Tastings - Washington State

Saturday, February 26, 2011 - 
This past Wednesday, hubs and I made our way to Tastings for date night.  I was in Boston for work the weekend prior, and am making my way there again on Friday (aka today) so our weekend dining date wasn't happening.  As we love Wednesday wine dinners, Tastings seemed like the perfect place to have a night out as the theme was Washington wines.  During our anniversary trip to Seattle, we sipped our way through several wineries at The Tasting Room in Post Alley and were anxious to see what was being offered.

As the first session was clearing out, hubs and I decided to sip on something while we waited.  I have to admit, this was the first time one of us sipped something I enjoyed to the point of having to read more about the wine.  And that my friends is the beauty about Tastings: you get to try something new without committing to the whole glass.  If you like it, get a full glass.  If you don't, try something else.  I love the concept.  Hubs found a winner - a red blend called Apothic Red.  Immense flavor, and at only $18 a bottle, something I would definitely seek out in the future.  Next time you are at Tastings, head to the kiosk near the back of the bar to give this a taste - it is worth it.

First Course - '09 Snoqualmie 'Naked' Gewurtztraminer served with Apple & Pear Spring Roll
Though initially sweet, the wine had a subtle cinnamon flavor to it, both in smell and taste.  Almost like an apple pie, it was juicy in flavor but ended a little flat.  However, when sipped with the food, it completed the missing elements and was a wine I really enjoyed (and at $15 a bottle, why not!)  A very clean tasting apple and pear spring roll was matched with the wine.  Tart, green apples and Asian pears were julienned and paired with a small serving of subtly bitter arugula.  Sticky rice held it all together in the wonton wrapper.  The spring roll was clean and light in flavor, but I was thankful for the accompaniment of the slightly spiced citrus Thai chili sauce that brought more depth to the dish.

Second Course - '08 Chateau Ste. Michelle 'Indian Wells' Chardonnay served with Mahi-Mahi Tartare
Initial smell of the wine - tropical.  As I sipped, the smell was also the taste.  It still held up the "thickness" of a chardonnay, but I wasn't a huge fan because of the strong tropical, I'd even say coconut, flavor - almost like a Malibu or suntan lotion (yup, I said it.)  Not that it wasn't good, just strong in that flavor palate.  I also have to admit I questioned Mahi-Mahi as a tartare.  Many times, it can be a "fishy" tasting fish.  Steven proved me wrong (or course.)  It was delightfully fresh and light, seasoned with citrus which matched well with the Chardonnay.  A rich, parsley brown butter component covered the palate brilliantly with the first bite.  And the dijon mustard...I had no idea that it would work so well with the Mahi Mahi.  With a slight saltiness and nuttiness of Manchego cheese shaved on top, served with crostini - delicious.

Third Course - '06 Novelty Hill Syrah served with Roasted Mushroom Risotto
No photo of the wine and I blame it on two things: 1.) The dish was heavenly and 2.) I didn't like the wine and simply forgot about it.  It had a very bitter ending for me, and I wasn't expecting it.  I love Syrah's (or Sirah.  You say tomato...) and was simply disappointed with the finish, which ruined the initial black cherry tastes in the beginning.  But, to my happiness, I had heard murmurs from the first seating about the risotto.  They were right to murmur.  Rich in flavor, wild mushrooms (including hedgehog mushrooms - you may know they would probably hold a special place in my heart) were roasted with shallots and piled high on pearl barley risotto.  Creamy, with slight rosemary seasoning, the risotto was cooked perfectly.  A hint of spice from somewhere surprised me as I felt it in the back of my throat.  But the star of this dish?  The very rich sweetness of the garlic puree.  Want. More.  You would have never known there wasn't cheese in this dish because it gave the richness that (I had thought) only a cheese could provide.  Delish - Steven, you need to bottle sweet garlic puree  And I'll take the first case.  Or two.  Yes and thank you.

Fourth Course - '08 Seven Hills Merlot served with Bison Burger and Fries
I love wine.  I love burgers.  Make sense to anyone else but me on why this is delicious?  The wine had a different smell that I just couldn't pinpoint, but it was definitely smoother in taste than I expected out of the Merlot.  It was dry on the tongue, a red wine drinker would approve.  The bison slider was tender and full of flavor despite being a leaner meat.  What I loved about the burger were the tender cedar-roasted Walla-Walla sweet onions (what a great match for a Walla-Walla wine.)  They were subtle in sweetness and a perfect topping for the slider.  A few sweet potato fries were served with a balsamic ketchup.  The ketchup was sweet and rich, almost like a BBQ sauce, that I not only dipped the fries in, but savored with my slider as well.

