Welcome Back, February!

Tissues

Oh, hello February, welcome back!  I almost didn’t see you there – you came in so quietly.  I see you’ve brought with you my normal month-long head cold.  Thank you!   How thoughtful, what a positively delightful birthday gift!

You know, February, nobody is a bigger fan of yours than I am.  I like to celebrate with you from the 1st through the 28th.  Once every four years, we even get an extra day of celebration.  How cool is that?  No other month has that awesome feature.  I even love Valentine’s Day, and always have – even when I was perennially single!  What’s not to love? It’s Katesmas Eve!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Oh Dear February, as much as I do adore you, perhaps we can rethink this whole head cold thing next year.  I mean it’s a lovely gift and all, but it kind of cramps my style…  I mean, we celebrate pretty hard, and I would prefer to not have to do it through a cough suppressant induced haze and a sea of phlegm.   As wonderful as it all is, it makes it a bit difficult for me to really enjoy all the awesome food and adult beverages I plan to consume.  And should one really be mixing cold meds with copious amounts of alcohol?  Silly question, of course they should if it’s their birthday (month…)!

So I was just thinking, maybe next year, the head cold can be like a going away gift that you present to me on the 29th (yay, a leap year!).  I mean, I don’t really need to be Kate at a Ten for March.  March sucks.  It’s crazy busy at work, and while it claims to be “in like a lion and out like a lamb”,  it is normally far too leonine for me even at months end!  Really, I think I would rather be a little groggy for it…

Anyway, welcome back February!  You’ve been missed – even with your stupid head cold!

Vegetable Cassoulet

After the meat eating extravaganza of the weekend, I definitely needed a break from consuming dead animal flesh and wanted to make something super vegetabley, simple, but also hearty, for dinner on Sunday night.  I did a little searching and came across this Incredible Vegetable Cassoulet from Not Eating Out in New York.  This fit the bill perfectly… I even got to break out my Le Creuset French Oven!  This was exactly what I had in mind – something with lots of vegetables, that would stick to your ribs and felt worthy of Sunday evening dinner.  I didn’t follow the recipe exactly (I rarely really follow a recipe), but I was certainly inspired by this one.  I used what I had and went with my gut and I suggest you do the same.  Because of this meal’s rustic simplicity,  it lends itself well to improvisation.  What I did is detailed below.

So it didn’t exactly photo well (not to mention the complete lack of natural light I had to work with), but here’s the cassoulet plated:

Cassoulet

INGREDIENTS:

4 tablespoons Butter

1/4 cup Flour

1 medium Onion (diced)

2 stalks Celery (diced)

2 Carrots (diced)

Salt and Pepper

1/2 lb Baby Portobello Mushrooms (sliced)

3 cloves Garlic

Sage

Rosemary

Thyme

1 lg can Diced Tomatoes

About 1/2 lb of Squash of your choice (I raided my freezer here and used a slightly odd combo of zucchini and butternut squash)

A couple handfuls Chopped Spinach

1 cup Vegetable Stock

1 cup Red Wine

3 cans Cannellini Beans (drained)

3/4 cup Breadcrumbs

1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese

INSTRUCTIONS:

First, melt the butter and add your flour in a large heavy bottomed pot to form a roux.  Stir frequently.  You’ll know it’s done when it’s a nice medium brown.

Next, add your carrots, onions and celery, and season with salt and pepper.  Once they’ve softened up a bit, you can add the mushrooms, garlic, herbs, tomatoes,  squash and spinach.   Add the red wine and vegetable stock to the mix.  Bring to a boil.  Add the beans.  Cover and Simmer.  Cook until carrots have softened.  This took me about 30 minutes.

Top with a mixture of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  Throw in your oven set to 325 degrees for roughly 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Kevin!

So it’s really a belated happy birthday, as Kevin’s birthday was last Sunday, but we didn’t do much celebrating until this weekend (we spent last Sunday night at a wake), so I feel it’s actually perhaps more appropriate to wish him a happy birthday now than it was last week.  Right?  Right. 

