Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 28, 2013 - Pasta

I promised you a two-fer, so here we go!  Once again, some friends that own "Osteria Romana" here in Norwalk opened up an Italian market over the weekend called Romanacci.  (www.romanacci.com)  Think fresh homemade pastas, sauces, pizzas, desserts, pastries, etc.  A fabulous place to grab a week-night dinner when you want to make authentic Italian, and not stuff from a box.  (FYI - they have no idea we are writing about them... this is not a paid endorsement or anything.  If you have a local place you'd like for us to check out, just email!)  So we stopped over Monday evening and picked up dinner... food is in no particular order as we just ate it as one big meal.
Walnut Sourdough Bread
Delicious!  Finely ground walnuts, and a light chewy texture.  It went perfectly dipped in the homemade garlic oil...
Homemade Garlic Oil
Yes, it comes packed in those little jars!  (Bear in mind, the jar is not little, it's actually quite large - the picture is deceiving.  Sooooo good!  I could have made a meal simply out of bread and oil.
Fresh Fettucine
Very creamy texture and cooked just a couple minutes until al dente perfection.
Vodka Sauce
There's that cute jar again!  This definitely is one of my favorite vodka sauces that I can buy and bring home.  I'm a picky vodka sauce person.  I don't like the chunky types of sauce, and I need a good amount of cream and vodka.  It could have used some pancetta and onions, but that's a personal preference.  Definitely a delicious homemade sauce!
Final Plate
For a wine, we just opened a bottle of white that was lying around - nothing crazy.  I forgot to take a picture... sorry.
So there you go.  Our second meal of the week.  I apologize that its not in the perfect cocktail, appetizer, entree, dessert format - but that's ok.  Next week we're back to regular scheduled programming and even though it's game day, we're going all out.
Next Week - Osso Bucco

January 27, 2013 - Burgers

Okay, some housekeeping comments.  I know I said osso buco... that's next week.  (Think Crock Pot and Super Bowl.)  Sunday we attended the grand opening of an Italian market owned by some friends, and while we planned on cooking their food for a Sunday blog, it turns out they didn't officially open for sales until Monday.  So... you're going to get a Sunday "in-a-moment's-notice" blog and then we ended up cooking again on Tuesday.  Two for the price of one, people.
Cocktail - Orange Vanilla Martini
Okay, so J&J grab the dogs' leashes and go "Chris, figure out the cocktail."  I'm not in charge of cocktails, but I think I managed ok.  It was a mix of Clementine vodka, French Vanilla syrup, and Orange Vanilla Polar Seltzer.
Appetizer - Blue Cheese Potato Chips
Freshly made potato chips a la Stew Leonards, sprinkled with crumbled blue cheese, thrown in the oven until melted.  Yummy.
Entree - Blue Cheese Stuffed Burgers with Caramelized Onions, Arugula and Balsamic
They actually serve a variation of this at the Burger Bar in South Norwalk.  It's soooo tasty.  As for the balsamic, we use a bottled reduction that is pretty much a staple in our cupboards... I'm going to include a picture... if you can find it, definitely pick it up!
Wine - 2009 Domaine Le Couroulu Vacqueyras
Yes, this is a repeat.  We actually drank this during the mushroom themed meal almost a year ago.  Honestly... were were already three glasses of red into it from the party, so we just grabbed the first bottle in the wine rack.  And it was lovely.
Okay, there was no dessert, and I apologize.  This was a rather last minute meal, when we realized we weren't buying pasta Sunday night.  So if you happened to be at Stew Leonard's on Sunday around 5pm and saw three people flying around going "what the hell do you want to make?", then that was us!  Next post....

Monday, January 21, 2013

January 20, 2013 - Fried Chicken

A day off!!!  Sorry for the late post, but I slept in, ran errands, got my car's oil changed, and all that fun stuff that one never finds the time to do on weekends.  Let's talk last night... we changed it up a little and went Southern with a fried chicken and fixings inspired meal.  Quite a night!

