Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Delicious Southwestern Corn Chowder

Since I'm staying in New Mexico, my mom and I decided to make a southwestern style dish. And since it was snowing this morning, soup sounded great. We used a base recipe, but then made some changes. The most important being the substitution of New Mexico Green Chilies, which we roasted.

Here's the recipe:
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
3 cups fat-free chicken broth
2 cups fresh corn
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 New Mexico green chili, roasted
2 ribs celery, finely diced
2 cups low-fat milk
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish (we used sharp white cheddar)
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (this made it fairly spicy, if you don't like spice, use 1/4)

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Toss in the onions and cook until tender, about five minutes. Stir in the chicken broth and all the vegetables. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender. About 5 minutes.

Puree two cups worth of the veggie mix, or briefly use an immersion blender, but don't over puree. The chunks really make the soup great.

Add the cheese, milk, and spices. Use fresh ground black pepper to taste. Bring back to a simmer, and allow to simmer until the soup is thick. About fifteen minutes. I served it with an additional cup of Cheddar cheese for garnish, which helped to cut some of the heat of the cayenne.

Overall, this was a really delicious soup. I was very happy with it. It's great for a cold wintry night!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Call me Julia! - Boeuf Bourguignon

After watching Julie & Julia, I felt inspired. I decided to go for the big time, and make Julia Childs' boeuf bourguignon. No small feat. I googled, and found a million different blogs, articles, and other websites dedicated to Julia's famous recipe. I used the recipe here: http://www.oprah.com/recipe/food/recipesmeat/20090806-orig-julia-child-boeuf-bourguignon.

Ignore the ridiculous typos courtesy of Oprah's staff.

Okay, so the first challenge I had was that I'm in rural New Mexico, and bacon rind was not an option. I just ignored that ingredient, and added a little extra bacon to compensate. This was another adventure where I once again learned that I should lay out all my prepared ingredients, because the first part of this recipe goes fastfastfast. But once you get it in the oven, it's pretty much done.

Don't worry about preparing anything else you're serving with this dish until after you get it into the oven. You'll have plenty of time. I left it in for 2:15, but I was cooking at high elevation, and I browned the meat pretty thoroughly.

While the stew was in the oven, I made a salad with pear, gorgonzola,spicy pecans, and a homemade vinaigrette. I served the stew over mashed potatoes, which really enhanced the flavor and paired nicely with the texture. I also served some fresh french bread, to use for soaking up the juices, and as a side I also provided some roasted garlic cloves to spread on the bread. Delicious!

I'll post the spicy nut recipe separately. I need to try it again when I'm not running around trying to accomplish too many things at once.

I have no profound insight on this recipe. I think this may be one of those practice makes perfect recipes. I may have to try it again, because I thought the meat was a little dry, and could have been seasoned better. But there are SO many delicious recipes to be made!

Happy Holidays!

In my family I am the designated dessert maker. Okay, okay. I designated myself dessert maker about 6 years ago, when I decided I was tired of store bought pies. I always try to make something new and different. I've got a contingent of anti-chocolaters, a majority are chocoholics, and then there is my Uncle who won't eat anything I make, so he doesn't count at all.

This year I decided to do a bread pudding. After perusing a few recipes, I settled with a panettone bread pudding that had an amaretto cream sauce. The recipe is herewww.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/panettone-bread-pudding-with-amaretto-sauce-recipe/index.html

Having no chocolate dessert would have caused an uproar, so I paired my bread pudding with the following alcoholic hot chocolate recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/hot-chocolate-drink-recipe/index.html

So, for the bread pudding, I found the panettone at the grocery store in a box in the bakery section. And when I opened it, it smelled delicious! I trimmed off all the outer crust, and cubed the pieces. I put them in a 13 x 9, and covered it with the cream/custard mixture. I let it sit in a cool, but not cold, room for about 45 minutes. Every ten minutes I'd press the bread down into the custard mixture to make sure it was soaking. Then I popped it into the oven and baked it slightly longer than the recipe called for. My grandma's oven is old, and not so hot.

While the bread pudding was baking, I prepared the amaretto sauce and the hot chocolate. Nothing special to say about the amaretto sauce. I probably could have used a little more cornstarch, because it didn't thicken as much as I would have liked. But the flavor was very nice, and the yield was plenty to cover the bread pudding.

On the hot chocolate, I doubled the recipe. I put the milk and cream on the burner to let it come to a low boil, and while I waiting I measured out some of my other ingredients. I do not recommend doing it that way. Measure out your ingredients first, because once the milk comes to a boil, it quickly goes from low to high to "OMG ITS BOILING OVER ON MY GRANDMA'S ELECTRIC RANGE AND NOW EVERYTHING SMELLS LIKE BURNT MILK!!!" Yeah, you get the picture. Now, I can tell you that the boil over was not the end of the world, and the hot chocolate still turned out delicious. But it was an awful mess, so watch your pot.

A useful tip here. I couldn't find the Dutch processed cocoa powder. You should not use regular cocoa powder when the recipe calls for dutch processed. But you can convert regular cocoa powder to "dutch processed" by adding 1/8th a tsp of baking soda per 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Worked fine for me.

My final recommendation on the cocoa is that homemade marshmallows would have been fantastic. I used fresh whipped cream, and while it was nice, I think marshmallows would have been better. And, of course, sprinkle some shaved chocolate over the top, because it makes things look classy classy.

I'll be honest, this was not the best pairing. Each dessert on its own was delicious, but served together and at the same time they were too sweet, and a little overwhelming. I probably could have served the bread pudding, then waited a bit and served the hot chocolate. Also, hot chocolate works better when its cold. 65 and sunny in So Cal is not really the weather for hot chocolate! But this hot chocolate would be awesome around a fire in a snowy state.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mac n Cheese Please!

I'd been itching to try my hand at homemade mac n cheese. And since it was finals, comfort food seemed to be just what was needed! I started with the following recipe:
www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/baked-macaroni-and-cheese-recipe/index.html. I used two types of cheddar, a smokey yellow cheddar, and an extra sharp white cheddar.

I also decided that a little bacon was in order to make this recipe extra delicious. So I substituted some of the butter for rendered bacon fat in equal amounts. I also fried up a few pieces of bacon. I chopped them up and added them to the noodle mixture. The bacon added that extra little touch that made this dish super delish. I'd say 5 strips of thick bacon will do the trick, but make sure you chop them finely. Some of mine were a little too big, which was not aesthetically pleasing.

The only tough piece in making this recipe was the tempering of the egg. Beeeee careful! It sucks to ruin all your work by adding the egg in before its been properly tempered. I spend forever tempering. Better safe than seriously sorry. Also, be active in stirring the heated milk. I wasn't so careful, and it formed a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Not detrimental to the recipe. But made cleaning up after a serious pain.

Overall, this recipe was pretty easy and totally delicious. Much better than Easy Mac, especially during finals!

Wow Your Parents!

Want to wow your parents? Or, anyone really. Except your veggie friends. And want to wow them while not killing yourself? Yes. Okay! I've got the recipes for you!

I made a herb crusted pork tenderloin, gorgonzola and porcini risotto, and roasted asparagus.

These are the recipes I used:

For the pork, I used a 2lb tenderloin, rather than the 4lb. And I don't know what that recipe is talking about when it says that a 4lb tenderloin will only yield 6 servings. The 2lb tenderloin easily could have rendered 6 servings! Because I was using a smaller piece of meat, I changed the temperature and cook times. I did 15 minutes at 450, and 30 minutes at 375. I think could have done an additional 5 minutes at 375 to get it just right. But I didn't have a meat thermometer, so I was sort flying blind.

I used all fresh herbs, and used 3 teaspoons rather than 2. I used kosher salt. Kosher salt on roasted meat is awesome, and I happen to really enjoy it. But if you don't, then you might want to consider cutting down on the salt a little, because it was admittedly close to being too salty.

I had conveniently prepped the asparagus, using olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and lemon juice. Made sure the asparagus was thoroughly covered, put it on a baking sheet, and as soon as I took the pork out I put the asparagus in for ten minutes at 400. Make sure you turn the asparagus, or shake it up a little, half way through. The pork should rest for ten minutes after coming out of the oven, so this was a good way to productively use my time and limited oven space.

On to the risotto. This was my first time making risotto, and it was more demanding that I expected. Not in a complicated way. In a stirstirstir way. For the first part of the recipe I followed everything exactly. My mom only had red onions, so I used a red onion. A yellow one probably would have been better. But oh well. Once you get this recipe going its going, and unless you have someone else in your kitchen who can help you stir, be prepared to be very busy for about 30 minutes. I actually used all of the original chicken stock and had to add an extra cup in order to get the risotto past super crunchy and to al dente.

Once I took the risotto off the burner, I added the cheese. I made substantial changes to the cheese. I did 3/4 cup of parmesan, and about 1/2 cup asiago. I only added about 1/3 a cup of gorgonzola. And I'm glad I did it that way, because it stopped the gorgonzola from taking over the flavor. It was nicely balanced, and tasted great.

My only other word of warning on the risotto is that you should definitely use low-sodium chicken stock. Otherwise it will be just a touch too salty.

Overall, the pork tenderloin was really easy to make, asparagus is always a hit, and the risotto looks and tastes a lot more difficult than it is. Your parents will think you're classy. And isn't that always the goal?

Monday, December 21, 2009


I was recently treated to a very nice dinner at L'Etoile. I enjoy French food. It plays up all my favorite flavors, and everything is usually rich and decadent. To feel the part, Chris and I dressed to the nines. He wore a suit and tie, and I wore a floor length yellow chiffon dress with a heart shaped bodice and a single shoulder strap. But this isn't a fashion blog, so on to the food!

We started with the foie gras and the sweetbreads. The foie gras was delicious, and the crostini that came with it was perfectly toasted. Not too thick, not too dry, not to hard. It had a wonderful flavor and texture. I thought the sweetbreads were good, although not the best I've ever had. What I liked was that they were not in a heavy sauce, so all the flavor was coming from the meat itself. It gave me a new appreciation for sweetbreads. I feel like a good sauce enhances the natural flavor of the meat, which is why these sweetbreads are not my all time favorite. But they were very good, nonetheless.

For our second course we ordered the pear bisque and a salad. The salad had goat cheese, ham, pine nuts, and a citrus vinaigrette. The salad was very good, but how much can really be said about a salad? The soup, however, was interesting and unique. I was a bit worried that it would be a sweet soup, because of the pear. It was a freezing night outside, and sweet was not what I was in the mood for. But it was a savory blend. It reminded me a little of a butternut squash bisque, where the sweet and savory work together. It had the same creamy consistency as butternut squash bisque, with a beautiful champagne color.

For entrees we decided to go with a meat and a pasta. For our meat we ordered the duck with cranberry, mashed potatoes, and mushrooms. The duck was perfectly cooked, and the sides came together to enhance the rich flavor of the meat. It was some of the best duck I've had, because it was so moist and flavorful. Why do people order chicken?! For our pasta we ordered a delicious goat cheese gnocchi with sweet potato and other fall root vegetables. I thought some of the root vegetables were unnecessary and even distracting, but the sugary flavor of the sweet potatoes really brought out the goat cheese. Both of the entrees were delicious, and I was glad Chris was willing to share with me, so I could try them both.

Chris had been eyeing the bread pudding on the dessert menu from the moment we sat down. There was no denying him the southern style bread pudding with chocolate chips. I opted for the pot de creme. Chris' dessert was the easy winner. The pot de creme wasn't as creamy, rich or flavorful as I expected. But the bread pudding was amazing. Rich and moist, and the chocolate chips were a great addition.

If you want to go on a really sophisticated date, L'Etoile is a great choice. The wait staff was friendly, professional, and attentive. The drinks (he had scotch and I had a Kir Royale) were well made. The atmosphere was quiet, private, and romantic. And the food was...superb.

Overall, if you want to impress a girl, this is the place to go. Thanks for taking me, Chris! :)

So, the breakdown, on a scale from 1 to 5:

Ambiance: 4
Service: 5
Entrees: 5
Desserts: 4
Overall: 5

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Cookie Party!

I hosted a holiday cookie party study break. Holiday cookie parties are a fun way to see friends and then mix and match cookies and take a plate home. Great for study time!

I busted out my great grandmother's peanut butter ball recipe. It's my all time fave holiday treat.

1 lb butter
3 tbsp vanilla
2 12 oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 blocks paraffin (I've never used the entire amount)
2 cups peanut butter
3 boxes powdered sugar

Mix together the butter, peanut butter and vanilla.
Add 1 box of powdered sugar at a time to first mixture. Mix until crumbly.
Roll peanut butter mixture into small balls. Refrigerate until chocolate is ready.
Melt paraffin over double boiler and add chocolate chips, stir.
Use toothpicks to hold balls and dip in chocolate. Lay out on wax paper until solid.

They are kind of time consuming to make, because you end up rolling and dipping about 100 individual balls. I had three full cookie sheets worth. I'd allocate a good hour and a half to prep work and dry time. But they stay good and taste fresh for weeks, and are extremely crowd pleasing.

Oh, and you'll probably have extra chocolate for dipping, so buy some nice strawberries and dip them afterward. Or shortbread cookies! Good chocolate should not go to waste!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Going Greek for Thanksgiving: Dolmas!

I love dolmas. For the last couple of months, every time I order one I think "hm. I wonder how they make these?" I decided to figure it out over Thanksgiving. And I was surprised to find out they were not as complicated as I expected.

Here's the recipe I used:

I stuck to the recipe on this one, because I honestly didn't know what I was doing. If the first thing that confuses you is where to find grape leaves, try the grocery store aisle with the olives, pickled veggies, and tahini. One jar should be plenty.

I did have one place where I had to change course. I ended up with more dolmas than would fit in my (rather tiny) pan. So I had to use two. This ended up giving me one pan of dolmas that tasted rather different. One pan ended up with more lemon juice in the simmering liquid. You could really tell! It overpowered the other flavors, and was a bit too tart. But the other set were perfect!

Final word of warning on these. Dolmas are sensitive. Don't wrap them too tight, because they will explode. Don't wrap them too loose, otherwise they will explode! And don't take them off the simmer until it is easy to pierce them with a fork! Otherwise the leaves will be tough to bite through.

But if you want to totally impress people at a potluck, this is a pretty good recipe to go with!

Sweet Potato Pie

I stopped by a local restaurant just before Thanksgiving, and they had sweet potato pie on the menu. Never having had it, I decided to order it and see what all the fuss was about. I was extremely disappointed. The pie was bland, and not sweet enough. But I could tell that with the right balance of spices, and a few tweaks, that pie would have been delicious. So I decided to make my own for Thanksgiving!

