Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Riesling For Living

I realize I am going to sound like a spokesperson for Brie & Bleu and Thames River Wine and Spirits, but I promise that it is just coincidence that they figure so heavily into two blog posts so close together.

Although I have been on a cheap eating kick this week (trying to use stuff that has accumulated in my refrigerator, cupboards, and freezer) I could not resist when my friend Jim - my main source of wine recommendations - informed me about a wine dinner he was putting together at Brie & Bleu on Wednesday (last) night. Winemaker Konrad Hahn, proprietor of Von Schlenintz Vineyards in Germany(left), would be bringing an array of wines (including a sparkling Riesling, a pinot noir, and some very rare eiswien) and they would paired and served with a meal prepared by James Wayman (below right), one of two executive chefs from the River Tavern in Chester. The menu consisted of the following:

  • Foie Gras & black truffle custard
  • Thai summer roll with shrimp, sweet chili & peanut
  • Lob Gai: Thai chicken salad with toasted rice powder, Thai basil, mint & chili
  • Baeckoffe: Alsatian braised pork with potatoes, carrots & Riesling - served with mustard
  • Sable cookies, Stilton cheese, marcona almonds

I was essentially powerless to resist this combination. For $65 plus gratuity, I thought it was a phenomenal value. (Five courses and wine! This is a steal, people.)

As much as I was intrigued by the wine, the food was what really persuaded me to open my wallet. I have heard nothing but good things about James, and the menu seemed like such an interesting combination of sort of heavier, decadent dishes (the foie gras; the braised pork) and lighter, Asian-influenced dishes (the chicken salad; the summer roll).

The minute I walked into Brie & Bleu, Jim handed me a glass of Von Schlenintz Sekt, a sparkling Riesling. It tasted so fresh and dry and just so clean (for lack of a better flavor descriptor) on my tongue. I sipped the Sekt as I mingled with the other guests (a small and eclectic group, all very personable) and found my seat.

The set-up for these dinners consists of about 12-14 seats arranged around a group of small tables pushed together to form one large-ish table. The seats are limited in order to allow everyone to listen and participate in the conversation. The conversation was definitely quality as Konrad Hahn, seated directly across from me at the far end of our rectangular arrangement, described the Riesling grape and how his vineyard cultivates it to make such distinctly different wines. He passed around large color photos of the vineyard, showing the grapevines planted on steep slopes overlooking the river. We discussed Riesling's reputation in America as on overly sweet grape as we tried wines that proved it has versatility as a dryer beverage as well.

Drinking such well-crafted wine while discussing how it was made with the person who made it is a mind-blowing experience. And Konrad was extremely warm and inviting and very encouraging of questions. I think a person who had absolutely no wine knowledge whatsoever would have appreciated the dialogue as much as an experienced sommelier. In fact, I found myself regretting that Noe wasn't with me - he is not a wine drinker but I think he really would have enjoyed the conversation about how the grapes are grown and harvested.

James came out to talk about his menu as we were finishing our sparkler. Actually, James came in - he had been frying shoestring potatoes to top the foie gras and truffle custard out on the deck. He told us the custard was an "experiment" but it was one that the entire table was in agreement had worked. I've had foie gras before and think of it as kind of heavy - I have trouble naming a specific flavor, but the word rich is what immediately comes to mind. Somehow James' custard captured the richness of the foie gras along with the subtle truffle flavor and incorporated it into a creamy, lighter confection. All the decadence minus the heavy feeling - in short, magic.

The next two dishes - the summer roll and the Lob Gai - showcased an incredible understanding of how to use herbs. I immediately detected the mint when I bit into the shrimp and veggies of the summer roll - not overpowering mint, but just a hint of freshness that accented the crispness of the vegetables and the clean ocean-y flavor of the shrimp. The chicken salad had a great contrast of peppery spice and cooling cilantro (at least, I thought I tasted cilantro). (I sort of imagined that these two dishes would be what Jeff from this season of Top Chef would have made were he in the kitchen last night).

The fourth course was Baeckoffe, a departure from the lighter, Asian-themed second and third courses. This was more of a country dish: braised pork with potatoes and carrots. The pork was so tender that it more or less fell apart when I touched it with a fork. The vegetables were perfectly cooked - not underdone, but not at all mushy. This was paired with Konrad's lone red wine, a Pinot Noir. This German Pinot Noir was fairly understated - the color was a light ruby, and it tasted like it looked - not heavy at all. That is not to say it had no flavor - indeed, it had an almost slightly tart, cranberry-esque fruit with a smattering of what I think of as the typical Pinot Noir "spice". It was described by a member of our party as "the perfect red wine for white wine drinkers" and I couldn't agree more.

For dessert, we had the pleasure of drinking true Ice Wine (made from frozen grapes and very rare) alongside Sable cookies, Marcona almonds, and quite possibly the most divine wedge of Stilton on the planet. The cookies were buttery and much softer than they looked. It is a good thing they put a set number of almonds on each plate, because I would be a truly opportunistic feeder if a jar of Marcona almonds were set in front of me. There is something about those little golden nuts tossed in oil and sea salt that I can not resist. The Stilton was the crowning glory of the plate, brought to room temperature and the consistency of butter. I would take cheese over chocolate for dessert any day.

There were so many high points to this evening that it is hard to pick what was truly the best part, but I think it may have been how well these wines paired with the food. Eric (the importer) and Konrad explained why Riesling was such a good food wine, and every carefully selected dish prepared by James backed up their point. There are wine and food combinations that are good together - or at the very least, don't fight each other - but these pairings were truly complimentary.

All in all, the food and wine highlight of my time in Connecticut thus least until the next one. Now that I know what I've been missing, I'll be trying very hard to make sure I don't miss any more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cheap Eats, Day Two (or Three)

Back in November of 2007, when I didn't know anyone in town, I signed up to go to an Italian wine and cheese pairing seminar at Brie & Bleu. I was apprehensive because at this point I didn't know how much I would come to love Brie & Bleu and Thames River and had no idea what I was in for. I needn't have worried - not only did I get to drink some really fabulous Italian wine and eat fresh mozzarella and poached pears and gorgonzola, I also met some nice people (and Joanne, one day we will meet up for that drink!)

Flash forward a year and several months, and here I am, trying desperately to make a week's worth of dinners out of stuff already in my cupboards (spurred on by $700 worth of car repairs). You would not think that Brie & Bleu's Italian wine and cheese seminar would immediately come to mind under these circumstances. Yet...that is exactly what happened.

I was staring at a package of organic spaghetti and a jar of Newman's Own vodka sauce in a very uninspired manner when I randomly remembered eating spaghetti at the Italian wine night. Even better, I remembered it being described as a "dish you make when you have nothing else in the house." So I dug through the old wooden Drambuie box I use to hold my cooking magazines and computer print-outs of recipes until I found the notes from the wine seminar.

There it was. Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano cheese and fresh cracked pepper. Three ingredients, all of which could be found in my kitchen at that moment.

The technique was simple: put some water in a pot on the stove, salt generously, bring to a boil. Throw in the spaghetti and cook until al dente. While the spaghetti was cooking, I used a hand grater to grate a mound of cheese. Drain the spaghetti and let sit for a minute - the sitting is important, because you don't want the cheese to melt (which it will do if the pasta is too hot), but rather to cling to the pasta. Toss the pasta and grated cheese together, add a LOT of fresh cracked pepper, toss some more, and put on a plate with some garlic baguette. YUM.

So simple, yet so incredibly delicious. And I was using a hunk of cheese from the supermarket cheese counter - I can only imagine what this would have tasted like if I had a higher-quality piece of cheese to work with. Don't let the fact that there's only three ingredients and no sauce deter you - this dish is not bland. Resist the temptation to add olive oil, butter, or pasta water - it will interfere with the way the cheese and pepper cling to the spaghetti and mess with the overall texture. The dish is not too dry, I promise! (Plus, you can always pour a glass of Inama Soave to help it go down.)

Anyway, I know I have been doing a lot of food blogging lately, but my cheap supper last night was so easy and so good I just had to share. I hope you will give it a try!

Monday, February 23, 2009

My mind on my money
and my money on my mind...

With all the depressing economic news and awesome things like pay cuts and job losses going on all around us, Noe and I have obviously been looking for some ways to save money. Seems like money saving is all the rage right now - every day on CNN or MSNBC there seems to be an article from a financial expert of some kind telling us how to cut costs, protect our savings, etc.

I did a post a couple months ago on cost-cutting and money saving. In it, I mentioned Noe and I carpooling to work. That has indeed proved to be a money-saver and we have kept doing it, even though Noe is no longer working, because it's still only a two-mile drive and it's more worth it for him to get up and drive me than it is for us to lose the $55/month (particularly after my pay cut). The good news is the job I am starting in a couple weeks is even closer to my house and it's almost warm enough/light late enough to be bike riding weather.

The never-turn-down-free-money-by-contributing-to-the-401K plan proved to be successful for several months, until our company match went away. Now there is no free money, just my contribution. Luckily, after several months at the new job I'll be eligible for another plan with a match again.

I started using recently to track my spending and maybe help me budget a little bit better. Mint is a great website that pulls info from all your accounts (you can have it pull any checking/savings data; 401K and investment account data; credit card accounts; student loans, etc). Because it is pulling data directly from your accounts, any bills you pay automatically or any check card purchases are categorized and accounted for with minimal work on your part (sometimes you may have to re-categorize, as Aaron Beiber and I figured out - A&P was getting categorized as 'groceries' when Aaron and I both knew it was booze being purchased there). This lets me see very clearly the appalling amount I spend in bars and restaurants (and grocery stores) as well as how little money I actually have, and offers suggestions for allocating and budgeting the funds. It also breaks it down by month so you can see spending trends, etc. I have always kept a very balanced checkbook, but being able to see all this data and break it down into charts, graphs, etc is much more helpful in my mind.

So, once you see where you are spending, it becomes time to find places to cut. Noe and I both liked the This Young House (great blog; check it out!) "Dollar Dinner" suggestions. At any given time we have cheap items like boxes of spaghetti, jars of Newman's Own sauces, and packages of hot dogs and biscuit dough in our cupboards and refrigerator. We figured we could easily adapt one night as "dollar dinner" night, or simply "make dinner out of stuff I already have" night. Part of the reason I spend so much on groceries is I tend to spend the day dreaming up some elaborate dinner and head straight to the store after work to buy the ingredients. I don't mean to imply that Noe and I are wasteful with food - we are not. We always eat our leftovers and use the things we buy eventually. But we definitely plan on a one-meal-at-a-time basis, and if we cut just one or two of those out per catch my drift. By just using leftover stuff or stuff we already have one or two nights a week, we could probably save some dough.

In fact, I'm going to be ambitious and do a little experiment: I am going to attempt to make EVERY dinner this week out of stuff we already have in the house (this has more than a little to do with a car repair bill that unexpectedly set me back almost $700). We started last night by making homemade chicken noodle soup in the crockpot. Here's the ingredients breakdown:
  • Carrots and Celery - leftover from bolognese sauce (almost to the point of wilting, but since we were cooking them for eight hours, we used them anyway)
  • Half a White Onion - leftover from Pork Adobo
  • Two Chicken Tenders, cut up - unused from Friday night's Chicken Cutlets Meuniere
  • Six or so cups of Chicken Stock - leftover frozen stock from when I roasted a chicken a couple weeks ago
  • Cup or so Egg Noodles - left over from some casserole LONG time ago
  • Various herbs and spices from the spice cupboard
The result? Pretty decent tasting homemade soup. I'll probably make simple drop biscuits tonight and Noe and I will finish this up for dinner (he has basketball, so I wouldn't have made a super-elaborate meal tonight anyway). I'm thinking tomorrow's dish may be spaghetti with fresh cracked pepper and lots of grated Parmesan (leftover from bolognese and alfredo sauces). I'll keep you posted on how my week of economical eating progresses!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Philippines Are For (Food) Lovers

Those of you who don't personally know me probably do not know that my boyfriend, Noe, is Filipino. Noe was born in the Philippines and came here with his family when he was a kid. He has been back once to visit since then. I've met some of his relatives, including his cousin Hazel when she was here visiting from Cebu. We have a sort of vague plan to go there, maybe in 2010.

So, needless to say, when we saw that Anthony Bourdain was going to the Philippines on last night's episode of his show, No Reservations, we decided to tune in (we would have tuned in anyway - we're Bizarre Foods and No Reservations junkies, but you get the point). Then Noe decided that not only should we watch the episode, but we should make a night of it by cooking a Filipino meal. And by "we" I mean me, who is not the least bit Filipino at all. However, I'm game for anything in the kitchen, so I agreed.

Noe picked pork adobo as his dish of choice. Adobo basically means that the meat of your choosing - most cookbooks have it with chicken, pork, or a combination of both and we saw Bourdain eat shrimp adobo on the show - is simmered in a mixture mostly consisting of vinegar, soy sauce, and TONS of garlic. The dish is simple in the fact that it does not have an overwhelming amount of ingredients (below is a picture of everything I used) or a complicated cooking technique, but it is difficult for an outsider to make and serve to a native Filipino because every part of the Philippines - and probably every family in those parts - has a slightly different variation on how to make it.

Eight ingredients...endless variations!

Noe and I came up with the recipe we decided to use by studying two Filipino cookbooks and then adjusting some of the quantities. In the end, I used about two lbs. of pork (cubed pieces of a roast); maybe a cup of finely chopped onion; a bulb and a half (I told you it was a lot) of peeled, crushed garlic; one cup of soy sauce; two cups of white vinegar; a couple bay leaves, some fresh pepper, and about a tablespoon of salt.

Cubing the meat and chopping the onion.

The way we did this was basically putting the cubed pieces of meat into a large pot (NOT aluminum - you don't want alumninun with all that vinegar), putting the onions and garlic in over the meat, adding the liquid ingredients, then topping off with the bayleaf and the pepper. One cookbook said to stir it at this point; one said not to. Noe and I decided to give it a quick stir just to make sure all the meat and onions/garlic were covered by the liquid and then left it alone while we brought it to a boil. After the liquid reached a boil, we turned down the heat, added the salt, and simmered it for about 30 minutes.

Simmering on the stove for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, I heated some oil in a skillet, fished the cubes of pork out of the saucepan with a slotted spoon, and browned them slightly in the oil - just for a few seconds each batch. One of the cookbooks had this listed as an optional step (the other did not include it at all) and Noe said his mom used to do this, so we decided to keep it. We actually browned half the meat and left the other half just simmered so we could compare the two.

Meat after browning.

Noe participated more or less the same way he participates in every meal - plugging in the rice cooker. Noe eats rice with everything, but tonight rice was actually an integral part to the meal. Once the rice was done and the meat was browned, we served it up: rice, topped with meat, drizzled with the cooking liquid. It looked something like this:

Finished product.

This was my first time eating adobo and I really enjoyed it. You wouldn't necessarily think putting three incredibly strong flavors - vinegar, soy sauce, more than an entire bulb of garlic - would result in a harmonious mixture, but it was fantastic. Simmering the meat in the liquid infuses it with flavor, and I love the slightly pickle-y taste the vinegar gives it. And I have never said "no" to garlic.

We sort of cheated - because the new episode of No Reservations featuring the Philippines was not on until 10:00 PM, we watched the rerun of the Spain episode while we ate the adobo (since seeing Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Saturday, I'm a little obsessed with Spain, so this was fine by me). We were rewarded for our wait when the episode finally came on, because Anthony Bourdain focused on Manila and Cebu, which were the two places Noe lived in the Philippines. His family that is still there is in Cebu.

So...pork adobo + good show = very happy Noe. Go me! I can't wait to see what he'll pick for me to try to make next...

Noe gives my first attempt at Filipino cooking a thumbs-up.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dessert Oasis

You'd think I'd be sick of desserts after all the work I did getting ready for and helping at Reel Love on Saturday night. But last night I made homemade fettuccine alfredo for dinner (so bad for you yet so worth it) and I wanted to finish off the meal with an impressive dessert. Two things were working against me: A) Time - I didn't even start making dinner until 7:30 because Noe was at tennis and we were not going to eat until 9:00; and B) Lack of Ingredients - since I hadn't planned to make a fancy dessert I certainly didn't shop for anything.

Impressive looking but so easy to make.

