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.

My family may traditionally used only meatballs and sausage, but 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)

  • 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)

  • 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


  • 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

  • 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.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Brownie Time!

I made brownies!  I made brownies!  Everyone loves brownies.

Sorry.  I knew this post wasn't going to be terribly exciting, especially after blogging about Hawaii (also a post about the non-food aspect of the trip is up on my other blog if you haven't read it yet) but I did make brownies.  Since it was a new recipe idea that I came up with, I thought I should make a post about it and share the recipe.

This brownie inspiration came from a simple craving for raspberries and chocolate together.  I kept thinking of rich cake and dark chocolate and tart berries all merging together in one dense bite.  It was clearly time to make some raspberry brownies.

My barn had its annual awards dinner this past weekend.  It's a potluck and I was assigned dessert (and even if I wasn't assigned dessert, I would have brought it).  Here was my chance for the grand experiment.

Most raspberry brownie recipes I saw online either had a raspberry cream cheese swirl (husband would hate) or just had little dabs of raspberry jam scattered around them.  I wanted the raspberry fully incorporated in the brownie.  I knew the best way to do this would be to mix some quality preserves into the batter, but my concern was how this would affect consistency.  Would it make the batter too loose and keep the brownies from solidifying when baked.  The obvious solution was to increase the flour a bit, but would it work?

I used a classic one-bowl recipe that would bake enough brownies for a crowd (uses a 15"x9" pan instead of an 8" or 9" square one).  I made sure to use high quality chocolate to keep the flavor rich.  I added 1/4 cup of flour and also put in a tablespoon of cocoa powder to deepen the chocolate flavor even more.  I used raspberry liqueur instead of vanilla and mixed those raspberry preserves right into the batter.  Once they were baked, I added a ganache glaze flavored with more raspberry liqueur.

They were exactly what I dreamed they would be and they seemed to be a big hit at the dinner.  There were hardly any left at the end of the night.  Due to their dense nature and ganache topping, I called them Rapsberry Truffle Brownies.

Raspberry Truffle Brownies

  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1.5 plus sticks, plus 2 Tbl unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tbl raspberry liqueur, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 Tbl cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves 
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream 
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 15"x9" baking pan with baking spray. 

Melt 1.5 sticks of butter and unsweetened chocolate together in a bowl set over simmering water, or microwave in a microwave safe bowl.  Set aside.

Combine flour, salt and cocoa powder.  Set aside.

Beat eggs and  1 Tbl raspberry liqueur into chocolate and butter mixture until combined.  Stir in the flour mixture.  Gently stir in the preserves until combined.

Spread the brownie mixture in the pan.  Bake for 30 minutes or until set.  Allow to cool.

In a small saucepan bring the cream to a simmer.  Remove from heat and add the semisweet chocolate and stir until melted.  Stir in the remaining 2 Tbl of butter, then stir in the remaining 2 Tbl of raspberry liqueur.

Spread the ganache over the cooled brownie and refrigerate until set.  Cut into squares and serve.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Eating the Aloha!

There are times when you don't realize just how perfect the timing of your vacation was until you schedule it and go.  When Kevin and I planned a trip to Hawaii as an early celebration of our 15th anniversary (actual date is October), I was a little skeptical of him booking the trip on a major winter holiday break (Valentine's Day, President's Day, and Midwinter Break).  It turned out to be the perfect time to go as temperatures in NY for the first few days of our trip ranged from single digits to -1 degree.  Even though it might have been a bit more crowded in resort areas, I was grateful to be in Hawaii that week.

I tend to feel a bit of foodie guilt when I travel.  Although meals are an integral part of most vacations, I am not adventurous in seeking my meals and I don't make food the focus of my trips.  I don't go too far off the beaten path to find that spot only the locals and a few lucky outsiders know about.  I don't rent a place with a kitchen and then shop the local markets to produce my own version of fresh homemade specialties.

My priorities on vacation are seeing as many interesting sights as I can and indulging in whatever activities are available to me.  I will eat a hotel breakfast so I don't lose too much of my morning.  I'll eat lunch wherever I can grab it.   At the end of a long day, I will try to pick an interesting restaurant to eat at, but it's usually something convenient to my hotel.  I have been known to end up in places that cater heavily to tourists, even if I'm not aware of it at the time.  I sometimes eat unknowingly eat at national chains (just ones I don't know about because they aren't in my neck of the woods).  I even go to Starbucks.  I can at least say I never eat at McDonalds, The Olive Garden, Applebees, or any similar sort of places.

I ate at a mix of places in Hawaii. Most of my meals were excellent, whether they were touristy or not.  Food may not have been the star of my vacation, but it was a stellar supporting player.  Since I enjoyed the food so much, it certainly deserves a starring role on the blog.

Day 1:  We arrived at our hotel in Waikiki, the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in the evening.   During our 10.5 hour flight we were served a meal and multiple snacks, so I wasn't terribly hungry, but I was also eager to start snarfing the local chow. We chose the hotel's casual poolside restaurant The Kani Ka Pila Grill.

The open-air bar and restaurant faced the street rather than the ocean, but had tables around the nicely-landscaped pool and more tables in a torchlit garden behind the bar.

I decided to try to eat lighter and just eat an appetizer and a salad instead of a full entree.  That turned out to be a wise decision.  The "appetizer" was pork adobo.  It was definitely a meal in itself.  It was a hearty pork stew.  I like to think of it as Hawaiian comfort food.  This was the portion.  Who needed a main course after this?

I thought it was a bit bland and salty, but I learned this is pretty typical of Hawaiian cuisine.  Salt is the main seasoning and they use a lot of it.  This came with the sticky rice that is also quite typical.

I don't remember what the drink was called, but it had wine, coconut flavor, and melon liqueur.

Day 2:  We tried another hotel restaurant, The Shore Bird, for the breakfast buffet.  It was pretty standard stuff:  Pastries, eggs, French toast (on Hawaiian bread), home fries, and lots of fruit.  The fresh pineapple is as outstanding as you expect Hawaiian pineapple to be.  They also had a carving station that served up some of the best ham I ever had.  The only ham I ever ate that was better was the heritage ham I served at Christmas.

The best part of the Shore Bird was the view though.  This was another open air restaurant (as most of the ground floor of the Outrigger is open air).  It sat on the beach side of the hotel, so we could eat breakfast overlooking the ocean.
At dinner time Shore Bird has a giant grill and diners cook their own dinner on it.  We never had a chance to try it because it was too difficult to get a reservation for dinner.  This is no big loss we as we usually wanted to venture away from the hotel at night.

We spent the afternoon of Day 2 on a bus tour that took us around various points on the North Shore.  The area is known for its food trucks and small casual food shacks.  Our tour took us to one called Fumi's.

The specialty at Fumi's is the butter garlic shrimp, which Kevin said was delicious.  The menu consisted mostly of shrimp dishes, but I went for some tasty chicken katsu, because it's me.  The chicken was a bit spicier than the typical chicken katsu I usually eat.  The sauce was also fruitier.  There was more of that sticky rice of course.

 The standout feature of Fumi's is that they raise their own shrimp in these ponds.  Pretty cool.

We had homemade ice pops for dessert.  They come in mango and coconut.  I went for the coconut and Kevin went for the mango.  Creamy, fresh, and delicious.

For dinner that night we went to Cheeseburger, a Hawaii-based chain that serves much more than cheeseburgers.  We went to the location at the Beach Walk, a small strip of stores and restaurants a block from our hotel.  Even though we weren't trying out the authentic local dives, we can at least say we left the hotel.
We were able to get seating on the balcony, overlooking the busy Waikiki street.
 My cocktail for the evening was a cosmo made with orange and passionfruit juices instead of cranberry juice.
 Dinner was Kalbi short ribs.  I am used to eating slow-braised,  bone-in short ribs.  It seems it's common in Hawaii to use Korean style short ribs, which are sliced thin.  They are marinated in a sweet marinade and grilled.  They are surprisingly tender this way and the bit of char on the meat is perfect.  The sticky rice continued its omnipresence and was also joined with another traditional side of macaroni salad.
Day 3 - This was a long day without much food for most of it.  We took a bus tour of Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri.  We left quite early in the morning so that meant a grab-and-go breakfast and some hot dogs for lunch.  There was a large concession at the Missouri serving more substantial meals, including kalua pork, but I had a choice between a leisurely lunch and a more extended tour.  I chose the latter.

I found this cookbook in the Pearl Harbor gift shop.  I decided not to buy it.

For dinner we returned to the Beach Walk and tried a place called The Yard House.  This was hardly a traditional Hawaiian restaurant, but it just looked like a fun place to have dinner.  It is named in honor of those yard-long beer glasses they drink in England.  They had a vast selection of beers on tap.

I had no idea until I came home that this was a national chain (although not a large one).  They do seem to change the menu at different locations to showcase local specialties.

Despite the selection of beers, I drank a watermelon margarita with elderflower liquer and citrus agave syrup.

There was Nashville Hot Chicken on the menu and since it's a trendy dish these days, I decided to try it.  I wasn't horribly impressed.  It wasn't bad.  It just didn't taste particularly special.  I suppose one should order Nashville Hot Chicken a bit closer to Nashville rather than in Hawaii.  The sweet potatoes pancakes were outstanding though.

We ordered dessert this night.  This was a giant s'mores brownie.  The brownie sat on a graham cracker crust and was topped with toasted marshmallows.  Kevin wasn't crazy about it.  We opted to share dessert and I let him order, but he said he wasn't sure what made him order this as he doesn't really like marshmallows. 

Day 4 - This morning we boarded a plane and went to the Big Island for the day to see Volcanoes National Park.  Our guide took us to a convenience store/coffee bar for breakfast, so there was nothing special on that meal.

We had lunch at the Volcano House, the restaurant in the park.  I had a Hawaiian "bento".  I finally was able to eat my kalua pork.  Like the adobo pork from the first night, it was a bit too salty and not enough of other seasonings.  I guess that really is typical.  There were also the typical accompaniments of sticky rice and macaroni salad along with a green salad and some fresh fruit.  The white thing in the corner was dessert.  I can only compare it to a flan or a panna cotta flavored with fresh coconut. 

 This was the view from our table.

After a long day we flew back to Oahu and made it back to our hotel around 10PM.  The Shore Bird has a late night bar menu.

Day 5 - It was Sunday and the brunch crowd flooded the Shore Bird, so we decided to try our luck at Kani Ka Pila instead.  Kevin didn't feel like exploring the neighborhood for other options.

I tried another Hawaiian classic, the loco moco.  For those not acquainted with this dish, it's an egg on top of a hamburger on top of rice.  Then it's covered in gravy.  I don't know if it should be considered comfort food or stoner food.  Maybe it's a little of both?  It's so wrong, but it's so right!

I wasn't hungry by lunch time.  That loco moco carried me to the top of Le'Ahi (AKA Diamond Head) and back down.  I may not have been hungry, but it was a long, hot sweaty climb (although the heat was infinitely preferable to the -1 degree weather in NY), and it deserved some refreshment, so I had a shave ice.  This was watermelon and passionfruit.

Did I mention this was Valentine's Day?  Although we had planned our days to the hour with stuff to do, the one plan we hadn't made in advance was Valentine's Day dinner.  We went to the concierge and begged him to find us something nice somewhere.  He got us a late reservation at Il Lupino, an Italian restaurant.  I was a bit skeptical.  I didn't come all the way to Hawaii to eat Italian food.  How good could Italian food be on the other side of the planet?

The answer:  It can be good.  I can be very good.  This may be some of the best Italian food I have had outside of Italy.

It's a beautiful restaurant that sits at the far end of one of the malls on Kalakaua Avenue, the main drag on Waikiki.  It's spacious and charming.

Our table wasn't ready when we arrived, so we had a relaxing drink at the bar.  Right from the start service was friendly and engaging and stayed upbeat the whole night, despite the late hour.  One issue I have with eating out on Valentine's Day is that nicer restaurants tend to have fixed price dinners with limited options that taste mass-produced.  Although there was a special menu available, I didn't have to order from it.

I went all out with my meal ordering a salad, a pasta course, and main course.  Even my server was surprised I ordered all that.

Arugula and pear salad started the meal.  It's only flaw was it was too heavy on the greens.  The flavors didn't balance enough.  This seems common in many restaurant arugula salads though.  It's more economical to fill a plate with greens I guess.

Next I had bucatini amatriciana.  I love amatriciana sauce, but every time I have had it, the meat was always pancetta, or even Canadian bacon.  Traditionally it's supposed to be made with guanciale.  Well, this version had the guanciale.  The pasta was delicious and surprisingly spicy.  It was also a bigger portion than I expected. 

It would seem impossible to equal or surpass the delicious pasta, but this pork loin stuffed with cheese and speck in a Chianti sauce managed to do just that.  Even the seemingly ordinary green beans and tiny potatoes seemed just that much more special.

The server was correct in saying I  had ordered a crazy amount of food.  I was too stuffed to order dessert, but Kevin shared his white and dark chocolate mousse with caramelized bananas.
Day 6 - We went easy on breakfast back at the Shore Bird buffet.  We didn't have a real lunch either.  Kevin had been jonesing for ice cream for a few days and was determined to have some (shave ice dominates the frozen dessert scene).  I found Lappert's within the massive shopping complex at Hilton Hawaiian Village, the hotel adjacent to the Outrigger.  Again, it's a chain, but a local one.

Sorry you have to look at me in my ill-fitting swimsuit (most of my suits are ill-fitting these days).  I didn't have my own phone or camera handy and asked Kevin to shoot one of the ice cream with his phone.  He misunderstood that I just wanted a photo of the ice cream.

This is Kauai Pie.  It's coffee with fudge, coconut, and macadamia nuts.  You have to love Lapperts' use of nuts and coconut in so many of their flavors.

We had dinner at Roy's.  Roy Yamaguchi is Hawaii's answer to a celebrity chef.  I didn't realize that this was another national chain. There aren't any locations anywhere near where I live, so I had never heard of it.  I had simply been reading so much hype about it in the local media in Oahu, I felt I had to try it.  The problem with celebrity-chef-owned restaurants is they can have a great menu, but the execution often needs serious QC.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but Hawaii makes you feel optimistic.  It's funny what an effect the place has on you. 

The restaurant sits on a corner with a large outdoor patio.

They bring you edamame pods when you sit down.

I started with a delicious salad of tomatoes, shiso, goat cheese, and a spicy onion mignonette in balsamic dressing.  I liked this salad better than I liked the one at Il Lupino.  I'm not sure I have ever had shiso.  A vendor at one of my local summer farm markets sells a variety of crazy greens and shiso is always one of them.  If I haven't bought it in the past, I will be buying it in the future.

The main course was a sweet grilled chicken with Thai red curry (it was a full half chicken, but entirely boneless).  On top was creamy coconut corn.  On the bottom was sticky rice (of course) flavored with mango.  The dish had a creamy, comfort food quality about with, but with sophisticated flavor.  Well done!
I don't remember what dessert was.  I see pineapple, caramel, and some kind of pastry hiding under it all.  Kevin must have ordered it and we shared it.  Once again, I was too full for my own dessert.

Day 7 - We left Oahu and headed to Kauai this day.  I think at this stage of my vacation I was permanently full.

We arrived at our hotel, the Koa Kea in the early afternoon.  It was raining and our room wasn't ready yet, so we hung out at the bar for lunch and drinks.

My cocktail contained sparkling wine, peach vodka, and melon liqueur.  

 I tried to keep it light for lunch and went with a standard fruit and cheese platter.

We had dinner at the Koa Kea's only restaurant, Red Salt.  It's considered a really high end place in the neighborhood and we only had dinner there once.  Too pricey.  They had a $50 burger topped with foie gras and lobster.  I call that overkill.

The restaurant is named for the local red salt (obviously) and they provide a small container of it with the bread and butter.  I decided to try it.  I liked it so much I bought a container of it at the hotel gift shop before I went home.

Next I had a salad that was a Kauai Slaw made of strips of carrot, pepper, and cucumber in a sweet and sour dressing.  This was outstanding.
 The main course was a tender hunk of pork coated in a macadamia and brioche crust. 

Kevin wanted more ice cream.  The ice cream was a quartet of gelati.  Kevin really only wanted one of the flavors.  They accommodated him and brought a shareable portion.  I initially thought the square containers were cubic ice cream scoops.

Red Salt also offered their version of a root beer float made with root beer ice cream and locally made cream soda.  Kevin had been eyeballing that during our stay, but never ended up ordering it.  I had my eye on another dessert though (keep reading and you'll see what it was).

Day 8 -  We didn't rent a car on Kauai (not a good decision) so we were limited in our neighborhood food options as we had to take a bit of a walk to a small shopping center that had only a few food establishments.  There was an even bigger center about a mile and a half down the road with an even better selection, but without a car, it might as well not be there.  Since we never wanted to waste our mornings walking, we always had breakfast at Red Salt.

Our first Kauai morning I had a breakfast burrito. This thing was ridiculous.  It was pancetta hash, eggs, and gruyere in a wrap. They offered ketchup and sriracha for dipping.  I guess the salad on the side was there to make you feel less guilty.  I seriously didn't need to eat anything else the rest of the day.

Red Salt's other temptations include pineapple-lemon souffle pancakes, which I didn't try because they take 30 minutes to prepare, and macadamia nut waffles, which were a bit tough, but were improved with coconut syrup.

Even though I didn't want to eat, when the bus tour of Waimea canyon stopped at a local market this day, I bought a masalada.  These are popular Portuguese doughnuts commonly eaten in Hawaii.  I had a coconut one.  I was dying to dry one.

I was a bit disappointed.  I found the consistency to be too bread-like.  Oh well.

Our driver took us to a place on a golf course for lunch.  He seemed like the kind of guy who would know all the shacks and food trucks, but tour companies don't often contract with places like that.  

I was still stuffed from lunch.  I had a veggie wrap.

It was perfectly acceptable as veggie wraps go.  The folks who ordered fish and chips were quite happy.

I couldn't eat dinner that night.  I had just reached my eating limit.  Kevin had dinner in the bar and I ended up eating the pickles that came with his hamburger though.  I probably ate half his french fries too.  Oops.

Day 9 - After another breakfast at Red Salt, I spent my morning on an ATV jungle tour that provided a rather ordinary sandwich lunch. 

We went to Puka Dog for dinner.  Puka means hole, and that's what these hot dogs are about.  The bun isn't split, but instead is tubular and a polish sausage or a veggie dog is inserted in the middle.  It is topped with a lemon garlic sauce, your choice of fruit relish, and their special mustard.  More traditional toppings are available if you prefer.

 They put their menu on a boogie board.

I had the Polish sausage with mild lemon-garlic sauce, mango relish, and their mustard.

Kevin said he wasn't impressed with the place, but then he had a veggie dog with dijon mustard.  He might have enjoyed it more if he had been more adventurous.

It's funny what they call a "Polish Sausage" in Hawaii.  They were fairly similar to most hot dogs I eat regularly.  When someone says "Polish Sausage" to me, I think of Hilshire Farms kielbasa.

We came back to the hotel and went to the bar for a nightcap and dessert.  That dessert I had been so keen on trying: chocolate macadamia nut torte.

Day 10 - We had both our lunch and dinner on a dinner cruise to the Na'Pali Coast.  I suppose you could say it was appetizers and dinner (the crew certainly did) but the cruise went from 2PM-5PM so I considered the appetizers to be my lunch.  We started with cheese and crackers, crudites, and dips, and there was always wine, beer, and mai tais available.

For dinner they brought out the salads and either pulled pork or tuna sandwiches.  I always love my pulled pork.

 I had wine with the appetizers, but I thought a mai tai would be the best drink to end my vacation.
There was also a whale.

Went home the next day.  It was a good vacation.  Aloha.