Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

We wrapped up the holiday of eating giving thanks with a light delicious meal at Bar Symon in the Pittsburgh airport before our flight home.  I had wings, Dan had a burger topped with a fried egg (one of the best burgers he’s ever had) and we shared the fries with cheddar and bacon.  Bar food at its finest.

When we got home, we were delighted to find another shipment of olive oil from our adopted tree in Italy.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth another shout-out and thanks to Dan’s brother and his lovely wife for the awesome gift (thanks S & I!)  This particular shipment included 3 tins of flavored olive oil:  garlic, mandarin and lemon.  They are flavored via the “agrumato” method, in which the flavor ingredients are crushed together with the olives in the olive press.  These types of oils are customarily used to dip, drizzle and/or finish off dishes and each tin has suggested uses.  We can’t wait to try them all and I’m pretty sure there is a cheese plate with some good dipping bread in our immediate future.

We had an amazing dining experience this week at a small Italian restaurant called Lucia, located in our old neighborhood.  We had heard good things about Lucia and became even more intrigued when we discovered how difficult it is to get into.  We made our reservation about 6 weeks ago.  Part of the reason it can be tough to get a table there is because it’s pretty tiny, but it also lives up to its exclusivity in terms of the food, atmosphere and service.  The menu changes daily, based on availability of as many seasonal and local ingredients as possible.  They prepare many of the ingredients in-house, from the cured meats, to the pasta, to the marinated olives that appeared the moment we sat down at our table.  Our server was charming, very knowledgeable and made us feel like we were new friends attending a dinner party at her home.

Just about every bite of food was exquisite.  We started with 2 small antipasti courses:  the “salumi misti,” which on that night included house-made black pepper salume, soppressata lonza, and crostinis with duck pate and chicken liver; and the crostini with Red Wattle lardo and honey caramelized mushrooms.  For our pasta courses (which were also available in smaller portions), we had the cocoa-infused tagliatelle with Red Wattle pork ragu and the tajarin (similar to spaghetti) with porcini broth and fresh procini.  We decided to share the “secondi” course and had the tasting of pork with Berkshire loin chop, Red Wattle polpette  crostini, and root vegetables.  Finally, we couldn’t resist sharing the salted caramel gelato with honey crisp apples and rosemary for dessert.  Divine.  It sounds like a lot of food, and it was, but the portions and pacing were perfectly balanced.  (Although I feel full just from typing all that we ate.)  Suffice to say that Lucia is our new favorite restaurant in Dallas and we will be stalking their website for reservation opportunities for our next several special occasions.

It has been unseasonably warm here lately, which means that our tomato plants have continued to flourish (there are some basil plants in the mix as well.)  They have pretty much taken over our sidewalk, are encroaching on the grill and have grown just about as wide as they are tall.  We long ago gave up trying to stake them or otherwise contain them and haven’t been able to cut them back because they are still covered in fruit.  We harvest cherry tomatoes pretty much every day and are now ruined for the store-bought variety since the garden-fresh ones are so much better.  Once it gets consistently cold here and the plants eventually die, it’s going to be one heck of a mess to break them down and clean them up (1-2-3, not it!), but we’re enjoying our tomato bounty in the meantime.

Chicken Tikka Masala

We typically don’t eat Indian food.  Dan has a love/hate relationship with the curry powder used in a lot of Indian dishes (he loves it but it hates him, gastronomically-speaking), and I haven’t ever been all that intrigued by trying much Indian cuisine, so it’s never really been on our radar.  Until now.  Several months ago, we had dinner at Samar, a tapas (small plates) restaurant that serves food inspired by the cuisine in Spain, India and the Eastern Mediterranean.  It was the perfect opportunity to try little portions of new-to-us dishes without having to commit to an entire meal that we may or may not like (and may or may not like us back.)  One of the small plates we tried that night was “tandoori chicken butter masala.”   We liked it a lot (it liked us just fine too), and it inspired us to try making something similar at home.  We’re not really sure what the difference is between tandoori chicken and chicken tikka (some sources say tandoori involves a whole chicken or chicken parts, while tikka refers to smaller bits of chicken), but we found a recipe for chicken tikka masala that sounded good, and we adapted it into a dish that we love even better than the one we had at Samar.  It’s easy to make, although it takes some time since the chicken needs to marinate in the yogurt-based marinade for about an hour, then the chicken simmers for about half an hour in the tomato-based sauce.  But the final dish is worth the effort, with complex spices and flavors that you can easily adjust to suit your own preferences (add more cayenne and/or another serrano pepper if you like it more spicy, or increase the amount of cinnamon, sugar and/or garam masala if you prefer a more warm/sweet flavor.)  We’re happy to report a love/love relationship with this Indian dish and we’re so glad we tried it.

