Saturday, May 31, 2008

Yummy Montreal

Pizza from one of the Cafes

A view down Ste-Laurent

Bonjour. So a few weeks ago, I found out I was going to Montreal. You could fit on a pinhead what I knew of Montreal. It’s up north. It’s cold. They speak French. And they don’t like Americans. OK, so 3 of the 4 are true (but they don’t seem horribly fond of non Quebec Canadians –go figure). I could have gone a lifetime without visiting this city and not have realized what a hip and trendy little town this is. There are so many little known facts about this city. For example, settled by the French in the 1500’s this area was one of the 1st European occupied places in North America. It was Canada’s largest economic center for years and the main industry was fur trading (reminding me of the little bad guy from Buggs Bunny cartoons, Blacque Jacque Shellacque). Now eclipsed by Toronto, Montreal is a Mecca of European culture with fashion, the arts, shopping and restaurants for every taste and budget.

I saw this on the wall of a building and I knew I was in the right place for me

Any trip to Montreal is incomplete without spending some serious time on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. My hotel was located in the heart of this trendy little area, walking distance from both my work and serious food and night life. My colleagues and I ate, drank and strolled this street for 5 days and 4 nights. Aside form it being still a bit too cool for me, it was unbelievable. From drinks in the sidewalk cafés after work to fabulous meals for both lunch and dinner, I felt like I was walking in the streets of Paris passing the young and beautiful residents casually enjoying the spring afternoons.

Buonanotte is a well known Italian restaurant cum night club. Alex and I had been perusing the menus of the restaurants as we walked down Ste-Laurent. Already we had enjoyed a couple of meals in the district. What caught my eye initially about this place was something that always wins my heart on a menu, pasta made fresh in-house. I was so there. In we went.

My martini at Buonanotte
We sipped a couple of cocktails and enjoyed the people watching. What a menu. I had a significantly difficult time deciding on what to eat. For an appetizer, I ordered a pot of mussels in a tomato and white wine sauce. What stood out was how plump and meaty these were. The wine and garlic infusion with each mussel was exceptional. For an entrée, I chose the lasagna with veal ragu, taleggio cheese and black truffle sauce. Thinking of a lasagna brings a heavy and hearty dish to mind, one that leaves you wanting to unbutton your jeans. Not this. It looked just like a lasagna but it was exceptionally light in nature. The freshness of the pasta shined through the earthy truffle sauce. The veal ragu could have easily been made to be a heavy flavor in this dish but instead in perfectly complimented the lightness of the pasta and delicate telaggio cheese.

If this could have been made more perfect, I’d love to taste that. Leaving the restaurant feeling energized, we headed down to our hotel. The bar there is a well known night spot as well and another great place to people watch. Before turning in, Alex and I chatted and had a couple of cocktails. Great night all around.

Another culinary bright spot that is quintessential Montreal (or Quebec depending on who you ask) is Poutine. Pictured below, Poutine is a fantastic dish that starts with French Fries then topped with cheese or curds and brown gravy. Caroline, my French speaking co-worker and native Montreal-ite, introduced us to this delicious treat at an upscale burger joint during lunch. Apparently Poutine can be made in many different styles. The variations basically amount to different cheese types. The cheese curds served on our Poutine was a bit upscale, so Caroline said. What I liked about them was that the fries were perfectly cut and cooked. I like smaller cut fries. Not that I’m against the British style chip but I prefer the more delicate cut. That’s how these were. The curds added a decadent flavor that was capped perfectly by the savory rich gravy.


So the two things that really shined through from this trip were the hip area we stayed and the euro-chic town itself. I’m headed back to Montreal in a few weeks to finish the job I started and I’m now excited about it.

I’m planning on doing a bit of kitchen experimenting sometime this weekend so hopefully I’ll have a new recipe to put up soon. Until then-

Au revoir.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Mouse, Crazy Princess Parties and Sliders

No one should be this tired. It’s a good thing I flourish on chaotic. What a 10 days since my last post. When I began writing, I was pretty sure I’d post a couple of times a week. Well, I guess I have done that for the most part but I have just not had 30 minutes consecutively (assuming you don’t count the sleep hours) in the past week to get this together. I also need to be careful that I dedicate some time in this week’s blog to food, since real life has taken over. I’ll begin a week ago.

