Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cheese-Stuffed Dates with Prosciutto

All I have to say here is - thank you , Giada!
You had me at goat cheese, much less prosciutto, marscapone, medjool dates..........


Cheese-Stuffed Dates with Prosciutto
courtesy Giada DeLaurentiis
Ingredients
1/4 cup (2 ounces) goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (2 ounces) mascarpone cheese, a room temperature
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Chives (origina recipe calls for basil leaves)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 Medjool dates (12 ounces), pitted
8 thin slices prosciutto, halved lengthwise

Directions
Special equipment: 16 toothpicks or cocktail picks
In a small bowl, mix together the cheeses and basil and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Gently pull the dates apart and stuff with about 1/2 teaspoon of the cheese mixture. Close the dates around the filling. Wrap a piece of prosciutto around each date and secure with a toothpick.
Arrange the stuffed dates on a platter and serve.

Friday, December 25, 2009

An Experiment in Brining--

I was recently enthralled watching Anne Burrell brine a monstrous Tgiving turkey. It fell in line with a lot of reading I've been doing about brining and how many swear it's the only way to make a moist chicken any more. However, when it's just two of you for Christmas, it seems wasteful to prepare a whole turkey. Thus, I picked up some Cornish game hens this year for my little "experiment."

I will have to tell you that this was THE most succulent & flavorful chicken I have ever put in my mouth as well as the hubs and I's fav part of our Christmas meal. Trussing, not my strong suite to start with, was like a day at the rodeo. These suckers were lucky they made it into the roasting pan, much less the oven! (that's why you see an "X" on the back of one of the hens, it's leg was broken and it wasn't cooperating, so I did some "creative trussing" - I also would've put Ralphie's dad to shame w/the artfully crafted blue streak coming out of my mouth........but, I digress...........)

Rule of thumb(s?) that I've gathered is approx. 1 cup table salt for every gallon of water. Do not brine for less than 1/2 and hour and do not use more than 2 gallons of water. It's best to start w/scalding hot water so that it dissolves the salt and releases the essential oils in whatever herbs and spices you choose to use. Use a non-reactive (non-aluminum) dish or container to brine in. Ziplock bags work great, as do stainless dutch ovens (which I used). You will want the water to cool before placing your meat in it as the heat puts the process of osmosis that's at work into overdrive and your chicken/poultry will end up tasting like ham.

For my hens- I used:

1 c. table salt
1 gallon water
1/2 a packet of Herbs for Poultry- 1/2 bouquet of thyme, 1 thick sprig rosemary, 1 large sage leaf
1 tbsp cracked telicherry peppercorns
2 garlic cloves, whole, crushed

I only brined the hens for 90 minutes as I wanted to play it on the safe side, but you can do up to 2 hours with smaller fowl. Stuffed them w/sausage dressing, laid them on a bed of sliced onion. Roasted for a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes- basted w/butter at 350 for an hour, then did 400 for the last 15 minutes (basting in the middle).

Perfection!

Btw- Sasha wanted me to tell everyone- Merry Christmas and save some chicken for me!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I love this site so much! I'm just sad I didn't think of it first.
These are all things I think, but never thought to say in a blog.
Now you can read it and have a few laughs too- Merry Christmas!
XO
Bella

http://foodnetworkhumor.com/

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Soft Center Chocolate Cakes


I was the fortunate recipient of a Ghirardelli gift box this Christmas. And as such, felt it my honor bound duty to test the recipes and chocolate sent to me. Thus, on this snowy, homebound evening, I found myself delving into a flourless chocolate cake recipe of sorts.











I must say, not being a baker, this was fun to make! Esp. when my end result flopped out onto the plate without much finesse in a pile of airy fudge. Guess I'll just have to try again! Poor me!


It may not turn out as pretty on the plate as the pics in the Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook, but no matter. It's definitely a chocolate lover's (read: my) Christmas Chocolate Dream come true- SO good!

Soft Center Chocolate Cakes


1.2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken up or in melting chips
2 large whole eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 tspn vanilla
1 tbsp cake flour

Optional: Berries and/or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 450. Butter four 6 oz ramekins and dust with sugar(I recommend caster/super-fine sugar).

Melt stick of butter and chocolate over double boiler until smooth.

Meanwhile, whip whole eggs, yolks, sugar and vanilla w/an electric mixer for approx. 10 minutes (it will thicken). Fold in melted chocolate, then flour until just combined. Spoon mixture into prepared ramekins.

Bake for 9-10 minutes, until the top and sides are set. The center will be quite soft. Removed from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes, then unmold each ramekin onto a dessert plate. Top w/berries and/or whipped cream if desired.

*B Tip - you can freeze these easily (take out of ramekin) and reheat them for 10-15 seconds in the microwave directly from the freezer. Like fresh out of the oven!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unbelievably Good Roasted Veggie Soup


Had this served to me by dear friends on my recent sojourn to Chicago. Now, everytime I make this recipe, I will forever cherish the memory of their adorable son hoovering this soup and begging for more - THREE TIMES! So, those of you trying to get veggies in your kids, this recipe is the way to go! Not to mention, it will make your house smell amazing!

I would recommend serving it with either whole grain croutons (made from a baguette, toasted w/olive oil) or a nice grilled cheese/panini type sandwich.

Hope you love it as much as we do!

Roasted Veggie Soup
Williams Sonoma Soup Cookbook
p. 56

2 leeks, including green tender parts, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut in 2 inch pieces
2 zucchini (courgettes), cut into 2 inch pieces
2 Asian eggplants, (slender aubergines), cut into 2 inch pieces
2 large tomatoes, quartered
2 white potatoes (about 10 oz), peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
4 ½ c. chicken stock/broth
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh basil (I roasted my veggies w/dried basil)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large, heavy roasting pan, combine leeks, carrots, zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes and potatoes. Add ½ cup of chicken broth/stock, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Mix until veggies are well coated.

Roast until veggies are softened, turning once to make sure they do not burn, about 40 minutes total.

In a blender, in about 3 batches, combine the veggies with ½ cup total chicken stock/broth and puree until smooth.

Transfer to a large saucepan over low heat and stir in the remaining 3 ½ cups stock, the basil and lemon juice.

If needed, add a bit more stock for the desired consistency. Cook for 3 minutes and allow flavors to blend.

Season to taste w/salt and pepper.

Freezes beautifully.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chicago - Pizza Pot Pie


So, we're in Chicago, visiting family for Thanksgiving. We decided to take the weekend prior to make a mini-vacation for ourselves. And what an action packed vacation it's been!


We've been in the city less than 48 hours and have hit Millenium Park, seen the Thanksgiving parade, eaten dinner at Prosecco (Chicago's Diner's Choice 2009) w/dear old friends, taken the architectural boat tour, run through my old haunts and eaten some Pizza Pot Pie at Chicago Oven Grinder's.


I'm here to tell you that you haven't lived until you've had a triple P-- warm and buttery, the mozzerella just melts in your mouth. The spicy, saucy meat sauce explodes with flavor and is balanced out by the crispy, chewy crust. I can't believe in all the years I lived here, I had never had one of these. Not sure it's a good thing that I've had one now, b/c I will certainly have mad cravings that will not be easily sated.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Enchiladas

Craving something warm, delicious and not too terrible on the waist line this weekend, I came across these enchiladas. The recipe for which, I immediately had to tweak and bend to my own tastes.

