Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Big Fat Greek and Brunch Christmas

The big fat Greek thing is a little overdone, isn't it?  Oh well.  I promise no matter how Greek my next occasion meal is, I will not use the term, "Big Fat Greek."  Okay?  Well, I at least promise to try to resist the urge...

I did no cooking whatsoever this Christmas.  What can I say?  I no longer have the time.  For years I worked in a job with almost unlimited time off.  If I needed an extra day or two to prepare a meal, I could do so easily.  With my new job I have two weeks off and I'm not going to spend those precious days cooking for masses of people.  Yes, I love cooking, but I want my vacation days to be used in pure, stress-free, leisure activities and not stressing out over holiday meals.  I will contribute a dish or two if asked (as I did for Thanksgiving) but I'm not ready to host a meal any time soon.

It was easy to divide the holidays between my parents this year.  Since I had to work Christmas Eve and Dad lives in Manhattan, I suggested I meet him for dinner after work.  It seemed like a seamless plan.  Then I would do Christmas Day with Mom.  I initially offered to cook a few dishes for the meal the way I did with Thanksgiving, but she decided to do brunch instead of dinner and brunch is easy enough for her to do all herself.

They let me out of the office early in the day.  I decided to do the cliched Christmas thing and walk over to Rockefeller Center.  I realized after fighting through the crowds watching the skaters for five minutes that I wasn't seeing anything I hadn't seen many times before and that it really wasn't a productive way to spend an afternoon.

I headed over to Dad's about two hours before dinner.  We sat around and drank too much wine.  Eventually Kevin showed up (he had the day off from work and that lucky dog had been riding all day) and we moved on to the restaurant.

Dad had chosen Ethos on 51st as our place for dinner.  The restaurant is clearly very popular as it was bustling that night. 

I liked the place as soon as we entered it.  The decor is simple, clean, and bright.  The staff was very friendly right from the start.

I started with a cocktail called a Figaro.  It's made with fig vodka.  Until that night, I did not know such a vodka existed.  It had other liquor in it as well, but I can't remember exactly what it was.  Is that the hallmark of a good drink?  If you can't remember what was in it, the drink was doing it's job.  :-)  It was a really good drink I must say.

Our table split some tasty appetizers. The appetizer list at Ethos is long and tempting.  I had been snarfing wine, cheese, and charcuterie at Dad's, so I bypassed the meatballs, sausage, and cheese and stuck to vegetables.  We had something called Ethos Chips, which were battered and fried slices of eggplant and zucchini.  I forgot to take pictures of them.  We also had zucchini fritters.  I almost forgot to take a picture of them as this photo will show.  I think I liked the Ethos Chips a bit better though.

For my main course I went with one of my tried-and-true favorites, lamb shank.  This was served in a slightly sweet sauce, tinged with a hint of cinnamon, and sprinkled with scallions and goat cheese, over some tasty orzo.  I snarfed up this plateful in record time.

They gave us a dessert plate at the end of the meal.  I thought the lump in the middle was ice cream, but it was actually chocolate mousse.  There were also some small rolls of baklava and hunks of that same sort of phyllo-wrapped custard that I had on my birthday this year.  I don't remember what it's called.  The custard was a bit creamier than the one I had at Nemea though.

It was a fun evening with good food and family.  I enjoyed having the night with Dad and his wife and will definitely consider eating at the restaurant again if I'm in the mood for Greek and I'm in the city.

After a night of too much food and wine, we went home and crashed into bed, making it easy for Santa Claus to make his rounds.  We held off on gift openings preferring to wait until we were at Mom's place and I spent my morning working out.

We headed to brunch at noon time.  Mom had set the house up nicely.

The main course for brunch was baked butter pecan French toast.  We tried this for the first time at a bed and breakfast where we used to stay on Chincoteague.  The food at this B&B was so divine and they were so often bombarded with requests for recipes that they published their own cookbook.  This was one of the best dishes they ever made.  (Sadly, the place closed when the owners tired of keeping it up and they sold it to another family that decided pretty quickly they wanted out of the business as well.  The place is out of business and is on the market as a vacation home.)  On the side we had maple-glazed bacon, noodle kugel, my sister-in-law's amazing homemade scones, and fruit salad (yes, we did have a little nutrition in there somewhere).

 Mom cooked a lot of bacon.  She commented on just how much bacon she cooked and my response was, "That's why you're the best mother in the world."

We had good food, good loot, and lots of family company.  I am very lucky that my family gets along and there is never any crazy drama.  Holidays are pretty stress free in that respect.  I do remember arguments and drama in Christmas past, but I realize I was the instigator of it all. I was quite the little drama queen in my childhood and teens and probably made everyone's holidays miserable over the years.  Sorry about that everyone.  Hope you all liked your gifts.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

This Is Probably The Last Thing I Cook Before Christmas

I'm getting fat again.  It's inevitable because I keep eating out as my last post showed. Everyone has a lunch or dinner they want me to attend.  It may not be good for my figure, but it's nice to feel so wanted.

I do have to cook some time.  In the midst of the holiday whirl I not only decided to cook a meal, but I even came up with a new recipe.

I don't always cook holiday meals, but I always seem to make up for it by trying to make creative pre-holiday meals.  Before Christmas and Thanksgiving I have managed to come up with such dishes as quails in cranberry sauce and pheasant in red wine.   

It was one of those times that a mere suggestion set the gears turning in my head.  I read a line in a novel about a dinner that served brandied cherries and soon I knew I had to make brandied cherries myself.

I decided to mix things up a bit by using cherry brandy.  Ever drink this stuff?  It's pretty foul, but a nip of it is good in cherry pie or melted with the Gruyere in fondue.  I thought it would work well with cherries.

I simmered the cherries and brandy with a cinnamon stick, orange juice, orange zest, and some cloves.  Since the sauce was rather thin, I threw in a little potato starch.  This is optional.  You can leave your cherries as is or throw in some corn starch or potato starch just to give your sauce some body.  I'm hoping that this isn't too much like the cherry sauce I used on my hazelnut crusted chicken breasts.

I served mine alongside some spinach and sauteed mushrooms.  It made for a very colorful, Christmas-like meal.  Considering that I'm doing Greek on Christmas Eve and brunch for Christmas, I'm glad I managed to make something that looks a bit traditional.

Duck Breasts with Brandied Cherries

  • 2-4 duck breasts
  • Salt and pepper for sprinkling
  • 1 bag frozen pitted cherries
  • 1 cup kirsch
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Corn starch or potato starch (optional)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small saucepan combine cherries, kirsch, juice, zest, cinnamon stick, and cloves.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Whisk in starch if using.  Simmer for 30 minutes or more.

Cut a few slashes in the skin of the duck breasts, cutting all the way through the fat, but not into the meat.  Sprinkle them on both sides with salt and pepper.  In on oven-proof skillet over low heat, cook the duck breasts slowly, for about 20 minutes, periodically draining off the fat (SAVE IT).  Move the duck breasts into the oven and cook another 15-20 minutes depending on thickness and how rare you like your duck breasts.

For a nice presentation, slice your breasts into medallions on the bias and serve topped with cherries.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Kid In Town - A Girl's Night out at Bar'Lees

There has been a new round of new restaurants in town and I'm having trouble keeping up.  Some of these places have opened with little to no fanfare and have no websites.  It's hard to dig up any information on them.  I still want to try them all eventually if I can just encourage Sir Pickypants to take a risk and try a  new place.

Bar'Lees, a new wine bar has had a long strange trip to opening.  When the small home furnishings store that was there previously moved into a larger space two years ago (yes, two years ago), I began seeing paper on the windows and signs announcing Montage Wine and Whiskey Bar.  It looked like a nice space for that type of establishment (even though it was a puppy store before it was a furniture store) and I liked the idea of a wine bar in town.  It is located right on the corner of the block where I live.  I could stop by for a glass on the way home from a stressful day.  I could take a visiting friend there.  The small plates would be perfect for those nights when Kevin and I wanted to go out, but didn't want a heavy meal. 