Olivia is now 4. You can see her explaining this to Cinderella. And as exciting as turning 4 is, it is work. I’m happy to report that Olivia had a fantastic week long celebration. There was last weekend at Disney complete with fireworks and night parades, parties, flowers and endless hours of celebration and fun for all. No one makes a kid feel more special than that mouse. No sleep. Crazy.

For me, recovering from Disney is usually a 24 hour process but about 8 hours from the moment I set foot back in my own domicile, I was headed to the airport and again bound for New England. Ahhhh, work. But last week did have a pleasant spin to it. I had the opportunity to meet up with some folks I haven’t seen in probably 10 years. Turns out, they read the blog thanks to their daughter, a childhood friend of mine. In their retirement they’ve joined the RV crowd and meander about the continent in a rather whimsical fashion. Purely by coincidence, they were in Mystic, CT this week and we had a couple of tasty meals together. Nice catching up.

We ate Thursday night at a wonderful little place in Mystic called Anthony J’s. I was contemplating not mentioning it because I planned on one day writing a longer feature about it. It’s in my top couple of places to eat when I go that way. Perhaps I’ll still feature it later but I have to briefly mention “Hot Rocks”. This is not a new phenomenon and, if you are reading this, I assume you are somewhat of a “foodie”, therefore you probably know what they are already. Whatchya do is get a polished stone hot. Damn hot. 600+ degrees hot. Then you throw raw food on it and serve. Rather prehistoric, a bit dangerous but darned yummy. I have had the seafood hot rock there several times and it is unbelievably heavenly. You can hear the sizzling and popping where rock meets flesh before it leaves the kitchen. The steam that comes from the seafood atop the rock permeates the entire restaurant (not a place to go if you don’t like the smell of seafood). Once placed before you, the waitress provides a disclaimer about touching the 600 degree rock (duh!!!). The rock retains its heat long enough to completely cook your food before your eyes. To the best of my knowledge there is only the seafood with a touch of garlic placed atop the rock and you are given a lemon to squeeze over the whole mess yourself. Delicious. Personally I think they should charge me less for owning so much responsibility in the preparation of my meal but alas, they do not. They have several types of these “Hot Rocks” but the seafood is my favorite. Ken had the Steak this night. I have met some wonderful people here as well and I promise to revisit Anthony J’s at another time.

OK, back to Florida for crazy weekend number 2. Since last weekend was birthday away from home, this was MEGA birthday party with all the stops out. Some time ago, we conferred with Olivia and “her people” about the appropriate theme for the 4th birthday party. It was decided that this birthday party should be declared a Crazy Princess Party. Now, far be it from me to define this, but mom and I set out to make it happen. What we had was about 35 people, a slip-n-slide (please refer to C. mid 1980’s reference material for a definition), a sprinkler, a HUGE princess jumpy thingy, a ball pit and lots of food.

Big Princess Jumpy Thingy

Gazebo with Snow Cone Machine

Due to a sudden rain storm (Florida thunder storms are violent and typically last 6.2 minutes –OK I made that up but it was brief), everyone was inside for the last few minutes which allowed Olivia to open her presents and be the courteous hostess as they all left. A success. The caveat to the day was that my son Evan, Olivia’s half brother, opened a lit grill whose fumes were gathered in the lid. He did suffer some minor facial burns as the grill flamed out. He was Ok. His mother took him to the doctor who reported that Evan would pull through. We were quite sad that he left the party and took him some cake later that evening. His hair was actually smoldering and Lisa patted it out. A bit scary.

On to the food discussion for this week: Grills. In the words of David Archuletta (for you Idol fans)- gosh, gosh, gosh. What can I say about grills and grilling that hasn’t been said. Nothing I would guess. So probably best to say nothing at all. Well, that’s never been my style. I do have a take on grilling that may be a bit unique. I have had friends over the years, you see, with quite the elaborate backyard setup. Full bars, kitchens, granite counter tops, etc.- all outside. This compliments the already elaborate setup inside. Psssstttt. Come closer… shhh…don’t tell anyone I said this but… ridiculous. How unnecessary. Now, I’m not saying my friends were ridiculous but what level American laziness is required before a trek across the patio to the kitchen refrigerator is out of the question and must be replaced by a short reach to the patio fridge. OK I digress.

