Sunday, August 31, 2008

Week of August 31

Hope y'all are having a great Labor Day holiday.

What a fun week I've got ahead! First, I have some baking great clients I'm doing work for this week and I am really looking forward to making beautiful, yummy treats. Then, I have a birthday dinner out with my hubby at my favorite restaurant. And then, I'm going away for a girls' weekend. Whoo hoo! I'm not sure I can handle that much fun in one week.

Menu for the Week
Sunday - Labor Day Grillin'
Hot dogs with all the fixings
Cole slaw
Corn on the cob
Peach galette (using the galette dough from here, the baking method is the same as for the vegetable tart)

Grilled pizza (made with my new birthday pizza peel)
Green salad

Tuesday - Indian night
Curried cauliflower
Fresh shell beans with tomato
Swiss chard
Chapati or rice

Pasta with eggplant and tomatoes

Super duper birthday dinner

Girls' weekend!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day Coolers

If you're having folks over for a cookout this weekend, may I recommend a fun beverage?

Aguas frescas ("fresh water") are Mexican and Central American drinks that are an ideal pairing for grilled or spicy foods, especially on a hot day. Traditionally aguas frescas are made from fruit, vegetables and grains. For our discussion, I'll stick to fruit-based aguas frescas.

The technique is simple: puree cut-up fruit with with water until smooth (let your blender run for a minute at least). Add a little lemon, salt or sugar to taste. The texture should be smooth and watery - an agua fresca should be on the watery end of the spectrum, not the juicy/pulpy end. Dilute your puree with more cold water if needed to get a drinkable consistency. Serve your agua fresca very cold.

An agua fresca is an ideal way to use up dead-ripe fruit. You can also use the fruit purees you find the freezer case (Goya sells passionfruit, mango, guabana, and other exotic-to-me fruits). Some fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums) will start to brown after they've been pureed. Add extra lemon to these, but drink them the same day you make them for best visual results.

These aguas frescas are made from strawberry, plum, passionfruit and blackberry purees. Good fruits for you to try:
  • Cantaloupe or Honeydew
  • Peaches or Nectarines
  • Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries
  • Watermelon
I may be stating the obvious, but ... these drinks are wonderfully refreshing on their own, but it won't be a tragedy should some tequila or rum happen to fall into your glass.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Drink of the Week: Tomato Martini, Take Two

A few weeks ago, I made a cherry tomato martini. Since then, I've read of a few other takes on this cocktail. Inspired by Dash of Bitters, I thought I'd try a new version.

For this cocktail, you need tomato water, which you make by chopping up fresh tomatoes, putting them in a strainer and letting the liquid drain out. The liquid is tomato water.

This drink was more subtle than the one I made before. I made it with Plymouth gin because it's such a good mixing gin, and I am going to try it once more with Hendricks (I am guessing that the cucumber notes in Hendricks will marry well with the tomato).

Tomato Martini Two
Make your tomato water - for 1/2 ounce, you'll need 1 medium tomato. The draining takes a little time, so give yourself 10 minutes or so for this step.

In an iced cocktail shaker, combine:
  • 3 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce tomato water
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Stir until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry tomato.

Skillet Souffle

I was going to make a souffle for dinner but I waited too long to get started on supper. I remembered this recipe and thought it might work instead.

This recipe is one I must have clipped back in the early eighties (I think it's from Young Miss magazine and it's in my first "Recipe Book", taped next to a cookie recipe from a 1978 issue of Family Circle). You make it by whipping egg whites to stiff peaks and then folding in the egg yolks, herbs and salt and pepper. You then pour a cheese sauce over the omelette. (I used to make this version for myself in junior high and high school.) To make it lighter and simpler, I thought I would just fold the cheese into the eggs instead of making a sauce.