Enchiladas
adapted from Tyler Florence

Ingredients
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken breast w/skin
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon Mexican hot chili spice blend
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
5 canned whole green chiles(or one whole small can), seeded and coarsely chopped
2-4 canned chipotle chiles, seeded and minced
1 (28-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
16 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups enchilada sauce, canned (go for something a little more authentic and try to avoid Old El Paso if you can)
1 cup shredded Cheddar and Jack cheeses (or queso fresco if you can find it)

Garnish: chopped cilantro leaves, chopped scallions, sour cream, chopped tomatoes

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a large cookie sheet with foil. Rub chicken w/olive oil and season with spices, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-50 minutes (depending if the chicken is fresh or frozen) - should have an internal temp. of 165 when you pull it. Wrap up in the foil and place in fridge to cool. If you can do this earlier in the day or the night before, I recommend it, b/c wonderful flavor will develop.

Once chicken is cool, shred by hand and take juices, spices and olive oil that have collected in the foil and pour into a large frying pan. Saute onion and garlic in chicken drippings until tender. Add corn and chiles. Stir well to combine. Add canned tomatoes, saute 1 minute.

Add shredded chicken to saute pan, combine with vegetables. Dust the mixture with flour to help set.

Microwave tortillas on high for 30 seconds. This softens them and makes them more pliable. Coat the bottom of 2 (13 by 9-inch) pans with a ladle of enchilada sauce. Using a large shallow bowl, dip each tortilla in enchilada sauce to lightly coat. Spoon 1/4 cup chicken mixture in each tortilla. Fold over filling, place 8 enchiladas in each pan with seam side down. Top with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes in a preheated 350 degree F oven until cheese melts. Garnish with cilantro, scallion, sour cream and chopped tomatoes before serving. And if you're using queso fresco (which I would recommend) instead of cheddar, sprinkle this on as well once you take the enchiladas out of the oven. Serve with Spanish rice and beans.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lulu's


If you haven't been to The Bottom in a while, Lulu's will make it worth your while. My girls took me here as a birthday surprise last Saturday. They all knew I hadn't tried it yet and had been dying to go.

Having a reservation w/a larger party (6+) is advisable. Typically it will score you a quiet(er) table in a more private section in back. Note- they do not take reservations past 7 pm, it then becomes first come, first serve. Also, make sure to bring $5 cash for parking in case the streets are full.

Our table of 7 opted for a wide variety from the menu including:
  • Perciatelli Pasta with mushrooms and hot Italian sausage, ricotta marinara, and toasted points
  • A Rockfish special that included an insanely good basil cream sauce
  • Grilled Angus Beef Loin w/ mashed potatoes and vegetable du jour in a mushroom demi-glace
  • Orechiette Pasta with lump crab, tomatoes, shitake mushrooms, and roasted garlic in parmesan cream sauce
  • Pan Fried Cornmeal Crusted Carolina Trout stuffed with dirty rice, and tasso ham gravy

I tried a taste of everyone's dish except for the orechiette (shellfish allergy) and enjoyed it all. Alas, it was my own trout meal I did not find palatable since it was over salted.

I'm generally not one to complain or send things back. I will give a restaurant a few tries before forming my opinion or assuming anything negative. Everyone has a bad day or one bad plate. It happens! And I don't consider it to be the end of the world. But, I might sit a pout. Just a little.

Our generously patient and observant waiter actually noticed that I had barely touched my fish and I reluctantly confessed to not enjoying the over seasoning. He offered to bring me something else, but I told him it was not necessary. The owner took it upon himself to personally come talk to me (charming, lovely man) and took the fish off of the bill.

That, my friends, is how a restaurant should be run. Someone was paying attention and actually cared. Because of this, I definitely will be back. And also for the hope that they will be serving that rockfish special again. Did I say it was insanely good? Because I meant it was cuckoo, bananas, spinning in circles delicious.

Dessert was the best- a spicy, satisfying pumpkin creme brulee served in a mini pumpkin w/a candle. (creme brulee is typically served in a traditional ramekin).

Lulu's- you have got it goin' on! Thanks for making my bday special. :)

Lulu's
http://www.lu-lusrichmond.com/
21 N 17th St
Richmond, VA 23219-3607
(804) 343-9771

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Demi Glace -


Lately I've been playing around with the joy and gift to (wo)mankind that is demi-glace. I've added it to beef stew, shepherd's pie and just about anything requiring a viscous, beefy base.

Tonite, I had 2 marvelous filet mignons on hand that I had picked up from Tom Leonard's. For filets, I usually massage w/olive oil, season, sear on the stove top, finish in the oven and call it a day (3 min. on med-high heat per side, 8 min. in oven at 375 for medium/med-rare).

As a steak purist, I generally believe that a great piece of meat is paid no higher compliment or is enjoyed more thoroughly than to stand on it's own with help only from a little seasoning. However, tonite I felt the urge to throw together a sauce for the steak b/c I have beef demi glace lurking in my fridge just begging to be used.

After perusing the internets, I sort of threw together what appealed to me. It worked out, thus I want to pass it along to you because it's worth trying. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

B's Steak Sauce-
1 medium shallot, minced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 c. red wine (I prefer pinot noir or whatever you're drinking w/your steak)
Fresh cracked pepper (telicherry)
1/4 c. beef demi glace
3/4 c. warm water

Mix demi glace and water until well combined, set aside.

In a sauce pan over medium high heat, add 1 tbsp of butter, add shallot and cook for 1-2 minutes or until translucent. Add wine and reduce until wine is very thick, dark and almost gone. Add demi-glace mixture and simmer over low heat until sauce becomes more of a thickened gravy (coats a spoon). Add cracked pepper to taste and finish sauce with last tablespoon of butter.

Bouchon


Last Monday, the hubs and I took the newest addition to the Richmond restaurant scene for a spin on my birthday. We were not disappointed.

The interior is cozy and softly lit. Relaxing jazz mixed with contemporary musics plays softly in the background. Exposed brick walls are covered with bold modern art in muted colors. Bistro chairs, white table cloths, and banquet seating complete the overall laid back, yet sophisticated vibe.

We started with the truffled cheese ravioli and arugula salad with goat cheese rostido (toast). The ravioli that came with a thick and cheesy bechamel sauce in a small cast iron staub casserole was addictive and could be eaten by itself as a meal with a side of salad. The arugula salad surprised and charmed my palate with hints of tarragon. I especially loved that the dressing actually enhanced the salad instead of drowning it (novel idea!), which happens more often than not these days in any given restaurant.

For the main course, hubs and I both got the peppercorn steak, but opted for different sides. I chose pommes frites and he the truffled mac and cheese. The frites were crisp and delicious, served in a parchment paper lined stainless cup. The mac and cheese used ditallini and a mixture of gruyere and a few other cheeses I couldn't quite place, was altogether pleasing. Our steak was cooked medium rare to perfection and melted like butter on the tongue, the peppercorn sauce coating it providing a fitting compliment.

For dessert, the hubs and I also both ordered the profiterole. Which is funny, because we always strive to order different things so that we can both sample a wide variety of what's on the menu. But this profiterole dessert called to us and we found out that it was for good reason! Wine soaked, spiced figs lined the outside of the plate. In the center, a single glorious cream puff stuff ed with vanilla bean ice cream hit with a hint of pernod, topped with a rich house made chocolate sauce. The combo of rich chocolate, vanilla, pernod(anise) and the spice of the figs literally made me food drunk. There really are no words, you must try this for yourself.

