Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Live Blog 2015


12:30 PM  - It's almost Christmas and I have once again volunteered to host the festivities.  I like hosting Christmas.  It's always feels cozy and intimate to have dinner at my home, I can drink as much mulled cider as I want, and I can be as creative as I want with the menu. 

I want to be organized and have everything finished on time, but life doesn't like to help you out all the time.  I took off the three days before Christmas so I could make sure nothing waited until the last minute and the house was set up with all food procured and anything that could be made ahead of time was made.

So I had a little glitch in the machine.  Sunday night, wanting to do as little non-Christmas cooking as possible in the coming days, I went out to dinner.  I didn't drive, but I took my set of keys (home and car on one ring) with me and stashed them in my coat pocket.  I'm not sure I ever took them out.

Yesterday morning I was about to go to work and went to grab my keys.  I saw they were no longer in my coat pocket.  In fact, they were nowhere in my apartment.  I called the restaurant, but they didn't see them.  I went back to the restaurant later that day and scoured the parking lot.  I scoured Kevin's car.  I just couldn't figure out where my keys disappeared to.  So today, instead of starting in on Christmas prep first thing in the morning, I had to spend 2 hours and nearly $400 getting my car towed to the Nissan dealership to reprogram a new set of keys, and then going to the locksmith to get Kevin's house keys replicated.

I had planned to have my Christmas groceries delivered by Fresh Direct.  The tow truck for the dealership was conveniently able to come and get my car at the same time Fresh Direct was scheduled to drop off my groceries.  This was terrifying to me. What if they delivered while I was out?   I called Fresh Direct and asked if my groceries could be dropped off.   They said this was fine.  When I finally arrived home from the dealership and the locksmiths, nothing had been dropped off.  I panicked, but all's well that ends well.  They were about a half hour late with the delivery, and I was never so thankful for a late delivery.  I was able to receive and sign for the stuff and give the delivery guy a proper tip.

Now it was on to cleaning and sundry small cooking tasks.

3:59 - Where is my meat?  I scheduled a delivery today for the main course from Heritage Foods.  I am getting very nervous.

5:23: Still no meat!  The tracking info says it's still in transit.  Right now I'm working on getting some CDs ripped for my Christmas music mix.  Gotta have some music during the cocktail hour.  I can put these on my iPad and then I have a speaker that picks it up on the Bluetooth setting - genius!

Another way to pass the time was to make this brandied cherry compote.  This will be mixed into a trifle with chocolate cake and chocolate pudding.

Brandied Cherry Compote

  • 1 10 oz. bag frozen pitted cherries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brandy or kirsch (or a mix of both)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp corn starch
Combine cherries, sugar, brandy, and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer and reduce by about half.  Add cornstarch and bring to a boil.  Cook stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until syrupy.

Remove cinnamon stick and use as a dessert topping or anything else you might like to use it for.


8:49 AM: I started with some more pre-Christmas cooking by making this pineapple chutney I found on the Burp! blog.  I think I might have let everything caramelize a bit too much, but it still tasted pretty good.

The question remains, will I have a ham to serve with it?  I still have no delivery of my meats.  I checked the FedEx tracking and it said that at 3:48 AM my package was at the distribution center in the Bronx.  All I can do right now is keep doing my cooking and cleaning chores and try to get my mind off the meat and the condition in which it will arrive.

11:09 AM:  Made a pear, caramelized onion, and brandy compote.  This will go on top of a wheel of warm brie to serve with flatbreads, pita chips, and nuts for the pre-dinner cocktail hour.  Originally I was going to make it into a brie bread pudding to serve as a side dish, but that seemed too heavy.  If I baked the brie and pears with eggs and bread, it would almost be a meal in itself.

It looks a lot like the pineapple chutney, doesn't it?  I'm so embarrassed.

Brandied Caramelized Pears


  • 1 Tbl butter
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 bosc pears, cut in small dice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 tsp salt

Heat oil and butter in a large pan over low heat.  Add the onion and cook until golden, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the pears and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the brandy, brown sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil and cook about 10 minutes or until syrupy.

Serve with cheese.

Also, I think I'm getting a UTI.  There is an urgent care clinic around the block, but let's hope I find a time to get to it.  Off to buy some cranberry juice for now.

1:25 PM:  I baked this chocolate loaf cake just now.  As I mentioned previously, this is going to be cut up into chunks and layered with that cherry compote and some homemade chocolate pudding (on tomorrow's agenda).  I STILL DON'T HAVE MY MEAT.

Right now I'm off to the urgent care clinic.  The cranberry juice only lessens the symptoms a bit, but doesn't take them away.