It was good to get out and socialize a bit.  I work from home a lot and with all the snow we’ve been having lately (and I hear there’s more to come this week!), I definitely wasn’t going into the office, so I hardly left the house all last week.  By Friday, I was just itching to get out of the house and see people. Maybe I really am an extrovert…

On Friday night,we went out with Kevin’s parents for his birthday celebration.  We went to Smokin’ With Chris in Southington, which was awesome as always.  I think I’ve probably mentioned here before that I really don’t eat a lot of meat as a rule.  I’m not quite a vegetarian, but I probably keep my diet about 95% vegetarian.  I’ve always found, however, that it’s worth making an exception for Smokin’ With Chris.

I had the pulled pork sandwich, which was awesome as usual, and well worth the exception.  Although, I do have to say, that it wasn’t quite as good as it normally is.  The pork wasn’t quite as pulled as it normally is, and maybe a little drier.  It was still quite tasty, though.  I took half home with me, which will probably be lunch one day this week.

(probably worth mentioning that this is not the sandwich I had on Friday, but a photo from a previous visit – didn’t feel like taking out the camera)

pulled pork

Last night, we went out with Tom and Heather for more celebrating, since we didn’t get to see them last weekend.   We ended up going to Plan B Burger Bar in Glastonbury, so another exception night for me.  They actually have a really good veggie burger, but their real burgers are pretty amazing, and I just couldn’t pass one up.  Again, it was totally worth it.

We started with an order of the Jalapeno Poppers, which were less like a popper, and more like, as Kevin put it, “potato skins with jalapenos instead of potatoes”.  They were good, but I don’t know if I’d order them again.   It was kind of too much…

Jalapeno Poppers

For my dinner, I ordered the Pretzel Burger, which is a favorite of mine.  It’s on a pretzel bun, with spicy mustard, lettuce, pickles and cheddar.  It’s one of the simpler burgers on the menu, which I really appreciate, because it doesn’t take away from the flavor of the beef.  And while I’m not normally a big fan of beef, when it’s done right, it can be really excellent, and Plan B definitely does it right.

Pretzel Burger

On the side, I had the Truffle Fries, which were quite good… definitely Truffley.

Truffle Fries

Heather had the Disco Fries with her burger, which were covered in cheese and gravy…  I think the consensus was that the cheese was too artificial tasting – like cheese from a can or something.  Oh well…

Disco Fries

 

After Plan B, we went back to our place and had a few beers. I think, overall, Kevin had a pretty good birthday – even if it was almost a week late  🙂

Happy (Belated) New Year!

Soo… haven’t checked in in a little while.  How’s everyone holding up?  Has everyone awaken from their eggnog induced comas?

As usual, the holidays totally kicked my ass this year.  Besides the normal last minute shopping, crazy deadlines at work and random social engagements…

There were cookies, lots and lots of cookies… just like every year.  This is an example of small tray that my mom and I put together.  I believe we baked 15 different types of cookies this year.  Out of control, I know, but if you’ve been reading I’m sure you’ve come to expect that from us.

cookies

And of course, there was lots and lots of alcohol consumed.  Sometimes you need a drink or 6 when spending that much time with your loved ones.

adult beverages

Like most people, I felt crazy busy most  of December, just trying to get things done, and then Christmas and New Year’s finally arrive and it’s great, but it goes by far too fast.  And when it’s all over, I feel a little sad, but mostly relieved and just kind of happy to get back to the normal grind.   Does that make me Scrooge-ish?  Probably.  And I think I’m OK with that.

Happy New Year, Kids!  Now get back to work!

Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake

My contributions to my family’s out of control dessert table on Thanksgiving included Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with Cranberries and Walnuts and my famous Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake.  I know, I know… I was contributing to the problem, but my Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake has become a tradition for the last 5 years or so, and I get asked about it throughout the year.  As it gets closer and closer to Thanksgiving, I just get asked about it more.  I can’t just show up at my Aunt Debbie’s house empty handed and disappoint the masses.  Trust me, it would not be a good scene.