Bouchon is only now starting it's 7th week with us and I would love to see them stay. So, please go see them and enjoy the love and care they put into the whole experience!

PS- I've been seeing some blogging comments/tweets giving them a hard time about their name and I wanted to tell those folks that there is life and food outside of Thomas Keller. A bouchon is actually a TYPE of restaurant found in Lyon. Check it out here on Wikipedia.

PPS- I was also told by one of the owners, WendyKalif (her husband is the chef), that they are putting together a Bouchon Bar Bite Menu, just $4 an item as well as starting a prix fixe menu on weeknites from 5 -6 pm, $20 for 3 courses.


1209 E Cary St
Richmond, VA 23219-4146
(804) 225-9116

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stronghill Dining Co.

Stronghill has been open a year and I've finally managed to try it. That is my typical MO for sure, to wait until a restaurant has settled into it's paces before I give it a whirl. So, Balliceaux- see you in 6 months or so!

I'd seen mixed reviews on SH lately, so had some apprehensions last evening about how the meal would turn out. It was all for naught b/c the meal and the service were equally lovely. The menu is straighforward, simple and southern tinged. Cashew encrusted shrimp, a sampler platter including fried goat cheese and a classic salad wedge w/smoked onion dressing top out the appetizer menu. Entrees showcase a nice variety of proteins from duck to rabbit to ribs.

For some reason, this restaurant evokes thoughts of Savannah for me. And I certainly felt plucked out my average Richmond and into the cozy bosom of all that is good about restaurants. The interior is warm and the booths and woodwork surrounding the bar appear to be hand done(reminded me of the interior of Kitchen Table, may she rest in peace). This restaurant also boasts a hand painted mural on the wall. I had a wonderful time casually observing and absorbing their warm interior while sipping on the Charlie martini- def. give this one a try! (Firefly, mango vodka, grapefruit juice, splash of ginger ale and a twist of orange)

Beyond the inviting exterior and the charming interior, the food is worth mention. I started w/the wedge salad that had a smoky onion dressing. Definitely a palate zinger and certainly the danger would be to overdo the smoke, but this was a perfectly balanced, craving inducing salad. Followed by the rabbit over celery root w/apple puree and a side of broccolini. Rabbit, perfectly seasoned and prepared. The succulent meat fell off of the bone. I'm a big fan of of celery root and this did not disappoint as well as the perfectly seasoned and steamed broccolini.

The rest of the table had the ribs, steak and risotto. I was informed that the risotto was bland and tasteless. And after trying a bite I have to concur. It was certainly al dente, but lacked the creaminess you want in a hearty, soul warming risotto. The steak was perfectly cooked medium rare and melted like butter. I don't know what kind of grill you guys have going on, but it's working!

The piece de resistance for the evening was the basil creme brulee. Now, this girl has tried her fair share of creme brulees in this life, including ones she makes at home. And I have to tell you, hands down, the BEST creme brulee I've ever had. The basil adds a certain sweetness, a lovely depth of flavor without being overpowering or even coming through in a hearty basil way. (which was my fear) Just wonderful.

The service could not have been more kind or have made the experience more enjoyable. During the course of the evening, met Gwen, the lovely & engaging day chef(hope your toe feels better!). During our brief conversation, I learned that locally sourced free range chickens have been a challenge lately b/c while the price doesn't change, the chickens have been getting smaller. Thus, they are buying less and they will run out of the chicken entree early in the evening. I was also informed that they are about to switch to their fall menu. Very excited to see what they will do next!

Reservations on the weekend, partic. Sat. nite are recommended.

Stronghill Dining Company
1200 N Boulevard
Richmond, VA
23230
(804) 359-0202

Monday, August 17, 2009

Steak Diane


This is one of my all-time favorite ways to prepare steak. Confession: this is actually my standby "Impress Your Date" recipe from the 'good ole days'- lol! The classic recipe is a wee bit more rich, I've lightened it up (as much as 5 tbsp of butter can be considered 'lite').

So easy, quick, tasty and will make your whole house smell good! Shouldn't take you more than 15 minutes to make.



Steak Diane
Serves 2

2 Strip Steaks, dried thoroughly w/paper towels
5 tbsp butter, separated
1 tbsp grated onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 c. cremini mushrooms, sliced thick
1/2 tspn Worcestershire
1/2- 1 tspn fresh lemon juice
1/2 tspn fresh chopped thyme
Salt & Pepper
1 tbsp fresh chopped Italian flat leaf parsley


Heat 2 tbsp of butter over medium high heat, add steaks and sear first side for 3-4 minutes. Season (salt & pepper to taste) the side facing up in the pan. Flip, season the other side and cook for another 3-4 minutes (for a 1 1/2" thick steak, this will be medium). Set aside on a warm plate, tent w/foil.

Cut heat to medium, add remaining 3 tbsp of butter until melted. Add onions, garlic, mushrooms, lemon juice, thyme and worcestershire. Saute until mushrooms are tender. Stir in parsley, add any juices on the steak plate that have collected. Pour over steaks and serve!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer Sippin'


Friday, on a quest for the perfect wine to serve with spicy Thai, I found these two lovelies (thanks, oh helpful guy at Total Wine & More!) One from South Africa, one from California, both clean & smooth, a perfect compliment to our asian meal. These would also be wonderful to sip on their own, provided you're on a back porch with a fan in the deep humidity of summer. So now I'm on a Chenin Blanc kick with hopefully more to report back with soon!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Shepherd's Pie with Bison & Gruyere


Don't ask what possessed me to make such a filling dish at the height of the heat of summer. I really have no idea other than I like trying to use up what I have on hand to make something tasty. It's pretty much one of my favorite games to play.

I've made a lot of shepherd's pies in my time. I enjoy how one can substitute and not hurt the heart of the dish. It's meat & veggies at their finest. I've used lamb, sausage, ground beef, chicken, you name it! All have turned out tasty following the basic 1,2,3 of assembling this dish. However, this time, I decided to switch up the winning formula with a layer of grated gruyere. Wow. Just...........wow. Try it- you won't be sorry! (Although, unlike my glutton for punishment/heat self, you may want to wait until Fall ;) )

Shepherd's Pie w/Bison & Gruyere

Potatoes-
1 1/2 - 2 lbs white russet potatoes, peeled, cut in 1/2" dice
1/4 c. cream
2 Tbsp butter
Salt & Pepper to taste
Approx. 3 cans low-sodium chicken broth (reserve broth)

*Ricer recommended equipment

Filling-
1 lb Bison/buffalo
2 Tbsp butter
2 carrots, brunoised (small dice)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tspn fresh chopped thyme
1 c. reserved broth from potatoes
1/2 c. corn & peas (fresh or frozen)
1 c. freshly grated Gruyere
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Potatoes-
Place cream and butter in the bottom of a large, stainless steel bowl. Prep potatoes, cover with broth in a deep pot. Bring to a boil until tender (approx. 10 - 15 minutes). Strain broth, reserving 1 cup for filling and a little of the rest to mix in to the potatoes. Run potatoes through the ricer into the cream/butter bowl. Mix lightly and season to taste with salt & pepper. Add a little reserved broth to moisten if the potatoes get tight while waiting on the filling to cook.

