June 28, 2015

The Salty Pig, Boston

Nothing frustrates me more than a restaurant with poor food.  It's one of those, "you had one job!"-type things.  If you're a restaurant, and you're serving unappetizing food, you need to get it together, because people will overlook crappy service, bad ambiance, and expensive prices for the sake of a delicious plate of food.  Trust me.  Luckily, unlike a few of the places we frequented on our recent trip to Boston, The Salty Pig, does NOT have to worry about this.  Food seems to be their area of expertise - as well as the ambiance.  This trendy and modern space is what you'd imagine you'd be walking into when coming off the main streets of Boston's hustle-bustle concrete jungle. 

When we arrived, there was ample seating outside, but I'm not really all about eating outside in the elements.  We were brought down some steps into the main seating and open kitchen area.  Immediately, I was drawn to the walls and menus hanging above the bar and kitchen.  Chalkboard-style menus are very in right now, and it's always nice to see someone took the time to carefully write out each item in near-perfect handwriting ;-)

We were greeted by a (rather forgettable) server - who brought water and menus.  Water service is fun, served in plain tumblers with what looks like a plain wine bottle filled with chilled water.  The menu was adorned with charcuterie boards, starters, pizzas, sandwiches, and cocktails - all reasonably-priced for this metropolitan area of Boston.  Charcuterie boards are easily customizable so you can pick different types of meats and cheeses that you like.  I wish it was socially acceptable to order four different things for an hour lunch, because I wanted one of these, but I skipped to the sandwich section of the menu to browse...

There was one word that was sticking out to me the entire time, everywhere I looked: PROSCIUTTO!  If there's one thing in the word I wouldn't mind eating for the rest of my life, it's cured meats - prosciutto, soppressata, salami, pancetta, bacon, etc.  I opted for the Prosciutto Sandwich, complete with arugula, fig jam, and balsamic dressing.  It also came with cheese.  The most creamy, soft, delicate cheese I've eaten on a sandwich.  It is like fontina, but much more mild in flavor.  I'll be searching high and low to get my hands on this cheese in Baltimore.  The elements of this sandwich were all different, and all worked together so cohesively, which made each bite so perfect.  It starts with the creamy cheese, then - salty prosciutto.  The creamy and the salty is then topped with peppery, spicy arugula.  It doesn't stop there, either.  The spicy arugula becomes friends with the sweet fig jam, and each bite just makes you want to close you eyes and take it all in.

I was asked if I preferred kettle chips or a salad, and I opted for the salad.  The salad was a lackluster attempt at a side dish - spring mix greens dressed with a light citrus dressing, but not much else.  No tomatoes, no carrots, no cucumbers - just lettuce.  Dressed nicely, but not special.

Bucky had a chicken salad sandwich, topped with pea tendrils, radish, garlic, and what appeared to be a "green goddess" dressing.  I only had a bite of this, but Bucky is generally picky when it comes to out-of-the-box food, and he said it was very good.  I will take his word for it, the bite I had was tasty!  He got the kettle chips on the side.  They were also lackluster.  They clearly came from a bag, and it looked like the bottom of the bag, at that.  At a place so trendy and hip - you'd like them to be frying their own kettle chips.

The only regret I had with The Salty Pig was that I didn't get to have any pizza.  They prepare the pizza by hand, cooking it in a brick oven for the whole restaurant to see.  The man next to me had ordered a pizza, and I was just hoping he would look at my longing gaze and ask if I wanted a piece. 

He didn't.

The food scene in Boston wasn't something to write home about - many places were overpriced for boring, under-seasoned food.  However, stopping into The Salty Pig before heading to the airport was a saving grace for my critique on Boston cuisine.  This is a place I would frequent quite often if I was a Bostonian.  That'll do, Pig.  That'll do.


June 11, 2015

Maple Bacon and Mango Stuffed Pork Chops

...because you can never put too much pork in pork.

