February 24, 2015

"Finnochio" - Simple Fennel Salad

My Pop-Pop Gino used to make this salad for us at least once a week.  I'm not a huge licorice fan, but I will eat fennel this way... by the bowl-ful.  It's simple, it's easy, and the tangy red wine vinegar downplays the sweet anise flavor of the fennel perfectly.  We used to call it, "finnochio", pronounced "fin-oik" around our dinner table.  For what would have been Pop-Pop Gino's 86th birthday, here's a super easy recipe from my childhood that you can share with your family!  Enjoy!  

And Happy Birthday, Pop!

What You'll Need:
  • 4 bulbs fennel
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (break out the good stuff for this)
  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

1.  To prepare the fennel, cut right above the fennel bulb to remove the stalks.  Reserve the "leaves" (which look like fresh dill) for garnish.  Slice the root end off the bulb, and slice in half lengthwise.  Remove the core like you would a head of iceberg lettuce or cabbage.  Cut-side down, slice the fennel into about 1/4-inch thick strips.

2.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Toss the fennel to coat generously, and cover.  Let sit in the fridge for about 3 hours to marinate.

3.  Remove from liquid or let it stay, your choice!  Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the reserved "leaves" and extra fresh cracked pepper.  Enjoy with crusty, warm bread!

February 23, 2015

Broccoli-Pepper Jack Soup in Bread Bowls

Pop Quiz time!

Q:  What is the reason this soup was made with pepper jack cheese and not traditional cheddar?
A.  I was being creative and wanted to switch things up
B.  I didn't have cheddar cheese, but I had a whole block of pepper jack hanging out in the fridge

Well, I'm sure the answer is pretty clear.  You can use any cheese you have on hand for this recipe - but I suggest you use a block cut into cubes instead of already-shredded cheese.  For some reason, the cut block cheese melts a whole lot better than throwing shredded cheese in there.  Toast your bread bowls for about 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven to get them nice and crusty.  Cut off the top, scoop out some of the bread from the inside, and enjoy your soup while you watch the snow fall outside!  (That's what I did anyway.)

What You'll Need:
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup carrots, diced
  • 4 shallots, small, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, roughly chopped
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 8 ounces pepper jack cheese, cut into cubes

1.  Melt butter in a large stock pot and saute carrots, shallots, and garlic cloves until soft.  Add white wine and reduce by half.  Add 3/4 of the chopped broccoli and vegetable stock and lower heat.  Let everything simmer and let the broccoli soften, about 25 minutes.  Add cream.

2.  Transfer soup to a blender or use an immersion blender.  Blend soup until smooth.  Return to pot and add the rest of the chopped broccoli.  Simmer for another 10 minutes.

3.  In a separate mixing bowl, make a slurry by whisking water and cornstarch until cornstarch has dissolved.  Use this mix to thicken your soup to your liking.  Add the slurry to the pot in increments, stopping when your soup thickens to your desire.  (I used all my mixture.)

4.  Mix in cheese, in thirds, stirring continuously until melted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy in a crusty, warm bread bowl with extra cheese on top!

January 28, 2015

Arancini: Italian Rice Balls with Pork

I'm going to have to shout-out to my mom here.  A few weeks ago, I was home in Jersey for something or other, and right before I left, I decided I wanted to make arancini.  I've eaten them before and they are amazing, but I had never attempted to make them.  (I think I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, again... that's where I get motivated to make different things.)  My mom was headed to the store, and I asked her to pick me up some items so I could make the rice balls.  While she was at the store, my sister called her and asked her to bring something home for her as well.  30 minutes later, my mom comes in the door with Andrea's stuff, but forgot all about the arancini ingredients.  Don't know how long it'll take for her to live that one down.  Lucky for Mom, I finally gathered all the ingredients I needed, and they came out fabulous!  Make sure you serve them with warm marinara sauce, because the richness inside pairs well with the tangy tomato sauce.  Yum!

What You'll Need:
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground meat: pork, veal, beef, sausage - or a combo! (I used pork this time)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Paprika
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 yellow onion, small
  • 3 cups Arborio rice (risotto)
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 5 cups panko breadcrumb
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
  • 8 eggs, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

1.  Add pork to a hot skillet and begin to break up with a wooden spoon.  When the pork starts to brown, add white wine, Italian seasoning, pepper flakes and paprika.  Mix to incorporate, and let simmer until wine cooks out and pork is cooked through.  Set aside to cool.

2.  To a large pot, add 2 tablespoons of butter and onions, and saute until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the rice, and toast for about five minutes, continuously stirring and folding, as not to let the rice burn. Add stock, one cup at a time, and allow rice to absorb the liquid completely before adding additional.  Continuously stir the rice as you add your liquid.  Keep adding stock until rice puffs, and becomes fluffy.  It should take about 6 cups, but it could take less.  This process should take 30-35 minutes, so be patient.  When rice is finished, remove from heat, add cream and remaining butter and let cool.

3.  In a large mixing bowl, mix pork, rice, 2 cups of breadcrumb, cheeses, parsley, and 4 eggs.  Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.  Set up a dredging station using 2 cups of flour, the remainder of the eggs, and the remainder of the breadcrumb all in separate bowls.  Make round balls out of rice mixture: coat with flour, then egg, then breadcrumb.  Set on a sheet pan and repeat until rice is gone. This should make about 4 dozen rice balls.  Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

4.  In a large pot, bring vegetable oil to 350-degrees and drop in about 4 rice balls at a time, depending on how big your pot is.  (Make sure the oil is at temperature, or the balls will soak in all the oil and become saturated.)  Fry for a few minutes, until golden brown, and retreive with a slotted spoon.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.  Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping!

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!