2:49 PM:  Doctor seen, infection confirmed, antibiotics procured.  Now I have to go to Mom's to pick up some extra chairs and take her gifts to my place so she won't have to carry all this stuff on Christmas day.  Then I have to head to my storage locker to fetch my folding table.  My regular dining room table only seats 8 and I have 11 people at this dinner.  Maybe I'll get around to wrapping some gifts tonight.


5:40 PM: Went to Mom's place and brought home all of her Christmas gifts for the family.  It was quite a pile.  Grandmothers love spoiling their grandchildren.  My niece and nephew will be very happy kids on Friday!  Unfortunately, the car was so full, I didn't have room for anything else, so picking up the table from the storage locker will have to wait until tomorrow.  The rain was hammering down and the traffic was awful tonight.  I don't dare go out again.

When I arrived at my door, I burst into a round of the Hallelujah Chorus.  I didn't care if it annoyed the neighbors.  Sitting in front of my door was a huge box marked "perishable".  MY MEAT HAD ARRIVED.

I now safely have secured one ham and one goose.

I think I'm going to take a break from Christmas stuff tonight.  Tomorrow I will get my folding table, wrap my gifts, clean the bathrooms, as well as make my pudding and some salad dressing, and finally  make sure everything is tidied and the kitchen is in place.  Let's hope nothing more goes wrong and it will all fall into place.


10:42 AM:  Boy it's so nice to be celebrating Christmas in Florida again.  Kevin and I have not done that in over 10 years.

Wait.  It's not Florida.   This is still my apartment in the northeastern state of New York.   It just happens to be 70 degrees outside.

I let myself sleep in a bit this morning.  After my workout I got down to the business of making chocolate pudding.

I used the recipe from my mother's ancient Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.  It's cool.  You can still see my grandparents' signature on the title page gifting it to Mom in 1963.  I have used the pudding recipe for years.  It's a simple cornstarch pudding.  You make it by mixing some cold milk, sugar, and cornstarch in a double boiler and then you add scalded milk (that you melt your chocolate into).  They call it Blancmange Pudding.  Wasn't Blancmange a band back in the 80s?

I splurged on local creamline milk thinking it would make a lovely, rich pudding.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get the pudding to tighten.  I don't know why.  I have made this pudding dozens of times before and it always thickened just fine.  I got frustrated and I tempered 3 egg yolks and added them in, to make a more custard-like pudding.  It did eventually thicken and the eggs helped smooth out the graininess of the chocolate.

I have three components of the trifle made.  Assembly will happen tomorrow.

Now I'm still sweaty from my workout and covered in chocolate.  I need to shower and decide which task to tackle next.  I think I'll do some gift wrapping.  I need to get that done while Kevin isn't here so I can wrap his gift without him seeing it (although he probably knows what it is).  Then I have to run a few errands out of the house (enjoy this nice weather) and conquer the cleaning tasks.

I was right about the band.

2:33 PM:  Gifts are wrapped and I have gone out and braved the traffic to get the last of my Christmas supplies from my storage locker.  Unfortunately, the storage facility is right behind a major shopping center that contains a Kohl's, Pier 1, Home Goods, Ulta, DSW, Party City, Modell's, and Game Stop among other major and independent stores.  I-95 was backed up from Harrison to the Kohl's center exit in Port Chester.  Once I was at the storage locker, I was able to get in and out quickly.  Hardly anyone was there.  I also needed to go to Party City to buy some plastic mugs for my hot cider.  I couldn't believe how empty it was.  I was expecting a mob scene.

In theory I don't have to go out again until after Christmas.  I have Star Wars tickets for tonight though, so I will be out in the traffic again.  I'm seeing it in IMAX too!

I still have to clean.  I'm not happy about that.

5:00 PM: My to-do list for the day is done.  Tomorrow will consist of making vegetable sides and salads, and getting those meats in the oven and the gravy made.  I'll also be setting up and decorating the place.  I bought new table linens this year, so I expect everything will be appropriately festive.

Other than the traffic, I had no major mishaps or disasters today.  It should be a good Christmas.


9:19 AM: Merry Christmas!  After completing my workout this morning, I took a few minutes to catch my breath and declared that it was time to get down to business.  I will transform this mess into Christmas World!  I want my place to look so festive that Scrooge won't need to see his grave to want to celebrate Christmas.

For the record, Star Wars was great.  I won't provide spoilers, but I do recommend.

9:49 AM:  Finished the first cooking task of the day.  I assembled the chocolate-cherry trifle.  I thought the cake I made was a bit dry, but it will have all day to soak up that custard and that brandy-infused cherry juice.  My trifle doesn't showcase the layers too well though.  Oh well.  Right before I serve this I will cover the top with a showstopping layer of fresh whipped cream. 

11:56: Setup mostly done.  This isn't Dickens or the Stahlbaum's, but it's the best I can do.

My two tables, set with festive linens and candles with my tree in the background.

My drinks table is always in the entryway.  People can pour themselves a glass as soon as they walk in.  I am counting on family to bring wine.  The pile of mugs next to the scotch will be for hot spiced cider (with brandy).  Eventually I will fill that bucket with ice.

5 hours to go until dinner.  The real cooking is about to happen soon!

1:16 PM:  I have been gathering my pots, pans, and serving bowls trying to get the cooking and serving stuff sorted out.  I made my green beans side dish.  The beans are cooked with pancetta and shallots and dressed with mustard.  I'll have to heat them in the microwave before guests come, but I hope that doesn't make them not taste as good. Even though they don't take long to cook, I just didn't want to be cooking anything at the last minute.   I found the recipe in Eating Well and I want to use it again. It's tasty.

No photos right now.  Just didn't feel like taking any.

2:56 PM:  I prepped my goose and it will go in the oven in 15 minutes.  I put a lemon and a head of garlic in the cavity.  I pricked the skin with a needle repeatedly to let the fat render out when cooking.  I also cut off the excess cavity fat.  It's amazing how much fat is in a goose.  You just don't realize until you try to cook one.  Fat was oozing out the tiny holes I made with the needle as I pricked it.  I rendered the extra skin so I would have some fat to make gravy with and it seemed like the fat would not stop coming out of that chunk of skin.  I suppose guests will either find this goose gross or delicious depending on their taste proclivities.  (I admit I will probably lean to the delicious side.)

I cut off the wing tips for use in the gravy as well.  Cutting of the wing tips of a goose is nothing like removing them from a chicken.  I had to fight to get this bird to give up its wing tips.   Geese are tough birds.  We learn this when we go to the local pond and feed the waterfowl.  They're just as tough when they're dead.

Heritage Foods sent me a bag of this salt to season it with.  They call it Omnivore Salt.  So does that mean vegetarians can't use it?  Maybe it means you can only use it on omnivorous animals like chickens or pigs.  I assume geese are omnivorous too. 
My ham will go into the oven about a half hour after the goose goes in.  I'm relieved my microwave doubles as a convection oven.  There is no other way to roast such large meats at one time without a second oven.

Gravy and salad are next on the agenda.  I want to have the salad prepped and in the bowl (but not dressed obviously) well ahead of time.  Then I have to make sure the hot cider is ready to be served  along with the brie and pears as soon as the guests start walking in.


Obviously live blogging can't go on when you have a dinner to serve and eat, so the live blogging ended and now it's all just a recap.

After my goose and ham went into the ovens I began prepping my salad.  It was my favorite go-to salad made from arugula, fennel, orange slices, and pine nuts in an orange-balsamic vinaigrette.  I was slicing the fennel on a mandoline and my thumb came a bit too close to the blade.  OUCH!  I was bleeding like a stuck pig and screaming for a Band-Aid.  My heroic husband was at the ready.  With my finger bandaged and hurting, I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to do the last bits of serve and prep, but this incident was just the beginning.

Before the second disaster of the evening, I still had some prep to do.  I heated the fresh apple cider with allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and star anise.  Just before serving I added a cup of brandy.

Now dim the lights, turn on the tree, and light all the candles in the room.  Start the music playing.  It really feels like Christmas in here.  The house is ready to welcome the guests.

A beautifully browned and crispy roasted goose and a succulent ham came out of the oven and were set to rest.

The drinks table was set with ice and the first bottle of wine.
The perfect evening was set. Guests began to arrive and were welcomed by the soft lighting, festive music, and smells of good cooking.   I set my wheel of Brie and the caramelized pears in the oven to warm.  I wanted to serve it as soon as everyone arrived so they could have it with their drinks.

Unfortunately, the platter that my cheese sat on had a minor crack in it that I didn't think was a big deal.  It turned out to be a bigger deal than I expected.  As I made a move to get my cheese and pears to the snack table, the platter broke and rammed itself into my hand.  I burned a large spot on my middle finger with a few minor burns on my palm.  My family scrambled to find a new platter for the cheese and put it out while I howled in pain as I ran for an ice pack.  Unfortunately, I was unable to be without ice on my burns for the entire evening.  I had no hands and was useless.  Thank goodness I have the kind of husband and the kind of family that was willing to pitch in.

Sorry, I don't have a photo of the Brie and pears on the snack table.  When it first went out, I was in too much pain to press a shutter.

I did feel a bit better when it came time to serve the salad.

With my brother on hand to help carve, I was able to get the meats and the vegetables onto the buffet.  We had the ham and the goose.  We had green beans.  We had a dish of roasted parsnips, carrots, fennel, and potatoes.  We had the goose gravy and pineapple chutney.  We soaked it up with Italian bread.  In short, we had a feast.