Fin - '08 NxNW Cabernet Sauvignon served with Maytag Cheesecake
This wine was the best of the evening: sweet but dry all at the same time.  Mature and fully developed in taste, the components of both Merlot and Cabernet shined through with their bold flavors. It was paired with a cheese course, Maytag Cheesecake.  A savory blue cheese was baked in a crust consisting of Baker's chocolate and pretzels.  Once in a while, I would really taste the chocolate and it surprised me every time.  A subtly rich blueberry honey was drizzled over the cheesecake, while flavors of balsamic and roasted red onions topped the 'cake'.  I loved the onions on the cheesecake - I thought it brought each element together with a savory bite.  On top, a thin crisp slice of speck.  There was a lot going on as flavors from every component were strong, but it was a good savory dish to end the night with.

Fortunately, not only were our tummy's full of delicious food, but we also got to see some great friends.  It was what we both needed: a mid-week experience as we continue to work our way to the weekend!

Have you dined somewhere that is familiar lately, but still left with a whole new experience?

Apple Turnovers

Thursday, February 24, 2011 - 
Hub loves apple pie.  But for Valentine's Day, I didn't think a whole pie would do it for the meal, so I opted to get a bit creative with some leftover puff pastry I had from a previous meal.  I figured if I made all the filling like an apple pie, I could wrap these up for individual desserts and even have two leftover for the next day's lunch.

Prior to getting the salad started, I made the turnovers first.  I began by peeling and coring two Granny Smith apples and chopping them into bite sized pieces.  A bit of lemon juice in the bowl ensured they didn't turn brown.  To the apples, I added a mix of brown sugar, baking soda and cinnamon.  I let it all set to get those flavors to come together while I worked on the puff pastry.

I love puff pastry.  I've used it for an appetizers, meals and desserts.  I feel like it is a really easy ingredient that leaves an elegant impression on what you are cooking.  It works great for simple beef wellington's too if you are short on time.

For this dessert, I rolled it out a bit and made four sections.  I added scoops of the apple mixture to each section, making sure to keep it on one side for ease of folding the dough over.  With a quick brush of egg wash on the edges, I folded over the dough and crimped the edges.  I cut a few slits into the top to help air escape as they baked and brushed them with more egg wash to give them the beautiful brown color as they baked.

A mere 20 minutes later, we had some great apple turnovers, served with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream too (no paid advertisement here, just love their ice cream and am extremely happy it is in Indy!)

What have you recently had for dessert that was simple, homemade and delicious?

Prawns with a bit of Steak

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 
As we enjoyed our salad course on Valentine's Day, I had already prepped everything for the main entree.  This included a well seasoned steak (note - hubs worked on the steak), prawns (remember our visit to Wisco?) and some parsnip puree. 

Prior to the serving the salad, I simply peeled and chopped the parsnips.  Rather than cooking them in water and adding cream later, I decided to boil them in the cream directly to add more creamy flavor.  I added garlic, thyme and a bay leaf to give it some flavor.  And that's it...I let it all boil and cook together while I prepped everything else.  All that was left to do before serving was to puree the mix (minus the bay leaf) together with some butter and serve.

For the prawns, I wanted to do something different than just broiling them like we had previously.  I decided to make a butter bath to cook them in out of some parsley that I had.  A stick of butter, an extremely large portion of garlic about about 1/2 a cup of parsley all went into the pan to melt together.  I seasoned the prawns, which I had deveined and removed the shell from, with some lemon zest and garlic before placing them into the pan to cook.  While this was all happening, hubby was grilling the steak outside. 

A very simple meal to prep, it still had the appearance of love and sophistication at the table.  The parsnips were buttery and sweet, smooth and creamy.  A great base for the Rib Eye steak which was bought from a local grocery store.  Hubs created a simple rub out of Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic and pepper which gave it incredible flavor.  The fat marbled steak was rich in flavor, and perfect accompannient to the garlic prawns.  Strong in garlic flavor without being overwhelming due to the rich buttery taste, the seafood wasn't lost in the taste.

Definitely a great dinner, and I was happy to see that we saved room for the dessert (which was baking in the oven during dinner), apple turnovers.

Valentine's Dinner, Salad Course

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 
Hubby and I went out to dinner on Sunday for our Valentine's Day celebration and enjoyed a wonderful meal at Noah Grant's.  So for the actual evening of V-Day, we stayed in and I decided to surprise hubby with a land and sea dinner.  We pretty much had everything I needed in the kitchen (except for a steak), so I got to work prepping for our dinner together at home.

After we caught up on each others day and munched on some cheese and crackers, I set the table and got ready for the first course. I had decided to start the meal with a hot bacon dressed spinach salad.  I had some bleu cheese, bacon, eggs, spinach and everything else in the fridge, so this was going to be an easily accessible dressing.  My mother makes a fantastic hot bacon dressing, but for some reason, I decided to not follow it and do something on my own.

I began by cutting up and cooking some bacon (while of course, tell our pup Nala 'no' - that girl loves her bacon!)  I was planning on using all the rendered grease for my dressing base, so I let it get nice and crispy before removing it with a slotted spoon (didn't want to waste any of the grease!)  I also only used two pieces of bacon since it was just the two of us I was cooking for, though I could have easily used more to get more grease for the dressing.  And honestly, who doesn't like stealing a treat of bacon here and there (except for my veggie friends of course!)

Note - I normally am not a "ooo, let's cook with grease!" type person.  But sometimes a special occasion calls for it - cheers to bacon grease!

Once I had all the grease in the pan, I added a scrambled egg that was mixed with water.  I quickly stirred the egg and crossed my fingers that it wouldn't scramble too badly.  ::sigh::  It scrambled, but not in the "I want scrambled eggs for breakfast" kind of way.  I pondered on whether I should bail on the plan and plop a bottle of bottled dressing on the table.  I figured, I already had mixed up my next (and final) ingredients, so I pushed forward to see what would happen.  Isn't that one of the many great things about cooking though?  Experimentation is a great thing and I moved on!

Some apple cider vinegar, sugar, corn starch (maybe I should have left this out and it wouldn't have been so thick?!), salt and pepper were mixed together and added to the base (after the obvious 'should I or shouldn't I' debate that I had with myself.)  I let it come all together and then pondered, "should I really serve this?" because of the texture.  I tasted it, add a bit more pepper.  It tasted good, but the texture wasn't what I wanted.  After asking hubs to taste it, he gave me a thumbs up that he would eat it because, "it was good, just not pretty."  Eh, I'll take it.

Our plates were prepped with spinach, red onions, bleu cheese and for me, a hard boiled egg (hubs doesn't "do" eggs on salads - I think that is crazy talk!)  I drizzled on the dressing and we sat down for our first course of the evening.  We also popped open a bottle of crisp Chandon champagne to enjoy throughout the meal. 

Overall, the dressing tasted great.  It was sharp in vinegar flavor but had the richness of, you guessed it, bacon.  Unfortunately, I didn't achieve the texture I was going for - the eggs had scrambled (obviously Angie...) and left me with a much thicker sauce than I intended.  But it was a great salad and we enjoyed the start to what would be a fantastic meal!

I even whipped out the wedding china for our Monday night dinner.  Sure, it wasn't meatless Monday (and I promise I am still doing meatless once a week, just not always on Meatless Monday!), but at some point this week it will be.

What have you made recently that tasted great, but didn't look beautiful as intended?

Weekend Brunch at Home = Happiness

Friday, February 11, 2011 - 
Sunday's are Tim's favorite days.  He gets to wake up late and relax over coffee and the newspaper.  During football season, we watch the Packers in the afternoon..  It is also the day for grocery shopping.  But mostly, we are lazy and we like it that way.

I adore breakfast, so I usually start making it right away while he gets the coffee brewing.  Our default breakfast is a poached egg over potatoes.  It is so simple and I can still be lazy while making it.  A simple dicing of a few potatoes, parboiled in salted hot water, are simply pan fried with whatever seasoning I feel like that morning.  If we have some leftover lunch meat or smokey sausages, I'll add that to the mix too. Sometimes veggies go in there - tomatoes, peppers, etc. - whatever I have on hand.  All of this is topped with a runny poached egg.  Small serving and delicious for a Sunday morning.

Many times I'll opt for tea versus coffee.  Something about tea makes me want to relax a bit more - and I always grab the glass pot for my flower jasmine tea on the weekend.  Isn't it gorgeous?

Lazy Sunday's - I bet you didn't know that I love them being the over programmed person I am.  Well, now you know. It is a bit of happiness that I get with my best friend and I look forward to it every weekend.

What are you looking forward to cooking this weekend?

Spiced Maple Pork with Sweet Potato Hash

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 
When hubs and I buy pork, it is always a huge portion.  When there are only two of you, that means the pork roast can become six meals plus leftovers if you are lucky.  We had already made pork chops and pork fried rice, so I decided to make a basic roast this time around.

After allowing the pork to come to room temperature, I covered it in olive oil.  After seeing maple syrup in the pantry, I opted for a sweet and spicy pork.  I rubbed the pork with cayenne, thyme, salt and pepper and proceeded to bast it with maple syrup while it roasted in the oven.

On the side, I opted for sweet potatoes though hubs isn't a fan.  I'm determined to make him a fan due to my love affair with the root vegetable.  Plus, he likes potatoes, I don't understand.  I decided to make a hash out of them and add some spinach to really get that nutrition level up.  I began by seasoning up some sauteed onions with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  The shredded sweet potatoes were then added.  Unfortunately, I had the wrong attachment on my KitchenAid, so I got a very fine potato versus the thicker cut I was looking for.  So my hash ended up almost mashed, but it still cooked well and tasted delightful.

