Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fiorella's (restaurant review)

Pesce Florentine

Readers, I am a selfish girl. Since I started this blog, I have hesitated writing up a review on Fiorella's because - quite frankly - I don't want people to know about it. To have a North End-quality restaurant within walking distance of my house is such an incredible luxury...but this place is tiny . The more people that know about it, the longer I'm going to have to wait for a table - and quite frankly, that's a huge sacrifice for me. After another fantabulous meal there this weekend, though...well, it's really just not fair of me not to share. You're welcome.

North End-quality might not actually be a fair description, as Fiorella's food is actually better than some meals I've had there. The location isn't quite as nice - smack in the middle of an industrial area, shoehorned in between a garage and a strip mall of sorts. (Speaking of shoehorns, when I was a kid this same building housed a shoestore that was most notable for the collection of old shoes on the roof...when you got a new pair, you got to throw your old ones up on the roof. Pretty damn cool ! ). Close your eyes and walk in the door, though, and you are instantly transported. Chefs bustle in an open kitchen, from which the most delightful smells imaginable waft towards you. The restaurant only takes reservations for parties of six or more, so you'll need to put your name on the list. If you're lucky, there will be some room at the standing bar, where the nice bartenders will distract you with drinks (great wine list, plus some delicious mixed drinks) and some really amazing breadsticks from their brick oven along with their fantastic marinara for dipping.


beware of filling up on these...

For appetizers this trip, we went with two of our favorites : Arancini (rice balls stuffed with mozzarella, coated with breadcrumbs and fried) and Melanzane Al Forno (breaded slices of eggplant, fried and topped with a tomato-basil sauce, baked in the wood burning oven and served with fresh mozzarella cheese and basil ). It was difficult to limit ourselves to two appetizers - the bruschetta in particular is amazing - but we did want to at least try to order dinner, so two was it :

two shots of the Arancini
Melanzane Al Forno
For dinner, we went with one of the specials - Pesce Florentine. Lobster, shrimp, scallops and mussels simmered in a garlic-cream sauce with mushrooms and baby spinach, tossed with fresh rigatoni and Romano cheese. Pictured at the top of this entry, this dish was just perfection...just a few of my favorite things :) 

Since we were doing a fish main course, we were leaning towards a white wine...problem being, we're really more of red wine drinkers - plus we were having that amazing marinara with our appetizers. Our fantastic waiter (who has similar thoughts on white wine) recommended a Gavi di Gavi, which was awesome - stood up to the red sauce and went beautifully with the pasta.

For dessert, back to the specials : Limoncello Raspberry Cake, accompanied by cappuccino. Light, with the perfect balance of sweet and tang...really, just the perfect end to this meal.

In summary - do yourself a favor, and get yourself to Fiorella's. Amazing food, wonderful service, and a heck of a lot easier parking than the North End.

Enjoy !!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Southern Sliders (Buttermilk Biscuits with Country Ham and Tangerine Marmalade)

Mark and I have been craving these for many, many years...ever since our dear friends Bill and Tarina were married in Nashville. Of course, they didn't call them "sliders" then...sort of an annoyingly trendy term, I know - but now that we've actually made them, that's the first and best name we thought of. Damn insidious trends !! of the delicious items served at Bill and Tarina's wedding was so simple - and so good - that we couldn't believe we hadn't thought of it : light and fluffy biscuits - not too huge - with slivers of honest-to-goodness country ham and orange marmalade. Pretty unusual combination, we thought...but really absolutely perfect together - the sweet-tart orange perfectly complimented the salty, smoky ham. And who doesn't love a good biscuit ? We've seriously been talking about these ever since the wedding...and that's quite a few years ago, now.

Flash we are with the remnants of a country ham just begging to be used, an afternoon beer run to Marty's with a chance walk by some really lovely preserves, and buttermilk to be used in the was time to give this one a go. Being foodies, we of course had to try to kick it up just a tiny bit...enter a previously unknown elixir : tangerine marmalade.

This stuff is seriously genius. Good orange marmalade is delicious enough (and works just fine on these, if that's what you can get), but the tangerine just elevates it to another level.

