Monthly Archives: December 2009

Not Your Momma’s Lamb Chops!

I don’t know about you, but my memories of lamb chops as a child were pretty dreary. My mother pan-fried the little guys and pretty much cooked the heck out of them. Then they were served with that scary green sticky mint jelly….ooohhhhhh….such memories. I also remember the smell of the lamb chops cooking and that rather muttony aroma that I will never forget.

Well, for years, no one around me was ever served lamb chops, rack of lamb, leg of lamb or anything that came from a young sheep. Any thoughts related to lamb conjured up the smells from my childhood and the dried up piece of meat on my plate! I would refuse to eat any wonderfully prepared lamb of any kind at any restaurant or cocktail party for fear that it would taste just as I had remembered it. What a waste of all those delectable nibbles! I even refused to eat a portion of a Mixed Grill entrée one evening at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York after deciding I would give the little guys a try once again. I could not get past that certain taste….

It took a trip to Europe about 5 years ago to really change my mind. We were in Provence and it seemed that many restaurants only served lamb! My choice was some scary fish or body part I had never heard of or lamb stew, leg of lamb, rack of lamb, lamb shanks, lamb chops or lamb any other way you can think of! So, guess what…I ate lamb and I really liked it! I actually chose to order it several more times while we were there.

The difference was the lamb was from New Zealand or Australia and it really had a very different flavor. It was milder; not nearly as gamey or muttony. It was really good and lent itself well to other flavors. The meat itself did not stand out as I had remembered.

Armed with this new option for cooking and dining, I began to prepare leg of lamb, rack of lamb and lamb shanks (I have an amazing recipe for them I will share at some point). This pleased my husband and my guests as well, since most people really enjoy lamb. I would also venture to say it is a special dish when served and not on the nightly dinner menu (in our house anyway).

So, I guess last night was special. I prepared a Rack of Lamb Persillade that I have served many times over the last several years. It is adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten. It is of French origin (so, of course, I would like it). I served the lamb with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus. The little chops were perfectly cooked and seasoned. It was a wonderful dinner to close out 2009.

Here is the link to the recipe:

I purchased a rack of lamb from Australia for this dinner (I only did half of the recipe for 2 of us). I also used Arnold’s Country Oven white bread to make fresh breadcrumbs (Arnold or Pepperidge Farm are my choices). You want to be sure to use a really good bread with some texture.

You should have lamb that is perfectly cooked (the chop should be slightly pink throughout) if you prepare it as the recipe suggests. It is elegant and makes a beautiful presentation whether you are serving it to someone special (like you!) or guests.

Traditionally, you would serve a French Bordeaux or an Italian Barbera to accompany lamb, however, another interesting choice is a medium to heavy-bodied Burgundy (Pinot Noir). This is the wine that we had last evening to accompany the Rack of Lamb Persillade. This wine has the depth of flavor to match the lamb, garlic and other seasonings. If you choose to go with a Pinot Noir, be sure to ask your wine merchant for one that is more earthy and bold in flavor (many Pinots can be on the slightly sweet side which will not do well with lamb).

Bon Appetit!



Filed under Entrees, French, Lamb, Recipes

Craftbar Review…..

I love to go out to dinner. We used to go out quite a bit more than we do now (could it be the economy???). I think I now go out to dress up (and wear great shoes!) and not have to clean up the dishes. We are finding that the food at home is better than most of the restaurants in town (per my husband), but a girl needs a break from the kitchen sometimes!

I find that it is really difficult to choose a restaurant in the Atlanta area because so many of them are preparing the same type of cuisine – fussed up Southern! This has been a trend for several years now and more places seem to keep jumping on the bandwagon. (How many ways can one prepare grits??). Now I do enjoy several restaurants that serve this type of cuisine, but sometimes you just want something else.

So, a few weeks ago I tried to get a reservation at several new spots (Bistro Niko, French Bistro cuisine and La Pietra Cucina, a great new Italian restaurant). With no luck at either of those, I called Craftbar and pretty much had a selection of times for a reservation (which concerned me). I had been wanting to try it as well, so Craftbar it was going to be.

Craftbar is Craft’s more casual restaurant which was opened by Tom Colicchio (Chef and owner) of the other 2 restaurants with the same name in LA and NYC. It is housed in a separate building in front of the Mansion on Peachtree (which incidentally had no lights on upstairs). Is anyone staying or living there?? Anyway, we were promptly greeted by the valet staff as well as the restaurant staff. We did note that it was terribly quiet for a Saturday night.