I started with this recipe:

I fully lazied it up, and used a pre-made pie crust. I was in a surly "not making a crust" mood. Plus there was an insane amount of cooking over two days, and pie crust got ranked as the least important. I think I could have improved the pre-made pie crust by brushing it with melted butter and sprinkling a cinnamon sugar mix on it. I'll try that next time.

I followed the recipe pretty much exactly. I used an 8-inch round pan with high sides. I forced the first half of the sweet potatoes through the fine mesh sieve, and then I decided that wasn't really worth it, and pureed the bejesus out of the rest of the sweet potato in my blender. Save yourself time and arm strength. Seriously.

As a finishing touch, to add a little bit of additional sweetness, and give it that good old southern look, I added a brown sugar crumble on the top. I took it from the following recipe: http://southernfood.about.com/od/applepies/r/bl50808a.htm

Made the topping and sprinkled it on before baking. I might recommend baking the pie for a few minutes and then adding the crumble, so that it doesn't sink into the top of the pie as much as mine did.

The toughest part of this was that I made it on Wednesday night, and wouldn't allow myself to eat any until Thanksgiving. SO HARD! But when I finally did get to eat it, it was AWESOME!

Overall, this was easy-peasy deliciousness. I thought it was much better than pumpkin pie, and this may be my new Thanksgiving contribution!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fiesta fiesta!

Hola! I hosted a friend's birthday party, and we went with "Fiesta" as a theme. I decided to make fish tacos and mushroom enchiladas.

Here are the recipes I used:

So, for the enchilada recipe, I used a mix of portobello and button mushrooms. I added a teaspoon of diced garlic to the onions while they were sauteing. I also added about a teaspoon of ancho chili powder to the mushrooms mixture while it was on the stove top. I used small corn tortillas, but it probably would have been better and easier to use larger flour tortillas. If you insist on using corn, make sure you microwave them before you try to stuff and wrap them, otherwise the tortillas will just break and crumble and be generally non-cooperative. I also used a ton of cheese. I used a pico de gallo type salsa for the bottom of the pan, but I think more liquid on the bottom might have made them more moist. Not to say that I'd use a red sauce. Just a more thoroughly pureed mixture. Overall, they were really tasty, especially with a little guac and sour cream. Mmm.

For the fish tacos I started with tilapia (because it was on sale!) and cut it into small squares. I laid them on a baking sheet with a substantial lip on it. Instead of using oil, I used butter. Why? Because butter is delicious and makes everything better. I used two sticks of butter (I had 14 tilapia fillets), one salted and one unsalted. Then I added about a cup of lime juice, ancho chili powder, jalapeno, chopped garlic, and pepper. Poured it over the fish. Baked it at 350 for 15 minutes. Tasty tasty!

Special shout out to my awesome kitchen assistant Sarah. She did all the hard stuff! Thanks Sarah!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Can Can Brasserie

I had to spend a night in Richmond, or really a sketchy motel just outside of Richmond, before the MPRE. Three of my other friends were taking the MPRE in Richmond as well, so we made reservations at the Can Can Brasserie. Here's their website: http://www.cancanbrasserie.com/cc_content.htm. The brasserie is a French bistro style restaurant, which certainly has the look of a traditional Parisian location...if it were only 1/4th of its current size. Its an extremely large restaurant, and was crowded and a little loud. So, maybe this isn't where you go for a romantic pre-MPRE dinner. But it was a fun place to go for a group of friends playing catch up.

I started with escargot. I thought the portion was huge, and was well prepared. Plenty of bang for your buck. I prefer my escargot to be extremely garlicky, so a bit more garlic would have been fine with me. But the dish was buttery, and the meat was prepared properly (read: not chewy). And once I finished dipping the meat in the butter and garlic sauce, I used it on a couple of pieces of bread, because it was just too delicious to waste!

For my entree I ordered the sweetbreads. First off, I lovelovelove sweetbreads. Probably one of my all time favorite dishes. And the sweetbreads at the Brasserie were perfection. Some of the best I've had. The portion, again, was very large. I'd almost say it was overwhelming, because sweetbreads are so rich. But if you are a fan of sweetbreads, this place does them extremely well. The chef here is a fan of purees, so one of my sides was pureed sweet potatoes. Good, not amazing. But the sweetbreads were wonderful, so it didn't really matter what else was on my plate.

Finally, for dessert I split the goat cheese cake with black, white, and pink peppercorn ice cream, topped with a pear compote and pear caramel sauce. I was extremely underwhelmed by the goat cheese cake. Probably because I made the mistake of thinking it was a cheesecake made with some goat cheese. And instead it had a dry crumbly cake texture. But the ice cream was a wonderful surprise! It was spicy, and had both the savory and sweet sensation. I was also pleased to find that I really enjoyed the pear compote. It was just the right balance of spices, and was not overly sweet, which is often my problem with fruit compotes.

Overall, this is great restaurant if you're looking for a fun adventurous night out! And you're in Richmond...

So, the breakdown, on a scale from 1 to 5:

Ambiance: 4
Service: 3
Entrees: 4
Desserts: 3
Overall: 4

Friday, November 13, 2009

Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

It was finally that time of year! Time to make soup and grilled cheese sandwiches! This was my second attempt at a soup from scratch. I roasted the tomatoes myself, which was super easy. Here's the recipe I used for the soup:


I made a few little alterations. I added 1/4 tsp cayenne, for a little kick. And I also added about 2 tablespoons of rendered bacon fat, to make it savory and delicious. Because, lets be honest, bacon fat makes everything better. I used a good old counter top blender rather than a hand blender, and it worked out fine. I also recommend having a lot of fresh ground pepper on hand. It really helps balance the flavors.

For my grilled cheese, I used the following recipe:


Yes. I used a recipe for grilled cheese. I wanted something a bit more than bread and cheese. I used my Foreman grill, which worked out AWESOME. That thing is so fabulous. If I make these sandwiches again, I'd actually use a combo of gruyere and cheddar. I think that would have played nicely with the bacon and apples. Oh, and I used plain dijon, but I think a hearty deli style mustard would have worked better. I remade them (sort of) a few days later and used a sweet and spicy mustard, and it was great.

Overall, both of these recipes were easy and crowd pleasing.

Continental Divide

I've tried to go to Continental Divide three times. First two, the wait was ridiculous. Third time's a charm, right?! Well, sort of. We got there on a Wednesday night at 6:30, and we still had to wait at the bar for a bit.

But, while at the bar, I decided to try one of their highly touted margaritas. And, I'll be honest, it was pretty good. Nothing fancy. Tequila and lime juice. No flavors. No foam. No froufrou. Just a nice, clean, margarita. I think Ventana has the better margarita. But Continental Divide's was very satisfying.

Once we eventually got seated, we started with the Texas hummus. Meeeeeh. I was not wowed by this. I thought the hummus could have used more lemon juice. And I really wished that they had used homemade tortilla chips, like the ones that Mono Loco makes. Overall, the appetizer did not wow me, and none of the other things on the menu looked all that appealing either.

The entree was a different story. I had the mushroom and spinach enchilada. And it was amazing. Cheesy deliciousness! And the price was extremely reasonable, especially given that Charlottesville tends to be not so reasonable in its pricing.

