Monday, July 31, 2006

Shrimp and Pasta Salad

We had a birthday party for my husband over the weekend. One of the items I served was a Shrimp and Pasta Salad. I adapted my version from a June 2001 Bon Appetit recipe.

First of all, whisk the following in a large bowl to make a dressing:

Juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons of rinsed capers
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
A pinch of dried crushed red pepper (or more to your taste)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped fresh basil

After whisking, set aside. Cook about ½ pound of pasta (I prefer bowties) until done. Drain and rinse with cold water. Place the cooled pasta into the bowl with the dressing and coat pasta with dressing. Add one pound of large pre-cooked, de-tailed shrimp and mix again. Set aside.

Finely mince up one shallot and sauté in a large pan with a touch of olive oil over medium heat. Add a dash of salt and pepper to the shallot. Once the shallot has softened, add two zucchini, cut up into cubes (I salt the zucchini cubes ahead of time to draw out any bitterness). Lower the burner temperature a notch. Once the zucchini has slightly softened, remove from the heat and let cool. Add the zucchini and shallot to the pasta and shrimp and mix. Place in the refrigerator for an least an hour.

Serve pasta with fresh grated Romano cheese sprinkled on top.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Leftovers Anyone?

We had leftover New York strip from our infamous dining experience the night before. What should be done? Just heating the meat up would not do this beef justice. Here was my solution:

Sauté a chopped up onion in olive oil until very tender in a large frying pan

Add steak, sliced into bite-sized slivers and stir some more

Add dried basil and oregano

Add fresh peeled and deseeded tomatoes – about 7 small ones (thanks to SMO and her garden)

Add one minced clove of garlic

Add a few chopped green olives

Let concoction simmer for a while until most of the water has evaporated from the sauce

Serve over the pasta of your choice

Enjoy with a light fruity red wine

Thursday, July 27, 2006

1 North Belmont - Four Star Food, One Star Service

It was the best for food; it was the worst for service. And thus begins my husband’s birthday dinner saga. We stopped at CanCan for pre-dinner Kir Royales. Refreshing, fruity, yummy. We then strolled over to 1 North Belmont. We had dined there a couple of years ago and had a delightful time. We started with a glass of wine – a 2003 Cotes du Rhone for him, a 2002 Cotes du Ventoux for me. Both very lovely as we poured over both the menu and the wine list. We lingered over our choices imagining wine and food pairings in our heads. At last consensus was achieved. For the wine we selected a 2002 Chateau Terrey-Gros-Cailloux Cru Bourgeois Saint-Julien. A bit shy at first, very reluctant to show off her considerable flavor and earthiness; but she made up for it after airing out a bit. As appetizers I chose a Vichyssoise de Cresson (watercress) served with Crème Fraiche and Crabmeat. This soup was true to tradition and served cold. I’ve discovered that I’m not a fan of cold soups. I think the flavors would have been more intense if heated and giving the crème fraiche an opportunity to meld with the liquid (but this is just my opinion and many diners enjoy cold soup). My spouse ordered Saumon Roulade Bellevue - Salmon, hot smoked right here in Urbanna, Virginia with Crème Fraiche Rolled in a Chive Crepe with Quail Egg & American Farm-raised Sturgeon Caviar. He truly admired the presentation. Unfortunately, he had to admire it for many minutes before tasting it. Alas, he was served the salmon and my soup was no where to be seen. It took our waiter many minutes to even notice. When I finally received it, no apology was forthcoming. It may have been at this point that the waiter decided to give up on good service at our table. We will never know. We do know that as the food increasingly became more delicious, the service increasingly became non-existent. For our main course we both selected the Entrecôte au Poivre Peppercorn-Crusted New York Strip with Pommes Frites & Cognac, Green Pepper Cream Sauce. Served medium rare and very tender. In fact, no steak knife required. The sauce was perfectly balanced. And the pairing with the wine, sublime! We reveled in our good fortune. But, after a few precious bites my husband ran out of wine and the waiter did not return for at least 10 minutes. The food began to cool and when our waiter finally did arrive, he did not even notice the empty glass. We needed to remind him. My husband’s glass emptied again, and, unthinkably, the same thing happened (except this time our waiter had another waiter pour for us).

At this point I need to elaborate on a little quirk of 1 North Belmont. This unusual behavior can have a stunning effect on the dining experience or it can totally ruin the meal. If a bottle of wine is ordered, the waiter opens the bottle and pours it for the table. The bottle is then whisked away to a buffet table at the back of the restaurant. This should ensure that the waiter pays greater attention to the table. The norm is that the wine consumer should not have an empty glass during the meal unless the bottle is empty. Let me say that we took part of our wine home with us (extremely unusual) due to the abysmal service.

As we pondered upon whether we should have gotten up from our meal and retrieved our bottle, we waxed philosophic on meal service. If an establishment has good food (but maybe not spectacular), great service will make up for the difference. Unfortunately, great food will not make up for poor service (especially at 1 North Belmont prices).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Chilean I Can Rave About

In the last few years I have found few Chilean wines that have grabbed my attention. Too earthy, too light, too just plain bad. But those cheap prices are oh so seductive. Well, I ran across a hot one last night and I think I will keep him.

The 2003 Chilensis Reserva Syrah from San Rafael Valley won me over. The winery is named after the Jubaea Chilensis palm tree which is native to Chile. The wine itself was $9 (I believe it was purchased at Once Upon a Vine). Of course, the wine has an intense deep purple characteristic of the Syrah grape. Being easy on the eye is always a plus, but what about smarts and personality? Plummy fruit upfront with just a touch of rugged earthiness. Tart cherry on the finish with the memory sticking around for a while. Nice to sip or have with leftovers (such as Roma's pasta alla puttanesca!).

Cheap, handsome, and ready for a good time! Are there any more like him around?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Roma Ristorante Italiano

Yesterday, I became a duly sworn election officer, attending a 5 hour class that ended at 6 PM. I was in no mood to cook. My husband suggested that we try Roma’s. This Italian restaurant has been around a while. A couple of years ago they moved to a new location at the corner of Staples Mill and Hermitage. I also discovered that there are three other Roma’s (Tappahannock, Petersburg, and Sandston).

Roma’s boasts an Italian villa décor and Neptune (complete with fountain) greets guests as they enter. Rustic ceramic tiles and faux-plastered walls, tall sky-blue ceilings with clouds evoking an open-air atmosphere, street lamps lining the aisles – for the most part tastefully done (I’ve seen some very cheesy versions of this theme in other places). We were seated and handed a six page menu, a special drink list (including an impressive selection of Red Bull concoctions), and an extensive menu of mixed drink selections. After taking a few minutes to scan the offerings, we discovered that the wine list had not been included. Bill, our waiter, produced it forthwith. Compared to the mixed drinks, the wine list was tiny (about 15 wine offerings total) and contained Italian red standards – Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Gold for ~$75, Chianti Classico for ~$24, Col-di-Sasso Cabernet-Sangiovese for ~$19. We stuck with a middle of the road 2002 Volpaia Chianti Classico – bright fruit, easy to drink, and, of course, good pairing with all things tomato-esque.

We ordered garlic cheese bread to start. We were presented with a 12 inch sub roll split in half, slathered with artery clogging buttery garlic spread and topped with a good amount of melted mozzarella. It was served with a side of tomato sauce. For us it was comfort food of the Italian/American variety. The sauce went very well with the cheesy bread. Nothing too fancy, but a real crowd pleaser.

For the main course, my husband ordered Baked Ziti with meat sauce. I went out on a limb and selected Pasta alla Puttanesca. All entrees arrived in huge portions and steaming hot. Mine also came with a tossed salad – iceberg lettuce, chopped peppers and mushrooms, onion slivers, bacon bits, and Italian dressing in a little plastic cup. The Baked Ziti was good. My husband really liked the meat sauce and was very pleased that the mozzarella cheese was nicely browned on top. For the Puttanesca I was able to choose my own pasta (Bill, our waiter, only offered me two choices with some coaxing on my part, so I’m not sure if Roma’s only had two choices or if Bill didn’t know what the choices were). I selected the fettuccini. The menu describes this dish as “Hot and spicy! Chunks of tomatoes, black olives, hot peppers, and capers in its own special sauce.” The description did not disappoint. Lots of chopped black olives, but the sliced, pickled cherry peppers did not allow the olives to overpower the dish. And the peppers added spiciness which blended well throughout the dish. I was quite pleased. The dinner came with bread and butter, but after the garlic bread there was no way we could eat more bread. We ended up taking the dinner rolls, two-thirds of my dish and half of my husband’s dish home. Leftovers this week should be marvelous.

The only thing that seemed a little disturbing was how the tables were bussed. A guy would roll a utility cart filled with grey plastic bins over the tiled villa floor clinking glasses and silverware. Although I understand the efficiency of this practice, the visual and aural experience of the dining public is not very pleasant.

Both hubby and I thought Roma’s would be a great place to take relatives. Nice family atmosphere, decent decoration, great food, huge portions, and a lot of menu choices.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Crazy for El Toro Loco?

Last night my husband, our friend ET, and I had dinner at El Toro Loco. The place is located on Staples Mill Road and took over the old Sal Federico’s. As we were being seated we were promptly served the obligatory chips and salsa. And the service remained prompt and attentive for the entire evening. As for the chips – they were golden-hued, light and crisp. Very pleasing. The salsa, on the other hand left a little to be desired. A lot of tomato flavor (no tomato chunks – which is a plus for me), but scarcely any other tastes present. Other “chunky” salsa elements were missing – cilantro, peppers, onions, etc.

It being a Friday and the end of a long work week, margaritas were the beverages of choice. ET ordered a grande strawberry frozen margarita. She pronounced it as good and hard hitting. Hubby ordered a regular golden margarita on the rocks, no salt. He thought the margarita mix used was decent, but there was an absence of golden tequila (at least he was not able to really detect the agave nectar). I went for the grande golden margarita on the rocks, with salt. It came in more of a margarita bowl on a stem. I needed two hands to steady her. And even though I also could not find a distinctive golden tequila flavor, by the time I reached the bottom of the bowl, the tequila buzz effect had found me.

As we perused the menu for entrees, one thing stood out – El Toro Loco had ranked the hotness of dishes with no, one, two, or three chile designations. ET decided upon the Combo # 4, cheese enchiladas. She said that one could not mess up cheese enchiladas too much. She was pleased with the portion size, which was not huge. It was served with Spanish rice which lacked flavor and refried beans that were very tasty. My spouse opted for the Nachos Salad. The ground beef packed a lot of flavor, but the sour cream-like sauce was very runny and made the chips soggy. It seemed like he was eating his meal atop a thin tamale instead of chips. I made the riskiest move of the night and ordered Burritos Alegres – a one chile selection. It consisted of two marinated beef tip filled burritos smothered in melted queso cheese. The beef was very flavorful and the burritos were packed with meat. And it lived up to the one chile reputation – a little heat, but not overwhelming. My only disappointment was that the dish was not served with any sides. Some rice or beans would have been good to break up eating the beef.

Although we had a decent meal, it was run-of-the-mill Richmond Mexican restaurant fare. Crazy for El Toro Loco? Well…perhaps, not.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Herb Roasted T Bone Steak

