Monday, July 30, 2012

July 29, 2012 - French

Bonjour!  With guests at this week's meal, we decided we wanted to walk on the fancier side, and pick a meal that was decadent and gourmet.  So we went back to our French cooking recipes, and created this lovely masterpiece.

Cocktail - French Martini

Vodka, pineapple juice, Chambord

Delicious!  Light, easy, and disappears rather quickly.

Appetizer - French Onion Soup Dumplings

First, let me say that this is the perfect use for an escargot plate!  Okay, with that out of the way - these are divine.  French Onion Soup Dumplings are a signature dish at the Stanton Social in NYC.  (No relation, I checked with my Dad... that would have been awesome, though.)  They are basically wonton wrappers filled with the onions from french onion soup, and then topped with Gruyere cheese and a crouton.  Everything you love about the soup in one bite!  The recipe above will take you step by step, and I find that the "counterfeit french onions" she lists is amazing.  I love the addition of the cognac, however I have made with both red and white wines, and everyone prefers using the red.  Be careful taking this out of the oven... it takes a long time to cool down.  You must try this!

Appetizer Wine - Cascade Mountain Winery Harvest Rose

On their ride home from a lovely golf weekend, John and Jennifer detoured and found a cute little winery in upstate.  They picked up this lovely rose which is semi-dry but fresh, fruity, and has a crisp finish.  Can't wait to make the trip to visit this vineyard myself.

Entree - Grilled Veal Chops with Herb Cheese and Wild Mushroom-Tomato Bordelaise

Delicious!  The wild mushroom bordelaise is out of this world.  Keep in mind - it will take almost 2 hours to properly cook, but can be made in advance!  Leftover veal will be cubed and then added to the bordelaise (there's a ton leftover) to make a stew for a mid-week meal. 

Side Dishes - Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus and Herb Cheese Mashed Potatoes

If you see the above picture, its pretty self explanatory.  We followed Emeril's recipe that was included with the veal and then made some basic mashed potatoes on the side.  However, we used the rest of the herb cheese (Rondele Garlic and Herbs) and added them to the potatoes for a nice creaminess and hint of flavor. 

Entree Wine - 2008 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese

Wine Advocate - 90/100

We didn't go to Harry's this week due to timing, so we broke into the stockpile for this week's meal.  There were big flavors of wild berries, spices, and leather with a ripe mouthful.  We were indifferent on this wine, however.  It did end up pairing nicely with the veal, but it wasn't very good drinking on its own before we started eating.  The leather and spices were a little dominant compared to the berries and fruit.  Good wine, just not great. 

Dessert - Chocolate Mousse with Cassis Macerated Blackberries

Yes, we did mousse last week.  The original plan was to make chocolate blackberry tartlets in little phyllo shells, but the grocery store was out of the shells, the chocolate was already in the shopping cart, and I panicked.  But that's ok - we rebounded with a delicious chocolate mousse!  It was extremely tasty, and I think one of the best things about making mousse, is that the three times we've made them, they are all different cooking methods.  You just have to find the one that speaks to you.  (This one was easy.)  Oh... and I added a little dark rum to it, too. 

Next Week - TBD

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 22, 2012 - Kebabs

It's the summer, it's grill season... we haven't done kebabs yet!  And we have done a lot of steaks and fish, so we thought this weekend would be a perfect opportunity to throw some meat on a stick and relax.  So we combed our recipe stockpile and found a beautiful kebab recipe that's actually from South Africa, and created a lovely meal.

Cocktail - The Pitt Stop

Kirsch, cherry brandy, amaretto, lemonade

These were awesome.  Hands down one of our favorite cocktails yet.  We made 2 batches and then even a 3rd for dessert.  (But drank that out of smaller shot-sized glasses, so I feel like less of an alcoholic.)  These cocktails are a sure-hit... you can water them down if you'd like with some lemon seltzer.

Appetizer - Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Tart

Delicious!  We cooked it an extra 10 minutes or so to get the brown on the crust, and we let it sit approximately 30 minutes before slicing.  Unfortunately it hadn't completely cooled at set yet (hence no picture) however the taste was amazing.  Light, fresh, creamy - home run.  I'd highly recommend cooking it in the morning, leaving in the fridge, and then reheating when its time to eat. 

Appetizer Wine - 2011 La Porte L'Abbaye Pouilly-Fume

Rating - Not found

This fantastic French white was a perfect complement to the vegetable tart.  The Pouilly-Fume had bright flavors of apricot and green apple, with a smooth, slightly smoky, mineral finish.  Great wine.