My husband had their famous burger and fries ($16.00). It was slathered with cheese, bacon and tomato jam. It was huge! He said it was good, but rich and he was not crazy about the tomato jam. We shared a delightful beet salad with a colorful selection of beets dressed lightly with a vinaigrette and topped with blue cheese. I ordered the hanger steak. I was assured that their special preparation of this cut of beef would be tender. It was not tenderloin (and was not expected to be so), but was reasonably tender at medium rare. The beef was accompanied by a selection of roasted root veggies, potato puree and unfortunately a way over salted bordelaise sauce that engulfed the entire plate. Somebody needs to lay off the salt in the kitchen!

The most confusing thing about the place was the wine prices! My entrée was $24.00, which was one of the highest priced dishes. They offered several glasses of wine that were as much as the meals. You have to be careful when looking at their pricing by the glass. They offer 3 oz. tastings and regular glasses at 6 oz. I think my glass of red wine ended up at $16.00 (a Malbec). My martini before dinner was $13.00 (which was a normal price for an upscale spot). However, I think there needs to be some adjustment to the wine list so that the price of wines by the glass are in line with the price of the meals (many of which are in the mid-teens to low twenties).

We thought the prices were not in line for the quality of the food or the caliber of the wine at their casual dining option. I will say that it was quiet, we had a nice seat by the window looking onto Peachtree and the service was decent. Is there enough to make us want to go back? Probably not. It is a shame since the dishes were different from many of the newer spots in Atlanta (at least I did not see grits five ways or fried okra on the menu), but they need to make some changes to compete in this town. There are too many restaurants vying for customers with better food and more competitive prices.

If you are interested in reading other reviews of Craftbar, click on the link below to Urbanspoon.

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Filed under Atlanta, Uncategorized

Cheese Logs to English Trifle – It was an Old Fashioned Christmas

Twas the morning after Christmas and all through the house, barely a person was stirring including me and my spouse…It will be a lazy day today, that is for sure. I was in the kitchen all day yesterday. I went all out with cooking a traditional Christmas dinner to make up for the lack of decorations. We did, however, get a wreath on the front door about mid-day yesterday, so we are not complete slackers!

Anyway, we had our two sons with us yesterday. One son was here and then gone and then back with a girlfriend at the end of the day. It was uncertain how many I was cooking for, but we always enjoy the leftovers (especially when the kitchen is closed today!). It was a nice day and actually felt like Christmas once I got to cooking and we all were together. I was having a hard time getting in the Christmas mood this year, but I finally got there yesterday.

I made a cheese log two days ago, so we had that to nibble on before dinner (along with my husband’s family’s Bourbon Slush). He will not even give ME the recipe for that one. He said he might have to kill me if that gets out…it is that top-secret! I decided to make this old-fashioned cheesy treat (the classic cheese log) since it would be perfect to prepare ahead. It is a great recipe and reminded me of something I used to make years ago. It really is quite “Christmasy” with red and green speckled throughout from the pimento and parsley. You need to know that if you make it as directed, you will be making something the size of a small baseball bat. Either prepare half the recipe or you can divide the entire cheese mixture into halves or thirds for normal size cheese logs. I am freezing the other half for another evening coming up. I still have plenty leftover from yesterday to serve for the weekend.

By the way, I have added an 8 oz. package of softened cream cheese to the recipe to mix in with the cheddar cheese. I made it without the first time (which was the original recipe). By making this addition, it helped to bind the cheese together and make for smoother slicing. Without this, the original log was too crumbly.

I used Cabot’s Black Wax Sharp Cheddar Cheese. It is a great tasting cheddar with a nice bite. You can find the 2 pound package at Costco.

Here is the recipe from Saveur’s website with my changes:

Cheddar Cheese Log

Makes one 8″ Log (NOT – try 18″ if you do it as suggested)

This retro hors d’oeuvre is among the many recipes Ella Fitzgerald marked in her copy of James Beard’s American Cookery (Little, Brown, 1972).

2 lbs. grated cheddar cheese (mild, medium or sharp), I used the Cabot sharp cheddar (yum), softened at room temperature
* 1 8 oz package Philly cream cheese, softened (my addition)
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard (I used 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp.)
1⁄2 tsp. Tabasco sauce (I used about 1 tsp. of Louisiana Hot Sauce – I think it has more flavor than Tabasco)
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1⁄4 cup finely chopped pimento
1⁄4 cup coarsely chopped pecans (You will need at least 1/2 – 3/4 cup, depending on how many nuts you want on the log)

1. Place softened cheddar cheese in a large bowl with cream cheese. Add Dijon mustard, Tabasco (Louisiana Hot Sauce), parsley and pimento. Mix until ingredients are evenly distributed (with your hands is best), then, if necessary, correct seasoning with mustard and Tabasco.

