9.01.2015

M.'s Perfect Pasta Salad



Let it be known that neither of us is a real fan of pasta salad. Which is why we both found ourselves happily surprised when we tried our sister-in-law's version during our annual visit to New Jersey. M.'s colorful rainbow mix of fresh vegetables coupled with a slightly sweetened mayonnaise made this a perfect pasta salad, one we enjoyed enough to make for a potluck the very next weekend. It's fresh, it's easy, and it feeds a crowd. 



Feel free to change your pasta shape - M. uses ditalini, but we prefer the classic elbows. 

M.'s Perfect Pasta Salad
(serves 10-12 as a side dish)

Ingredients:
1 pound pasta
1 red pepper, cleaned and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow pepper, cleaned and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 red onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise, to taste
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Boil water and prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside to cool. Mix all vegetables (peppers, carrots, celery, onions) and parsley together in a large bowl, then add cooled pasta. Fold in mayonnaise and sugar, then season with salt and pepper to taste. 




8.08.2015

Creole Shrimp Stuffed Peppers


We hope you haven't given up on us. It's not that we haven't been cooking. We just haven't been writing about it. Instead we are spending time relaxing, playing trivia, having fun, and all around enjoying these lazy, hazy days. But we definitely wanted to share these peppers we made a few weeks ago. We found some long green peppers of unknown variety at the farmers' market and Amy thought to marry them with some Creole-seasoned shrimp and goat cheese. They were very rich and spicy. And would work with any pepper variety, don't you think? Try 'em and let us know.







Creole Shrimp Stuffed Peppers
(serves 2-4)

Ingredients:
2 large peppers
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (we suggest Tony Chachere's)
1 tablespoon olive oil 
4 ounces goat cheese
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
8-10 fresh basil leaves, shredded
hot sauce, to taste
1/2 cup panko style bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the peppers in half lengthwise and cut out the insides and seeds. Set pepper halves into a large baking dish. Coat shrimp with Creole seasoning. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the shrimp 4-5 minutes, tossing often, until pink and cooked through. Allow cooked shrimp to cool and then chop them. Place chopped shrimp into a mixing bowl. Add cheeses, basil and hot sauce and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into the peppers and top with breadcrumbs. Bake for 45 minutes, until hot and golden brown. 




7.03.2015

Burrata Salad with Strawberries, Basil and Marcona Almonds


Beautiful burrata. A gorgeous little pouch of fresh mozzarella enveloping a soft, tender creamy center. A rich buttery flavor with a touch of milkiness. Wonderful when balanced with sweet strawberries, bright basil and crunchy almonds. We found burrata at the farmers' market and made this amazing salad, perfect for two to share as an appetizer, or one to have for lunch. If you can't find burrata, use fresh mozzarella instead. 

Burrata Salad with Strawberries, Basil and Marcona Almonds

2 balls burrata cheese
4 strawberries, hulled and slices
4 basil leaves, chiffonade
6 Marcona almonds, roughly chopped
extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Arrange cheese and strawberries in a dish. Sprinkle with basil and almonds, then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic glaze. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: This burrata came from Meadowstone Farm, Brooklyn, CT. 


6.24.2015

Lemon-Berry-Basil Fizz



School's out and it's time for afternoon cocktails on the porch. We love strawberry and basil together - sweet, bright, fresh from the garden flavors that get a boost from a refreshing blast of lemon. This cocktail is porch-rocker perfection in a glass, right in the height of berry season. Feel free to improvise with other fresh berries!

Lemon-Berry-Basil Fizz
(makes one drink)

2 fresh strawberries, hulled
2 basil leaves, chopped
2 ounces Acqua di Cedro (lemon-infused grappa)
3 ounces club soda

Muddle strawberries and basil in a glass with ice. Add grappa and club soda. Give a quick stir and enjoy.

5.24.2015

Grapefruit Sparklers



Our niece K is getting married today! Happy day! As the youngest of seven, Chris has a huge family. This makes celebrations all the more joyous with so many people involved. A few weeks ago, all the women in the family made cookies for K's wedding shower and went to S's house to package them for the table centerpieces. Everyone was given a festive baggie so they could grab their favorites to take home. All told, we made over a thousand cookies. There is talk of starting a family bakery! (just kidding...) Amy made these "Grapefruit Sparklers," seeing as we were replete with grapefruits from a recent school fundraiser. Two people can only eat so many grapefruits. Plus, they are pretty, unusual, perfect with tea, and not too difficulty to make, even for a non-baker. Use any fresh citrus zest and juice that you like. You can make the dough a day or two ahead and keep it chilled before you bake them, or freeze it if you plan to make them at a later date. 


