Monday, January 26, 2009

Breakfast- Buttermilk Pancakes, Orange/Earl Grey Syrup, Canadian Bacon and Fruit

One thing about winter in gets COLD. Normally I'm one of those freaks who loves the cold, I wait for snow, I get excited for piling on layers of clothes, etc, but sometimes its just too cold. This weekend was one of those times. Yesterday temps fell into the teens (ok probably into the twenties but it felt cold) so I decided to hibernate all day. I went out once during the day to pick up some necessities and then spent the rest of the day inside my warm apartment.

To start off the day right, I decided to make pancakes for brunch since I would not be venturing to any of the great eateries around me. I found a recipe for buttermilk pancakes on line, did a quick inventory in my head and found that I had everything I needed, at least I thought I did. As I began mixing and measuring, I slowly realized that it was not Baking Powder I had at all- but Baking I know that I have the powder somewhere but I could not find it for the life of me. Anyway-in a rash move, I decided to sub in the soda for the powder, and carried on.

As a bit of a chemistry lesson (which I hated in high school for the record), Baking Soda and Baking Powder both act in place of yeast giving "rise" to breads etc when a quicker method is needed. The main difference, at least that my very un chemistry minded brain can find, seems to be that Baking Soda needs a bit more of an acid to aid in its reaction then Baking Powder. So, from what I can gather, to give rise to the product, either can assist, though make sure that your adding a bit more acid (lemon juice, buttermilk, cocoa) with your Baking Soda if your recipe calls for Baking Powder. Unfortunately, I did not learn this little fact until after I made my pancakes. No matter- onward I went.

To compliment the pancakes I heated a small amount of good syrup in a sauce pan with grated orange rind, and a few pinches of loose leaf Earl Grey Tea, to give it a fun and different flavor. Then I "grilled" a couple of pieces of Canadian bacon in my very favorite, well used cast iron grill pan, and finally I sliced up a plum and an orange for a small fruit salad.

The pancakes were fine- flat, but still tasty. Luckily they were buttermilk pancakes to begin with so there was a small amount of acid in the mix anyway. I could have use a bit more to give them that great cake like consistency, but they tasted great just as they were. The syrup was delicious. Very light hints of orange and the smokey beauty of earl grey floated through it. Had I had a better idea of how it would turn out- I would have allowed the syrup to simmer longer to create a really nice flavor. I topped the pancakes with a small dollop
of Marscapone cheese that I had on hand for a dessert that Id made earlier in the week, and the addition made the breakfast very decadent.

The bacon was ok. I have issues with Canadian Bacon, the type that I bought was thin, and therefore when cooked was incredibly dry. Does anyone else have this issue? I cannot figure out how to make it a bit more palatable.

All in all, breakfast tasted delicious. I wish that the pancakes had been a bit more cake like, but they had great flavor and consistency as they are. Honestly- I can see transforming this recipe into a nice base for a savory meal as well. The syrup was my shining star. I really love making small changes to old standbys to make something new and great- this one was absolutely fantastic.

I am not one for making breakfast too much, but I do have a craving for it now!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quick and easy Turkey Breasts and Veggies, enhanced with Champagne

I have just returned from a 10 day cruise of the Caribbean (an eaters paradise) so, not surprisingly, I have been craving some lighter, healthier foods this week. I realised that I don't often cook turkey for myself, which is somewhat ridiculous as it is easily accessible, very lean, and has a deeper flavor than the dreaded chicken does. I've been playing with some recipes for turkey burgers in my head recently, but decided instead to have just some turkey breasts for dinner the other night.

Loving the flavors of turkey and sage together, I picked up some nice looking turkey breasts, a little carton of sage and lots of veggies at the store. As an aside- it is very weird for me to have an empty fridge-but that is what I came home to on Monday evening-I also learned that it is very fun to fill it up again :-). Anyway, back at home I trimmed any "nasty bits" off of the turkey (tendons, extraneous fat), and then marinated it briefly in a mix of sage, garlic, salt, pepper, oil and some left over champagne that I had left out of the fridge, but had been able to re cork so still had a nice fizz to it. I let them rest for about 15 minutes as I prepared some veggies for dinner as well. I chopped up some garlic, onion, baby portobella mushrooms, zucchini, and red bell pepper. I got both my grill pan ready as well as my saute pan, in which I melted a teaspoon of butter into an equal amount, maybe a bit more, of extra virgin olive oil. The turkey breasts got laid into the grill pan, 7 minutes a side and they were done. Easy as that. In the saute pan I added the garlic and onion first-with some salt and pepper, then the mushrooms, then the zucchini and allowed those to soften slightly. Once they were at the desired consistency, I added just a bit, maybe a 1/4 of a cup, of champagne to the pan for a little bit of a sauce effect. This reduced quickly and I was able to add a few heaping handfuls of spinach. Right as that wilted down I added in the red pepper so that those pieces would be warm, but still crispy. Veggies finished, I poured a little ginger based salad dressing on to the middle of my plate and placed a turkey breast on top, and then spooned the veggies over the top.

I have to say this was an incredibly satisfying, easy and quick meal. The varying tastes and textures of the vegetables were filling, as well as delicious, and I loved that little hint of sweet champagne. The turkey was very moist, though I wish I had had a bit more time to marinate it. Unfortunately the really beautiful flavor of the sage wasn't quite as present as I would have liked, though I did get that nice flavor of light champagne.

All in all, Id say that this was a perfect week night meal- healthy, fast and delicious.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Years Eve 2009- Mussels, Steak Croutons, Grapefruit Salad, Mini Pizzas, Sugar Snap Peas with dipping sauces

2009 is finally upon us, and I wanted to celebrate this dawning of this new year to its fullest extent. So previous to spending the latter half of the evening bowling, I had a few friends over to gear up for the challenging night. Of course to me, having people over means cooking as much as possible- and so I did. Since Ill be leaving on vacation shortly, I wanted to keep things somewhat light, but have some decadence around as well.

I started off by making a simple salad of grapefruit and fennel. This was incredibly easy,as well as tasty and beautiful looking. I simply removed the wedges of the fruit from the rind and the peel, and then finely chopped the bulb of a fennel plant. I mixed the two together, and then dressed it with a small amount of honey as well as a scotch bonnet sherry that I was given as a Christmas present. The result of the dressing mixture was just a hint of sweet and heat that really complimented the tartness of the grapefruit and the nice anise flavor of the fennel. A few sprigs of the fennel frawn and the salad had beautiful contrasting colors as well. I think Ill be making a lot more of this salad over the next week.

To continue on the "light" theme I very easily steamed up some sugar snap peas and then immediately dropped them into some cold water to stop the cooking process once they got to the desired texture. I lightly salted them, and then made three dipping sauces for them. The first was a simple combination of mayonnaise, horseradish and Dijon mustard. I use this combo a lot on steak sandwiches and just really love the spicy/creamy flavors. The second sauce was to be Asian inspired, so I mixed the all time favorite ginger puree, soy sauce, a bit of terryaki sauce, chili paste and green onions together. The result was sweet, spicy and salty- a beautiful sauce. I'll definitely make it again, I think it might be tasty on fish. Finally the third was a honey based sauce that I added cider and Cayenne pepper to, as well as some cilantro and half of a Serrano pepper. The result was a nice mix of sweet and spicy with a great Mexican vibe.

To appeal to the "beefier" side of my guests I re created my steak croutons from a few months ago. I toasted up a wheat baguette (a mistake when I purchased it, but I ended up really enjoying the nutty flavor of the wheat), and then spread it with a fromage blanc that I was finally able to find. The only one my local store had was flavored with lavender and honey which I was slightly concerned about. I then layered that with a little parsley and fresh black pepper, and then thinly sliced steak on to the top. The result was far better than the first time I had made it. The cheese had a really beautiful, lightly sweet flavor to it that served as a wonderful contrast to the nutty bread, and the hearty steak. The parsley adds a brightness both in color contrast and in taste. These are definitely be a cocktail party go to for me.

As I sometimes feel as though my taste in food can be a little bit out there, I wanted a sure fire hit with my guests. I can think of nothing more that people love than pizza, so I chose to make some mini pizzas. Now, for some reason, my oven and I are in a slight disagreement at the moment. It appears that I want it to work, and it has no desire. No matter, I was able to score some grands biscuits, and toasted them on my grill pan, once flipped, I added some sauce and some cheese, allowed the cheese to melt, and then added some parsley to the top. I kept wishing that the cheese had melted more, but they received rave reviews from the crowd. In a pinch- they will do.

Finally, as I know that many of my guests are just as obsessed with mussels as I am, I had to make a batch. I made a nice broth of garlic, salt pepper, turkey anadouille sausage and fresh thyme, with a good 3/4 of a bottle of white wine. After reducing, I added the mussels for them to steam. I topped off with a nice combination of Asiago, Parmesan and Fontina cheeses, and the mussels were served. Unfortunately, I hadn't purchased a very nice wine for the sauce, and so the flavor of that was somewhat lacking, however the rest was quite tasty. The turkey sausage had great heat to it, and was a delicious, low fat compliment to the mussels.

As always, I found several things that I could have done differently, but all of my guests seemed pleased with the variety and the taste. I cant really ask for more than that.

Happy 2009 to all, I hope it finds you eating well.

Petit Robert Bistro, Needham location

With vacation comes time to do more exploring, and to try things that perhaps you've been meaning to. My annual end of the year stay-cation yielded the time to cross off a few restaurants on my list. The first was the Petit Robert Bistro, which has three locations currently, one in Kenmore, one in the South End, and the final, and newest, in Needham just outside the city.
We neglected to call for reservations, mistake on our part, so we elected to sit at the bar. Because of this I was unable to check out the real ambiance of the restaurant itself, though I can say that our bartender was delightful and friendly, and luckily the full menu was served.
We started with Moules Marinieres. Traditionally, this preparation of mussels includes white wine, garlic, onions, creme fraiche, butter and parsley. Sadly, I'm not entirely sure how close to the tradition Petit Robert stuck. The mussels were served in a large bowl, and they were well seasoned and tasty, but there was little to no sauce in the bowl. At the end we found a little puddle of what appeared to be caramelized onions and a little white wine. The portion that was left was quite good, however part of the fun of mussels is dunking bread into a tasty broth and enjoying all of the different flavors. Conceptually- a great dish, executed incredibly poorly.
I selected their Braised Lamb Shank as my main course. This was served with white beans flavored with garlic and some Merguez sausage. The lamb was tender and delicious. It fell off the bone with no effort at all. The beans were creamy and garlicky and felt like a delicious indulgence. The sausage was sparse, but luckily unneeded in the dish. Overall, I was very pleased with my lamb. Ive been eating all different cuts of the animal recently, but had yet to have the shank- I'm glad to have had it in such a nice dish that really brought me back to Paris. Clean flavors and nicely prepared.
J was not so lucky. He elected to have the Steak Frites, and though he was to be given a choice of sauces, he was not prompted for his selection. I believe, through my best guess of taste testing, that he was given a bordelaise sauce for dipping his steak. The only saving grace to this dish were the frites. Fried crispy and lightly salted they were some of those perfect fries that you can only find every so often. The steak however was far from perfect. He had ordered it to be medium, and it was served well past well done. It was tough and chewy and extremely dis pleasurable to eat. I have to say- it was a shame that it was so far overcooked as the seasoning used on it was delightful.
Overall, I am disappointed in Petit Robert. Their concept is strong, and they have delicious recipes seemingly, however it appears that their chefs strong suit, at least that night, is not execution. Mussels need their broth, and steak ought to be served at the correct level of doneness. Perhaps its just that location, but if so, they'll want to work out the kinks pretty fast in this budding culinary town, before they get pushed out.

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...