Friday, May 30, 2008

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Portobello Mushrooms

It's CSA season again! This is our first year with the UUCC CSA, supplied by the Fellenz Family Farm but in the past, we've been a part of the Fellenz CSA distributed from Geneva, as well as Peacework Farm's CSA based in Newark .

Monday was the first distribution day, delayed from May 19th due the cool spring's effect on the veggies. Typical of the early weeks in the season, we received a share chock-full of greens -- mizuna, tat soi, a lettuce that's name I'm blanking on, wild garlic, and broccoli rabe, plus a few stalks of rhubarb thrown in for good measure.

Along with the greens was a note from our farmer, Andy Fellenz, explaining how things are doing on the farm. (I'm going to have a chance to check things out for myself on Sunday during my farm work shift.) Andy also supplied a fantastic recipe for Pasta with Broccoli Rabe (aka, rapini) and Portobellos. I've altered it only slightly to suit my tastes but the original is a winner -- fresh and bitter broccoli rabb is grounded by the meaty mushroom's flavor and everything is perked up by the addition of garlic, Parmesan and extra virgin olive oil. (I just polished off the last of it for lunch.)

The recipe is easily adaptable: you could swap out the rabe for spinach or another cooking green; use a different kind of mushroom; add more (or less) garlic or flavor things with different herbs; use vegetable broth instead of chicken for an entirely vegetarian meal; or leave out the pasta entirely for a strictly veggie dish.

So whatever variant you choose, head to the local farmers' market, roadside stand or make use of the goodies in your CSA share and get cooking. You won't be disappointed.

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Portobello Mushrooms

8 oz whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
8 oz Portobello or cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 lb. broccoli rabe, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 ½ cups reduced sodium chicken or veggie broth, plus more if needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, about 20 seconds, making sure garlic does not brown.

Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and all liquid evaporates. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside.

Return pan to heat and add broccoli rabe and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until broccoli rabe is tender, about 8 minutes. If needed, add more broth while broccoli rabe cooks.

Add mushrooms and stir. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasons to taste; add drained pasta and extra virgin olive oil and toss until heated through. Top with cheese and serve.
Serves 4.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sugar Plums Dancing in My Head, Ed. #3 (updated)

A short post this go-round:

Check out Ganda's thoughts on the Rachel Ray fracas entitled "Yum-O" is Arabic for "There is no God but Allah". Her post is funny, smart, and worth your time to read.

Hey, more ridiculous photoshopping! This time, Lancome Men airbrushes all of the sexy crags out of Clive Owen's face, rendering him unrecognizable. If nothing else, what's the point of having a celeb hawk your wears if the consumer can't recognize your A-list star? (Oh yes that, and the problem of continual media propaganda creating unrealistic body images for all!)

Way to ruin one of the great pleasures of summer, Newsweek. Why is it such a sin to eat silky, delicious, premium ice cream? To quote the humorous and intelligent ladies on Shapely Prose, OMG!!1! TEH FATZ! This article isn't about ice cream, it's about making people fear body fat, reviling it on themselves and others.
It wouldn't surprise me, however, if the article has the opposite effect on readers, because last night it inspired me to crave, then buy, eat and thoroughly enjoy its number one ranked "most fattening ice cream flavor," Häagen-Dazs' Chocolate Peanut Butter. To say it was fan-freaking-tastic would be a vast understatement. Viva la crème glacée!
On another note, how is this Newsweek piece even news?

Coming up on the blog very soon: recipes for Orange Scones with Rhubarb and Cherries, Rhubarb Chutney, and Broccoli Rabe and Portobello pasta.

UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot to post InfoMania's (via Shapely Prose) snarky take on advertising's presentation of yogurt and women. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

White Chocolate Raspberry Opéra Cake: A Daring Bakers Challenge

When Lis, Ivonne, Fran and Shea announced this month's Daring Baker Challenge -- an opera cake sans the traditional coffee and dark chocolate flavors -- I was apprehensive.

What flavors should I use to make this my own?

How many steps in this recipe?

How many ingredients? How much will they cost?

How much time will I be in the kitchen?

But by god, it's all worth it -- the result is fantastic. From the cake's delicate crumb, to the richness of the chocolate mousse, to the buttercream bursting with freshness, this is a divine dessert. On top of all that, the opera cake is so elegant and beautiful, it's almost too beautiful to cut into. Almost.