Grapefruit Sparklers
minimally adapted from this recipe at Epicurious
Makes about 4 dozen

For the cookies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons grated grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks

For the icing:
1 1/4 cup confectionary sugar
3 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
sanding sugar (optional)

To make dough: Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a stand mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add zest and extract and continue to beat until combined. Scrape down sides with a spatula, then add eggs and beat until just blended. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add flour. Beat until incorporated. Divide dough in half and roll each half into a 10-inch log about 1 3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least one hour up to two days. 

When ready to bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap one dough log on a plastic cutting board. Use a sharp knife to slice the dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Place rounds on lined cookie sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake for 16-18 minutes, until golden brown on the edges. Transfer to cooling racks and repeat with remaining dough. Allow to cool completely.

To decorate: Whisk together confectionary sugar and grapefruit juice. Dip a silicon pastry brush or fork into the icing and drizzle over the cookies. Sprinkle with sanding sugar while still wet (if desired). Allow to set, about 15 minutes. Store in an air-right container.



5.19.2015

Pro-"Foodie" and Proud



foodie

/ˈfuːdɪ/
noun (pl) -ies
1.
a person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of good food


The term “foodie” found itself on the 40th annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and Uselessness, published in 2014 by Lake Superior State University in Michigan. This made me wonder: Why is this word so despised by so many? Let’s explore.

Urban Dictionary, the crowd-sourced “reference” site for millennials, defines the term as “A douchebag who likes food.” Sorry, but that’s kind of “douch-y” in itself. Huffington Post has published an online article claiming to “hate” the word, calling it a “badge of self-entitlement.” They offer three substitutes – food lover, gourmand, and food nerd. Doesn’t “gourmand” sound a bit entitled to anyone? Also, not quite a year later they published “The Eleven Greatest Foodie Cities in America.” Must not hate it that much. The Daily Beast wants to “flambé” the epithet. To set it on fire? My goodness. These are only a few examples. Countless others can be found by entering this latest “F-word” into any search engine. 

Some abhor it because they don’t like labels. Others because it is overused. Still others because they think it sounds juvenile. I wonder if these same people want to trash the term “techie,” defined by Dictionary.com as “a technical expert, student or enthusiast, especially in the field of electronics.” What about “Trekkie” – “an avid fan of Star Trek science fiction, television shows and films?”  Will they refuse to watch the movie Goonies, or to call the new person at work a “newbie?” Aren’t premature infants referred to as “preemies” and people addicted to drugs “druggies?” Locals are “townies,” carnival folk are “carnies,” and people who have a particular love for a certain musical group are “groupies.” All of these words imply a singular, refined interest in something, or a certain expertise regarding it. How is the word “foodie” any different? 

Many people claim that since everyone eats, everyone is a foodie. To them, I contend that in today’s world, nearly everyone uses technology, but surely we are not all “techies.” Being able to do something does not automatically imply a keen interest or expertise. Some people eat to live. Foodies live to eat. It’s a hobby, not just an activity in which we engage three times a day to survive. 

And yet I propose an even further definition of “foodie.” That it’s more than having an enthusiasm, preoccupation, perhaps obsession, for all things food. On this, I refer you to the article “Rethinking the Word ‘Foodie’” by Mark Bittman, whom many would call a foodie indeed. In this article, Bittman encourages people to rethink the “foodie” label to be something “less demeaning-sounding” and “more meaningful.” That it’s not just giving yourself a label, but living a certain way. It’s not just eating out at the trendiest restaurants, but shopping at farmers’ markets, exploring local foods, and cooking hearty, healthy meals at home whenever possible. It’s educating yourself, not only about the best food truck in town, but also about how and where food is produced and sold and consumed. And it’s not only knowing about it, but making a conscious effort to do something about it. 

Yes, I’m proud to be a foodie if that’s what it means. And to me, that’s exactly what it means.

