Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Newest Obsession - Farro

I love my whole grains, especially in the winter time.  They're rich, nutty and hearty and leave you with this, fabulous satisfied feeling when you incorporate them into a great meal.  Recently, I've learned about the wonder of farro - a dense, Italian grain that has a sesame-like nuttiness and pairs amazingly with bright, citrus flavors.

Some quick background info: Farro comes from a certain variety of wheat plant and has regional affiliations throughout Italy.  It can be used almost interchangeably with barley in many recipes because they share a lot of basic characteristics.  It also comes in a variety of sizes and holds up a lot of it's bite when you cook it making it ideal for soups and stews.  Check your supermarket's bulk section - it's by far the cheapest way to buy any grain, including farro.

So now that you've learned all about farro, I want to share a recipe I've put together that can be served warm or room temperature as a salad.

Citrus Ginger Farro Salad

3 cups water
1 cup pearled farro
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely diced shallot
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 tablespoon grated fresh young ginger root
1/2 cup dried cherries (I prefer sour cherries if they're available)
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup sprouted peas (I added these for protein, but they could easily be omitted if you don't like peas)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped mint (if you have grapefruit mint available, that's my favorite with this recipe)

- Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan
- Add sesame oil, salt and farro and cook on a low simmer for 20 minutes or until tender to the bite (it will still hold an al dente quality)
- Whisk together citrus juices, zest, ginger, olive oil and shallots to form the dressing
- Soak the cherries and peas in the dressing while the farro finishes cooking
- Drain the farro well and add to the dressing mixture while the farro is still warm
- Add pistachios and herbs (reserve a pinch of each herb to top with for serving) and gently fold into the salad
- Top with remaining herbs and serve (you can make it ahead of time and serve at room temperature as well)

One great thing about this salad, is you can use whatever you have in your pantry.  I've used walnuts and pecans in lieu of the pistachios and substituted raisins or cranberries for the cherries.  You can also cook the farro in a 2 cups water and 1 cup chicken stock and mix in chopped onions, carrots and celery for a pilaf-style side dish.

Holiday Favorites 2011 Edition - Part 3

So James and I hosted Christmas Eve dinner in our new home and I decided that I wanted to tackle cooking something that was uncharted for me... roasting a whole duck.  As I've mentioned in the past, I consider duck to be the pinnacle of all poultry and thought it would be the perfect way to kick off the holidays.  Being that this was new territory however, I had to consult the professionals for some advice and Alton [Brown] and Julia [Child] certainly did not lead me astray.

First and foremost, you need to start this process 4-5 days before you actually want to eat your meal.  Leave the whole Peking duckling in the refrigerator over night to thaw, then by removing the innards and the neck which were neatly tucked in the cavity and set those aside (for some duck neck sausage and liver mousse later).  Next, you need to butterfly the bird to help insure even cooking (unlike a chicken or turkey, ducks are shaped differently because they paddle rather than walk which can lead to uneven cooking).  This basically involves folding the wings under and cutting out the spine with a pair of sturdy kitchen shears (I know this sounds unpleasant but I promise, it's not that bad).  This is when we started our scrap pot for our duck stock.  The spine is full of flavor and I don't believe in wasting anything you don't have to... but more on that later.  Score the area between the breasts gently and flip over your duck.  It should now be laying flat in well, a butterfly shape at this point.  Now you want to VERY GENTLY score the skin over the breasts to help the fat escape during the roasting process.  Use a boning knife (the long, skinny, really sharp one) and slice sideways (blade pointing to the side, not down into the bird) along each breast panel.  You just want to slit the skin into the fat, not cut down into the meat.  Now for every pound of duck, you want to use 1 tablespoon of koshering salt and coat your duck on both sides and gently massage it in.  Place the bird on the roasting pan that comes with your oven (the two piece pan with slits on the top) and place a paper towel in the bottom  portion.  Now comes the easy part: leave your duck, uncovered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.  Yes, 3-4 days.  The idea is to let the salt draw the moisture out of the skin and get it to separate from the fat to a parchment like consistency.  This is what gives you that deliciously crisp skin when you roast it.  It's going to look dried out and get a slight grey color on the drumsticks... this is good, so don't let it freak you out.

Now, once the duck has cured, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the paper towel from the bottom compartment of the roasting pan and cook your duck for 30 minutes.  Rotate your bird and then cook for an additional 30 minutes.  Remove the duck from the oven and raise the heat to 475 degrees.  Once the oven has reached temperature, return to duck for 12 minutes.  This is to crisp the skin and bring the bird to 180 degrees internal temperature.  I know this is a high temp for poultry, but because we cured it initially, the meat will still be moist and juicy... I promise!  Allow the duck to rest for 5 minutes and carve to serve.

Drain off the rendered fat from the bottom of the roasting pan into a container and save for roasting vegetables, potatoes and general cooking.  Duck fat is more or less the equivalent of culinary gold and I promise anything cooked in it will miraculously taste 300% better.

Once you've taken all the meat off, add the carcass to your stock pot along with any vegetable peels, cores and scraps from the prep of your side dishes (we used onions, carrots, sunchokes, fennel, parsnips, celery root, shallots, garlic and corn).  Add one bottle of white wine and then cover with cold water and bring to a boil.  Once is starts to bubble, reduce to a simmer and leave on the heat for 6 hours.  This will extract all of the flavor from the bones and vegetables and give you a fantastic, aromatic stock for soups and sauces.  You can jar and freeze your stock for up to 3 months.

Any leftover duck meat (pending there are leftovers), makes a great pizza.  We used a multigrain dough from the grocery store (yes, I do condone some shortcuts) stretched thin over a cookie sheet.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Brush the dough with a tablespoon of duck fat (see, I told you saving it would pay off) and bake for 8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, flip, brush the other side with 1 tablespoon of duck fat and bake for another 5 minutes.  Cover the warm crust with 10 slices of drained (pressed between paper towels) buffalo mozzarella ( you can also use a fresh whole milk mozzarella), the leftover duck meat and any left over roasted vegetables from your dinner.  If you like a really crispy crust like I do, egg wash the edges.  Bake the pizza for an additional 7 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is fully melted.  Sprinkle with fresh thyme finely chiffonade basil.

So by following my mantra of let nothing go to waste, we not only had a great meal for Christmas Eve, we had delicious leftovers and enough stock for over a gallon of soup (or a fabulous duck consume!).

