Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Recipe Roundup

Before long, it'll be rainy day, gray skies and cooler weather. There's just something about curling up on the couch with a good book and a bowl mac and cheese. Comfort foods are called so for a reason, but I'm always on the hunt for an interesting twist. Here's a few of my recent finds.

I recently learned about a new trend "waffling," essentially putting unexpected foods into a waffle iron to see what happens. I'll admit I was skeptical at first, but then the idea actually intrigued me. However while waffles are a brunch staple, I'll order in a restaurant, a waffle iron is one of the few gadgets missing from my kitchen. I've never really been able to justify it, knowing it would probably gather more dust than oil. But this recipe from FWx has me wanting to run to the store right now. It throws some of my favorite flavors into the same dish, ones I might never have put together. Cheddar and beer are perfect compliments, I don't know why I never considered using them together in a biscuit batter or waffles as FWx did. And the honey and sriracha, perhaps unexpected, sound like a great spicy-sweet glaze for fried chicken.

My breakfast staple. I could eat eggs over easy day in day out, even with all the talk that eggs can lead to bad cholesterol. I loved this roundup from Food 52 because it speaks to one of my favorite aspects of cooking. No two cooks are the same, give them the same recipe and every person will put their own spin. Even with a simple fried egg, there are endless ways to make it. My preferred technique is similar to Emily Vikre's -- a frying pan on medium-high heat and a pad of butter, and I remove the pan from the heat when I flip my egg. It's been fun trying these other methodologies to see how the end result differs.

Mac and cheese, I've been known to make lists of restaurants to try based on hearing they have a great macaroni and cheese, I've got one entire cookbook devoted entirely to the dish, and I will constantly experiment with different cheeses and mix-ins. I made these macaroni and cheese muffins for a going-away potluck a while back, and they're much easier to eat while mingling carrying around a bowl and spoon. What's great about this recipe is the addition of the Dijon mustard and butternut squash puree.

I immediately cut out the recipe card for this from the back of this past month's Real Simple magazine. Of course, it's got bourbon, apple and vanilla, an absolutely delightful combination of flavors. But what really intrigued me was the use of grits in the cake batter. This is definitely on my "Must Bake" list, and I can't wait to share with you how it turns out. 

Bourbon has been my spirit of choice now for a while. While I usually drink it neat or with one or two ice cubes, I do enjoy finding creative cocktails that utilize it. The bourbon brulé from NY Times Cooking combines some flavors I wouldn't have imagined trying together all at once -- bourbon, orange, ginger and sherry. If it tastes as good as it looks in the picture, it'll make a worthy drink for holiday celebrations.

I love sweet potato fries. What I really need to find is a place that serves endless baskets. But let's be serious, they're really not that difficult to make at home, I've just never tried. I found this great recipe on NY Times Cooking, just six ingredients and barely any time at all. What took me so long?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Three to Try :: Phoenix

Since moving to Phoenix three years ago, I've watched a culinary scene continue to expand and I continue to find new favorites. Great food combined with a great atmosphere will keep me coming back to a restaurant again and again. I am especially drawn to farm to table or seasonal concepts and locally-owned establishments. Today I share my current Phoenix favorites, three restaurants that feature locally-sourced ingredients and a warm, inviting ambiance that makes you feel instantly at home and all uniquely repurpose old buildings.

Smoked Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, Southern Rail

Southern Rail
Chef Justin Beckett was a 2012 nominee for Food & Wine Magazines's Best New Chef after opening Beckett's Table in 2010. Beckett's Table is unique in its combination of sophisticated comfort food, local ingredients and humble atmosphere. When Beckett opened his second restaurant, Southern Rail, earlier this year, I knew it would quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in Phoenix. Southern Rail is grounded in the same approach as Beckett's Table while emphasizing the flavors of the American South.