I added some nutmeg and let it continue to marinate in flavor.  I threw in the leftover spinach we had in the fridge for it to finish up as I took out the pork.  The pork was done to my liking (I love it a little pink, don't hate) after basting it in maple syrup for the last 40 minutes.  It was a big chunk of meat and I wasn't anticipating it taking so long, but it was worth the wait for sure.

The pork was extremely juicy and bursting with flavor.  It was a great cut of meat and the maple syrup not only left it subtly sweet, but gave it a thin and crisp outer layer.  The syrup was perfect with the spice of the cayenne pepper I had rubbed on it.  It was fantastic, so fantastic that we didn't have leftovers from the meal.  The potatoes and spinach, though not the texture I wanted, were great with the pork. They had their own sweetness, but were elevated with the nutmeg and pepper I had used to season it.

Delicious weekday meal, and I'm happy to report, hubs ate all of his potatoes!

Super Bowl Champs - The Green Bay Packers!!

Monday, February 7, 2011 - 
Photo Credit
I wore green and gold all weekend in anticipation.  We decorated the house with balloons, green and yellow crepe paper and all of our beads, cowbells and pom poms from our previous celebrations.  Our friends arrived with food in hand (think wings, meatball sliders, guac, Big Boy burger bites, dips, cheese, sausage, etc.!) to compliment our build your own nacho bar, cheddar and sausage chowder, brats, beer dip and pretzels. 

We drank High Life.  And now, we are living it.

Last night was one of those nights where I wish I could have been in my home city...what an amazing atmosphere.  In 1996, when this previous happened (yes, we beat the New England Patriots. My dear Mass friends, I remember this well...I was 14) the excitement in the city was overwhelming. Pride was what everyone felt when the Lombardi trophy returned to Title Town.  I'm sure it is the same today, and will be for quite sometime.

A BIG congratulations to my boys, the Green Bay Packers, for being this year's Super Bowl Champions!  Here are some photos from Green Bay - wish I could have been there!

Photo Credit
 And yes, I'm still wearing green today...

Lobster Ravioli

Friday, February 4, 2011 - 
The ice/sleet/snow storm that Indy experienced this week lead me to have two days away from work and happily in the kitchen.  I had been meaning to make some lobster ravioli ever since we purchased the lobster from Festival Foods in Wisconsin, but just hadn't.  A snowy, icy day?  Perfect time to make some ravioli for dinner!

I began by making the filling.  I boiled the lobster tail in some water and seasoning, a pretty basic mix.  While that cooked, I prepped the other ingredients by chopping a shallot and some mushrooms I had on hand.  I sauteed both of these with some garlic in butter until soft.  I seasoned it up with some red pepper flakes, pepper and smidge of salt.  I then added the lobster to get all the flavors to really marry together.  I set this aside, let it cool, and added some Mascarpone cheese, chives and parsley for good measure.  I set it aside and started to work on my pasta.

For the pasta dough, I mixed flour, eggs, olive oil and bit of salt together in my mixer with the dough hook attachment.  I ended up adding a little water to get the texture that I wanted and let it sit for a bit before rolling it out.

I love our pasta maker attachment for the KitchenAid.  We use it way more than I ever thought we would.  I took this pasta class at Williams Sonoma a while back and from that moment, I had to have the pasta maker.  A great investment for our household, but that is because we like to make our pasta rather than buying it.  So after 20 minutes, I got to work with the dough by cutting it into four sections.  I hand pressed it a little and began feeding it through the roller.  If you have a roller, begin on the first setting and run it through a few items to get the elastic feeling in the dough.  Between passes, fold in the ends of the dough to make a tri-fold each time to get it mixed well.  Then, move on to setting 2 with one pass, setting 3, 4 and then 5 to achieve the length you desire. 
Once I had all the pasta rolled, I set them all by each other and dropped a hefty tablespoon of filling onto the sheets, leaving 1 to 1 1/2 inches between fillings.  Then, brush the edges around the filling with an egg wash mixture - this helps adhere the other dough that will be put on top.  When you drape the dough on top, really form the pockets of filling and ensure there isn't much air in the pockets.  Then, use a knife or pastry cutter to cut them out.  It sounds like a lot of steps, but in reality, it is just entertaining to do!

These boiled in salted water for a few minutes.  They cook up pretty quickly - when they float, they are ready for the brown butter and sage sauce that your hubby has made for the noodles.  The tasty sauce was simply brown butter on the stove with additions of balsamic vinegar, pepper, sage and other seasonings.  Do whatever you want in the sauce, it is where you can be creative!

It was a delicious dish and a great way to spend about one hour of my afternoon.  And the leftovers the next day were great! The noodles soaked up the butter and were just as delicious.

Did you recently have a snow day, and if so, cook anything delicious?