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.
Thursday night after Chinese takeout:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One would think all that anticipation could only lead to disappointment. Absolutely not so.
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.