This version worked well. It was much faster than a traditional souffle and I'll definitely be trying this method out with other cheeses (I used cheddar today) and will also try adding in more flavors (like finely chopped spinach or ham). This omelette will be a lot prettier if made in a small skillet. I used a 10" skillet to make enough for two. It worked out ok, but I lost some beauty points since I had to flip the omelette in four pieces.

Skillet Souffle (Puffy Omelette)
Serves 2-3
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (nothing too runny: cheddar, Monterey jack, or parmesan are all good choices)
  • 2-3 tablespoons minced herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, chives, cilantro, etc.)
  • pinch of cayenne or dash of Tabasco
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Separate the eggs, placing the whites in a large bowl and the yolks in a smaller bowl. Using an electric mixer, or a strong arm and a whisk, beat the whites to stiff peaks. (See picture to the right.)

Gently beat the yolks with a pinch of salt and few grinds of pepper. Fold the yolks, grated cheese and herbs into the whites.

Meanwhile heat a non-stick 10" skillet over medium heat. Add the oil or butter to the skillet. Heat the skillet is hot, pout the egg mixture into the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until the bottom of the omelette is set.

Now the hard part: flipping the omelette. I had to cut the omelette into four pieces with my spatula and then flip each one. This resulted in a relatively unattractive presentation. (What I will try next time is sliding the omelette onto a plate, inverting the skillet over the plate, and flipping.) Cook for another 3-5 minutes, depending on how firm you like your eggs (for a souffle-like texture, go for the shorter cooking time).

This makes a very nice supper for two or three people. If you're dining alone, make a half portion in a 6" or 8" skillet.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Field Trip: Providence Wrap-Up

This is my last Providence post for a while, methinks (at least until we visit the city again). I had a few more items I wanted to share and they all didn't warrant their own posts. So, here are some basic logistical tips gleaned from our three-day weekend for you:

We ended up at the Providence Biltmore. The Biltmore is the oldest hotel in Providence (built in 1922) and thanks to a recent renovation, is actually a pretty nice place to stay. It's built in an "L" shape which means that every rooms has a view of downtown (this can be a good or bad thing, depending on how you feel about gazing into office windows).

As is frequently the case in old hotels, our room was quirky and tiny. I got our room through Hotwire and we only spent $75 per night, so I didn't really mind. Had we been spent the rack rate of $170, I mighta been annoyed. The pluses: the staff was (mostly) friendly, there is a Starbucks attached to the hotel, and the location is central and very easy to get to by car or Amtrak.

We ate a lot. I recommend a visit to every restaurant we went to. Chez Pascal was a nice splurge (although during the week there is a very reasonable prix fixe menu), Troup House had a gorgeous setting and great home-style food, and we happily walked (you can take a taxi or the bus) the mile and a half to Nick's for brunch (twice!).

We had sandwiches from Farmstead Downcity for lunch on Saturday. They were prepared to order and were quite yummy and interesting (albeit pricey). The breads were fresh, the tomatoes were heirloom and the cheeses were delicious.

Our only disappointment was Haven Brothers' diner truck. I wanted it to be great; the tradition behind Haven's is so appealing. They've been setting up in virtually the same spot near city hall since 1888. They serve from around 4:00 in the afternoon until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Clearly, intoxication to a level nearing the risk of blood poisoning is required to enjoy food from this cart. The hot dog we shared made up for its lack of quality with its staying power: we both woke up with indigestion and relish-flavored burps (charming, I know).

On the day we arrived, we visited the Johnson and Wales Culinary Museum and Archive. It's really worth a trip and is an easy place to get to if you're coming in on Route 95.

We did a lot of walking about. I strongly recommend a stroll up Broadway (perhaps on your way to Nick's?). The architecture of the homes is just gorgeous. There are a few abandoned looking blocks on your way out of the downtown area, but perservere! Beauty awaits.

We walked from Nick's up into the Federal Hill area. Atwells Avenue is the historic center of the Italian population of Providence. Great food and coffee abound. We bought some wine from the well-curated selection at Gasbarro's. Broccoli rabe-stuffed ravioli was one of the prizes we brought home from Venda Ravioli.

