Friday, February 29, 2008

Little White Lies

Let's face it we've all told our share of little white lies; untruths with good intentions. I find myself having to tell more and more of these lies everyday when it comes to food. It seems that a lot of people have what I refer to as food phobias. By this I mean they are totally against a certain food for no apparent reason other than it's not the norm. Take for example oxtail. It's not a common cut of meat, so people tend to shy away from it. Oxtail is basically the tail meat of a beef animal. If you eat beef you really shouldn't have any issues eating oxtail, right? Well that's often not the case. As soon as some hear the word oxtail they cringe. "I can't eat that," they say. Well why the hell not? Have you even tried it? I think what bothers me most about people with a food phobia is that they aren't even willing to try the food. They automatically dismiss it as being nasty without even tasting it. This past weekend a neighbor and his wife came over for dinner. I really wanted to make a braised oxtail ragu; but wasn't sure what their reaction would be. I consulted with my neighbor and he insisted I make it but not tell his wife what it was. We planned to just tell her it was shredded beef. Hence the little white lie. I made the ragu and some homemade parpadella to go with it. My neighbor's wife couldn't say enough good things about the meal, especially how tender and tasty the "beef" was. By the end of the evening my neighbor decided it was time to come clean. We told his wife that the ragu was actually made from oxtail. She couldn't believe it. She was a little disappointed that we lied to her but admitted she wouldn't have tried it if we had told her it was oxtail. Moral of the story: Sometimes we need little white lies to help us overcome our phobias and start really enjoying food. Braised Oxtail (adapted from Lidia's Italian American Kitchen, Lidia Bastianich) Ingredients 2 1/2 lbs oxtail 6 Tbs olive oil 1 medium yellow onion, chopped 2 medium carrots, shredded 1 cup celery, chopped 1/3 cup of fresh parsley 3 cloves garlic, chopped 2 cups dry white wine 1 35 ounce can plum tomatoes 3-4 cups chicken stock 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese Directions Soak the oxtails in cold water to cover for 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly and pat dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a wide, heavy pan over medium heat. Add as many oxtail pieces as fit without crowding into the pan. Cook, turning as necessary, until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan. Stir in the onions, carrots, celery, parsley and garlic. Season lightly with slat and pepper and cook stirring until the vegetables are wilted, about 4 minutes. Pour in the wine and bring to a vigorous boil. Cook until the wine is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and their liquid. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat so the sauce is a lively simmer, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Tuck the oxtail into the sauce and cook until they are very tender, about 3 hours. As the oxtail cook add the chicken stock, about 1/2 cup at a time, to keep the level of the liquid more or less steady during cooking. Skim any excess fat from the sauce. Remove all meat from the bones, shred it coarsely and return it to the sauce. This can be prepared and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. Cook pasta according to directions. Top with sauce and serve immediately with some grated Parmesan.

Friday, February 22, 2008

OTBN

Is there a bottle of wine that you've been saving for that special occasion or that perfect dinner that never seems to happens? Well let tomorrow be that special night. The last Saturday in February has been coined "Open That Bottle Night". (You can read more about it here) So break out that bottle that you've been saving (you know you have at least one); invite over some friends or someone more significant and enjoy. It doesn't have to be expensive, just something you've been putting off drinking for one reason or another.
This is a great idea. I seem to have saved several bottles for that "special occasion" that has yet to happen. I decided to invite a few friends over to dinner tomorrow. I'm not sure yet which bottle we'll open but I'm sure it will be good. If you decide to "Open That Bottle" let me know. Leave a comment with the details on the wine you picked.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Voce Ristorante and Lounge

