Saturday, October 27, 2012

Just One More Cider Recipe

Sorry about that.  Not only have I put three apple-based recipes in a row on this blog, but there was another recipe I made last week that I wasn't too happy with how it came out and rejected it.  I am actually sparing you one apple and cider recipe.

This week I had three items in the kitchen.  The first was still a bit more leftover cider that miraculously hadn't turned yet.  The second was an unopened bottle of reisling.  The third was a craving for risotto.  I have made a tropical risotto with coconut milk and lime juice.  Why not try it with cider, apples, and a complementary wine?

This recipe doesn't deviate too much from the basic apple-onion-bacon formula. I crisped up some lardons, cooked some onions and softened an apple in the grease, added the rice and cooked in the wine until it was absorbed, and then added hot chicken stock mixed with apple cider in typical risotto-making fashion.  This is one risotto recipe that does not require parmesan.  If you're husband isn't the type to oject, I'm wondering if a little cheddar might taste good in it though.

Original or not, it's still a very tasty way to make risotto.

I served it with pork rubbed with cinnamon, cocoa powder, ground allspice, garlic powder, and ground ginger.  Then I added a little steamed broccoli on the side.

I thought it was seriously delicious.  I loved it.  Sir Pickypants not so much.  He couldn't even identify what the flavor was until I told him.  (Maybe if I had told him ahead of time he would have liked it more because he would not have eaten it expecting it to taste like a traditional risotto dish.)  This probably won't be in regular rotation.

Cider Risotto

  • 2 strips bacon, cut into lardons
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 medium firm apple, diced
  • 1 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 3/4 cup reisling
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • Salt to taste
Place stock and cider in a small pot and keep warm on the stove at barely a simmer.

In a medium saucepan cook bacon until crisp.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Remove all but 2 Tbl of the fat.  Add olive oil to the pan.  Cook the onions in the oil until soft.  Add apple when onion has softened.  Add rice to the pan and stir until well coated and starts to look transparent.

Add the wine to the rice.  Cook stirring constantly until all of the liquid has absorbed. 

Begin adding the stock/cider mixture to the rice, about a half a cup at a time, stirring frequently.  Once the rice has absorbed all of the liquid from one addition, add the next.  Continue stirring and adding liquid until rice is creamy and just al dente. 

Remove from heat, stir in reserved bacon (whatever you have left after snarfing those bits that were tempting you on the counter) assuming your husband will eat it (if he won't, leave it out of his portion).  Serve immediately.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Kid in Town - 360 American Grille

When you live in a town where new restaurants seem to open every week, it is inevitable that you will eventually see some unfortunate turnover. One of the casualties was Piri Q.

I did like Piri Q, but I also admit Sir Pickypants and I rarely went there. It wasn't that we didn't like the food. It was that they never obtained a liquor license so it was strictly BYOB. That meant every time we considered going there, we would have to deliberate:

Let's go to Piri Q
Okay. Do we want to drink wine?
Then let's go to Piri Q.
Do we have a bottle or can we easily procure one?
Then let's go to Piri Q.
Let's go somewhere else.

This would look much better as a flow chart, no?

I suspect this might have been a problem for other potential patrons as well. Also, it seems opinions were split on the food. There were skeptics who said the place wasn't really authentically Portuguese.  I'm not a huge stickler for authenticty in most cases. If the food tastes good, I don't worry if the original cuisine is tampered with a bit.  Since I didn't go there very often, my opinion wasn't going to keep them open.

Anyway, the space once occupied by Piri Q did not stay empty for long. It seems that as soon as it was closed, signs were coming up for a new restaurant called 360 American Grille (named after it's address of 360 Mamaroneck Ave.)  "American Grille" implies many possibilities, so we watched the place with some caution and much anticipation. Would this new restaurant be very different from anything else on the strip?

We finally tried it this past weekend. It was a Sunday night and the place wasn't crowded at all. That always makes SPP nervous. He always wants to know why restaurants are empty.

Piri Q had a very simple decor, so the new owners didn't have to change much. The colors in the 360 were warm, but dark (I couldn't help but draw comparisons to Hash O'Nash - the color brown seems to be the in thing in restaurants these days). I liked the lighting a lot. Best of all was the music. I joked that it was the "Ultimate Aging Gen-Xer Playlist" as we were serenaded all night by Ben Folds, DMB deep cuts, acoustic Counting Crows and plenty of Talking Heads.

We were greeted by an overly enthsiastic hostess who, in a manner typical of employees in brand new restaurants, came across as desperate to please. Once we were seated, our server Chris was right there to wait on us. Like the hostess, he was extremely friendly in that nervous, I-really-hope-this-restaurant-succeeds way. He was not in our faces all of the time though. He handed us a wine and beer list once we were settled. Score a point for the new restaurant over the old one.