Sadly, I went a little more than a week ago. And I honestly can't remember what I had for dessert! On the plus side, neither can my dining partner. But we both remember it being good.

Honestly, I just can't recommend this place. The wait is always way too long, its always too crowded, and there is no place to stand while you are waiting. AND they don't take reservations. It's one of those places where I recommend you stop by and see if there is availability, and if there isn't, then walk over to one of the other restaurants nearby.

So, the breakdown, on a scale from 1 to 5:

Ambiance: 2
Service: 4
Entrees: 4
Cocktails: 4
Desserts: 3
Overall: 2


I'm generally a skeptic about Italian food. I hardly ever go to Italian restaurants, because most of the time I end up disappointed.

Enter Tavola. It definitely broke the mold. Its a cute little joint next to The Local in Belmont. Be careful, because the inside is small and seating is limited, so on a really cold night you might want to make sure you have a reservation, because they do not have a waiting area.

The restaurant has an open kitchen. It was a nice feature, not because I paid any attention to what they were doing, but because the smell of butter was wafting through the restaurant. So delicious!

We started with a bottle of chianti. I thought the range of wine options was good, mostly on the pricey side. And the menu had excellent variety in all categories. I'd like to pause here to comment on our waitress. She spilled some of the wine down my glass, and didn't offer to clean it up. And she told us we could read the specials off the board ourselves. We were as far away from the board as you could get. And, oh, no glasses on! Couldn't see. My dinner partner had to read the board for me. I thought that, overall, the service was not the best. Especially given that the restaurant was small.

So, back to the food. We had the bruschette special. It was three different rounds of toast, one with goat cheese and roasted tomato, one with pork, and one with tuna that was garnished with light lemon juice and capers. Out of the three the tuna was my favorite, although it was made better by adding some fresh ground pepper. I thought that the goat cheese could have been improved with diced roasted tomato, rather than a single roasted tomato. I thought the pork was a little dry.

For my entree I ordered the costoletta alla milanese. Bone in veal, breaded, with lemon and capers. It was delicious. I thought the breading could have been a little lighter. But it was really cooked well, and the portion was substantial. Price to portion and quality, I thought it was very reasonable. One of the best pieces of the meal was the side order of pan roasted brussel sprouts. Oh how I love brussel sprouts! And these were beautifully browned and buttery.

For dessert we split the cookies. One was almond biscotti, nicely soft. Not break your teeth hard, which is often my objection to biscotti. And then dark chocolate and sea salt cookies, which I thought were fantastic. The salt really set off the chocolate flavor.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience, and I'd go back again. But only with one or two people at a time, otherwise you might not get a seat!

So, the breakdown, on a scale from 1 to 5:

Ambiance: 4
Service: 3
Entrees: 4
Desserts: 3
Overall: 4

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brunch Club - Eurotrip!

This week's brunch club theme was Eurotrip. So, I thought about one of my eurotrips, to France and Italy with my mom. We had pain au chocolat pretty much EVERY day. So, that was what I decided to make.

I also decided to lazy it up hardcore, and I bought crescent rolls. Sort of a mistake, because I should I have bought puff pastry and cut it myself. It would have been lighter and fluffier. Sigh. Definitely will do that next time. Anyways, here are my suggested directions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 350
2. Cut puff pastry into squares, and then cut each square diagonally (to form triangles).
3. Spread nutella in a triangle shape stopping about 1/2" or so from the edges
4. Roll from the wide end of the triangle towards the pointed end.
5. Pinch the ends closed
6. Shape into a crescent and place on a foil covered baking sheet.
7. Bake for approximately 15 minutes. Be careful not to bake for too long, because no one likes burnt croissants.

Overall, this is a super easy thing to make in the morning for a brunch, and it'll be a big hit because, let's be honest, who doesn't love chocolate? If you don't, you are unamerican. Just putting that out there.

Apologies for the lack of pictures. They just looked like croissants. Not that exciting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Brunch Club - Its November!

This week's brunch club theme is November. November makes me think of Thanksgiving, so I decided to incorporate some traditional thanksgiving flavors into my creation.

I started with english muffins. Then I added some sliced brie. I popped that in the oven for 5 minutes at 350, just to get the brie a little melty and the english muffins a warm and toasty.

I was lazy (and running way late because I went to the grocery store at 8:45 in the morning, and had to be done and at brunch by 11) so I used pre-made turkey sausage patties. Made this recipe SUPER easy. I prepared them in a frying pan, and put them on top of the english muffins. Then I chopped some sage and rosemary and sprinkled it over the top of the sausage patties.

While all this was going on, I also prepared a cranberry sauce to go on top of everything. I used this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/cranberry-sauce-recipe/index.html. Make sure you give it enough time to let the cranberries pop completely, because otherwise the sauce ends up having awkwardly bitter moments whenever you eat one of the cranberries that didn't burst. But, overall, super easy recipe to make. I took the cranberry sauce as a side, because putting it on too early would make things soggy.

This was a great brunch recipe, especially given the theme. It was fast and easy to make, easy to transport, and had a great flavor combination. The sage and rosemary were critical for that, because they really brought out the Thanksgiving feel.

In other brunch deliciousness, Kristin made an AWESOME corn casserole and Floren made a spicy pear bundt cake, with real pear. Recipes please!

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Witch's Brew

Happy Halloween!

I went to a Halloween party, and was assigned to bring the alcoholic beverages. Bummer! How do you make themed drinks that can keep up with the kids who got assigned dessert? Dessert is always the best for matching a theme.

Anyways, I perused the Internet, and decided to make two things. The first were jello shots, which I thought I could spruce up with gummy worms, awesome presentation, and bright colors. Here's the recipe I (pretended to?) used: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Tainted-Fruit-Shots/Detail.aspx

I made two batches. The first used strawberry flavored jello. I accidentally got my measurements wrong, and ended up with 1 3/4 cups of vodka and 1/4 cup of cold water, rather then the 1 1/4 cups vodka and the 3/4 water the recipe actually called for.

I put the mix into individual 3oz cups. I would have preferred black cups, but had to settle with what they had at Target, which were green. I placed them in the fridge for about an hour, then put the gummy worms in, so that the mix had solidified enough that the worms wouldn't just sink to the bottom.

The second batch, with the green jello, had the "correct" measurements. This batch never really solidified like the red batch did. It was great for taking them as shooters, but not so great for making rotten fruit. The jello wasn't really solid enough to transport outside of a cup. I ended up eating the rotten fruit myself! Gee. Such torture.

The way to make the rotten fruit is to slice an orange, and then sink the slices of rind into the slightly solidified jello. I'd use an 8x8 square pan, or something similar. When the jello is set (normally about 4 hours) you can cut the rinds out and then shape each one to look more like a slice. My picture gives you an idea of what they'd look like. Do-able, adorable. But a lot more work than the gummy worm shots.
I spruced up the presentation on my wormy shots by putting down a layer of "dirt" made of a mix of brown sugar and coffee, and then putting plastic spiders and additional gummy worms all over. This probably would have looked super cool if I'd used all green, rather than the mix of red and green.

