Thursday, July 1, 2010

That's a knife

Steve and I have been pining for a new slicing knife for ages.  We considered getting one after Christmas using our Macy's gift card.  But opted for new bath towels instead.  Then we almost got one using a CB2 gift card, but couldn't.  (Side note: did you know that you can use Crate & Barrel gc's at CB2, but you can't use a CB2 gc at Crate & Barrel.  What?!)

So now, here we are six months later, and we find ourselves with a bit of a shopping bug and no money to use to squelch said bug.  Aha!  Wait a second, what do I see in my envelope of gift cards?  A $50 Visa card.  Yay!  Let's go!

We headed to Crate & Barrel again because we wanted to browse their summer sale. I picked up our outdoor dinner ware at this sale last year, and since we could use a couple more plates and skewers, we went expecting to get those.  The universe had other ideas because when we got there and saw that the Wusthof 10-inch slicer was on sale at $50 we changed our minds. 

We got home and could hardly wait to try it out.  The only serrated knives we have are two high-quality steak knives (but since they are short, they aren't much use to slicing most things) and one 9-inch crappy, rusting, light-weight knife from Target that can really mangle up a delicate crumb or tear meat.  Sometimes it works okay. 

We had a round loaf of Italian bakery bread, so we tested the knife on this.  We cut thin, even slices with ease.  I can only imagine how great this knife will work when I have to split a cake layer in half or thirds.  Like buttah.

Here's Steve trying it out to much glee and satisfaction.

Did someone say grill?

As soon as the weather turns from snow and ice and wind chill to humidity, sun, and long days, we break the grill out.  Our grilling season started early this year, but it was a bit of a false start.  The weather warmed up only to cool off again.  But now, here at the start of July, the grilling season has been in full swing for at least a month.  We find ourselves grilling at least once a week up on our roof.  (Yes, we take the appropriate and legally called for fire precautions - no gas grilling, five gallons of water, fire extinguisher, and we never leave the grill unattended.) 

A week or so ago, we had people over to share in the grilling for the first time this summer.  We prepared grilled leg of lamb and then sliced it up for gyros with tzatziki, pitas, red onions, lettuce, tomatoes.  Sides included hummus, a baked potato potato salad (Reka brought this creation that was made with all the fixings of a baked potatoes including BACON!), chips, grilled asparagus, Persian cucumbers, carrots, watermelon, etc.  Steve did the grilling and the tzatziki and it was all very delicious.  Excellent job.

Here are the before pictures.  There are no after pictures.

Donna and Steve talking lamb.

The Spread.

Looking west and waiting for that lamb!

As you can see, we had plenty of food and room for all of it and us. And such a nice evening.  We followed this feast with a round of Shanghai, Popsicles, Riesen, and mini Twix.  We like our junk food while playing cards.

Hope to have everyone over again before the end of summer.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sarah's Curried Chicken Salad

At Harcourt, we loved food.  The children's marketing department was often the epicenter for food at the company and we would use any excuse as a reason to bring in some tasty treats.  We all had skills in the kitchen from beginner to advanced, and our palates varied enough that we often had dishes that ran the gamut from sweet to savory.

Sampling each others culinary output led to the inevitable recipe sharing.  One of the publicists, Sarah, brought this salad to a picnic and I recently came across the recipe as I was flipping through my file looking for inspiration.  Steve thought it was high time I made this again (I have only made this one other time), so we had it for dinner last night.

The recipe can be adapted easily and stands up just fine without the pasta.

Curried Chicken Pasta Salad

2-3 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 lb medium shell (or orecchiette, or macaroni) pasta noodles, cooked and drained
1/2 cup golden or regular raisins
1/4 to 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced green onion
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup mango chutney
2 tsp curry powder
1 cup mayo or Miracle Whip
1 tsp ground turmeric
salt & pepper to taste

Mix chicken and pasta shells, if using, in a large bowl.  Add raisins, almonds, celery, and green onion.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Mix dressing ingredients - chutney, curry, mayo, turmeric - in a separate bowl and spoon/pour over the other ingredients.  Toss well to coat.  Add apple and toss again.  Chill until ready to serve.  This recipe makes a big bowlful, so it's perfect for sharing.

