Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Restaurant Week Chronicles: (the very belated) Part 2

I realize it’s been more than a week since my first Restaurant Week post. And, no, it is no longer Jersey Shore Restaurant Week–I’m belated. But, I capped off my week by going off-the-menu for Restaurant Week at Monticello’s in Red Bank.

Technically, Monticello’s did not participate in Restaurant Week.  However, it was a new restaurant during the course of that week, so I’m going to count it. Also, I needed something to make Part 1 feel complete. (This was supposed to be a three-party series, but we really wanted to go to Tre Amici in Long Branch, but it never worked out–problem after problem! Someone really didn’t want us to go there! Alas, there will be no “Mockingjay” to my “Hunger Games,” and you will have to settle for a duology.)

Anyway, I apologize now because there are no pictures from Monticello’s. Kevin and I went with a big group of friends we did theater with, so between all the catching up there was no time to stop and take photos (well, not of the food anyway.)

Monticello’s is BYOB, which is great and easy on the wallet, considering the menu’s a bit on the pricey side. The best part, though, is that if you bring in a bottle Cabernet, Rioja, Merlot, Zinfandel or Shiraz, they will make it into sangria using their special house recipe. And it is YUMMY! (We brought Shiraz for ours.)

Unfortunately, from a culinary perspective, that was the best part of the meal (aside from the bread, maybe–piping hot and soft!) Otherwise, I’d say the food was okay at best. I’ll be honest, though, I was quite jealous, because while I didn’t enjoy my food much, everyone around me seemed to love theirs. I even sampled a bit of Kevin’s Duck Breast over Papardelle with a rosemary Merlot sauce, and it was superior to mine.

To start, my friend and I split fried calamari. Now, I will preface this with the fact that I am very, very picky about fried calamari. I only recently even started eating it, and I only like it when it is cooked perfectly. Any rubberiness and I’m out. That being said, I found Monticello’s calamari to be tough to chew and a bit rubbery, though the breading and sauce were tasty. (I finished chewing off the breading before I finished the calamari itself though, which was sort of a weird sensation.) My friend, on the other hand, loved it. So, maybe I’m just picky. (Not maybe, I am picky.)

I still had faith in my entrée, though. I was in a simple mood and went for a very basic dish: gnocchi with pesto. I love both of these things, especially a good, bright, herbal pesto.  This pesto wasn’t that. It was creamy (what?) and very garlicky, but had almost none of the fresh bright crispness that I love from pesto. It felt heavy and hot, not cool and light like a pesto should, especially over something as dense as gnocchi. The gnocchi themselves weren’t great, either, and started to feel to mushy as I ate. I couldn’t finish the dish despite the fact that I was still hungry. Not at all what I was expecting.

However, the evening for me (thankfully) was not about the food, but the company. Good friends, good wine and good conversation can make up for even the worst of meals. (Still, a good meal certainly ups the ante!)

I would give Monticello’s another chance, as long as I stay far away from their pesto sauce and fried calamari. Everyone around me raved about their dishes, and they all had larger, heartier entrées. Maybe that’s the secret to Monticello’s–the Chicken Saltimboca over the pasta with sauce. I’d give it another shot, but I’d go in skeptical.

No time for pictures of food, but always time for pictures of friends--our group at Monticello's

 

The Great Leftover Challenge: Take Two

OK, so my first attempt at The Great Leftover Challenge resulted in something that looked only slightly better than dog food. That wasn’t going to get me anywhere (or whet anyone’s appetites, for that matter), so it was time for take two!

By this time I was really running out of food. I still am. (Seriously, I’ve been awful about going to the grocery store.) But I had some fruits and veggies that had been sitting around for a little while and I wanted to use them up before they went bad. I also wanted something light, a departure from the heavy, meatloaf-laced semi-disaster that was my first attempt.

So, for my second try at the leftover challenge, I made “pantry” salad lettuce cups with homemade dressing. I’ve never made my own dressing before, but it’s so, so simple!

The dressing and the salad came only from things I’ve already opened/used, so it was truly a leftovers meal. I opened nothing new to make anything.

The dressing is super-quick and easy and takes about a minute to make. I thought, honestly, though, that it was a bit too acidic, so I’ve adjusted the recipe to what I think would make it work better:

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce (I always use the low-sodium kind)
1 1/2-2 tbsp oil (I used extra virgin olive oil, but a lighter oil would work better. I also only used 1 tbsp, but some extra may be necessary to cut down on the acidity.)
1 tsp lime juice (I used 1 1/2 but, like I said, it ended up too acidic.)
1 1/4 tsp whole grain mustard
Drizzle of agave nectar or honey

Whisk the vinegar, soy sauce and lime juice together in a bowl. Add the mustard and whisk in. Drizzle in the oil while whisking into the dressing to incorporate. Add some agave or honey to sweeten to taste.

Dressing

I poured this dressing over my “pantry” salad cups, which sounds like what it is: a salad made up of whatever I found in my fridge and pantry. This can be anything you want to add or have sitting around: fruit, vegetables, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, etc. My salad had the following:

Bibb lettuce cups
Shredded carrots
Diced Macintosh apple
Golden raisins
Craisins
Sliced almonds

Or, as a regular salad!

This is probably not the most creative thing that will come through the leftover challenge, but I was, admittedly, a bit creatively challenged this time–mainly just hungry. But if nothing else, it is still a good way to use up produce on the verge of going bad. Also, making my own dressing is so quick and easy that I’m going to start doing this more often. I love knowing exactly what’s going into my food, unlike a lot of the bottled dressings that are riddled with sugar and chemicals.

Danny’s Kitchen is hosting the Great Leftover Challenge and there are still two days left to participate! If you are creative with leftovers, check out his blog to enter the challenge!

The Great Leftover Challenge: Take One

A blog I follow regularly, Danny’s Kitchen, posted a rather fun and interesting challenge that he is calling “The Great Leftover Challenge.”  The rules of the game are:

  • Start with a leftover ingredient in your fridge, freezer or pantry.
  • Create something new that you’ve never made before.
  • Don’t use a recipe, be creative and just “wing it” at that moment.
  • It can be for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack and any serving size.
  • It can be savory and/or sweet.
  • Everyone is welcome so spread the word!

Well, how could I not try that? So, I scrounged around in my fridge and discovered the base for my first leftover challenge attempt: Mom’s meatloaf. I’ll tell you, it looks a little gross (cause leftover loaves of cold ground meat often do), but my mother’s meatloaf is probably second only to my own (I’m very, very proud of my meatloaf!) So this makes for a pretty delicious leftover.

Mmm, yummy!

I looked at this meatloaf and decided to attempt a soup/sauce/chili-like concoction. So I dug through my fridge, shelves and pantry to gather up these ingredients:

The ingredients for today's challenge

I started by sweating a little bit of red onion and a garlic clove in a splash of

Sweat it out (garlic and onions, that is).

extra virgin olive oil and then added some frozen broccoli and cauliflower that had been relegated to the bottom of my freezer. Once the veggies thawed out, I chopped up the meatloaf and added it to the pan with some more olive oil, salt and black pepper.

Next, I added the liquids: tomato soup (pre-made, yes, but the idea here was to use only leftovers or things

Added the liquid--tomato sauce and white wine

I already had on hand) and a (generous) splash of white wine, plus some more seasoning. Cook until everything heats through, simmering for a few minutes–also let it simmer to keep it warm/reheat it. I also had some leftover brown and basmati rice, so I mixed those together to serve the sauce/chili-like mixture over.

It came out looking pretty…mushy. And brown. It tasted good, but I don’t think I’ll be submitting this one to the contest. It just kind of looks, well…gross.  I think I was wrong to attempt to make meatloaf into something besides what it is–there are some things you just don’t mess with, and Mom’s meatloaf might be on that list. (Along with the leftover coq au vin in my fridge–that’s pretty much meant to be eaten straight.)

It kind of looks like chili, but kind of tasted like meat sauce. You know, meat sauce with meatloaf in it.

Not a bad quick meal, but not what I’d call a kitchen success either. Hence, this was leftover challenge take one. Must keep trying!

By the way, head to Danny’s blog to enter the Great Leftover Challenge yourself if you think you can whip up a mean leftover dish!

The Restaurant Week Chronicles, Part 1: Trinity and the Pope

It’s the most wonderful time of year! No, not Christmas–Jersey Shore Restaurant Week!

Seventy restaurants in the shore area are participating this season, offering prix fixe, three-course dinner menus for $20.12 or $30.12.  Needless to say, choosing which one (or ones) to try is a daunting task–I wish it was Restaurant Month!  But, for our first outing, Kevin and I settled on Trinity and the Pope in my favorite town, Asbury Park.

Trinity and the Pope participated in the last Restaurant Week and was high on our list, but we never made it in for dinner. That wasn’t happening again. It’s cuisine is unique to the area–Cajun/creole/New Orleans-inspired. I have very little experience with Cajun cuisine, and though I may have “played it safe” (I don’t like very spicy food), I still found it delicious!

Trinity and the Pope menu

Trinity and the Pope Restaurant Week menu

From the restaurant’s web site:

Trinity and the Pope refers to the common ingredients between the different cuisines of Louisiana: Creole, Cajun and the Nouvelle New Orleans Cuisines.

Trinity is the bell peppers, onions and celery. The Pope is garlic.

And oh yeah, they make quite the tasty combination.  But enough frivolous chatter–I know we all want to get to the food!

To start, I ordered the Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis. Sounds like no big deal, right? It isn’t, until you know my secret: I hate mushrooms. I like the flavor they impart in sauces, but I can’t stand the texture. So typically, I instantly dismiss any menu item with the word “mushroom” prominently displayed in the name, but this one spoke to me. And I’m so glad I listened. I’m not going to lie, there was a big pile of chopped mushrooms left on the plate when I finished, but not all of them. Folks–I ate mushrooms! (And I didn’t hate them!)

As a matter of fact, I loved this appetizer. The raviolis were dressed in a wild mushroom brandy cream sauce that was just so rich and luscious and inviting. The raviolis themselves were filled with yummy, tender pulled short rib. There were only three raviolis in a serving, which made a perfect appetizer portion between the heavier meat and the rich sauce.  But I easily would double (or triple) the order for an entrée.

Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis

Wild Mushroom Short Rib Raviolis

Kevin ordered a little more within his comfort zone–Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders. (Though let me tell you, I was *this close* to ordering those myself, too.)  I was only allowed one bite (boo!) but it was enough to catch the tanginess of the barbecue sauce with the zest of the chipotle cole slaw. Yum! It was like a sophisticated barbecue.  You know, the knife-and-fork and glassware kind. (No red Solo cups here.)

Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders

Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork Sliders

We also got a little crazy and did the unthinkable–we ordered something that wasn’t on the Restaurant Week menu. (I know! Crazy!) We wanted a real taste of New Orleans cuisine, so we ordered a side of hush puppies to jazz up our meal. Hush puppies are essentially fried cornbread studded with vegetables–in this case, corn and peppers. Basically, it’s a whole bunch of goodness wrapped up in more goodness and then deep-fried. Oh, and then they top it with their zesty remoulade sauce and I’m left wondering where creole-New Orleans cuisine has been all my life.

Hush puppies

Hush puppies

I went much more classical French for my entrée, though I’m fairly unfamiliar with French cuisine. However, this dish has convinced me that I should start delving my way into French food. I ordered Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin. “Coq au Vin” is French for “rooster with wine” and is a French method of braising chicken with wine, lardons, mushrooms (more of those pesky mushrooms!) and garlic. Typically coq au vin is made with Burgundy wine, but Trinity and the Pope’s version uses Pinot Noir.

The braising creates a rich, bold flavor that makes you forget you’re even eating chicken–both Kevin and my mother, when she tasted my leftovers asked, “This is chicken?” It takes on a much heartier, more robust flavor, almost like pork or even red meat. Braising the meat also keeps it super succulent and juicy–more so than most other chicken I’ve eaten in my life.  I could gush about this chicken all day, but I won’t, because it was served with a creamy, slightly spicy herb risotto and grilled asparagus. I love risotto, and this one was not exception.  I recently saw a recipe for risotto online and it seemed easier and much less intimidating than I originally thought–maybe one of these day I’ll try to make it at home.

Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin with Herb Risotto and Grilled Asparagus

Chicken Thigh Coq au Vin with Herb Risotto and Grilled Asparagus

Kevin had his sights set on their steak dish from the moment we saw the menu–a barbecue balsamic basil-marinated hanger steak topped with crispy shallot truffle compound butter. Again, I was lucky to get even a little taste, but that butter packed some serious flavor! I’m not a huge steak eater, but Kevin cleared his plate. The steak was served over whole-grain mustard smashed Yukon Gold potatoes with broccolini. Despite the mustard in the potatoes, they were strangely sweet. I’m a huge broccolini fan, though, and so is Kevin, so that was a welcome surprise on the plate. (It was supposed to come with grilled asparagus as well, but this opened us up to some veggie-swapping.)

Marinated Hanger Steak with Mustard-smashed potatoes, broccolini and crispy shallot truffle compund butter

Marinated Hanger Steak with Mustard-smashed potatoes, broccolini and crispy shallot truffle compound butter

Like I said, Kevin cleared his plate, but I took a good meal and half’s worth of my entrée home. Mainly because I wanted to save room for dessert–for me, bourbon bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. For Kevin, a chocolate-chip blondie with pistachio ice cream.  The bread pudding was gooey, if not borderline mushy, with a hint of that bourbon kick.  I was so full after the rich meal that I couldn’t finish it off, but the vanilla ice cream was cool light after the heavy meal. The blondie really tasted like a chewy, thick, supersized chocolate-chip cookie. I don’t care for pistachio ice cream, though (or pistachios, for that matter, even though the ice cream tastes nothing like the nut.)

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Chocolate Chip Blondie

Chocolate Chip Blondie

 

 

Of course, we had to wash it all down. Kevin went all-out for the New Orleans feeling with a Hurricane–fruity, rummy and everything a Hurricane should be.  I broke from the ordinary and ordered the Ginger Lemonade, a cocktail of Citron vodka, fresh lemon, fresh ginger puree and Angostura bitters. I love ginger, especially with lemon, so I was actually wishing for more lemon in this drink.  It was certainly ginger–at times, almost too much so.  Though, even after that big meal, my stomach felt good, so I guess the ginger did some good after all!

Trinity and the Pope was a great kick-off to restaurant week, and I can’t wait to go back to sample some of their regular menu.  They also offer happy hours, live music and other fun things during the week.  In addition to great food and hopefully great entertainment, Trinity and the Pope is housed in an old bank building from 1919 in the heart of downtown Asbury. The brightly colored Mardi-Gras inspired decor juxtaposed with the early 20th century woodwork creates a fun, inviting and unique atmosphere. Really, Trinity and the Pope is just a place you want to be.

Trinity and the Pope is owned by chef and restauranteur Marilyn Schlossbach, who, through her company Kitschens, also owns several other Asbury Park restaurants: Langosta Lounge, Dauphin Grille and Pop’s Garage. She also owns Labrador Lounge in Normandy Beach and Kitschens Catering.

UPDATED: New Facebook AND Twitter Page!

Hooray! I’ve finally created a Facebook page specially for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness. Please go “like” my page for updates, posts, photos, etc. It’s in the development process right now, but I promise as it gets going it will be a great page. Follow me here: www.facebook.com/lifelibertyfood.

UPDATE:

The new Twitter page is up and running! Follow me on Twitter @LifeLibertyFood! Look for updates, posts, photos and more on this new page!

Happy Passover! Or, enjoying a Passover treat

Most people are writing about Easter, Easter food and Easter recipes today. But, I’m Jewish and I want to say Happy Passover and write about one of my favorite parts of Passover–macaroons!  These are not the same as the fluffy French macarons, but rather soft, chewy coconut-based macaroons. And even better?  Most, if not all, are gluten-free.

Heaven in a can

Manischewitz is my brand of choice for these delicious morsels of Jewish love.  The standards in my house were always plain coconut, chocolate and chocolate chip.  But they make so, so many more flavors, and this year I was introduced to something I didn’t even know I was missing in my life–mint chocolate macaroons! It’s like a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie crossed with chewy coconut heaven. Don’t worry about the fact that these are kosher, or come out mainly at Passover–get them! “Jewish” food or not, these are just a genuinely tasty treat. These and the plain chocolate ones are like eating coconut brownie bites…from a can.

Buy them. Eat them. Love them. Repeat. I am introducing you to the oft hidden world of (actually tasty) Jewish food.  (Leave the gefilte fish alone, you’re not missing anything.)

I’m going to go enjoy more macaroons on this lovely Easter morning–Happy Passover! (And Happy Easter!)

 

Brunch at Porta

I wrote a post in late February praising Porta Pizza in Asbury Park, but I mentioned that they did much more than just dinner–including weekend brunch.  Well, keeping true to my promise, I checked out their brunch on a cold, drizzly, early Spring Saturday, and I wasn’t disappointed!

I met up with a friend of mine, Carolyn, for what seems to be becoming our semi-monthly (or six-monthly, as the case may be) meetup. And as much as I’ve been waiting to try brunch at Porta, funnily enough, it was her suggestion. (Great minds think alike, I suppose.)  So, this past weekend, we headed to Asbury Park in the rain and the cold to meet up for what turned out to be a spectacular brunch.

Porta serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Not wanting to be late to the party, Carolyn and I arrived just after 11:30.  I was expecting the place to be packed, but maybe because it’s still relatively unknown, or maybe because the weather was exceptionally atrocious, we were the only two people in the restaurant. People began to trickle in once we were settled in with our cappuccinos, but we seemed to constitute the entire “early” crowd. (By the way–good, big, inviting cappuccinos–and this is coming from someone who can make a cappuccino!)

Porta’s brunch menu is unique and varied, with a mix of their usuals and brunch-only options. They offer sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch, ranging from pizza and salads to french toast and fritattas.

We agreed that the best and only way to do this brunch was to try multiple things and share them.

Luckily, we have similar palates so this did not prove too much of a challenge. We started with a house-cured salmon appetizer with crostinis, marscapone cheese and chervil.

As you can see, I couldn't wait long enough to get a picture before I dug in.

I’m a Jewish girl, New Jersey-born and raised. Lox and cream cheese is pretty much a staple in my life, and I will try almost any and all variations on it. (Lox–smoked, cured salmon–is one of the only seafood I actually like. That, shrimp and fried calamari.)

This one was so good I’m afraid I’ll never be able to eat a regular bagel with lox and cream cheese again.  My first thought when the plate arrived was, “I wish they gave us some lemon to squeeze over the fish.” But as soon as I tasted it, I realized it was already there. The salmon was finished with lemon, olive oil and garlic, and the spicy-citrusy taste was bright and abundant. With the smooth, luscious marscapone and crispy-chewey crosinis, I was in a Jewish-Italian heaven.  I could have ordered three plates of that alone and been perfectly content.

Well, almost…we also ordered lemon-ricotta pancakes which were the lightest, fluffiest pancakes I’ve ever seen. As Carolyn put it, “much more cake than pan.” They were served over ricotta cheese with a vanilla brown butter syrup and macerated plums.  I didn’t expect a big punch of lemon, since in a pancake or similar baked good, the lemon flavor is typically subtle and underlying. But these pancakes packed a lemon punch! The lemon flavor was intense, but not fake, and most definitely a pleasant surprise for a lemon-lover like me.  And, I need to find out how to make such fluffy pancakes.

It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!!!

We had decided we were also going to try their butternut squash pizza, which neither of us had ever seen on the dinner menu, and sounded like quite the savory-sweet experience.  When the waitress informed us they were all out, Carolyn and I looked at each other like sad children for a moment before settling on the roasted tomato fritatta with smoked mozzarella instead.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of cooked tomatoes, but they weren’t overpoweringly sweet in this dish.  The arugula served over the fritatta helped too, I’m sure, as did the homemade focaccia that came on the side.  We sat close to the pizza ovens that are out in the open, and I watched the chef make our focaccia bread–the smell was intoxicating to this starving girl, and it looked so yummy! The fritatta was tasty, but ended up overshadowed by the salmon and the pancakes–it’s the only dish we didn’t finish. (Really, we were just too full–and too focused on our pancakes.)

Fritatta with that wonderful-smelling focaccia that made me so hungry!

So, that’s two down for Porta, and I would recommend their brunch to anyone.  I actually really want to take my mom since a lot of their brunch options are seemingly gluten-free, like the fritattas and other egg-inclusive dishes (braised Beluga lentils with quail eggs, for instance.) Even the salmon appetizer–the crostinis tasted great, but they’re really just a vessel for carrying the cheese and the salmon.  They’re not a necessity.  Carolyn ate some of the leftover salmon and cheese once the bread ran out and she agreed, she didn’t miss them.

OK, so next up, I guess I will have to check out Porta’s nightlife.  Or gluten-free pizza Tuesdays.  Or spaghetti and meatballs Sundays. Or… the list goes on.  All I know is I want to go back to Porta over and over again.

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