2. Place a piece of plastic wrap about 9″ long on a clean surface. Mound cheese mixture along edge nearest you, then roll in plastic, pressing and molding to form a log about 1 1⁄2″ wide (mine was about 2 – 2 1/2″ wide) and 8″ long. (*You will need to make at least 2 logs to have a normal sized cheese log).

3. Carefully remove plastic and roll log in chopped pecans, pressing nuts into log as you roll. Rewrap log with fresh plastic and chill for at least one hour. Serve with crackers.

The rest of our dinner was wonderful as well. I made the ultimate moist ham. I glazed a Smithfield spiral cut ham with an orange marmalade and maple syrup glaze. It has an added kick with Dijon mustard and freshly ground black pepper. It stays extra moist thanks to an oven bag (good old Reynolds Wrap Oven Bags) and a slow cooking process.It truly was delicious and far better than buying a ham already prepared or one where you use the glaze packet that comes with the ham. Take the time to make your own glaze. There is no comparison.

This year I made the usual suspects (sweet potato casserole and squash casserole), but I tried some new recipes. They were slightly different from what I usually make. Both were very tasty. The sweet potatoes were topped with chopped pecans and marshmallows (you cannot go wrong with that mix). There were pecans in the mashed sweet potatoes along with brown sugar. I used large marshmallows instead of the smaller ones to top the casserole. My husband said he liked it better than usual since the marshmallows tasted like they were hot off the campfire!

The squash was sauteed with butter and onions and then combined with a cheddar cheese sauce. Because the squash was sauteed and not boiled or steamed, you avoid the watery mess that sometimes occurs with a squash casserole. It was also a nice change from the egg, bread crumb and cheese mixture that usually accompanies the sometimes watery squash. Finally, I blanched some fresh greens beans and then sauteed them with butter and toasted, sliced almonds (beans and nuts, as my Dad always called them).

I did cut corners in the roll department, but I have actually used these Sister Schubert rolls for many years and they are very good. You can find them in various flavors (yeast, whole wheat, and cinnamon) in the frozen foods department (at least here in the South). I use the single yeast rolls. I brush them with some melted, unsalted butter before popping them in the oven and they are really close to a yeast roll that you would get out in a restaurant. Great in a pinch.

For the big finale, I think my English Trifle made up for the cheating on the yeast rolls. The alternative name is a Christmas Trifle and I know why. You probably don’t want to make it more than once a year. It is time consuming, but well worth the effort. Everyone was here for dessert and a movie (Public Enemy) and it was a hit. My son raved, so I know it must have been good. It also is a beautiful dessert and perfect for a larger crowd. Since we did not have a big crowd, too bad, we have lots of leftovers!

This recipe has been adapted from a couple of older cookbooks. I have changed and made additions over the years. I have tried many custard recipes and other variations on the cake combination, but this seems to give the prettiest and tastiest results. So many trifle recipes now use gingerbread or chocolate. This is the perfect original English Trifle that was so popular many years ago. The original custard recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of butter, but I always use 2 Tablespoons and it is equally as delicious and rich. Gotta cut calories somewhere (ha ha with this meal).

Old English Trifle

Serves 10-12

For the cake layers:
1 whole pound cake loaf (I use the vanilla pound cake from Whole Foods)
Seedless raspberry jam (You will need about 10 oz.)
1/2 cup dry sherry

For the custard:
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract (I use Nielson-Massey)

3 cups fresh fruit (I used sliced strawberries, blueberries and peaches, but you can use any combination you choose)
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Fresh fruit for garnish

1. Cut cake into 1-inch cubes. Split cubes in half. Spread jam on one side of half of the cube and reassemble by placing the two halves back together. This is time consuming, but very pretty.As you start to stack the cubes in a bowl, sprinkle with sherry as you go (I use a squeeze bottle). Set aside cake cubes for one hour.

2. Mix the sugar, flour and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in milk. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Temper the egg yolks by whisking in a little of the hot milk slowly (about 1/2 cup), then pour the mixture back into the pot and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Let stand until cool.

3. To assemble the trifle, layer 1/3 of the cake cubes in the trifle dish. Be sure to place the cubes in the dish so that the jam shows in between the cubes. Top with 1/3 of the fruit, then with 1/3 of cooled custard mixture. Repeat 2 more times. You should have 3 layers ending with the custard.

4. Whip the cream with the powdered sugar until soft peaks form and then top the trifle with the whipped cream.

5. Refrigerate for at least 6-8 hours. Top with fresh fruit right before serving.

It was a really nice Christmas with family and great food. The dog even had a big day. I know that we are always searching for new dishes and reinventing the recipes we have. I do it much of the time myself. Many of the cooking magazines this season had features on Christmas dinners that were inspired by other countries and cuisines. While these dishes are fun to try at other times during the year, I find at Christmastime it is comforting to stick with some of the old-time favorites. They can truly be the best. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas too.

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Filed under Appetizers, Christmas, Desserts, Entrees, Ham, Recipes, Vegetables

Baked Pears with Caramel Sauce…Yummmm!

This delicious dessert was the finale to our Boeuf Bourguignon dinner last evening. It is so amazing in taste and yet so simple to prepare. I found a recipe some time ago for something similar, but the sauce was too runny, so I created a version that carmelizes the sauce and makes it thicker. It is much tastier (especially over the vanilla ice cream!).

By the way, I found mammoth sized pears at Costco (isn’t everything mammoth in size at that store?) that were quite inexpensive and every bit as good as the ones you would purchase at your local grocery. (The only difference I noticed was that since they were so large, they were a little “woody” where the stem runs through the pear. You might want to remove this section down to the core). If you are preparing dessert for a large dinner party, I suggest you go there if you can to buy your pears since they were so reasonably priced. They also were perfectly shaped and looked quite pretty to serve to guests. Surprisingly, they cooked in the same amount of time as smaller pears, so be sure not to cook them any longer than 30 minutes even if they are larger.

Here is my recipe:

Baked Pears with Caramel Sauce

Serves 4

2 firm Bosc pears, cut in half, peeled and cored
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2/3 cup apple cider
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Good vanilla ice cream (I used Haagen-Dazs)
Fresh mint, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine brown sugar and apple cider in a small saucepan and bring to a slight boil, making sure sugar is dissolved. Stir in butter. Place pears in a shallow baking dish cut side up (mine were so large last night that I had to use a 13 X 9 inch dish). Pour sauce over pears.

Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, basting pears frequently. Check to make sure they are fork tender. Remove the pears and keep warm. Pour the sauce back into the saucepan and reduce over medium heat until it is thick and syrupy, whisking constantly to keep it from separating.

Drizzle sauce over pears and ice cream. Garnish with fresh mint (I did not have any last night, but it makes for a nicer presentation). Serve immediately.

This is a perfect Winter dessert when pears are in season. The flavors will definitely impress your guests!

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Filed under Desserts, Pears, Recipes

Boeuf Bourguignon – A perfect dish to celebrate the beginning of Winter

Last evening, we had friends over the celebrate the beginning of Winter and the holidays. There could not have been a more perfect dish to serve than Boeuf Bourguignon on a chilly evening in December! I am sure that Julie and Julia almost overdosed everyone on this wonderful bistro favorite. Even people that never heard of it prior to the movie were running off to make a big pot of fancy French beef stew…Well, I must say that I have been making it for many years and will never tire of this delightful dish. It truly is one of the great classic French dinners.

I love the fact that you can make Boeuf Bourguignon a day in advance and warm it up right before guests arrive. Voila! Wonderful, easy dinner and time to spend with your company. It is much tastier after all the flavors have had a chance to get to know each other better. That is why I prefer to make it a day ahead. If you have to make it the day you plan to serve it, you should make it early in the morning to allow all the wonderful flavors to come together.

I am sure that some people will look at the recipe and find it daunting with all the ingredients and steps. I say phooey! The best thing you can do for yourself is get a bunch of cups and bowls (of all sizes) and set out your measured ingredients (that would be mise en place in French). It makes all the difference in the world. I do all the washing, chopping, pepper grinding, etc. and then get everything in order. That way you are not running around looking lost trying to find the salt or tomato paste. It will all be right there in front of you when the recipe calls for that particular ingredient. It also makes clean up easier as you put things away before you start cooking and not during. Once the pot is in the oven you can finish up and prepare the last few ingredients. Look, I even have time to write this and take pictures!