Luckily, there is an impressive-looking yet super-easy dessert to pull out in this situation that I just happened to have ingredients on hand for: Chocolate Lava Cakes. Amanda also uses this as a go-to dessert, as does Gwyneth Paltrow, apparently. If you visit those two links, you will find two different but equally simple recipe for this dessert. However, if you want the easiest version possible - and the one that you might actually be able to make with stuff on hand (unless you keep raspberry liqueur and creme fraiche on hand) - try this version, an adaptation of the Jean-Georges Vongerichten version recently re-printed by Bitten, the food blog of the New York Times. I have cut this in half to make two rather than four cakes - it is easily halved or doubled:
Ingredients for Two
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more to butter the molds
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used a Ghirardelli baking bar I had in the cupboard)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting

  • Pour glass of delicious red wine with big fruity flavors, perhaps Don David Tanat. Sip while making cakes. *
*This step is optional.
  • Heat oven to 450 degrees. Butter and flour two ramekins or cake molds (instead of flour, I use cocoa powder - no difference taste-wise but keeps there from being flour dust on the finished cakes). Tap out excess.
  • Beat the egg, egg yolk, and sugar together with a whisk or electric hand mixer until it is yellow and thick (not very long at all).
  • Using the double boiler method (see image below) heat the butter and chocolate together until melted. Stir together to fully combine.
Double boiling: melting butter and chocolate
in a bowl set over a pan of water.
  • Pour the chocolate/butter combination into the egg mixture. Add the teaspoon of flour. Beat until combined.
  • Divide the batter among the ramekins or molds and bake for 6 or 7 minutes (sides should be set but center should be very soft. Let sit ten or twenty seconds.
  • Carefully invert the molds or ramekins to remove cakes. Serve immediately with whatever accompaniments you choose (I used strawberries and vanilla ice cream last night, but creme fraiche could be good, dust with powdered sugar, drizzle them with liqueur and more fruit...lots of possibilities!)
  • Serve immediately (these can be mixed up ahead of time and baked right before serving). When guests cut in to the cake, the warm chocolate center will ooze out.

The finished product!

See how easy that was? The cakes cook so fast that you could do this dessert made-to-order at a dinner party. Does anyone else have any good impressive-looking but easy-to-make food suggestions?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reel Love This Weekend

I've mentioned New London Main Street in this blog before - mainly in relation to the Food Stroll. I've actually become involved with them since then and have been part of the committee putting together the "Reel Love: Sweets, Savories, and the Silver Screen" event. This event takes place on Saturday night - Valentine's Day - and is in conjunction with the Garde Arts Center's Winter Film Festival showing of Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". The movie will be followed by a wine reception featuring desserts and finger foods from New London downtown restaurants, including Dev's on Bank Street, Hot Rod's, Lucca, and more. The event also features a silent auction with items such as a Eurospeed scooter, Yankees tickets, mountain bikes and a week at Loon Mountain Ski Resort.

It's $25 to attend (ticket includes movie admission) and all proceeds go to New London Main Street. If you're in or around New London on Saturday, check it out!

Read more in the New London Day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Five Things I Love This Week:
The Picture Edition

5. Homemade Bolognese Sauce
Mine it is a cross between "real" Bolognese (simmered for three hours and containing milk) and Giada (as in DeLaurentis) Bolognese (simmered for half an hour and no milk) but the end result is pretty delicious: thick, meaty, and rustic with small pieces of celery, carrots and onion served over some good quality organic pasta with a green salad and garlic bread. Food that will stick to your ribs.

2. Pre-dinner cocktails while making said Bolognese sauce.
OK, it was a cocktail, not cocktails, plural. But after a long, frustrating day at work, a little vodka and club soda with a lot of fresh lemon or lime juice really hits the spot. Maybe I should have made vodka sauce instead of bolognese and stuck with a theme. Another thing I love this week: my red wooden chicken behind the cocktail. I bought it a Brazilian import store here in New London. It is not Noe's favorite thing in our kitchen.

3. Wine Parties at John and Katie's
Not only did we sample numerous types of French wine and eat John's AMAZING homemade fried wantons, we got to play Guitar Hero, sing songs, and get yet another portrait of the Trifecta.

2. Cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto
This is my new favorite snack. I used to think it sounded disgusting but have since discovered that it is indeed glorious. In fact, it's the only way I really love to eat cantaloupe, which has never been my favorite fruit (or even my favorite melon, for that matter). The fact that it's extra-good Murray's prosciutto makes it even more delicious.

