Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Blast from the Past

La Cote Basque has been in nearby Gulfport for over 30 years, owned and staffed by three generations of the same family. This was my first visit thanks to an offer from Groupon. Our server was ecstatic about being part of the 3rd generation. I don't think the decor nor the menu has changed much in 30 years. Frank refers to the decor as "grenier de grand-mère" (Grandma's Attic) with it's collection of old paintings, fabrics, lights and nic-nacs placed throughout the restaurant. I thought it was great fun, maybe a little over the top, but very fitting for a very old French country-styled restaurant.We also noted that each table was set with different china - another nice touch from Grand-mere.

The menu leans strongly French with some German and Swiss influences. You can view the menu by clicking the restaurant name in the opening sentence. We opened our meal with the Pate de Strasbourg, the Goose Liver Pate. It was very smooth, rich, and tasty. The next course was a house salad with a house-made Honey-Dijon mustard dressing which was excellent. I don't know what else was in the dressing, but it was some of the best honey-dijon that I have ever had.

Our Entrees were wonderful and tasty. Frank opted for the Caneton Roti a la Sheree (1/4 Roast Duckling Amaretto, Honey, and Cherry sauce, topped with Nuts and Almonds) which he proclaimed "superb'. I had the Carre d' Agneau Provencal (Rack of Lamb, Demi Glace, Dijon Mustard and Thyme) which was also excellent although just a touch overdone, not by much, but not quite as rare as I like. All entrees are served with 3 veggies and potatoes or rice. Not an overwhelming amount of side dishes, just a couple of bites of each one, but all very tasty.

Overall it was a wonderful dining experience and I would like to go back for more of their great food.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weekend Roundup

This weekend's activities (all food related) included two fixed-at-home dinners and a first try at a previously untasted/untested ice cream shop in downtown St. Petersburg.

Friday evening found us at my apartment preparing Penne alla Vodka preceded by a classic shrimp cocktail. Recipes will follow at the end of this post. The pasta dish was very tasty and easy to prepare, but I thought it called for too much prosciutto. Next time I will cut back on the quantity. Plus I have never had Penne alla Vodka prepared with prosciutto before, I think you could leave it out if so inclined. 

Saturday evening after a nice lunch at Alesia, and back at my apartment,  we started preparing Irish Butter-Poached Scallops with Leeks and Sweet Garden Peas from the St. Supery Winery newsletter, (included with Wine Club shipment and on their website. I made the gremolata a couple of hours ahead just to get it out of the way. Then I made the clarified butter (Irish Butter, of course). We used large sea scallops (U-10's; about 10 scallops to a pound). While this was more complex than the Penne alla Vodka, it was a winner, a keeper, and worth the effort to prepare.

Finally, on Sunday, after a nice lunch at 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House, we skipped our usual desert stop at Paciugo on Beach Drive and tried out a different Ice Cream and Chocolate shops on 4th Avenue North, about 1/2 block off Beach - Sweet Divas. I still love my gelato, but this was some excellent ice cream. I had their Butter Pecan and Madagascar Vanilla Bean, and Frank had the Chocolate Amaretto with the Madagascar Vanilla Bean. All were very good. 

Oink, and that is all I'm saying.

Penne Alla Vodka
as found on the Web
                Prep Time: 5 mins
                Total Time: 15 mins
                Servings: 6
              *tip* squeeze the tomatoes to drain them so the sauce isn't watery"
                                  3 tablespoons butter
                                  3 -4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
                                  1 cup thinly sliced prosciutto
                                  1 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
                                  1/2 cup heavy cream
                                  1/4 cup vodka ( only a kind you would drink)
                                  salt and pepper
                                  1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
                                  1 lb penne pasta
                                  3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1.            In a wide pot big enough to hold all the pasta and sauce, melt the butter.
2.            add the garlic and cook until golden brown.
3.            stir in the proscuitto and cook for a a minute or two.
4.            add the tomatoes, crushed pepper, pepper and salt.
5.            simmer for 5 minutes.
6.            stir in the cream and cook for 2 minutes stirring alot.
7.            add the vodka and cook until it no longer smells strongly of vodka (about 3-5 minutes).
8.            cook the pasta as directed on box but al dente.
9.            add the pasta to the pot with the sauce and mix until it is all coated over the pasta.
toss with the cheese and serve immediately.

Irish Butter-Poached Scallops with Leeks and Sweet Garden Peas (from the St. Supery Winery newsletter)

Makes 6 servings
For gremolata:
·      1 cup coarsely shredded dried breadcrumbs (We used Panko in lieu of breadcrumbs and it worked out fine)
·      2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
·      Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
·      1 clove garlic, finely minced
·      Grated zest of 1 lemon
·      ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or chives, (we opted for the chives – good)
·      For leeks and peas:
·      1 large leek, white and light green parts only, outer layers discarded and thinly sliced (3 to 3 ½ cups)
·      2 tablespoons unsalted butter
·      3 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream
·      ¼ cup water
·      ½ teaspoon sea salt
·      7 grinds of black pepper
·      1¾ to 2 cups shelled fresh or frozen English peas
·      12 to 18 jumbo scallops, depending on everyone's appetite
·      Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
·      1 cup clarified Irish butter (see note below)
·      Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
·      Watercress sprigs, for garnish
To make the gremolata: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the breadcrumbs in a small bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat evenly. Spread in a pie pan or small baking sheet and toast for 7 to 8 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Just before serving stir in the garlic, lemon zest, and parsley.

To prepare the leeks and peas: In a saucepan, combine the leek, butter, crème fraîche, water, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the leeks are a little tender and the sauce is reducing. Use your best judgment as to when to add the peas. If they are fresh but starchy they may take some time, so add them as soon as the leeks start to soften. If they are frozen, they may take just 2 to 3 minutes, so add them at the end. Shake the pan occasionally during cooking to change what is on the bottom of the pan with what is on the top. Cook until the vegetables are tender.
Once the vegetables are cooking, season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper. In a big sauté pan (large enough to hold all of the scallops in a single layer), melt the butter (I think here is where you add the clarified butter which may not need to be melted if you just prepared it - my comments) over medium heat. When the butter is hot and foamy, add the scallops and poach gently for 3 to 5 minutes, basting as needed, until just done. They are ready when they feel just firm to the touch.
To serve, spoon the vegetables into individual deep plates or shallow soup bowls and top with the scallops. Add the lemon zest and juice to the butter from the scallop pan, then drizzle over the scallops. Sprinkle with some of the gremolata and garnish with the watercress.
Note on clarified butter: To make clarified butter, melt butter over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden but not browned. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve or a coffee filter into a heatproof container, leaving the milk solids behind in the sieve or filter.