I waited and waited for it to open, but it never did.  The sign came down.  Occasionally I would see new building permits go up, and even see a flyer containing a website (although the site really had nothing on it of value about the place).  Then over a year ago I saw another flyer for Montage on the window.  This time it announced a fall opening and that announcement was crossed out and replaced with a new one that said it would open in the spring.  There were few signs of a spring opening.  I only began to see more movement inside during the summer.  During the weeks I was unemployed I did noticed some workmen in there in the daytime.  Something was happening.

Finally in the fall new signs went up.  They no longer announced Montage, but instead announced Bar'Lees Wine, Whisky, and Food.  I'm told Bar'Lees means "time out" in Australia.  They had few indications they would open any time soon, but at least they began doing things like putting flower pots outside the building during the daytime.

 In the last month I finally began seeing indications of life from behind the shaded windows.  I could see through the glass front door that a bar had been constructed and tables had been delivered.  In the evenings people (presumably the owners) congregated with glasses of wine.

Finally, one day it happened.  They announced their official opening on December 13th.  It went on my list of new places to try in town.  (We're up to three, possibly four right now.  I say possibly four because one of them I'm willing to try, but I'm not sure it looks that great, so I'm not in any hurry to do so.)

I finally had my chance this week.  One of the unfortunate effects of our respective schedules is that Kevin and I are sometimes two ships that pass in the night.  He works very late.  I am often out taking my classes or attending theater group meetings or rehearsals in the evenings.  The nights I'm home I will cook dinner for him, but will sit for a long evening waiting for him to come home and eat it.  I was chatting with my sister-in-law recently about how lonely the evenings can be while I wait for him to come home. She suggested I have dinner with her and my nephew one night so I wouldn't have to wait to eat, I would have company, and I could take home a meal for him so he would still have something to eat when he came home. 

At first I suggested we go to 360 since it's teenager-friendly.  However, my nephew decided he didn't want to be always hanging out with his mother (since they moved into town recently and don't know anyone but Kevin and me and my family, I think she is a bit too reliant on his company) and wanted to just stay home and chill by himself for an evening.  We decided it would be the perfect night to try Bar'Lees.  We invited my mother to join us as well.

When I arrived Mom and SIL were already there and seated.  The owner, Colin, had taken my seat while they waited for me.  He had talked to them for a while about the history of the place.  He came from Australia in the middle of a terrible drought and arrived in New York in time for a nor'easter.  He claims it took so long to open the place because he is a perfectionist and wanted to do it right.  Considering the name change, I suspect there is more to the story than that.  He seems like a very nice guy and it was a nice way to welcome new customers.  The place had been open less than a week, so he said it was the "First Tuesday" for the bar.

Decor is pretty typical of wine bars.  It's very comfortable and lounge-y.

All three of us tried different wines.  I drank a blended white.  Mom drank the strangest Riesling I ever tasted. 

As with most wine bars, the food was somewhat limited.  There was a selection of appetizer/snack foods, salads, and sandwiches.  SIL and I decided to split a cheese plate.  I was a doodyhead and neglected to take a photo of it.  We tried a pecorino, a Humboldt fog goat cheese, and a semi-soft cheese whose name I can't remember.  We had that with slices of pate` de campagne and smoked duck.  Mom had a crab and avocado salad.

We finished the evening by sharing some bourbon bread pudding.  I like the fact that they served it warm.

Eventually Kevin came home (the place is on the way when we walk home from the train station after work).  I flagged him down and dragged him inside to join us. He had a crab and avocado salad and a Riesling  himself.   We must have spent a grand total of 3 hours in the place.  Even though the bar was filling up, no one rushed us out.  It was a very pleasant leisurely evening.

The have a tasting room downstairs.  Colin said he would show it to us, but we never got around to it.  I wish I had been able to get a picture.

This is a great place for a light dinner or just to relax after work with a glass of wine.  I can imagine taking friends here when they visit.

So far Bar'Lees seems like a great addition to the neighborhood.  As a drinking establishment it's a cut above Molly Spillane's.