Thursday, December 31, 2009

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end...

Where the heck have I been lately?? After enduring another frantic holiday season and a computer crash, I emerge ready to start 2010!

Ten years ago, I was at a friend’s house drinking champagne in a tiara and pajamas; anxiously wondering if we would survive “Y2K”. Oh, what a difference a decade makes! I can honestly say the last ten years have been the best of my life so far, for many reasons. The explosion of our love of cooking and eating, being one of them. Chefs are now rock stars, the home cook has access to tools and foods like never before and kids are growing up on the Food Network. It’s an exciting time for a foodie.

As we all know and wish to forget; the last year has been a rough one for many people, including those in the restaurant business. Many restaurants have closed (RIP Restaurant Du Village) but there were those brave enough to start up new ones or even expand existing favorites (Cavey’s – new and improved with Andre still in the house!).

Now, I am not a resolution kind of girl. But I did have a chance to make a little bucket list for 2010:

Conquer the fear of baking (so many measurements! So scientific!)
Learn Thai cooking (above and beyond Pad Thai)
Make cheese (starting with ricotta)
Ditch the coffeemaker and dust off the French Press
Start a cookbook swap

I think that’s doable!

Goodbye 2009. Another year begins. May it be full of new journeys, mouthwatering adventures and gastronomic explorations!

Won’t you come along for the ride?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Arugula - West Hartford, CT

Last Saturday the Mr. decided to surprise his favorite Cheeseburger with dinner reservations at Arugula, a Mediterranean bistro located in West Hartford Center. Having been a longtime fan of the place, I was looking forward to our experience!

The thing that sets them apart from other places in the area is the intimate setting and cozy feel. I know some people may be put off by the cramped space, especially when it gets busy. I find Arugula to be very charming, a nice change of place from the “see to be seen” places nearby. Oh, and the food….

After placing our order for wine, we decided to start with the escargot. Served in a crock bathed in a garlic sauce with chunks of tomatoes, they were perfect. Not too chewy with a nice texture. We were served mini baguettes of delicious bread; which we immediately used to soak up the liquid. Euphoria quickly turned to depression when the last snail was consumed. *sigh*

The entrees change seasonally, although I am always pleased to see my favorite mushroom rosemary lasagna on the menu. On this particular night, I ordered the duck leg confit. It arrived with a side of crispy truffled potatoes. Other than garlic, I can’t think of a better way to dress up a potato. The duck had a wonderful crispy skin and tender meat underneath. The portion was perfect, and after polishing off my plate like a good girl, I was ready for dessert.

Desserts at Arugula are always a treat; and worth saving room for. I was feeling festive, and broke my self-imposed rule about NOT ordering flavored crème brulee. They were featuring peppermint white chocolate, which intrigued me. It arrived a tad too cold for my liking, with a nicely browned sugar crust. The peppermint and white chocolate complemented each other well, and added some holiday flair to our meal. The Mr. had a very generous portion of Buck’s vanilla ice cream and an espresso, both of which he enjoyed.

We never had a long wait for anything and our meal flowed along nicely. I have found the service to be consistently casual over the years, but it is in keeping with the relaxed vibe. Arugula continues to be a “hidden” gem, it reminds me of a place you might find in Greenwich Village. Try it sometime when you want a change of pace. or when you want to eat snails.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gonna ramble on, sing my song..

So, apparently it’s en vogue to eat pasta and bread in public again! Italian restaurants are opening up all over the place in our area and boy; was I excited to see that my favorite bakery has re-opened! Now located in Pine Meadow, Collinsville Baking Company offers some of the best baked goods around. But isn’t it always about the bread? They offer several varieties, my personal favorites being the olive ciabatta and the 6-grain. Warm, crusty, chewy…They need no accompaniment, but a little butter or olive oil never hurts! (BUTTER I SAID, back off with the margarine!) Seeing their ad reminded me of a funny story…

I was pregnant with Jr. and every morning I would stop at the bakery for a lemon-ginger scone and coffee. Christmas was approaching, so I placed my holiday order for blueberry pie (if you ever see it offered, try one!!). Well, Jr. decided to make her appearance a month early. When we got home from the hospital there was a message from the owner asking me if I had my baby because I hadn’t shown up to pick up my pie or partake in my daily scone-fest. Apparently, I had a bit of an addiction to baked goods and it was affecting the bottom line….

If you’re driving through New Hartford, do check them out. Bread is fantastic, as are the pastries. I am looking forward to visiting their new location and falling back into some old habits!

In other random news:

- looks like Wasa-bi in Simsbury is closed; the full dumpster in the parking lot being the obvious clue.

- stopped by Simsbury Deli for a sandwich. New friendly owners, sandwich was skimpy, but the potato salad was the best prepared stuff I’ve had in recent memory!

Over and out.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's time for play, It's a whipped cream day...

It’s Monday and what better way to celebrate than to indulge in a little dessert? That’s exactly what I was thinking tonight before I made dinner. Jr. and I decided to whip up an easy chocolate mousse, made with tofu. Try it sometime when you’re craving a little guilt-free pleasure!

12 oz. silken tofu, drained
¾ cup dark chocolate (pieces, chips, whatever is on hand)
½ cup warmed milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Add chocolate and splash of milk to bowl, melt in microwave. Stir until chocolate is smooth. (I melt it in 30 second increments, stirring after each time to ensure it doesn’t burn)

Add tofu, warmed milk, vanilla and chocolate to blender. Blend on medium or high until mousse is creamy. Pour into bowls, chill and serve. For an elegant dessert presentation, garnish with fresh raspberries/strawberries and sprig of mint.

ooo la la!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

She gets too hungry for dinner at eight....

After spending the afternoon putting up the Christmas decorations, we sat down to a hearty meal of short ribs that had been in the slow cooker all afternoon. It was the perfect way to spend a snowy evening!

Slow Cooker Short Ribs

3 lbs beef short ribs
1 large onion, sliced
¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable or olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
3 cups red wine
2 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

Creamy Polenta

1 cup cornmeal
2 ½ cups chicken broth
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup whipping cream

Combine flour, salt and pepper in shallow dish. Dredge ribs in the mixture, coating them on all sides.

Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high; add ribs and brown on all sides. (Approx. 4 minutes for each side)

Remove ribs from pan and put them in the slow cooker. Drain fat from skillet. Add wine and deglaze, scraping up any bits from the pan.

Pour wine over short ribs. Add beef broth, thyme, rosemary and garlic to slow cooker. Set on medium or high and cook until ribs are tender. (4-6 hours)

Once ribs are cooked, remove from slow cooker and keep warm. Skim fat from surface of broth mixture. In a small saucepan on high, add 3-4 cups along with corn starch. Cook until thickened, season if necessary. Remove from heat.

Bring chicken broth to a boil. Add polenta in small quantities, stirring frequently to avoid lumps. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, continuing to stir. Remove from heat; stir in cheese and cream until melted.

Add polenta to each plate, place 2-3 ribs over it and pour enough sauce to coat ribs.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Johnny Ad's - Old Saybrook, CT

Thanksgiving is over, the holiday rush is underway! Yippeeeee! My enthusiasm is convincing, yes? The onslaught of Christmas songs and chilly weather brings to mind one thing, the BEACH. I am reminded of the last warm summer weekend while driving through Old Saybrook. We decided to have lunch at a favorite spot, Johnny Ad’s. New Englanders take their seafood pretty seriously and everyone has an opinion about who makes the finest fried clams or lobster rolls. Me, I like a good scallop roll and Johnny Ad’s consistently delivers. (Although their lobster roll is legendary)

Johnny Ad’s is very casual. You place your order at the window; find a spot in the inside or outside dining area and wait for your number to be called. Once your tray of seafood goodness is placed before you, go back to your spot and dig in. Isn’t that the quintessential seafood shack experience?

The scallop roll is served on a toasted buttered roll. (everything should be served on buttered rolls; it is the equivalent of bacon) Generously sized with a light crispy coating, the scallops are bursting with sweetness. Squeeze a little lemon and a dollop of tartar sauce and YOU ARE IN HEAVEN. The roll is served with French fries and a side of slaw. Both are worthy accompaniments. (I’ve said this before…fries and slaw can be a deal breaker)

If you’re not into seafood, try their delicious hot dogs! Eat them there or head over to the waterfront and enjoy the scenery.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery - North Conway, NH

Once the Thanksgiving dishes were done and turkey sandwiches consumed (are they the best or what??) we headed up north to New Hampshire. No visit to North Conway would be complete without a trip to Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. After a particularly blustery and snowy day at Santa’s Village (have you ever been on a ferris wheel or roller coaster in your ski clothes?), we stopped for dinner.

Located in a historic building, Moat Mountain caters to everyone. Families are welcome, the bar is usually full of folks catching a game and the charming sunroom is a more intimate area for couples. It has a rustic, yet kitschy atmosphere.

Beer at Moat Mountain is brewed on-site and worth trying. As with any brewery, a sampler is the way to go. If beer is not your thing, there is a small wine list of recognizable favorites and a cocktail list as well.

Being chilled to the bone is no fun, so to take the edge off I immediately ordered the brisket and andouille chili. (pictured) I could eat a vat of the stuff! A hearty chili, loaded with cubes of smoked brisket, andouille sausage and beans. (You can order without beans, if you wish) It’s spicy and very flavorful. The cup I ordered came with a tasty sweet potato and jalapeno cornbread. We also tried a cup of curried corn and crab bisque. It was nice and thick with a delicate curry flavor. I did enjoy it, but thought the chili was better.

Yes, we did leave room for dinner! The Mr. ordered the smoked salmon, Jr. had the Mac-n-cheese, and I had the smoked pork sandwich on a Kaiser roll (you can also have it on raisin bread). The salmon dish was a generous portion of rum and sugar brined fish on a bed of beans and rice, topped with a mango pineapple salsa. I thought the salmon was too sweet for my taste, but the Mr. enjoyed the flavors that reminded him of a tropical island, forgetting the howling winds outside.

My pork sandwich was delicious; a pile of tender, shredded pork topped with cole slaw, red onion and a house made barbeque sauce on a fresh roll. It also came with a side of hand cut fries. I usually order sweet potato, but I think I prefer the regular ones. Perfectly salted with a pronounced flavor of…Potato! Having eaten at Moat Mountain many times over the years, I have to say the pork sandwich continues to be a consistent favorite. Others include the Carolina Pulled Pork and the burgers.

Service at Moat Mountain is very friendly; the waitstaff has the patience of saints, considering the number of families with small children at any given time. It seems to be a popular pit stop on the way back from Story Land. (you can spot those families immediately, dad has a glassy look in his eye and wants nothing more than a cold beer) Check it out next time you find yourself in New Hampshire!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turkey Lurkey Doo

As soon as I receive a magazine in the mail, I turn to the most obvious page; the last one. It sets the tone for the rest of the issue. (you read magazines from the beginning?)

One my favorite sections of Bon Appetit magazine is the back page where they interview a celebrity. Sadly, a couple of years ago they eliminated my favorite question: “If you could invite anyone to your dream dinner party, who would you ask?”

So I thought I would devote this post to creating my fantasy Thanksgiving dinner guest list.

Drumroll please....

Elvis Costello – I suppose he could bring his wife
Sig Hansen – he would make crab dip
Betty Grable - hands off Elvis, you've got your own bombshell!
Little Edie Bouvier Beale – when things get dull she could perform cabaret
Frederick Law Olmsted – maybe he could give me landscaping advice
Paul McCartney – he would bring the side dishes
Louisa May Alcott – someone has to perform the post-dinner reading of “Little Women”

I think that’s a well-rounded group, don’t you think? I’d be interested to hear your choices!

Looking forward to turkey sandwiches and football tomorrow,


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Feng Asian Bistro - Canton, CT

One of the perks of having a blog is that it eliminates the need for water cooler discussions at work. Never again will anyone pretend to act interested while you discuss at length your trip to the wallpaper store or how you foraged for mushrooms all weekend. They will have already read about it!

Last night we had a craving for sushi. Luckily for us, Feng recently opened a place in Canton so we had to check it out. Ginza has long been my favorite sushi place and Feng in Hartford rarely disappoints.

We arrived at 7:30 without a reservation to learn we were in for a 45 minute wait. No problem; it would give us time to grab a cocktail. The bar area is very small, with a 6 (or 8 seats?) seats. After a short wait, we ordered drinks…a Spellbound Petite Syrah for the Mr. and a Zen Green Tea Martini for me. I thought I was over the whole “frou-frou” martini thing until I had a sip. It had a nice mellow flavor of green tea liqueur and citrus, infused with real tea. A touch of sweetness, but not overpowering. There were a couple of interesting cocktails on the list, a nice way to start the evening.

The restaurant itself is very stylish, with a clubby feel. Be prepared, the noise level is very high, but I personally think it adds to the atmosphere. There is a separate room for the hibachi tables. One thing I love when eating out is the feeling that you've been completely transported to another place. Feng does exactly that, which really enhances the overall dining experience.

Once we were seated, we ordered sake for our meal. I tried the Ozeki Nigori and Mr. went with the Nagasaki. His was very clean with a slight hint of raspberry. Mine was crisp, with citrus notes. If you’ve never tried premium sake before, it is really worth exploring. You’ll never drink hot sake (you know, the stuff that smells like Mr. Clean) again. After perusing the menu we decided on a couple of rolls; the “Irene’s paradise”, “Angry Dragon” and a regular salmon roll.

While waiting for our rolls, I observed other dishes coming out of the kitchen. The plates were beautifully presented; the Jasmine Tea Smoked Filet Mignon seemed to be very popular. Our rolls were artfully prepared, and incredibly delicious. The “Angry Dragon” was a wonderful combination of spicy tuna, king crab, shrimp tempura and papaya. “Irene’s Paradise” was another delight, set off by a honey wasabi sauce. Both were excellent and after the first bite, we were already planning our next visit. The salmon was also some of the freshest I've ever tasted. I think we have a winner folks! Hibachi, anyone?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Yesterday I was faced with that age old dilemma…it was a rainy, dreary Saturday; we were about to watch the “Anvil - The Story of Anvil” documentary. What would be a fitting meal for such an anticipated event? Why Spaghetti Alla Carbonara, of course! DUH. Carbonara is a dish that is incredibly simple to make, yet so many restaurants seem to miss the mark on it. Easy enough for a weeknight meal or elegant pasta dish for a party, it’s delicious anytime. Don’t skimp on the fresh pasta, it makes all the difference. I used a combination of egg and cracked pepper fettuccine (thanks to New England Pasta Company!).

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

¼ lb. pancetta - chopped
1 lb. fresh pasta
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
Black pepper

In a heavy pan over medium-high heat, add the chopped pancetta and fry until browned.
Remove pancetta from pan, strain grease on paper towels. Remove pan from heat.

In a small bowl, beat eggs with ½ cup of Pecorino.

Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente in boiling salted water. Drain well.

Add pasta to the pan; stir in eggs, cheese and pancetta. Mix thoroughly until eggs are set. If you’re using egg pasta, add pepper to taste.

Garnish with ¼ cup Pecorino and parsley.

Serves 3-4

Back to the “Anvil” documentary…it was an incredible story of perseverance and eternal optimism. I was moved by the band’s lifelong quest for fame that seemed to elude them at every turn. Dreams never die people!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Joe Pizza - Canton, CT

Tucked away in a small plaza on Rt. 44 in Canton is one of the finest pizza joints in the area…Joe Pizza. It’s a small family owned place with a good reputation and at the top of our take-out menu file. We were there recently grabbing food for a last minute gathering at home, no one left hungry. Here's the lowdown:

Let’s start with our favorite appetizer: you MUST try the eggplant fries. Strips of eggplant lightly breaded, fried and sprinkled with grated parmesan. Oh, did I mention that it could probably feed a family of 4? They’re so addictive; you may not want to share! The Backyard Wings went over very well with our friends, in fact they were gone within minutes. Substantial pieces of chicken bathed in buffalo wing sauce, I thought they were better than most places in town.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I am a girl who loves her burgers. Joe Pizza has the distinction of being my FAVORITE burger within a 25 mile radius. (after that, they’re encroaching on some legendary territory) The beef is ground twice a day, formed into half-pound size patties and cooked medium. The meat itself is so doggone tasty, you barely need condiments. *sigh* It is worth driving there JUST for the burger. Do it today.

Another crowd-pleaser on Sunday was the meatball grinder. It came loaded with homemade meatballs, tomato sauce, cheese and peppers on a crusty grinder roll. The meatballs were substantial and full of flavor. The grinders are huge; you need a game plan before you dig in!

Prices are reasonable and the portions are generous; if you’re in Canton it’s definitely worth checking out Joe Pizza.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thanksgiving Porn - the Poem

Move over Maxim, SI and GQ;
The Thanksgiving issue has arrived for you.
Showing a little leg, so what if it’s cooked?
Deep fried or in brine, now you’re hooked.
Cranberries glisten so scarlet and bright,
Buttery Mashed Potato looking just right.
Page after page of stuffing you see,
Wild Rice or cornbread, what will it be?
The Williams family from Maine is featured this year,
All in matching sweaters, you jealously sneer.
Open the centerfold, your hopes are so high!
For decadent Pecan Tart or that stalwart Pumpkin Pie.
Glossy photos they tempt and tease,
For the Thanksgiving issue never fails to please.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DISH n' Dat Redux

First, let me state the obvious. Argentinian Malbec and Aged White Cheddar popcorn are NOT an ideal pairing for an evening snack.

Last night we decided to pack up Cheeseburger Jr. and head out for dinner on a school night. We chose “DISH n’ Dat” because we had been there just after it opened and thought it a good idea to check it out again. I’ve been looking forward to one thing since the last visit…chicken and waffles.
SOOO, we arrived and after a short wait, we were seated in a comfortable booth. There were people of all ages enjoying dinner…older couples, teenagers, and young families.

Breakfast was calling our name, but nothing could get in the way of my chicken and waffles. The Mr. ordered fish tacos and Jr. ordered macaroni and cheese. Our food arrived and we were ready to dig in. I would have been ready, if I had a chainsaw. The chicken appeared to be over-fried, as it was covered in a dark brown crust. I reached into my purse for some optimism and decided to try it. The chicken itself was very moist, but the coating was very bland and lacked flavor. The waffle seemed a bit overcooked also; although I did like the light drizzle of molasses (?) based syrup.

On the flip side, the Mr. enjoyed his fish tacos. Two generously sized tortillas were served with mahi-mahi, cabbage, salsa and lime, with just the right amount of spice. He opted for the potato salad, which was pretty tasty and a side I will consider for future visits.

I think my expectations were pretty high for the second visit, and unfortunately, they fell short. I consider myself to be a fair critic when dining out, and understand they may still be ironing out kinks in the kitchen. I would definitely give them another chance as they offer the perfect atmosphere for family dining. They’ve got a winning formula for our area, let’s hope they continue to improve.

Oh, and by the way…try Argentinian Malbec and dark chocolate for your next evening snack. Wow.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Willimantic Brewing Company - Willimantic, CT

Last night we paid a visit to Willimantic Brewing Company/Main Street Café for a little birthday celebration. Located in a former post office on Main Street, they provide a unique venue for enjoying pub grub and of course, BEER.

The building itself is an architectural beauty. Traces of the former post office still remain; from the detailed woodwork to the old customer counter now serving as the bar. It’s worth taking a moment to take a tour the space and appreciate the historical significance of an era gone by.

Thirsty yet? They have one of the finest selections around, from their own handcrafted beer to a “guest” list of over 20 microbrews. Beer lovers, unite! We stuck with Willimantic Brewing selections and were not disappointed. I’ll list them out in order of preference:

Junk Mail IPA – India Pale Ale – hands down the crowd favorite
Three Cents – Pale Ale
Certified Gold – Golden Ale (this one would be perfect on a warm summer day)
Postmark Porter – one of the more complex beers I have ever tried; my personal favorite

If you pay them a visit, try a sampler. It’s the best way (at any brew pub!) to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into creating quality beer.

If you’re going to be drinking beer, you will definitely need to eat. I’ve been eating at Main Street Café since they opened and I will say that their food has been consistently good over the years. For starters, I recommend the nachos. The nachos will make your eyes pop when you see the huge mound of chips smothered with cheese, jalapenos, tomatoes and scallions. A meal in itself and a perfect way to build a thirst for…MORE BEER. Air Mail Wings are also worth ordering, in varying degrees of spiciness.

The entrée menu offers a wide selection, guaranteed to please any palate. DO NOT ignore the multigrain bread that is placed before you. Served warm with sweet (maple?) butter, it’s extremely addictive. I think overall, my favorite menu items are the build your own burgers. Similar to a steak and Cabernet, burgers and beer are the perfect match. I’ll take mine with smoked bacon and cheese, please. You’ll notice the post office theme throughout the menu (you can test your zip code prowess).

Willimantic Brewing is one of the finest brew pubs in the state, well worth the drive down Rt. 6. If you are a beer lover, it might become your new home. For the rest of you, a fun place to hang with friends, watch a UCONN game or have lunch with family in a cool setting.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'd Love to Write Another Song...

“I’m searching everywhere, though I look for inspiration, sometimes it’s just not there” – Van Morrison

I’ve been humming that song all week in my search for something interesting to write about! The week was so crazy I didn’t even have time to stop and smell the garlic.

However, I DID have time to finish a book, “Save The Deli” by David Sax. It’s an interesting and often poignant history of Jewish deli, in the United States and around the world. The stories of the Deli Men tugged at my heartstrings as I read about their struggles to keep their businesses and culture alive. Quite frankly, I was unaware how difficult it is to run a deli and I have a newfound respect for those business owners. I spent most of my time reading and salivating for a pastrami sandwich.

The book also highlighted another sad topic: how traditional recipes are becoming lost with each generation. Are we becoming so used to dinner from a box that we are losing our identities? I thought about two treasured food memories from my childhood: my grandmother serving “ployes” with molasses or jam in lieu of bread and my grandfather’s special soup. Never made the same way twice, he would often appear at our home unannounced and before you realized he was there, a large pot of hearty soup would be boiling on the stove. It contained any combination of the following ingredients: pasta, tomatoes, spinach, chicken broth and potatoes. It was always perfect and sadly, can never be replicated.

I urge you to take the time and do one of two things: patronize local family owned restaurants AND write down your family recipes.

Ployes – French Canadian Crepe

1 Cup Buckwheat flour
1 Cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups cold water
½ cup hot water

Mix dry ingredients with cold water. Add hot water and mix, creating a light batter. Spoon batter onto a hot griddle; forming a 5-6 inch pancake. Allow ploye to cook for 1 ½ minutes, do not flip! Remove from griddle and repeat process for each ploye. Serve with butter, jam, molasses or maple syrup.

Have a Happy and safe Halloween!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Five Guys Burgers and Fries - Avon, CT

After making our annual Halloween costume trek (I know, so LATE in the season), we decided to head over to one my favorite burger places, Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Burgers are all the rage now, and it seems new places are opening every week to keep up with the trend. Fancy burgers are o.k. now and then, but when you want quality, cooked-to-order fast food, Five Guys is the place to go.

Today we went old school. Cheeseburgers, a hot dog and those addictive French fries. *sigh*

The burgers come in two sizes: regular (which is actually two patties) and junior. Both are substantial, freshly ground beef patties, cooked to order. Just wait until you walk in, and the smell of frying beef hits your nose. Holy $%$%@#$#@. There are several toppings to choose from. Once your burger is cooked, it is placed on a soft bun, just thick enough to hold that juicy goodness together.

For you hot dog aficionados, theirs is worth trying. I believe they use Hebrew National dogs. Split on a buttered roll, they need no condiments. (o.k., maybe a little mustard) A perfect side dish to your junior cheeseburger!

Personally, I don’t think anyone’s French fries come close to theirs. Made just the way I like them, thickly cut with the right amount of salt. They come in two sizes, and either way you will receive more fries than you can handle. Take note of the chalkboard near the register, which lists the origin of that day’s potato.

While you’re waiting for your order, feel free to snack on the peanuts, which are sitting in large barrels.

Five Guys started out with a single location in Arlington, Virginia and has been steadily opening new locations over the last few years. If you have the choice between those other fast food places and Five Guys, go with the place that serves REAL potatoes and beef.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Raindrops on Roses

It’s Saturday!!

Now that the chill of fall is in the air, thoughts turn to creature comforts. Cheeseburger Jr. and I were baking apple bread earlier. (baking + me = rare occurrence) As the bread baked, I looked around the kitchen and started making a list of my favorite foodie things. I share them with you; perhaps you’ll be inspired to create your own. In no particular order:

The hamburger episode of “Julia and Jacques” – Food television at its finest!

Jar of homemade preserved lemons – you can use them in everything

Loose Tea – all tea, all the time

Shallot Confit - one taste of this and you will want to bathe in it

Collection of Thanksgiving cooking magazines (the culinary equivalent of the SI Swimsuit issue)

The cheese drawer in my refrigerator - there’s always a wedge of something on hand

Tattered “Betty Crocker Cookbook” - purchased when I struck out on my own

Organic Onion Flakes - a NEW favorite

Wine tasting glasses – no explanation necessary

Hope you are enjoying the weekend; we are having dinner at a friend’s house tonight. Can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy evening.

We’ll chat soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tapas Crawl!

A group of us recently decided to embark on a little tapas crawl in West Hartford. As a matter of convenience, we decided to stick a couple of places in the Center. The Hartford area is rich with Latin American cuisine, so the opportunities for Tapas Crawl II, III & IV are endless. You need to have goals people!

Cuvee – West Hartford, CT

The evening started off at Cuvee, a new wine and champagne room on Raymond Road. It was my second visit (see my previous post). Although it doesn’t offer a tapas menu in the traditional sense, they do have a nice selection of small plates and cocktails in one of the cozier places in town. To start off the evening, we ordered a goat cheese and onion tart, a vegetable sushi roll and hummus plate. The tart was the favorite, a wonderful combination of cheese and caramelized onions on a light buttery crust. The hummus was delicious and a great plate to nosh on while enjoying one of the many imaginative cocktails on the menu. While we did not try the actual sushi, the vegetable roll was a cool, refreshing accompaniment to the savory dishes. All and all, Cuvee is a perfect spot to meet up with girlfriends (guys, you’re outnumbered there) in a relaxing setting.

Barcelona – West Hartford, CT

We arrived at Barcelona approximately 30 minutes early, much to the chagrin of the “cranky” and most gracious host. Before I get into the food, let me say that the waitstaff was fantastic. Our two servers, Emily and oh-he-whose-name-we-did-not-catch were spirited and outgoing. Our tapas were brought out two or three at a time, which spaced our dinner out nicely. They really contributed to making our evening perfect!

Before you even try to approach the tapas menu, peruse the comprehensive wine list. This is the place to experiment and try something new! Spanish and South American wines are incredible in quality and value. The servers are very knowledgeable and after answering a few simple questions on your preferences, they will steer you in the right direction.

Now, the grub. While sipping our new favorite wines and enjoying hot, crusty bread, we ordered a smattering of tapas from the extensive menu. I will list them in the order of group preference (loyal followers…correct me if I’m wrong):

Lobster risotto – smooth, creamy loaded with lobster, asparagus and tomatoes
Pork Tenderloin – moist, flavorful pork with a cider glaze on a bed of squash – wow!!
Mushrooms and goat cheese – marriage made in heaven...nuff said.
Beef and Chicken Empanadas – fantastic smoky flavors
Potato Tortilla - layers of thinly sliced potato with chive crème fraiche
Chickpea and spinach casserole – lots of cumin and garlic - one of my favorites
Marinated Hearts of Palm – we’ll call this the “salad portion” of our crawl
Calamari – crispy, but a bit rubbery – perhaps they were sitting too long?

Once our plates were cleared, we did not want our tapas-fest to end, and there was still dessert to be had. Out came the flan; a rich custard with a caramel topping. It was downright perfect, and probably the best one I’ve had in the area. (like I spend my days eating the stuff) Not overly sweet, but with enough vanilla and caramel to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Barcelona has long been a favorite of mine. The menu begs you to experiment, share and soak up new flavors; whether you’re a group of friends or an intimate party of two. You will love it!

Cheers to new friendships and future food crawls!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Food for Thought

It goes without saying…we all have good days and bad days. Sometimes, when life becomes a challenge, an event happens that puts things in perspective. I don’t mean to sound like a public service announcement, but it’s my blog and I can write whatever the hell I want to. Now you’re asking…what does this have to do with food???

Food is something we’re so passionate about, we share and appreciate. Unfortunately, there are many people who go without. I ask you to take a few minutes of your time and donate to your local food bank. Maybe you could throw a few extras in the shopping cart this week. Any little bit helps and who knows; maybe you’ll touch the life of a neighbor or fellow foodie. Isn’t sharing part of the deal?

And now back to our regularly scheduled program

Monday, October 19, 2009

Firebox - Hartford, CT

We recently had dinner at Firebox, located in a renovated factory building on Broad St, in Hartford, CT. An absolute jewel of a restaurant, Firebox epitomizes the farm-to-table movement with local, freshly prepared dishes.

The space itself is large, with a clean, sophisticated décor. A fireplace in the main area gives cozy warmth to the room. The bar area is spacious and inviting, with its own menu for casual dining. The drink list is interesting (try the Cucumber Limeade or Thomas Hooker “Octoberfest”).

Where to start? On this particular evening, after ordering a Blackburn Cabernet from the approachable wine list, we decide to start with the P.E.I mussels. It’s not an easy choice, with the Duck Confit salad piquing our interest. The mussels arrive in a broth of Octoberfest beer, grain mustard, and chunks of garlicky kielbasa. We sop up the broth with the homemade multi grain bread that is placed before us, warm and crusty. Things are good in our world.

The main menu, which changes seasonally, typically consists of 8 or 9 entrees. Firebox is one of the few restaurants in the area where I could literally order every single item without hesitation. So, I opt for the Beef Short Rib braised in red wine. The Mr. orders the Maple and Ginger Roasted Chicken. The beef rib was cooked to perfection, sitting on a potato and celery root puree. Roast Brussels sprouts and carrots round out the dish nicely. (One of the reasons I love Firebox is that they always have Brussels sprouts on the menu, a refreshing change from the usual vegetable sides.) The meat falls off the bone, creating a luscious stew of flavors. The chicken is moist with a faint sweet flavor of local maple syrup. The farro (a type of wheat grain) that accompanies is loaded with thick chunks of bacon and tomatoes. Have you made your reservation yet?

You must know by now that we won’t be skipping dessert! So, after 2.3 seconds of deliberation, we decide to order Ashlawn Farm coffee, Apple Cobbler and the Chocolate Semifreddo. The cobbler is the perfect fall dessert, large pieces of apple baked with a crumb crust. The semifreddo is light and chocolaty, adorned with crème anglaise. We shared our plates and enjoyed the warmth of a satisfying cup of coffee. Another dessert of note is the cheese plate, which features Cato Corner Cheese. They produce some of the finest cheeses in the country. (sore topic…I grew up a couple of miles from their farm, and they had the audacity to open after I left town…and don’t get me started on the winery!)

Firebox continues to be one of the finest restaurants in Hartford. Not only are they producing incredible food, but they have made an obvious commitment to the community through their on-site farmer’s market, and community workshops held at Billings Forge, the adjacent building.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

DISH n' Dat - Canton, CT

After a lazy morning at home, we decided to venture out on this RAW and rainy day to a new local spot, “DISH n' Dat”. The casual sister restaurant to the well-received “Dish”, located in Hartford, CT. Judging by the lunchtime crowd, DISH n' Dat is poised for success. Sadly, I did not have the chance to take photos during our lunch, will try to get them next time!

Previously, the spot had been a place for formal dining and the new owners have removed all traces of the former restaurant. The décor is very modern retro, using a palette of blue.

The best way to describe the menu is “kicked up diner”. Breakfast is served all day, along with several comfort food favorites. Mr. Cheeseburger started off with the clam chowder; a large bowl of golden creamy soup loaded with three types of clams. For lunch he ordered the pastrami reuben (the world’s most perfect sandwich) and I had the matzoh ball soup and chicken salad sandwich. The pastrami was a delicious and messy delight, loaded with tender meat, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on grilled rye. French fries contained the right balance of potato and salt. Cheeseburger Jr. opted for the macaroni and cheese. The matzoh ball soup was very straightforward; a rich chicken broth with chunks of chicken, root vegetables and matzoh ball. The chicken salad sandwich arrived on whole grain bread, nice sized chunks of chicken in a light dressing. We watched as dishes were coming out of the kitchen: club sandwiches piled high, eggs Benedict with fresh spinach, fluffy pancakes. Portions were well-sized, not over the top.

In order to have a well rounded lunch experience, we decided to go for it and order dessert. Jr’s kid’s meal came with an ice cream sandwich, and it was just that, wrapped in the telltale white paper. Because I was in a “diner” I thought pie would the most appropriate choice. And so it arrived, a generous slice of coconut custard pie. The custard was light and full of coconut flavor. Garnishing the pie was a MOUND of whipped cream topped with toasted coconut. A great way to end the meal!

Service was very attentive and friendly. We waited approximately 30 minutes to be seated, but once we were settled, our food arrived quickly. As we live in a family oriented community, they have definitely filled a much needed void. (We live in the black hole of breakfast joints and will someone PLEASE HEAR MY CRY AND OPEN A DELI??? ) They do have a kid’s menu, and I love the fact that it contains breakfast items, served all day.

If you’ve got a craving for honest comfort food in a jovial atmosphere, check out DISH n' Dat. I am already looking forward to checking it out for dinner…hello fried chicken and waffles!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When the moon hits you eye....

When looking for dinner inspiration, I employ three strategies:

A) Find out what my co-worker is making and steal her idea
B) Take a mental inventory of the pantry on the ride home
C) Open the nearest cookbook/magazine/website and point

Tonight I opted for Plan B; which led me to homemade pizza. I always keep fresh dough on hand; it’s easy to throw together a pizza or calzone using veggies or meats. But we’re not here to discuss toppings, let’s dig under the surface to the sauce. Pizza sauce is incredibly simple to make, and often the “forgotten” ingredient in pizza. We sing the praises of cheeses, toppings and crust, but does anyone ever mention the sauce? Here is my recipe; you don’t need to use much as it has a very concentrated flavor. Make some now, freeze the rest for another time.

1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 tablespoon Italian Sausage Seasoning (or 1 tablespoon oregano, basil or Italian herb blend)
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground paprika

Mix ingredients together in small bowl until smooth. Makes enough for approximately 3 medium pizzas.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Apples to Apples

First things first…The Tapas Crawl was a great success! Once I get my act together, I will post about our experiences. Can’t wait for the next one! In the interim, let’s chat….

