Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You're the Inspiration

Passing though the Chicago airport recently, we stopped to have a quick bite at the Billy Goat Tavern outpost.  As I was ordering, I looked up at the sign near me and annoyed the server by taking a photo!  The name of the tavern didn't come out very well, it's pretty obvious from the photo where the inspiration for this blog came from....

Hopefully, I will get some time to post soon, I have eaten some wonderful meals recently and can't wait to share them with you. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

I promised myself that when I started this blog, it wouldn’t get too serious or personal. Recently, a family event occurred that has really struck a chord with me, and I think the overall theme is worth sharing. When I was a little girl, my father’s younger brother disappeared, never to be heard from again. Over the years, questions arose as to his whereabouts. Did he have a family? What did he do for work? Did he know that his parents had passed away years earlier? As the internet entered our lives, the occasional online search was attempted with no success.
Recently we learned the unfortunate news; he had passed away after losing a long battle with cancer. Suddenly, details emerged about his life. The picture of an incredibly generous and selfless man appeared. He moderated a website and built computers for people in need. I reached out to his online community, and was touched to hear stories of their personal experiences. For the past week, I have been reviewing over 5 years of correspondence and gathering information about this uncle I barely knew. As the portrait started to breathe life, I discovered that he and I were eerily similar; we shared a favorite book, a TV show, Freecycle, sharing information and embracing all things technology. I couldn’t help but feel tremendous sadness and at the same time, joy in finding each new detail. The story continues to unfold and in the process, faith in human kindness has been restored. But let me get to the point….

After 33 years of no communication, it was revealed that he was days away from making contact with his family. Sadly, he passed away before it happened.

Don’t wait.

“Live Like You Were Dying” – Tim McGraw

He said: "I was in my early forties,
"With a lot of life before me,
"An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
"I spent most of the next days,
"Looking at the x-rays,"
"An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?
An' he said: "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."
He said "I was finally the husband,
"That most the time I wasn’t.
"An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
"And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
"Wasn’t such an imposition,
"And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
"Well, I finally read the Good Book,
"And I took a good long hard look,
"At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
"And then:

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,"
"To live like you were dyin'."
Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?
"Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,"
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu."
"And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,"
"And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin'."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance."
"To live like you were dyin'."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Gra, Dilseacht, Cairdeas

Hey kids, break out your “Kiss Me I’m Irish” button and that green shirt you-only-wear-once-a-year-because-green-makes-you-look washed-out. March 17th is almost here! Even though I am 0% Irish, I feel a deep connection to the culture, music, art and food of the Emerald Isle. St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, and if you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional corned beef and cabbage then I’ve got your recipe! It’s a tried and true favorite from Emeril Lagasse (yes, it contains his Essence, does he cook without it?). It’s a rich dish, so might want to keep it light on the side with a simple sautéed cabbage. Serve with Guinness, Smithwick’s or O’Hara’s Irish Red. As always, I’ve included a playlist of traditional Irish music, some of the finest music in the world.


• 4 (6-ounce) codfish fillets, skins removed

• Emeril’s Essence

• 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs

• 2 tablespoons melted Irish butter

• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

• 2 teaspoons Lakeshore Strong Irish Mustard or Colman's English mustard

• 2 teaspoons minced garlic, or spring onions

• 6 ounces Irish cheese such as Dubliner, Coolea, or Carrigaline, or Irish cheddar such as Kerrygold Vintage, grated

• 1 cup heavy Irish cream


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a casserole dish and set aside.

Lightly season the codfish on both sides with Essence and place in the prepared dish, skin side down.

In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, butter, parsley, mustard, and garlic, and mix well. Add the cheese and mix well. Place on the fish, patting down to make a crust. Pour the cream over the fish and bake until the fish is cooked through, golden brown and the cheese is bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and serve. Serves 4.

