Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not A Typical Thanksgiving Leftover

By the Sunday after Thanksgiving I'd had my fill of leftover turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes. So when it came time for dinner I decided enough was enough there had to be something else in the fridge to eat. That's when I came across the extra sausage and mushrooms that didn't make it into the stuffing; and the Parmesan and mozzarella that didn't make it into the lasagna. A mushroom and sausage pizza immediately started calling my name. (and just think it still qualifies for the November Leftover Tuesdays Challenge hosted by Project Foodie ) All I needed was a pizza dough and some sauce. I normally buy my dough at Niccoli's Italian Deli (I've found them to have the best tasting pizza dough in the Phoenix area). But of course this was not a normal situation. I was starving and it was kind of late on Sunday night so I had to make due with what was close by. I ended up at AJ's and got both the dough and a small can of San Marzano tomatoes. I followed my normal recipe for pizza sauce which is: Pizza Sauce 1 small can of whole San Marzano tomatoes; crushed 1 Tbs olive oil 1 Tbs oregano 1 Tbs olive oil 1 tsp salt I chopped my mushrooms and sausage into bite size pieces and sauteed them with garlic and olive oil for about 6 minutes. I topped my dough with the sauce and sausage/mushroom mixture; finishing it off with some grated Parmesan and shredded mozzarella. It cooked on a pizza stone for about 20 minutes in a 475 degree oven. I loved the sausage/mushroom combination of the pizza but I was disappointed with the crust. It was basically flavorless. I would not recommend using pizza dough from AJ's unless you're really in a pinch. All in all it was a good diversion from the typical turkey and stuffing leftovers.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Morning After and Crappy Muffins

By 8pm last night I had sworn off food forever. Our Thanksgiving meal was behind us and I'd eaten so much I decided I didn't want to see food again until at least Sunday. So what was I doing in the kitchen at 7am this morning? I was making what has since become known as Chris's Crappy Muffins. Last year we started a post Thanksgiving day breakfast tradition with our friends Haley and Chris and their family. They made breakfast and we brought over Lemon Ricotta Muffins. The muffins seemed to go over well with everyone last year so I decided to bring them again. It turns out that Chris loves the muffins so much he was telling people how crappy they were to stop the others from eating them. Needless to say his tactics did not work and all the muffins were gone by the end of breakfast. Sorry Chris no leftovers, you'll have to wait until next year or have us to breakfast sooner. Happy Thanksgiving! Lemon Ricotta Muffins a Giada De Laurentiis recipe 2 cups flour 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling 1/2 cup unsalted butter 1 Tbs finely grated lemon zest 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese 1 large egg 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice 1/2 tsp almond extract 1/3 cup thinly sliced almonds Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 350. Whisk the flour baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to blend. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup sugar, butter, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in the ricotta. Beat in the egg, lemon juice, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended. (batter will be thick) Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle almonds and some sugar over the muffins. Bake until the muffins just become pale golden on top, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Around the World in Phoenix

This past Saturday, with nothing on our schedule, my husband and I set out for a round the world culinary adventure in Phoenix. It seemed like the perfect way to check out some new places and get some quality ingredients.

Our first stop was Vincent’s Saturday Market located in the parking lot of Vincent’s restaurant. The market, only opened on Saturdays from 9-1, has a definite French flare. Although there wasn’t much fresh produce to pick from there was an abundance of food to enjoy. There were made to order omelet, crepe, and Panini stations. Also available were things like lamb chops and paella. Prices seemed to be reasonable and portions large. We had a mozzarella and tomato crepe and a ham and mozzarella omelet. Both were $8 each. There were other vendors at the market selling fresh honey, cookie mix, jewelry and pottery.

Our next destination was the Old Heidelberg German Bakery. If you like German food I would definitely recommend a trip to Old Heidelberg for their selection of breads, pastries, brats and German grocery items. We bought some pretzels and pretzel rolls both of which were just as good as what we had in Germany. I'm planning a trip back around Christmas to try some of their homemade stollen with marzipan ($14).

The Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli was our next stop. Entering this small grocery/restaurant is like stepping into another world. There is a mural of Bethlehem on the wall and Middle Eastern music playing over the speakers. One of my favorite things about this store is the Feta cheese. They not only carry the Greek variety but also the French and Bulgarian; all of which have distinctively different tastes. They also make homemade pita every morning that you can purchase. The dining area is small, about 10 tables. Menu items include such things as kebabs, humus, baba ganoush and baklava.

We headed next to the Phoenix Ranch Market, an Hispanic grocery and prepared food market. With Thanksgiving just around the corner I was hoping to stock up on some ingredients for my dinner. Although what I needed was not Hispanic I knew from previous visits that I would be able to find some good quality, cheap produce and the odd chicken parts I needed to make stock. For those of you that have never been to the market it is a very large grocery store with tons of produce, a bakery, a butcher and a fish monger. There’s also a tortilla factory and a small food court (for lack of a better description).

We ended up at Niccoli's Italian Deli cheese, also for Thanksgiving. were we purchased some ricotta, provolone and pecorino. Their ricotta cheese is a much better quality than what you get in the grocery store and it really makes a difference when cooking. We've been going to Niccoli's for about 5 years now and Joe and Peppy are like family. They know their products and have always given us good advice about our purchases. Looking for something sweet to end our day we got some fresh filled cannoli's. The ricotta filling, all homemade, was so creamy and delicious. A perfect ending to a perfect day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Appetizer Challenge

Appetizers are a real challenge for me. I’m constantly looking for new things to try but tend to end up making the same few things over and over. Usually I plan the rest of the meal first and by the time I get to thinking about the appetizers I’m spent. I end up making things like roasted pepper bruschetta, grilled calamari and caprese salad. All of which are good appetizers but I make them so frequently that I'm getting kind of board.

So last week, when I had a small dinner party for my mom’s birthday to plan, I was determined to come up with a new vegetable appetizer to go with my standard meat and cheese plate.

After much thought and several trips to the market to see what looked good I finally decided on two recipes: Marinated Zucchini and Fried Eggplant both found in Molto Italiano a new cookbook by Mario Batali. I know you’re probably thinking fried eggplant? Did I really need to follow a recipe for that? But this recipe is truly something special. I think the secret was the touch of butter added to the frying oil and the balsamic vinegar drizzled over the finished dish.

Both appetizers were winners and now I have two more options to add to the mix.

Fried Eggplant

1/2 cup flour 3 large eggs 1 cup bread crumbs 2 lbs small young eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/3 inch thick half-moons 1/4 cup olive oil 1 Tbs unsalted butter 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar Spread the flour on a plate. Lightly beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Spread the bread crumbs on another plate. Dredge the eggplant in the flour and bat it against your hand to remove any excess, then dip in the eggs, turning to coat completely, and dip in the bread crumbs, coating completely. Set aside on a sheet of wax paper. In a 10 inch saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat just until smoking. Add the butter and heat until it foams and subsides. Add the eggplant, in batches, and cook, turning occasionally, until both sides are dark golden brown. Remove from the pan, season with salt and pepper, drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, serve immediately. Marinated Zucchini

1/4 cup olive oil 3 medium green zucchini trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices 3 medium yellow Zucchini trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices 6 medium cloves garlic, finely minced 2 tsp red pepper flakes 1 cup fresh basil, cut into chiffonade 2 Tbs Kosher salt 2 Tbs freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup red wine vinegar In a deep 10 inch saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add 5 or 6 zucchini slices and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining zucchini. In a small bowl, gently stir together the garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, salt and pepper until well mixed. Line the bottom of a deep dish pie plate with one quarter of the zucchini slices. Sprinkle evenly with one quarter of the herb mixture and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the vinegar.

Continue layering the remaining zucchini and herb mixture, with the remaining vinegar. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Just Tell Them George Sent You...Part 2