5.15.2015

An Evening in Barcelona (New Haven, That Is)

Barcelona's Wine Wall
The Spanish word tapar, meaning “to cover,” is the derivation for that country’s most famous style of eating -- small dishes called “tapas.” These snacks originated in the taverns of Spain, where slices of bread were topped with cheese and meat, and placed on top of patrons’ drinks to protect them from fruit flies. Surely it must have helped that many Spanish cheeses and meats were then, and still are, particularly salty, stimulating thirst. Thus it seems that tapas have always been not only protective but also profitable.

Chorizo Pintxo
While modern-day Connecticut taverns are a far cry from the taverns of old Spain, Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar in New Haven is serving an assortment of tapas inspired by its namesake city. The Temple Street location, one among the small chain of ten, is easy to miss. There is no sign for the restaurant. But it is there, located right next to the Omni New Haven hotel. Look for the sturdy wooden door and wine-lined window-wall and you will be in the right spot.

Ham and Chicken Croquettes
The decor is more industrial Manhattan than coastal Mediterranean, dark and noisy with fittings and fixtures made of glass and steel. A recent early-evening crowd included business folk enjoying happy hour in the cavernous bar as well as couples and parties of four feasting in the only slightly more intimate dining room.

Brussels Sprouts
Speaking of happy hour, this may be the best reason to visit Barcelona. Recent offerings included $2 and $3 tapas, $4 sangrias, $5 wines (including some uncommon Spanish and Portuguese choices) and $5 cocktails. The roasted almonds ($2) were sweet and soft, moist with oil and perfectly salted. Another perfectly seasoned snack was the chorizo pintxos ($2), spicy grilled sausage served on a toothpick (pintxo being the Basque dialect’s version of the Spanish pincho, meaning “pierced”), topped with a zesty green dollop of herbs and oil. The daily bocadillo, or sandwich ($3), was brimming with tender roast pork and red peppers. It was served on crusty bread, and was among the best bites of the evening. The only disappointment here was the pan con tomate ($2), toasted bread with a roasted tomato spread, which was completely over salted.  

Calamari
The regular menu is divided into three sections: meats and cheeses ($6.50 for one, $17.50 for three), tapas (ranging from $3.50 to $10.50) and main dishes ($10.50 to $16.50). Some dishes seem out of place, more French- or Italian-inspired than Spanish, such as the country pâté or the sauteed broccoli rabe. For those unfamiliar with Spanish cuisine, the menu can be hard to navigate. Some things are explained well, such as “albondigas, meatballs in tomato sauce.” However, many are not, for example “boquerones, parsley, olive oil.” For the brave and trusting, there’s a specially-priced tapas tasting which is nice for larger parties like ours was.

Potato Tortilla
However, amidst those tasting items were seasoning issues similar to the happy hour bites mentioned above. Some dishes were unappetizingly salty and others were completely bland. The ham and chicken croquettes were creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside, but otherwise did not live up to the server’s claim that they are called “crack-ettes” by the staff. (No one in our party found them addictive.) The potato tortilla, a mainstay on any tapas menu, tasted too much of sweet onion and not much of anything else. The seasoning on the calamari was so lost all that was left was texture; even the peach-colored sauce it came with tasted bland. My hopes rested on the best-sounding menu item of the bunch: gambas al ajillo - described simply as “shrimp, garlic, sherry, hot pepper.” Unfortunately, all hope was lost as the delicately sweet shrimp were overpowered by the chef’s enthusiastic pour of smoky sherry. There was no spice to speak of.
Churros
We should have been too stuffed for dessert, but this is another great thing about tapas-style dining - the opportunity to taste many things without feeling the fullness of courses. The churros were exquisite, if such a thing can be said about carnival fare. The hot crisp exterior was a superb contrast to the soft, doughy inside. As for the spiced dark chocolate dipping sauce that accompanied it? I could gladly have eaten it with a spoon, and so the somewhat uneven evening ended on a high note.

Barcelona Wine Bar New Haven on Urbanspoon

5.12.2015

Scenes from the Taste of Manchester 2015

SCENES FROM THE TASTE OF MANCHESTER 2015


The pre-festivity festivities featuring Onyx Cranberry Margaritas

Smoky, spicy, rich, meaty chili from Smoke Not Just BBQ

Smoke Not Just BBQ Opens May 28

BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders from Smoke Not Just BBQ

Korean Brisket Mini Taco, Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla and Guacamole from Lucky Taco

RIP Great Harvest Bread Co. (Manchester)

Pulled Pork Nacho from La Bamba



A Couple in the Kitchen and Friends on the TOM Party Shuttle


Prickly Pear Margarita at Lucky Taco


Additional Offerings Included:

Italian Style Chicken, Pizza, and Pasta from Antonio's Pizza
Assorted Pastries and Breads from The Bread Box Bakery
Pulled Pork Sliders, Beef Brisket Sliders and Eggplant Sliders from Brown Sugar Catering
Peanut Butter Cup or Cinnamon Bun Pancakes, Kielbasa and Homefries from 
Chicken Marsala, Penne Vodka and Chicken Wings from Hartford Road Cafe
Pizza and Pasta Fagiole from Hartford Road Pizza
Jambalaya, Mac Ham & Cheese Casserole from The Hungry Tiger
Vegetable Fried Rice, Drunken Noodles and Chicken Satay from The King and I Thai
Meatballs and Cannoli Shots from La Via del Gusto
Meatballs and Italian Tuna from Lena's Italian Kitchen
Flautas and Quesadillas form Los Sarapes
Cuban Sandwich, Meatloaf Sliders, Dry Rub Wings from Main Pub
Wings, Pasta, Chicken Piccata from Rocco's
Around the Clock IPA and Anytime Stout from Top Shelf Brewing Company
Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken, Green Rice, Cole Slaw from Wira Chicken



5.02.2015

Taste of Manchester: La Bamba Mexican Restaurant

As part of the Taste of Manchester 2015 Marketing Committee, Amy has volunteered to write short features on the participating restaurants and share them via our blog here.This year's Taste of Manchester will be held on Tuesday, May 12th from 5:30 to 9 p.m. See the TOM webpageFacebook page, or Twitter @TastyTownCT (#TOMCT2015) for more information. 


When you hear “La Bamba,” no doubt the traditional Mexican folk song popularized by Ritchie Valens strikes up in your brain. Now you can visit La Bamba, the Mexican restaurant that opened recently on Hartford Road. And you can sample their food at this year's Taste of Manchester, taking place on Tuesday, May 12th.




The cheerful décor is a refreshing change from the dark bar that was once in this location. Mismatched chairs in vivid hues have symbols of suns, maracas, and cacti in their backs. Sombreros decorate the brightly-colored walls. The bar serves various flavors of Jarrito sodas, made in Mexico and sweetened with real sugar. They have not yet received their liquor license, so for now, it’s BYOB (with no corkage fee).



To start there are warm, crisp, tortilla chips served with zippy fresh salsa. A nearly-nuclear hot sauce sits on each table; use sparingly if you dare. The first page of the menu lists appetizers, salads, quesadillas and chimichangas. Most are convincingly Mexican (cheese dips, guacamole, tostadas) and worth a try. Chunks of grilled chicken float in the uber-creamy “White Cheese Dip” that has hints of allspice, or perhaps nutmeg. Whatever it is, it is a highly recommended starter.



Page two offers a variety of tacos made with beef and/or pork, tortas Mexicanos (sandwiches), and a couple of out-of-place pasta dishes. Flip past these to the back to find two categories of entrees -- carnes and mariscos. Carnes feature steak and chicken in a variety of preparations. There are fajitas, enchiladas, and burritos for those who delight in the ordinary. However, the mole sauce at La Bamba is seductive – deep and dark with hints of chocolate, coffee and smoky, spicy chile peppers. Try it drizzled over chicken and rice (the “Mole Veracruzano”) or in the tortilla-wrapped chicken Enmoladas. Seafood plates are mariscos, including the house special “La Bamba,” a marvelous mix of lobster, shellfish and tilapia served with a chipotle-and-tequila-infused cream sauce. Desserts include flan, ice cream and the enticing Tres Leches cake, a subtly-sweet milk-drenched cake.


The service here is friendly and welcoming, and, if you wisely choose the traditional Mexican fare, the food is remarkably delicious. Prices for most items are in the $12-$20 range. La Bamba is participating in this year's Taste of Manchester on May 12th, and is located at 485 Hartford Road. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and their phone number is 860.474.5955.They do not have a website, but can be found on Facebook


La Bamba Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon