October 27, 2013

EB Strong's Restaurant in Burlington, Vermont and Holding on to a Youthful Appearance

Wagyu burger at EB Strong's, Burlington, VT
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend the weekend in Burlington, Vermont, with some very sweet girlfriends.  I have a few friends who attended the University of Vermont (UVM) and they graciously invited me to tag along for homecoming weekend.  It was, actually, the first time I would every be away from my children, basically since I had the first one almost four years ago.  I would say it was time, wouldn’t you? 

I flew in late Friday night- but not too late to enjoy 90’s night at one of the downtown clubs.  It was ironically attended by people born as recently as 1992, but who am I to stand in the way of music appreciation?  There are some serious classics from the 90’s  (i.e. California Love).  On to Saturday brunch- Leunig’s Bistro & Café on Church Street in Burlington’s downtown area is delightful and delicious, truly.  Visit their website: Leunig's Bistro, Burlington, VT

If you’re able to sit in the tented sidewalk area, there is very nice people watching.  Although we enjoyed the brunch menu and a bellini or bloody mary or two- the local Vermont cheese selection on the menu was very, very tempting.  As you may already know, Vermont has many wonderful locally crafted cheeses.  There’s a lot going on really right in Vermont in the food department!

The inspiration for this post was the exceptional dinner we enjoyed at EB Strong’s Prime Steakhouse, also on Church Street in downtown Burlington.  It apparently took the space of a Japanese restaurant that used to be there- something we learned when a few friends wandered in looking for sushi.  This meal was a truly memorable one- from the salad, to the entrée, to the lovely wine.  And our service was very good. 

Let’s talk about the salad- we shared the wedge salad, which had, are you sitting down?  Candied bacon lardons.  And they were candied with, are you still sitting down?  Maple syrup.  Enough said.  There was a local Vermont blue cheese (Boucher Farm) and the lettuce was incredibly fresh and high quality.  We were already incredibly impressed. 

Illahe 2011 Pinot Noir at EB Strong's
The wine was a recommendation from our waitress- I really enjoy wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, you might remember that I have several friends from the Portland / Eugene area, here’s a post from a few years ago about a visit there: Expanding the Mommy and Homekeeping Repertoire in Portland, OR  I told our waitress that I really enjoyed wines from that area and what my budget was (about $40) and she recommended an Illahe 2011 Pinot Noir.  Not only was their wine list extensive, it had a very good range of price points (there were at least two in every category close to $40).  This wine was so delicious.  I can’t do it justice- it is a very, very special wine.

For our entrées, we had the Wagyu burger.  Yes, seriously.  It had a local cheddar, fried pickles (yes!!) a bacon aoli and truffle fries.  It was recommended medium, and I might, if I ever have the opportunity to go back there get it closer to medium well, just because it’s a thick, generous burger, but it was fantastic.  With the Illahe Pinot Noir, perfection.  Get yourself to EB Strong’s!  EB Strong's, Burlington, VT

Although I had left my children at home, not all the people visiting for homecoming weekend did the same- in our hotel, with very thin walls I might add, an adorable, well meaning family was staying next door.  I would guess their little girl was 3 or 4.  Guess what musical instrument was included in their luggage for her to express her joy with?  A recorder.  So, every morning at 7:30 or so, we awoke to serenades from her recorder.  It was hard to be mad about it though, it was so incredibly cute.  And it made me miss my little mischief makers!

On to other matters- being in a college town with a tremendous amount of young people around makes you notice things…  Now, I am fairly happy with my appearance and enjoy looking presentable and nice, although, the goals have definitely changed since I have gotten a little older (mid to late 30’s), had two children, etc.  In my 20’s, the goals would be more ambitious?  They are currently to look ‘not gross.’  Or, ‘not embarrass my husband, children or friends in public situations.’  In any event- I took notice of my under eye area this weekend.  I noticed that is where a lot of my age shows- I have dark circles under my eyes.  I’m not upset about this- I have just noted it.  I am ok with being older than a college student.  It was interesting, actually, they seemed so happy and hopeful and looking forward to life- and not that I’m not, but there are things that have been settled and happened and my life moves forward with those- like a husband and children- and I don’t think about life in such an open ended way any more- like, ‘what will I be when I grow up’ kind of mind set.  Anyhow- they were darling and it was joyful to be near it.  We enjoyed an a cappella concert on campus on Saturday night- if you every have a chance to hear the UVM Top Cats, definitely do- they are hilarious and fun and great singers.  

Anyhow, if you’re looking at your under eye area, try (just from the drugstore) Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Concealer, it’s an under eye concealer that looks like a tiny microphone.  I’ve included a picture here to show you what a difference it makes- I put it only under the left eye in this picture- and you can tell the difference.  (It actually makes such a difference it makes my face look asymmetric!)  You can see the darkness under the right side very clearly, that is the side without the Instant Age Rewind.  So get yourself to the drugstore and put a little spring in your step and look super rested and younger!

Left side concealer, right under eye no product (see?!)

Thank you for reading!  xo

October 25, 2013

Oven Roasted Tomato Pasta with Bacon, Onion and Red Wine

Oven roasted tomatoes
As you may be able to tell, I am having trouble letting go of tomato season...  This week I have experimented with oven roasting very large tomatoes.  We were kindly given two enormous tomatoes, one was bigger than both your fists- and I thought, these are amazing, but what do I do with them?  So, I sliced them thin and roasted them in the oven with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.  These never made it into any recipe because we ate them just like that (the baby girl helped).  Yum.  We ate them right off the baking sheet.  So, those were gone.  I went to the store and bought the largest tomatoes they had and these two lovely variations are how we ate them this week.  As a crostini topping with a creamy burrata cheese and as one of the main ingredients in a terrific (and easy) pasta dish.  Even my husband, who claims to not like tomatoes, really liked it.  To the tune of seconds.

Oven Roasted Tomatoes
(for the pasta, you'll need 1-2 very large tomatoes, you can make more than that and use it for something else)
Very large tomatoes (as ripe as possible, do not refrigerate, leave on your counter)
olive oil
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees fahrenheit.  Use a baking sheet with sides (also known as a jelly roll pan).  Coat the sheet with olive oil.  Rinse the tomatoes, then slice them into 1/4 inch wide slices, removing any stem portions.  Place as close together as possible (they shrink while cooking) on the baking sheet.  Top with more olive oil and sprinkle with a good amount of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  To give you an idea, 3 very large tomatoes filled a large baking sheet, and the total amount of olive oil was probably 2-3 Tbsp and the amount of salt was probably 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.  The amount of black pepper was less than the salt.  Place in the oven and bake for 2 hours.  My oven is uneven and runs a little hot, so I turned the sheet around half way through to make it more even.  If you find you need a little more time because your oven is more true to temperature, that is ok.

Tomatoes before oven roasting
When they are finished, they will look very withered and should have some areas that are browned.  It's ok if some areas of the flesh are still somewhat raw looking, but this should only be a small percentage.  If it's a lot, put them back in the oven for a little while and keep an eye on them.  I make these and then refrigerate them until I need them.

Here they are as a topping to a ball of burrata cheese with some crostini, (made from day old baguette, sliced, a little olive oil poured over them, and put in the oven at 350 for 8-10 minutes).  A good way to use day old baguette!

Oven roasted tomatoes over burrata with crostini
Now, on to the pasta!  I always have bacon and yellow onions.  Always.  They are staples in my kitchen.  Sometimes it's pancetta instead of bacon, but there is little difference between the two- only that pancetta is more dry cured than American bacon.  The cut of meat and largely the preparation of the two is the same.  Oh, and pancetta is round, where American bacon is not.  But otherwise, not a ton of difference.

Oven Roasted Tomato Pasta with Bacon, Onion and Red Wine
(Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 mildly hungry people, adjust as necessary)
4-6 pieces of bacon
1 medium to large yellow onion
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
pinch red pepper flakes
1-2 oven roasted tomatoes (see recipe above in this post)
1/4 cup red wine
1-2 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1/2 box pasta (we used mini shells- use something with a similar cup shape to catch portions of the sauce)

The most time intensive part of this recipe is the browning of the bacon and the onion.  But, this can be done with only occasionally stirring.  So, if you need to play costume party sword fight or blanket town with a little one while you do this, you can!  I use a round dutch oven for this, I like the even heating of the enameled cast iron.  Turn on the stove to low to medium heat.  Cut the bacon in small, 1/2 inch pieces and place them in the pot, no need to add any fat or oil, bacon brings its own to the party!  Let the bacon start to cook while you cut the onion into small pieces, doesn't have to be incredibly fine, but pretty small.  After the bacon has started to brown, add the olive oil and then the onion.  Stir occasionally, but let this get pretty brown and caramelize a little.  This is more of a visual cue than a time cue.

Once it's nice and browned, start heating up your water for your pasta.  I've been really liking the Barilla white fiber pastas lately, not only because they have more fiber than regular pasta, but they actually cook significantly faster than regular pasta, anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes.  That's a win-win!  Barilla White Fiber Pasta  So while your water is heating up, add the red pepper flakes to the bacon and onion.  Take the oven roasted tomatoes, 1-2 tomatoes originally, which looks like a significantly smaller amount now, and chop them, fairly small.  Add to the bacon and onion mixture.  Allow them to incorporate and heat up for a few minutes with the mixture.  If your water is boiling, add salt, then your pasta.

Oven roasted tomatoes, chopped

While the pasta is cooking, stir your sauce and add the 1/4 cup of wine.  Some thoughts on wine here- fall is a time in our house when I go through an amazing amount red wine in my cooking.  It's just the right time of year for meats braised in red wine, rich sauces and gravies enhanced with red wine...  I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...  Anyhow, it's gotten to the point where we need to come up with a bit of a solution- so my husband discovered Bota Box.  It's the equivalent of 4 bottles of wine, it's in a box with a dispenser like a cooler, and it is supposed to last (once it's open) and stay fresh for a month.  (He laughed that it won't likely last a month with the rate of pot roasts, lamb stews, pasta sauces and other things that come out of our kitchen!)  Anyhow, so far so good, and it isn't bad to drink, either!  Bota Box

Cooking wine solution!

By now, your red wine should have mostly evaporated from the sauce and your pasta should be done.  Using a slotted spoon or pasta utensil, just simply move the pasta into the pot with the sauce.  Do not worry at all if some of the water comes too- a little bit of water from the pasta is actually a great thing to make the sauce come together and get a little creamier.  Stir to incorporate the pasta and the sauce, add the parmesan, watch it just melt into the dish and disappear.  Enjoy!  We enjoyed this with a lovely mixed green salad with a simple balsamic and white cracked pepper dressing and some good quality olive oil.  I also had some wine from the Bota Box!  It was a lovely end to a lovely day.

Seconds, please!
Thank you for reading!

October 13, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Heirloom Tomato Salad

I officially say good bye to summer with this salad- it uses the last of the tomatoes from our little patio garden.  Good bye summer!  If you still have green tomatoes on your plants, don't worry, you can ripen them inside your house if the weather is too cold.  It is very easy, just pick the tomatoes while they are green and place them in a paper bag on your kitchen counter.  In the bag with the tomatoes, place a greenish-yellow banana.  Close the bag, but it doesn't need to be air tight.  I use a bag clip on the paper bag like you would use on a bag of chips.  Depending on how green the tomatoes were to begin with, you may need to use a few bananas, replacing the bananas as they become ripe.  The gas that the ripening banana gives off in the paper bag ripens the tomatoes, even though they are off the vine.  Voila!  Sweet summer tomatoes into October!

Cherokee Purple, Green  Zebra and San Marzano Tomatoes
This salad is made of tomatoes that were ripened on my counter in just this way, three types of tomatoes that I attempted to grow this summer, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, and San Marzano.  While I think they are all beautiful and very worthwhile to grow, I am surprised to find the Green Zebra my favorite of the three.  Although they are not red-ish tomatoes, you can tell when they are ripe when the skin turns slightly yellow with green stripes (when unripe, the skin is green with darker green stripes).  Although green and yellow in color, it still packs a tremendous sweet summer tomato taste, but with a lovely vegetable note.  The other two are lovely as well, the Cherokee Purple has lovely purple-red flesh and portions that stay dark green.  The San Marzano is somewhat drier, sometimes called a paste tomato, but it's flavor is very good.

This is very simple, fresh and delicious, and because the ingredients are high quality, you don't have to do much to them at all for it to be exceptional.  And who wouldn't feel incredibly special being served home grown heirloom tomatoes?

Heirloom Tomato Salad
(Serves 2 as an appetizer, increase proportion as needed)
2-3 each of Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra and San Marzano tomatoes (the size of each was relatively small)
A few handfuls of wild baby arugula
Good quality olive oil (I like Frantoia)
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper
Freshly ground Pecorino Romano

Salad before freshly grated cheese is added

Frantoia Olive Oil
Wash the tomatoes and cut them into small pieces or slices, depending on their shape, discarding the stems and any undesirable portions.  Arrange them on the serving plate.  Mound the arugula leaves in the center.  Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt (I like red Hawaiian sea salt, also called Alaea) and some freshly ground white pepper over the salad.  Drizzle some good quality olive oil, I really like the taste of Frantoia olive oil.  Drizzle a much less smaller amount of balsamic in the center of the salad mound.  Remember this rule, you typically want double the amount of oil as you do acid in a salad dressing.  Top with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano.  I find I prefer this to Parmesan frequently, it's very fresh and salty.  Enjoy!

October 12, 2013

Mustard and Panko Coated Chicken Cutlets (An Easy and Delicious Weeknight Option)

Mustard and Panko Coated Chicken Cutlets

These are fantastic- a snap to make and very little cooking time.  Just the thing for your busy schedule!  But, not sacrificing on quality or taste, truly.  You'll be delighted.  Kid friendly, too!

I think we can all safely agree that I have a chicken cutlet addiction.  Who knew I ate so many chicken cutlets?  Not me!  But, they are such an appealing canvas- not only are they delicious, they cook fast and can be made in a multitude of delicious ways- just take a look at these other delectable options:






So, really, if there is a support group for people who love chicken cutlets, please, someone tell me!

Anyhow- these are fantastic- let's get started!

Mustard and Panko Coated Chicken Cutlets
3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard (I like Maille brand)
2 Tbsp olive oil
freshly ground white pepper
1 yellow onion, finely chopped, browned in 1 Tbsp of olive oil previously
Panko Italian style bread crumbs (I used Progresso brand)
Chicken cutlets (about 8 from 2-3 chicken breast halves)

Yellow onion browned in olive oil
The first step is to finely chop the yellow onion and saute it over low to medium heat in 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  The pieces of onion should brown nicely on the edges and decrease in size.  The picture here gives you a good idea of how they should look.  If you are in a hurry, you can omit these certainly, but if you have the ability to include them, it's very tasty.

Preheat the oven to 500-525 degrees fahrenheit, that's the lower end of my broiler setting.  Although, I know you've probably heard me say it before, my oven tends to run a little hot.  Let's make the mustard spread- in a medium sized bowl, combine the mustard, 2 Tbsp of olive oil, freshly ground white pepper, and the previously browned onion.  I like Maille brand products, but any Dijon mustard will do- just have a sense of how hot it is- I think Maille is a tiny bit on the hot side.  I also really like Maille brand cornichons.  For the bread crumbs, I used Progresso brand Panko Italian style bread crumbs, which I haven't used before, and thought they were quite good.  I think, though, that any panko bread crumbs would be just fine.

Maille Dijon mustard

Mustard mixture

Chicken cutlets with mustard mixture
I buy my chicken cutlets pre-cut and pretty thin, they are rarely more than 1/3 of an inch thick.  If you are creating your own chicken cutlets by cutting them yourself from skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, just cut them as though it is a deck of cards.  You'll be able to get about 2-3 from each chicken breast half depending on their size.  If the thickness is still not to your liking, pound them between two pieces of waxed paper with a mallet.

Spread some of the mustard mixture on either side of the chicken cutlets.  You can see from the picture that it is not a tremendous amount- if you put much more than this you run the risk of making them excessively spicy.  You may use your fingers or a spoon to do it.  Then, coat each side in the panko bread crumbs.  Because these breadcrumbs are bigger than regular bread crumbs, you won't have such a tight, even coat, that is really ok, do not worry.

Place the chicken cutlets (that you are cooking to eat now) on a baking sheet that you have prepared with either high heat cooking spray (I use Pam for grilling cooking spray, canola oil is fine, too, just don't use olive oil at this high heat).  Bake them for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn over carefully, and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.  Be careful when touching this baking sheet- the temperature is very high and you may need two pot holders instead of just one.  Enjoy!  Serve with a lovely salad or some potatoes.

Chicken cutlets before baking

The other wonderful thing about these is that once they are prepared, they can go into the refrigerator to cook another time- when you're ready to eat, just preheat the oven and cook for 5 minutes each side.  This can be a real time saver to prepare these ahead of time.  These were kid accepted in our house, so I hope they are in your house, too!  In any event, adults will probably like them!

Thank you for reading!

October 1, 2013

Insane Make Ahead Potatoes

Insane Make Ahead Potatoes

These potatoes truly deserve this name- they are insanely delicious, insanely easy, and insanely reheat-able!  If that isn't music to your ears, I don't know what is- I have been making these about once a week for the past month or two.  The best part about these potatoes is that they are easy to reheat and have them taste as good as, possibly even better than, the first preparation.  For busy people everywhere- Moms or not, that is really, really helpful.

Do you have potato gloves?  If not, click here: Potato Gloves  These are very handy, I recommend getting a pair.  They are very easy to use.  Just put them on and rub the potatoes between your hands under cool water.  All clean and ready to roast!  I just rinse the gloves and put them on the dish rack to dry.  If they are really dirty, I believe you may run them through the dishwasher.

Potatoes on a crisping baking sheet
Also, the baking sheet I use to make these has a special 'crisping' bottom.  Click here to see it on the Williams-Sonoma website: Crisping Baking Sheet  The raised small diamonds on the bottom of the pan make more air flow possible, and this yields nice crispy surfaces on things like roasted potatoes and also cookies!  Technically, this is not a baking sheet, it is a 'jelly roll' pan, because it has shallow sides.  I only own 'jelly roll' style baking sheets, because I use them for lots of things and often there is liquid or oil, and the shallow sides keep it from being a mess!

Insane Make Ahead Potatoes
(Serves 2-3 people as a side dish, adjust in proportion as needed)
1 1/2 lb. 'boiling' or medium to small potatoes (any color or a mix)
3 -4 sprigs of fresh thyme (leaves removed)
1 large garlic clove, through a press
2-3 pinches sea salt
ground white pepper
2 to 2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Potatoes prepared ahead of time in cool water
There is an additional aspect of these make ahead potatoes that makes me smile, it's that you can prep the potatoes ahead of time and then cover them with cool water in a bowl until you're ready to roast them in the oven.  This is also necessary (to cover them with cool water) because cut potato surfaces begin to 'oxidize' once exposed to the air if they are not cooked in some way.

So, go ahead and don your dashing new Potato Gloves and clean your potatoes.  This size of potato (2-3 inches in length) is sometimes called a boiling potato.  They are often sold in net bags at the supermarket as opposed to individually, as the larger potatoes are.  Once they are washed, cut off any eyes or rotten parts and, leaving the skins in tact, cut into pieces, roughly 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch in size.  If you are going to prepare them now, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you aren't going to prepare them now, place in a bowl and cover completely with cool water.  If you aren't going to prepare them for a long time, put them in the refrigerator.  But a little while on the counter (like an hour or two) is fine.

Adding garlic to the potato mixture
To prepare the potatoes, place in a bowl.  If they have been in water, drain them and pat them dry with paper towels.  Use a colander if you'd like.  They don't have to be bone dry but on the drier side is better so the olive oil can adhere to the surface.  In a bowl large enough to mix them thoroughly, add the olive oil, salt, white pepper, thyme leaves and garlic.  To remove the leaves from a sprig of thyme, hold the bottom of the sprig by one hand's thumb and pointer finger and with the other hand, pinch with your thumb and forefinger and run your fingers from the bottom to the top of the sprig, most of the leaves should come off easily.  Discard the stems.  Mix the potatoes with a spoon and then empty the bowl and any excess oil mixture on to your jelly roll style baking sheet.  Shake the potatoes from side to side to make them spread out evenly and also to coat the bottom of the baking sheet with oil.

Place the baking sheet in the oven for a total of 55 minutes: after the first 20 minutes remove from the oven and move the potatoes around with a spatula, after the second 20 minutes do the same, and after the final 15 minutes, they are ready to enjoy.  These smell especially delicious while cooking!  (A note here, the smaller the potato piece, the faster it cooks.  So this will work well for larger sized potatoes, if yours are smaller, or cut smaller, try a total of 35 minutes and see how they look after the reduced time.  You don't want to overcook them and end up with dried out potatoes.)

We've eaten these with pot roast and chicken, and anything you'd like to eat with them I'm sure will be delicious.  For ideas from our blog, check out these suggestions:

Little Black Dress of Chicken

Chicken Saltimbocca

To save and reheat the potatoes, once they've cooled down a little, you don't have to wait until they've cooled down completely, store them in the refrigerator.  You may use a zip lock bag or a plastic container, it doesn't matter.  When you want to reheat them, preheat the oven to 350-375 and put them on a baking sheet and reheat for 5-8 minutes, you'll have to eyeball it a little depending on the amount.  They will taste just as good reheated.  Hence the 'insane' name!  They may be even better.

Some additional thoughts here- if you plan to make ahead, bake for less time, perhaps just the first 40 minutes, then finish them with the remaining 15 minutes on the occasion you are really going to eat them!

Thank you for reading!