Antipasto Pasta Salad

For this week’s Presto Pasta Night, I’m dragging out a recipe I made last month when heirloom tomatoes were still around. I haven’t really done any cooking this week (because my bum knee totally gave out on Sunday), so it’s nice to have a few entries already in the bag for those times when I can’t or don’t want to cook. :)

Antipasto Pasta Salad

This is a quick antipasto pasta salad I threw together. It makes a quick light dinner, encompassing all four food groups. If you want to up the protein content of your meal or make it into a more substantial meal, serve it with a small steak or grilled chicken.

Antipasto Pasta Salad

8 oz. dried 4-cheese tortellini
4 oz. elbows or other pasta
6 oz. sopressata, cut into small cubes
6 oz. smoked mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved or cut into wedges
5 basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
1 package Good Seasons italian dressing, prepared as directed
Parmesan cheese, for topping

Cook both pastas (in separate pots) according to package instructions, and then drain and rinse until cold. Toss all ingredients (except Parmesan) together, and allow to chill for 2 hours before serving. Top with Parmesan right before serving.

Potatoes with Chorizo and Onions

Every once in a while when I’m flipping through channels on the TV, a dish catches my eye on the Food Network. I saw Rachael Ray make this one on 30 Minute Meals, and was drooling by the end of the show, so decided to make it for dinner that night.

Paired with some scrambled 2Silos eggs, it was delicious, filling, and most importantly, done quickly.

eggs_chorizo_potato

Potatoes with Chorizo and Onions
recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
3/4 pound, 1 package, chorizo, very thinly sliced on an angle, pull away any loose casings
6 small Yukon gold potatoes, very thinly sliced
1 medium onion, very thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, a generous 1 or 2 handfuls

Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, and the chorizo. Cook sausage 2 minutes, flip cook another minute then add potatoes and onions to the pan in an even layer over the sausage. Season the potatoes and onions with salt, pepper and paprika then turn sections of the potatoes using a spatula so that the chorizo is on top and potatoes and onions are on the bottom. Place a smaller skillet on top and press down. Weight the skillet with a few heavy cans. Cook 10 to 12 minutes. Remove weight and turn again to combine all ingredients. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes then add parsley, remove from heat and serve.

Cleveland Edition: Melt Bar and Grilled

My husband and I had to head up to Cleveland a few weeks ago for a concert, and after to our requisite stops at the West Side Market for some pierogies, and Gaelic Imports for Bridies, Cornish Pasties, and other Anglo goodies, we still had enough time to take in a meal before we needed to be at the venue. There are tons of places in the Cleveland metro area that we still want to try, most notably Sokolowski’s University Inn (I’m a sucker for Polish food), Momocho (anyone who puts goat cheese in guacamole has piqued my interest), and Lola (I’ve heard a lot of things about Michael Symon, and I need to find out if his food lives up to the hype). Another restaurant that has been on our “to try” list for quite a while is Melt Bar and Grilled over in Lakewood.

Melt opened up about a year ago at the corner of Detroit Avenue and Warren Road. We found some convenient parking in a metro lot behind the restaurant, and luckily they have a back entrance so we didn’t need to hike around the block in the steady rain we were having that day. We got there a little bit after 5pm, so it was fairly empty when we arrived, although it filled up rather quickly by the time we were done eating an hour later.

They specialize in grilled cheese sandwiches, and I have to admit that was what immediately caught my attention, as any combination of bread, cheese, and heat is a winner in my book. Their menu offers several different combinations of grilled cheese, along with the ability to create your own (by picking what bread, cheese, and extras you want), or modifying existing ones. This can both work for you or against you, which I’ll explain a bit later. You’ll have to excuse the pictures – even though we sat by a window, it wasn’t sunny out and by the nature of being a pub, it was pretty dark in there, which necessitated the use of a flash. I can assure you that the food didn’t look this scary in person. :)

melt_pierogies

We started with an appetizer order of pierogies ($5.50), which consisted of two locally produced potato and cheese pierogies, which are served on a bed of fried onions, peppers, and kraut and topped with sour cream and cheese. While the pierogies were great, there was way too much going on with the competing toppings – this would have been far superior had it been just pan fried with the onions as the menu advertised.

