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Monday, May 30, 2011

Arrosto - Biggest of Birthday Bashes

The city of Port Chester, NY is a city where you will never go hungry.  In Port Chester you can find anything from hole-in-the-wall South and Central American takeout to Brazilian rodizio to pizza places to Mario Batali-owned restaurants.  That meant when it came time to celebrate Mom's big landmark birthday this year, it made sense to stay in the neighborhood.  Last week we celebrated the birthday with friends (go two posts down for the cake).  This week it was time for the family to really celebrate.

We chose Arrosto, a relatively new restaurant that recently had the seal of approval from The New York Times

This building has housed a few different restaurants over the years, although they have always been Italian ones in my memory.  From the outside it's a very attractive place with red awnings and plenty of outdoor tables.


Inside it's sleek and simple with lots of wood and wine bottles on the walls.


There is a small portion of the kitchen that's open, so you can see the chef finishing dishes and seeing the signature grilled meats.


We had 12 people so they wouldn't give us a table unless we had a very early reservation.  They treated us well though. When SPP and I arrived with his mother and her friend, not everyone arrived and the baskets of bread were already laid out.  We had crusty bread and breadsticks and foccaccia.  Instead of butter we had some white bean dip (although they did end up bringing us butter upon request).

Arrosto offers several appetizer options including salumi and cheese platters.  We opted to get two full antipasto platters with four cheeses, speck, prosciutto, mortadella, duck rillette and a couple of other meats I don't remember.  It also came with bowls of ricotta mixed with truffle honey and some crostini to spread it on.  I only really liked one of the cheeses other than the ricotta, but the meats were all awesome.

We ordered some margarita pizzas for the kids.  These were not up to kid pizza standards though.  According to my niece, "It looked like someone just put the cheese on."  She feels pizza cheese needs to be evenly sprinkled.  One of the kids just at the pizza and took the cheese off.  I decided to take a piece off of their hands!

Arrosto's signature dishes, as the name would suggest, are large, fire grilled meats - whole roasted cuts meant to be shared by 3-4 people.  They list several on the menu, but they only ever offer two at a time.  That's too bad because they mentioned a pork braciola that sounded wonderful, but weren't offering it that night.  Four members of our party decided to split the red snapper that was offered that night.  Sir Pickypants was among them.  He never read the menu where it said it was wrapped in proscuitto though.  He pulled the ham off and ate the fish.  I tried to eat the ham, but it tasted too fishy.  He was the only one with complaints as far as I know.  It was certainly a nice presentation.

I opted for lamb on top of creamy polenta.  I thought the lamb was just a tad tough, although well seasoned and the polenta was wonderful.  It also came with fava beans, which I learned that night I'm not all that fond of.   The chunks of sausage were unexpected, but definitely appreciated!


We also had ordered some side dishes for the table like a gigante bean gratin and some nice roasted potatoes.  The potatoes had some parmesan sprinkled on them and Sir Pickypants acted as if they were poisoned.

Finally it was time for dessert.  The offerings all looked wonderful.  It was hard to choose. Most of us ended up going for the Nutella budino though.  This was delicious, filled with hazelnuts and super-rich.


All in all I would say Arrosto makes a good effort, but can be a little uneven.  I suspect that as a new-ish restaurant they are still working out the kinks.  I would definitely go back in the future and see how they are shaping up.  However, my husband was not happy with the place so I doubt if I go again, it will be with him.

Mom seemed to think the dinner was lovely and she had a great time celebrating a major birthday with her children and grandchildren around her, so we had a lovely night regardless!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Two For This Week

Did anyone see Darius on Cooking for Real this past weekend? Always cool to see a fellow blogger being recognized on TV. I’d say he’s just as cool a guy on screen as he on the internet.

I’m amazed at how a food blogger can receive national attention like that just by catching the right person’s eye. How can I do that? I want to be on TV and have people love my blog.

Hey Sunny Anderson, I know you are one of the few television food personalities who actually reads the blogs of ordinary folks and participates in ordinary forums (or is that fora?). If you’re reading this, can I be on your show? I can be at the FN studios within the hour if you just say the word.

Anyway, I was glad I watched the show because I was definitely inspired by it. Anderson made smothered steaks. After cooking off some gorgeous ribeyes (and I want to convince Darius and the other guest on the show that a rare steak is a true joy), she made a gravy with onions, herbs, and sour cream. Wow did it look good! It was pure, fattening, comfort food at its best.

It definitely put the bug in me to make something similar. Smothered steaks would be out of the questions in a dinner for two, but there are plenty of ways to make smothered chicken.

I found a ridiculous numbers of ways to make smothered chicken on the internet. It’s amazing how many baked, stewed, and fried chicken recipes can be “smothered”.