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Polish Boy Sandwiches

The Steelers took on the Cleveland Browns this week.  And by “took on,” I mean that they handed the game to the Browns in the form of a very generous 8 turnovers (including a fumble at the very last second of the game, for good measure.)  Needless to say, the Steelers lost and it wasn’t pretty.  So let’s just move on to the food, shall we?  Cleveland isn’t exactly the first place we think of as a fine-dining mecca, but it has been garnering more respect from food critics in recent years (all the while proudly maintaining its notoriety as a blue-collar, burgers and dogs kind of town.)  Cleveland native Chef Michael Symon is credited with helping to revitalize the dining scene in the city and has 3 restaurants there.  He is possibly Cleveland’s most famous celebrity chef, so it seemed even more fitting that the recipe we chose for the Steeler Opponent-City Challenge this week is Chef Symon’s recipe for the “Polish Boy” sandwich.  We didn’t find much information about the origin of the Polish Boy, but this kielbasa sandwich, topped with cole slaw and french fries, is definitely a Cleveland favorite, sold at BBQ joints and by street vendors all over the city.  Chef Symon likes them so much that he featured the Polish Boy on an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” (“Between Bread” edition), and he put the sandwich on the menu at his Bar Symon restaurant in the Pittsburgh airport.  We’re fans of the Polish Boy as well (what’s not to like about a sandwich incorporating both grilled sausage and homemade french fries?!), which brings the current S.O.C.C. record to Steelers: 6-5, Foodie Laywer 10-1.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Sometimes a scary movie, a big bowl of Parmesan popcorn and a bottle of wine make for the perfect Friday night.  We watched “Silent House” on DVD last Friday — it was pretty good, but we liked either “The Cabin in the Woods” or “The Bay” a lot more if you’re looking for a good thriller/horror movie for your next movie night.

We’ve probably mentioned it here before, but Malai Kitchen is one of our favorite Asian restaurants and it serves an amazing version of Pad Woo Sen (stir fried glass noodles with chicken, green onions, cilantro and cherry tomatoes in a sweet garlic sauce with just a hint of spice.)  On our most recent visit, we were delighted to find that Malai Kitchen added another favorite as a permanent menu item, since it previously was only available as an occasional special — the Ahi Tuna Tartare appetizer is now available any time.  Except of course if they happen to run out, as they did the day we were there.

Our disappointment at the lack of ahi tuna was cured by the discovery of a new favorite  — the Garlic Lemongrass Poached Chilean Sea Bass with baby bok choy and thin rice noodles in a chile lime broth.  The fish was delicious, but the star of this dish was the broth — silky smooth and packed with chile, garlic, lime and lemongrass flavors.  It was addicting, and we both slurped it down like it was the last soup on Earth.

We made the trek to central Pennsylvania this week to spend Thanksgiving with Dan’s mom, his brother, his brother’s lovely wife and our adorable nephew.  Spending quality time with our favorite little redhead and the rest of the family made the trip more than worthwhile.  We are thankful to have them and all our family and friends in our lives and hearts.  And the little guy is especially thankful for the Fisher-Price “peoples”  that he can drop through the trap door of the Fisher-Price castle at “Bama’s” (Grandma’s) house.  Repeatedly.  And again.

Among our many blessings this Thanksgiving is the fact that we noticed that the oven was actually OFF, about an hour after we put the turkey in it.  But the oven had been pre-heated, so luckily it was still warm and we rectified the situation in the nick of time.  No matter if the issue was user-error or equipment malfunction (we may never know for sure, although we have our suspicions), the turkey was saved and we had a beautiful Thanksgiving feast!  Hope all of you had a wonderful holiday as well.

Turkey Mushroom Risotto (w/ leftover turkey)

It’s almost Thanksgiving, so here is another recipe transforming leftover turkey into a new dish.  In the original recipe, the turkey flavor comes from turkey stock.  We didn’t have any stock (nor any turkey bones to make it), so we used chicken stock and added leftover turkey meat for turkey flavor and a variance in texture in the creamy risotto.  This isn’t exactly a quick dish (risotto requires a lot of stirring and patience), but it’s pretty easy to make with a few, simple ingredients:  butter; a shallot; mushrooms; garlic; fresh sage; Arborio or other “risotto rice;” chicken stock; leftover turkey; pecorino cheese (Parmesan would also work) and salt & pepper.  If you’re tired of turkey sandwiches (but not tired of spending some time in the kitchen), this dish is a richly decadent way to use your leftover turkey.  And if you’ve got a lot leftover, here are some other recipe options:  turkey barley soup,  tex-mex turkey soup, turkey tetrazzini, king ranch, enchiladas, paella and stuffed shells.  We hope you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving, with an abundance of good food, cheer and counted blessings!
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Baltimore Crab Cakes

The Steelers played the Baltimore Ravens this week, and I’m told that there is a huge rivalry between these two teams, although no one seems to articulate precisely why they are rivals.  Dan gave me a few reasons — they’re in the same division and have knocked each other out of playoffs in previous seasons, each team plays a really physical defense, blah blah blah.  I guess I was looking for a more juicy, soap opera-esque, “you killed my father, prepare to die” reason.  But alas, apparently it is just a plain old football rivalry.  I suppose there are some aspects of football I’ll just never quite understand.  Like ugly throw-back uniforms.  Or why Mike Wallace can’t seem to hold on to the football.  Or the onside kick (I actually had to look up whether it was “onside, ” or “onsite” — the latter of which kind of makes sense to me, since the person kicking is there, on the field or “site.”   But what do I know?  Clearly, very little about football.)