Filling-
Warm next 2 tbsp of butter in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add onions and carrots, sauteeing until soft. Add minced garlic, cook for another minute before adding bison. Brown meat, then add tomato paste, reserved cup of broth, thyme, corn and peas. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place filling mixture in a 2 Qt. casserole dish. Scatter top of filling with gruyere. Spread potatoes on top of filling and cheese, spreading smoothly w/a spatula until all corners and sides are sealed (keeps it from bubbling up). Optional - cross hatch top w/a fork for interesting design and a little extra crunchy texture when fully cooked.

Bake at 400 degrees approx 25-30 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Let sit 10-15 minutes prior to serving.


* If you have frozen your pie after making it and thawed it in the fridge overnite, bake at 350, covered w/foil for abt. an hour. Then broil the top a minute or two for some golden brown crispy goodness.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pole Green Is Poppin'!

I moved to the Richmond area about 5 or so years ago. Pole Green was the first farm stand my husband introduced me to (he had already lived here abt. 15 years) and I've been in love with it ever since. If you're on the west end of the city like us, it's a fair trip, but so worth it!

I totally forgot my camera today and I'm kicking myself. The produce was busting at the seams. I've been out here plenty and have yet to see the bounty of goodness like I saw today. The tomatoes were in red, ripe, mountainous piles, almost spilling onto the floor along w/some especially verdant green tomatoes. Purple and white eggplant, juicy peaches, Hanover blackberries/potatoes/tomatoes, new(red) potatoes, giant cucumbers, melons galore, peppers.........just a tumult of ridiculous goodness.

I rounded the corner in an overwhelmed daze from all the choices and ran smack into a Montana Gold bakery stand. I picked up some of their garlic knot rolls that we're going to have our hamburgers on tonite. They also had cookies, quick breads, challah rolls and granola. (there may have been some more choices that I didn't see). It was a nice surprise!

I walked out of there w/a big pepper, 2 huge cukes, 3 tomatoes, sack of potatoes, 6 ears of corn, blackberries, 2 small jars of McCutcheon's jam and the bread, all for the low, low price of (literally) 19.99!

If you haven't been, I highly recommend a nice little jaunt out to the country. Some fresh air and locally grown produce will do you good! Just off the Pole Green exit (295). They only take cash or check (ATM in the stand).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mark Bittman's 101 Simple Salads

I think overall, salads get a pretty bad rap for being "boring" or "too healthy." Pish Posh!

They are an excellent vehicle with which to utilize all of the fresh produce rolling out during the summer months. Personally, I enjoy new ideas and creative suggestions for salads. They mean I have the chance to lay back a little, have a low maintenance meal that's high in quality as well as keep any extra heat out of my house. Great article in the NYT's from Mark Bittman w/101 ideas for simple salads here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Tasty Turkey Meatball

Watching "Chopped" on the Food Network last week, I heard the winner refer to the ground turkey in his basket as an "inferior product." And in fact, all of the chefs ended up with a dry final product once their first round dishes were complete. If you don't count the guy who added a stick of butter to his pound of turkey in order to make turkey "galettes." (whatever you're thinking right now, I was thinking the same thing...LOL!) I would also like to mention that this particular episode ticked me off b/c the show gave the chefs CELERY in their dessert ingredients. Really? WTH? But, I digress.........

Back to the subject at hand-- I'm not normally a ground turkey eater. Chicken is my poultry of choice. But, when I tripped across some turkey on sale recently, the Chopped challenge flashed in my mind and I thought I would take it on myself.

This budget turkey find had been languishing in the freezer for a little while, until I received the most recent Gourmet mag. It had a recipe for chicken meatballs that I decided to riff off of-- instead of Italian bread, I used whole grain (skim milk), instead of pancetta I used regular hard wood smoked bacon and of course instead of chicken I used turkey.

It was nice to have all these simple ingredients on hand to make such a tasty dish! I served these with a stripped down, single-note tomato sauce since all of the flavor is in the meat and I wouldn't want to upstage or overwhelm it. Nothing earth shatteringly creative, but then again, most of the tastiest things aren't! ;) Moist, juicy & delicious....take that, Chopped!


Tasty Turkey Meatball
Serves 4

3 oz. bacon (3 strips), cut into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Pinch salt & pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3 slices (1 cup) whole grain bread, torn into pieces
1/3 c. milk
1 egg, beaten in separate bowl
1 lb. ground turkey
3 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine bread and milk, let sit for a few minutes, until bread has completely absorbed the milk.

Cook bacon, onion, S&P and garlic over medium heat in 1 Tbsp of olive oil until onion is soft and translucent (approx 5 minutes). Let cool for a minute or so (I put it in a bowl and stuck it in the freezer b/c I am impatient!)

Combine poultry, bread, egg, bacon/onion mixture and parsley loosely with finger tips. Form into 12 meatballs, placed on a sheet pan coated w/non-stick spray.

Combine tomato paste and remaining 1 tbsp of oil. With fingertips & the help of a small spoon, lightly rub paste mixture over the tops of the meatballs. Distribute evenly.

Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until cooked through!

Chicken Stuffed With Goat

A recent vacation meal left me craving stuffed chicken breasts when I got home. They are def. one of my favorite things to make and eat. So, I went rummaging around the fridge for leftover junk to cram in my poultry. I came up with garlic, which I roasted. I also added some chives that were limping along in my back porch herb garden in order to put them out of their misery. Then, combined these two ingredients w/leftover goat cheese and cracked pepper, much to my mouth's delight!

Sear one side of stuffed chicken breast in the pan, flip, finish it off in the oven. Quick, easy week night meal, not to mention tummy pleasing! To make things even simpler, I would recommend stuffing the chicken ahead of time and stowing it in the fridge. That way, when you get home from work, you just have to throw it on/in the stove!


Chicken Breasts Stuffed w/Goat Cheese, Roasted Garlic, Chive & Cracked Pepper
Serves 2

3-4 oz. fresh, plain goat cheese
6-8 garlic cloves
2-3 Tbsp fresh chopped chives
1/2 - 1 tspn fresh cracked tellicherry peppercorns
2 thick chicken breasts
Olive oil

* To roast the garlic, place cloves (whole, w. skin) in foil. Sprinkle w/salt, pepper and a little olive oil. Roast @ 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Garlic should be soft and the skins translucent. Snip end of clove and squeeze garlic out!

Leave oven heated at 400.

Combine first 4 ingredients.

Heat skillet w/2 Tbsp olive oil over med-high heat.

Cut a slit in the middle of the thickest part/side of the chicken breasts. Being careful not to cut through to the other side. Distribute 1/2 of cheese mixture into each breast. Seal w/toothpicks.

Pan sear one side of chicken for approx. 3-4 minutes (lightly golden brown). Flip chicken and place whole pan in oven. Let poultry cook for approx. 15-30 minutes (or until 165 degrees). Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Avoiding Chardonnay no more!

A lot of folks classify themselves as either red or white wine lovers. I'd like to think I'm an equal opportunity wine lover, but I do tend more toward the bold reds. So, I've challenged myself this summer to extend my white wine tasting beyond my beloved cheap & dry Andres champagne that goes into my mimosa's. (To wit, I always say, I should just hit myself over the head w/the Andres bottle b/c that's exactly how I feel after I drink it! LOL!)

I think I shy away from whites in general b/c I'm not a fan of sweet. In my perception, generally restaurants offer whites that for the most part tend on the sweeter side. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the dry chardonnay's that generally do not jibe w/my palate. The oaky acridness is a big turn off for me> not to mention I generally end up with a migraine for some reason?
Enter Cono Sur, a Chilean organic Chard that I mistook for a dryer reisling upon my first tasting. I have Grey Bear co-owner, Lindsey W-W. to thank for this discovery! She has quite a few beautiful "summer" whites up her sleeve. You should take the gorgeously green drive out to GB to check them out. Esp. since their new outdoor patio has been officially installed w/a generous amount of seating.
Thanks Lindz!

