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Friday, February 29, 2008

Doctoring the Burger

Who doesn't love a big, fat, juicy burger?

Well, my husband for one. He shuns beef. Instead he loves big, fat, dry, tasteless turkey burgers. When I asked him what he wanted for dinner earlier this week he said, "I don't know. Spaghetti? Turkey burgers?" When I think about it, I would say that "Turkey Burgers" is a standard answer when I ask him what he wants for dinner. I made spaghetti earlier this week, but when the leftovers ran out last night, I decided that I couldn't escape the turkey burger request. My quest was to make them as edible as possible.

Doctoring ground meat to make it into something it's not always smacks of Rachael Ray to me. But I justify it by saying I'm just trying to make bland meat taste better. I'm not trying to condense a perfectly good food (like chicken cacciatore or spanikopita) into burger form.

I came up with the idea of making the burger really spicy and adding lots of interesting condiments. Because I'm trying to be better about posting actual recipes instead of streams of consciousness about how I made a meal, I will now present my results in approximate, legitimate recipe form.

Chipotle Turkey Burgers with Roasted Tomato "Ketchup" and Guacamole

The Burger
1 pound ground turkey - dark meat (I WILL NOT use dry, flavorless breast)
1 Tablespoon chipotle powder
1 Onion finely diced and sauteed.
2 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro.

Mix to combine. Form into patties. I will not presume to tell you how to cook a burger. Grill it outiside. Grill it on your Foreman. Cook it on a flat griddle. Fry it in a frying pan. Whatever floats your boat.

Roasted Tomato "Ketchup"
1 15oz. can Fire Roasted Tomatoes (Uh-oh, we're heading into Rachael Ray territory)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 Tbl cider vinegar
1 Tbl sugar (I would have used brown sugar, but found out I was out of it)
1 tsp smoked paprika (Yikes. Another RR "secret ingredient")
1 tsp. salt

I drained a little of the excess liquid out of the tomato can so my sauce wouldn't be too thin (the thin watery stuff at the top, and not the thicker more tomatoey stuff at the bottom). You can mix this all and leave it chunky, or you can throw it in the blender or food processor or do what I did and moosh it up with a stick blender. If you like it thicker, add a couple more tablespoons of tomato paste. You will have more than you need for the burgers, so put it in a container with a tight lid, stick it in the fridge, and try to come up with something else to do with it.

Guacamole
(Does anyone really need a recipe for this? Here's how I made mine last night.)

4 Small avocados
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tbl fresh cilantro
2 cloves of garlic smooshed up with 1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin (Hmmm...do you know I have about as many forgotten jars of cumin that Rachael Ray probably has of poultry seasoning?)
1 tsp finely minced jalapeno (I removed ribs and seeds and didn't use too much because I really do love my husband. Feel free to add more jalapeno and throw in the seeds if that floats your boat.)

Guacamole is like peanut butter. Some like it smooth. Some like it chunky. Some just don't care. Mash as you see fit or throw it in the food processor. If you own a mortar and pestle and don't use it for your guacamole, you risk me hating you forever. I mashed mine last night.

Assemblage

Open 4 kaiser rolls. Toast or not as you see fit. One one side generously spread the tomato sauce. On the other side mound up lots of the guac. Place a few leaves of lettuce (well, you want to feel good about having a vegetable in your meal, right?) on the guacamole side and lay the burger on the tomato side. Attempt to close.

Eat with lots of napkins.

After eating his burger, Kevin began using a fork to pick up the last of the guacamole on his plate. He has never been a plate cleaner. Without my prompting him, he told me it was delicious. It was a much better response than what I got for the coq au vin. What exactly does it say about him?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Brioche!

Snowstorms aren't always a bad thing. Friday's bad storm meant that I couldn't get to work easily and ended up working from home. I'm sort of limited to what I can do at home, so I was left with some free time on my hands. Downtime at home is a lot more fun than downtime at work. You can get away with a lot of crap. You can drink wine with lunch, take naps, watch TV, and when you're forced to work, you can do it naked (not that I would do any of that of course ;-)) .

