Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spinach-Artichoke Turkey Burgers with Roasted Rosemary Dijon Red Potatoes

Whoa that was a mouthful! And so was this meal. This was my first attempt at turkey burgers. I was inspired by the flavors of spinach and artichoke dip as well as a recipe for Artichoke Stuffed Turkey Burgers on the Good Things Catered blog . I decided to create a turkey burger that tasted like artichoke and spinach dip. It worked out perfectly! My husband, I have to say, was a bit skeptical about turkey burgers, being a die-hard red meat burger eater. But even he couldn't deny these tasty morsels. They stayed so juicy too, thanks to the artichokes and spinach. I was really afraid I was going to dry them out worrying about cooking them through but they turned out so juicy. I topped them off with ooey gooey dill havarti cheese and grilled sweet onions.
They were truly some of the best burgers we've ever had.
I served them up with some roasted red potatoes tossed with a dijon rosemary glaze.
Simple and delicious and a much better choice than the frozen french fries I was going to serve. Here are the recipes...enjoy!!

Spinach-Artichoke Turkey Burgers
1 lb ground turkey
1 10oz box of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained of water
4 artichoke hearts quartered
1 tablespoon of chopped oregano
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon plus more for sprinkling of your favorite hamburger seasoning (I used McCormick's Hamburger seasoning. Mrs. Dash is another good choice or McCormick's Montreal seasoning.)
salt and pepper
1 sweet onion, cut in slices for grilling
1 cup of dill havarti cheese, shredded (I found it too soft to slice with a cheese slicer. If you can find it in pre-sliced slices then go for it!)

Mix together the turkey meat, spinach, artichokes, oregano, garlic and hamburger seasoning. Season with salt and pepper and then divide the mixture into four equal patties (they will be quite large due to the artichokes). Then sprinkle the top of each patty lightly with more hamburger seasoning.
Preheat your grill and get ready to cook those babies up. Put your onions on one side of the grill and your burgers on the other. Depending on your grill temperature your burgers will need about 8 to 10 minutes per side so they are cooked through. The onions just need to be grilled until slight brown and softened.
Look at the juicy tangy artichoke poking out the side of Mr. Turkey Burger. He's so cute!
Finally throw a 1/4 cup of shredded havarti, or a slice per burger if you have 'em, and turn off the grill. Close the lid to allow the cheese to melt down and get all tasty and whatnot. Remove your hefty burgers from the grill, place on a toasted sesame seed roll and top with your grilled onions.
When you cut your burger in half you can marvel at all the spicy spinachy goodness going on inside. The creamy havarti pairs so nicely with the vinegary artichokes.

Roasted Rosemary Dijon Red Potatoes
4 medium-sized red potatoes
1/2 of an onion, sliced thinly
3 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut your potatoes in wedges, not too thick but not too thin. Toss them with your sliced onions in a baking dish. Mix together your rosemary, mustard and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and then toss the mixture with your potatoes and onions.
Bake the potatoes in the oven until tender and crispy, about 40 minutes. Remove and serve.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Roasted Peppers: A perfect food

So as I've said exhaustively in prior posts, considering ANYONE reads this daggone blog thing, I'm Italian. Being such, I grew up eating roasted peppers, salami, pepperoni, stuffed shells, homemade raviolis, lasagna, meatballs, olives and smelly cheeses. For crying out loud, my grandfather hung wheels of provolone cheese from his basement ceiling to age and dry them out. Pinky rings and paisans were second-nature to me - what do you mean your grandfather doesn't wear a pinky ring? That's just unnatural.
My great-uncles made homemade savory pies every Easter - these things weighed 15 pounds each, no joke! They were packed with eggs, provolone cheese, salami, ham and pepperoni all wrapped in a homemade butter-laden crust. They seriously would give the healthiest person a heartattack at first bite. Then there was my grandmother and the great-aunts. Ricotta cheesecakes, stufoli, butter cookies - any and every sweet you can imagine. As the stereotype would have it, there was never and is never a shortage of food in my family.
Considering this, one would think that I'd be pretty versed in making my own roasted peppers - the quintessential Italian food that personifies Italian cuisine's beautiful simplicity. Wrong! The first time I made them I swear I followed all the directions but the skins weren't peeling off easily. After a few more attempts though, I think I've finally perfected a roasted pepper technique and it doesn't even involve an oven - which to me is great because I prefer to work on the outdoor grill.

Gather whatever peppers you have, red, green, yellow, poblano - whatever floats your pepper boat. I had half a red, half a yellow and one poblano. Throw them on the grill over medium to high heat and let 'em burn.
We're talking charcoal burn here, singe those skins until they turn black and start shriveling and cracking. It's almost freeing to know that you can leave something on the grill that long and it's still going to be edible!
Once your peppers look like this:
remove them from the grill and transfer them to a bowl. Cover the bowl immediately with plastic wrap and let your peppers sit for at least an hour.
The heat will create condensation which will soften up the charred skins, allowing you to slip those babies off the peppers like a pair of panty hose. Don't attempt this though until your peppers have cooled completely - unless you have hands like my grandmother and my mother that can take the heat.
Notice the casings and seeds removed from the peppers.
When you're done skinning your slimy little newts, your left with a colorful batch of tender peppers.
At this point you can pour a little olive oil, salt and pepper over them if you'd like, along with some minced garlic. However I like to enjoy them au natural with a wedge of salty, sharp provolone cheese and thinly sliced spicy salami. It makes me feel like I'm back at my grandparents gold-flecked white formica kitchen table having an afternoon snack. Who needs Lunchables? I mean...really?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Apparently I've memed!

And no it's not a bodily function!
I saw this on the Tiny Kitchen Cooking Blog and thought it was a fun little thing to try out. Although, I've never heard the term "meme" before.
It's probably the slowest week at work right now since my boss, ie my dad, is on vacation so this little game helped pass about, ohhh 20-30 minutes since I had to look up a lot of things to figure out what the heck they were. Anyway, it really makes me realize how much more there is out there to learn about and eat! Copy and paste it yourself, have fun :)

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (I can't figure out to do this so instead I made them all caps)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results
5) added by other memers: italicize ones you'd like to try

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea (although I don't know what this is)
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. BRAWN OR HEAD CHEESE (NO WAY! It has the word head in it, nuff said!)
26. RAW SCOTCH BONNETT PEPPER (I've heard these are super hot - not mah thang!)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna calda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (I had in San Fran no less!)
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. OXTAIL (I'm not a huge fan of off the wall meats)
41. CURRIED GOAT (I'll pass)
42. WHOLE INSECTS (just not happening)
43. Phaal
44. GOAT'S MILK (I just don't really like to drink milk at all)
45. MALT WHISKEY (not a big liquor drinker, more wine and mixed drinks)
46. FUGU (this is potentially toxic so no)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer (I don't even know what the heck that is? Ok just googled it - it's homemade Indian cheese)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (Once and that was enough)
56. Spaetzle
57. DIRTY GIN MARTINI (No, vodka please. Gin tastes like Christmas tree water, or what I would imagine Christmas tree water to taste like - pine!)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (fries...good. cheese...good. sauce...goooood)
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. SWEETBREADS (aren't these brains?)
64. Currywurst
65. DURIAN (apparently it smells like stinky socks but tastes good...riggghhhtt)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost (I'll pretty much try any type of cheese)
75. ROADKILL (no but when I hit a deer some guy in a pickup truck stopped to pick the dang thing up to stew it up for supper - that's country livin' for ya right there!)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. HORSE (I just can't eat things I would keep as pets)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (I can't believe I've never had this)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. SNAKE (I would imagine this would be very chewy, no?)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ice Cream: The Cold War

Soooooo.....this was a pretty frustrating experience for me. I had a ton of gift cards to Williams-Sonoma from our wedding and since I got the KA mixer as a shower gift from my mom, I decided to buy the ice cream maker attachment from W&S. I had heard so many people rave about it's ease of use etc. and figured, what the hell - I'll give it a shot.

Fresh Vanilla Bean Peach Ice Cream
(I combined Alton Brown's recipe for Burned Peach Ice Cream and the Peach Ice cream recipe in my Better Homes & Garden cookbook and then made some adjustments to the instructions after the originally instructions failed me.)

2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Pinch kosher salt
4 cups of chopped fresh peaches

Combine all ingredients (including the bean and its pulp), except peaches, in a large saucepan and place over medium heat.
Bring the mixture to simmer, stir for about a minute. Remove from heat and strain into a lidded container. Cool mixture, then refrigerate mixture overnight to mellow flavors and texture.
Freeze mixture in ice cream freezer according to unit's instructions. The mixture will not freeze hard in the machine. Spoon the mixture back into a lidded container, add your chopped peaches, and harden in the freezer at least 1 hour before serving.

