Saturday, March 31, 2012

let's review: the distillery

      We went to The Distillery on Liberty Street with a bunch of friends. It was the first time I had eaten there. The atmosphere is quaintly vintage with silent movies playing on a screen mounted on the bar back.
     An old moonshine sign hung on the wall. Dark wooden tables and chairs fill the interior space. Patrons chat quietly. An occasional burst of raucous laughter punctuates the air.
     My friends and I settle into a long table, booth on one side, chairs on the other. The menu is simple, well thought out and interestingly humorous. Our server was knowledgeable about the vast number of beers offered.
     After starting off with warm, crispy chips and a side of freshly made salsa, every single one of us chose a burger... each a different style.
     Hmmm, I wonder if a person's burger choice hints at a hidden personality trait. Uh-oh. I ordered the Bootlegger... what could that mean?
     It was topped with caramelized onions, crispy thick-cut bacon, tomatoes and creamy goat cheese ;) I think it means my mouth will soon be very, very happy.
      One thing I really appreciated was a choice between a three-quarter pound burger or a one-quarter pound burger with the same toppings. I'm no Adam Richman. One quarter pound is more than enough for me!
The Bootlegger
     The Sweet Potato Fries are served with a Creole Remoulade. They disappeared from the plate very quickly!
     I loved the Stout Fries, but wasn't crazy about the Ale-cheese sauce... it was a bit too Cheez-Whizzy for me. Ironically, that's precisely what the boys loved about it.
     My ladyfriend who ordered the black bean burger thought it had a little too much black pepper for her liking. (Just between us, I enjoy a burger that bites back.)
     It had a really good blend of flavors and held together well. It could stand up to any other burger on the menu. I may have to order that one next time!
The Bourbon Burger
      The soon-to-be-married lovebirds in our group ordered Deep-fried Moon Pies a la Mode for the table and insisted we give them a try. It was their main reason for bringing us here.
     My mouth was still happy from the goat cheese, bacon and onion flavors, but who can say no to such cuteness? (The couple, not the Moon Pie.)
     Anyway, it was crunchy on the outside, warm, sticky and gooey on the inside... everything you'd want your deep-fried dessert to be. The vanilla bean ice cream cooled the piping hot pie and cut the sweet factor a tiny bit.
     All of the sugar lovers at our table were in heaven. Tamara described it as  "a carnival in your mouth... cotton candy, funnel cakes and clowns." You have to try it at least once.
     What a fun evening with friends at a lovely place. Next visit, I'm claiming an iron table with a red umbrella... look for me right out front.
The Distillery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

simple tomato sauce with spaghetti

Tomato sauce from a jar? Who needs it?  
     Anyone can simply whip up an elegant tomato sauce using few ingredients in a miniscule amount of time. The key is flavor. By using a bit of olive oil and fresh herbs to season a plain can of tomatoes, a beautiful transformation occurs.
     Light and spring-y. Economical and delicious. Fancy made simple.
Ingredients
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 t. crushed red pepper flakes
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large (28 oz.,) cans crushed Italian plum tomatoes
2 t. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
2 T. fresh basil leaves, torn
1 T. fresh thyme leaves
1 pound fresh or dried spaghetti
Parmesan cheese, shaved
Directions
Put a large, deep pot of water on to boil for pasta. In a large, flat bottom pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Toss in red pepper, garlic and onion. Saute until onion begins to brown. Be sure to pay attention and don't let garlic burn!
Pour in crushed tomatoes. Sprinkle sugar, salt and pepper over. Tear up basil and toss in, giving everything a nice stir. Taste your sauce for seasoning. If it's too tomato-ey, add a bit more sugar or a dash of Worchestershire sauce... That usually tones down that slap-you-in-the-face tomato taste.
Saute on low heat for about thirty minutes. Meanwhile cook the pasta, salting the water liberally after it comes to a boil. Cook a little less time than package says to. Drain pasta and immediately return to pot.
Ladle some sauce over spaghetti and blend. The sauce infiltrates the pasta's surface like a spy behind enemy lines. The pasta finishes cooking at this point.
The marriage of noodles and tomato is such a happy one! Taste it... see if your mouth agrees.
Add more sauce to your own liking, but don't drown the pasta... it's like a little spring jacket, not an overcoat!
     Pile each serving up on a dish like a little beehive and sprinkle with tiny thyme leaves and some shaved Parmesan cheese. A drizzle of olive oil finishes off the flavor. Taste again for seasoning, adding a bit more salt and pepper if needed.
     Serve with sauteed, whole green beans laced with garlic and lemon zest and a rustic boule. Now, pour a nice glass of red, sit, place your napkin on your lap and enjoy.
     Who needs sauce from a jar? Certainly NOT you!

