Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Girl's Night In

Now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling, it’s time to tackle a couple of other backlogged recipes, and after the previous seafood recipe, I thought something a little meatier would be perfect! Continuing on with the theme of casual entertaining over the past month, the weekend before we hosted Brandon and Ugne, my mom came to visit for a girl’s weekend. We had a fabulous time as it was “just us chickens” (since Kyle was out to sea), and we were able to enjoy all of the girly fun that the lads usually roll their eyes at. She drove down Friday afternoon, relaxed in our apartment until I got out of work, and it wasn’t long before we had a spread of cheeses and wine out while I cooked. It had been a while since I had really cooked for her, and it was a beyond enjoyable evening. We also came to the very wise decision that from here on out, all of our girl’s weekends would be kicked off with champagne- brilliant!

I had wanted to do something special for her, and remembered from years ago that she loved petite lamb chops (commonly referred to as “lamb lollipops” on many menus) and knew it would be the perfect meal. I did a simple preparation, searing them in a hot, heavy pan with olive oil and a little butter (calorie count was not an issue, thank you!), and finished the sauce with garlic while the lamb rested. I served the chops over a mushroom and spinach orzo “risotto”. We enjoyed a perfect meal, amazing company, and plenty of reminiscing to boot- which I’m sure was helped along by the wine!
It was so great to be able to have my mom here for a weekend, and show her around our new town. The weather was better than it had been in months, and we drove all over town, oogling the mansions and taking in as much fresh salt air as we could handle. The weekend was topped off by what I would rate as a near-perfect brunch at Café Zelda’s ( before she headed back to Maine. There’s nothing like cooking for family and making new memories to make a new place really feel like home…
Petite Lamb Chops in Garlic Sherry Butter with Mushroom & Spinach Orzo “Risotto”
This menu easily feeds two as a good sized main course, with plenty of orzo leftover for lunch the next day (a personal favorite of mine!), or double the lamb instructions and have a perfect meal for four.
For the Orzo:
- 1 cup orzo pasta (dry measurement), prepared as instructed on packaging
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 6-7 crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 9oz. fresh baby spinach
- 2 tablspns dry white wine (optional)
- ½ to ¾ cup half & half
- ½ cup of fresh grated parmesan
- 2 tblspns fresh grated lemon zest
- Olive oil
- Sea salt & fresh black pepper

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Introduce shallots and sweat in oil, about 2 minutes while stirring. Add in mushrooms and stir to coat (you may need to add a bit more olive oil, your call) and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Stir in cooked orzo and continue cooking over medium to medium-low heat until orzo is heated through (like standard risotto, be sure to keep the orzo moving so it doesn’t clump up or stick to the bottom of the pot). Add in wine (if using) and half & half and stir well. Add in fresh spinach and continue to stir until spinach begins to wilt and incorporate into dish. Stir in fresh parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste. At this point, the dish can be covered and left in a warm oven while you prepare the lamb. Just before plating and serving, remove orzo from the oven and stir in lemon zest. Depending on how long the orzo has been in the oven, you may want to stir in a bit more half & half so that the consistency is light.

For the Lamb:

-6 petite lamb chops with bone in (3 per person, depending on their size)
-Sea salt & cracked pepper
-2 tblspns good quality salted butter (I’m a fan of Kate’s of Maine)
-2-3 tblspns olive oil
-3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
-2-3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

*And now for the great meat preparation debate: The is a long, drawn out, ongoing battle within the food community in regards to allowing meats to come up/close to room temperature before cooking. The argument for is that it produces a more tender final meat, with a better probability of searing juices in. The argument against is, of course, possible bacteria and contamination with a side of food borne illness. I will let you be the judge of how to approach, but will say that I prefer to live on the edge and let my meat come up to temp before firing. I know, I’m a dangerous woman. In addition, my cooking times are for a rare, to med-rare final product. These chops are very small, and cook very quickly. For me, a barely med-rare lamb is the best showcase of its natural flavor. Please adjust cooking times to your desired level of doneness/the thickness of the chops you are working with.

Pat meat dry with a kitchen towel to ensure seasoning will adhere and surface will brown beautifully. Liberally season the upright facing side of the chop. In a large cast iron skillet, heat butter and oil over high heat until very hot. Place chops seasoning side down in the pan, and don’t move around (a note of caution: you are introducing the lamb to a VERY HOT pan, and as such, splatter is more than likely inevitable. Please, be careful!). If they are fussed about in the pan, you won’t get the gorgeously browned final product. Season the now exposed side of the chop with salt and pepper. After about a minute and a half, turn the chops, making sure to follow the same order as when you put them in the pan for a uniform cooking on all chops. After another minute and a half, remove chops from pan and let rest on a cutting board under a little tin foil. Turn off heat under pan, and add in minced garlic, stirring frequently to avoid burning (if you’re working on an electric stovetop, you can pretty much remove the pan from the burner, there will be enough residual heat to cook the garlic in the pan), and add in sherry vinegar. Cook another minute or two more, until slightly reduced.

To Plate:

On a warm plate, place a serving of the risotto, and arrange the lamb chops on top, with exposed bone facing up. Spoon the garlic pan sauce over the chop and garnish with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley. Best enjoyed with great conversation, classic old soul music, and an ample supply of your favorite libations.

Fresh Baked Goodness

To some people, baking is second nature. For example, my uncles who run our family restaurant in Bangor, Maine are phenomenal bakers, and I would hazard a guess they are all memory bakers, and could make most of their offerings in their sleep. As mentioned in previous posts, I have dubbed my husband the official baker in our household, a title that I was happy to bestow on him, as it let me off the hook.  A few weeks ago while Kyle was out to sea I decided it was time to face my fears. The rationale behind that decision was the recent gifting of a Kitchen Aid stand mixer (aka- official universal wedding registry staple) from my mother- it seemed that if we were to justify owning such a serious piece of equipment, it should certainly be put to good use. With Kyle home, it usually gets at least a weekly workout, and I decided to carry the torch. Scones seemed like a perfect endeavor, as they consist of a pretty simple ingredient list (the less kneading and manipulating I have to do, the better!), and lend themselves well to many add ins, both sweet and savory.
I’ve always appreciated Ina Garten’s relatively simple & clean approach to cooking and entertaining, so when I came across her take on scones while searching out a good “starter” recipe, I knew it would be a great fit for me. I added in a few of my own touches (dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts and lemon zest), as well as a little extra sugar and substituted in a cup of organic whole wheat flour. While they turned out really well, I think the next batch I will stick with organic white flour instead to get the full intended effect and consistency. I also used a raw organic sugar, as I thought it would give a little more body, and it was a great addition, and was the perfect consistency for sugaring the top of the scones. As with any recipe, you may have to play around a little bit to get the proper dough consistency, and luckily scone dough is very forgiving (yet another reason I find these treats so appealing!)
So thanks to you, Barefoot Contessa, for reviving my faith in my baking skills and awakening the long slumbering baker within. Now if only all baking was as simple and tasty as these scones… 
Traditional Scones with Toasted Pine Nuts, Dried Cranberries and Lemon Zest
(Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe on
- 4 cups flour
- 4 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt (omit if using salted butter)
- ¾ pound cold butter, diced
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup cold heavy cream, or half & half
- ¾ cup dried cranberries
- ¾ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan
- 3 tblspns fresh lemon zest  
- 1 extra-large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, add salt (if using) in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Add in the lemon zest once all dry ingredients have combined- this will keep the zest from clumping, and give you better flavor distribution. Blend in the cold butter at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Combine the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add to the flour/butter mixture. Combine until just blended. Add the raisins and pine nuts to the dough and mix quickly. The dough may be a bit sticky.

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and be sure it is well combined. Flour your hands and a rolling pin well and roll the dough out to 3/4-inch to 1-inch thick. You will see lumps of butter in the dough. Cut into squares with a 4-inch cutter and then cut in half diagonally to make triangles. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Brush the scones with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the outsides are crisp and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and transfer scones to a drying rack. They are outstanding fresh out of the oven with a little marmalade or a dollop of butter.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Rainy Night in Newport...

I admit that I have been a bit lax on posting as of recent- it has been crazy busy in my little world. Between hectic office hours, trying to get my fitness routine back on track and house weekend house guest fun, I have fallen behind in my updates. I’m hoping to get back on track this week and get some of the back logged articles and recipes up, so bear with me as I get back in the swing (thanks for the gentle reminder, Carolyn!).

This past weekend, Kyle’s brother Brandon and his wife Ugne came for a visit from Boston. It was wonderful to host family, and we always seem to have a great time when we get together. The weather was pretty unfriendly, and this combined with the fact that it was Newport’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, we were all easily convinced to stay in, eat, drink and be merry. Not that I don’t love celebrating the High Holy Day of Obligation, but something about the combination of wet, cold, drunk hooligans was not particularly appealing.

Drinks and an Antipasti platter before dinner, even Ninja Kitties had a good time!

I had been working on the boatbuilding text at the library in the afternoon before Kyle, Brandon & Ugne came down to pick me up and we settled in for the night. Wine was poured, snacks were laid out and after a little relaxing, I got to work in the kitchen. Kyle and I had recently gone to Norey’s, a fabulous beer & wine bar just down the street on Broadway, and I had their AMAZING mussels, so I did my best to re-create the flavors with a couple of my own touches. There is an outstanding seafood market here in town- Anthony’s (, and we swung by in the morning to pick up some fresh treats. I went with a selection of PEI mussels, local littleneck clams and fresh monkfish and the combination was beautiful. Kyle also picked out four of the regional treats known as “Stuffies” (Quahog shells stuffed with seafood stuffing and a little spice kick) and they were an ideal and easy starter.
The meal was outstanding, the company engaging and the wine flowed freely. It was a wonderful weekend, and the perfect meal for a night spent in with family and storytelling on a cold March night. The recipe easily serves four very hungry diners, and can be adjusted depending on the size of your crowd. It is similar to the Frogmore Stew recipe, but is a bit more elegant in its ingredients, and a much different flavor profile. Thanks to Brandon and Ugne for the photos!

Mussels, Littlenecks and Monkfish in Tomato-Basil Broth

- 2 lbs. fresh mussels, scrubbed & debearded
- 2 lbs. fresh littleneck clams, scrubbed
- 1 lb. fresh monkfish filets, cut into chunks
- 1 lb. smoked (or Italian) sausage, cut into chunks
- 1 shallot, minced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 7-9 crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 bottle good Belgian style beer (Sam Adams Noble Pils!)
- 1 ½ cups Sauvignon Blanc, or other dry white wine
- 16 oz. crushed tomatoes
- ¾ cup light cream
- 6-7 fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
- ¾ cup of fresh shaved parmesan
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
- Olive oil
- Crusty bread (cibatta or boule) for dipping

In a large, wide stock pot, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add in shallots and garlic to sweat and soften for a few minutes. Add in sausage and sauté until it begins to brown. After a few minutes, add in tomatoes, mushrooms, salt and pepper, and continue to cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until all components begin to soften and meld flavors. Turn heat up to high, and add in the wine, beer and half of basil ribbons, cover and bring to a rolling boil (depending on how much seafood you have, you may need to add a little water as well- approx ½ to ¾ cup). Add in the mussels and clams (hold off on monkfish), and give the whole pot a good stir with a hearty slotted spoon to mix all ingredients together. Cover and keep a watchful eye. Every couple of minute, give the pot a good shake and stir the shellfish up- this will keep cooking time relatively even. After approx 10 -12 minutes, shells should begin to open. Using a large slotted spoon, remove shellfish from the pot (no worries if you remove other ingredients with the shellfish) and transfer to a large serving dish and place in a warm (not hot!) oven. Take stovetop temp down to medium and add in tomato puree. Once hot, add in monkfish chunks and cook through, about 5 minutes. Stir in cream and let heat through. Pour broth and cooked monkfish over mussels and clams, top with second half of basil and parmesan, and serve immediately with lemon wedges, a fresh green herb salad and lots of crusty bread for sopping up the broth- or in our case lots of big spoons as well!

Mussel on FoodistaMussel

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Green Up!

Making changes to live a more environmentally friendly life has become more and more easy in recent years. A while back, a friend sent me a link to the Reusable Bags website (, and making good on part of my 2010 goals, I ordered some new reusable produce bags. Previously, I had the classic linen style produce bags, which were great, but I always found myself repeatedly having to open them to check the contents while pulling veggies out of the fridge. In addition, they were a pain @ the checkout as you couldn't see the prices, and as a result, they have been relegated to other storage duties around the house. 
On a whim, I ordered the Flip & Tumble mesh produce bags, and I honestly could not be happier! For about eleven bucks, you get five bags, each with a different colored tag, and all big enough to accomodate almost any produce. The drawstring tops are easy to secure with a slipknot so you don't lose any of your goodies, the mesh is see thru enough for both cashiers to see prices and quick identification in the fridge. As an added bonus, the mesh design enables you to wash your produce right in the bag, and hang to dry by the drawstring. They're also great for using as a lunch bag or transporting pretty much anything, and I'm actually considering getting another set to keep in my glovebox so I don't have to worry about forgetting them if I have to make a quick store run. Not to mention, I think they are cute! I'm looking forward to seeing how long they last, but their construction seems quite sturdy, so I'm confident they'll make a run for it.
So if you're looking for a simple way to green up your grocery run, I would highly reccomend the Flip & Tumble produce bags. They're price savy, have sturdy construction, and are a GREAT way to eliminate using those awful plastic produce bags! This discussion begs the question- what are you doing to green up your lifestyle?