Cocktail 1 - Bourbon Curacao Cocktail

Okay.... so we found this recipe online, and it sounded fantastic.  It was a combo of Southern Comfort, Curacao, Lime Juice, Lemon Juice, and sugar.  Well, Jennifer thought she'd pull one over on me, and when she realized she didn't have Southern Comfort in stock, she used Makers Mark Bourbon instead.  We had to jazz it up quite a bit, because the flavor wasn't exactly what we were looking for.  First it was too tart, then it was too sweet... so we finished it (its sacrilegious to waste liquor) and moved on to Cocktail 2...
Cocktail 2 - Bourbon Peach Cocktail
Much better!  We used the juice from canned peaches and mixed it with the bourbon and that was all!  The sweetness of the fruit countered the strong bourbon and was a perfect starter cocktail!
Appetizer - Mac and Two Cheeses with Caramelized Onions
Divine.  Amazing.  Forget the rest of the meal, let's just eat mac & cheese!  The star of the show is definitely the caramelized onions - so don't skimp!  I highly recommend mixing some in with the macaroni before baking, because then you get sweet onions with every bite.  Top with more shallots and goat cheese, and I'd even recommend a sprinkle of panko for crunch.  Word to the wise - goat cheese doesn't exactly melt smooth, so don't leave it too long in the oven hoping that it will eventually melt - you'll burn the dish.  Superb!
Entree - Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Okay, so its not very pretty and it doesn't exactly look like fried chicken you find in restaurants and stores.  I think its because we probably didn't use the same type of oil or grease that we were supposed to for "authentic" friend chicken.  So it didn't have that super crunchy texture we were hoping for.  C'est la vie - let's talk taste.  The chicken was superbly seasoned and incredibly juicy.  Flavor was spot on.  Frying needs a little help.
Side Dish - Brown Butter Creamed Winter Greens
So we were intending on using collard greens, but kale was all the grocery store had, so this is solely kale.  We followed the recipe exactly and it was fantastic!  If you're a creamed spinach person, you will adore this recipe.  John thought the red pepper flakes were a little too much, but Jenn and I liked as it was - so you be the judge!
Side Dish - Mashed Potato and Cauliflower Gratin
Mashed potatoes and cauliflower!  Yes, please!  The only change was made was to use cheddar instead of gruyere, since we were going to have leftovers from the mac and cheese.  You must broil at the end for that lovely color - and the parmesan is necessary!  Don't skimp on it!  A terrific side dish.  These two side dishes would be perfection on Thanksgiving!
Final Plate
Wine - Pindar Isabella
Yes, this is the label on the semi-dry red from the North Fork of Long Island.  Served chilled, this sweeter wine was a great complement to the spice in the greens and the picnic-style meal.  Something we would normally never have picked ourselves, it was a leftover from an old wine club shipment, so we threw our hands in the air and gave it a shot. 
Dessert - Peach-a-Berry Pie
Yummy pie but way too much liquid.  (And the fruit wasn't overly juicy.)  You definitely want to sprinkle with flour and a little salt and let the fruits sit over a colander for a while to drain.  But this pie was still a delicious Southern end to our meal, and would have been even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Overall, a great meal that was out of our comfort zone and therefore a ton of fun.  Let's talk next week... one of John and Jenn's favorite Italian restaurants here in Norwalk is opening their own Italian market.  They'll be selling fresh homemade pastas, sauces, pizzas, etc.  We're going to their grand opening on Sunday, so we're going to be picking up our favorites and making it a Culinary Monday with stuff we pick up from there.  This should be fun!
Next Week - Osso Buco

Monday, January 14, 2013

January 13, 2013 - Tequila

Happy Monday, everyone!  I'm going to be very honest - we did a Culinary Monday.  I had such a long week at work (we're talking 60+ hours people), that I literally fell asleep at 6pm Sunday night and sleep straight through my alarm.  With that being said... this is the perfect meal for a weeknight that is healthy, tasty, and full of flavor!  And we themed it TEQUILA!  We did that because it seems that recently, tequila is something that has been stockpiling in John and Jenn's liquor cabinet and we needed to find recipes to start using it up.  Well.. SUCCESS!!!  Enjoy!