I decided I wanted to make sliders (tiny hamburgers) for the birthday party this weekend and I also decided I needed a new grill. Our last grill got hauled off some years ago after going belly up. I think we spent a fortune on it too and got about 2 summers out of it. So, it was time for a new grill. Here’s the fun part. It’s quite rare that I want a bottom of the line product (way rare) but in this case, it was pretty close. I knew I wanted a charcoal grill and I wanted it for one purpose. Putting charcoal in and getting the grill racks pretty hot, then cooking. Sure there are all kinds of fancy gas grills with extra burners and raised platforms but that wasn’t my purpose. Nor was it my purpose to have a smoker style grill (I will talk about this at length some day because smoking and grilling share less similarities than differences). So, off shopping I went on Saturday and found exactly what I wanted at Wal-Mart (Home Depot did not have the grill I was looking for). Its round, aluminum, has a rack for charcoal and a rack for food. That’s it. And I couldn’t be more thrilled. I will grill on this poorly constructed heat source and I am confident it will turn out mouthwatering preparations for the next several years. For about 40 bucks, you too can proudly own a similar piece of Americana (made in China, assembly required).

sliders and dogs on the new high tech grill

For the sliders, I decided I wanted a “Gourmet Slider Bar”. This somewhat original thought was fueled by Lisa telling me she wanted simple food for the party (she knows I have gone over the top before). So sliders are simple but I could serve some cool and yummy toppings off to the side to jazz it up a bit. Not only do I think this was a pretty neat idea, it turned out to be a hit. I received lots of positive comments so I was quite pleased. The toppings included the standards:

Thinly sliced tomato
Shredded lettuce
Thin onion slices
American cheese

But also:

Roasted red peppers
Yogurt with leek and parsley
Olive and sour cream mayo
Blue cheese
Fresh buffalo mozzarella

The spread

This was served buffet style on the Gazebo. In the 8 years Lisa and I have lived in this house, I think this was the second time I’ve used the Gazebo for entertainment. Shame on me.

After the presents were opened and the guests departed, I was spent. I visited with neighbors for a few hours until bed time but wow… I was done.

So here it is Monday (the holiday) and I’m off to work. I’m probably over the great lakes at the moment (it’s a bit cloudy out so I can’t tell) en route to Montreal. I do have the camera this week and I’m super excited to talk about my culinary adventures. I have never been to Montreal. I land in an hour or so and should be nestled in my room by early evening. I plan to sleep. Tomorrow after work, I will explore. No one should be this tired.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Two Fantastic Restaurants

I start with an apology. I always want to add photos. I had my camera this week but both nights out, I had forgotten it. The links to both restaurants are in the article below so that is my only offering this week. Again, my apologies. On to the story:

I went to work on Wednesday knowing that I wanted to explore a new dinner experience that night. I just wasn’t sure what. I was once again in Washington DC and the choices are endless. So after a bit of web searching and some chatting with the locals, I decided on a restaurant owned by local celebrity chef, José Andrés. Andrés can be seen on a local cooking show here in the capitol city as well as on the national spotlight. I recently saw him on Iron Chef America and a tour of his web site says he’ll be a guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef –I love that show. Zaytinya is one of his well known DC eateries. It’s in Gallery Place directly across the street from the National Portrait Gallery (one of my favorite of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums). As it turns out, once I arrived, I recognized the place as somewhere I’d eaten before. Bummer. I recall really liking it then but I was still a bit disappointed. I wanted something new. But rather than taking my chances on a walkabout, I decided I’d give this highly touted restaurant another go. Then when the bartender told me the menu changes regularly, any remnants of disappointment melted into my Martini.

Not only are bartenders the traditional “good listeners”, they can be great educators as well. I learned a few things at dinner. Mezze means small plates of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Hmmmm… OK. Lamb comes to mind and those amazing aromatic spices from the Turkish and Lebanese cooking styles. YUM. So it’s a tapas-goes-east kinda style and Zaytinya is a mezze restaurant. That makes perfect sense since the owner is a Spanish trained chef and tapas style cooking is Spanish. The next useless fact I learned is that Zaytinya means Olive Oil in Turkish (I guess that’s not useless if you are a chef in Istanbul, but everything in context, it’s a useless fact to most of us).

