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: