Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Giving Another Classic A New Twist - Spicy, Smoky, Corn Risotto

In my last post I decided to shake up common expectations of pesto and made a green sauce that visually resembles your basic Pesto Genovese, but takes the taste buds in a completely different direction.  Sure there was some traditional basil, but the sauce was all about the shiso.

This week I took my love of summer produce and rebuilt (or some people might say destroyed) a classic risotto recipe.  This time of year many cooks will incorporate fresh summer corn into risotto.  I wanted to take it one step further.  Most risotto recipes rely on the same Italian formula: onions, garlic, wine, parmesan, and occasionally seasonal vegetables.  I wanted to ditch the formula and give that bowl of creamy rice a different flavor altogether.

Is this wrong?  Should it not be done?  Am I spitting on the sacred?

Anne Burrell is not my favorite cook on TV, but she did say something that made sense to me.  She said risotto is a method, not a recipe. 

So I don't care.  I want to have fun with my favorite recipe bases, and keep creating, and keep finding new ways to use my favorite ingredients.  This food blog would be boring if I made the same recipes the way everyone else makes them.

I have talked about my love of smoked turkey tails.  They are the best unhealthful, fatty, treat in the world next to bacon.  If you are cooking for someone who doesn't eat pork, you can get that richness and smokiness with a tail or three (and it's way better than turkey bacon which is just weird and processed tasting).  While Sir Pickypants has become far less picky and now does eat pork occasionally without gastrointestinal incident, I don't want to always be serving him pork when I don't need to.  This is why I used the tails instead of the classic pancetta.

I also substituted the traditional white wine with whiskey.  I felt strong liquor would hold up to the strong flavor of the turkey tails and still complement the sweetness of the corn.

I used caramelized onions, cayenne, and smoked paprika for the flavoring.  This was way off the beaten path for Italian risotto.  Mine had a definite southwestern flair.  I used too much cayenne when I made this.  I thought a half teaspoon would be enough.  The recipe below cuts that amount in half.  The risotto was delicious, but a half teaspoon cayenne straddled the line of being overpowering.

I bought cilantro with the intention of adding it at the end and forgot.  I encourage anyone trying this recipe to add it and see if it improves the recipe or not.

Sorry for the hastily-snapped phone photo.  Risotto is something you have to eat right away, so I didn't want to fuss with the light box and camera settings.

When I see you again I will have a travel post to share with you.  I am leaving for a short trip to Prague on Friday.  I am looking forward to the meat-and-carb-fest that is Czech food.  I will be taking a food tour while I'm there, so I should have plenty of interesting meals to share. 

Spicy Corn Risotto
  • 2 ears fresh corn, cooked and kernels cut off the cob
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup whiskey (bourbon is optimal, but Irish will do just fine)
  • 3 smoked turkey tails, cut into small pieces*
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2-4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Heat the chicken stock and whiskey in a small saucepan.  Keep warm on the back burner.

In a medium saucepan cook the turkey tail pieces over medium heat until the fat is rendered.  Remove from pan and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat (roughly).  Add the olive oil and cook the onions until they are very soft and starting to turn golden.  Add the peppers and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic and cook another two minutes.  Add the rice to the pan and cook another minute or two until they are well coated.

Begin adding the stock mixture one ladelful at a time.  Stir well after each addition, adding more after the previous one has been absorbed.  Keep adding liquid and stirring until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Remove from heat and stir in the pepper, cilantro, and paprika.  Sprinkle with cilantro.  Stir in the corn kernels and serve immediately.

*You can use bacon, smoked sausage, turkey bacon, or your favorite vegetarian bacon facsimile.  Just make sure you use something with a smokey flavor to complement the flavor of the whiskey and the corn.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Farm Market Experience Continues with a New Twist On Pesto

During my trip to Hawaii this past winter I discovered shiso.  It is a large-leafed, herb that has minty and citrus flavors.   It complements tomatoes well.  I couldn't wait for summer when I could get my hands on some at home.  I was pretty sure Lani's Farm would be selling it at both of the farmers' markets I attend (Larchmont and Dag Hammarskjold plaza).   There doesn't seem to be an exotic green they don't carry.

When I had it in Hawaii, I ate it whole as part of a salad.  I felt the unique minty flavor would be perfect in a pesto sauce.  Would my pesto have cheese?  Would the traditional parmesan go well with the shiso?  Maybe pecorino would work well (pecorino and mint make a delicious pesto when mixed with pistachios).  I knew I was in short supply of those cheeses at home and that would mean a trip to the supermarket for cheese.  Were there any cheeses I could buy at the farmers' market that would be suitable?

The salad I ate in Hawaii contained goat cheese.  Coach Farm just happens to have a booth at the market.  Why not try mixing goat cheese into the sauce?  I went to the booth and inquired about their firmest cheeses.  The vendor suggested a well-aged, raw milk cheese.  I took a taste and was surprised it didn't have any of the funky flavors raw milk cheeses tend to have. I thought the shiso, the goat cheese, some shallots (I had onion mignonette in the salad in Hawaii), basil from my garden (to make sure there was some expected flavor in the sauce), and  toasted pine nuts would be perfect over gnocchi for dinner.  I also included some roasted, heirloom cherry tomatoes.

I would love to have served this to someone without saying what the ingredients were and then watching that person taste it. I was kind to Kevin and gave him a warning.

