Friday, December 26, 2014

December 20, 2014 - Christie's Birthday Dinner

So once in a while, we make a meal that is just out of this world.  Beyond expectations, blows it out of the park, completely unexpected.... this was that meal!  John and Jenn made me a birthday dinner that was positively insane.  Get ready for this...

Chosen ingredients - Cocoa, Mint, Salt... that's right.  Seemingly basic, huh?  NO!  This is a CS blog, not some amateur hour... here we go....

Cocktail - Cocoa Puff Smash

Not exactly our favorite cocktail ever, but it encompassed the ingredients and was completely out of left field!  A mint and cocoa puff infused chartreuse mixed with soda water and lemon.  And the cocoa puffs completely bringing us back to childhood!

Before I get into each dish, let me post this... it's the website that J&J bought the salts for this dinner.  This was no table salt, people!

Appetizer - Mint Salad with Cocoa Crusted Bacon

Ok, let me break this amazingness down.  Salad - a simple combination of romaine, thinly sliced cucumbers, chopped mint and a light vinaigrette made of yogurt, mustard, olive oil.  This was topped with the Bali Hai salt.  (From the island of Bali in the Indian Ocean.)  Crisp, refreshing, and the perfect backdrop for what was the most amazing piece of bacon I have ever eaten.  This cocoa, brown sugar, chipotle crusted bacon ended up like candy.  Seriously - CANDY!

Appetizer Wine - 2013 Muses Estate 9 White

This is our FIRST Greek wine!  It was splendid!  Very crisp and dry with a heavy taste of mineral, stone, and grass.  The lack of fruit or sweetness completely balanced the crazy bacon and mint salad.

Entree - Mint Braised Beef Brosato over Cocoa Tagliatelle

Let me take a moment to wipe the tear from my eye as I slowly remember this amazing dish.  Where do I begin?  How about the pasta?  Jenn made homemade tagliatelle.  (Kind of like fettuccine.)  And the actual dough has cocoa in it.  ZOMG.  Not only was it delicious homemade pasta, but it had cocoa!  I mean, seriously... who came up with this idea???  Now let's talk beautiful morsels of tender beef.  They followed the recipe exactly, braising beef shanks in a beautiful mixture of tomatoes, wine, and mint.  The result was phenomenal.  Tender and fall apart in your mouth goodness!  And what about the salt?  A healthy topping of the Trapani sea salt.  (From the famous Salt Road in Sicily.)

Entree Wine #1 - 2012 90+ Cellars Nebbiolo d'Alba

What's not to love about this rich Italian blend?  It has cherry, flowers, and a light spice with a harmonious finish that doesn't leave a bitter aftertaste.  Perfection.

Entree Wine #2 - 2011 7 Deadly Zins

Okay, let's be honest... it's a cool label and a cool name.  And its also delicious!  Wild berries and slight spice with a mild oaky tannin finish!

Dessert - Mini Chocolate Stout Cheesecakes and Salted Caramel Cheesecake Bites

Okay, so two different cheesecakes bites were made.  They are both chocolate stout cheesecakes, but one was topped with a regular mint infused salted caramel sauce and the other with a salted chocolate stout sauce.  Both were insane!  Totally different flavor profiles that were amazing.  The salt used was Aussie Snow salt - from the Pacific waters off Australia.  These were amazing.

So there you have it... my birthday dinner that was quite possibly the most inspired one to date!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

December 9, 2014 - Persimmon

Hello, CS followers!  It's been a long time!  December will be a great month... we have last night's post and then my birthday dinner on the 20th!  (The ingredients are EPIC!)  So we chose the mystery ingredient of persimmon for tonight's blog.  Why persimmon?  Why not?  None of us have ever tasted one, and they are only in season for a few months in the winter, so it begged to be used.

What is a persimmon?  Well... it's a fruit that looks exactly like a tomato.  It also has a very light flavor - like a pear - but an extremely chalky aftertaste.  Extremely chalky!  Unbearably chalky!  (In our opinion... and I'm sure there is someone out there who is yelling at their computer right now because obviously, we must have picked out the wrong persimmons.)  But let's get started...

Cocktail - Maple Syrup Persimmon Old Fashioned

Okay, so this is how it works.  Muddle some chopped persimmon and orange slices.  Add bourbon, orange juice, a splash of maple syrup, and bitters.  Mix it up and garnish with a cinnamon stick.  Surprisingly, it was delicious!  A sweeter version of an old fashioned for those that may not be the biggest bourbon fans.

