Saturday, October 20, 2007

It Burns Us, Precious!

by Erin and Xani

The other night, we decided to get together at Xani's house and cook us up some dinner and spend some time together before Xani goes off on her next trip for work (to LA - stay tuned for some more posts about great LA eats!).

Xani found an Epicurious recipe for Butternut Squash and Noodles with Coconut, Lime and Cilantro Sauce, which not only sounded delicious, but Xani had all the ingredients in her house already! There was, however, one thing we didn't have: dessert. So, before heading to Xani's, we stopped at Dangerously Delicious, a local pie shop, and picked up a few slices for later.

Dangerously Delicious is an adorable little shop in the heart of Federal Hill, which has a wide selection of both sweet and savory pies. While possibly a little overpriced, their pies are absolutely delicious, and the service is always friendly, warm, and personalized. We got two slices to share but we'll get to that in a bit...

As soon as we got home, we started prepping for dinner. Xani chopped the onion and the cut up the butternut squash, while Erin minced the garlic and attempted to seed and mince the jalapeno. This is where the title of this post comes in. In our experience with jalapenos, 9 times out of 10 (or maybe 19 times out of 20!), the jalapenos are a dud. It's not spicy at all - it's like eating a bell pepper! Not this time, though. Erin sliced open the jalapeno and immediately started choking from the fumes. She tasted an itty-bitty piece and it was so spicy she spit it out immediately and directly into the sink! (There wasn't even that moment like, "Is this spicy? (pause) Oh yeah, it's spicy!" - the pain was IMMEDIATE.) This started the endless "It burns us, precious!" commentary from Erin. (Nerd Alert!!)

Devil Pepper!

Orange squash and black nail polish - very Halloween!

Anyway, burning aside, we sauteed up the onions in oil, then added the butternut squash. Then we added chicken broth (previously frozen into one-ounce cubes, for easy use), garlic, and the devil jalapeno (which we left whole so we could remove it later, instead of chopping, for fear of the havoc it might wreak on our dinner). Then we added light coconut milk, lime juice, and red curry paste. YUM! Meanwhile, we boiled up some linguine (instead of udon noodles, didn't have any of those) to the perfect al dente. We tossed the pasta with the sauce, then added chopped cilantro and chopped salted peanuts (the peanuts were our own addition to the recipe).

The dish was very good. As one of the comments on the Epicurious site suggested, a little bit of fish sauce would have added a nice additional dimension to the dish. Also, maybe a bit more curry paste. All in all, though, a great dish.

Final plating of the dish

Then it was time for dessert! From Dangerously Delicious we got two slices: one slice of Strawberry/Apple/Peach pie, and one of Lemon Chess pie. While at the bakery we got a little lesson on Chess Pie, learning that it is a clear custard-based pie, typically made in the South. Neat!

Lemon Chess Pie

Strawberry/Peach/Apple Pie

Both the pies were great. The Strawberry/Apple/Peach pie was very sweet, and the strawberry was definitely the most prominent flavor. The Lemon Chess was also very sweet, and tasted a lot like a lemon bar.

After dinner we researched how to cure Erin's now-burning hands and arm (she had a mosquito bite on her arm, which she scratched with her jalapeno-hands). We used lots of soap and water, rubbing alcohol, and aloe. How did those cures work out? Let's just say Erin slept in her contact lenses that night. So, the lesson here: wear gloves when dealing with peppers! Even if you think there's no chance in hell they'll be hot, don't take the risk!

Despite the jalapeno drama, it was a really fun time together, as always. Yay BCD sisters!

Happy eating,

E & X

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Meal that was Sweet from Beginning to End!

By Xani and Erin

I bet you loyal readers (all three of you!) are wondering what happened to all the cooking posts we used to do. Lately Black Coffee and a Donut has become more of a travel food blog, with both of us reporting on our dining experiences in different cities. But we always come back to our roots, so here it is, a good, old-fashioned, Sunday Dinner Post. Enjoy!

Last Sunday it was Xani's choice for the menu, and she had several requests. First, she wanted veal, in some form, for the main dish. Second, she wanted to make this Brussels sprouts recipe from Gourmet Magazine which was highly recommended on another of our favorite food blogs, The Amateur Gourmet. Everything else was fair game, to be determined by what BCD parents had picked up at the store that day, or what was available in the pantry. The final menu turned out to be:

  • Champagne cocktails
  • Homemade Asian bar mix (from Food and Wine Magazine)
  • Oysters on the Half Shell
  • Veal chops with sage
  • Ssam Bar Brussels Sprouts
  • Roasted Barley Pilaf
  • Cheesecake brulee!

During the day there was prep work to be done: Mom prepared the pilaf using both regular barley and some roasted barley she and BCD Dad picked up at the Asian market, H-Mart. Roasted barley is traditionally used to make teas and beers, but after fighting about it for a while we decided it might make an interesting addition to our usual (We think its from James Beard?) pilaf recipe, which calls for lots of butter, chopped onions and mushrooms, and chicken stock.

Xani prepped most of the Brussels sprouts ingredients, including trimming and halving the sprouts, and making the dressing from fish sauce, water, sugar, a couple sliced Thai red chilies, mint leaves and chopped cilantro STEMS (what a great way to use up all those leftover cilantro stems!) Later Erin prepared another unusual part of this dish-- the toasted Rice Krispies (well, we used store brand... we're so classy) with Japanese 7-spice powder. And, of course, we just happened to have some Japanese 7-spice powder sitting in the pantry. NORMAL!

When evening rolled around, it was time to get to the real cooking. But first (all together now), COCKTAILS!

BCD Dad picked up sugar cubes at the store so we could drink classic champagne cocktails. The recipe is simple: place a cube in each champagne flute, add a few dashes of angostura bitters, and fill with sparkling wine. This is a great drink to order at a fancy restaurant, to serve at a cocktail party, or to sip while one hand is reaching for freshly-shucked oysters (thanks BCD Dad!) and the other is searing veal chops-- its an all-purpose drink, really.

As we sipped drinks, nibbled snack mix, and slurped oysters, the rest of the meal came together. While Dad seared off the sage-rubbed veal chops, then finished them in the oven, we reheated the already-cooked pilaf and got to work on finishing the sprouts.

The sprouts roasted in a hot oven until the outer leaves were dark and crispy. We almost had a disaster here-- the recipe said to roast them for 40 minutes. We checked them after 20 and they were definitely dark and crispy, another 20 and they would have been charcoal. So we yanked them out of the oven early and began assembling the rest of the dish. We now realize that here, we made a potentially TRAGIC omission-- we forgot the butter! In all the commotion of getting the sprouts out of the oven before they were incinerated, we regretfully forgot we were supposed to toss them with butter! It is a testament to how good this dish was that it still tasted great even without the butter. Instead we tossed them with the dressing, and began plating the meal.

Each plate got a chop, a serving of pilaf, and a serving of sprouts topped with the spiced rice krispies (maybe we should called them "spiced krispies"?) and garnished with chopped cilantro leaves and scallions.

Everything on the plate was great! The veal was absolutely delicious. Perfectly cooked (we thought it was interesting that the suggested cooking temps for medium-rare veal ranged from 150-170. This is a lot hotter than medium-rare beef, which we cook to the nice round temp of 123. We settled on about 155 for the veal and it was dead-on) and you could really taste the sage. Barley pilaf was rich, delicious, comfort food, as usual, but the addition of the roasted barley gave it a new toasty, nutty flavor, and added another dimension to the texture. We liked it but will also continue to make this recipe with just standard barley. The Brussels sprouts were great-- the flavor combinations, while a little unexpected, were so delicious. The salty/sweet/sour from the fish sauce, a little bit of heat from the chilies, and crunch and spice from the spiced krispies. Just awesome. We will definitely make this dish again, and we will be saving our cilantro stems in anticipation!

Now, after that amazing meal, normally we would wrap up the meal with a little ice cream. But not this night. Oh no. This night we went ALL OUT! Mom and Dad picked up a mini-cheesecake at the store earlier that day, then Dad sent a text to Xani letting her know she needed to bring her kitchen-sized blow-torch with her when she came home for dinner. Perhaps you see where this is going...we were going to attempt the Cheesecake Brulee from 1776!

This recipe/technique turned out to be pretty simple considering the fabulous results. We just sprinkled regular granulated sugar over the top of the cheesecake, then lit the torch and held it over the sugar until it caramelized, and then let it cool while we brewed up some good strong coffee.

How delicious does this look?! OMG. It was awesome... just as good as the 1776 version, and in a more reasonable portion size. Also, it was really fun to play with the torch. However, Xani complained that her kitchen torch was not powerful enough, and she and Dad discussed the possibility of getting a plumbers torch to use for next time. We would also recommend keeping the cheesecake very cold (and maybe even putting it in the freezer for a few minutes) before torching. But, we cannot say enough about this dessert... so much pay off with very little effort! This recipe may be making an appearance at a future cocktail party in mini-form-- OMG!

Erin, Xani and Gellie enjoying a cup of joe

It was great to have the family all together to celebrate one of our most treasured traditions: eating. Okay okay, being all together is pretty great too. Stay tuned for BCD Dad's upcoming birthday dinner, and you know what that means! LOBSTER!

Happy eating,

X & E

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What? We don't have Style?

Baltimore Style Magazine just published this on their website-- a list of 15 Baltimore Food Bloggers. Noticeably absent: Black Coffee and a Donut! What up with that?! Nice to see some familiar bloggers listed, however.

Oh well, hopefully next time we won't get SNUBBED! This made us cry in our coffee....

X & E

P.S. Maybe next time a delicious bribe is in order...?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dinner with Tom Colicchio

by Erin

While in New York, not only did I get to eat at one of Mario Batali's restaurants, but I was also able to eat at one of Chef Tom Colicchio's restaurants, Craftbar. Granted, it was on the same day (I feel full just thinking about it), but time was limited since I was only there for a short weekend, and we had to do what we had to do.

So, after leaving Lupa, Lauren and I strolled around NYC for about 4 hours, trying to both work off our previous ridiculous meal, and work up an appetite for the next. We only stopped briefly to people-watch (aka judge others on their choice of attire, and/or go crazy for the cute dogs who passed by).

As I said before, Craftbar is one of Tom Colicchio's (head judge of the fabulous Bravo show, Top Chef) restaurants, and it's supposed to be his "causal" counterpart to his original restaurant, Craft. I was very excited to eat there since I watch Chef Tom rip apart the contestants on Top Chef every week, and finally I could taste some of his own work.

We arrived a bit early for our 7:45 reservation, expecting to get a drink at the bar to kill time, but we were seated right away. The restaurant was a large space, but was very dimly lit. We were seated in a "cozy" alcove with several 2-person tables. The tables were very close together, so the couple seated next to us pretty much heard every word of our (sometimes ridiculous) conversation. We also noticed that they weren't really talking to each other at all...awkward! Ah well, we were happy to entertain them.

Anyway, since we were moderately hungry but certainly not starving, we had to think of an appropriate game plan for what to order. We ended up getting three first courses and a main to share. But first, we of course ordered cocktails. After a bit of a fiasco with my drink order ("You really stumped the bartender with your Tom Collins order...Here's, uh, his best shot."), we both ended up with a glass of Prosecco. Delicious.

For our first appetizer, we ordered Mixed Greens with Ricotta Salata. The salad had a nice, bright vinaigrette on it, and little bits of the ricotta salata running through it. It was very good but paled in comparison to what came next...

Next we had the Pecorino Stuffed Risotto Balls (which we saw the tight-lipped couple next to us order when we first sat down). These were DELICIOUS! The outside was crispy and greasy (but not in a bad way...haha), and inside was delicious risotto and a bit of stringy pecorino...yum. The risotto balls were served over a bit of marinara sauce, which was delicious and complimented the risotto balls nicely.

For our third appetizer, we got the Calamari with Arugula and Lemon Confit. This, Dear Reader, was probably the very best grilled calamari I've ever had! The calamari was perfectly cooked, it had some sort of seasoning on it to give it a bit of heat, and it went spectacularly with the peppery arugula. I think this dish had crack in it. It was that good.

After recovering from the awesome calamari, it was time for our main dish. We ordered the Short Ribs with Caramelized Onions and Local Beets. Once again, this was an INCREDIBLE dish! The meat was tender and so flavorful, and its intensity played off the sweetness and freshness of the beets and the onions. There was also freshly grated horseradish root on the top, which, while I would have preferred for it to have a bit more heat, it had a lovely flavor. I just can't get over how good this was! I want it right now!

Then it was time to order dessert and coffee. We ordered the Brown Sugar Cake with Cinnamon Ice Cream. This was delicious - the cake was sweet but not too sweet, and the best part was the cinnamon ice cream. The chef was clever here - he put the ice cream on a bed of cake crumbs so it wouldn't melt into a big mess and roll around the plate - smart!

There is one last thing to discuss: the fact that it says "Happy Birthday" on the dessert plate. This is a mystery to both me and Lauren to this day since neither of us have a birthday coming up, and neither of us EVER said anything to our waiter about a birthday...hmmm. The waiter even came up to me and said quietly, "Happy Birthday." Um, what?! He was a weird waiter, and if I had to criticize anything about this experience it would definitely be the service. He had a bit of an attitude but was trying to be funny about it, which was in actuality not funny at all. Ah well, I would definitely go back and try to get a different waiter!

It was another great meal with Lauren in NYC, and I am so glad I got to visit her finally! I love you, Lauren! Thank you for everything!

Happy eating,


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fresh Mozzarella Two Ways

by Xani

I picked up a ball of fresh mozzarella the other day at Wegmans. It was calling out to me from the cheese case. I just couldn't resist.

Dish #1: I turned about half of it into a lovely tomato, mozzarella and parsley salad. Pretty basic, but isn't this one of the joys of cooking and eating-- a few fresh, high-quality ingredients, prepared simply? I think so.

Dish # 2: A few more slices of the mozzarella ended up, slightly melted, on top of crusty french baguette. As if that weren't delicious as is, I went one step further and topped it with a couple perfectly crisp slices of bacon. This was a beautiful creation, don't you agree? It tasted even better, and paired just right with a simple salad--a perfect weekend lunch.

Next time I pick up mozzarella at the store, what else should I make with it?


P.S. I'm already thinking white pizza with bacon would be pretty fan-effing-tastic!

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