Tag Archives: Side Dishes

Avocaod-Step-04

A New Way To Eat Avocados!

May 2012

I once went to high tea at a tea plantation in Kenya.  A gentle fog hung over the vivid, green, rolling hills and rows of tea-producing bushes.  Failing to factor in colonization, I was surprised when a very proper British woman greeted me.  However, I was even more surprised when her husband offered a warning before we departed, “take heed of the monkeys throwing avocados from the trees in the yard.”  What a thing to say! I stored that warning in the part of my head devoted to life dreams and aspirations.  I would very much love to offer that parting warning to my house guests one day, implying my home will be some place magical just like that Kenyan tea plantation. In the meantime, I can fiddle with different avocado eating methods in preparation for the abundant supply I might one day have.

For this “recipe,” think of the avocado as a blank slate or canvas.  The possibilities are endless!

For my first attempt, I used a combination of feta, crushed red pepper and fresh ground black peper. If your cheese choice isn’t too salty, I would add a dash of salt as well.

Fill up the void with local, free-range eggs. Next time, I’ll probably scoop out a bit more avocado to allow more egg room.

Bake in a cast iron skillet, at 425 °F for 15-20 minutes, depending on how you want your eggs.

I’m sure I’ll be experimenting with this simple and satisfying avocado method more, so if you’re short on ideas, stay tuned!

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Third Time’s A Charm: The Kinfolk Dinner Series

May 2012

Once upon an internet stroll, I happened upon a beautiful, blossoming endeavor entitled Kinfolk.  Beneath a video that admittedly moves my overly sentimental side to watery eyes, was a manifesto that spoke straight to my sensibilities:

Kinfolk is a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings. We recognize that there is something about a table shared by friends, not just a wedding or once-a-year holiday extravaganza, that anchors our relationships and energizes us…. Kinfolk is the marriage of our appreciation for art and design and our love for spending time with family and friends.

Thus, I made a habit of regularly visiting the pages of Kinfolk.  What impressed me beyond the refined design and the enviable places and products (and they are enviable!), was the way the site seemed to preserve  meaningful moments in time.  Reading Kinfolk feels like a quiet visit to a memory.  

Beyond the awe inspiring posts and publications, Kinfolk began a dinner series tour! When I noticed Philadelphia on the list of cities in the tour, at Terrain specifically, my mind began whirling. Before I knew it, my finger was clicking the option to enter the lottery for tickets. Fortunately, whimsy and practicality worked in a harmony entitled Memorial Day Weekend!

This harmony almost did not come to beautiful, burlap accented fruition. The lottery for dinner tickets did not favor me, but the Monday before the dinner, I received an uplifting email.  Due to a few cancellations, there was room for me and my guest should I still want to attend. Should I still want to attend?!?  Of course I did!

Beyond the excitement of taking part in a Kinfolk dinner, I was especially thrilled with the choice of location.  This marked my third attempt to eat at Terrain.  Please excuse what will surely sound like the “woe is me” ramblings of first world problems when I say my first attempt to visit Terrain (not just Terrain but a craft beer and local honey festival!!!) was thwarted by the heavy rains of a passing hurricane (on the up side, I prepared this meal for my friends, and they’re still talking about it!).  On the second attempt, I took my good old time meandering through the store then joined my place in line to be seated.  As my turn came, I looked at the hostess hopefully, and she announced my second failure- they were no longer taking names.  Hence, attempt number two was a beautiful fail. As I arrived at Terrain, yet again, the other two fails felt purposeful, as if they had led me to this third time, the beautiful, enchanting charm!

And oh, was it charming!

If you, like me, associated Pennsylvania wines with the taste of communion, then you, like me, will be thrilled to discover a wine that proves us wrong.  From what I gather, what distinguishes Galer wines is the intentional choice of which exceptional grapes are suited for PA soils versus existing PA grape varieties turned into wine. Dr. Galer also sought experts in the field of viticulture when he began his endeavor, which you can read about here.

To Start

Flower Pot Bread:  tarragon honey butter, smoked sea salt

Mixed Field Greens:  sliced radishes, wild strawberries, toasted almonds, micro basil, balsamic vinaigrette

Main

Rosemary Honey Mustard Leg of Lamb

Quinoa:  sugar snap peas, baby carrots, english peas, pea tendrils

Kennett Square Mushroom Skillet:  wild mushrooms, organic eggs

Sauteed Lancaster County Vegetables:  Fiddlehead ferns, garlic scapes, dwarf bok choy

Sweets

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pecan Pie

To see the beautiful menu in its full glory, click here.  The design came all the way from a talented artist in the Netherlands named Anja Mulder.

Even the napkins added a clean and rustic touch, so I adorned my lap very proper like.

Do you spy the brilliant idea in the photo on the right?  I shall soon try my hand at gardening little pots of soft, fluffy and slightly sweet bread.  Beyond the brilliance of the idea, the bread was one of the most delicious breads I have ever sampled (and I have sampled quite an array of breads!).

One benefit of eating with foodies and photo fiends is the patience given to the documentation of beautiful meals.  These weren’t just any foodies either!  I’ve been a fan of Something’s Hiding in Here ever since I saw the tour of Shauna and Stephen’s Philadelphia loft, so meeting the incredibly enthusiastic and humble couple was much like a celebrity encounter for this dorky blog reader.

Sitting directly to my right was Sullivan Owen, who had adorned the Terrain barn with her floral designs.  Aside from being very friendly and talented, Sullivan offered me lots of business inspiration!  I hope to spend more time learning from Sullivan in the future, and if that time is accented by one of her stunning arrangements, all the better!

That wasn’t all!  Across the table were Andrew and Carissa, the lovely couple behind many a Kinfolk video, specifically the Manifesto video that drew me to Kinfolk in the first place!  I can’t wait to see what they culled from this dream dinner.

Quite the plate!  My favorite main was the Kennet Square Mushroom Skillet. The mushrooms were quite meaty!

One might expect the coffee to be prepared with utmost care at a dinner focused on bringing people together, and one would be right.  Two Rachels served coffee prepared specially for each and every coffee partaker.

They even sent us on our merry ways with a creatively packaged single brew sample.

Additionally, Sullivan offered her floral displays as a generous token of her talents, and the very stylish farmers of Happy Cat Farm bestowed organic tomato plants upon us and an extra pack of seeds in the little totes on a big mission from Nest.  The night just continued to impress!

It was a beautiful dream dinner, and I was so grateful to be a part of it!  My third attempt at Terrain was beyond a charm. Kinfolk shared their own account of the night through the multiple lenses of this talented and personable photographer. I love how dark and saturated Parker’s images are, and I was especially excited to see this photo made the cut.  ;)

Here’s hopin’ many of us cross paths again!

My Special One’s Birthday: Roasted Beets & Celery Root w/ Goat Butter

April 2012

A portion of my special one’s heart beats for beets (and puns)!  It wouldn’t have been a complete birthday meal if I didn’t stain my hands, tabletop, towels, cutting board and at least a few spots in between with reddish purple juices.  The addition of goat butter and celery root boosted my beet repertoire with ease.  Full disclosure:  I may have gone a tad overboard with the goat butter.  I may even suggest you do the same.

Here ya be….

Look at the coloration of those beautiful beets!  They are positively lovely bursts of sherbet like swirls (which gets my gears turning for summer beets treats)!  Then there’s the celery root, which must be the old man of the vegetable world.  Can’t you just see a pair of spectacles on that well lived face- a bit like this guy?

Once gussied by the pinks of the roasted beets and a slather of goat butter, the celery root becomes a real tease- all the immense flavor of celery but in a brand new bite delivery. It’s akin to drinking carrot juice for the first time and feeling compelled to chew, but if these kitchen games weren’t new, exciting and maybe just a bit mind boggling, this would all cease to be the learning adventure it is.  Go buy yourself a celery root!  Your cashier will probably inquire as to what you will do with it.

All that color called for a splash of pretty pink salt!

Roasted Beets & Celery Root w/ Goat Butter
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients

4 medium beets, trimmed and scrubbed
3 Tablespoons goat butter
1 pound celery root, peeled and cut into 2-by-1/2 inch batons (or thereabouts… no one is checking)
Fresh Thyme Sprigs
Himalaya Pink Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 cup vegetable stock

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cover the beets with foil and roast for about 1 hour, until tender when pierced. Let cool slightly. Peel and cut into small wedges.  Note:  This step can be done ahead of time.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of the goat butter.

Add the celery root and some thyme sprigs to taste.

Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Cook over moderate heat until lightly browned in spots, about 5 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of the stock, and simmer over moderate heat until nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add the remaining stock, 1/4 cup at a time, and cook until the celery root is tender, about 8-10 minutes total. Stir in the beets and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Discard the thyme sprigs.

Swirl in the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper.

Garnish with fresh thyme and serve immediately.

Brace your mouth for some confusion and a brand new celery experience!

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My Special One’s Birthday: The Appetizer

April 2012

As for this birthday dinner, let’s start at the beginning… a very good place to start!  I recently had a revelation- tomatoes are starting to taste good again!  The mealy, mushy, wintry days are coming to a close, gradually being replaced by bright red bursts of nature’s candy!  Tasting the improvement in the well traveled tomatoes really heightens my excitement for the summer produce that currently is soaking up the soil’s nutrients!

When I saw this tomato rich appetizer with speck and burrata, I began adding its ingredients to my grocery list immediately!  Though there are a few steps involved, the overall simplicity of this appetizer enabled me to focus more on the main course, which was to be quite …. well, I’ll dive into that later!

This Italian Bella had a different purpose in the birthday affairs, but she was just so photogenic…!  However, had tomatoes not begun to boast fresher, sweeter flavors, I may have called upon her contents in the tomato vinaigrette.

