Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Best of Boston, Pt. 1: Toscanini's

The hubs and I took a road trip to Boston to visit our college friend Allison this past weekend. It was a long drive (7 hours) for a 3 day weekend, but it was well worth it. We saw so much and ate so many good meals in two days, that I'll have to do a series of posts about our experiences. Here's Part 1:

Allison knows I'm a foodie. She was kind enough to pack our weekend with trips to her favorite eateries, including Toscanini's, which had some of the richest and most unique ice cream I've ever tasted.

I read in a tour book that Boston has some of the best ice cream in America.  Despite the fact that I'm lactose intolerant, I love ice cream.  Allison said she knew the perfect place, and she was right.

The New York Times said Toscanini's (which is in Cambridge, not Boston :) had the best ice cream in America and the shop isn't even in New York, so it had to be true, right?

After tasting a sample, I settled on the B3 (Brown Sugar, Brown Butter, Brownie) ice cream. 

Oh man... this ice cream was so rich!  The base was a buttery, thick ice cream that reminded me of toffee.  There were huge chunks of brownie throughout that reminded me of my favorite brownie recipe.  I could only handle on scoop of this deliciousness, but I enjoyed every single moment of it.

This ice cream was worth every single calorie and all of the digestive discomfort.  Now I'm convinced that I need to try to replicate it at home, since I doubt I'll be making it back up to Boston just for a scoop of ice cream.  I've decided to dust off my trusty Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker (which I got for free for being such a loyal credit card customer years ago) and attempt to make a batch.  I'm looking for a buttery base flavor sweetened with brown sugar and I'm planning to mix in some of my homemmade brownies.  Stay tuned.  I'm a bit concerned that the high fat content in the butter, eggs, and heavy cream may cause this homemade version to be an epic fail.  Any suggestions?  Anyone else out there like to make ice cream?  If you haven't tried it yet, it's easier than you think... of course, that's another post.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Aarti Paarti

Am I the only person in the food blogging world who didn't know about Aarti Sequeira?  Aarti is a contestant on The Next Food Network Star (which has a permanent series recording on my DVR) with a lovely, sunny personality and she puts Indian flare into many of her recipes.  She's so cute, so pleasant, and so different than any of the previous contestants.  She's my pick to win, but even if she doesn't make it to the end, I'm now following her blog, Aarti Paarti.

Not only does she have a blog, but she also does a series of web-based cooking episodes on YouTube.  It's even cuter that these episodes are produced by her husband.  I just finished watching Episode 33:  Huggy Buggy Bread Pudding (below), where she makes this yummy coconut milk and rum-soaked fig bread pudding concoction topped with whipped cream.  She throws in a silly song in the middle and she reveals that she can't even eat the bread pudding because she's allergic to gluten.  I like her small kitchen, international perspective, creative look, and her keep it real attitude.

Anyway, I'm enjoying Aarti on The Next Food Network Star (which, by the way is some good television during this dead summer season).  Check her out:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Roasted Asparagus

Are you still boiling your asparagus?  Do you even like asparagus? 

Asparagus just went out of season in my area, but it's still plentiful in the grocery stores and farmer's markets at a reasonable price.  My husband doesn't care for asparagus, but I've liked it ever since my mom served it with melted cheese when I was a little kid.  I no longer put cheese on it, but I have discovered that it tastes much better when it's roasted, rather than boiled.  It retains a crunchy texture and it's much easier to prepare and clean up:  no special pot needed.

This is one of those super simple techniques that changed the way I cook.  I now roast Brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes, bacon... pretty much anything that I used to cook on the stove.  Here's my technique for asparagus.  I'm sure you could also do the same thing on a grill, I just haven't got around to trying it yet.

Roasted Asparagus
the Keeley way

Asparagus (1 bunch, about 1/2 pound)
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425.  (My oven has a separate setting for roasting, if yours does, use it.)  Line a baking sheet with foil.

Rinse the asparagus and cut off the woody stem on bottom (about 1/4 or 1/3 off the bottom of each spear). 

Lay the clean, trimmed asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Toss to coat evenly.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Roast for 8-10 minutes or until tender. 

Serves 4

Note:  You can get as fancy with this as you'd like.  Sometimes I add a bit of minced garlic and other times I finish the dish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shenandoah Valley

I'm in summer vacation mode.  Even though I am taking my last summer class (hopefully ever), my job is demanding, and I have a ton of home improvements on the to-do list, we spent the entire first week of June in a lovely condo in the Massanutten Resort in Virginia.

