Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Slammin' Salmon

Gnome brought home a beautiful wild-caught sockeye salmon fillet, so I made
Salmon with Mustard and Brown Sugar Glaze. I whipped up a salad with a balsamic vinaigrette made with Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper. Sometimes I rub the salad bowl with a cut clove of garlic instead of using minced garlic or garlic powder, a trick I learned from my friend, Jen. I shaved Parmigiano Reggiano over romaine and raddichio and added thinly sliced carrots and a slice of chopped leftover sweet & spicy bacon.

We have an overabundance of carrots, so I cut several in thick slices, steamed them, then glazed them in equal parts honey and butter - usually a tablespoon of each - over medium high heat with a pinch of ground ginger, salt and pepper. It's a version of Copper Pennies that I learned from my friend, Heidi.

A glass of bubbly for me, a Samuel Adams lager for Gnome, and slices of ciabatta rounded out tonight's dinner. Delish.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Delicious Weekend

Fireflies lit up Jeremy and Michelle's wooded backyard on a cul-de-sac. For those of you unfamiliar with this term of American suburbia, a cul-de-sac is a dead-end street usually with a circular turnaround at the end with three or so houses situated around the circle. This set-up reduces traffic making for a quieter environment, and when located in new developments where the houses have yet to be built creates a great spot for teenage parking or parties.

Expertly grilled marinated meats and assorted salads were served. Michelle went to culinary school (in Maine, two blocks from the seashore), always a bonus in a friend whether they are the hosts or your guests. I'm a big fan of broccoli salad and luckily their neighbor, Myrna, brought a delicious one. Most recipes are dressed with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip salad dressing and include bacon, onions and sunflower seeds. Myrna's added hardboiled eggs, tomatoes and cauliflower. Lola brought a spinach salad with Mandarin oranges and pecans in a balsamic vinaigrette. There was also a green salad with chunks of tomato. I made an close adaptation of Salt and Vinegar Potato Salad . A platter of thick watermelon slices was passed for dessert. Perfect summer evening.

It was a muggy night, but we cooled ourselves by sitting with our legs in the pool. Lola and I traded off holding a very mellow six-month-old baby. What a sweetiepie. Thanks to his mom, Amy, for letting us soak up all that babyness. We amused ourselves by playing a non-comptetive round of the movie game. Someone starts off by naming a movie, then the next person has to name another movie with any of the same actors in it and you can't repeat a movie. My brother is very good at this game. He remembers supporting roles for every movie he's seen, which probably numbers in the thousands. When he visits, we sometimes keep the game going for the whole weekend.

We spent Saturday playing darts and drinking beer at the Flying Saucer with the family to celebrate my brother-in-law Erik's birthday. A good time was had by all, especially his dad Rick who won all three games. After a lunch of Mexican food and a mid-afternoon snack of chevre, brie, manchego, and cotswold cheeses with olive tapenade, slivered Granny Smiths and almonds, we ended the day at Camon Japanese restaurant. We shared some edamame and dumplings, then the guys and I had sushi and mom Cathy had miso soup with silky Udon noodles and shrimp.

For Sunday brunch I served up mimosas, Dutch babies and sweet and spicy bacon from recipes listed on Orangette, one of my favorite food bloggers. The Dutch baby, cooked in a half stick of butter in a cast iron skillet, was topped with clarified butter, lemon juice and powdered sugar while it was still warm from the oven. It was similar to a clafouti, if you've tried that. I'll definitely make the bacon again, which was chewy from the glaze formed by the brown sugar and had a kick from the cayenne and black pepper.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The "I's" Have It

On my first trip to Europe we went to Amsterdam. It was high season (though I guess that may be redundant), so the streets were crowded with tourists, mostly Europeans. I'd read a couple of guidebooks and travel websites and quizzed friends who'd already been to get a few ideas before we arrived. I realized after we returned home that we'd eaten, with only one exception, foods from countries that started with an "I".

The big food highlight seemed to be the Indonesian rijsttafel, meaning "rice table". It is an elaborate meal consisting of at least a dozen side dishes accompanied by different types of rice. Brought back to the Netherlands by former colonials following Indonesia's independence in 1945, the rijsttafel was predominantly popular with Dutch families with colonial roots that has now gained in popularity alongside Southeast Asian cuisine. We tried rijsttafel on our second to last night in Amsterdam. Our own personal buffet at our table was more sweet than spicy or savory, and almost seemed to lack in freshness. Overall, it wasn't as exotic or delicious as I'd hoped.

We returned twice to O'Reilly's Irish pub near a square and our hotel. They had at least twenty tables lined up on the sidewalk, and eating outside is one of my favorite things, so we enjoyed a couple of pints and some frites with mayo out in the sunshine one day and an Irish breakfast of eggs, beans, sausages, bacon, grilled tomato, toast and Guinness on another.

We had Indian food our last night in town right across the street from the hotel. They had my required outdoor seating and proximity, so they won out over other choices. I remember the food being good, though similar enough to the Indian food that we could get back home that the familiarity worked as comfort food but not as transportative.

We walked over several canals to Lindengracht in the Jordaan quarter and the highlight of our trip, Caffe Toscanini. The first night we had to wait an hour for a table, and the host seemed rather surprised that we were willing to do so. We were happy to sit at the tiny bar near the entrance, able to view the street, other guests arriving, and the open dining rooms and kitchen. Gnome had a couple of Peronis or Birra Morettis while I had the house red, which was quite inexpensive and delicious. They also have a huge wine list. The restaurant's interior had white walls, white tablecloths, sunlights, and light woodwork and chairs. At one point I asked the bartender, who appeared to be one of the owners or one of his sons, what was good there. "I am," he said, with typical Italian bravado.

Although I can't recall the exact dishes we ate, the menu changes weekly, I do remember that we had at least three courses each night: antipasti, pasta (primo) and a shellfish or meat (secondi), and that each was prepared within our sight in the open kitchen, with fresh ingredients and homemade everything, including the bread. A pasta with langostino stands out, as does a salumi made with figs and walnuts (noce). There was probably an insalata caprese made with tomatoes stacked with buffalo mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil (from their own Italian olive groves) and topped with fresh basil. It was insanely good from start to finish. View a sample menu here.

Though I didn't want to admit it for some reason, as I steered us back toward the Jordaan from our hotel the next night I'd hoped that we wouldn't come across another option on the way. Toscanini was just as good the second night, so much so that it planted a seed in me to want to eat an entire week's worth of this kind of food, which has finally, a few years later, culminated in our upcoming trip to Italy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Of Muffins and Mornings

Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Doing something we should has a pretty negative connotation in my book. Whenever I hear someone say, "I should have..." it often seems so pointless. You should have, but you didn't, and now you can't, so why exactly are you ruminating on it? Of course, if it's a thing that you can change the next time that will help you accomplish what you set out to do or a change that will make something better, then it makes sense to reconsider. It's good to apply a shoulda/coulda/woulda to recipes that you like but would rather love the next time you make them. Sometimes it's an additional ingredient, sometimes it's more or less of one, but tweaking a recipe to suit your tastes is what it's all about.

This morning, I'm making my first Orangette recipe, Nutmeg Doughnut Muffins. Among the hundred or so comments on this entry of Molly Wizenberg's addictive blog are changes to the recipe made by her readers. Similar to the Reviews section on Epicurious, I read the comments looking for clues in adapting a recipe to my tastes. In this instance, I thought I might agree with the reader who added a little vanilla and ground cinnamon to the recipe, and I was right - I will also add even more nutmeg next time. No, I don't know exactly what the recipe would taste like without these additions, but I know that I like these ingredients and that detecting them in the finished muffin is decidedly delicious. When I want to note these adaptations for a recipe in a cookbook that I own, I write them on the page. Epicurious has a Notes feature to accomplish this. The texture of these muffins is just right. Calling them donut muffins is a perfect way to describe them. I may do as one reader did and roll the finished muffins in cinnamon sugar next time instead of powdered confectioners sugar.

I'll also note that the amount of melted butter needed to brush the tops is less than called for, and how long the muffins took to bake in my oven. As usual, I didn't have all of the ingredients, so I substituted lowfat milk for the whole and lowfat vanilla yogurt for the buttermilk. I also halved the recipe as there are only two of us (mostly one of us, truth be told) eating them and they're only good up until the day after they're made. Now, if I decide to add this recipe to Jaunty Gourmand, I can say "adapted from a recipe by Molly Wizenberg, who attributed it as 'Inspired by Columbia City Bakery, Seattle, WA, and adapted from Kathleen Stewart of the Downtown Bakery & Creamery, Healdsburg, CA' on the website, Orangette.com." Phew. That's a mouthful.