If you look at the recipe below, chances are you'll be intimidated by it. It's very long and there are lots of elements to it. But let me let you in on a secret:

It's really not as difficult as it first appears.

Yes, there are lots of steps to make the five separate elements -- joconde cake, buttercream, syrup, mousse, and glaze -- but everything but the glaze can be done ahead of time and refrigerated, allowing you to make this in your own time.

So thank you Lis, Ivonne, Fran and Shea for a terrific challenge! As usual, the DBers have pushed me to keep learning and exploring in the kitchen. Check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll for hundreds of variations on the Opera Cake and stop by the Daring Bakers forum and say "hi!"

White Chocolate Raspberry Opéra Cake

If you don't like white chocolate, give Green & Black's white chocolate a try. It's not like other white chocolates; it's nicely flavored with vanilla bean, almost like the most premium vanilla ice cream transformed into a white chocolate bar. I highly recommend it, and used it throughout this recipe.

Elements of this Opéra Cake:

Joconde: The base of an Opéra Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made traditionally with almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).

Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup.

Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.

Mousse: the final layer of the joconde is covered in a white chocolate mousse.

Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.

(Note: can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:
•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)

6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 cups ground blanched almonds
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425-degrees F.

3.Line two jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (do NOT overmix ).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

Almond Vanilla syrup
(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup water
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 Tbsp. almond extract

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

White Chocolate Mousse
(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces Green & Black’s white chocolate, chopped
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 Tbsp. cognac (optional)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.

2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.

3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.

4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.

5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.

6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

Fresh Raspberry Buttercream
(Note: you may refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it; simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency before using.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (for a smoother buttercream, puree berries and strain out the seeds)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8. At this point, add the raspberries and beat for an additional minute or so. If needed, add a few tablespoons of confectioners' sugar to thicken.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

White Chocolate Glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces Green & Black’s white chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about two-thirds of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side, to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Spread the mousse on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze. After it has cooled for 10 minutes, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. (Use an offset spatula to help spread the glaze, but you'll get the smoothest appearance from allowing gravity to spread the glaze as much as possible.) Return to the refrigerator to allow the glaze to set for at least 30 minutes.

Finishing the cake: using a sharp serrated bread knife, dip the knife into very hot (if not boiling) water, and wipe dry. Using a gentle sawing motion, trip the edges of the cake for a clean-cut appearance. Decorate the cake's top with fresh raspberries dipped in melted white chocolate.

Serve the cake slightly chilled.

Yields approximately 20 servings.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On Vacation

Shane, the kids and I are in Florida visiting my parents, so there won't be much action here until late next week. (I think everyone is waiting on me so we can head to Sanibel Island...)

Have a terrific Memorial Day weekend.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cheesy Bread Bakers & the Gruyere-Stuffed Crusty Bread

You know what's irresistible?

Homemade bread fresh from the oven, and stuffed with ooey-gooey melted cheese.

How do I know this? Because the Cheesy Bread Bakers -- Helen, Ivonne, Kelly, Lisa, Mary, Sara, Stephanie and me -- gave the French Pastry School’s Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves recipe (found by Mary on the King Arthur Flour blog) a go last weekend. (Go look and see how beautifully their loaves turned out!)

We were not disappointed. This is a bread you have to tear into as soon as it comes out of the oven because it looks and smells so wondrous. First-degree cheese burns are but a small obstacle to overcome in the pursuit of deliciousness. Shane, Jenny and I ate our way through two "mini" loves (which were, by no means, actually mini) in under 10 minutes. I sent one loaf home with Jen and the final loaf will be devoured tonight at dinner.

I am so glad I got to bake in tandem (via skype) with these talented bakers; not only did I get to bake a fantastic bread and pick up some baking tips, I got to know these lovely, caring, kind and talented women a bit better. Yay food bloggers and yay cheesy bread!

Gruyère-Stuffed Crusty Loaves (click here for step-by-step photos)

1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cool water

all of the starter
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) to 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) lukewarm water*
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

*Use the greater amount of water in winter, when conditions are dry; and the lesser amount in summer, when the weather is humid.

2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese, or the grated/shredded cheese of your choice

To make the starter: Mix the 1 1/4 cups flour, salt, yeast, and 1/2 cup water in a medium-sized bowl. Mix till well combined. (Note: it may look a rather dry. -- LR) Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature.

To make the dough: Combine the risen starter with the water, salt, flour, and yeast. Knead—by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle—to make a smooth dough. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, till it’s nearly doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough, and pat and stretch it into a ¾"-thick rectangle, about 9" x 12". Spritz with water, and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Starting with a long side, roll it into a log, pinching the seam to seal. Place the log, seam-side down, on a lightly floured or lightly oiled surface. Cover it and let it rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, till it’s puffy though not doubled in bulk. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently cut the log into four crosswise slices, for mini-breads; or simply cut the dough in half, for two normal-sized loaves. Place them on one (for two loaves) or two (for four mini-loaves) lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, cut side up. Spread them open a bit, if necessary, to more fully expose the cheese. Spritz with warm water, and immediately place them in the preheated oven. Bake for 20 minutes (for the mini-loaves), or 35 minutes (for the full-sized loaves), or until the cheese is melted and the loaves are a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and cool on a rack.

Yield: four mini-loaves or two standard-size loaves.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Coffee-Nut Scones

These are I-can't-believe-how-moist-these-scones-are scones. They've got a good coffee flavor, but as someone who likes sweets, I'd probably add an additional 1/3 cup of sugar. Three tablespoons of nuts doesn't do too much either.
Still, this would be an easy recipe to adapt: take out the coffee granules, cinnamon and nuts, and toss in orange extract and/or zest along with a some dried cranberries -- yum.

Coffee-Nut Scones (slightly adapted from Cooking Light)

2/3 c. skim or 1-percent milk
2 1/2 Tbsp. instant coffee granules
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
2 1/2 tsps. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp.) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3 Tbsp. finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Cooking spray
2 Tbsp. skim or 1-percent milk
2 Tbsp. sugar

Combine 2/3 cup milk and the coffee granules in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high 1 minute; stir until coffee dissolves. Cover and chill completely. Stir in vanilla and egg.

Preheat oven to 425-degrees F.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in walnuts. Add milk mixture, and pulse until just until moist.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (dough will be sticky); knead lightly 4 times with floured hands. Pat dough into an 8-inch circle on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Cut dough into 8 wedges; do not separate. Brush the dough with remaining milk and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until browned. Serve warm.

Serves 8.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Jacques Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are so many different types of chocolate chip cookies -- flat and crisp, puffy and cakey, the kinds you find in Italian bakeries, the kinds you get in cafeterias, the kinds you eat in your Mom's kitchen.

This is a cookie you might find in a coffee house, or more likely, Jacques Torres' retail shop.

What drew me to Torres' recipe was the unusual blend of flour in the recipe; it combines pastry and bread flour, resulting in a nicely chewy cookie. Additionally, the cookie has a good deal of butter, is slightly salty, and of course, is studded with quality chocolate chips.

It is a cookie that will have you going back to the cookie jar over and over again.

For a really impressive presentation, use a 1/4-cup measuring cup to scoop out the dough and press it into 1/4-inch thick disks. You can fit four of these on a standard baking sheet.

Jacqures Torres' Chocolate Chip Cookies (via, slightly adapted)

1 pound unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons pastry flour
3 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 pounds 60-percent cocoa chocolate or other best-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F; line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add both flours, baking powder, baking soda and vanilla; mix until well combined. Fold in chocolate, making sure to distribute well.

Using a 4-ounce scoop for larger cookies or a 1-ounce scoop for smaller cookies, scoop cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, but still soft, about 20 minutes for larger cookies and about 15 minutes for smaller cookies. Cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields 26, 5-inch cookies or 100, 1 1/4-inch cookies.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Food Notes on the Taste of New York Lounge at NYWCC

Last night, Jenny, Shane and I headed down to the New York Wine and Culinary Center’s Taste of New York Lounge for a light dinner and drinks.

There was a bit of a shake-up in the kitchen: Chef Dan Martello, who had been at the NYWCC since its debut (if I recall correctly) and had been the chef at 2 Vine prior, recently left the Culinary Center to start his own restaurant. According to Reggie, one of the NYWCC’s best servers, the restaurant (to be named “Good Luck”) will open up in the Village Gate next month.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what Martello turns out; my hope is that he sticks with his NYWCC roots and makes ample use of local products.

The new chef, Chef Carlos, (the NYWCC website has not yet updated its chef information so I don’t have Carlos’ last name) debuted his menu last night (also NOT updated on the website – get on that, Culinary Center IT department). While the menu combines old Taste of NY Lounge favorites with new Chef Carlos creations, the dishes we received were disappointing.