Having fulfilled my put-something-new-in-your-brain-every-day goal, it was time to put something new in my belly. Mezze style, like tapas, are really small portions so you need somewhere between 3 and 5 items to feel satisfied. The prices were in the ten dollar range, so I would put this in the moderately pricey category. The first thing that caught my eye was something I had recently been contemplating trying a hand at in my own kitchen. Cold cucumber soup. I’m not really sure why I’ve been thinking of it either. I don’t recall any recent recipes or TV programming that has featured this, although I know I’ve read about cucumber soups before. Well, for whatever reason, it’s gone from the recesses of my memory to the forefront and here it is on this menu. Of course, I had to have it. From the website’s menu it is described thusly:

Ashe Mast va Khiar-
chilled cucumber-yogurt soup, golden raisins, dill and
Persian cucumbers

That sounds delicious but it tastes even better. It was a creamy consistency that would put a reasonably good coating on the back of a spoon as it lazily dripped off. The yogurt provided a nice acidity that balanced the mellowness of the sweet cucumber flavor and the raisins were an amazingly bright treat. This was good. Real good and it left me wanting more. But I had to move on to the other dishes I ordered. The swordfish kabob was next. I don’t know how anyone could consider that they’ve had Middle Eastern food until they’ve eaten some sort of Kabob (meaning ‘skewered’). I mean, I’m no authority on Middle Eastern cuisine –I ate mostly Army issued MRE’s during the Gulf War- but the Kabob seems so quintessential to Middle Eastern fare. This was also terrific. It’s so easy to make a piece of swordfish dry. I know this from experience. This was perfect and moist with a second to none crust on the grilled surface.

Lastly I had these teeny-tiny little sausages. Again best described from the menu:

housemade lamb and beef sausages served with
garlic, pine nuts and topped with micro cilantro

After the sausages were gone, there were a few tablespoons of a garlic, pine nut and cilantro broth that was just heaven. After dinner was a nice port followed by a brisk walk. Honestly, I could have eaten more, but gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins so I stopped right there. I have to admit that Zaytinya should be on anyone’s radar that visits Washington DC.

Thursday was a new treat. The weather was perfect. When I popped up from the metro stop at Union Station heading back to my family’s place on Capitol Hill, I noticed a warm sweet smelling breeze that was quite inviting for a stroll. I recalled eating at an Italian restaurant that was nestled in a restaurant district not far from Eastern Market, which is just at the comfortable edge of walking distance. I was betting that I could find a place down there that was exciting so after a quick cocktail at the house, off I went. The only trips I’ve had to the Market area were by car when someone else was driving so I wasn’t 100% sure of myself but it turned out to be a pretty straight shot down 7th Street. Eastern Market cropped up at the end of the 19th century in response to the growth happening on Capitol Hill at the time. Around it, shops and restaurants have flourished and today its rich tradition of providing local meats and produce continues. Just beyond the metro stop on 8th Street, there are several fine places to eat but I saw one I had recently been told about. So into the Belga Café I went.

The Belga Café serves up Belgian cuisine which, frankly, does not stir up any thoughts of fine dining. Of course, I immediately think of great beer but I can’t think of one stunning Belgian dish. I visited Belgium a few years ago and remembered the food to be just OK (even though the sidewalk cafes were spectacular). I obviously did not eat at a restaurant owned by Bart M. Vandaele while I was there. This guy has cooked for the likes of the entire Capitol Hill crowd after moving to the states and the political celebrity list is long. I noticed him walking about the restaurant talking to his guests. That’s not something you see done much. I was impressed. And if you think this owner’s hands on approach to service is cool, you should taste his food. I traveled back to the cold soup. If the night before was cucumber, this night was Avocado. It had a somewhat similar consistency to the cucumber soup but the flavor of Avocado and Cilantro powered through. The perfectly seasoned saltiness was dreamy. I loved it and again, needed more. Next was a Hanger steak that was made in a sort of an Au Poivre fashion. Au Poivre just means with pepper in French. So the steak came in 3 generous medallions coated in a dark pepper sauce. If you scroll way down to the Stonington Borough excerpt, you can find a lovely photo I took of the Hanger steak in Connecticut a few weeks ago. This will give you an idea of what a hanger steak cut looks like. Hearty, buttery, peppery- Delicious!! Belgian steak is typically served with wonderfully crisp potato fries and Mayonnaise (instead of ketsup). A nice touch.