Disclaimer: I know the folks that own GB, so my judgement is def. biased. But, I will tell you that their Sunday brunch is mouth-wateringly delicious. This Sunday I had the biscuits and gravy. Hit the spot! Moist crumbly biscuits smothered in a spicy sausage gravy.
Also love that their fruit salad is ripe and generous on the plate, not a "throw away" garnish. Helps cut the heaviness between the B&G and fried, spiced new potatoes. Topped off w/a Pomegranate Mimosa(or Greyhound!), it's the perfect Sunday brunch!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

German Potato Salad?

My step-mom makes an amazing, vinegary German Potato Salad. And I always forget to ask her for the recipe. So, when I got my most recent Saveur in the mail this week, I was excited to see a German Potato Salad recipe. The hubs was happy too, since he hates any mayonnaise based potato salad with a passion.

This recipe is good, it's just a little more sweet and a little less sour than my step-mom's. (I also may have accidentally added more sugar than the recipe calls for by oh say, a tbsp!)I was surprised at the lack of punch b/c I thought the mustard would ratchet up the vinegar quotient. I'd almost be tempted to call it a French Potato Salad b/c of the wine and dijon mustard, but there's no tarragon. :) The thing I like about real German Potato Salad is that swift punch in the mouth and sour strangle hold that doesn't let go. I should also mention I'm a big salt and vinegar chip girl as well.

Next time I make this, I will be reducing the wine by half and making up for the other half w/champagne or white wine vinegar. I think that might cut the sweetness and give me the tang I was looking for.(A lighter hand with the sugar jar might help as well!)

Otherwise, this is a tasty side for your summer grilling! Give it a try and let me know what you think--

German Potato Salad

Courtesy Saveur July 2009

A hearty potato salad like this one makes an ideal accompaniment for barbecued brisket. The dish is a legacy of German immigrants in Central Texas.
(My step-mom is from a Chicago-based German immigrant family)

2 1/2 lbs. waxy potatoes, such as red new potatoes
Kosher salt, to taste
3 strips bacon, chopped
1⁄2 yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3⁄4 cup chicken broth
1⁄3 cup white wine
2 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 1⁄2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
Ground black pepper, to taste

1. Put potatoes into a 4-qt. saucepan; cover with salted water by 1". Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until potatoes are tender, 20–25 minutes. Drain; transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap to keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat until crisp, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel; set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add onions; cook, stirring, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add flour; cook, stirring constantly, for 45 seconds. Add broth, wine, mustard, and sugar. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly; set aside.

3. Peel potatoes and cut into thick slices; transfer to a bowl. Pour in broth mixture, add parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Garnish with reserved bacon and parsley.

Serves 4-6

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Herbin' It Up

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Maymont's Herbs Galore and More and I was lucky enough to attend. This was a first for me as I have never had to pay a cover charge ($3) to shop. It was well worth it though, as I found several herbs to fill in the gaps of my garden not to mention the entry fee went to support the Maymont Foundation. I also learned that there are more kinds of basil and thyme than I could have ever imagined!


The vendors weren't just selling herbs. There was also hand made pottery, food, original art and my fav find of the day-- local honey.

I also wanted to share that the most exciting herb I found yest. wasn't at the herbfest. Popped in to Tom Leonard's to pick up a few things for dinner and tripped over some Thai Basil!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Si

I categorically, undeniably love snacks. Ask my husband, he'll tell you. (And after Thursday's 30 Rock where Liz is singing to her snack cheese on the couch while wrapped in a 'slanket,' he's also taken to calling me Liz Lemon............but I digress......). So, it's no surprise that I've had a strong love affair with tapas for many years now. How could you not love getting to taste and share everything on the table? A little nibble here, a big spoonful there means you don't miss out on anything.

Because of this affinity, I have had Si on my list of places to try. I've attempted to pop in, only to hit a busy time with an hour wait. The space is limited, so waiting is awkward. Thus, I usually roll on to a new destination. I do recommend having a reservation so there are no issues getting a table right away. Which the hubs kindly made for us last nite.

Tip-- if you would like to sit on the patio, make sure to specify when making your reservation. Hubs was told there were only 2 reservations at our 7:30 time slot when he called to reserve(at noon same day). Therefore, he could pick where we wanted to sit when we arrived. Not so. Once we got to the restaurant, the hostess told us there were "other reservations already for the patio" and seated us inside. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed as I was really looking forward to sitting outside and taking in the beautiful evening.

Other than that little 'misunderstanding,' our experience was enjoyable. The inside of the restaurant is definitely what I would deem cozy. A small space that houses banquettes and small niches of 2 tops against and seemingly set into the wall. There's a tall 8 top table in the middle of the lower part of the restaurant attached to some type of custom wine rack. A bar and more seating may be found upstairs which includes a few couches to lounge on in addition to the small patio seating along Lombardy St.

We ordered:

Spinach salad w/avocado, roast corn and citrus dressing
Hummus 2 ways
Chicken and serrano ham croquettas
Fried triangles of manchego cheese, drizzled with honey
Pork Empanadas
Steak & grits
Chocolate torte w/mint ice cream for dessert

I also had 2 of the house cava by the glass, which was crisp, dry and refreshing. The winners in our line up were the spinach salad and croquettas. The salad was perfectly dressed, the corn sweet and toothsome, avocado ripe. It was the perfect mouthful of spring. The chicken and ham croquettas appeared with an unexpected dipping sauce that had the hubs and I fighting over the last dip. Not sure what was in it, just that it was the perfect accompaniment.

The manchego cheese came to the table in small, crispy triangles, drizzled with honey and laid on a bed of arugula. While tasty, it was too heavy for me and really didn't stand up to the other items we ordered in terms of personality and variation. The pork empanda stuffing was delicate with a hint of cumin and other spices. The outer pastry seemed to overwhelm the pork. While flavorful, it ended up being a bit too dry b/c I felt there was too much crust going on.

I just flat out didn't like the hummus at all. This is the first time in Richmond I've received a hummus I haven't enjoyed. I got it '2 ways'- but the menu didn't tell me what that meant?(I should've asked). I only know that the garlicky "way" tasted astringent. Please understand I say this as someone who eats, makes and enjoys hummus on a regular basis. Not to mention garlic, there can never be enough of it in anything I eat! The second 'way' I believe had harissa in it. There was definitely a peppery flavor, but it was all overpowered by too much salt. The rest of the plate was filled with tiny green olives, arugula and roasted red peppers.

The steak was fabulous, you'll have to ask the hubs about the grits. A true southern boy, he expects his grits to be silky smooth and creamy. What came out on the steak plate was stone ground, toothsome and had been shoved into a ring with the shredded steak on top for an eye pleasing presentation. Not so pleasing for the mouth, according to the hubs. I kept trying to convince him that, like pasta, the grits were 'al dente.' He just wasn't buying it. I enjoyed them, but want to give you fair warning of what to expect so that you are not disappointed like the hubs was. The steak was tender and melted on the tongue.

Dessert was decadent! The torte had such solid consistancy, it was almost like a lovely, rich, expensive european chocolate bar. The mint ice cream, ironically took the edge off of the richness and made this heavy dessert seem refreshing. A great end to our meal. I should also mention that service was on the mark and unobtrusive.

