Thursday, May 31, 2012

Best of Baltimore in a Box

This is my second month of participation in Foodie Penpals, a foodie exchange in the spirit of “Secret Santa” hosted by blogger friend Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean.

The Lean Green BeanEarlier in this month, I learned that I would be mailing goodies to Tenecia (of Boobs, Barbells, and Broccoli fame) while somewhere in the foodie universe someone had gotten my name. I couldn’t wait to go shopping! Then a day after I sent my box, one arrived in the mail addressed to me.

I was thrilled to open my box to find all kinds of treats from Baltimore, but even better, the next day I received an email from my penpal Leah at Cupcakes & Race Dates with a blog post explaining all the items she had sent! So, not only did I get a great box of treats but a guest post as well!

Best of Baltimore
authored by Leah Prehn

After reading [Denise’s] original email about the kinds of foods she was interested in, I was inspired to create a “Best of Baltimore” box. I collected all of the foods that my hometown is known for. (Except for the most popular; blue crabs. Unfortunately they aren’t quite in season yet.)

For Mother’s Day, I took my Mom to the third annual Baltimore Foodie Experience where we spent hours sampling foods from local restaurants and food trucks. After we ate ourselves silly, we were treated to a talk and cooking demo from Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods.” While he was cooking octopus, someone from the audience shouted out (must have been all the free beer & wine!) “Where’s the Old Bay?!” Andrew stopped what he was doing and said something to the effect of  “There aren’t many places that when you hear the name you get a taste in your mouth but if someone says Baltimore you immediately taste Old Bay!” I have lived in the area my whole life and he is right; Old Bay Seasoning is like a religion around here and people put it on everything from popcorn to salads, eggs, fried chicken, French fries, potato chips and my favorite, sweet Maryland corn on the cob. It’s also mandatory in Bloody Marys anywhere in the Chesapeake area.

One example of the Old Bay flavors in use is the crab chips that I included in my penpal package. UTZ chips have been made in nearby Hanover, Pennsylvania since 1921 and sold in Baltimore since the beginning. UTZ chips are so pervasive in Baltimore that a local jeweler used the UTZ girl image in a really cute advertising campaign. She is being proposed to by the Natty Boh’ man, the other favorite local logo. The tagline reads, “Where Baltimore gets engaged.”

This brings me to the beer that I also included in the package. While it is no fancy delicious local micro-brew, in my admittedly biased opinion, it is one of the better cheap beers available in our area. I sent three cans, one for the recipe and one each [Denise and Dom] to drink while enjoying the shrimp; nothing washes down salty Old Bay seasoned dishes better! National Bohemian is the full name but around here it’s known as “Natty Boh” or simply “Boh”. It was first brewed in Baltimore in 1885 and stayed in the area until the 70’s. Although the company has been sold a few times to much larger companies who now make it elsewhere, it is no less celebrated here. The former brewery building displays a glowing neon Boh’ man in the neighborhood now known as Brewers Hill. There are even tourist stores that sell all kinds of merchandise emblazoned with that loveable grinning face.

Because no meal is complete without dessert, I sent Baltimore’s favorite sweet treat, Berger cookies. The recipe was brought from Germany to Baltimore by George and Henry Berger in 1835. The vanilla wafer cookie which is topped with a thick layer of chocolate fudge are still handmade in Baltimore. Aside from the their website, the company only sells the cookies in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area.

Finally, less culturally important but a favorite of my little furry friend, I included locally baked biscuits from the Baltimore Dog Bakery. They are high quality and all natural with no additives or preservatives. The bakery sells their wide range of dog treats at the wonderful Baltimore farmers market and at many pet stores in the area. 

Sharing all of these goodies with [Denise and Dom] is getting me really excited for the summer where I and the rest of the region will spend countless hours with friends and family picking crabs coated in Old Bay, washing it down it some Boh’s and if we aren’t too stuffed, sharing some Berger cookies.

For those of you who can’t get your hands on REAL blue crabs, (fresh from the Chesapeake Bay which no true Marylander would settle for anything else!) this is a great steamed shrimp recipe that highlights our best local flavors.

•    1/2 cup vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
•    4 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
•    6 oz. Natty Boh’
•    1 pound shrimp

1.    Combine first 3 ingredients in pot. Bring to a boil.
2.    Add shrimp, stir gently and cover. Simmer until tender, about 5 minutes.
3.    Drain, remove shells and devein.
4.    Enjoy!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Mexican Squash Blossom Sopa

With the unseasonably warm Spring weather, we currently find ourselves with a surplus of squash blossoms. They are absolutely luscious, particularly when lightly cooked. Because their season is usually so short, we hate to miss the chance to eat every last flower. Squash blossoms are highly perishable and should be used within 48 hours of gathering so they don’t go to waste.