Holiday Favorites 2011 Edition - Part 2

So this next recipe I wanted to share is a fabulous quick and easy plated dessert for when you're having guests over for dinner and want something light to end a meal.  These Strawberry-Fig Balsamic Tarts are sure to be a crowd pleaser and they're not overtly sweet, which is one of my favorite things about them.  It's not particularly "holiday" in any sense, in fact... it would be easier to make in the summer when the ingredients are in season, but at any rate... they're delicious.

Strawberry-Fig Balsamic Tarts
For the crust:
·         1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 cup shortening, chilled
·         3 tablespoons ice water

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium size bowl. With a pastry blender, cut in the cold shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs
·         - Drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons ice water over flour. Toss mixture with a fork to moisten, adding more water a few drops at a time until the dough comes together
- Gently gather dough particles together into a ball
- Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling
- Roll out dough, and press into individual tart shells (you can also make one large tart in a pie plate if you don't have individual tart shells)
- Bake shells until they are slightly golden brown (about 10 minutes)
**Modification: you can cheat and use pre-made pie crusts here if time if of the essence

For the pastry creme:
·         1 ¼ cups whole milk
3 egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

- Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps
- Warm the milk over low heat in a small saucier pan until steam begins to form
- Slowly add the milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly
- Return mixture to the pan and heat for 2 minutes while continuing to stir until the custard reaches 170 degrees and thickens
- Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla extract
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours
- Spoon into tart shells and bake for an additional 7 minutes

For the fruit topping:
10 medium to large sized strawberries
5 Turkish figs (if fresh are unavailable, you can use dried)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar

- In a medium saucepan, combine balsamic, vanilla and brown sugar and simmer until the liquid is reduced to half it's original volume and begins to take on a slight syrupy quality
- Remove reduction from heat and allow to cool
- Slice strawberries into 1/4 inch segments (about 6 slices per berry)
- Slice figs into 1/4 inch segments (about 6 slices each for fresh figs and 4 slices per fig if using dried fruit)
- Toss strawberries and figs in the reduction until thoroughly coated
- Top tarts with the fruit mixture and serve immediately

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday Favorites 2011 Edition - Part 1

So first and foremost,  I would like to extend an apology to my loyal readers for my prolonged absence.  Since my last posting, James and I have moved into our new house and with end-of-the-year chaos at work, my poor little blog took a beating.  Also contributing to that would be the fact that for the month leading up to our move, we ate out 6 nights a week and believe me, it was nothing noteworthy.  Now that I'm in a kitchen that I'm proud to call my own and we've survived the craziness of the holidays, it only seems appropriate that I share some of the fabulous creations that have emerged over the past few weeks.

In lieu of going crazy buying everyone we know presents this year, we decided to do two things... we sponsored an underprivileged family to help them have a great holiday and we baked our tails off to put together some homemade treat boxes for our loved ones.  After a long debate and toiling over how our first (hopefully annual) holiday cookie box should be filled, we decided on a fabulous list of eight scrumptious treats that we felt represented some of the things we love:
Salted Caramel Bars
Black & White Truffle Popcorn
Cranberry-Hibiscus Shortbread
Saltine Toffee Brittle
Lemon Creme Polenta Sandwiches
Cocoa Dusted Saffron-Cashew Truffles
Dark Chocolate Bacon Bonbons
Almond-Oat Florentines

Per a handful of requests, I wanted to share a few of these recipes with you all so that hopefully, they can continue to be enjoyed throughout the year as well.  

Cranberry Hibiscus Shortbread Cookies
3 sticks of unsalted butter
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
2 ¾ cups of all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon of kosher salt
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup of dried hibiscus flours
1/3 cup of warm water

- Soak hibiscus flours in the warm water for 15 minutes, strain and reserve the liquid
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and hibiscus water together for 2 minutes
- Sift flour and salt together and slowly add into the creamed mixture on low speed
- Gently fold in cranberries
- The dough will have a soft consistency
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour
- Shape dough into balls 1 inch in diameter and gently press to flatten
- Be sure to place one inch apart on a cookie sheet as the cookies will spread as they bake
- Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are golden brown
- Cook on wire racks

Polenta Sandwich Cookies with Meyer Lemon Crème
For the Cookies:
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup polenta
2 tablespoons of Meyer lemon zest
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Line cookie sheets with parchment paper
- In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar for 2 minutes
- Mix flour, polenta, cocoa, zest, salt and baking powder together and slowly incorporate into the creamed mixture on low speed
- Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes
- Roll dough in 1 inch diameter balls and gently press flat onto the lined cookie sheet
- Bake for 10 minutes
- Allow cookies to cool and create sandwiches with lemon crème filling
**Modification: for chocolate-orange cookies, substitute ½ cup all purpose flour for ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder and Meyer lemon zest for orange zest

For the Filling:
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest
¼ cup Meyer lemon juice

- Cream all ingredients together in a stand mixer with a  paddle attachment until smooth and fluffy
- Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set
- Sandwich in between cookies
**Modification: for chocolate-orange cookies, substitute Meyer lemon juice and zest for equal amounts of orange zest

I'd be happy to post any other recipes from our holiday cookie assortment upon request!  Please enjoy and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Spin on an American Classic

So who doesn't love a good burger?  I'm a huge advocate of grilled, juicy, meaty goodness between two perfectly toasted buns, topped with an array of delicious toppings that could cure nearly any craving.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I'm extremely fussy about my burgers.  What most major chain restaurants serve is something I have lovingly coined, a meat patty... NOT a burger.  A true burger is a menagerie of spices, flavorings and binders intermingling with the ground meat to form a perfectly round disk that just begs for those charred grill marks.  Slapping some ground beef on a grill that came out of a preformed "burger" package just isn't going to cut it. 

While I believe the sky is the limit for proper ways to season your ground beef (or bison, or lamb...), there are a few staples I always include.  For one pound of meat, add one fresh egg and 1/3 of a cup of panko breadcrumbs for texture and richness.  The crumbs will soak in the spices and flavorings and distribute them throughout the burger more evenly than seasoning the meat alone.  The next non-negotiable in burger assemblage is Worcestershire sauce.  I'm an advocate of Lea & Perrins brand personally.  Finally, sea salt and cracked black pepper round out our staples. 

Beyond that, I've added roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, olive tapenade, fresh herbs, crushed Doritos (yes, you read correct) and pretty much whatever I had kicking around my pantry that I though could taste good with beef... and let's be honest, what doesn't taste good with beef?

Now if you're looking to dress up your basic burger to give it a new twist, think about stuffing your toppings inside.  Think of the upsides... your cheese melts evenly during the cooking process, cooking time is reduced and you save the mess of toppings oozing out of your bun while you're trying to eat it.  Seems like a good enough argument for me.  My most recent creation: The Caprese Burger.  A classic Italian mozzarella, tomato and basil salad stuffed into the middle of a perfectly grilled burger.  The sky really is the limit here thought.  Use your imagination and see where it takes you!

