Friday, March 30, 2012

Quick Spaghetti Sauce

Much ink has been spilled over how to make the perfect spaghetti sauce (or Sunday Gravy for the more authentic readers), so I know that what I'm saying is not revolutionary. You can find the most simple of recipes or a long drawn out process with $50 worth of ingredients.

I, however, am an impatient cook (hence not a baker!), and I'm usually planning dinner the day of. Or when I get home from work. 

So while I wanted a recipe that has complex flavors, I also want a small, readily available ingredient list and a short cooking time. I think this recipe is close, but you can always choose to add half a rack of ribs or a whole chicken's worth of parts if you want. 

I started trying to use up my canned tomatoes from last summer and transforming them into something more flavorful- I think next year I'll can some quick tomato sauce rather than just plain tomatoes for more ready-to-eat meals. 

But I used a combination of crushed tomatoes and whole tomatoes in water for this recipe.

More Involved Tomato Sauce (meaty!) from Mister Meatball and the famous Meatball recipe too.

Quick Tomato Sauce

2 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 small onions, chopped
3 carrots, shredded
3 celery stalks, diced
1/2 cup red wine
32 oz. canned whole tomatoes
16 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. dried oregano
3 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper

Chop all the veggies! The heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for a bit (be less like me and more patient). Add carrots, saute, add celery, saute, add garlic... saute!

Add dried spices now and then add wine to deglaze the pan. Stir around for a bit, then add tomatoes. Cook for a few hours on medium-low heat and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

I blended my sauce partially with an immersion blender, so it looked more like spaghetti sauce and less like vegetable soup. Add the butter and basil just before serving.

Makes a lot! Maybe 6 cups?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Potato Cakes

A totally respectable lunch. 

I made potato cakes with the leftover colcannon, after being inspired by Well Preserved's recipe.

Most importantly, on cooking the cakes: "Don’t touch them.  I know you want to.  Just don’t.  You only get one shot.  Wait until you’re not comfortable and itchy and then wait 15-45 seconds more.  You should feel like Kevin Bacon in Footloose – trying to jump out of the tractor while playing chicken but you can’t." Yes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

St. Paddy's Day Meal, Thirsty Pig Happy Hour

Just a few items for your Friday afternoon reading - I didn't tell you about the great St. Paddy's day meal I made last Saturday night. I never manage to photograph my Paddy's day meals, since we're all too busy drinking and carousing. But the colcannon this year was particularly stellar. 

Colcannon is mashed potatoes with lots of butter, steamed cabbage, and sausage or bacon mixed in. Um, delicious? I could pretty much eat it every day (woof). 

2010 Irish Feast

I also made a LOT, anticipating a lot of hungry revelers... I figured the ole Irish trick of stretching a meal with a lot of potatoes was in order! So between the leftover corned beef and the colcannon, I'm thinking there's some breakfast hash in my future. 

Adapted from Tyler Florence's Food Network recipe (why so complicated, Tyler??)

3 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
2 sticks butter
1 1/4 cups hot milk
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1 (1-pound) piece ham or bacon, or 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, cooked
4 scallions, finely chopped
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish

Peel, chop and boil potatoes. Remove from water and let cool in a colander. Add shredded cabbage into remaining potato water and cook for 5 minutes. Drain.

Mash potatoes with butter and milk; stir in cabbage and fully cooked sausage. Stir until combined. Season with pepper and serve with scallions and parsley.

Hard to believe it, but the end of this week brings summer like temps. We've got happy hour on the deck of the Thirsty Pig planned. This photo was taken at the end of last September at the Pig. Six months later, in the same dress, I'll be out on the patio, sweating again! So crazy, but I'll take it.  

And since our happy hour is before a show today (Keller Williams at Port City), maybe we'll lay down some meat before our (many) show beers. I dined at the Thirsty Pig a few months ago with the food blogger clan and had a Lithuanian Kielbasa, topped with brown mustard and sauerkraut. 

While it was delicious, I probably won't order it again, as it gave me terrible indigestion! I love a spice-filled sausage, but woo. I'll stick to the lighter fare (um, a different sausage?) or just some hot dogs. 

At any rate, I hope you have a great weekend and are up to something fun- I'm headed to Sugarloaf for the weekend and will be back with some great recipes from the ski condo! 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Chipotle" Barbacoa Beef

A coworker emailed me a recipe that sounded so easy to prepare and promised to yield Chipotle style results: beef barbacoa. It's my favorite filling at Chipotle, and again, sounded dead simple to prepare. Not entirely trusting the source (Boston Globe), I checked it against an Epicurious recipe and found it to be similar. 

So I combined the two and filled the crockpot. The results were spicy and great, but no where near the same as the fast food restaurants' version. My Mexican friend says this is not anything like the beef barbacoa her family eats for brunch on the weekends either. But with a few tweaks (namely a thicker sauce), I could see this being really great.

Can you recommend better Mexi meat fillings? I was pleased with this (spicy!) Slow Cooked Salsa Verde Pork recipe, but was looking for some Mexi beef barbecue-style meat.

Beef Barbacoa
Adapted from Boston Globe and Epicurious

3 pounds boneless beef shoulder (chuck)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can of chilies in Adobo sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 ½ tsp dried ground cumin
1 tsp dried ground oregano
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
juice of one lime
½ cup cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients except the cider vinegar in a crock pot. Cook on low for 6-10 hours. Check throughout to make sure meat is covered in liquid- add more chicken stock if it's not (mine always was).

Taste and adjust seasonings; add cider vinegar. Serve with corn tortillas, pickled red onions, cilantro, a dry crumbly cheese or grated Jack, and lime wedges for squeezing.

Serves 6-8.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chowder-O-Rama: Much Ado About Nothing

Chowder-o-rama! Sounds scary, doesn't it? Like some sort of ill-fated small town festival with a dunk tank full of chowder (patent pending). Maybe some spinning rides to make things really interesting?

But no, just local bloggers singing stories of soup, chowder specifically. I chose to visit the Old Port Sea Grill, a restaurant that few under the age of 30 seem to know about. But many a summer sail have ended at the Sea Grill, and for some reason I was there during the non-hurricane of last August. 

But at any rate, I associate this lovely curved, poured cement bar with cocktails, fresh oysters, and good friends. So I happily took the chowder-o-rama as an excuse to visit the Old Port Sea Grill with my new hot date. 

Later in the evening on a Saturday night, the bar was almost full, with several people already well into their requisite weekend consumption of loads of liquor. A. and I ordered steak tartare and a bowl of New England clam chowder to share, as well as some local beers, the Moat Mountain pilsner and the Rising Tide American pale ale. 

Being that A. is actually from Maine (woooo), and therefore an expert on chowders, moose, and the ocean, I grilled him on his definition of a good chowder. He said, lots of seafood, thick (like can stand a spoon up in it), and a good tasting broth. While this chowder didn't meant the density criteria, it stood up on all other accounts. The broth was nice and flavorful, it had lots of bacon and clams, cute little slices of fingerling potatoes, and a nice little mince of carrots and celery on top.

However, then the other shoe fell. I don't actually like clam chowder. I mean, I'm from Maryland, where we have lovely, luscious, sherry laced crab bisque. Clam chowder is a sad, sad substitution. I just don't get the whole clam bubble gum thing. All the other food is gone from my mouth, and I'm left chewing clams.

But I do love the Old Port Sea Grill, and they've yet to do any wrong in my eyes. So while it may not offer you the quintessential Maine experience (I bet that can be had across the street at Gilbert's or Dry Dock), the raw bar and cocktails are worth a visit.

To see how other bloggers fared in their chowder reviews, visit the round up at Portland Food Map.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Disappointing District

Ed. note: District closed in late 2012. 

I feel bad. I should have seen it coming. It could have been an "it's not you it's me" moment. But I had a disappointing lunch at District last weekend, and I think that's the nail in the coffin for me. 

When District first opened, I raved over the chicken and waffles and other brunch items. I had a crazy salty burger that nonetheless had a lot of potential. I shared a round of appetizers with friends and enjoyed a peanut cole slaw, cornmeal crusted calamari, and short ribs. I had a disappointing meal of mustard glazed wings and brussels sprouts. 

But that first experience with chicken and waffles stuck in my mind; maybe that's what drew me towards District again. Here's what I had April of last year: 

District's all-you-can-eat Chicken and Waffles for $12, served with housemade Srirach sauce and real maple syrup. It was delicious and gut busting. 

And here's what I had last Sunday:

I sat at the bar and had terrible service (it wasn't that busy), but finally got my food and drink. My dining companion was disappointed that his breakfast sandwich didn't come as described on the menu (a Hannaford-esque bulky roll stood in for the housemade baguette). 

And my sad waffle was topped with a smaller portion of chicken and this time around came with Aunt Jemima style syrup. Yes, I could have all-I-can-eaten more, but between the terrible service and the terrible waffle, I was disappointed in my experience. 

So I've given up. In retrospect, I should have seen the steady decline and steered my Sunday lunch to another spot, but I was drawn in by that memory of delicious chicken and waffles. 

There seem to be some changes afoot in the restaurant, but until I hear otherwise, I think I'll avoid the place and save my money for more reliable dining experiences. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wingman: Thirsty Camel

Thirsty Camel
394 W Ocean View Avenue, Norfolk, VA 23503
(757) 480-0874

This is the definition of a dive bar. Nice little restaurant located in West Ocean View near the Ocean View Fishing Pier.  Best 2-1 specials in town, large steamed shrimp not over cooked, but we're only talking wings here. 

Hot or mild with blue cheese dressing, Barbecue Mild or Hot your only options. $10.00 

Good wings - Hot is not crazy hot and the mild really are mild. Another large serving (no pigeon wings here) - good mix of flats and drums. 

Drbyte - Wingman 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wedge Salads: Binga's Portland and Krista's in Cornish, Maine

The Wedge Salad returns! My associations are with my Virginian grandma; it seemed quaint to me, having grown up on Romaine lettuce, that Grandma sliced a head of Iceberg into quarters and covered it with bottled blue cheese dressing. Like just another anachronistic dish from the time when most women embraced packaged, processed, convenience foods. 

It is not to be overlooked, however, that the Wedge salad is delicious. A traditional steakhouse side, this salad is seeing a resurgence, as comfort food is dragged from the past and given a modern, local, artisanal, or high-brow spin. 

It's really the only thing that distracts my attention from the Spicy Redneck wings at Binga's. I order the salad when I'm especially hungry, and it allows me to pretend I'm eating something healthy to counteract all the fried chicken. 

After a snow-covered hike last weekend, I was treated to lunch at Krista's Restaurant in Cornish. Having heard much about the giant portions and quality comfort food, but never finding myself in Cornish (ever), I was excited to try lunch at Krista's.

And even more excited when I saw the Wedgie! As you can see, this salad is huge, plenty for me and A. to share. The house-made blue cheese dressing with plenty of additional cheese added was delicious. We also shared a giant turkey club and several local beers (Maine Beer Co.'s Zoe and Portland Lager). 

I absolutely loved Krista's and hope I get a chance to go back soon. If you find yourself out in the country and very hungry, stop by Krista's for the Wedgie, so you can feel virtuous about eating your vegetables, but not deprived of your bacon. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

When It Snows... I Go To Ruski's.

Wait, what what what!? I have never written about Ruski's?!? Shame. I spend enough time there. 

For those of you not familiar, Ruski's Tavern is located at 212 Danforth Street in Portland's West End. This summer, when A1 moved into our current place, I ended up hanging out at Ruski's a lot. Her then-roommate was a regular (his wedding photo now hangs over the bar), so we frequently had the regular treatment spill over onto us. There's always a colorful cast of characters on both sides of the bar. 

Recently, I ended up eating there for a late dinner and then a snow day breakfast the next day. But I have a love-hate relationship with Ruski's... I like its scrappy, dive bar qualities, but sometimes am straight up annoyed by the default shitty attitude coming from *some of* the bartenders (I stress—not all, just some). 

It's one thing to be rude to an obnoxious customer, but when I haven't done anything to deserve the ire, I get a little ruffled. Like, I'm a nice girl, patient, sympathetic to servers/bartenders, usually not too drunk. So check your attitude about little things, please. 

The food at Ruski's is only OK, but frequently serves a greater purpose than quality (soaking up all the booze). Unfortunately, despite being excited about the burger because of a recent glowing review, the one I had on Wednesday night was overcooked. Still serviceable, however. 

Snow day brunches at Ruski's are always fun, especially if there's day drinking involved. Last snowstorm, there was a big crew of mustachioed Portland firefighters in there, consuming loads of Miller Light. I prefer the brass monkey (cheap beer and orange juice), made with a Miller High Life. 

The Hangover Special ($8.95) with two eggs, corn beef hash, hash browns and a side of toast (biscuits in this case!) always hits the spot. Their Eggs Benedict is surprisingly good, and the pancakes always come out right, fluffy and rich in a way that can only be achieved through aged batter and a hot griddle.

I honestly can't say I'd recommend Ruski's for the food, but I enjoy drinking there. If you stay long enough, order something that comes out of the fryer; they'll even make you gangster poutine, by adding brown gravy and cheese to your fries. 

But really, the people watching is my favorite part.