1. Bibliocat (AKA Ralph + library books)
Ralph has always had an appetite for books - literally. He has punctured the covers of several paperbacks with numerous little fang marks. However, as much as Ralph likes to sink his teeth into a shiny new paperback, he really loves library books and used books from the Book Barn - probably for that unique library book/used book smell they seem to acquire. (I'm sure the fact that numerous cats roam the Book Barn shelves and sleep amongst the tomes has something to do with it as well.) He has also developed an affinity for dust jackets, seen below.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Inspecting Gadgets

On Saturday mornings that I don't go to the aquarium, I can be a bit lazy. I tend to sit around putting off drying my hair while drinking coffee and reading the online edition of the New York Times. Then I sit in front of the computer a little while longer, killing time on Facebook while hoping Chet and Lorraine show up on Skype so I can call them. The one moment of activity in this hour and a half or so of laziness involves going down to the kitchen to actually make said coffee.

My kitchen: my favorite room in our house.

I don't buy coffee that has already been ground, so I am always jolted awake by the sound of my little electric coffee grinder. This morning, I happened to start thinking about how much I love that grinder, and by association other little odds and ends in my kitchen. it is, a list of my favorite everyday kitchen gadgets. This is mainly little stuff - although I love the KitchenAide mixer, it doesn't make this list. These are things I use almost every day. (Ignore the sub par photography - as I said, this was a lazy Saturday morning. I made these black and white in hopes that they'd look a little better.)

#1: Coffee Grinder and French Press

You can have one without the other, but why bother? Freshly ground coffee is always more flavorful, and coffee made in a French press is to die for. I actually asked my mom to buy me a French press as a gift about six or seven years ago after seeing an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where Ted Allen informed that week's makeover that after-dinner coffee made in a French press was not only super-tasty but looks sophisticated and impresses people. I don't often pull the press out for entertaining, but it is perfect for making one or two cups of morning coffee. And when I have to use my drip coffee maker and make a whole pot, I still grind the beans with my trusty grinder, purchased at the same time as the press.

#2: Kitchen Shears

My kitchen shears came with my first set of knives (a Chicago Cutlery set in a wooden block - thanks, mom!) which I think I got when I moved into my first apartment. Those knives went by the wayside over the years (I moved on to Henkels and am hoping to drastically increase my income so I can continue to advance along the cutlery ladder) but I kept the brown plastic kitchen shears. Until I got these - and for a year or two after - I cut everything with a knife. It wasn't until later that I discovered how much easier it is to snip fresh herbs with a pair of shears. I aslo use them sometimes to cut - rather than chop - bacon if I need small pieces for a pizza topping, etc. I use them all the time. Hopefully whoeve bought my old knife set at Goodwill doesn't notice the empty whole in the front of the block where these used to reside.

#3: Zester

This little and inconspicuous-looking tool is a lifesaver. It wasn't until I graduated from cooking receipes out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook that I realized how many recipes called for lemon zest. This zester, picked up as an impulse purchase either at IKEA or at Cost Plus World Market in A2, allows me to make fine little ribbons of lemon peel to brighten the flavor of any dish.

#4: Mini-Chopper

My little, tiny 1980's Back & Decker mini-chopper might be my all-time favorite kitchen gadget. First of all, it came from one of Aunt Susan's ladies weekend giveaways. It was the first real kitchen gadget I actually owned. Aunt Missy is the one who put the idea of a mini-chopper into my head by introducing me to pesto (I can not believe there was ever a time I did not eat pesto) and telling me you could make it yourself. So when this little guy appeared in Aunt Susan's giveaway pile, a lightbulb went off in my head. I snapped it up and made my first batch of homemade pesto later that summer with a whole bunch of store-bought basil. Now I make pesto with basil I grow myself, along with herb pastes to rub under the skins of chickens, small batches of salad dressing, and more. The blades still chop as well as they ever did. I will use this mini-chopper until it chops no more, and I will be incredibly sad the day I am forced to buy a shiny new one.

#5: Wine Key

I can not open wine with anything other than a waiter's corkscrew, or wine key. I have tried using those fancy openers that are supposed to be easier and end up getting very confused. I started opening wine when I got my first fine-dining job at the Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor. We did not employ a sommolier and opened our own wine tableside, which was slightly nerve-wracking the first few times. We all had our own wine keys - you could never find one when you neeeded one if you didn't because they kept getting stolen. I had a habit of keeping mine in my purse, which was bad news the first time I took a post-911 flight (confiscated AND had to do the whole search process thing). At the Earle we didn't open our own wine at the table, but we opened many bottles after. I have never bought a fancy wine opener because I think the waiter's corkscrew is the easiest and most direct way to open a bottle, and if it ain't broke, why fix it?