We had a fun filled week of swimming my husband continuing my private swim lessons, wine tasting, walking, watching as much of our Netflix que as possible, barbecuing, sleeping, watching daytime television, and cuddling.  It was so fantastically relaxing that we almost got bored.  Almost.

Don't we look happy and relaxed?  That's what a week away from I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike will do for you. 

We tasted wine at a few overpriced vineyards.  The wine was just okay, but some of the food on the tasting menus was tasty.  We especially liked this cheese and fruit platter that cost us about $15.  It was better than the wine.  I'm sure I could make it at home for, um, like $4.  (Note to self.)

Please note that my husband is checking his BlackBerry... on vacation!  I sure hope that wasn't a work email!

We brought our Wii with us and I spent some time getting re-acquainted with Wii Fit Plus.  Yes, my Nintendo yelled at me.  We even walked around the resort.  My husband ran.  I just panted and huffed and puffed and tried to keep up with him.  I don't do well running on hills.  Okay, I'm lying, I don't do well running at all. 

We even attempted to do a hike.  Well, we planned to hike a 3 mile trail, but as soon as we reached the top of the mountain the sky opened up and a thunderstorm arrived.  We were forced to go back to the condo and spend the remainder of the day eating smoked grilled sausage and watching Mad Men on DVD.  Life is hard.

Massanutten was cool, even though we didn't take advantage of all the activities.  It's a pleasant drive (about 5 hours) from our home and we enjoyed spending time in the mountains, since we live in a flat coastal area.  We were looking for a vacation where we could cut off from the outside world (without losing our cell phone signals and internet access) and we were able to do that on this trip.  I was shocked to find out that in spite of the fact that we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, there was still a Chipotle in town (about 10 miles from the resort).  Will someone tell me again why my town... actually, my state, still doesn't have a Chipotle?  (Actually the first location in the state is under construction, but I still live closer to the PA location.)

What's your vacation preference?  Has the economy had any impact on your plans?  (I know it's affected ours!) 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wine and Dine

Last Tuesday night was a very, very good evening.  In spite of the fact that it was a weeknight, my husband, my mom, and I splurged for tickets to a wine tasting complete with a five course meal sponsored by our favorite wine shop, Premier Wine & Spirits, and held at our favorite tavern, James Street Tavern.  Good times were had by all!  If you live in Delaware, I strongly suggest you check out both spots for good people, good food, and good drinks.  If you don't live nearby, no worries!  I'm about to take you on a little culinary review...

Over the course of four hours we enjoyed eight wines paired with 5 courses.  All wines were by Joel Gott.  Each course was introduced by the chef and each wine was introduced by a representative from the wine company.  That's right, we were eating rich food and sipping on vino on a weeknight.  We know how to party!  Even mom came along for the fun...

As much as I enjoy wine, I'm a foodie at heart, so here's the rundown of the tasting menu:

1.  Pan Seared Scallops w/Arugula and Lemon Caper Vinigrette
2.  Lobster Tail w/Asparagus and Roasted Corn (my favorite course)
3.  Blue Cheese Grits with Duck Breast and Cherry Sauce
4.  Bison Sloppy Joe
5.  Flank Steak w/Chimichurri and Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

I don't like beef, I don't care for duck, and I normally run from blue cheese, but I ate everything on this menu.  It was that good.  Of course, I preferred the seafood, but the food was all great and I was impressed that it came from a cook at a tavern (you know, as in a bar).

All of the wines were good.  My favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc and the Malbec.  Or maybe it was the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot... I don't know.  It was all good and each wine paired well with the food.

If you're in this area and looking for a good wine shop, I highly recommend Premier.  While it doesn't have the largest selection in the area, they have very friendly and knowledgeable staff and an extensive tasting bar.  Unlike some other stores, you get to sample a wide variety of wines nearly every day of the week in real glassware.  No plastic shot glasses here.  I only taste a little, but I take notes for future purchases.  I also appreciate that they occasionally do beer and mixed drink tastings.  I can buy with confidence because I've had the opportunity to sample the goods.

As for James Street Tavern, I like it because the food is good, the drinks are very affordable ($2 margaritas, anyone?), and it's not in our normal hangout neighborhood, so we get to see a different crowd.  I don't normally expect bar food to be great, but they have a decent chef and a pretty creative menu. 