melt_wakeandbacon

I went with the Wake and Bacon sandwich ($6), which normally comes with fried egg, crisp bacon, and American cheese. I opted to add havarti cheese to the mix as well, along with caramel port onions. While the havarti was a successful addition, the onions were a bit overpowering to the delicate balance of the other ingredients. That’s one of the dangers of letting your patrons customize their dishes. They can come up with some pretty hideous combinations. After scraping off the onions, the sandwich was quite good. Huge, but good. I would have preferred that the bread have been grilled a bit more to brown it, but I can understand the difficulty of that happening with a sandwich as unwieldy as this one. It was served with a handful of crisp fries that paired perfectly, along with some uninspiring slaw that I didn’t care for.

melt_municipal

My husband opted for the better of the two sandwiches, the Municipal Stadium Magic ($9), which has locally produced bratwurst, fresh napa vodka kraut, and smoked gouda. He opted to substitute havarti for the gouda, and added caramel port onions as well. These changes definitely were just what the doctor ordered for this sandwich. I stole as many bites of his as he would allow.

melt_tomatosoup

Along with his sandwich, he ordered a bowl of their Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup ($3.25) which was more like marinara sauce than soup. I guess we were expecting a more smooth bisque type soup instead of the chunky thick very garlicky sauce we got.

melt_deepfriedtwinkie

My husband couldn’t resist the call of one of their dessert items, Fried Twinkies ($4.50), served with mixed berry preserves. I detest the sickly sweetness of twinkies when they’re cold, and hated them even more when they were dipped in batter and deep fried. He agreed that they were cloyingly sweet and considered it a failed experiment. He had to try it once for curiosity’s sake, and I’m sure there’s a crowd out there that it would appeal to.

So the final verdict? Good, as long as you stick to their sandwich choices or make safe additions that you know will pair well. The other items on the menu that we tried fell a bit short. I think beer would improve the taste of any of the offerings here. Great concept, but they just need to work out a few of the kinks.

If you’d like to go: Melt Bar and Grilled, 14718 Detroit Ave, Lakewood, OH, 216.226.3699.

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Pear, Ginger, and Vanilla Quickbread

I’ve wanted to make this quick bread ever since Jen at The Barmy Baker contributed this recipe for Pear, Ginger, and Vanilla Quickbread to the BreadBakingDay #2 event I hosted a few months ago.

peargingerbread

My verdict? Great recipe. Next time around I’ll use a different type of pear or pears that aren’t qute as ripe as mine got a bit mushy during baking. Also, I halved the amount of crystalized ginger, and it came out perfectly for my palate. Overall, it was moist, flavorful, and great sliced up for breakfast. I imagine that you could make a killer French Toast with leftover slices.

Miniature Caramel Apples (Fit for a Princess)

I whipped up a batch of caramel apples using tiny Lady apples that I got at Whole Foods yesterday – the finished product is about an inch or so high, with 2-3 bites of apples underneath the caramel, the right serving size for a bunch of kids. I really wish I would have had some sprinkles or something to roll these in, to prevent the inevitable caramel slide. :)

caramelapples

I made these for my niece’s birthday party, who is all of 4 years old this year. Here’s a pic of the birthday girl, in her pretty princess garb.

birthdaygirl

Love the idea of this, I just need to work on the execution a bit. Maybe I should try a candied apple recipe as well?

Belgian Waffles with Ohio Strawberries

A few weeks ago, we bought a waffle iron at Sam’s Club, and with the lovely fall Ohio strawberries I’ve gotten at the farmer’s markets the past two weekends, I was craving Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. It used to be one of my favorite diner foods back in New Jersey, and its been years since I’ve had a proper Belgian waffle that didn’t come out of a freezer case.

belgianwaffle

I stumbled upon a recipe for Belgian waffles over at the aptly named Crispy Waffle, and these turned out perfectly – crispy on the outside, soft and yeasty on the inside! It made 5 waffles in my waffle maker – Paul and I each had one, and the leftovers freeze beautifully – just heat it up for 5 to 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven from frozen.

I just sliced the strawberries and sprinkled them with a little caster sugar and let them sit until the sugar dissolved, and then topped them with a bit of whipped cream from the can. Start them the night before, and then let the batter sit in the fridge overnight. By morning, it will only take a matter of minutes to whip a batch up for your family.

2 Years and 350 Posts!

Satisfaction.com Free Comment Codes
Satisfaction.com Free Comment Codes

Thanks to all of you, giving me a reason to keep blogging, this blog has made it through 2 years and 350 posts!

To celebrate, I’m giving away a $50 Penzey’s gift certificate, which you can use either in store, on the phone, or online. And since Penzey’s ships internationally (at a dear price, I’m sure), this is open to everyone. :)

To enter, just leave a comment on this post, and on November 1st, I’ll pick a winner randomly. One entry per person, please. Once again, thank you so much. Your comments and support and emails have meant the world to me.

UPDATE: I had my husband use a random number generator, and it picked Katie of Javagirlkt’s Cookin’ as the lucky winner of the Penzey’s gift certificate! Congratulations! And thank you, everyone, for your kind words.

Farm Fresh and Local Produce – 10/13/07

Man, was it cold when I woke up this morning. 39 to be exact. So cold that I actually could see my breath for the first time this season and so cold that I wore jeans and a heavy sweatshirt to the farmer’s markets today.

We got started fairly early, making a quick pitstop at Thurn’s first so I could get some ham and landjaeger. We went to the North Market first, and I was surprised that it was so crowded so early. Most of what is there now is winter squash, potatoes, and other fall/winter veggies, which is AOK with me because it means that I have a bit more time to use things now, rather than rushing to use produce within the first couple of days after I buy it.

One of the first things I bought was some butternut squash. I had a really lovely soup at the Refectory the other night that I’d love to duplicate here at home. I don’t have a pic of the butternut squash, but I do have a pic of a selection of some of the other winter squash at Wish Well Farms this morning – aren’t the colors lovely?

101307pumpkin

And that’s the one thing that struck me about everything I saw today. Everything in the fall has such an intense color to it. Not green, but shades that match the colors of the leaves as they change in October. Like these potatoes, which are an amazing shade of magenta.

101307potatoes

I picked up a few other things at the North Market – some lettuce mix from Elizabeth Telling Farms, shiitake mushrooms from Toby Run (since he’ll be in Japan next week and not at market), and went inside and got some local goat cheese from Curds & Whey, my requisite cinnamon roll from Omega, and some cassoulet from NMPG.

Speaking of cassoulet and NMPG – sadly, I think I’m going to have to stop getting their hot foods. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE their food, but hate hate hate their inconsistency with pricing. The price changes week to week for the same stuff. For instance, 2 weeks ago my pint of cassoulet was $8, last week it was $6, and this week it was $11. I walked out today feeling decidely ripped off, especially since a good third of the container was a slice of bread. And this has been a reoccuring theme during the time I’ve bought stuff from them (I had the same problem with their pricing on scotch eggs a while back). Like I said, I’m not disparaging their food, but if you order from them, make sure they’re clear about how much it’s going to cost before you order it, rather than being unpleasantly surprised when they ring you up.

After the North Market, it was off to Clintonville where I thought I would be able to get eggs – but sadly, 2Silos wasn’t there today, even though I think this week was supposed to be an egg week. So instead, I picked up some short ribs on the cheap from Flying J, along with some potatoes from Arbor Hill Organics, and signed up for the list for winter delivery from OMC Farms. And I actually saw some artichokes at market for the first time ever.

101307artichoke

So it was a quick in and out at Clintonville, and I convinced my husband to head over to Worthington because I still hadn’t found the yukon gold potatoes I had been looking for.

Worthington’s market was so pretty today. So colorful, absolutely amazing. They had a craft sale going on, too – which I skipped out on, much to my husband’s relief, I’m sure. One of the vendors had this really beautiful arrangement of winter squash, if I had been smart, I would have picked it up for a centerpiece.

101307squash

Crum’s had some really lovely fall strawberries, so I picked up a quart to use to top Belgian waffles tomorrow morning. I also got some potatoes, some parsley, and some really pretty carrots, along with a bunch of other things.

101307carrotsbeets

And you know since they pretty much bleed Buckeye red in these parts, someone couldn’t resist decorating pumpkins for game day today. :)

101307osupumpkin

Made a couple more stops (Whole Foods for some Pecorino Grand Cru cheese, along with some tiny lady apples that I’m going to be making into miniature caramel apples for a birthday party tomorrow), and then back home again, where I’m nice and cozy and warm.

Anyone here planning on going to the Worthington winter farmer’s market this year?

Greek Stuffed Eggplant and Lemon Potatoes

This is one of those meals that I made weeks ago, when everywhere you looked at the farmer’s markets, there was eggplant of every size and color. Now, I’m not a huge fan of eggplant on its own, but think that it was made to be stuffed. This is a mostly local meal, made with items I bought at the farmer’s market. I served it with lemon potatoes and a Greek salad I bought at My Big Fat Greek Cuisina. The best thing about this recipe is that since there are only 2 of us in our household, it was the perfect recipe for when you’re cooking for two.

stuffedeggplant

Greek Stuffed Eggplant
courtesy Home Cooking Magazine Oct. 2007

1 eggplant
1/3 c. olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 lb. ground beef, browned and finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp. oregano, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. fine dry bread crumbs
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 lb. feta cheese, cubed (I used crumbled feta instead)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut eggplant into halves lengthwise. Scoop out the meat, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell. Dice the removed eggplant meat.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Saute garlic and onion until golden. Stir in the diced eggplant and tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the ground beef, if desired. Season to taste with oregano, salt and pepper.

Spoon mixture into eggplant shells. Place filled shells, side by side, in a shallow baking pan. Top each eggplant half with 1/4 cup bread crumbs. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until hot and brown. Serve sprinkled with lemon juice and feta cheese. Serves 2.

Basic Mediterranean Potatoes
courtesy Home Cooking Magazine Oct. 2007

6 potatoes
1 c. olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 c. lemon juice, to taste
1/2 clove garlic, minced
Oregano, basil, thyme, salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut up potatoes and place in a baking dish. Combine oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs and spices; pour over potatoes.

Bake 30 minutes, turning potatoes 2 or 3 times while baking. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees and bake and additional 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Serves 8.

Review: The Refectory Bistro

Hands down, one of the best dining values in Columbus is the Bistro Menu at the Refectory. Served in the old schoolhouse portion of the restaurant on Monday through Thursday, it gives you a 3-course meal for $21 prix fixe. The choices change every two weeks, and for each course, there are two options to choose from. They list the weekly menu on their web site, and for our dinner tonight the choices were 1st course: Butternut Squash Soup OR Marina di Chiaggia Quiche with Bacon, 2nd course: Pan Seared Grouper with Tomato and Wild Herb Jus and Jasmine Rice OR Sauteed Beef Tenderloin Tips with Onion, Madeira Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, 3rd course: Pear Strudel w/ Raspberry Coulis OR Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding OR Dessert du Refectory (which tonight, was a chocolate custard). Deciding that this menu really appealed to us, we called to make last minute reservations for the Bistro Menu.

When we arrived, we were very impressed by the attention to detail. Both my husband and myself are large people, and without having to say anything or making us feel self-conscious, they switched out the normal armed chairs with more comfortable armless ones before seating us. It was a small touch that meant a lot to us. The ambiance in the place is dark and romantic (which will explain the crappy pictures – this isn’t a place where I was comfortable using a flash, and the low light levels meant really bad pictures. They definitely don’t do the food justice, but the pics will give you a good idea of presentation and portion size – sorry about the lack of detail).

Our server (Eden), was confident and comfortable – she was ever-present without being overbearing, and we never went more than a minute without a refill, clearing away the dirty plates, or her checking in on us. They say that good service should be transparent to the experience, and this was the case for this meal.

Bread service was an herby bread, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, served with what I think was cultured butter.

We had decided ahead of time to order different things so we could try each of the six dishes offered, and subconsciously ended up comparing the dishes we both ordered. While everything we tried was delicious, my husband made the better choice 2 out of the 3 courses.

For the first course, I chose the quiche, which was served cold with finely chopped tomatoes, red pepper oil, and basil oil. The quiche had pieces of pumpkin and zucchini in it, and was very creamy and uniform. Too often, I get quiche that doesn’t set quite correctly, and ends up too eggy, but that was not the case here. It was a substantial serving, and I was thankful to have a break between the first and second courses.

refectory_quiche

My husband chose the butternut squash soup, which was served with a goat cheese crostini. Neither one of us is usually a fan of squash soups as they are usually made too sweet rather than savory, but this one was savory through and through. While exemplary on its own, the tanginess of the goat cheese and the texture of the crostini elevated this soup even higher. We would order this again in a heartbeat.

refectory_soup

For the second course, I chose the grouper, which was served with a bit of spinach, jasmine rice, and a tomato-herb jus. The fish was cooked perfectly, browned on the oustide while tender, flaky, and moist inside. This was hands down the best fish I’ve ever had in my life, better even than the fresh stuff I had in Florida. I need to find out who their fishmonger is, if I can get grouper this fresh in Columbus, I need to know where! The jus was more of a sauce, but paired deliciously with the rice and spinach, and gave the whole dish a great mouth feel. I would have happily paid $21 for this course alone, it was that good. Very substantial portion as well, with 2 large filets.

refectory_grouper

My husband went with the beef tenderloin tips – the flavor on these were spot on, although a few of the tips were inedible due to gristle. I explained to him that this was the nature of the beast when it came to tips, as they are essentially scraps of tenderloin left over from cutting filet mignon, and some of those scraps, especially near the chain, can be a little tough. They did do the best they could given the cut, though, and the madiera sauce definitely saved this dish. The tips were served with rosemary mashed new potatoes and a bit of spinach.

refectory_tenderloin

For the third course, I chose the chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. It was definitely a little more cakier and dense than I expected, but it had a nice chocolate flavor that worked well with the small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

refectory_breadpudding

My husband went with the chocolate custard (they had a different name for it, which I can’t remember at the moment), which was the superior choice. It was like a thick pudding, concentrated chocolate evil. A spoon of this stuff could sate a chocolate craving for a month.

refectory_custard

All in all, it was a nice introduction to the Refectory as a whole, and has made us want, for our next special occassion, to do the whole Refectory upstairs experience as well, dressing up and all. And when we do go to the restaurant proper, expect a separate review on that experience as well. As it stood, we felt quite comfortable in the Bistro in casual clothes, and will probably go again anytime the menu for the week calls to us. If you haven’t gone yet, give it a try. Good food, high quality, good portion sizes, great price. They say that this is a “light” dinner, but we thought the portion sizes were perfect. We left having eaten everything on our plates, full but not uncomfortably so, wholly satisfied by the meal we just had.

Also, my husband wanted me to mention that they have an excellent selection of beer, and he had the opportunity to try two beers by the bottle that he had never seen in a restaurant before. Expect a post from him in the future on his tasting notes and impressions on those beers and others he has tried.

If you’d like to go: The Refectory Bistro, 1092 Bethel Rd, Columbus. 614.451.9774 – reservations recommended, when calling ask for the Bistro Menu

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