SPP called the menu "fun". The food on the main menu I would describe as "classed-up basics". For example you could have regular meatloaf, or buffalo chicken meatloaf. There were two steak options and two fish options along with a vegetarian tacos made with sweet potatoes, black beans, and butternut squash. The nightly special was fried shrimp or spaghetti with chicken meatballs. Specials were announced on a blackboard when you walked in and were also written on a large whiteboard covering one wall.

It's hard to see here, but in the lower left corner it says, "Jenna loves her 360 family." That warmed Kevin's heart for sure.*

Garlic bread started the evening.  I didn't eat it, so I don't know if it was good or not.

I didn't initially intend to order an appetizer, but I found myself drawn to the heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad and ended up ordering it. The fig balsamic dressing was outstanding. The tomatoes themselves were a bit lackluster. I don't blame the restaurant. We're beyond peak tomato season now and I should have known better. The cheese was creamy and perfect.


Next came our entrees. I ordered pork chops with an apple-onion-raisin compote. SPP opted for the fried shrimp.

I don't know what happened to the fried shrimp picture.  It was of fried shrimp and french fries. 

French fries are a harmonious accompaniment for fried shrimp, but as a woman who is watching her weight, I wasn't too thrilled to see them on the side of my pork chops. Rather than fill plates with french fries, I would prefer they add some smashed potatoes, or sweet potatoes, or some sauteed spinach, or even some steamed green beans. They did have vegetable sides on the menu, but they were $4 extra.

On the good side, the french fries were really really good. They were perfectly crispy on the outside and were pillowy soft on the inside. I wasn't all that sorry to eat them.

The pork chops were perfectly cooked.  They were tender and juicy and not dried out at all.  The sauce could have used a little more...I don't know what.  It was very sweet.  It needed something more than sweetness because it was a little flat.  Perhaps a shot of liquor like bourbon or brandy would have done the trick.  Maybe some rosemary, or even a few more onions, could have jazzed it up.  Even an extra pinch or two of salt might have helped it.  It lacked a certain depth of flavor. 

There was nothing but praise for the shrimp on the other side of the table.

After snarfing those french fries, there was no way I'd be eating dessert, but pecan pie was on the dessert menu that night and that's one dessert the other side of the table couldn't resist. 

This was more tart than pie with a sturdy, rich crust.  That puff of whipped cream on the side - homemade, undoubtedly, 100%.  The chef was most certainly whipping up fresh cream in the kitchen. 

We had a visit from the chef at our table.  He seems like a young, enthusiastic guy, who understandably is eager to see that diners are happy in his restaurant.

Despite the minor flaws in the food, this seems like a really good restaurant.  The cooking is simple, but it is solid, and clearly the chef is skilled in the basics.  There are three other dishes on the menu I look forward to trying. The service is quite friendly and efficient and our dinner was perfectly paced.   360 American Grille will definitely have a place in our weekend restaurant rotation.

*For those of you who are not regular TERP readers and may not be familiar with the Pickypants-(dis)Order family, Jenna is the name of his beloved. horse.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Super Simple Idea for Cider

If the consonant sound is the same, but not the consonant itself, is it still considered an alliteration? 
I can’t believe I just used the phrase, “Super Simple”.  That’s so Sandra Lee!  Tyler Florence uses that phrase too and he doesn’t annoy me much and his recipes are good, so I’ll try to think more of him when I think of this post title.  I promise I’ll never say, “Easy Peasy.”

After my weekend dinner party I was left with over a quart of apple cider and needed some ways to use it up.  I had to think of some ways to incorporate it into a recipe or two in the coming week.  
Did you ever start Googling around for recipe inspiration, find a recipe on a blog, then forget where and what the blog was?  I did that when I started trying to come up with ways to use up my cider.  I would like to give a couple of bloggers credit for their inspiration, but I forgot where I found the idea.  Oh well.  I can say I was inspired by their recipes, but at least I didn’t copy them.  

I love fruit and booze together, so this recipe had two main ingredients: cider and bourbon. I cooked some boneless, skinless chicken thighs in this heavenly mixture.  This recipe only has a handful of ingredients.  It was so easy I almost feel it wasn’t really fancy enough for the blog.  I realized it would be selfish of me not to share something so delicious.  

I served very simply with cauliflower puree. If you prefer breasts to thighs, go ahead and use them and cook them a bit longer to compensate for their thickness.  I can imagine this would make a good braise for whole bone-in chicken parts if you add some chicken stock and have a little more time on your hands.