Last night I roasted a T bone steak for my husband and myself to share. Probably the best steak I have ever cooked (and I do a good job with steaks). First of all I purchased a big honking T Bone from The Fresh Market. When I got home I minced up one garlic clove and mixed it with a few sprigs of fresh oregano (chopped). Then I added this Hawaiian black sea salt that I found a couple of weeks ago at Sur La Table. I then drizzled extra virgin olive oil over the mix (maybe two teaspoons) and stirred to incorporate. The herb mixture was rubbed all over the steak and placed in the refrigerator for about an hour. The wait afforded me the opportunity to pop open a bottle of Cray Brut 2001 Montlouis sparkling wine and mix it with a little cherry juice (the joys of cool refreshment on a stifling hot evening). A glass or two later, I took the steak out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes or so. I also turned the oven on to 450 degrees. In a frying pan (good enough to go into a hot oven) I placed a tiny dab of olive oil and turned the burner to medium high. When the pan became hot, in went the steak to sear, about 3 minutes per side. I then placed the pan and steak in the oven and roasted the steak for about 25 minutes. Carefully, using potholders (I had a run-in with a hot handle from the oven a few months ago), I took the pan out and placed it back on the burner and turned the burner to medium. Into the pan I poured about 1/2 cup of the sparkling wine and deglazed the pan and boiled the herby liquid down to a sauce consistency. I split the T bone with hubby and poured the sauce over the steaks. The flavors melded into each other divinely. For sides I prepared baked potatoes with chive sour cream and sauteed green beans with shallots. Because we knew we had something special going for the steak we pulled out a special bottle of red - 1994 Dry Creek Vineyard 25th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon. We both decided that the garnet nectar was at its drinking peak. Lots of body, the tanins had eased off, and the rich fruit burst through.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Joys of Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust

I grew up with Pillsbury dough – canned biscuits, crescent & cinnamon rolls, raw cookie dough. For the most part Pillsbury dough is ubiquitous. It all tastes the same. And I’ll pass on the canned biscuits, thank you. So, it was with extreme reluctance that I tried the refrigerated roll-up pie dough. And I have to admit that this time, Pillsbury has nailed it!

One day my husband requested that I make chicken pot pie. I make a mean chicken or turkey shepherd’s pie (with mashed potatoes serving as the crust), but I have never been successful at making pie crust. He knows this and suggested the Pillsbury version. I balked, but since he is a sweetie (most of the time), I took the plunge. The crust was perfect!

Of course, the refrigerated packages contain two crusts. What should I do with the other package? Well, I put it in the freezer to keep for a while. And in a just a little while I ran into the Westhampton Market on Patterson on the way home from work. On this day they had very ripe Anjou pears. The pears were almost bursting with juice. I purchased two along with some dried cranberries. At home, I took out the pie dough to thaw. I placed about ¼ cup of cranberries in a small pot; peeled, seeded, & sliced the pears; poured in a tiny amount of pear nectar and simmered the concoction until most of the liquid had evaporated. I turned the oven to 350 degrees. I covered an air bake cookie sheet with a piece of aluminum foil. I unrolled the dough and placed it on the cookie sheet. In the middle of the circle of dough I spooned out the pear-cranberry mixture. This left about 1 – 1 ½ inches of dough uncovered by the fruit concoction. I took the uncovered part and folded it over the mixture similar to a rustic tart look that was popular in the foodie magazines a while ago. I left a little hole in the middle with pear peaking out. Into the oven it went. I took it out when the crust was a soft golden color. Very nice indeed.

I now rave about Pillsbury pie crusts to others. And I’ve tried other variations – apples & cranberries, blackberries & pears. And served it with homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Monday, July 03, 2006


Lorikeet does make a great base for Sangria! Here's the recipe:

pjpink's sangria

1/4 to 1/2 cup orange flavored liqueur (I used Gran Gala, but Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec should serve you well)
1 to 2 cups orange juice (the fresh squeezed kind is preferable)
1 bottle Lorikeet Sparkling Shiraz (if you can't find the sparkling, select a very jammy Australian still Shiraz)
1 lemon, thinly sliced and deseeded
1 orange, thinly sliced and deseeded

Put everything in a pitcher and stir. Serve over ice. Repeat, if needed.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Lorikeet Sparkling Shiraz

Yes, it's sparkling from Australia, and it's red. I picked this up at Kroger for $10. After a wickedly hot day, this cold bubbly red seemed appropriate. Not sweet, but containing a jammy flavor that can be typical of Australian Shiraz. Unlike a true champagne, the bubbles dissipate after about 10 minutes, but we are talking about a $10 bottle. And, a little warning, if you are driving, don't drink this stuff. The alcohol content is 14%. I served it (at home) with roasted red peppers, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella on ciabatta bread. I brushed the ciabatta with olive oil, piled up the toppings (mozzarella on top), added some fresh ground black pepper, and popped it into a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

I also think this sparkling would make a great base for Sangria.