Monday, April 30, 2012

April 29, 2012 - A Tapas Party for 9

So while the three of us have varying tastes in favorite restaurants/meals/foods, there is one thing we all agree on - tapas is one of our favorite experiences.  I think its the ability to try different foods, textures, and tastes all in little bites.  So when we had a large group to cook for, we agreed without a blink of an eye that a tapas night was in order.  And included in our guests of honor were our favorite team from Harry's Wine!  (Many thank you's to William, Patrick, Janice, Christelle, and Greg for not only joining us and being fantstic company but also supplying all the wines!!!)

So a little forewarning.  No matter how much we tried to plan in advance (I'm living off take-out for the rest of the week because I don't want to see the inside of a kitchen until next Sunday), we made a few mistakes.  We dropped plates, forgot about things in the oven, and as the wine glasses were refilled our picture quality got worse.  But that's ok... 9 people, 16 dishes, and over 15 empty bottles of wine later - we consider the evening a success.


Cocktail - Lemon Basil Martini

Muddled basil, vodka, lemon seltzer, ginger ale, fresh lemon juice

These were all equally delicious.  Serrano Ham is a very salty and cured and looks like prosciutto.  However it paired well with the light melon and was used in lieu of bacon for the figs.  However, the figs were the big winner of the cocktail hour!


Okay, so we didn't get pictures of everything, however we may find some later, so check back for more pictures. 

Pork Tenderloin Slices over Crostini with Manchego Cheese

Fried Calamari in Balsamic Sauce

Roasted Mushroom and Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Roasted Cauliflower and Manchego Handpie (A burnt one - forgot to photo the 2nd batch)

Cold Calamari Salad (Told you the picture quality improves with each bottle of wine)

Balsamic Glazed Fried Calamari

Garlic Shrimp

Chorizo and Figs (I'd say we're about 3/4 of the way through the wine bottles at this point)

Beef Empanada

Ham and Manchego Croquettes

Pork Tenderloin Crostini (This photo is only included to show that we really did burn a lot last night... rookie mistakes)

So let's review.  Everything (when not burnt) was delicious, however there were some favorites as well as some adjustments I'd like to point out.  The roasted mushrooms were a big hit, but obviously we didn't follow the exact recipe and stuffed them in baby bell peppers.  (Becuase they are so cute!)  We roasted about 30 min at 350.  We baked the manchego and cauliflower empanadas, but we deep fried the beef empanadas.  The garlic shrimp were good, but I was looking for a thicker, richer sauce to have it in.  (Looks like we'll be visiting Jamie over at La Paella for some trade secrets on that one.)  The chorizo and figs were delicious... can't wait to cook that one again!


I realize at this point we have an odd obsession with panna cotta.  I promise it stays off the menu for a while.  However this recipe was the best we've made so far when it comes to taste and texture.  Let me point out some mistakes and the quick fixes, though.  We originally made the panna cotta in mini-muffin tins in hopes that everyone would have little individual panna cotta.  Unfortunately, it did not "slide out" of the muffin tin at all, and we ended up scooping it into little shot glasses instead.  The flan was delicious, although purists may turn up their nose because it does have cream cheese in it.  (We halved the cream cheese, though.)  We did make those in muffin tins as well, but when removing them from the pan, a lot of caramel stuck to the bottom.  (Hence rum glazed bananas to hide it!)  Overall - both delicious.


Please visit the link above and check out what they are all about!  And if you're ever in the area on a Saturday afternoon, swing by Harry's for a free wine tasting.  (Tell them the blog sent you!)  Harry's -you completely outdid yourselves... we weren't worthy of such spectacular wines.

There were so many delicious wines and these are in no particular order...

Flor de Raim Cava Brut

A fantastic way to start the evening with a smooth and brilliant sparkling wine!

2011 Monte Castrillo Rosado

A dry rose with deep cherries and fruit but a dry mineral finish.

2009 Petalos Bierzo

Wine Spectator - 93/100

Slightly smoky with well-integrated flavors of mineral, wild berry, and fresh herbs. 

2009 Tinto Pesquera Crianza

Wine Advocate - 93/100
Smooth and lush with a dark fruit bouquet and aromas of vanilla, fallen leaves and spices.

2010 Abad Dom Bueno Godello

Wine Advocate - 91/100

A fantastic and crisp white with no oakiness and a clean minerality paired with citrus and pear.

2009 Maurodos Prima Toro

Wine Advocate - 90/100

Earthy minerals, espresso, truffles and blackberry with a lovely dense finish.