We visited the Rhode Island School of Design's art museum. It's a fairly large collection, and I confess were a little fatigued by the time we'd strolled through most of it. What I would do next time is a pick one part of the collection and send my time there. The collection itself was fairly extensive and covered everything from ancient Egypt to Asia to portraiture to antique homes .... oh and there was some Modern Art too.

What We Missed (That I know of)
We are planning to head down to Providence again - we loved what we saw (and ate!) and still have more to see. Next time we'll be sure to visit the Brown University campus and explore a few more parts of the city. There are walking tours that sounds quite interesting. They are offered by the Rhode Island Historical Society.

On the food front: I must have a New York System hot weiner (can't believe I missed that - and yes that's how they spell "wiener"), we will probably want to visit Al Forno, La Laiterie and Gracie's.

How about you? Have you been to Providence? What should we see and do next time?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Oh Hai!

If you've come over from the TBTL blog, welcome Tens!

I recommend you take walk through the archives. You may enjoy the Drink(s) of the Week. Cheers!

If you don't know what the heck I'm talking about. I strongly recommend you check out Too Beautiful to Live, one of the wittiest, intelligent, creative radio programs I've ever listened to. Their website has links to their archive of shows or you can download the show through podcasts on iTunes.

(No cats were intoxicated in the taking of this photograph)

Summer Squash on Steroids

This is a mature zuchetta rampicante, an Italian squash. This squash is great when it's young. It's a lot like a zucchini but the flesh is denser, less waterlogged and more nutty. One reason I tried growing this squash this summer is because I read that when it matures, it turns "butternutty". Hallelujah! A squash that you want to grow to gargantuan sizes.

I put the scissors in here for scale, but for those that want the stats:
  • 7.75 pounds
  • 15" in diameter at the bulb end
  • 6" in diameter throughout the neck
  • 42" long (seriously)
I'll be hacking it apart tomorrow for freezer storage, I expect after bug damage, and taking the seeds out, I should be storing about 7.25 pounds of squash. Lordy.

Even the "baby" squashes are pretty impressive. This one was about 30" long and weighed 2 pounds.

This is three plants. The longest vines are over 20 feet long. If you want to grow your own next summer, you can buy the seeds here.

Week of August 24

This is Marion Burros' Plum Torte. You can find the recipe on the New York Times web site (as well as many other places). It's a nice use of prune plums and looks pretty too. If you look close you'll see that the batter looks speckled. That's because I used an herbed sugar flavored with rose geranium leaves instead of the plain white stuff.

This week I am really struggling with trying to use as much of the bounty my vegetable garden is throwing at me. I should not complain (I'm not, really), but it really hard to figure out what to do with 12 pounds of summer squash when you're only cooking for two. That said, I am trying to can and freeze whatever possible, so we can enjoy this collection of vegetables all winter long.

Menu for the Week
Grilled sausage with potatoes and peppers (a play on sausage with vinegar peppers and potatoes, a recipe I *have* to post this fall)
Sauteed kale with garlic
Plum torte

Baked ratatouille
Baked feta
Broccoli tabouli

Lime-rubbed flank steak
Corn pudding
Green beans

Tomato pie
Green salad

Souffle (probably broccoli)
Roasted beets

Turkey burgers
Cabbage and carrot slaw

Friday, August 22, 2008

Drink of the Week: Michelada

If you're visiting from TBTL, welcome! There's an official "hello" for you all here.)

Ah, michelada, where have you been all my (adult) life? I know I had heard about the michelada before, but for some reason I'd never made one. Then, all of a sudden, I was in the eye of a michelada hurricane: there was a story on Good Food, it was subject of a discussion by the incredibly engaging Luke and Jen of TBTL, and my Google Reader had links I had starred to Serious Eats, Married ... with Dinner, and SLOSHED! Sort of a sign, yes?