If you need to bring a dessert to some sort of social gathering this time of year, I highly suggest you make this.  It never fails to impress and it’s actually pretty simple to make.

Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake

Ingredients

The Topping:

3/4 cup brown sugar

6 tablespoons butter (chilled)

1/2 cups pecans (chopped)

The Crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons butter (melted)

The Cheesecake:

24 oz cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

5 eggs

1 lb canned pumpkin

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

The Topping:

In a small bowl, cut the butter into the brown sugar until well mixed.  Stir in chopped pecans.  Set aside.

The Crust:

In a separate bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter and press into the bottom of a 9” springform pan. Place in the refrigerator for now.

The Cheesecake:

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth.

Add sugar and brown sugar.

Add eggs one at a time.

Blend in pumpkin, whipping cream and pumpkin pie spice.

Pour into crust.

Bake approximately 2 hours – until center of cake doesn’t move when pan is shaken.

Remove from oven and spread topping over your cake.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Cool and refrigerate overnight.

The Dessert Table – Thanksgiving 2010

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving yesterday and a restful, or perhaps productive, Black Friday today!  I think it’s fair to say that we all go a little overboard on Thanksgiving, right?  We eat a ton of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and all sorts of other good stuff and then pass out on the couch while watching football.  That seems to be the normal game plan for the holiday.

Well, my family goes a little overboard on all holidays, and Thanksgiving, of course, is no different.  Yesterday, I spent my afternoon/early evening over my Aunt Debbie’s house just like every year with about 20 family members and way too much food.  No, really.  I know everyone says they had too much food at Thanksgiving, but this just our dessert table –  just to give you an idea of the excess I’m talking about.  That’s 10 desserts (I counted) for just 20 people.  Call me crazy, but that just seems a little out of control to me…  Next time this happens, I think we should select a buddy and a dessert and nobody can leave until the table is clean!

442

J Restaurant / Bar – Hartford, CT

I recently went to a show at The Bushnell with my mom and her BFF, Mary, to celebrate both of their birthdays.  The show started at 8pm, so of course we wanted to meet up and grab a little dinner before it started.  It’s always quite the challenge deciding where to go for dinner before seeing a show in Hartford.  You want to find a place that has ample parking, quick service and is located not too far from the theater.  It would also help, of course, if the food is good.  I think we may have found our new go – to spot!

J Restaurant/Bar met all the criteria!  The food was great, there was on site parking, the service was fairly quick (although our server did take awhile to get us the bill when we were ready for it) and the restaurant is located just minutes from The Bushnell…and we got 20% off our entrees because were going to the show!  Perfect!

To start, we all had the White Bean and Potato Soup… Our server told us and the table around us that the soup would be White Bean and Spinach.  There was no spinach in the soup, but it was still really good.

White Bean and Potato Soup

I had the Seared Ahi Tuna, which was served over a really yummy arugula salad and fried dough. Yes, fried dough!  How cool is that?

Seared Ahi Tuna

Mom had the Seared Sea Scallops and Polenta.

Seared Sea Scallops

Mary had the Pork Special with asparagus.

Pork

Overall, everything was really delicious and they had a very nice wine list.   As I mentioned before, we did have a hard time getting our bill when were ready to leave (my one complaint), but we still made it to the show in plenty of time!

Eating My Way Through Portland, ME…. Part 2

Saturday morning, we all woke up bright and early (Okay, I was up bright and early and I think Heather was up bright and early… the boys not so much) and a little hungover and made our way over to the Allagash Brewery Tour and Tasting to get a little hair of the dog that bit us.  It was lots of  fun.  It was my first brewery tour ever, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was definitely pretty neat.  The tasting, of course, was the best part for me.  They gave us four different beers to try and they were pretty good sized samples.  I had a little trouble just keeping up!  

Allagash

After the tour, we headed back to the Old Port area to return to our busy schedule of walking and eating…

Kevin and I stopped back at Gritty’s for a couple of drinks and something to eat while we waited for Tom and Heather who had stopped back at their place to get changed.   Again, sorry, no pictures from Gritty’s… but I had a lackluster bowl of vegetarian chili (I guess it was okay, but I feel like what I make at home is significantly better) and Kevin had bowl of clam chowder, which was pretty good – and what I probably should have also ordered.  I mean, seriously, who goes to Maine and orders chili?  How thoughtless of me…

Tom and Heather finally showed up and we walked around town for a bit and found a good spot on the water for some more eating and drinking, because that’s just how we roll (and by this point, we really could have probably just been rolled).  Gilbert’s Chowder House is really all you could ever want when you visit a city like Portland –  fried fish, cold beer, outdoor seating on the water.  Perfect.  Kevin and I split an order of fried clams, which was more than enough for the two of us, seeing as we had just eaten.  

And look how happy Heather looks!  I’m pretty sure it’s due to all the alcohol…

gilberts chowder house

After lunch (ok, 2nd lunch for Kevin and I), Heather and I made our way over to the 3rd Annual Picnic Music+Arts Festival , which was really really neat. I saw a lot of cool stuff that I wanted to buy, but I didn’t because let’s be honest, I just really don’t need any more stuff  lying around and we had a long day ahead of us!

We eventually found the boys sharing a pitcher of beer at table under an umbrella at the Portland Lobster Company.

We joined them for awhile.  It was really pleasant just being outdoors, on the water watching the ships…  I probably could have just sat there all day.

But alas, there was more food calling our name!

Tom had been doing some research while we were gone and discovered a place call Duck Fat , because they fry things in duck fat. We obviously had to go there!  If there is anything that listening to Faith Middleton on NPR has taught me over the years, it is that duck fat is just about the most wonderful thing in the world. And it really was great.  When we got there, we split a few plates among the table.  Everything was pretty out of this world!

We had the Belgian Duckfat Fries with 3 different dipping sauces – Curry Mayo, Truffle Ketchup and Thai Chili Mayo

belgian fries

Duckfat Poutine

poutine

Beignets!

beignet

beignet

Oh, and Heather ordered a Moxie…you just don’t see Moxie too often around these parts, but I guess you see it everywhere up North where it’s bottled.  This is for my friend Grabowski at work, who has found just about the only place in central CT that sells the stuff and regularly takes one to work.  He’s an enthusiast!  I guess you could say “he’s got Moxie” (that was horrible, I know – this is why I blog).

moxie

Anyway, we left Duck Fat and did some more shopping around town… and came across a Hookah Lounge.  Yes, a hookah lounge.  This was my first hookah experience.  It was okay; something different I guess.  Kevin and I really weren’t overly impressed. Tom and Heather have been to one in West Hartford and they tell us it’s better there. Maybe we’ll try it out some day.

hookah

We then headed back to Novare Res, the bar we had been in the previous night and really enjoyed.  We hung out and had a few beers and Tom and Heather actually split a plate of several types of cheese, which they said was really good.  It was then time to head back to our hotel and pass out, because we had brunch plans for the next morning!

The next morning we met up at Bintliff’s American Cafe at the recommendation of one of Kevin’s friends for what is one of the best brunches I have ever had.  Ever!  The place was really cute and I seriously wanted to eat just about everything on the menu.  I eventually settled on the Veggie Homefries, with two eggs sunny side up and a slice of their homemade Tuscan honey wheat toast.  A – Mazing!  Everything was so good… and I’m not normally a big breakfast eater!

veggie homefries

After our brunch, it sadly was time to head back home to Connecticut.  I had work the next morning and I needed a little time to rest up and get ready for the week.  We had a really awesome time in Portland, though, and I would go back in a heartbeat.  I don’t know that I would necessarily spend my whole time eating and drinking again (really, there were a lot of other cool things to do), but it is definitely a great little city to visit if you’re really into food.