2005 Ordonez, Jorge Malaga Old Vines Moscatel

Wine Advocate - 94/100

A superb dessert wine with rich flavors of honey and a bouquet of lime, mineral, and tropical aromas.

So overall, tapas night was a success.  We enjoyed it immensely and look forward to having everyone over again.  (But maybe something like firing up the grill and doing burgers instead... much easier.)  Once again, thank you very much to those who joined us!

Next Week - Cinco de Mayo

Monday, April 23, 2012

April 22, 2012 - A Taste of the South

Disclaimer:  I know the Kentucky Derby is the weekend of May 5.  However, that also falls on another holiday (think margaritas) so we had to pick only one for that weekend.  However, we still wanted to do some Derby-style cooking, so we thought this past Sunday would be as good as any, and delved into creating a Southern menu to impress those Derby fans.  Trust me... if you throw a Derby party, you'll be borrowing some of these recipes!

Cocktail - Mint Julep

Did you really think we'd make something else?  Unfortunately, we didn't have those cute little julep cups, so made do with rocks glasses, but it still worked out great.  You must steep the mint and marry those flavors overnight.  And upon taste-testing, I would say even muddle some mint in your glass, too.  This drink is strong, but if you serve it with lots of crushed ice, it gets smoother and milder as you drink.  (We also used 1/2 of the syrup as recommended... but we're not sugary-drink people.  Add to your tastes.)

Appetizer - Zucchini Corn Fritters w/ a Roasted Garlic Parsley Dipping Sauce

Hmmm.  This is kind of difficult to review.  We must have done something wrong.  If you look at the pictures on the recipe's website, they are light and fluffy.  Ours came out dense and not cake-like.  We did end up adding a lot more flour and some cornmeal to the batch because it was so runny.  We also used a deep fryer, which I think may have been the problem.  So my only recommendation is to pan-fry as originally instructed.  But regardless - they were very tasty!  The flavor was spot on, and the dipping sauce was unbelievable!  The sauce made all the deep-fry calories worthwhile!

Entree - Stuffed Pork Tenderloin over Grilled Kale Drizzled w/ Grilled Peach Whiskey Beurre Blanc

I don't even know where to start with this incredible meal, but I'll take you step by step.

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin.  I prefer to do the 3-method butterfly of the pork so it gives you more space to work with and it will roll up easier.  (3-Step Method)  The stuffing was delicious, but the mushroom/sausage mixture definitely cooked down in less than 5 minutes.  We used some leftover chorizo from a week-day meal in place of andouille.  We also used bagged cornbread stuffing so added a little extra water to moisten it at the end.  (And don't forget the splash of whiskey!) 

Grilled Kale.  Who knew?  Follow the instructions exactly and you want go wrong.  Biting into the crisp kale, you get a sudden burst of citrus from the lemon juice and its just delicious.  And its so versatile!  You can probably add whatever spices you'd like, it definitely complemented this wonderful green.

Grilled Peach Whiskey Beurre Blanc.  When I read this, my heart fluttered.  Beurre Blanc is one of those things that I still cannot master and I always gravitate towards it when I see it on a menu.  But with peaches and whiskey?  Really?  YES!  First, we used canned peaches (they are not in season) and it was fine.  We followed the recipe exactly, except at the end - we did NOT strain.  We incorporated the cream and the butter with the chopped peaches mixture and let it reduce like that.  This way when we served, it was more of a chunky sauce then a drizzle of liquid.  And I think it was superb that way!  I could drink this stuff with a straw.  (Side note - would probably be delicious with mangoes as well.)

Overall - fantastic meal.  Such an unexpected pleasure!

Entree Wine - 2009 Camins del Priorat

Wine Advocate - 94/100

New term.  Jackpot.  (We'll retire that in a little while, too.)  This Spanish red was a-ma-zing.  It has strong aromas of plum, licorice, and black cherry with a soft subtle flavor of dark spicy fruit and a slight sweetness.  It has very fine tannins which gives it the perfect strength to balance a meal that included a little bit of everything.  I'll admit - the team at Harry's raised an eyebrow... after all, we are talking pork stuffed with a spicy sausage but with a fruit-butter sauce on top.  But Christelle took on the challenge and she definitely did not steer us wrong!