I learned a few things about goose that night.  All the stories I head about how much fat a goose renders are no joke.  I had a quart of goose fat at the end of the night left over from both rendering the excess skin and when came out of the goose while cooking.  It's not just the wing tips on a goose that are tough.  Geese are hard to carve, as they have strong sinews and solid bones.  Although a goose carcass looks tasty and you're sure you can get more meat (or some more crispy skin) out of it, don't bother.  The fat is tough and inedible on the underside and other spots.

Will I ever cook a goose again?  I might some time in the future, but my curiosity about cooking goose is satisfied for now.

The ham was the most delicious, succulent ham I have ever eaten.  If you ever find yourself looking for a good ham for a holiday dinner, do yourself a favor and get one from Heritage Foods.  You won't be sorry.

We were close to bursting, but we still had to serve dessert after the gifts were opened.  I put out my trifle and my mother brought her traditional pecan bars and rum balls.  My sister-in-law made gingerbread men and moon cookies/meltaways/Russian tea cakes/Mexican wedding cookies.  The trifle was dense and provided a true chocolate explosion.  It was a fun experiment in trifle desserts.  The cookies represented the Christmas of my childhood. 

Eventually everyone had to go home.  Kevin cleaned up with a little help from Mom while I nursed my wounds and helped where I could.  Despite the disasters of this week, I had a lovely evening.  Everyone had a good time and enjoyed the food.  We were all together and that's what's most important.

I hope everyone reading this had a joyful holiday (Christmas or otherwise) and enjoys a happy New Year.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

New Kid in Town: The Smokehouse Tailgate Grill

I love a good barbecue restaurant.  For many years good barbecue - or really any true slow-smoked barbecue - was hard to find in my area.  If you wanted good barbecue, you had to travel south.  That has slowly been changing over the past few years.  First there was the failed Barnacle Barbecue and eventually along came one of my local favorites 360 American Grill, which doesn't bill itself exclusively as a barbecue restaurant, but it does have a smoker out back and does some pretty good chicken and ribs.  One can never have too much barbecue though, so I was happy to see the Smoke House Tailgate Grill  move into town.

The Smoke House sits in the space that once housed Roasted Peppers (a pretty good restaurant, but their menu really needed some expansions or updates, so I'm not surprised it closed).  This is the same building that once housed a Starbucks.

The basic interior hasn't changed much since the space's previous incarnations.  It is still full of exposed brick walls and tends to be quite an echo chamber.  It is clean and simple and very attractive visually, but in other ways it's not so attractive.

Smoke House gives the impression of being a restaurant for the man's man.  It's a bro bar.  It seems to stick to the stereotype that only men like to eat barbecued meat.  In order to enhance the manliness of the place there are several screens (you can see them above the bar in this photo) showing the game (the night I was there it was Giants vs. Patriots) and the volume is blasting.  Quiet dining is not the norm as the guys watching the game are quite vocal, which is amplified by the echoing walls.

There isn't a full bar.  You have some wines and a lot of beer and cider.  The only spirits are a large selection of whiskey.  They have some of their ciders, and even root beer, on tap.

I had a cocktail called a Black Jack that was apple brandy and "apple moonshine" with agave syrup and bitters.  It was pretty smooth for a whiskey cocktail.  There was no burn.  The apple flavor was barely perceptible though.
So how was the food? 

The menu was filled with all kinds of temptations. I could have made a meal of the appetizers like the tea-brined wings, the buffalo chicken dip, or the brisket ravioli. 

There were surprisingly few platter options for a barbecue restaurant.  The menu listed ribs, chicken, or a pork chop on a plate (They do have Brisket Wednesdays where you can have a brisket platter or burnt ends over french fries).  Everything else was sandwiches, pizzas,  or burgers.  I wasn't hungry enough to attack a platter of ribs, so I decided to try a sandwich.

It was hard to choose a sandwich when everything from the classic pulled pork to the smoked French dip sounded delicious.  I ended up trying the smoked pork belly.  It came with fried (red) tomatoes, and a spicy aioli. 

I opted for mac and cheese as a side.  I so rarely ever have M&C at home that I like to try it when I'm out.  They also offer mashed potatoes, fries, beans, vegetables or cornbread.

This meal did not disappoint.  The flavors and the textures of the sandwich worked perfectly.  The mac and cheese was a bit smoky and a bit spicy.  The texture was a little grainy, but I prefer that to the watery mac and cheese that so often disappoints me in restaurants.  I couldn't finish it all, so I had a nice mac and cheese lunch the next day. 

Kevin opted for the fried chicken sandwich.  He liked it, but wasn't enthusiastic about it. 

Service that night was a bit spotty.  Our server was friendly, but he tended to go between giving us plenty of attention and forgetting about us.  I had to ask more than once for water (and I asked two different people).  Sometimes requests arrived quickly and sometimes they took forever.  At the end of the meal our server asked us if we wanted anything else.  I asked for a dessert menu.  He said he would be back with one.  He disappeared for a bit and then returned and asked again if we wanted anything else.  Once again I asked for a dessert menu.  He said he would just tell us what the desserts were.  (Why couldn't he do that the first time I asked?)  He said they had milkshakes and root beer floats, but his favorite was the ice cream cookie sandwich.  (I have no idea if they served any other desserts because this server was really into the sandwich.)  You had the option of sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate wafers filled with vanilla, chocolate, or peanut butter ice cream.  We opted for chocolate chip with peanut butter.
As you can see, it wasn't much of a "sandwich" as the proportion of cookies to ice cream was barely enough to hold it together.  The cookies were good - nice and warm.  The ice cream didn't taste like peanut butter. 

The verdict on this place was that it was an enjoyable meal food-wise, but the service could use a little polishing (I will give them the benefit of the doubt for working the kinks out of a new place).  I would definitely come back, but I would prefer to not be there on a big game night. I really don't love the sports bar atmosphere here.   Kevin said he would come back, but he would want to try both a different entree and a different drink.  I'll finish this by saying, "Welcome to the neighborhood."  We will see how long this place lasts.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Autumn Harvest Farrotto

I read the word "farrotto" recently and felt my hackles rise.  I had an instant dislike of the word.  Farro is farro.  Why do we need to make a farro dish and give it quirky Italian names?  Just cook your farro and make a salad as I have done in the past.

Then I realized something.  Maybe the term wasn't just for a dish made out of farro, but farro cooked risotto style.  I had never considered cooking farro that way.  The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was by it.  How would slowly cooking farro by gradually adding small amounts of broth change the flavor and texture?  I realized I wanted to try it.

I'm still not sure if I like the word "farrotto" though.  Is it a real word, or is it just some frankenword made up because someone didn't feel like saying, "farro risotto"?  I can tolerate the former, but I still think the latter is kind of corny.

But I'll say it anyway.  I made farrotto.

I put an autumnal spin on the dish by roasting (and roasting and roasting) carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and fennel until nice and brown.  Most vegetables taste good when roasted until brown.  Lots of roasting is about the best thing you can do a vegetable (except carrots, which are only good cooked if roast them and are best eaten raw).  I added this to the farro and made a lovely seasonal dish out of it.

I threw some leftover shrimp on top (leftover from a recovery meal at Rani Mahal).  I wish they hadn't obscured the farro so much for the photo.  I also threw some sausage on top of my portion.  (What?  You think Kevin and I both ate the shrimp?  You're funny!)  This works fine as a meal without the extra protein though.  If you make it with vegetable broth, it would be a perfect vegan lunch. 

Farro does not take on the creamy consistency of Arborio rice, no matter how much stock you add to it.  I'm not sure using this method of cooking is any better than cooking it the traditional way.  I'll include the instructions for this in the recipe, but if you don't want to bother, I'm sure just cooking farro the regular way and tossing in the roasted vegetables would be just as tasty.

Autumn Harvest Farrotto

  • 5 medium carrots cut in small dice
  • 4 medium parsnips cut in small dice
  • 1 small fennel bulb, cut in small dice
  • 1 medium sweet potato, cut in chunks
  • 2 Tb olive oil plus more for tossing
  • 2 Tb butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut in small dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 16 oz package of pearled farro
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • Salt to taste

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the carrots, parsnips, fennel, and sweet potato in olive oil and a little salt.  Spread on a cookie sheet and roast about an hour, or until the vegetables develop brown edges.  Remove from oven.  Carefully remove any skin from sweet potato and gently break in small pieces.  Set aside.

Heat the stock in a small saucepan and keep it simmering on the stove.

In a saucepan heat 2 Tb olive oil and the butter.  Cook the onions in this until they are transparent.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or until fragrant.  Add the farro and stir well to coat.  Cook for another two minutes.  Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed.

Add a ladle full of the stock to the pot.  Stir until it is absorbed.  Keep adding stock and stirring in until all of the stock is absorbed into the farro and the farro is fairly tender.  Check for seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

Stir in the vegetables and serve.  Top with sausage or shrimp if you like.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Chicken Dish For Fall

It's apple season.  Fall is apple season.  October is the time for apples.  It's time for apples, apples, and more apples.  This time of year, apples are the only seasonal produce that matters.

Or so I decree.

October has been a busy month for me.  It seems every weekend I have some kind of party or event.  On top of that, I'm working on a murder mystery play with my theater group and have to deal with rehearsals during the week.  Cooking new recipes falls by wayside quite often.  Still my father has an October birthday and I needed to carve out a little time to make him a nice dinner, even if it was two weeks late.

I incorporated apples into much of the meal.  I went into the archives and made my apple almond tart for dessert.  

But apples aren't just for dessert.  I made a main dish out of apples too.

The photo may not look all that appetizing, but this was a spectacular dish.  This dish combines my love of caramelized onion, sweet-savory combinations, and gooey cheese.  I cooked chicken breasts in a simple sauce of caramelized onions, apples, and brandy and then topped them with brie.  Initially I wanted to stuff them with brie, but in the end I just didn't want to be bothered.  They were perfect served over creamy mashed potatoes, lightly flavored with garlic.

The taste was not quite what I expected, but everyone loved them.  This recipe is a keeper.

Chicken in Apple Brandy Sauce with Brie

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 Tbl butter
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 large firm apples, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 5 leaves fresh sage
  • 1/2 pound (appox.) creamy brie, cut in thin slices

Heat butter and olive oil over low heat in a large pan.  Add the onions and cook until brown and well reduced (about 40 minutes).  Add apples and cook until soft.  Remove from pan.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Raise heat to medium and brown the chicken well on both sides, about 5 minutes on each.  Remove from pan.

Add brandy and sage to the pan.  Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom.  Bring to a gentle simmer.  Return chicken, onions, and apples to the pan. 

Simmer an additional 20 minutes or until cooked through.  In the last 2 minutes of cooking, lay the brie slices on top of the chicken.  Cook until melted.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

New Kid In Town: Spice Kitchen (I cheated on my favorite restaurant and paid the price)

There is so much new construction happening in my neighborhood right now (and I'm not always sure that's a positive thing) Whatever issues I might have with that, I can't help being excited when a new restaurant moves into town.  One of the latest restaurants to come into the neighborhood is the Indian restaurant, Spice Kitchen, conveniently located directly across the street from our building.  Kevin and I were torn between wanting to try it, and feeling like we were being disloyal to one of our favorite local restaurants, Rani Mahal.

Well, after we broke down and decided to finally try Spice Kitchen, I realize the gods at Rani Mahal were having the last laugh.

Spice Kitchen has some impressive decor.  It's a small restaurant with an intimate feel and a very modern vibe.  It is the kind of Indian restaurant you expect to find in Manhattan.  Everything from the wall decor to the seating was done with meticulous detail.

(Note the table pictured here was empty when I sat down.  This is going to be important for later.)

We were seated quickly and the staff was friendly.  We ordered our first glasses of wine.  As I looked around this beautiful space I wondered how I could ever go back to Rani Mahal.  Rani Mahal is a large open space with very simple decor.  It is lacking in this cool vibe.  How could I ever eat Indian food without this cool vibe?  Cool vibes are part of the dining experience, right?

They put down exactly two pappdums in front of us.  I thought one wafer each was a little cheap, but they did offer us more after we ate them.  Silly me, I told them we wanted to save our appetites for dinner.  

I opened the menu eagerly.  What would this new restaurant offer?  Would the food be as unusual as the decor?

The menu was pretty much the same old - same old.  There were some different appetizer offerings from other Indian menus, but otherwise it was the same tandoori/tikka masala/vindaloo entrees that dominate every Indian restaurant you have ever been to.  The menu was cleverly set up though.  Rather than list each and every dish, the menu had a wheel set up with each type of sauce available and which proteins you could order with it.  There was a description of each sauce type below.

Since the menu had some unusual appetizers listed, and I thought the Tangy Eggplant sounded good,we went with that.  We also ordered mango chicken (that was one of the few dishes on this menu I hadn't seen on other Indian menus) and chicken tikka masala (Kevin's perennial favorite).  Our server used a little electronic device, like an iPad to take our order.  She had to question me twice what I was ordering, and I thought I saw her push a few buttons.  I'm not sure why she seemed so confused when she took our order, but I didn't think much of it at the time.

Our eggplant came out. These were like the eggplant chips I have often eaten at Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants.  They were delicious.  We gobbled them up quickly.  They weren't really tangy though.  Also the dipping sauces were the same ones that came with the pappdums (standard tamarind and coriander sauces).

We finished our appetizer and waited for our dinners.  A busboy came along and put dinner plates in front of us.  We received our naan bread (and they charge you by the piece instead of giving you a big basket).  We kept waiting for the rest of our dinner.  We ordered a second glass of wine (because we were waiting so long, we had finished our first glasses and wanted to have something to drink with our dinner).

Our server came to our table and asked if we wanted to order anything else.  We were confused.  We were still waiting for our main courses, so we weren't really interested in dessert at that point.

We kept waiting.  That empty table in the photo filled up.  The group who sat there received their dinners.  Other tables that came in after us received their dinners.  We were still waiting.

Finally we flagged down our server and asked what what was happening with our entrees.  She had no memory of us ever ordering anything.  Whatever she did with her little device, she did not actually enter our order with it.  She had to take our order all over again.  The entire staff, including the owner was apologetic.  We had multiple  staff members coming to our table and apologizing.  Our food finally came out of the kitchen.

Was it worth the wait?  It wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't worth the wait.  I enjoyed the meal, but it didn't blow me away.  For all the excessive decor, there really isn't much about Spice Kitchen that differentiates it from most other Indian restaurants in the area.  The mango chicken was just a thick, sweet, heavy sauce. 

After this was all over, I was hoping that they might try to compensate us for their incompetence.  Maybe they would offer us a dessert on the house or comp us those second glasses of wine (which we never would have ordered if our food had come out on time).  If they had tried to make their error up to us in any way, then we might have just considered this ordering glitch to be a simple mistake by a new restaurant trying to work the kinks out.  We might have returned in a few weeks to see if service had improved.

When we received our bill, not only did they not comp us any of our meal, but they double charged us for the mango chicken (they remedied that).

I'm not inclined to come back here again.  The next time I'm in the mood for Indian, I'm going back to my old stand-by Rani Mahal, where the owner will pour me a second glass of wine on the house just because he's a nice guy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Restaurant Review: Anniversay Dinner at 273 Kitchen

Before I start this review, I will state that I am really getting tired of restaurants naming themselves after their address.  It has stopped being clever.  It is beginning to make restaurant owners look too lazy to come up with a creative name.  I say this even though one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood is 360 American Grille.  The trend is over.  Go back to naming your restaurant after your dog, or your favorite movie, or the setting of a book.

Now that I have that off my chest, I promise that the name of the restaurant I am reviewing does not bias me in any way.

When it came time to plan our anniversary dinner (14 years!), SPP and I were stuck trying to decide on a restaurant.  Our anniversary was on a weeknight and we didn't want to be out too late, so he was pretty adamant we stay local.  The problem is I was tired of most of the local restaurants.  Even the special occasion places have been done to death.  I wanted something new.  Did we have to visit one of the restaurants on our crowded little strip once again?

I asked Kevin how far afield he might be willing to go.  Would Harrison be acceptable?  That is merely one town over.  He said it would depend on the restaurant.  I said I had one in mind.  I had been itching to try 273 Kitchen, a recent addition to the village that had been receiving rave reviews online.

It's hard to describe what kind of restaurant 273 is.  It sits on one of the busiest corners in town at the intersection of two main streets.  The space was occupied for decades by a giant pharmacy (now usurped by an even bigger CVS across the street).  When the pharmacy left, it became a Quizno's. (Harrison has way too many delicious Italian delis to ever have the need for a Quizno's, or a Subway or any such place.)  It was briefly a casual cafe and then 273 moved in.  It calls itself Mediterranean, but it's not like any Mediterranean I have ever tried.  It's not Italian or Greek or Middle Eastern or French or Spanish.  It is an odd mix of all or none of them.  The menu changes daily.

When we walked in and sat down, observing the hip decor of reclaimed wood and artfully placed ordinary objects, I said, to Kevin, "This place is so not Harrison."  He knew exactly what I meant.  Harrison is a stodgy, conservative little town, where a resistance to change and to the exotic is commonplace.  (I'm allowed to say that.  Harrison is my hometown.  I grew up there and know from whence I speak.)  The restaurants that tend to stay in business in Harrison are Italian restaurants and pizza places (reflecting the town's main ethnic group I suppose).  When you step into 273, you feel as if you're stepping into a world away from a suburban town's main street corner.

We ordered our wine and toasted our anniversary.  A server overheard us.  A few short minutes later, a server brought complimentary glasses of champagne to our table.

The menu changes daily.  The paper menu was attached with photo corners to what I can only guess is the back of a recycled clipboard.

The restaurant offers 3 courses and dessert.  You can order any number of any of the dishes.  If you order all three, one from each course, it's a $45 price fixe deal and they give you dessert for free.  It was our anniversary, so we took that option.

We had some slices of garlic bread to begin.  It was ordinary garlic toast.  It wasn't anything special, but who doesn't love garlic toast?

I started with sweet potato soup.  I have never tasted anything like this sweet potato soup before.  It had no mealyness at all.  It was smooth and creamy.  The first flavor I noticed when I took a bite was lemon, which is unexpected against sweet potatoes.  The more of the soup I ate, the more flavors I tasted.  There was cream and butter and thyme and something even more savory I couldn't put my finger on.  I was shamelessly scraping the bottom of the bowl with my spoon to make sure I didn't miss a drop of it.

 Kevin's first course was the most typical Mediterranean dish we had that night.  He had a meze platter of pita, hummus, olive spread, and tzatziki.  I could have been a meal in itself.

My second course was braised pork belly served atop fennel puree and finely chopped roasted cauliflower mixed with bits of cracked wheat.  This was the weakest dish I ate.  It was delicious, but after the unusual taste of the soup, I was expecting something unusual to pop out with the vegetables.  Their flavor was far simpler.  The pork belly almost literally melted in my mouth.  

Kevin went for planked quail.  It had an unusual assortment of vegetables including red cabbage and tomatoes.

We both went for the same third course.  This was duck breast with seasonal vegetables, polenta, and a poached egg. 

It was a weird, but fun combination and very well prepared.  The duck was perfectly cooked and the polenta was creamy.  

We ended with a brownie for him (never got a photo) and a brown butter cake for me.  His brownie had a spice mixture in it that I wasn't fond of.  I'm glad I decide to deviate from my chocolate habit and try this extra-buttery cake. 

Portions here are small, but I would be hesitant to call them "small plates".  If you have a petite appetite, one plate might satisfy you nicely, particularly if you order off the Course 3 (more entree type foods) list.  Larger appetites will likely be satisfied with two plates.  We were really stuffed after eating three.  It wasn't just about the size of the dishes.  It was about the richness.  The chef doesn't skimp on butter.   My dishes were a bit on the heavy side.  If I go back, I will probably order two plates instead of three, even though it means I have to pay for dessert.

Did I just say, "If I go back"?  I mean when.  I want to come back here again soon.  Kevin and I are already coming up with excuses to come here for future occasions.  I hope 273 sticks around for a long time - name and all.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Using My Family As Guinea Pigs For Summer Recipes

I know I don't need to repeat this for the hundredth time, but I love this time of year.  Summer is the best time for food.  Summer is peaches and corn and tomatoes.  Summer is farm markets that contain booths full of actual nutritious fresh produce I want to eat (as opposed to only having cheese, bread, and squash like the fall and winter farm markets).  Most importantly, with all of these topnotch fruit and vegetables so abundant, I am always seeking creative ways to cook them

That is why a few weeks ago I began pestering the husband.  "Let's have people over.  We Must have people over.  I need to have a dinner party."  Sure it sounds rather selfless and generous, but I have an ulterior motive.  I want to test new recipes on my unsuspecting friends and family.

Fortunately, we have family members who are always willing to oblige, so this weekend we had our mothers and family friend come over, thinking that I was just inviting them over from the goodness of my heart.  Little did they know I was testing recipes on them.

Who am I kidding?  They know.  They see me taking photos during dinner.  It's never a secret that I'm cooking certain dishes to feature on the blog.

This particular dinner was meant to feature every star ingredient of late summer:  Corn, tomatoes, and peaches.  Although it's a little past berry season, I did sneak a blueberry pie in there as well.

My first course was savory cornmeal pancakes with basil and tomatoes.  I was thinking of cooking the tomatoes down into a sauce, but decided to leave them raw.  Tomatoes this time of year are good enough that they don't need to have much done to them.  I let them sit in some olive oil, garlic, and fresh oregano for a few hours before I served them over the pancakes.

My main course was a pork loin that I topped with a peach whiskey sauce.  The sauce is very simple, but works very well with the pork.  On the side I served a green bean salad.  I bought green beans, wax beans, and purple string beans for the salad, but the purple beans turned green after two minutes in the steamer.  I dressed them simply with white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil.

 Finally we had the blueberry crumb pie.  I tried King Arthur Flour pie filling enhancer for the first time.  It makes a huge difference in the consistency of a pie filling.  I recommend it.

Need some recipes?

Pork Loin with Whiskey Peach Sauce

  • 3 lb pork loin roast
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • 2 Tbl butter
  • 6 ripe peaches, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup whiskey
  • 2 Tbl honey
  • 6 chopped sage leaves
Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Sprinkle pork roast with salt and pepper all over.  Place in a cast iron pan (or other heavy pan) and brown well over medium heat on all sides.  Place in oven and roast for 75 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Remove from oven, tent with foil, and let rest 15 minutes.

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large pan.  Add the peaches and cook until they soften.  Add the whiskey and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  The sauce should thicken and become syrupy.  Stir in the sage leaves and honey and cook another 5 minutes.

Slice the pork and serve topped with the sauce.

Savory Corn Pancakes

  • Kernels scraped from 2 ears of cooked corn
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbl melted butter (plus additional for cooking)
  • 6 basil leaves cut in chiffonade
In a large bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and baking powder.

In another bowl, whisk milk, eggs, and butter.

Gently mix together the milk mixture with the flour mixture.  Stir just to blend.  Stir in the corn and basil.  Be careful not to overmix.

Melt butter in a skillet.  You can use a ladle full of batter for large pancakes, or if you prefer mini pancakes, use about 1/4 at a time.  Cook on one side until you see bubbles form and break (look carefully as it won't be as obvious as it is with regular pancakes) and flip over and cook until completely done.

Serve topped with tomatoes, cheese, salsa, or whatever other toppings you feel would be tasty.