I'm definitely going back to try more on their diverse menu and making sure I reserve a patio seat next time!

Si
214 N Lombardy St
Richmond - (804) 257-7940

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Biscuit wins!


In the spring war of biscuits vs. sun dresses, the biscuit won today. Biscuits full of hand-smashed Tellicherry peppercorns, fresh grated parm-reg cheese, topped w/bacon grease.
You know you want one. ;)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Zed Cafe

Saturday found the hubs and I out and about, running errands. Starting at Short Pump (to turn in my busted iPod), working our way into the city, it dawned on me that Zed was on our way. This has been on my list for a long time and it seemed a good a time as any to dive right in.

From the Zed website:
ZED brings a unique flavor to the Richmond culinary environment serving fresh,responsibly sourced meats and local products. Come by and check us out for delicious modern cuisine, our extraordinary and ever-changing wine menu, and our highly acclaimed guest service and personal attention.

BEGINNING TUESDAY, MARCH 24TH we will open our doors at 9:00 a.m. and invite you to experience Zed morning, noon and night.

Coffee & Tea Bar Tuesday - Friday 9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Lunch - Tuesday - Friday 11:00 a.m.m - 2:30 p.m .
Wine Bar & Light Lunch Tuesday - Friday 2:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Brunch - Saturday 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Wednesday - Saturday 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Open for Mother's Day Brunch, Sunday May 10th 11 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
___________________________________________

Lunch/Brunch was wonderful. I ordered the "French Press" - baguette with black forest ham, dijon mustard, brie and cornichons (I pulled these off, a little too much salt) and a side of sweet potato fries. It's truly lovely to be offered either the sweet potato fries or green salad in place of the requisite french fry. Overall, my plate was a great balance of sweet and salty. The bread/baguette was fantastically crunchy & chewy at the same time.

Hubs got choc. chip pancakes, applewood smoked bacon and the scallion cheese grits. Now, he's pretty picky about his pankcakes, I wasn't expecting this to end well. But, my head snapped up in surprise when he said, "Mmm, these are good." Hubs is a man of few words, so that means they were pretty darn delicious. I tried a bit of his grits and they were phenomenal. Creamy, hot and cheesy, I could've eaten a huge bowl of just the cheese grits and been satisfied.

The interior of the place is very mod "Zen Garden" and the new age instrumental music reminded me of being in a spa. No surprise, since there's a spa attached. They are definitely health conscious, as even the "sugar" on the table is Xylitol. Lots of local art scattered on the walls and a helpful and kind staff. Hubs and I both agreed this is one to come back to as the sum of all Zed's parts made for a pleasant experience. I could actually see going here on a weeknite w/friends to get a foot massage (reflexology)/pedi in the spa and then popping into Zed for dinner.

Richmond Food Collective has a great backstory on the previous chef and his philosophies here. (I've kept this in here to pay homage to Zed's origins).

Zed Cafe
http://www.zedcafeonline.com/

5109 Lakeside Ave
Richmond, VA 23228
(804) 261-5656

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring Menu Suggestion--

In anticipation of a lovely weekend, I wanted to share a Spring menu suggestion with you that worked for me recently:

* Lemon-Oregano Chicken
* Panzanella (thus my freezer stash of whole grain croutons comes into play)
* Asparagus


If you want a little heavier side, it would also be great with a little parmesan orzo!

Lemon-Oregano Chicken
Gourmet April 2009
Yield: Makes 4 servings (I made 8 large chicken thighs from Ellwood's that ended up serving 6)

2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
8 chicken thighs with skin (about 1 3/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (I used my own stock)
1 teaspoon dried oregano(I used a tbsp + of fresh oregano, MUCH better!)
Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle. (these could be done on the grill too)

Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt, then whisk together with 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pat chicken dry and coat with lemon-garlic mixture.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and remaining tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides. Brown chicken in 2 batches, skin side down, until golden and crisp, 5 to 6 minutes (chicken will not be cooked through). Transfer, skin side up, to a 4-sided sheet pan.

Pour off fat (and any small burnt pieces) from skillet. Add broth and remaining tablespoon lemon juice and boil until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Whisk in remaining tablespoon butter and oregano, then pour over chicken.

Roast chicken in oven until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Bella's Panzanella

I certainly can't claim to corner the market on bread salad, but I've never made it from a recipe. This is just usually what I throw in.

5-6 c. cubed whole grain baguette/country bread
1-2 lbs super ripe tomatos (various heirlooms are fun and make it colorful)
1 c. torn basil leaves
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Toast the bread cubes up with a little olive oil until golden brown and crispy (I know purists will groan, but I like the texture, so deal with it! ;) )

Meanwhile, mix olive oil, shallots, 1/2 the torn basil and red wine vinegar. Set aside/chill. I like to do this well ahead of time, so the flavors have time to meld.

Seed tomatos and cut into bite sized chunks. Along with liking to make the vinaigrette ahead of time, I also like to slice and store the tomatos in advance. This is b/c I will salt them to bring forth their natural juices, which combines beautifully with everything else going on.

You can make well in advance, combine all ingredients right before serving!

Asparagus

These are great on the grill and then served drizzled w/a balsamic reduction (our friend's speciality)

Or, most of the time, I throw them on a long plate w/a few tbsp of water, cover w/a matching long plate and let them rip in the microwave for 3 minutes. Drain. Perfectly steamed, not mushy, every time. Toss w/salt, pepper, butter and serve!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Glazed Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Hi. Lazy Baker here. I was craving lemon poppy seed muffins today and came across this Gourmet recipe on epicurious.com. It's definitely not light on butter, but that makes it heavy on flavor! It's simple to make, one pan and you're done in under an hour. I would vote this to be a great addition to a home brunch.

Hope you like it as much as I did!


Gourmet May 2007

A quick confection, this cake bakes in just 30 minutes.
Translation: You'll be enjoying a homemade dessert with a light crumb and smooth glaze in no time.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and granulated sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in eggs until combined. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and poppy seeds and mix until just combined.

Transfer batter to cake pan, smoothing top, and bake until a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean and top is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then invert onto rack.

Whisk together confectioners sugar and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. Pour glaze over warm cake, spreading it with a spatula to drizzle over edge. Let stand until glaze is set, about 15 minutes.

Vegas Restaurant Roundup

The hubs and I went to Vegas the 3rd week in March and I wanted to make sure I filled you in on 3 noteworthy restaurants we tried. Firstly, we had:


T & T

We checked in to Mandalay Bay late on a Saturday afternoon. Tired, bedraggled, wanting nothing better than a tasty low maintenance dinner, we headed over to the new T & T (Taco's & Tequila, although that's not what we called it, use your own imagination) in the Luxor.

I had read good things about this new joint and had even seen it on the Travel Channel of all places! And sometimes, especially in the Luxor, you're never sure what you're going to get. Well, I'm here to tell you-- it's worth popping in for a visit.

As you come off the Mandalay/Luxor walk way, it will be right in front of you. It's basically an open air restaurant above the casino level. It's canopied by a jagged, tin cut out roof that creates some fun visual interest. There's a bar in the middle of the place that takes up about half of the restaurant and of course it's where they showcase their myriad bottles of prized and rare tequilas.
For a starter, we had amazing hand made chicken tamales made with real corn masa, shredded chicken, crema fresca, sweet chipotle sauce and avocado. My only complaint was that there weren't more. We also had chips, that you could tell were made fresh, with a sweet tomatillo and spicy chipotle salsas served alongside.

Seeing as it was a Tequila joint, of course I had to order a margarita! And if we hadn't been so wiped from our travels, I'm sure a few rounds of shots would have ensued ;) The drink I ordered was a Pomegranate, Acai margarita. Trendy fruits, I know, I know, but tasty all the same. I would highly recommend trying any of their speciality margarita's.

For dinner, I had the Baja fish taco's, the hubs had cheese enchiladas. Ok, I have to tell you at this point that as I'm sitting here typing, I'm drooling in remembrance. My taco's fit in the palm of my small-ish hand, you could tell they were fresh made. The fish had a light crunchy coating and didn't taste "fishy" (as is often wont to happen w/fish tacos for some reason). The crisp cabbage on top, pico de gallo and house made crema on top made a dynamite combo.

As for hubs, I was thinking "Cheese enchiladas are enchiladas are enchiladas........." Not so. These melted in your mouth from the home made tortilla to the cheese mixture inside. The mole sauce on top is what set it apart. The layers of flavor, the earthiness.....really just the authenticity, was surprising to me.

Even the house beans and rice on the plate weren't "throw aways" (as I like to call them) like a normal Mexican taqueria. I could've eaten a large bowl of the spicy, flavorful black beans. And I'm not even normally a black bean fan. And no peas in the rice! Yay! (I know they shouldn't be in there any way, but when does that stop Mexican joints around here? ;) )

And next was:

Bouchon

Bouchon was my highly anticipated Sunday brunch. I was worried that as a Thomas Keller offshoot that it would be more hype and less substance. But, my fears were unsubstantiated.

The physical interior as well as the clatter, hustle and bustle is about as traditional french bistro as you get. The wait staff in black and white with black bow-ties and long white aprons (even the females). There is a lovely garden terrace you trail into from French doors off of the side of the restaurant which is technically located on top of the the Venezia Tower in the Venetian. Unfortunately, on the Sunday we showed up, the weather was cold and rainy, so no patio for us! (Next time!)

Hubs got an omelet, I went all out w/the Croque Madame. All lived up to and exceeded expectation if you're looking for truly delicious bistro fare. It's definitely my current fav Vegas brunch spot. I also highly recommend the deliciously potent mimosas!

And lastly we had:


Craftsteak

Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak was our last hurrah on a whirlwind trip before heading home. This was the only place I made a reservation using Open Table. We selected this particular restaurant b/c as Top Chef fans, we thought it would be kind of fun. :)

We were seated right away, even though we showed up early, in a low slung banquette area by the bar. There's a larger (noisier) dining room towards the back of the restaurant. I was quite happy to be ensconced in my little sofa on our 2-top table. That is, until we had neighbors join us. Isn't that always the way? Now, I don't want to turn this into a "Vegas is losing it's charm" rant, but I do want to clearly state my observations.

What was supposed to be a quiet, tasty, romantic, low-key evening where we dropped 2 bills, ended up with us being audience to a couple that I think really had no idea where they were. I think they just tripped over the restaurant off of MGM's casino and thought, "This is open, I think we'll annoy people and eat here."

Off the bat, the woman (youngish 20's in casual, tourist gear) was yelling into her zebra striped cell phone that she "couldn't hear!" her kids. At least 7 times. I know. Because I was counting. Meanwhile, her husband in sports jersey regalia is asking, "How much does a beer cost here?"

Le sigh. I know I'm going to come off as a snob here. But, I'm not, really, I promise! I just wanted a nice dinner out, dressed up hot for my man, enjoying some relaxed atmosphere. If I wanted this sitting next to me, I could pay $35 and go to Applebee's! Ok, I'll spare you the rest b/c it's really not Tom's fault. It's a comment on American society that I'm not willing to make in this humble little blog.

Carrying on-- they bring fresh rolls to your table in a little screaming hot cast iron pan. If you go, be careful not to fill up before your meal on these nuggets of goodness! For starters, hubs got the lobster bisque and I got the truffled spinach salad. Hubs said the soup was more creamy, less "seafoody" (I have to take his word b/c I'm allergic) and that he'd had better. My salad, was organic spinach w/a truffled dressing and a few thinly sliced daikon radish on top. Not much to write home about other than it was seasoned well?

For dinner, hubs got the NY strip, I got the hanger steak. Both were cooked to medium rare perfection and were really the highlight of the experience. Well, other than the wild mushroom risotto and the blue cheese polenta. Both were so ridiculously good that I wanted to take a bath in them. I seriously could've just ordered the risotto and been completely satisfied. The wild mushrooms were not mixed into the risotto, instead they were left steaming atop the dish. They had been sauteed and then caramelized so that the edges were crunchy and full of earthy mushroom flavor. The texture contrast with the risotto was fantastic.

Obviously, we skipped dessert b/c we were both about to blow up. Plus, it "saved" more money for gambling! :)

There's my roundup. I hope this helps someone narrow down the diverse and wonderful restaurantscape that is Vegas before their next trip!

XO
Bella



Amici Ristorante


Last Friday found the hubs and I with our favorite couple friends wandering around Carytown looking to celebrate a birthday dinner.Technically we were supposed to go to Mezzanine, but without a reservation it was an hour wait. The hostess that night at Mezzanine, Charmaine, sent us down the street to Amici. We were all hungry, it was close by, we’d all heard good things about it, so we felt it was a no brainer and headed out.

Amici’s recently been doing some construction to beef up the patio area. They’ve bricked it in and it’s set back a little from the sidewalk so that you don’t feel like you’re out in the middle of Cary Street (like Can Can). As our party was navigating the crushed pavement to get up the steps into the establishment, a smiling face opened the door and welcomed us in. I don’t care who you are or where you're at, you can’t beat that. We were seated right away in the upstairs dining room. The entire restaurant seating area, both upstairs and down can’t be more than 500 square feet. So, it lends itself to feeling instantly cozy and intimate.

Our server came up and kindly solicited drink orders right away. And I will say right here, that service is what Amici does best. We wanted for nothing this evening and the response was helpful, never overbearing. We all felt comfortable from the moment we walked in until we trotted down the stairs out to our car. Well, until we had to get up and use "the facilities." Remember how I said Amici's was cozy and intimate? This also includes the restroom placement. Tucked into the back left corner of the upstairs dining room, it was uncomfortably close to the dining area. And the ladies toilet makes sounds. Rude sounds, that I was concerned other diners RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR, might mistake for emanating from me! I only mention this, b/c I figure someone would like the fair warning that I never received! But, I digress from the important subject, the food!

Our meal was definitely noteworthy. The hubs and my friend shared the calamari starter. I was told the calamari was tender, the coating crisp and an extra bonus of zucchini fries were mixed in as well as a side of house dipping sauce. Their plate cleared in a matter of seconds. I assume this meant it was good ;) Myself, I started with the Peperoni ripieni -Roasted bell peppers filled with pancetta and goat cheese au gratin. Salty, sweet, creamy deliciousness, I never wanted it to end. I would barely share with the rest of my table.

For dinner, the birthday girl ordered Cannelloni di carne -Baked home made cannelloni pasta filled with meat and vegetables in a walnut cream sauce. I tried a bite and it melted in my mouth, much the way you think it should in reading the menu. Her hubs ordered the duck(Anatra ai frutti di bosco -Pan roasted duck breast with mixed berries and port wine reduction), which came with a savory bread pudding underneath. My hubs had the shrimp which also had this bread pudding hiding underneath. This item was not outlined on the menu, so I wanted to point it out b/c both guys went crazy over it.

