Sunday, October 9, 2016

October is Celebration Time!

Ah Fall!  The cooler weather!   The changing leaves .  The apple orchards.   The cute boots and sweaters! The pumpkin pie.

Dear Lord, I hate it!

The reality?

The cooler weather!  (Hey, it's cold outside and I can't go swimming.)

The changing leaves! (Those gosh-darned leaf peepers create traffic jams every weekend.)

The apple orchards! (I would laugh at the apple pickers fighting for parking spaces at the orchards and then paying for the privilege of doing manual labor while the owners of the orchards laugh, but they are also responsible for those traffic jams.)

The cute boots and sweaters!  (Why would I want to confine my body in heavy clothing.  Can I have a sundress and some cute sandals please?)

The pumpkin pie!  (Do I need to explain this one?)

I'm also tired of the hype of Halloween.  The older I get, the less into Halloween I am.  I couldn't figure out what made me such a Halloween Grinch.  Then I read this article.  Item number one was the reason in a nutshell.  Halloween is too much investment of time and money with too little return.  

I don't really hate the season.  I have stated this on both of my blogs many times before.  I have three issues with the season called autumn.  The first is that it's not summer. I love warm weather (SWIMMING), long days, and farmers' markets filled to brimming.  I hate seeing summer end.  The second is I hate the hype.  I'm just sick of hearing people (and maybe I should just bluntly say women) doing the basic blather about how wonderful fall is and how it's their favorite season and all the accompanying drivel about cozy sweaters and changing leaves (no one seems to notice how short the days are).  Then of course there is my distaste for that giant nasty-tasting orange squash known as pumpkin.

For any other fellow pumpkin haters out there, I want to reassure you this blog always has been, and always will be a pumpkin-free zone.  On this blog you will not see any pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin cake, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin jam, pumpkin pickles, pumpkin salad, pumpkin candles, pumpkin deodorant, or pumpkin mouthwash.  Consider this blog a "safe space" for pumpkin haters.

I remain convinced most pumpkin lovers don't really love pumpkin.  It's the stuff used to flavor pumpkin that most people love.  They love cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice and brown sugar.  Does anyone gut a jack-o-lantern and think, "Yum.  This looks delicious?"  My guess is they feel as nauseated as I do when I'm gutting a pumpkin.  It's pretty nasty stuff.

So fall foods may not be my favorites, but at least the next few weeks will still have choice products at the farmers' markets.  While I am losing some of my favorites (corn), I'm gaining a few others like carrots, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower.   I can still have big family occasion dinners filled with farm fresh produce.

October may be tragically dark (although not as tragic as November and December) and not very warm, but it does have a bounty of celebrations.  October is my wedding anniversary, my father's birthday, my nephew's birthday, and Kevin's birthday.  There are so many occasions to celebrate in October and that's why I am writing this post today.  I'm not just here to complain about the changing seasons.  I'm here to introduce some new seasonal recipes I used in Dad's birthday dinner.

What is more comforting than a hearty pork roast?  It's one of my favorite dishes.  I cooked my pork shoulder in the oven with a sweet-spicy rub and then slathered it with a new twist on barbecue sauce.  My sauce included my most favorite soft drink of childhood - root beer.

After a slow roast for 5 hours, I turned up the oven and slathered my sauce on top to glaze it.  Once it was glazed, I pulled it and let my guests add extra barbecue sauce to it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the completed pork.  I only have the phone photo of it from when I took it out of the oven and posted the photo on Instagram.

Dessert was made from that delicious fall staple, the apple.  To me, apple is the king of fall fruits.  No pumpkin can ever compare.   My apples were sauteed with butter, brown sugar, and brandy and added to a charlotte made from a brown sugar caramel mousse.  I seasoned the mousse with a gentle pinch of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger, to get that seasonal "pumpkin spice" flavor without any actual pumpkin.

A good party starts with a good cheese tray.  I tried to have my cheese reflect the heartiness of the season and the rest of the dinner.  I used a sharp English cheddar, smoked Gouda, and a soft Brie.  On the side I had marcona almonds, fresh figs, and dry sausages.  One was a simple and mild French sausage.  The other was a spiced duck sausage, flavored with cinnamon, clove,  and allspice.

Dad enjoyed his birthday dinner immensely, and so did the rest of the family.  Try this pork for your favorite October celebrations.

Pulled Pork with Root Beer Sauce

  • 1 4.5-5  pound bone-in pork shoulder
For the rub
  • 2 Tbl brown sugar
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbl salt
 For the sauce
  • 12 oz root beer
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder, divided
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbl salt
  • 1 Tbp  mustard*
  • 1 tsp onion flakes
Mix together rub ingredients.  Rub this all over the pork and let stand for an hour or two until it comes to room temperature.

Heat oven to 275 degrees.  Place the pork in a dutch oven and cover.  Roast 6 hours.

To make the sauce, boil the root beer in a small saucepan for several minutes until reduced and syrupy.  Mix together the tomato paste, mustard, and vinegar along with salt, paprika, brown sugar, mustard, and onion flakes.

Add the mixture to the root beer and simmer 30 minutes or until thick.

When pork is done, you can spread a bit of the sauce over it and place it under the broiler uncovered  for 3 minutes to give it a bit of a glaze.

Let the pork stand 15 minutes.  Slice or pull and serve with more of the root beer sauce.

Caramel Apple Charlotte

  • 4 firm apples, sliced thin
  • 4 Tbl  butter, divided
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbl brown sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbl brandy
  • 2 packages Ladyfingers (or more if you are using a bigger baking dish)
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 Tbl cold water
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Line a baking dish with plastic wrap (I used a round souffle dish).  Lay a layer of ladyfingers in the bottom, breaking them up to fit as necessary to cover the bottom.  Stand the ladyfingers up vertically around the perimeter of the dish.

Heat 2 Tbl of butter in large skillet.  Cook apples in the butter until they soften.  Stir in the brown sugar and continue cooking until it is dissolved.  Add the brandy and cook until it is evaporated.  Lay the apples in the bottom on the baking dish.

In a small saucepan heat the evaporated milk and brown sugar over medium heat bringing to a boil, swirling the pan occasionally.  Cook until the mixture is thick and a dark amber color.  Remove from heat and add butter, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.  Allow to cool, but not completely.

Place cold water and gelatin in a small dish and allow it to bloom.   Add to the warm caramel and stir until melted.  Cool it completely.

Best cold cream in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold in about three quarters of the caramel.   (Drizzle the extra over the apples or save it for your ice cream tomorrow.)

Spoon the mousse on top of the apples in the baking dish (It won't all fit in the dish, if you have a small dish, so you may have some left over to snack on).  Chill several hours or overnight.  When ready to serve, invert over a plate and carefully remove plastic wrap.

*A good foodie always has some hotty-totty dijon mustard lying around.  Well, I always say I'm a failure as a foodie.  I took it for granted that I had mustard in the house when I made this.  There aren't any grocery stores in my neighborhood anymore, so going out to buy mustard would have taken more time than I had available.  There is, however, a convenient CVS with a small grocery section.  The only mustard they carry is the yellow bottle of French's (which I admit I rather like on a hot dog or a bologna sandwich).  I don't think the cheap mustard negatively affected the sauce.  I also don't think a better mustard would affect it either.  What I'm trying to say here is it really doesn't matter what kind of mustard.  Use what you have or what you prefer.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Simple Pulled Chicken Sandwiches

Although there are still a few weeks of summer left on the calendar, the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are gone.  I won't be taking any more vacations in 2016.  I won't have the time to be browsing markets for hours.  I won't have many evenings free to prepare a fresh meal every night of the week.  September brings new commitments and more activity.  I'll be back to dance classes and play rehearsals (or at least play production duties).  The short days and increased darkness will give me less energy to put into elaborate meals.

I continue to be grateful I made the decision to buy a slow cooker this year.  In the past my evenings away from home meant more takeout and more restaurant meals.  Now I can prepare home cooked meals even when I'm out of the house.  As theater production season is already here and dance classes start next week, I'm already dusting that baby off and working on new recipes to make in it.

The onslaught of pumpkin may be on its way and the roads leading north are already clogged with apple pickers, but I'm still dreaming of summer barbecues. I want juicy cheeseburgers and ribs slathered in sauce.  I want my chicken to be shredded into bits and slathered in sauce so it goes down that much easier.

My craving for summer grilling and barbecue is one that stays unsatisfied all summer long.   My readers out there know my pain.  I live in an apartment.  I have no yard to place a grill or a smoker. I can only lust after my friends posting online photos of their grilled meals on Instagram or the endless articles about summer grilling in the food magazines I read.

I have a few options if I want to pretend to grill.  I have a grill pan.  I have an electric grill.  I also have that slow cooker.  My slow cooker will cook meats in that low-and-slow mode so I can pull them apart and slather them in barbecue sauce.

I experimented with using balsamic vinegar for my acid element and molasses for the sweet.  I wanted to see how the sweetness balsamic vinegar changed the flavor profile.