Burrata, Pickled Shallots & Speck Appetizer
Adapted from Bon Appétit 

Pickled Shallots

3 large shallots, trimmed, quartered lengthwise
1 cup champagne vinegar
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1 sweet red pimiento pepper (I used Roland’s)

For the Pickled Shallots

Combine all ingredients and 1 cup water in a small saucepan.

Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

You could use prosciutto in this recipe, but why would you?  On the fateful day in life when I went speck, I solidified my path through this cured life!

Basil and Burrata pair well and boost the alliterative properties of this appetizer!  Burrata is a soft, fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream.  It’s not a cheese I would prioritize in my regular frommage habits, but for recipes like this, it’s a perfect compliment. If you’re a Pittsburgher, I would suggest Pennsylvania Macaroni Company for sourcing most of the ingredients in this appetizer.  The burrata is sold in an extra layer of plastic container protection to maintain its moisture.

Tomato Vinaigrette

1/2 cup chopped ripe tomatoes
1 bunch fresh basil, coarsely torn
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon turbinado sugar
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the Vinaigrette

Combine the tomatoes, basil, vinegar, salt and sugar in a food processor and puree until chunky (or to the best of your old food processor’s abilities).

While the motor is still running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream until vinaigrette is slightly thickened.

Final Touches

Speck
Burrata
French Baguette (from La Gourmandine in my case)
Parsley
Black pepper

For the Final Touch

Slice the baguette, and drizzle a little olive oil on each slice of bread.

Top each slice with a roll of speck, a dollop of burrata, a spoonful of tomato vinaigrette, a slice of shallot, a drizzle of the pickled shallot sauce and parsley.

Season with black pepper. Serve with fresh tomatoes.

A Note On The Leftovers

When I served leftovers of this the next day, I toasted the oiled baguette slices in the oven before garnishing, but the first time around, I hated to toast a fresh, fluffy baguette.  The tomato vinaigrette and pickled shallots also spiced up an organic frozen pizza I lazily made on a weeknight.

Easter Dinner (Part II)

April 2012

The air was crisp, but the sky was brilliant blue!  It was the perfect Sunday afternoon for an Easter meal.

Two handsome gents arrived, and they had put a lot of effort into meticulous matching, right down to their identical socks (yes, you read it correctly- identical socks!).

Fortunately, I had set an Easter table worthy of such fastidiously fashionable fellas.

It was time to eat, but joining my table usually includes a rite of passage.  I’ll give you a hint- it rhymes with “if tile”… (please pardon my laser beam death stare!  Where did that come from?!?!)

The Easter Menu Breakdown…

Easter Ham Glaze

~2 1/2 cups Turkish apricots (all natural)
~ 1/2 cup Rum (Kraken)
1/2 cup organic orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup Bonne Maman peach preserves

Directions

Slice the dried apricots into fourths and soak in rum overnight.

Heat the apricots and rum in a saucepan over medium heat until boiling.

Reduce to a simmer and add orange juice concentrate, maple and peach preserves. Stir until well combined.

Add to black forest ham slices and bake in oven to warm the ham.

Pommes Anna
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Review

Pommes Anna

Ingredients

3lbs russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/16 to ⅛ inch thick
5 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter, melted
⅓ cup peanut oil
Salt and pepper
Grated pecorino romano cheese
Fresh thyme

Directions

Toss the potato slices with melted butter in a large bowl until the potatoes are evenly coated.

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees F.

Pour the oil into a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Swirl to coat the skillet bottom, and set the skillet over medium-low heat.

Begin timing, and arrange the potato slices in skillet, starting in the center to form the first layer.

Sprinkle evenly with approximately ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange the second layer of potatoes, working in the opposite direction of the first layer; sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper as in previous step.

Repeat layering potatoes and sprinkling with salt and pepper, until no slices remain.

Continue to cook over medium-low heat until 30 minutes elapse from the time you began arranging the potatoes in the skillet.

Use a 9-inch cake pan or a metal spatula to press down the potatoes firmly to compact them.

Cover the skillet, and place it in the oven.

Bake until the potatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes.

Uncover the skillet, and continue to bake until the potatoes are tender when a paring knife is inserted in the center, and the potatoes near the edge of the skillet are browned, about 10 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, line a rimless cookie sheet or the back of a baking sheet with foil and coat it very lightly with oil.

Drain off the excess fat from the potatoes by pressing the potatoes into the skillet with the bottom of the cake pan or metal spatula while tilting the skillet to pour off the fat.

Set the foil-lined cookie sheet on top of the skillet. With hands protected by oven mitts or potholders, hold the cookie sheet in place with one hand and carefully invert the skillet and cookie sheet together.

Remove the skillet carefully.

Carefully slide the potatoes onto a platter.

Cut into wedges and serve with pecorino romano cheese and a thyme garnish.

Roasted Champagne Mangoes

Ingredients

1/2 cup organic brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
3 tablespoons organic agave syrup
4 champagne mangoes, peeled, pitted, cut into long slices

Garnish

1/4 cup crème fraîche or yogurt
1/3 cup natural unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°.

Stir first 3 ingredients in a large bowl until sugar dissolves.

Add mango chunks; toss to coat. Let marinate, tossing occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Place mango in a cast iron skillet; reserve marinade.

Roast mangoes for 15 minutes. Turn, brush with marinade, and roast until tender and caramelized, 10–15 minutes. Drizzle remaining marinade over; let cool slightly.

Eat plain or garnish with greek yogurt and pistachios.

Sauteed Asparagus with Sesame Lime Dressing

Ingredients

juice from 1 honey tangerine
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1/4c low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1Tbs. black sesame seeds

You remember that cake!  I already talked about that lovely little layer cake.

Lobster By Night/Lobster By Day

Lobster by Night
March 2012 

It had been a while since the two of us had gathered at my dining room table, so I proposed a date of the domestic sort.  As I began menu scheming, I turned to the stained and tattered pages of my trusted America’s Test Kitchen magazine, through which I have faithfully been working.  When I saw a lobster recipe with the words “lazy man” in the title, I found that weekend’s winner!

Yes, that is frozen lobster.  I love him (↓), and I love a special dinner, but I was in no way prepared to teach myself how to thwack a bright red, living thing with grabbers and claws! Sorry friends.  Not this time!  My other justification was this- if I am going to teach myself how to thwack a bright red, living thing with grabbers and claws, I’m not going to cut up the meat and bake it in a gratin.

The recipe had me with this opening description…

Lobster is a classic choice for an elegant dinner for two.  Most people boil or steam their crustaceans and serve them whole with a side of drawn butter.  While there’s nothing wrong with this simple, traditional approach, fumbling around with a cooked lobster, hammering down on shells and poking around for meat isn’t exactly a tidy affair.  I wanted a refined lobster dinner for a couple that delivered the sweet, rich flavor of lobster and didn’t require a bib to eat.  - Dan Zuccarello, America’s Test Kitchen Books

Lazy Man’s Lobster for Two (By Night)
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen magazine

Filling

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
Dash of cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup red wine (cabernet sauvignon)
8 oz vegetable broth
1/3 cup organic heavy cream
12 ounces lobster meat (frozen), chopped coarse
1 Tablespoon minced fresh sage
Yakima smoked salt
Pepper

Topping

1 slice high quality wheat bread
3 Tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Tablespoon minced sage
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon paprika

For the Filling

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering.

Add the shallot and cook until the shallot is softened, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in the red wine and simmer until it has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Stir in the thyme and cayenne.

Whisk in the broth and cream and simmer until the liquid has thickened and reduced to ¾ cup, 10-12 minutes.

Off the heat, add the cooked lobster meat and sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mixture evenly between two 2-cup gratin dishes (or similar baking dish).

For the Topping

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, and heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Pulse the bread in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.

Combine the bread crumbs, the pecorino, sage, oil and paprika in a bowl.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the gratins.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping is golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Salad

Goose Creek Farms Mizuna
2 champagne mangos, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 avocado, sliced
green peas

Dressing

Juice from 1 honey tangerine
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1/4c low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1Tbs. black sesame seeds

My own personal mixologist shook up one of my favorites:

Buffalo Trace bourbon
AITA Snap
Peychaud’s bitters
Dried cherries rehydrated with bourbon

Well, he actually shook up TWO of those for me!

Lobster by Day

The recipe said “Lazy Man’s Lobster For Two,” but that “two” would have to refer to two rather large and very hungry New Englanders as far as I can tell.  Accordingly, “two” for us meant two meals, and our leftovers  transformed into a delicious brunch!

Babies’ first ever poached eggs (a team effort in progress)…

Lazy Man’s Lobster For Two (By Day)

(from the bottom up)
Whole wheat bread, toasted
Speck
Cahill Irish Whiskey Cheese
Leftover Lazy Man’s Lobster (see recipe above)
Poached eggs (from local/free-range eggs)
Smoked black pepper

Leftovers are just new opportunities I say, so Happy Leftovers!

ps:  That’s some leftover Post Patty’s Brunch French Toast on the other side of the plate.  It was quite the morning in the dining room!

A Very French Baked French Toast & Roasted Pineapple

March 2012

It was the bright and sunny brunching hour at the special cabin in the woods, but more importantly, it was the last brunching hour of the long weekend, so we treated ourselves to a decadent baked French toast!

This decadence stemmed from the substitution of croissants for bread and a layer of Justin’s chocolate hazelnut nutbutter (more wholesome than nutella!), making for a very French, French toast!  One rather rich thought entered my mind as I was making this… can you even fathom a bite of baked French toast made with almond croissants?!?!  One bite would surely be heaven, and one bite would surely be enough! Perhaps I’ll try that one day!

Baked Croissant French Toast

Inspired by Bon Appétit

Ingredients

5 all butter croissants, cut lengthwise

2 Tablespoons Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter
*1 cup homemade bourbon whipped cream (recipe below)

5 large eggs (local/free-range)
3/4 cup organic buttermilk
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 Tablespoon organic brown sugar

extra maple syrup

For the Baked French Toast

Grease an 11×7 glass baking dish with butter.

Create one layer of croissants using four bottom halves.

In a bowl, whip the bourbon whipped cream and chocolate hazelnut butter together until creamy.

Add the 4 croissants tops. Use the remaining croissant to fill in any gaps.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, buttermilk and maple syrup.

Pour the egg mixture over the croissants, making sure to fully saturate the top layer.

Sprinkle with the cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar.

Let sit for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake until golden brown and set in the middle, about 40 minutes.  Serve with maple syrup.

*Bourbon Whipped Cream

Ingredients

1 cup organic heavy cream
3 Tablespoons Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 Tablespoon organic brown sugar

For the Whipped Cream

In a chilled bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Use an electric mixer to beat until peaks form.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.  Add a dollop to your brunch cup of coffee while you’re at it!

Roasted Pineapple with Pistachios 
Adapted from Bon Appétit 

Ingredients

1/2 cup (packed) organic brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 medium ripe pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into wedges or chunks
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup natural unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450°.

Stir first 3 ingredients in a large bowl until sugar dissolves.

Add pineapple; toss to coat.

Let marinate, tossing occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Place pineapple, one flat side down, on a nonstick skillet; reserve marinade.

Roast pineapple for 15 minutes.

Stir/flip, brush with marinade, and roast until tender and caramelized, 10–15 minutes.

Drizzle with remaining marinade; let cool slightly.

Arrange pineapple on a plate.

Spoon Greek yogurt on top of the pineapple. Garnish with pistachios and fresh mint.

The sun was as warm and golden as that roasted pineapple.  When March hands you a warm, sunny day, there is no choice but to spend as much of the afternoon outside as possible, especially when that afternoon takes place at a cabin in the woods.

Oh that big hunk o’ man?!?  He’s my lumberjack boyfriend.  No big deal.

The grasses, trees and mountains began to yawn and stretch, as they gradually awoke from their winter slumbers.  For though the sun was quick to warm us that weekend, the grasses, trees and mountains had been dormant for many a cold, wintry month.  Their warmth was yet to come!

As a newcomer to that special cabin in the woods, part of my privilege is discovering the changes the seasons bring over the mountains, valleys and wooden beams.  I can’t wait to see how the cabin gussies himself with spring flowers and bright green grasses!

(…until the next, greener, sunnier times that is)

A Northern Interpretation: Union Pig & Chicken

February 2012

A Tale of Anticipation & Fulfillment

(Anticipation)

First there was the longing.  Oh the painful longing for more restaurants conjuring the experiences we’d had in other places.  Then there were the rumors.  Did someone say “bbq?”  Then there were confirmations and names attached to the big promises- did someone say “Kevin Sousa and bbq in the same sentence?”  Then it was the waiting, the tweeted sneak peeks and the salivating!

Then a sign popped up, and the city had a new, handsome corner.

Finally, the tweets confirmed bbq was in our near future!  Quietly, the restaurant announced its open doors.  Finally, we stepped inside those doors, inhaled deeply, fully took in the smoky, bbq aromas, oohed and ahhed over the reclaimed wood, and most importantly, FINALLY, we ate the northern interpretation of the southern comforts we love so much!

presenting….

Union Pig & Chicken 
(Fulfillment)

I didn’t include “wood grains” in the tag line of this blog for nothing!  I have a real appreciation for craftsmanship and rustic atmospheres.  Union Pig & Chicken nearly found a new resident in me when I beheld its wooden walls and red accents.  One of those red accents, emanating from the kitchen, hints at the kitchen scurrying without disclosing the full story.

I imagine the large, front windows may one day feature the logo (another enviable design by Jay Fanelli) to immerse the diner fully in the interior experience and help filter the nighttime glow of the bank across the street.  Perhaps the same reclaimed wood of the walls will one day become benches by those large front windows.  Maybe there’ll be some corrugated metal accents too?!?  After my first Union dinner, I’m convinced there will be more of a wait in the future, and benches will be necessary!

As if walls of wood and trays of bbq weren’t exciting enough for those of us navigating the Pittsburgh dining scene, Union Pig & Chicken displays a proper appreciation for whiskey, including the new hometown hero- Wigle Whiskey.  I momentarily had to put my Wigle excitement on the back burner in pursuit of the “Rocks & Rye” section of the menu.

My drink (neat):

Old Overholt Rye, Tangerine, Thyme, Sage Honey

An all around solid whiskey drink, but I lost interest after sipping Jono’s choice.

Jono’s game changing order (also neat):

Old Overholt Rye, Smoked Onion, Black Pepper, Local Maple 

I admit, I doubted this concoction.  I was convinced Union was going for the shock factor with the onion, but shoot, color me wrong because that concoction worked, and it worked soooo very well!  Smokey with a maple finish!  That single glass made me debate the merits of owning a smoker!

We all seemed dressed for the occasion.  Lots of reds, touches of plaid and a real zeal for the food!

Three of us, clad in our Union attire and ready for bbq, meant ample sharing opportunity, so we took advantage of the options.

MEATS

St. Louis Ribs
Our top choice from our selection of meats, especially with extra squirts of the house bbq sauce.  The surface was smoky and crisp, but the pink meat was tender.  Definitely will repeat that order on the next visit.

Fried Chicken
The crust!  The crust will convince you!  

Brisket
Eating this brisket made me realize I must have a lot to learn about brisket!  My past brisket endeavors were always in the braised, tender, shredding-as-you-cut-into-each-piece realm.  These slices surprised me.  I won’t say they disappointed me, but we collectively ranked them as our third choice of our meat options for the night.  As a jury, we’re still out.

SIDES

Greens
With a touch of sweetness and a meaty touch of bbq, greens are a must in the line up!  

Cornbread
I like my cornbread on the sweeter side, so this was a slice of golden heaven in my [cook]book.  Here’s my question to the foodies out there, when/where/how did honey and cornbread start to go hand-in-hand?  Is it an abomination to ask for a drizzle of nature’s amber colored candy?  I’m definitely in favor of the combination!

Mac ‘n Cheese
Damn if I’m not spoiled by Meat & Potatoes’ pork belly mac ‘n cheese!  This Union side dish was an all around worthwhile version, but I’d say it’s time to push for a more robust cheese.  With a smoker and that kind of meat repertoire, it’s also time to push for a smoky meat in that cheesy macaroni mix.

Conclusion
I will be back!  We will be back!  I really appreciate the dedication to strong design in both the web presence, the printed material and the interior.  I obviously appreciate the commitment to slow foods, local foods and whiskey accompaniments.  What I appreciate most is the acknowledgement that this establishment is not meant to be or imitate a southern comfort.  This is not Kevin Sousa pretending to be the master of a cuisine steeped in a region and culture that is not his own.  This is his interpretation, and it’s a damn good one!

ps:  I made promises to a certain diningsaur to represent him in my first Union experience. Admittedly, in my anticipation and excitement, I just plain dropped the ball, but stay tuned Rodzilla!  Your post will come!

Header_I Like You

Valentine’s Day Observed: The Dinner With My Valentine!

February 2012

It was time to put all the Valentine’s Day plans onto one table, for one meal, with one special Valentine!

I washed off the beet stains [as best I could], dusted off the flour, crafted some skewers, set the table in a brand new way and somehow managed to shower and put on a dress before the designated dinner time. Our Valentine’s Day Observed was about to begin!

The Menu

Heart Beet Ravioli
Charcuterie Plate
Heirloom Wheat Bread 
Heart Beets Salad
Chocolate Hazelnut & Cherry Cakewich

Lots of wine!

Beets Are Red & Cheese Are Blue:  A Charcuterie Plate 

Danish Blue Cheese Hearts
Roasted Beet [Heart]
Speck & Honey Maple Ham
Fig Hearts
Cranberry Orange Chèvre
Raspberries

*The fig, blue cheese and raspberry combined best with a drizzle of honey on a slice of the heirloom wheat bread.

Heart Beets Salad

Roasted Red Beets
Endive
Radicchio
Blood Orange Segments
Honey Toasted Pecans
Raspberries
Fresh Mint
(play it be ear…or by heart… or by bad puns?)

Dressing
Olive Oil
Dijon Mustard
Balsamic Vinaigrette
Maple Syrup
(mix to taste)

Remember I said “Lots of Wine?”  I wasn’t kidding!  We first gave a proper toast and a “sip”…

Then we gave proper attention to the food on the table.  We both really appreciate good food, and that shared interest means a lot to me!

Then we just acted weird because we do that a lot… (I guess the photo only makes me look a little weird, but don’t let him fool ya…look at that stare)!

The libations theme for the night was wine, but the theme for Valentine’s Day gift giving was Let’s Learn To Mix More!  I couldn’t resist throwing in a little Black Velvet and that cool southern style (via Canada), plus an infographic to teach us much, much, more mixology  I’m looking forward to a wee baby cocktail in one of those little chocolate cups.

There’s just one more element to this Valentine’s Day Observed series- a very special finale.

Stay tuned (and please excuse my handwriting… I had a lot going on)!

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Valentine’s Day Observed: The Menu

February 2012

I obsess over detail when it comes to making a special holiday dinner for a significant someone. Whereas some see February 14th as a commercial holiday, I see it as an extra opportunity for thematic, sentimental expression coated in tones of my favorite hue.  I also see it as a flexible date when it falls on a weekday, hence… Valentine’s Day Observed.

The Menu

Heart Beet Ravioli
Charcuterie Plate
Heirloom Wheat Bread 
Heart Beets Salad
Chocolate Hazelnut & Cherry Cakewich

Lots of wine!

The menu breakdown and recipes will ensue.  Stay tuned.

Header_Let Us Eat

Let Us Eat: Good Food For A Good Cause [Salt of the Earth]

February 9, 2012

This might be old news, but this little tidbit bears repeating just in case it’s new to you.  If you live in Pittsburgh, there’s a monthly opportunity to eat some of the city’s finest foods for a good cause:

Let Us Eat is a dinner series that takes place on the second Thursday of each month at a different local restaurant. The owners and chefs that participate in [Grow Pittsburgh's] series support locally grown food and Grow Pittsburgh‘s mission to demonstrate, teach and promote responsible urban food production by donating 10% of the evening’s sales to [Grow Pittsburgh].

The site selection for February 9th gave me a really good reason to dine at Salt of the Earth, not to mention my trusty dining companion had yet to eat there.

Salt of the Earth
5523 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

I’ve mentioned Salt on here once before when I took my out-of-towners there.  Though the lamb shank on this Let Us Eat night did leave me with a more lasting impression, I stand by my initial conclusions:

After hearing positive review after positive review, I was expecting to have several of those bites that burst from the fork, cause your face to freeze then turn away from dining companions, so as to say, “please do not interrupt me right now.  I need every ounce of my concentration to focus on how orgasmically good this bite of food is.”  I have had those moments, but I have yet to have one at Salt.  It’s not a climax, but it is a worthwhile adventure and learning experience, as most of the menu items not only deliver on presentation and overall taste merits, but the wait staff will helpfully offer a lesson on “what is cardamaro?” or “what is a sunchoke?” if you take the time to question the more unique aspects of the descriptions.

Having made a reservation, we were seated on the second floor, meaning a private table (versus the main floor communal dining style) and a variant on the menu display, which takes up an entire wall on the first floor.

Bourbon Cocktail
Buffalo Trace, Green Chartreuse, Meyer Lemon, Hickory

While the fella above pondered why any bourbon cocktail would ever be served in a glass so strongly associated with martinis (is there a bartending rule we are missing?), I pondered whether or not “Green chartreuse” was a redundant title.  As it turns out, it’s not. The mix definitely had merit as a thought provoker, but more importantly, it was a smooth sipper.  It made me strongly resent the slight cold from which I was recovering because I would have loved to have partaken in a drink of my own.

Starter:  Salad
Frisee, Truffle, Poached Eggs, Beets,

The combination of the egg and the dressing gave this salad a creamy heft, accented by the sunflower seeds’ texture.  It’s safe to say, beets are never wrong in my book.

Starter:  Gnocchi
Beef cheek, tongue, chestnut, papaya

My inaugural trip to Cure taught me a very important fact about myself:  I like beef cheeks, or at least, I liked the very first beef cheeks I had ever eaten.  Thus, it seemed appropriate to challenge this recent assertion by eating round two of beef cheeks.  Safe to say, I do like beef cheeks.  If not done correctly, I tend to find gnocchi to be a soggy little pile of carbohydrate, but these gnocchi had a crisp texture around an inner burst of meaty flavor. Bravo!

Main:  Lamb Shank
Polenta, chard, gremolata

Perhaps the one caveat to my aforementioned repeated conclusion was the lamb shank.  I won’t go as far to say I was closing my eyes and savoring every morsel as if it was the last I would ever experience, but the way that tender meat fell of the bone into the gravy doused greens and polenta was indeed something to savor!

The Sharing & Shuffling Game…plate rotation…

Main:  Scallops
Scallops, Mussels, potato, sunchokes, pancetta, olive

Kudos for the use of purple potatoes for extra presentation merits.  The mussels were especially noteworthy in this mix.

Dessert:  Fruit Cake
Chestnut, pistachio, orange, amaretto, egg nog

This fruit cake was definitely a far and distant cry from those holiday versions with the bad reputation.  The amaretto and orange packed in moisture and flavor akin to the delicious attributes of an almond croissant (without reaching the pedestal that is the truly authentic almond croissant).

I would be remiss not to add this concluding critique.  If there were local foods being featured, their presence was unclear.  As an organization who promotes the local, it seems you should work more closely with the restaurants to highlight their ingredients and the significance to the local economy, their nutritional merits and their environmental benefits, especially on a night promoting your mission.  I know Salt lists local/seasonal foods as one of its values, but I only know this from reading the restaurant website.  Had I dined there without knowing it was a benefit night, my only clue would have been the lettuce token of thanks (which I do appreciate).  I want to support your cause because it is one in which I firmly believe, but this is the second time I have put money toward the organization with little educational return.

Header_Steak Knife Night

Birthday Dinner: Oh Meat and Potatoes, You Really Know How to Love A Girl!

January 21, 2012

My birthday dinner destination was a “surprise,” but I had a fairly strong suspicion I’d be sitting at a candlelit, marble table with a few fancy cocktails, consuming a tantalizing balance of protein and starch.  When we started driving in the direction of downtown, meaning my special dinner would take place at Meat and Potatoes (bravo Jono!), my mind immediately began strategic menu planning.  Little did I know there was more in store for me!

Blogger’s Birthday Bourbon

I had one drink on the table already, but the waitress appeared with yet another!  “This one is a special drink, from the bar, for your birthday!”  I was sipping before she even finished describing the roasted pecan syrup, bourbon and grilled peach combination.  Peach and bourbon and pecan?!?!  Clearly this drink had been destined for me!  On top of that, there was no beating around the birthday bush and waiting until the dessert course.  This was shaping up beautifully!

Sergeant Pepper Old Fashioned

As pleased as I was with my birthday cocktail, the night’s special changed my life.  I’ve been to some high quality cocktail establishments recently, but the Meat & Potatoes peppery take on the Old Fashioned really distinguished itself.  My foray into Nashville and brief stint at The Patterson House proved to me really talented mixologists have the ability to prevent a loss of the various drink component’s distinct flavors.

Sadly, my birthday cocktail was guilty of really enticing flavors blending too much into one, non-distinct (but overall still pleasing) flavor [please don't mistake this sentiment as ungrateful].  The Sgt Pepper, on the other hand, burst with various distinct flavors:  black pepper, thyme, orange and bourbon!  It was a perfect cocktail, and I sincerely hope it finds its way to the regular menu, or in the least, I hope the bartenders put up with me when I continue to request it!

Gin Richard
bluecoat gin / lime / lemon / soda / rosemary

No, I did not go three drinks strong, but I did take a sip of Jono’s refreshing Gin Richard with its respectable rosemary garnish.

Harvest Salad, Birthday Special
roasted beets / frisee / endive / treviso / pecans / blue cheese + smoked duck and quail egg

Technically, this was the “restaurant week” special version of the regular menu Harvest Salad (since when is there a PGH restaurant week and who is “marketing” it?), but excuse me while I revel in what was my special occasion.  Quail egg!  Those little eggs really burst with flavor, and they begin with a Q, as do I!  As for the smoked duck, this was my first tasting.  The texture reminded me of sashimi with the full flavor of a cured meat like prosciutto.  Two thumbs up for this first time!

Pear Walnut Risotto Special

I can count on one hand the number of times I have eaten risotto, and I have yet to experience any consistencies amongst the various preparation methods of my past.  Thus, I consider the M&P risotto to be its own entity existing somewhere between a sweet breakfast porridge and a salty autumnal dinner entree.  If I were to create a dish inspired by this special, I’d emphasize the pears more, arranging them as slightly caramelized slices in a circular pattern across the top of the risotto.  As I contemplated the risotto while making a sincere effort to save room for what remained on our line up, a present was in transit…

The Birthday Present:  Poutine 2.0

Four times.

Four times I had been to Meat and Potatoes, and I had ordered the poutine all four times.

Four times I had been compelled to order the poutine, knowing how perfect a combination it was.

This was the first time, after a lot of careful deliberation, I refrained.  The only reason for the restraint was the massive ribeye we were about to share.  As the manager carried a cast iron dish of poutine toward our table, I thought there was some mistake.  No mistake.  This was a birthday present!  Instead of bows, this present of poutine 2.0 was adorned with slow cooked beef and topped with an egg.  Once pierced, the yellow yolk drizzled over the beef and then mingled with the typical cheese curd and gravy toppings.  Oh that Chef!  He certainly knew the way to my heart!

Behold the steak knife!  ‘Twas the symbol of something grand looming on the horizon, and the grandeur arrived shortly thereafter…

Look at the Meat and Potatoes menu, and this section will surely catch your eye for both its accented design and for the allure of what it describes…

The first three times I’d been to Meat and Potatoes, my dining companions and I purposefully chose the assortment/variety strategy versus the epic entree tactic.  That is not to say witnessing a neighboring table attack the impressive butcher block of juicy beef and steak fries did not leave a lasting impression.

By my fourth visit, I was ready to share that magical experience with Jono, but my grand gesture, to share the most important menu item with him, was not meant to be on that occasion.  The behemoth had sold out!  Well omnivorous friends, on January 21, 2012, the stars, streams, planets and paddocks aligned.  This was our true Meat and Potatoes night!

THIRTY-FOUR OUNCES!!!  I am the daughter of a cattleman, and I dare say, I have never seen beef served in such epic proportions.  Yet, it was those THIRTY-FOUR OUNCES were the perfect shade of reddish pink!  How the kitchen managed to prepare THIRTY-FOUR OUNCES to that perfect shade of reddish pink- not bordering on bloody or too done- amazes me!  I’m just going to say one more time- THIRTY-FOUR ounces!  After the embellished birthday line up leading to that moment, we barely worked our way through four ounces combined.  No complaints though because the doggie bag left us with twenty-four hours of pleasant anticipation for Sunday night’s dinner of leftovers.

