Friday, December 19, 2014

Spiced Holiday Nuts

By: The Food Hunter

'Tis the season to be entertaining all the time or at least that's what it feels like at our house. Contrary to what some people think throwing a party does not have to be a stressful situation. I'm a firm believer that all you need is a cocktail and some spiced holiday nuts.

Mixed nuts are perfect for parties, they allow guests to whet their appetite without filling up. They are also easy to make, delicious to eat and fun to talk about. This holiday season I encourage you to invite a few friends over, mix up some cocktails and bring out the mixed nuts.

The recipe below from Epicurious is one I enjoy and make often. 

Spiced Holiday Nuts
(courtesy of epicurious)
(printable recipe)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound raw unsalted mixed nuts

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In medium saucepan over moderately low heat, combine all ingredients except nuts. Cook, stirring frequently, until butter and sugar melt completely, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add nuts and toss well to combine.

Spread nuts on large rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring after 7 minutes, until golden and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. (Nuts can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored at room temperature in airtight container.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Eating Whole Foods: Grilled Flank Steak with Corn Tomato & Asparagus Salad

By: The Food Hunter

Awhile back, Food & Wine featured a recipe from Mark Fuller; grilled flank steak accompanied by a corn, tomato & asparagus salad. Although the recipe screams summer I knew the minute I saw it that there would be no waiting for summer. I needed to recreate this one right away.

The meat is marinated in Dijon, red wine, brown sugar and herbs, which makes it extra juicy and tender. The vegetables, which are seasoned with cider vinegar and honey, are delicious on their own and really shine when paired with the meat. Though it takes a bit of planning, and may seem time consuming, just one bite and you will know it was worth it.

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Grilled Flank Steak with Corn Tomato & Asparagus Salad
(adapted from Food & Wine)
 (printable recipe)
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
8 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
3 large shallots, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pound flank steak
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
6 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
6 ounces thin asparagus, cut into pieces
1 cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 basil leaves, finely shredded
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms

In a large plastic bag, mix the red wine, mustard, brown sugar, garlic, shallots, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Add the steak and turn to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the cider vinegar and honey. Add the tomatoes and toss. Let stand for 1 hour.

Remove the steak from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels; season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the steak, turning once, until medium-rare. Transfer the steak to a work surface and let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt the butter. Add the mushrooms, corn and asparagus and cook over medium heat until soft. Remove from heat and mix with the marinated tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice the steak against the grain and transfer to plates. Serve topped with vegetables.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Quiessence Delivers Farm Focused & Uncomplicated Cuisine to Phoenix Residents

Located on a 10 acre working farm just minutes from downtown Phoenix, Quiessence is a charming fine dining restaurant featuring locally sourced produce, meats and wines.

Guests can enjoy a romantic dinner by the hearth in the main dining area of the rustic farm house, or dine al fresco surrounded by pecan trees on one of two restaurant patios.

Along with the many event spaces throughout the Farm, Quiessence also offers a private dining room that seats parties of 10-12. There is also a private outdoor table with its own brick-oven, for a truly unique farm to table experience.

The menu at Quiessence is limited to a handful of items each day, but don't let that deter you, it's all local, inspired by the season & made fresh daily; including the artisan breads, jellies and hand-crafted pasta. Cocktails, like the Farm Apple Pie, are also crafted in-house from local seasonal items.

We started dinner with the cheese & charcuterie boards, which included a nice assortment of local and house made meats, cheeses, breads and fruits. There were even a few pecans that had been hand picked from the restaurant's grove.

A rich pistachio soup was on the menu the evening we dined, accompanied by Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese, diced green apples and oyster mushrooms. The flavors melded together perfectly and were like nothing I'd ever had before.

Although we were already getting full, our waitress who was extremely well versed in the restaurant offerings, insisted that we try one of the two hand-made pastas and I'm glad she did. We decided on the crispy gnocchi. The traditional pillow potato gnocchi were pan fried and tossed in a light yogurt sauce with duck confit, peppers & onions. This was probably my favorite dish of the evening.

For our entrees my husband and I got the Alaskan halibut & the seared duck breast. The halibut was served in a tomato broth with shishito peppers and a dehydrated tomato confit. It looked amazing and was very tasty.

The duck was seared and served with crimson lentils, a shaved celery salad, roasted apples, pickled mushrooms and turnips. I loved the way all of the components of the dish came together in your mouth.

By this time we were so full we had planned to skip dessert but our gracious waitress informed us that she had put an order of bread pudding in for us. I'll admit I was a bit skeptical as I am not a fan of bread pudding, but just one bite of the warm dried berry and nut pudding....I was hooked. Of course the vanilla ice cream and bourbon anglaise sauce helped.

Quiessence is a special restaurant, set apart from the rest by its unique setting, and the amazing things Chef Dustin Christofolo and his staff do with the local bounty. Plan to spend some time enjoying your meal as good things can not be rushed.

