Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nice Cake, Mike

I have been MIA from the blogosphere again, this time primarily due to starting on Cycle #4 of the research trial pump, which usually finds me fatigued. So, nothing exciting has happened this week, except...
Last Sunday, I was invited to my nephew's home in Bradenton to wish my brother, Charles, buon viaggio, on his pending annual summer excursion to North Carolina. As usual, the family gathering centered around good food, and friendly ribbing. Biff and Butch prepared a "spot on" medium rare standing rib roast, with sides of asparagus sauteed with bacon, and a tasty mashed potato casserole finished in the oven (think twice-baked potatoes). Even my niece's son, T.J, participated with a very nice chopped salad. And I promised Cherie's husband, Mike, that his dessert would make the blog... so pay attention Mike. You did a fantastic job of assembling this good looking (I wish I would have taken a photo) and good tasting cake. Mike is a griller, so the cake was a little out of the norm for him. Assemble it he did; a multi-layer angel food cake, with a generous portions of whipped cream and fresh fruit separating the layers and cascading over the top. Very nice Mike, but can you bake?
... and ...
Last Saturday, when Frank and I prepared a nice 1 1/2" thick New York strip steak prepared with a Herb Sauce, (in Italian it is Bistecca con Salsa della Erbe). As usual, lacking a grill, I seared the steak in my cast iron skillet, then finished it in the oven to a perfect medium rare. In case you haven't noticed, my family, Frank and I like our steak and roasts medium rare. For me it comes from my father, who only cooked steak one way; charred on the outside, and still moo-ing on the inside. Don't like it that way, too bad, that is how he was fixing it. But that is a story for another time. The herb sauce contains six different herbs, olive oil, and garlic. The room temperature sauce is drizzled over the steak after it is sliced and plated. The recipe follows this post. Our side was Sweet Peas with Prosciutto. Frank prepared a nice salad of mixed baby greens, walnuts and gruyere cheese with a white wine vinaigrette. It was another simple and tasty meal at Bistro 523. 

So, here is Steak with Herb Sauce, from Saveur Magazine (which seem to be my favorite food mag right now)

A thick, well-marbled cut—a rib eye, strip, or porterhouse—works best for this olive oil– and herb-topped steak. The dish is based on one served by the Italian-born chef Cesare Casella at Salumeria Rosi in New York City. We featured it as part of Nancy Harmon Jenkins's "The Essence of Olives" (May 2010), all about olive oil.

1 cup packed basil leaves
1 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tbsp. packed fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. packed fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp. packed fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. packed fresh tarragon leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
3⁄4 cup plus 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1  24 oz. 2"–3"-thick rib-eye, strip, or porterhouse steak (Simpson side bar: 1.5 pounds is a lot of meat for two people, far too much, so we cut back to a nice one pound cut, which is still above the recommended amount of protein at a meal, but was just right for us)
1. Put the herbs and garlic on a cutting board and finely chop together with a large knife. Transfer herb mixture to a small bowl and stir in 3⁄4 cup oil. Season herb sauce with salt and pepper, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld. Meanwhile, put steak on a plate; season generously with salt and pepper and rub with the remaining oil. 
2. Build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high. (Alternatively, heat an oiled grill pan over medium-high heat.) Cook steak, flipping once, until browned and cooked to desired doneness, 8–10 minutes for medium rare. Transfer steak to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice steak against the grain and spoon some reserved sauce over top.

Pairing Note This rich steak calls out for a smoky red, such as Wild Oak Syrah 2006 ($35) from Sonoma, California. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Keep me away from art festivals

Mainsail Art Festival was held this weekend in St. Petersburg. After a Lucky Dill Deli lunch with a group of friends organized by Mr. Social Coordinator, Bob G, we roamed through the works of 200 plus artists. Somehow this lovely glass panel attached itself to me with velcro and forced me to carry it home.
That's all I'm Saying

Mama Natalina

Mama Natalina is in town, all the way from Rimini, Italy. And when mama is here she is usually making fresh pasta in the kitchen of the Tampa restaurant which carries her name, Osteria Natalina. This South Tampa favorite is owned by her son, Spartaco and previously operated under his name. Regardless of the name, the food is still amazing. This past Friday, when we dined at Osteria Natalina, Spartaco was busy working the crowd, offering an amazing array of specials, which I believe outnumbered the items on the menu. Of course, for Spartaco, there are specials, then there is the "What would you like, we will make it for you" option. Appetizers? Since no one could decide, Spartaco offered to bring each of us a taste of two of the appetizer specials; gnocchi in tomato cream sauce, and sacchetti (little purses) filled with cheese and pears, served with a gorgonzola sauce. OMG, both were wonderful. The dilemma continued with the salad, which he solved by offering two salads to share between the four of us. First was a classic Caesar, and the other was arugula and fennel. Finally on to our entrees, Frank and I both ordered Mama's hand made strozzapreti, or priest's collar pasta, served with a light tomato sauce with shrimp and clams. Our two friends ordered snapper, one from the regular menu, prepared with eggplant, the other was a special prepared with crab meat. Both were delicious. For the finale, we had two desserts, mini cannoli, and amaretto cream cake. The cake won the day; it was oh, so good. Molto buono !!!. Grazie mille Natalina and Spartaco for a lovely meal. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Back in the Kitchen

It is always a good sign when I am ready to start cooking again. The pump came off on Friday, and while some level of fatigue continues, I did have enough energy and desire to prepare a nice meal with Frank last evening. The April issue of Saveur has a great article about Classic Roman food, which left me ready for a trip to Italy. Lacking that, the next option was to try a couple of the recipes. The cover photo was two pork chops prepared in agrodolce (sweet and sour). They looked great, so that was our choice for the evening. Here is the recipe direct from the Saveur website (link to recipe by clicking on the recipe name). The recipe calls for grilling, but I do not have a grill. So the only change I made was to initially seared the chops in a saute pan, then finished them in a 400 degree oven, basting and turning every few minutes until they were done. Amazingly good even without a grill.

Maiale in Agrodolce

4  10-oz. bone-in pork chops, frenched
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1  sprig fresh rosemary, torn into 1" pieces 
1. Put pork chops on a plate; drizzle with oil; season generously with salt and pepper; let sit for 30 minutes
2. Meanwhile, build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat. Combine vinegar and honey in a 1-qt. saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 1⁄4 cup. Stir in butter and rosemary and set aside.
3. Put pork chops on grill and cook, occasionally turning and basting with balsamic mixture, until browned and cooked through, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. 

Our salad, which Frank prepared, was a caprese salad dressed only with olive oil, salt, and pepper. For the "contori" or side dish, Frank prepared the Broccoli Strascinati from the same article. It was a very simple, and extremely tasty accompaniment for the pork chops. Again, direct from the Saveur website:

1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch broccoli (about 1 lb.), 
   stemmed and cut into florets
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1⁄2 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
Kosher salt, to taste
1. Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli; cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Sprinkle in 2 tbsp. water; add garlic; cook until golden, 2–3 minutes. Add chile; cook until toasted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.
SERVES 2 – 4

Don't be afraid to let the broccoli start turning deep brown in spots with caramelization. That creates another level of flavor to the dish. 

Tomorrow evening, I plan on making Spaghetti alla Carbonara with a slight change. The very first time I had carbonara was on my first visit to Rome with my good friend Deidre. Her brother, who had lived in Rome for a couple of years (lucky you, Dennis), recommended Abruzzi, not far from Trevi Fountain. I was amazed by the carbonara which I had ordered with rigatoni instead of spaghetti (both options were on the menu). So, with found memories of my first dish of carbonara, I will prepared it with rigatoni. 

As is typical with many Italian dishes, good ingredients, simply prepared, yields good eating.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Apple of My i

I was walking through the Garden of Evil a few weeks ago when I spotted a serpent in a tree enticing me with an apple. He is always wearing a black turtleneck sweater, white earbuds, and rocking out to Coldplay. I had fallen under his spell before.
Serpent, I said, "Why are you here again, holding another apple? I have enough apples already thanks to you!"
"Ah," he said, "you can never have too many apples."
I don't know that I agree with him. I already have an iPod, a Shuffle, a MacBook, and my favorite iPhone. How many more i's do I need.
Reading my thoughts, the serpent replied, "Just one more."
I was not an early adapter of the iPhone, but I like it so much, I decided the serpent might be right. On the first day available, I placed my pre-order for an iPad. What had come over me; I had to be one of the first to have my very own iPad. It arrived this week in the typical white box, screaming APPLE!!!
I am sitting here typing on the virtual keypad on what looks like an iPhone on steroids. It is really slick; almost too much so, as in slippery to hold. But it looks great and I love the large display. I must admits, the jury is still out if this is all I expected it to be. I know I will have fun, but my favorite iDevice is still the iPhone.

"OK, Mr. Serpent, you won this one, but enough Apples for now."
I just realized that the face of the serpent looks a lot like Steve Jobs.

That's my story and I am sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Still Wrapping

This is it, I promise. The food post from Washington DC. As you know, food is always part of the travel agenda, and this trip was no exception. We had two reservations at least a week before we left. In order of appearance, the dining included.

Firefly: Lunch on Friday and just a few blocks from the Dupont Hotel (on Dupont Circle). Frank had spotted this restaurant on prior trips to DC and thought it looked like a good option. Right he was. The decor was great, the location was very convenient, and the food was very good. We shared an appetizer of Salt Roasted Baby Beets which was wonderful. I opted for the House-Made Charcuterie which consisted of a rabbit pate, chopped chicken liver, and bresaola. Good? Oh, yes ! Frank enjoyed the Portobello Mushroom Reuben sandwich.

Jaleo: Friday dinner: This was one of the restaurants high on our list to try as it is owned by one of our favorite chefs, Jose Andres. His TV show, "Made in Spain", is fun to watch as it includes travel to Spain, and cooking in his DC kitchen. And Jose's high level of enthusiasm is infectious. The space was great, as was the service and the food. The restaurant prepares typical Spanish tapas with a modern twist. We shared a number of tapas including;

  • Ensaladilla Rusa, a potato salad with imported tuna
  • Fried pasta shrimp paella, a short thin pasta prepared like a typical rice based paella
  • Rabbit Confit (OMG, was that good)
  • Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Goat Cheese (yummy!)
  • Bacon Wrapped Fried Dates - very nice, but this put us over the "full" mark. But none were left, and we still found room for dessert of 
  • Flan.
This was my favorite restaurant of the trip.

Tabard Inn: Brunch on Saturday: If you want the very best donuts ever, go here for brunch. House-made, melt in your mouth soft, and served with fresh whipping cream. It doesn't get any better than this. My dear cousin Shirley was in DC a few weeks before us (also to see the Terra Cotta Army exhibit). She stayed at the Tabard Inn and dined there too. She raved about the accommodations and the food. Since we already had our dinners planned, we tried to get Sunday brunch reservations a few days before our trip. It wasn't to be; obviously a popular spot. We lucked out and scored 2 PM Saturday brunch reservations and we were very happy we did. In addition to the top notch donut, we each had an Eggs Benedict dish; mine with house-smoked salmon and Frank's with house-made Tasso ham.

Central Michel Richard: Saturday dinner: This was the second of our pre-reserved dinners. Central is Michel's moderately priced answer to his flagship restaurant, Citronelle. This great looking space serves typical French bistro fare. For started we shared the Faux Gras. Yes, it is spelled correctly, since it was not real Foie Gras, but fake... made with chicken liver instead of goose or duck. It was served with a Country Pate. Faux or not, it was excellent. For my entree I selected the filet mignon with wild mushroom and potato hash. The steak was perfectly cooked, medium rare throughout. The hash was a nice accompaniment to the rich flavors of the steak. Frank ordered the Hanger Steak with Onion Carbonara. His steak was also very tasty and the onion carbonara looked like a pasta carbonara, but made with onion slices instead of pasta. Dessert was a shared signature dessert, a Banana Split. After the donut for brunch, why not go with a banana split. While it might be considered an "ordinary" dessert, it was served with house-made chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and a very wonderful, intensely flavored strawberry sorbet. 

Believe it or not... our Sunday late afternoon lunch (snack) was at the Air and Space Museum McDonald's. Yep, it isn't all fine dining. 

That's all I'm Saying.

It's a Wrap

It has been nine days since we returned from Washington DC and I haven't completed my postings from the trip. So, finally, here are the last two posts... first, the National Cathedral, where we attended Palm Sunday service. Yes, the earth did shake when I stepped into the Cathedral. You can read more about it at this Wikipedia link, or the official National Cathedral site.
This large Gothic cathedral sits on a hill overlooking Washington. The photo of the nave was taken from the balcony, where we were seated for the service. Typical of Gothic cathedrals, it has soaring ceilings supported by large pillars and lighted by lovely stained glass windows.
While the architecture reminded me of Medieval Gothic churches in Europe, the one this missing here was the darkened walls from years of candle soot. The cathedral was beautiful, but just a touch too pristine. Oh, well, it is much newer in comparison.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Museums Today; Food Tomorrow

As you can tell, I am still trying to catch up on my Washington D.C. trip. I am saving the restaurant post for last; no reason, just how I feel. In a prior post, I discussed the Terra Cotta Army exhibit at the National Geographic Society. We visited two other museums last weekend. On Saturday we went to the The Phillips Collection, not far from our Dupont Circle hotel. The special exhibit was a collection of Georgia OKeefee's abstractions. While this exhibit was very good, we have seen a large selection of Georgia O'Keefee's work at the O"Keefee museum in Santa Fe. So, the highlights of the visit was the permanent collection, which included "Luncheon on The Boating Party" by Renior; The Rothko Room with four large abstracts by Mark Rothko; and "The Dream" by Marc Chagall; among others. 
On Sunday, after a visit to the wonderful gothic National Cathedral for Palm Sunday service (more on the cathedral in a future post), we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Neither of us had been there in many, many years, so it was a nice reintroduction to a great museum, and a fun way to spend our afternoon before out flight back to Tampa. 

In Bloom in DC

The Washington D.C. saga continues...
We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived in Washington last weekend to find that the Cherry Blossoms had started to bloom. It was an unexpected treat.