Spread your beef mixture out  to roughly 1/2 inch thick & 5 inches in diameter

Place your choice of fillings in the center and fold the sides over to evenly cover

Stuffed and ready to grill

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Healthy Buffalo - Short ribs like you've never had before

Since relocating to the lovely, tax-free land of New Hampshire from Boston, I've learned that there are some advantages to living in what the average person would view as a "more country-like setting."  Yes, I have to plan pilgrimages down to to Boston for stops at some of my favorite food vendors, but there are a few hidden gems up here that I never would have thought to explore prior to living amongst them. 

Deep in the heart of Chicester, New Hampshire (that's next to Concord to give a more well known vantage point) is a fabulous little shop called The Healthy Buffalo.  When you walk in, you feel as though you're walking into a revamp of someone's living room (probably because you are) full of freezers, refrigeration units and a giant black board listing all of the game meats and cuts they have available.  Ever tried kangaroo?  How about elk or wild boar?  Turtle?  Duck?  Ostrich?  They have them all... and a lot more.  You can purchase bison meat cut into every major steak variety... including my personal favorite, short ribs.  Oh rib meat... how I love thee and your fall of the bone, slow cooked, juicy deliciousness.  Bison short rib has a similar texture to beef, however it's significantly leaner so you get less of an oily coating in your mouth when you eat it.  It does have a slightly gamey flavor, but nothing overpowering that would detract from the basis of why you'd be eating short ribs in the first place.  They also have an amazing array of house-made sausages using various game meats combined with liqueurs, fruits, vegetables and spices to give them a really unique flavor.  They even offer samples of some of their products on Saturdays and Sundays. 

On our most recent trip, we picked up 2 lbs of short ribs to make for a dinner party we were hosting that week.  Now that I'm back to working a full time job, I don't have time to slow braise meat for 12 hours in the oven anymore during the week and needed a simpler solution to achieving that fall-off-the-bone tenderness... enter the crockpot!  I love my crockpot.  It's a fabulous tool to have in any kitchen with almost endless possibilities.  The best part... set it and forget it.  First thing in the morning, I combined my short rib meat with 1 bottle of full bodied Cabernet (you don't have to use anything pricey, just something you wouldn't mind drinking), 3 cups of veal stock, fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage and basil) and a mirepois of diced carrots, onions, celery and vine ripened tomatoes.  Give it a stir and let it simmer for the next 8 to 10 hours for a perfectly delicious entree. 

Check out The Healthy Buffalo online at  If you're outside the Greater New Hampshire area, guest what... they ship their products!  Bon apetite!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My sincerest appologies...

I need to take a moment to apologize to all of my readers for my hiatus over the past few weeks.  I've recently began a new career and all of my free time has been focused on training and development.  I do however promise to get back on track within the next few days and I have a plethora of fun and exciting food and wine adventures to share with you all!  Thank you kindly for your understanding...

Upcoming Blogs:
*The Healthy Buffalo - Short rib like you've never had before
*Hidden Gems of Cape Fear & Myrtle Beach

Friday, July 15, 2011

Foodie Heaven

So today I would love to add another member to my 'fabulous food finds of Boston club'. I've been shopping here since I moved back to New England in 2008 and I've lovingly dubbed the establishment “foodie heaven.” A. Russo & Sons Inc. is a retail and wholesale supplier based in Watertown, MA. Normally, I would get excited about a store having a great selection, impeccable quality or fantastic prices... this one had all three. 

Vegetables really do take center stage at Russo's. Their produce selection is unrivaled in the greater New England area with things I've never heard of and have no idea what to do with. I've spent hours walking through the aisles with my Food Lover's Companion Guide trying to decipher exotic and rare fruits and vegetables and what in the world I could do with them. I've almost made a game out of buying one new thing each time I go just to force me to learn new cooking techniques. I've never not found what I was looking for, no matter how obscure or out of the ordinary, which always makes this shopping trip worth the drive.

I've also never purchased a bad piece of produce. Everything they sell is at the peak of freshness and of the highest quality I've seen available at retail and all for incredibly reasonable prices. On my last trip, I filled 4 standard shopping bags for under $35.

Once you've navigated your way through the endless array of produce, they also have a great selection of locally produced dairy and eggs, imported antipasto items, charcuterie and artisan cheeses. Top that off with a incredible on-premise bakery and a huge garden shop to create the ultimate foodie paradise. If you live in the greater Boston area, this is more than worth the drive

Green Papaya Salad... a twist on an inspiration

Isn't in just incredibly frustrating when you go on vacation, try a food that you think is absolutely amazing and then when you crave it six months later, it's located clear across the country? I experienced this frustration last week when I started thinking about this delicious green papaya salad that we had at the Slanted Door when we were in San Francisco last December.

Located in the city's renowned Ferry Building (which conveniently also houses that most incredible farmer's market I've ever seen), the Slanted Door is an Asian Fusion restaurant with a very heavy Thai influence. While our entire meal was great, the fresh crispness of this green papaya salad we had truly stands out in my mind.

When I decided to attempt to recreate the dish, I naturally began by asking my good friend Google to tell me what was in it. Although I found a bounty of reviews on how wonderful the salad was, the recipe has managed to allude publication on the interweb. Once again, I was slightly frustrated, however far from defeated. I may have been working off of a memory from seven months ago, but gosh darn it, I really wanted that salad.

Luckily, I had taken a photo of the salad when we were at the restaurant (yes, I'm a dork who takes more pictures of her food than of her boyfriend) which gave me some visual cues to work off. I knew I needed green papaya (obviously), shredded carrots, celery, cucumber, crushed peanuts and fried tofu strips based on what I could pull out of the photograph. The seasoning and the broth however were completely going to fall on my memory of flavors. Off to the Asian market!

Slanted Door's Green Papaya Salad

I consider myself seriously lucky to have a great Asian market in my town and Boston's Chinatown within a reasonable driving distance. I really have no excuse for not being able to acquire any ingredient I'm looking for when I'm cooking an Asian-inspired dish. This also helps a lot in the realm of inspiration. Sometimes just walking through the market reminds me of being in Japan and I'll find a random sauce or spice that I recognize (and some that I don't) to serve as a springboard for a new dish. Today's revelation... rau ram. It's a Vietnamese-style coriander that gives a fresh citrus, cilantro note. When the shopkeeper described the flavors to me, it sounded like a perfect accompaniment to recreate the refreshing flavors I remembered.

