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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 sliced with butter, French breakfast radishes and Hawaiian red salt.  I topped some of the slices were topped 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.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Pork and Pie Post-Easter

In case you were wondering why I had no Easter post this year, it's because Easter didn't quite happen the normal way in my family. (Does anything normal ever happen in my family?)

I spent the past month in rehearsals for my latest play.  I had very little time to cook or bake anything elaborate.  When I did have time to bake, it was for the concession stand at the show.

Even more importantly, my brother spent Easter in Florida with his in-laws.  There weren't too many people here up north to have a big family dinner.

The only solution (other than canceling Easter altogether) was to have Easter dinner two weeks late.  Then it would be after my last performance and long past the day my brother's family returned from Florida.

Dinner was a collaborative effort.  Mom hosted and provided the bulk of the food and beverages.  I had a special request to bring the pork.  I had several ideas for how I would prepare a pork shoulder (my favorite cut), but my brother requested I make one of my family long-time favorites:  Pork with Wine and Grapes, from my old Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine cookbook.



I have made this recipe a few times before and have shown it on the blog.  I have even made some more simplified, slimmed down versions.  I thought I'd reshare it.

When I have made this in the past, I usually used a loin.  The recipe actually calls for a butt.  A butt is certainly a better cut for this dish since it would do a better job of standing up to a slow braise.  The meat is supposed to a 4lb boneless roast.  One reason I always used the loin is that it's not easy to find a boneless, 4lb butt.

I was quite daring for this meal and purchased a bone-in butt from Heritage Foods USA.  Even though my knife skills are not the greatest, I managed to cut out the bone and tie it up. I had more meat attached to the bone than I wanted, so I cut those chunks off and stuffed them in the middle.   It was ready for the marinade of brandy, thyme, onions, and garlic.



After an overnight marinade, it's browned and then braised in white wine and the marinade.  At the end of cooking, you add the grapes and a cup of heavy cream.

Make sure when you serve it you have plenty of bread handy to soak up that delicious juice.


Dessert was also my responsibility.  Easter is a time for chocolate.  When I think of Easter I think of chocolate bunnies, and caramel, and Cream Eggs.  I wanted lots of chocolate and lots of goo.  I wanted decadence that would still be accessible to the children in the family. I went for rich chocolate and gooey caramel.


This was a variation on my old turtle pie, meant to be a pie version of turtle candies (chocolate ganache on top of caramel and pecans).  This pie had no nuts in it though, and was primarily milk chocolate.  Why didn't I just make the turtle pie?  It was mostly for the sake of the kids.  They don't like nuts and most kids prefer milk chocolate.  My husband prefers milk chocolate too.

The pie started with a cookie crumb crust.  Once it was baked, I added a layer of thick homemade caramel sauce.  Next I added a layer of milk chocolate ganache gently flavored with a nip of Baileys.  Finally I put a thin layer of dark chocolate ganache just for contrast.  I drizzled a bit more caramel sauce.

Do you think it was rich enough?

We also had spinach lasagne, asparagus, potatoes, and key lime pie. Dinner started with a big antipasto platter since dry sausage and bread are some of the few things my nephew will eat.



Now I will provide what you have all been waiting for:  The pie recipe.  I decided to call it Candy Bar Pie as it is like eating a large, gooey candy bar.


Candy Bar Pie

Ingredients

Crust
  • 1 package chocolate wafer cookies
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 Tbl unsalted butter

Milk Chocolate Layer
  • 8 oz milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbl Bailey's Irish Cream
Caramel Layer
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbl light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbl water
  • 4 Tbl unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cream
Dark Chocolate Layer 
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grind the wafer cookies into crumbs in a food processor (or you can put the cookies in a plastic bag and manually beat them with a rolling pin).  Place them in a bowl and blend with sugar, salt, and cinnamon.  Add the butter and blend in until thoroughly combined.  Gently press into a 9" pie plate.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Bring sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium high heat.  Swirl the pan a bit as the sugar begins to caramelize for even color.  When it is a uniform dark amber, remove from heat and add the butter.  Return to the stove and add the cream.  Remove from heat when it comes to a boil.  Allow to cool.  When it is cool but still pourable, pour it into the chocolate crust, reserving 2 tablespoons for garnish.  Refrigerate the pie.

Place chopped milk chocolate in a small bowl.  Bring 1 cup of cream to a boil.   Pour over chocolate.  Wait about a minute and gently stir until smooth.  Stir in the liqueur.  Cool slightly and pour over the caramel layer while still pourable.  Keep refrigerated.  You need the ganache to solidify.

