Countdown to 2012: Our Favorites from 2011

The New Year promises to be an exciting one for us as we will be celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary as well as Amy's 40th (yikes!) birthday. As far as this blog goes, 2012 will be our fifth year of food blogging, and we'll be giving A Couple in the Kitchen a good makeover (to be revealed tomorrow, so tune in!!!) to mark the occasion.

However, before we can look ahead, we wanted to look back. We reviewed all of our posts from the past year and chose our particular favorites, one from each delicious month, which we'd like to recap here today. Thank you for reading, happy eating, and have a happy and healthy New Year.

Rosemary Root Veggie Pot Pie - (January)

We love this dish for its meatless simplicity and hearty roasted vegetable goodness. It's a particularly great recipe for fall and winter.

Roast Wild Boar - (February)

We couldn't resist buying a roast that was labelled "meat from feral swine." We seasoned it and roasted it atop a bed of vegetables and it was as if we had been transported to Tuscany.

Irish Stew - (March)

We can't take credit for this one; it's a recipe from our good friend Chef Lise who got to demo it on the morning news! So exciting! And so tasty, with chunks of lamb, loads of herbs and veggies and a hint of Smithwick's Ale.

Eclairs - (April)

This post marked the first time we participated in "French Fridays with Dorie," and we learned how to make eclairs. They were so good, and so much easier than we had anticipated, that eclairs have become one of our go-to desserts.

Honey-Soy Chicken with Asian Spices - (May)

These sticky drumsticks were inspired by a trip to Boston's Chinatown. The marinade has plenty of distinct flavors from honey, soy sauce, sherry, anise, garlic and more. Yum!

Spring Onion and Ricotta Fresca Tart with Scapes and Sage -

Just looking at this post again makes us long for the newly blooming freshness of spring. We took our own spring onions and sage, some local garlic scapes, some ricotta fresca (fresh from Beltane Farm), and farm-fresh local eggs and combined them into one amazing spring tart.

Rummin' Tea - July

Because nothing says summer like a cool glass of iced tea, and nothing says summer vacation like adding rum to that cool glass of iced tea. We [heart] summer vacation.

Smoked Ribeye Steaks - August

We bought a smoker last summer, and our favorite smoker-creation was this simple meal of red-wine-marinated-smoked-ribeye-steaks. Perfect for a summer evening shared with good friends!

As we headed back to school and the old routine, we needed meals that were easy yet still spectacular. This pizza fit the bill. Sure it sounds weird, but it was
fan-TAST-ic. Really.

We were lucky enough to be able to join the Secret Recipe Club this year, and this was one of our posts for that. Cider doughnuts are synonymous with autumn around here, and we just had a little fun with them, making them square and sharing them with the neighbors.

We strive to be well-rounded food bloggers, which means while we're usually in the kitchen cooking, we also do post reviews of restaurants we frequent and reports on food-related events we attend. This post included wine, food, charity, moonshine, and celebrity chefs, just to name a few. Fun stuff!

This vodka-based liqueur was the first Christmas goodie we made this year. We took our friend Joanne's recipe and made it our own with some mandarin orange peels and a vanilla bean, creating a lusciously smooth spirit for the holidays.


Shady Glen, Manchester, CT

Every neighborhood needs its burger joint, you know, that place where you can have a good lunch real cheap.  We folks in Manchester are lucky enough to have ours, Shady Glen, in not one but two locations. We recently visited the original, which opened on the Manchester/Bolton line in 1934, and found several reasons why it is still in operation. 

First, as we enter, we must keep in mind the protocol for waiting: there are two lines, one of which forms to the left for those who wish to be seated at a booth, and one that forms to the right for the counter-sitters.  We almost always choose the left, as it leads tantalizingly past the fourteen-foot freezer full of perfect, round, handpacked half-gallons of homemade ice cream.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

The various menus consist of boards and signs on the walls and several are located around the perimeter, giving us something to think about while we are in line.  Offerings are of the basic lunch variety – soups, salads, sides and sandwiches.  Platter versions are available at a higher cost for they include “a buttered roll and choice of two sides: french fries, cole slaw, tomato and lettuce, or cottage cheese.” That says it all.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of earlier days, with waitresses in green dresses with frilly white aprons, and cooks dressed in white with maroon bowties, black belts and shoes, and white paper hats.  The service here is no-frills, but very friendly and efficient.  When we are seated at last, the waitress places Dixie-Cups of water in front of us; they boast the name of the restaurant and proprietors with a little drawing of a brown cow.  Since we've been staring at the menus on the wall for the last ten minutes or so, we are able to place our orders right away.

Shady Glen still makes their own sodas the old-fashioned way, with flavored syrups and soda water, and Amy decides on a vanilla cola.  It is sweet and bubbly, and way better than the version Coca-Cola puts out.  Chris gets his favorite, a chocolate malt shake, and it is thick and frothy. Then comes our plate of Shady Glen’s famous fried cheese.  Slices of American cheese are placed in a frying pan with a little pat of butter and cooked until the sides curl up and the cheese is melted in the middle while still slightly browned and crisp.  Four slices of this delicious cheese are served on a bed of lettuce with a pickle slice.  This is the same cheese that comes atop their cheeseburger - more on that later.

