The Fabulous Foodie

The Fabulous Foodie, hosted by Chef Aimee, is an online account of one amateur chef's kitchen successes and mishaps, recipe and product roadtests, and food experiences. Chef Aimee's philosophy is that Food Is Love, and her blog contains reflections on the connection between fabulous food, a happy marriage and solid-gold friendships.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Tables Turn on Food is Love

So usually I'm the one spreading the love via food... but this weekend, crippled with a muscle spasm in my neck that radiated down my shoulder and back, I was the beneficiary of the Food is Love philosophy in a big way!

First of all, I'll tell you that I have NO idea what gymnastic feat I pulled in my sleep on Friday night, but let's say that I awoke to nothing but pain. And not that stiff neck, "I slept funny" pain... but pain as in: "There is an alien living in my upper spine and he's fighting his way out to breath Earth's air."

I tried comforting myself with some figs, gorgonzola and proscuitto drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar... and while it was yummy and wonderful and delicious... in truth it didn't make me feel any better.

Steve took me to a great dinner at Three A's in Hoboken on Saturday night, and I could hardly sit upright. So that, too, was disappointing.

Sunday came, and with it -- a girlfriend bearing gifts in a grocery bag. Not known as a cook so much herself, she stepped into the kitchen and said, "I will take your direction"... and I proceeded to order the vegetables chopped (big chunks, please), the thyme slipped under the chicken skin, the garlic head sliced and the roasting pan prepared.

With an ice pack on my neck, I sat in the arm chair that faces my kitchen and played both patient and culinary teacher. "Like this?" she asked, as she placed the chicken atop the vegetables... "Yes, just like that... now up in the right hand cabinet, get some olive oil."

"Which olive oil?" My secret exposed... I have several bottles for different recipes, occasions, etc.; and no one understands that but another foodie.

She placed that roaster in the oven, using oven mitts although the pan was not yet hot... very cute... and came to replace my ice pack with a heating pad. "Twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off!"

We sat and talked and gossiped and she felt bad for me in a way that my husband -- who had been feeling bad for me for over 24 hours already -- could no longer stand to do. And besides, the Giants pre-game was on. And the smell of roasted garlic filled the air, and I breathed in and felt -- for the first time in two days -- better. Not perfect, not well... but better.

And the eating of it... well, the eating of it alongside my generous and thoughtful and sympathetic friend... made me feel better still.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Federalist: Stuffing Myself in the Name of Love

This past weekend was our first wedding anniversary, and so we returned to the "scene of the crime" by spending a weekend in Boston.

The highlight of our trip was to be an evening at The Federalist, the award-winning restaurant inside XV Beacon, a very hip hotel on the edge of Beacon Hill. When we were thinking which restaurant would be the best for our celebration, we picked The Federalist both because of incredible reviews from critics and aquaintances alike, as well as the fabled rooftop herb garden, where the chef, David Daniels, grows herbs for use in his kitchen. Of course, the wine cellar and incredible wine list also didn't hurt; and with their seemingly endless selection of California wines, we thought we could relive our honeymoon, which was taken touring the beautiful Napa and Sonoma winemaking regions.

We were seated at a table in a great spot in the dining room, which is appropriately lit, minimally decorated and beautifully set with fine linens and silver. Our server introduced himself, presented the menu and wine list and congratulated us on our anniversary. (Chalk one up for Steve, who clearly called ahead to be sure we got the best treatment!)

We quickly decided on the tasting menu, and they were extremely accommodating when Steve asked that the seafood selection be changed due to his allergies. Nothing would say "happy anniversary" like a visit to the ER, right??

The tasting menu -- course by wonderful course:

Fois gras with duck confit, topped with frisee: This was gross. I just don't like duck. Fortunately, the portion was small enough that just a taste made it look like I really dug in; and it did not sway me from believing this meal would be among the finest in memory... and The Federalist didn't disappoint.