This entire experience has inspired me to consider hosting a little wine tasting of my own at home.  Who knows?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chipotle Chicken

This recipe was inspired by my desire to replicate the delicious chicken that is stuffed into burritos at my favorite spot, Chipotle.  This grilled chicken doesn't taste exactly like the chicken at Chipotle, but it's yummy and can be used as a stand alone dish, in quesadillas, in burritos, or even in tacos.  It's a bit smoky and spicy, but not overpowering.  It's so versatile that my husband just used it in his chicken Caesar salad this evening.

The first time we made this chicken we cooked it on a grill pan (indoors) and used it as a burrito filling.  Tonight we grilled it on charcoal and served it with roasted baby Yukon gold potatoes and grilled vegetables.  It was great both ways.  I can't think of a better Friday night activity than enjoying a grilled meal with my wonderful husband.

(Oh, and in case you are wondering, we did pre-game with some Dietz and Watson hot dogs.)

It took us a while to perfect our grilled chicken technique.  I've learned that it's best to pound the breasts thin (about 1/2 inch), marinate them in the fridge for a few hours, and never overcook them.  Your chicken breast is done when the juices run clear.  I don't use a thermometer, I just cut into one of the breasts to make sure it's not pink.  It works every time for us.  If you overcook your chicken (especially white meat) it will be dry and unappetizing.  Perfectly cooked chicken reheats well for lunch the next day.

The secret to this recipe is Tabasco brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce.  I recently "discovered" it when my husband picked it up at Chipotle to enhance his burrito.  I don't normally like hot sauce, but this sauce is thick and smoky and adds a nice kick to the chicken.

Chipotle Grilled Chicken
a Keeley original recipe

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts pounded to 1/2" thickness
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon Tabasco brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place chicken in a large zip top plastic bag.  Dump in all ingredients, seal bag, and massage marinate into chicken.  Refrigerate for at least an hour before grilling.

Grill chicken about 3-5 minutes on each side on medium-high heat, or until juices run clear.  Serves 4.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hot Dogs and Sausages

Processed meats aren't healthy food.

Okay, we got that out of the way.  It's summer and as I mentioned in a previous post, my husband and I love to cook outdoors on our charcoal grill.  While we have several recipes that involve homemade marinades and special cuts of meat, sometimes we need some quick grub while we wait for our "real" dinner to get done.  Enter hot dogs and sausages.

I think of a barbecue as a meal in the same style as a fish fry:  you eat the food as it's done.  You don't wait for all courses to be ready before digging in.  That's why we pregame with hot dogs, burgers, and sausages, then wait a bit before moving on to the real stuff (steaks, chicken, pork tenderloin...).  It's also a great strategy for entertaining.  Dogs, sausages, and burgers are ready fast and are crowd-pleasers.  They keep kids happy and keep the hunger from taking over while you take your time on the more expensive steaks, seafood, and other cuts of meat on the grill.  Hey, we're in a recession.  Basic grilled fare is great for keeping the crowd happy until the "real" food is done.

So, as much as I enjoy cooking from scratch, I can't resist enjoying one of these on a nice, fresh potato roll:

 1.  Nathan's Beef Franks - I hope you can get these where you live.  They're a hot dog that kinda tastes like sausage.  It's hard to explain, but they have a smoky, slightly garlicy taste and they snap when you bite 'em.  I prefer the "bun-sized" over the traditional "bigger than the bun" variety.  I like to keep a 60:40 ratio of hot dog to bun.  The long, thin dogs just don't do it for me.

2.  Dietz and Watson Beef Hot Dogs - These are the standard for hot dogs in my family.  I don't care what's on sale, if we're firing up the grill and you ask for a hot dog, this is what I'm serving.  I think they're regional, though, so if you don't live in the mid-Atlantic, these can be difficult to find.  (On a semi-related note, D&W is also my favorite brand for deli-sliced American cheese.  I actually go to a different grocery store just to get it.)

3.  Hillshire Farm Kielbasa - Our favorite is the Lite version made with beef, turkey, and pork.  Who doesn't like a nice smoky kielbasa on the grill?  This brand isn't too greasy or salty, as others can be. We split it horizontally and grill it on charcoal for that extra-smoky flavor.

If I'm going to eat unhealthy food, you'd better bet I'm going to be picky about the taste and the brand.  Don't settle for just any hot dog or sausage, make sure you choose your favorite.  So what is your favorite brand of hot dog or sausage?  Is there some local brand that I'm missing?  Do you even like hot dogs?
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