Dessert - Bourbon-Orange Pecan Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream

Superb - but with some changes.  As the reviewers on the original website said, we added 2 Tbsp of cornstarch to help thicken the filling, and it probably could have used a little more... this was not easy to plate.  We did NOT use candied orange peel (it is incredibly difficult to find) but stuck with the orange zest and it was perfectly fine that way.  I don't know if candied orange peel would have made any difference at all.  Actually, it may have overpowered, because the orange flavor is very strong, but it is a nice flavor to counter the sweetness of the pecan pie and the strength of the bourbon.  Very tasty.

 Aperitif - Bastille Hand-Crafted Whiskey

This French whiskey was a pleasant surprise for the whiskey lovers and even non-whiskey drinkers in the group.  This whiskey is light and almost floral initially with a smooth finish that has fruit and even a slight malty taste.  Definitely try this one - it's exotic, affordable, and best served neat.  (Adding ice would detract from the gentle flavor.)

Next Week - A Tapas Party For 12

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 15, 2012 - Filet Mignon

As we continue our efforts to start cleaning out some of the freezer and the pantry, we decided to use some filets we had frozen and create a steakhouse masterpiece with what we had lying around.  And masterpiece it was!

First Cocktail - Chambord Martini

Vodka, chambord, lemon juice

Simple, fresh, clean, and tasty!  (And a perfect accompaniment to our appetizer salad!) 

Appetizer - Strawberry Spinach Salad

Perfection!  The dressing is fantastic - do not use some bottled junk in your fridge... take the five minutes to make the dressing.  (However - cut BACK on the sugar!  We used a heaping tablespoon and it was perfect... 1/2 of a cup would have been crazy.  Go tbsp by tbsp until your desired result.  We also substituted shallots for white onion, and I would highly recommend doing that as well.  The flavor is milder.)  The spinach was nice and crisp and the strawberries were juicy and sweet.  (And it paired so well with the cocktail!)

Entree - Blue Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon with Port Wine Sauce

Try this recipe.  You will not be disappointed.  The mixture of blue cheese and panko is divine and when paired with the rich port sauce - superb!  We cut our steak into medallions rather than large portions so that we can put more of the topping on, and I would highly recommend doing that.  We also let the sauce reduce about 30 minutes and it was perfect!  (We substituted shallots for white onions, but I'm sure whatever you have lying around will be fine.)  We also grilled and then broiled the topping, but use whatever cooking method you prefer.  Fantastic way to jazz up some steaks. (You could probably try this on rib-eyes or strip steaks as well!) 

Side Dishes - Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Sauteed Green Beans with Almonds

(see picture above)

There is no recipe for this because we simply just improvised.  The roasted garlic butter from our steak frites the other week... want to guess where that ended up?  We added about 1/2 cup of it to our potatoes with a little cream and mashed away.  We sauteed up some green beans in a little oil and then added some of the slivered almonds from the salad and let it cook up.  Both were absolutely delicious!

Entree Wine - 2009 JL Chave Selection Silene Crozes-Hermitage

Wine Spectator - 91/100
First off, a little background on our favorite wine shop.... Harry's Wine in Fairfield, CT.  If you haven't yet gone... please go.  Every Saturday, they offer free wine tastings from 1-4pm from many different vendors and distributors.  This place is truly the go-to place when you need the perfect wine pairing.  These week, Greg helped us and he truly went above and beyond.  After hearing our menu, he said with a slight smirk that he had a "home run" in mind and then went into the back room and came out with this French Shiraz.  Rare to find, he was able to find us one of the last bottles they had currently in stock.  And because I know he reads this... Greg - we will officially retire the phrase "home run" when referring to wine, because we want to end that phrase on a high note.  And high note this was!  This red had flavors of black currents, tobacco, and chestnut and was incredibly rich and seductive tasting with no heavy tannin aftertaste.  Truly, as he said... a HOME RUN.

Dessert - Chocolate Truffles

Shortly before we starting officially blogging our meals, we had made a flourless chocolate torte for dessert one evening.  After the night was over, Jennifer had the great idea of using a melon baller to scoop the torte to create truffle-like pieces.  She then froze them for future use.  So we defrosted and rolled them in chopped hazelnuts, chopped almonds, and dried coconut and served them with the rest of the port wine.  Unbelievable!  You would never have known they were previously frozen. 

Next Week - A Taste of the South

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 7, 2012 - Greek/Lamb/Easter

Yes, we turned our Culinary Sundays into a Culinary Saturday because of the Easter holiday... just pretend.  :-)  We were looking for a meal that was light and refreshing and used the flavors commonly found in Easter and Passover holiday cooking.  So we decided on lamb and then gave it a Greek twist...

Cocktail - Limoncello Martini

You will notice over the next couple weeks, we are re-using some ingredients from previous recipes.  The reason is we simply need to clean out the pantry and the fridge to make space for new ingredients and new menus.  That being said... this was a mix of regular vodka, limoncello, and a splash of fresh lemon juice.

We also wanted to do a lemon flavored cocktail because lemon juice was a big part of the marinade in the meal and other components.  So we finished off the bottle of limoncello in the fridge and made do.  However, I do think a splash of lemon seltzer would be a nice topper on this drink to help mellow out the fact that its pretty much all alcohol.

Appetizer - A Potato Soup with Flaky Knish

Surprisingly tasty!  We followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of straining the soup (wasn't necessary once blended) and we forgot the creme fraiche.  (Which means there's an unopened container of that in the fridge and therefore expect something next week with creme fraiche in it.)  The knish was rather easy to make and we're glad we didn't cheat and pick up store bought ones.  However - this needs seasoning.  Everything was rather bland - the soup and the potato filling - and we ended up having to add a bit more salt and pepper.  (While eating leftovers today for lunch, I added some seasoned salt and it was perfection.)  The recipe tells you to serve the soup ladled over the knish and at first we were cautious about doing that.  Do it!  Don't serve the knish on the side.  The soup is so thick that its more like a sauce and when you ladle it around the knish, it starts soaking into the puff pastry and you break it apart and sop up the soup with it.  (Think soup in a bread bowl - just inside out.)  It was delicious!

Appetizer Wine - 2009 Josephine Dubois Grand Vin De Bourgogne Chablis

Wine Rating - Can't Locate

Okay, so while we are cleaning out the cupboards and fridge, we also decided to start trying out John and Jennifer's wine stockpile.  We pulled out bottles, researched them, and catalogued them for future use.  (Don't worry, Harry's!  We'll be back next week!)  So after doing some research, we decided on this French Chablis to go with our soup.  The wine had strong scents of green apple and melon on the nose, and the initial sip exploded with the crisp fruit and then mellowed out to a stone and mineral finish with a good acidity.  It was a very well-bodied white and not overly sweet.  Great wine!

Entree - Lamb Souvlaki with Tzatziki

This was a fantastic souvlaki.  We got lamb stew meat, marinated it for about 6 hours and grilled it 4 minutes per side.  (Perfection!)  We then sliced up some red onions and cut up some plum tomatoes and cucumber.  For the tzatziki - we used seedless cucumber and Greek yogurt.  By doing that, we did not need to drain either... we just combined in a bowl with all the other ingredients and let it sit in the fridge until it was ready to use.  Everyone got to build their own souvlaki-stuffed mini pita and it was awesome.  Fresh, light, crunch, cold - the textures and flavors just stood out.  After all the recent heavy meals we've been cooking (and warning... there are some heavy ones coming up over the next few weeks)... it was nice to have something simple and classic.

Entree Wine - 2007 Ross Estate Shiraz Lights Out Barossa Valley

Wine Advocate - 90/100

This California red was a total surprise.  It had a slight dark berry on the nose, but mostly spice, earth, and leather.  Flavors on the tongue were mostly spice and tobacco with a slight sweetness to counter the earthiness.  It made us think of cowboys.  (Okay, it made me think of cowboys, but whatever.)  It was extremely full-bodied and full-flavored and completely overdelivered on our expectations.  Spectacular!  (And a cool label!) 

Dessert - Simple Baklava

These mini-baklava were heavenly!  They were bite sized and so easy to make!  The filling was decadent and when served slightly warmed - they were just incredible.  The only change we made was to use dried cherries instead of apricots because that was what we had.  I'd say use whatever you have lying around - I don't think the actual choice of fruit will make too much of a difference.  Also, we found it to be hard to "twist" the tops into a "sachet" and instead ended up having them mostly open and looking more like mini-cups.  Super dessert!

Next Week - Filet Mignon 

Monday, April 2, 2012

April 1, 2012 - Steak Frites

Once upon a time, I had a steak frites dish at a restaurant in Mohegan Sun.  It was quite possibly one of the best things I ever ate... after all, we're talking about french fries, steak, and enough butter to block an artery or two.  So when I happened to find the recipe, and then the grocery store had steak on sale, and we were looking for a simple (meaning easy and little effort) meal to make for our Culinary Sunday - I knew that we would have to replicate the steak frites.  Soooo glad we did!

Cocktail - Side Car Martini

Okay... I know what you're thinking.  Cognac, limoncello, triple sec, and sweet and sour?  Really?  Sounds like a  long island iced tea but with more upscale ingredients.  Do not shy away from this!!!  We raised an eyebrow, Jenn threw chance in the air and what turned out was a tasty masterpiece that will be recreated as often as possible.  (Who knew?)  Do not make changes, do not substitute and do not pass this one by.  Even if you're not a cognac drinker - try it!  However, limit yourself to one... there's a lot of alcohol in this bad boy.

Appetizer - Caramelized Endive Soup with Blue Cheese

Run, do not walk, to your nearest grocery store to pick up the ingredients.  I could bathe in this soup.  It was rich, decadent, and oh-so-creamy but had very little cream in it.  The honey-caramelized endive was a dream and it had the velvety texture of a bisque.  This goes on the "best things I've ever eaten" list. 

Appetizer Wine - 2010 Domaine Cheveau Macon Solutre-Pouilly

Wine Rating - Can't find, and don't even care becuase it was just that good

So recently, we've been commenting that the whites we've been drinking have been a little on the sweet side.  Well... home run on this baby!  This white burgundy has aromas of grapefruit and peach with a hint of creaminess.  On the palate, there are soft fruits but a nice mineral taste with a long-lasting finish and good acidity.  Slam dunk.

Entree - Steak Frites with Roasted Garlic Butter

So good, I could cry.  And I know you're wondering what could possibly make steak and french fries so delicious, and I'll do my best to explain it, but in the end - sometimes the basics blow us away.  It was so good, that we actually had a fresh herb and wild greens salad on the side, and no one even touched it for fear that the other person at the table may sneak some food off their plate when they weren't paying attention.

Let's talk the steak and the marinade.  We had 3 people at dinner and got a 2 lb sirloin steak.  (We only ate about half of it... no need to get such a big one... however, great for leftover steak salads.)  For those 2 lbs, we doubled the marinade and let it marinate approx. 6 hours.  (FYI - tried to scallopini it with no success - don't bother... just cut it super thin when you're serving.) 

Now let's talk roasted garlic butter.  The recipe is written to serve one, so we doubled the garlic butter.  Let me explain how critical roasted garlic is.  Do not try to "cheat" or cut down on time and use raw garlic.  How many garlic bulbs do you need to roast?  Think of one bulb as one tablespoon.  So we roasted four bulbs.  (Coat in EVOO, cover in foil, roast 45 min at 375.)  We then combined all the ingredients in the recipe exactly as written.  Don't forget the fresh herbs - I think they really make a difference.

So now we talk final product.  Embrace the calaories and deep fry your french fries.  (We used frozen "fast food style" fries.)  If you bake them, you risk them going soggy with the butter.  Combine your french fries and your steak (cut to be approx. the same size as the french fries) in a large bowl and then drop tablespoons of garlic butter into it.  Using tongs, just quickly toss until the butter melts.  Continue to add garlic butter until your desired result.  We ended up using about 2/3 of the garlic butter we had made.  Save the extra butter - you can use it on garlic bread or corn on the cob, or pretty much anything. Also, be liberal with your parmesan cheese.  It only makes the recipe better!  If you haven't understand my message yet - make this recipe!

Entree Wine - 2007 Schug Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine Rating - 88/100 (way too low in our opinion)

This well-structured cabernet is blended bordeaux-style and we could definitely taste the similarity.  The mouthful is ripe of currants and red berries but the tannins are very mild and there is a subtle spicy oakiness.  It was definitely bursting with berries but has an earthiness to mellow it out.  Harry's Wine Shop - you outdid yourself this week.  Everything was just spot on!

Dessert - Panna Cotta (Round 2)

We refused to give up on this dessert so therefore had to try it again.  Before I review, let me just point out that cold panna cotta + hot dessert sauce = melting.  So please note - make a cold sauce.  But I digress - this was amazing!  The last recipe had too much liquid in it and therefore never firmed up properly.  This was the perfect recipe, the flavor was spot on, and the texture was lovely.  We filled oversize muffin tins with the mixture and then before serving, ran a wet knife around the edge and flipped it over.  Perfect!  And because there was a bag of frozen strawberries that needed to be used, we made a sauce of the strawberries and chambord.  Delightful!  (So glad we got this one right... last week was so disappointing!)

Next Week - Greek