I should experience it at least once, right?

If you want to make an online reservation, you have to do it no more than 60 days in advance.  I was prepared.  My plan was was to go online at the 60 day mark and make the reservation as soon as I woke up.

I woke up at 5AM two months before my birthday.  I went straight to the computer and entered the date into the reservation request form.

It was too late.  There was nothing left for that night.

I guess if you want a reservation at Blue Hill, you have to get online at midnight.  It's like buying concert tickets (or Hamilton tickets).

Although Blue Hill isn't among the top restaurants in the world with impossible reservations, it does score honorable mention.  (Babbo is also on the honorable mention list in this link.  I remember trying to get reservations there years ago.  I got a reservation at 6PM on a Friday and my husband got the flu.  We were never able to reschedule and I gave up.)

I have tried to research ways to game the system.  There must be some shady ways out there to get these exclusive reservations, but no one is sharing them publicly.  The best I could do was put myself on a waiting list.

I'm not that patient.  I'm not that crafty.  I didn't want to have to make alternate plans and then have to cancel them at the last minute if a table at Blue Hill magically opened up.   I'm willing to substitute perfectly delicious food for food with a stratospheric reputation and nearly-transcendent tastes if it means I don't have to go through the trouble of bending over backwards for a reservation or waiting on long lines.

I deliberated where to go.  A Saturday means not waiting until you are home from work and not having to go to bed early to wake up for work the next day, so I could go a little farther from home.  What was a place with an excellent reputation that I really want to try?

I finally decided on Restaurant Latour.  It is part of a massive ski and golf resort that happens to sit across the street from where my horses live.   I made an excursion out of it and booked a room for the night at the nearby Alpine Haus. Latour is a farm-to-table restaurant where the restaurant is partnered with a local farm in the area and also has a chef's garden at the resort.  The restaurant is well-known for its extensive wine cellar.  The chef may not be a celebrity, but I'm always a bit skeptical about celebrity chef owned restaurants anyway.*

Latour offers a tasting menu, but there are two levels.  There is a 5-course menu where you have a few options for each course, and then there is also a chef's tasting menu ifor those who prefer to let the chef choose your entire meal for you.  That put me much more at ease about my meal.

We arrived on a beautiful summer evening.  From the club parking lot you can almost see the windows of the restaurant in the tower.  The shades are closed right now.

When we entered we had to check in at the hostess desk for the restaurant on the lower level.  She then called Latour and had their maitre d' (almost a performer) escort us in the elevator to the top floor.

I was surprised at how small the place was.  There are only 12 tables.  It gave an exclusive, but still intimate feel.  Not long after we sat down, they opened the shades, allowing us to see the sunset over the golf course and the mountains.

The staff was attentive and entertaining right from the beginning.  They saw to our every comfort and answered every question.

I decided to start my evening with a cocktail.  I chose one called, "Oh My Darling Lemon Thyme."  I had to choose that one.  How could I not want a drinkable pun?  I can only describe it as an alcoholic Arnold Palmer with assertive herbal notes of thyme and lavender.  It was unusual and not too sweet.  Note the sophisticated and environmentally-friendly reusable metal straw.


The menu is divided into 5 sections: Harvest, Sea, Aquatic, Grazing, Cheese and Dessert.  Our server asked if we had an allergies or strong aversions.  I felt a bit embarrassed, but I said I really do have a seafood aversion and would prefer not to have that course.  He said it would be no problem and I could just order a second vegetable course. I had to make some tough decisions with the meat course, but our server was on hand for recommendations.

I also opted for the wine pairings. Since Latour has an enormous wine cellar and I thought I should take advantage of it.  I could not have expected the adventure the restaurant would provide for me.

We started with an amusee bouche of a poached quail egg, a bit of crispy pork skin, and a tiny tomato.


Soon we began our first vegetable course. Mine was tiny heirloom carrots roasted with honey and topped with sugar roasted hazelnuts.  Dollops of homemade yogurt balanced the sweetness with acidity.


The dish was paired with a blend of Riesling and a German varietal from South Africa.  It miraculously started out sweet, but finished with a strong acidity.  It was an exciting wine that balanced the dish perfectly.

The next dish was ravioli flavored with cattail pollen and creme fraiche.  It walked the line of being too salty, but the pasta was perfectly cooked.

The wine was my favorite for the evening.  It was a sauvingon blanc called Sbragia.  (I had to make sure I had the name written down so I could look for it in the future).  Kevin had a sip (he didn't do the course pairing for his meal because he was driving) and loved it as well. It was light and acidic, but full-bodied at the same time.  The color was surprisingly yellow for a sauvignon blanc.

My next course was duck.  As I said, it was a hard decision as the lamb and the pork both sounded wonderful.  I think they had me at spaetzle though. This was a large chunk of muscovy duck breast with had an almost steak-like taste and consistency.  Along with the poppyseed spaetzle we had some sweet red cabbage and a mulberry puree.  I have had duck with many types of fruit, but never mulberries.

The wine was a US Zinfandel that started sweet, but had a mineral finish.  The consistency could almost be described as creamy.

Next we came to the cheese course.  I chose a Vermont cow's milk cheese that tasted like a combination of cheddar and parmesan.   A few cherries on the side balanced the salty sharpness.


The first wine they served me was a Rhone Valley Syrah/Grenache blend.  It was dark and full-bodied with a surprising, smoky aroma.  Although I liked the wine, it tended to kill the cheese when I drank it.  I thought it was an odd choice.  When I told the server, he became very embarrassed and realized he had served me the wrong wine.  It was the wine that was supposed to go with another diner's wagyu beef (I think it would be an excellent accompaniment to beef).  He exchanged it for Jelly Jar Zinfandel, which was lighter and fruitier and didn't cause me to forget what the cheese tasted like every time I took a sip.

Thank goodness these courses were all small because dessert was coming and I wanted to really enjoy it.

Then again, how could I not enjoy this?

This was like a cold, sophisticated candy bar.  There was a nougat center covered in dark chocolate sitting in a pool of caramel.  To the left you can see the crushed pretzels whose saltiness and crunch balanced the softness and sweetness of the chocolate.  The ice cream at the bottom is malt flavored.

My dessert wine.  I got tired of taking notes and took a photo instead.  They even poured a glass for Kevin.  I liked this because it was sweet without that weird syrupy flavor often present in dessert wines.

If that wasn't enough, they brought out this little plate of candies and petit fours for us.

I had way too much to drink to remember all the flavors here.

We arrived for a 7PM reservation and were heading to the car at 10PM.  This wasn't just a dinner.  It was an experience.  I didn't feel too full or too drunk because it was all so leisurely.  Yet I was never bored or impatient because the staff kept us so relaxed.  The food was creative and delicious, and the wine tasting was truly an adventure. 

I  hope to come back here again the next time the occasion warrants it.  Kevin said the next time we come here we have to stay at the resort so he doesn't have to drive and can get the wine pairing for himself. 


*That being said, my father is taking me to The Landmarc later this week for a late birthday dinner.  Landmarc is owned by a frequent Chopped Judge. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Little Late To Be Posting About Father's Day But...

Well, better late than never.

This year for Father's Day I made my first leg of lamb.  I have always wanted to try making one, but could never justify it.  While my husband has become far more adventurous with his food choices in the last few years (so much so I no longer feel justified in calling him Sir Pickypants), he still doesn't eat lamb.  I needed to have a big crowd over for dinner so I could have an excuse to cook a large amount of expensive meat.

Father's Day provided the perfect opportunity.  I had my father and brother over for dinner.  They will eat almost anything.  All I needed to do was make some chicken cutlets for the Hubs and my nephew (a true Pickypants if ever there was one). The rest of the family devoured the 5lbs of lamb with just enough leftovers for me to have for lunch for the next two days.

Roasting the lamb could not have been simpler.  I wish I hadn't waited so long to try it.

I rubbed it with a paste of garlic, rosemary, olive oil, lemon, and pepper and let it sit while it came to room temperature.  I roasted it at a high temperature for 15 minutes to get a nice brown crust on it.  Then I cooked it low and slow for two hours.