Every party needs some sort of punch. You can't survive on jello shots alone. I took some inspiration from the following recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/candy-corn-cordials-recipe/index.htmland then entirely changed everything around. I made the candy corn infused vodka, which didn't really taste like candy corn, but had an AWESOME bright orange color. I think if I did it again, I'd infuse the vodka overnight, rather than three hours, and just let the candy corn dissolve entirely into the vodka. When I served it, I used a handle of the vodka, a liter of sprite, a liter of 7-up, and half a bottle of orange liquer. It was a lot of punch. I had intended on using the lemon juice, but forgot to grab it in the rush to get out of my house. These things happen.
To make the punch more spooky, I also made "zombie hand" ice cubes, to float in the punch and keep it cool. Just take latex gloves, wash the outside throughly, then flip them inside out, and fill with water. Hang them in the freezer for 24 hours. When you want to use them, run them under hot water for a few seconds to loosen the latex, then peel it off. Watch out, because the fingers are delicate and will break, but that just makes the hands more creepy! The final trick for making a totally awesome witch's brew is dry ice. Create a sort of double boiler. I used a big silver basin, but it would have been cooler with a cauldron. Make some type of platform in the cauldron (I used a big pot), and then put water (any temp, but the hotter the water the more smoke you'll get) into the bottom. Add a few pieces of dry ice, and TA-DAAAAA! You've got a smokey witch's brew! You really don't need much dry ice to keep it smoking all night. 1lb, maybe 2, will probably be more than enough.

Other items worthy of a shout out at this party (add your recipes, please!):

Katie's rotten deviled eggs

Lisa's finger cookies:

Floren's adorable chocolate pumpkin cake:

Rachel's AWESOME graveyard cake (she made those toppers herself!):

I don't have a picture of it, but Dean's pork tenderloin was delish and perfectly moist. Overall, everyone did a great job of working within the theme to come up with a great spread! Please post your recipes, and if you've got pics of your own dishes, let me know and I'll post them!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Calvino - Cville's Best Coffee Shop

I will probably review Calvino repeatedly, because I love it that much. I'm going to keep this super simple.

Fantastic coffee.
Great breakfast paninis.
Delicious wraps.
Friendly and efficient staff.
Awesomely cool owner!

Become a facebook fan, because the specials are posted daily, and often there are free treats available for fans.

This is my favorite coffee shop in Cville, and I've spent a lot of time exploring the different options. Soon, however, everyone will realize how awesome it is, what with its free parking, free wifi, and great eats. And then it will be hard to get a table. But for now.... THE BEST.

Brunch Club - A Simple Souffle?

Hello! You should call me Substitution Sally, because I clearly just used this recipe to change practically everything! Here's what I started with: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/cheese-souffle-recipe/index.html

And here's what I did to change it:

1. I didn't have any parm cheese, so I used some Gouda.
2. I didn't have a souffle dish, so I used a spring form pan.
3. I didn't have any garlic powder, so I used the same amount of garlic paste.
4. I didn't have any cream of tartar, so I used the same amount of lemon juice.
5. I added about 1/4 cup of roasted tomatoes.
6. I added about 1/4 cup of roasted red pepper.
7. I added about 6 oz of Gouda on the top of the souffle.

And, you know, for all these substitutions, it turned out delicious. My only mistake, and this was a relatively substantial mistake (as far as presentation was concerned) was adding the cheese on the top. I put it on with 5 minutes left to cook. I added it for two reasons. One is that I thought the top was getting a little too brown. But I could have fixed that by using foil. The second is that I really really love cheese. There is no fixing that. And I had all this delicious cheese in my fridge to use!

Why is putting all that delicious cheese on the top a mistake, you ask? Oh, because the souffle was so light and delicate that the 6 oz of cheese proved too heavy and caused my souffle to squish a little. And then the car ride over to brunch club caused it to squish more. And then cutting through that crusty layer of delicious cheese? Souffle explosion.

But it tasted delicious! I think if you make this recipe (with or without all my substitutions) I'd recommend adding somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper. A word of warning: this recipe has the potential to go terribly terribly wrong. You're doing a lot of things at once. And there is the dreaded requirement that you temper the egg mixture. Always a dangerous proposition, especially as far into the recipe as this was. But if you temper with tiny amounts at a time, you'll be fine. I honestly started with about a tablespoon at a time, and gradually increased to about a cup at a time. Better to be safe and slow than sorry, right?

Otherwise, this morning was another delicious and successful brunch club! Excellent work everyone!

Brunch Club - Breakfast at Tiffany's

This is going to be a short entry, because I'm pretty sure you all know how to make a mimosa. Which was really all I contributed to this brunch. But I wanted to thank everyone for coming and bringing great things.

And Floren's cookies deserve a special shout out. AH-MAZE-ING! Both tasty, and exactly on theme. Floren gets 5 stars. 5 entirely unimportant and meaningless stars! YES! But look at how beautiful these cookies were!

It was really a great showing. You all impressed my family and made them believe that I hang out with totally classy people! Post recipes, because I want them.

Braised Short Ribs

This is going to be my new go to dinner party recipe. Simple, inexpensive, and absolutely delicious. I'll admit, it doesn't plate too pretty, but, hey, you can't have everything!

Since the braised short ribs didn't plate pretty, I went with a salad I thought I could make look fancy and sophisticated. This is an endive salad with blue cheese and spicy candied pecans. Recipe is here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/robin-miller/endive-salad-with-candied-pecans-and-maytag-blue-cheese-recipe/index.html. Honestly, I don't remember the recipe for the spicy candied pecans. I toasted them on the stove top, then coated them in a mixture of brown sugar, butter, maple syrup, and maybe 1/4 tsp cayenne. Popped them in the oven at 250 for ten minutes, and poof! Sweet but majorly sassy crunch on the salad! And making the candied pecans was honestly a snap.For the braise I cheated. Lee bequeathed me his super amazing braising liquid, which the last time it was used had a stick of butter added to it. Yes, Paula Dean, yes. A whole stick! So I had a major advantage when making these. I got the cuts of meat at the Organic Butcher, which was really reasonably priced.

Here's what I did:

1. Preheat your oven to 250

2. Brown the meat in the braising pan on the stove top until it smells good. This won't take long.

3. Remove meat from pan, deglaze the pan (I used red wine).

4. Add aromatics. I used onions, carrots, and celery. You could also add some bay leaves.

5. Add the meat back in. Add braising liquid to almost cover the meat. Cover (I used foil).

6. Place in oven and cook between 225 and 275 for approximately 4 hours. Your meat is done when it is literally falling off the bone. The meat should be so tender that you don't need a knife.

While the meat was braising, I prepared additional vegetables to combine with the aromatics. Sweet potatoes, garlic, and parsnip. Just cut it, coated in olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper, and a little rosemary. I eventually put them in with the braise and let them cook slow for a while, then removed the braise and cranked up the oven to 400 for 20 minutes. They turned out much better than my last attempt at root vegetables.

I thought that the meat needed a little salt when it was served, so I think next time I try this recipe I'll salt the meat slightly after it comes out of the oven before I serve it.

Really, the reason this is the perfect dinner party meal is that it is very (veryveryvery) low intensity, so you can make an amazing meal and still have time to interact with your guests. Normally I end up all frazzled because I'm running around my kitchen (okay, there isn't really any running in my 5 foot kitchen) trying to get everything done, and neglecting my guests. Not with this meal!

Also, shout out to Katie. How do you say "delicious dessert" in Hawaiian? Don't ask me, but her Hawaiian delicious coffee brownies (okay, that's not the name, but it was something like that!) were really good. Brownie. Coffee ice cream. Toasted coconut. Chocolate Syrup. 'Nuff said.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Brunch Club - The First

My friends and I are having our inaugural "Brunch Club" meeting this morning. I'm not going to review everyone's fare unless they request it, but you may see some future Brunch Club posts. Anyways...