To dress my salad, I opted for a blend of yuzu, soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice, sesame and peanut oils and rice wine vinegar. It wasn't a perfect match (the dressing we had in San Francisco was a pale yellow color, mine was a light brown) but the flavors worked well to compliment the crispness of the vegetables.

To make this salad a full meal, I also tweaked the presentation. Rather than serving it as a stand-alone dish, I topped a piece of fresh, steamed black cod with the crunchy mixture to add a protein and texture contrast. 

My Green Papaya Salad w/ Steamed Black Cod

We paired it with a crisp, easy-drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc from Matua to compliment the brightness of the dish and ensure that none of the flavors would be dulled down. This was definitely an instance where a contrasting pairing would have muddled the salad's profile that I had worked so hard to achieve.

Overall, I'm deeming this experiment a success, even though I wasn't able to recreate the dish exactly. I think I was able to put my own spin on the core flavors of the original and maintain the integrity of what I remembered the salad to be. This is one that's being filed in the recipe catalog.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Whip It

I've written before about how interesting wine blends often catch my attention.  This usually turns out to be a great bit game of trial and error because it's hard to predict what a blend of six or more different grapes is going to produce.  I'm very happy to report that this was one of those trials that did not end in error. 

A random pick up on a liquor store stop, The Whip, is a blend of 43% semillion, 21% sauvignon blanc, 21% viognier, 7% muscat canelli, 5% gewurztraminer and 3% orange muscat.  The initial flavors are very similar to a white Bordeaux but mellow out on the palate much quicker to a fruity crispness. Sauvignon blanc is definitely the prominent grape in aroma and flavor leading to strong grassy, citrus notes of grapefruit, lime zest, blood orange and lemongrass. 

We paired the wine with last night's Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps which worked okay.  The combination of strong flavors in the wraps really overwhelmed the wine and took away a lot of it's pop.  The wine honestly didn't need food to round it out in the first place and would work well as just stand-alone Tuesday night wine.  If I was going to pair it, I would make sure that the dish was light in flavor and complimented the citrusy notes in the wine... maybe a lemon chicken or a fresh summer salad with a grapefruit vinaigrette. 

The Whip is is produced by Murrieta's Well out of Livermore, California.  For retail information, you can visit their website here.

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

So James and I have been trying to find healthier options for our during the week dining and last night, I took some cues from a few restaurant dishes I've had in the past to create an interactive meal with under 600 calories in a full 3-wrap serving.  There are quite a few components that go into these wraps, but I promise, it's something anyone can put together.  I'm going to break the recipe down into nine parts to make it more manageable.  

1.  Take one head of Boston lettuce, trim the base and separate the leaves.  Take the larger, outer leaves and reserve them for your wraps.  You can use the hearts of the lettuce for a salad later on (no reason to waste anything).

2.  Heat 3 cups of water in a sauce pan until just before it comes to a boil.  Submerge 1/2 package of cellophane noodles (these are available in the Asian section of your supermarket) in the water.  Soak the noodles for 3 minutes.  Once they're soft, use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim them to a manageable length (I like to cut them into thirds).  Transfer the noodles to a strainer and rinse with cold water.  Drain thoroughly and set aside.

3.  Take 6 chicken tenderloins and lightly season them with salt and pepper.  Grill them to 165 degrees in the center (take care not to overcook them, no one likes dry chicken).  Remove them from the heat and place in the refrigerator to cool.  Once chilled, dice the chicken into 1/2 cubes and toss with 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp pressed ginger juice (or finely ground ginger) and 3 tbsp soy sauce.  You want to serve the chicken just cooler than room temperature so if you put it back in the refrigerator be sure to take it out prior to dining to allow it to warm up a bit. 

4.  Take 1/2 of a red and 1/2 of an orange bell pepper and slice them into 1 inch long narrow strips.  Slice 2 stalks of lemongrass and soak in warm water for 30 minutes.  Toss your peppers in 3 tbsp of the lemongrass water and set them aside.

5.  Take 2 medium size carrots, peel and shave them into julienne strips (or you can cheat a little bit and use 1/2 a bag of matchstick carrots).  Place them in a bowl with 2 tbsp of Sambal Olek pepper sauce and 2 tbsp yuzu (a savory, almost citrusy Asian sauce).  Stir them well as to coat every strip of carrot.

6.  Peel 3 baby Persian cucumbers (you can use regular English cucumbers but you will need to de-seed them).  Slice them on a bias into thin strips.  Toss them in a bowl with 2 tbsp soy sauce and sprinkle them with black and white sesame seeds.

7.  Tear 8 fresh basil leaves into quarters and set aside. 

8.  Take 1/2 cup of pea shoots and slice into 2 inch cuts.

9.  In a saucepan, combine 3 tbsp creamy salted peanut butter, 1/2 cup of chopped unsalted cashews, 2 tbsp yuzu, 4 tbsp soy sauce, 3 tbsp Hoisin sauce, 2 tbsp dry vermuth and 1 finely chopped garlic clove.  Melt the peanut butter and add all liquid ingredients.  Simmer together for 8 minutes, stirring frequently.  This is your peanut sauce for the wraps.

Now that all of your components are assembled, all you have to do is combine them in your lettuce leaves to create your wraps.  You can portion each of the ingredients however you like based on which flavor profiles you prefer.  I tend to go a little heavy on the carrots and cucumbers which gives the wrap a nice amount of heat and also counterbalances it with the coolness of the cucumber.  Whichever balance your decide upon... happy wrapping!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady - part 5

So this will be my final installment of Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady.  I've saved my favorite find for last however and I'm really excited to share this with you all.  Ambrosia Chocolate & Spices located on Centre Street is this amazing shop that I happened across during one of my afternoon walks around the town center.

When you walk in the shop, you're greeted by an immensely friendly staff behind a glass display case of handcrafted, artisan chocolates.  The selection of chocolates rotates through a variety of of spices and florals that give the chocolate an incredible amount of flavor without overpowering the delicacy of it.  On my visit, I was able to try white chocolate truffles with jasmine, milk chocolate with rose and dark chocolate with angelica root.  The chocolate was silky in texture with a creamy finish and each truffle was portioned to be a perfect little treat.

The back wall of the shop is covered by a gorgeous wooden cabinet filled with locally grown, organic spices.  There's an unbelievable variety ranging from crafted blends to your basic staples and more exotic selections.  My purchases for the day included a jar of their "Garden Blend" (their variation of a classic Italian spice blend with a great fennel aroma), some beet powder and a bag of whole mace.