If you live in New England and you’ve never gone apple picking, you must have your head examined. It is the quintessential fall experience. I put it first, in FRONT of leaf peeping. Am I crazy? Yes, crazy for apples.

Today we took a little jaunt over to Roger’s Orchards in Southington. An annual pilgrimage for our family, Roger’s offers apple picking in one of the most bucolic settings in the area. After picking a large bag of Ida Reds and Empires; we headed over to the store for some treats. Try the apple fritter doughnuts and a jug of cider. The doughnuts are hearty, with just right amount of spice and chopped apple. Don’t be a hero and wait until you get home, they are meant to be consumed seconds after purchase. I can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate a perfect autumn day.

On the menu for dinner tonight:

Chicken Cutlets with Arugula Polenta
Apple Crisp, perhaps?

Talk to you soon!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Staropolska - New Britain, CT

Located in the heart of a large, bustling Polish community, Broad Street is lined with restaurants, delis, bakeries and produce markets. If you’re looking for Polish foods, (and reasonably priced, fresh produce!) this is the place to visit. In our world of superstores and lifestyle centers, neighborhoods like Broad Street are a dying breed.

We ventured to Broad Street yesterday with a hankering for kielbasa and other goodies. As it was a rainy afternoon, we limited our visit to two places, but I will mention our other favorites at the end of this post.

Staropolska – a small, welcoming place located at the top of Broad Street. On any given day, you’ll spot local politicians, business owners, residents and visitors all sharing authentic, freshly prepared Polish cuisine served up by a very friendly waitstaff.

On your first visit, go for the gusto with the “Polish Platter” (pictured) This hearty plate contains: Kielbasa, an assortment of three pierogis, mashed potato, bigos (a stew made of sauerkraut, kielbasa and beef, I could eat a bowl of the stuff), 1 potato pancake, 1 golabek (stuffed cabbage) and applesauce. Did I leave anything out? Oh, and a dollop of sour cream. The pierogis are typically: potato and cheese, sauerkraut and mushroom, and beef and veal. Now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, make a return visit and try some of the other traditional favorites such as: white borscht soup, stuffed pork loin or veal meatballs.

There is also outdoor seating, which makes for a pleasant experience in the warmer months. All and all, if you’ve never enjoyed real Polish food, Staropolska is well worth the visit from anywhere.

After picking up our grub, we headed to the store directly across the street, Nozewski Meat Products. Mostly a deli, they also carry groceries and a nice selection of pierogis. Do not be intimidated by the Polish signs and labeling. The staff will assist in making your meat selections. Be adventurous!

Sampling of other places to try on your visit to Broad Street:

Polmart (anything and everything)
121 Broad Street

Rarytas Polish Deli (try the cold cuts, you’ll never visit your grocery store deli counter again)
38 Broad Street

Cracovia (another excellent Polish restaurant – DO try it)
60 Broad Street

Kasia Bakery
88 Broad Street

The Farm (produce)
166 Broad Street

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eau de Poulet

Fall has arrived, and with it comes cooler weather, shorter days and a yearning for comfort foods. This brings me to the topic of roasted chicken, one of the simplest and most delicious dishes one can make. Try the following recipe adapted for the crockpot and wait as your house fills with the aroma of baking chicken (someone should bottle that scent…”Is that Eau de Poulet you’re wearing?”). It’s a perfect dish for company or when you want Sunday dinner, anytime. Leftovers make flavorful soup too! I like to serve with a simple garlic mashed potato and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Sunday Dinner Anytime Chicken

1 Whole Chicken
2 Tablespoons olive oil (preferably garlic or lemon)
2 Onions, halved
1 Lemon, coarsely chopped (remove seeds)
2 shallots, chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
2 Tablespoons paprika
2 Tablespoons Herbs de Provence
Sea Salt and pepper

Place onion halves in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Mix the following in a small bowl: lemon, shallots, garlic and herbs.

Rinse the chicken, inside and out, pat dry. Rub olive oil on chicken. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika. Fill the cavity with lemon/herb mixture and place in the slow cooker on top of the onions.

Cook on Low setting for approx. 6-8 hours or on High for 4 hours; or until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Marriage of Food and Music

There are three things I require every day to survive: coffee, music and air. (in that order) If you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes in my presence, you know that I always have music playing no matter where, what or with whom. One of my favorite times of the day is when I arrive home, quivering with anticipation to prepare dinner. I roll up my sleeves and fire up the Ipod. With tunes blasting, the cooking begins. Once dinner is ready, I am rejuvenated and relaxed. Here is the current “Kitchen Mix”:

“That’s Not My Name” – The Ting Tings
“Somebody Told Me” – The Killers
“Celebrity Skin” – Hole
“Can You Rock It Like This?” – Run DMC
“Lowlife” – Kid Rock
“Champagne Supernova” – Oasis
“Candy” – Iggy Pop
“Troublemaker” – Weezer
“City of Blinding Lights” – U2
“Stronger” – Kanye West
“Love Don’t Live Here” – Lady Antellebum
“Jai Ho” – Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack
“Overpowered by Funk” – The Clash
“Ruby” – Kaiser Chiefs
“Overture and All That Jazz” – Catherine Zeta Jones

I often read about musicians who are not only gourmands, but serious wine collectors. Did you think they ate Taco Bell and drank Schlitz in that jet? I think musicians enjoy food and wine because it’s a seamless transition from music. Both are nourishing and stimulating to the senses. A marriage made in heaven. Think about your favorite dish, song or wine…how do they make you feel?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Da Capo Restaurant - Avon, CT

I sit before you, glass of “Cannonball Cabernet” in hand and half deaf from revisiting the “Empire” CD by Queensryche.

We decided to check out Da Capo this evening after having a delicious lunch there a few days ago. Let me tell you, this place was PACKED. We arrived just in time, for when we were seated; there was a long line at the door. I have not seen such crowds at ANY restaurant in our area; I took it as a good sign.

The place was hopping and quite loud. Some people might be put off by the noise, but I think it added to the atmosphere. Do you really want to slurp your bucatini in silence? I didn’t think so.

We started things off with a glass of Mondavi Cabernet and a basket of warm rolls. Wait, did I say Mondavi? The wine list was very small and I was disappointed at the number of wines by the glass, (5 or 6?) and 50% were Italian.

You will recognize your favorites here….Parmigiana, Fra Diavolo, etc. For dinner we ordered Spinach Ravioli and the Carbonara. The house made ravioli was served with a fresh Pommodoro sauce; full of onions and tomatoes. The ravioli was not heavy, with the perfect blend of ricotta and spinach. The Carbonara aficionado declared his dish to be “very good”; although it arrived bathed in cream sauce, not in the traditional style as we have become accustomed. Dishes are served individual or family style. A neighboring table gasped at the size of their family style Fra Diavolo when it arrived at the table. Portions are generous, better strap on your bib and fire up your fork and spoon.