I've been having a cupcake craving. But cupcakes are not really brunch food, especially for a brunch starting at 10am. So, I decided to go with a muffin-cupcake theory. Really, its just a muffin with frosting. Good deal, right?

I decided to lazy it up, so I bought boxed muffin mix. The reason I feel not so bad about buying boxed muffin mix is that it seems a big waste of my time to mix and sift flour/sugar/etc. I went with a box of Krusteaz Fat Free Wild Blueberry. I didn't notice the fat free part until I got home. Not a big fan of baking with the fat free, but it was fine because the frosting fattied it up. A lot.

I didn't want to be entirely non-creative with my box o' muffins, so I minced fresh strawberries and added 1/4 cup of the strawberries to the batter. I reduced the water in the recipe by 1/8th of a cup. I probably could have added more fresh strawberries, since strawberries are a rather mildly flavored fruit, especially when compared with blueberries. If I had used cranberries, then 1/4 cup would have been sufficient. But I also was aiming for a big strawberry taste. Oh well. This is what I get for being lazy. However, the muffins taste good, and considering how little time/effort it took, I was pleased with them. My only complaint about this box mix is that it makes 11, yes that's 11, muffins. Not very many, and why can't you give me enough batter to make 12?!

For the frosting I borrowed a Paula Dean recipe. You know what that means... BUTTER!!! Insane amounts of butter! The recipe is here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/red-velvet-cupcakes-with-cream-cheese-frosting-recipe/index.html

Now, when I looked at this recipe, I was pretty floored by just how much cream cheese and butter it was calling for. I made half the recipe, knowing that half the recipe would probably frost 24 cupcakes easily. Paula Dean must end up with cupcakes that have more frosting than cake! So, if you cut the recipe in half you will get delicious frosting and plenty of it. I actually didn't half the vanilla, but I like very vanilla flavor. I also added about 1/4 cup minced fresh strawberries, to compliment the flavor of the muffin. Deeeeelicious. But how could it not be, with that much butter and cream cheese?!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wine Tasting: Blenheim and Kluge

I'll just preface my wine criticism with two things: (1) I am relatively an amateur when it comes to wine, but my reviews will be based only in part on the wine, part on the ambiance, and part on food/other services the winery offers. And (2) Virginia wine, overall, is just not that fab. Sorry kids.

Okay. Now that I've said those things, I had a lovely girls day out where we visited Blenheim (see: http://www.blenheimvineyards.com/) vineyards, which are owned by Dave Matthews, and Kluge (see: http://www.klugeestateonline.com/). They're on the same road, less than a mile apart. And this happened to be a gorgeous not really fall day in Charlottesville. Perfect for sitting on a patio.

Well, at Kluge. Because Blenheim didn't really have a patio to sit on. Sigh. Blenheim has a gorgeous barn that the tastings are done in, and it would probably make a really nice space for a catered private event. The view from the window was beautiful. Pictures forthcoming.

So, tasting time. The tasting at Blenheim costs $5, and you keep your glass. Except for Friday. Because they were running short on glasses. But they still charged us $5! They did give us a voucher for a free tasting and glass, but that of course means I'll have to come back. Why don't you just not charge me? Duh. That's $5 more that I'll spend on a bottle of wine. I grudgingly paid my $5 for the tasting. At least they were generous with the pourings, and allowed us to re-try multiple wines. We tried 5 whites, 3 reds, and a "baby" wine whose grapes had been picked only three weeks before our visit. Blenheim was also fortuitously understaffed so that our wine pourer kept leaving us alone with the bottles. Mistake, sir!

As far as the wine went, I actually really liked the chardonnays. I generally don't like chards, because I find them too buttery. I just don't like the big oaky flavor. But these chards were more crispy and fruity, and not aged in oak. Plus for me! The reds were...decent. I bought a bottle of the Meritage, because it was $10, and for a $10 bottle it was pretty good. Most of us agreed that the best thing we tried was the baby wine. It was sweet, and smelled fantastic.

Overall, Blenheim wines were just okay, but the space was very pretty, and if I had a large group event I would definitely consider renting the space.

On to Kluge! Pronounced Kloo-gee. Guh. I refuse to say it that way. I keep calling it Kloo-guh. Even in my mind. Kluge has a nice tasting area. Pretty house with a patio and a tree-shaded picnic area. The tasting at Kluge is not your "traditional" wine tasting experience. You buy a flight of cones. The flight of wines is $10, the flight of sparklings is $12. I did the sparklings. The cones are a pretty good portion of wine, but unlike with a normal tasting you don't get an expert's opinion or information on each one. And you don't get to take anything home! Boo.

My opinion on the sparklings: Meh. The three whites were nothing special. I don't lovelove sparkling wines in the first place. But the two reds in this flight were not good. One of them tasted like pickle juice! The best item in the flight was the mixed Cru and Blanc de Blanc. But, funny enough, one of the other girls with me had the same flight, and her Cru/Blanc de Blanc was entirely different from mine. My mix had more of the blanc. Hers had more of the cru. Hers was a sparkling dessert wine! I actually enjoyed it that way. I also took a few sips of the wine flight, and the rose was not particularly good either. It was bland. Lacked flavor.

I thought the most unique item at Kluge was the Cru. It was almost a liqueur. Very sweet, with hints of Bailey's and Jack Daniels. I bought a bottle to share with my non-wine drinking family.

Oh, and the cheese plate at Kluge was pretty good. If you run out of bread you can ask for crackers, and they'll give them to you for free. More bread is $2.50.

These may be harsh critiques, but it was actually a really pleasant and beautiful day. If you don't care about the quality of the wine, then these spots are great to hang out, and enjoy great company and beautiful weather.


Ventana has the best margarita in Charlottesville. Period.

Okay, now that I've said that, I admit that I may have to take this back once I FINALLY get in to Continental Divide. But seeing as that place is always exceedingly crowded, and I'm actually very confident that Ventana has one of the best margaritas I've ever had, I'll put that bold best statement out there. And since Ventana has renovated their space from a bar that was slightly larger than my not so large closet to a full and very swanky and comfortable restaurant, its certainly got the space advantage over Continental Divide. The ambiance at the new Ventana is very nice. Very upscale. Now, on to the fare!

Let's be honest. Foam is SO last year. Not even last year. Foam is like 1999. And I hate it when its on food. But Ventana successfully uses foam. I think they could maybe use a little less foam on their margaritas, because I always end up with a small mountain of foam in the bottom of my glass, but the slightly salty foam adds a nice bite to the margaritas, without the overwhelmingly salty/"omg the salt" is gone problem of salting the rim. Huge fan of the seafoam. Excellent touch, sir. I approve.

Another major positive about this place is the charcuterie. Fabulous starter at an extremely reasonable price. Ventana margaritas come in a range of flavors that can be sweet, savory, or even spicy. I had the cucumber margarita, Dean had sage, and Floren had tangerine. The prices of the margaritas and charcuterie make this a do-able swanky hang out even if you're on a college budget.

