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.