I first visited Southern Rail, which revives the space once home to the iconic Beef Eater restaurant, the weekend it opened and quite possibly wanted to try everything on the menu, which features a variety of small plates, entrees and hearty side dishes. On that first visit, the gumbo and heaping plate of beignets really stood out and showed Beckett's attention to traditional recipes. When I returned with my Mom she was equally impressed with the atmosphere and creative twist on southern classics. The cider-brined pork loin was moist, flavorful and by the time I finished it looked as though I might have licked my plate clean.

Next up I am excited to try Southern Rail's weekend brunch. I think my sister would adore the fried green tomato benedict, the hoe cakes and SR bread pudding frunch toast sound delightfully decadent and who could pass up a good dutch pancake. If the sticky buns are anything like their pull-apart brioche, someone will have to stop me from eating them all. And I am hoping to get a seat at their dinner with guest chef Sean Brock, of Husk in Charleston and Nashville.

Bruschetta, Postino

Postino at first glance is the neighborhood wine bar and cafe, but spend a little time at each Valley location and you come to learn that it is so much more. Each location is housed in a building of historical significance to the surrounding community, and the communal dining rooms are a welcome gathering place. Known for unique wines, amazing bruschetta, cozy patios and a mix of vintage and edgy decor, Postino has its niche and does it exceedingly well. With the opening of a fourth location in Tempe this week, I don't even have to drive very far to enjoy the best bruschetta in town!

The menu may be limited -- mostly sandwiches, salads and their signature bruschetta -- but it's all fresh and excellent for pairing with their changing selection of wine and craft beer. it's one has made them one of the most popular places in town. Try to get a table on a Monday or Tuesday and you'll find yourself waiting for upwards of an hour. It's worth the wait for their killer deal -- after 8 p.m., you can enjoy a bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for just $20.

Liberty Market
Liberty Market operates in what was quite literally once the neighborhood market. Today it is a neighborhood bistro in Gilbert serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The servings are generous and the conversation flows easily in their open dining room. Chef David Traina and his wife Kiersten, run the day-to-day and never cease to have a smile on their faces. They share a passion for food with the other co-owners Phoenix restaurateur Joe Johnston and his wife Cindy, whose touch can be seen in the unassuming decor and friendly atmosphere.

My favorite chilaquiles in the Valley so far are Liberty Market's take on the traditional Mexican dish, with their green chile pork. With both a tomatillo sauce and red pequin pepper sauce, there's just the right level of spicy to not overpower the flavors of the pork. At dinner, Liberty Market serves such diverse offerings as the aforementioned green chile pork, wood-fired pizzas, baby-back ribs, loaded salads and burgers. I recommend the grilled chicken pasta, which is finished with chopped bacon, smoked mozzarella, and fresh vegetables in a parmesan cream sauce. From what I could see at the tables around me, I don't think you can go wrong with anything on the menu. And be on the lookout for specials, I had the most delicious Italian pistachio cake (not a regular on their dessert menu) to finish my meal on one recent visit.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Easy for Everyday :: Apple Cinnamon Buttermilk Scones

I can't usually go a weekend without baking something, and this weekend was no exception. The weather has finally cooled down a bit in Phoenix, I woke up to temperatures in the 70s! So this morning I decided to incorporate one of my favorite flavors of fall, cinnamon apples, into scones. I remember eagerly watching my mom prepare scones when I was growing up, but I never really paid close enough attention to make them myself. When I first tried making scones myself a few years ago, I realized they are quite easy to prepare and take relatively little time to bake. And scones are like biscuits in that you can easily transform them from a morning pastry to a savory side dish, simply by changing up the mix-ins to your batter.

1 granny smith apple
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter

2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a small sauce pan, melt 1 tbsp butter. 
3. Dice apple into small chunks, about the width of your thumb. (You want them large enough to maintain a slight crunch after baking the scones)
4. Add apples, brown sugar and cinnamon to the melted butter. Stir so that apples are fully coated. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl.
6. Cut in butter, until flour mixture resembles coarse crumbs. 
7. In a small bowl, beat eggs and whisk in buttermilk, milk and cinnamon apples. 
8. Add all at once to flour mixture, and stir with a fork until batter is just moistened. 
9. Turn out dough onto a flour surface and form into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Cut dough into triangles.
10. Arrange scones on a lined baking sheet so they are not touching.
11. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until golden brown.  