St. Patrick’s Day Playlist

Shenandoah – Van Morrison & The Chieftains (one of the greatest musical pairings ever)

Lafferty’s/Crock of Gold/Lady Birr/Abbey Reel – Lunasa

The Samurai Set – Gaelic Storm

To the beggin’ I will go – Old Blind Dogs

Strathspey/Con McGingley’s – Altan

Carolan’s Favorite Jig – Cherish the Ladies

Nil Na La – Solas

Pastures of Plenty – Solas

Miss Casey Medley – The Cottars

Toss the Feathers – The Coors

Morning Nightcap – Lunasa

Irish Heartbeat – Van Morrison

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Woke up on this rainy day thinking about two things; hightailing my ass to Target to check out the Liberty of London collection before it sold out AND meatballs. Those ads just scream “Spring!” don’t they? After scoring some designer duds for cheap, I made my way home and got to work in the kitchen.
 Fewer things are comforting than a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, especially on a chilly, damp Sunday. I put out the call to the rest of the family, and Sunday dinner was in the works. My recipe for meatballs is very simple and can also be used as a base recipe for meatloaf. They can be baked and later added to the tomato sauce, which is what I prefer. Leftovers make excellent meatball grinders with provolone cheese and roasted peppers. Feed your man, feed your family, feed a stranger; they will all love you while slurping on your saucy spaghetti and meatballs.

Mama Michelle’s Meatballs

1 lb. ground beef/pork/veal mixture

1 egg

¾ cup bread crumbs

¼ cup finely chopped shallots

2 teaspoons Italian herb blend (or basil/oregano)

¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese

2 Tablespoons Fresh or Dried Parsley

¼ teaspoon salt

Chicken Stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the egg, bread crumbs, shallots, herbs, Parmesan Cheese, parsley and salt. Add meat mixture and mix well. Add a splash of chicken stock, just enough to moisten. Shape mixture into approximately 16-20 meatballs. Arrange them in baking dish and add enough chicken stock to cover bottom of pan. (optional, but it makes for a very moist meatball!) Bake for 15-20 minutes. Drain the pan and either add them to the already simmering tomato sauce or serve alongside the pasta.

Enjoy with a glass of Monte Antico Toscana. (A reasonably priced full bodied red)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Esca Restaurant & Wine Bar - Middletown, CT

Once a month I get together with a couple of good friends for happy hour and for our last gathering we decided to try Esca, located off Main Street in Middletown. I had been looking forward to trying Esca for some time; that area has a great dining scene worth exploring.

The façade is unassuming, blending right in with the rest of the surrounding buildings. However, upon entering the restaurant, we were immediately struck by the lush and elegant Italian décor, from the impressive chandelier in the front dining area to the expansive cave in the wall above the bar. We sat at the bar and marveled at the Italian murals and upper level dining room that looks out onto the restaurant; as if you were sitting on a balcony in the Italian countryside. After reading the menu, it was decided that we would have to return to Esca, perhaps for dinner. Since it was happy hour, we decided to choose a couple of appetizers and wine. Sarah, our outgoing bartender, took our orders for the olive bowl, cheese plate and calamari.

Let’s chat about the wine list! It’s well balanced, broken out by style. It’s easy to choose based on preference, and not confining. I think too often we pigeon-hole ourselves into one type of grape and where’s the fun in that?? And now back to the food.

Our plates arrived and happy hour was well under way. The olive bowl was a colorful assortment of marinated olives accompanied by parmesan twists. Personally, I could live on olives and thought the bowl would be a perfect way to start out any meal! The cheese plate contained several artisan varieties; unfortunately I didn’t get the names of each. We were not complaining as we savored each slice with a dip of organic honey. Included with the cheese plate was a fun “fruit shooter”, a tiny cocktail of raspberries and Prosecco. Calamari was served hot and fresh with a snappy red pepper aioli. During our evening, we observed dishes coming out of the kitchen….pan seared scallops, mussels, and gnocchi to name a few. Everything looked delicious (duck confit flatbread and Cioppino are calling my name!) and the servers seemed to genuinely care about their customers.

To finish the evening, we rewarded ourselves for making it to Friday with a dessert. A little coffee and biscotti with chocolate sauce was the perfect thing to enjoy while we chatted our troubles away.

Refreshed from our Friday-cation, we parted ways and decided to put Esca on the short list of places to return.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

And so today, my world it smiles

Hey there Burgers!

Recently I've received some very nice compliments from some readers, and I just wanted to say THANK YOU! This year has been a challenge to say the least; it makes my day to hear that reading this blog makes you want to get out and try the recipes, foods and restaurants I chat about. But don't stop here...step outside of your comfort zone when you're eating out or trying to decide between your usual merlot or cabernet. Pick a new recipe from a cookbook and go for it!

At the very least, you tried it and expanded the horizons a little. Fun, isn't it?