Monthly Archives: November 2009

Clam Chowda

As the weather starts to turn cold here in the South I always think of making soup. I have made several pots already this Fall, but the one soup I dare not mess with is Legal Sea Food’s Clam Chowder.

We were in Boston at the end of October to see some old friends. We both lived there years ago. Boston is definitely one of our favorite cities and we threaten to move back up there every time we visit. It is a beautiful city, especially now that the Big Money Dig is over and I-93 is underground. It is truly amazing how it opened up the city and connected different areas. My only complaint is that it is Brrrrrr…..just so cold for so much of the year! If you can bundle up and don’t mind lots of ice and snow, I highly recommend moving there! Anyway, after checking in to our hotel (the lovely Langham Hotel), we of course headed for the Legal Sea Foods Restaurant on the waterfront.

We have been to many of the Legal’s locations and I have to say that we prefer the location on the waterfront at Rowe’s Wharf. It is always busy (as most of their locations are). It was so busy the Thursday afternoon we were there we had to sit at the bar for a late lunch, which is just fine with us. We like the service at the bar.

My husband had a dozen raw oysters and chowder. His two favorites. I had a small salad and chowder. I had to eat the salad to make me feel better about eating the chowder. It is definitely not on the low cal menu, but it sure is good! Legal’s chowder is pure and simple. Clams, potatoes, onions, clam broth, a few seasonings and cream and more cream. It is nearly rich enough to eat with a fork. That is why it is so good.

Many chowder recipes add too many potatoes, then add bacon (no, not that!) or the cream base is too thin. We try clam chowder whenever we can get it and none can compare to Legal’s. Now I am sure you are thinking that there is a Legal Sea Foods in Atlanta (as well as many other cities), so what’s the big deal with flying to Boston to dine at one? We have been to the one in Atlanta and it just was not as good as the Legal’s up north. Maybe we will give it another try, but the chowder in Boston is better. Hands down. Boston is in New England after all and that is where clam chowder is from.

Costco sells Legal’s chowder. We have tried it. Still, not quite the same as being there. The other option is to have it mail ordered (I have done that in the past for Christmas gifts. They will love you forever!). Be sure to order some rolls. They are really good too. The best option is to have your Delta flight attendant friend pick up a big batch at the airport location for you on her turnaround from Boston to Atlanta.

If none of the above are possibilities and you are in the mood to give Legal’s a run for their money and try the recipe at home, here is a link to the original recipe:

http://www.recipesource.com/soups/soups/21/rec2116.

Good luck bringing it home one way or another and enjoy your chowda!

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Country French Chicken at Home

Since a girl has to eat and there are no Thanksgiving leftovers to heat up, what is one to do? Cook a chicken. There is nothing better than a chicken that has been cooked Bistro style, with some variation on a country French classic. We are out-of-town this weekend and that always presents a grocery store dilemma. I can never be sure what ingredients will be available at the local market. That is the great thing about so many French dishes. The ingredients and simple and easy to find. Who doesn’t have an onion or a carrot lying around?

We have all had wonderful chicken dishes, expertly prepared at restaurants and have wondered what they did to get such a moist bird. Well, I can tell you. They probably made a huge, greasy mess in their kitchen! That have more than likely braised the chicken pieces at a medium high temperature in either butter, oil or a mixture of the two. This makes for a big mess, so if you do not like cleaning your kitchen or do not have fairies that come and clean behind you, then you might want to opt to go back to that restaurant. (Hint – To minimize the mess and make clean-up quicker and easier I put aluminum foil around the stove and countertop area. It may not be the cheapest way to prevent a mess, but it sure does help.) So, if you can deal with the clean-up, there is nothing more rewarding than a braised chicken in a wonderful sauce.

The secret to cooking the chicken is to leave it alone! Don’t keep peeking or moving it around. Start with the skin side down. When the skin is perfectly browned, the skin should easily come up from the pan. You want to make sure to leave it alone until it properly browns. Then turn it over to brown on the underside. A mixture of olive oil and butter is my preferred source of fat. You get the higher burning point of the oil combined with the taste of the butter (unsalted, of course).

The next secret is the layering of flavors in your sauce. Depending on your recipe, you will remove the chicken from the pan as well as some fat and then begin sautéing vegetables. Once they are soft and browned, you will add some wine or other type of alcohol and chicken broth. Return the chicken to the pan, cover and cook until done. (This process is almost like steaming, therefore, keeping the chicken moist). You may want to check on the wings and breast pieces earlier since they may cook quicker than the dark meat pieces. Finally, reduce the sauce (being sure to scrape up all the yummy brown bits), and then finish with a knob of butter or cream.

There is definitely a pattern to cooking these great dishes. Once you master it, you can cook most any chicken or meat dish this way. I say suck it up and make the mess. You will be glad you did.

Here is the recipe that I used to make my dinner last evening. It was very similar to many of the dishes that we had while in Provence and the south of France. Be sure to use the best chicken you can find (I like Ashley Farms or Springer Mountain, but any organic or free-range chicken should do fine). I have found that regular, less expensive chickens are not nearly as tender. Save them for making chicken broth.

Classic French Chicken in White Wine Sauce

2 Tbs. butter
4-lb. chicken, cut into 6 pieces (or 3-1/2 to 4 lb. chicken pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 rib celery, finely chopped
2 oz. prosciutto or country ham, finely chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup homemade or low-salt canned chicken stock
3 Tbs. heavy cream (at room temperature)
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook it in the skillet on the skin side to brown it and to render the fat from the skin, about 15 min. Turn the chicken over and cook on the bone side for about 5 min. Remove and reserve the chicken.

Pour off all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pan. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and prosciutto or ham and sauté until the onion is browned and the vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 min. Add the wine and chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine with vegetables. Put the chicken back into the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the skillet with a lid, and simmer the chicken in the sauce until cooked through, 20 to 25 min.

Remove the chicken from the pan, turn the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the volume of liquid by half, about 5 min. (or 6 to 7 min. if you want a thicker sauce). Add the cream, stir to combine, and remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the chicken to wide soup plates; taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper if necessary and spoon it over the chicken. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Original Recipe is from Fine Cooking. The only change I made was to cut the chicken into 8 pieces which makes it easier to cook and to serve. I did use prosciutto rather than bacon as I already had some in the fridge. I used a white Burgundy in the sauce.

I served the chicken with a couscous prepared with sautéed shallots, chicken broth, toasted almonds, cumin and currants and complimented it with a Pinot Noir, but you could also serve it with a white Burgundy or Pinot Gris.

Bon Appetit!

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Guido’s – Show me the money or I’ll send my Uncle to escort you out!

Well, I was not thinking about this event while I was writing all my happy thoughts about our great experiences in Singaluna and Siena. And I certainly had forgotten about one bad Italian restaurant when I had such a great Bolognese Sauce at another. However, at my husband’s suggestion, here is a review of our experience at Guido’s in Siena, Italy.

It was drizzling and overcast our second day we were in Tuscany. It fact, it continued to be that way until the day we left. As I had mentioned, my husband (who was going through chemotherapy and recovering from surgery at the time) came down with a virus right at the very end of our two-week trip. He had done great until we reached Tuscany. It was on this day when we ventured back to Siena that he really started to feel bad.

It was about 2 pm when we decided we had enough sightseeing and started to go back to the hotel. My husband was not hungry, but I was really hungry and could not find a quick place to grab a bite to eat. Everything shuts down for a few hours about mid-afternoon in Europe, so I was out of luck until we finally saw Guido Ristorante. It was down a narrow street in a medieval building. It was open and I was about to have lunch (or so I thought).

The restaurant had some diners in what seemed to be various stages of their meals. There were a few large tables getting plates of pasta and other dishes, so I knew the kitchen was still open. We were promptly greeted and seated by the maitre d’ at a small table for 2 in a corner. The waiter arrived and asked for our beverage order. We asked for large bottle of sparkling water and a small carafe of house red wine. Everything seemed fine and we quickly got our bottle of water with glasses.

The waiter then took the food order. I asked for a salad and a pasta dish. My husband told the waiter he was not feeling well and would not be having anything to eat. We had at that point ordered approximately 30 Euros worth of food and drink.

It was a mere few seconds later that the maitre d’ came back and asked what my husband was going to have to eat. He explained the situation and then we were promptly asked to leave. They insisted that we both order food or else we had to go. He could not afford to hold a table for 2 with such a small order. Hello…they were maybe at 25% capacity and it was 2pm!

Of course, my husband was angry, but I grabbed him and said let’s go. Foolishly, we left money for the water that we did not even drink. As we walked down the street, my husband let his Italian get the better of him and back he went to give the maitre d’ a piece of his now infuriated Italian mind!

I will say that after all the places we have traveled to and all the restaurants where we have dined, we have truly never been treated so rudely in our lives. I told the hotel upon our return and they informed me that they do not recommend Guido’s to guests as it is a very old restaurant and more of a tourist spot.

I have never written a review on any website about the place. I suppose I should have. It was just amazing that we ordered a meal and it was not good enough for them to serve us. We have never forgotten that experience. Most Italians are very gracious, welcoming people. We even had one gentleman that we met in line at the Duomo in Florence invite us back to dinner at his house in Florence with his family. This hospitality was lost somewhere between there and Guido Ristorante in Siena.

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Bolognese Sauce just like somebody’s momma used to make!

My husband and I traveled to France and Italy four years ago. Of course, we ate and drank our way through Paris, Strasbourg, Provence and Florence. The last place that we visited was Tuscany. Unfortunately, my husband got sick for our last 3 nights and we never got to see much of Tuscany. Luckily, we were staying in this beautiful hotel, Locanda dell’Amorosa in Singaluna. So, while I did not venture far (except to the market for the Italian version of ginger ale), I still was able to enjoy delightful food and beautiful surroundings. The food and service at the hotel were exceptional.



We drove from Florence to Singaluna and luckily were able to see Siena along the way. It is one of many beautiful hillside towns in Italy. Siena may best be known for Palio di Sienna, the medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice a year. We were not there for that event, so we will always remember Siena for its amazing Duomo, the Cathedrale di Santa Maria. It was far more impressive than the Duomo in Florence. The floor of the Cathedrale di Santa is covered up with boards all but one month of the year to preserve the amazing mosaic. Fortunately, we were there during that month. Much of the floor is roped off so that you are not able to walk on certain parts, but we were able to see the mosaic and it was breathtaking.

We also stopped for lunch in the little town of Singaluna. There were not many options, so we chose a tiny local spot that seemed lively. I could not even tell you the name of the restaurant. There was one older woman (think grandmother) that was waiting on all the tables. Of course, she did not speak English and we did not speak Italian, but when it comes to food, we can figure it out enough to get great food! The place was packed with locals eating course after course of huge plates of meats and pasta followed by bottle after bottle of red wine. We knew it had to be good with all the patrons. These big, hungry men were keeping this lady running. I was not sure we would ever get our lunch.

I did finally get my Pasta with Bolognese sauce and I must say that it was one of the best I have ever had. It was richer and had more fat than I had before in a Bolognese sauce and I am sure that is why it was so good. I have tried many recipes since that trip to try to find something similar. This was definitely a dish that I wanted to bring home and recreate as close to the original as possible. I think I have found “the one” after trying many different versions. This seems to be the most traditional recipe.

I will tell you that I tried many other recipes that included more ingredients and different types of meat, but this was the simplest and most like what I had in Italy. Tyler Florence (who I really do like and enjoy many of his recipes) adds all sorts of ingredients that are not traditionally in Bolognese sauce (bay leaves, garlic, dried mushrooms, basil) and Cooks Illustrated uses 3 meats (beef, pork and veal). Although some of the recipes I tried might use a small amount of pork, the preferred meat seemed to be good old ground chuck. Sometimes simpler is better. The following is the original recipe by Michele Urvater which was the closest recipe I found to my Italian experience with Bolognese sauce. I have noted a few changes I made to make it even more like the dish I had in Singaluna.

Classic Italian Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients

* 2 Tbsp olive oil
* 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
* 1/4 cup minced pancetta
* 1 cup minced celery
* 2/3 cup minced carrot
* 1/2 cup minced onion
* 1 lb ground beef chuck
* salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
* 1 cup milk
* 1/2 cup dry white wine
* 1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped with liquid
* 1 lb pasta
* freshly grated parmesan cheese-optional garnish

Directions

In a 3 quart saucepan heat oil and butter. Add pancetta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until most of the fat has been rendered. Then add carrots, celery, and onions and saute for 3 minutes. Now add the beef, salt and pepper to taste and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the milk and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the milk is completely evaporated. Add wine and simmer until evaporated.

Finally, add the tomatoes and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours partially covered. It’s important to reduce as slowly as possible. If sauce becomes dry, add 1/2 cup water whenever necessary. When almost ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until it is tender but still firm to the bite, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, pat dry and return to the pot. Add your sauce to the past and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve immediately. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.

* Do use whole milk. I have tried it with whole milk and 2% milk. It is a much richer sauce with the whole milk. I use a French white burgundy for the dry white wine. Do not use an American Chardonnay as most are too oaky and will interfere with the other flavors in the sauce.

* I add several tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste during the last half hour on the cooking time. Even though there are tomatoes in the sauce, I still find that it needs a bit more tomato flavor. I also find that I do need to add the water periodically as the sauce does begin to dry.

* The Bolognese sauce that I had in Singaluna was also served over egg pasta. I use an organic tagliatelle made with durum semolina (Bionature brand). You will not need an entire pound of this pasta. An 8.8 oz. package comfortably serves 3 people. I drain the pasta, but do not pat it dry as the recipe says. Instead, I mix some of the sauce with the pasta and a little of reserved pasta water. I top it with the remaining sauce. Of course, I finish with lots of good (and freshly grated) Parmigiano Reggiano.

Mangia! Mangia!

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Vacation from Thanksgiving

I hate to admit it but this will be the second year that I have successfully avoided cooking the dreaded Thanksgiving turkey! I did prepare a glazed baked him with a few trimmings two nights ago and we had our sons over for dinner, but the kids have other plans this year, so we are dining out for Thanksgiving day. I must admit that I almost feel a little guilty to be skipping out on one of the biggest food days of the year, but I think payback will headed my way come Christmas day!

I am, however, preparing something this evening that I did not start until 6 pm today, which means dinner at 9 pm! I hope to be posting that info soon (should all go well…).

Happy Turkey Day to all who are reading this!

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Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona

Oh, to live in Europe and be able to go to the market….If you love to cook and look at beautiful, fresh and unusual ingredients, then this is a must on your trip to Barcelona. Mercat de la Boqueria.

Many of the cities in Europe that I have visited have incredible food markets, specialty stores and fresh fruit and vegetable stands. And of course, I cannot forget fabulous patisseries with their breads, macaroons, flaky pastries and beautiful desserts…you just want to take a picture to remember them. They are almost too pretty to eat! I am sure that there are some great markets here in the U.S., but they are not near me! The closest thing to these markets would be Harry’s, Whole Foods or Fresh Market. It is just not the same. When have you had a piece of fruit or vegetable smell like it truly should and the fragrance fill the air? I cannot smell much of anything here even when it is right up against my nose!

La Boqueria was a feast for the eyes and the senses. I could not possibly list every type of fresh fish or meat, produce, cheeses, spices, nuts, cured meats, etc. that were available. It was beyond words, so I have attached some pictures.

When you do make it to Barcelona and la Boqueria (and you should), you need to eat at a lunch counter in one of the far corners of the market. The name is Kiosko Universal. You cannot possibly miss it, as it is nearly impossible to get a seat and is loud and chaotic. Food is flying and they are crazy busy. The food was simply prepared, but incredible. The vegetable dishes were like nothing we had ever had before. There were mountains of exotic mushrooms (it was mushroom season, lucky for us) sautéed with oil, garlic and parsley. We also had a large plate of what appeared to be roasted or possibly even lightly fried carrots, asparagus, red peppers and baby artichokes perfectly seasoned. The razor clams were outstanding. These were also served with a slight drizzle of the same oil mixture that graced the mushrooms. Everything we had was amazing due to the freshness of all of the ingredients. Nothing was over seasoned or sauced. It was plain, wonderful food.

There were a number of seafood and other meat tapas, but we were too full to try anything else. Tapas in Spain (where we dined) meant rather large portions of incredibly tasty food. One plate was almost more than enough for 2 people to share. In Atlanta, tapas means tiny plate with one to two bites of food. Apparently, something got lost in the translation. We could go broke eating tapas here at home, while we were perfectly content with just a few plates in Spain.

We thankfully ran into some people we met earlier on the trip at the counter of Kiosko Universal. They insisted we dine there. They told us it has been in the New York Times and some foodie friends of theirs had highly recommended it as well. Lucky for us, we snagged a spot and had a real treat. The local beer wasn’t so bad either.

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Hello. Is anyone out there????

I always thought that people who feel the need to blog  do not have a life.  I guess I now am officially without a life!  I never understood why anyone would care about what other people were doing on almost a minute by minute basis (Twitter).  Who cares anyway?  I guess now I will care if someone else is interested in what I am doing and what I think.

I spend (and have spent) much of my life in the kitchen.  Cooking is a passion, a hobby, it is therapeutic and rewarding.  I started cooking rather elaborate dishes when I was very young.  I remember making Beef Fondue, Quiche, Crepes Suzette and Bananas Foster for family when I was in 7th grade.  It sounds as though I had some fire fetish thing going on, but I was really into all the fancy dishes and entertaining.  I went to work in several restaurants when I was a little older.  Although I was under the legal age to work in these places, I convinced the management how serious I was about owning my own restaurant later in life.  I wanted hands on training and I was willing to do whatever it took to get the job.

In high school, I would always prepare dinner parties for friends (complete with wine as long as no one drove home!).  I was convinced I was destined to be a chef because of my love of cooking.  I obtained  information on cooking schools in France (La Varenne and Le Cordon Bleu), but was dissuaded by the college counselor to attend a culinary school.  Instead, she really wanted me to look into Cornell’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program.  I was not interested in running a hotel or a restaurant.  I wanted to be in the kitchen.  I do not think that anyone really understood my desire to cook.  I really just wanted to cook.  I did not want to go to college.  I had visions of owning my own restaurant and never saw me doing anything else.

When I went off to college (instead of culinary school), I became very confused about what to major in and never felt fulfilled.  I fumbled around for many years and finally did find a career that I loved and was good at, but I still had that feeling that I had really missed something in my life by not going to culinary school and doing what I truly was passionate about.

I am now cooking and baking more than ever  many years after the lost opportunity to attend the right school.  We put a professional kitchen in our house 2 years ago.  I am now known as the person that cooks really great dinners and always entertains.  Everyone needs to be known for doing something special.  I guess I cannot complain about my recognition.  We actually have a really difficult time going out to dinner now.  My husband always says “you cook better than this”.  I find that I feel that way too.  I am excited that I can turn out restaurant (or better) quality meals and share them with family and friends.  It is very satisfying to know that my dishes are truly enjoyed by others.

I now hope that I can share some of these recipes, tips, fun information, recommendations and restaurant reviews with all of you.  I am sure there will be much trial and error as I blog my way through (perhaps with a kitchen disaster or two along the way), but I am hoping that someone out there will read this and enjoy what I have to say as much as I enjoy the time I spend learning in the kitchen.

Music To Cook By…

Here is the link

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