If not using pasta, there will be too much dressing.  You could probably only make half the dressing and it would be enough, or just make it all and spoon on what you need to dress the salad and use the rest as a dip.  If the pasta isn't there to bulk it up, the salad goes well with pitas and crisp lettuce.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chocolate Croissants

Yum, yum, yum!  After two days of work, these little beauties are finally ready for consumption.  Delish!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Food news bites

In the past couple of days, I have received emails or links about some interesting food news tidbits.  Thought some of you might be interested to know about these as well so I've rounded them all up here.  Click away my friends.

Not sure what to do with all those wine corks cluttering up nooks and crannies in the kitchen?  Or maybe you are wondering where all those corks come from and if they have an environmental impact?  Click here for answers and info on a cork recycling program.

The South has some of the best food in the country. Next time you are driving through the region, you can plan your meals as well as your sightseeing with the Southern Food Alliance's nifty food map.

Yum, yum, yum.  Gotta try this outlandish and rich sounding milkshake.

I tried posting my review of John Besh's cookbook, My New Orleans: The Cookbook here on Blogger but I kept getting error messages.  So here is a link to my review I wrote on Goodreads.

Happy weekend everyone.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The best Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone a few days early.  Wanted to share with you a delicious Irish Soda Bread recipe before the actual holiday in case you actually want to make it for yourself.  As I type this, I am taking breaks to eat some of this very bread.  I made mine yesterday.

A friend at Harcourt made this one St. Patrick's Day for our pot luck lunch in the office.  It was so delicious that I had to have the recipe, which turns out, she found on Epicurious

I have made very minimal adjustments to the recipe when I have made this because the recipe is just so dang good as it's written.  The only things I have done differently, or could do differently, is add a touch more buttermilk if the dough is just a little too dry to fully combine (as it was last night for some reason).  Not being a fan of raisins, I also reduce the amount that goes in to just a cup and a half.  If you love raisins, you would probably like to use the entire amount called for.  I haven't tried it, but I bet you could make several smaller loaves from one recipe by using round cake pans.  Every time I've made it, I've used the 12-inch All-Clad skillet.  This turns out one monster huge loaf that is easy to cut up into chunks to give away or freeze. 

Here it is in it's entirely as written on the Epicurious website.  This bread also has a September 11th connection (see below), so now when I make this, I remember 9/11 as well as all my buddies and good times at Harcourt.  It's good bread in every way.

Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway
by Patrice Bedrosian, Brewster, New York
yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings

Patrice Bedrosian of Brewster, New York, writes: "In the days that followed September 11, 2001, I — like so many Americans — gravitated toward roast chicken, meat loaf, and anything that brought comfort and ease to my home. You see, my stepbrother, Jerry O'Leary, a 34-year-old chef working at Cantor Fitzgerald's corporate dining room in One World Trade Center, was among the many victims on that terrible day. "I feel quite certain that Jerry's love for cooking stemmed from his mother, Julie Lestrange. And as long as I can remember, she has always had something delicious waiting for my family whenever we visit.
"I would like to share a recipe that Julie has given to me. My hope is that you will, in turn, share it with my fellow readers, encouraging them to enjoy this delicious and comforting Irish bread, to smile, and to remember the love between a mother and a son."  Offer this easy-to-make bread with plenty of butter and your favorite jam.

  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups raisins
  • 3 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 2 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated (dough will be very sticky).

Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center. Using small sharp knife dipped into flour, cut 1-inch-deep X in top center of dough. Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in foil; store at room temperature.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cookbook review: Rose's Heavenly Cakes

(Published yesterday on Goodreads) 

by Rose Levy Beranbaum
September 2009
Wiley, 978-0471781738

This book is gorgeous to look at. I've had my eye on it since Christmas.  It finally dawned on me that instead of pining for a $40 cake cookbook, I should just see if the library had it and give it a test run.  Tah-dah! They did! 