What kitchen implements can you not live without?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Multi-Purpose Meal

A very simple - yet very satisfying - meal is a roast chicken. Although the roasting itself takes time, the technique and hands-on preparation is fast and simple. Roast meat is incredibly tender, and you can make a full dinner by simply chopping up some potatoes, carrots, and onions and throwing them in the pot with the the bird. One 4-5 lb. chicken usually provides enough meat for me and Noe to have a decent-sized dinner with some leftover for sandwiches, salads, etc.

The finished product ready for carving...
something I am not very good at.

I like the Martha Stewart method of roasting, which calls for about 55 minutes in the oven at around 450 degrees. This lets the skin get nice and crisp without drying out the meat underneath.

I start the process by removing the innards from the cavity, trimming any excess fat, and patting the chicken dry. Once I'm done with that, it's sort of a free-for-all. I usually salt and pepper the cavity and stuff it with some aromatics - whole springs of rosemary or thyme, some chopped garlic - along with some lemon slices. Sometimes I rub Herbes de Provence under the skin, or slide thinly-sliced lemons between the skin and the meat. Sometimes I just liberally apply salt and pepper. Then I usually rub the skin with butter, truss up the legs, and throw it in the pan along with my potatoes and carrots (which seem to lend themselves well to roasting).

In the oven, about halfway through the process.

Anytime you embark on roasting a whole chicken, you get a bonus after you've carved it: a chicken carcass. This may not seem like a great bonus (after all, most people do choose to buy just the cuts of meat they want to eat at the time with the bones already removed) but if you have a chicken carcass, you can make homemade chicken stock. I use chicken stock excessively, not just in soups and sauces but also often as a substitute for water when making couscous or certain types of rice. By boiling my couscous in chicken stock (and throwing in some finely chopped garlic) it gets infused with a subtle and slightly more rich flavor.

I digress. The point is, chicken stock has a ton of useful applications in any kitchen.


I usually make a very simple, standard stock that I sort of adapted from an old Sarah Moulton recipe. I hack my carcasses into a couple big pieces, throw them in a stock pot, and cover them with water (usually an inch or two over the meat/bones). I bring it to a boil, turn down the heat and let is simmer for about 25 minutes, after which I skim off any fat that has risen to the top. Then I throw in some halved carrots and celery sticks, some quartered onions, a couple thyme sprigs, maybe a bay leaf, whole peppercorns if I have them, and simmer it for about three hours, occasionally skimming the top. Then I strain it into containers, put it in the fridge or freezer, and viola! Chicken stock any time I need it.

I used about four cups of this particular batch of chicken stock in one of my favorite winter recipes, cauliflower chowder. I never would have made cauliflower chowder if I had not eaten at Amanda's - she made it one night for Kevin and I took a bowl as well. Glorious. My chowder is a combination of Amanda's recipe, another Sarah Moulton recipe, and whatever I feel like throwing in at the time. Amanda's version is meatless, but because Noe thinks a lack of meat is a lack of meal, I sometimes throw in chopped ham, bacon, or even chorizo. I serve it with a green salad and garlic baguette. Yum!

Cauliflower chowder simmering on the stove.

If you would like any of these recipes, please email or comment. I am glad to share!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Popularity Contest

I realized this morning that I have been blogging for three days short of a year. In that time I have managed to put up 154 posts (counting this one). At the beginning, sometimes those posts were simply links to news items I found interesting or recaps of hockey games (which have now been moved to the blog I share with Amanda, Double A Hockey) - you could say this blog lacked consistency and focus. However, some prevalent themes of this blog have revealed themselves as I look over old posts: lists (particularly lists of five things that I decide I like); reviews of east coast tourist attractions, and, of course, restaurants. There have also been a few random musings (mix tapes, high school memories) that have turned out to be some of the more greatly read posts.

In honor of my one year - or rather, my 362 day - anniversary, here are recaps and links to some of the more popular posts:
In addition to these posts, some of the more widely-read items have been my numerous postings on restaurants. I love restaurants and have been trying to make the most of my fairly limited selection. While I have not written a piece on every restaurant I've eaten at out here, here are links to the posts on the ones that I covered in any detail:
Thank you so much for continuing to read this blog. I hope I am able to keep it interesting. I promise to have a new post - not a cheating recap post - up soon!