I may lack knowledge of football, but I do know what I like in a crab cake (and a good segue):  just the right crab-to-breading ratio; crispy outer layer; nice crab flavor (no fishy taste); and seasoning reminiscent of a crab or crawfish boil.  The most perfect crab cake I’ve ever had can be found, strangely enough, at a little family-owned Italian restaurant in Altoona, PA called Lena’s.  Our prior attempts to recreate the Lena’s crab cake at home have been largely unsuccessful.  We decided to give it another shot for the Steeler Opponent-City Challenge this week, since Baltimore and the entire state of Maryland are known for crab, especially blue crab.  We weren’t able to find blue crab, but we bought the best (most expensive) fresh crab we could find, adapted this recipe, and ended up with crab cakes almost as good as the perfect ones we get from Lena’s.  Using panko instead of traditional breadcrumbs helps keep the breading light, while the flavor combination of Dijon mustard, Old Bay Seasoning, lemon juice, parsley, jalapeno and chives complements the crab flavor really well.  Crab cakes so good that you don’t even need cocktail sauce equals a win in our book.  Unfortunately, the Steelers weren’t so lucky against the Ravens, which brings the current S.O.C.C. record to:  Steelers 6-4, Foodie Lawyer 9-1.  And watch out Ravens — you beat us once this season, prepare to lose when we play you again in two weeks.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

We are big fans of the show “Top Chef” and have watched every season.  The show is set in Seattle this time, and when we tuned in to the first episode, we were surprised and delighted to see a chef that we recognized.  Chef contestant Danyele McPherson is from Dallas, and the reason we recognized her is because she cooked for us once!  Dan’s brother and his lovely wife gifted us with a tasting menu at a concept restaurant called Fuego several years ago.  Chef Danyele cooked our dinner that night, alongside Chef Stephan Pyles.  It was an unforgettable dining experience (thanks again, S & I!), and we’re excited to see how Chef Danyele fares on this season of Top Chef.  We’ll certainly be cheering her on.

We had a couple of over-ripe bananas this week and decided to make banana bread.  We don’t bake very often — by “we” I mean “I,” and by “very often” I mean “ever.”  But I didn’t want the bananas to go to waste, so I found a recipe in our Cook’s Illustrated “The Best Light Recipe” book and gave it a shot.  The bread was easy to make and turned out well enough that we would definitely make it again.  Pro Tip:  If you accidentally forget to add the eggs to the bread mixture as instructed in the recipe, but notice them sitting on the counter just as you put the bread in the oven, you can quickly throw the bread mixture back in the mixer, add the eggs, put it all back in the bread pan, bake it, and not really notice a difference in the finished bread.  I win at baking!

Dan very sweetly surprised me with a “just because” bouquet of flowers this week.  He’s the best and I am a lucky girl.

We love sushi and enjoy trying new places, but Sushi Sake will probably always be our favorite (so much so that this is likely not the first time we’ve mentioned it in a Friday Favorites post.)  They have some of the freshest and best fish around, always expertly and perfectly prepared.

We cooked acorn squash for the first time this week.  We generally prefer savory over sweet when it comes to cooking with gourds (this butternut squash with gorgonzola is a Thanksgiving favorite), so we were intrigued to try this recipe that called for roasting the squash while basting it with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, chopped peperoncini peppers, thyme and salt & pepper.  We also added some red pepper flakes (and might add more next time) to help contrast with the honey and sweet squash flavor.  We’ll make this squash again — possibly as a filling for homemade ravioli served with a creamy white sauce.

Jambalaya (w/ leftover turkey)

It’s that time of year again — Let’s Talk Turkey!  More specifically, let’s talk turkey leftovers.  While Dan loves the Thanksgiving Day roasted turkey with gravy and traditional trimmings, I usually prefer leftover turkey, creatively transformed into a unique dish.  We’ve used turkey in lots of different ways:  from soups (turkey barley and tex-mex turkey) to casseroles (turkey tetrazzini and king ranch) to unexpected dishes (enchiladas, paella and stuffed shells.)  In light of the upcoming holiday, we’ve got a few more leftover turkey recipes to share, starting with Emeril Lagasse’s “Turkey and Sausage Jambalaya for a Crowd.”  (Chef Lagasse isn’t kidding about the “for a crowd” part — we halved the recipe and still had enough for dinner and a couple of lunches.)  The recipe is pretty easy to make with basic ingredients:  vegetable or canola oil, onion, green bell pepper, celery, garlic, Emeril’s “Essence” (basically a Creole seasoning), salt, pepper, cayenne, bay leaves, kielbasa or andouille sausage, leftover turkey, tomatoes and rice.  We used smoked turkey (thawed Greenburg Smoked Turkey from last year — it’s the best!), but regular turkey will also work.  Garnished with hot sauce, green onions and parsley, this jambalaya is a deliciously Cajun way to celebrate being thankful.

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