Several things I noticed about this book:
-The photography is excellent and while not every recipe has a photo, there are enough pics to make the mouth water. 

-all recipes have ingredient measurements by both volume AND weight. I love that the weights are included as that's the most accurate way to measure most ingredients.

-this is not a book for casual/beginner bakers. Most of the recipes contained are involved, time consuming, or intimidating in length. There is no way most home bakers will be able to get the same results as Rose. I think home bakers with cooking/baking experience and know-how should be able to turn out some of these recipes, but they will really have to commit themselves to the project. For example, the recipe for the cake on the cover of the book (a Bernachon Palet D'Or Gateau) is over four pages long.

-many of the recipes do not require unusual cake pans. Quite a number of them call for the standard 9x2 round cake pan or basic 9" springform. There are recipes where other pans are needed, but I think there are enough to choose from using the standard 9x2 to satisfy.

-Rose is picky; almost snobbishly so. It's her way or the highway. She's picky about what kind of flour, what size pan (and why not to use the size not listed for a particular recipe), high quality ingredients, the importance of weighing eggs rather than just cracking in an egg. The list goes on. I know baking has a reputation for being picky, but really, for an average home baker, such pickiness isn't really necessary to get a good, delicious cake. That being said, I do agree that the better quality of the ingredients, the better the result will taste and feel.

-there are some good, basic cake recipes as well as ganache and frosting recipes. All of the cake recipes in this book are for the complete cake - meaning cake, frosting/ganache/filling, and decorations. This is one reason why each recipe is so long. Many of the basic components could be broken out and used on it's own with another cake or frosting.

-a good list of sources for specialty ingredients and a long, informative, section defining and breaking down ingredients

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. Her tips and techniques are sound in their reasoning as she is a baker who makes an effort to understand the science behind everything.

I get to keep the book for three weeks thanks to the BPL and I will probably only get to try one of the cakes. I marked about two dozen of the recipes as ones I'd like to try. So what shall it be? Here are some of my picks:

-Karmel Cake
-Gateau Breton
-Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake
-Devil's Food Cake with Midnight Ganache
-Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache
-Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache
-Lemon Meringue Cake
-Torta Las Tres Leches (one of my favorite cakes!)
-Lemon Cheesecake
-Mud Turtle Cupcakes
-True Orange Genoise

Bottom line:
-Not for beginners
-Almost text book in its approach to ingredients and technique; a great learning tool (but very few pictures illustrating those techniques; it's not a photo step-by-step book which is why the baker needs to have some know-how of baking basics before attempting)
-Gorgeous food photography
-A great variety of cakes is covered (including wedding cakes and how to construct them)
-Very thorough in recipe steps, ingredients, and technique explanations
-Only purchase for serious, experienced home bakers who love to make complicated and beautiful cakes (or for people who like to look at pretty pictures of food) 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Down in the Big Easy

During the first week of February, I found myself in New Orleans. How, you ask, can an unemployed gal afford a four day trip? Simple - most of it was paid for by Steve's company. Steve was getting shipped down to NOLA for some web-techie something rather conference. His company covered his flight, hotel, taxis, and up to $40 a day for food. Steve had never been to New Orleans and he downright insisted I go with him simply because he wanted to have fun and not sit in his hotel room every night. So we hired our cat sitter and set off.

I didn't have a sightseeing itinerary but a culinary one. Knowing we weren't renting a car and trying to do things as frugally as possible, I limited our dining options to the Quarter, CBD, and possibly the warehouse district. Steve was also limited as to what he could go do since his conference was Tuesday and Wednesday from 9-5(6ish). Here's where we went and what we ate.  We split almost everything.

Mother's - Ferdi Special - roast beef, baked ham, debris & gravy po'boy. Red beans and rice on the side

Cafe Du Monde - um, Steve loved these little fried pieces of heaven and we wound up there three times in four days. Yeah.