This recipe would be better suited with chopped apples, but I didn't have apples.  I did, however, find some deliciously ripe mangoes in the fridge (who has mangoes and not apples?!).  I wondered if they would be too sweet, especially mixed with the maple, so I decided to soak them in a little bit of rice wine vinegar before adding them to the pan.  It definitely mellowed them out, and it was actually a great combination to just eat raw, too.

What You'll Need:
  • 10 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oi, divided
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 mangoes, diced medium
  • 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided 
  • 6 thick-cut pork chops, boneless 
  • 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence 

Prepare to bacon: Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lay the bacon down without overlapping.  Brush with maple syrup, liberally, coating all slices well.  Sprinkle evenly with ginger and chili powder.  Bake in a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let slices cool on a rack.  They will get crisp and candied while sitting.  Transfer to a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped, or chop well with a knife.  Set aside.

Prepare stuffing:  Coat the bottom of a saute pan with HALF the olive oil.  Add celery, carrots, and shallots, and cook until soft.  Add salt and pepper.  Add the mangoes after everything has softened so they don't break down too much.  Remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add chopped bacon and let cool.  Add breadcrumbs and HALF the Parmesan cheese to the mixture and mix well.

Stuff the 'chops!  Using a paring knife, very carefully cut a gaping hole in the top of the pork chop.  Insert the knife as far down as it will go without going through the bottom.  Using your fingers, stretch the hole (man, this is an uncomfortable step, huh?) until it spans the whole pork chop but doesn't go through anywhere.  Stuff the pork chop with the stuffing, pressing it in tight so it doesn't fall out.  Repeat with all chops.

Cook the 'chops!  Mix the other half of the Parmesan cheese and the herbs de Provence, and dredge your pork chops in it.  Press hard to make a nice coating on the outside of the pork.  Using the other half of the olive oil, coat the bottom of a skillet and heat up.  Sear the pork chops until they are browned all around, about 2 minutes on each side.  Place on a rack over a baking sheet and bake on 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the inside temperature reads 150 degrees.  Let rest 10 minutes before cutting into, and serve with "quarter-cup" mashed potatoes!

"Quarter-Cup" Mashed Potatoes:
  • 5 pound bag yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing
  • Salt and pepper
Cook potatoes in boiling water until fork-tender.  Drain and return to hot pot.  Add remaining ingredients and use a hand-mixer to blend until smooth.  Add salt and pepper as desired.  YUM!

May 29, 2015

Goat Cheese Pesto

I usually don't like to post recipes of things that aren't wholly from scratch. I guess I always thought if I didn't make every aspect of the recipe, it wasn't mine to pass off. But then I realized that's stupid, and prepared foods can definitely come in handy every now and then.  Especially in this recipe that is perfect for a weeknight meal because it takes roughly 15 minutes, from start to finish. So if you get home at 8:00 or later most nights (like me!); or the kids have football practice, and dance class, and a school play; or if you're looking for a great sauce to put on top of or mix into just about anything - here it is! Enjoy!

What You'll Need:
  • 1 package ravioli, fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup prepared pesto
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 2 tbsp grated Parm
  • 2 portobellos, grilled, optional

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, add salt, and cook ravioli until floating and al dente, according to package directions.

2. In a saucepan, combine pesto and buttermilk and simmer on medium-high heat.  Turn burner to low, and whisk in goat cheese until melted completely into sauce. Add Parmesan and do the same. 

3.  Arrange ravioli in a dish and top with the portobello mushrooms (you could use an array of toppings for this: crab, shrimp, chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, roasted red peppers, etc.). Pour sauce over pasta creation and finished with an extra handful of Parmesan cheese and some torn basil. Enjoy!

May 26, 2015

Sweet and Spicy Curry Wings

HEY!  How's everyone been?  I've been gone for so long, I have missed you, lovely blog!  Lucky for all of you - I've got a great new recipe to share that I made for Memorial Day Weekend.  I like this recipe, and it's perfect for The Community Plate, because it's out-of-the-box for me.  I usually work with mostly Mediterranean flavors, such as olives, cheese, garlic, basil, etc., but I wanted to test out a new wing flavor, so I went a little further east this time.  You can do this recipe one of two ways, however, one way is WAY better for you, and one is WAY more delicious.  You can decide how you want to proceed.  If baking these wings, be sure to bake them on a rack over the baking sheet so the heat circulates around them and browns all sides.

What You'll Need:

  • 1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3 tablespoons ground curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha powder (YES, they have this and it's beautiful)
  • 3 teaspoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (only used in Method #2)
  • 4 pounds chicken wings, drums and flats

Method #1: Baked (Better for you, less delicious)

1.  In a mixing bowl, whisk all seasonings together (omit the flour for this method) to incorporate to make a rub.  Toss chicken wings in rub, making sure they are coated liberally and the rub really gets on the chicken well.  Massage rub into wings until they are all coated.

2.  Place wings on a rack on top of a baking sheet, and bake for 35-40 minutes on 400 degrees, turning occasionally, once every 10 minutes, so all sides feel warm and special.  Switch the oven to broil and bake skin-side-up for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until skin is crisp.

Method #2: Fried (Not so great for you, but way tastier - kind of like everything that's fried!)

1.  In a mixing bowl, whisk first 7 ingredients together.  Use HALF of the spice rub and add it to the flour, whisking to incorporate.  Coat the wings in the flour mixture.

2.  Heat 2 cups coconut oil or vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet to about 350 degrees.  Fry the chicken wings in the oil until golden brown and the internal temperature of the wings is 165 degrees, about 6-8 minutes on each side.  Ensure the skin is crispy and crunchy!

3.  When the wings are finished, put them in a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle the rest of the spice rub over top the chicken wings, and toss well to coat.

Serve either method with this easy Coconut Ranch: Whisk 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk, 2 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes, a 1-oz. packet of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning.  YUM!

April 22, 2015

Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Pizza

On a recent trip to The Borgata in Atlantic City, for one hell of a bachelorette weekend, I found myself in a basement, under the casino floor.  Wandering drunk, right?  Nope!  When I say "basement", I really mean "a gorgeous restaurant built below the casino" where there was stone and marble everywhere you looked.  It looks like a wine cellar would look in a million-dollar mansion, however, when we were greeted by the employees, it still kept the feel of a casual Italian dinner at home.  Anywho, this isn't a review of the restaurant, rather my take on their seriously delicious Funghi Pizza which boasts, "oyster mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and fresh goat cheese", and should have added, "with a crust that you'll want to devour in seconds."  You would think they would get me right there with the mushrooms and the goat cheese (and the simple fact that pizza is just about my favorite thing ever), but then you keep reading the menu, and they have about 10 more pizzas that you feel like you NEED to have or you'll absolutely explode.  I can't remember entirely, but I'm pretty sure 80% of our party alone got a different pizza.  You can check out their pizza selection, and the rest of their menu here, but for now, read on to find out how to copy-cat the creamy, salty, chewy-and-crunchy-at-the-same-time, mushroom pizza. 

What You'll Need:
  • (4) 7" pie crusts
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium portobello mushroom, sliced
  • 4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 ounces oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sherry wine
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic salt
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Prep your pizza dough depending on your preference of crust texture.  I like my personal pizzas and flatbreads to have a crisp, crunchy crust, so I par-bake the crusts before topping them on 350-degrees for about 5-7 minutes.  Be sure to prick the crust with a fork all over beforehand, so it doesn't turn into a big bubble.  If you like a soft, chewy crust, you can skip this part.

2.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt butter and add mushrooms and garlic.  Stir to coat, add sherry wine, and simmer on low until wine reduces and mushrooms are soft.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat.

3.  Brush the pie crusts with olive oil and sprinkle with a little garlic salt.  Cover each pizza shell with 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese, leaving about 1/2-inch around the outside for the crust.  Divide the mushrooms between the four pies, and sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese, reserving a little bit for the end.

4.  Bake in the 350-degree oven for another 5 minutes, or until the cheese melts and the crust begins to turn golden brown on the outside.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with fresh herbs and remaining goat cheese.  Let cool for 3-5 minutes before slicing and enjoying!