Day two and I was out in the cold again. This was going to be a long day. My husband started working at 7am and wasn’t going to be done until 9pm. Flipping through a magazine in the hotel lobby (I spent a lot of time in the lobby) I saw an add for $25 Jersey Boy theater tickets. The only catch was you had to wait in line. Or so I thought. Since I was up and out anyway I decided why not. I got tickets for the 2pm show. Front row center I was so excited. Show time arrived and I quickly realized why the tickets were so cheap. Front row at the theater is not the same as front row at a concert. I was so close to the stage it was hard to see much of anything. At least I picked the perfect show. Jersey Boys doesn’t have much of a set (or I don’t think it does anyway) and most of the show is performed near the edge of the stage which I could see. Either way I thought it was a great show.
Later that night we headed to another place on George’s list Vivere. Located in the “Italian VillageVivere is one of 3 distinct restaurants all housed in one building. The food ranges from very traditional fare at La Cantina to the more contemporary fare at Vivere.
Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable about the menu and provided a lot of guidance with both our food and wine selections. We started with the rabbit filled ravioli ($19) in a wild mushroom and butter sauce. This was an entrée that we had split 3 ways for our appetizer.
For my main course I ordered the Scallops ($27) dusted with porcini powder and star anise served over creamy polenta and lentils.
My husband ordered the venison chop ($39) which came with a side of black truffle gnocchi and spinach topped with a blueberry reduction. This was a different combination of flavors that actually worked really well together. The blueberry really complimented the venison. Who would've thought.
His co-worker ordered the sage marinated chicken breast ($20) with turnips, beats and kalamata olives.
All 3 were superb. (yes, I sampled them all) We finished the evening with a decadent chocolate souffle.
Day 3 and I was up and out again before 9am. I did several hours of sightseeing before deciding that I couldn’t take the cold any longer. I ducked into the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Ave for a quick look around and to hopefully warm up. To my surprise they were hosting a violin concert that day. I decided to stay for awhile, enjoy the music and the warmth. What a nice respite in the middle of such a busy city.
That night we had dinner reservations at Café Spiaggia which is the casual sibling of the renowned Spiaggia. The two restaurants share the same kitchen and have somewhat similar menus and that's were the similarities end. Cafe Spiaggia is significantly lower in price, jackets are not required and the atmosphere is similar to a small trattoria in Italy.
We arrived at Café Spiaggia and were given a lovely window seat for two overlooking Michigan Ave and the Drake hotel. We selected a wonderful bottle of red wine that we enjoyed while perusing the menu. There were so many things on the menu we wanted to try so we decided to do some sharing. We started by splitting the buffalo mozzarella, figs and prosciutto ($12) appetizer and the tomato and bread soup with basil and Parmesan cheese ($8). Both were really good.
For our main course we decided to split two pasta dishes; the gnocchi with wild boar ragu ($17) and the homemade parpadella with veal neck ragu ($17). While both options were delicious we agreed that the wild boar ragu was the winner of the two. We finished off the evening with an after dinner drink and an order of the Italian doughnuts. These were deep fried balls of dough dusted in sugar and accompanied by a zabagione dipping sauce. What more can I say; they were delicious.
It might not have been the vacation I had hoped for but Chicago did live up to my food expectations. Thanks George for all your recommendations!
*Two other restaurants on george's list that we didn't get to were Volare and Chicago Chop House.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Just Tell Them George Sent You...Part 1

When my husband told me he was going to Chicago for work I was just a little jealous. Then he told me that he had a two room suite at the Chicago Fairmont and that I should come along. Perfect! 4 days of relaxing in a nice hotel, some shopping, sight seeing and lot of good food. Well, let me tell you, things aren't always what they seem. What I found out later was that my husband's meetings were actually being held in our room, hence the suite and that his co-worker was also sharing the room. All of a sudden that 2 room suite seemed awfully small. I also found out that they would be working long hours and I would be spending a lot of time alone and away from the room. My only saving grace was the food. Chicago is known for good food and I was determined to have my fill. As an experienced "Food Hunter" I had a list of places I wanted to try. Of course that too was turned upside down once we arrived in the windy city. It started on our first night. Dinner needed to be close to the hotel since the guys needed to start working right away. Needless to say I was a little disappointed that we could not go to the pizza place I had planned to try. So I asked at the hotel for a recommendation. They directed us to a place called Pizano's just a few blocks away. It was good pizza with a slightly buttery crust. Different than anything I've had before. The best part of the night was meeting George, who I think was the owner. We got to talking about food with him and he wrote us up a list of his favorite places to try. He made sure to add that if we had any trouble getting into these places we should "tell them George sent you" Sounded to me like George might have some "connections." The next morning, with the list from George in hand, I started my Chicago adventure. I headed north on Michigan Ave. going in and out of stores to keep warm (or at least that's what I told my husband). I made my way by lunch time to L'Appetito. George was right this place was a gem. There was a deli counter with Italian meats and cheese, a hot food counter with pizza's and pasta and a bakery counter with tons of Italian pastries and cookies. There was just so much I wanted to try. I knew the moment I walked into the shop that I would be coming back often over the next few days...and I did. By the end of my trip I had tried the pizza, several different antipasti (I loved the tortellini salad) and sandwiches, several kinds of cookies (my favorite were the iced lemon) and a piece of cannoli cake. I also ended up buying a few pounds of Tuscan salami and some Parma Cotto which I haven't been able to find in Phoenix. This was definitely the winner on George's list. TO BE CONTINUED......