Saturday, February 28, 2009

Friday Night Menu, Risotto

This week we were going to keep it light. I saw a picture in a magazine for risotto and with duck sliced over top and that photo did it for me. I love to make risotto's as a one pot meal. Once you get the knack you can add any flavors you like. I remember having a really good risotto with roasted squash and so I did a variation of that. I sliced some butternut squash (peeled) into 1/4 inch slices and I had some fennel so I did the same thing, 1/4 inch slices and place them on a sheet pan, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Into the oven at 375 for 40 minutes. Roasting the squash is key, it really brings out the best flavor. I got together everything I needed for the risotto and realized I didn't have chicken stock. I poured about 1/2-3/4 Cup apple cider into a pan and added just water. Bring that to a simmer and I used that like I would the chicken stock. Let me tell you it works like a charm. It's amazing the amount of apple flavor you get when you do it that way (Tony thought I had chunks of apple in there). After cooking the onions for 5-10 minutes with a little salt I added in cardamom and cinnamon because I thought with the "apple stock" those flavors would compliment each other. After the rice was the perfect texture which takes about 25 minutes, I added in the roasted squash and fennel that I cut into small 1/4 inch squares, along with Parmesan and a Tbsp of butter. Heat though and taste for seasoning. I served Tony's smoked ribs that he made a couple days ago (see the BBQ Blog) on top of the risotto. They were a match made in heaven, he used the apple wood and the apple cider to reheat and I think there was grated apple in the sauce so they were excellent together.

Dessert was another magical thing. I thought I would make a simple apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. I added brown sugar and a couple Tbsp of fresh grated ginger, a little Cinnamon, butter and the juice of 1/2 orange to sliced Cortland apples and poured it into a 9" square baking pan and topped it with a combination of sugar, flour, almond meal, salt, cinnamon, oats and butter. 375 for 45 minutes or until the top starts to turn golden and I served warm with a scoop of Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Bean ice cream. OMG Wow Simply Fantastic!

Saturday menu

I am typing this a week late but here is February 21st dinner. This week Tony was finally told he was going back to work after being laid off and so we decided when he got a job we would celebrate at Mill's Tavern in Providence RI, so that is what we did on our Friday night (Tony has reviewed that).

Our friends wanted to celebrate the good news with a really good bottle of wine they had (Rubicon, Rutherford, Napa Valley 2002). We had looked it up and it was worth $170.00 and it suggested serving a porterhouse steak with it. So that's what we did. I made a green salad with thin sliced pears, cucumbers, tomatoes and a wedge of goat cheese tart, which is a Barefoot Contessa recipe, really good. We grilled porterhouse steaks for the guys and the girls had grilled pork chops. Sides were super smooth goat cheese mashed potatoes with scallions lightly sprinkled throughout and grilled asparagus. Dessert was Artists' pallet of cupcakes. I made a basic one bowl yellow cake recipe (from Martha's recent magazine with cup cakes on the cover) I used the mini cupcake pan, while the mini cupcakes were still hot fresh out of the oven, I poured over about 1/2 Tbsp of flavored liquors. One with banana rum, one with cherry flavored liquor, one orange, one raspberry and one hazelnuts. Each one topped with the appropriate frosting and garnishes, chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting, fresh berries, toasted hazelnuts, banana chips... The idea was to have 5 different colored cupcakes around one side of a white plate and I made a sugar artists' brush for each plate. Basically I followed the recipe for making homemade lollipops and as the sugar cools slightly you can very carefully make the hairs of the brush. I was pleased with how they came out, I also colored them red. So then I placed the brush on the plate as well.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Restaurant Review - Mills Tavern 2/20/09

To celebrate being employed again, we headed out to probably our favorite restaurant in the world on Friday night.

The Mills Tavern in Providence never seems to disappoint. Everytime we visit it seems to be perfect. The service is impeccable. The menu is always the right mix of old favorites and new seasonal specials. We always sit at the bar to eat dinner where we enjoy an expertly made cocktail and their fresh cashews before ordering. I asked the bartender if he had blue cheese stuffed olives for my Hendrick's martini available. He hesitated for just a moment then said yes. He then sent his apprentice bartender to the kitchen for blue cheese and stuffed my olives to order!

Something different on this visit was the presence of a "happy hour" special at the bar. Local "papa squash" oysters on the half shell were $1 each until 8pm. I had to take advantage. They were perfect. Clean, briny and complimented by their usual fennel salad, mignionette and horseradish cocktail sauce. I also magically received two extra oysters with my order of 8!
Jeanne had the unique Mills Tavern cobb salad. This hearty salad is formed into some sort of square mold. It has layers of chopped chicken, bacon, blue cheese and avocado. A meal in itself

Jeanne went with the "CINNAMON BRINED NIMAN RANCH PORK LOIN BAKED IN FRESH SPICED CRANBERRIES WITH PINEAPPLE CHUTNEY". I wanted to go a little outside the box on this night so I went with the "ASSIETTE OF RABBIT ENCROUTE WITH BRAISED LEG AND SEARED LOIN SERVED WITH WHOLE GRAIN MUSTARD NAGE". I had to ask what "assiette" meant. It essentially means "3 ways". My plate encluded a rabbit leg plus what I can only describe as a rabbit liver pate "calzone" with the rabbit loin packaged in the center. Excellent...

Dessert on this night was a given. We had coffee's and the "MOLASSES SPICED CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED PEARS AND WALNUT PRALINE ICE CREAM". Just the type of dish we love at the Mills...hearty...classic New England...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Portland, ME Trip

Rather than be a couch potato for the weekend, I decided we needed to get away.

Using some hotel points, we did an overnight to Portland, ME. After driving up and checking into the hotel, we headed to the Portland waterfront.

We started at Gritty McDuff's to kill some time before dinner with a couple beers. We both went with their Pub Style brew. Very nice, love that fresh beer taste. I've got to do more research on the "mug club" that the regulars seemed to be taking advantage of.

The Phantom Gourmet site had given me two leads for dinner in Portland. Both received a 90+ rating by the Phantom. They were Fore Street and the Back Bay Grill.

We struck out in both locations. It was Valentine's Day and both locations said they were completely full even though we walked in before the clock struck 6pm. And both stated that they had taken reservations for all seats at the bar as well. Sitting at the bar is our usual plan, so I was confident that we could get fed without reservations one way or another. But I guess the rules are different on Valentine's Day (or just in Portland).

We headed back to the busy downtown section of Fore Street near Gritty's to find another alternative. Jeanne's eyes were caught by the look of Bull Feeney's so we headed in (at this point we just wanted to sit and eat and drink). Feeney's was OK. The menu was what you might expect from an Irish bar, but fairly well done. Service was slow, we noticed many of the tables around us looking upset with the waitress. She got the job done, but dissappeared for 15 minutes at a time in the busy restaurant. We started with their roasted red pepper and artichoke dip. Jeanne had the french onion soup and a goat cheese salad for her entree. I had the fish and chips.

Driving home, we stopped at the Sylvan Street Grille in Salisbury, MA. A nice casual restaurant/bar. The type we wish we had nearby to home. We had the asian chicken fingers appetizer and a couple sandwiches (grilled chicken panni for Jeanne and a reuben for me).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday Night Menu

Friday's I cook most of the day making all kinds of fancy things for our special Friday night dinner. I try to make recipes that I never made before or use different ingredients that I may be unfamiliar with. Usually I end up doing Italian foods but this time was different, the menu:

-homemade goat's cheese on blackened crostini toasts with candied lemon
-pork, red pepper and pineapple kabobs, glazed with maple syrup
-tamale filled with spicy mole sauce and brown rice wrapped and baked in a banana leaf
-cayenne chocolate souffle on a bed of pillowy homemade vanilla, cardomum and cinnamon ice cream, and topped with a red dusted phyllo heart (for Valentine's day)

I had found a recipe for homemade ricotta cheese and wondered, what would happen if I use goat's milk (available at Whole Foods). It worked very nicely. Just heat the milk to just the boiling point with a bit of salt and add fresh lemon juice let the curds form for about 2 minutes and with a fine strainer, strain into cheesecloth, chill for 3 hours and you have fresh goat's cheese! For the candied lemon I cut the rind off and cut out supremes (just the flesh, no white pith) then add to simple syrup and let it simmer very gently for about 1 hour. I had never done that and wondered about it, we thought it was very good, but there must be a better place to use it like maybe in a mixed drink (we will work on that).

My idea for the main dish came because I had the pork idea and thought it was all quite sweet between the pineapple and maple syrup so I wanted to balance it with something spicy, and that's where the spicy mole sauce came in. For the pork I used pork butt and it worked well, I brined the 1" squares in a salt and sugar solution for 5 hours to be sure it was tender, and then layered the pork, pineapple and red pepper (all cut in about 1" squares) on to skewers. Grilled them until they looked like they were 75% done and started brushing on maple syrup, sear the syrup right in there, it reminded me of Chinese food when I was done, the color and the crispy edges where the syrup had caramelized on there. I love grilled pineapple, you have to try that. The banana leaf thing was ok, it looked pretty and interesting, but It's not worth talking about, the mole sauce was good. I had never made that before it's roasting tomatoes and garlic in the oven and toasted spices on the stove top, grinding them up with some spicy chilies (the recipe said to soak dried ancho and guajullo chilies and puree them and strain them, but I immediately thought instead of that I would just use chipotle chilies in adobo sauce which they have in a can and you don't have to soften them, I just blended them and strained them. I also added some sugar and chocolate.

I added cayenne pepper to a chocolate souffle base that I make once in a while (and can be made ahead, chilled and baked just before you are ready to serve dessert) and made a custard based ice cream and got that chilling. When we were ready for dessert I poured the custard into the ice cream maker and popped the souffles in the oven and dessert was ready 20 minutes later. I think homemade ice cream is so good when it's freshly churned, that's why I made it at the very end and I had pictured a pillowy bed for the gooey chocolate souffles, topped with a heart shaped "phyllo cookie", I layered butter and walnuts between about 8-10 sheets and cut the shape, butter on top and sprinkled red sugar lightly over. It was good next time I might use a sugar cookie batter instead. Pictures of our dinner are below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

White corn meal

I love when I make something I've never made before and I am pleasantly surprised with the outcome. A couple weeks ago I bought P.A.N. Pre-cooked white corn meal, just to try it. I have used the yellow corn meal plenty of times for polenta and for coating the bottom of homemade pizza. So finally I was thinking of what to make for dinner on the way home from work and I thought of the white corn meal that I have been wanting to try. I could make a soft white polenta topped with a combination of ground beef cooked with cumin, cardamom, cayenne red pepper, onions, garlic, frozen peas and some diced canned tomato. I stopped off at the grocery store and got some 85% ground beef. I had never really looked at the package directions before for the white corn meal and I was about to ignor them and see what it would taste like just to cook it like a yellow corn meal quick polenta. But the directions seemed interestly easy and partially in another language. I gave it a shot and after simply mixing about equal amounts of warm water with the corn meal and a bit of salt it came together in seconds and I decided to just fry a few "french fry" shaped pieces in a little canola oil and see what happens. Well it was delicious. I happened to have some leftover homemade salad dressing, similar to Thousand Island, that we used as a dipping sauce and ate it as an appetizer, not bad!! So I decided to make 2 rounds of the corn meal dough, flattened to about 1/2 inch and fried them in a shallow pan until golden and crispy on both sides. I topped each one, slightly off center as to not ruin the crispy exterier. It was such a quick and delicious dinner, very satisfying.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Restaurant Review - Bacaro Restaurant

Date of visit: January 31, 2009

Given the economy and my current employment status, we hadn't been out to a good restaurant in quite a while. I didn't want to risk what soon could be a limited amount of funds on something that would be dissapointing.

We decided that Providence would be the right call for us on this night. A quick search of Phoenix restaurant reviews led us to Bacaro.

Bacaro resides in the former home of Neath's on South Water street. On this cold January Friday night, there was plenty of free on street parking available, but the Bacaro parking lot was also free (valet booth was present, but empty at 6:15pm).

The downstairs space is nicely used with a bar, 8-10 tables and the salumi counter. The upstairs space is almost exactly as I remember it when it was Neath's. A sparsely decorated room, with the open kitchen running along one wall.

The menu includes what you might expect at an Italian restaurant with salad, appetizer, pizza and pasta options. But it also includes selections from their salumeria and cicchetti (italian tapas). The printed menu for these options follows the sushi ordering process. Customers check off what they would like to order right on the menu using a provided golf pencil.

We had the following items:
>Capocollo - mild air-dried pork shoulder cured with paprika, spices
>Stuffed “Mortadella alla Griglia” - Grilled purses of mortadella stuffed with talleggio cheese and served with Mostarda Fruits
>Crispy Pork Schnitzel with Red Wine-Braised Cabbage and Tuscan Olive Oil
>New World Bruschetta Buffalo Mozzarella, Roasted Red Peppers Agro Dolce & Wild Rocket
>Cerignola Green Olive Tapenade with Green Pepper Corns & Goat Cheese with Grilled Crostini

All were tremendous. All the small plates were a fun and satisfying way to eat. As with any good Italian, the ingredients were the star. Simply prepared and delicious. We especially loved the agro dolce bruchetta and the freshly made goat cheese with olive tapenade.

Only criticism was the service. "Justin M." efficiently got the job done, but he seemed like he did not want to be there. Or maybe he thought he would not get a good tip from the couple that did not seem to fit in with the other Brown University professors, students and parents that were filling the dining room that night. His reminder to us that there was a "two hour table limit on the weekends" did not go over well with us.

Overall rating: 4 out 5 stars

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New England Foodie - First Post

This will be a blog that will be daily meal diary as well as a place to give our review of everything related to food: restaurants, ingredients, TV food shows, food events and any other miscellany.

Our food inspirations are (in no particular order): Anthony Bourdain, Alton Brown, Mills Tavern (Providence, RI), Jamie Oliver, Barefoot Contessa, Bobby Flay, Anne Burell, Gourmet Diary of a Foodie, Tyler Florence, Incontro Restaurant (Franklin, MA), Il Panino (North End Boston, MA), Venda Ravioli (Providence, RI), Alforno Restaurant (Providence, RI), our once a year trip to NYC, Whole Foods Market, growing up at Quidnessett Country Club (North Kingstown, RI) and many more influences that will be detailed in the days, weeks and years to come...

Hope all find it interesting and can join in on the conversation...