Blossoms from members of the Cucurbita pepo family of squashes which include acorn squash, zucchini, summer squash and pumpkins are found in many recipes across South America. They also appear in any number of recipes in Italy, Spain, and France.

This soup, Flor de Calabaza Sopa (Pumpkin Flower Soup), is wonderfully light and makes an excellent first course or side soup we chose to preserve the texture and subtle flavors of the various ingredients, but it can also be pureed with ½ cup of cream for a sumptuously rich soup.

  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion or 2 shallots
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 18-24 squash blossoms
  • 1 ear of corn, kernels removed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin
  • Ground cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Lime wedges for serving

Start by cleaning your blossoms. So as not to lose any of their amazing flavor by rinsing them, gently brush of any dirt with a dry soft paint brush (designated for kitchen use only – works wonders on fresh mushrooms too.) For this soup, the stems, caps, and stamens should be removed. Coarsely chop the flowers and set aside.

Heat butter in a medium saucepan. Slice your onion into 1/4” pieces and once the butter has melted, and then add them to pan and sauté until soft. Add garlic and corn to the pan and sauté for another two minutes over low heat, and then add the blossoms and cook until just wilted, about 45 seconds. Resist the urge to over stir at this point so you don’t break up the delicate blossoms. Next, add the vegetable stock and spices and bring the soup to a boil cooking for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve into 2 soup bowls with lime wedges and tortillas or fresh crunchy bread.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Frothy Backyard Batidas

Over the last few weeks, we have been working diligently to get our garden tilled, planted, staked, and watered. We have planted two rows of peppers, three rows of tomatoes, zucchini (squash blossoms, yea!), cucumbers, onions, garlic, okra, radishes, lettuce, basil and nasturtiums. With temperatures already reaching the 90s, working in the garden can be hot, arduous, and exhausting.

After a long afternoon of yard work, a manly bourbon and branch or single malt scotch served neat will not suffice. I want need to be clean and consuming a frozen concoction (little paper umbrellas optional). So after a cleansing shower, I reached for the blender that I had received for my birthday the previous year (yes, it has a cord, and is normally reserved for after XC practice smoothies,) to create my first batida.

In Portuguese, the word batida means shake or churn. Batidas, which originated in Brazil, are traditionally made with cachaça, lemon, passion fruit and coconut. Many variations of these blended fruit drinks are served at fruit bars throughout Latin America. Milk or freshly squeezed orange juice is commonly used as the base, then fruit is added and the mixture is blended to the consistency of a thick milkshake. Batidas are often enjoyed as a mid-morning or afternoon snack (without alcohol), but they’re also delicious as cocktails later in the day.

  • 1 ripe mango, peeled and cut into chunks (or 1 cup mango puree)
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cachaça (I used Jamaican banana rum, but white rum would work as well)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth and thick, about 1 minute. Pour into glasses and serve immediately.

The result was the perfect frosty refreshment; a foamy, not-too-sweet, adult beverage reminiscent of the Varsity frosted oranges of my youth. I was also thrilled to find that the foam does not deflate as the ice melts, but remains frothy until the very last (sob) drop.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Johnny Rockets Returns To Phipps Plaza

Johnny Rockets 2001
After Nic’s first visit to see Santa Claus, with packages in hand (and Nic in a backpack), Dom and I stopped at the Johnny Rockets in Phipps Plaza and ordered classic thick shakes and a plate of fries to nibble on, before continuing the holiday march. At eight months old, the fries were the perfect toddler nosh. Dom offered some of his chocolate milkshake to wash them down and that was the end of the beginning! Since that Christmas season, it has been our tradition to visit Santa, do some last minute shopping and stop at Johnny Rockets for lunch on the weekend before Christmas.

Johnny Rockets 2012
So you can imagine our excitement when we were invited to the preview Party at the newly reopened Johnny Rockets on the third floor of Atlanta’s Premiere Shopping Mall – Phipp’s Plaza. They join more than 80 specialty and anchor stores, an AMC movie theater, four other award-winning restaurants and the latest attraction; the new Legoland Discovery Center that opened in March 2012. The newly renovated Johnny Rockets, known for its classic diner theme is mere feet from their former location. The space features a 1,123-square-foot restaurant with its retro styling, red-and-white counter seating, brilliant neon lights, counter top jukeboxes, and a sparkling new seating area.

Franchise owner Steve Snyder, who also operates the Underground Atlanta and Georgia Aquarium Johnny Rockets locations, agrees, “With the new Legoland Discovery Center, the timing of our newest restaurant couldn't be better. Parents and children can enjoy our classic American food, timeless music, and family-friendly atmosphere before or after they experience all that the new Lego center has to offer."

Our evening started with a backpack filled with Johnny Rockets gear including a T-shirt, mousepad and coupon for a free meal on a return visit. We were seated in the new dining area with 1950s-style booths reminiscent of Arnold’s of Happy Days fame. We almost expected to see Richie Cunningham and his pals Potsie and Ralph Malph enjoying malteds in the next booth.

As French fries were served, we were all asked to join in a ketchup-art contest. Nic won another bag of JR goodies with his retro rocket design. While waiting for our food orders to be served, we were all challenged to a Johnny Rockets Trivia quiz and enjoyed the watching the wait staff  twist to the “Hippy Hippy Shake."

Then what we had been waiting for… Sonny ordered the “manly” bacon-cheese fries and a #12, Nic ordered the chili-cheese fries and Smoke House Double, and I had onions rings and a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. Not only was the food just as delicious as we remembered, but quite plentiful. Sonny and I both needed go-boxes. We were offered samples of new milkshake flavors as we said our farewells. Nic and Sonny were already making plans to meet friends for burgers over the summer break. “I definitely see some milkshakes in my near future” added Sonny.

Now, for all those anxious to check out the new Johnny Rockets, make plans to head over to the Grand Reopening Celebration on Saturday, May 19th! Planned activities include menu sampling, prize giveaways, photo opportunities, and a host of other fun, interactive events designed to maximize guest engagement and officially welcome Johnny Rockets back to the Phipps Plaza shopping community.

Schedule of events:
11:00am: Free Johnny Rockets ketchup-smiley face t-shirt for first 100 Guests (One t-shirt per guest, while supplies last) to visit the new third floor restaurant!

2:00pm to 4:00pm: Dining with the Stars: Snap a photo with popular celebrity impersonators while you enjoy your meal in the new third floor dining area!

2:00pm to 5:00pm - Monarch Court in Phipps Plaza Mall:
  • Shake Sampling: Savor a sample of one of our delicious Shakes
  • Ketchup Art Station: Take a photo against our Johnny Rockets backdrop after completing your ketchup art masterpiece
  • Interactive iPad Quiz: Find out which Johnny Rockets hamburger most closely fits your personality.  Offer cards will be distributed to those who take the quiz!
  • Photo opportunities: Grab a photo with our Johnny Rockets Shake and “Johnny” (of “Johnny & the Rockets,” our newest characters for kids)
The new Johnny is open from 11:00am to 9:00pm, Monday through Saturday, and from 11:00am to 6:00pm on Sunday. With their signature hamburgers, American fries, shakes, classic music and dancing servers, you are sure to be entertained and most importantly full.
Johnny Rockets on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Technique of the Week: Puréeing

Purée is a term used for cooked food that have been ground, pressed, blended, and/or strained to the consistency of a soft creamy paste or smooth, thick liquid. In 13th century France, the term meant “purified” or “refined.”

Purées can be made in a food processor or a blender, by forcing the food through a sieve or strainer, or with special equipment such as an immersion blender, potato masher or ricer. Purées are generally cooked to improve flavor and texture and reduce their water content. Vegetable purées thinned with water or stock are usually used as a base for soup or eaten as a side dish. Tomato purée, used for sauces and soups is made by removing seeds from blanched tomatoes and straining the pulp. Fruit purées are used to make sauces, mousses, soufflés and other preparations. Purées can also be made from anchovies, chicken livers, shrimp or salmon, and used as a filling for canapés.

Specific foods that have been puréed of are often known by their ingredients such as mashed potatoes or apple sauce. Purées overlap with other dishes with similar consistency, such as thick soups, custards and gravies although these terms often imply more complex recipes and cooking processes. The term “puree” is not commonly used for paste-like foods prepared from cereal flours, such as gruel or muesli; nor with oily nut pastes, such as peanut butter.

Some of our recipes that include the technique of puréeing:


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Blissful Banana Bisque with Cinnamon Croutons for Mom

When I pregnant with our oldest, Dom and I decided that we wanted to know the gender of the baby (which was good thing because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to bring the video of the ultrasound home with us!) I even remember the exact date (December 5, 1993) that I learned that I was carrying a baby boy. I also remember the hormonal meltdown that came shortly thereafter. How could I possibly be a good mother to a little boy? I had no brothers and knew nothing of cars, sports, or dinosaurs. Dom’s reassuring “you’ll learn” did nothing to quell the torrent.

But, he was right; I became an expert on pre-historic creatures of the Mesozaic era, became proficient (relatively speaking) in the nuances of football and have come to terms with the fact that I will never master the world of automotive identification, mechanics, or (according to Dom) operation (which was the source of much amusement for the clerks at Pep Boys the last time I went in to purchase replacement parts.)

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being a “Boy Mom,” and would not trade for anything. I have become accustomed to low maintenance haircuts (C’mon Mom, it’s time to GO!), being called “dude,” testosterone-induced horse play and smelly athletic socks, but there are times when a gal needs some frilly, pink indulgences like a relaxing bubble bath, a tiny fuzzy kitten or a gorgeous, fragrant bouquet of star-gazer lilies.

The day after tomorrow represents the one day of the year when we Mom’s get to indulge our girly-sides and enjoy being a bit spoiled by our progeny. With that in mind, here is the perfect kid-friendly, no-cook recipe for spoiling Mom on her special day.

While the term “bisque” commonly refers to smooth, creamy, highly-seasoned soups made of crustaceans, it is also used to describe cream-based soups that do not contain seafood, in which pre-cooked ingredients are pureed.

Cold Banana Bisque:
  • 2 medium bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup half and half
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Combine peeled and sliced bananas, milk, and light cream and blend them thoroughly in a blender. Add sugar and a dash of cinnamon and blend the mixture again.

Chill the soup until ready to serve and garish with cinnamon croutons before surprising Mom with this special treat.

Simple Cinnamon Croutons:
Cut the crust off of several ½” slices of bread and toast in a toaster until golden brown. Brush lightly with melted butter and cut the toast into cubes. Place the toasted, buttered cubes in a mixing bowls and dust with cinnamon sugar. Toss cubes to fully coat and then add to the prepared banana bisque.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sub-Zero Wolf With Bourbon Peach Glacé

Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, along with other city and county officials, were on hand to commemorate the ribbon cutting of the new Sub-Zero/Wolf Appliance showroom located on the second floor of the Terminus building on Thursday afternoon.

The expansive showcase area with its sprawling floor-to-ceiling windows was built to display the latest Sub-Zero and Wolf products to provide architects, designers and consumers an opportunity to view and test-drive their dream kitchens. The showroom which officially opens to the public on May 14th is equipped with a live demonstration kitchen as well as a large common area where guests can relax and enjoy the space in a non-retailing environment.
Sub-Zero, Inc., is the leading manufacturer of American-made luxury refrigeration, freezers and wine storage units, while Wolf Appliance, Inc. is the nation’s premier maker of ranges, ovens, cook tops, and grills. The 11,000-square-foot installation joins the list of other Sub-Zero and Wolf showroom spaces in New York and Chicago.

In addition to a tour of the sparkling $4 million facility, two corporate chefs were on hand preparing dishes for dazzled guests. Chef Will Ratley, who normally works in the Orlando area, prepared fontina lavender mashed potatoes with blackened day boat scallops garnished with a roasted corn pico de gallo plated an “overnight tomato” (which according to Chef Ratley can ONLY be made in a Wolf oven) and an apple cider gastrique. Chef George Laudun, who will serve as the Executive chef of the new Atlanta showroom, served Charleston-style grits topped with thinly sliced sweet-pepper-marinated venison and pork tenderloin and topped with a bourbon peach sauce and a fresh sage leaf.

Both tastings were stunning examples of the range of cooking techniques that can be accomplished with the equipment on hand in this new facility. While both chefs worked diligently to ensure the food was hot and beautifully presented, they took a few minutes to chat with me about their methods and recipes: the scallops were lightly coated in Cajun spices before being seared, the mashed potatoes were infused with lavender blossoms, the incredibly rich grits were simmered with heavy cream and the peach bourbon sauce was made by flambéing the peaches in bourbon and adding beef demi-glacé to make a thick gravy.

Bourbon Peach Glacé
1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, diced
¼ cup dried peaches, chopped
½ cup bourbon
1 cup veal demi-glacé
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a pre-heated medium saucepan over medium heat and sauté the onion for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add peaches and then cook for another minute or so.

Turning the heat to high,  pull the pan 2 feet  away from open flame and add the bourbon.  Return the pan back to the flame and ignite the bourbon swirl the pan until the flame goes out to burn off alcohol. Add demi-glacé and bay leaf, bringing to a boil and simmering until the sauce thickens up enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Adjust the flavor with salt and pepper. Use as a chunky marmalade or puree and serve over grilled meat.

Join Chef George Laudun for an evening of food and fun with a side-dish of information at one of the monthly Wolf product demonstration and learn to cook with power, finesse, and surprising ease. To enjoy a gourmet meal and explore all of your appliance options, click here for event details and to register.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Technique of the Week: Slicing

Slicing is the cutting of food into thin, relatively broad slices. Slices may be used as they are or processed further to produce other specialty cuts such as rondelles, diagonals, obliques, and lozenges. Slicing may be accomplished by hand or machine. A mandolin slicer greatly increases both the speed and uniformity of slices. Mechanical slicers include rotary slicers (smaller versions of those found in a delicatessen) and food processors with a slicing attachment.

To slice ingredients with a knife, angle the tip of the knife down toward the cutting board and place the food underneath the knife tip. Hold the food in place with your opposite hand, keeping fingers curled so that only the knuckles come into contact with the side of the knife. Move the knife down and forward to slice through the food. Finish the cut with the heel of the knife flat against the cutting board. To continue with the second slicing stroke, raise the heel of the knife and pull the knife back, placing the food again toward the tip of the knife. Continue this motion, making sure that your slices are uniform and the desired thickness is achieved. This method produces what is known as a “straight slice.”

The second most common type of slice, the diagonal (also known as bias cutting) slice uses the same technique as straight slicing, but you hold the food at a 30-degree angle. This method is commonly used when preparing vegetables for Asian dishes. The diagonal slice results in a slightly larger slice and adds a bit of artistic flair to any meal.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pike's Garden-to-Table Soup and Fresh Salads

There are few things better than spending a beautiful Spring day playing in the dirt, but Pike Nurseries added to the fun by teaming up with Concentric Restaurant Group to create a one-of-a-kind, gardener-meets-foodie experience. This Garden to Table Chef Event was held at all Atlanta-area Pike Nurseries and featured presentations by gardening associates from Pike Nurseries on vegetables and herbs and how to plant them. These instructional sessions were followed by cooking demonstrations by local chefs from Concentrics Restaurants like One Midtown Kitchen, The Spence, and Room at Twelve.

At the Toco Hills location of Pike Nurseries, Ian Winslade, Executive Chef of Murphy’s in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood, made a quick fresh vegetable soup with handmade basil oil. His easy-going manner and charming British accent added to the allure as he casually chopped vegetables and explained how he makes his basil oil, “First I blanch the basil leaves, shocking them in ice water after a few minutes in the boiling water. Then I squeeze the leaves to remove as much water as I can and put them in a blender with olive oil and blend for 5 minutes until hot.” He is a huge proponent of “farm-to-table” cuisine as evidenced by his healthy and easy recipe for garden fresh vegetable soup.

Garden Vegetable Soup:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, diced
  • 1 yellow squash, diced
  • Sea salt
  • 1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
  • ½ cup white wine (heated and reduced by half)
  • Fresh beet leaves, Swiss chard, or kale, julienned
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • Basil oil for drizzling

Carefully wash and peel vegetables. Heat olive oil in a saucepan and begin sweating the onions, carrots, and celery. Then add potatoes, bell pepper and squash and simmer until tender.

Season lightly with salt and then pour in stock and infuse with an herb bouquet (fresh herbs tied with kitchen twine and steeped in the soup like a tea bag).

Simmer for about 10 minutes and then remove the herbs and add the white wine reduction stirring to mix well. Remove pan from heat and add julienned greens. Serve into soup bowls and drizzle lightly with basil oil and serve immediately.

Several miles away, Cameron Thompson, Executive Chef of popular Midtown restaurant TWO urban licks, was preparing his signature Yellow Tomato and Watermelon Salad at Pike Nurseries’ Lindbergh location. Even in the mid-day sun while wearing a black chef uniform, he looked as cool as his salad as he showed on-lookers how to emulsify a chili vinaigrette. He then demonstrated his technique for slicing and preparing fresh zucchini carpaccio. Both recipes are perfect for warm-weather antipasti or summer salads.

Zucchini Carpaccio:
3 medium zucchini, very thinly sliced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for drizzling
Freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Parmesan-Reggiano, grated
Mint leaves, finely julienned

Using a mandolin, slice the zucchini squash into thin rounds. Place zucchini slices in a bowl and lightly salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Mix very gently, just enough to coat each zucchini slice, and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Once softened, remove each slice and lay it gently on the serving plate, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle a bit of grated Parmesan over the zucchini and garnish with julienned mint leaves.

Chili Vinaigrette:
5 oz. Ancho chilies, toasted and ground
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
Up to 1 cup water

Place chili pepper and sugar in a blender and blend together. Add vinegar, mustard and salt with a ¼ cup of the water and blend to mix. With the blender running slowly add oil and another ½ cup of the water until fully incorporated. Check the dressing; it should have the consistency of Heinz 57 sauce. If the dressing is too thick, slowly add the remaining water until the right consistency is achieved.

Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Chili Vinaigrette:
2 cup yellow tomato, diced
2 cup watermelon, diced
Chili vinaigrette (recipe above)
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh mint leaves, julienned

Place diced tomatoes and watermelon in a mixing bowl, then add ½ cup of chili vinaigrette and toss to coat. Add more dressing as needed (or desired) to coat well. Top the salad with crumbled feta cheese and julienned mint leaves.

With these amazing recipes it should be easy to enjoy the fresh fruits of Spring!
Two Urban Licks on Urbanspoon


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Derby Day Lamb with Mint Julep Gastrique

The Kentucky Derby is the annual Grade I stakes race for three-year-old Thoroughbred horses, held annually in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday each May. A number of traditions play a large role in the Derby atmosphere especially the mint julep; an iced drink consisting of simple syrup, mint and bourbon. Kentucky burgoo (a variation of the traditional French cassoulet,) is also a popular Kentucky dish during Derby week.

The mint julep originated in the southern United States, probably during the eighteenth century. The first mention of a mint julep in print came in a book by John Davis published in London in 1803, where it was described as "a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” The term 'julep' is generally defined as a sweet drink, particularly one used as a vehicle for medicine. U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the drink to Washington, D.C., at the Round Robin Bar in the illustrious Willard Hotel during his residence in the city. It later became the official drink of Churchill Downs in association with the Kentucky Derby in 1938.

Gastrique is a sweet and sour sauce that also begins with a simple syrup which is caramelized, deglazed with vinegar (white, cider, red wine or balsamic dependent on your flavor profile) and flavored with herbs, spices, berries or fruit juices. The flavoring of a gastrique should be based on the protein it is being served with. For example, a rich blackberry gastrique would enhance fattier red meats like duck or beef, while a more delicate herbed citrus sauce would complement fish or chicken dishes. The flavor combination of mint and bourbon are the perfect accompaniment to one of our favorite meals: grilled lamb.

So whether you enjoy an icy liquid mint julep or lamb drizzled with our mint julep gastrique to celebrate this year’s 138th running of the “Run for the Roses,” we hope you’ll be cheering “I’ll Have Another!”

Mint Julep Gastrique
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • Pinch salt
  • 30 (about ½ cup) fresh mint leaves, torn
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon

Mix sugar and water in the bottom of a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan; the mixture should resemble wet sand. Heat the sugar mixture over medium-high heat until the sugar granules completely dissolve and bubbles form. The tip of a spoon pulled through the mixture should leave a trail.

Watch as the sugar begins to caramelize. It will turn blonde at first. If you plan on making a delicate gastrique to pair veal or fish stop at this stage. For a more concentrated taste, continue to let the sugar caramelize to a deep, golden color; the darker the caramelization, the deeper the flavor. Swirl the pan gently to help it cook evenly. Remember not to use non-heat-proof utensils or to get the molten sugar on your skin because it is extremely hot.

When you've reached the desired level of caramelization, add the vinegar (in equal proportion to the sugar). This step can be intimidating, as the sugar mixture is very hot. To keep the splattering to a minimum, pour the vinegar into the caramel quickly rather than adding it little by little. It will make a loud sizzling sound and left off a good deal vinegary steam.

The sugar will immediately coagulate at the bottom of the pan, this is normal even though it looks like a mess. Continue to cook the sauce until the sugar re-dissolves, taking the mixture back to a liquid state. This is your basic gastrique which will continue to caramelize as it simmers.

This is the stage to add the torn mint leaves and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Once the gastrique has reached a thick syrup, remove from the heat. Strain the syrup through a sieve to remove mint leaves and add one teaspoon of bourbon. Remember the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Drizzle the mint julep gastrique over sliced lamb and serve immediately. The gastrique can be made ahead and reheated just before serving. Five to one odds you’ll have a winner dinner!

Originally published May 3, 2012


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Technique of the Week: Caramelizing

Caramelization is the process of browning of sugars. This is a culinary phenomenon that occurs when carbohydrates like sugar are heated to temperatures of 300°F or higher, volatile chemicals are released which produce a characteristic brown color and caramel flavor. Caramelization is related to the Maillard reaction, where proteins in meat turn brown when heated and like the Maillard reaction, caramelization is a type of non-enzymatic browning. Other examples of caramelization include toasted bread and pale white potatoes turned into crispy, golden French fries.

Caramelizing sugar for flans, sauces or ice cream topping is relatively easy.  The technique varies on what you're using the caramel for, so care should be taken to note in your recipe what kind of caramel is called for. For example, the caramel needed for caramel candies is much less cooked than what's needed for spun sugar.

Always caramelize sugar in small batches, starting with no more than 2 cups of sugar. The recipe below is the correct amount for making flan. It is important to keep a close watch on the pan as the caramel cooks. Remember not to use non-heat-proof utensils or to get the molten sugar on your skin because it gets extremely hot.

1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
Drop of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, optional

Combine sugar, water, and drop of lemon juice (the lemon juice keeps the mixture from hardening) in the bottom of a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan; the mixture should resemble wet sand. Heat the sugar mixture over low-medium heat until the sugar granules completely dissolve and bubbles form. We find that by maintaining a lower heat gives control over the caramelizing process, since it is really easy to burn. Sugar melts at about 320°F and will turn to a clear liquid at that temperature.

After sugar dissolves and syrup is simmering, cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, without stirring. At this point, the tip of a spoon pulled through the mixture should leave a trail. Bear in mind, boiling times will vary according to different stove tops and other factors so keep a close watch.

The liquid will turn blonde at first. Swirl the pan gently to distribute color and help sugar cook evenly. As the sugar continues to caramelize, the color will go from golden to a deeper light brown; the darker the caramelization, the deeper the flavor. Watch the changing of the color carefully, it can go past the light brown stage quickly and burn. If it is close close to being done and you are scared of burning it, remove it from the heat and it will continue to cook due to the residual heat.

Unless your recipe tells you to do otherwise, remove pan from the heat and set aside and let cool. To stop the caramel from cooking, some recipes have you dip the bottom if the pot in ice water for 10 seconds.

For making a caramel sauce, use care when adding cream or other liquid, this should be done very carefully, as the liquid will hiss and sputter. Add the liquid at the edge of the pan, slowly, and stirring constantly as it is added.

If you are using the caramel for flan, immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour into individual ramekins or custard dishes, coating the bottoms evenly (tilt the dishes so that the caramel coats the bottom).


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Soul Mate Squid-Ink Pasta with Parsnips & Pancetta

Guest Post by Foodie PenPal, Kristina Scaviola

Food memories are powerful.  My husband and I have built many memories around food, and perhaps one of the more pivotal moments happened when I was a freshman in college.

I decided I wanted to do something special for Mike as a Christmas present; we both watched the food channel, but as college students we were limited in our gastronomical adventures. Time, money, and lack of real kitchens kept most of our food exploration to limited restaurant experiences.  So I sat in my wooden chair, in my tiny shared dorm room, wracking my brain.  Mike’s favorite chef was Mario Batali, so I began by ordering the Babbo cookbook. Unsatisfied, I went to the Babbo website to see just what type of commitment it would be to eat there.  I began to read reviews that said that to secure a reservation that you had to call exactly one month prior to the date that you desired, and repeatedly dial until you could speak to a person.  I picked a reasonable date over our Christmas break from college, sat down, and through my lunch hour from the moment the reservation line opened dialed again, and again, and again, until I secured our reservation:  6:15 p.m. on January 4th, 2003.

This was a revelatory dinner to say the least.  A 7-course pasta tasting menu, at Babbo, at age  18.  We ate many signature pastas:  Angel’s pyramids, boar ragu, sweet breads- but perhaps the most memorable, due to color and our relative lack of dining experience was the squid ink tagliatelle with parsnip coins and pancetta: simple, startling in color, yet comforting flavor.  This dish has been with us culinarily for many years.

It debuted at our very first dinner party, given in Mike’s college apartment in 2004.  The reaction of our college friends to the deep black pasta with the caramelized parsnips, the porkiness of the pancetta, and a luxurious sprinkling of real Parmigiano was priceless.
The best part?  The dish is incredibly simple to make.  We spent much of 2003-2004 cooking through the Babbo cookbook- learning that a few simple ingredients, combined with care, can create an awesome experience.  During this time we made our first Bolognese, duck ragu, homemade pasta, an intense lasagna (still an all-day production) and fed several people for several days with each experiment!

We now make our own squid ink pasta.  Married, with a kitchen-aid and a pasta rolling attachment, a house and real kitchen, things are a little easier than the various college apartments we both lived in.  What follows are my adaptations of Mario Batali’s recipes for both squid ink pasta and the accompanying parsnips and pancetta.

Squid Ink Pasta
3 ½-4 cups of flour (or, ½ semolina and ½ flour-  Semolina is slightly more difficult to work with, but very rewarding)
4 eggs
2 packets (or 2 tablespoons) of Squid Ink  (available on

On a large, clean work surface create a mound with the flour.  In the center of the mound create a well for the eggs; crack the eggs into the center of the well.  Add the squid ink, and with a fork break up the eggs as if you were preparing scrambled eggs.  As you are breaking up the yokes, begin to draw in some of the flour from the sides of the well.  You may have egg that runs over the side, volcano-style- this is OK, simply keep working in the flour.  You will reach a point where the fork becomes pointless- this is when you switch to your clean (ring-less) hands.  Do not try to work every last bit of flour in; the crunchy flour will not add anything to the texture of your pasta.  When it forms dough, begin to knead the pasta.  Batali’s recipe calls for 6 minutes of kneading;  I find that there is a certain change that happens when the glutens have fully developed:  the dough will be smooth and elastic, and almost have a snap to it.  If you are unsure if it has been kneaded enough, kneed it some more.  The pasta’s final texture is quite dependent on this step.

Allow the dough to rest, covered, for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. After resting, you can begin rolling the pasta.  This is honestly easiest if you have a pasta rolling apparatus; but if you don’t, you can use a rolling pin and hand-roll all of the pasta.  If you are choosing this method, I would recruit a partner, since your arms will be dead by the end!  To do this, mimic the below method; folding the pasta over and progressively rolling it thinner and thinner.

Machine method:
Cut the dough into usable chunks. Beginning on the largest setting, send a chunk of the dough through the machine several times, folding the pasta over on itself before putting it back through the machine (at least 6 passes at the thickest setting, maybe more depending on the texture- semolina dough often needs more passes).  Bump the machine to the next setting, repeating the process.

Continue bumping one setting at a time, folding the pasta over with each pass.  As the dough gets thinner, less passes through the machine become necessary; at setting 4 on my kitchen-aid the pasta usually only needs to go through 2-3x.  Do not be discouraged by ripping or tearing; simply send the pasta through again.  This is not pie dough where you are afraid to work it-  the more the flour is worked, the more you develop the glutens.  Repeat this process with the rest of your dough chunks.

At this point you can cut the pasta yourself, or send it through pasta cutters if you have them.  Be ready with areas all over the kitchen for drying the pasta strands-  we have a nice rack made of dowels that helps this; if you do not have  a rack to dry the pasta on, paparadelle is a nice alternative to tagliatelle and requires less drying room!

Squid Ink Pasta with Parsnips and Pancetta (adapted from Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook)
~serves 4 generously

  • ¼ lb. Pancetta or slab bacon, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ lb. parsnips, cut thinly into half- moon shapes. (The original recipe calls for ½" thickness, but we have found that 1/8” - 1/4” works best.)
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • ¼ cup flat leaf parsley, roughly cut or torn
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Pecorino Romano, for serving
  • 1 lb. of fresh squid ink pasta, cut into tagliatelle (Dry squid ink pasta is available at gourmet food stores and and is a perfectly acceptable substitution! Cook the pasta according to package directions)

1.    Bring at least 6 quarts of heavily salted water to a boil.

2.    In your largest sauté pan (at least 12-14 inches) cook the pancetta (or bacon) over relatively high heat until all of the fat has been rendered out and you have been left with browned, crisp cubes of pancetta.  Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with a paper towel.  Set aside.

3.    Add the butter to the rendered fat; when it has melted add the parsnips to the pan.  Over moderately high heat, and without shaking or stirring the pan, caramelize the parsnips in the fat.  If you stir and shake the pan too much the parsnips will cook, but the sugars will not form the  all-important crusty caramel layer that is vital to this dish.  The recipe says this takes 5-6 minutes; I have found it can take double this time due to a lack of copper core pans and BTUs on our stove!

4.    Cook the tagliatelle in the boiling water until al dente.  Reserve some of the cooking water (I usually pull out about a cup just before draining the pasta). Fresh pasta only takes 2 or so minutes; be ready with a spider or fork to fish the pasta out of the water, or drain the pasta into a large colander in the sink. 

5.    Add the hot pasta directly to the sauté pan, and toss the hot pasta with the parsnips over high heat.  Add the pancetta back to the pan, and toss some more. If the pasta appears too dry, add a little of the pasta cooking liquid at a time.

6.    Taste a little of the pasta; season with a little salt (keeping in mind that you will be adding salty cheese, so do not overdo it), and course fresh cracked pepper.

7.    Divide among 4 bowls or plates, topping with freshly grated cheese and parsley.

8.    Enjoy!

Wine recommendation:  This is a bacon-y dish, with some sweetness from the parsnips- I find that it pairs very well with a white wine that is slightly off-dry such as a Viognier or Pouilly-Fuisse.  Look for a wine with decent minerality and a muscat nose for the full effect!

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