Ice Cream Issues
When I was little, we had one of those gigantic electric ice cream makers. The ice well was about 10 times the size of the tiny 2 quart ice cream container that sat inside. To make the ice cream you had to have plenty of rock salt on hand and plenty of patience as well. Which I've never had and which I especially never had as a 10-year-old. It would take a good 30 to 45 minutes for the ice cream to start forming from the batter and then we'd usually eat it that night. No one waited around for the ice cream to "ripen", so this step was completely new to me.

When I saw that the KA ice cream maker didn't require rock salt or it's own zip code to function, I knew it would be a much easier ordeal than the machine of my younger days. However, it still wasn't a smooth process - and I can't completely blame the machine.

I made my batter, kept my peaches aside in a separate bowl, stored my KA attachment in the freezer for nearly 24 hours and still had a meltdown - of both the ice cream and my patience.

See the ice cream started to set in the ice cream maker so then I put the peaches in, as the instructions dictated. It almost INSTANTLY melted! I felt so deflated. I waited, and waited. Watched the bowl turn round and round hoping, praying, screaming at it to get hard again, but to no avail. I had a soupy mess. I turned the machine off in defeat and returned the ice cream batter to the fridge and the KA mixer to the freezer.

I waited 48 hours before returning to the ice cream to try again - I wasn't giving up, but I needed some time to get over the frustration of it not working the first time before I possibly tried and failed again. Fortunately, I had success the second time around.
I strained my peaches out of the batter, poured the batter into the mixer and let it do it's thing. I didn't add the peaches again until right before I put the mixture into the freezer to ripen. Then came the taste test. Thankfully, it was very good and brought me back to those summer days on my back porch, listening to the ice cream monster churn away.

What I learned...
Of course, this was a good experience in the end because I learned a few things.
1. I keep my mixer attachment in the freezer at all times so it's at the coldest it can be, which is important for getting the ice cream to set.
2. I'm never adding any mix-ins to my ice cream until after it's finished churning. I don't care what the recipe says.
3. I have cliff notes! I bought David Leibowitz's book "The Perfect Scoop". He has some great tips and recipes.
So take shelter, there's a cold front coming! And it tastes chocolate chip!

Asian Salmon and Crunchy Noodle Salad

Usually every Sunday we try to get together with family for dinner. And it's usually my job to come up with the menu and prepare the food, with some help from my mom who usually takes care of the salad and accompanies me on the food shopping trip. Oh and she also normally always preheats the grill - an important job. Basically, she takes the duties my husband assumes during weeknight meals, well minus the salad making. He can make sandwiches and reservations. That's about it. But I don't complain because I love to cook and mostly other people in the kitchen tend to just get in the way and mess up the rhythym - well the rythym I think I have.

The good thing about being in charge of the menu is that I get to eat what I'm in the mood for - of course with some input from the other guests. This past Sunday I was craving Asian-style food. I came across these two recipes from one of my favorite Food Network Chefs, Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. The flavors sounded exactly what I was looking for and the recipes definitely delivered. Of course, I made a few small additions or substitions, but mostly stuck to the recipes. It made a great, light summery meal for a hot August evening. So give them a try and spend an evening in the Orient without even stepping out your front door!

Eli's Asian Salmon
Recipe from, Ina Garten
I eliminated the panko and instead of oven roasting, I grilled the fish. I also added a 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro.

2 1/4 pounds center-cut salmon fillet (1 1/2 inches thick)
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon toasted (dark) sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons chili paste
1/2 cup sliced scallions (2 scallions)
2 tablespoons minced garlic (8 large cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (Lisa's note: I used dried, 1 teaspoon, and it was fine)
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Line an 8 by 12-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Place the salmon in the pan.
In a mixing cup, combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, lemon juice, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, chili paste, scallions, garlic, and ginger.
Pour 1/3 of soy sauce mixture over the salmon fillet. Sprinkle the panko evenly over the fillet. Pour the rest of the soy sauce mixture evenly over the panko. Be sure to soak the panko completely and if any runs off, spoon back onto the salmon. Set aside for 15 minutes, leaving all the sauce in the pan.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Roast the salmon for 18 to 20 minutes, or for about 12 minutes per inch at the thickest part of the salmon. The internal temperature will be 120 degrees F on a meat thermometer when it's done. Remove from the oven, wrap tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Crunchy Noodle Salad
Recipe from, Ina Garten
I used whole wheat spaghetti and also did a 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and 1/2 pound of snow peas. I also added two cups of slightly steamed broccoli florets and a pint of grape tomatoes, halved.
I also used half of one red bell pepper and half of one yellow bell pepper to help add some more color. I also added 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro.
Kosher salt
1/2 pound thin spaghetti
1 pound sugar snap peas
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds, divided
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I only had natural peanut butter so I added about another teaspoon of honey to sweeten it up just a bit more)
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded, and thinly sliced
4 scallions (with and green parts), sliced diagonally
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring another large pot of salted water to a boil, add the sugar snap peas, return to a boil, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp tender. Lift the sugar snap peas from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in a bowl of ice water. Drain.