Cocktail - Raspberry Elderflower Margarita
Blended raspberries, tequila, agave syrup, lime juice, and elderflower liqueur.  Delicious!  We stuck with this margarita all night long! 
Appetizer - Mango Pomegranate Guacamole
Fruit and guacamole?!?!  YES!!!  This was incredible!  Packed with flavor and absolutely delicious!
Entree - Grilled Tequila Garlic Lime Flank Steak Tacos
Soooo delicious!  Follow the recipe exactly and you will not go wrong!  (FYI - for ease... find pre-chopped garlic to save yourself trying to remove the papers off three heads of garlic.  Yes... that's right - three heads of garlic.)  This recipe is packed with flavor - perfect for the low carb diet.
Final Plate
Okay, so let's talk build your own taco.  First off... Stew Leonard's makes the best soft taco shells you will ever find.  Trust us.  Secondly... we had homemade salsa, the guacamole from our appetizer, a black bean salsa from Stew's, and some shredded cheddar - perfect for building a personalized taco.  This was fantastic!  And in the end - everything was practically store bought!  All you have to do is marinate the steak and grill it up!  Easy weekday meal?  YES!
Dessert - Margarita Granita
Okay... this is like adult Italian ice... on crack!  This was positively amazing!  And so easy to make!  The tequila was present but the rest of the flavors made it absolutely delightful!  We can't wait to explore granitas in the summer!
So overall, a fantastic weekday meal that will NOT disappoint!  And a perfect way to use up some tequila!  So what's on par for next week?  We're going deep South and cooking up a classic...
Next Week - Fried Chicken

Monday, January 7, 2013

January 6, 2013 - Lemons

Sorry for the delay, everyone!  Blogspot wasn't letting me upload pictures, and what's a blog post about food without pictures?  I bet you're looking at the title "lemons" and wondering if we've lost our minds, but trust me - this was a fun one.  I have a customer at the bank who is from Italy and always loves to bring me fresh fruits and vegetables from his garden.  However, last month, he upped his game and brought me some homemade limoncello.  Now, I could have just drank it that night, but Jenn and I decided that something like homemade grain alcohol deserves its own blog night.  So here you go - our night dedicated to lemons.  Enjoy!

Cocktail - Lemon Mint Martini

Vodka, fresh lemon juice, agave syrup, a couple of spoonfuls of frozen lemonade concentrate and muddled mint.  Light, fresh, delicious!

Appetizer - Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppyseed Dressing


The best salad to date!  The romained paired with the crisp apples and pears, then the tartness of the cranberries and the crunch of the cashews - perfect texture!  But hands down - the dressing is the winner!  So light and simple but exploding with flavor.  This salad is perfect for those getting their diet plans going this year but don't want to skimp of flavor!

Entree - Rack of Lamb with Mint-Basil Pesto


Absolutely lovely!  The pesto (which includes lemon juice) can be made in advance which makes this meal a snap to make.  The pesto has a lovely kick to it from the garlic and the fresh herbs, and it pairs beautifully with delicate lamb meat.  My only warning is that we roasted the lamb for 20 minutes as directed and it was way too rare.  Perhaps we didn't sear it enough.  (Didn't want to set off the smoke alarm, though.)  So we ended up cutting the rack into its individual chops and then roasting them for approximately 4 more minutes.  End result was perfect!

Side Dish - Parmesan Garlic Roasted Asparagus


Simple side dish that always pleases!  Coat some asparagus in a little EVOO, top with a good handful of parmesan cheese, a couple cloves of chopped garlic, and throw in the oven at 425 for approximately 10 minutes.  Once out, do a fresh squeeze of lemon juice on top before serving.  Honestly, this stuff is like the candy.  The caramelizastion of the vegetable is delightful.  I'll take this over french fries any day.  (Okay, maybe not any day - but you get the point.)

Side Dish - Red Wine Risotto


Yes, yes, yes!  We are all big risotto fans, but none of us have ever had it with red wine and this exceeded our expectations.  Rich and creamy with a fabulous flavor that blended perfectly with the lamb and pesto.  And the only change we made was to use 1 cup of red wine instead of 1/2.
Final Plate

Wine - 2007 Two Angels Petite Sirah

Forgot to take a picture.  It will follow soon. 

Wine Enthusiast - 90/100

This Petite Sirah is dark and vibrant, with explosions of strawberry and cherries on the tongue.  It had a touch of oak and licorice and was a pleasure to drink.  Perhaps not the best match for a delicate lamb dish, but definitely a great wine!

Dessert - Puff Pastry Baskets with Honey Mousse and Assorted Fruits


Superb!  This mousse was incredible.  The taste of the honey really comes out but it's the fresh fruits that really compliment the taste.  We skipped the mango sauce and simple did the mousse and topped it with mango and kiwi.  Every last bite was devoured!  This would be a perfect dessert to bring to a dinner party - you can make everything in advance and just plate it when ready!

Aperitif - Limoncello


So, there you have it.  A fabulous meal inspired by a tiny little bottle of limoncello.  Not sure what we'll be doing next week, but I promise it will be fantastic!