Gnocchi with Shiso-Goat Cheese Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes

  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 2 Tbl rice wine vinegar
  • 20 heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 +1 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 bunch shiso (about two cups of leaves)
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 2 Tbl toasted pine nuts
  • 4 oz. firm, aged goat cheese
  • 1 package of your favorite gnocchi
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the shallots and vinegar in a small bowl and allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

Toss tomatoes with 1 Tbl of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast for about 10 minutes.  You want them soft, but try to avoid having them burst.

Combine basil, shiso, remaining olive oil, pine nuts, shallots, and vinegar in a food processor.  Process until fairly smooth.  Add the cheese and pulse until combined.

Cook gnocchi in salted boiling water until they float to the top of the pot.  Combine with the pesto and top with the tomatoes.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Vacation Recovery Meals

It's summer.  It's the time when farm markets are full to bursting and everyone is eating healthfully, partaking of this enormous bounty of produce.

Unless you're on vacation of course.  Leave the house for the week and all bets are off.

I returned from my annual pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island and the annual Pony Swim and my body is in serious need of real nutrients.  If you follow my Instagram account, you will see my week was filled with doughnuts, burgers, tacos, ice cream, and barbecue (and possibly a salad here and there).

When you consider I'm desperately trying to get back into shape after having so many physical setbacks, I need to recover.

I worked on the perfect menu plan filled with farm market produce and local meats.  I thought I would share some of the recipes and inspiration.

My first dinner after my return was a corn and fennel salad topped with a bit of steak and dressed with a lemon-herb dressing.

Corn and Fennel Salad with Balsamic Grilled Steak

  • 1 skirt steak
  • 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbl honey
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbl olive oil, divided
  • 2 generous pinches of sea salt
  • 1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin (a mandoline works well for this)
  • Kernels cut off the cob of 4 ears of cooked corn
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1/2 head radicchio, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh basil
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh mint

Mix together the balsamic vinegar, 2 Tbl olive oil, honey, and 1 pinch of salt in a bowl.  Coat the steak with this mixture and marinate in the refrigerator for several hours.

Mix the lemon juice and zest, oregano, basil, lemon, and the other pinch of salt.  Whisk in the remaining olive oil.

Grill or pan fry the steak (I use an electric grill) until cooked to your liking.  Allow to rest for a few minutes and cut into strips.

Toss the lettuce, fennel, and corn together and then add the lemon dressing.  Add additional salt if necessary.

Serve topped with strips of steak.

***And now for something completely different***

I lied.  It's not completely different.  It is another dinner though.

For this one I marinated pork tenderloin using the same mojito marinade I made for my Loco Tacos:  Rum, mint, orange juice, onion, and lime juice.  I let the meat sit in that all day.  Then I browned it on the outside and finished in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

On the side was "salsa rice".  I cooked onion, jalapeno, and chopped fresh tomato together.  I cooked up a whole grain rice blend and then mixed it into the tomato mixture with cilantro and more lime juice.

Quite tasty.  This is a perfect marinade for pork.  

***A real recipe is coming***

While planning my meals for this week I thought a tasty option would be a quick and light chicken cacciatore.  I would use the traditional vegetables of onion, pepper, mushrooms, and tomatoes and quickly cook them with chicken breasts chunks.  I would serve the whole thing over zoodles to keep it extra light.

Then I was at the farmers' market this weekend and I had a new inspiration.  I can't get mushrooms at my local markets.  I can get eggplant.  If you're a regular reader, you know I have a strange relationship with cooking and eating eggplant, but I'm starting to find ways to make the smaller, creamy-textured, Italian or Japanese eggplants palatable (the big dark ones I have given up on).  When I saw the pile of multi-colored eggplants at one stall, I decided to reconsider the mushrooms and save myself a trip to the supermarket.

Chicken cacciatore is whole chicken pieces, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers and wine.  Chicken Sorrentino is chicken paillards, tomato, eggplant, prosciutto, and cheese.  How about I do a little combination?

As an aside, do they really eat Chicken Sorrentino in Sorrento?   We seem to associate eggplant with Sorrento the same way we associate spinach with Florence (rightly or wrongly).  I was in Sorrento last summer and ate a pizza that happened to have sausage and eggplant on it.  I guess that's close enough.

Another aside:  I hate making zoodles.  My food processor needs some replacement parts and they are all backordered.  I have no easy way to shred zucchini into pasta-like shapes.  I had to make noodles shapes with a vegetable peeler (my mandoline slices too thick and the julienne blade is awkward with long vegetables).  That was rather tedious.  Once they were sliced, I sauteed them in olive oil and called it a night.

I'm calling this recipe...

Chicken Cacciatorentino

  • 4 small Italian eggplants, cut into large dice
  • Salt
  • 2  Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 6 ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 Tbl chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano

Toss eggplant chunks with salt and place in a colander.

Heat olive oil in a large pan and brown the chicken chunks on all sides.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add onion to the pan and cook until soft. Add the pepper and cook until it begins to soften.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.  Pat the eggplant chunks dry with a paper towel and add it to the pan as well.

Once all vegetables are soft, add the tomatoes, wine, oregano and basil.  Return the chicken to the pan.  Season with additional salt to taste.  Simmer 20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through.

Serve over pasta or your favorite pasta substitute.

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.  It 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.  It 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 any 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


  • 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 
  • 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

  • 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.