Central Grocery - picked up half a muffuletta, two bags of Zapp's, and two Barq's in glass bottles

Acme Oyster House - chicken & andouille gumbo, catfish & oyster po'boy, and half a dozen chargrilled oysters

Deanie's Seafood - Crab Quartet, which included crab gratin, fried crab claws, stuffed crab, and fried soft shell crab

Coop's Place - Cajun fried chicken with rabbit & sausage jambalaya on the side (Steve didn't eat here. I met a friend for lunch.)  The resident cat slept in the windowsill by my shoulder.

Bayona - cream of garlic soup, broccoli-asparagus soup, goat cheese crouton with mushrooms in Madeira cream, peppered lamb loin with goat cheese and Zinfandel sauce. Saw Chef Spicer a couple times accepting compliments in the dining room.

As you can see we ate well.  (For some reason Blogger pictures aren't working. I have pics of several things but can't get them added to this entry.)

We liked just about everything. Some things were better than others, but all were delicious.  Some of my favorites were the entire meal at Bayona, the crab gratin at Deanie's, and the chargrilled oysters at Acme.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Steve is a fan of Man v. Food, and likes to try the places Adam Richman, the host, goes to in various cities. The MvF New Orleans episode visited Deanie's, Mother's, and Acme.  We hit them all although we didn't necessarily eat everything that Adam did.  No  180 oyster challenge at Acme for us, thank you. 

For breakfast, he could get it at the conference, and I just got a simple croissant at nearby Community Coffee.  I did hit up Croissant D'Or Patisserie one afternoon and picked up a slice of French King Cake  - NOT at all like the familiar American King Cake - and a pain au chocolate for Steve.  Croissant D'Or is absolutely fabulous and I wish I had hiked across the Quarter every day for a pastry. 

Since I  had plenty of time on my hands during the day, I mostly walked around until my feet got tired.  One of my wanderings took me to the Kitchen Witch Cookbooks shop. I spent a good hour in there browsing through their well-loved collection of used (they have new books, too) and vintage cookbooks and social histories of New Orleans.  I would have loved to have picked up the copy of an etiquette book for ladies of New Orleans circa 1910, but it was over $100.  Oh well.  The proprietress, Debbie, chatted with me almost the entire time I was in there, and recommended two books, which of course, I bought.  Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen and The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima and Richard Collin.  If you want to talk about cookbooks, New Orleans, or food, go see Debbie.  I was in the Tabasco store after going to Kitchen Witch, and the woman working in there saw my KW bag (a homemade brown craft paper bag that had curling ribbon on the handle and Kitchen Witch scrawled in black magic marker on the side) and asked if Debbie had been there.  People in the Quarter know each other. 

As with almost every trip to New Orleans, it's really about the food.  We skipped the drunken frat boys on Bourbon, caught enough music just walking around the streets to satisfy, spent as little as possible, and thoroughly enjoyed New Orleans in the calm before Mardi Gras and Superbowl Sunday. 

NEXT time, I hope we have more money and can visit places outside the Quarter.  Next time . . .

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Battle of the Greek Yogurt Titans

When I worked at my first publisher, there was a ritual of eating lunch in the lunchroom with other people from the books for young readers department. I was from marketing, and joined by several from editorial and design. Later, we had one from subrights join our little lunch group. All in all, we were at most, a group of six. Being a frugal group, usually we brought our lunch from home rather than going out and spending $10 on a sandwich.

We usually spent our lunch break talking about food. Things we liked, didn't like, new restaurants opening, bars, etc. However, the one food item that we kept returning to was yogurt. We debated the pros and cons of different brands, styles, fat content, flavors, and even which grocery stores were having sales on our favorites. Yeah, we were really keen on yogurt. Sorta weird, really.

After a while, we realized we were spending so much time talking about a yogurt and it became an inside joke. One particular lunch, the only male in our group and non-yogurt eater, suddenly interrupted yet another yogurt conversation with an, "OMG! Can't we talk about something other than yogurt?!" My boss at the time also claims that ever time she would come in the lunch room to get coffee, her own lunch, etc., that we were ALWAYS talking about yogurt. She would laugh at us.

So in honor of my yogurt loving-friends, and the people we annoyed, I'm talking about yogurt.

