Stuffed Pizza

After a long evening of shopping for our Christmas Eve party, Chris and I wanted something to fill us up. We were thinking ahead and bought a 1 1/2-pound pizza dough at the grocery store along with everything else that was on our holiday checklist. I know we've blogged pizza numerous times, but I swear, this one's different! We split the dough into two pieces, about 2/3 and 1/3 size each. Chris stretched each piece of dough the way he does, and we lined an oiled and heated cast iron pan with the larger dough, sides and all, allowing a bit of overlap on the top. In order, we topped it with layers of the following: olive oil, slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, pizza sauce, sliced pepperoni, and shredded mozzarella. Then we put the smaller dough on top as if it were a pie, folding over that extra overlap from the pan-lining dough. We let it cook for a couple of minutes on the stovetop then flipped it (very carefully!). We topped the previously-bottom-but-now-top-dough with a little more sauce and shredded cheese and put the whole cast iron into a preheated 500-degree oven for 10 minutes. I turned on the oven light and we sat in front of the stove, watching our creation bubble and brown, our stomachs growling in anticipation. After it cooled a bit, we cut it into six thick pizza slices that were oozing piping hot sauce and cheese. It was the kind of pizza you needed a fork and knife to eat. It was filling and delicious, and with a bottle of cheap chianti, our dinner was everything we wanted it to be.


Mom's Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

It's a busy week for most people, and that includes us right now. Chris has been doing research for a paper and presentation he has to do to finish up a graduate course, and I'm doing my best to finish up the holiday "stuff" that needs doing. Dinners have been either quick, easy, purchased elsewhere, or a mix of all three. It's also a stressful time, however, and that means we're both yearning for good comfort food loaded with carbs. That brings us to tonight's meal - my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese. Comfort food is the "it" thing these days, with upscale restaurants serving their own versions of pot pie, meat loaf, and even casseroles, and there are plenty of schmancy mac-n-cheese recipes out there, but nothing compares to this one, which produces a very creamy, very satisfying, very comforting meal or side. Thanks, Mom!

1/2 stick butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk
8 oz. Velveeta, cut into cubes
6-8 slices American cheese
1/2 lb. pasta (a shape that would hold the cheese sauce well, like elbows or shells)

Preheat oven to 375. Boil water for pasta and cook pasta according to package directions; drain and pour into 1 1/2 quart oval oven-proof casserole dish. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon each). Add milk and Velveeta. Cook over medium heat, stirring until cheese is melted and you have a somewhat thick cheese sauce. Pour sauce over pasta and mix together. Place slices of American cheese on top in one layer. Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes.


Pot Roast and Christmas Decorations

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." at least at our house, as we scheduled our decorating for this weekend. The freshly cut Douglas fir is resting in its stand, awaiting lights and ornaments. The house has decorations in every room including sage and pine-scented candles that are giving our home not only its holiday scent but also a cozy, warm glow. As we scurry around setting everything up, we needed an one-pot wonder of a dinner and so we chose the ultimate in this category, Pot Roast.

We season our 2 and 3/4-pound roast with salt, pepper, and a few shakes of dried thyme, and brown the top and bottom for several minutes each. Then we put it in our small roasting pan so it fits snugly with several baby carrots (about 2 cups) and Yukon gold potatoes (about 3/4 lb.). We add 1 1/2 packets of Lipton onion soup mix and 1 1/2 cups of water and roast it in a 425-degree oven for an hour and fifteen minutes. Then, just to brown the fat a little, we stick it under the broiler for a couple minutes.

The fragrant cooking smells fill the house as we decorate, and when it is time for dinner, we enjoy a traditional meat and potatoes feast that was easy, filling, and just right for a chilly Sunday afternoon.


Champagne Risotto with Bay Scallops

We're turkeyed out, as most people are by now, I think. We made our stock, had a pot pie, made soup, and now we want something that doesn't resemble poultry of any kind. When I stopped by the local Price Chopper on the way home from school yesterday, I saw bay scallops on sale for $4.99 a pound. I love scallops, and prefer the large sea scallops most of the time. But the price was right, and I had in mind to make a risotto with these sweet little shellfish gems. The constant stirring was a happy chore, since the result was a good, creamy rice dish.

1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2/3 cup arborio rice
1 cup Champagne
1 14 1/2-oz. can chicken broth
3/4 lb. bay scallops
1/2 cup grated Grana cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the green onions and saute them until they are soft, only about a minute. Add the rice and saute for 2-3 minutes until well mixed. Add the Champagne and lower the heat. Simmer until the liquid is almost evaporated, stirring often. Slowly add the broth, a few ounces at a time, stirring often and each time simmering until the liquid is almost evaporated (about 20-25 minutes total). By the end of the broth, the rice should be tender. Add the scallops and simmer until they are cooked through. Then add the cheese, stir to mix well, season with salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy.


Chris's Rich Turkey Stock

We didn't host Thanksgiving, nor did we bring anything homemade. I know, weird for a couple of self-professed foodies, but that's the way it went this year. My parents hosted Thanksgiving and did a fabulous job as always (thanks, Mom!), sending Chris and me home with plenty of leftover vegetables, turkey meat, and of course, the carcass from the bird. Over the weekend, Chris got to work making his homemade stock by putting all of the following ingredients in a large stock pot and simmering it for hours and hours. We used it as the base for two delicious leftover meals: pot pie and soup. It was a deep brown color and had rich turkey taste. For the turkey pot pie recipe, see previous post HERE, as I pretty much followed the same recipe.

Chris's Rich Turkey Stock Ingredients:
1 turkey carcass (with the "good" meat cleaned off) cut up to fit in the pot
1 Vidalia onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 quart vegetable broth
1 1/2 teaspoons celery flakes (or use 2 chopped celery stalks if you have them, which we obviously did not)
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 bay leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
salt to taste


Pom Wonderful Pan-Seared Duck

Pom Wonderful, the company that grows gorgeously large pomegranates and makes different varieties of pomegranate juice, is sponsoring a recipe contest and I decided to enter. I developed the recipe below using some of their 100% pomegranate juice as well as one actual pomegranate. I love the pomegranate. When I was growing up, every fall my mother would buy these exotic fruits for me and my sister, and they were a special treat for us girls. We would eat the seeds as if they were candy and would be so sad when winter came and the "love apples" disappeared from the produce aisle. Now, I'm a Latin teacher, and as soon as pomegranates are available, I tell the story of Persephone, daughter of the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres. Persephone was kidnapped by the lord of the Underworld, Pluto, and was forced to eat pomegranate seeds to ensure that she would stay with him in the world of the dead for half of each year. During those months she is away from her mother, Ceres mourns and nothing grows, thus we have the ancient explanation of the seasons. Each year, I find that many of my students have never tried a pomegranate, so I bring in a whole one and a bowl of seeds for them to taste. I was very excited to do something with this fruit other than just eating it, and since I love duck (see earlier "I Heart Duck" post), I thought long and hard about how to make a pomegranate duck dish. The recipe I worked on resulted in a juicy duck breast drizzled in a deep red, tangy-sweet sauce, and the pomegranate seeds added an unexpected crunch to the wild rice. Here it is for you to enjoy:

Pom Wonderful Pan-Seared Duck (for two)

for Marinade:
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup Pom Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice

2 duck breasts
1/2 cup Pom Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

For Rice:
Wild rice
1/2 Pom Wonderful Pomegranate

Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a large Ziploc bag. Score the skin of the duck breasts and place them into the bag with the marinade. Marinate for 3-4 hours. After duck is done marinating, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large saute pan on high heat and place the duck in, skin side down. Pan-sear the duck on high heat for 3-4 minutes each side. Then put the duck in a baking dish and place in the oven for 20 minutes (for medium-rare). While the duck is finishing in the oven, prepare the rice according to the directions. Also make your sauce by turning down the heat on the saute pan and deglazing the pan with 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, being sure to scrape up the fond from the duck. Stirring often, season this sauce with salt and pepper to taste and reduce it on medium-low heat until it becomes thickened (7-8 minutes). Add 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter and continue to stir the sauce, allowing it to reduce until it has a syrupy consistency. When the rice has finished cooking, toss it with seeds from the half-pomegranate. Serve the sauce over the duck with the rice on the side and enjoy your anti-oxident rich meal!


