A Glutton for Surf and Turf

Last week Chris had a mini-reunion night out with some high school friends, so I decided to be my carnivorous self and fix a nice ribeye for dinner. I got a great bone-in ribeye for $7.99 at Price Chopper - it had gorgeous marbling and was just the right size to go with my baked russet potato and steamed rock lobster tails ($9.99 for two!). Yes, I was being gluttonous, but that's okay...now and then. I seasoned the ribeye with my usual: kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, a light sprinkling of garlic powder, and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. While I let the steak marinate for a bit, I wrapped the potato in foil and put it in the toaster oven on 450 for an hour. Then I "grilled" my steak stove-top in our ridged Calphalon pan over high heat so I would get a nice char but it would still be medium-rare. Meanwhile, I steamed the lobster tails and melted some butter. It was a feast and I washed it down with a Trader Joe's (reserver!) Cabernet Sauvignon, enjoying every bite...including those last few nibbles off the bone. That will teach Chris to leave me home alone...(anytime!!!).

Tuscan-style Ragu

Like most people, according to all the magazines anyway, I crave carbs when I'm stressed. Unfortunately, my willpower is...well...I have none. So lately Wednesday nights have meant pasta, which is not good for the weight loss my husband and I have supposedly committed to, but it's good for our stress levels, so we'll take it.

Last Wednesday was spaghetti night, and we topped it with a fantastically meaty Tuscan-style ragu. If we had been able to find wild boar for the sauce, we would have used that, but in Manchester, CT, ground beef had to suffice. Although it's officially spring, it hasn't totally warmed up yet, so my kitchen goddess (yes, she's a snowperson - see picture) watched over us as we cooked up this rich and hearty weeknight dinner. Mangia!

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped finely
1/2 red onion, chopped finely
1 carrot, chopped finely
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. lean ground beef
3/4 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons hot water
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Warm the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the chopped onions and carrot until they are soft. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the onions are just beginning to caramelize. Stir in the ground beef, breaking it up as much as possible and avoiding hard clumps. Cook the meat and the vegetables together, stirring often, until the meat becomes pink. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates, about 4 minutes. Dissolve the tomato paste in the hot water, and add it to the pot, stirring very well. Simmer for 15 minutes, during which the sauce should thicken a bit. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for at least 45 minutes, then serve over spaghetti and enjoy.


Portuguese Frittata

Thursday afternoon: I'm leaving my dentist and I catch sight of the Portuguese restaurant next door. Even though my tongue is numb with Novocaine, the sight makes me long for linguica. I seem to recall there may be one currently sitting in my freezer.

Thursday night after Chinese takeout:
"Chris, what do you want to do with this leftover rice?"
"I don't know. Maybe make rice pudding?"
"We have so much ice cream in the freezer. Maybe another dessert isn't the way to go."
"Let's think on it.

Friday: I'm still thinking about that linguica, but I'm also thinking about a nice sunny early spring weekend with no plans, and my mind turns toward breakfast menus.

Saturday morning:
"Can you make a frittata with rice? That might be fun."
"You can make a frittata however you want. The fun will be watching you make your first frittata." (Chris is the frittata maker in our house.)
"Well, get ready then.

While Chris had a shower, I set to work creating my beautiful Portuguese frittata, hoping it would be edible. In the end, it was quite edible, but definitely not beautiful. The eggs were nice and fluffy, the rice added texture, and the linguica imparted a spicy, smoky flavor that Chris and I both loved. It actually tasted really good. It wasn't pretty though. I had a sticking-to-the-pan issue and the very center was not completely set, so it sort of fell apart a bit when we tried to flip it. It was such as mess that I didn't want to take a picture. So perhaps I lost points on presentation, but, as watched Chris greedily eat his third helping, I didn't mind so much.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 pound linguica, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 cup cooked white rice
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup shredded Mexican-cheese blend
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet and saute onions until they become translucent. Add the linguica and cook until browned. Add the rice and tomatoes, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for five minutes. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and milk together. Season the egg mixture with salt and pepper to taste, then pour into the skillet. Add 1/2 of the cheese and gently stir to blend everything together. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and cook over medium heat for five more minute. Then place the entire skillet in the oven and cook at 400 until it is set - about 20 minutes. Carefully "flip" onto a large plate and serve.

Braised Short Ribs over Wide Noodles

About a year ago, I had been regularly attending Culinary Workshops at the local Shop Rite Supermarket*. Although they vary according to store location, at my store these workshops are held on Wednesdays and are taught by my friend - an excellent, creative, and enthusiastic chef named Lise who runs her own catering business, Chef for Hire. I started going because of Lise, but I kept going for lots of other reasons. I met a lot of nice people at the workshops and got to spend quality time learning from a fantastic chef who also happens to be a friend. I loved the fact that the classes have seasonal themes, but also are hands on, very fun, and quite inexpensive. Best of all, the low $20 fee includes sharing the three to four courses you help create with others in the class, which, when all is said and done, is a pretty cheap dining experience (albeit under the glare of grocery-store flourescent lighting and sans alcohol!). Quite the difference from your usual cooking class which, in my experiences, have meant paying twice as much to watch the chef cook and then get a mere nibble to taste.

Unfortunately, my schedule got busy and I haven't been able to attend in a long time. But I do have a mini-binder full of recipes I gathered from the many evenings I spent at Shop Rite, and on last week's snow day I dug it out looking for a one-pot meal. I quickly found just what I was looking for: "Savory Braised Short Ribs over Wide Noodles." Ingredients include flour, cinnamon, allspice, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomatoes, beef broth, and red wine. I browned the ribs, put them together with the other ingredients, and allowed the meat to braise for about an hour and a half. It was a perfect late-winter snowstorm late lunch/early dinner. The cooking smells filled the house and made the kitchen toasty warm. When Chris and I sat down to eat, the vegetables were tender, the meat fell right off the bone, and the sauce had nice hints of the cinnamon and allspice used in it. It was a very tasty and satisfying meal.

A little something interesting to add here is that several weeks prior to making these short ribs, I attempted a braised short ribs recipe out of Rick Tramonto's cookbook Osteria. I followed both recipe precisely and both produced good, hearty meals. However, Tramonto's recipe was very time-consuming and much more labor-intensive (hands-on cooking time was over two hours) than the Shop Rite one (hand-on was only about one-half hour). Tramonto's recipe was for the short ribs only, so I also had to make a side dish, whereas with Shop Rite's, serving the braised meat and vegetables over simple egg noodles rounded out the meal. Most importantly, Chris and I liked the flavor of the Shop Rite recipe better.

*For more information on the Shop Rite Culinary Workshops, go to the "In Our Store" section on the Shop Rite homepage.


Shrimp Creole (for Yankees)

It was recently Mardi Gras, so of course, I've been reminiscent of my time in New Orleans, particularly missing the wonderful food that city has to offer. One famous dish to come out of NOLA is Shrimp Creole, which is shrimp cooked in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, green peppers, celery, onions, garlic, and miscellaneous herbs and spices, then served over rice. It's not a difficult dish to make by any means. However, one hot and humid day when I was out "making groceries" at the Schweggman's near my apartment, I discovered Zatarain's.

Earlier that morning, the shrimp guy had come down the street selling gorgeously plump shrimp out of a cooler from his pickup truck for a mere $2 a pound and I couldn't resist (who could???). I was craving Shrimp Creole, but it was too hot to cook, so I thought I'd cheat. I bought the "Shrimp Creole" box mix (~gasp!~) made by Zatarain's. All you had to add was some butter, tomato sauce, and, of course, your shrimp, and it only cooked for about 1/2 hour - not long enough to heat up my kitchen. It was just so easy.

I invited my then (now, sadly, late) boyfriend over for dinner. He was a cook, so I felt I had to hide all traces of my cheating ways (the Zatarain's box and the empty jar that held the marinara I had used). I served him the Shrimp Creole and waited for him to give me some constructive criticism, to call me a "Yankee," to teach me the "right" way to make this dish. Instead, he ate wholeheartedly and even asked for seconds. Then he told me it was the best Shrimp Creole he had ever had (except for his mom's, of course - he was a Southern boy, after all).

Over the four years I dated T, I made Zatarain's Shrimp Creole countless times, always hiding the evidence, but rarely feeling guilty about it. Eventually, our relationship ended and I moved back to New England. I tried to make "homemade" Shrimp Creole one time and didn't like it at all, so I'm back to Zatarain's, and I make it regularly. If it was good enough for T, it's good enough for me.


My Foodie Staycation

Two weeks ago, I had the week off for winter vacation, but unfortunately, Chris did not. Therefore, I decided to use my vacation funds to have what I'm calling "My Foodie Staycation," and spent the week in a blur of epicurean delights.

The week started with a wonderful Valentine's Day meal planned entirely by my hubby. He chose the cozy
Tapas in West Hartford, and since they do not take reservations, we decided to eat early and then head out to the movies. Chris escorted me to the perfect table, right in the center of the small dining room, and after pulling out my chair, pointed out that I now had the best seat from which to gaze into the busy open kitchen - I was to have dinner and a show! Tapas has a great everyday menu, but is better known for their "blackboard specials," from which we chose. I started with a cup of velvety lobster bisque, then had a filet that was grilled to perfection, topped with a Mediterranean-herb oil, and paired with tastefully lumpy mashed potatoes. Chris enjoyed the "Ocean's Eleven" pasta dish - fettuccine alfredo served with a medley of seafood including lobster, crab, shrimp and scallops. After sharing a slice of Oreo-cookie pie, we drove to the packed movie theater and saw the closest we could get to a romantic comedy, Confessions of A Shopaholic, which we thought was cute. It was a wonderful V-Day date.

The weekend passed, and then I was in full vacation mode which means staying up late, sleeping in, and watching a lot of television. I was able to enjoy hours of Food Network as well as DVR'd food-themed shows including Top Chef (I heart Fabio), Hell's Kitchen, and Last Restaurant Standing. I also watched Ratatouille, which is now my favorite animated movie of all time (anyone can cook!). But I couldn't spend the whole week on the couch, so I did have a couple of outings in mind.

Since Chris is not a huge fan of the casino (Foxwoods/MGM Grand), I planned a day to go there by my lonesome. When I quickly won $50 shortly after my arrival, I decided to enjoy a gourmet lunch at David Burke Prime (it's my foodie staycation, after all!). The space is gorgeous, decorated with wood the color of espresso, cream-colored leather chairs, rust accents found in the carpet and placemats, and light-up glass "brick" walls. Touches of cowhide here and there remind one that it's a steakhouse. And steak is what I had but I started with the "Cocktail Trio" , a chilled appetizer which consisted of two of the largest shrimp I've ever seen, a pile of jumbo lump Maryland crabmeat, and a half-lobster, all served with a spicy cocktail sauce and a creole mayonnaise. I could have ended it there and been happy, but this week was all about indulgence. I ordered the "Filet Mignon Steak Frites," and while the filet was well-seasoned and grilled to perfection, the frites weren't as hot and crisp as they should have been, and both were served over a bed of over-garlicked limp spinach. Unfortunately, the service was as forgettable as the frites - several times I sat with an empty glass, searching for my server. However, a fun surprise came at the end of the meal, for when I declined dessert, my check was delivered with a grape-flavored cotton candy served upside-down in a footed martini glass. It was unexpected on many levels, but I enjoyed it. Would I go back to this restaurant? Probably not, but it was fun to be a lady who lunches.

So fun was it, that the very next day, I did it again, when my friend Joanne and I luncheoned at the Hartford lunch-only destination ON20. That one you can read about at Restaurant Report Cards.

Now the week was winding down, and since my husband was hard at work all week, I planned one day to be what I call "Fifties Housewife," (think an aproned June Cleaver but with jeans and a cute sweater). I planned and executed a three-course themed dinner, had the table set with our finest, and even had a bourbon ready for Chris the moment he walked in the door (thank goodness for cell phones). I called the dinner "The Flavors of France," and the menu is below. Everything came out really well. In fact, I believe Chris mentioned something about being the luckiest guy on the planet. What can I say? He's right :-)

Appetizer: "Sea Scallop Provencal" - a single pan-seared scallop in a sauce of white wine, shallots and fresh parsley.

Entree: "Tilapia Toulouse" - tilapia fillet packet-steamed with lemon, white wine, parsley, butter and capers served with cardamom-scented couscous and haricots verts.

Dessert: "Lavender Creme Brulee" - served with homemade lemon-rosemary sugar cookies.

The week ended in a blur of cleaning and prepping for our annual Mardi Gras Madness party, which was a huge success as always. With almost 100 people packed into our tiny house, we ate, drank and mingled the night away. Special thanks to the Krewe of 2009 who helped the party happen and to all of our guests who brought an amazing array of delicious food and drink to share.

All in all, it was a fabulously indulgent foodie staycation and I loved every minute, and every mouthful.


The Best Meatball Grinder Ever

Last Friday night, Chris and I were in the Springfield area, early for our dinner reservation at Lattitude. I suggested we kill some time by stopping at the awesome Italian food shop Frigo's and see what goodies we could find to fill out our weekend. When we stepped in and saw the ginormous meatballs, we both knew we had to have those. We asked for the largest meatball grinder they had, explaining that we wanted the ingredients separate, that this was for tomorrow. The gracious deli clerk nodded her understanding and promised to "hook us up." And that she did. (As did the cashier who suggested an $18 bottle of wine that easily could have passed for a $50 bottle - Ascheri Fontanelle Barbera D'Alba, 2009, see photo for label). When we got home and unwrapped our packages, we found a whole loaf of Italian bread, more meatballs than we could fit on that bread (sliced up for easier devouring), a half-pound of sliced mozzarella, and a quart of marinara sauce. I think we paid about $10 for this meatball feast.