There are many versions of the michelada. Some are just beer spiced up with some combination of Tabasco, Maggi seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, lime, salt, etc. etc. etc. Other versions include Clamato or tomato juice.

I went the Clamato route this time (mainly because I had a few cans of Goya's Clamato version: appealing called "Vegetable Juice with Clam Flavors" mmm). Muy delicioso! This was an incredibly refreshing drink. We'll be trying a version without tomato juice shortly.


Pour into a large beer glass, with a salted rim if you like (we used our Guiness pints):
  • 4 ounces of Clamato juice
  • few dashes of Tapatio or Cholula or Tabasco hot sauce
  • 4 shakes of Worcestershire sauce
  • dash of soy sauce
  • juice of half a lime
Stir to blend. Pour in a bottle of very cold Mexican beer. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Field Trip: The Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson and Wales

Culinary Arts Museum and Archives
Johnson and Wales, Providence, RI

When we started planning our trip to Providence, I knew we'd have to visit this museum. I had read about it a few years ago and thought it sounded very interesting.

What a fun visit we had! If you're in the area, I strongly recommend a visit. It's right off Route 95, so it could be a great pit stop if you're heading up (or down) the seacoast.

We stopped at the Diner exhibit first. There are many items of interest in this exhibit. First, we ogled the diner counter setup. There were great milkshake blenders, signboards and neon. Road food aficionados may recognize the Moody's sign (they are a great stopping point on Route 1 in Waldoboro, Maine). The museum is currently restoring the Ever Ready Diner, a lunch car from the 1920s. The restoration area is in the exhibit, so can watch restorers at work. While we were looking around this exhibit, we met Richard J. S. Gutman, the Museum's Director and Curator. He was clearly enthusiastic about the museum and told us some interesting things about diners from our neck of the woods.

The Stoves and Ranges collection was fascinating. The museum has a varied collection of cookstoves: seeing the evolution of stoves from colonial to modern times is quite eye-opening. They've also got an early microwave (it's astonishingly large compared to the unit you probably used to heat up your lunch today). I really enjoyed observing the craftsmanship on the older stoves. They are really works of art. It almost makes you wish you could use one every day. Almost, until you think about how dangerous, dirty and difficult it must have been to cook with coal or wood on a daily basis.

There were several rooms and structures in the museum: a New England tavern (complete with fold-down bed for the coach driver), and an artsy wooden hotel bar.

There also some smaller exhibits of note: The Presidential collection was an intriguing window on state banquets held over the last 200+ years. There was a small, very interesting, exhibit on Chinese culinary tools. (Pictures weren't permitted in that exhibit.)

The collection of bread scupltures and cake decorating is intriguing. You can stare at the Victorian-style wedding cake for ages and keep finding features that delight you. (The cake is Victorian in design, but is a modern cake designed and executed by Cile Bellefleur Burbidge - great flickr set of her flowers here.)

The museum also has some really great industrial equipment like this pie crust press. I love type of equipment: it's well-designed, interesting to look at, and tempting to the imagination (how many pies could I make a day if I had one of these in my kitchen?).

I can't recommend this museum enough. It has something for everyone: you will find an interesting piece of equipment, read an inspiring story about your favorite chef, learn something new about the food you eat and how it's prepared. There are a lot more pictures from our visit on flickr here.

Mark your calendars: The Museum is hosting the third annual "Weekend of Fire" on October 4th. There will be wood-fired ovens going onsite with cooking demonstrations and yummy things to eat. Check their website for more information.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Look What I Grew!

This golden beauty is lighting up my vegetable garden. It's super-tall too; well over six feet!

Unfortunately, it's not an edible seed type. But, as I really don't need another garden chore, I'm not too disappointed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Using Your Squash Glut

If you have a garden, you are likely drowning in a sea of zucchini and summer squash. As is my usual habit, I assumed that two out of three of the plants I put in would die. As sometimes happens, all my plants did great. I am now drowning in a sea of Italian squash.

I have some great zucchini recipes but am always looking for new ones. This recipe is from Alice Waters' new cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. Her recipes tend be simple-why-didn't-I-think-of-that-type recipes. Since I "didn't think of that" I'm thrilled to have her helping me out in my kitchen.

I served this with a green salad and toasts topped with black olive tapenade. This recipe is adapted slightly from Alice's. The ingredient list looks long, but the soup comes together quickly. If you don't have all the spices, substitute one tablespoon of curry powder and add cayenne if you need it for heat.

Spicy Summer Squash Soup
4-6 Alice Waters-sized servings, 3-4 Sunday Cook-sized servings
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 5 medium summer squash, sliced into coins
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
For the minted yogurt:
  • handful of mint leaves, chopped fine
  • 3/4 cup Greek-style yogurt
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, saute the onion, spices, and garlic until the onion is softened, about 5-10 minutes. Add the squash and saute for a few more minutes. Add the broth and water and simmer until the squash is tender. In a blender, puree the soup until it is very smooth (you want the whole spices ground fine - I spun mine in three batches for about one-two minutes per batch). Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir together the mint and yogurt and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup with a dollop of yogurt. We ate this soup hot, but I think it would be very good cold as well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mystery Tool: Revealed!

What this isn't:
  • a rolling pin for one enormous slice of pizza
  • a biscuit brake (a tool for making beaten biscuits)
  • a coconut cracker
This very interesting piece of equipment is a butter worker from the late 1800s. Back in ye olde tymes, the woman of the house would churn butter for household use and sale.

After cream is churned into butter, the new butter is still fairly damp with buttermilk. She could knead the new butter by hand to remove the excess liquid, or she could use a butter worker. She could also use the worker to help her knead in salt and a coloring (usually carrot juice) if she wanted to punch up the butter's color.

This great tool was one of many unique implements we saw at the Johnson & Wales Culinary Archives and Museum. I'll be posting a full trip report for you all soon!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Week of August 17

Get a gander at these lovelies. These are cinnabar chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnibarinus to the mushroom hunters out there). They are not as flavorful as the more commonly seen golden chanterelles, however, when your backyard hands you chanterelles, you eat them. Preferably sauteed in butter.

They were fairly mild, compared to other wild mushrooms I've eaten. But I was just so tickled to be eating a mushroom from my backyard, it didn't much matter.

Menu for the Week
Sauteed chanterelles
Pesto-stuffed summer squash
Eggplant baked with sorrel, garlic and tomatoes
Corn on the cob

Rice-stuffed swiss chard
Steamed green beans with chives
Tomato salad

Our Thirteenth Wedding Anniversary - Dinner out!

Orange stir-fried chicken with vegetables
Brown rice

Mediterranean shrimp pasta casserole


Friday, August 15, 2008

Drink of the Week: Cherry Tomato Martini

Did I mention we were in Providence last weekend? Maybe I mighta.

Anyhoo, while we there we had drinks at Local 121, a restaurant and bar near our hotel. Their cocktail list is heavily skewed toward the vodka end of the spectrum but they did have two or three gin cocktails on their list. I tried an Heirloom Tomato Martini made with New Amsterdam gin. The drink was a little too sweet for me, but all in all, it was well-crafted.

I thought I'd try a version with some of our delicious Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. They are gloriously sweet, but have a tart edge. I decided to throw a little basil into the mix too.

The happy result? Cocktail and salad! The only drawback? This concoction was drinkable. It was very refreshing and I knocked it back faster than I meant to.

Cherry Tomato Martini

In a mixing glass or the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle together:
  • 3 cherry tomatoes
  • sprig of basil
Add ice and:
  • 2 ounces gin (I used Miller's)
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Pop the top of your shaker on and shake until well chilled. Double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry tomato.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review: Antonio's

Antonio's Restaurant
267 Coggeshall Street, New Bedford, MA
(508) 990-3636

On our way down to Providence, we thought we'd take a swing through New Bedford to check out Antonio's. I had read about it on Bitten and thought this was a good opportunity to visit. We are not really big eaters of Portuguese food, so we used past reviews to guide our food selections. Antonio's is a hop-skip and a jump off Route 195; it was less than 30 minutes (no traffic) to Providence.

We arrived a little before noon on Friday and the place was pretty empty, but by the time we left about an hour later Antonio's was packed. It's clear that they have a really good group of regular diners.

We started with the littleneck clams steamed with garlic and lemon. They were delicious and briny and garlicky. The steaming liquid was delicious and I just wish the bread had been better. The broth was begging to be sopped up with a crusty loaf of bread. What we got was soft and doughy and didn't really hold up to dunking. So, I had to use a spoon to eat it like soup. :-)

We also had some croquettes and cod cakes. They are sold by the piece and we agreed that if this was our local bar, we'd order the shrimp croquettes by the half-dozen. The shrimp croquettes reminded me (in a good way) of the fried ravioli I used to get as a bar snack. The tomato-shrimp mixture was creamy and encased in a pasta-like wrapper, lightly crumbed and fried. The cod cakes were much milder, but had a good taste of cod, without being too fishy.

I had the grilled sardines as my main dish. They were served super-hot and straight from the grill. They were whole sardines, heads and bones intact, and so they were really moist. For my palate, they needed a lot of lemon squeezed over them, and that addition made the dish for me.

Dave had the cacoila (braised pork shoulder). It was served with rice and(!) fries. The pork was really tender and flavorful. I am not sure what's in the braising liquid at Antonio's, but traditional recipes call for some kind of acid (orange juice, vinegar, wine) and lots of spice. This is a dish I going to try to recreate at home.

We spent $42 on our food and a half-bottle of Vinho Verde (Portuguese white wine). We ordered way too much food and had to leave about half of each of our entrees behind (we were off to a hotel for two nights, so carrying leftovers along would have been hazardous). Were we to go again, we'd probably get one appetizer and one entree. Crowd favorites appeared to be shrimp (looked like it was served in a butter, garlic and lemon sauce) and fish and chips.

We don't eat at Portuguese restaurants very often and one of things I am always disappointed about is the dearth of vegetables on the menu. I was given a green salad as a side with my sardines at Antonio's. It was a standard iceberg/romaine mix and was nice to have. But, why are the side dishes always so starchy? Don't get me wrong, I love french fries, but ... Has anyone ever found some neat vegetable side dishes in a Portuguese restaurant? The only place I have ever seen veggies is in kale and chorizo soup. Does anyone know of any dishes we should try next time?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review: Chez Pascal

Chez Pascal
960 Hope Street, Providence, RI
401-421-4422 (reservations recommended)

Chez Pascal is owned and operated by Matthew (chef) and Kristin (front of house) Gennuso. I was really excited to eat here for several reasons: the chef's focus on fresh and local ingredients (the menu changes weekly), the house-made charcuterie, and the fact that Chez Pascal also runs a hot dog cart during the day (not everyone wants diver scallops, y'know?). We never made it to the hot dog cart, but we really liked dinner.

Our first courses were a soup and a salad. Our salad was a local heirloom tomato salad with a corn flan. The tomatoes were perfectly ripe and a nice assortment of varieties was presented. The flan was served cool and really let the corn's flavor shine. I was surprised by the cool temp at first but it was a nice change. We had a Gratineed Onion Soup (think French Onion Soup) that was, without a doubt, the best version of that soup I have ever eaten. It was rich and beefy and cheesy and oniony, and surprisingly, perfect for a slightly cool summer evening.

For mains, we had a scallop dish and a knockwurst special. The large (U-10) scallops were seared and served with a tomato relish. The crispy potato cake was really interesting (and good). The potato was sliced thinly and compressed into a cake. The cake was then sliced and sauteed on the cut edge (on its "side"). It made for a nice contrast between crisp and roasted potato flavor and texture. This is a technique I am going to recreate at home.

The knockwurst was actually an appetizer special. We had eaten so much, that I knew an appetizer would be plenty. The knockwurst was a grilled half link served over cranberry beans. The sausage was seasoned well: not too salty, with good spicing. The grilling gave it a slighty smoky edge. The beans were perfect: cooked to a melting consistency, but not mushy. (If you haven't guessed yet, I do not like al dente beans (they are underdone in my book) . But it can hard to get beans to that right point of tenderness without them falling into mushy territory. Providence seems to be a city of excellent bean-cookers.)

We finished up our meal with a selection of cheeses from Farmstead. We had fresh ricotta with berries, a triple creme with a blueberry compote and a cheddar-like (forgot to write down these names) cheese from Neals Yard Dairy which was served with a tomato relish with mustard seeds (like a mostarda of tomatoes).

We spent $120 (before tip) for two cocktails, two glasses of wine, three starters, an entree and the cheeses. It's worth noting that Chez Pascal offers a very reasonable prix-fixe menu Tuesday through Thursday and a vegetarian tasting menu ($30!) all week long.

Our server was very friendly and every one there, both the waitstaff and the customers, seemed very cheerful. The room was cozy with tables close (but not too close) together. There were a few large groups and a lot of couples.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Review: The Troup House Restaurant

Troup House Restaurant
477 Broadway, Providence, RI

Tom and Rozann Buckner are famous on the Providence restaurant scene for their restaurant L'Epicureo. When we started planning our trip, I knew we had to eat there. Then I found out they had closed L'Epicureo and had just opened the Troup House Restaurant (and that Tom was the one doing the cooking) and there was no question that we'd have to go. We ended up there for dinner and couldn't have been happier.

The restaurant is housed in the Italo-American Club building on Broadway. It's a little off the beaten path and is about a 10 minute walk from Federal Hill. When we visited there was no restaurant sign in front of the building (hopefully that will be remedied soon) but press on and don't fear.

The building is a gorgeous old Victorian. The interior finishings are phenomenal: stained glass, gorgeous carved wood, Arts and Crafts tiles and William Morris wallpaper.

We ate in the upstairs dining room which was bright (at least while the sun was up) and airy. The menu offered a lot of great options, and we followed our server's guidance for most of our selections. Their full menu is on their website, so take a look if you're curious.

Our first courses were a seared scallop salad (special) and a scungilli salad. The scallop salad had thin slices of perfectly seared scallop served over sliced oranges and shaved fennel. The plate was garnished with capers and oil-cured olives. The salad was dressed with olive oil and maybe a little more orange juice. It was well-balanced dish: the crisp-tender scallop, the tanginess of the fruit, the salty olives.

The scungilli was chewy, but not unpleasantly so. It was a simple salad: sliced scungilli was dressed in a very lemony dressing and served on a lettuce leaf.

Our main courses were both specials. We had the marscapone polenta with sausage and white beans and a fried striped bass over corn risotto. Both were fantastic. Their seasoning was perfect, not too salty but the flavors were very bright. The polenta was super creamy from the marscapone and the nuttiness of the cornmeal was a great foil to the sausage and perfectly cooked white beans that were served on top.

The striped bass was cooked just right. It was dredged in a slightly crumbly layer of fine crumbs (Wondra? Cornmeal?) and served over sweet corn risotto with a rosemary cream. The sweetness of the corn highlighted the sweetness of the fish. The rosemary cream was a rich fillip for what was a simple dish.

We shared a ricotta cake for dessert. I hadn't had anything like it before. There was a bottom cake layer, and then a cheesecake-like layer of ricotta on the top. It was a lighter (all relative with dessert isn't it?) finish to the meal.

Dinner for two with two glasses of wine, before tip was $94.50. The only quibbles we had were about the [lack of] signage outside (it did make the start of the evening extra exciting) and the rather steep pricing of the cocktails ($25 pre-tip for a Scotch and a Negroni).

That said, I can't recommend Troup House strongly enough. The setting and service are formal enough for The Troup House to be a great spot for an elegant night on the town, but the vibe is so inviting, you should feel comfortable about coming in for a plate of pasta or a sandwich (at lunch).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Week of August 10

So many vegetables, so little time! We were away for the weekend, so I wasn't sure just what we'd have for dinner. Fortunately, we bought some eggplant at a farmstand and my garden is overflowing with certain vegetables.

So we dug potatoes, cut Red Russian Kale, picked some tomatoes and squash and we pulled together a pretty spiffy supper after all.

Menu for the Week
Caponata (from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food)
Garlic-roasted new potato salad (from the Dean and Deluca Cookbook)
Sauteed kale with lemon

Spicy summer squash soup with yogurt and mint (from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food)
Green salad
Toasts with herb oil

Grilled halloumi cheese
Trio of salads:
  • Tomato salad
  • Cabbage and carrot slaw
  • Coucous and squash salad
Onion and greens custard pie (from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food)
Beet salad

Poached egg on endive salad with lardons (with home-cured bacon!)

Hot dogs (Maybe NY System style? Picked up a seasoning packet in Providence.)
Cole slaw

Review: Nick's on Broadway

Nick's on Broadway
500 Broadway, Providence, RI

From what I could tell while reading up on Providence brunch spots, Nick's serves an (if not the) ideal brunch. It's out on Broadway, which means that if you're staying in a hotel in the downtown area, you'll need to take a cab or walk (it's a little less than 1 1/2 miles from downtown). We walked and on a nice morning it was the ideal way to work up an appetite.

Nick's is a small place (8-10 seats at the bar, 8 or so tables) and I had read that it filled up quickly. But we made it there before 9:00 when we visited and walked right on in.

We really liked Nick's. The service staff was so friendly and welcoming. We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen area - watching a brunch service can be exhausting, but the chef kept things moving and while the pace may have increased, the rhythm of the line's cooking stayed even. It was a pleasure to watch. We ended up going to Nick's on both Saturday and Sunday, so we got to try a few different things.

On Saturday, we had huevos rancheros and a breakfast sandwich of egg, tomato, prosciutto, pesto and provolone. The beans on the huevos were cooked just right; nice and saucy and well-seasoned and perfectly soft and tender (I have a thing about undercooked beans). They were topped with tomato salsa and cilantro cream. I prefer my huevos a little spicier, so I doctored my plate with a little hot sauce. The tortilla had been heated on the grill, so there were little charred crispy sections to provide a nice counterpoint to the creamy beans and egg.

The breakfast sandwich was grilled on multi-grain bread and was remarkably satisfying for its seemingly small size.

We also ordered a side of duck sausage. We got three links of plump, juicy, ducky sausages. Alas, not made in-house, but we overlooked that (and appreciated the kitchen's honesty). They were orangey and well-spiced and really fantastic. (I am going to have to do my own duck sausage experimentation, that's clear.)

On Sunday, we both had a breakfast special that was described by our server. Sweet corn and potato cakes, topped with eggs and hollandaise sauce. A potato cake Benedict? You bet. We each got two potato cakes, topped with fresh spinach, poached eggs and delightfully lemony hollandaise sauce. This was clearly a popular special as they ran out of it while we were eating ours. Go early!

Without tip, we spent about $36 each day for two "entrees", a side dish, coffees and juice. Prices on breakfast basics like pancakes and eggs are much lower than on the special items we ordered. We were really impressed with the freshness of the food, and with the care the staff took. (Nick's is one of the only I've ever been to that asked me how I wanted my bacon cooked.)
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