They don't have a website at the moment, but you can find them on facebook and they do ship their products.  Definitely worth checking out if you're on the island...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady - part 4

So it's rare that I'm ever excited to eat multiple meals at the same establishment during the same week.  One exception to this general guideline was the Corazon del Mar Latin Kitchen.  One of James' coworkers had recommended the restaurant for it's extensive tequila selection and fish tacos.  Although these both proved to be great additions to our meal, they were far from highlights on either of our visits.

Our Tuesday night began at James' company sponsored clambake... a bountiful array of overcooked seafood, dry chicken quesadillas and what may possibly have been the most horrible "clam chowder" I've ever tasted.  I'm a New England girl and I love my chowder... this was the consistency of oily skim milk with some bland potatoes floating in it... not even remotely what I consider chowder.  Needless to say our palates were not peaked and we decided to press onward after a few dark & stormys at the open bar. 

Enter Corazon del Mar... we began our meal with a dish of padron peppers.  Our server described them as a Russian roulette game of the pepper world.  Essentially one in every 20 peppers packs a punch with the other 19 having a mild, vegetative quality.  They were served slightly blackened in a light olive oil and finished off with a pinch of sea salt and lemon.  Super simple, but delicious enough that we not only ordered them again the following night, after returning home I made a two hour trip down to Watertown, MA to my favorite produce store to buy them and prepare them myself at home.

Our second course was a traditional scallop ceviche with siracha and fresh lime.  Clean, crisp and perfectly sliced which allowed the scallop to truly be the star of the dish. 

Next we had serrano ham wrapped mejool dates.  I'm not typically a fan of ham, but serrano ham is this delicious, bacon-like product that surpasses all that one would expect ham to be.  If you haven't tried it, add it to your bucket list.  The dates were stuffed with manchego cheese and guindilla peppers for a slight bite on the finish.  Overall, they were a really great balance of sweet, savory and spice. 

The true star of the evening however was the kobe beef and serrano ham (there we go the serrano ham again) stuffed empanadas topped with pomegranate seeds, arugula and walnut cream sauce.  Think of a personal-sized, deep-fried pot pie.  When you got all the components on your fork, they worked so well together that I really don't have words to fully describe the food-gasm this created.  The only downside... it was a one night only special. 

Aside from a few repeats, our second meal at Corazon del Mar was rounded out by the fish tacos that were our original impetus for visiting the restaurant in the first place, Mexican corn and fluke crudo.  The fish tacos were good, not incredible, but good.  The fish was incredibly fresh, lightly battered in Tecate beer batter and paired with a chipotle mayonnaise.  The flavors were crisp but couldn't compare with the empanadas. 

The Mexican corn was a very similar recipe to one I use at home quite often.  Fresh corn on the cob marinated in lime juice, cilantro and smoked chipotle spice, however theirs was topped with a creamy cotija cheese sauce making it a slightly less healthy version of mine but significantly more decadent. 

Against the prior night's scallop ceviche, the fluke crudo was the clear winner.  Both were expertly sliced and extremely clean, but the fluke had an amazing day boat freshness that couldn't compare.  Definitely worth trying!

Pair their incredible food with an extensive tequila list (including Maestro Dobel Diamond... a personal favorite) and you have a great find of a hidden gem.  This is one restaurant I can't wait to go back to!!!

**Side note: I apologize for the lack of photos, the lighting was poor and everything I tried to photograph came out too dark to post.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady - part 3

So I'm back for another installment of my mini series of post revealing some of the fabulous foodie finds I encountered during my week on Nantucket.  This time around, I want to share what may be the best commercial  bakery I've found yet.  That's right, in the battle royale for the best cupcake, Petticoat Row Bakery is a strong contender.  This pristine bakeshop on Centre Street in the heart of downtown is a treasure trove of delicious baked goods.  

First and foremost, I need to give a shout out to the cupcakes.  They were pretty fantastic and not overpoweringly sweet.  The only complaint we were able to come up with was that the cake was super-moist and there was an abundance of frosting that the cake really couldn't stand up to.  I'm not complaining about moist cake or an excess of frosting mind you... just maybe a little more balance. 

I opted to try the Key Lime cupcake and the Peanut Butter Cup cupcake.  The key lime was a tart zip blended into a traditional vanilla cake and topped with a very tasty and sour icing.  My vote for cupcake of the week however goes to the peanut butter cup... a super moist devil's food cake topped with an abundance of icing that was very much akin to peanut butter fudge and then topped with crumbled Resee's cups. 

An honorable mention however does have to go to the macaroons.  I'm a huge fan of macaroons and these were simply wonderful.  They were llightly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside with sweet cream and fruit jelly sandwiched in the middle.  The day I visited the bakery, their flavors were apricot and mixed berry, both of which were delicious. 

The only downside of finding such a great bakery, it's on an island.  As far as my waistline is concerned, maybe that's a good thing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady - part 2

I would like to lovingly subtitle this post, "What's Brewing (and distilling) on Nantucket".  Yes, I know it's incredibly corny but this is my page gosh darn it and I'm going to have my fun.  That being said, I would love to tell you all about the great afternoon I spent at the 888 Distillery and Cisco Brewery while I was on the island.  As a side note, there is also a vineyard producing local wines... my advice is to focus your time on the areas they do incredibly well and save your vineyard visits for your next trip to Napa.  The east coast is not renown for it's grape growing and wine making techniques for a reason and my vote is to just let that be. 

Tip #1:  Pack a lunch, bring some take out with you, do whatever you have to do to make sure that you have food available to you because there isn't really any available there (with the exception of a rack of Lays potato chips) and if you're going to make an afternoon out of this, you're going to want something to eat, promise.

Tip #2:  If you didn't bring a bike to the island with you, rent one and ride it out there.  It's less than a 3 mile ride from the town center and it's a really scenic ride.

Tip #3:  Start your day on the distillery side.  Remember that adage from college... liquor before beer you're in the clear?  Your stomach will thank you later for this one. 

So following my own advice, I packed up my muffin from the basket of fresh baked goods at the inn we stayed at (in hindsight, my muffin proved to not quite have the sustenance I was hoping for), hoped on my bike and peddled my way out to the middle of Nantucket.  I started my afternoon at the 888 Distillery.  I'm familiar with some of the 888 family of products from my time at Not Your Average Joe's and what I have tried has actually been pretty solid.  Their line of vodkas is readily available off the island and if you're a fan of vanilla or blueberries, those are the two flavors I would recommend starting with. 

