Monday, March 28, 2011

A Weekend of Sumptuous Dining

When Jeannene decided to come down for this past weekend, she told me she wanted to eat at really good restaurants. So, I made Friday dinner reservations at Rue Dumaine ( and Saturday lunch reservations at The Winds( We ended up at The Winds on Sunday for brunch, too. Since Jeannene's drive down from Cleveland didn't get her here until 8:30, we had 9 p.m. reservations. I'd been to Rue Dumaine last week and tried the trout amandine, which was amazing. The other dish I'd considered that night was the braised short ribs, so my entree was a no-brainer. I'd had them before and I think they do an amazing job with them. They are always tender and richly-flavored. They're served with a deliciously creamy, non-sweet slaw. I don't usually eat slaw because the sweet version does not appeal to me. The only other slaw I've ever liked is the vinegary, also non-sweet version plated up at The Winds. Jeannene, on the other hand, was very disappointed in her bite of my slaw, commenting that slaw should be sweet. She had a gorgeous plate of swordfish, the night's special, that I would happily have eaten. I chose the pan-seared scallops over delicate slices of fingerling potatoes because I knew they'd be perfectly cooked, nice and caramelized on the outside and still tender inside. Jeannene surprised me by consenting to split the sorbet trio. Normally, she never likes sorbet, but she swooned over the pear sorbet (which was a little too gritty and sweet for me) and even liked the slightly more tart mango sorbet. My favorite was the raspberry Friday night, although it was the mango last time I had it. Neither of us really digs madeleines, so that went to waste. Proust, we are not. Saturday's lunch at The Winds yielded a couple of fabulous veggie entrees. We started with two small plates. Jeannene was set on having the cheese service, which was a wonderful collection this time. Usually, it's very good, really. The selections Saturday were Cabot bandage-wrapped Cheddar (, Belle Etoile triple creme brie, Garroxta (, Bucheron ( and a really stellar Gruyere whose name I didn't get. These arrived with a Medjool date (which I've noticed Kroger has begun carrying in bulk in the produce section and have been keeping in my desk, along with a bag of pistachios) and a dollop of quince paste. My entree was a rather odd but tasty melange of pasta and rice with lentils and tomato sauce. It came with a side of harissa, which I was cautious with at first and ended up dumping entirely into my dish by the end of the meal. It's based on an Egyptian street dish called Kushary. Splendid! Jeannene dove into the charmoula portabello with vegetable tagine over couscous. I made the mistake of ordering cake. I am always disappointed, for some reason, when I order cake at The Winds. It's always drier and blander than I expect. This was a chocolate sponge cake layered with chocolate mousse. The mousse was good but the cake wasn't worth eating for me. Saturday night, we went to a chili supper at Cross Creek UCC ( ) prior to Rabbi Irwin Kula's ( amazing and energizing talk. With the recent turn for the wintry the weather has taken, the veggie chili was perfect. It was rich and flavorful, unlike many bland and blah chili supper samples I've had. Sunday, Jeannene still hadn't had her fill of The Winds and I am always up for a meal there, so we took the kids to brunch there. Good food is nearly always wasted on Jeff and a good atmosphere even more so. I tried hard to be understanding rather than appalled when he joined us and immediately set up his laptop on the table and installed headphones. I failed miserably. His girlfriend at least had the courtesy and good sense to ask before beginning to play Pokemon on her GameBoy. Sigh. This is why I feel that nice restaurants should only be for those who appreciate them. And before you hate on me, keep in mind that I am only the stepmama and, were I Jeff's only parent, he would not have been permitted even to bring his laptop inside, much less be on it at the table. Bubbles did thoroughly enjoy her dish of kushary, so I was appeased somewhat. The vegan options were limited, so I was pleased when she opted to try something outside of her comfort zone rather than not eat at all, which is what Jeff did. Jeannene got a bowl of their fabulously diversified granola with thick, creamy yogurt. I ordered the fried egg sandwich (with Nueske's bacon and sharp white Cheddar on toasted foccaccia) because my stomach was a little iffy with nerves over being parted from Jeannene again at the end of the meal. I was intrigued by the Moroccan bread-crumbed eggs and will likely choose those next visit. In the meantime, I have lovely memories of a truly scrumptious breakfast sandwich. The large grains in the house made mustard are a pleasure to roll across the tongue and the buttery home fries were much more wonderful than I'd remembered them being. I was too full really to enjoy my half of a raspberry and bitter chocolate scone, so I came home with that and a tub of the granola to stash at work (with my dates and pistachios).

Monday, March 07, 2011

Cabbage Rolls, Deconstructed

I love cabbage rolls, but I never make them. They are simply too much work and I hate burning my fingers on the hot cabbage leaves. Mine invariably end up developing large holes and looking terrible, even if they do taste good. And I don't have the West Side Market or any of the other great Cleveland institutions of Eastern European cookery to rely on any longer. So, although I am pretty skeptical about Minute Rice for the most part, I decided to try this deconstructed version. I was going to go my usual bagged salad route, but then I remembered wedge salad. I love wedge salad, so I picked up a head of Iceberg, a jar of Marzetti's blue cheese dressing, a jar of those real bacon crumbles Hormel puts out and some Amish gorgonzola. Cut a nice wedge off my cleaned lettuce head, put it on a salad plate, drizzled it with dressing and scattered cheese and bacon over top. How hard is that?

Cabbage Rolls, Deconstructed
1 lb. ground beef (I used extra-lean Angus)
1 chopped onion
2 1/2 c. shredded cabbage (or, you can cheat like I did and use coleslaw mix)
15 oz. can tomato sauce
Generous 1/2 c. water
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. parsley
Generous 2/3 c. Minute Rice
Brown meat & onion in skillet that has been coated with cooking spray. Add cabbage and cook 10 minutes. Mix tomato sauce with water, mustard and parsley. Add to skillet. Bring to a boil. Add rice. Cover, lower heat and cook 5 minutes.

Family at Five Mardi Gras

When I was planning family events for the coming year at my church, I was thrilled to discover that in March, our usual first Sunday of the month happened also to be the last Sunday before Lent. That made the March theme a no-brainer for me. I love Mardi Gras. I've never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and am fairly certain I wouldn't like the alcohol-soaked giant frat party that is Bourbon Street. But I love the festivities and the old traditions. So, Mardi Gras it was, with mask-making, a New Orleans-themed potluck and "The Princess and the Frog" as back-up for when the kids finished their masks and got bored.

I made my spice-wimps' version of pastalaya. I figured we'd see plenty of rice dishes, so I thought a pasta variation, while not very traditional, would fit in nicely. I also happen to like it quite a bit. We also had Susie's luscious potato and sausage soup, which she graciously made for us on Christmas Eve for our between-services staff meal. I was jealous of the Le Creuset pot she sent it in, but happy to what was under the red lid. Julie brought fantastic Hoppin' John, with perfectly cooked greens, over brown rice. We had a very yummy andouille & rice casserole. We had perfect Southern belle pastel pistachio fluff. I am not an eater of fluff, for the most part, but I tried it because Amy made it and it was good. We had brownies, which fit in beautifully at any potluck. We had pizza and take-out fried chicken, which pleased the kids mightily. We even had Jell-o "shots" thanks to Amy's marvelous sense of humor. No, they weren't the kind you'd get in a bar in the French Quarter. I brought in some gorgeous King Cake from Dorothy Lane Market, too, and when 5-year-old A.J. got the baby, he went about showing all of us that the baby was naked and needed a diaper. Very cute!

If you want to try the pastalaya, here's what I do:
1 lb. penne
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. andouille, casing removed & meat diced (I like Aidell's and it's easy to find around here)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, diced
Salt & pepper
3 tbsp. flour
Just over a cup of beer (I used Abita...something cheaper would be just fine, but don't use light beer)
1 c. chicken stock
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I often buy the whole canned tomatoes and crush them with my hands or a wooden spoon)
A good shake or three of hot sauce
2 tsp. thyme
1/2 lb. chicken breast, diced
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3-1/2 c. heavy cream

Cook pasta al dente, then drain. Brown andouille in heated oil and butter over medium-high heat. Remove from skillet and add garlic, onion, celery and bell pepper to hot grease in pan. Saute about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings and add flour. Cook and stir a few minutes, then add beer. Cook another couple minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, hot sauce and thyme. Bring to a boil and add chicken and shrimp. Cook until chicken and shrimp are cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add cream and heat through. Mix with pasta. Serves 4 as a main course rather than a potluck sampling dish.