Lasagna - Entirely From Scratch

We finally bought a pasta maker, the old-fashioned, hand-crank kind. The stainless steel is so shiny, I can almost see myself in it, and with a coupon, it only cost around $20, a bargain! Needless to say, we've been very excited to try to make fresh pasta. I thought a good start would be lasagna noodles, because that doesn't involve a lot of cutting and hanging and drying. So the plan was to make lasagne totally from scratch this past weekend.

We were free on Sunday and while I got the traditional first-of-the-holiday-season batch of homemade Chex Mix going in the oven, Chris measured out our flour and broke our eggs and set the KitchenAid to work on kneading the pasta dough. When we had a ball of pasta, we let it sit for 15 minutes to rest and then divided it into six small portions. We cranked each portion through the first setting six times, then through the remaining settings once each. We were left with long, wide strips of pasta that were rippling at the edges, just right for lasagna. We let these dry for 15 minutes then cut them to fit our baking dish.

In the meantime, I made a quick tomato sauce by sauteeing two cloves of garlic, one medium-sized chopped onion, a tablespoon of tomato paste and Italian seasoning. When the onions were soft and browning, I added a large can of crushed tomatoes and some salt and pepper. I let this simmer while Chris opened a bottle of Valpolicella and proceeded to add about a cup to the sauce. The sauce became a deep red color and was much tastier and less tomato-sweet after the addition of the red wine. As the sauce simmered, I made the ricotta filling by mixing one container of ricotta cheese, one cup of shredded mozzarella, 1/2 cup of grated grana (similar to parmesan) and one egg. For seasoning this mixture, I added a dash of nutmeg, a few shakes of dried parsley and of course, plenty of salt and pepper. Finally, I browned a pound of ground beef, making sure all of it crumbled without overcooking it.

Once we had cut the pasta, we placed it in boiling water until it began to float (about 2 minutes) and began to assemble the lasagna. Each layer consisted of pasta on the bottom with a thin cover of sauce, then a sprinkling of beef and several dollops of the cheese mixture. We repeated this until we ran out of ingredients and then did a smattering of mozzarella on the very top. We baked our lasagna for a half hour at 350 until we could see it bubbling.

The lasagna stayed together nicely; it was very easy to cut a piece and not have it fall apart into a mushy mess. It had great flavor and the ingredients were evenly spaced throughout each bite. The top layer of pasta got crunchy, and I attribute this to the fact that we did not cover the dish when we baked it, which I guess we should do next time. We had enough to give my friend J a big piece for lunch and have some again the next night for dinner. All in all, a success, and I look forward to my next homemade pasta adventure - ravioli!


It's CT Restaurant Week!!!

So Chris has been wanting to go to Dish, a relative newcomer on the Hartford restaurant scene. I went there last spring with my friend J but we did not have a great experience, so I've been putting off going again. But this week is CT Restaurant Week, which means restaurants across the state, including Dish, are offering a three-course dinner for $20.08. Last night being date night, we decided it was time for Chris to experience Dish.

At Dish, there were two offerings for each course. For the first course, we both chose the lobster bisque. It was good but a little too buttery, if that’s possible, and it was nowhere near as delicious as the one we had at CAV in Providence, which shot to the top of any lobster bisque competition with the amazing addition of pure vanilla bean extract. For his entree, Chris had linguine with clams – a pretty small portion that, according to him, was “not spectacular.” I had beef medallions in a cabernet sauce with mashed potatoes. There were two pepper-crusted medallions of beef - they were very tender and cooked medium-rare as I requested. The garnet-colored sauce was a nice complement, and the mashed potatoes had peas and carrots mixed in, which at first I thought was weird, but I grew to enjoy.

We both had a rough week with a lot going on at school, so we were tired and got full quickly. The dessert choice was between a deconstructed chocolate cream pie and a red velvet cupcake. We both chose the cupcake, but asked our server to pack it to go. We had visions of enjoying these while watching tv when we got home. In reality, we both went to bed early, so I can't tell you about the cupcakes, although they looked moist and were garnished with toasted coconut.

Granted, last night's experience was better than the one I had with J (you can read about that experience
HERE), but still it was just okay. There are rave reviews out there, but Chris agrees with me that we just don't see a reason to go back, unless it's for the reasonably-priced wine and dessert bar. Of course, even that depends on those cupcakes...


"Fall"-ing into Hibernation Mode

A weekend with nothing planned. It's practically unheard of in our house, and seems to have come at a great time. The leaves have been vacuumed by the city's leaf-sucking truck that reminds me of something from Dr. Seuss; the house is clean enough, although I should probably do a few loads of laundry; I've shut off my cellphone and the ringers on the landline, and nothing is really stopping my husband and me from hibernating for two full days. My personal goal is to stay in pajamas, cook a few decent meals, catch up on my magazines, and watch a couple of Lifetime movies. Chris has added "studying" to his list, since he's taking two graduate courses this semester, poor thing. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Saturday was a perfect day to sleep in. It was warm, yes, but also gloomy and rainy. When I woke up, I watched Anne Burrell's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and was inspired to make an autumnal pork dish. I found a pork loin in the freezer and set it out to defrost. Dinner would be several hours away, but I felt like cooking, so I made an apple pie. I recently bought Ania Catalano's book, Baking With Agave Nectar and found her recipe for "All-American Apple Pie." Although it called for Granny Smiths, I only had one, but I had plenty of Macintoshes, so I used those, and I cheated on the pie crust, using good old Pillsbury. When it was done baking, I put the pie aside and began working on dinner. I sliced a Vidalia onion and put the slices into a large baking pan. I poured apple cider over the onions so they were about 3/4 of the way covered and then seasoned the mix with salt, pepper and a bundle of dried thyme. I chopped some fresh rosemary and garlic and added some dried sage and olive oil to make a rub for the pork loin, which I placed over the onions in the baking dish. I put the whole thing in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes, then broiled it for a few minutes to turn it brown. While the pork was cooking, Chris cut three white potatoes into a small dice and tossed them with 4 ounces of diced pancetta. We cooked these, seasoned with salt, pepper and hot Hungarian paprika, in a cast iron pan, stirring often, until the pork was done. While we let the pork rest, we put the onion/cider mix onto the stove top, added a tablespoon of butter, and let it reduce into a sauce that we drizzled onto the pork. The pork was medium, barely pink in the very center, and very tender and well-seasoned. The "apple-cider sauce" had a nice sheen from the butter and was thick, sweet and tasty, with hints of the thyme and onion adding depth of flavor. The potato-pancetta hash was nicely caramelized, and as Anne Burrell says, "Brown food is goooood." A little while after dinner, we enjoyed dessert. Even with my substitutions, the pie was delicious. The agave nectar, used in lieu of sugar, allowed the tartness of the apples to shine through instead of being overshadowed by sweetness.

On Sunday, we were much less prolific. I spent the afternoon reading over half of a novel, while Chris whiled away the hours on the computer. Around 3, we decided to make our Buffalo-Chicken Pizza for dinner. Overall, it was a very relaxing weekend spent in hibernation mode.


Pumpkin Seeds

While going through the digital photos for our last blog, I noticed the pictures I took of Halloween and realized I never blogged about my pumpkin seeds. Chris and I had bought two large pumpkins and two sugar pumpkins, so I spent the afternoon cleaning them out and getting them ready for Chris to carve, although I decided to carve a little one myself (see photo). I had lots of pumpkin seeds and here's what I do with them.

First, I boil them in a large pot of very salted water. This is so the salt doesn't only sit on the seeds, but gets into them as well. The boiling process makes them look gray, but I care much more about how they taste than how they look! After they've been boiling about 20 minutes, I lay them out in one layer on a cookie sheet and allow them to dry for several hours. When them seem pretty dry, I melt 1/2 stick of butter and mix it with 1/4 cup of olive oil. I toss the seeds in this mixture and then spread them back out in one layer on a cookie sheet. I sprinkle them with salt and bake them for 45 minutes at 375, and when they're done, I have a sort-of healthy, tasty, crunchy, salty snack!

Roasted Cornish Game Hens and Winter Vegetables

Chris and I had Tuesday off - one of the great joys of teaching being the regular and frequent holidays. We had no "outside" plans other than my quick hair appointment, and spent most of the day catching up on our DVR'd "must-see-TV." In our foresight, however, we planned a nice dinner, not necessarily labor intensive, but good for a cold November day when there's nowhere to go. We decided to roast Cornish game hens with a mix of winter vegetables.