I ordered my favorite Taste of NY Lounge salad – bibb and iceberg lettuce with pancetta, pepperoncini, chick peas and blue cheese – and was give a salad 50- to 65-percent smaller than what I’d gotten in the past. There were fewer pepperoncinis (even taking into consideration the reduced portion size) and it tasted as though the chef swapped out the fantastic Old Chatham “Ewe’s Blue” cheese for a less tasty product. I enjoyed my salad, but not as much as I have in the past.

Shane and Jenny were also disappointed with their orders. Shane received a plate of 6 raw oysters topped with a pink peppercorn mignonette sauce and julienne cucumber; he found the whole concoction bitter and lacking in oyster flavor. Jenny ordered a mixed green salad with smoked pork, grilled apples and apple cider vinaigrette; the pork looked and tasted like chopped smoked turkey cold cuts, there were very few apples and the vinaigrette was nearly nonexistent.

Shane also ordered a rack of lamb (perhaps better termed lollipop-style lamb chops; there were four) coated with a mustard seed rub, and plated on top of mashed peas mixed with mint and, perhaps, parsley. The dish was presented beautifully and the vibrant green of the peas was striking against the white of the plate and meaty redness of the chops. Although Shane enjoyed his dish, he ordered it medium-rare and received rare lamb.

The desserts were disappointing as well. The lemon yogurt cake was sliced far too thin (between 1/8- and ¼ -inch thick), although given that cake was dry, perhaps this wasn’t such a bad thing. (Actually the dessert – both in flavor and texture -- reminded me of some Italian-style cakes I’ve enjoyed, but the name of the dessert belied what was offered; the description should have presented a more accurate depiction of the dessert.)

I ordered a black and white chocolate mousse: a layer of dark chocolate mousse topped with a layer white chocolate mousse. It was overly light (the white chocolate portion reminded me of marshmallow fluff) and lacked any real chocolate punch.

This is a pretty damning review, and perhaps unfairly so. Last night was Chef Carlos’ first serving his menu and, like anyone at a new job, it takes a while to hit one’s stride. My plan is to head back to the Tasting Room towards the end of July and see if things have improved. I can’t imagine that the Culinary Center would hire a less-than-talented chef, so I’m hopeful that Chef Carlos will be turning out stellar quality food very soon.

Even though the food was not where we wanted it to be, the service was impeccable. Tom, our waiter, was attentive, helpful and friendly and not only worked with the bartender and me to turn out some great cocktails, but he even helped us settle a (ok, stupid) question: “How old is Sarah Jessica Parker?” (Shane said 50; I said 42 or 43 – guess who was right?)

It’s really nice to develop a rapport with the person who is waiting on you ; not only do you, as diners, get great service and recommendations, but as the server is the public face of a restaurant, s/he can positively, or negatively, affect a customer’s perception of the establishment. I can’t help but think that we wouldn’t have enjoyed last night as much as we did if Tom weren’t so fun and accommodating.

I was in the mood for cocktails – something fun and summery, served up in a martini glass – but the culinary center did away with its (modest) cocktail menu. So I asked Tom to talk to Erin, the bartender, and see if she’d recommend something. According to Tom, Erin very happy at the request and the result were some delicious drinks. The first was a pineapple coconut martini and, I can’t be sure, but I think it was a simple mix of pineapple juice with Malibu rum -- it was fabulous. The second was Erin’s own concoction – a Tropical Breeze. Her first try had a bit of a bite at the finish, so she tried again and the result was amazing. I won’t give all her secrets away, but I’ll say that her Tropical Breeze had light rum, peach schnapps, and an assortment of fruit juices in it. Simply delicious.

So while I’ll be waiting a couple of months before having dinner at the Tasting Room again, it won’t be long before I head down to the culinary center for a drink and a little nibble.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Pecan Pie Cupcakes

First Jennifer made them. Then Doodles. Now me. All of us loved them and, if you bake up a batch, you'll see why.

Chewy little bites of pecan pie goodness -- with nutty, buttery, and caramelized sugar notes -- delivered to your mouth in a tiny cake. Light yet satisfying, they're a perfect way to end a big meal when you want something small, simple and sweet.

Pecan Pie Cupcakes (adapted from
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Liberally grease a miniature muffin tin with butter or non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

Combine all ingredients and mix well; fill each muffin cup 2/3 full. Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and enjoy!

Yields 24 mini cupcakes.