But, if you're on a college budget, or are generally opposed to things that are overpriced, which I certainly am, then I would not plan on having dinner at Ventana unless you have the appetite of a 90 pound junior high school girl. My real struggle with this place was that the flavors were fantastic and well combined, and the plating was some of the best I've seen in Charlottesville. But the portions were tiny, and the prices were unreasonably high. So, they either need to drop their prices by about $3 to $5 on almost every item except the charcuterie and drinks, or they need to dramatically increase the portions. I mean, are you really going to pay $8 for regular tortilla chips and admittedly tasty salsa, when the salsa comes in tiny portions? I'm not.

I had the flank steak and frites. It was $17, but I was still hungry afterward. And that was after splitting the chipotle and duck terrine charcuterie. Which, the charcuterie was actually the perfect portion to share as a starter. We also split the churros and hot chocolate for dessert. It was delicious, but, again, overpriced for the portion. I spent more than $40 on this meal after tip, and I left the table hungry.

So, my recommendation is to hit Ventana for happy hour, or even as a classy and sophisticated starting spot on a date, and then head down the downtown mall to a place that has good food with decent portions at reasonable prices. You are not going to find that at Ventana.

Don't know where it is and want to try it? Go here: http://maps.google.com/maps?rls=com.microsoft:*:IE-SearchBox&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7TSHB&um=1&ie=UTF-8&q=ventana,+22903&fb=1&gl=us&hq=ventana,&hnear=22903&view=text&latlng=979443177442959577

So, the breakdown, on a scale from 1 to 5:

Ambiance: 5
Service: 4 (very attentive and responsive, but the waitress was actually too fast, and didn't let us finish starters before serving our entrees)
Entrees: 3
Cocktails: 5
Desserts: 3
Overall: 4

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall Flavors!

For tonight I decided to celebrate the arrival of Fall with a meal highlighting some of my favorite fall flavors. I had fantastic assistance from friends, who brought lovely items. Particularly in the theme was Floren's pumpkin gnocchi, which paired nicely with the Butternut Cider Bisque.

The bisque was my first ever attempt at soup. I was really happy with how it turned out. Dean told me once that he enjoys making soup because you can't overcook it. The longer you cook it the better it gets. TRUE STORY! I was displeased with the consistency, so I just let it simmer. For a long time. And eventually it was thick and lovely. It needed salt and paper IMO, but I'm also a big fan of the salt and fresh ground pepper. It worked nicely for my guests, because I had a range of tastes at the table, and so everyone seasoned to their liking. But, overall, this soup was easy and delicious. Very nice fall flavor! The picture, as I'm sure you can figure out, is not of the soup. Because, well, it wasn't very exciting. So instead its a picture of my nice table setting. Nice...other than the one non-matching bowl. Because I only have six bowls. =(

Do I even have to tell you about the bacon wrapped dates? Bacon is delicious. Cream cheese is delicious. Almonds are delicious. Dates are...well...not as delicious as all those other things, but when you put those delicious other things in and around a date? Wow. Wow! Super easy, crowd pleasing appetizers. I cooked them longer than was called for, but that's because my bacon was a little thick (I had wrapped the bacon around more than once because I cut the pieces too long) and because I like crispy bacon. Very successful. Great if you need to bring something to a potluck. You'll be a star. And this pic is not cute, but they just came out of the oven, and trust me they tasted amazing.

Finally, the pork. Pork tenderloin is lovely, but I really had cook time issues with this recipe. I ended up cooking the pork for about 20 minutes rather than 10, and it still wasn't done! I sliced it and cooked it for a few more minutes, and that worked. It had fantastic flavor, though. The cranberry stuffing, which isn't really stuffing at all but more of a thick paste, smelled delicious and the pork really sucked in the tart and sweet combination of flavors. I traded out the cascabel powder for ancho, because, I'll be honest here, Cville grocery stores are not the place to find the fancy spices. Anyways, the substitution was fine. The strangest part of this recipe was the Chicken Sauce. I really don't know what that was for. But I will say, whatever this sauce was for, it had fabulous flavor! I think I'll try to make it a base for a hearty soup. Final note on this recipe is that the veggies were fine. Should have used butter, though. And, as always, more salt and pepper.

The most difficult part of this menu was that everything became super active at the same time. The cook times were all different, but it resulted in me doing a crazy amount of different things all at once. The soup needed to be run through the blender, the dates needed to be stuffed and wrapped, the veggies needed to come out of the oven, and the pork needed to be browned. All at the same time! Yikes! And I'm not really sure I could have avoided that. But I wrote out a schedule, and at least I knew what needed to happen next, which was really helpful in getting everything done. Didn't even come close to hitting my timeline, but the courses allowed me to get away with my timing issues.

The Menu:
Baked Brie: courtesy of Mario. Delish, really.
Pumpkin Gnocchi: courtesy of Floren. Awesome.
Chocolate Lava Cakes with Peanut Butter Filling: OMG. Amazing. From Katie. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/molten-chocolate-cake-with-peanut-butter-filling

One last thing. And this is really important. The food my friends brought was really excellent. Mario's baked brie was beautiful and delicious, and was devoured. Floren's gnocchi was an awesome addition that fit perfectly with the fall theme and tasted great with the soup. And Katie's dessert was...WOW. WOWOWOW. Not only was this a complicated dessert that she executed flawlessly, because the cakes had perfect consistency and were moist but held their shape nicely, Katie had ridiculously gorgeous plating. It was restaurant worthy. Five stars, Katie. Five stars. (Also, the way to win a fab review from me is to combine chocolate and peanut butter and make it warm and gooey. WIN!).

So, happy Fall everyone!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Back blog 5...I <3 Tart!

Okay, okay. I didn't make a tart. I made a fruit cobbler. But it was a tart fruit cobbler!

I had a really great cobbler at a French restaurant in Denver this summer. Bistro Ven Dome. Fantastic. Their fruit cobbler was served in a metal measuring cup. It had raspberries, blueberries, and mango. Really fantastic combination of tart, sweet, and exotic. And it was also served with honey ice cream. Mmmm.

So, when I got home I decided I would attempt a fruit cobbler. And this was a good stab. My biggest complaint was that I actually prefer a drop crust, and this was a biscuit type crust. And I didn't own a rolling pin at the time. Or any cookie cutters! Yikes. So, the reason there is a heart on top is that I had to cut the thing free-hand. And cutting a heart is much easier than trying to cut a star. All those lines and angles! Yeeesh.
Anyways, the flavor on this was really nice. I think it could have cooked a bit longer to reduce some of the liquid a little further and make it settle better. It also may have seemed more like a cobbler with more crust. But as a fruity compote that could be used as a topping for ice cream, or enjoyed on its own, it was a pretty good attempt.

Back blog 4...Ceviche!

The week I made ceviche the mahi mahi was on sale. I had a really fantastic ceviche at this great Latin-Asian fusion restaurant in Denver called Zengo. Theirs was a halibut ceviche, but I figured I could make the switch without too many problems.

I was honestly terrified to serve this. What if I served raw fish and it was gross? Or, even better, made me and my roommate terribly sick? Well, pointless fears! It tasted great. Maybe a little too much lime flavor, so that it overpowered everything else. And because I used a terrible knife, my fish wasn't diced as nicely/finely as I would have liked. But my roommate loved it, and I thought it was pretty good. I did this free standing, but it would have been a great starter for a Spanish themed summer dinner. Pair it with a crisp white wine.

Here's the recipe: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/keith-famie/ceviche-recipe/index.html

Back blog 3... Spanish paprika is smokey!

So, I had the girls over for dinner. My first girls night in a loooong time. I ended up making paprika shrimp, which were bright red gorgeous! The cream sauce that went on them, um, not so gorgeous. Sigh. Lesson learned. I just wasn't patient enough with it. It needed to reduce by a lot more, so the flavors were great, but the consistency was just off. Too liquidy. Sides were asparagus and couscous. My go to sides. I also made lovely nectarine tarts that are SO easy. But I forgot to take pictures! Boo. Anyways, it was plated nicely. I stole Dean's silver serving platter, which makes everything look better! Oh, and I started the meal out with homemade hummus. Super easy, as long as you know where to find the Tahini in the grocery store!

The menu:
Hummus: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/hummus-recipe/index.html
Shrimp: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/grilled-shrimp-marinated-in-paprika-garlic-and-thyme-with-white-wine-sauce-recipe/index.html
Tart: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/danny-boome/honey-apple-and-nectarine-tart-with-whipped-mascarpone-recipe/index.html

A little tip for the mascarpone - add a LOT of cointreau if you actually want to get that lovely orange taste. I've made this recipe twice, and both times I added a whole heck of a lot more than what the recipe called for. But it was totally delish.

Back blog 2...Asian Stylin

So, I made this lovely Asian styled dinner. I've never really tried to do Asian inspired before. I thought the flavors came out great, but my plating was just AWFUL! And on top of that I poorly planned my menu because everything was really active, and all three pieces of my meal required the same pan. Dumb. But, lesson learned. I will pick my menu more carefully next time. At least everything tasted really fantastic! And, lets be honest, my table did look gorgeous before my ugly plating!

The menu:

Back blog 1... Beef! It's what's for dinner!

Okay, these back blogs are going to be short because they're things I've made in the last month and a half. So its really just going to be pictures, recipes, and anything I can remember about the meal.

And what I remember about this meal was that cooking the tenderloin was that it was impossible! I started out with the stove top grill pan. Looked great on the outside. Still moo-ing on the inside. Drat. So then I popped it in the broiler for, oh, a while. Now the narrow portion of the cut was cooked to a lovely medium, but the rest was still moo-ing. So we sliced it into 1.5" thick strips and put it back in the grill pan. FINALLY got it done. But, boy! What an effort.
Here are the recipes:
The pie: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/key-lime-pie-recipe/index.html

The menu was heirloom tomatoes (difficult to find at stupid Teeter/Kroger) and Buffalo mozzarella.
The entree was the beautiful and delish beef tenderloin with the tomato chutney, with asparagus and couscous sides. And for dessert was a fantastically simple AND totally delish key lime pie. I burnt the first crust I made CRAZY bad. Never burnt anything that bad before. So definitely ignore the crust instructions. When I redid the crust (because it was entirely not salvageable) I baked it for slightly more than half the called for time, and reduced my oven heat a bit. Aside from that little ish, I will make the pie over and over again, because it was so simple and praise worthy.

This was a gorgeously plated meal. Great colors for summer.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I hosted brunch before a UVA tradition: Foxfield.
The real challenge: How do you make two quiches, breakfast potatoes, mint simple syrup, lay a table, entertain guests, keep the dog out of trouble, and manage to get dressed and look fabulous while getting all that stuff done? Answer: It's all about planning!

Here are the two quiche recipes I used:
http://amicuscupcake.blogspot.com/ - the goat cheese and pesto quiche
I've never made as many changes to a recipe as I did to these. On the goat cheese quiche, the onion cook time was too long/hot, as was the bake time. Some of my onions burnt, so I picked them out before mixing my ingredients. I baked the goat cheese quiche at 325 for 45 minutes and that was plenty.

On the asparagus quiche, I used only 1 tsp of salt. That 1 tablespoon is WAY wrong. I decided to get pretty with the look of the asparagus quiche by using fresh asparagus stalks on the top. The presentation on these quiches was *muah*, although I did think that the asparagus quiche could have been baked a touch longer. I did 325 for 45 minutes, and it might have been a little more solid with 50 minutes. But they still tasted great. The little touch of Dijon in the asparagus quiche gave it some bite.

I did all my prep work the day before, so in the morning all I had to do was roll out my crusts (giant pain!) and combine things. This was a very good plan, because cooking/baking in the morning is hard before I've had a cup of coffee.

While the quiches baked, I got dressed, and then made the potatoes. Thanks mom for that fabulous apron!
Here's the recipe for the potatoes:
The potatoes had great flavor, but honestly they needed some serious salt and pepper. Mostly salt. I also thought some cayenne or maybe some diced jalapenos would have added a little somethin' somethin'.
For mint juleps, because you can't have a southern horse racin' party without mint juleps, I made a mint simple syrup using fresh mint leaves that I allowed to heat with the syrup for a few minutes. I then strained them out, and popped the syrup in the fridge. Made for well mixed mint juleps with some serious mint flavor.

Overall, this was a successful operation. I had a little trouble starting, but having all my ingredients ready and all my supplies laid out on the counter really helped jump start my productivity.
This was a beautifully executed brunch, and I want to say thanks to everyone who brought something. It wouldn't have been as awesome without all your contributions!

Bel Rio

I don't think I have ever been to a restaurant where the service was so poor that it overshadowed food that was well prepared. Well, I hadn't until I went to Bel Rio. The service was bad enough that I will probably never go back. This is how our meal went...

It was girls' night. I was with four other fabulous chicas, and we decided to try someplace we'd never been. Bel Rio seemed like a fun choice, because the Local was packed. We parked at the La Taza lot, which was super convenient. So, good marks for parking. And the ambiance wasn't bad. The Barry White music was a little weird, but, okay, we could roll with it.

The starters were nice. Really great bread and olives. And the waitress seemed knowledgeable. We ordered drinks, appetizers, and food in one fell swoop. And then we waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

More than 15 minutes before our really lovely cocktails arrived. We'd already commented on how long it took for the drinks to get there, because the place wasn't crowded. But, excellent cocktails, all around! We drank our drinks and chatted, and waited for our appetizers.

And waited.

And waited some more.

It honestly took an hour, and a complaint to the manager, to get our appetizers. He kindly comped us some calamari, but the waitress hadn't come back at any point to give us an update! But, again, the appetizers were pretty tasty. I had the Bel Rio salad, which had grilled peaches. It wasn't the most amazing salad I've ever had, but it was all right. The calamari could have been better seasoned, but I think calamari is a pretty meeeeeh appetizer because its almost always exactly the same as everywhere else. But it was also a little rubbery.

By now we were starving, and looking forward to the entrees. I bet you can see where this is headed...

More waiting!

Eventually our entrees arrived, and they were honestly delicious. I had a wonderful vegetable rustica with asparagus on the side. The rice that came with it was a little undercooked. But everyone was satisfied with their entrees.

And, I will say, the desserts were fantastic. The tiramisu was delicious, creamy, but with a good coffee flavor. The deconstructed lemon tart had a fantastic shortbread cookie foundation. I don't really 'get' deconstructed food, but it definitely tasted like a lemon tart when all the pieces came together.

Prices were reasonable. Really, it was the service that was the biggest turn off.

So, the breakdown, on a scale from 1 to 5:
Ambiance: 3
Service: 1
Appetizers: 3
Cocktails: 5
Desserts: 4
Prices: 3
Overall: 3