For Amy's meal, she gets a plain burger and fries, and Chris chooses the cheeseburger platter with fries and slaw. His is topped with that crispy cheese that looks like wings under the top bun but is at the same time gooey and melty where it hits the meat. The server also brings over a covered condiment tray with bowls filled with ketchup, mustard, relish and chopped onions.  We dress our burgers and take big bites.  They are juicy and taste like a good burger should, the toasty bun adding just the right touch.  The fries and onion rings are crisp and not greasy, with the perfect amount of salt. The slaw tastes fresh and creamy, with good crunch in the cabbage and carrots. Although this is definitely not the healthiest lunch we’ve eaten lately, it’s definitely the tastiest.

But the best is yet to come, as Shady Glen makes its own ice cream right there on the premises.  They offer classic flavors like chocolate, vanilla and lemon sherbet, alongside more unique ones such as banana chocolate chip, grape-nut and orange-pineapple.  There are also seasonal offerings, and since it's the holidays, they proffer cranberry sherbet, mince, egg nog and something called "Christmas Special" which Amy can't resist. Although it is pink, it has a light almond flavor and is filled with Dubonnet-soaked black, green and red cherries as well as chopped toasted almonds. Sooooo good.  

A neighborhood gem for breakfast, lunch and/or an ice cream outing for two, Shady Glen is also a great place for families.  It has been featured on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate and on Road Food, among others, making it a destination spot for those who aren't lucky enough to live around here. There are two locations in Manchester, at 840 Middle Turnpike East, (860) 649-4245, and at the Manchester Parkade, 360 Middle Turnpike West, (860) 643-0511.  Believe us, the cheese alone is worth the trip from wherever you are. Be sure to take cash, as they do not accept cards. 

Shady Glen on Urbanspoon


Chow Chow Phyllo Bites

One of the most simple appetizers we've ever made were a big hit at our Christmas Eve party, mostly due to the awesome product we found at the CT Food and Wine Festival - Mariah's Chow Chow Relish. Amy had a nice chat with company founder and CEO Phyllis W. Haynes who takes a lot of pride in her amazing relishes and who created her company's tagline, "Relish What You Eat." Available in four flavors, Mariah's Chow Chow Relishes are made with fresh vegetables and plenty of savory spices for a Southern style relish that packs a flavorful punch. They are an all-natural product made here in CT without preservatives or artificial coloring. One taste of the "Sweet and Hot" and we knew we had the perfect ingredient for one great party bite - "Chow Chow Phyllo Bites." We filled phyllo cups with plain goat cheese and topped them with a spoonful of Mariah's Sweet and Hot Chow Chow. No baking necessary, done in five minutes, and they flew off the plate. Plus, the red and green colors in the relish were very festive. Here's to easy appetizers!

Chow Chow Phyllo Bites


2 packages Athens brand phyllo cups
6 ounces plain goat cheese
1 jar Mariah's Sweet and Hot Chow Chow Relish

Remove phyllo cups from package and set out on serving tray. Fill phyllo cups with desired amount of goat cheese and top with spoonful of relish. Enjoy!


Countdown to Christmas: Mad-Easy Macaroons

Amy writes: Some women won't admit what I'm about to admit, but I think I can do it. Let me take a deep breath. Okay, ready?

I have a lot in common with my mother. There. I said it. Well.

One of the many things we have in common is our love of coconut, and that is probably why she recently emailed me a recipe for coconut macaroons.

As many daughters might, I had my suspicions that she wasn't sending it to me merely out of the goodness of her heart. I thought perhaps it may be a subtle hint that she would like to see these on our Christmas Eve dessert table. Chris thought so too. And since they fall into the quick-and-easy theme we seem to have going this year, we decided to make them. (Just for you, Mom!)

Mix ingredients in a bowl

Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet
and bake 8-10 minutes

Cool on parchment-lined wire racks

She found this particular recipe at the website Just A Pinch, but when I browsed around the Internet, I found several very similar recipes. What I particularly love about this one is that there are only four ingredients. That, and the preparation only takes about two minutes. Oh, and they only need to be baked for 8-10 minutes. Which is to say, they are "mad-easy," which is why I've dubbed them "Mad-Easy Macaroons." And they are also really tasty - moist, chewy, and full of coconut and almond flavor. So next time either I or my mother have a craving for coconut, we know that craving can be satisified in about a half hour. How great is that?

Mad-Easy Macaroons
recipe from Just A Pinch

2 (7-ounce) packages sweetened flake coconut
(aka "angel flake")
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1  1/2 teaspoons almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, combine condensed milk and extracts. Mix well. Add coconut. Mix well. Drop by round teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from baking sheets and place on parchment-covered cooling racks. Store loosely covered at room temp.