I did cook it longer than I should have.  I like my lamb medium-rare to medium.  This came out somewhere between medium and medium-well.  If it were beef I would have considered it ruined, but I like lamb cooked a bit more than I like my beef.  Lamb doesn't lose flavor the way beef does when you overcook it.

I served it with a chimichurri inspired mint sauce.

It was delicious.  My father and my brother both prefer their meat on the rare side and had no complaints about the overcooking.  My husband and nephew still stuck to the chicken cutlets, but at least Kevin tried spooning some of the sauce over his.

For dessert we had a strawberry pie topped with a pistachio crumble.  I got the recipe from Bon Appetit.

I did simple canapes before dinner.  I thinly sliced a baguette.  I topped some of the slices with butter, French breakfast radishes and Hawaiian red salt.  I topped some of the slices  with fresh goat cheese and shishito peppers.  The rest were topped with an egg salad seasoned with epazote.

Roast Boneless Leg of Lamb with Mint Chimuchurri

Ingredients

Lamb
  • 1 5lb leg of lamb, boned and tied
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 Tbl lemon juice
  • Few grinds of black pepper
  • Salt 
Chimichurri
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 2 Tbl fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 large shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil 
  • 2 tsp salt

Finely mince the garlic and rosemary together with the lemon zest to form a paste.  Mix with the olive oil and lemon juice.  Rub this all over the lamb.  Grind the black pepper over the lamb.  Allow to sit for 30-60 minutes until the lamb is at room temperature.

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place lamb in a roasting pan and roast 15 minutes.  Turn heat down to 350 degrees and roast about 30 minutes per pound.  You want it to reach between 125 and 145 degrees (medium rare to medium well).  Remove from oven and sprinkle all over with salt.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile make the sauce.  Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process into a smooth paste.

Serve the lamb with the sauce.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Restaurant Review: The Inn At Pound Ridge

My mother is doubly lucky in May.  Not only is it Mother's Day, but it's also her birthday month.  So twice in one month the entire family gets together for a special meal. 

This year she was hitting something of a landmark year, so the family wanted to take her someplace extra special.  We asked here where she most wanted to go.  We made sure to let her know that the choice was fully up to her and not to limit her imagination.  She chose the Inn At Pound Ridge.

I first heard of the Inn At Pound Ridge when I began planning my wedding 16 years ago.  I love country inn type restaurants and this was such a pretty place.  The price was high and from what I heard, the food wasn't in line with the price whether you were going there as a restaurant or an event venue.  I never thought about the place again.  I did occasionally see reviews on Yelp and similar sites when browsing area restaurants, but it wasn't highly regarded.  It was all atmosphere with little to recommend for food.  Eventually it closed.

Recently celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongeritchen bought the place and made his name among the chefs who have suburban outposts.  It became a destination restaurant for people from all over the area.  I'm glad Mom chose it because I wanted to finally try the place.

It's a pretty building that was built in 1833 as a residence.  Jean-Georges made some upgrades to the place, but kept much of its original charm intact such as the wide plank floorboard and beautiful beamed ceilings.
 The upper floor has a cleaner, modern look to it.  We were seated on the lower floor, which has more of a rustic "wine cellar" feel.  It opens up to a beautiful outdoor patio where you can sit back and enjoy a drink.  Unfortunately, there was a private event happening in the evening, so we couldn't go out there.
There are so many little corners and areas with special decorative touches throughout the restaurant and most spaces are heavily illuminated by candlelight.
We were seated on the lower floor because there were 9 of us and they had more space for larger parties on the bottom floor.  I wished I had said something when I made the reservation because my 90-year-old mother-in-law did not have an easy time with those stairs.  We were also rather squashed at our table.  They put 9 of us at a table made for 6.

Food and drink are what counts, so let's talk about that.

I started my evening with a cocktail.  This was a raspberry-lychee bellini.  I love proseco cocktails!


We got some appetizers for the table.  We had a platter of salami and homemade pickles and "ramp toast".  These were slices of toasted bread spread with ramps and goat cheese.  They were delicious.  The salumi plate was good, but what was really outstanding were the spicy pickles. They consisted of peppers, jicama, and cauliflower.  I want to learn how to make this myself.


For entree I had a pork chop wrapped in prosciutto with sauteed mushrooms on the side in a creamy white wine sauce.  You know how people complain about expensive restaurants serving small portions?  This was not the case here (although the fish portions were kind of small).

The food here had some kid-friendly options as well.  There was a burger on the main entree menu as well as a menu of pizzas.  My nephew, who has a list of about 6 foods he will eat, ordered a beef tenderloin and finished the whole thing - something I have never seen him do before.  

The dessert menu had plenty of excitement.  If you look carefully at this menu, you will see why I felt giddy and giggly for the rest of the meal.

I didn't order it for fear of a laughing fit that might disturb the other diners.  I opted for the salted caramel sundae.  It was caramel ice cream, caramel sauce, and caramel popcorn and peanuts.  This was also a huge portion. 

My niece and nephew had the doughnut plate.  I expected it to be mini doughnuts, but they were served 3 nearly full-sized doughnuts.

They also gave Mom a cupcake.  She was too full to eat it and the kids were too full to eat their doughnuts, so they requested to take the desserts home.  They actually gave us a claim check to pick up their desserts when they left.


Service was good.  We had an engaging and friendly waiter and the pace of dinner was leisurely, but not slow. 

My overall impression of the Inn At Pound Ridge is that is a beautiful place and an enjoyable experience, but the food isn't all that unique.  It is a farm-to-table restaurant and that is important and something that will always impress me, but I didn't eat anything that felt out of the ordinary.  It was a delicious meal, but I know a few other restaurants that would do one just like it.  I would definitely come back here though.  It was a pleasant evening with good food and that's always something to go back for.

I'm Bananas for Muffins

I considered making this post title simple and sedate and merely state what the recipe was for, but my never ending desire to create bad puns just won out.

Look, it's The Essential Rhubarb Pie.  Bad puns are just a part of what this blog is about.

I think the pun suits this post perfectly because today's recipe had a literary inspiration.  I always say that I sometimes take my inspiration from the strangest places.  I decided to create this recipe from just a simple passage in book.  Recently I read David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks.  If this book had been a story about women gathering in their kitchens and bonding over making muffins, the inspiration might make more sense.  The Bone Clocks isn't a book even tangentially about food.  It is a work of science fiction.

In one brief scene, an eager servant offers the main characters some banana cherry muffins.  When they don't accept the offer right away, he mentions the muffins contain white chocolate chips.

Suddenly instead of focusing on the plot of the novel, I focused on the food.  When you mention food, that's where I will always focus.

"Banana cherry muffins with white chocolate chips?" I asked myself.  "I think that sounds like something I should make."  For my entire life I have made banana bread and banana muffins with chocolate chips or nuts. Cherries and white chocolate would be like no other banana bread I have made before.  Even though I'm not that fond of white chocolate, I imagined they would go with the cherries nicely.

With the long weekend ahead of me and not many plans except for my mother's birthday dinner, it seemed like the perfect time to experiment with such a recipe.

I had some buttermilk left over from earlier in the week, so I looked at ways to adjust a banana bread recipe to contain buttermilk.  I played with a few other ingredients as well.  I soaked the cherries in rum for example and added a little bit more flour to compensate for the extra liquid.  I decided to add some brown sugar into the sugar mix to adjust the flavor even more.  I went back and forth with the idea of using fresh or dried cherries.  Fresh (or in this case frozen) won out.  I liked the idea of biting into a nice big juicy cherry instead of dealing with chewy dried ones.  If you're a maraschino cherry lover, they would probably work nicely in this recipe too.

They were dense, but still moist and tasty.  I think this recipe is a keeper.

Banana Cherry White Chocolate Muffins

Ingredients
  • 2 1/4 cups + 1 Tbl Flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 Tbl rum
  • 12 oz frozen cherries, thawed
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray muffin tins (I used one 12-cup and one 6-cup standard size) with cooking spray (or grease the old-fashioned way).

In a small bowl, toss cherries with the rum and set aside.  Toss the chocolate chips with 1 Tbl flour in another bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl sift together remaining flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

In another bowl beat together the bananas and sugars.  Beat in the buttermilk, eggs, and butter.

