Saturday, February 24, 2007

Tales of Tapenade

I’ve raved about Bin 22 in the past. Last night we popped in for dinner, and I’m raving about them again. The wine list continues to change and feature wines from the interesting to the somewhat obscure (we had a red vin de pays from the Catalan area of France). We also noticed the Avinyo Rosado sparkling on the list. Both my husband and I adore this bubbly. It is hearty enough to stand up to a variety of food (we enjoyed it with chicken with olives and capers) and the light red color just adds to its charm. Bin 22 is carrying it for $32 (it retails for $20, thus, a very decent restaurant price). I hope the Rosado becomes a stable part of the wine list.

The menu remains simple and unpretentious with appetizers, salads, and paninis. They also offered two soups – Roasted Oyster and Butternut Squash. Both were tempting, but we opted to share the tapenade instead and then order paninis (still $8). I’ve described the pressed sandwiches before. They were good as always and are still accompanied by a small mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a couple of pear slices (the pears were very ripe and very tasty!). What I want to expound upon this time is the tapanade. Wow! A black olive and oil mixture served with thin slices of toasted bread, seasoned with salt and pepper and sprinkled with grated parmesan. It was the best we have ever eaten. And here’s the really strange part. While I thought the spread was mild, my hubby thought the taste was strong. It turned out that we were both right. Tapenades that I normally eat generally have a very strong briny taste. Bin 22’s version did not, thus, my deeming it mild. My spouse, on the other hand, thought that the olives were very meaty – the oliveness really came through, which in his book earned the spread a strong description. The tapenade had enough oil in it so when it was spread on the toast, the interior of the bread soaked up the oil and became chewy on the inside, yet crunchy on the outside. Both of us enjoyed this effect. I also liked the fresh basil leaf garnish. It added a different taste dimension. This appetizer was only $4 and can definitely be shared by two. And it paired very well with our French country wine.

I think the tapanade is great as the beginning of a meal at Bin 22, but it also lends itself to dropping by for an appetizer and a glass of wine before going elsewhere for dinner. I can also see it serving as a later-in-the-evening snack (after watching the 7:15 PM show at the Byrd). And, as always, Greg and the rest of the staff are welcoming and attentive.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bite into a Pear Martini

This month both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines carried advertisements for Grey Goose La Poire Vodka and a recipe for a Peartini. I’m sure the Grey Goose version is fabulous. I did not have all of the ingredients on hand, so I made a pjpink version.

pjpink’s Pear-kissed Martini

  • a splash of orange-flavored liqueur (I am down to the last remnants of my bottle of Gran Gala)
  • a shot (or more) of vodka (Skyy is my usual suspect – I think it has something to do with the blue bottle)
  • a splash of orange juice
  • pear nectar to taste (The Fresh Market had the stuff on sale this week)

A nice way to unwind on a very mild February evening. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sass Me on the Cheap!

I discovered tonight that Sass Pinot Noir retails for $15.95 at J. Emerson on Grove Ave. And tonight I attended their monthly wine tasting and purchased it for even less! Yippee!

J. Emerson, to my knowledge, has yet to utilize a web site; however, if you go to the shop you can sign up for the snail mail list. They send out a monthly newletter and invitations to special wine tastings. Tonight's focus featured wines from the Pacific Northwest.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Sass Me Why Don't Ya?

Last night I fixed a stewed chicken and olive dish. We wanted a fairly light red wine to drink with my made-up concoction. 2005 Sass Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon got the nod. Retailing for $18.99 at River City Cellars, this Northwest wine has been fairly consistent throughout the years. Light and fruity, but with a heavier mouth-feel, this wine shows off blackberry and cassis characteristics with a slight bright blueberry undertone. It did a nice job of pairing with both the chicken and olives.

Baked Pasta with Fresh Mozzarella

I needed to work today, so I decided to stop by Food Lion for convenience to see if I could find everything I needed for baked pasta. Luckily, the grocery cat carried it all. What I like about tomato-based pasta dishes is that they are so versatile. I can use a variety of meats, spices, herbs, cheese, and types of tomatoes. It’s all good! The version for this evening follows…

Baked Pasta with Fresh Mozzarella

2/3 pound ground pork

Dried oregano

28 ounce can tomato puree (I try to find a brand that does not add spices to the tomatoes)

3-5 garlic cloves, chopped

Dried basil

¼ cup dry red wine (something you don’t mind drinking)

2 medium sweet onions, chopped (or 1 large sweet onion)

Olive oil



1 pound rigatoni, cooked to your preference

1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced

¼ cup Romano cheese, grated (no canned stuff, please)

Place about a teaspoon of olive oil in a pot that will hold the pasta sauce. Heat the oil under medium heat and put the ground pork in the pot and sprinkle liberally with dried oregano. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper. Cook until just done. Pour in the tomato puree. Add garlic, red wine, and basil to taste. Stir occasionally. At the same time, in another pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil and cook the onions until translucent and soft. Sprinkle onions with a little salt while cooking. When the onions are done, add them to the sauce and stir. Continue simmering the sauce until the pasta is cooked. Boil water with a little salt and cook the rigatoni. Drain the pasta and place in a baking dish. Add the sauce on top and stir. Place mozzarella on top of the pasta and sauce. Sprinkle with Romano. Baked uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kitchen Renovation Saga Part 2

I have my old stove hooked up, and a kitchen sink held up by studs. Oh yeah, I also have a “work space” that measures about a foot and a half across. My refrigerator resides down hall in the sun room. My pots and pans hang out in the dining room. But it’s so wonderful to be able to cook that I don’t care (okay, I occasionally spit out a cuss word or two, like, when I can’t find my potholders). The sink became leak-free and operational on Sunday. We celebrated with brunch – bacon, scrambled eggs, and hash browns (the potatoes were the frozen variety, but frying in bacon grease can improve most items). We imbibed Mimosas made with Grandin sparkling wine (a French bubbly from Limoux) and low acid OJ.

Last night I reveled in the smell of onions sautéed in olive oil. I used the onions to make spaghetti sauce complete with garlic sausage from The Belmont Butchery. I’m having leftovers tonight.

Next up for my hubby – figure out how to level the kitchen floor so we can lay ceramic tile.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Crave Veal? Go to Maldini's

Another foray south of the river landed us at Maldini’s on Forest Hill Ave. The restaurant is completely non-smoking even at the prodigious bar. On this night the locals had come out in droves so we were seated in a back room (which also quickly filled up). Jolly, originally from Eastern Europe presented us with menus and about six specials (the Osso Buco was very tempting), complete with a delicious accent and cool black attire. The wine list contained mainly Italian wines, of course. While I am knowledgeable about lots of wine, I still need to hone my Italian expertise. After perusing the list for an inordinate amount of time we settled upon a 2003 Maestrale Barbera D’Alba bottled by Salvano. Not bad, not bad. The price was $34. I have no idea if it was a good price or not. Upon tasting the wine we both decided to order veal. I ordered the Veal al Limone. My husband had the Veal alla Milanese. Both were $14.25 and came with a house salad, a side of pasta, and homemade bread. The salad was tasty and had a couple of scrumptious olives to boot. The highlight of the meal, hands down, was the veal. Mine was lightly sautéed with a very subtle lemon sauce. Fresh Italian parsley was generously sprinkled as a garnish. The only disappointment turned out to be the lack of capers (the menu description listed capers and since I really like capers, I gave out a dejected sigh at first). My husband’s veal was more heavily breaded, but was still a quality piece of meat. Both of us were served sides of spaghetti with a tomato–based sauce, but to our delight the sauces were different with my husband’s topped with a very meaty sauce and mine with a thinner sauce with a hint of meat. And the pasta with the sauce paired the best with the Barbera D’Alba. Yummy! We were a bit concerned because we had received our entrees and the bread had not appeared. But Jolly did return with freshly baked homemade rolls and all was right with the world.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Tripps: Eat Steak, Drink Wine, Skip the Salad

Last week, I had enough of Top’s Chinese takeout. I wanted a real meal. I wanted to go somewhere I had not been before. I also wanted wine with my meal. Quite a while ago Trip from Clio – My Musings had commented about the chain Tripps (on Broad) and how the wine list was very reasonable. So, I finally took up the challenge and headed there. My husband and I were a little concerned when we entered because cigarette smoke wafted our way from the bar, but Tripps had decent ventilation and we breathed easy at our booth. And Trip was right about the wine prices. Ravenswood California Zinfandel set us back only $17.95. If I felt like I had some money to spend, I would have indulged in the Estancia Meritage for $42.50. Josh, our waiter, brought us a mini loaf of bread with a pesto dipping oil. Very tasty. Both of our dinners came with salads, my husband ordered the house variety and I had the Caesar. The lettuce in both salads was limp and dull. And my Caesar dressing had no taste at all. The only decent thing about the Caesar salad was that it had two large shavings of Romano cheese. I ate the cheese and only half of the salad. The steaks made up for it. I had the Filet Mignon. It was slightly charred on the outside and medium rare on the inside. The meat had been lightly salted and peppered. A good piece of meat cooked in a plain, straightforward manner. It reminded me of something I would have prepared myself, but since I have no stove right now, Tripps fulfilled my steak craving. My husband ordered the NY Strip and found a similar experience. A simple, yet tasteful meal.

We both agreed that Tripps is a place we would not necessarily frequent, but we would return on occasion. I hope they continue to maintain a decent-priced wine list.