The vanilla flavored vodka is an infusion of Madagascar and New Guinea vanilla beans that are put directly in the bottle (on a side note, once you finish the bottle, save the pickled vanilla beans to scrape for the best panna cotta recipe ever).  When you make a cocktail with the vodka, you'll see little black flecks floating in it. These are not dirt, they're oils extracted from the vanilla bean and they're loaded with flavor.  In my humble opinion, it's the best vanilla vodka available on the market. 

The blueberry flavored vodka is a fantastic shade of deep purpleish blue thanks the the spirit being macerated with Maine blueberries.  Nothing artificial, no chemical flavorings, just legitimate fruit which gives the vodka the most intense blueberry color and flavor imaginable. 

Despite being such a big fan of their vodkas prior to my visit, I wanted to take full advantage of my trip to the source and try something I wouldn't have the opportunity to on the mainland.  As it turns out, 888 has a line of naturally infused liquors that are small batch production and an island exclusive release.  My $10 tasting (which also included a souvenir shot glass) was a line up of Blueberry Mint, Honey Ginger, Pineapple Jalapeno, and Oxacan Coffee. 

The blueberry mint was the same shade as the vodka and being a lower proof, significantly more refreshing and less agressive.  Their signature cocktail, the Figawi Wowie, was a blend of blueberry mint liqueur, lemonade and soda water.  This may be the perfect summer beach drink because I could have downed 10 of them without even thinking about it.    The honey ginger flavor was okay but it was significantly more mild than I would have expected.  It could work well mixed with a strongly brewed tea.  The pineapple jalapeno was really interesting, you could clearly taste the pineapple but there was such a strong heat from the hot peppers that the contrast was pretty intense.  I'm glad I tasted this after the honey ginger because the subtlety would have been beyond overshadowed.  Finally, I tried with Oxacan coffee which I can envision making the most amazing espresso martini.  This stuff put Kahlua to shame because rather than tasting like sweetened coffee syrup, it tasted like... gasp, real coffee.  Sadly, they were sold out of retail bottles so I couldn't take any home with me.  Although, I did pick up a bottle of the blueberry mint.   

Across the courtyard from the distillery, is the Cisco Brewery tasting room, otherwise known as the endless flow of beer for a $10 tasting fee.  The best advice I can give you here is make sure you're visiting at the most non-peak time possible.  The fewer people there, the more you can learn about the beer which, in my opinion, makes the tasting so much more interesting. 

Cisco produces their Sankaty Light, Whale's Tale and Grey Lady beers for off-island distribution, all of which are solid, but the highlights of the tasting definitely came from the small batch, island exclusives.  Some of my personal favorites from the tasting were the Bailey's Ale, the Captain Swain Stout and the Pechish Woods. 

Bailey's Ale was a hoppy, malty, well-balanced ale with strong citrus zest undertones that managed to add to the beer without making it too fruity.  Completely drinkable, but still full of character and great for summer.  The Captain Swain Stout was the first beer to be produced at the brewery and is still going strong today.  It's a dark, chocolate malty beer that is loaded with flavor.  I'm a huge fan of Irish stouts and this completely held up to the high expectations I had going into it.  Normally, fruit based beers aren't my thing but the Pechish Woods had such a tart, sour undertone that the peaches acted more like a balancing agent than a fruity punch.  Overall, some really interesting beers and I look forward to seeing what they have on tap next time I'm on the island. 

Check back for my third installment of Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady and learn about one of the best bakeries I've found yet in my search for the perfect commercially baked cupcake. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady - part 1

So this past week, I had the pleasure of accompanying James to Nantucket while he was attending a finance equity conference... life's tough, right? I have since decided to write a mini-series travel edition to highlight some of the amazing foodie finds I encountered during my stay.

Now this was my first trip to Nantucket and I must say, we did encounter our fair share of overpriced busts throughout the week from just not knowing better. The island isn't exactly friendly to a budget vacationer's wallet so trial and error here can get a touch pricey. Luckily, the first "gem" I'd like to share with you all came with zero risk. Unlike me, this was not James' first trip to the island (in fact, he worked on the ferry all through high school and college so he made several trips there on a daily basis). Our first (and last) stop was to The Straight Warf Fish Store, located right next to the ferry dock, for their filet of fish sandwiches.

I was forewarned of the simplicity of this sandwich as to not be put off by it's lack of ingredients. I'm typically a fan of interesting flavor combinations, but I've definitely learned that there are somethings that you just don't need to mess with. This sandwich was a prime example... two slices of day boat fluke on a toasted roll, served with a lemon wedge, house-made tartar sauce and a bag of Cape Cod chips, all for less than $10. This may be the freshest fish I've ever eaten... as in, it was swimming approximately 4 hours before I ate it. The fish is pan seared at extremely high temperatures so it gets a crispy edge without any breading. Again, playing into the simplicity of this meal.

As funny as it sounds, the tartar sauce may have been the best I've ever had. Yes, I'm raving about tartar sauce.  This was no haphazard mixture of jar mayonnaise and pickle relish, this was a velvety, blended-from-scratch sauce with a subtle zip from the pickle that complimented the fish perfectly without overpowering it.  It was kind of amazing.

Also noteworthy is the abundant seafood selection available at the Straight Warf, as well as the immaculate cleanliness of the establishment.  I wish we had packed a cooler and brought back some Wellfleet Oysters or Littlenecks with us.

Post sandwich, take a stop by The Gazebo bar next door and try a Nico's Cream Soda... 888 Vanilla Vodka and ginger ale.  Yes, it continues my rave about simplicity but sometimes, you just shouldn't mess with a good thing!

Check back for Hidden Gems of the Grey Lady - part 2: See What's Brewing (and distilling) on Nantucket!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Favorite Food Finds

I've been wanting to take a few minutes and tell you all about some of my favorite "hole-in-the-wall" food finds in the greater Boston area (sorry if you're not local, I'm including websites when possible).  Now these are places I make a point to go out of my way to stop whenever I head down towards the city and they absolutely get my seal of approval for being worth going out of your way to stop in.

First, there's Penzey's Spices on Mass Ave in Arlington.  This find was recommended to me about a year ago by two of my coworkers, Mel & Jimmie, both of whom I would include in my "foodie" circle of friends.  The shop carries over 250 dried herbs and spices, including many of their own house blends.  A trip here is a great reason to toss all of those old, flavorless spices (you know the ones I'm talking about... that spinning rack that came pre-filled with a sorry excuse for spices) and replenish your kitchen's spice rack.  You'll thank yourself the first time you cook with them.  Some of my favorite products that I make sure to stock up on each time I shop are the Sandwich Sprinkle (a peppery salt blend that adds a great kick to rice, salads and what do you know... sandwiches) and the Garam Masala (an aromatic North Indian spice blend that works wonders on chicken dishes).  Visit their website at and sign up for their free catalog.  They print seasonally and include a coupon for a free spice jar.  You can also order online if a trip to Arlington isn't in the cards for you.

My second stop is one that I refuse to miss out on, under any circumstances.  And the best part about it... it's two great finds in one.  Right in the heart of Inman Square are two adjacent shops, Christina's Homemade Ice Cream and Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods.  Sometimes, I think it's a good thing that I don't live closer because I would weigh 300 pounds because their ice cream is simply amazing.  Their flavors rotate seasonally but they have a handful of staples that are pretty consistent, one of which you have to try... my personal favorite, Burnt Sugar.  Think of a rich, decadent toasty caramel blended with sweet buttery cream.  It's sinfully amazing all on it's own, no toppings required.

Post ice cream binge, I could spend hours in the tiny room next door that is Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods.  It's a bounty of international and hard to find spices (make sure you pick up some Egyptian Dukah spice), imported oils, vinegars, loose leaf teas, dried mushrooms and rare chocolates.  One of my favorite things about the shop is their selection of South African spices, snacks and condiments.  It's the only place in the U.S. that I've been able to find Ms. H.S. Balls Chutney (a sweet sauce that's the South African equivalent to ketchup), bobotie spice (a base of spices used to make a classic lamb and egg dish) and biltong (think beef jerky, only 1,000 times better).

The flavor board at Christina's Homemade Ice Cream

Authentic South African Biltong

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lunch Mediterranean Style

When it comes to mid-day meals, easier is always better in my book.  I like to try and prep stuff that I can easily eat during the week ahead of time because if it really comes down to it, I know that not only will I not want to put in the effort come lunchtime on your average weekday... I won't.  Now sometimes, I just don't have the downtime on my day off to spend an afternoon cooking and I thought I would share one of my favorite quick, nutritious lunch options that I often throw together in under five minutes. 

It's kind of my take on a quick, Mediterranean flat bread.  I take a mini Joseph's Bakery flax seed pita and toast it in the oven (or toaster oven if you have it) for about 3-4 minutes until crisp.  I then add 1 tablespoon of Sabra Luscious Lemon Hummus (or whichever flavor suits your fancy), 1 tablespoon of Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Tabouli, a few dashes of Penzey's Salad Sprinkle spice mix, one sliced plum tomato, a few pieces of sliced red onion, fresh bean sprouts and 1/4 of a fresh avocado (today I used a Hass avocado, but Florida avocados work just as well if they're in season and they have about 1/2 the fat content). 

It's quick, easy, filling, crunchy and super nutritious... all positives in my book! 

Today, I paired my flatbread with a glass of Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills 2007 Pinot Noir which actually worked fantastically.  The creaminess of the avocado played well with the texture and body of the wine.  All of the flavors in the food were light and fresh so I didn't want anything too bit that would wash them out.  The tartness of the lemon hummus helped accentuate some of the sour cherry and cranberry notes in the wine.  It was bigger than I would have expected for a pinot noir, but still subtle and understated enough to work with my light lunch.  Along with today's weather, my back porch lunch by the garden could have worked just as well on a Tuscan vineyard.  :-)

Bacon & Brown Sugar... a marriage made in heaven

I've been told on several occasions that 90% of why my boyfriend is dating me relates back to one of our first dates when I made him my infamous praline bacon.  I can't really blame him because this bacon is truly amazing.  It's found a place in countless breakfasts, brunches, dinners, snacks, and even as dessert in a six-course tasting menu.  I was hesitant at first to share my secrets to bacon bliss, but I feel it would be wrong to deprive the world of such deliciousness.

First, lay out your bacon on a baker's rack over a cookie sheet.  I always use Trader Joe's Applewood Smoke-Cured Bacon, but any thick-cut, high quality bacon will work.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and cook the bacon until it's almost crisp, but not quite there yet (usually 8-10 minutes).

While your bacon is in the oven, use a coffee or spice grinder to finely chop 1/2 cup of pecans.  You want the nuts to be close to a powder consistency.  Combine the pecans with 1/3 cup of light brown sugar and mix well to incorporate the ingredients. 

Remove the cookie sheet of bacon from the oven and lightly press the pecan/sugar mixture onto each slice.  Make sure you coat all of the bacon thoroughly.  Now put the tray back into the oven for 5-6 minutes to allow the sugar to melt and form a delicious crust.  Let the bacon cool before eating... we've had a few burnt mouth incidents in my kitchen caused by impatience.  It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and reheats incredibly well (it's also delicious cold).

Praline Bacon, Tahitian Vanilla Zabaglione with Brandy-Poached Apricots & a "Coffee" Shooter

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tipsy Cupcakes... no, really

So I figured it was about time for me to explain the namesake of my illustrious blog.  As anyone who knows me knows, I like alcohol.  And what do you know, I really like cupcakes.  I think they make the perfect little single serving, compact dessert.  About a year ago, I had what I like to think was a stroke of genius... why not bake cupcakes infused with alcohol?  And so it began... my legacy as the cupcake lady of Not Your Average Joe's Medford.  You see, I love to bake, and if I bake, then there are baked goods in the house.  I tend to eat baked goods when they're readily accessible which is counterproductive when one is trying not to blow up like a balloon.  My solution: bring said baked goods to work.  This was seen as my attempt to sabotage the competition during our "Biggest Loser" contest at work, but realistically, had their been another method of disposal for said treats aside from throwing them out, I would have exercised my options.

So I thought I would take a moment and share some of my cupcake recipes that helped inspire me with you all.  The first is a basic cupcake recipe that I've adapted into various "cocktail" incarnations.  The first part of the recipe is just the standard chocolate cupcake base that I use, the subsequent alterations afterward are what ultimately make the dessert "tipsy."

Standard Chocolate Cupcakes
9 oz Dark Chocolate (I prefer Callebaut Chocolate from Whole Foods)
3/4 Cup of Butter (I prefer Kerrygold Irish Butter)
1 Cup Superfine Granulated Sugar
3 Large Eggs
2/3 Cup All Purpose Flour (I tend to use a whole wheat variety)
1 tsp. Baking Powder

*Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
*Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.
*Break the chocolate into pieces and place into a microwave-safe bowl.
*Dice the butter and add to the chocolate.
*Microwave on a medium setting for 1 minute.  Check consistency and repeat if necessary. 
*Add in the sugar and eggs.
*Using an electric or stand mixer, whip the mixture for 30 seconds on a low setting.
*Add the flour and continue to whip on a medium setting for an additional 30 seconds. 
*[Insert your "tipsy" option here.]
*Using an ice cream scoop, portion the batter into the lined muffin tins.
*Bake for 15 minutes and check consistency with a fork.  Remove if fully baked, if not check every 2 minutes subsequently.
*When done, transfer to a wire rack for cooling.
*Do not decorate until completely cooled.
*These will store at room temperature for up to 2 days, in the refrigerator for 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.

The Espresso Martini Cupcake:
*Add 1 shot of chilled espresso, 2 tbsp. of Kahlua and 2 tbsp. of Vodka
*Add 4 tbsp. Bailey's Irish Cream Liqueur to the Butter-Cream Icing 

The Chocolate Cherry Manhattan Cupcake: 
*Add 3 tbsp. of Jack Daniels #7 Whiskey and 1 tsp. of Antica Formula Vermouth 
*Add 3 tbsp. of Pinnacle Cherry Whipped Vodka  and 2 drops of red food coloring to the Butter-Cream Icing

The Grasshopper Cupcake:
*Add 4 tbsp. of White or Green Creme de Menthe
*Add 2 tsp. of Green Creme de Menthe to the Butter-Cream Icing (if using White, add 3 drops of green food coloring)

So I promise more of my liquored up recipes in the not too distant future... next on the docket, my Drunk in Disneyland Cupcake... a cotton candy cupcake with pink lemonade icing and lavender sprinkles.  :-)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Tater Tot.... a labor of love

You wouldn't think the most amazing thing served in an upscale, white tablecloth steakhouse would be a tater tot, would you?  In my humble opinion, you'd be wrong.  At the Hanover Street Chophouse, we have a side dish of truffled tater tots that is absolutely to die for.  Not realizing my undertaking, this past Sunday, I decided to put my own spin on the amazing little puffs of potato and create my own version.

Now, at the Chophouse, we make the tots and toss them in white truffle oil.  No complaints about this method of "truffling" but I wanted to take it to the next level.  I do love my truffles...

Mashing the potatoes (with Grandma's hand-me-down potato masher of course)
I started by simply boiling some new potatoes, skins and all.  I like a little bit of texture in my tots and the majority of the nutrition in a potato comes from the skin.  Once soft, I drained them off and added 1/2 cup of skim milk, 3 tablespoons of Vermont cultured butter, 1/2 of a finely grated truffle and 2 tablespoons of white truffle oil (when shopping for truffle oil, look for a canola or safflower oil blend.  Olive oils carry a ton of their own flavor and will dilute the truffle).  Mash until you have a semi-chunky but well blended consistency. 

Once you have a good mash, spread the potatoes into a baking dish about 2 inches deep and chill in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. 

Now, we're getting to the "labor" portion of the assembly.  Once your potatoes are cool, take an apple corer and punch out your tots.  Once you've made one pass through the pan, just pack the potatoes together to one side and make another pass.  This way, you can use the majority of the mashed potatoes and have minimal waste.  Place your formed tots in a bowl. 

My apple corer is one of my favorite kitchen tools... although I don't think I've ever used it to core an apple.
Tots... phase 1
Once you've formed all of your potatoes into tots, chill them for at least 30 minutes.  this will help them stay "tot-like" during the breading.  Once you're ready, set up a flour, egg wash and panko breadcrumb station.  Mix about 2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper and sea salt into your panko breadcrumbs.  Dip each tot in the flour, egg wash and panko and place on a cookie sheet.  The panko should fully coat each tot.  If necessary, you can double bread them to get a full, even coating.  I highly recommend using Trader Joe's panko breadcrumbs if possible.  They're coarsely ground so you can get an even coating with just one pass. 

Tots... phase 2
It is now time to fry your tots.  Cover the bottom of your fryer basket with a single layer of tots.  Do not overcrowd the fryer or you won't get them to crisp properly (and let's be honest, who wants a soggy tot?).

Tots... phase 3
Once each batch comes out of the fryer, lightly toss them in white truffle oil and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  I used a black truffle infused sea salt, but as we have already established, I love my truffles.  The finishing touch, truffled ketchup for dipping.  Normally I would have made my ketchup from scratch, however after forming, breading and frying each individual tot, my desire to actually eat them was overwhelming and I cheated a bit.  I mixed 1 teaspoon of black truffle oil with 4 tablespoons of organic ketchup.  Not quite as good as homemade, but absolutely served its purpose!

The final product

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Balsamic Fig Chicken with Fresh English Peas & Cucumber Dill Salad

Like most people in America, most night's I don't have time to sit down and ponder what I'm going to make for dinner, shop for specific ingredients and intricately plate each piece into a spectacular masterpiece. My goal is to maintain my creativity, but find something relatively quick and simple to prepare that's not overly time consuming.  Sound familiar?  Last night being no exception, the compilation of ingredients in my refrigerator lead us to balsamic fig chicken, steamed English peas and a quick salad of Persian cucumbers, white onion, fresh dill and lemon.  If I do say so myself... the result was quite delicious.

We started with chicken tenderloins and sliced Turkish smyrna figs.  The marinade was a combination of 12 year old Modena balsamic, grapeseed oil, dried herbs de Provence, stevia, chardonnay, and a touch of black truffle oil.  Just pour evenly over the tenderloins and fig slices and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. 

The peas couldn't get much easier... steam them.  I actually steamed about 3 times as many as I needed for dinner because I had a plan for the leftovers.  We'll touch on that later. 

The salad was a simple combination of thinly sliced Persian cucumbers, white onions, fresh baby dill, lemon juice and just a tiny sprinkle of stevia to offset the acid.  I did cut a few extra cucumbers and onion slices to help me get my "leftover" recipe jump started. 

All in, dinner was really fantastic.  We paired it with the leftover Portuguese Dao that we had opened 2 nights ago.  It worked fabulously with the sweet acidity of the chicken, but honestly, I would not pair it with a strong onion dish again.  The flavors just didn't marry as well as I would have liked.  That's part of the art of wine pairing though, you can't learn what doesn't work without trial and error.

Now to fill you in on my "leftover" plan.  I love fresh peas.  They're loaded with vitamins and I feel like they have this distinctive, bright "spring" flavor to them.  So to prepare my lunch for tomorrow, I combined the extra steamed peas, sliced cucumbers and onions, fresh mint leaves, red Hawaiian sea salt and white pepper in a food processor to make a chilled minted pea soup. Perfect for spring and absolutely delicious!