The major flaw in the sandwiches was overcooking.  These should not have been cooked more than 4-6 hours, but I am away from home much longer than that.  Even with all the sauce on them, the meat was dry.  I shouldn't cook chicken in the slow cooker when I'm going to be at work all day.  Chicken, even with the skin and bones on, can't be cooked 9 hours at a time.

The other flaw was the molasses.  It overpowered the balsamic and had a slight bitter edge.  If I make these again, I would either cut back on the molasses, or use brown sugar.

I use bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts because they have more flavor than the boneless and skinless variety.  Some cooks might worry removing the bone is too much work, but the meat pulls away from the bones easily after several hours in the slow cooker.

My side dish was sweet and sour coleslaw with apples.  I mixed pre-made coleslaw mix with lime juice, thinly sliced granny smith apple, and honey.  

This recipe makes 4 moderate sized sandwiches.  You can add more chicken to the recipe, but you probably won't need to make too much additional sauce unless you are cooking more than 4 pieces of chicken at a time.

Slow Cooker Balsamic Pulled Chicken Sandwiches


  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbl molasses
  • 1 Tbl soy sauce
  • 2 Tbl tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 4 sturdy rolls
Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper.  In a large frying pan, brown them well on both sides.

Mix together vinegar, molasses, soy sauce, tomato paste, paprika, and garlic.  Slather the sauce all over the chicken and place in slow cooker.  Cook on low 4-6 hours.

Remove from slow cooker and remove the skin.  Use forks to pull the meat off the bone and shred.  Serve on rolls with coleslaw.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Czech Out This Delicious Food City

Ha ha ha.  I'm just so funny. As if that weren't the most obvious pun in the universe.

Now that I got the pun bit out of the way, let me go about my usual business of boring readers to tears with an endless food travelogue.

Prague is the most unique city I have ever visited.  I don't think I have ever seen a more visually stunning city.  Even Paris doesn't compare.  Prague doesn't just contain UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  When I first arrived in Prague I felt the endless grand facades, the winding streets, and massive crowds were too intimidating to ever be able to feel relaxed and comfortable, but the place worked its magic on me and by the end of Day 2, I felt able to walk the streets with confidence.

If you would like to see my non-food photos, I have archived them here.  (If you want to know what you are looking at, click the comment link and you will see my explanations of the photos.)

What is the food like in Prague?  I can describe it in five words:  meat, carbs, gravy, carbs, and meat.  I can also use five words to describe the beverages:  beer, beer, beer, beer, and beer.  The Czech Republic is the second fattest country in Europe (UK is first).  They don't care much for vegetables (although they work wonders with cabbage) and beer is the cheapest beverage you can drink (and they drink a lot of it).  Prague has an excellent public transportation system, but I got around mostly by walking because my body was just begging to get rid of some of those calories.   

I suppose I stayed too much within the Tourist Comfort Zone because in all the restaurants I went into, I had the luxury of English menus and English speaking staff.  What I found most interesting was even tourists from other countries who spoke a variety of other languages, would speak English when talking to the Czechs.

So let's talk a bit about what I ate.  What were my daily meals like?

Day 1:  I arrived in Prague at lunch time, exhausted from the red-eye flight, but eager to start exploring.  The whole family stayed in the beautiful Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) in the historic Old Town Square Hotel.   Kevin and I  wanted to stay close to "home" for our first day so we looked at the local sites.  We explored St. Nicholas church and wandered a few side streets. When hunger took over our curiosity, we ended up at an open air restaurant on the square called Kotleta.  It was a scorching hot day and the restaurant had plenty of canopies and also sat next to  a shady park.

Despite the Czech food reputation, there were salads on the menu.  I chose one with arugula, baked goat cheese on toast, prosciutto, asparagus, strawberries and walnuts.  The dressing seemed to be made out of pureed strawberries.  The worst part was the abundance of walnuts.  There were almost enough to trigger my allergies.  Other than the heavy strawberry flavor, it wasn't too different from similar salads back home.  I was happy to have found something light after the long flight.

Kevin took a different extreme and ordered the schnitzel.  It came with a side of butter with some mashed potatoes underneath.

In the evening Kevin and I met up with the rest of the family for dinner. We had no reservations anywhere that night, so we wandered around a bit until we found a restaurant that would easily accommodate my stepmother's scooter.  We found a place called U Dominikana, a restaurant in a former Dominican monastery.
The staff was pleasant (contrary to the typical Czech reputation) and the restaurant had a beautiful garden room in the back. 

I had a typical Czech dish that night called Svickova, which is beef sirloin in cream sauce with bread dumplings.  The dumplings I had at Dominikana were different from the dumplings I had on subsequent nights.  These dumplings reminded me of balls of Thanksgiving stuffing.

I had to have dessert of course.  This brownie was to die for.  It was dense and chocolatey and the sour cherry compote on top complemented it perfectly.

After this meal I was ready to say goodnight to Prague and see what adventures lay in wait for the next day.

Day 2:  We went out for a family breakfast Sunday morning.  My brother found a place near the Kafka memorial called Pastacaffe.  We went to an Italian restaurant for a Czech breakfast.

This was a small, but airy and sunny spot serving mostly Italian food.  They had a special going on for lunch and dinner where if you ordered spaghetti amatriciana, they would make a donation to the earthquake relief fund in honor of the devastated Italian city of Amatrice. 

 It was breakfast time, so I stuck with something more traditional. 

This was their version of Eggs Florentine.  This had spinach, tomato, egg, sausage, and grilled bread.  I wasn't sure what to expect with the sausage, but it was the most unique part of the dish.  I can't explain the flavor, but it was not like any other sausage I have ever eaten.

Kevin and I spent the next few hours exploring the Jewish quarter.  After visiting three synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery, we realized we had used up much of our afternoon and needed some nourishment.  We ended our tour right where we started by the Kafka statue and the Pastacaffe.  We decided to have lunch across the street at a place called Nostress.  Was that meant to be read as No Stress?  I never bothered to ask.

We sat at a sunny table near the window.  I ordered a rice noodle salad with green mango, cucumber, and chicken.  It was perfect after that heavy breakfast.

Did someone say something about heavy meals?  Let's talk about dinner.

My brother found a restaurant called U Pinksau (so proud of his discovery he posed in front of it with my nephew).  This place dates back to 1843 and was the first restaurant to serve Pilsner in Prague. Now Pilsner Urquell is the most popular beer in Prague.

We sat in the outdoor garden.  Many restaurants in Prague have little to no air conditioning, so sitting outside is a better bet in hot weather.  The drawback to outdoor spaces is the lack of smoking regulations in Prague.  It's not illegal in smoke indoors, although restaurants in tourist areas tend to be voluntarily nonsmoking.  Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to outdoor spaces.  I wasn't feeling too well at the end of the meal because the smoke around me got too heavy.

You wouldn't believe how big the servings of pilsner are in Prague.  This photo can't do it justice.

I stayed away from the beer and drank wine with a pork neck accompanied by braised white cabbage and potato pancakes.  I don't know what the kitchen does to make this cabbage so creamy.  It had just enough sour taste to it and complemented the salty, ham-like, pork neck well.

I would have loved to have tried the ubiquitous pork knuckle instead of a neck, but the pork knuckle servings are huge in every restaurant.  I am known for a big appetite, but even I have my limits.

We didn't stay here for dessert.  Kevin and I returned to Old Town Square and had sundaes at a cafe near our hotel.  This one was coffee ice cream with Baileys.  It's fun to hang out at the square at night.  There is plenty of interesting people watching and someone is always playing live music.

Day 3:  Room service breakfast are included at our hotel, so we took advantage that this particular morning.  We spent most of the day on a tour of Prague Castle.  It was late afternoon by the time it was over and we really just wanted a snack to tide us over before what was likely to be another heavy dinner.

We found a small pastry shop and had some pastry and cappuccino.  This little cake looked far better than it tasted.  The cheese layer and the crust were both dry and crumbly.

Dinner that night was at the magnificent Municipal Building in their basement restaurant Plzenska.

The interior recalls the Art Nouveau period with it's decor.  The overall feel is 19th century kitsch.  The food is thoroughly traditional without apology.  The menu is written in multiple languages, which feels a bit touristy, but I was a tourist after all.

I started with duck.  Traditional bread dumplings as well as potato pancakes accompanied it.  There was also some of that tasty cabbage beneath.

 I had traditional Czech pancakes for dessert with plenty of ice cream and creme anglaise.

We also had an accordion player serenading us throughout the night.  I never saw a more cheerful guys.  He had a massive (but genuine) smile plastered on his face the whole night.  We should all love our jobs so much.

Day 4 - Our final full day in Prague was our best food day of them all.  We took a food tour with a company that specializes in Prague food tours. 

This was the one day where we spent time outside the main tourist area.  This tour took us through the neighborhood of Karlin.  During the communist era this area was mostly industrial and housed both the factories and the workers.  It remained a working class neighborhood after the revolution, but a flood in the early part of the century forced the neighborhood to rebuild and revitalize.  Now it is becoming something of a hipster area.  