I decided to spend some of that down time accomplishing one of those New Year's Resolutions I haven't tackled yet. In other words, I decided to bake something I have never baked before, and do something with yeast. I'm never home long enough these days to wait for breads and rolls to rise.

Emeline and Helene have been writing blogs in recent weeks about doughnuts and doughnuts were really on my mind. I considered it, but I thought it might be better to do something that wasn't deep fried. I wasn't sure I had enough oil in the house to fry doughnuts in anyway and I wasn't going out in the snow to buy more.

I pulled out my ginormous copy of Baking With Julia and started searching through the recipes. I came across a recipe for brioche. That fit the bill on two levels. It was something with yeast, and it was something I have never made before. I still had to go out and buy milk for it, but I could get milk at CVS down the street (walking distance). We were good to go.

I cranked up Beirut on the stereo (awesome disc) and got down to business.

I was thrilled to finally pull out my totally unused dough hook. Do you know I've had that Kitchen Aid for over six years (it was a wedding present), but have never used the dough hook? I have also had that cookbook for at least ten years and haven't made many of recipes because of my lack of a dough hook.

There was a warning sticker on the dough hook saying not to use it at any speed other than 2. That was worrisome since I was supposed to vary the speeds at different points in the mixing. I did attempt to change speeds once or twice. My mixer didn't overheat - even after the 15 minute mixing periods.

I didn't get nervous when the dough fell apart after I added the butter, but I did get nervous about how it came together. Although the dough did wrap itself nicely around the hook, I never got that heavy slapping in the bowl. The dough was always soft and sticky.

The multiple risings got on my nerves a bit. My dough was slow to rise and didn't rise as high as I had hoped. The first rising was slow and less than overwhelming. The second rising was the same. When I shaped the dough and put the little balls in the pan, I thought they looked utterly pathetic. I had no idea how they would ever form a nice, cohesive loaf. Well, I just tried to have faith and by the end of two hours, the balls had expanded and formed one big unit.

The resulting loaf wasn't as tall as I had hoped, but the texture was lovely. You could smell the butter while it was baking. When the first loaf came out of the oven, the first thing I did was make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of it (with tran-fat pb and HFCS strawberry preserves - so naughty!). It was perfect. I considering making some french toast with some of the slices, but I think I prefer eating it "raw" just spread with pb&j or some butter.

I took the third loaf to work. My coworkers are a little more suspicious of it. They like it better when I make cookies and cake and brownies.

I have made another resolution to be better about putting details of actual recipes instead of just saying what I did and what I did it with. So I will put the recipe down here.

I should be more like my fellow bloggers and be kind enough to use actual photos in my blog. The problem is my husband is keeper of the digital camera, while my cameras are all of the film variety. I should get a cheap digial of my own so I can take and upload my own food photos.

So without further ado I present...

Julia's Brioche Recipe

Make the starter:

1/3 cup warm whole milk (100- 110 degrees F)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Put all ingredients, except for 1 cup of the flour, in the bowl of mixer and use a spatula to gently blend the ingredients together.

Sprinkle the remaining cup of flour on top. Let rest for about 30 minutes. The flour on top will crack when it's ready.

Now you're ready for The Dough:

1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs , lightly beaten, room temp
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approx)
6 ounces unsalted butter , room temperature

Add the sugar, salt, eggs and one cup of the flour to the sponge. Set the bowl into the mixer with the dough hook and beat on low speed for a minute or two. The ingredients should look as if they're just coming together. Keep the mixer running and stir in 1/2 cup of flour.

Increase mixer speed to medium and keep mixing for about 15 minutes. The dough should come together and wrap itself around the hook and slap around the sides of the bowl.

Work the butter until it's the same soft consistency of the dough. Put the mixer on low and incorporate a few tablespoons at a time into the dough. The dough should fall apart at this point.