Stepping back onto 8th Street, I was pleased. All of the cafés were still abuzz with the young and trendy Capitol Hill crowd. While I’m a t-shirt and flip flops sorta guy (although I enjoy dressing up occasionally), there’s something refreshing about seeing young men in their late 20’s and early 30’s wearing ties and suit coats. Their young lady guests hold heads high and are perfectly put together –classy. I felt as if I was dining with the future leaders of the free world.

As pleasant and welcome as the two previous evenings had been, Friday morning was just as melancholy. As I walked in the predawn rain to Union Station for a cab to the airport, I realized that my business in DC has come to a close for now and my family there is actively trying to move back to Arizona. That means this may have been my last trip for a while to this fantastic city. Well, I do plan to go back and I’ll just have to use my hiatus to explore and write about new experiences. For now, a short airplane ride back to the land of the flip flop will do.

I should have a fair amount to write about next week. I’m headed off later today for an Orlando weekend. Olivia turns 4 on Monday and she’s at the “everything princesses” age. Disney here we come. Then off to Rhode Island yet again for the work week followed by Olivia’s birthday party next week where I will be the grill master of the dogs and the sliders. Too fun. Bye for now.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Don’t fear the crepe. It’s a lot like a light pancake except it feels more special. I enjoy making them because they are so versatile. Savory or sweet, breakfast, lunch or dinner, these thin airy discs can be filled with almost any type ingredient. Also, for reasons that escape me, the crepe makes people think you pulled out all the stops. Frankly, I can cook breakfast crepes and have the kitchen cleaned up rather quickly (unlike most of my kitchen endeavors).

So, in honor of the mother to my beautiful daughter, Olivia, this is Lisa’s Mother’s day breakfast. If you’ve read other posts you might know that Lisa is quite the picky eater and she liked what I made this morning so I high five the blogging community and shout… YES!!! Please enjoy.

Crepes with Orange-Bourbon-Butter syrup

  • Crepes

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup milk
    1/2 cup water
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons butter, melted
    ½ tsp vanilla
    1 tsp sugar
    1 tsp orange zest

    In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs. Gradually add in the milk and water, stirring to combine. Add the rest of the ingredients; beat until smooth.
    Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.
    Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side. Serve hot.

  • Sauce

  • 4 tbsp butter
    ¼ cup bourbon
    1 orange sliced
    ¼ cup water
    ¼ cup honey
    1 tsp orange zest

    In a medium saucepan melt butter. Add rest of ingredients except honey. Reduce over medium heat for 7-8 minutes.
    Add honey and cook another 5 minutes or until a slightly surup consistency is observed.
    Strain and discard the solids.
    Drizzle orange bourbon butter sauce over crepes and serve

    Saturday, May 10, 2008

    A Tale of Two Cities

    I hope the owner of the Dickens copyrights doesn’t sue me. After all, I make a fortune on this blog, right? On to my story:

    A beer at the beach

    Finding a new place dine is exciting. I enjoy opening a menu for the first time and perusing the creative resume of the author. Sometimes serious, often whimsical, it’s as entertaining to me as anything else I could read. Second to this enjoyment is sharing my discovery with friends and loved ones. So this week I ate at two places in two cities that I have been to frequently. They are very different from each other in almost every way. One is a breakfast joint; the other a beach bar. One is on a quiet street well off the beaten path in Connecticut and the other in the center of happenings on a popular Florida beach.

    What a great beach bar

    Sunset at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill

    I’ll begin in Chronologic order. Frenchy's Rockaway Grill has been one of my favorite places to go in the Tampa Bay area for the past decade or so. The 90 minute wait is a clue that I am not alone in this feeling and it is the only restaurant to date where I’m willing to wait that long to eat a meal. From the moment you step into the sandy, wooden paneled interior on your way to the patio overlooking spectacular Clearwater Beach sunsets, you can’t help but feel that THIS is what a Florida beach bar should be like. Rockaway presents no audaciousness and nothing fancy. Plastic patio furniture that jiggles when you try to use a knife sets the tone. The just-old-enough-to-serve-alcohol wait staff sport bright colored T-shirts, suntans and necklaces made of shells (I was once one of those teenagers). I’m sure the location of this place alone would keep the bar busy but then add great food and live music and WOW… what a winner!!

