January 15, 2015

Balsamic Roasted Onions with Gorgonzola

Sooooo, yes.  I am still in the process of posting recipes from the Elite Eight round of the Thanksgiving Side Dish Challenge.  Sometimes, maybe, quite possibly I am a bit ambitious when it comes to -- well, anything.  I put too much on my plate.  Literally and figuratively. ;-)  Without further ado, here is one of the last recipes from the challenge - super easy, but super fancy.

What You'll Need:
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 white onions
  • 6 ounces Gorgonzola cheese
  • Chopped fresh herbs, garnish (optional)

1.  Whisk first nine ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Slice onions into 3-4 thick-cut rings, leaving the outside layers intact, removing a small portion of the inside layers to leave a small hole in the middle.  Coat all rings in marinade and let sit for about 20 minutes.  Place on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes on 375 degrees.  Your onions should start to caramelize and brown.

2.  Remove onions from oven and fill holes with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.  Change oven to broil and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh herbs.  Enjoy with crusty Italian bread!

January 8, 2015

Stone's Cove KitBar

10997 Owings Mills Boulevard, Owings Mills, MD  21117

First thing's first: this place is pretty darn cool. While “open kitchens” have been around for years, this place takes it to the next level. Stone's Cove KitBar isn't just a prep line with a few tables in front of it, but an entire “kitchen” in the middle of a bar. Granted, I didn't see any deep-fryers or char-broilers, but I did especially love the focal point of the entire restaurant: the wood-burning pizza oven in the middle, surrounded by pricey bottles of vodka and top-shelf whiskeys. The KitBar has carved out their own niche on “open kitchens” with a fun menu, concept, and brand.

A Thursday night in early December, my good friend Kate was taking me out to dinner for my birthday to try this new place that we had heard about from a friend at work. What happens when two chefs who are always up for tasty treats and luscious libations hear about a place where bartenders cook your food? Of course we had to try it. When we arrived at the KitBar (after driving down some crazy windy road that was scary as crap) we were seated at the bar by a friendly hostess. The menus are situated inside a “placemat”-type leather pouch, and they are creatively designed. Being someone that creates menus on a crazy-amount-of-time basis, I appreciate a well-designed one. Dinner is on one side, brunch on the other, for an easy switch-out on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when they serve brunch from 11am-4pm. A “cheftender” came over, and after letting her know we were first-timers, she gave us the spiel. She let us know that she was our primary “cheftender”, but anyone would gladly serve us whatever we needed throughout the evening. Fair enough, just like bartending. Kate ordered a Manhattan (because she's a 73-year-old woman), and I had a Raspberry Sweet Tea, made with Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka, fresh lemon, cane syrup, soda water, and raspberry puree. My drink was puckering-ly sweet, but Kate enjoyed her Manhattan. She also enjoyed a glass of Santa Julia Cabernet with dinner, which she said was fantastic!

Every dining experience should include three courses, and to me, the appetizer is always the favorite. I also have an unhealthy obsession with dips: crab, spinach, buffalo chicken, onion – you name it, I've dipped it. My excitement for appetizers paired with my love for dips brought us to the “Hot and Cold Dips” dish from the “Appetapas” (which is, by far, the coolest name for appetizers, like, ever) menu. Described as “three-cheese spinach dip with flatbread crackers and a cool quartet of toppers,” this appetapas was served on a dish resembling an artist's paint palette, with the dip and chips on a large portion, and four cool dips in the smaller remaining portions. The dips included Cucumber Tzatziki, Olive Tapenade, Jalapeno-Artichoke, and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. We were advised to put the hot spinach dip on a cracker and then top with either one, or all, of the cool dips and enjoy them together. So we did. My favorite was the tapenade, of course, but the artichoke also complemented the spinach dip extremely well. The tapenade worked well because the spinach dip was so rich and creamy, the salt from the tapenade really set it off. The artichoke dip also worked on top, because – spinach and artichoke, duh. I appreciated the concept of the hot-and-cold combo, and I thought the spinach dip was so good, I ate some of it straight off my spoon. Next time, though, I decided I must try the Lobster Cones, which stuffs a "chipotle lobster salad inside a black sesame baby ice cream cone." If not for taste, for presentation alone!

At this point in time, service started to lack. We were ready to choose our meals, but it took quite a while to get someone back over to take our order. (Well, except that one kid who was flirting with Kate the whole time because she was wearing her chef coat and that was just the coolest thing in the world to him.) When the server, who was not our “cheftender” came back, I ordered the “Muffaletta Flatbread” that the manager suggested, and Kate chose the “Margarita Crab Lettuce Wraps”. We watched as the cheftenders prepared our meal, my flatbread going into the wood-burning brick oven, and the crab salad being carefully plated.