Heirloom tomato salad with "rooftop basil" and marscapone: Tomato salad. Big deal, right? Wrong. This was beautiful, fresh and delightful. The chunks of heirlooms were room temperature and firm, not cold and runny like many restaurant tomato salads. The marscapone was sweet and creamy, and the "rooftop basil", called so because I suppose it's from that herb garden I spoke of, was almost minty, and actually a bit crunchy. I tried to identify the heirlooms based on the lessons at the Heirloom Tomato Festival I attended at the Hoboken Historical Museum, but I couldn't. And it didn't matter anyway. These were delicious. And they paired wonderfully with an Alsacian Pinot Gris, which was very crisp and refreshing.

The next course could have been my last meal and I would have died a happy woman. It was
Baked Rigatoni and Cheeses. Each individual rigatoni was stuffed with gouda, and then the small pile was sprinkled with shredded gruyere and a dollop of melted chevre. It was "dressed" with a sweet corn emulsion that brought a sweetness to the dish. A lovely Napa Chardonnay was paired with this dish, and it did cut the creaminess of the food well.

The fourth course involved scallops, sitting upon a drizzle of something I could not identify. But whatever it was, it was green and it was good! For Steve, they substituted a roasted duck dish... and thank goodness it was him and not me. We were both served a Pinot Noir that was lovely, and our server explained that many guests found the pairing of the seafood with a "red wine" surprising. But it was very tasty, and I suppose the Pinot Noir was gentle enough to not overwhelm the delicate scallops.

The fifth course was the "main course", and it was a "duo" of ribeye steak and braised shortribs. Both were excellent, and very well-paired with a glass of rich, almost chocolatey Cabernet. The steak was perfectly cooked and coated with peppercorns, while the short rib was soft and juicy. Steve, the more carnivorous of our marriage, was in heaven with this dish. It also sat on a small "smear" of potato puree, and then a tiny potato croquette. The dish was decorated with an "argula paint" which was pretty and interesting.

The dessert was a molten chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream and raspberry sauce. Delish! It was served with port, which I had a few sips of, but couldn't finish.

We finished off the night with a toast to our anniversary -- a couple classes of Veuve Clicquot "Gold Label" -- and a walk around Beacon Hill. Note to the ladies: stilettos and cobblestones don't mix.

Anyway... if you are in Boston and are celebrating a special occasion, The Federalist is a memorable meal... impeccable service, elegant atmosphere, classic food with inventive twists, and perfectly paired wines. Hooray!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sometimes There's Just Nothing Like Pork Chop

Pork Chops Milanese from the Babbo Cookbook was on the menu at our house last night. I'll post the recipe, which you can also find on Epicurious. Don't believe the reviewer that said this was bland -- she must have had a sinus infection.

As I chewed my first savory bite, I rolled my eyes to the heavens, looked at my husband and said with reverence, "Sometimes there's just nothing like a pork chop."

He stopped mid-chew and looked at me like I had three heads.

"What?" I said. "You have a problem with pork chops?"

"No, I like pork chops just fine," he said, shaking his head and turning his attention back to his plate. He does like pork chops. But he stops short of appreciating them, as I do, for their utter ability to hit the spot. Like I said, sometimes there's just nothing like a pork chop. And I'm not afraid to say it!

This recipe, as I said before, is from the Babbo cookbook, a creation of Iron Chef "Molto Mario" Batali. I appreciate good Italian peasant food, and that's what he specializes in. I requested a trip to Lupa, one of his places, for my birthday. Other than the fact that the menu needed a glossary on the back because of the pretentious use of all Italian (Hey, Mario! You're in America, fool!), it was a great meal. It better have been because the service stunk and we were packed into the tiny space like a rush hour subway. So much so that a crack of fresh pepper on my neighbor's plate made me sneeze.

Anyway, back to last night's dinner. It was delish, however once again I confirmed my previous statement that pork doesn't photograph well.

Here's the recipe, with all due credit to Molto Mario... who, by the way, is a redhead like me and so I feel a certain kinship despite my Lupa experience.

PORK CHOP MILANESE WITH ARUGULA AND TEARDROP TOMATOES

Ingredients:
4 center-cut pork chops, 1 inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, lightly toasted
1/4 cup plus 3 T extra-virgin olive oil (I used less. My figure requires such consideration!)
1 T unsalted butter
1 bunch of arugula, stems removed
1/2 pound teardrop tomatoes, halved lenghtwise
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges, seeds removed

Instructions:
1. Remove the bones from the pork chops. Using a meat mallet, carefully pound the pork chops until they are uniformly 1/4 inch thick. Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. Dip each chop into the beaten eggs, allowing excess to drip off. Dredge each chop in the bread crumbs and set on a plate.
2. In a 14- to 16-inch sauté pan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil (again, feel free to use less, says Chef Aimee... and for the record, I'd advise Mario to use less, too!) over medium heat until just smoking. Add the butter and allow it to foam for 10 to 15 seconds. Place the chops in the pan and cook until light golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, carefully turn the chops and cook on the other side until light golden brown, about 5 more minutes. Add more oil if necessary, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, to avoid scorching the breading.
3. In a large bowl, combine the arugula and tomatoes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper and toss to coat the greens.
4. Place one pork chop on each of four warmed dinner plates. Divide the arugula salad evenly among the plates, place a lemon wedge on each plate, and serve immediately.


Chef Aimee's yummy alternative: Since I cut the fat by using less olive oil, I felt free to add a little back in by halving a handful of bocconcini (small bite-sized balls of fresh mozzarella) and tossing those with the salad. I have a weakness for these perhaps because their name means "Little Mouthful" in Italian.... I love that!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Weekend Roundup: Liquid Dinners, Breakfast Treats and Guests for Dinner...

So I'm rounding up my weekend here, which was supposed to top off my 7 days of healthy eating... and for the most part, it did. But first, I went off track. Desperately off track.

Dinner Friday night was largely liquid, rimmed with salt, consumed on an outdoor patio at The Quays, a great spot overlooking the Hudson River. I was with a girlfriend who brings out the best (and worst!) in me... And so I suppose the night could be summed up with one pic. It was taken with my camera phone, so it's a bit fuzzy, but somehow that seems appropriate...

Note the pitcher in the background -- hald empty, or half full if you are an optimist... it was decidedly empty when we left. We also tried the crabcake with mango salsa. The presentation was lovely, and I had high hopes as my friend and I clinked forks in an effort to sample. The salsa was very a nice blend of heat and sweet, but the crabcake was a bit soggy for my taste. I prefer them to be a bit crisper on the outside, with a tender middle.

Saturday, I woke up, a little hungover, and looked in my fridge to see half a pint of blueberries that I needed to use up. I decided to bake some yummy low-fat blueberry scones. I was a bit skeptical at the thought of a low-fat scone, but I used some of my hard-earned knowledge about healthy baking and put it to good use with this recipe... a baked breakfast treat sure to make you believe that low fat baking doesn't have to be icky. Here's the recipe:

"I Believe in Blueberries" Lowfat Scones

Ingredients:

2 c flour

3 T sugar

1 T baking powder

1/2 t table salt

1 egg

1 T melted butter

1 cups buttermilk (it's lowfat!)

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

Cooking spray (butter flavored is best)

Instructions:

Preheat over to 400, and line baking sheet with parchment

Combine all dry ingredients, whisking together until well blended. Make a well in the middle of the mixture.

Combine melted butter, buttermilk and the egg. Pour into the well, and stir it up JUST until you can't see raw flour. Don't overmix or your scones will be yucky! You were warned.

Toss the blueberries with a tiny bit of flour, and fold into the batter -- gently!

On a well-floured surface, use your hands to turn out the mixture and pat into a rectangular shape. Spray a knife with cooking spray, and use it to cut the dough into triangle shapes, arranging about 1 inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Spray tops lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with sugar -- this is optional.

Bake for 20 minutes.

On Sunday, we decided to have some friends over for dinner, and I took a partial menu from the July issue of Cooking Light Magazine, where they outlined a Spanish-inspired dinner that looked simple and yummy. I decided to have at it!

On the menu for our guests:

Icy, fruity sangria

Fresh tomato and garlic spread with grilled toasts

Pork tenderloin stuffed with dried plums and roasted peppers

Baked saffron rice

Orange Yogurt Cake with fresh raspberries

The pork, rice and orange cake were from Cooking Light, and I highly recommend this menu. If you don't get the magazine, go get it... Especially if you love food, but it doesn't love you back! I have served Cooking Light recipes at many dinner parties, and no one has ever guessed that they were eating "light" food.

The dip was from a handout given to me at the Heirloom Tomato Festival in Hoboken, which I wrote about last week. It was so simple, and tasted fresh and zesty. Just whir up 2 large plum tomatoes, a cup and a half of yellow pear tomatoes, 2 cloves ofRoja garlic and 8 ounces of cream cheese (I used low fat) in your food processor, then season... then chill. Drizzle some good french bread with olive oil and grill or toast. Sprinkle the bread with salt and pepper and serve along side the spread, like I did here.

One thing I realized while writing this up... pork does not photograph well. It just doesn't. In my recollection of the meal, my pork was not misshapen, and the pan juices with onions were not slimy. So, I'll spare you. It looked lovely on the table, I swear!

And the cake... oh the cake. I sent it home with my guests so as not to eat it for breakfast and lunch the next day... look how lovely:


That cake is flavored with orange juice and zest, moistened by low fat yogurt, and glazed with a reduction of sweet orange marmalade and Cointreau. I topped it with some fresh raspberries, and the table was silent with the exception of a few "mmmm's" and the mumble-mouth expression of "This is so good..." that sounds like "vis ish sho goot" when your mouth is full. Music to my ears.

Bottom line: check out that menu in Cooking Light... it also has a great write up on creating a tapas platter, and a review of the spices common in Spanish cooking.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Lighten Your Recipe, Lighten Your Wallet: Hurricane Relief

So the "other" Chef Amy over at BeautyJoyFood had a great idea for food bloggers to come together to help out the Hurricane Katrina Relief effort. Being a rather new member of this food blog community, I decided to do my part here on The Fabulous Foodie. We were asked to share a thought or memory of New Orleans, and then a recipe inspired by the region; and to post a banner link to the American Red Cross so that our blog visitors could make a donation. I don't get a lot of traffic (so far!) on this site according to my stat counter, but hey -- you 30 unique visitors out there -- please give, folks… these people really need help.




I have only been to New Orlean's once, for Jazz Fest in 2003. In what other city can you feel perfectly in place wearing a feather boa on a regular Thursday night? And in fact, in what other city would you feel perfectly OUT of place if you didn't have one?? I bought a purple boa to wear about town in the French Quarter, and I loved that thing. A feather of it got lodged in my suitcase zipper on the way home, and has stubbornly stayed there all these years. Now, it's how I tell my navy blue "pullie bag" from everyone else's on the baggage carousel.

New Orleans was also the backdrop for one of the worst sunburns I ever had. Sitting at Jazz Fest, in a wide open field, I essentially roasted like a damn chicken… and let me tell you, the skin was extra crispy. For any other redhead reading, I'm sure I just caused a knowing and sympathetic cringe… SPF 50 and a floppy straw hat has NOTHING on that New Orleans sun, people!

So -- onward…

Besides the music -- which I thoroughly enjoyed despite my sunburn -- the best part of Jazz Fest in New Orleans was the food. Every day, there'd be hoards of people sprinkling file powder (ground sassafras) on their gumbo… looking for their favorite jumbalaya vendor… standing in huge lines for a paper tray of boiled crawfish. And then there was my favorite: Crawfish Monica. I don't know who Monica is, or who Monica was… but it doesn't matter... Judging from this tasty dish, Monica's my kind of girl.

Upon research, I found that Monica's original recipe (or at least Emeril's adaption of it) calls for an amount of heavy cream and butter that would make even a skinny girl think the dryer shrunk her jeans… seeing that this is the week of healthy food, I tried to lighten up my recipe at least a little bit.

And speaking of lightening up, why don't you lighten up your wallet a little and click on the Red Cross banner to help out our New Orleans friends?!

Here's the recipe.

Chef Aimee's Lighten Up! Crawfish Monica
1 pound rotini pasta
1T butter
Butter-flavored cooking spray
3/4 cup onions
1 cup chopped plum tomatoes (seeded)
1 pound crawfish meat (chopped)
1/4 t each of: salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried thyme
1/2 t paprika
1/8 t cayenne pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 can evaporated skim milk
2 ounces Grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped scallions


Cook pasta in salted water, drain and toss with 1T of butter.

Place a large non-stick skillet coated with butter flavored cooking spray over medium heat. Saute onions and tomatoes for 2 minutes. Add crawfish meat and saute for 2 minutes. Add spices and garlic.

Add the evaporated milk and cook 6 minutes to blend flavors. Lower heat and stir in parmesan until melted. Sauce should be thick and creamy. If sauce is too thick, thin with a bit of regular skim milk, whisking to incorporate.

Toss pasta in sauce and top with scallions.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Presto, Pesto!

There really is nothing like the scent of fresh basil. Nothing.

Well, okay... maybe the smell of chocolate chip cookies as they are coming out of a hot oven... but this it the HEALTHY food challenge, people! Seven days... seven recipes, remember? And I'm only on day two. And basil was handier than cookies anyway, because I grow it on my fire escape (hello, code violation!)

I grow Genovese Basil, which I think has the best and biggest leaves with the most fragrance and best taste. And it seems to keep its color best. It's so easy to grow... no green thumb required. Just be sure to pinch off leaves frequently, which actually encourages more growth. Like shaving your legs, ladies, the more you take it off, the more it grows back... can I get a witness???

And besides... did you know that in Italy, basil is a sign of love? When a woman puts out a pot of basil, it symbolizes that she's ready to receive her suitor. And Steve was coming home... so...

Basil it is.

Or was.

Now it's pesto... and at that, pesto made with the utmost of care and attention to not over-doing the olive oil, which while healthy, adds many "points" (that's Weight Watchers speak) to a serving. I'll give you my recipe in a minute... but first, I want to tell you what I did with it.

Now the normal idea is to toss pesto in with plain old pasta... which is all fine and good. But I decided to see if there was something more healthful. So to the whole wheat pasta variety I turned. Now about whole wheat pasta: unless you want one that tastes like gummy cardboard, or worse yet, has the texture of wet straw, you must buy Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Pasta, which is usually available at any ol' grocery store... or you can do what I did, and patronize your local Italian specialty store. The one in my 'hood makes whole wheat pasta fresh, and it is delicious. I chose linguine.

I cooked up that whole wheat pasta (takes all of five minutes when it's fresh!), sauteed a few halved cherry tomatoes and a handful of shrimp in a bit of extra virgin olive oil, and tossed it all together in the pesto. I sprinkled a handful of toasted pine nuts over the top. Colorful, fresh, delicious, and healthy....

Well, not so healthy for Steve, who is allergic to shellfish. But not wanting him to eat McDonald's for dinner again, I made a little separate "saute and toss" for him with chicken instead. He loved it!

The best thing about pesto is you can make a whole lot of it at once, and since it's best eaten fresh, it's a great item to share. I bottled up half of my batch, tied the recipe around the top and dropped it off at a friend's house on our evening walk with the dog. Having had a rough week thus far, she was near in tears at the sight. Nothing like paying it forward with food, is there?

So here's the recipe:

Chef Aimee's "Pay It Forward" Pesto

Ingredients:
6 T pine nuts
6 large garlice cloves
4 ounces fresh basil (that's about 8 cups, very loosely packed)
6 T good parmesan cheese, freshly grated
6 T lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (seems like a lot, but this makes a whole lotta pesto!)
Salt and pepper to taste

Dry toast pine nuts until fragrant.

Place pine nuts and garlic in a food processer, mince. Add basil, parmesan and lemon juice, pulsing to form a paste. With machine on, stream in extra virgin olive oil until desired consistancy. (Note: it's the lemon juice that allows this to be a bit lower in fat, because you won't need as much olive oil. If you don't give a hoot, then good for you... just add a splash for a flavor zing and round out with all the olive oil your skinny ass can handle!) Salt and pepper to taste.

If you are planning to gift some of this pesto in keeping with the Food is Love tradition, and would like to keep the bright green color, add a plain old vitamin c tablet to the food processor... you can't taste it, and it will help keep the pesto a beautiful grassy green color.

Then pour it in a cool old jar, top it off, and include the recipe so that others can pay it forward too... after all, the four most selfish words in the English language are "It's my secret recipe."