First, what do we consider winter vegetables? I let Chris choose, and he did the shopping, some at his favorite Hartford produce shop, Apple Tree, and the rest at the grocery store close to us, Highland Park Market. Chris would have done all of it at Apple Tree, but Chris said they seemed pretty empty, and he's fearful that they are succumbing to the languishing economy and closing shop. Time will tell. In the meantime, he came home with butternut squash, fennel, pearl onions, carrots and celery.

While Chris chopped and prepped the vegetables, I dried and seasoned the hens with herbs de Provence (the blend we like has lavender, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, garlic and lemon peel) and a little bit of salt and black pepper. I stuffed the cavity of each bird with two lemon halves and two sprigs of rosemary. I then browned them on both sides in a large frying pan. I poured some white wine (I believe it was a Pinot Grigio) about 1/4 inch high in a baking dish and sprinkled it with a couple of pinches of herbs de Provence. When the hens were browned, I put them aside, deglazed the plan with some of the same wine and threw in the vegetables to brown and soften. As they cooked, I put in 2 tablespoons of water and placed a lid on the pan so they would steam and cook through a bit.

The oven was preheated to 400 degrees. We layered the vegetables in the baking dish and tossed them gently with the wine. We then placed the hens on top of the vegetables and baked them uncovered on the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes. The fragrance of herbs filled our house and our noses as dinner did its thing. The meat was juicy and infused with flavor from the wine and the herbs. The vegetables turned out to be a delicious mixture, with the fennel giving off its slight anise taste. It was an easy but elegant dinner, one that we're thinking of serving up at our next dinner party.


Marvelous Mussels

My friend J and I often share mussels when we visit a restaurant that has them. If we have a choice between red and white sauce, we choose the white, probably to avoid leaving any stains on our clothing. We had some mussels the other night and it reminded me of the dish Chris and I made for a late-summer neighborhood party we had in August.

Mussels were on sale - two 2-lb. bags for $5. We bought four bags, figuring we could spend $10 and make enough to bring to the get-together. We put half of the mussels in the bottom of a large stock-pot, topped them with one roughly chopped white onion, six whole garlic cloves, some chopped green onion and parsley from our garden, four chopped garden tomatoes, 3/4 stick of butter cut into quarters, some salt and pepper, and then put the other half of the mussels in. We added about 1/2 bottle of white wine (we used Pinot Grigio), the other 1/4 stick of butter and a few more sprinkles of herbs on top and put the lid on. We brought the whole pot to the neighbor's party. Once there, we put the mussels on the outdoor gas burner and let them steam for about 10 minutes, until we could see they were all open. We served them in a large dish with a crusty baguette and some lemon slices. Everyone was so impressed by our culinary prowess that I didn't have the heart to tell them how simple it was.


A Deal at the Delaney House

Chris and I haven't seen my parents in some time, so when my mom invited us to go with them to a restaurant in their area, we made the plans and went last night. Growing up, when I thought of "fine dining," this restaurant came to mind. I can remember my mom getting ready for a "dinner date" with my dad. My sister and I would already by in our jammies and we'd cram into our parents' bathroom to watch her put on a fancy outfit, jewelry from her special bedside table drawer, Lauren perfume (the one in the maroon bottle with gold writing), and of course, high heels. We'd be so excited to hang out with the babysitter (a high school girl who taught us cheers) and we knew we'd be getting some sort of memento from the restaurant when they returned - usually an after dinner mint or something along those lines. It's always the little things. In my mind, although probably not in reality, on these nights they were always going to The Delaney House.

Times have changed, and so has the restaurant. Although it is thankfully still open, and still has a fine dining menu, they have added a more casual bar area called The Mick and some of the weekly specials there have become quite popular. The one we went for last night is cleverly called "Popover for Prime Time," alluding to the large-screen television that takes up one wall of the bar and one part of the generous dinner deal. Held on Wednesdays, this deal offers a prime rib dinner for $17.95. This is a full dinner too - it starts with one of the Delaney's famous light and crispy popovers, leads next into your choice of soup du jour or house salad, then delivers the main meal of a large slice of slow-roasted prime rib, vegetable of the day and a baked potato. They even include a pint of beer to round it off.

Everything was delicious - the soup was tasty and warming; the salads were cold, crisp and fresh; the prime rib was thickly cut, tender, and roasted to a nice medium rare; the vegetables were a mixed sauteed medley and the baked potato, well, it was a baked potato. Sour cream for that and a zippy horseradish sauce for the steak came on the side.

That alone was plenty of food, but we were starving when we got there and had started off with a few appetizers, the standout of which was the "Baked Brie Crostini," toasted slices of Italian bread topped with a raspberry jam, brie cheese and spiced nuts. The plate was drizzled with a balsamic glaze that did wonders for the brie. All I can say is yum. Gorged on food, we still managed to split a unique dessert between three of us - a cream puff covered in chocolate sauce with bananas foster and vanilla ice cream. Again...yum. Dad enjoyed his favorite standby of vanilla ice cream.

I guess my point here is this: Don't be put off by the Delaney's reputation. If you want fine dining, you can have it there, but there's also the trendy, casual fare and specials of The Mick. Obviously, the apps and desserts put us out of "fantastically cheap" range. But $17.95 for the prime rib dinner, with its generous size and high quality, is worth the drive, especially in these econoMICK times.


Awesome Meal - To The Max!

Today is Election Day, and an historic one at that. Amidst the many politically-charged emails I received today was one the foodie in me found most intriguing: an Election Day special - Buy One Entree, Get One Free at any of the Max Group restaurants, which are some of my local favorites. Thinking of their consistently fabulous food made with high-quality, seasonal ingredients, served with professionalism and flair, the pork chops I had planned to grill with who-knows-what on the side disappeared from my mind as I left Chris a voice-mail that we were going to Max's. Having already voted, the current dilemma was - which Max's??

We wanted to be relatively close to home, so that we could get home early enough to watch history in the making, so we chose Max Fish in nearby Glastonbury. Max Fish is set up a bit differently than other Max restaurants, with a dining room, a very large bar area, and a raw bar. In addition to the dinner menu, the bars serve what they call "Shark Bites," which are smaller, lighter and/or less expensive dishes. Rather than wait in the ever-increasing line we sat at the raw bar where we could order off either menu.

Jason was our server and he was very busy. Apparently another server is usually there to assist him, but tonight he was alone, serving 10 bar guests and shucking oysters and clams for the entire restaurant. Although he never stopped moving, Jason was attentive, funny and friendly. He made conversation and suggestions with ease, and we would definitely go back to sit at his bar again.

Chris loves oysters, and asked Jason which of the five available kinds he preferred. Without hesitation, he praised Wellfleets as the "sweetest" and told us how he had recently had gone there to participate in a shucking contest - doing well but being humbled by the more-practiced home team. Chris enjoyed the nice balance of sweetness and brininess these Massachusetts oysters offered.

For his entree, Chris ordered the Char-grilled Mahi Mahi. This seemingly small, but in reality, perfectly sized dish consisted of a 4-ounce piece of fish lightly seasoned, perfectly grilled, and served over green beans and rice in a butter sauce that had a nice toasty flavor with hints of lemon and mustard. The fish was flaky and tender, and the accompaniments were enhancing rather than overpowering. Chris ate every bite and pronounced it "delicious."

I'm not a huge fan of raw oysters, but I did partake in one of Chris' half-dozen. I added plenty of cocktail sauce and lemon, and did find it to be quite tasty, although I still wasn't crazy about the texture. When I was ready to order dinner, I asked super-shucker Jason what he thought of my getting the shrimp and scallop pot pie and he enthusiastically approved. The four or so large shrimp and several small bay scallops were served in a savory cream sauce with chopped herbs, caramelized shallots, diced carrots, and green peas. A perfectly browned, flaky puff pastry crust topped off this masterpiece of a pot pie. I can see myself going back for this entree often, especially as the days grow colder. It was comfort food at its finest.