Carefully add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients.  Mix gently until the dry ingredients are just moistened.  Fold in the cherries and the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into 18 muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full.   Bake 25-30 minutes or until fully set and a tester comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack and remove after 15 minutes. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mother's Day and Sunday Sauce

Do you ever wonder why restaurants only ever seem to provide brunch for Mother's Day?  Do people think mothers only ever want to eat breakfast food?  I quit going to those over-crowded, overhyped, Mother's Day restaurant brunches years ago.  Kevin and I take my mother and mother-in-law out for a proper dinner the night before (fewer crowds), or else I'll cook a Mother's Day dinner myself.

This year I decided to take the cook-at-home option.  It has been a while since I have had family over (Christmas to be exact, and if you read this blog, you know all the craziness that happened that day) and I felt it was time to open up our home again and serve a home-cooked meal.  I often have a menu planned before I even set a date for a dinner party.  This time I was stumped.  What would I make that Mom would love?

Although I come from an Italian family, Sunday macaroni dinners were not a given for me growing up (although they were for my mother).  My most vivid memories of "Sunday Sauce" were ones I had as an adult.  As my grandmother grew older and the Alzheimer's took more of a grip on her brain, we began gathering at her place on Sundays for macaroni every week so we could all be together.  As a child my (Irish) grandfather made the meatballs and the sauce on pasta nights.  My uncle took over the job when he died.  Pasta dinners were never elaborate in my family.  There were meatballs and sausage but rarely anything else in the sauce.  It was enough.

I remember my grandmother would say all the time, "We don't have to have macaroni all the time.  We can have something else if you prefer."  We would say we were fine with it.  Then we would ask her if she was okay with macaroni.  Her reply was always, "I could eat it every day."  And so our Sunday evening menu never changed.

I also remember after dinner we would often gather around the TV and watch The Simpsons.  Since Grandma didn't see or hear too well, she didn't really understand the show.  She would angrily demand to know why we were watching cartoons and snippily say, "We don't have to watch cartoons, you know."  It was hard to explain to a 90-year old woman with dementia that we really did want to watch The Simpsons.

Those memories are what finally inspired my Mother's Day menu.  My mother inherited that love of Sunday Dinner and that intense love of pasta.  We had been discussing for months how much she missed gathering for the traditional macaroni on Sunday.  It made no sense to plan some elaborate menu.   We needed good old fashioned macaroni with all the trimmings. 

Note that I say macaroni.  You will find that's a pretty traditional term in Italian families in my neck of the woods.  I grew up dividing pasta into two categories.  The long strands were spaghetti, but everything else - whether ziti, rigatoni, or shells, or spirals - was simply macaroni.  I grew up with other kids who called all of it macaroni regardless.

You will also note that I call it sauce.  Italian families around here were just as likely to call it "gravy".  I don't know where that term comes from.  Even in my family there was no agreement.  My mother's side of the family always called it sauce.  My father's side of the family called it gravy.  I remember telling my maternal grandmother and other members of that side about Grandma Tess's use of the term "gravy" and they said things like, "Gravy is brown."  I reported this to Dad who said, "Sauce is brown."  He would point out brown sauces like soy sauce.  Grandma Carol said that gravy has a thickening agent and that's what separates it from sauce.  So what is the purpose of the tomato paste?

Some of my gravy proponent friends and acquaintances have said that you use the term "sauce" for plain sauces like marinara.  If you put meat in it, you call it gravy.  Bolognese is gravy.  The meat-filled stuff you make on Sunday is gravy.  That actually makes some sense.  What we traditionally think of as meat gravy is a sauce that derives its flavor from meat juices.  That could be said of a Sunday sauce filled with meatballs and sausages and whatever other meats are thrown into the pot.

I'm still calling it sauce, regardless.  Apologies to my late Grandma Tess, but I will always think of gravy as thickened meat drippings.

My parents and grandparents had their own style for making sauce.  I have my own style.  Other cooks have their own style.  I believe as long as you're not using sauce from a jar, it's all good.  I'm not against looking at what other cooks do to see if I can improve upon, or at least add some occasional variety to, my version of tomato sauce. I like to peruse various recipes online and in cookbooks for Sunday Sauce. I considered making some tweaks for the Mother's Day dinner.