Stepping through the front door of Voce(which by the way is a very impressive door) is like stepping back in time to what I've always imagined a 1930's/40's supper club to be. There's a rather impressive main dining room off to the right and a more informal lounge to the left. In the dimly lit lounge the walls are lined on either side with high back leather couches and tables for eating. At the front end of the room is a nice size stage and a small space for dancing. Facing the stage are several two top tables for guests to enjoy drinks or food while watching the performers. We had 7:45 reservations, at Voce Lounge, this past Saturday night. When we arrived both the lounge and restaurant were full. The host informed us there would be a brief wait for our table; which turned out to be about 30 minutes. Our first round of drinks were on the house for our patience. I thought that was a very nice touch. The lounge menu is not your typical bar menu. The best way to describe it is Italian tapas. Included are things like rustic thin crust pizzas, marinated filet mignon on skewers, a large ravioli stuffed with spinach and arancini (Sicilian rice balls). We decided to get a few different things and share. The margarita pizza had a nice thin crust and was topped with the perfect ratio of sauce to cheese. The polpetini were 6 mini beef, pork and veal meatballs placed on top of mashed potatoes. The whole dish was covered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Normally the thought of mashed potatoes and tomato sauce wouldn't seem that appealing to me; but the combination was actually delicious. The 6 spinach dumplings were similar in size to the meatballs and were bathed in a rich butter sage sauce; equally delicious. The band started right around 9:30. Khani Cole is the featured artist on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at Voce. The music was good and it was nice to see so many people get up and dance. Sitting at Voce with the band playing and people dancing around me I got a feeling of what it must have been like so many years ago when supper clubs were popular. Call me a bit old fashion but I wish there were more places like the Voce Lounge. Voce Ristorante and Lounge 9717 N Hayden Road (SE corner Mountain View & Hayden) Scottsdale, AZ 85258 480.609.0429 Dining-Room hours: 5:30pm - 10:30pm (Mon - Sat) Lounge hours: 5:30pm - 1am (Mon-Thu) 5:30pm-2am (Fri/Sat)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Time To Make The Doughnuts Challenge

I stumbled across the "time to make the doughnuts" challenge on Tartelette last week and thought to myself what a wonderful idea. This is the perfect excuse to make a fried dessert. We eat a lot of dessert in our house; so I try my best to keep them as healthy as possible. Up until now I haven't been able to justify adding "fried sweets" to the rotation.
I found a recipe for Lemon Ricotts Fritters in Gina DePalma's, Dolce Italiano. (I love this cookbook) These Italian doughnuts were simple to make and absolutely delicious to eat. My husband and I ate half the batch on Saturday. I'm almost glad I had a tooth pulled tonight or I'd be tempted to finish off the rest of them. Lemon Ricotta Fritters 1 cup flour 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup coarsely crushed amaretti crumbs 1 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon 2 large eggs 1 Tbls dark rum 1 tsp vanilla extract 1/2 cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate olive oil for frying confectioner's sugar for dusting In a medium bowl stir together the flour, sugar, amaretti crumbs, baking powder, salt and nutmeg until thoroughly combined. Place the ricotta and lemon zest in another bowl. In a small bowl, use a fork and beat the eggs lightly with the rum and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the ricotta mixture and whisk to combine them well. Add the dry ingredients and the chocolate and use a fork to mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Do not over mix; a few lumps of ricotta are fine. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a large heavy saucepan until it reaches 360 degrees. Working in batches, drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls into the oil and fry them until they are deep golden on both sides. Use a skimmer to remove them and drain them on paper towels. Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar. Makes about 15.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Authentic East Coast Italian Food

Aiello's opened up in Central Phoenix at the tail end of 2007 promising to bring some traditional east coast Italian food to the Phoenix area. In my opinion Phoenix is definitely lacking when it comes to good traditional southern Italian food; so I was eager to give this place a try.
My husband and I met some "east coast" friends for dinner this past weekend at Aiello's. We tend to be a tough crowd when it comes to Italian food but we all agreed that Aiello's was pretty darn authentic.
We started off our dinner with the antipasti platter for two ($16) (plenty big for the 4 of us). Included in this appetizer was a variety of Italian meats, olives, caprese, roasted peppers and grilled vegetables. We also got an order of the eggplant rolatini ($8) and were not disappointed. It was so good; it reminded me of the one my mom use to make. (For some reason my mom claims not to know how to cook anymore. But we'll save that story for another blog)
For our main courses we ordered the fusilli with chicken and roasted peppers ($15), lobster ravioli ($24), linguini fradiavolo ($22) and rigatoni alla Bolognese ($15). The Bolognese was my favorite with the lobster ravioli as a close second. The Bolognese sauce was a perfect combination of vegetables and meat with a lingering hint of porcini mushrooms. YUM! Of the 4 entrees the fradiavolo was the only disappointment. It was not the traditional blend of tomato and seafood sauce like I'm used to. Rather it tasted more like a basic tomato sauce with seafood on top. Not really bad just not what I think of as a fradiavolo.
We split a rum baba ($8) and a cannoli ($7) for dessert. If you've never had a rum baba then I would recommend running over to Aiello's right now and giving their's a try. A rum baba is basically a yeast type cake drenched in rum with a pastry cream filling. How can you go wrong with anything soaked in rum? The cannoli should not feel slighted. It was equally as good but much easier to find here in Phoenix.
For me Aiello's was able to bring back some fond food memories of growing up in a southern Italian family. Looking forward to my next visit.
5202 N. Central Ave
Phoenix Az 85012
602-277-8700