Saturday came and the meatball merriment lasted all day as each of us periodically whispered to the other, "I can't wait for that grinder!" Finally, we couldn't wait any longer and around 4 p.m. we thoughtfully constructed the sandwich and carefully put it in the oven. We turned on the oven light and sat on the kitchen floor, watching our dinner brown as if it were a television show. We sharpened our serrated bread knife and sliced it into manageable pieces, saving two for the next day's lunch.

One would think all that anticipation could only lead to disappointment. Absolutely not so.
It was indeed The Best Meatball Grinder Ever. Thanks to the folks at Frigo's. We love ya.
Frigos Gourmet Foods Catering and Gift Basket on Urbanspoon

Date Night at Lattitude, West Springfield

Last Friday, Chris and I enjoyed a nice date at a restaurant recommended by Joanne, Lattitude in West Springfield, MA. The chef used to work for the Max Restaurant Group, and since we have only had good experiences at the Max restaurants, we were eager to give Chef Jeffrey Daigneau's "scratch menu" concept a try.

We were seated in our own little private room, painted deep red and with a gorgeous brass inlay in the hardwood floor. The server was friendly, attentive and welcoming, explaining that the chef changes the menu daily to reflect the freshest seasonal ingredients available, and that everything is made from scratch. We were excited to say the least.

Onion-flavored bread with a great crunchy crust arrived with our wine. The wine itself, chosen by us but given a big nod by the server, was one we'll absolutely be on the lookout for - a garnet-colored claret from Steltzer Vineyards in the Stag's Leap District of Napa Valley. Both the bread and wine foretold great things.

I started with what turned out to be the best salad I've ever eaten. I'm not a huge salad lover, but in the interest of New Year's resolutions and all that, I've tried to become one, and this salad put me several steps closer. The base was a mix of organic greens that were described on the menu as "hand-clipped," slivers of apple for sweetness and tang, bourbon-spiced pecans for spice and crunch, all tossed in an amazingly luscious ice-wine vinaigrette and served with a baguette that was slathered in creamy warmed goat cheese. I forced several tastes upon Chris who was trying to enjoy his half-dozen raw "Island Creek" oysters from Duxbury that he pronounced so "fantastic" that he almost ordered another six.

Chris went with the entree of "Grilled Maryland Striped Bass Puttanesca" - a nicely browned and generously portioned piece of fish served with olives, capers, anchovy, and tomato over egg fettuccini pasta. He practically inhaled it and loved every bite. I also went with a fish dish, the "True” San Francisco Cioppino of shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and pieces of a light white fish swimming in a tomato seafood broth. The cioppino was served in a tagine-shaped bowl and lid, with the upended lid serving as a receptacle for discarded shells. Although I found the shrimp to be a bit overcooked, the flavor of the broth made up for that tiny error. I too practically inhaled it and loved every bite.

We split a dessert of berry cobbler that was good but not to-die-for, and I ended my meal with "Glen's Famous 50/50" - a concotion of equal parts Grand Marnier and Navan invented by the infamous Glen who tends the bar at Max's Tavern in Springfield. It's a simple drink but oh so soothing and delicious.

Chef Daigneau and his team impressed us on every level - the ambience, service, food and value for the dollar - all were outstanding. The "scratch concept" is one we admire and hope to see more of. We will undoubtedly return to Lattitude to experience it again.
Lattitude on Urbanspoon


Sunny Oatmeal Cookies

March has arrived, and although Chris and I were home for a (one last?) glorious snow day, we have been anxiously awaiting spring. As on most snow days, we had a big breakfast and slow-cooked dinner planned, but on this day we added a batch of "Sunny Oatmeal Cookies." What makes them "sunny," you ask? Instead of raisins or chocolate chips, we've tossed some Sunny Seed Drops into the batter and the outcome was delicious. Other than this change, we followed the recipe on the Quaker Oatmeal canister top. Here comes the sun!

FoodWord App for the ITouch

Chris gave me an ITouch for Christmas. It's an IPhone but without the phone, and I love it. It's a great little gadget that has become a technological necessity in my life. Besides music, photos, email, and the Internet, you can download "apps" which are basically mini-computer programs, and they come in all shapes and sizes. My favorite, however, is one called "FoodWord." Everyday when I click on this little square, I get a new food-based word or phrase with a clear explanation of what it means. Granted, I'm familiar with some of them, but I love when something I don't know pops up and I have the opportunity to learn a new bit of food knowledge. Every day! If you have an ITouch or IPhone and you have even the slightest curiosity about food (which you must, or you wouldn't be reading my blog), I highly recommend "FoodWord."