Makes 16 small or 8 large scones

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Recipe Roundup :: Something sweet

Anyone who knows me know that I've got a sweet tooth. Like I've said before, I have favorite pastry shops or ice cream shops in almost every city I've spent more than a couple days in. And my sister is a pastry chef who she makes the most delectable treats. Of course I would love to live closer to her, but I know if that happened I'd have to develop some serious self control because I wouldn't be able to help myself from eating her sweets all the time.

Chocolate chip sour cream coffee cake
I always like to start my week off on the right foot, and what better way to do that then with a great breakfast. With that in mind, Monday morning I made this coffee cake I found on Smitten Kitchen. I allowed myself to sleep in a bit, so it was more like a late brunch by the time the 45-minute baking time was through. But my apartment was filled with the smell of chocolate and I soon learned it was worth the wait. The freshly baked coffee cake was rich and moist, but the cinnamon covered chocolate in every bite left me wanting another piece. Deb claims this coffee cake "might make you feel unintentionally wronged by every other coffee cake" that came before it. I don't think she was kidding, it's that good.

Apple cider donuts
Yesterday was the first day of fall, and for me that means apples. I love hot spiced cider, apple pie, and apple butter. I've been meaning to attempt a homemade donut project for a while now, and these apple cider donuts I found on Food 52 seem like the perfect opportunity. My mouth waters just reading the recipe. Maybe my friends are adventurous enough to let me try the recipe on them for brunch.

Funfetti cake
From scratch, that is. Food 52 shares the secrets to making everyone's favorite birthday cake at home, no box necessary. Little did I know the complexity of our beloved funfetti cake, it's all about the right balance to get the sprinkles to suspend in the cake batter. This recipe is worth trying for an upcoming birthday, as I really hate using store-bought mixes when I bake anything. Baked good just taste better when you make them homemade.

Mini blueberry tarts
A fresh dessert with some hearty oats added to the topping. This would be another good option for a brunch or cocktail party or shower, as the tarts look adorable! Hopefully I'll find an event that lets me give this recipe a try.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Travels and Top Chefs

Duck egg raviolo at Juniper & Ivy

Top Chef is one of my favorite guilt pleasure shows, food TV meets reality TV. Between the professional chefs, quickfire challenges and destination finales, I find endless inspiration. Over the many seasons of the show, there were a few creative chefs that really caught my eye. And it only fuels my desire to travel to new cities, so I can dine at these chefs' restaurants. In the past year, I was had the opportunity to visit restaurants owned by my four favorite Top Chefs and I can say each of these restaurants is worth traveling for.

Juniper & Ivy
Ever since I watched Richard Blais on season four of Top Chef and then again as he won Top Chef All Stars, I have been inspired by his adventurous cooking style. And equally determined to try one of his restaurants. Blais has trained with some of the best chefs in the business, including Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. But he's really forged his own way with his restaurants where he reinvents classic dishes often utilizing cutting edge cooking techniques like liquid nitrogen. For a while it seemed like I would have to wait to dine at The Spence or Flip Burger in Atlanta. That is until I saw Blais' announcement that he was opening a left-coast cookery in San Diego. Take my beloved west-coast regional cuisine, mix it with Blais' modernist signatures -- I knew it was sure to amaze.

And a chef who finds inspiration in both June gloom and Coachella dates, that's definitely something I can relate to. So I was determined to try Juniper and Ivy as soon as possible. Lucky for me, Blais opened Juniper and Ivy in March and I was headed to San Diego for a belated birthday celebration with my parents, so I didn't have to wait long at all. My mom and I delighted in trying the Coachella dates with lamb bacon for an appetizer, and then decided to order a variety of small plates so we could try more things. The smoked swordfish with gooseberries and mustard caviar was a must, as non-traditional caviar is a Blais signature. Our meal was ronded out with a refreshing asparagus panna cotta, duck egg raviolo and slow-roasted beets with ricotta. We finished with not one but three desserts, it was my birthday after all. I think my favorite was either the yodel, their take on the Hostess treat with a hot chocolate sauce or the citrus marshmallow sorbet that accompanied the pine needle meringue.

From the beautiful menu design to the high-energy design of the restaurant space to the plating of the food, this designer was in awe. The beauty of the restaurant matched the amazing flavors in our meal. As we talked with our waiter, he discovered how anxious I had been to try the restaurant, traveling from Phoenix for my birthday dinner, so he sent Richard Blais to the table! It was such a pleasure meeting him and talking about the food. It's definitely one of my more treasured memories and it left me with an even greater desire to go to Atlanta to try The Spence.

Over Memorial Weekend, I took a trip to one of my favorite cities to visit a few close friends who had recently relocated. After studying in D.C. during a summer in college, it has come to hold a special place in my heart. I am fascinated by the history, the politics, the museums and the restaurant scene that has blossomed in the years since I lived there. Prior to my visit, I quite literally scheduled my meals, so I could try almost every restaurant on my list and see as many friends as possible. One such restaurant belongs to Spike Mendelsohn, my other favorite chef from what was obviously my favorite season, season four, and Top Chef All Stars. Bérnaise, Mendelsohn's most recent restaurant venture, opened last June and it's been on my D.C. list ever since I read it was opening. Mendelsohn grew up in Montreal and spent time working in France, and the restaurant embodies the French bistro experience I am sure Mendelsohn is familiar with.

A two-story walk up in Capitol Hill, the design is chic and the atmosphere is inviting. My trip fell not long after brunch service started at Bernaise, so I joined my friends Julia and Charlsy for my favorite meal of the day. We sat on the second floor beside a window overlooking the bustling street below. It seemed so quintessentially French in my mind, despite never having been to Paris. I was immediately drawn to the crème brûlée French toast. Toasted brioche soaked in a crème anglaise, it was so decadent and so delicious. I would eat it again and again. And we so enjoyed our meal at Bérnaise that upon another friend's trip to D.C., Julia introduced her to the bistro as well.

Last fall I had the opportunity to attend a design conference in Louisville. I love attending conferences because it usually takes me to a new city and it puts me in the same room with others who share my passion and drive. These past couple years I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people who I have looked up to, who inspire me and who I can now call friends. I usually go to new cities armed with at least a few restaurant ideas and recommendations (some cities that list is longer than the one for sightseeing). For Louisville, I knew one of my meals had to be at an Edward Lee restaurant, a competitor on Top Chef season nine. Milkwood was right around the corner from our hotel so I persuaded a few of my new friends to join me for dinner there.

In addition to it's southern meets global cuisine, the restaurant is known around town for great cocktails. The drink menu is uniquely arranged by flavor -- sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami. Given we were in bourbon country, I opted for the "salty" Firth of Forth. It was an adventurous choice mixing Bulliet Rye, vanilla and worcestershire sauce. But it was my dinner, the slow-roasted miso chicken that really wowed. I am not exaggerating when I say it's probably the best chicken I've ever tasted, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth and bursting with flavor.

The Voltaggio brothers are perhaps two of the most talented chefs to ever compete on Top Chef, both making it to the finale of season six. Michael Voltaggio edged out his brother to win the competition and in 2011 he opened ink. in West Hollywood. I attended college in Los Angeles but graduated before Voltaggio left The Dining Room in Pasadena to open his own restaurant. However I frequently return to L.A. to visit college friends, so I made it a priority to make it to ink. or at the very least ink.sack, Voltaggio's gourmet sandwich shop.

Last summer, on my way out of town, I stopped for breakfast and a stroll on Melrose. It suddenly occurred to me that while I had not found time to dine at ink., I could quite easily grab something from ink.sack to enjoy on my ride back. Problem solved. The restaurant reflects the energy and spirit I saw of Michael Voltaggio on Top Chef. And while the sandwiches are quite affordable, that does not mean they skimp on flavor. After perusing the nearly two dozen options, I opted for a pastrami sandwich that came with horseradish cream and dijon mustard. I have a weakness for great sandwiches, like this one, so there's no doubt in my mind I'll return to ink.sack on future visits to L.A. And eventually I am going to have a meal at ink,, I am still determined.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Recipe Roundup

Before I get into the recipes in today's roundup, I wanted to share where I go for my meal inspiration. While I have a bookcase overflowing with cookbooks and numerous links and magazines I love to peruse, Bon Appétit continues to be my favored resource. It's even surpassed at this point my admiration for the shuttered Gourmet, which seamlessly wove together my love of food and travel. Bon Appétit, even with it's drool-worthy photography, sense of adventure and sophistication, is still approachable. The staff is dedicated to making even the most complex recipes, easy for cooks of any experience level to follow and recreate. And the editors share a joie de vivre that comes through in the magazine's voice. I anxiously await the arrival of each month's issue in my mailbox and then proceed to sit on my patio armed with sticky notes and a cup of coffee. I obsess over Andrew Knowlton's instagram feed, subscribe to daily Bon Appétit recipe blasts, peruse the same issues again on my iPad delighting in the interactivity and reread the annual Travel Issue and Best New Restaurants list at least a few times.

I keep just one cookbook on my kitchen counter. While the others sit on a bookshelf in my living room, this one has stains from over-zealous mixing. The red-plaid Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook was a gift from my mom, and it's where I learned the pancake recipe I now know by heart and refer to when I forget cooking times or temperatures for meat and vegetables. My other favorite anthologies are Gourmet Today, Bon Appétit Desserts and The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook. The rest of my cookbooks tend to be a single-subject, whether its brunch, mac & cheese, Irish pub cooking or one of my favorites foods, the potato.

Often I turn online for inspiration. Sometimes I search with a specific idea of a dish I'd like to make, other times it's about perusing through email blasts and blogs until a recipe catches my eye. My favorite websites right now are Food 52 and the new New York Times Cooking site. Food 52 is an online cooking community, where readers can share recipes, ask questions and find columns and blogs on specific food-related topics. The New York Times Cooking site is a home for the New York Times' library of over 10,000 recipes. It's a beauty and the recipes are searchable by ingredient, skill level, meal and more. I really enjoy Editor Sam Sifton's weekly newsletter where he shares his tips and ideas for what to cook.

Recipe Roundup
Click on names to link to the original recipe

Spaghetti with strawberry tomato sauce
This recipe is from Bon Appétit's pick for Best New Restaurant 2014. I was in D.C. in May (expect a post soon about my food finds) and regret not making it to Rose's Luxury. So now it's at the top of my list for my next visit. In the meantime, I am looking forward to this spicy-sweet take on traditional spaghetti.

Roasted apple butter
I won't let a season stop me from eating apples, but nothing feels more autumn to me than apple pie and apple butter. For a while my mom kept sending me jars of apple butter from trips to different farms in California. But now I've found a surprisingly easy recipe to make my own. It's perfect timing too, I'm running low!

Company eggs
Eggs are one of my favorite things to cook with, a necessity in baking and perfect for any meal from a simple fried egg for breakfast to a complex quiche for dinner. These company eggs sound like the sort of thing I'll want to eat all day.

Whole roasted cauliflower with whipped goat cheese
Remember my new found appreciation for cauliflower, well now I found a delightfully decadent recipe to try. This recipe features three kinds of goat cheese, white wine and roasted cauliflower. I can't wait to share how this one turns out.