For the dressing, whisk together the vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, garlic, ginger, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds and peanut butter in a medium bowl.
Combine the spaghetti, sugar snap peas, peppers and scallions in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the spaghetti mixture.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and the parsley and toss together.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun....and Mexican Food!

At least this girl does! I know I've said it before but I love Mexican food. I think it's a woman thing. All my girlfriends love Mexican food too. In fact, I think that should have been the name of Cyndi Lauper's song,"Girls Just Wanna Have Mexican Food" because honestly what is more fun than gorging on warm chips and salsa while sipping salty margaritas and gossiping mercilessly with your gal pals??

My husband on the other hand, isn't the biggest fan of Mexican food. And this bodes true for some of my friends spouses as well. But I think since being with me, Daniel has definitely gotten more used to it and eats it more now than ever before. The funny part is, he's half-Brazilian and always teases me saying, "You know I'm Brazilian, not Mexican, right?," since I've dragged him into so many Mexican joints since we started dating.

Nonetheless, I love to serve Mexican at home because you can keep it healthy, fresh and easy - and you can drink as many margaritas as you want. This dish was inspired by a stuffed poblano peppers recipe I saw in a magazine years ago. I added a lot of elements though, including the cilantro cream, and made it my own. You can definitely keep this vegetarian too if you so desire - just eliminate the meat. Or you can add chopped cooked shrimp instead if you're not a ground beef fan. Hopefully it inspires you to come up with a variation all your own! Enjoy!

Open-Faced Poblano Peppers with Cilantro Cream
4 poblano peppers
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 pound ground beef
2 ears of corn, grilled and cut off the cob (or you can use a box of frozen corn)
1 15oz can black beans
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
juice of half a lime
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 cups of shredded hot pepper monterey jack cheese (or any variety you prefer)
salt and pepper

Once you've washed your poblano peppers, cut a slit down one of the seams to form a pocket. Then cut across that slit to form an X and split your peppers so they lay almost flat and open face. Put them aside for now, you don't want to grill those babies up until your filling mixture is nearly complete. Otherwise, you'll have cold peppers.
In a small skillet, brown your ground beef till completely cooked and then drain.
Set aside. In a larger skillet warm your olive oil over medium heat and throw in your tomatoes, onions, garlic and jalapeno peppers.
Now is a good time to start your poblanos on the grill. Simply lay the peppers on the hot grill grates and allow them to soften and char up - about 10-15 minutes over medium heat. They cook more evenly if laying nearly flat on the grill.
Once they are soft, remove them from the grill and set aside.
Meanwhile in your skillet, once your veggies start to expel some of their moisture into the pan and form a saucy consistency, add your spices and drained black beans to the mixture and stir.
Once the beans soften up a bit and start to absorb some of the liquid, throw in your beef, your cooked rice and your cooked corn.
Stir to warm everything and season with salt and pepper and squeeze your lime down over top of the dish.
Take the pan off the heat and add your green onions, stirring it into your filling.
Now you're ready to plate - but do so on an oven-ready dish because you want to throw your peppers under the broiler to melt the cheese. So start your broiler. Arrange a good helping of the filling on top of each open faced pepper and then sprinkle about a 1/2 cup of your shredded cheese down on top.
Place under the broil for 3 to 5 minutes just to melt your cheese. Once it's melted, remove and serve with a large dollop of your cilantro cream. It helps cut the heat from the poblanos and jalapenos.

For the cilantro cream:
juice of half a lime
3/4 cup lite sour cream
a large handful of fresh cilantro leaves
sea salt

Place all the ingredients in your blender and mix.
Season with salt and pepper and serve!

If you have a lot of leftover filling for any reason, you can easily make a Mexican meatloaf with it later in the week. Mix the filling with an egg or two, a handful of bread crumbs, form into a loaf and top with some jalapeno cheddar cheese slices and bake in the oven like you would a normal meatloaf. Top each piece with your cilantro cream and serve. See - very versatile!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Restaurant Review: Ristorante Tosca

So I seem to be on an Italian kick this week. Saturday we went to Cinghiale, Monday night we met friends at Teatro Goldoni for DC restaurant week and last night Daniel and I ventured out to Tosca, just the two of us, for a romantic, restaurant week dinner. Oh and then I made risotto on Sunday night!! It's not too obvious that I love Italian food - nah, no one can tell I'm sure.
Anyway, I'd been to Tosca on one other occasion a few years ago for my birthday. The food was, in a word, decadent. Rich pasta sauces, perfectly cooked meats and fish, an abundance of bread, creamy desserts. Tosca serves exemplary northern Italian cuisine and presents it in all its buttery, creamy, cheesy glory. There's no talk of low-fat here - and there's no shame over it either. Everything is fresh, homemade and, well, heavy - not that there's anything wrong with that though.
The most attractive thing about Tosca during restaurant week is they don't give you an undernourished "three option" menu (no offense to Teatro Goldoni - who meagerly offered a choice of one of two appetizers on a set menu, one of which was an eggplant and tomato popsicle served with basil gelatin, ahhhhh yeah that just sounds weird to me and not really very appetizing at all, and two choice of entrees, which were scallops and roasted baby pig - yeah, did I say odd cause it was, and NO choice of dessert, just one). Instead, at Tosca you can pick any two items on the menu and then a dessert from any of the ones they offer. Variety is not only the spice of life it is the best way to attract the most people during restaurant week. Teatro Goldoni was nearly empty - now I know why. Tosca, on the other hand, was turning over tables every half hour and bustling, as they well should be during this promotional week.
We had a reservation for 7 p.m. and were seated promptly when we arrived, which was a few minutes late thanks to that always predictable but never accounted for DC traffic. Our waiter pleasantly greeted us with what sounded like an Italian accent, explained the restaurant week deal and left us to ponder our choices and decide on a bottle of wine. The wine list was a bit daunting as most of the red wine choices are not less than $45 a bottle and many are ones I'd never heard of before. Fortunately, our waiter suggested a reasonably priced bottle that was very tasty and light.
In addition to the bread, they offer you a plate of marinated olives and thinly sliced sopressata. It was a nice way to start the meal, especially for me since I was starving after a flimsy lunch of pretzels and cheese. I was saving myself all day for the upcoming meal.
For an appetizer, you could choose from their list of starters or have a smaller portion of their pasta dishes. I chose the fried squash blossoms from the list of starters and my husband went with the veal and prosciutto ravioli. After getting my appetizer, which was beautifully presented, I wished I'd gone with a pasta instead. The squash blossoms were supposedly filled with mozzarella cheese and anchovies. I tasted nor saw either. Instead, they were quite greasy and battered a bit too heavily and tasted like, well, nothing. The ravioli were a much better choice. Thin, homemade pasta surrounded a tasty ground veal and prosciutto filling. They were topped with fresh shavings of parmigiano reggiano and a sage brown butter sauce. Woodsy, buttery and nutty all at the same time. If I could choose again, I'd have gone with the carrot papperdelle with rabbit ragu - it's apparently a specialty of the restaurant.
Dinner was fortunately much better than the squash blossoms. I opted for the pork tenderloin with a porcini mushroom crust, kale and brussel sprouts.
The pork was cooked perfectly at medium, leaving it juicy and tender. The porcini crust added a somewhat smoky flavor and the vegetables had been carefully appointed as well. I hate when you go to a restaurant and the vegetables are just boringly laid on the plate after being plainly boiled or steamed. The al dente brussel sprouts were fresh and paired with cherry tomatoes and buttered onions. The well-seasoned kale sat under the pork, slopping up it's natural juices to add to it's briny flavor. A very nice complement in all.
For Daniel, the eternal carnivore, he chose the New York strip steak with arugula and shaved parmigiano. Of course, both of us neglected to see the (add $10 for this item) note on the menu. But it was worth it.
The meat was grilled perfectly. A little rare for my taste, but my husband likes to hear it mooing so he was happy. A simple preparation was all the meat needed, as the salty parmigiano and spicy arugula came together to bring out the natural flavor of the steak. It was served with the tiniest little caramelized potatoes. They were coated in fragrant olive oil and perfumed with fresh rosemary. There's no better combination than rosemary potatoes and grilled steak.
Finally, came dessert. Now, I'm not a big restaurant dessert eater. When it comes to desserts, I like things simple - brownies with ice cream, homemade cookies. I practically hate cake, can't stand pudding, and won't really get excited by tarts and the like. I love fruit pies and good cheesecake too, but those are few and far between at restaurants. I'd rather have more real food and skip dessert. But this isn't an option for the restaurant week special so, while it's tough, I gird my loins and suck it up - I get and eat dessert.
We chose the chocolate semifreddo with lemon gelato and the strawberry panna cotta with mint sauce. As I said, none of the options really appealed but those were recommended so we went with them.
The semifreddo was very chocolaty and dense - almost like a frozen chocolate mousse. The best part of it was the cooling lemon gelato on top.
While it was good and not too sweet, on a normal visit I probably wouldn't order this again.
The panna cotta was even less impressive. I'm not a huge fan of mint, and neither is my husband, so the pool of mint syrup under the panna cotta was a turn off.
On top of that, I just don't like the texture of flans, panna cotta, creme brulee etc. so it wasn't my thing. My husband, who loves flan, also said it just wasn't that fabulous and didn't appreciate the strawberry flavor.
Despite the lackluster desserts, which may be more my problem than the restaurant's, the rest of the food was great. I wouldn't hesitate to return to Tosca - it's definitely an adventurous culinary experience. And I learned a new food fact as well! On many Italian menus, here and especially in Italy, you'll see "speck" listed as an ingredient. I always knew it was meat, similar to prosciutto, but never understood why they didn't just call it prosciutto. Apparently, it's not made in Italy so therefore it can't be called prosciutto so they call it speck. Go figure. I 'speck you just learned something too! :)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Peaches! We don't need no stinkin' peaches!

I certainly don't need any more at least! As mentioned in my post below, I went peach picking a few days ago at Larriland Farms and came home with a crate of peaches and nectarines too.
Here's my peach picking friend, Kiron, grabbing the peach tree by the balls, little joke there.
Anyway - what is a girl to do with all these peaches? Well, normally I would make peach pie. But this time I decided to be abnormal and make something different. I had so many peaches I wanted to make something that I could pack up nicely and give away to friends. After some searching around online and in my cookbooks, I found a recipe for Fresh Peach Muffins from Emeril Lagasse. I thought - perfect! I can make three dozen, give two and a half dozen away and keep the rest for breakfast for the hubs and myself. The muffins turned out pretty good however, the one thing I would add would be more peaches. There isn't enough peachy goodness in every single muffin bite. The dense batter is delicious though, tasting more like a poundcake than a traditional, airy breakfast muffin. Overall though, these were pretty successful and good alternative to the normal "peach" recipes. But like I said, next time I make them I will double the amount of peaches the recipe calls for. I also added two fresh vanilla beans to the batter - well the insides of the beans. I ordered a variety pack of Tahitian and bourbon vanilla beans online from the The Organic Vanilla Bean Company . I got these two packages of 20 bean pods for about $10, including shipping and handling.
They smell divine and added really nice vanilla flavor to the muffins. I also used them in some peach ice cream I made that I'll hopefully be blogging about tomorrow after a test taste tonight! So if you have vanilla bean pods, throw a few of those in as well.

Fresh Peach Muffins with a Pecan Crumb Topping
Emeril Lagasse, Food Network Website
2 cups finely chopped fresh or frozen peaches
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ground pecans
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons cold butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly Grease 24 (2 3/4-inch by 1 3/8-inch) muffin cups.
Place the peaches in a bowl and cover with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Mix thoroughly. Allow the peaches to sit for 1 hour.
Using an electric mixer, fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and remaining 3/4 cup of sugar until smooth and pale in color, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine 3 1/2 cups of the flour, baking powder, and salt. Remove the bowl from the mixer and alternately fold in the milk and flour mixture, being careful not to over mix. Fold in the peaches. Spoon 1/4 cup of the filling into each prepared muffin cup.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining flour, brown sugar, pecans, and cinnamon. Mix well. Add the butter. Using your hands, mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumb like mixture.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the crumb mixture over each muffin cup.
Place in the oven and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with butter.

Watch these muffins work it for the camera...
They're ready for their close-up. Come on - give me bold muffins!
Work it!! Work it!! You're in a bakery display case, make me want to buy you!
Muffins In Spaaaaace...don't these foil cups look like they are wearing space suits? No? Just me? Ok...
Open up to me muffins, show me what you're made of.

And I'm spent. And so was my executive chef apparently - totally exhausted after a long muffin shoot and a hot afternoon in front of the oven.