We had to wait a few minutes for our guide to meet us at the subway station, so I decided to have some ice cream to tide me over.

The tour took us through 4 different types of restaurants and different types of meals.  Some were traditional and some reflected the future of Czech cuisine.

We started at a bakery called  Simply Good.  Here we sampled traditional Czech breakfast pastries.  We had a blueberry kolache and puff pastry with lemon curd.

That's our guide Leona in the pink shirt.  She was awesome.  She was not just informative about the food, but she had extensive knowledge of the history and culture and was able to answer all of our stupid questions and give us a lot of background to the places we went and the foods we ate along with the stories behind them.

The second stop took us away from the traditional and into the emerging locavore movement.  We went to a restaurant called Eska.   If traditional Czech food is all about carbs and meat, this meal truly deviated from tradition because there was no meat.  

The decor is made from reclaimed items and they have an open kitchen - rare in Prague.

We started with a kefir dip and sesame crackers.  There were all kinds of nuts and flowers and I don't know what else on top.
Next we had fermented red wheat with roasted celery root, raisins, and walnuts.  The celeriac was the most obvious flavor here.

The third dish was a potato roasted in ash surrounded with more kefir dried egg yolk, and smoked fish.  I pushed the fish bits aside and enjoyed the rest of the dish.
This meal is nothing I would have ordered if I were on my own, but I enjoyed it.  I'm glad I was pushed out of my comfort zone and tasted some dishes that were truly new to me.

Our next stop was Lokal Hamburk.  Lokal is a small beer hall chain throughout the city.  The one in Karlin is named after Hamburg because it is near the river port that starts the major route to Hamburg.  The decor playfully imitates the communist era. 

The theme for this stop was traditional beer snacks.  Our first dish was steak tartare.  In France this is a high end dish.  In Prague you eat it with your beer.  It is mixed with pickles and egg and a bunch of other stuff and it's so delicious I could have eaten the whole pile of it.  You rub garlic on the little toasts provided and spread the beef over it.

We also had nakladany hermelin - pickled Camembert cheese.  It sounds bizarre, but it was delicious.

Finally we had Prague ham that you eat on bread spread with a mixture of whipped cream and horseradish.  During our walks around the square I saw many street vendors roasting ham on spits and it gave me a huge ham craving.  Unfortunately once I finally tasted Prague ham, I didn't think it was anything special.  This was the weakest dish of the day.

Our final stop on the tour was a small cafe called Maso a Kobliha, which literally means Meat and Doughnuts.  The owner also owns a butcher shop, so the restaurant is a way to make use of his product.  I'm not sure how the doughnuts came into play, but I won't complain.

Oddly enough, we didn't have meat.  We had more cheese.  This was a huge hunk of fried cheese on a bun with tartar sauce.  I don't know how I managed to eat it after attacking the bar snacks.

We finished with the doughnuts.  This was a delicious pastry stuffed with homemade vanilla custard.   I don't think a better custard doughnut than this exists anywhere.

Beverages were included in the tour and we had a few traditional and non-traditional options at each stop.  At the bakery we were offered coffee, but I stuck with iced tea (bottled).  At Eska they had Czech wine.  I drank a white.  I decided to alternate the alcoholic beverages, so at Lokal I had a raspberry soda.  At Meat and Doughnuts, I went for hard cider.

What I found interesting about Czech soft drinks is that every non-soda option is called "lemonade" whether it contains lemons or not.  The raspberry drink I had was lemonade.  The ginger soda my niece drank with her doughnut was lemonade.  If it's not Coke, it's lemonade.

I still wonder how I was able to eat dinner that night after all of this food.  I knew I had to make the effort because it was my last night in Prague and I still hadn't tried all the Czech dishes I wanted to.

We stayed in Old Town Square and at a restaurant Leona had recommended call Mincovna.  Mincovna means mint and the building once housed a mint.  The decor consists of giant replicas of old coins.

I decided to try the Czech version of goulash.  There were dumplings of course.  There are always dumplings.  I was so full and tired I barely remember it.  I'm sure it was good because it it had been bad, I would have remembered that.  The dumpling were less bread-like here.

 I didn't order dessert.  Someone did.  I took a photo, but I don't remember what it was.

Our trip was brief.  We flew back to New York the next day.  It was worth the long journey.   I would have liked a few more meals and seen a few more sights, but I'm happy to have had this experience.

Now I need to go to the gym!

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.