The mass of meat blocks the potatoes in the above photos, but it is worth noting, the steak fries were roasted to perfection just like mom used to do but with even more fresh rosemary- an entire, flavorful sprig right on the ol’ butcher block.

The Sweetest Part…

Though the chocolate pot de crème is rich and sweet, the best part of dessert was what Jono told me during dessert.  Clearly he had put some foresight and planning into the evening, and I was extremely grateful, but what I learned was the Chef and Manager of Meat and Potatoes had also put some effort into making my night memorable.

When Jono made the reservation, he had asked to speak to the manager and posed a vague request, “This dinner is for my girlfriend’s birthday, and I’m hoping you might be able to do something special like a drink or a dessert or something out of the ordinary.  You probably would recognize her.  She has short hair, takes lots of pictures, and she usually comes with another girl and …”

To which the Manager replied, “Oh, the blogger?  We’ll take care of it!”

They knew me and this little corner of the blogosphere I call my hearth!  On top of that, they really did take care of my birthday!  The bourbon, the poutine, the extra attention to make sure everything was satisfactory, the candlelit conclusion… I was so thrilled with the overall positivity of the night, I forgot to make a wish (as cheesy as that might sound).  What more could a foodie wish for on a special night spent with a special someone?!?

In conclusion, I hope this all reads as an extra special thank you from me to all of you!

Very Sincerely,

Quelcy Trenae Kogel

 

Art in the Age of a New Age: Ushering in 2012 (Part Two)

The Last Bits of 2011

After brunch, muddy mountain roads led us by chipping paint and old barns to the top of the world!  Well, to the top of Pennsylvania?  To the top of a mountain rather.

I used to play in an old red barn as a kid, and someday, I hope to refurbish an old barn into a home/studio space.  For the 2012 cusp, I simply admired the old barn beam colors against the gray December skies.

We passed almost as many buggies as we did cars and trucks on the wet and winding road that day.  Things were mostly just still and quiet.

We hit the vista as the last bits of light were fading, and the temperature was dropping, which made the promise of a fireplace, champagne and a home cooked meal all the more enticing.

The transition to dinner started with a little cheese spread to energize our cooking endeavor.

Might I suggest…
(clockwise from the top right corner)

Humboldt Fog
Gjetost Norwegian Brown Cheese
Brilla Savarin Cave Aged (similar to brie with a little less stink)
Drunken Goat
Trois Petits Cochons Mousse de Foie de Canard au Porto
(decent, but nowhere near as good as freshly made…note to self:  add pate to my kitchen To Do list)
Ossau Iraty Pyrenees Brebis
(a harder cheese- award winning according to the Whole Foods Connoisseur)
Whole Wheat Bread
(Unfortunately not made by me.  I was too busy staring at barns all day)

Patient hands waited for my camera clicking fingers to snap a few photos before diving into the spread.  That patience and understanding is only part of why I like him so much!

I recently read Le Voyage Créatif’s thoughtful and dreamlike post in which she returned to the cheese of her childhood, a brown Norwegian cheese I had yet to come across in my fromage journeys.  I was quite surprised and excited to find a half wheel at the grocery store that provided our last provisions before entering the quieter countryside.

There’s something really hopeful in how the internet and a world of food lovers can inspire new associations and memories in readers and writers far, far away.  Thanks to Le Voyage Créatif, I will now think of slivers of this mild and subtly caramely cheese against a backdrop of cold air, blue-tinted, mountain views, a warm fireplace, a new furry blanket, bubbling libations and a brand new year!

Dinner landed on the table just in time to curl up our fancy dress clothes underneath a warm blanket (bc even in a remote cabin, it’s fun to wear something fancy), watch Lady Gaga lead the ball drop effort on the big screen and toast some bubbly to 2012!  As per the theme of the weekend, dinner was a tribute to our favorite historical elixirs- Art in the Age Root & Rhuby.

Art in the Age of a New Age
The Last Dinner of 2011 & The First Dinner of 2012

The Menu
(see *recipes below)

Rhuby Moyo” Cocktails

Roasted Salmon with Rhuby Apricot Mango Reduction

Roasted Root Vegetables

Chocolate Chip Cake with Root Infusion & Whipped Topping
(more on dessert to come here!)

Not only were our champagne cocktails ushering in a brand new age, they were commemorating both a lasting friendship and a brand new friendship.  Once upon a college time, I spent six unforgettable months in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I lived with four really special ladies from all over the world.  One of those ladies, Rumbi Moyo became a best friend dear!

My beautiful friend Rumbi is wise beyond her years.  She manages a challenging full time job, raises twin boys (no easy task!) and still manages to spend a night dancing every now and then.  She’s a remarkable lady, and this little paragraph fails to do even the slightest justice to how I fortunate I feel to have her in my life (albeit it remotely).

On my first ever journey to London (more on that to come, I really do promise!), Rumbi treated Jono and me to seafood and champagne at St. Pancras station.  It was a really lovely time and fulfilled another friend’s predictions for my life- the universe raining champagne and pearls upon me (my time is now, dear friends)!  Can you imagine a better way of passing an afternoon than having two of your nearest and dearest meet at an old train station in London for champagne and seafood?!?  I cannot!

Thus as we celebrated the grand adventures of 2011 and the hopeful 2012 horizons, Jono mixed what he called a “Rhuby Moyo” in honor of my dear friend.  We anticipate more experimenting on this cocktail, but in the meantime, cheers to you, dear Rumbi!  Come visit us soon, and we’ll add a third glass to the table!

The Rhuby Moyo

Champagne
Simple Syrup (from demerara sugar)
Art in the Age Rhuby
Peychaud Bitters
Orange Peel

Combine 1 jigger of Rhuby and 1/4 jigger simple syrup in a champagne glass.  Fill with champagne, and top with 2-3 dashes of Peychaud bitters.  Garnish with orange peel and toast to good friends and a brand new year!

As the NYE programming slowed, we switched to a the glamor of a past era via Sunset Boulevard.  The champagne bubbled, the fire crackled, and the black and white film ran its dramatic course.  With such a perfect start, 2012 must be bound for good things!

The Recipes

Roasted Salmon
w/ Rhuby Apricot Mango Reduction

Ingredients

1 pound salmon, cut into 2 equal-sized fillets
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 shot Rhuby
5 oz organic apricot fruit spread
~2 Tablespoons chopped red onion
1 small orange, chopped
1 mango, chopped
Sea salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Lightly coat a baking pan with cooking spray.

In a small saucepan over low heat, mix together the maple syrup, garlic, ginger and balsamic vinegar. Heat just until hot and remove from heat. Pour half of the mixture into a small bowl to use for basting, and reserve the rest for later.

Pat the salmon dry. Place skin-side down on the baking sheet. Brush the salmon with the maple syrup mixture.

Bake about 10 minutes, brush again with maple syrup mixture, and bake for another five minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine 2 Tablespoons of the balsamic sauce, Rhuby, apricot fruit spread, orange and half the mango.

Continue to baste and bake the fish until flakes easily, about 20 to 25 minutes total.

Cut the remaining half mango into chunks and mix into the apricot sauce.

Transfer the salmon fillets to plates. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, and top with reserved maple syrup and the apricot sauce.

Roasted Root Vegetables

The Root flavor in this root vegetable mix is subtle, but it definitely added a little extra spice to the taste.  Most diners would probably have a hard time guessing the source of the extra flavor.  This was my first pass, but I’m eager for more experimenting, especially when the recipe entails a pun.   

Ingredients

2-3 Tablespoons Organic, unsalted butter
1 parsnip, sliced
1 small sweet potato, sliced
4-5 carrots, sliced
1 small red onion, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 medium beet, sliced

Root Sauce

½ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup water
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Orange peel
½ cup Root

For the Roasted Vegetables

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a large baking dish or skillet.

Remove from the oven, and add the sliced vegetables.  Roast for 45-60 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, after about 30 minutes of roasting, combine the maple syrup and water in a saucepan over medium high heat until dissolved.

Add the balsamic vinegar and orange peel, and continue to stir.

Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer.

As the vegetables finish roasting, add the Root to the sauce, stirring to combine.

Remove from heat, and remove the orange peel.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and stir in the Root sauce.

Serve just in time for a brand new year!

A British Inspired Brunch

December 2011

I needed to be really far away from the normal routines and to be overstimulated by a city’s offerings.  I had come down with a case of wanderlust (my near constant ailment), a condition heightened by the pains of a mending heart.  I made up my mind, and my mind took me to London for a spell.  In one word, London was wonderful, glorious flux (that’s technically three words)!  I have a lot to report from my journey to the land of double-decker buses, changing guards, pubs and tea. I will be reporting a lot from my journey to the land of “flat whites,” engineering marvels, a snaking river with a silent h and a cathedral that may nor may not have made me cry (ok…made me cry).

However, this post is about one of the major lessons  I learned from afar:  I really value people!  I value the people who make a city change on a daily basis.  More importantly, I value those people who have been there for me, especially this last year.  Admittedly, there have been times in my life when I have been rather closed off and internal, but this year, I have made an effort to foster the relationships with the amazing friends in my life.  You, dear friends, know who you are, and you all mean so much to me!  Those who know me well, know I don’t throw this out there lightly, but while walking the exhilarating streets of London and thinking to myself, I dare say… I missed you!

Upon my return, I wish I could have filled my entire apartment with teacups for all those friends who entered my mind while I strolled, but my dear friends span cities, states and continents!  However, I was ever so lucky to have two of my nearest and dearest lovelies join me at my dining room table for a spot of tea with scones and yes, clotted cream!

A British Inspired Brunch with Near & Dear Lovelies
(for the record Nicole, you were supposed to be seated at the table also, so you better accept these sentiments as well)

Tea with me… me in the tea…

A Note About Tea & Friendship & A Blog You Should Be Reading/Bookmarking

While I’m talking about tea and friends, I want to highlight a budding friendship, and the really cool thing is, it’s a friendship budding in the blogosphere!  Heather Mulholland has a really beautiful blog entitled Tea With Me.  See the connection?  What drew me to paging through Heather’s blog was the rustic wood grains background, the teal accents, the stunning and refined photography (sometimes I swear I can feel the chill in the foggy air of her travel photos) and the really thoughtful writing, especially about the importance of friendship.  What really sealed the deal though, was Heather’s love of my new favorite file type:  the gif!  AND she sent me REAL snail mail!  The best!  Be sure to give Tea With Me a read, especially the post about High Tea Bringing People Together.

Ok, back to The British Inspired Brunch…

Open Face Egg Salad Sandwiches
(With homemade mayo!)

British puritans would probably tell me I veered too far from the little, dainty egg sandwiches that accompany a proper tea, but I probably would pretend not to have heard them.  You see,  I own a juicer, and I’m constantly looking for little ways to use some of the produce pulp… a la egg salad with bright colored bits of carrot and bursts of vitamins!

Egg Salad

5-6 Large, local/free-range eggs, hard-boiled
3-4 Tablespoons homemade mayonnaise*
5-6 pearl onions, caramelized
2 Tablespoons carrot pulp from juicer
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 fresh cranberries, chopped

*Homemade Mayonnaise

1 large egg yolk (local/free-range)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple cider wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
3/4 cup olive oil, divided

For the Egg Salad

Combine egg yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Whisk until blended and bright yellow, about 30 seconds.

Using 1/4 teaspoon measure and whisking constantly, add 1/4 cup oil to yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, about 4 minutes.

Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup oil in very slow thin stream, whisking constantly, until mayonnaise is thick, about 8 minutes (mayonnaise will be lighter in color).

Cover and chill.

Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

When ready to serve, cut your favorite bread into rounds, add a splash of green (local kale in this case) and top with a dollop of the egg salad.  Serve with a cranberry on top because it’s the holiday berry and because cherries are so passé.

Apple Cranberry Sauce with a Hint of Sparkle

Not too long ago a good friend told me the universe was going to rain champagne and pearls upon me.  When I visited a Best Friend Dear in London, she treated me to champagne… lots of champagne… and oysters, which are basically pearls, right?  The glaring conclusion is my time is now, and I could also use more champagne in my life.  Cranberry sauce seemed an ideal opportunity for more champagne!

Side note:  the inclusion of cranberry sauce was more a nod to Thanksgiving than ye olde UK, since I only somewhat celebrated the holiday of gratefulness while abroad. 

Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups of champagne
1 cup of turbinado sugar
1 bag of fresh cranberries
1 medium local mutsu apple, peeled and cut into chunks
Zest of one organic orange
~ 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup pure maple syrup
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, diced

Directions

Bring the champagne and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Add cranberries and the remaining ingredients, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until berries have popped and the consistency is closer to jelly.

Chill until serving time.

A Warm Brunch Libation

While stirring a wooden spoon around the saucepan of cranberry sauce, an idea hit me!  I reserved about one cup of the liquid as the ingredients thickened.

Meanwhile, I added a “splash” (ie: a generous shot) of bourbon to each bruncher’s mug, added a pour of the cranberry sauce liquid (pictured above) and topped the mix off with hot cider.  Swirl it all with a cinnamon stick for a warm and comforting brunch blend!

Cranberry Rosemary Scones with Clotted Cream

While in London, I was on a quest for an authentic tea experience (which I know is mostly outdated and more of a romantic notion of tourists), but it does still exist in a few bakeries and fancy pockets of the city.  I very nearly failed completely, but a table snagged in Cambridge just before closing time enabled me to check tea and clotted cream off my England To Do List.

The additional flavors in my scones were cranberry and rosemary, commemorating my baby Christmas tree and the aforementioned holiday berry.

Cranberry Rosemary Scones

Ingredients

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons Irish butter, cold
¼ cup fresh cranberries, sliced
1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
1 cup local buttermilk
1 egg beaten with a little buttermilk and water
Turbinado sugar and rosemary for garnish

For the Scones

Heat the oven to 400°F

Line a baking stone with parchment.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium-sized bowl.

Add the butter.

Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Make a well in the center, and stir in enough buttermilk to make a soft, pliable dough.

Add the cranberries and rosemary.

Turn the mixture on to a floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth then lightly roll out to 3/4″ thick.

Cut rounds with a 3″ ring.  Collect scrap dough, roll it out again and cut additional circles until no dough remains.

Place scones on the baking stone and brush with the beaten egg and buttermilk milk mixture.

Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and sprigs of rosemary.

Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown and well risen.

Cool on a wire rack before eating.

Serve with butter clotted cream and jam (or cranberry sauce with a touch of sparkle).

Let’s GIF it started!!!
↓↓↓↓↓ (click the crazy ladies) ↓↓↓↓↓↓↓

Bunny, meet Squirrel
For some reason, Nina wore bunny ears to the table.  Oh Nina!  <3

My favorite photo of the day ↓!  What a happy bunny!

While I may not have been grateful to be back in the ‘burgh after the wonders of London, I was very grateful for my friends, their company and the comforts of a warm pot of tea.

Stay tuned for the upcoming reports from my European adventures!

A Cooking Adventure in a Foreign Territory

November 2011

I very recently explained my seafood virginity after skipping the much talked about Point Brugge brunch mussels option, so you can imagine my own surprise when I found myself really craving scallops while menu planning (which I have eaten and enjoyed a fair number of times despite my overall lack of seafood experience).  Make my own?  As if offering moral support, the issue of America’s Test Kitchen, through which I have been faithfully working my way, featured an approachable pan-seared scallop recipe.  With the added pressure of a dinner guest, I willingly voyaged on a cooking adventure in a foreign territory:  the sea!  I would say so myself, but my dining partner said it for me:  success!  Merci dining partner!  The full menu featured a few parallel flavors:  lemon, sage and overall autumnal palette.  My landlocked roots added a bit of turf to the menu in the form of Merguez in a side dish.

The Foreign Territory Menu

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter
Roasted Acorn Squash with Sage Butter
Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Merguez
Lemony Pear & Sage Bourbon

Pan Seared Scallops with Lemon Brown Butter Sauce
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Review Magazine, March 2011

Pan Seared Scallops

~1 pound dry sea scallops (about 10 scallops)
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
2 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces

Lemon Brown Butter Sauce

4 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) organic, unsalted butter
3 large pearl onions, diced
1 Tablespoon minced parsley
Juice from one lemon
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme

For the Scallops

Place the scallops on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a paper towel.  Place a second paper towel on top of the scallops and press gently on the towel to blot liquid.  Let the scallops sit at room temperature for 10 minutes while the towels absorb the moisture.

Remove the second towel and sprinkle the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil in a 12-inch non-stick saucepan or skillet over high heat until just smoking.

Add the scallops in a single layer, flat side down, and cook, without moving, until browned, 1 ½-2 minutes.

Add 1 Tablespoon of the butter to the pan.  Using tongs, flip the scallops and continue to cook, using a large spoon to base the scallops with the melted butter, tilting the pan so the butter runs to one side, until the sides of the scallops are firm and the centers are opaque, 30-90 seconds longer (remove smaller scallops from the pan as they finish cooking).

Transfer the scallops to a large plate and tent loosely with foil.

For the Brown Butter Sauce

Add the butter to the pan over medium heat and cook, swirling the pan constantly, until the butter turns dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 4-5 minutes.

Add the pearl onions and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the parsley, lemon juice and thyme.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm on top of the pan-seared scallops.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Browned Butter and Sage

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
6 medium fresh sage leaves, chopped

Directions

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the oil on the glass baking dish, and poke holes in the sides of the squash.

Roast until soft, about 40-50 minutes.

When the squash is almost done, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.

Add the sage and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until the butter is golden brown and the sage is crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat.

Remove the squash from the oven and turn cut-side up.  Pour in the sage butter sauce, and use a brush to butter the sides.

Serve immediately.

Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Merguez

Ingredients

1 satchel* of Brussels sprouts, rinsed and sliced in half
2 local merguez sausages, casing removed, cut into chunks
2 small local apples, chopped
2 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
cinnamon
nutmeg

*I say satchel because I bought a little mesh bundle of Brussels from Whole Foods and didn’t bother to quantify it.  About one sauce pan’s worth of sprouts?  This isn’t a science.

Directions

Bring a saucepan of water to boil.  Add the Brussels sprouts and boil until slightly soft and bright green in color.

Remove from heat, and drain water.

Add the butter to a skillet over medium heat.  Once the butter is melted, add the merguez sausages.

Once the sausage has begun to brown, add the Brussels sprouts, stirring frequently.

As the sprouts start to brown, add the apple chunks, and continue to stir.

Add the cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.  Stir to combine, and then remove from heat.

Serve immediately.

The Sour Wisdom Bourbon Cocktail
There was wine for dinner and bourbon cocktails for dessert!
(Makes two cocktails)

Cocktail Ingredients

½ cup fresh pressed pear juice
1 cup fresh pressed lemon juice
2 shots of bourbon
dash of angostura bitters
4 Tablespoons sage simple syrup*
2-3 dashes of angostura bitters

*Sage Simple Syrup Ingredients

1 cup turbinado sugar
1 cup water
5-6 sage leaves, plus 2 for garnishes

*For the Sage Simple Syrup

Combine 1 cup turbinado sugar with 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and add 5-6 sage leaves.

Simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool.

Strain sage leaves from liquid and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

For the Cocktail

Divide the juice between two mason jars.

Add a shot (or two!) of bourbon, followed by 2 Tablespoons of the simple syrup to each glass.

Finish with a few dashes of bitters in each glass.

Stir each glass and add 1-2 ice cubes.

Serve!

Note:  Because I used fresh juice I made myself, the texture was thicker than the average cocktail, making the experience a bit like sipping on a deliciously boozy slushy or a smoothie. 

A Lot of Nola

November 2011

Their website hypes up the restaurant’s energy amidst the vibrant downtown Pittsburgh urban renewal.  The reality on a Tuesday evening was a dead downtown and a decently populated restaurant (however one REALLY loud pair made the restaurant seem absolutely packed).  Though Nola on the Square might be a far cry from the Decatur vibes it channels in its dishes and decor, the food did have us jazzed from course to course.  Oh what a shameful pun!  The joys of sharing and doggie bags meant we sampled quite a bit from the menu.

The Ambiance
A little over the top and chincy in places.  The tin tile ceiling adds a bit of vintage class though.

Nola Cocktail
Bourbon, Simple Syrup, Absinthe and Lemon Juice

Louisville: Bourbon as New Orleans: _____________
That was the question I posed to our waiter who then proceeded to tell us the merits of all the cocktails on the menu.  He didn’t really understand my SAT intentions or my drinking intentions for that matter.  When I said I was drawn to the menu items containing bourbon, he tried to sway me to fruitier rum choices.  He conceded to bring me the cocktail of my choice, and I sipped it with satisfaction.  Be strong bourbon lovers!  It’s worth defying the recommendations.

Nola Salad
Petite greens, romaine, candied pecans, tomatoes, red onion, sweet potato chips, Firefly Farm Chèvre, vinaigrette

I am a sucker for both sweet potatoes and chèvre, so this was an easy choice to incorporate some greens into our menu compilation.  The sweet potato chips were only lightly fried or baked (chipped?  crisped?), so they still retained a lot of flavor and still a bit of the soft texture I seek.

Gumbo Ya-Ya
Organic chicken, Andouille, okra, filé, steamed rice

“We have to get gumbo, right?” Jono said while we were creating our menu line up.  He was right.  I had to admit it.  I don’t have a huge gumbo resume of experiences, but I do have quite a history with sausage, and that was some good sausage!  Also, I appreciate the decision to use organic chicken.  I don’t recall eating that chicken, so maybe they skimp since organic chicken is more costly, or maybe I was just more focused on the sausage?  Very likely.

Grilled Eggplant and Chèvre Wood Fired Flatbread
Spinach oil and garlic, soppresata, Firefly Farm Chèvre

Overall, I enjoyed this combination.  The crust, though a bit yeasty, had a thin, soft texture.  For my tastes, cooked soppresata develops a less preferable texture than its original state, but the flavor still worked to spice up the other flavors.  Flatbread doesn’t really strike me as a Cajun or southern staple (correct me if I am misguided), so since I’ve tried their wood fired work, I’d probably skip it if I dine there in the future.

Pork Shank BBQ
Homemade corn pone

Order this one for sure!  I want it again just thinking about it!  The corn pone was really buttery, dense and moist and really sweetly paired with the fall-off-the-bone pork shank.  This is all I can write because the more I think about it, the more I want this dish again!

Grilled Catfish
Spicy lemongrass beurre noisette, citrus, mashed potato, grilled sweet peppers and onions

Our eyes were pretty big when planning this meal, so most of my fish consumption happened the next night, which doesn’t equate to an accurate review.  However, the potatoes really absorbed the combination of flavors, especially the butter.  The potatoes were probably the most flavorful part, and my fish memory is failing me.  Is that a bad sign?

I believe this little bit of lovely was a brandy bread pudding with a salted caramel ice cream.  Whatever the combination, it was a delightful conclusion.

Nola isn’t going to fill a Southern void in my heart, but it was an overall pleasing meal.  If it weren’t for the pork shank and bread pudding, I probably wouldn’t feel any major pull to return.  Most likely, I’ll just feel inspired to slow cook a shank of pork for days and let some bread go stale in my own kitchen.

Rum Regards/Let’s Get HAMmered?

November 2011

This happened.  Then Jono’s friend sent him an email proposing they eat a ham soaked in rum, so instead, Jono emailed me…

To The Loveliest Lady in the Whole Wide World,
[ok, I may be embellishing the email intro just a tad]

Apparently “rum ham” is a reference to It’s ‘Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ I’m unaware of, and although [my friend's] preparation technique sounds atrocious, I now want to make a ham with some sort of rum-sugar-cinnamon glaze. Any way we could make this happen?

Rum Regards,

Jono

Of course we could make that happen, but I couldn’t stop at the ham.  I wanted an entire rum themed meal…

The Rum Regards Menu

Black Forest HAMmered with an Apple & Beet Compote
Smashed
Sweet Potatoes with Grated Pecorino Cheese
Buzzed Sprouts with Slivered Almonds
Sauced Chocolate Coconut Cake
Spiked mulled cider

Had there not been good friends, dancing dates and brunching dates all the weekend long, this would have been a more homespun ham roasting experience, but using the precooked ham served us really well under busy circumstances.

There was some debate and hesitation as we leaned over the skillet of sprouts.  Add rum?!?  Why not?!?  We went for it, and they were delicious!  The combined natural spice of the under appreciated veggie and the added flavors really harmonized and completed the overall theme.

Let's-Get-HAMmered

However, rum and chocolate for the dessert course was an easy decision.  Dessert was my only solo effort.  Other than that, Jono had a tipsy hand in all the other aspects of the meal.  Go team!

The Recipes

Spiked Mulled Cider

Ingredients

1 Quart local apple cider
1 cup Spiced Rum
2-3 small local apples
cinnamon sticks
nutmeg dash
1” chunk of fresh ginger
A handful of fresh cranberries, cut in half
4-5 cloves
1 organic orange, peeled, sliced

For the Cider

Combine all of the above in a crockpot and allow to mull as the rest of the dinner comes together.  Serve with dessert.  [Full disclosure?  We drank red wine with dinner.  It just went so well with the flavors, I couldn't resist].  Feel free to add an extra splash of fresh rum to the hot bevvie if you want a smidgeon of an alcohol content.

********

HAMmered Black Forest Ham
With Apple & Beet Compote

Ingredients

1 small, all natural, preservative-free, precooked, black forest ham “nugget”
(the package actually called it a nugget)
½ cup water
¼ cup organic brown sugar
2 organic fuji apples, peeled and sliced
1 large roasted beet, peeled and sliced
½ cup fresh cranberries, sliced
dash of cinnamon
dash of ground ginger
zest of one orange
½ cup rum

Directions

To Roast the Beet

Wrap the beet in tin foil and place in a pan to catch the juices.  Heat the oven to 425 F.  Bake the beet for about one hour or until soft.  Remove from the oven, and allow to cool before peeling and slicing.  Set aside.

For the Compote

Heat the water and brown sugar over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat to medium.

Add the apple and beet slices.  Stir continuously.

Add the cranberries and spices and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, slice the ham, wrap in foil and place in a baking dish.  Warm in the oven or microwave, depending on your preferences.

Once the apples are soft, remove from heat and mix in the rum.

Serve warm over black forest ham slices.

********

SMASHED Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients

2 large sweet potatoes
2 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon spiced rum
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar
1 Tablespoon heavy whipping cream
~1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste

For the Sweet Potatoes

Peel and rinse the sweet potatoes.  Cut them into 1-2” chunks.

Bring a pot of water to boil, and add the potatoes.  Boil for a couple minutes, and then reduce to a simmer.  Continue to simmer until the potatoes are soft.

Drain the water and return to low heat.

Stir in the butter, rum, maple syrup, brown sugar and cream.

Use a mixer or food processor to puree the potato mixture until creamy.

Lastly, sprinkle with the cheese and spices before serving.

********

Buzzed Sprouts*
*This is more of a guide than a recipe.

Ingredients

1 little mesh bag of Brussels sprouts
Olive Oil
Fresh ginger, grated
A handful of slivered almonds
Splash of Spiced Rum
A dash of cinnamon
A dash of nutmeg

Directions

Wash the Brussels Sprouts.

Bring a saucepan of water to boil.

Add the Brussels Sprouts and cook until bright green and slightly soft.

Allow to cool slightly.

Slice the sprouts.

In a large skillet, heat 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.

Add the Brussels sprouts, stirring constantly.

Add the almonds, and continue to stir.

Once the Brussels sprouts have begun to brown, add the ginger.

Turn off the heat.  Add the splash of spiced rum.  Stir to combine.

********

Sauced Chocolate Coconut Cake

Ingredients

6 eggs (local/free-range), separated
2 cups organic evaporated cane juice sugar
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup pure cocoa powder
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
zest of one organic orange
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 Tablespoons spiced rum

Sauce

1 can (12 ounce) evaporated milk
1 can (14 ounce) coconut milk
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/3 cup local heavy whipping cream
2 Tablespoons spiced rum

For the Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a glass 9×13 baking pan.

For the cake, in a large bowl combine flour, cocoa, spices, baking powder and orange zest.

In a medium size bowl, combine the milk, vanilla and rum.

Set both aside.

Place egg whites in a clean bowl and beat at high speed until peaks are formed.

Turn the mixer down to medium speed and gradually add the sugar to the egg whites.

Once the sugar is dissolved, add egg yolks and beat for 3 minutes.

Continue beating egg white mixture on medium-low speed and add flour and milk alternately until well blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Leave the cake in the pan.