At lunch, I had ordered the Bucatini and Meatballs while my friend enjoyed the Rigatoni con Salsiccie. (pictured) Both dishes were satisfying and full of flavor.

But let’s cut to the “piece de resistance"; the tiramisu. To me, tiramisu is the calamari of desserts. It’s ubiquitous and easy to ruin. I’ve had it twice at Da Capo and it is one of the best I have ever had. THE perfect blend of mascarpone, expresso and ladyfingers. Do yourself a favor and order it. The desserts are made in house; I think I may need to try a cannoli or cheesecake next visit.

Service is extremely friendly and accommodating. I was impressed by the quality of service at dinner, given the level of activity. Those folks were working their tails off, and we appreciated their efforts. We can add Da Capo to our list of local favorites. Families, couples and friends were clearly enjoying their evening, could you ask for anything more?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ode to the Cheese Guy

O’ Cheese Man, your presence is missed
At the Rhinebeck farmer’s market, why have you dissed?

Your buffalo mozzarella so mild and creamy,
The mere sight of your table welcome and dreamy.

Alas, you have gone, such a void in our life
The unadorned tomato and bread you have caused such strife.

Hear my plea and consider your return,
To the Rhinebeck Farmer’s Market our money we will burn.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sully's Fresh Catch of the Day

I’ve seen you in the drive-thru at McDonald’s; the one with dark sunglasses ordering one of the world’s most perfect foods: The Filet O’Fish. Now don’t go rolling your eyes and start lecturing “I would NEVER EVER eat at McDonald’s!” Face it, the Filet O’ Fish is the underground favorite of epicureans everywhere.

Where else can you get five ounces of perfectly square, freshly caught Pollock? Lovingly adorned with one half slice of orange cheese and a cup of tarter sauce. In fact, the mark of a properly prepared sandwich is the dollop of tartar sauce that lands in your lap on the first bite. In our area, the Filet O’ Fish is served in a box, which is a bit of a letdown. It’s supposed to be presented as a gift, wrapped in blue paper.

There are many strategies for obtaining the freshest Filet O’ Fish. Some prefer to order one without the cheese, thereby forcing the staff to make one from scratch. Others might take lunch early, before the rush, ensuring that their Filet O’ Fish is one of the first ones made for the day. You walk a fine line in the late afternoon, which may cause great anxiety. Will they prepare a fresh one for you or will you receive the one that’s been sitting under the heat lamp since noon? This is no simple matter!

Save the French fries for your hamburger, a creation as simple and elegant as Filet O’ Fish needs no accompaniment.

Next time you’re in the drive-thru, give a nod and a wink. After all, people don’t know what they’re missing, right?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Paella for me, Paella for you!

I made paella over the weekend and thought I would share my recipe. I like to call it the "Quick and Dirty" version because I've adapted the traditional recipe for the stovetop. It's a great basic recipe for entertaining if you are short on time. In this version, I omit mussels but do add them when I actually have time to visit the seafood market! Enjoy with a glass of Tempranillo!

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoons dried oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cubed
1 clove chopped garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne red pepper
4 cups Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, brown or white (2 packages)
1 pinch saffron threads, divided
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
Zest of one lemon
½ cup chopped shallots or 1 onion
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 pound chorizo sausage, chopped
1 pound medium–sized shrimp (I use cooked frozen for convenience)

In a medium bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons paprika, oregano, and salt and pepper. Stir in chicken pieces to coat. Cover, refrigerate and allow to marinate.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and brown. Remove chicken and wipe with paper towel. Sauté red pepper, shallots and garlic for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add chicken back to skillet along with chorizo, shrimp, 2 tablespoons paprika and cayenne pepper. Blend ingredients and add ½ cup of chicken broth. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes, adding chicken broth if necessary. (you don’t want the mixture to be too watery)

Meanwhile, pour rice into saucepan with a few tablespoons of chicken broth, just enough to moisten. Add lemon zest and a pinch of saffron. Heat rice on medium heat for 3-4 minutes, just enough to warm and meld flavors.

Spread rice over meat mixture. Cover and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve. Serves 4.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Max Burger - West Hartford, CT

If you live in Connecticut, surely you’re heard of the mighty Max Restaurant Group. They run a tremendously successful group of restaurants, each with their own distinct identity. Their latest venture is Max Burger, located in a former bank building. The location is just out of the bustle of West Hartford Center, but if one name is going to attract customers, it’s “Max”. And boy, we are grateful they took over the space!!

The place has a very casual “cowboy theme” atmosphere with a bar and outside seating area. They have a burger for everyone…yes, even vegetarians. My personal favorites are the “Fatty Melt” (like anything with that name is going to taste bad) and the “Alfred”. (cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary aioli). The burgers are chock full of beefy goodness, moist and bursting with flavor. I like that they use Niman Ranch beef, which has an excellent reputation for offering humanely raised products.

Burgers are accompanied by a side of hand-cut fries and pickles. Do not diss the pickles; they’re worth each crunchy bite. I’ve also tried the sweet potato fries, but I found them to be pretty average and will stick to the regular fries going forward.

There is also a nice selection of appetizers, sandwiches and entrees, some of which you will recognize from other Max locations. I would love to hear from someone who has tried the Pickle Wrapped Pastrami or the Cheeseburger Springroll! YUMMMM

Since you need a beverage to wash down your meal, you must peruse the wine/cocktail/beer list. Here are my personal recommendations:

Martini – “Ellsworth White Cosmo”
Beer – “Max’s No Name Pale Ale” – (brewed by local Hooker Brewing Co)
Beer #2 – Lagunitas IPA

Check out the “Spiked Shakes” too, a fun way to end your burger glutton-fest!

Burger places are a dime a dozen these days, but if you’re willing to spend an extra couple of bucks you will be well-rewarded at Max Burger. Stop reading this, grab your friends and head over!

Monday, September 14, 2009

J. Gilbert’s Wood Fired Steaks and Seafood – Glastonbury, CT

We celebrated my dad’s recent birthday with a festive family dinner at J. Gilbert’s. Despite having to wait for a party to vacate the private room, they delivered with great food, friendly service and most importantly, the opportunity for my family to sing in a public place.

To make up for the inconvenience of waiting, the manager profusely apologized and we were greeted with several plates of appetizers upon being seated. Dangerous little things, those appetizers. Plates of Maytag Bleu Potato Chips were addictive and quickly devoured along with Smoked Chicken Quesadillas topped with a pineapple-mango salsa.

For starters, I decided to try the crab bisque. It arrived nicely garnished with a dollop of crabmeat. The sweetness of the crab was balanced nicely with the heat of cayenne red pepper.

Apparently, I was feeling “crabby” that night as I decided to order the Jumbo lump crab cake entrée. Loosely formed cakes of lump crab held together by house made mayonnaise. Yup, they were by far the best crab cakes I’ve eaten at any restaurant in the area. (so many places are under the assumption that crab is actually bread) The cakes were accompanied by white cheddar mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Everyone at the table raved about the potatoes. (We’re a starchy family)

Heard no complaints about the steaks that everyone else ordered, they were cooked as ordered and well-seasoned.

