Monday, December 21, 2009

restaurant review: Maxie's Southern Comfort

dad took me to Maxie's Southern Comfort for my birthday dinner. this is another place bryan and i have been wanting to try, but never got around to.

the first thing to know about this place is that they don't accept reservations for parties under 8 people. they do, however, have a "wait list" - you can call up to 30 minutes in advance to put your name in. if you're old like me, that's not a problem when eating dinner before 6:30pm, though. i had called around 6 and arrived shortly before 6:30 and were seated immediately. most tables were empty. it did fill up by the time we left around 8pm, however.

dad and i both had the bbq beef brisket special. smoked beef brisket with bbq sauce; french fries (which i dipped in cajun mayo); baked beans (which i sub'd out for their white cheddar mac n cheese); and a winter greens salad with fresh corn, tomatoes, and red onions. holy lord. i don't know if the brisket was just that good, or if i just miss Rolling Bones that much, but i almost cried with that first bite of brisket. tender, smokey, covered in sauce as tangy as i like it - it was perfect. i subsequently ate way too much of it. the fries were great too - quite obviously real potatoes, and so nice dipped into the spicy cajun mayo. the mac n cheese was probably the only disappointing part of the meal. i like my cheddar to have a bit of a bite, and this had none. the sauce was a little gloppy as well - a bit too heavy on the roux. the salad was fine; nothing special, and it felt a little disconnected from the meal flavor wise. for dessert i had the marquis cake, which is chocolate cake with chocolate mousse layers and chocolate ganache frosting. sadly, it sounds a lot better than it was - in reality, it was pretty flavorless.

bryan was lucky enough that i had *plenty* of leftovers, even after stuffing myself silly. i can't wait to go back here with bryan.

restaurant review: Ristorante Bartolotta

bryan took me to Ristorante Bartolotta for my birthday. we had been wanting to go for some time, so we were thrilled to finally do so. we've been to Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro in the past, so we had high expectations. for the most part, they did not disappoint.

we started with the Carpaccio di Manzo alla Veneta (Hand-sliced beef tenderloin with arugula, shaved red onion,curls of Grana Padano, capers and Venetian aioli). since it is raw beef, i had a few moments where i had a hard time with the texture, but the flavors were great, and the beef was very tender.

i then had the Misticanza di Campo salad (Chef mix of bitter sweet field greens and seasonal vegetables with a light drizzle of vinegar, olive oil and Sicilian sea salt from Trapani), which was simple but a nice salad.

we shared an order of the Ravioli di Magro al Burro Nociola Tartufato (House made ravioli filled with truffled-ricotta and spinach, topped with Grana and brown butter). this was absolutely the star of the meal for me. so good in every way. i want more.

bryan had the Grigliata Mista di Mare (A seaside style assortment of grilled seafood; shrimp, scallops, baby octopus, mussels and our fish of the day, with spinach, lemon and olive oil). it was a massive amount of seafood! bryan liked it very much.

i had the Braciola di Maiale al Marsala (Grilled bone-in pork chop with sauteed mushrooms, roasted potatoes and Marsala wine pan sauce). i was a little disappointed in this. the sauce was over salted, so was unpleasant because of the saltiness, but it also over powered the mushrooms because of it. i think the pork chop could have been a little more rare for me, but it wasn't bad. the potatoes were a little underdone for my tastes. not horrible overall, but disappointing to me.

we managed to squeeze in tiramisu for dessert before heading over to Cafe Hollander for some belgian beers.

of course, the service was excellent.

we'll definitely be back. i'd like to try another meal before passing final judgment on the place. i'd like to take hannah in the summer for a pasta course. i think she'd very much enjoy that.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

shout out: booze and chocolate from the burp blog

big thanks to the fredrichs for the delicious brandy soaked chocolate covered cherries. angels sang and time stopped, so they were a perfect interlude to a lovely saturday afternoon! bryan will bring you some special treats at the next market on the 9th. :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

food project: homemade marshmallows

one thing bryan and i like to do each year is food gifts for christmas, so i decided to make marshmallows. hannah and i had made some last year, and they were freakin' phenomenal - rich, creamy, fluffy - 10,000x better than store bought.

this year, i used this recipe (and for those of you without a candy thermometer, look at the 2nd recipe on the page, near the bottom, on the right).

the basic concept is unflavored gelatin and water:

mixed with a cooked mixture of sugar, corn syrup, and water:

and beaten until hugely fluffy (my only real advice to you during this process is do not smell the mixture until it is white and fluffy. trust me.). you can add vanilla (i upped the amount called for in the recipe to 2 1/2 tsp). spread it in a prepared pan (lined with oiled foil or plastic wrap).

once they've had a few hours to set, dump them out onto powdered sugar and cut; roll each one in powdered sugar. this is very sticky business (literally - these things are insanely sticky). my recommendation is to use kitchen shears to snip them into strips, then roll the strips in powdered sugar, then cut them into cubes. it took me about 90 minutes of painfully tedious cutting before i figured out rolling the whole strips in the sugar made things go way faster.

i also made peppermint ones, with peppermint extract (i used 1 tsp vanilla and 1 - 1/2 tsp peppermint). oh yeah, i know that sounds good in hot chocolate, right?! i wanted them to not be plain white like the others, so i mixed red food coloring into a small bit of the marshmallows, then swirled that into the white.

and that's it! it's really simple. and so delicious. so all you lucky folks out there who are receiving a package in the mail from us - open it, quickly. there are marshmallows in there!

Friday, December 11, 2009

she's crafty

my super friend danielle found this super cool menu magnet project, and me being me, said, "oooo, crafts AND food? awesome!" and of course, me being me, decided to make it way more complex than the original.

the gist of the project is to print out meal/food names and stick them onto magnets, so you can do a menu on your fridge. i thought to myself, wouldn't this be a perfect opportunity to create a learning tool for oliver? and thus decided to add pictures of each food item. and since our family cooks many and varied offerings, i had to print out roughly 200 different things. which meant buying magnets (instead of using extra ones, like the original project suggests). and i thought, well, printed paper glued onto craft paper won't possibly be strong enough to hold up... i better glue it onto foam board and then exacto knife all 200 pieces out.

yea, what was i thinking?!

it took me roughly forever to complete the project. but it turned out really cute, and oliver is pretty intrigued. mom had suggested she let me laminate my print outs, and while i initially thought they still wouldn't be strong enough, in retrospect, it probably would have been perfect. yet another lesson that one should always listen to their mothers. if you do this project, skip my steps 6, 7, & 8 and get thee to a laminating machine!

so here's what i did:
1) made a table in Word and typed out a bajillion food items
2) added pictures from the interwebz
3) printed and cut them out
4) glued them onto scrapbook paper
5) cut them out
6) glued them to foam board
7) cut them out, a la exacto knife
8) covered them in contact paper
9) glued a magnet on the back
10) had a beer

the result? a big mess of cute little food cards.

yea, i really wasn't exaggerating when i said 200. this basket is about 8" deep.

i also made a cute "what's for dinner?" header and the days of the week, so that you can organize and display on your fridge like so:

cute, right? now i just have to find the time to change them up every week. hmmm, i'm starting to think i didn't think this project through completely.

and to be completely honest, i'm still not 100% done. i have about 5 more cards i need to get onto foam board, but i ran out. and i also bought some neat white board paper, so i want to make some large magnets with that, so we can write our actual menus on them. but i'm going to take this time to revel in completing this much of the project, and it being actually usable.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

the $84 turkey (or: peters family thanksgiving)

nope, that is not a typo. this year, i got my american bronze heritage turkey, from the always wonderful JenEhr Family Farm. i had wanted one last year, which bryan quickly vetoed. this year i hadn't even asked before he told me no. but one magical saturday, kay spoke to him at the market and somehow managed to convince bryan that we just had to have one. have i mentioned that kay is my hero?

so, i got my turkey. and no, they're not cheap. but it's definitely worth it, for a multitude of reasons - helping to preserve a heritage breed, protecting the environment, and our health, and supporting a local farm. not to mention it has actual flavor. today, commercial turkeys are bred for their breasts - their legs are tiny, and their breasts are huge (and neither tastes like much). their breasts are so huge, in fact, that they can't fly - and real turkeys can actually fly. our 24 lb bird was a sight to behold - huge legs and a proportionate breast.

our initial plan had been to wrap the bird in the caul fat from our pig (think of a bacon wrapped bird... minus the bacon meat), which we had specifically ordered. the butcher that did our pig, however, was less than wonderful, and after defrosting two giant bags of fat, we were incredibly disappointed to find that there was no caul fat. bryan was, in his words, devastated. he spent the sunday before thanksgiving calling around town trying to find replacement caul fat. he was able to locate some, but at $60, i said no. maybe next year.

instead, bryan brined the bird, and rubbed a compound butter beneath the skin. he roasted it, and that was it. what resulted was a gorgeous bird.

dad carved the turkey, which we then served with gravy (which bryan of course made using the pan drippings), cranberries with port, roasted squash, stuffing with homemade sausage, bryan's corn budin, aunt debbie's mashed potatoes, mom's whole wheat rolls as well as rosemary garlic knots (which were promptly scarfed up by all in attendance), and marissa's green beans almondine.

the meal was all sorts of delicious. it was hard to stop eating and save room for pie, of which there were two, both made by me:

apple & fennel pie -

and a gluten free pecan pie -

bryan and i both agreed dinner was a complete success. i was very happy to have planned a much simpler menu than last year. we had plenty of time and oven space to make everything, and were even able to keep up with the dishes (a first, i'm pretty sure).

in a moment of clarity, i realized that the kids (oliver and my cousin's two kids) would pull out every single toy to make the biggest mess possible. since the toys currently live in our living room, i figured it would be better to put them all in oliver's room instead. i was very glad i did, as it turns out i was fairly clairvoyant about the course of events.

all of my sisters were in town, so of course we had way too much fun seeing them. oliver loved having a new audience to perform for and charm. he especially made a new friend in uncle kevin, who not only was a boy and thus automatically cool, but also always had m's (m&m's) on his personage, and didn't mind sharing.

more pictures from the week here and here.

a very happy turkey day indeed. and a great weekend filled with family, all of whom i am so incredibly thankful for.