Countdown to Christmas: Florentine Cookies

When Amy first started working at her current teaching job, a group of women used to go, occasionally, on girls' outings. Each "girl" got her turn to plan the outing - one planned a trip to a pottery studio where we learned how to throw a cup; one planned a visit to a meditation center where we were encouraged to talk to our angels; Amy planned a holiday cookie class at a nearby kitchen store.

One of the cookie recipes at said class was for crisp, sugary Florentines. And it was around that time that we (Chris and Amy, that is) started dating, and we used to make those cookies quite often in Chris's little third-floor-apartment-kitchen. Sometimes we made them for a specific occasion; sometimes we made them just because we craved them (yes, they were that good). Sadly, somewhere along the way we lost the recipe. And none of the "girls" have been able to produce it in the last 10 (okay, maybe 12) years. We have (barely) accepted the loss. We have searched far and wide for that recipe, and we have never found anything that was quite right.

Then Chow published their "Crazy-Easy Christmas Cookies" article, and it included what seemed to be a very similar recipe for Florentine Cookies. Our hopes were raised. We knew it wasn't the same, but could it be, (could it? could it be?) just as good???  The suspense was killing us, so we made them on Tuesday night. And no, they are not the same. And no, they are not as good. But it could be that the memory of those particular cookies is not, in fact, reality. Maybe losing that recipe brought on some sort of romantic nostalgia for younger, easier days. Maybe that recipe is just a symbol of time, and friends, gone by. Maybe we weren't meant to have those cookies in our lives anymore.

Still, these Florentines are the closest we've come and we are enjoying every bite. And speaking of bites, this recipe doesn't make a whole lot of cookies (it says 36; we managed about 24), so be prepared and double up! And if you happened to take a holiday cookie class at Kitchens, Etc in West Hartford in the late 90's and you think you have the recipe of which we speak, please PLEASE PLEASE email us!!!

Almonds, orange zest and flour - ready to go

Sugar, butter, salt, corn syrup and cream get heated up

Pour wet mixture into the dry

Lay out on parchment-lined baking sheets
with plenty of room for them to spread out

Note: we have lots of chocolate in our other Christmas treats, so we chose not to drizzle these with chocolate and left that part out of the recipe below.

Chow's Florentine Cookies
Recipe from Chow, but pictures here were taken by us.

1 1/4 cups sliced almonds (we used slivered)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (used a little more than that)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon fine salt

Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Place the almonds, flour, and zest in a medium bowl and toss with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to combine; set aside.

Place the sugar, butter, corn syrup, cream, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the almond mixture, and stir to combine.

Drop heaping teaspoons of the batter at least 3 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets, 6 per sheet. Using a rubber spatula, pat the batter out into 2-inch-wide circles, spreading the almonds into an even single layer.

Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom and bake until the florentines are light golden brown around the edges, about 4 to 5 minutes more.

Remove from the oven to wire racks and let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes. Carefully remove the florentines from the baking sheets with a thin metal spatula, transfer to the wire racks, and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter—you can reuse the baking sheets and parchment while still warm. Reserve the parchment sheets for drizzling the chocolate over the cooled cookies, if using.

Place the cooled cookies on the reserved parchment sheets. Store the florentines in an airtight container for up to 5 days.


Countdown to Christmas: Double Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies

Yesterday we extolled the virtues of Chow, and today, we want to tell you about The Tasting Table. The Tasting Table is an email newsletter with recipes, food and drink news, restaurant reviews, travel tips and more fun stuff for foodies. Recently they sent us a recipe for Double Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies, and the recipe didn't call for butter but olive oil. While we love our butter (see every recipe we make...), we were intrigued at how these would turn out.

We made the dough on Sunday, and in our rush to "get things done" we didn't take any pictures of the dough-making process (bad bloggers!). Sorry! We chilled the dough overnight and baked the cookies Monday afternoon. The recipe said it would turn out fifty cookies. Fifty? We ended up with 90!!! Plenty of cookies to go around. And while they weren't as chocolatey as we would have liked (see note below), we are really enjoying the texture and the way the sea salt flakes play up the sweet chocolate flavor. Verdict? A yummy, grown-up cookie for the sophisticated palate.

Note: Next time (and yes, there will be a next time), we will upgrade to a better chocolate (we used Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips which are very good, but maybe not quite good enough for this recipe). We think a better quality chocolate will up the chocolatey goodness to where we want it.

Double Chocolate Sea Salt Cookies

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
⅔ cup whole-wheat flour
¼ cup natural cocoa powder
¾ tablespoon baking powder
⅔ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
flaky sea salt

In a heatproof medium bowl, add the chocolate. Set a medium saucepan filled with water over medium heat, bring to a simmer and set the heatproof bowl over the saucepan; melt the chocolate, stirring frequently. Once the chocolate is melted, carefully remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder and kosher salt.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle, mix together the reserved chocolate, sugar, eggs, olive oil and vanilla. When the ingredients are well combined, slowly add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix well, until a sticky yet firm dough forms. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least three hours or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and divide the chilled dough into ½-inch balls. Space the dough balls far enough apart so there is room for spreading. Press a pinch of flaky sea salt into the top of each ball. Bake until firm and the tops begin to crack slightly, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Serve at room temperature.