I ordered, with great anticipation, the Osso Bucco on special. The meat was flavorful and fork tender as it disintegrated upon contact. My only complaint was the risotto. It was supposed to be a traditional Milanese risotto, which to me, is a saffron risotto with grana padano/parm-reg cheese. I’m not sure exactly what was in this risotto, only that it was finished with orange juice. Which, according to my palate, ruined the dish for me. This is completely a personal preference. There might be those of you out there that would enjoy the sweetness. It was not, however, what I was expecting and therefore I was disappointed.

We skipped dessert as nothing was really speaking to us (and we had some dessert waiting for us at the Phoenician, thanks Naji!) But, the dessert menu contained the usual suspects: tiramisu, gelato, after dinner coffees, frangelico, port etc. etc.

Overall, with 2 starters, 4 mains, an asparagus and bottle of wine for the table, we made it out of there for $55 a person. Not bad for a fine dining, gourmet experience with excellent service! I will mention though, that our party(mid-30's) did not fit into what seemed to be the typical octogenarian demographic. Seems to be a favorite amongst mature diners. I can see why, with what seems to be reliable friendly service and reasonably priced great food. I guess with age does come wisdom! ;)

Amici Ristorante
http://www.amiciristorante.net/
3343 W Cary St
Richmond, VA 23221

(804) 353-4700

Monday, April 13, 2009

BT: Good things hide in the freezer.....


I was reading a local blogger talking about freezing wine today and there was total backlash in response. As well there should be when you talk about drinking it after freezing. However, I do freeze leftover wine to cook with later. And to me, that's just fine. Nigella Lawson even agrees with me on this one. ;)

It got me to thinking about what else I stash in my freezer to have on hand. And it's actually quite a bit. I realized that I use my freezer as a second pantry. I understand in these trying economic times, we are all striving to save money. The freezer can definitely aid and abet in this area. And I thought that in sharing what I keep, it might be useful & inspiring to someone. So, here goes the top 10 things I stash in my freezer:


1. Wine - As I already stated, any leftover wine goes right in the freezer. I actually used some frozen, left-over pinot grigio in my Easter gougeres yesterday.

2. Bread - I always buy a cheap whole grain baguette at the market on shopping day. Merely to bring it home, slice half of it into rounds and the other half into small squares to throw into the freezer. This way I can have homemade croutons for soup/salad or a crostini appetizer on the whim.

3. Herbs - You have to be careful here, some herbs, such as Basil can be tempermental. But I find that chopping up flat leaf parsley, blotting the water out of it and throwing it into a baggie to freeze works quite well! Other good herbs to throw into a container and freeze directly are sage, tarragon, chives and thyme. For basil, I will chop it fine, place in a baggie and pour in enough water to just cover the basil(roll up the baggie so all air is pressed out and basil is all at the bottom). This creates a little frozen herb log that I can break a hunk off of at any time to throw into a pasta sauce. Herbs in this form are not good in place of fresh in a salad etc.

4. Homemade Chicken Stock - Invariably, whenever I make a whole chicken, the next day I will make stock. I store the stock in freezer baggies in 1/2 cup increments. This pretty much guarantees easy measurement and less waste.

5. Whole Coffee Beans - There's a lot of arguement surrounding the freezing of coffee beans relating to whether freezing is good for the bean or not. Personally, I've not had a problem and since I'm the only coffee drinker in my house, it takes a while for me to go through a pound. Thus, my freezing method does keep things fresher for me, longer.

6. Nuts - Pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts(Best in Show flashback anyone?) - you name the nut, it's probably in my freezer. Since nuts are rife with natural oil, they eventually will go rancid if stored too long unused. Thus, I always throw them into the freezer upon opening a package. Great to grab a handful to toast up and throw into salads.

7. The Usual Suspects - meat, veggies, maybe a lean cuisine or 3

8. Leftover Tomato Sauce or Paste - I will place separate tablespoons of paste in a freezer baggie, in order to be able to grab it quickly later in the quantity I need to throw it into sauce or chili.

9. Blueberries - I always throw these suckers in a freezer baggie before they turn on me. The hubs and I are usually good about finishing these up fresh, but not always. Therefore, whatever leftover blueberries hit the freezer usually become part of a blueberry pancake on Sundays!

10. A Bottle of Stoli - My inner Edina insists on this. 'Nuff said.

I hope this was helpful to someone or at the very least made you realize that the freezer isn't always where good food goes to die! ;)
XO
Bella
* BT = Bella Tip

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Parmesan Gougeres

These were a nice accompaniment to Easter's Coq au Vin. They disappear so fast, it's almost like you never made them! :)


Parmesan Gougeres
adapted from recipe on Epicurious

1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick butter
2/3 cup All Purpose flour
3 large eggs, room temp
1/2 cup good Parmesan + more for sprinkling (optional)

S&P to taste

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Combine first 3 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until butter is melted. Stir in flour; reduce heat to medium-low. Stir vigorously until mixture forms large dough clumps and film forms on bottom of saucepan, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs in medium bowl. Transfer 1 tablespoon beaten egg to small bowl and reserve. Add 1/3 of remaining beaten eggs to dough in saucepan; whisk until well incorporated. Add remaining eggs in 2 additions, stirring until eggs are completely absorbed after each addition (dough will be sticky). Mix in 1/2 cup parmesan.

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheet, forming about 24 walnut-size mounds and spacing about 1 inch apart. Using pastry brush, brush each mound with reserved egg, flattening any pointed tops.

Bake gougères until puffed, golden brown, and dry, about 30 minutes.

Do AHEAD: Can be made up to 1 week ahead. Cool completely. Place in airtight containers and store in freezer. Rewarm on baking sheet in 350°F oven until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

* Can sprinkle a bit more parmesan on top of the gougeres about 20 minutes in to the baking process

Coq au Vin

Spring has officially sprung here in Virginia. It's clear, sunny and cool. A perfect day for the Coq au Vin our friend requested I make. Now, I don't know if Coq au Vin is necessarily considered a spring dish b/c it's pretty hardy. However, for today, it's really the perfect meal.

Beyond the Coq au Vin, I want you to take a close look at the label of the mini-cognac I used in the recipe. Notice the TWA? If I remember correctly, it's been a while since TWA has been in business. Not sure how old this little guy is, but he still had that amazing aroma that hits the nose the second you opened him up. So, into the pot he went!
I inherited this tasty treasure from a friend whose uncle who used to travel all the time and collect mini-bottles. He had such a collection that he passed a chunk off to my buddy. Lucky for me, my friend doesn't drink cognac. Nor do I, typically, but I knew I would eventually cook with it! So, into my pocket it went. And I've enjoyed thinking about the adventures this small vial of delightful flavor went on before it became part of my Easter meal. :)

I used Ina Garten's shorthand recipe for Coq au Vin and have to say that it's a keeper. I drooled from the second the bacon hit the olive oil, until the last bite went in my mouth--



Coq Au Vin
courtesy, Ina Garten

2 tablespoons good olive oil
4 ounces good bacon or pancetta, diced
1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8ths
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound carrots, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy
1/2 bottle (375 ml) good dry red wine such as Burgundy
1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 pound frozen small whole onions
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.

Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.

Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.
*Note- Ina is a bit heavy handed with the salt, you would do well to back off of her amounts listed here.