whole green beans with garlic and lemon

     I learned a neat trick the other night. I was cooking with my friend, The Church Cook. She let me in on a little secret to cooking veggies for a crowd. Kay showed me how to cook veggies still frozen to retain crispness.
     In my church kitchen, I cooked an entire five pound bag at one time on our large, flat-top griddle. At home you could use a skillet or flat saute pan just as easily.
     When cooking veggies, fresh is always preferred, but let's face it. They don't last very long. If your household is anything like mine, you'll agree.
     From one night to the next, I cannot say who will materialize for dinner. I abhor waste of any kind and have to be on top of my crisper game... How easily I forget what's in there.
     To make these aMAZing green beans, I chopped a little fresh garlic, then tossed the frozen green beans in a large bowl with olive oil, lemon zest, salt, pepper and garlic.
     Throw them into a hot pan to saute. Let them sizzle for about two minutes. To get them steaming a bit, squeeze the jucie from the zested lemons over.
     Toss to distribute the flavor. Cover the pan and reduce the heat. When they are hot, but still crispy, it's time to eat 'em up!

Friday, March 16, 2012

fun with a new cookbook... i may be a baker yet!

     If anyone can inspire me to bake, it's the folks at Back In The Day Bakery. I am by trade, and passion, a cook... not a baker. There is a big difference.
     If you've been living on a desert island or under a rock, you may have missed the launch of the bakery's very first cookbook.
     Cheryl and Griff Day have worked diligently to hone and perfect their craft for ten years, and this is their reward... Or is it our reward? I'm not quite sure.
     When I came home Saturday night with my freshly signed copy, I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and read my new book cover to cover. I know, I'm weird that way. Cookbooks are like biographies to me. They tell a story of the authors' lives one recipe at a time.
     Yesterday, I pulled it out again and made Ham and Cheese pastries. Whenever we show up for for Cinnamon Bun Saturday, our usual order is one enormous cinnamon bun and a Ham and Cheese pastry to share. They compliment each other so well.
     In my own kitchen, I changed up a few recipe items. I didn't have any sharp cheddar, so I used a lovely, strong Irish Swiss. I didn't have any allspice, so I omitted that from the spice blend.
     When I pulled them out of the oven, all shiny brown and bubbling, my knees went weak. They were SO beautiful, I ran and grabbed my camera.
     It just wouldn't be the same if I couldn't visually share them with all of my dearest friends. I know, you'd rather I shared them physically, wouldn't you? But, hey, if I can make these, you can as well!
     I served them with jam my friend, Susan made from the fruit of her prolific Japanese Plum tree. The super-sweetness of the jam balanced out the salt and spicy notes of the pastries.
     I'll be making these again! My girls and their friends gobbled up all but two of them... I'm going to run and hide them for my hubby;)
     Next, I think I'll whip up the Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes... It's spring strawberry season! Hey, I may be a baker, yet!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

back in the day bakery cookbook launch

Saturday, I ran downtown to get my newest cookbook signed.
So did a bunch of other Back in the Day fans...
     It was a grand event, complete with a vintage Airstream parked outside. Wouldn't that be a fun place to spend the night?
The Bakery was decked out head to toe, front to back. So were the newborns...
If you're new around here and not hip to Bakery lingo, they're the tiny cupcakes dressed in pastel colors. Homemade marshmallows, bits of Star Brownies and assorted cookies graced the table as well. Where do I even start??
     The hand-cut gingham napkins made me feel very special... like someone spent hours getting ready for us to arrive.
     Each time we stop by for lunch, a sweet treat or a cup of delicious Bohemian Blend coffee, that's the way owners Cheryl and Griff Day and their lovely Sugarnauts makes each person feel.
Here are the famous authors signing my copy... I'm SO excited. I may even be inspired to bake!!!
     Better hurry and pick up your own copy at the bakery, located at 40th and Bull Streets or at E. Shaver Bookseller on Madison Square.