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