Bourbon Cider Chicken Thighs

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 ½ cups apple cider
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • 1 Tbl chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbl unsalted butter
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in a large pan and brown well on both sides over medium heat.  Remove from pan.

Add bourbon, cider and thyme to the pan.  Bring to a boil and boil for a minute or two to reduce.  Lower the heat and return chicken to the pan.  Cook an additional 15 minutes.  (More for thicker pieces of chicken)

Add butter to the pan and bring to boil one more minute. Pour over chicken and fall in love.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Birthdays and Anniversaries - The Stories They Tell

This past weekend was my anniversary.  The Pickypants-(dis)Order alliance celebrated 11 years of wedded bliss.  Eleven years is not a very significant date.  It's not round.  It's not considered a landmark.  This year we made no trips to Europe, Disneyworld, or even a quaint local Bed & Breakfast (all anniversary celebrations of the past). We didn't even go out to dinner.  However, the past eleven years have made me very happy and I'm a very lucky woman to have such a great husband who doesn't seem to mind my calling him Sir Pickypants on my blog.

It was also two days after Dad's birthday.  I think it was a significant enough occasion that we should combine both occasions into one meal.  I invited Dad and his wife over for dinner and I cooked for everyone in celebration.  My mother-in-law and two of her friends came along as well.

I like to say the theme of my blog is that every recipe is a story about food.  The entire creative process of making a meal is a story to me (although I suppose not always the most interesting one to readers).  This meal had a story behind almost every recipe.  I'm going to tell these stories one recipe at a time today.

Chapter 1 - Pre-Dinner Nibbles

 I am a little obsessed with fresh figs. They are very special here in the TERP world because I tried them for the first time on this blog.  Since then, I can't get enough of them.  I especially love them with salty foods like cheese, bacon, and prosciutto.

In recent weeks I have had a neverending craving for figs and goat cheese - with or without prosciutto.  After buying two containers of figs, a brick of goat cheese, some almonds, and a package of prosciutto, I went on to roast goat-cheese-and-almond-stuffed figs and wrap them in prosciutto for breakfast for three days straight.  The craving was still not gone.

I decided to serve them as my pre-dinner snack.  This is so easy it doesn't need a recipe.  Just trim the little stem off the top of a fresh fig.  Cut an x in the top.  Place a dollop of goat cheese on top and an almond on top of that.  If you want to be fancy, use marcona almonds.  Drizzle the whole thing with honey and roast it at 350 for 10 minutes.  I like this with prosciutto too, but not everyone in my family likes prosciutto, so I left it out this time.

These were left in the oven a little longer than I meant to leave them in there, so they spread a bit more than I wanted, but they were still awfully tasty.

Chapter 2 - Lost Soup Recipe Almost Regained

I have often bemoaned those situations where I ate something exquisitely delicious only to never be able to eat it again.  Sometimes it's because I never return to the restaurant.  Other times it's because the restaurant just never served it again.

The first time I ever had dinner at my beloved Iron Forge Inn, the soup of the day was something called Cider Soup.  I remember the server describing it and how delicious it sounded just in the description.  It had apples and cider and bacon and some pureed bread.  It was garnished with little cornmeal dumplings.  I don't remember exactly what else was in it, but I remember it being the best soup I ever ate - no exaggeration there.  Sadly, the restaurant never served it again and I have never found a recipe like it ever again.

I still am on a quest to make a similar soup someday.  I have Googled "cider soup" dozens of times.  The only recipes that ever come up are either made with squash or with pumpkin.  I could never find a recipe for just a savory hot apple soup.  Knowing how I feel about squashes, you can imagine just how disappointing it all was.

Then one day I found my inspiration.  It wasn't a purely cider-flavored soup, but it did contain another vegetable I'm fond of - fennel.  That combination sounded just unusual enough to get my attention and full of the right flavor combination.  I did not have my Iron Forge Inn cider soup, but I had my cider soup.

I roasted two fennel bulbs, an onion, and a granny smith apple.  I pureed them with cider and chicken stock that had  rosemary and thyme sprigs steeped in it.  Add a touch of cream and a garnish of fronds and pine nuts and you have a perfect fall soup - no squashes required.

Fennel Cider Soup


  • 2 fennel bulbs cut, core and stem removed, cut into chunks, fronds reserved
  • 1 apple, peeled and quartered
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • Olive oil for coating
  • Several sprigs of thyme and rosemary
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbl pine nuts, toasted.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss fennel and onion  in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper. Place on a cookie sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes or until fennel is soft.  Halfway through cooking add the apple.

Heat chicken stock in a large pot.  Add rosemary and thyme sprigs and allow to infuse.  Remove stem before you add your roasted fennel, apple, and onion to the pot.  Add cider.  Allow to simmer an additional 10 minutes and either blend with a stick blender or place in a blender or food processor until the mixture is smooth.  Stir in the cream over low heat. 

Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved fronds and toasted pine nuts.

Chapter 3 - Herb Roasted Game Hens with Onion-Apple Confit

I know I go a little crazy with caramelized onions in this blog, so I hope it's not getting old.  It's just that after doing a slow-cooked garlic recipe, I felt the need to do the same with onions once more. I needed something more than just onions in the sauce though.   I thought apples would be the perfect fit.  Why?  Perhaps it was the season calling to me.  Perhaps it was memories of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy where Almanzo declares his favorite dish is "apples 'n' onions". I remember when I first read that book it sounded kind of gross, but then I realized how good a combination of sweet, savory, and salty should be.  Maybe I'm just stealing a half dozen other recipes scattered around the 'net.  In any case, I had a really good sauce.  I added a little sugar and a little cider to make it just a bit sweeter and give it a layer of tartness.

I served it with cornish game hens roasted with herbs and  simple sides of green beans and browned butter mashed potatoes.  I think the confit would also be awesome on pork.

My family didn't like it as much as I did though.  SPP wouldn't touch it.  A few folks at the table left it on their plates.  It's hard to see, but I served two halves of the hen on top of the confit.

No real recipe needed for the game hens.  I cut out the spines to butterfly them, rubbed them with a mixture of olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, rosemary, salt, and pepper, and roasted them for an hour at 350.  I split them in half before serving.

Apple and Onion Confit

  • 4 strips bacon, cut into lardons
  • 4 Tbl olive oil, divided
  • 1 Granny smith apple, peeled and sliced
  • 4 large yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • 2 Tbl cider vinegar
Cook bacon in a large pan until fat renders out and is crispy. Reserve bacon bits.  Drain off all but 1 Tbl fat.  Add 2 Tbl butter to the pan. 

Lay the onions in the bottom of the pan.  Cook over low heat, until very soft, at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they all cook evenly.   Add apple slices.  Continue cooking until apples are soft.  Add  vinegar and sugar to the pan and cook until everything is a nice, jammy mush but the apples still have their shape.  Gently stir in the bacon bits.

Serve with whatever meat you like or over crostini.

Chapter 4 - Dulce De Leche Tiramisu`

I'm not sure what inspired me to make tiramisu` with dulce de leche.  Maybe I was just looking for something new and different, but still easy.  For years I made a tiramisu` with chocolate, Kahlua, and creme de cocao. Tiramisu` is a dessert really lends itself to creative variations.  I sometimes feel guilty about messing with it.  Does it lose its authenticity if I don't make it strictly with coffee and hard liquor or marsala? 

There are so many variations on even the classic tiramisu` that I stopped worrying about it.  Some cooks add whipped cream to the mascarpone.  Some use custard.  Some use egg whites.  I think the very simple recipes most home cooks make in their kitchens are far less complex than what you would see in a Venice bakery.  Why not continue to tweak it if the means of doing so are available?

When I was trying to come up with a framework for the recipe, I learned just how original my idea was not.  Everyone has done dulce de leche tiramisu`.  I Googled dulce de leche tiramisu` and Emily's recipe was the first one to come up.  Now I was faced with a real challenge. How could I make my recipe different from everyone else's?

I started with the same base recipe I use for my chocolate tiramisu`.  I mixed the mascapone with fresh whipped cream and no eggs.  My flavorings were the dulce de leche (I used canned instead of slow cooking my own this time) and cinnamon (I LOVE Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon, it's very sweet and strong).  The ladyfingers were soaked in coffe and kahlua.  On top I sprinkled a mixture of cinnamon, cocoa powder, and sugar. 

Dulce de Leche Tiramisu`

  • 24-25 ladyfingers
  • 1 cup strong coffee
  • 6 Tbl Kahlua
  • 1 lb mascarpone
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup dulce de leche
  • 2 tsp cinnamon, divided
  • 1 Tbl cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbl sugar
 In a large bowl beat mascarpone, cinnamon, and dulce de leche until well blended.  In another large bowl, beat cream to stiff peaks.  Gently fold the cream mixture into the mascarpone mixture until you have a fluffy, well-blended mixture.

In a shallow dish blend coffee and Kahlua.  Dip the ladyfingers into the mixture and arrange to cover the bottom of a baking dish.  Spread half the mascarpone mixture over the top.  Repeat with another layer of ladyfingers dipped in coffee mixture.  Add the second half of the mascarpone mixture.

Combine cocoa powder, sugar, and remaining cinnamon.  Sprinkle this evenly over the top of the tiramisu`.  Allow to sit a few hours in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld before serving.