Bring the remaining 1/2 cup cream to a boil.  Place dark chocolate in a small bowl and pour the cream over it.  Let stand and stir any lumps.  Pour it over the milk chocolate layer when cool.  Chill the pie several hours.  Serve garnished with swirls of the reserved caramel sauce.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef Stew with Brandy

Despite the repeated objections of Sir Pickypants (too dangerous) I went out and bought a slow cooker two weeks ago.  What can I say?  I was tired of being the only cook on the block without one.  More accurately, I was tired of constantly having to buy takeout on nights when I have dance classes or play rehearsals or any other occasion that would keep me out of the kitchen in the evenings.

Over a year after my hip surgery I am still struggling to lose the post-surgical weight.  I believe the best tool one can have when trying to to be fit is one's own kitchen.  I was not making nearly enough home-cooked meals.  Not only does having a slow cooker make it easy for me to have home-cooked meals on nights I'm not home, it saves money, fat, salt, and calories to not have to eat out all the time on weekends.  Usually we're so tired after a day at the barn that cooking seems out of the question.  Going out or getting takeout feels like the only solution.  With a slow cooker I can put on a pot of turkey chili in the morning and have it be ready for us at the end of a long day.

The slow cooker isn't as easy to use as you think.  I don't have a fancy version with timers.  I have the basic, low-rent, supermarket version.  Most recipes tell you to cook the food on low for 8 hours max.  I am out of the house for 11 hours at a time and it could still be another 2 hours before Kevin comes home and we sit down to eat.  I had tried adapting some of my favorite recipes like chili and mango coconut chicken and they were pots of flavorless mush.

I learned a few lessons from this.  I need to season the food well.  I need to season it until even Rachael Ray cringes (no pun intended) over the crazy number of ingredients in the dish.  I also need to use far less liquid than I think I need - and then use even less than that.

Friends who are experienced with the slow cookers also tell me the meat used makes all the difference.  Beef and pork cuts with lots of connective tissue hold up much better than poultry.  They also tell me to use packets of salad dressing mix, and soup mix, and gravy mix.  I'm not sure I can handle that.  Maybe I'll try it if I get desperate.  Maybe Sandra Lee was on to something (but then her food always sounded awful whether it was made in the slow cooker or not).

So this weekend I decided to try working with some beef stew and make the husband suck it up.  (He does eat some beef now, so he can handle it.  I hardly ever have to call him SPP anymore.  I think I ruined him.)  I didn't want to do a traditional beef stew though.  We know I don't like that.  I thought it might be fun to make my own twist on boeuf bourgignon but with a different liquor.

I started by browning some chunks of stew meat dreged in flour, salt, and pepper.


When they were browned, I removed them and browned some carrots and parsnips.  I cooked them by themselves in a dry-ish pan so they would take on some real color and flavor (because you know how I feel about flavorless mushy vegetables).
I removed them and added a chopped onion (no photos because my camera battery died at this point). and cooked it until it was soft.  Once they were done, I added a cup of brandy and reduced it down.


Everything went into the slow cooker with a half cup of beef stock and it cooked on low for 8 hours.

An hour before serving I added 10oz. of sliced cremini mushrooms.

Then I served the whole thing with mashed potatoes.  Why didn't I add potatoes to the stew itself?  That's a silly question. Everyone knows I hate those weird starchy potato bits floating in my stew liquid.  That's one of the main reasons I have hated traditional beef stew over the years.

It still had too much liquid, but it was tasty.  This has been my most successful slow cooker recipe so far.

I will let you decide what type of oil you want to use for starting your ingredients.  Some people like canola because they think it's neutral.  Traditional beef bourgignon uses bacon fat.  I'm open to all types.  Experiment with what tastes best to you.

Beef Stew with Brandy

Ingredients
  • 2-4 Tbl oil
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
  • Flour for dredging
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 large carrots, cut in chunks
  • 2 medium parsnips, cut in chunks
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 10 oz. crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced

Coat beef cubes in flour salt and pepper.  In a large pan heat 2 Tbl oil and brown the beef cubes well (you will need to work in two batches).  Remove from pan and place in slow cooker.

Add additional oil if necessary and then add the carrots and parsnips to the pan.  Cook until they have some color on the outside.  Remove from the pan and place in the slow cooker.

You can add a bit more oil to the pan if you need to before you add the onions.  Cook until they are very soft.  Remove them and add to the slow cooker.

Deglaze the pan with the brandy.  Bring to a boil and let it reduce by half.  Add another teaspoon or so of salt and add to the slow cooker.  Then add the beef stock.

Place the sprigs of thyme and rosemary around the slow cooker.  Cover with the lid and cook on low for 8 hours.  In the last hour of cooking add the mushrooms.

Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.