Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On The Coast of Somewhere Beautiful

Once a year in August, we join the hordes of travelers for a summer trek to Cape Cod.  When you’re born in New England, they make you sign a paper that says travel to the Cape is mandatory.  In preparation for the trip, I obsess about packing and why I can’t ever find the bag with the beach shoes in it.  But most importantly, I begin to plan out the meals that we will cook.  Yes, cook.  On vacation.  Since our family is in different directions during the week, it’s a real treat to hunker in and cook a meal where everyone sits together at the same table.   We do eat out occasionally and in the process, have found some of the best off-the-radar-no-award-winning-signs-here clam chowder, lobster rolls and ice cream around.  Not to mention, Portuguese glutton-fest in Provincetown. 

It’s breakfast that I look forward to every day.  We settle in, head to the nearest markets for Portuguese muffins, linguica, eggs, onions and spices.  Add to that the 6 or so varieties of potatoes I’ve brought from the local CSA, locally roasted coffee and let the fun begin! 

In the quiet of the morning, I relish waking up to start chopping potatoes and onions for the hash browns, brewing fresh coffee all while enjoying a cool ocean breeze.   At home, meals are never plated, but that’s not the case on vacation.  Fluffy eggs scrambled with linguica are artfully arranged alongside potatoes, muffins and fresh fruit on REAL plates. 
Boy, things are good until the day after vacation ends and we find ourselves back to the work routine; staring at cereal boxes and wondering who the hell is going to make breakfast.  *Sigh*

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Come Ride with Me to the Distant Shore

Recently on a gorgeous Saturday night, I hosted a few ladies over for cocktails and dinner. My sister insisted we make “Ambrosia” burgers, which she enjoyed on a trip to Nepenthe in Big Sur, California. Judging from the photos, I am hard-pressed to find a more beautiful spot to enjoy anything, let alone the perfect burger. Yeah, you heard me. Perfect. She grilled them up, and was quick to point out that you must follow the recipe to the letter. Don’t get all fancy on yourself and start tinkering. (which, by the way, it irks me to read some people’s reviews of recipes. They trash the recipe and then follow with “so I added 3 cans of cheddar cheese soup and smothered it with crushed potato chips, THEN it was edible”; but I digress) And DO not ruin them by flattening with the spatula and flipping them 12 times. Don’t you have better things to do?

The folks at Nepenthe have posted the recipe and the instructions for their simple masterpiece in the link below.  I encourage you to use the freshest ground beef possible, it is well worth it! Keeping with the California theme, the burgers were paired with Carmody McKnight “Motif” Cheval Rouge. I think we have a new desert island meal!

Nepenthe - Ambrosia Burger

Carmody McKnight

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'll stop the world and melt with you

Have you ever been chatting with a friend about your hot new sandals, and three seconds later, you find out they don’t like ice cream? WHOA. DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. Then you spend the rest of the conversation wondering how you overlooked such an obvious character flaw?

Growing up in the Cheeseburger family, there was always a half gallon of something in the freezer, usually Dad’s favorite flavor that no one else liked. And what about the excitement of going to Grandma’s house; where she stocked EVERYONE’s favorite AND you had your choice of cones?

Sure, ice cream is okay during the winter. But as thoughts turn to summer, it’s time for the quintessential ice cream experience. You know what I am talking about. Maybe it starts out with a drive to a local farm. You read the chalkboard of the day’s offerings and stroll up to the tiny screened window, where a young person takes your order. A minute later, the little trap door opens and they hand out your cup or cone. You fork over $20 (after all, you only ordered the small cone) before grabbing 35 napkins from the dispenser. Then you start chowing before the ice cream starts melting all over your white linen shirt. Paradise!

The Cheeseburger’s tour o' ice cream has started for 2011, has yours? What’s your flavor?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The New England Emporium Eatery & Marketplace - Middletown, CT

My brunch crew and I decided to brave the bitter cold today to check out The New England Emporium Eatery and Marketplace, located in the Main Street Market in Middletown. The space previously housed a natural foods market and last year underwent an extensive renovation. The owners did a wonderful job of creating a warm, inviting place using repurposed woods and fixtures. Local artwork adorns the walls; along with some unique touches, such as beautiful stained glass canopy. As we walked in, we couldn’t help browse the selection of New England made foods and products. Avery’s sodas, Fascia’s chocolates, Boxed Goodes spice blends, just to name a few. A perfect place to put together a gift basket for an out of town visitor! In the corner is a freezer stocked with prepared foods by well known Jordan Caterers.

The menu features a creative selection of soups, sandwiches, salads and crepes. In addition to the regular menu, you can create your own sandwiches and salads, just grab one of the little clipboards at the counter and use your imagination. Everything is available for eat-in or takeout, and breakfast is served all day. Hey, did I mention crepes? When do we eat? After making our choices, we stepped up to the counter to order. Our friendly server took our order and gave us a number. We grabbed our mugs of coffee and decided on a table in front of the window. Now, I have said this before, but coffee is an afterthought at a lot of restaurants. Not here. The French Roast was smooth and rich; I know this because I quickly consumed two cups. There were several types and flavors of coffee to choose from, roasted specially for them.

As we chatted, I noticed families with small children, students, groups of friends all enjoying a slow-paced Sunday morning. Our orders arrived, each with a side dish of baby hash browns. The Parisien, on the “savory crepe” menu, is a buckwheat crepe filled with ham and Swiss; with a sunny side-up egg on top. The hash browns were well-seasoned, golden and crispy. The egg was cooked just right, and the flavors of ham and nutty cheese were a compliment to the crepe. Got a sweet tooth? Try one of the “sweet crepes”; perhaps the Bellini, filled with peach preserves and brie.

Service is very attentive and welcoming. We were able to soak up the vibe and enjoy breakfast without being rushed. The Emporium seems to be a perfect fit for Main Street and a complement to the other businesses in that building. Area cities take note!

The New England Emporium

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chef's Dog House - Newington, CT

Last weekend when most people were packing the gyms and clogging up the health food store aisles, I was thinking about hot dogs. So we headed straight to Chef's Dog House, located in the 7 Eleven Plaza on Willard Avenue. Judging by the amount of customers, it appears Chef's has a loyal following. The interior is sparse and clean, with plenty of tables and the state's largest condiment bar to dress up your dog. The menu also includes some interesting specialty dogs, as well as burgers, sandwiches and soups. We decided to try a couple dogs with kraut, a hamburger and onion rings. As we waited, a couple of guys near us dove into their Junkyard Dogs; wrapped in bacon, topped with chili, cheese and onions. Yes AND Please!

They called out our order and we headed over to the condiment bar. A simple dressing of kraut was all we needed for this trip, as the all-beef hot dog was the star of the show. I thought it was tasty, with the right amount of snap, but a little on the greasy side. HOWEVER, they serve them on grilled buttered buns and that is the ONLY way to properly enjoy a hot dog. The burger was perfectly cooked, served on a soft white bun. The onion rings were a standout, and some of the best I've had in the area. Nice thick slices of onion in a crunchy batter that held up nicely. I despise the mounds of shoestring onions that are so popular, and was pleased that someone still knows how to kick it old school.

Overall, Chef's serves up solid grub in a pleasant atmosphere. Check it out when you're looking for a little break from your New Year's resolutions.

Chef's Dog House
337 Willard Avenue
Newington, CT 06111

Sunday, October 31, 2010

For No Mere Mortal Can Resist...

A friend of mine, who is a very talented baker, told me I should try to make homemade donuts. Because I have made a career of avoiding baking and cooking with hot oil; I told her to just open a damn bakery and then we’ll discuss donuts. She muttered something under her breath and a fist fight ensued.

I decided that Halloween morning was the perfect time to try the donut experiment. Why not start AND end the day with treats? That’s what I’m talking about! I gathered my ingredients and necessary equipment, riddled with anxiety over having to deal with hot oil. Well, after all was said and done and I sat down to a plate of warm, chewy donuts; my fears vanished and a monster was born. An exuberant, sugary “when-we-can-do this-again” monster. Here's the recipe I used:

1 8-count package of Pillsbury biscuit dough

Vegetable Oil

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Pour enough oil in saucepan to cover two inches; heat on medium-high. While oil is heating up, lay each biscuit on cookie sheet or large plate. Lightly flatten each one with your hand. Using a 1 inch round cookie cutter, cut a hole in each one. Add 3 or 4 donuts to the oil and cook each side for 1 minute, they will turn golden brown. Remove the donuts from the pan with a slotted spoon and lay on paper towels to absorb the oil. Repeat and cook the remaining donuts and holes. Add the cinnamon sugar to a large bowl or paper bag. Toss the donuts in the mixture and ENJOY. They’re just as fun to make as they are to eat.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Me and Mario Down By The Schoolyard

If you’ve spent any time on the Cheeseburger fan page, you know that I had been eagerly anticipating the opening of Eataly, the 50,000 square foot Italian food mecca in New York City. The first U.S. location, Eataly was brought to you courtesy of Bastianich & Co.

Eataly is broken up into various sections, each with its own market and restaurant. The front area starts with a Lavazza coffee bar and leads into a gelato bar. You can buy chocolates and various confections, sit and enjoy the people watching and an espresso. As you move toward the back, the Panini bar meets the cheese and cured meats area. This is the point you think you've just found heaven but you're only at heaven's summer home. There's something larger and even more grand awaiting you.

My eyes got huge while perusing the seafood, beef, pasta, vegetable and bakery areas. Oh my god, there’s even a wine bar. Having heard about their in-house vegetable butcher, we decided to have lunch at Le Verdure. The nice thing about dining in is that you have to check in at a kiosk and from there you are seated. After ordering a bottle of wine, we ordered the Zuppa di verdure, raw vegetable salad and a combination plate containing a rice salad, soup and caponata. All beautifully presented, colorful and what flavors! Oh, how far we've come, from eating grey canned green beans to perfectly cooked, bright vegetable soup! Or how about heirloom tomatoes, lightly dressed in a lemon citronette? Clearly, the vegetable butcher means business.

After lunch, we shopped each area; stopping for salumi, porchetta, fine Italian chocolates, pasta sauce and baby vegetables. Dried pasta for miles, beautiful packages of candies, aged vinegars, Italian beers. There's no end to the fun you could have and spend a pretty penny in the process. After chatting with a manager who told us about La Scuola, led by Dean Lidia Bastianich, plans were made to check out an upcoming cooking class. A rooftop beer garden is also in the works, making Eataly an all encompassing culinary mecca. 

A fun highlight of the trip was seeing Mr. "4 stars" Batali in the store when we arrived. He spotted me across the room, complimented me on the new leggings and insisted on cooking a private lunch. If you ask him about it, you get a completely different version of the story. Whatever Mario.

Eataly NYC