Each entree cost a decent $15.95, but the added value of the "election offer" made for an exceptional meal at an exceptional price. The service was great, the ambiance exciting, and the night, memorable for so many good reasons. Here's to Election Day 2008 and to being an American in these interesting and exciting times.
Max Fish on Urbanspoon


Summertime Redux

With Halloween just around the corner, summer is just a memory. Yet today's temperature reached 70 degrees, and our local Stew Leonard's grocery store had lobsters on sale for a mere 3.99 a pound. That meant Chris and I could't resist a little just-like-summer-feast, even though it's the end of October. We bought four lobsters and some end-of-the-season corn on the cob, along with some other Stew specials. We boiled the lobsters and the corn and ate everything up with loads of melted butter. I love fall, but there's nothing like a good lobster dinner. Thanks, Stew!


Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Our neighbor M, yet another foodie in our lives, moved to Maine earlier this year. On her last visit, she was raving about this pizza joint near her new place that serves Buffalo Chicken Pizza. As she described it, I made a mental note that Chris and I should attempt it sometime. That sometime was last night. We heated the oven to a nice hot 500 degrees and in it, placed our pizza stone. While the (store-bought) dough came to room temp, we grilled up two chicken breasts that we had seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little bit of cayenne. We only did these medium-rare, because we knew they'd be finishing off in the oven and we didn't want the chicken to become overcooked. When it was cool enough, we cut it into bite-sized pieces. In the meantime, in a small saucepan, we put 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, a dash each of black pepper and garlic powder, and 2 tablespoons each of Frank's hot sauce and Trappey's hot sauce. We swirled it around as it melted to ensure it didn't separate; this would serve as our buffalo sauce. Chris worked his magic with the dough and got it onto the hot stone without a hitch. We could see it start to cook immediately and knew this was going to be a rockin' crust. We brushed the top with olive oil, then a thin layer of bleu cheese dressing. We then added the chicken, some shredded mozzarella, and our buffalo sauce for toppings. We put it in the oven for exactly 10 minutes. Since Chris has done such a stellar job seasoning our stone, the dough didn't stick at all. The crust was crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, the chicken was perfectly cooked, the sauce was spicy and the bleu cheese and mozzarella mixed to provide a nice cooling smoothness to the heat of the sauce. We'd pay $15 for it at our local pizza joint too, but why bother, when we can just make it at home!


Restaurant Report Cards

My foodie friend Joanne had a great idea. She suggested that we share a blog the way we share many of our food experiences. We started it today and have uploaded a few posts, a couple of which we took off of A Couple in the Kitchen. To sum up, A Couple in the Kitchen will focus on the culinary adventures of me and my husband, and Restaurant Report Cards will focus on the restaurant experiences of me and Joanne. Bon appetit!

I Heart Duck

I love duck. I've had duck around the globe, from Canard al'Orange in France, to Peking Duck in the Chinatowns of New York and Boston, from Panang Curry Duck in South Windsor, Connecticut to a fabulous grilled Duck in Raspberry Sauce in Rome, Italy.

However, no duck dish has ever come close to the duck I once had at Pho Lemongrass, in Coolidge Corner, Brookline, Massachusetts. Described as "Crispy Boneless Duck" on the menu, it had a little icon of a chili pepper next to it to tell me it's spicy. It is, and it can't be beat. Perfectly cooked to a tender moistness with plenty of reddish brown crispy as in crunches-in-my-mouth skin, it was served over a bed of blanched onion, celery and bell pepper strips in a lemongrass-basil sauce. The jasmine rice, garnished with chopped cilantro, cooled my mouth after each hot bite. If I had been alone in the restaurant, I would have licked the plate.

Last weekend's duck (pictured above) came pretty close, however. Chris and I were enjoying our annual Columbus Day foodie-fest in Providence, Rhode Island, and I'll post more about that soon. Our first night there, we had an amazing dinner at CAV, a unique location that offers an eclectic menu in an artistic atmosphere. I had a duck confit leg that was so tender it was falling off the bone. It was served with a medium-rare sliced duck breast glazed in Grand Marnier, and although glazes tend to take away from the crispiness of duck skin, this one did not. Served with sweet-potatoes mashed with caramelized onions, it was both seasonal and satisfying.


Amy's Crawfish Desire

It’s been a busy week in our house and we haven’t done a whole lot of cooking. But since I was recently blogging about crawfish, I thought I’d share my recipe for Crawfish Desire, something I based on a dish I enjoyed at the several New Orleans Jazz Fests I was lucky enough to attend. I’ve done this with shrimp as well, and it is delicious!


1 lb. seafood: crawfish (cooked and peeled) and/or shrimp (raw, peeled and deveined)
1 stick butter
1 pint half-and-half
½ cup chopped green onions
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
Creole seasoning to taste (the more, the spicier, and I prefer Tony Chachere’s)
1 lb. pasta (rotini if you’re being authentic)

Put water on to boil pasta and cook pasta al dente. Melt butter and sauté garlic and green onions until fragrant. Add shrimp and/or crawfish and cook for three minutes. Gradually add half-and-half, then the thyme and creole seasoning, stirring well*. Cook five minutes so that the seafood is cooked through and the sauce becomes thickened. Add cooked pasta and let the dish sit over low heat for five more minutes, stirring often. Serve with crusty French bread, of course!

*It is important to stir often so that the sauce doesn’t break (separate).


GT Express Weekend Quest

It was a rainy weekend and all we had planned was to do some fall cleaning and organizing. My own personal goal was not to leave the house for the entire weekend. With that in mind, on the way home from work Friday night, I bought breakfast supplies – eggs, orange juice, rye bread, etc, while Chris went to our local butcher and got some thickly-sliced bacon. And so on Saturday morning, we were ready to make our decadent hearty breakfast. I decided I wanted an omelette and prepped my kitchen gadget, the GT Express. You've probably seen the informercial on this one. I saw it and started missing my old Foreman Grill, so went ahead and ordered one online. Many negative comments have been posted regarding this appliance, but I like it and have had no problems with it. However, up until this weekend, all I’ve done is make beautiful, fluffy, perfectly shaped omelettes in it; I haven’t tried anything else.

Saturday morning’s omelettes were, as usual, fluffy and delicious. All I did was beat six eggs with ¼ cup of milk, then poured half of the mixture into each well. I put some cheese in mine, Chris did herbs de Provence in his. We let them cook for about 8 minutes and…well…perfection. They popped right out without sticking or breaking. I honestly can’t make a better omelette in a regular pan (and I cooked at a breakfast joint for two years)! After devouring the omelettes (and bacon, and toast, and of course, mimosas, and for Chris – bagels and lox as well), I had an inspiration and a challenge: any food we make this weekend has to be made in the GT Express. And so began our GT Express Weekend Quest.

For dinner Saturday night, we tried pork chops. These were from the same package of chops out of which we made our dinner a few nights ago, so it would be a great way to compare the grill with the GT Express. I stuffed my chop with a little bit of sage and walnut-sage pesto, seasoned it with plenty of salt and pepper, and put it in the left-hand well. Chris stuffed his with an herbed cream cheese and put his in the right-hand well. We let them cook for 10 minutes while I made some homefries on the stovetop. The verdict? Another success from the GT Express. The chops were properly seared on the outside, and on the inside, tender, juicy and cooked to a perfect medium. The wells didn’t stick, and cleanup involved one damp paper towel. So quick and easy! And we didn't even have to stand at the grill in the rain.

The following morning, we decided to make Pillsbury Grands. We did one in each well and shortened the cooking time to 6 minutes. These did stick a little bit and so when we did the next batch, we sprayed a bit of Pam on the wells. That did the trick, and our cinnamon buns were brown on the outside and gooey on the inside, as we like them.

On Sunday night, our final "Express" meal was spaghetti pies. I made a quick batch of meatballs and boiled some spaghetti during the day in preparation. However, when we were ready to eat, we just tossed the pasta in some spaghetti sauce, put a bit in each well, topped it with three meatballs and some cheese (mozzarella and parmesan) each, then a bit more spaghetti on top. We shut the GT and let it do its thing for five minutes. The spaghetti didn’t stick together as well as I thought it would, but it was hot and in some areas, nicely browned. It tasted great, but we both agreed we'd let it cook longer next time. We enjoyed our spaghetti "sort of" pies with Newman's Own Cabernet Sauvignon, and toasted the actor who had died earlier this weekend. Great wine, by the way.

Overall, we had some pretty good meals and great fun using our GT Express, and I can see us using it for more than just eggs in the future.


30-Minute Gourmet - No Rachel Ray Needed

I really don’t like Rachel Ray. I don’t know what it is about her that bugs me. Maybe it’s her perpetual cutesyness - the way she uses words like “stoup” and “sammy” and “yumm-o,” or just the fact that she is everywhere – on t.v., in magazines, in Dunkin’ Donuts ads. But I acknowledge that being able to make a decent meal in 30 minutes is an important thing. So on Tuesday night, Chris and I played “30-minute Gourmet.” Our menu was: grilled center-cut pork chops in a balsamic glaze with smashed potatoes and carrots-and-onions. While Chris chopped the carrots and prepped the grill, I chopped one large shallot and one small onion. I put the onion in a small saucepan with the carrots, and Chris set those going on medium heat with a tablespoon each of butter and sugar and a tight lid. Chris scored the fat on the pork chops while I halved the potatoes and put them in a pot to boil. I put a little bit of olive oil in a small frying pan and added the shallots for the base of my sauce. As the shallots cooked, I seasoned the chops with plenty of salt and pepper. Chris put the chops on a medium/high grill while I added ½ cup of balsamic vinegar and a couple of teaspoons of sugar to the shallots and let it reduce to a syrupy glaze. We let the stovetop and grill do their thing for about five minutes and then flipped the chops. The carrots-and-onions needed a couple of minutes. The potatoes, however, were soft, so I drained them, added some milk, butter, salt and white pepper, and smashed them up. By the time I was done with those, Chris had finished up on the grill, the carrots-and-onions were done, and the glaze was at the perfect consistency. We plated our masterpiece dinner and enjoyed it with a bottle of Syrah. It was a restaurant-worthy meal made in 30 minutes with four hands. It can be done!


Tuscan White Bean Soup

Monday was the first day of Autumn, which is also the first day of my cravings for comfort foods, especially soup. I made a Tuscan White Bean Soup and we had it with a Tuscan loaf I purchased from Price Chopper. The soup was thick and hearty, with plenty of flavor that satisfied my craving and Chris’s hunger. Since I hadn’t planned ahead of time to make it, I cheated a bit by using canned beans, but I was very pleased with my results, and hope you will be too!

Amy’s Tuscan White Bean Soup
Total Time: 40 minutes

¼ lb. chunk of fatty pancetta, cut into quarters
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 15.5-ounce cans Goya cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
3 ½ cups vegetable stock (you can substitute chicken stock or even just water)
Fresh rosemary
Olive oil
Shredded parmesan cheese

Place the pancetta quarters into a pan and render the meat over medium to high heat to produce enough oil in which to sauté the onions and garlic. This should take about 20 minutes, so you can chop your onion and garlic while this is happening.
When pancetta has let out enough oil, discard the meat and add the chopped onion and garlic. Sautee on low heat until onion is translucent and garlic is fragrant.
Add the drained and rinsed beans to the pot, then add plenty of salt to taste. Stir.
Add the liquid (stock or water) and stir well.
Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
Add one large sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 tablespoon of dried rosemary leaves) to pot and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.
To make a thicker soup, use an immersion blender two or three times in the pot. If you do not have an immersion blender, take a cup of beans out of the soup, mush them up, and add them back in as a thickener.
When ready to serve, swirl some extra-virgin olive oil over the top, add a sprinkle of shredded parmesan cheese, and enjoy with some good bread on the side.

Leftover Crawfish and Shrimp Pasta

So what does one do with leftover crawfish? The first response would be nothing, because there are usually none leftover. However, if there are some leftover, it’s good practice to peel what’s left when you’re done eating since your hands are already dirty anyway. The bonus is that you can usually find room for a couple more if you do that. When you have a pile of crawfish tails, you can keep them for a day or two in the refrigerator if you plan to use them right away, or you can freeze them and use them later. I tend to use them right away, because once I’ve had a taste, I always want more. I like to use them to make a crawfish-shrimp pasta, which is what I did the day after our crawfish boil this summer. I started with a tablespoon of olive oil mixed with a tablespoon of butter that I heated in a large sauté pan. In the meantime I put on a pot of water to boil my pasta – I chose pappardelle this time but would go with something smaller next time. I then did a simple sauté of one small chopped onion, two cloves of garlic (chopped finely), and some fresh cherry tomatoes that I halved. I tossed that around until the onion and garlic seemed done, then I added a pound of raw (peeled/deveined) shrimp and cooked that until the shrimp started to turn pink. I poured in a half cup of white wine, then I added the leftover (already peeled) crawfish and tossed everything in the pan until the shrimp were cooked through. By the way, a great way to tell if shrimp are done, other than the color of course, is whether or not the tails are curved in on themselves. At the very end, I added some chopped fresh basil from the garden, and that’s what I did with my leftover crawfish! The seasoning that infused the crawdads from the boil gave the dish a little spicy heat, and the fresh tomatoes and basil made it a nice summery dish. You can sometimes find frozen crawfish at a good fish market. These are already cooked, and you can use those for this dish or for any dish for which you would normally use shrimp. Just remember that the crawfish are already cooked, so you just need to heat them through.


Fourth of July Crawfish Boil

In the Fall of 2005, the season of Katrina as I’ve come to know it, we had friends from New Orleans come to stay with us for awhile, and we came up with the idea of throwing a “Mardi Gras in October” benefit party. We do our usual Mardi Gras party every year, and I thought, why not have an extra one, but ask for donations for our New Orleans friends and their families. So we planned it, and it was a huge success, but that’s not the point of this post, so let me get to that. About two weeks before the party, we received a phone call from a family (PJ, C and their kids) who had permanently relocated to our area from New Orleans. It seems they had met the mother of a friend of ours and she told them about us and our party, and in a nutshell, they were wondering if they could come. And thus, a new friendship began.

Now, back in Louisiana for the Fourth of July, this family’s tradition was to have a crawfish boil. Well, I’m always up for a crawfish boil – it’s one of the things I truly miss about living in NOLA. When C called in the beginning of summer and proposed the idea, it was a no-brainer! So we had a good old-fashioned New Orleans-style crawfish boil for our Fourth of July. Here’s what we did.

There are several companies that ship crawfish from LA and you can find them online. I like to shop around to see who has the best price by the pound for the “mudbugs,” and the best shipping costs. They come shipped live, and with the seasoning and directions* you need to do your own crawfish boil. C had 20 pounds of crawfish delivered to her house, purged them, and brought them over on the Fourth. In the meantime, I had several ears of corn, a bag of red potatoes, a few lemon halves, and a couple of pounds of andouille sausage all set to go into the pot. As we went to throw in the seasoning, we realized that in the rush of getting the kids ready and getting to our house, C left the seasoning behind in Cheshire. I had some, but it was pretty old, so we ended up having to spruce it up a bit by adding some Tony Chachere’s and lots of salt. We brought the water and seasoning to a boil using our outdoor burner. Then we added the corn, potatoes, sausage and lemons to the pot and allowed them to boil for about 15 minutes. Next we threw in 10 pounds of crawfish, boiled them for 10 minutes, and then took the pot off the heat to allow everything to soak up the seasoning. We had already covered our patio table with newspaper, so we only had to drain the water and spill the contents of the basket onto the table. Our first batch was a bit bland, so we added more Cajun seasoning and salt as well as some straight cayenne pepper to the remainder. We then spent a glorious afternoon “sucking the heads and pinching the tails” as the saying goes. What a great way to spend a summer holiday with good friends!

*If you are unfamiliar with the whole crawfish boiling and/or eating process, this website is both humorous and informative.


Back from Hiatus

Hello again. The summer was busy, but not with cooking. Instead, I traveled to Rome for three weeks and to Maine for another week, while Chris was in Rhode Island for a week. The next thing we knew, it was back to school time, which is our busiest time of year. Needless to say, takeout containers have taken over our fridge for the past few weeks. But if you go to the Amy's Summers in Italy blog, you can read about my Roman culinary adventures, and I promise to get around to writing about the few meals we have made lately. In the meantime, enjoy my runner-up recipe for New Orleans-Style BBQ Shrimp. My favorite recipe is forthcoming.
Warning: This dish is definitely not for the health-conscious (full of butter), or heat-wary (full of pepper). Although I love it as a main dish served with crusty French bread, it can also be a good appetizer, or served over pasta.

1 lb. raw shrimp, shells on
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
2 teaspoon Creole Seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves minced garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450°. Separate 6 tablespoons of the butter into pats and place in baking dish large enough to hold the shrimp in one layer. Add pepper, peppercorns, Creole seasoning, rosemary, Worcestershire and garlic. Place in oven until butter is melted, stirring to combine ingredients. Place shrimp in one layer over sauce and return to oven. Cook approximately 3 minutes. When shrimp start to turn pink, turn shrimp over and cook another 3 minutes. Add in remaining butter and lemon juice. Serve with crusty French bread to sop up the sauce, and lots of napkins because this is peel-your-own!

To serve over pasta, peel and devein the shrimp first, then cook as above, adding chicken broth and white wine to make a suitable sauce.


Short, Sweet and Semi-Homemade

We have made some fabulous meals since school got out, and although I have not been doing my part by keeping this blog updated, I do have notes and pictures so I will be doing so in the near future.

For today, let me tip my hat to Sandra Lee of Food Network's Semi-Homemade fame. While in Providence, Rhode Island the other day, Chris and I stopped at the fabulous Italian food emporium Venda Ravioli and bought gorgonzola-walnut ravioli for our “semi-homemade” dinner that went as follows.

We put salted water to boil. In the meantime, we melted approximately 2 ounces of unsalted Presidente butter in a small saucepan. Into the butter we stirred ½ jar (3 oz.) of Bella Cucina Artful Food's Walnut-Sage Pesto and let that simmer until the butter browned a bit. When the water was rolling, we put in the frozen ravioli and let them boil until they floated. To serve, we topped the ravioli with our brown butter sauce and garnished with some fresh sage from our herb garden.

Not only did dinner taste delicious, it was quick and easy! The pasta was al dente, the filling was creamy and slightly tart, and the pesto butter, although not necessarily light, enhanced the taste of the ravioli's filling.


Two Great Dinners in One Restful Weekend

Chris just finished a graduate class and we had a whole weekend with no plans. Amidst our catching up on our t.v. shows, watching two ‘Netflixed’ movies we’ve had for weeks, and general lazing about, we had sparks of culinary creativity that resulted in two fabulous dinners. Here goes.

Saturday morning I set out a whole chicken breast to defrost and began thinking about what to do with it. Later, while we were weeding out the herb garden, a large stem of the sage plant fell off. I was muttering words like “sage,” “chicken,” and “pancetta,” when Chris suggested butterflying and pounding the chicken breast then rolling it with the sage and pancetta. We were definitely on the same wavelength. I decided to do the side dish and leave the chicken to Chris. My dish would be “Fingerling Potato and Pancetta Hash.” I cut a bunch of fingerling potatoes of different colors (red, white, purple) into a small dice, then did the same with an onion and some pancetta. I tried my best to make all the pieces about the same size. I fried the pancetta down until it let out enough oil in which to cook the potatoes and onions and then let the heat work its magic. I stirred it often and let it cook for about ½ hour. Meanwhile, Chris worked on the chicken until it was nice and thin, then rolled it with sliced pancetta and sage leaves. He tied it so that it would stay together and browned it in a pan with oil. He placed it in a roasting pan with two tablespoons of water with a couple of sage leaves floating in it. Finally, we put it in a 350 oven for 20 minutes so that it would cook through. We sliced the chicken and spooned a bit of the sage water over it, serving it with the hash. It was fantastic. We both agreed that we had overcooked the chicken slightly, and would probably only put it in for 15 minutes next time. Otherwise, it was a really good meal and we had a great time making it. Our finished platter is pictured here.

Another thing I did on Saturday morning was make a marinade for a flank steak I had bought earlier in the week. I wanted the steak to marinate for awhile, so I planned to have the steak for Sunday night’s dinner. I based the marinade on my friend L’s recipe. L is a chef and she teaches cooking classes at the local market. She taught this marinade at a class I took, and I played around with it a bit based on what I had in the house. Basically, I mixed 2 tablespoons each of the following spices in a Ziploc bag: hot paprika, sweet paprika, cumin, chipotle chili powder and garlic powder. I added ¼ cup each of red wine vinegar and olive oil, then a couple of dashes of lemon juice and red pepper flakes. Finally, I threw in ½ cup of demerara sugar. We put the steak in the bag, mixed it up and let it sit in the fridge until Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, Chris heated up the grill. I knew the steak would be spicy, so figured on having it with coconut rice and grilled pineapple. I made the rice (see earlier entry) and Chris got his grill groove on. He seared the meat perfectly and cooked it medium rare. What a great balance of flavors! We had spice from the steak, sweetness from the rice, and acidity in the pineapple. We were so into it that we couldn’t even take a minute to find the camera, so we have no picture, but I’m sure we’ll be making this dinner again.



Saturday was prom night for Chris’s school. Although he decided not to chaperone, he promised his students he would come by for a bit to see them all dressed up. Then he promised me that if I went with him, we would have an all dressed up date night after the prom, so that’s what we did. Chris looked very distinguished in his black tuxedo with pewter tie. I went with a 20’s style ruffled navy blue dress with blue and white polka dot slides. The ‘kids’ all looked great and after greeting Chris politely introduced themselves to me as well. Several girls taking fashion courses made their gowns as their senior projects, and it was these that most impressed me. They were beautiful! But I digress…this is a food blog!

There’s a restaurant about a mile from our house that has been open since 1933 and is “famous” around these parts. It’s called
Cavey’s, and it’s actually two restaurants in one – the upstairs in Northern Italian, and the downstairs is Modern French. We’ve gone to the Italian part a couple of times for dinner and were never terribly impressed by it. It was good, but nothing to rave about. We’ve enjoyed ourselves more at their occasional wine tastings, where they offer five small plates with wine pairings, and some expert or other discusses the wines. It’s fun, tasty, informative, and at $25, relatively cheap. But again, I digress.

Cavey’s is more well known for the French restaurant, which often wins local “Best of” awards and is Zagat rated. So we decided to try it for this “special” night. A top selling point for us is that they use local, seasonal ingredients when possible. For instance, one of the specials on this particular night was a risotto with locally foraged wild mushrooms, ramps and spring peas. The ramps and peas were gathered from around the area, and our server told us they actually have a mushroom forager on staff. I was so happy to hear that, even though I despise mushrooms!

When we descended downstairs, the first thing we noticed was the beautiful and romantic décor. Dim lighting, flower arrangements, mirrors and gold velvet wallpaper transformed what must have once been a plain basement into an enchanting dining area. The maitre d’, Andre, introduced himself and led me by the hand to my table, pulling out my chair and placing my napkin on my lap. Throughout the evening, Andre served as our host and wine steward as well as our own private Cupid, liberally pouring champagne, encouraging us to dance between courses, and offering me pink roses with my box of leftovers. He really made our night.

Our server was also very good. She was attentive without being overbearing, made light conversation with us, and she was able to easily answer questions about the menu and the ingredients. One example is when I noticed a tiny purple flower mixed into my crab timbale. I was curious and asked her what it was, and she informed me that scallions flower at this time of year. When I put it in my mouth, it tasted exactly like a scallion! Who knew?

Our bus boy turned out to be a former student of mine. It’s probably cliché, but my how he’s grown. I taught him his freshman year, and there he was, 18 years old, trying to work his way into the restaurant industry. His professional demeanor and excellent French service were surprising to me, and again, made it a special evening.

Beyond the ambience and service, the food was exceptional. I started with the aforementioned crab timbale which was a good-size portion of crab meat flavored with a subtle spicy green curry and scallions. It was served with a salad of Asian greens tossed in a gorgeous lemongrass vinaigrette that I could have done shots of. Chris began with a perfectly seared foie gras that was served over toast points with a port sauce. I’m not a fan of foie, but Chris said it was awesome. For entrees, I enjoyed a seared duck breast that, although it was slightly overcooked (I had ordered it medium rare), was seasoned well and had nice crispy skin. The potatoes that accompanied it were mashed with olive oil and were very tasty. A nice sweet and sour reduction sauce rounded off both items. Chris had the lamb dish, a rack of lamb roasted perfectly to medium rare, with braised lamb raviolis, both of which were delicious.