Appetizer - Prosciutto with Persimmon, Pomegranate, and Arugula

Delicious!  The mixture of the crunchy pomegranate seeds, the hint of pepper, the mild persimmon, the spicy arugula, and the smooth prosciutto was perfection!  A delicious and beautiful salad!

Entree - Chimichurri Marinated Skirt Steak over Persimmon Risotto

Let's break it down.  The skirt steak is fantastic!  Why haven't we tried chimichurri before???  We marinated the steak from the morning, simply grilled it 2 minutes per side, and it was delicious!  The acidity of the chimichurri perfectly matched the sweetness of the risotto.  And the risotto - it was good!  But can you really mess up risotto?  It was a basic risotto recipe, with the addition of pomegranate seeds and diced persimmon.  While not our favorite meal ever, it was still very good.

Entree Wine - 2012 Bedell First Crush Red

This is a merlot/cabernet franc mix that is delicious!  It is light and has minimal smooth tannins, with a bright berry finish.  A perfect combination!

Dessert - Persimmon Cardamom Sorbet

Ummm... yeah... ok... remember how we said that persimmon is chalky?  Well... it doesn't get any less chalky when made into ice cream.  The saving grace was a quick pomegranate seed caramel sauce we doctored up.  

So yeah... there you go... a rather odd meal dedicated to the lowly fruit that most people have probably never eaten.  (And let's be honest... we'll probably never eat it again.)  But that's what we are here for!  To experiment and explore!

Coming Up - Christie's Birthday Dinner

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 16, 2014 - Fresh Figs

And welcome back, everyone!  You're probably thinking to yourself "haven't they done figs a million times", and you would be semi-correct.  Every time we've done meals with figs, we can never find fresh figs, so we've always substituted with dry.  So as soon as Stew Leonard's advertised flats of fresh figs on sale, we immediately decided to go fig overload!  Enjoy!

Cocktail - Fig Infused Bourbon Cocktail

Muddle fig mixed with bourbon, lemon juice, some Grand Marnier, and club soda!  Delicious!  Although upon doing more research, I just found a Fig and Maple Syrup Manhattan recipe online that you better believe will be coming up on the blog soon!

Appetizer - Fresh Pair and Fig Mixed Green Salad w/ Lemon Vinaigrette

We figured a light salad would be the perfect way to start the meal, because we could really showcase the fresh figs.  If you remember, a few weeks ago, we did an appetizer that was a fig stuffed with goat cheese and pecans... this is kind of like that but deconstructed.  Very delicious start to the meal.

Appetizer Wine - 2013 Chateau Haut Plaisance Bordeaux

Ummm... errr... ok, not my favorite.  First off, I was looking for a white that wasn't too sweet, because I wanted it to be a rather stark palate for the fig to really come through.  Most reviews were saying to go for a Riesling or a Chardonnay, but I figured a white Bordeaux would be a nice change of pace.  The only problem was that I found it to be too stark a palate.  It was a clean white with a grassy start and mineral finish.  Unfortunately, I didn't find there to be enough fruit in it to pair with the salad.  Would have been a great wine for a different meal.  Oh well.

Entree - Fig and Blue Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts

A deliciously easy meal!  Let me note a couple things.  First - overstuff your chicken.  We thought it was "too much", but then when eating, we found a lot of the filling dissipated and there actually wasn't enough.  Also, the bacon takes a while to cook, and I'm thinking the chicken breast doesn't brown too easily because the bacon is too thick.  I would try the pancetta next time.  But overall - lovely dish.  And a nice side of roasted potatoes and sauteed green beans!  (If you have no fresh figs - I'm curious how a fig jam or chutney mixed with the cheese would work.)

Entree Wine - 2012 Laurel Cellars Pinot Noir

Once again, reviews said to stick with Chardonnays or other rich whites to match the fig and the poultry.  However, you know us - we like reds for our main course.  This was out of this world!  It had sweet red fruits that intertwined delicately with some spice and herbs.  The tannins were light but nicely structured for a smooth finish.  This was a lovely wine for any occasion.

Dessert - Fig and Raspberry Galette

In hindsight, I should have taken a picture of the whole thing.  Argh.  Next time.  The first thing Jennifer and I both said after eating this was "how come we haven't made more of these?"  A galette is the same thing as a crostata.  It's basically pie crust that is haphazardly formed with fruit in the center to create a rather rustic looking dessert.  It was delicious!  First off - save yourself the time and use store bought pie crust (unless you're a purist - then you rock).  Also, we used only 8 figs and about 1/2 a pint of raspberries and it was more than enough.  Oh, and that whole brown sugar thing - oops.  We didn't have any (how is that possible, I know!) so used brown "sugar in the raw" and it worked out just lovely.  Delicious!  (Topped with a little Poire Williams infused whipped cream!)

Aperitif - LIV Island Raspberry Sorbetta

If you're a fan of the Line Island Wine Trail, you'll know this bottle.  When driving the trail, before you hit any winery, you hit a little vodka distillery.  They have these flavored vodkas (more like cordials, because I would only drink them straight) that come in raspberry, strawberry, lemon, and orange.  Delicious!  

So voila!  Fresh fig overload!  See you all soon!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 30, 2014 - John's Birthday

So John really decided to challenge us this year.  I mean, there is no way someone can pick 2 completely opposite ingredients and expect them to make a meal.  Wolfgang Puck would have slapped him upside the head.  But that's ok - because Jenn and I took on the challenge with gusto.  What were those two ingredients?

Eel and White Chocolate

Told you so.

Cocktail - Brandy Daisy

Brandy, rum, blue curacao, lemon juice.  Delicious!

Appetizer - Seared Shrimp with a White Chocolate Tomato Beurre Blanc

White chocolate beurre blanc.  For real.  And it was tasty!!!  The acidity of the tomato really helped with the underlying sweeter white chocolate flavor.  Believe it or not, very delicious!  (And yes, finding savory white chocolate dishes was not easy.)

Appetizer Wine - 2012 Domaine Cheveau Macon Solutre-Pouilly

We went back to Harry's for this meal.  While we have enjoyed pairing our own wines recently, this was obviously a task for the professionals.  Even Christelle seemed stumped with our menu.  She recommended a heavy Chardonnay to go with the richness of the beurre blanc.  And it was delicious!  Rich and structured but not heavy on the oak - it paired up beautifully with the appetizer!

Entree - Smoked Eel with Steamed Leeks and New Potatoes with a Clam Beurre Blanc

Yup.  You read that properly.  We weren't going to do any Japanese-style eel dish, because that would be too easy.  And the recipe included beurre blanc, so we kind of just added an ingredient to John's wish list at this point.  And the clams - baby clams straight from Italy!  Delicious!  Believe it or not, the flavor was fantastic and this really was an amazing 

Entree Wine - 2012 Pecchenino San Luigi Dogliani

Christelle was really challenged on this one.  She wanted so badly to serve a white with the entree, but after the heavy Chardonnay, there was no viable option.  This smooth Italian red with fruit forward with sweet tannins and completely worked!  

Dessert - White Chocolate and Lemon Pots de Creme

Smooth custard-y goodness!  A fantastic end to the meal and extremely easy to make!

Aperitif - Jones Winery Raspberry Rhapsody

This local winery here in CT produces this great dessert wine full of raspberry flavor!  A perfect tartness to go with the smooth dessert!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

July 29, 2014 - Antonio's Birthday

Good Afternoon, everyone!  We have a great post for you today!!!  This was Tony's first year participating in our "pick your ingredient" birthday blog dinner and we had a lot of fun with it.  Tony's quick answer was "lobster and tomatoes", which naturally we groaned at because that seemed so simple.  I mean, really?  Challenge us, please!  Anyways... we ended up with a dynamite meal that anyone can make at home!

Cocktail - Blueberry-Cassis Lemon Martini

This was kind of a "what do we have in the liquor cabinet" cocktail.  We had some leftover limoncello, and figured lemons and lobster go well together, so we mixed that with regular vodka, creme de cassis, and floated some blueberry Polar Seltzer over it.  Delicious!!!  (Oddly, had somewhat of a "tea" flavor... we have no idea where that came from.)

Appetizer - Grilled Lobster & Prosciutto Flatbread

We totally improvised on this one!  We used store bought pizza dough and brushed it with some herbed olive oil.  We then placed on the grill for a few minutes, flipped it over, and then topped with prosciutto, a little shredded gruyere cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes, cooked lobster meat, and fresh basil.  We cooked until the crust got nice and crispy (probably 5-10 minutes) and served.  Delicious!  Easy!  Can't wait to try out different variations!

Appetizer Wine - Chateau de Nages Brut Rose

This medium bodied rose is a blend of Syrah and Grenache grapes and matched perfectly with our appetizer.  It is a great drinking wine - with ripe cherry and melon - but has a nice crisp finish.  

Entree - Crab and Shrimp Stuffed Lobster

Oh yeah.  I decided I wanted to do a stuffed lobster because it was something we had in a restaurant a year ago and Tony had loved it.  Why not try to replicate his favorite dish?  The only changes we made to the recipe was that we used just shrimp and crab stuffing - no scallops.  And we eyeballed the bread crumbs and didn't add extra butter at the end.  (Trust me, it does NOT need it.)  Also - this made about double the stuffing than we needed... so I suggest you halve the recipe.  (Or reuse to make those crab stuffed filet mignons from a previous post!)  Also - 30 minutes may be a little shy on baking time depending on the size of your lobster.  Regardless - delicious, filling, amazing meal.  

Side Dishes - Herbed Spaetzle and Gorgonzola Roasted Tomatoes

We've made spaetzle before, and it is one of our favorites!  We just followed the base recipe and then fried up with garlic and tons of fresh herbs!  The tomatoes were also a hit - nice and caramelized from the roasting with the creamy Gorgonzola!

Entree Wine - 2012 Oak Ridge Zinfandel

Oh wow.  This robust red is the new house favorite!  Rich and earthy with ripe fruit and light acidity, this left a fantastic fruity flavor on the palate with a hint of smoke on the finish.

Dessert - Creme Brulee

One of the birthday boy's favorite desserts, you cannot go wrong with this classic dish!

So there you go - another great birthday meal for the books.  Coming up soon - John's birthday... and you won't believe it when you see the ingredients he picked!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 28, 2014 - Jennifer's Birthday

Good Morning!  2 posts in one day, very exciting!  Last night, we cooked Jennifer's annual birthday dinner - a couple weeks late, but T and I spent three weeks in Italy, so we had to postpone.  Let's chat about Italy for a second - yes, the food is divine.  Plan on seeing a lot of Italy inspired dishes coming up.  I really think its the fresh pasta and seafood that makes a difference.  That, and the simple preparation with quality ingredients.  Fresh herbs, olive oil, and lemon.  No butter, no crazy spices - just perfection!

On to important topics, though.  What were Jennifer's ingredients?  I know what you're thinking - some exotic fish or meat with a spice from somewhere in the world that no one has ever heard of.  NO!  She totally threw me for a loop when she said "watermelon and peaches."  What?  Really?  We have that all the time!  But the challenge really did come about, because it's not like we're going to just find some boring peach pie recipe for a birthday dinner, right?  

Cocktail - Watermelon Ginger Mojitos

Oh yeah.  Let me walk you through this quickly.  Ginger simple syrup is how you infuse the ginger flavor - mix equal parts sugar and water, bring to a boil, and then let cool.  Add some sliced ginger to the syrup while cooling so it infuses.  I then basically just juiced some watermelon, and mixed syrup, watermelon, and white rum until the flavor worked for me.  Mix it with muddled mint and then top with some Polar Seltzer "mint mojito".

Appetizer - Grilled Shrimp, Orange, and Watermelon Salad with Peppered Peanuts and Zesty Citrus Dressing

OMG.  I could eat this every day as a meal in itself.  I did make some changes - so let's take this step by step.  Lots of it was done in advance.  Obviously, I was cooking with a lot of peaches and watermelons, so those were all diced and big bowls and put to the side.  The edamame - cooked it up, chilled it, put it in a to go cup for later.  The dressing/marinade - prepped it and put it in a to go cup.  Instead of oranges - save yourself the hassle and use canned mandarin orange slices.  I also skipped all the herbs at the end.  I then used a box of mixed spring greens.  Once I arrived at Jenn's, we brushed the shrimp with the glaze and then brushed again once on the grill.  Simply assemble salad to your liking, top with a shrimp skewer, and drizzle with more glaze/dressing.  Delicious!  I'm actually using the leftover glaze/dressing/whatever on some chicken for the grill tonight!

Appetizer - Peach and Tomato Gazpacho

See it right next to the prosecco?  We served it in shooters, because it is thick and heavy.  It was fantastic!  A great way to combine your fruits and veggies into a healthy dish!

Appetizer Wine - Ponte Prosecco 

Okay, let me give a HUGE shout out to the people at Stew Leonard's Wines.  John went there with our menu and they really had some fun helping him pick out a perfectly matching combination.  This was, hands down, the best Prosecco we have ever had.  I can't explain it.  It's the perfect balance of fruit, bubbles, and flavor!

Entree - Tamarind Glazed Duck Tacos with a Peach-Watermelon Salsa

BAM!  There you go!  Didn't think I could find something creative with peaches and watermelon, right?  Look no further for a truly impressive meal!  Okay, we only did the duck part of the recipe above - but we followed to a T and it was perfect!  (I can only find Tamarind at Whole Foods, if you're a local and looking for it, by the way.)  Tamarind is a sweet and sour type of thick glaze.  Then I made a peach and watermelon salsa (see recipe below - I just subbed watermelon for the mango) and it was divine!  On the side - we did a stone fruit slaw and it tied into the recipe perfectly!  Side note - make sure to put the ginger in that slaw - I think it really brought a flavor profile that helps propel this dish into "delicious-ness."

Entree Wine - 2011 Meiomi Pinot Noir

I will never be the same after this wine.  By far, the best wine we have ever had on this blog!  This California Pinot was unbelievable and unexpected!  It was strong and bold and full of dark berry flavors.  It also had a smooth cocoa and vanilla undertone to it that really made it stand out.  Seriously - Stew's Wines - you hit this one out of the park!

Dessert - Strawberries and Peaches with Balsamic Zabaglione

Light and refreshing and a perfect end to the meal!  I'm not sure what a zabaglione is to be honest, but it was pretty much a thickened jazzed up whipped cream.  It was a perfect complement to the fresh fruit and sweet sauce.  What is vin santo?  No clue.  I wasn't about to spend $30 on a bottle of it to find out.  So I simply used a $12 ice wine and then we finished that off for dessert.  :-)

There you go - another stunning birthday dinner for the books!  And the best thing is - we have two more birthday dinners this summer!  John is in August, and Tony is excited for his, which we will probably do next week!

Next Post - Antonio's Birthday Dinner

May 30, 2014 - Small Plates of Big Flavor

Good Morning, all!  Jennifer and I did an impromptu CS meal on Friday night since both the men were out doing their own thing... after all, when the cat's away, the mice will play, right?  Anyways - we decided to forgo the big, heavy meal and go for a lighter "small plates" type affair - and it turned out perfectly!  Enjoy!

Cocktail - Watermelon Cucumber Margaritas

Watermelon is in one of our small plates, so we figured we would put that juicer to use and engage in some fresh margaritas... it was delicious!  We simply juiced cucumber and watermelon - then mixed it with tequila until it tasted up to par.  (We also muddled a little mint, too.)  Light, refreshing - goes down too easy.

Plate 1 - Watermelon Mozzarella Salad

Oh. My. Goodness.  Yes.  Why haven't we done this before?  Follow the recipe exactly and you will not go wrong!  Juicy crisp watermelon with creamy mozzarella - more, please!

Plate 2 - Baked Fig Crostini

If I had to pick one dish to eat for the rest of my life - this may be it!  Gooey, sweet, tart - I can't even begin to explain it.  You want to make something to impress?  Here you go - look no further.  BUT - let's modify a couple things.  First off - you don't need the crostini.  If you were doing crostini - I would recommend spreading the goat cheese and then a fig jam.  The way we built it - it was too cumbersome to eat.  Just serve the figs themselves - bite sized pieces of heaven.  Also - we used cooked sliced pancetta that we then chopped - it has a nice pepper to it and is a little easier to eat than chopped bacon.  Finally, a little drizzle of honey never hurt anyone.

Plate 3 - Asian Braised Pork Belly

I give up on pork belly.  It was good, don't get me wrong - but honestly, not worth the time it took to make it.  I'm just going to have to rely on good restaurants to serve the pork belly I'm craving.  Still - if you're up for a challenge - go for it!  Let me know how to improve!

Plate 4 - Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

See picture above.  Delicious!  Great side dish and a wonderful way to use up potatoes!

Wine 1 - 2011 Daglia Cannon Cabernet

Great with the pork, this oaky and dry red wine has strong berry notes in the background and a leathery type of finish.  Strong tannins but they are very refined and help with the flavor.

Wine 2 - 2007 Aspaldi Rioja Reserva

Good with everything, this Spanish red was a hit!  Black cherry with a little smokiness and a sense of Asian flavors coming out!  Delicious!

Dessert - Boozy Watermelon Cupcakes

Cupcakes made with alcohol?  You can never go wrong!  These sweet little babies packed a punch but were so good!

So there you go - a small plates meal that was delicious and very much enjoyed on our ladies night.  Next post is special - it's Jennifer's birthday dinner... which means themed ingredients and a big challenge!

Next Post - Jennifer's Birthday