I decided to start with the most basic and comforting chicken recipe out there: a coated and pan-fried chicken cutlet. On top of that I would put creamy and onion-studded gravy.

I coated my chicken with the standard flour-egg-crumb mixture. I used rice flour and nut meal in place of AP flour and crumbs. These were fried up and kept warm while I worked on the gravy.


Onions were cooked down to a nice sweet softness and then I thickened up some chicken stock. Wine, mustard and heavy cream finished it off.


A week ago this meal would have been totally appropriate. Even though it’s almost Memorial Day, comfort food weather has stuck around for most of the spring. It has been consistently chilly and rainy for most of March, April and May. This week, in typical New York fashion, summer has decided to arrive. It’s hot and sunny and I’m thinking more of veggies and grilling than of chicken and gravy, but I am the DisOrder Cook and I don’t do what’s expected of me.

I admit the gravy looks a little weird, but it was pretty tasty. 

Anderson served some seriously rich mashed potatoes on the side. I decided to give our arteries a break and use roasted fingerling potatoes with garlic and lemon and parsley and then just some green beans on the side.

Smothered Chicken Cutlets

Ingredients

  •  4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded lightly
  • Flour for dredging (I used rice flour) + 1 Tbl
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 Tbl oil, divided
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs, almond meal, or hazelnut meal
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 Tbl Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup heavy cream
Mix flour with salt and pepper and dredge chicken breasts well.  Dip in egg and coat well with crumbs/nut meal. 

Heat 2 Tbl olive oil in a large pan.  Cook chicken breasts  till cooked through, about 5-7 minutes per side depending on thickness.  Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add remaining 2 Tbl of oil to pan.  Cook onions until soft and add the garlic and cook until fragrant.  Move the onions to one side and add flour to the pan.  Cook a few minutes until it is nicely toasted.  Add wine and chicken stock,  Whisk in quickly and keep whisking over low heat until sauce is thick.  Add mustard and cream and mix in well. 

Serve chicken breasts with gravy on top.

Moving Right Along...

Wow.  I actually cooked two new recipes this week!

I had a huge craving later in the week for my roasted pepper cream sauce.  So far I have made it plain and with tomatoes.  I decided to try another way - with pesto.  I still had some pesto in my freezer (used up the last of it just in time for me to start growing basil on the balcony again) so I thought about a roasted red pepper pesto sauce.

I wanted gnocchi, but couldn't find any gluten-free gnocchi at the store and wasnt' inclined to make any.  I used regular pasta and to give it more substance added some Italian sausage (shrimp for the hubs).

The only thing that takes any time here is the prep for the peppers, which can be done ahead of time. The rest of the recipe can just be whirred together in less time than it takes the pasta to cook.

Red Pepper and Pesto Cream Sauce

Ingredients
  • 4 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and  halved
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup pesto sauce (not too hard to make your own, just saying)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound of your favorite pasta, cooked
  • Sausage, shrimp, or whatever meat you like
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Brush peppers lightly with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes or until skin starts to blister.  Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let sit 20 minutes.  Carefully peel off the skins.

Add peppers and all remaining ingredients except cream and proteins to the food processor.  Blend until well mixed thoroughly.  Add cream.  Pour over cooked pasta.  Add protein if desired.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So I Tried Something New

All my life I have loved baking. I don’t just love it because I love baked goods either. I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I have made something from scratch. I love the Zen I get from measuring and mixing. I love using the best ingredients I can get my hands on, knowing I’m making something so much better than a store-bought treat. I love the idea that I’m taking on a challenge others might not take on.

Over the years I haven’t backed down from too many challenges. I have made yeast breads and rolls, pies, custards, and candies. There are some pastries I haven’t tried (like puff pastry) but I’ve attempted many desserts at least once.

I have had success with some desserts more than others. There have been times when a single failure has turned me off from ever trying that recipe again.

As I grow older, I sometimes question the wisdom of my baking efforts. Years of baking haven’t made me any better at it. I still churn out patchwork pie crusts and lopsided cakes. I do better with cookies and ice cream and puddings since they don’t have a set shape. As much as I love baking I’m not sure I have the touch to be a really good baker. Sure my desserts taste good, but I have to wonder if the lack of visual appeal can turn people off.

Despite this, I still find myself wanting to take on a dessert challenge now and then. Since I started this blog I have made my first doughnuts as well as finally being successful with cream puffs. I may be discouraged from time to time, but I still keep going and finding new tastes to try.

That brings me to the main point of this post (if you’re a regular reader of TERP, you know how much I have to ramble on with stories or contemplative blather before I arrive at the point of the post). I do get those bugs up my butt now and again to make a specific food I have never made before (or haven’t made in a very long time due to a past flop). My current obsession is homemade dulce de leche.

Dulce de leche has been the hot dessert ingredient for the past few years. It shows up in cakes and cookies and ice cream. Most recipes I see that incorporate it suggest you buy it in a jar. Making it homemade is a long slow process that most cooks don’t have time for. There is no shame it buying it.

Homemade dulce de leche may be a slow process, but it didn’t seem like a difficult one. I decided that I really had to try making it myself. All I needed was a few hours at home.

I surfed the net like crazy for a recipe. You would not believe how many recipes out there are “shortcut” recipes that use condensed milk. I wanted to make it completely from scratch. I finally found Alton Brown’s recipe. I’m not an Alton Brown fan and find his recipes don’t work more often than they do, but he was offering me a from-scratch recipe and I took a chance.


After 3 hours of simmering, I ended up with this.  The consistency was on the thin side. It wasn't gooey and sticky as I thought it would be.  The directions said to simmer it until it was reduced to one cup and was a dark caramel color. It was more like 2 cups than one, but I didn't know how much more cooking the sugar could stand. The color was becoming very dark.  It tasted pretty good though and I knew it would serve my purposes.

So what were my purposes you ask? 

Well, this weekend some of my horse people friends got together to throw my mother a party for her upcoming landmark birthday.  The host of the party instructed me to "bring one of your outrageous desserts."  I have always been the designated dessert maker for occasions like this.  I was ready and willing to make something with my new dulce de leche.

I knew exactly what I should bring.  Emily's Mexican Milk Chocolate Cake.  It's chocolate, it uses dulce de leche, and it's a recipe of Emily's, so I knew it had to be good.  It seems every time I go to a party with this particular group of people, I end up making one of Emily's recipes.*

I definitely was a bit fearful.  I was going to a party for a major birthday for Mom and I wanted a cake that looked nice.  I wanted to present something that was at least symmetrical.  Could I do that?

I hit one snag when I started baking.  The recipe calls for both butter and oil.  I never used to keep anything other than olive oil or butter in the house.  Vegetable oil is made from soybeans - which I try very hard to avoid.  I think canola oil is just plain gross.  However, since I now have a deep fryer, I am more inclined to have oil in the house.  I was sure I had some.  When it came time to bake the cake, I found out I was wrong. 

I ended up using a whole stick of butter instead.  Emily's recipe calls for combining the oil, butter, sugar, and eggs together.  Since I was only using butter I stuck with the more traditional route of creaming the butter, adding the sugar, and then adding the eggs one at a time.  I crossed my fingers and stuck it in the oven.



My layers came out nice and even- almost. I was shocked.  I made the frosting.  It was buttery and rich, but not too sweet thanks to the addition of cocoa powder with the milk chocolate.  When I piled them on top of each other, there was a bit of a gap between the layers in one spot.  I didn't have quite enough frosting to fill it in.  When I took the photo, I took it from the "good side" of the cake. 

The cake was delicious and much loved by all party guests.  The consistency of the cake was very dense and brownie-like (I don't know if it was supposed to be that way or if it was caused in part by my tinkering with the recipe.)  The chocolate was subtle and balanced nicely with the cinnamon that spiked the dulce de leche.  Guests who said they really weren't all that into cake took second slices.  I made sure Mom took the leftovers home, which she was more than happy to do.  No one seemed to notice the gap.

I still have a fair amount of dulce-de-leche left in the jar.  I have all sorts of plans for it.  Ice cream anyone?  How about some pie?

*One time I made her chocolate coconut bread pudding and one of the party attendees, an employee of Martha Stewart, kept declaring it, "Yumm-o."  I didn't know what to think.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mad Pasta Experiments

The bad news of the day is I have started to moderate comments here.  I was never keen on having to do the extra work to approve comments.  I figured as long as I used a captcha code to avoid comments that weren't from real human beings, I could just delete any comment I didn't like.  That rarely ever happens (one advantage to a low-traffic blog is that you don't get much negative feedback or hate mail), so I never worried too much.  I have been receiving some rather cleverly disguised spam lately, so I have decided to do something to discourage it. 

Anyway, let's get on with today's recipe.

Ever see a recipe where you see a bunch of your favorite ingredients, a recipe that you're sure could be pretty good - except for one ingredient - and that ingredients is the major star player?

You probably haven't, Dear Reader, but me being as weird as I am, tend to run across this issue fairly frequently.

The recipe I'm talking about now is Pasta con Sarde.  It's a pasta dish that contains many ingredients I love: fresh fennel, pine nuts, wine and onions.  Raisins are added for sweetness, but since I have that weird quirk about raisins in savory food, I don't mind.  The only problem is the fact that the starring ingredient is SARDINES.  Ick poo!

I thought about a nice pasta recipe that would incorporate all of those great spring-like flavors and still have a nice richness about it.  Sardines are oily and salty.  What could I use to replace that?



Pancetta anyone?  Oily and salty coming right up.

It's spring, so what could be more appropriate than a bulb of fennel and some ramps.  I also had some fresh mint lying about.


I sauteed the fennel, mint, and ramps after browning off the pancetta.  Sir Pickypants doesn't love fennel because it's hard and tough. I sliced it very thinly on the mandoline so it softened up nicely.



Into the sauce went some wine and chicken stock.  The gluten-free pasta was tossed into the pan with toasted  pine nuts and golden raisins.   I also tossed in some of the fennel fronds.  The whole thing was topped with pecorino and the pancetta chunks.  I really wanted to use spaghetti, but the store was out of gluten-free spaghetti.



This was a really awesome pasta if I do say so myself . It was a bit sharp, a bit sweet, a bit crunchy and a bit chewy.  I will definitely make this again and recommend you try it.

It was also very easy to make.  I came home from work, sliced up the fennel, ramps and mint, gathered the rest of the ingredients, and then went to Zumba class.  After Zumba class I put the water on to boil, browned the pancetta, toasted the pine nuts while the pancetta browned, and then was able to quickly cook up the veggies and throw it all together.

I had a hard time naming this pasta.  As I see it, the recipe is just another one of my mad flavor experiments that I have been so fond of lately.  It has some spring-like ingredients. 

Springtime Pasta of the (dis)Ordered Mind

1 pound pasta of your choice
1/2" thick slice of pancetta, cut into small chunks
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced on a mandoline, fronds reserved and chopped
6-8 ramps, cut in thin strips
1 Tbl chopped fresh mint
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Copious amounts of pecorino

In a large saute pan cook pancetta chunks until fat has rendered and it is brown and crispy.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Drain off excess fat.

Add the fennel, mint, and ramps to the pan.  Cook until fennel becomes soft.

Pour in the wine and broth.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until reduced by half.

Cook pasta according to package directions.  When cooked, toss the pasta in the pan with the vegetables.  Then toss in the raisins, fennel fronds and pine nuts.  If you are not married to Sir Pickypants, toss in the pancetta chunks and some of the cheese as well.  If you are married to Sir Pickypants, only put the pancetta and cheese on your own plate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Do You Think Maybe I Should Cook Something?

Yeah.  I know.  Long time no post.  I'm sure folks were thrilled to see nothing but a post about a fairly commonplace Easter brunch up there for a week. 

Well, my life continues to be rather busy and I'm spending less time in the kitchen.  I confess I still depend a bit on takeout and dining out and stretching the one or two easy meals I cook out over a couple of days.  I wish I had more to blog about.  I have bounced around a few non-recipe topics in my head, but haven't had much chance to sit down and write them out.

I decided this was getting silly.  I had to cook something new.  It wasn't just for this blog.  It was to keep the cooking part of my brain from growing soft.

I decided to make some soup to carry to lunch during the week.  Soup is easy and allows for lots of creativity.

I decided on a little variation on sweet potato soup.  One of my favorite recipes is an Asian version filled with coconut milk and ginger.  This soup went south of the border with flavors.

 First I roasted and peeled my sweet 'taters.


I sauteed an onion with cumin, ancho chile powder, and my beloved chipotle powder.


Potato chunks went in and simmered a bit in chicken stock.  I suppose the politically correct thing to do would be to use vegetable stock, making this soup totally vegan.  I didn't do that because I had a nice quart of homemade chicken stock in my freezer and I wanted to use it.


Besides, chicken stock just tastes better.

Then I pureed it all and added a can of black beans and a bag of frozen corn. 

Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and you're good to to.



I wasn't in love with the starchy texture of the soup, but the flavor was pretty good. 

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Corn Soup

2 large sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
2 Tbl olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbl chipotle powder
1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1lb bag of frozen corn kernels
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat oven for 400 degrees.  Spray the potato chunks with cooking spray and roast on a cookie sheet for about 30 minutes, or until soft.

In a large pot, saute the onions in olive oil.  Add the chili powders and cumin and stir to coat the onions.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.

Add the potatoes and stock to the pot.  Simmer about 20 minutes or until they start to really break down.  You can transfer this to a blender or food processor and puree in batches, or you can use a stick blender.  Either way, blend until smooth.

Stir in corn kernels and black beans and cook until corn is heated through.  Top with fresh cilantro and enjoy.