While the cake is still warm, punch holes in cake with wooden skewer.

Combine the sauce ingredients and pour evenly over the cake.

Place the cake in refrigerator to cool until ready to serve.  The longer it soaks, the better the burst of rum flavor in each bite!

Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Serve.

********
Fin.
********

Two Helpings of Meat & Potatoes

November 2011

This is how buzz and good food work:  back to back!  The foodies at work had already readjusted their PGH dining list and bumped the new downtown restaurant to number one.  Following their lead, Nicole sent me a text message from her spot at the much talked about Meat and Potatoes, “You will love it here.  Pick a day.”  I eagerly did pick a day shortly after that.  She wore her new bangs, I wore a new hat, and we treated ourselves quite well at that marble table.  The following week, Justin and I were finally, finally, finallllly planning to dine together.  We went through a list of options, and when I said, “Well, I’d definitely eat at Meat and Potatoes again,” he said, “done!”  If someone invited me to dine there right this moment, I’d say the same.

The First Helping

I wish I could transport the restaurant to a different neighborhood, but the location is what it is:  downtown Pittsburgh.  This entails a few negatives:  a complete lack of parking for no apparent reason (?) and a “cultured” crowd largely comprised of several old men entertaining much younger women, neither of whom are attractive enough to make the offset aesthetically appealing.  In case this aspect of my personality has not yet been apparent, I am judgmental, but eat one meal there, and you’ll deem this an observation and not just a criticism.

In the case of this blessed union of protein and starch, I am willing to let the good far outweigh the odd:  vintage wood, rusting metals, tea lights in jam jars, hanging bulb light fixtures, letterpress styles, fancy elixirs in fancy containers, chalkboards, stamps and the really obvious key factor:  really amazing food!

Franklin Mint
ri 1 / aperol / citrus / agave /  rhubarb / mint

My eyes scanned the Libations menu for bourbon or whiskey, and I arrived at the Franklin Mint.  In an effort to save money and sobriety, I savored one, but I easily could have enjoyed my way through three more.  Time to find a big spending benefactor!

Harvest Salad
roasted beets / frisee / endive / treviso / pecans / blue cheese

Aside from the fact that Nicole and I both really like beets, we had a very responsible moment during the menu planning in which we ordered the harvest salad to counterbalance our other options.  Our decision process was a bit motherly, “eat your veggies,” but as it turned out, even the salad was held to a higher standard.  The vegetables were crisp and fresh, and the dijon dressing had a little bit of a sweet kick to it.  I’d like to think it was real honey.  Whatever the source of that sweetness, the salad really stood on its own merits, which is not easy in the old man’s game of meat and potatoes.

Mac-n Cheese
pastrami pork belly / peas / taleggio

This is a macaroni and cheese that demands a really eloquent and adult review along the lines of, “ahem… holy shit is that good!”  The inclusion of peas takes me to meals my older sister would make for me when left in her care.  I’d eat macaroni with a side of peas (probably from a can which I still find appealing in a counter intuitive way).  The real treat for those meals was eating my mac ‘n cheese dinner in front of the tv (because my family actually valued the dinner table, and for the record, I am grateful).  Before I even hit the reminiscent appeal to this menu item, the mac ‘n cheese had me at “pastrami pork belly.”  The warm, cheesy pasta with major hints of pork and then bites of peas…order it and order it again!  The following day, I was already craving more!

Poutine
Gravy / Local Cheese Curd

Aside from a rurual visit, my Canadian travel log is null and void, a fact I am hoping to remedy in the very near future.  I cannot attest to an authentic Québécois homage, but when salty, creamy cheese curd mixes with a lightly crisped french fry, an authentic homage is really just an excess worry.

Braised Short Ribs
horseradish potatoes / red wine reduction

In my dream world, the braised short ribs would have been served on a bed of poutine, but these horseradish potatoes really earned their way to the restaurant’s namesake.  The sneaky greens maintained enough of what I will call bitterness to assert their flavor.  I say bitterness in a complimentary way.  As for the meat, I could shred it with a fork…a fork!  It was so tender, and there was barely a spot of gravy left on the plate after we finished those ribs.  Let me reiterate:  cut with a fork!

Save for room for the chocolate bread pudding, especially for the novelty of dessert arriving in a jam jar.  It will warm your soul and your mouth when you bite into your first rich, chocolate saturated, caramely spoonful.

The Second Helping

For my first helping, Nicole and I took the safe route and made a reservation, which meant we were seated at one of the small, marble tables lining the curving wall.  The second visit was more of a whim, which meant a spot at the bar.  After experiencing both, my preference is for a seat at the bar.  The tables are awkwardly (or “communally” depending on how you look at it) close to fellow diners, and every time I looked up, I saw my face reflected in the large mirrors.  I like my face enough, but sometimes, it’s just too distracting.  The bar still fostered adequate people watching, but it also provided more surface area for proper sharing and menu sampling.

“What’s in that glass canister at the end of the whiskey boxes?” you ask?  That’s a canister of beef jerky made in house!  We ordered a serving, which equated to about two pieces each.  Not only did I grow up eating beef from cows my dad raised, but I was also spoiled in the sense of my mom making her own beef jerky from those very cows.  Never will you see me eating rest stop jerky, but I’m sure that comes as no surprise.  In light of my high bar for judging jerky, Meat and Potatoes made the cut.  The jerky had enough thickness and flavor to make it beefy, not just dried and impossible to eat.  The herbs really pronounced their flavors as well.  It’s worth squeezing in a small snack into your dining plan to try it.

Old Canadian
Old grandad bourbon / meringue /vanilla /maple / bitters / orange / lemon

Seems like more signs pointing me to our northern neighbors.  If you simply read the cocktail ingredients, you’ll save me the trouble of having to elaborate why this drink was a success.  They nailed it.  The more important question is why haven’t I begun my own Old Canadian experiments at home?

The name of the game for the evening was Sharing is Caring, and more importantly, sharing is maximizing menu potential.  Look at that spread!

Mac-n Cheese
pastrami pork belly / peas / taleggio

Hello familiar friend!  As I said above, “order it, and order it again!”

Bone Marrow
grilled bread / gremolata / onion relish / sea salt

For as much beef as I have consumed in my lifetime, my bone marrow experiences have been limited to the little dinky, prizes at the end of a lamb shank or short ribs meal.  This was the motherland of bone marrow, and it changed my world.  Look at that platter!  On a really secondary note to the mega hunks of bone, I’d like to give a quiet kudos to the crusty, buttery bread used as a base for the rich marrow.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers

Justin pulled the “must have” card on this appetizer.  I was skeptical, but I was willing to expand my liver horizons.  I liked the buttermilk fried exterior, but the heart of the appetizer was still just that same old liver my mom tried to make me eat once upon a childhood.  This just proves I’m not a chicken liver fan because Justin was eager to eat my portion.

Sazerac
ri 1 / absinthe rinse / bitters / cane sugar / lemon

Another drink?  Don’t mind if I do!  This one was a slow sippin’ good time.

We had to wait.  We had to caffeinate a bit.  We had to wait some more, but I made sure we made room for dessert because the chocolate bread pudding was beckoning.  Look how they dressed it up in new clothes for my second helping!

So concluded the second helping of Meat and Potatoes, and the most pressing thought in my head was, “How quickly can I return here?”

Fin.  Decadent Fin.

The Purple Lips Dinner At Last

The Back Story

Me:  “I’m a sucker for romantic stories.”
Nicole:  “Please, there was no story with my ex.  When I met him my lips were stained purple with Malbec.”

Somehow that became one of my favorite stories anyway.  Purple lips.  Sometimes they are sought.  More often than not, they appear before you know it, and even more often, you find yourself flirting through purple lips you didn’t even know you had.  On other occasions, that lip stain is the goal of the evening.  This was one such occasion.  We were gathering around the table to be ladies with purple lips.  The menu in my head filled the table with purple foods for the occasion.  The song in my head was this.

The Full Dinner At Last…

Sara came down with a flu and was in a dayquil fog, so sadly, I had to remove one plate.

The Beets

The Chicken
(looking slightly massacred after I took a test cut)

The Purple Potatoes and The Almond-Pear Wine Tizzy

The last little drops…

…and the wine-stained end!

Preparing A Dinner For Purple Lips: Garlic Mashed Purple Potatoes

October 2011

The Back Story (As you may recall)

Me:  “I’m a sucker for romantic stories.”
Nicole:  “Please, there was no story with my ex.  When I met him my lips were stained purple with Malbec.”

Somehow that became one of my favorite stories anyway.  Purple lips.  Sometimes they are sought.  More often than not, they appear before you know it, and even more often, you find yourself flirting through purple lips you didn’t even know you had.  On other occasions, that lip stain is the goal of the evening.  This was one such occasion.  We were gathering around the table to be ladies with purple lips.  The menu in my head filled the table with purple foods for the occasion.  The song in my head was this.

The Side Dish:  Garlic Mashed Purple Potatoes

More of that campfire evoking salt…

Garlic Mashed Purple Potatoes

Ingredients

3-4 large local purple potatoes
1 head of garlic

3 Tablespoon Irish butter
½ cup whole milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon Yakima Applewood Smoked Sea Salt
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pepper

2 strips Black Forest Bacon, baked & chopped
1 cup grated Maple Leaf Apple Smoked Gouda

Directions

Peel and slice the potatoes.  Bring a medium pot of water to boil, and then add the potatoes and garlic.  Simmer until tender.

Add the butter, milk, mustard, salt and pepper.  Use a food processor to puree.

Pour into a glass bowl.  Add the bacon and cheese.   Stir to distribute evenly.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Let cool 10 minutes.

Serve with a few glasses of red, lip-staining wine!