Raise the speed of the mixer to medium high for a minute and then lower it to medium until the dough comes together again. If dough doesn't come together, add one more tablespoon of flour. The dough will be sticky, but still cool.

Place dough in a large buttered bowl and cover with buttered plastic wrap. Let rise in the at room temperature for about 2-2.5 hours or until doubled in bulk.

When dough has risen, deflate it by lifting the edges gently with your fingers and letting it fall back into the bowl. Do this around the circumference of the dough Cover the bowl with plastic wrap again and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours. It will be ready for any brioche recipe. (I'm hoping to make sticky buns with it the next time.)

To make the loaves:

Divide dough into three sections and butter 3 loaf pans.

Divide a section of dough into 6 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Place the balls in two rows in the pans. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for two hours or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush the top of the dough with egg wash. Use a pair of scissors to snip an x into each ball. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

Let cool to room temperature and enjoy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

MEN!!!!!

Do men ever really appreciate the things we do for them?

Back in the days when we were first married, Kevin used to love having a wife who cooked. He would brag about how he would come home to find me chopping things. He would generate envy among his friends. He had a wife who loved to cook. How lucky he was!

*Sigh* It was bound not to last. He takes it for granted way too much.

I had some leftover red wine from my last dinner party. I wanted to use it up before it became undrinkable, so I decided to make Coq au Vin with it. I made homemade mashed potatoes on the side. It was an ambitious meal for a weeknight, but what the heck. I was home all night. I was able to do laundry and clean the pots and dishes I was finished with as various phases of cooking allowed. It was a two hour process, but Kevin came home late, so everything was on the table before he was home.

Feeding him chicken can be frustrating sometimes. He claims to only like white meat, but if you give him a breast, he freaks and says it's too much. That was the first complaint of the night. On the good side, it was the only complaint for the night. After all that time and effort, it better have been.

Close to the end of the meal, I asked him how it was. I wanted to know it was worth the effort. I got a noncommital, quiet "It was good."

Do men really get it? I know there are male chefs out there who appreciate food, but why is the average non-chef husband so clueless? I think I could serve him Hamburger Helper and get the same reaction. I remember looking into his kitchen cabinets in his apartment when we were dating. I found jarred pasta sauce, instant mashed potatoes, and cold cereal. His freezer had frozen Tabatchnik chicken soup. I swear he doesn't notice the difference between well-prepared homemade food and instant crap. I think he appreciated the fact that I cook mostly from scratch in the beginning, but the honeymoon is over, home cooked dinners have become the rule and not the exception, and he still can't tell the difference.

I am so tempted to try a little experiment on him. I want to make a Sandra Lee recipe, something with lots of jarred ingredients, and see if he reacts to it with the same level of enjoyment he reacted to Ina Garten's Coq Au Vin (too bad Sandra Lee and Rachael Ray don't have their own bastardized versions). It's not an easy task to find one. Do you know how many Sandra Lee recipes are covered in cheese?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day Wrap Up

Kevin and I have always celebrated Valentine's Day. In the beginning we were probably more over the top about it and things have become a bit more low key over the years, but we always celebrate. It's probably more important to Kevin than it is to me. He may not always observe it with the same romantic zeal he did when we were first dating, but he always wants to do something. I guess it's because the two of us are really suffering from winter blahs by the time V-day rolls around, so it's a great excuse to do something special and focus on each other for the night.

We almost always go out to dinner, but this year was a little different. Things have been particularly difficult for him at work these days and he has been really down for the past couple of weeks. He's been so grumpy and work-obessed that I just couldn't find a time to say, "Hey, what should we do for Valentine's Day. Let's make a reservation." He was the one who finally asked me what we should do - on Tuesday. At that point, most decent restaurants are booked.

I decided to cook. I figured that even if we could get a reservation somewhere, most places would be serving some kind of prixe fixe meal that would probably taste mass produced and we would be rushed through our meal (like what happened on New Year's Eve at Trinity). We were probably better off eating at home anyway. I told Kevin I would cook him whatever he wanted and I would make myself something special as well.

Kevin said he wanted shrimp scampi. As seafood is something hard for me to improvise (I can't tell if something tastes good if I won't eat it) I went to my good friend Tyler Florence who is my go-to guy for classic recipes.

Rather than make the required linguini, I decided to be more adventurous. You see Sue and Giada have been making me crave orzo lately, particulary orzo that is creamy and rich. Although my orzo was probably overkill with the shrimp scampi, I thought it was amazingly good. Sue's and Giada's recipes required baking the orzo in the oven with cheese, but there is no way Kevin would abide by that, so I just made orzo in creamy sauce.

I started by taking:

1 Cup orzo

and cooked it in:

2 Cups chicken stock.

I brought the stock to a boil, took it down to a simmer, dumped in the orzo, covered the pot, and cooked the orzo as if it were rice. When the orzo had taken on most of the water, I put it in the sauce.

The sauce was:

8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 half medium onion diced.

Sauteed in

2T butter.

Next I added

1/2 cup of white wine

I let that reduce almost all of the way down.

Then I added

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 good handful grated parmiggiano reggiano.
1 handful chopped fresh parsely

WOW! I can't tell you just how yummy this orzo was. It was the best orzo I ever made. It will probably also cause me to die young of a heart attack. (Especially since I'm on such a heavy cream kick lately).

Speaking of heart attacks, for my dinner I took a cue from Ree and used her method of cooking a ribeye steak (Hint: more butter). Her recipe calls for rubbing the steak with Lawry's Seasoned Salt and lemon pepper. I'm not sure if I'm too big of a food snob to use those two things, but I don't currently have them in my kitchen. I used Old World Seasoning and Florida Seasoned Pepper from Penzey's Spices. I suspect ingredient-wise they're almost identical to Pioneer Woman's own seasonings, but these have the cache` of coming from a specialty shop. *tilts nose upward*

I had really wanted to do some kind of homemade dessert. That just couldn't happen. I got stuck in traffic on my way home from work and still had to head to the store to buy the ingredients for dinner. The A&P registers were woefully understaffed and the cashier at the one I used was incompetent. I hardly was home in time to make dinner. Dessert was chocolate Haagen Daaz ice cream splashed with Kahlua, and topped with fresh whipped cream and toasted pecans.

Kevin gave me a gift of assorted barks from Chocolations. They were excellent, but they didn't make up for the fact that I had to endure the unpleasant part of dinner alone. I forgot that when you cook for yourself, even if it's a holiday, you still have to do the CLEANUP. I had to clean pans for two different entrees. Kevin was NO HELP. If it weren't for the chocolate, I would have killed him. I told him after the last dish was put away, "Next year we go out."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Disasters and musings while making dinner last night

I was preparing some of my special vegetarian stuffed peppers last night to take for lunch this week. (Yes, Sue, you're right about the peppers, but they're less objectionable than a lot of vegetables and eating a whole pepper makes me feel virtuous). I bought four large red bell peppers from Whole Foods. They looked gorgeous. I cut off the top of one of them and looked down to find MOLD on the inside of the pepper. How does one avoid things like this? Could I have taken the pepper back and demanded a refund? How do you buy a pepper and know there will be mold inside it?

The pepper recipe in case you were wondering....

3/4 cup wholewheat couscous cooked in same amount of water
2 Hard boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 handfuls of chopped dried apricots
4 oz crumbled feta cheese
Cumin, cinnamon, oregano, or whatever other spices you feel like sprinkling in there.

350 degrees for about 30 minutes until the peppers are soft.

Moving right along...

I was also making turkey meatloaf for my dinner. These days when recipe calls for ketchup, I prefer not to buy that HFCS-laden stuff in a bottle. I mix a combination of tomato paste, cider vinegar, paprika, salt, pepper, and a few pinches of sugar and get a similar taste and texture to bottled ketchup. I did this last night.

I LOVE the tomato paste in a tube. I used to hate it when the only tomato paste you could get was in a can and if you only needed a little, you ended up wasting it. There is just one problem. It can get messy. When the tube starts to run low, I like to try to twist and turn it to make that last bit come out. It does eventually come out. The problem is it comes out every place but into the bowl I want to receive it. It tends to shoot out sideways. Last night it shot sideways out onto my pants (and I hadn't changed out of the work clothes yet). Looks like I'll have a dry cleaning bill this week.

But dinner had its good points too...

I was making mashed potatoes to go with the meat loaf. I went into the refrigerator for the milk. That's when I saw it. Over the weekend I bought a lot of heavy cream to use to make the ganache for my mother-in-law's birthday cake. I still had quite a bit left over. I went to reach for the milk, but the cream just kept staring at me. I don't normally do such artery-clogging things like mashing potatoes with things like cream cheese (sorry Ree) or heavy cream. I don't want to clog up my arteries or balloon my belly out more. Still, the heavy cream stared back at me and beckoned. Did I dare? Did I really dare?

In the end I mixed the heavy cream with regular milk, but I used enough of it to know it was there. Those potatoes were heavenly. I think I may start liking heavy cream in my potatoes too much. They really had a lovely richness to them.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Nutty (literally) Birthday Party

My mother-in-law's birthday party is over. It's another dinner under my belt.

The news you have all been waiting for - the cake. How did it turn out? Not so great unfortunately. I'm glad I tried it, but I don't think I will do it again.

First there was the cake baking part. The cake had crispy edges and then refused to come out of the pan. I had some cake chunks stuck. That meant when it came time to split the layers, I had some difficulty cutting through. True to form, my layers were far from cut evenly. The top layer was very delicate due to the holes where the cake stuck to the pan.

I have learned you can't do meringue in a Kitchen Aid. I could have sworn I have done it before, but I put my eggs in the bowl and began whipping away and after many long minutes, they remained flat. I wondered if there was some fat in the eggs somewhere. I thought I had done a good job separating them. I decided to chuck them and rewash the bowl and the whip and start fresh with new eggs. Still no dice. Have I mentioned I don't currently own a hand mixer? Deciding that the Kitchen Aid might be the problem, I stuck the whip attachment onto my stick blender and whipped away. I had meringue within seconds. Nonetheless, my meringue was quite flat when it was baked. I hope Sue will forgive me for baking it on a sheet of parchment.

Once it was time for assemblage, I tried cutting the edges off the cake, but they weren't terribly even. I also didnt seem to have enough of the ganache to cover the whole thing. I served the cake rather sneakily. I did the kids' birthday trick of lighting candles and turning off the lights. Once MIL blew out the candles, I quickly took the cake back to the kitchen to cut it and serve it.

The cake tasted pretty good after all of that. A pound of Callebut chocolate mixed with cream can make anything taste great and the crispy stuff and the peanut butter were a nice mix. Still, I'm not making this cake again any time soon.

The rest of the menu was pretty decent though.

We started with Cabernet Risotto. I've been using more of Michael Chiarello's recipes lately. I always had the same problem with him that I had with Ina Garten - too high class and wealthy. I also don't like his lack of safety headgear when he rides a horse. He does infuse wine into his recipes in all sorts of interesting ways though.

I did some ebellishment onto the recipe though. I fried the onion in partial butter and partial olive oil. Then I made a topping for the risotto.

1 pound slice cremini mushrooms
1 onion
2 T butter
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tbp (roughly) chopped fresh thyme.

I sauteed the onions in the butter until soft and added the 'shrooms. When they began to brown I sprinkled on some salt and pepper and added the wine and thyme and let it cook down. That got served on top of the risotto.

The main couse was Pecan Chicken Breasts

I pounded out:

9 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

and marinated them in a plastic bag or a few hours in:

2 cups buttermilk

When the chicken was ready to be cooked, I put into the food processor:

1 Cup plain bread crumbs
1 Cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Few grinds black pepper

This was a purely experimental combination. This was a new recipe for me. Why do I tend to experiment like this when I have company? It's sort of risky.

Anyway, I processed this mixture into crumbs and coated my chicken with it. I baked the chicken for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

It could have used a little more flavor. I would up the paprika content the next time, or maybe try an extra spice or two. Cayenne possibly?

For a vegetable I made Roasted Asparagus.

I wasn't fond of asparagus for most of my life until I was told that roasting it makes all of the difference in the world. It's the best vegetable advice ever.

I took:

2 bunches skinny asparagus

...and sprayed them with cooking spray and placed them on a baking sheet. They went into the oven for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

When they came out, I tossed them with

2 Tablespoons hazelnut oil
Salt and pepper

It was a little less food than I usually make, but no one went home hungry. I guess Ina taught me well on that subject. I don't need to make a ton of food for a good dinner party. I think there are worse ways to turn 83.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Going for the Cake

When I first started baking as a teenager, I was adventurous and fearless. When I tured out my first piecrust (not terribly well-shaped, but nicely flaky) somewhere around age 15 or 16, I thought there was nothing I couldn't bake. I had more time in those days (who didn't?) and I made my first attempts at things like cream puffs and massive loaves of wholewheat bread. I can remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I made my first angel food cake.

I never let it get to me if things weren't perfect. I can remember my multi-layer chocolate mousse cakes. I got the recipe off of a package of Nestle's semisweet baking chocolate. It required me to split the cake layers. I was never good at that and my layers were never even. Covering the cake with the thick ganache glaze didn't help things much. I always had a lopsided cake with unevenly spread glaze. Nonetheless, it was so delicious and everyone loved it so much, that I didn't let it bother me.

Now that I have less time to regularly hit the kitchen and bake something extra special, I am starting to fear baking. I don't fear it in the Rachael Ray sort of way, but I fear doing anything slightly complex. I fear that if things don't look right, people won't cut me the kind of slack as an adult that they cut me as a child. Even last summer when I was trying to bake a dessert each week, I tended to stick to the basics. The hardest thing I did was make a tart with a sweet tart crust that didn't need to be handled with kid gloves. Anyone who reads this blog regularly understands my fear of a simple Bundt cake. How far I have fallen!

This weekend is my mother-in-law's birthday. I posted about this in an earlier blog about how I was a little afraid of having to work around possible dietary concerns of Kevin's cousin David. Well, it's not an issue. He has no dietary concerns. I guess his religious side ends at sending cards at Jewish holidays and wearing a yarmulke at his mother's grave. I can serve meat for dinner and fill my desserts with dairy. Woo hoo! But what would be for dessert?

A couple of months ago, the "Last Bite" column in Food & Wine magazine featured a really great looking cake. I thought it would be perfect for my next dinner party. When Kevin and I decided we would host his mother's birthday dinner, this cake was the first thing I thought of.

Then I saw the recipe. Did I really want to do all of this work? Could I? I saw this recipe and thought, "I have to split a sheet cake into layers!" This panic was despite the fact that I bought a layer cake splitter from King Arthur a few months ago. I thought, "Maybe I should do my classic Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake (a different cake from the Nestle mousse cake of my teen and college years), which carries very little risk of messing up. I considered doing something even easier than that like homemade warm brownies with homemade caramel ice cream. I wanted the easy way out.

After much deliberation, I remembered my new year's resolution. I said I would make something I have never made, or haven't made in a while. I am supposed to branch out and challenge myself. I'm not making duck or quail for this party after all (I'll post more details on the menu after the party), so if I'm going to do something new and different and challenging, it has to be on the dessert.

Tomorrow morning I will embark on this culinary adventure. I have purchased an insane amount of Callebut milk chocolate, peanuts, almonds, cream, powdered sugar, and Rice Krispies. This cake had better be good for all of the money I spent on it.

I do worry that even if the cake comes out perfectly, no one will like it. The last time I hosted my MIL's birthday party, I made a chocolate layer cake that tasted really good to me. The cake was beautifully textured and flavored with buttermilk and coffee and it had a rich fudgy frosting. Hardly anyone ate it. Even my brother-in-law and nephew, who are chocolate lovers and picky eaters about everything but desssert, ate only a few bites of dinner and then even after not eating much rejected my dessert. There were 10 people there that night and when I cleared the table, I got back 9 barely-touched pieces of cake. I was heartsick.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Palomino - Not just a horse anymore

A coworker of mine proposed a Girl's Night Out this week. She chose Palomino restaurant in Greenwich. I don't often go to coworker outings because I don't live that close to the office and many of my coworkers do. But Greenwich is on my way home (on the NY/CT border) and I hadn't been out in a while. Besides, the owner of Palomino's (whose name is actually Palomino) also owns Sonora and Pacifico in Port Chester and I'm hoping Kevin will take me to Sonora for Valentine's Day.

It took a little while for the five of us to assemble, so while we were waiting, I had a margarita at the bar poured by a smiling bartender. This was just the beginning of one of the biggest alcohol frenzies I've had in quite some time. Most of my coworkers are younger than I am and it was Friday night. Let's just say I managed to keep up. Once enough of us had arrived, we were shown to our table and our waiter introduced himself.

It was Curtis our waiter who really made this a topnotch experience. He seemed to get the Girl's Night Out vibe and really made an effort to take care of us. We dined at our own pace (we were at that table probably from 7-10:30) and was at our beck and call all night. He was very good at recommending things to try and describing dishes in detail.

We ordered a bottle of cabernet for the table and began with the meal. Instead of a traditional bread basket with butter, we were each given a roll and there was a plate of a tomato sauce-type condiment to dip them into.

We all ordered appetizers. Two of us ordered shrimp and asparagus tempura. Another one ordered the buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes. That cheese tasted as if it had been made that very morning. "Melt in your mouth" is a bit if a cliche, but it was completely true here. I also thought the tomatoes were extraordinarily good considering we were eating them in January. I had the macaroni and cheese. This was not the stuff in the blue box. In fact, it wasn't even close to your average casserole-like homemade macaroni and cheese. This was pasta shells in a light and creamy sauce, made smoky by the chunks of pancetta. I was a little worried that that wild mushrooms in the dish might overpower it, but they didn't. I could have had that as a meal.

For my main course I had duck breasts. These were thin, succulent slices of duck that tasted as good as rare slices of filet mignon (and just as tender). I was not overwhelmed with the sauce they came in. It was a good (maple-peppercorn), but it didn't blow me away. I also thought the sweet potato puree on the side was a little too sweet. I like my sweet potatoes to have some salt, some spice, or something fiery to counteract the sweetness a bit.

When dinner was completed we all had more drinks instead of dessert. When I told my mother yesterday that I didn't order dessert she began inquiring whether or not aliens had possibly kidnapped her child. I was just too full and the table felt like drinking some more. I indulged in a shot of Frangelico (one of my favorite alocholic indulgences). When we received our bill, we noticed that the waiter seemed to comp a few things. He rolled up some of the drinks into the cost of the wine, but the total cost was less than it should have been. We tipped him well. He had taken good care of us that night.

We departed. I was done for the night. Three of us went home (one of us had a very long drive back north and it was a very rainy night and the other was even older than I am). Two of us continued on to another bar to keep the party going. There was no way I could drink more on that rainy night and get home without being arrested or killing myself or someone else. I'd chalk it up to the youth of my coworkers, but I don't think I could ever drink like that even when I was in my twenties.

I would defintely go back to Palomino if given a chance and recommend it to others. I'm really very excited about trying Chef Palomino's other restaurants.