Next Week - Tequila

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December 31, 2012 - New Year's Eve

Happy New Year!!!
We changed our Culinary Sunday into a Culinary Monday this week so that we could blog about the cute finger foods we put out for a small New Year's gathering.  So while this is not a gourmet, 5-course dinner - it's a fabulous cocktail party menu that you will all be able to re-create!  And one of the best parts - almost all of it are our own recipes!
Cocktail - The Cosmopolitan
This cocktail (made famous by Carrie Bradshaw a la Sex and the City) was the perfect "Starter Cocktail" for the party.  A classic drink - it includes vodka, cranberry juice, triple sec, and a splash of lemon juice. 
Pork Tenderloin Crostini with Cinnamon Apples
Simple and delicious!  We marinated some pork tenderloin in teriyaki sauce overnight and then grilled it the day of.  It was thinly sliced and placed over pre-cut crostini bread from Stew Leonards.  (Save yourselves the trouble, folks, and buy it pre-cut.)  Jennifer then sauteed up some sliced apples in sugar and cinnamon and we topped the pork with it.  Done.  Served.  Every last bite devoured.  (We did a 2nd batch, and actually drizzled a slight bit of a balsamic reduction over and found that to be even better.)
Crostini with Filet Mignon, Brie, and a Cherry Compote
Superb!  Once again, take your pre-cut crostini and top it with some thinly sliced, grilled filet mignon.  Then top it with a small slice of brie cheese and throw it under the broiler for the cheese to melt.  Once melted, top with the cherry compote.  How did we make cherry compote?  Okay, here we go... we sauteed up about 1/2 cup of chopped onions.  Then added 2 cups of defrosted frozen cherries, about 1/2 cup of cherry preserves, 3 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar, a few dashes of allspice, cayenne and salt.  We let that boil over medium heat for about twenty minutes, until it was nice and thick.  Fantastic!
Double Tomato Bruschetta
Okay, this is the only dish we used a real recipe for.  Neither Jenn or I have ever made bruschetta before and we didn't want to screw it up too much.  I'm not a tomato eater (I know, I'm weird) but the crowd's consensus was a resounding "yum."  The mixture of regular tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes were spectacular with a nice bite from the garlic and the balsamic vinegar.  We did make a few changes for ease, and I don't think it really detracted from the recipe.  First, we used petite diced tomatoes instead of fresh plum.  (Gasp.  Horror.)  And while I did buy fresh basil over the weekend, I forgot to put it in the fridge, it turned bad, so we had to use dried basil.  (Not the end of the world.)
Endive with Blue Cheese, Candied Walnuts, and Honey
Easy, fantastic, and absolutely elegant for any dinner party.  Fill endive spears with blue cheese, top with some candied walnuts, drizzle with a little honey and serve!  For the candied walnuts, we simply sauteed up walnuts in butter, sugar, and a pinch of cayenne pepper for some bite. 
Potato, Brie, and Pear Bites
Sliced baked potato topped with brie cheese, thrown under the broiler to melt, and then topped with sliced pear.  Who knew this would be a good combination?!?! 
What Wasn't Pictured
We also had raw veggies with whiskey sauce and chicken skewers with pinda sauce.  (Peanut satay sauce.)
Dessert - Chocolate Fountain
Can you really go wrong with melted dark chocolate and a whole bunch of stuff to dip in it?  We had fresh fruit (obviously from the pic above), but also pretzel rods, marshmallows, graham crackers, and broken pieces of sugar cones.  (Sugar cones were the crowd favorite!) 
So overall, a lovely New Year's Party!  We cleaned out a lot of the freezer and pantry and was able to create a lovely finger food menu!  Hopefully everyone else had an equally fantastic holiday and we wish everyone the best of fortune in 2013.
Let's talk 2013 and food, now.  You'd think we'd be getting tired of cooking but NO!  We have more ideas than ever!  You're going to start seeing a few changes, though.  First, we may start making some recipes of our own (which means step-by-step instructions will look something like "a few shakes of this... a pinch of that... a couple spoonfuls of...)  We also are going to attempt more "themed" dinners - we want to try more cultures and more unfamiliar flavors.  We also may pick some random flavors and make entire meals around them just for the heck of the challenge.  We're truly looking forward to another fantastic year of cooking and we are extremely grateful that you are all here to take the journey with us!  Happy New Year, everyone!
Next Week - Lemons