    The only way to get fresher fish straight from the Gulf of Mexico would be to go catch it yourself. Frenchy owns a fleet of fishing boats and catches his own local seafood. No middle man and never frozen, the local prize fish is Grouper. It’s a hearty, thick filleted fish that holds up well in many cooking environments. A trip to Florida without trying Grouper would be like going to a Jimmy Buffet concert and not hearing Margaritaville. Frenchy makes a memorable Grouper Sandwich and you can get it several ways. Blackened is my favorite but grilled or fried are also tasty options.

    My menu favorites would be the “She Crab Soup” and the “Fish Tacos”. The soup (which will add an inch to your waste just by looking at it) is, by far, the most stunning combination of rich cream, butter and crab that I could possibly dream of. The tacos are served on flour tortillas with grilled or blackened (your choice) Amberjack and Grouper topped with typical taco vegetation and cheese. There are lime wedges and salsa on the side to waken the couple of taste buds who slept through the blackened fish.

    Yummy fish tacos

    This week, I had the oysters on the half shell and the tacos. I could not have been more pleased. My 4 year old daughter, Olivia, munched on the saltines served with the oysters. Her hand quickly rises into the stop-right-there position and she offers up a quick “no thanks” when presented with the opportunity to eat an oyster. I believe I have described her strict peanut butter and jelly and all things sweet diet. She’s doing a wonderful job sticking to it although she occasionally slips up and allows a green bean or two in.

    Olivia declines the raw oysters in favor of the crackers
    Next, we move on to food venue #2. A breakfast and lunch place, Somewhere in Time would be the antithesis of Rockaway. While only 5 minutes from Interstate 95 in Old Mystic, Connecticut, this place feels very isolated. It shares a store front with just a few businesses, has a kitchen smaller than my own and seats about the same number of folks I plan on having at Olivia’s 4th birthday party later this month (that’s metaphor for –not many). This week, while in Mystic on business, I took some of my colleagues to this restaurant. I have been there several times and I find their breakfasts to be mouthwatering and delightful. They have a broad omelet menu and use unique combinations of meats, cheeses and other mouthwatering tid-bits to produce quite the variety. Their home fries are a specialty as well. Cut into small cubes, they are fried perfectly crisp on all sides and have a spicy kick. I have not tasted any quite like these but I believe there was a hint of smoked paprika that accompanied said kick.

    Breakfast in New England at Somewhere in Time

    Brian and I each had omelets while Darwin had whole grain Blueberry pancakes. I was perusing the menu (lovingly) when Brian ordered so I missed what he had. I later asked and he replied, “The garbage omelet.” I assume he meant it had everything on it because he ate it as if his next stop was the Lethal Injection chamber. We both commented on how fantastic the potatoes were and Darwin enjoyed his pancakes. My Omelet was stuffed with a Portuguese sausage called Linguica, roasted red peppers, slice tomatoes and pepper jack cheese. It was straight from Omelet heaven (I know that place exists and it’s very close to Anything-with-egg-in-it-is-wonderful-ville).

    Remnants of my delicious omelet

    I find it quite gratifying when places I enjoy are enjoyed by others. It’s sort of a validating feeling. Darwin and Brian both agreed that Somewhere in Time was a small gem that I had stumbled across. Interestingly enough, Lisa isn’t horribly fond of the food at Frenchy’s (no knock on Frenchy’s- Lisa just is a picky eater who doesn’t care for seafood) but she loves the atmosphere and she goes for that. We’ve been together for nine years and she just tells me this. Duuuhhhhh. I should’ve known. She did, however, like the breakfast at Somewhere in Time when we vacationed up there last year.

    It’s an odd sort of curiosity to me how two towns have such different styles yet are equally as compelling to me. Both feature fantastic choices on their menus but geography divides the tastes. I find it glorious that I enjoy both (and many others).

    On to this week’s recipe. I have no real wisdom from this article to associate with this recipe other than when I made this for the 1st time, it was delicious. I did not cook this week and I went searching through my queue of printed original recipes for an offering. I settled on the Shrimp and Grits because I just spoke of both seafood and breakfast. Shrimp and Grits was the closest thing in my arsenal but it really has nothing to do with either Rockaway or Somewhere in Time. Still, if you make this, you will not be disappointed (unless you are allergic to shellfish –then we have a problem. Please scroll back to the meatloaf recipe from late last month).

    Twisted Shrimp and Grits

    ¼- ½ pound chopped Pancetta
    2 ½ cups shrimp stock (see below)
    1 cup quick grits
    ½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter divided
    2 tbsp chopped parsley
    2 tbsp chopped chives
    ¼ tsp Cayenne pepper (or to desired heat)
    Salt and pepper to taste
    1 lb shrimp peeled and de-veined (1 ½ lb if you use head on shrimp)
    2 tbsp+ 1 tsp olive oil divided
    Juice of 1 lemon

    For the shrimp stock:

    Once the shrimp are peeled, add peels (and heads if you bought head on) to 3 ½ cups cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to 2 ½ cups (about 7 minutes). Strain and reserve liquid.


    In the same pot used for shrimp stock, sauté the Pancetta until Pancetta crisps. Drain most of the fat leaving just a bit. To the Pancetta add stock, grits and 1tbsp butter. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to low. Season with Cayenne pepper. Cook an additional 3 minutes.

    In sauté pan, melt 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. Add shrimp. Cook on medium heat until pink (approximately 2 minutes per side). Squeeze lemon over shrimp just after turning. Remove from heat and set aside.

    To plate, place a good ladelful strategically placed on plate. Garnish with Shrimp. Sprinkle with Chives and Parsley drizzle 1 teaspoon Olive Oil and serve.

    Saturday, May 3, 2008

    Computers, Cell Phones and Sinking Boats. Let’s celebrate with Lamb over Blue Cheese and Almond Risotto

    I was told by someone recently that my writing was bright and fun. If I’m not careful, I could ruin that image (if you count that as an image). I had an interesting week, to say the least. My Blackberry has been trying to die for a couple of weeks and it has finally succeeded. My laptop’s hard drive with 5 years worth of personal and professional data on it also went belly up. I lost my thumb drive with a couple of year’s worth of info on it AND, just as a capper, my boat sank. The irony of the boat sinking was that Lisa and I are moving into our house on Lake Tarpon where we really planned on using it more. We’ve been keeping the boat there in anticipation of just tooling out whenever we wanted. In fact, we’ve headed over there several times just in the past few weeks to ride around the lake. It’s really a breathtaking site with the Osprey fishing, Herons and other cranes exploring the Cat Tails near shore, Gators lurking in the shadows and the occasional Bald Eagle soaring above. I love sunset cruises.

    Sunset Over Lake Tarpon

    Already somewhat frustrated with the computer and cell phone thing, Lisa called me in Washington DC (where I was working this week) to deliver the boat news. Apparently the lawn folks had found it underwater and called her. She was practically in tears when we spoke and I feel horribly guilty when something happens and I’m traveling. I felt similarly bad when the hot water heater died. Unfortunately, there is little I can do from a thousand miles away.

    Driving across the lake just a few days before her "Titanic"

    There are a couple of bright spots in the story though. My neighbors (I will put my neighbors up against ANYONE else’s neighbors as the BEST neighbors on the planet… PERIOD!!!!) spent several hours getting the boat out of the water and back to my house via trailer. How cool is that. I have to cook for them soon. It’s my only gift. Secondly, it is also fairly well insured. Will I get away with zero cost for replacement? No, but it’s probably do-able. So, while I am a bit bummed over the whole thing, it’s best to stay positive. There is little else to do and things are not a total loss.

    So, I spent the week in our nation’s capital. I have to admit, I’m an urbanite, for sure. The more concrete the better. The bustle and the energy of the city just mesmerize me. I like the idea of so many experiences being in walking distance. I could spend several writings just describing Eastern Market (still recovering from last year’s devastating fire) or the open air fish market on the waterfront (some of the best damned oysters I’ve tasted). While I appreciate the quiet, peaceful existence of the rural lifestyle, I can’t imagine being too far from city convenience.

    I have family and business in Washington DC so I go there often. My mom and step-father live a few blocks from Union Station. The dining potential in DC is quite broad. There is a meal for every taste and budget. You can hob knob with the elite at the likes of Old Ebbitt Grill or Kinkead's or you can grab a burger made some 21 different ways at Lindy’s Red Lion (I ate there for the 1st time 23 years ago- still fantastic).