Entree - Pork and Lamb Kebabs with Dried Apricots and Onions

This amazing meal comes from South Africa and has the Afrikaans name sosatie, which basically means curried meat and fruit on a stick.  It has slight influences from Indonesia and Malaysia.  The flavor was beautiful.  Spice from the curry, sweetness of the apricot, and the rich-ness of the sauce.  And the beauty is that everything is pretty much made in advance! 

Side Dishes - Wild Rice and Sauteed String Beans

Some simple wild rice from the grocery store and used the onions and orange peel from the kebab marinade to sautee with the string beans.  Delicious!

Entree Wine - 2005 Marques de Murrieta Rioja

International Wine Cellar - 91/100

Best wine we have had in a very long time.  Possibly our favorite to date.  This bright red Spanish wine has fresh red berry and spice aromas with a tangy mineral quality.  Out of this world.  Many thank yous to Christelle and Greg from Harry's Wine who helped us this weekend - you both outdid yourselves!

Dessert - White Chocolate-Cherry Mousse Pie

Phenomenal!  Rich and creamy with a sweet tartness of the cherries.  Keep in mind - whipping egg whites can be a pain.  Make sure the eggs are room temp before you start, otherwise you'll be standing over that bowl for an hour. 

Overall, a fantastic meal.  Jenn ended up making a stew the next day with the kebab leftovers and it was fantastic!  See you next week!

Next Week - Entertaining with French Cooking

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 15, 2012 - More Lobster!

So this week was hard for us.  We were kind of tired, not really inspired by anything in particular, and really didn't know what to make for our Sunday dinner.  And then Stew Leonard's announced lobsters for $3.99/lb.  So once we narrowed that down, we got our juices flowing, and created a lovely dinner fit for a relaxing night.  (P.S.  With those crazy thunderstorms last night, sooo glad we didn't need to use the grill, because you may have ended up with photos of our delivery pizza instead.)

Cocktail - Coconut Mango Rum Cocktail

Mango rum, coconut rum, fresh lime juice, slices of fruit, club soda, coconut sugar rim

Mmmm....  fresh and tropical!  Coconut sugar was something we picked up a few months ago, and unfortunately, we didn't make the 2nd cocktail with the rim.  The sugar didn't stay crystallized - it kind of got mushy.  C'est la vie.

Appetizer - White Gazpacho with Grapes

Ok... Jenn loved, John liked, I was indifferent.  And I think it all boils down to your personal taste preferences.  For me, the texture of the almonds was a little weird and that's why I could take it or leave it.  (I'm odd.)  But I did agree with John and Jenn that with the fresh fruit, it was tasty.  You definitely want to add more grapes and apples to it.  If you can get a mouthful that includes a piece of grape, a piece of apple, an almond, and then the soup - you're golden!  This would make a great light lunch if you maybe added some cooked shrimp on the side, too.  However, if we made again for a group, we'd probably make something like a fruit salad, and then "dress" it with the gazpacho.

Appetizer Wine - 2010 Serra da Estrela Albarino

Wine Enthusiast - 88/100

This Spanish white is made of grapes that are descendants of the Riesling variety.  This light yellow-green wine has an intense aroma with hints of apricot and lemon-lime and a subtle floral accent.  It matched well with the garlic and apple in the gazpacho.  We really have never gone wrong with Spanish wines!

Entree - Pappardelle with Lobster, Leeks, and White Truffle Oil

Heavenly.  Plain and simple.  No review necessary.  But, we'll review anyways.  Simply follow the recipe.  Jenn started the stock in the morning, and then just did the sauce once the evening got started.  The only change we made was that she cut ribbons of fresh zucchini and added that along with the pasta.  It was brilliant!  Besides adding fabulous color, it blended so well with the rest of the food, and was a great way to "sneak in" some extra veggies.  We couldn't find pappardelle noodles to save our life, but Sclafani makes a wider noodle called "Mafalda" and that was terrific!  And make sure to add the white truffle oil!  It gives a certain "something" at the end.  (You can find it inexpensive at a HomeGoods or similar store... no need to go crazy at some boutique grocery.)

Entree Wine - 2010 Analivia Verdejo

Wine Enthusiast - 88/100

 So due to time constraints, we never made it to Harry's this weekend and had to pair wines ourselves.  We were not looking for a Chardonnay, but needed a strong white to work with the lobster and the cream.  This hit the spot!  This Spanish white from the Rueda region of Spain is crisp and dry with flavors of fruits, lemon, and celery.  It ends smoothly with a slight mineral finish.  Not only a great wine with the meal, but also a great "everyday drinking" wine.  We're seriously considering a move to Spain at this point.  Something about living in a villa outside a cute little winery just seems so appealing!

Dessert - Mango Raspberry Fruit Crepes with Coconut Rum Cream

No real recipe

So we knew we wanted to try a fruit crepe.  It seemed like a fun experiment and something we haven't done.  And we wanted to use up fruit that had been sitting on the counter top a few days.  So we chopped up some mangoes leftover from the cocktail, added some raspberries, and voila!  John was on crepe duty ( and we simply concocted a homemade cream that was spiked with some coconut rum.  (And then a little sprinkle of coconut sugar.)  Delicious!  Definitely something we're going to play around with more.

Next Week - Kebabs from South Africa

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 8, 2012 - The All-American BBQ

Happy 4th of July weekend, everyone!  In honor of the holiday, we decided to go with your classic cook-out types of summer food.  However, we couldn't just make a plain old cheeseburger - we had to kick the recipes up a notch to make them fun and exotic.  We then included a group of friends, turned on the stereo, lit up the grill, and had a great evening!  Everything was served family style last night, so posts will be in no particular order.

Cocktail - Raspberry-Blueberry Cooler

Muddled raspberries in lime, raspberry vodka, raspberry seltzer, blueberries

Delicious.  Light, fresh and tasty!  For those that prefer a slightly sweeter drink, I would recommend using a little simple syrup or a carbonated water instead of seltzer.  (Polar Seltzer makes a "Raspberry Lime Dry" which would probably be fantastic as well.)

Entree - Bison Burgers with Cabernet Onions and Wisconsin Cheddar

Soooo good!  Bison is a very lean meat, and also very good for you, so you definitely don't want to cook past medium-rare.  The caramelized onions were a dream - will definitely do again!  We used fresh ciabatta rolls and homemade ketchup.  (Recipe:  The homemade ketchup is very good and the best part is you can be versatile with your ingredients to suit your tastes.  I personally prefer a few dashes of Worcester and a drop of liquid smoke in my batch for some added depth.

Side Dish - Molasses Baked Beans with Ginger

Who would have known that baked beans would have been the highlight of the entire meal?!?!  These were outstanding!  The recipe is ridiculously simple to follow, and the addition of ginger puts it over the edge.  I will never make baked beans any other way again.  Also, the recipe calls for 4 slices of bacon... who are we kidding?  I used an entire package.  We weren't watching any diets last night, and when can a dish not use extra bacon??

Side Dish - Chopped Salad

The perfect family-style salad for any BBQ or picnic!  The flavors were fantastic, the greens were crisp, and the olives and red peppers provided great flavor.  Warning - this recipe could serve 10-12, easily.

Side Dish - Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad

Mixed reviews on this one.  The multi-color potatoes were pretty, the addition of peas was a fantastic idea, and adding blue cheese definitely kicked up a boring potato salad.  However, some people felt it was too much dressing, or the dressing had too many mayo/sour cream.  Others also felt the addition of some fresh dill would have put it over the edge.  It was a decent salad, everyone ate it, but no one was calling it the best thing they ever ate.

Side Dish - Hot and Spicy Hush Puppies

Our Southern friends would be so proud!  These were really good!  The addition of the chopped onion, jalapeno, and cheddar really put it over the edge.  (Keep in mind, we halved the jalapeno.)  The dipping sauce was sensational!  (Dipping sauce would probably be really good with coconut shrimp as well... just saying.)

Entree Wine - Entwine 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2010 Pinot Grigio

So Entwine wines comes from Wente Vineyards who partnered with the Food Network to create delicious wines to fit any budget and any meal.  They were at Harry's this week for a wine tasting, and John and Jenn ended up choosing their wines to go with the Sunday meal.  The Cabernet was rich, fruity, and herbaceous.  The Pinot was crisp, refreshing, and citrusy.  Fantastic wines for everyday drinking!

Dessert - Salted Caramel Apple Pie

 Heavenly.  This recipe came about because I was watching "Best Things I Ever Ate" on the Food Network one day, and someone was talking about this pie.  And for me - apple pie meets caramel meets sea salt?  How could you go wrong?  So I've been looking for an occasion to make it, and when we decided to do an All-American BBQ, I realized how much more American is apple pie?  Let's discuss.

The pie was delicious.  Be careful with the sea salt - if you don't sprinkle evenly, someone may get a bite with a little too much.  The Angostura bitters were a necessity - it left a flavor that you couldn't put your finger on, and it turned into "not your mama's apple pie."  Use a mandolin for the apple slices.  Caramel sauce - UGH.  It took me 3 batches to get it right.  Don't follow their directions on this recipe.  Instead do this - melt simply 1 cup sugar with 1 Tbsp water in a saucepan.  (Trust me, after about 10 minutes it will melt to caramel - you will not set your kitchen on fire.)  Once just melted, add the butter and whisk quickly until fully incorporated.  Take off heat - add heavy cream, whisk like crazy, and then add the sea salt.  Leave off heat and make your pie.  Voila.

Dessert Wine - Angelini Moscato d'Asti

This dessert Moscato was delightful.  It had a slight effervescence to it that was pleasing on the palate with rich apple flavors with a hint of anise and burst of pineapple.  It was sweet, mind you, and we're still getting used to sweet wines - but it was tasty.

Next Week - More Lobster!

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 1, 2012 - Cuban

Politics aside, many great things come from the beautiful island of Cuba.  Cigars, salsa dancing, William Levy... and mojitos!  So since CT is experiencing quite the heat wave these last few weeks, we decided we needed to throw a little Caribbean infusion into our dinner.  Nothing like an ice cold mojito to counter those hot Havana nights...

Cocktail - The Mojito

Take about 12 mint leaves and half of a lime (sliced/diced/whatever)... muddle the heck out of it at the bottom of your glass.  You want to release the oils from the mint.  Add ice.  Then add simple syrup (to your taste), white rum, and club soda.  This drink can be altered and can be adjusted to your preference.  We actually used a ginger simple syrup just for a little extra kick and that was fantastic.  The slight bite of the ginger countered extremely well with the mint and the lime.  Go have fun with this one - you really can't mess it up! 

Appetizer - Shrimp with Garlicky Cuban Mojo

Why in the world have we always been sticking to shrimp cocktail?!?!  This is the NEW shrimp cocktail for us!  Grilling the shrimp is fantastic (I'm sure they'd be just as good on the stovetop.)  But its the combination of simply lime juice, orange juice, and a ton of garlic that is divine.  This will be the new signature dish when entertaining friends.

Appetizer Wine - 2011 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose

Wine Enthusiast - 87/100

This South African Rose may be our favorite yet!  It was a gift from a neighbor a couple of weeks back, and it had just been sitting by its lonesome in the wine cooler.  It is a bright pink with intense aromas of tangerine, raspberries, and strawberries.  It has wonderful tastes of bright fruits, pomegranate, and even a slight herbal or spice on the end.  No oakiness, and not as sweet as a zinfandel.  Superb Rose.

Entree - Cuban Skirt Steak with Tomato Escabeche and Mango Steak Sauce

Love this dish!  Skirt steak is a cut that must be marinated and then cooked quickly.  We marinated overnight and it literally took 2.5 minutes per side on the gas grill.  The BBQ sauce was made a day in advance, and took very little effort.  (Throw everything in a blender - simple.)  The tomato escabeche was somewhat like a salsa and was made as we were grilling everything else... in the end, a simple recipe!  And the flavors were fantastic together!  Add some spanish rice and fried plantains and there you go!

Side Dish - Fried Plantains

We didn't make the sauce, but these were fantastic!  The minced garlic and salt is a must for great flavor.  (I would recommend kosher salt or sea salt.)  We will be making these more often... even just as something to pick on when people are over for a mid-week bbq!

Entree Wine - 2007 Mas Cal Demoura Coteaux du Languedoc L'Infidele

Wine Advocate - 87/100

And the Harry's team does it again!  This French red is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault.  It had dark red fruits on the nose with tastes of plum, cherry, dark chocolate and a slight spice.  It had very smooth tannins and drank perfectly with the steak!  Fantastic wine!

Dessert - Rum Cakes

The rum cakes were fabulous!  (One broke while I was getting it out of the pan and I did eat the whole thing in seconds.)  We baked these in mini bundt cake molds, so it took about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  We opted to make a raspberry whipped cream for an extra punch of flavor.  As a whole - this dessert was fantastic!  The rum and the banana liquer really added something to the dish, and the cake ended up being very moist!  So yummy!

Next Week - The All-American BBQ (kicked up a notch)