J. Gilbert’s wine list is accessible, with selections in every price range. We enjoyed the Liberty School Cabernet and a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc recommended by our waiter.

My dad loves dessert, so we finished our meals with a spirited version of "Happy Birthday" and espresso chocolate cheesecake. I found that the flavors balanced nicely and sweetness did not overwhelm the cake.

Overall, we had a great time and added J. Gilbert's to the list of future gathering places. If you’re looking for the steakhouse experience and a good value, they're worth the visit. A children’s menu is also available.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar – West Hartford, CT

Last night my friends and I headed to our favorite happy hour spot, Fleming’s. A welcome addition to the local dining scene, Fleming’s is a chain with a neighborhood feel.

I’ve had the opportunity to dine at Fleming’s on several occasions. If you’re a steak and potatoes gal like me, you will be right at home here. The steaks are fabulous, cooked to perfection. Little salt, little pepper, finished off with butter and parsley. Your mouth is watering! According to my husband, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried the bone-in ribeye. Although steak rules the roost, seafood has a starring role on the Appetizer menu. Some of our favorites include: Seared Tuna, Barbecue Shrimp and the Calamari.
Sides are a la carte and include steakhouse favorites such as: mashed potatoes (three varieties), creamed spinach and grilled asparagus.

I hope you’ve left room for dessert. After eating a stick of butter and a hunk of red meat, it’s time to finish the job with Crème Brulee. Ah…..creamy vanilla bean custard with a delicate sugar crust. Is there anything finer?

Service at Fleming’s is impeccable. The waitstaff is extremely welcoming, knowledgeable and thoughtful. On a recent visit, my husband and I were gifted with a box of chocolate-covered strawberries as an accompaniment to the champagne we ordered. Fred, the bartender greets with a smile and is always ready with answers to our endless questions about the wine list. OH the wine list….

The wine list is in my opinion, the finest in our area. In addition to an impressive selection of bottles, they offer 100 wines by the glass. The list is ever-changing, budget friendly and just plain fun. I asked Fred to surprise me with a “Red Wine of Interest” last night, and he poured a spicy, smoky red from South Africa. Perfect on a chilly, rainy Friday night. Some of my personal favorites on the list include:

Picket Fence Chardonnay
Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay
Conundrum California 2007
Qupe Shiraz
14 Hands Cabernet

Whether you’re enjoying a drink in the bar or celebrating a special occasion, you will appreciate Fleming’s.

Now I am off to get ready for a birthday party. NO, NOT for the CAT!

Happy Birthday Dad!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Otto Pizzeria - NYC

My husband and I discovered Otto Pizzeria by accident. We were wandering around the University area one night without a plan or dinner reservation. It was decided that we would just stop at the next place we found, regardless of cuisine, wait or price. (talk about a crap shoot). So, at 9:00 p.m. we strolled in, not knowing what to expect. We were not disappointed.

Otto is run by Mario Batali & Co; owners of several restaurants in the city and beyond. Judging by the crowd, Otto is clearly a place for everyone to enjoy. Toddlers noshing on pizza, visiting NYU parents enjoying wine and small plates, tourists soaking up the atmosphere…you get the idea.

We’ve been to Otto many times since and we never start our meal without ordering the platter of house cured meats. The pork chops my mother broiled for 2 hours did not melt in your mouth like the Prosciutto, Lonza, Coppa, Testa and Salumi.

Pasta dishes are excellent; try the spaghetti alla carbonara and pasta all Norma, to name a few. The Carbonara is perfection and highlights how delicious a simple pasta dish can taste. (Do you hear the screams of your pasta drowning in red or cream sauce? Not here!)

Now, don’t be a slouch and ignore the dessert menu. The gelatos are divine, my personal favorite being the olive oil.

The Italian wine list is quite lengthy and worth exploring. The waitstaff is very helpful in making recommendations.

One of our favorite places in the city!

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Hello my fine foodie friends!

I woke up this morning thinking about my grandmother and her influence in my life. Having a large family to feed and care for, her day often started before sunrise. The rest of the day was spent planning lunches for my grandfather (Fried Spam anyone?) and dinner for the family. I loved poring over cookbooks and magazines with her to plan Sunday dinner. (an obsession that continues to this day) She loved finding new recipes to try and was delighted when we cleaned our plates. Her house was also the place I tried all sorts of novelties. (Cup O’Noodles! Magic Shell!) Then there were the special occasions where Grandpa would announce that he was taking us out for a REAL steak dinner. Off we went to Ponderosa! You want seafood? How about Arthur Treacher’s?

Although is no longer with us, she taught me an important lesson: food creates a bond and brings us together.

So, what is your favorite food memory?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stick to your Ribs!

After enduring a painful year of watching my favorite BBQ joints close; I was excited when Flaggstead Smokehouse opened in Farmington. If you like BBQ, this place is a must visit. The owner knows his stuff, using recipes handed down for three generations. I made my way over there one Sunday afternoon and ordered ribs, brisket, smoked sausage, beans and slaw. I rolled up my sleeves and dug in. The ribs are substantial, very meaty and perfectly seasoned. The brisket was the best I’ve ever tasted, and by far the tenderest. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they use Martin Rosol’s sausage (My favorite! Topic of a future post, perhaps?), spicy with a lot of snap! Sadly, I did not try any of the sauces after hearing some negative feedback. But don’t let that deter you! I didn’t miss the sauce as everything is so tender and well-spiced. Beans and slaw were flavorful, but the star of the show is the meat. I hope to have photos up soon!

DO check it out:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cuvee - West Hartford

Last Tuesday, my friend and I decided to try "Cuvee" before going to see "Julie and Julia". (Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci - sublime)

We loved Cuvee, it's very cozy with a South Beach feel. The menu consists of small plates and a thoughtful wine and cocktail list. The restaurant is divided into two distinct areas: a "wine bar"and "champagne room". Given the current economic climate, it was reassuring to see that the restaurant was busy. After ordering an expresso martini and a champagne cocktail; we decided to share a goat cheese and onion tart, ham and cheese crepes, and spicy beef lettuce cups. The beef cups were terrific, sweet on the first bite followed by a flavorful spicy kick! There were several interesting sushi rolls on the menu, which I would love to try on my NEXT visit. All and all, it was a perfect way to spend a Tuesday evening and a fun place to meet girlfriends for drinks and chat.

Check it out:

Time to get the little one to bed, we spent a lovely afternoon enjoying the beautiful weather with friends who just happen to love cooking. Perfect.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Look Mom, I'm blogging!

So here I am, like a child riding on two wheels for the first time...BLOGGING. I don't proclaim to be any great writer, just a person who is passionate about food and sharing information about it. Nothing gives me greater joy than visiting a great restaurant or winery and being able to spread the word, knowing that others will savor the experience as I did.

Now, I am off to get ready for the cat's birthday party. Yeah, that's what I said. We've got vichysoisse, tuna fish sandwiches and Spiderman cupcakes on the menu. The cat is going to be so surprised!

Chat with you soon