It's an idyllic morning here. The temperature is blissfully cool, the birds are chirping and the cicadas are singing, the dogs are asleep at my feet on the sunroom floor, and Gnome is in and out of the garden beds adding compost that he just sifted from the bin. He took a break for some coffee, but I cannot convince him to eat one of the warm donut muffins. He prefers to mainline his sugar, usually leaving me to consume the bulk of anything I bake when it's just the two of us. I think tonight I'm going to take Peter Hobday's suggestion and make the pasta recipe adapted by Victoria Fenwick from a ristorante on Lake Como in northern Italy after we get back from the wine store. I love weekends.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Epicurious Wine Pairing

I guess the universe read my blog and wants to help me out with wine pairing. The folks at Epicurious have teamed with the folks at Snooth.com to pair all 25,000 recipes with several wine choices. I'm looking forward to using this feature as most wines that we buy don't list the foods they would go well with, and even when they do, it seems dubious. This wine goes with pasta, huh? What kind of pasta? Will it go well with red meat sauce as well as a crab and lemon sauce? Doubtful. I guess we better get ourselves over to our wine megastore, Total Wine, and stock up.

Tonight, once again, I didn't read a recipe all the way through. Do I think I know better? I even told myself to read it all the way through first to avoid mistakes. But nope, I read it all the way through, but I skimmed it, and that really doesn't work. I made Salmon with Orecchiette, Caramelized Onions, and Horseradish Cream

I chose this recipe by looking for salmon recipes that I've saved in my recipe box on Epicurious. It called for broccoli rabe, and since we had broccoli in the fridge, I said "close enough". I knew we also had the prepared horseradish, clam juice, onions, pasta, even though it wasn't orriechiette, half-n-half to sub for the cream, and parmesan.

Epicurious and Snooth recommended a gewurtztraminer or a Central California Coast Pinot Noir, so we opened the Martin Ray and it did indeed pair well, though it's such a good wine, it'd probably go well with almost anything.

Back to the screw up. This dish had many components to it, so save it for a night when you have time to wash a lot of pans. Anyway, I caramelized the onions, though I think they should be cooked at a lower temp than the recipe calls for, parboiled the broccoli, cooked the orzo, which is much smaller than the pasta that was called for but which I deemed an acceptable substitute, reduced the cream and clam broth and whisked in the horseradish, then seared the salmon. The part that I missed was that the sauce mixture wasn't supposed to be combined with the pasta & veggies, so it separated a bit, but also the flavors melded perhaps more than they should have. I'm definitely making this again and following the recipe exactly. The flavors were there, but I know that prepared as directed the whole dish will be really delicious.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Shrimp Fried Rice

In the fridge: cooked rice, carrots, soy sauce, frozen peas and fresh shrimp. In the pantry: corn starch. In the garden: chives. No ham, no matter.
Shrimp Fried Rice

In the fridge: Cake, blueberries, strawberries, ginger syrup.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Slice of Heaven

When we were visiting Ohio recently, we had the good fortune of meeting my brother's neighbor, Mary. After spying a verdant garden at the end of his driveway, I asked my brother about it. In lieu of an answer and in usual form, he walked straight to her kitchen window and bellowed for her. She was washing dishes and couldn't hear him, but eventually he got her attention and we were introduced to a tiny woman in her seventies. Even before she knew that I was her favorite neighbor's sister, she took my arm just because I was there with him. As soon as she knew I was family, I was in like Flynn. Or Fiori.

Mary's garden was a bit behind ours being in different gardening zone and all, but she still had plenty going on. The first thing she pointed out were the currants. She makes pie out of them. They were the prettiest shade of red-orange pink and tart-sweet. Next to them were the blackberry and raspberry bushes and the grapevines. Mary told us that she was hovering over them with a hatchet one day when her daughter showed up to halt their destruction. Mary didn't make wine, so she said she had no use for them. Her daughter, or daughters, now make jellies and jams. In between these were a few peach trees with peaches the size of apricots. Mary said she doesn't do anything to them, that maybe they would be better if she did. I don't know about that. I had no idea you could grow peaches in northeast Ohio. How did the trees survive the winter?

Behind the vines were the fenced-off vegetables. Gnome was especially jealous of her peas. Ours don't last long in the heat. She also had zucchini, basil, tomatoes, parsley, corn, peppers, dill, and cucumbers. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, and I neglected to take a photo. That's too bad, because Mary told us that it was her little Slice of Heaven. A white chair leaned up against the fence under a cherry tree. Or was it a plum? She said that she just sits in that chair and looks out at her garden and that's what she thinks. That it's her little slice of heaven. She said, "Sit in the chair," which of course we did. We could see her point.

Behind her garage was her forno, or bread making oven. My Italian relatives in Little Italy didn't have these. And the walnut tree behind it had several nets to keep the abundant fruit from the ground. She uses the walnuts in her breads. Next to that were more peach trees and a fig tree or two. All this on a small suburban lot, maybe forty feet by eighty feet, including the house. Oh, Mary, how we wished you were our neighbor. Paying homage, I decided to share the tomatoes, oversized zucchini and a pitiful cucumber that I'd grabbed from our latest harvest before leaving South Carolina. Mary studied our Japanese Blacks and said, "Oh, yours are different than ours," but she graciously took them. She dug her fingernail into the zucchini before handing it back. I pulled the shriveled, pickle-sized cucumber from the bag and apologetically offered that up as well. She took it, then, after I'd put the disgracefully overgrown zucchini back into the bag she said, "And if no one wants that..." and ended up with that as well. She promised my brother that she'd share whatever she made with them with him. He doesn't even eat tomatoes.

Tonight we made an adaptation of Pineapple Mahi Mahi from the recipe on the Publix bag that the fish came in. It wasn't really all that great, so I won't share the recipe here, but this is what it looked like:

The next time we have a fresh pineapple on hand, or even canned, I'll grill it to go with the fish and marinate the fish in green Tabasco, which is quite yummy. I overcooked the fish slightly since we've been undercooking things a bit lately, so I added a skinny pat of butter to each fillet after I took it off the grill to add both flavor and moisture.

This Italian pinot grigio was a little too dry to go well with the dish, but it's what we had chilled. I don't really know how to pair wines with food very well, but I know when they aren't a good fit. I would have rather had a nice Orvieto Classico, which is fruitier, to go with the sweetness of the pineapple salsa.

Again, I didn't let a little thing like missing ingredients stop me from making these as easy substitutes were available. No lemon pepper for the fish? How about freshly ground black pepper and lemon zest? No store-bought salsa and honey mustard? How about tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, honey and dijon? Tonight wasn't a huge hit, but it was still freshly made with love.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


"Dolce", which means "sweet" in Italian, is Gnome's favorite word right now. We're trying, weakly, to learn Italian for our trip to Umbria in September. We'll be away from big cities, and less people will know English well. We're using Living Language, which came with a phrase book, four CDs and a book. I think at this point we just want to know our numbers, directions, how to make a reservation, how to be polite, how to greet people, and the difference between "apricot" and "eel" to avoid some rather ugly menu choices.

Speaking of dolce, I made a simple cake to go along with our Saturday night dinner based on Edna Lewis’s Busy-Day Cake from her book, The Taste of Country Cooking. It's similar to pound cake, though not as rich and with my beloved freshly-grated nutmeg. Elizabeth brought some ready-to-eat strawberries, which we knew would go along with the basic, unfrosted single-layer cake, but we also drizzled our plates with the ginger syrup that was leftover from the gimlets mentioned in yesterday's post. These happy coincidences seem to happen all the time in our kitchen. I hope that they're also happening in yours.

We had my brother-in-law Erik over for brunch this morning. He brought us back the crockpot that we thought we didn't want anymore. After Gnome had my sister's slow-cooked pot roast last week and I had the oven on for almost two hours last night, we decided that we needed to learn how to use it. He made a spicy, mouth watering chili very loosely based on this recipe. We have an abundance of canned beans, a huge steak bone from the bistecca the other night, garden tomatoes, and leftover penne, so that's basis of what he used to create Casetta del Sudore Chili con Manzo. It made us sweat, so that's why we're calling it Sweatlodge Chili with Beef. Why do people in hot climates seem to enjoy spicy foods when it seems like they'd want a popcicle instead of hot sauce? I'm not sure why that works, but Gnome thinks it has something to do with the capsaicin expanding your blood vessels which helps our bodies dissipate heat.

I had a nice quart of giant blueberries from Earthfare, so I made us some Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes, scrambled eggs with Monterey Jack, bacon, cantaloupe and strawberries. I love these pancakes. Why had I never thought of the sweetness of corn to go along with the different kind of sweetness of blueberries? I substituted lowfat organic vanilla yogurt for the buttermilk, with a splash of milk for consistency. And don't skip cooking them in butter. I use a non-stick pan, so I only need it for the first round, but it would be yummy to keep adding for each round, too, like we used to before we worried about such things.

Saturday Night In

The day started off cool enough to open the house up to the cool breezes, chirping Carolina wrens, buzz saw cicadas, squawking crows and the hum of far off traffic. Today adds the ring of church bells. I love this sound, as it reminds me of summers spent with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles in Cleveland's Little Italy. I especially like it when my mother would take us through the old Rockefeller estate, now called MLK Boulevard. The old sandstone bridges came from another time, and when I was very young, reminded me of castles. The church bells at Mema and Bempa's were Holy Rosary's. I don't recall ever attending Sunday Mass there, but we did go inside for a wedding or two, and we played games of chance in its churchyard every August during the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, which was always shortened to "The Feast".

My favorite things to eat during the Feast were the French waffles -- two-inch tall deep fried batter coated with powdered sugar. I also loved the Italian sausage sandwiches that used a square slice of cold pizza as the bread. And the cavatellis --pronouced ca-va-dales -- like skinny Gnocchi made from semolina flour, served with a delicate tennis ball-sized meatball in a mouth-watering tomato sauce. Oh yeah.

My mother learned how to make spaghetti sauce, which we called "Sunday sauce" since she always made it Sundays, from Mema, and I learned how from both of them. I'm sure that my version lacks something from theirs, but that's okay, it's still delicious. I'd pass along the recipe, but I don't have permission, so it's going to have to stay in the family for now. I will tell you that it involved browning several meats that would then be put into the sauce for several hours, and that dipping soft slices of Italian bread into the sauce while it's simmering brings enormous joy. Just the aroma of the sauce prompts my mouth to water every time.

Last night we stayed in and had our friend Elizabeth over. I made a half batch of Blue Ginger Gimlets for cocktail hour. Even though I screwed up when I made the Sweet and Sour Mix by not reading the recipe all the way through first, it still turned out okay. Now, you might think that making your own sweet and sour mix and your own ginger syrup might be a bit too much to do just for a cocktail, but the reason that I chose to make them is because I had all of the ingredients on hand. This is the reason many things are made in our home. What do we need to use up? I enter the main ingredients into the search field on Epicurious, search through my options, making sure that I either have all of the ingredients or an acceptable substitute, and that's what we have. If I'd had to run to the store to get all those ingredients, it would take a lot more time out of my day, and can be frustrating when a main ingredient isn't available (I learned long ago not to expect ripe avocados waiting for me in the produce section). The gimlets were sweet-tart refreshing. As Elizabeth commented, the mix held up to the vodka. We did alter the recipe a titch by changing the ratio of vodka to mix so that there was slightly more vodka instead of 1:1. Next time, I may also use unchilled vodka to get those lovely little chips of ice that you get when you make martinis.

Another ingredient we needed to use up were the tomatoes from the garden. I've made pie crust using only butter as the fat a few times now, so I knew I could whip that up in no time. I figured Paula Deen would have a good recipe for tomato pie, so I checked the Food Network's website, but her recipe used a double crust and the photo didn't appeal to me, so I checked through one of my go-to cookbooks for a recipe. I decided to adapt the one that I found in Make It Easy, Make It Quick by Laurie Burrows Grad. It's out of print, but you can find it if you look for it. I used a 10" pie plate, so I needed several more sliced tomatoes than the recipe called for, which wasn't an issue. I used two varieties for flavor complexity. Her recipe called for five tomatoes, but didn't say what type, so I assumed she meant the beefsteak variety and compensated for that since I was using Romas, which are smaller. The larger pie plate also meant that I had to double the amount of grated cheddar to two cups and the amount of mayonnaise to a half cup.

After layering the sliced tomatoes, which I'd cut into 1/4" slices on a guess since she didn't specify, then cut in half since she did, I neglected to sprinkle them with the salt, pepper, and bit of dried oregano that the recipe called for, so I added them to the topping after I'd already put it in the oven. I did remember to sprinkle the tomatoes with 3/4 teaspoon of chopped fresh basil, which I grow right outside the kitchen door, and the 1/4 cup of chopped chives, which grow in the nearest garden bed. I baked the pie crust, to which I'd added a bit of dried oregano before chilling and rolling out, for 5 minutes on 425 degrees, then baked the pie for 35 minutes on 400. The topping of cheddar cheese and mayo browned nicely. It was supposed to seal in the tomatoes, but I didn't have enough to do that completely and it still turned out to be Elizabeth's favorite tomato pie. And she's a Southern girl, so I trust her on such things. I whipped up salad dressing using pesto that I had in the fridge and some red wine vinegar which I tossed with salad greens, chopped persimmon tomatoes, and grated Parmesan.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Bounty

We're growing five types of tomatoes this year: Japanese Black, Roma, Grape, Matt's Wild Cherry, and Persimmon (not pictured), which is why I'm making tomato pie tonight. I'll adapt from several recipes, so I'll post it on here later.

Grape are my favorite for snacking, halved in salads, or slit and stuffed with slivers of garlic, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and roasted on the grill, like we had the other night with Gnome's rosemary, garlic, and olive oil- marinated chicken thighs and steamed broccoli. Both the tomatoes and the broccoli are sweet, which contrasts nicely with a spicy entree.

Japanese Black and Persimmon tomatoes are melty delicious served sliced all by their lonesome, or drizzled with olive oil, or sprinkled with salt, or added to a sandwich. They're juicy and full of flavor.

I use the Romas most often to top bruschetta or pasta. For the bruschetta, I pop good bread slices under the broiler for one to two minutes on each side until lightly toasted, drag a chunk of raw garlic across the surface lightly -- too much will make them more spicy and hot than I like -- then top with the chopped tomatoes that have been mixed with olive oil, sea salt and a little chiffonade of basil. For one pasta, I warm some garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes in olive oil (careful not to brown the garlic, it'll taste rancid), peel, seed, and chop the Romas into a 1/2" dice, then toss the oil and tomatoes with penne, more chiffonade of basil, and some freshly-grated Parmesan.

The Matt's Wild Cherry originate from Mexico. They are tiny tomatoes that are best popped right into your mouth. The birds must like them, too, because every spring we find more volunteer Matt's all over the property, including the front yard. We usually just pull them up if they're where they don't belong, but this year we've let a few grow where they are so that we can share the tomatoes with one of the groups that collects fresh garden vegetables listed on the website of Harvest Hope Food Bank. Two nearby shelters received about twenty pounds of zucchini and a couple of pounds of green beans
from us last month.

Gnome wanted pasta carbonara the other night, so we whipped this up by cooking up some scissor-sliced bacon, draining the pan, cooking a bit of flour in butter, slowly incorporating milk, adding in some chopped garlic and freshly grated nutmeg, black pepper and sea salt, and finishing it off with some peas and a large sprinkling of Parmesan. To brighten it up a bit and use up more tomatoes, I diced up a Japanese Black that we added to our dishes as we pleased.

Recrafting leftovers is one of my favorite things to do. This morning I warmed what was left of our Bistecca alla Fiorentina and fingerling potatoes in a little butter and served them alongside overmedium eggs with cantaloupe and blueberries. For lunch, I added some red wine vinegar to some fresh pesto from earlier in the week to make a salad dressing.

While we'd love to do some yard drinkin' tonight out back, we'll likely congregate in

the sunroom instead, which Gnome dubbed Cafe Angelique long ago. We can still catch the breezes and surround ourselves with the outdoors, but we won't have to sacrifice our porcelain skin to the skeeters. Besides, porch drinkin' is as good as yard drinkin' any day. Cocktails at five.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Northeast Ohio

We drove to Ohio for the long 4th of July weekend to visit family, friends, and the Great Lakes Brewing Company. GLBC is like Coors used to be, in one way only, in that you can only get it regionally. We're grateful for holiday gifts of it in December, but it can't be shipped in the hot summer months, and no one wants to come visit us this time of year, either.

The group shared several pitchers of the thematic and refreshing Independence Ale, described as An American Red Ale with crisp hop flavor. At 6%, it was also one of the more drinkable over a long afternoon. Even the non-craft beer drinkers seemed to enjoy it. Another group enjoyed several flights, which is a tasting size portion of 6 or so different types of beer (also done with wine and liquor).

Flights are a great way to sample what's available at a place you've never been before settling on what you'll have in regular portions. They're also fun for a party at home. Choose a theme and have guests bring, for example, a South American Malbec. Disguise the bottles in brown paper bags, each with its own number that corresponds to the list that you'll create out of sight of the guests. Or, simply pour the flights as they do at the restaurants and place the glasses on a numbered paper placemat. You'll all get to try new wines and choose your favorites.

Before driving into downtown Cleveland along the southern Lake Erie shore, we stopped at Slyman's for their six-inch tall corned beef sandwiches. You have to split them with another person they're so large, even though you'll want to eat one all by yourself. The line was out the door, as usual. It's so worth the wait. The corned beef is still warm, and it's so much leaner and fresher than you can get at the deli counter at the supermarket.

That evening we headed east to the border of the smallest and largest counties in Ohio (according to my future brother-in-law, Dave): Lake and Ashtabula. Many years ago, I'd been to the Ferrante Winery, but I had no idea how many (twenty-one) vineyards had popped up since then. It was like driving through a more verdant Sonoma or a smaller scale horsey Virginia. My sister Geri was at the ready with a map, and we chose two nearest the Slovenian country gathering place, Pristava, which means "bonfire" where we'd stay the night at the cabin built by Dave. We spent most of the night at Debonne Winery with a few hundred other imbibers and their children. Several bottles of their Cab Cab, Raspberry Riesling, and Harmony later, after the sun set and the band played their last cheezy song, we departed from our umbrella table perch atop the hill and drove down the road to the South River Vineyard, which is in a converted church, Methodist from what I recall. I hesitate to even mention it since I'd like to keep the place all to myself, but I would like it to stay open so that I can go back once a year. It was nearly closing time, but my sister convinced the very nice proprietor, whom she kept referring to as "Father", into selling us two bottles. The pinot noir was excellent, and I've put in a request for a bottle at Christmas. We meandered our way through the moonlit night down a path to a large, well-built pavilion with a massive stone fireplace and many Adirondack chairs, probably made by nearby Amish craftsmen. Our jovial group probably sunk the hearts of the clove cigarette-smoking threesome staked out in front of the excellently-laid oak fire, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bistecca Fiorentina

After receiving an email earlier in the week from Eddie Wales, owner of Motor Supply Company Bistro, we special ordered the Bistecca Fiorentino that chef Tim had dry aged for 19 days.

Our delightful server, Rachel, offered to take a photo back in the kitchen, but once there found she was too short and enlisted Eddie to take the shot of the two steaks that we didn't choose back in the kitchen. Tonight's chef, Greg, had brought out this tray for us to choose ours. After 20 minutes of cooking, he brought it back out for us to tell him, "Yes, that looks delicious, you may now take it back to the kitchen and slice it up for us."

While waiting for our steak to arrive, which is a cut similar to a porterhouse that's part strip steak and part filet, we enjoyed a delicious salad of frisee, bacon, and poached egg with a red wine vinaigrette (Frisee aux Lardons). Breaking open the yoke allows the vinaigrette to become a creamy dressing.

We asked for the least expensive, best paired option for the steaks, and Eddie suggested a perfetto 2006 La Vita Lucente Toscana. We will buy this wine again, hopefully at Total Wine.

Based on recommendations, we ordered the thick steak medium rare. We'll order it medium next time for ease in cutting and our personal tastes. The steak is rubbed with sea salt & pepper and needs no additional seasoning (don't be like another guest and salt your food even before tasting it!), though the squeeze of fresh lemons that it's traditionally served with made it even more delicious. The filet was sooooo tender.

We brought the thick bone home to make a beef broth-based soup. We're going to use the leftover bits of less done steak to saute in a little olive oil and butter -- just until warmed -- for a steak & eggs breakfast.

Our sides were just as delicious as everything else: fingerling potatoes (butter, sea salt, black pepper) so creamy, and haricots vert.

I brought home a piece of the just-iced three-layer carrot cake to eat in bed with a glass of milk while composing this. Half was enough to satisfy my sweet tooth...and now I have another half to eat tomorrow night! Or for breakfast. I mean, it's practically a muffin, right?

First Post

This first post is just a test. As G knows, we Aries like to forge ahead without too much research (ironic since I'm a researcher) when we're excited about a new project.

Tomorrow's post will likely cover our first taste of Bistecca Fiorentina that we'll be enjoying tonight at Motor Supply Bistro. Soon, I will learn how to make a hyperlink using this program. For now, if you're interested in trying this tender, dry-aged Tuscan-style steak, you'll just have to Google them and make your reservation (this week only) that way.