I recently found two new yogurts at my local grocery store. Perhaps these aren't new to other people, but they were new finds in the already well-stocked yogurt section. Greek yogurt has been the rage with yogurt aficionados for some time now. As a member of a group of people who kept up with yogurt trends, I have been aware and a fan of Greek yogurt for long before it went mainstream.

Evidence of how trendy Greek yogurt is now can be seen by two new options. Brown Cow, makers of the best full-fat yogurt out there, has released Brown Cow All Natural Greek Yogurt, 0% fat. And Stonyfield, a personal favorite brand, has Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt by Stonyfield Orangic. Also 0% fat.

I bought both brands last week and did a taste test. Unfortunately, I couldn't compare like flavor to like flavor since the flavors at my store were completely different for the two brands. So I picked the basic vanilla in the Brown Cow and Honey from Stonyfield.

First, the Brown Cow. My first thought was, NO WAY this is nonfat! It's unbelievably creamy, sweet, and rich. It does not in anyway resemble the other nonfat yogurts out there. How did they do that??? Despite the rich mouth feel and taste, it actually doesn't taste anything like Greek yogurt. You know that tang and slightly dry mouth feeling you get from Greek yogurt? Yeah, this doesn't have that at all. This is a Greek yogurt for people who don't like Greek yogurt.

Now the Stonyfield. WOW! The honey does not refer to a honey flavored Greek yogurt, but the honey is ON THE BOTTOM just like fruit on the bottom. Lovely! I mixed it all in and tasted. Mmmmm. Not as creamy and rich as the Brown Cow, but quite good and also doesn't really taste like it's a nonfat yogurt. Has more of the Greek yogurt tang and dry feeling, but not overwhelming so.

I next checked out the labels. Ah yes, the Stonyfield container does say, "Honey on the bottom." Nutritionally, the two yogurts are identical. There are teeny differences between the two, but really, they are close enough to be declared the same. Ingredients in the Brown Cow only number three - milk, cane juice, and vanilla. The Stonyfield has five ingredients, two of which are natural stabilizers. Both yogurts have the same five active cultures. Price was also just about the same, and the amount of yogurt in each single-serve cup is the same, 5.3 oz.

So what's my verdict? I say it's a tie. How anti-climactic, right? Really, they are both very good. I love the Brown Cow because it tastes like it has fat in it and you are getting away with something. Eating something you shouldn't be eating. But I also really like the Stonyfield because it kept that Greek yogurt tang I enjoy so much and honey with Greek yogurt is one of my favorite flavors. According to the websites for each brand, there are five flavors available from Stonyfield and only three from Brown Cow so far.

I will happily buy and eat both. And I probably will for variety's sake because neither brand has many flavors available at my store yet. Brown Cow only has three, and I only saw honey for the Stonyfield. I hope both companies roll out more flavors for these yogurts as they are all going to be good. I just know it.

Other products I have tried recently and really enjoyed are Haagen-Dazs coffee frozen yogurt (I know, more yogurt), and Trader Joe's Peach Mango Orange Juice.

Steve and I were coming home from a movie last Friday night (Crazy Heart. We agreed that the story was rather ordinary, but the acting, music, and Jeff Bridges were fantastic), and as we passed the grocery store on the corner after it had closed for the day, I said, "shoot, we're out of milk." I was going to let this go until Saturday and then go get milk when the grocery store was open. But Steve didn't like this as he was looking forward to a bowl of cereal on Saturday morning. He only eats his cereal on the weekends, so I guess it's a treat. There is a little grocery nearby, so we stopped in there for milk. I found that they carry the best kind of organic milk (Organic Valley, yay!), but I also was suddenly struck with the yen for ice cream. Seeing all those little pints lined up just sang to me. It has been so long since we've had ice cream I can't even remember when it was. Steve immediately picked out Haagen-Dazs banana split. Hm. Not one I would pick out. So I chose Haagen-Dazs dulce de leche frozen yogurt. Or at least, I thought I did. We pay, we leave, we go home, and crack into those pints. COFFEE?? Where did this come from?

Somehow, I picked up the one pint of coffee that was sitting right next to the two stacks of dulce de leche. Oh well, I'm not going back out to exchange it, so may as well eat it. Even though my taste buds were primed for the sweet, caramel-y flavor of dulce de leche, I found that they quite enjoyed the coffee as well. Yum, yum, yum. Tasted just like a Frappachino. Lower in fat and calories than a frapp, I imagine. Try it if you haven't already. It's good.

The other new-to-me product comes from Trader Joe's. As you probably know, I adore Trader Joe's and do most of my shopping there. When we were up in Boston a couple weekends ago, the people we stayed with had Trader Joe's Orange Peach Mango juice. I loved it. I didn't expect to, but I did. I'm usually a traditional fresh squeezed orange juice girl in the morning. I don't like anything else but oj. No apple or grape or cranberry for me in the morning. Just oj. Weeeeeeell, now add the OPM as a morning juice option. I also have enjoyed this juice in the afternoon mixed with some plain seltzer for an Orangina-like drink. Very refreshing and tropical.

Anything new you've tried that you love? Yogurt? Anyone?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Diet-Killer Issue of Bon Appetit

Yesterday, I received my February issue of Bon Appetit.

Oh boy. Are we in trouble.

In addition to this scrumptious-looking grilled cheese and short rib sandwich with caramelized onions, other recipes that caught my tastebuds's attention:

Beef Tenderloin Medallions with Potato "Risotto"
Potato Gnocci with Pork and Wild Mushroom Ragu
Bison and Red Wine Shepherd's Pie
Pork Stew with Hard Cider, Pearl Onions, and Potatoes
Ham, Artichoke, and Potato Gratin
Roasted Leg of Lamb with Yukon Gold Potatoes
'Best Ever' popcorn, buffalo wings, chips and other Superbowl snacks
Alaskan Black Cod with Hoisin and Ginger Sauces
Red Bean and Sausage Cakes with Poached Eggs and Cilantro Salsa
Cheddar, Bacon, and Fresh Chive Biscuits
Madeleines with Lavender Honey
Cream Tart with Oranges, Honey, and Toasted-Almond Crust
Rustic Pear-Cranberry Tart
and an entire article using MILK CHOCOLATE! - Devil's Food Cake with Sour Cream Fudge Frosting; Milk Chocolate Mousse with Port Ganache and Whipped Creme Fraiche; Milk Chocolate Souffles with Nougat Whip; Milk Chocolate-Caramel Tart with Hazelnuts and Espresso

Are they kidding me?! Trouble, trouble, trouble is headed this way.

There is also an entire article about tofu. I don't see myself getting much mileage out of that one. But I do appreciate the BA editors's humor of including tofu in an issue that boasts "Meat and Potatoes" as their cover headline. Oh those, foodies. So funny.

Also featured in this issue - where to eat in Austin, Texas. Only a handful of Austin's fantastic restaurants were mentioned, but they all sounded good. In a separate short column on biodynamic wines, one of my favorite wines was one of the six featured: Boony Doon 2008 Ca' del Solo Albarino. If you can find it, I highly recommend picking up a bottle or a case.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eating out

Over the past couple of months, I have had the pleasure of dining out. In December, I met with the other members of the TNTE Club at Becco, a Lydia Bastianich establishment for our annual holiday dinner. If you recall, last year we went to Perilla. Six of us squeezed into our chairs around a tiny round table that should really have been set for no more than four, but the whole dining room was that way - packed to the gills with guests back-to-back. Not sure how the waiters managed to shimmy between everyone. We feasted on several of the menu specials and all-you-can eat daily pastas. Actually, only one person at our table ordered the pastas, but we all had tastes of hers. The Gorgonzola gnocci was fantastic. Noisy, warm, and teetering on chaotic, but very satisfying food in the theater district. One in our party ordered the osso bucco which came with the largest marrow bone we'd ever seen with that dish! The best thing I thought we ate all night though, was on the dessert sampler we ordered. The panna cotta was simply the best I've ever had. It was smooth, light, not at all gelatinous or thick, and tasted of the best vanilla. Divine.

Rewind some more to November. Before we arrived in Miami to board the Crystal Serenity for our Thanksgiving cruise, Steve and I flew to Atlanta to meet up with David & Allison. The four of us drove down from Atlanta to Miami together. But before we started our 13 hour drive at 2AM, we had dinner at Kennesaw pizza joint, Big Pie in the Sky Pizzeria. Perhaps you watch the food-porn and human spectacle on the Travel channel known as Man vs. Food? No? Oh well, you don't know what you're missing. Anyway, MVF's host and stomach-that-is-a-freak-of-nature, Adam Richman, visited Big Pie to take on their Carnivore Challenge - eating an ginormous 11-pound pizza. While the four of us weren't even tempted to try the Carnivore Challenge, the boys did settle for one slice each of a Carnivore. Basically, it's a pizza topped with just about all the standard meat pizza toppings. Allison and I opted for a slice each of the four-cheese. Here are some before and after shots. These are big freakin' slices of pie. And quite tasty, too.

Back home in Brooklyn, last week, Steve and I hosted our friends from Montana. We ate some usual and favorite NYC fare - pizza at Grimaldi's, hot dogs from a vendor, and brunch at Char No. 4. For our post-MoMA lunch, we took them to Ginger Man, a really good beer bar in east midtown that is extremely mellow on Sunday afternoon. The calm, quiet, warm surroundings were just what we needed after the noisy crowds at MoMA and swirling snow flurries and Arctic wind chill outside. We ordered two flights of beer tastes, soup, stew, sausages, sandwiches, and house-made soft pretzels. Hearty stuff to warm the gut. Yum.

We also took them to a place in Brooklyn for their last night in the city that Steve and I hadn't tried yet. I'm glad we got there when we did because Henry Public filled up fast after we snagged a booth. Henry Public is a relatively new place that is dressed up like a speakeasy. And old timey speakeasy. Even the staff wears a uniform that is really more of a costume - band-collar shirts, braces, flannel or non-denim pants, old fashioned shoes. The food menu is limited to burgers, a couple finger foods (house made pickles and roasted almonds were very good), and ice cream for dessert. The cocktail menu is from another era, too. We enjoyed our burgers and drinks, and it might be a place for Steve and I to visit again as long as we get there early enough to get a table.

I saved the best for last. While up in Maine for Christmas, Steve and I decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out at one of Portland's critically acclaimed restaurants. Portland is quite a mecca for chefs who are focused and committed to using local and seasonal ingredients and sources. We chose Fore Street for our dinner out. I'm so glad we did. I loved it. The menu was much larger than I expected for a place that does use local and regional sources for their seasonal ingredients. We ordered four smaller plates and one entree and one dessert. Here is what we had:

Marinated Hon Shimeji and Rocket Salad with roasted red onion, reggiano, apple bacon red wine vinaigrette
Three Selections from the Chilled Meats & Offal section served with cranberry jam, tarragon gherkins, spicy Allagash mustard: Salt Cured Foie Gras, Maine Farm Rabbit Galatine with Serrano and Lemon, Heritage Pork Cotechino
Wood Oven Roasted Maine Mussels with garlic almond butter
Wood Grilled Harlequin Quail with lentils, savory vegetables, smoked Heritage pork belly
Maine Farm Russian Boar Chop with celeriac puree, cranberry relish
Butter Braised Fingerling Potatoes, aged sherry vinegar
Two Citrus Desserts on one plate - lime steamed pudding, citrus cheesecake with pepper-basil sugar sauce and pomegranate seeds

Hello! Doesn't that all sound fabulous? It was. Several of you have asked how I remember what I ate at restaurants. Well, in most cases, I remember what I had and then I can go home and look up the restaurant's menu online for details. In the case of Fore Street, they don't post their menu online since it changes every day, so I asked our waitress if I could have a copy of the menu. She gladly handed over the dinner menu but I didn't get the dessert menu. Here is a scan of the menu. What would you have ordered? (Click on the image for a larger view.)

We loved everything we ate. We ate every little morsel, crumb, drip of sauce from our plates. Except for four fingerling potatoes. We had four potatoes too many.