Upon arrival, the food looked fantastic! The crab salad was plated on the same plate as the appetapas, and in the four smaller areas, there was lime-infused sea salt, chopped cilantro, margarita “dressing”, and lime wedges. My flatbread was served on a long stone block, resembling a chalkboard. The food was good; the presentation was better. Kate and I both enjoyed the crab salad, tossed with avocado, mango, red onion, and almonds, however, we both agreed that the almonds were certainly out of place. Walnuts would have been the better choice, but no nuts at all was probably the way to go. While the flavors were all there, unfortunately, so was the shell. And the shell. And more shell. With every bite I watched Kate enjoy, I also watched her pick shell out of her mouth. I also had a few bites of the salad and had to fish out shell as well (hey, a pun and a rhyme!). The best touch was the lime-infused sea salt, which, served on the side, can be added to each bite.

Just like with the crab salad, the flavors were all there, but the flatbread was slightly underwhelming in texture. I had to eat it with a knife and fork (gasp!) because I was unable to pick it up. The picture below appears that the crust is crisp like a cracker, but unfortunately, it wasn't.  Even with that kick-ass wood-burning oven, they couldn't seem to get a good crust; although, I was left wondering whether or not it was because of the plethora of ingredients on top. It may be hard to get a crispy crust with toppings such as olive tapenade, provolone, salami, pepperoni, capicola and olive oil. I also don't know if the trio of salt-cured meats was necessary, as the tapenade itself was salty enough. Simply pepperoni or salami would have done the trick, or even a different, less-salty type of meat altogether.

Though I didn't particularly care for the way the “cheftenders” worked as a team – many disappearing to check their phones, watch the Cowboys destroy da Bears on TNF, or chatting up one couple at the bar the entire time-- all-in-all, Stone's Cove KitBar is worth another shot. Their menu is eclectic enough for a few trips, even if everything wasn't on-point on the first go 'round. How could you not return to a spot that has elevated the meaning of “open-kitchen”, and serves dishes such as Lobster Cones, Upside Down Meatloaf Cupcakes, Bayou Quarter French Dip, and a S'Mores Flatbread?

P.S.  The manager was a very nice and friendly man who came over to make sure everything was okay, and chatted us up for a little while.  When Kate told him it was my birthday, he insisted I have dessert on the house, "Luv Cones", vanilla cones filled with white chocolate and topped with homemade whipped cream and peppermint.  I was incredibly full, and I explained that I am not fond of sweets anyway, but thanked him.  He came back with a coupon for a free flatbread!  Very nice touch, KitBar!

January 4, 2015

Tater Tot Casserole!

Can't even pretend to be fancy with this one.  No gourmet ingredients, certainly no health benefits, but it's the perfect recipe for the last Sunday before going back on the grind.  My mom and I just decided to have our own Biggest Loser tournament with each other: whoever loses more weight by March 1 wins $50 from the other one.  Goal is 25 pounds.  Therefore, why not go out with a BANG the day before starting "Operation: Steph's Wedding" and have some Tater Tot Casserole?  Yes, please!

What You'll Need:
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 2 tablespoons white cooking wine
  • (1) 10.75-ounce can cream of mushroom soup, low-sodium
  • 1.5 pounds 90/10 ground beef
  • Salt, pepper, paprika
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut in small cubes
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (I used a trio of sharp cheddar, Swiss, and mild cheddar)
  • 2 pound bag frozen tater tots

1.  In a skillet, heat oil and saute carrots and garlic until softened.  Add peas, corn, white wine and soup, and stir to incorporate.  Transfer to mixing bowl.  In the same skillet, season and brown ground beef until cooked through.  Add to mixing bowl of ingredients and mix well.

2.  Pour ground beef and vegetable mixture into a 9"x13" casserole dish.  Sporadically drop cubes of cream cheese onto mixture, and cover with shredded cheeses.  Not in any particular style - or with all the style in the world! - completely cover the top with tater tots.  (Being the crazy that I am, I was THRILLED because I had EXACTLY enough tater tots to cover the entire top of the casserole, after dropping one on the floor.)  Sprinkle with paprika.

3.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes on 400-degrees.  Remove foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until tater tots are golden brown on top.  Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before cutting into.  ENJOY yourself while you feel your arteries slowly seizing, and just remember - the grind starts tomorrow ;-)

Meatloaf Cupcakes with Mashed Potato "Frosting"...

(...and fun scallion "sprinkles"!)  This is one of my favorite recipes of 2014!  I was so happy with the way they tasted, the pictures, and the presentation - which is a rare triple threat that is few-and-far between with my stuff.  These meatloaf cupcakes came out juicy, tender, and full of flavor with some small, simple ingredients.  The mashed potatoes are a general recipe, and you can use any leftover mashed that you have, or whip them up in just minutes.  And I'm not pastry chef when it comes to piping bags, but as you can see by the photos... you don't have to be a rocket scientist ;-)

For the Meatloaf:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small green bell pepper, rough chop
1/2 small red bell pepper, rough chop
1/2 small Vidalia onion, rough chop
2 cloves garlic, rough chop
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
2 cups white bread, cubed
1/2 cup milk
2 pounds ground beef
2 eggs

For the Glaze:
1/2 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon maple syrup

For the Mashed Potatoes:
2 pounds red potatoes
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper
Scallions, optional for garnish 

1.  In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium and add peppers, onions, and garlic to the pan.  Saute until vegetables have softened.  Add salt and pepper to sweat.  Add teriyaki to the pan and mix well to incorporate.  Saute about 3 more minutes, until all the flavors have married.  Remove from heat and transfer to food processor.  Pulse until vegetables are finely minced.  Let cool.

2.  Meanwhile, in a saucepan, mix all glaze ingredients and whisk.  Cook on high, whisking continuously until simmering. 

3.  In a large mixing bowl, combine bread and milk and squeeze bread into milk to soak.  Add ground beef, 2 eggs, and cooled vegetables.  Mix, using your hands, until incorporated.  Do not overmix.  Brush muffin tins with vegetable oil or pan spray.  Form 3.5/4-ounce balls of meat mixture, and drop each into muffin tin holes.  Repeat until meat is gone, yielding about 16 cupcakes.  Put in a 400-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.  Switch oven to broil, and pour glaze over each cupcake to coat.  Broil on high for about 7 more minutes, until glaze is sticky.

4.  Boil potatoes until fork tender.  Drain and return to hot pot.  Add remaining ingredients to potatoes and smash with potato masher or mix with a hand mixer until smooth.  (Be SURE to let cool significantly if you are using a plastic Ziploc bag for piping!  If you are using a real piping bag, be sure it can stand heat if you do not let the potatoes cool.  They usually do.)

If using a plastic bag: transfer potatoes to large gallon-sized plastic bag and snip the bottom corner of the bag with scissors.  Squeeze potatoes out of bottom corner onto meatloaf cupcakes, swirling up as you squeeze.  Just like icing a cupcake!
If using a piping bag: chances are, if you own a piping bag, you know how to use it! "Icing" your meatloaf cupcakes as you would a regular cupcake -- use a fun pastry tube, too!

If garnishing, slice scallions on an angle, thinly, and sprinkle on top for "sprinkles".  Enjoy!

December 31, 2014

Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing

One of the final recipes (two left!) that was a part of the Elite Eight from our Thanksgiving Side Dish Challenge  is here!  This savory stuffing is great to stuff in your Thanksgiving turkey, but I also suggest stuffing a nice pork loin.  The heartiness of the sausage and the texture of the mushrooms goes perfectly together, and the hint of green pepper sweetens it just a tad.  I actually kept this recipe on the simpler side when it comes to the number of ingredients - I'm usually not one to keep it simple.  However, with this stuffing, simple works! Enjoy!

What You'll Need:
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound ground sausage
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, small dice
  • 6 ounces fresh mushroom trio (I used shiitake, portobello, and yellow oyster)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 ounce bag cubed potato bread (I used Martin's)
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • Fresh herbs: sage, thyme, rosemary

1.  In a skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and add your sausage.  Using a spatula, break up the sausage as it cooks and browns.  While that is browning, in a saucepan heat the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and saute garlic and green pepper until pepper begins to soften.

2.  Chop your mushrooms to equal size, mirroring the size of the pepper - a small dice should be good.  Add the mushrooms to the saucepan, and add white wine.  Add salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms are soft and wine reduces.  Add cooked sausage to the pan, and stir to incorporate.  Remove from heat.

3.  In a large mixing bowl, combine bread, sausage-mushroom mixture, and chicken stock.  Add chicken stock slowly, and stop when the stuffing is to the consistency you like.  I like very broken-down stuffing, some people like their bread to still have a crunch.  It's up to you - you could add 1 cup of stock, you could add all 6 cups.  Pour mixture into a large baking dish.

4.  Transfer baking dish to a 350-degree oven and cook for 25 minutes.  Remove from oven, stir so the bread from the bottom can rotate to the top and brown as well.  Cook for another 10 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.  Chop fresh herbs and garnish.  Enjoy!