Two of the main ingredients down, one to go...we were going to need some biscuits. Buttermilk, flaky, fluffy...time to consult a go-to guy : Alton Brown

the perfect biscuit
Alton's recipes have never, ever let me down - and this one delivered. Perfect ! I made them a little bigger than Alton specified (2 1/2 inch instead of 2), but otherwise, followed his recipe exactly...why mess with success ? 

One note on the slider construction - use of cheese is optional. Nashville didn't serve them with cheese, but we decided to go ahead and try it...jury's still out on that one. These are fantastic with the cheese and fantastic without - Culinary Orgasm.

Southern Biscuits
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don't want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that's life.)

Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lamb Tagine (slow cooker)

food porn...
Today was my very first experience with tagine...oh baby, what a great dish. I need to tweak this a bit more - want to up the heat and the sweet - but it really is amazing, and a perfect dish for the slow cooker (Or it would have been perfect...if Sarah shared her lemons with me !! ;) )

Tagines are a Moroccan dish - a slow-cooked stew braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce (often served with or including preserved lemons...see link above). They are usually cooked in a special dish, also called a tagine...which I don't currently own, but I will...oh yes, I will.

here's the one I want - blue, of course !
Since I'm fresh out of tagine dishes...and since it's a slow-cooked stew...well, why not do it in the slow cooker ? You know how I love my slow-cooker...and really, it basically does the same thing : a glazed stoneware casserole dish, with a lid that keeps in the moisture. Definitely did the trick !

As I said, I do want to tweak it some...but here's what we have so far :

Slow-Cooker Lamb Tagine
adapted from Women's Day

1 tsp cumin
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp coriander
4 - 6 lbs boneless lamb, cut about double the size you would for stew (I used a 6 1/2 pound bone-in leg)
drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 leek, white and tender green only, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
1 pear, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup chopped dates, raisins, or currants
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (for garnish)

prepared couscous, for serving

Combine cumin, cinnamon, ginger and coriander. Toast the spice mixture in a skillet for a few minutes, until you can really smell it.

Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, and brown in the skillet in all sides in a little olive oil. Layer the lamb, vegetables, fruits and spice mixture - along with more salt and pepper - in the slow cooker. Deglaze the pan you used for the lamb with the chicken stock, and pour that into the slow cooker as well.

Cook the lamb on LOW for 8 - 10 hours, or on HIGH for 4 - 5 hours. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top before serving, and serve with the couscous.

yum !

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Savories - waffles, cherrystones, and a country ham dinner

Sunday dinner

So sorry I haven't been posting much, my peeps...busy times at Chez C.O. Of course, that doesn't mean I haven't been eating, mind...can't see that happening ! Today was a great food day, though, so I'm going to try to coax a post out of my sad, on-its-last-legs laptop...if you're reading this, then the old girl's got life in her yet ;)

We started off today with Blueberry-Pecan Waffles, a photo of which was the entirety of my last post. Once again, we seem to have a surplus of pancake mix - this time was an attempt at recreating the best beer batter of all time, made at my sister's on New Year's Eve. Didn't work as well this time - perhaps we needed to be a bit more tipsy - but we'll get that sucker perfected and blogged soon. In the interest of using up the mix, though, we did up a bowl via package directions, threw in a handful of chopped pecans and another of dried blueberries, two generous shakes of cinnamon and one of nutmeg, and ladled it into the waffle maker. A little of my beloved Grade B maple syrup...and a perfect, amazing, delectable breakfast.

Properly fortified, we made our way to Russo's. . Oh, how I love Russo's...I am so lucky to live so close, and doubly lucky that I got out of the house early today and didn't have to whack any grandmas to get through the aisles. Yes, I had to go to Stop & Shop afterwards for regular groceries - but that's not an issue for me; I actually like grocery shopping. Insane, I know :). Anyway, at Russo's we picked up all kinds of produce, including some gorgeous Rainbow Swiss Chard - my new vegetable crush. Tastes so good, and looks so cool on the plate  !! Not much of a recipe for this - chop into largeish sections, heat up some oil in a big saute pan (or in Mark's case, a wok)...saute a little crushed garlic for a minute or so, then throw the chard in, put the lid on, and turn it down. Cooks down in a few minutes...salt, pepper, and serve :

Rainbow Chard, sauteing away...

Home to cook....but first a light lunch : deviled eggs. Mark was making pickled eggs today, but I was able to snag a few for deviled eggs. I love, love, love deviled eggs. Nothing fancy about these...halved, hard-cooked eggs, smash up the yolks with mustard and mayo, back into the egg whites, sprinkle with parsley and smoked paprika. Heaven :). We also had a few cherrystones...they looked so good in the store, and really that's about all the excuse we need . We did them two ways - topped with caviar, and with Mark' killer homemade cocktail sauce - OMGWTF amazing :

What, so I keep caviar in my fridge..doesn't everyone ?

seriously, the cocktail sauce is killer....

Just a few light bites, in preparation for today's main kitchen guest : a country ham from the Fox Country Smokehouse in Canterbury, NH. We've been going to this smokehouse for's one of those places that you need to know how to get to : down a series of dirt roads for miles, through gorgeous rolling countryside...and then what looks like a barn in the middle of nowhere, filled with the most delicious smoked food imaginable. (Yes, you can order online from them as well...not nearly as fun though ! ). Mark's go-to ham glaze is good old Boar's Head  ...really the best stuff out there. He did an 8 1/2 pound bone-in ham 250 degrees for 3 hours, then 30 minutes at 375 after reglazing....and it was fantastic :

piggy goodness...
Along with the chard, we had the usual accompaniment to ham, at least usual around these premises : my infamous mac and cheese. I've posted my lobster variation on this before, but for ham, we go old school. I adapted this recipe out of a Yankee Magazine cookbook years ago...nothing fancy, but absolutely nothing better. This is what Culinary Orgasms are all about :

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

8 oz of your favorite short pasta
4 T butter, plus 2 T for topping
4  T flour
1 cup milk
1 cup light cream
3 cups grated cheese  - Cabot Extra Sharp preferred 
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs 

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

For cream sauce : melt 4 T of the butter in saucepan and whisk in flour. Slowly whisk in milk, then cream. Simmer 5 minutes or so, to get rid of raw flour taste.

Melt the remaining butter, and stir in the breadcrumbs.

Layer the pasta, cheese, sauce in a baking dish...then another layer of pasta, cheese, sauce...then top with a last layer of cheese. Top with the buttered crumbs, and bake in a 375 oven until bubbling and a bit golden (20 - 30 minutes, depending on your pan)

Blueberry-Pecan Waffles


Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chilled Lemon Soufflé

sadly only got around to photographing one serving...the next day !!!

So yes, there was Superbowl cooking - and what a spread it was. Buffalo Chili (as in made from ground buffalo) by Alex, some fantastic shrimp steamed up for cocktail by Mark, and just a couple of contributions from me : Frijoles Borrachos (beans to mix with the all-meat chili) and Cheesy Pepperjack Cornbread (see previous blog on NFL cooking here) , some carb friendly fare that I'll put together in another post (I'm working on a collection, for my food crazy and newly diabetic brother-in-law)...and a new dessert, Chilled Lemon Soufflé . I wanted something light but luscious, not chocolate (since that was on the low-carb menu), and most importantly something make ahead. I am a serious foodie, it's true....but a serious NFL junkie as well....and the last thing I want to be doing is cooking when there's a game on. (I also don't want to be : answering the phone, cleaning the house, or on the have been warned ;) )

This dessert was just amazing, and one I'll be making often. It's a bit different, as  soufflés's not baked, just mixed together and chilled. The recipe I adapted this from called for a collar - a fold of parchment paper tied around the rim of the dish - but where you're not baking this one it's not going to rise or anything...just put in in a dish it will fit in and don't bother with making yourself crazy with origami. I used a good old French White Corning casserole dish , but a large glass bowl or trifle dish would be gorgeous. It does involve eggs - so make sure yours are fresh beyond reproach - and a copious amount of lemon zest. Though I like the whole idea of organic foods, I would never presume to tell someone else to buy them...but in the case of lemons that you're going to be zesting, I kind of like to go the extra mile (and $$) and buy organic. I'm always a bit leery of whatever they spray those trees with, and the spray is on the outside, where the zest is. If you do buy conventional lemons (and I've zested many) just make sure to scrub them really, really well. Oh, and if you don't have a zester , just use a peeler...try and peel only the yellow part, and chop it really fine once you get it off.

Garnish with the Almond Topping and fresh berries of your choice...for a true Culinary Orgasm.

Chilled Lemon Soufflé
Adapted from Appetizers, Finger Foods, Buffets & Parties

Zest and juice of four lemons
5 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
2 cups heavy cream

Put lemon zest, egg yolks, and half the sugar in a large bowl. Whisk until mixture is creamy.
Sprinkle gelatin over the lemon juice in a microwave safe bowl, and let sit for 5 minutes. Microwave for 30 seconds, and whisk to make sure gelatin is all dissolved. Let cool a bit, then whisk into egg yolk mixture .
In a separate bowl, lightly whip the cream into soft peaks. Fold into egg yolk mixture.
Whip the whites to stiff peaks, adding the rest of the sugar at the very end. Beat until stiff and glossy, and quickly fold into egg yolk mixture. Pour into dish and chill for 4 - 5 hours.

Almond Topping
(this really makes the whole thing)

1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat broiler, and line a cookie sheet with foil. Spread almonds out on foil and sift sugar over them. Run them under the broiler for about a minute (keep a VERY close eye on them as they burn quickly), until just golden brown. Let cool, and sprinkle over soufflé.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cioppino - Quick and Healthy

tasty...delicious...and good for you !!

okay, so I realize "quick" and healthy" are not terms you usually think of, reading this blog. I definitely know how to do both, though...and this soup/stew/whatever is the perfect example. It helps that a) the base is mostly tomatoes, with a little olive oil and fish stock...all inherently healthy ingredients and b) this is a fish dish - also inherently healthy. Hard for even me to fatten this up :) And because it's fish, you don't want to cook it forever...half hour tops, and you're done here. (Well, I did have my own fish stock ready to go in the freezer, which helped...but that's a blog for another day).

Cioppino is an Italian-style fish stew that originated in San Francisco. There are a million variations - it really lends itself to whatever the catch of the day is (even when the "catching" happens in your own freezer)  but the basic premise is a an herby tomato base in which you simmer delights of the sea. Pretty simple, really. Classic Cioppino as seen in nice restaurants and swankier dinner parties usually comes with lovely chunks of white fish and a gorgeous array of shellfish nestled in beautiful shells on top. On a Wednesday night at my house, though, it's just the actual edible parts of shellfish (mussels, clams, shrimp, squid can actually find decent frozen mixes, Trader Joe's has one) and whatever white fish is around - usually left over from our summertime deep sea fishing trip. I think tonight's guest was part of my massive pollock...check this bad boy out !

took me 10 minutes just to reel it up !
Soup is really just so forgiving...simmer in a fragrant liquid for a while, and that tired old frozen fish just thinks it's in heaven :). Some nice crusty bread , a glass of wine or a beer...yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about !

mmm yum !


As noted, really any combination of fish and shellfish goes well in this dish...use whatever you like and have around.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp each dried basil, thyme, and oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup fish stock or clam juice
28 oz can chopped tomatoes, any flavor but Mexican
6 oz can tomato paste
1 pound shellfish (meat, no shells) - mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid etc) - frozen works fine
1 1/2 pounds white fish (cod, haddock, pollock etc) , cut into chunks
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in bottom of large stockpot. Add onion, shallot, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, and cook until onion is translucent, 5 - 10 minutes. Add herbs and spices (except parsley), wine, stock, chopped tomatoes (with their juice), and tomato paste, and bring up to a simmer. Add shellfish and white fish, and simmer another 10 - 15 minutes or until done. Stir in parsley just before serving.