We started with champagne, but a nice big red was in order for our entrees. We were looking at half bottles, and Andre suggested the Clos du Val, a Californian cabernet that very much enhanced the flavors in the food. He also encouraged us to linger after our entrees, bringing double espressos and making dessert suggestions. Our server listed off our choices and I decided to stay French and try the “bananas foster soufflé,” while Chris was craving gelato or sorbet but couldn’t decide, so the server brought a tasting bowl of different flavors. I was way too into my dessert to even ask him about the ice cream, and vice versa, so I’m sure his was good. Andre brought me this heaping souffle that was nicely browned. He broke into it with a serving spoon and, as I took the first bite, I realized it was the best soufflé I’d ever had. Melted dark chocolate swirled amidst the lightest, fluffiest banana-flavored yumminess. It was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect French meal. We finished our desserts, took another spin on the dance floor, and left with leftovers and roses in tow. I highly recommend Cavey’s for a romantic date night. It’s definitely on the pricey side, but it was well worth it on all counts.
Cavey's on Urbanspoon


Spicy Shrimp with Sweet Coconut Rice *Award-Winning*

It’s getting warm and as most people do, we tend to grill more and eat lighter. I was craving seafood, and remembered that I had bought a pound of shrimp on sale last week. They’re frozen, but they’re organic, already peeled and deveined, with a little bit of sea salt put in for flavor. I decided to do a spicy grilled shrimp with a sweet coconut rice to balance it off. I made a quick marinade by putting the following ingredients in a Ziploc baggie: 2 cloves garlic (crushed through a garlic press), about a teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon hot paprika, 2 tablespoons garlic-infused olive oil, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and a pinch of sugar. I added the shrimp, tossed it around in the baggie, and let it sit for a half-hour. In the meantime, Chris put the rice on, since it takes a half hour to cook. Instead of cooking the rice in plain old water, we used coconut water. Goya makes it in a can, and it’s delicious as a drink, or a mixer, or, apparently, for rice! We mixed ¾ cup of Jasmati rice with 10 ounces of the coconut water and a pinch of salt. We brought it to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduced the heat and let it simmer for twenty minutes. Then Chris warmed up the grill. When the rice had five minutes to go, he placed the shrimp on a grill grate and cooked them for about 2 minutes each side, until they were pink and the tails closed in on themselves. It was a very easy dinner – the prep was only about five minutes. And, the result was a great balance of spice from the shrimp and sweetness from the rice. Tasty, light, and perfect for summer.


Pizza Frittata

Our nephew has been staying with us for a few days and another friend popped in around dinner time, so we ordered pizza on Thursday night. We got two larges – one pepperoni, one peppers, onions and mushrooms. The pepperoni got devoured, while Chris had a couple pieces of the veggie. So this morning, he made his newest creation, Pizza Frittata. He chopped up four of the remaining slices of pizza and put them in a bowl, he sliced a bit off a pepperoni stick and chopped that as well, and he added a handful of shredded mozzarella. After whisking eight eggs, he mixed the pizza, pepperoni, cheese and eggs in a large bowl then poured the mixture into an oiled cast iron skillet. He baked it at 350 for about ten minutes, then cooked in on the stovetop for about five. Finally, he put it in a high broiler for three minutes to brown the top. The result was a delicious breakfast and a simple yet unique way to enjoy leftover pizza.


K's in Town!

My very best friend K came to visit from New Orleans last week. She was here for a conference at Yale and finnagled a way to stay the weekend with me. Although I had to work during the day, I commuted down to New Haven to have dinner with her a couple of times. We had so much fun catching up and enjoying each other’s company. Of course, much of this we did while eating and drinking, so I thought I should blog about our food adventures.

One night we had an awesome dinner at Zinc, an eclectic restaurant with Asian tendencies run by Chef Denise Appel. K, a big fan of Chambord, invented a new drink for herself, which we have dubbed the Razzilla. It’s vanilla vodka with a splash of Chambord and a splash of soda over ice. We split the “Smoked Duck Nachos” which were amazing: chopped smoked duck was cooked until it caramelized, tossed with a chipotle sauce, served over crispy fried wontons and garnished with a lime crème. K chose the “Scottish Salmon and Shrimp Romanesco” which consisted of a generous and perfectly cooked piece of fish, I can’t remember how many shrimp, and a delicious wild rice/quinoa/golden raisin pilaf. I enjoyed perfectly prepared "Smoked Maine Diver Sea Scallops" served with chanterelle, pea and lobster risotto. Dessert was a chocolate tasting trio of mousse cake, pot de crème and a superb, rich, satiny dark chocolate sorbet over which we almost resorted to spoon sword-fights. Chef Appel certainly knows what she is doing. The menu is varied and reasonably priced, the service en pointe, and the food superb. Cheese lovers may want to visit, as there is a wide range of fresh cheeses including many local cheeses available.

Another night the person running the conference graciously invited me to join them at a reception at the Peabody Museum where we had the unique experience of enjoying a variety of finger foods among the dinosaurs. Still hungry after our noshing on apps we walked down to Tuscano Ristorante, a little Italian place adjoining the Gotham Citi Café club. One of only two parties, we enjoyed personalized and attentive service from our server as well as the manager. The server was full of suggestions, and when K ordered her Razzilla, she mentioned a similar drink made with Chambord, Amaretto and pineapple juice that she and her friends made up and called “Sex at My House.” The three of us decided to marry the two drinks and thus was born the great cocktail “Sex at Our House.” Beyond drinks, the mozzarella en carrozza was the lightest I ever had, with not only mozzarella but also ricotta cheese fried with what had to be panko breadcrumbs because they were nice and crunchy. We split that as well as beautiful, perfectly shaped fluffy gnocchi tossed simply with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Dessert was out of the question, but we were offered after-dinner drinks on the house and invited to visit again soon.

On K’s last night in New Haven, Chris and I did what any decent Nutmeggers would do and took her to the world famous Frank Pepe’s Pizza on Wooster Street. This has been the home to New Haven-style pizza since 1925. No frills pies (start with the basic tomato pie and build your way up) and no frills service make it a must-do for the first-time visitor. Dessert from Libby's Italian Pastry Shop sealed the deal - cannolis, cookies, Italian ice and gelato are among the many fabulous choices.

Finally the weekend arrived and with it, our annual neighborhood St Patrick’s Day Progressive Party. The timing of this and the Easter holiday forced us to move our celebration to this past weekend, but it was a major success. Ten households take part, each making a dish and a cocktail, and we parade from house to house until the night ends. In keeping with the Irish theme, I decided to make Potato and Tarragon Soup. Here is what I did: The night before the party, I melted three tablespoons of butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. I chopped four green onions, 1 small white onion, and 4 garlic cloves which I sauteed in the butter for about 10 minutes, adding 2 tablespoons of water about half way through. I then added 6 chopped red potatoes and 4 cups chicken stock. I brought all this to a boil and then simmered it for about 15 minutes until the potatoes seemed tender. I mixed in about a tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon and blended all of this with an immersion blender. This base was allowed to cool overnight. When our house was next in line, K and I scurried over a few minutes early to heat up the base and to finish off the soup. We seasoned it with salt and white pepper, then stirred in ½ cup whipping cream and ½ cup plain yogurt. Creamy and flavorful, yet light, the soup was a success. Since K was visiting, she too wanted to add to the festivities, so we also made her Broccoli Cheddar Cornbread. She has given me permission to share this recipe as well, so here it is. Saute one onion and 3 cloves of minced garlic in olive oil. Add in one box of frozen chopped broccoli or about 2 cups of chopped broccoli that you have already blanched. You want nice small soft but not mushy pieces that are spread throughout the cakey cornbread. In a large bowl, mix 2 boxes of cornbread mix (we both swear by Jiffy brand), ½ cup milk, 4 eggs, 8 ounces of cottage cheese and 1 cup of shredded cheddar. Pour the onion/garlic/broccoli mixture into the cornbread/cheese mixture and combine well. Pour into an 11x14 pan and top with about ½ cup additional cheddar cheese. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. This was really awesome, especially served warm.

Those were the food highlights of a fun week spent with a great friend, a wonderful husband, and good neighbors. Here’s to all those things.


Let's Go Outback Tonight

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of the chain restaurant. I’m a strong believer in the slow food movement. I like my restaurants to have unique dishes made from fresh ingredients, and I like to know exactly where I am rather than feeling as if I could be in any city in the world, in a carbon-copy of a restaurant.