Although my family traditionally used only meatballs and sausage, I have seen a hundred variations on Sunday Sauce that go way beyond those meats.  I have seen short ribs, spare ribs, pork neck bones, and braciole.  I contemplated adding some of these.  I worried if I used short ribs, it might take my sauce too close to my short rib ragu.  I love spare ribs, but I worried they might make the sauce too fatty (I know that's a rare concern for me).  I have made braciole in the past, but I didn't want to deal with the extra work.  What else could I add to give a tad more variety to the meat and another flavor dimension to the sauce?

I decided on beef shanks.  They have plenty of flavor and their tough, chewy consistency would benefit greatly from a long soak in acidic tomato sauce.

Sunday arrived.  I started early.  First I assembled my meatball ingredients.

Do I feel a little guilty about adding powdered garlic and onion to my meatball mix? I admit I do, but I also think that with so much other flavor happening in the sauce, the difference in taste will be negligeable.  In order to not have the strong taste of raw garlic and onion in your meatballs, you have to really chop it small or cook it ahead of time.  Sometimes I'm just too lazy for that.

One thing I did that is the opposite of lazy is I fried my meatballs.  Normally I brown them in the oven so they cook evenly all at once.  Plus their shapes stays rounder.  Today I fried them so the meatball grease would help flavor the sauce. 

So here is the first part of the recipe for my Sunday Sauce.

Sunday Meatballs (Sunday Sauce Part 1)

Ingredients
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup milk 
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbl dried onion flakes
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmiggiano reggiano (or you can use domestic parmesan if you don't want to spend money on D.O.P. cheese)
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbl salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 pounds ground beef (I use a mixture of chuck and sirloin)
  • 2 Tbl olive oil for frying
Mix the breadcrumbs with the milk in a bowl and let it soak for a few minutes for even liquid distribution.  Add the garlic powder, onion flakes, cheese, and salt.  Mix well.  The seasoning may seem strong, but remember you are going to be mixing this with 2 pounds of meat.

Add the meat to the bowl and pour the eggs over the top.  Use your hands to gently combine all ingredients.  Clean your hands and wet them with cold water.   Use your wet hands to roll the meatballs.  You should have about 15 of them.

Heat oil in a pot over medium high heat.  Brown meatballs on all sides.  Do just a few at at time to prevent crowding and steaming (5 at a time is about right).

Set aside and make your sauce.  When your sauce is ready, cook the meatballs in the sauce for about 20 minutes.

You can also cook these in the oven.  400 degrees for 10 minutes.  20-25 minutes if you're not putting them in the sauce and want to cook them all the way through.

***
Next I assembled the bulk of my sauce ingredients.  I splurged on D.O.P. Italian tomatoes today.


The other meats were ready to go.



Let's get to the next bit.

After browning off the beef shanks and the sausage, I softened an onion in the pan juices with plenty of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  I don't use a lot of red pepper.  I like to use just enough to give the sauce a tiny, subtle bite that you just barely notice.

Once it's all cooked, I deglazed the pan with some red wine.  Dig up those brown bits and really get some flavor happening.


Tomatoes, basil and a bay leaf are stirred in and then finally all the meat goes back in.  I let that sauce do it's thing for a couple of hours.


Sunday Sauce (Part 2)

Ingredients
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced (you can use more or less according to your preference and the size of the cloves)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 28 oz cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste 
  • 1 tomato paste can full of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 basil leaves, cut in chiffonade
  • Salt to taste
  • 2-4 beef shanks (depending on size)
  • 4 links sweet Italian sausage
  • 4 links hot Italian sausage (You can use all hot or all sweet if you prefer)
  • 1 recipe Sunday Meatballs
Sprinkle the beef shanks with salt and pepper.  Brown them well on both sides over medium high heat in the same pan you cooked the meatballs in.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Working in batches, brown the sausages in the same pan.  Remove from pan and cut in half (optional step, but I find smaller sausages to be more visually pleasing and less disturbingly phallic, plus you can eat both halves and feel like you ate two sausages).  Set aside.

Drain off some of the excess fat in the pan, but leave about 2 tablespoons.  Reduce heat to low and add the onions and the red pepper flakes.  Cook over low heat until onions are soft.  Add the garlic and cook another two minutes.  Keep the heat low and watch this carefully.  You are forming the major flavor base for your sauce.

Add the wine and stir to bring up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Allow to reduce for a minute or two.  Taste and see if it needs salt.  Be generous if it seems bland.  You need to build this flavor.

Add the canned tomatoes to the pan.  If they are whole, break them up with your hands as you add them.   Add the tomato paste and the water and stir until smooth.  Stir in the basil and the bay leaves.  Taste again and make sure the seasoning is right.  Add salt if necessary.

Gently add the meat to the pot.  Start with the beef shanks and layer the sausage on top.  Gently add the meatballs.

Cook at a low simmer until ready to serve.  Simmer at least an hour.

***

I made a salad in the mean time.  It contained romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, chick peas, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes and little bocconccini.  Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a photo.  You'll have to use your imagination. 

After serving the salad I boiled up the macaroni (in this case, ziti rigate) and added it to the sauce.  It all went into a big bowl with the meat in another bowl.


 Serve with bread, wine, and a loving family.  Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Taste of Mamaroneck

I hate being stuck at home when I'm not at work.  If it's a miserable cold winter day I don't mind being inside, but if the temperatures are above freezing and the roads are drive-able, you can bet I want to be doing something - anything - other than sit at home. 

I don't spend large amounts of time on the weekend at home, as everyone knows, because I'm out riding all weekend.  Riding gets me out of the house and keeps me active.  The only time I'm not riding is because because I have another event to attend or the weather stops me (and if the weather is bad enough to stop me from riding, it's a day I don't mind sitting at home).

Events conspired to keep me away from the horses this weekend.  It wasn't the weather and it wasn't any sort of family commitment.  I had to stay home because the Tappan Zee Bridge, currently undergoing a massive reconstruction project, was closed for two days.  If you are not from around here and don't know what the Tappan Zee Bridge is, you only need to know one fact.  It is a major part of my commute to the barn.  So I was going to be stuck at home on a spring weekend with no plans to do anything else.  I had to spring in to action.

Fortunately, my town provided me with a convenient activity for a rainy Sunday in May.  Sunday was my town's 10th Annual Taste of Mamaroneck Wine Trail.  I had always been curious about this event, but never went to it because I was always out riding.  It was a happy coincidence that it would take place on a rare weekend that I couldn't be out riding.

My town has plenty of restaurants.  I have reviewed many of them here on this blog.  There are others I have never tried.  There are a few that I like but don't visit often.  I liked the idea of being able to spend the afternoon trying a little bit of everything.

It was a cold, wet, day.  It wasn't the kind of day I had hoped for. This is the kind of thing you prefer to do on a glorious spring day.  However, eating and drinking can be done in any kind of weather.

 We were provided with maps and a list of participating restaurants.

 Finally the trolley arrived and we boarded and headed for our first stop.

The first restaurant was Andrea's 25 North (reviewed here).  The owner was not prepared to be the first stop on the tour.  He had wine ready to be poured, but the chef had not even arrived to cook us anything.

We were offered chianti or rose to drink.


The kitchen staff did arrive eventually.  They appeared to be cooking some fettuccine alfredo and it smelled divine.  Just before they were ready to serve it, the trolley arrived.  The chef begged us to stay, but we decided to board the trolley and move on.  It would be too long of a wait for the trolley to come again and it was a bit too far of a walk in that weather to just walk to the next restaurant.

The next stop was the Sedona Tap House.  They occupy a space that was once an Applebees and long before that, a Ground Round, so the location seems to lend itself to chains.  This chain restaurant just opened its doors this week, so their timing was perfect to introduce themselves to the neighborhood.   I'm not fond of chain restaurants, but this place had a nice (if somewhat noisy vibe).  They had a clear focus on draft beer.  It was like an southwestern version of The Yard House.



They offered us a beer or a cider.  I tried a cider called McKenzie's (I think).  I really liked it and would try it again if I ever had dinner here.  They didn't offer us any food.  They just gave us a $5 coupon.  I saw one or two of my tour companions try the menus, but we moved on and hoped to be fed before we passed out drunk.

We decided the next stops were close enough to walk to, so we stopped waiting for the trolley and headed to the next stop.

The next stop was Push Fitness.  That seems a bit ironic.  We jokingly asked as we walked in if they were offering workouts to counteract the eating and drinking.  There were no workouts, but they did offer some cheap wine and some cheese and crackers.  They certainly did get their name out by participating in the event.

We headed back to the center of town and hit Lum Yen, one of the oldest and most established Chinese restaurants in the area (and the owner is one of my long time equestrian friends).  They had some wine offerings at the bar, but at this point, all we cared about was having some real food.  Fortunately they provided some lo mein, fried rice, and General Tso's chicken.

Our next stops were the town's two major competing bakeries.  First we stopped at my favorite, Boiano's, where we had cannoli and cookies.

The next bakery was Artuso's.  This bakery is bigger and has multiple branches.  I like it less than Boiano's as their baked goods tend to taste more mass-produced.  Nonetheless, they offered some rather tasty cakes to sample.  There was chocolate, cannoli, strawberry, and black forest.  I had the chocolate, which you can barely see at the far end of the table.


Right up the street was Cafe Mozart   (no website, so I gave you the Yelp).  This is another well-established long-time neighborhood staple.  They have an extensive menu of coffee and coffee specialties along with a pretty good (although not store made) dessert selection.  They also provide decent light fare and dinner specialties accompanied by a full bar.

The owner was right in the doorway with wine selections and he suggested which snacks would go with them.  I had some red dessert wine with a bite of French toast.

I was excited to go to the Smokehouse Tailgate Grill next.  I do love their food even if I don't always love their ambience (reviewed here).   They have some of the best ribs I ever ate and I secretly hoped I might get some ribs here.

We arrived to find a staff member pouring wine and making quite a show of it.  He offered a Long Island merlot, an Argentinian malbec, and a pinot grigot whose origin I can't remember.  After a pleasant sip and chat, I hit the food table.  These were the best bites of the day.  We had steak bites on cornbread and pulled pork sliders.

The next place was one of our most favorite local spots, 360 American Grille  (reviewed here).  They had their wine selections out on their back patio (with giant umbrellas shielding everyone from the rain).  I drank some dry Spanish rose` along with an unusual grape-based vodka.  They gave all guests plates of barbecue brisket, brussels sprouts and black bean salad.  The brisket was so melt-in-your mouth tender.  360 has been really trying to up its barbecue game now that they have the Smokehouse as competition.


Next stop was Hash O' Nash.  I hadn't eaten there in over a year (reviewed here), so it was nice to revisit.
They offered some of their delicious falafel along with the standard hummus and pita and some chicken kebobs.

They had a selection of regional wines.  I sampled two here.  One was Lebanese (white wine with an almost lemony, tangy edge) and the other was Morrocan (also white, but fruitier with a sweet start and a slightly bitter finish).

At this point we could barely walk.  The tour consisted of two more restaurants, a beer megastore, a local distillery, and a cigar lounge (NO!).  We decided to do the last restaurant at the end of the strip and call it a day.  Every place else was away from the main strip and we would have to wait for the trolley again.

We ended up at Enzo's.  This restaurant has been in our neighborhood for years and we never bothered to eat there.  We have our established favorite Italian places and rarely venture outside that zone, so it was good to finally see if there was a reason we have avoided Enzo's all these years.

I downed a final glass of white wine and sampled their small buffet of pasta bolognese, fried zucchini, fried tomatoes (who knew Italian restaurants could do fried tomatoes so wonderfully?), and mussels (well, I didn't actually eat the mussels).

After that we stumbled home and took a long nap!

Overall it was an enjoyable day, but nicer weather would have improved it.  I also think it would have been more fun if we had a few friends with us.  It was a bit dull with just us.  I'm glad I finally did it, but I probably wouldn't do it again unless I were with a bigger group.  Still, I think it's a good idea and I'm glad the town has this event and hope they continue to do so.