Cuisine Type: Contemporary American
Price Range:  $31 to $50
Atmosphere: Fine Dining, Romantic, Multiple private party spaces
Additional Information: Banquet/Private Rooms, Bar Dining, Beer, Chef's Table, Counter Seating, Farm to Table, Fireplace, Full Bar, Gluten-free Menu, Non-Smoking Area, Non-Smoking Restaurant, Patio/Outdoor Dining, Private Room, Smoking Area, View, Wine, Wine Bar

This meal was provided complimentary. However, all opinions and comments are my own.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Eataly Chicago: A Must If You Are In The Windy City

By: The Food Hunter

“Eat, Shop, Learn” is the philosophy behind Chicago’s Eataly, the mega Italian marketplace located in the River North section of Chicago. The 6,300 sq ft, two story, market is comprised of a variety of restaurants, fresh departments and retail areas. The first floor is where you will find grocery items, housewares and quick foods options like a Nutella Bar and Panini station.

On the 2nd floor the Piazza, a standing area for eating and drinking, is surrounded by fresh food counters; including one for meat, cheese, vegetables and seafood, where professionals are available to answer questions and to inspire shoppers to try new things.

Each one of these counters also offers a sit-down restaurant featuring their specialty. Eataly even has a produce butcher. You can pick your fruits and vegetables and have them sliced, diced and peeled the way you want while you wait.

Eataly was founded in Italy by Oscar Farinetti, in 2007. Partners, Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich, Joe Bastianich and Alex and Adam Saper helped open Eataly New York in 2010 which was quickly followed by Chicago in 2013.

On the last day of my Thanksgiving holiday trip to Chicago I met with Valerie, an Eataly associate, for a private tour of the facility. We chatted for hours as she escorted me throughout the entire complex providing in depth descriptions of every area and even gave me a sneak peak of the fine dining restaurant called Baffo.

There is so much to experience as you wander around Eataly, watching cooks make fresh pasta and mozzarella, talking to fish mongers, tasting olive oil and sampling cheese. I am only skimming the surface of everything Eataly has to offer.

This is definitely a venue you need to experience on your own.

Eataly Chicago
43 East Ohio Street
Tel: 312.521.8700

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How I Spent My Thanksgiving Vacation

By: The Food Hunter

This year after all of the food was cleared from the table and all of the holiday d├ęcor was safely secured away hubby and I left for a long busy food weekend in Chicago.

We arrived late on Friday and had just enough time to check into our hotel and change clothes before heading out to Bar Toma for dinner. In an area flooded with restaurants Bar Toma brings to the scene a casual Italian meeting place serving pizza, salad, and gelato in a relaxed atmosphere. We started our meal with the charred carrots, served with goat cheese, toasted almonds and a balsamic drizzle and shared a delicious white pizza with pancetta, basil and sliced tomato.

With our bellies full of good food we headed to The Drake Hotel, a Chicago landmark, to sip cocktails and listen to a live jazz performance in the Coq d’Or Lounge. Described as a classic Chicago haunt with a modern twist the Coq d’Or has been opened since the repeal of Prohibition and offers live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

Every trip we make to Chicago brings us new adventures and this time was no exception. On Saturday we walked the city taking photos and enjoying the many holiday exhibits around town. One that I would recommend, though maybe not on a busy holiday weekend, is the Christkindlmarket. Located in the heart of the business district, the Christkindlmarket is inspired by the beloved holiday tradition in Nuremberg Germany which holds the same name. Hundreds of vendors are lined up around Daley Square selling handcrafted gifts from around the world, along with traditional German food and drink.

Later that night we headed to Girl & The Goat for dinner. I had tried, on numerous occasions, to get reservations at The Goat to no avail so you can imagine my excitement when I finally secured some for this weekend. I’m not sure if it was all the hype of everyone saying you MUST go, or maybe the crowded dining room and snooty service, but I was slightly underwhelmed. Everything was delicious, but it’s not a place I would consider a “must” try. In my opinion, there are many other places I would recommend first. That being said if you do go I highly recommend you get the pig face. Don’t let the name deter you, it was delicious.

Sunday was spent working out and shopping; for me another day in an amazing city.

That evening we ate one of the best meals of our trip at Pelago Ristorante, an upscale modern Italian restaurant right off the Magnificent Mile. Chef /Owner Mauro Mafrici does an amazing job presenting authentic Italian food from various regions of Italy. We started our dinner with a creamy imported burrata cheese that was topped with fresh tomatoes micro-greens and a drizzle of olive oil. Though it might seem a bit pricey at 30+ for an appetizer I thought it was well worth it. We were encouraged by the waiter to try some of the homemade pasta which he said is Chef Mafrici’s specialty. We decided on the gnocchi in a venison ragu seasoned with marjoram. It was a hearty dish bursting with flavor and the pasta itself was made to perfection. We followed this with the semi boneless rabbit served with potatoes in a tomato sage sauce. One bite of this dish and I was instantly reminded of our short time in Italy, where we cooked and ate rabbit that was raised on the hillside above where we were staying.

On the last day of our trip I lined up a private tour of Eataly, Chicago’s massive Italian marketplace. It was an amazing tour that I will share with you in the next few days. Until then I hope you enjoyed my quick round-up of how I spent my Thanksgiving. Hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday!