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.

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