    This week, I went to a wonderful little French restaurant that was new to me called Bistro Bis (pronounced “BEE”). Since it sits on Capitol Hill a short walk from the capitol building and adjacent offices, it is a bit pretentious. I had no idea in my University of Chicago Polo and shorts that I’d feel a bit underdressed until I got there. Still, I held my head up and disregarded the occasional stare as we were led to our table. The meal was a memorable Sausage Stuffed Quail that I could not pronounce in French. I therefore just pointed to the menu. That was quite delicious. For an appetizer I had Scallop Quenelles. They were sort of oval shaped as if fashoined with 2 large spoons. I found them a bit Omlette-esque in taste with Scallops being dominant. I enjoyed them. The sommelier kept returning to fill our wine glasses from the decanter. Earlier he had suggested that our wine selection be allowed to “breath”. I chuckle as I write because while I LOVE good food, cheap or expensive, French Fries to Fois Gras, things like “letting wine breath” are lost on my palette. It just sounds so… uh… fake. But hey, that’s just me, right? Still, the meal was fantastic, company was great and the wine was well ventilated (thank goodness).

    I think the culinary highlight for me this week was an evening of collaberative cooking between my mother and I. She did a rack of lamb and I did a Risotto based on what I found in her kitchen. The key to Risotto is the constant stirring and slow addition of the liquid. The end result was heavenly, to say the least. The blue cheese in the Risotto was velvety and rich with that slight tang that can only be found in perfect blue cheese. Toasted almonds added a suprisingly pleasant crunch for me, but my mother picked them out. Step-dad loved them too. As far as the lamb goes, I would have seared it off first but my mother did not. She was right. The rub for the lamb would have been too damaged in the searing process I think. It was unbelievably delicious with just the right balance of doneness, tenderness and flavor. Perfecto!!

    So on with the recipe:

    Garlic and Mint Rubbed Lamb with Blue Cheese and Almond Risotto (serves 4)


    2 Tbsp Butter divided
    1 Tbsp Olive Oil
    1 cup Risotto Rice (Arborio)
    2-3 cups Chicken Broth divided
    2 Shallots sliced thin
    3 Garlic cloves chopped
    2/3 cup Blue Cheese
    ½ cup Almonds
    Salt and Pepper to taste

    We’re going for a standard Risotto preparation here. Begin by melting 1 Tbsp butter in the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the rice and toss to coat. Allow rice to toast stirring frequently (almost constantly). I like to season with salt and pepper at this point. Once fragrant and slightly toasted, about 5-6 minutes, add shallots and garlic. Stir another couple of minutes and reduce heat if necessary to prevent any burning. Now begin adding broth. Start with 2 ladle fulls and stir constantly until all liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process of slowly adding liquid and stirring until rice is tender (about 20 minutes). Add the blue cheese and stir till melted. In a separate pan, melt the 2nd Tbsp of butter over medium heat and add the almonds. Stir almonds around to coat and toast for 4-5 minutes just until fragrant. Add almonds to Risotto. Check your seasoning and consistency. Feel free to add more liquid if it’s not creamy enough for you or if the rice is a little more al dente than you prefer. As long as you add just a little at a time, you should be fine.

    Lamb (Based on observing my mother’s prep and thinking of how I’d do it myself)

    After cooking, let it rest 10 minutes

    2 racks of well trimmed Lamb Chops (I’m guessing 1 ½ - 2 lbs)
    6 Garlic cloves very finely chopped
    ¼ cup chopped Mint
    2-3 Tbsp Olive Oil
    Juice of ½ Lemon
    Salt and Pepper to taste

    Salt and pepper the lamb. Combine the garlic, mint, lemon and olive oil in a bowl. Rub over the lamb and place on a lined baking sheet. Into a 425 degree oven for approximately 8-10 minutes. Turn over and cook another 8-10 minutes then check the temperature. We thought 130 degrees was perfect but we like rare. 145 degrees for medium if you prefer.

    Once you remove the lamb from the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes (at least) before slicing. The temperature will rise another few degrees in the process.

    To plate (I always like plating if I can), place a good scoop of the risotto in the center and then arrange 3-4 individual chops around that. A healthy sprinkling of finely chopped green onion or parsley would be spectacular. We just didn’t have any.

    I really hope someone tries this and gives me a little feedback because we really enjoyed it. The Risotto was purely concocted at last minute and the lamb was my mom’s favorite lamb prep.