That said, sometimes a girl just needs a good, cheap steak. Now Chris is not a big red-meat-eater, so I don’t like to go all out to a classic steakhouse when I have that craving. Instead, I give in to the big corporate monster and go to Outback Steakhouse. I usually sit at the bar, chat with the amiable bartender, and dig in to what I consider the perfect steak: the 9-oz. Outback Special, which the menu can justifiably say is “a center cut sirloin, seasoned and seared to perfection.” They’ve got something in their “secret 17-spice recipe” that just hits the mark.

Consistency is key at corporate restaurants, and here is where Outback shines. It is only at this particular restaurant that I can be the anti-me; I top off going to a chain restaurant with ordering the exact same thing every single time I go. It’s against everything I stand for, but I do it all the same. How can I not? It’s a thing of perfection. My steak is always the right size and is always cooked exactly as I ordered it. These guys know what they’re doing.

Many people feel that the sides make the meal. It’s a close call at Outback. The special comes with a choice of sides, and I always choose the steamed vegetables, which are a nice medley of not-mushy carrots, broccoli, zucchini and snowpeas. The house salad with bleu cheese dressing is my other choice. They make their own croutons, and they are to die for. They also make their own salad dressing, and I find theirs to be among the best I’ve had, creamy but with plenty of bleu cheese chunks. Other ingredients include chopped cucumbers, red onions, shredded cheese and ripe red tomatoes, not to mention a nice iceberg/romaine mix. It’s really a great salad.

If I had to make one complaint, it would be the wine list. It’s not a great one, to be sure. Although there are several wines by the glass, none of them is one that can stand up to the seasonings of the steak. In fact, last night, I had a particularly terrible glass of Pinot Noir that tasted as if it had been opened six months ago. I switched to the decent-enough Black Opal Shiraz and was a little happier with that.

Back on a more positive note, I need to talk for a minute about the bread. They give you a mini-loaf of pumpernickel that is warm and delicious. But what’s better is their butter. It’s creamy and sweet, with a hint of honey. It’s so good that although I order the veggies to make it look like I’m eating something relatively healthy, I end up spreading that buttery goodness all over the vegetables. Yummy.

Speaking of unhealthy, I have reached the dessert paragraph. Sidney’s Sinful Sundae does it for me every time. Creamy vanilla ice cream rolled in toasted coconut, topped with what has to be homemade hot fudge, sliced strawberries and fresh, coat-the-roof-of-your-mouth whipped cream. Sinful is right. It is just soooooo good.

Chain restaurant, yes, but perfect every time. And no, they didn't pay me to say all these things.


The Windowed Hearth: A Review

Not much time to blog for the next few days so here is an old restaurant review I wrote. Enjoy!

The Windowed Hearth at the Lord Jeffery Inn, 30 Boltwood Avenue, Amherst, MA

Visited on: 17 March 2006

Having grown up in a nearby town, I always wanted to stay at the famed Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst, MA. When I had to attend a conference at UMASS Amherst last week, I did the next best thing. Rather than giving in to the buffet dinner, with its mass-produced food, cash bar, and schmoozing with the colleagues, I made a reservation for dinner at the Inn’s fine-dining option, The Windowed Hearth.

On the website, one can find a great explanation of the restaurant’s name: “In colonial times a windowed hearth served as a guiding light for travelers, beckoning from a distanced flickering assurance that warmth, hospitality and a fitting end to the day's journey were within reach.” The page goes on to promise an “offering of local products prepared with heartfelt care, a combination of the traditional with the innovative…the finest fare New England has to offer.” A large promise, indeed, but one that, by the end of the evening, I felt was definitely fulfilled.

It was freezing cold in downtown Amherst, and I could see my breath as I walked from my convenient parking space in a small lot across from the Inn. I entered at exactly 7 p.m., and the hardwood floors creaked the way they do in colonial homes. The front desk staff welcomed me with a smile and pointed me to the small, firelit room on my left, the one that I had walked right by. This was The Windowed Hearth. To my dismay, not a soul was present. Empty restaurants make me nervous. I wonder, “Does everyone else in the world know something I don’t?”

The host/server/bartender appeared. A courteous, handsome, warm young man, he was the consummate professional during my visit. After joking about my having a reservation, he sat me right in front of the roaring fire. He handed me the menu, and the winelist, and informed me that the restaurant doesn’t have specials. This was fine by me, because I had seen the menu online, and had been thinking about certain items since then.

The menu is not vast, but it is complete. We’ll start at the beginning. Appetizers range from $5 to $9.95 and include the traditional New England Clam Chowder, the ubiquitous Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce, and an interesting Baked Camembert Cheese, “topped with brown sugar, toasted almonds and honey oven baked and served with inn-made toast points.” I had my eye on the Lobster Ravioli, however. They were served in a pasta bowl, three large diamonds overlapping each other. The pasta had black stripes made of squid ink, and the contrast with the white plate was dramatic. There were large chunks of lobster in the warm, creamy filling, and the accompanying sauce, described on the menu as a sherried cream sauce, did not disappoint. To go with my appetizer, I had inquired about sparkling wines by the glass and was offered Cook’s Champagne. I don’t usually follow the white-with-seafood rule, as I am not a big fan of white wine, so I went ahead and ordered the Cook’s. It was delivered to me in a white wine glass, a service error to some, but a bonus to me, as it offered a much larger portion than a flute would have and complemented the raviolis well.

Entrée choices are very reasonably priced and included beef (Filet Mignon - $26, Tenderloin Tips - $21), chicken (Pecan Encrusted Chicken - $19), and several seafood choices (Herb Seared Shrimp - $21, Fire Roasted Salmon - $20, Grilled Scallops - $22). There was a unique version of surf-n-turf called One by Land, Three by Sea ($26), that was a petite filet mignon served with three lobster ravioli. According to the menu, their signature dish, priced at $21, is a 16 oz. Braised Lamb Shank that is “slow braised at low temperature in lamb stock and red wine flavored with garlic and green olives which results in remarkably tender and flavorful lamb.” Although it sounded quite delicious, I don’t do lamb.

Which brings us to the Culver Duck Breast ($20), my final decision. The menu informed me that the Culver is a strain of Long Island duckling known for its larger breast.. When it was delivered to me, I understood what they meant. Medallions of perfectly seared, medium-rare duck breast were fanned in such a way that they made a whole semi-circle on the large round plate. Never have I received so much duck for the buck. It was cooked to a spot-on medium rare and was fork-tender, well-seasoned, and simply delicious. In the center of the plate was a generous portion of creamy garlic mashed potatoes, and at 6 o’clock, five crisp, perfectly cooked asparagus spears. A demi-glaze made of cranberries and port wine, and a garnish of round red grapes not only gave the plate beautiful color, but enhanced the flavor of the duck. I followed the menu’s wine suggestion and partook in a glass of the very versatile red zinfandel, of which only one choice was available by the glass. Lush and lively, with strong dark berry and pepper undertones, the wine brought out the cranberry port glaze and was an excellent choice. I wish I knew the name of it!

I forced myself to finish the duck, leaving behind a few bites of potato and a couple of asparagus spears in doing so. The server cleared and brought the dessert list. I didn’t think I could do it, but I would give it a go. He ‘strongly recommended’ the Peppermint Ice Cream Pie, made with ice cream from a local dairy farm. This tugged at me. I am a fervent supporter of using local products, and had it been any flavor but peppermint, this would have sealed the deal. However, having had a French favorite for my main course, I settled on the Crème Brulee. Again, the portion size amazed me. I have had dozens of crème brulees in my life, always served in a shallow ramekins of varying shapes. The larger area of the shallow dish allows for more of what makes crème brulee such a prize – the burnt sugar. This version was served in what I can only call a “tea-cup without a handle.” Rich, thoroughly chilled, creamy and full of vanilla flavor, it was among the best I have had. Although there was less sugar, what was there was caramelized to the ideal crunchiness, and there was more of the delicious custard to enjoy in the larger-sized cup.

As I watched the fire flicker and sipped a cup of Earl Gray, I realized I was completely and utterly satisfied. I imagined the many travelers who, having been drawn in by the fire in the window, felt this same contentment after their meal. The food quality and freshness was excellent, the portions were large enough that I felt I received a deal for the price, and the service was first rate. I will most definitely be back to The Windowed Hearth.