I truly find this to be the best way to cook and entertain. I served the Boeuf Bourguignon with a baby lettuce salad dressed with a champagne vinaigrette, crusty bread and Baked Pears with a Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream for dessert (recipe will follow in the next blog). Of course, there is already one whole bottle of burgundy in the dish (be sure to use a nice bottle that you would like to drink). We also served complimentary wines with the dinner (and too many of those and cognac to follow, I might add!). By the way, this 2003 Chehalem Reserve Oregon Pinot Noir, Wilamette Valley was amazing!

This recipe is courtesy of Ina Garten.
Here is the link.

I have to say that I have tried several other versions over the years (including Julia Child’s). Although Julia’s and Ina’s are quite similar, I find that I prefer the flavors of the dish when I prepare Ina’s. It has been consistent every time that I have prepared it. I do not have to add one single pinch of salt or tweak the final product at all.

Just so you know, I always use a nice French Burgundy (Pinot Noir is the same grape if you are using an Oregon or California wine) as well as a good cognac in the Boeuf Bourguignon. I use Swanson’s Organic Beef Broth (which has a lower sodium content) and Oscar Meyer’s Center Cut Bacon in the dish. I have found these few items to really make a difference. When prepared this way, it is perfect. I promise you will be hard pressed to find a better version in a Parisian bistro!


Filed under Beef, Entrees, French, Recipes

Mamma Mia! Bunkycook’s Blog made it on La Famiglia Del Grosso’s Facebook

Very exciting! Bunkycook’s made La Famiglia Del Grosso’s Facebook page from the blog that talked about Aunt Mary Ann’s Sunday Marinara Sauce (December 18).

Here is the link and be sure to check the older posts as it made already have scrolled to the next page!

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Filed under Italian, Pasta

What’s in the Pantry for Dinner? Del Grosso pasta sauce!

I had really good intentions for cooking a wonderful chicken last night. I had almost everything I needed for dinner, but I ended up out in crazy holiday traffic running errands and got home too late to do the required marinating for the chicken. So, tired and hungry, I stood in the kitchen looking at the pantry, fridge and freezer wondering what the heck I was in the mood to cook….The answer is always pasta of some sort when it gets that bad. You can never go wrong with pasta.

I honestly would not even write about cooking a pasta dish with prepared sauce, but this one was really good! We purchased a jar of La Famiglia Del Grosso sauce a few months ago when it was on sale. We bought their Aunt Mary Ann’s Sunday Marinara (gotta love the name!). We thought we would give it a try on a night just like tonight. It looked better than the usual bottled stuff and it should be at $7.99 a jar (regular price). It appeared to be cream based, but I checked and it was not. Just the usual suspects with a notch up…Italian plum tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, olive oil, onions, sea salt, garlic, basil, black pepper and parsley. Sounds just like something you would make at home and it was! We usually combine a can of imported crushed tomatoes with sautéed garlic and onion in olive oil and add fresh basil, possibly some parsley, salt and pepper when we are throwing a marinara sauce together in a hurry.

I also happened to have some sweet Italian sausages in the freezer, so I thawed those. I started to saute a large onion and a green pepper in olive oil, threw in the sausage (that I sliced into larger pieces), browned the sausage and cooked the vegetables. How Italian is that? Sausage, onions and green peppers…I prepared some penne and wow! It was better than eating pasta at any Italian restaurant that we could think of that serves traditional Southern Italian cooking. And I should know. I am married to a good Italian boy and I am from Philly.

Of course, I went to the Del Grosso website today and found that this is truly a family business that is cooking up and marketing old family recipes. This all started with a small cafe in Altoona, Pa. where one of the original family that immigrated from Italy began cooking up old an old world recipe for spaghetti sauce. It evolved over the years to where they were selling sauce to patrons to take home. Now there are 8 sauces for 8 different family members (how about Uncle Joe’s Vodka Celebration?) as well as pizza sauces and salsa, etc. They even own an amusement park in Tipton, PA. Who knew sauce could be so profitable (other than Paul Newman)???? From what I read on the website, their sauces are quite the rage and they are participating in many culinary events. I guess it MUST be really good stuff. I missed all this until now since we do our own….

I did not take a picture of our dinner because it’s pasta! And I did not realize it would be so good with so little effort. I, of course, topped it with freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano. (Yo Adrian, you gotta do that!) We really were impressed. I will definitely buy this sauce again to have on hand in case there is another night like last night. There are many days when you just want to take it easy. This sauce is perfect for a night when you don’t want to do major cooking, but it tastes as though you did. Thanks Aunt Mary Ann!


Filed under Italian, Pasta