Monday, February 28, 2011

Plan B Burger Bar

When I think of a neighborhood restaurant I think of a relaxed atmosphere, consistently good food, and a good selection of beers. So that is probably why, even before I moved to CT, Plan B Burger Bar in West Hartford was one of my favorite places for a  casual night out. The menu has lots of comfort food options, but the burgers are the #1 draw.

The burgers at Plan B are the best I've ever had, and the flavor of the meat is incredible. This is because they grind their own meat for the burgers, and use only beef that has no chemicals, hormones and is certified humane.  Their beers on draught change often - but they always have a great mix of craft beers (and will let you taste test if you aren't sure what you'd like).

When Rafe and I usually go - we always get the same things....We each get our preferred burgers, he gets parmesan fries and I get truffle fries, and we generally leave full and jolly.  On a more recent trip however, we used a Groupon and decided it would be a great opportunity to try some new things.

If you live in the area and haven't tried the mac and cheese you're missing out.  The Mac and Jack with pulled pork and barbecue sauce is outstanding.  And for someone like me, who loves anything inside a cast iron french oven - the presentation of the pasta inside a staub coccote had me erupting in squeals of joy that drew an amused look from our waitress.

The rich cheesy sauce enveloped every noodle with salty, savory goodness - while the barbecue sauce provided sweet smokey notes, and the pork gave an earthy richness. Sometimes frustrated by restaurant macaroni and cheeses with too much or too little cheese sauce - I felt like Goldilocks when I thought to myself - 'this is just right'.

Another dish that is very 'hit or miss' at restaurants are the french fries....floppy, burnt, and undersalted fries plague my dining experiences.  But the golden, handcut, parmesan fries were crisp and flavorful. I don't recall even reaching for ketchup - they were perfect.

Then there was the burger. It's something I know Plan B Burger bar does well and this trip did not dissapoint. A perfect burger is rare (get it?) which you may know if you follow Katie's search for the best burger in Boston - I wish there was a Plan B in the Boston metro area, because then she wouldn't have to look any further. (Katie, come visit)

I ordered the blue cheese burger.  There are two options for doneness - no pink, and some pink. I went with some pink (of course).  My burger came with a slightly pink hue, smothered in caramelized onions, blue cheese, and bourbon barbecue sauce.

Both meals split down the middle, and washed down with a Whale's Tale for me, a Brooklyn Lager for him, this trip to Plan B ended like many that came before: Two full and happy customers, walking to their car with delight that only the perfect casual meal can bring. No pretense, but perfectly executed comfort food is what Plan B is all about.

Plan B Burger Bar (West Hartford) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cajun shrimp and Cheddar grits

I love cheese.  I don't think a day goes by that I don't eat just a little bit of my favorite dairy delicacy.  

A while back the good people at Cabot sent me a box with several varieties of their famous cheddar. Rafe was psyched because he enjoys Cabot sharp cheddar on his sandwiches at lunchtime.  I was very interested to learn that although they make all of their cheese in Vermont, they source the milk from all over New England.  There are several dairies here in CT that contribute to Cabot's Coop, so although you see the cheese in grocery stores all over the state, purchasing actually helps our local farmers!

When I received this great gift, one of the first things that came to mind was cheddar grits.  I had made grits back in November for our Blogger potluck, and Rafe had mentioned a few times how much he would like shrimp and grits (he was jealous of the girls, naturally).  He found some andouille sausage in the freezer, shrimp went on sale, and we had 8 lbs of cheddar. My mission was clear.

For the grits, I followed the directions on my package for 6 servings, and added about a 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar just before serving. I waited until the grits were just about finished cooking before I started the shrimp.  In between stirring the grits I prepped my ingredients.

For the shrimp, I didn't use a recipe.  I just stuck with the flavors that I have come to recognize in cajun shrimp.  I sauteed onion, red and green pepper in a little oil, then I added the andouille and browned it slightly.  Next came the shrimp, some old bay, cajun seasoning, cayenne, salt, pepper, and just a splash of stock to keep it saucy.

I then spooned the cheddar grits onto a plate, followed by the delicious shrimp.  I garnished the whole plate with fresh parsley and we dug in. 

This spicy meal was the perfect way to warm up on a cold night.  And we enjoyed the cheddar grits for a couple days with some other meals.  Cheesy grits are a great accompaniment to any protein.

Any suggestions for other things to make with all this delicious cheddar?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Salad for Dinner?

Today was a whirlwind.  Up at the crack of dawn, I was on the road before 7am.  I drove to the train, then took the metro north into NYC for some meetings for work.  It was a gorgeous day - extremely warm for mid-February - so my boss and I decided to soak in the rays and walked to our meetings.

 It was great to get some fresh air after all that time in the car and the train.

After a heavy (but delicious) lunch, and a 3 hour trip home, I wanted a shower and something refreshing and light to eat for dinner. The warm weather had me specifically craving a salad - but I wanted some wintry flavors. So you might say that this salad is the perfect start of a transition into spring - using up some of the last of winter's bounty of squash, cranberries, and nuts.

Earlier this week I had roasted some butternut squash and some baby bella mushrooms with olive oil rosemary.  To a mix of romaine, green leaf, and spinach I added the roasted squash, mushrooms, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts and feta.

I made a quick dressing using toasted butternut squash seed oil (a birthday gift from Rafe) and white balsamic.

It was just what I needed to reset after a busy day. 

Was today warm where you were? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I ate last night....

I generally don't post a play-by-play of my meals.  But I'm really proud of how this pizza crust turned out - and Rafe did an amazing job with the toppings - it's a veggie pie since we were also celebrating a return to 'meatless monday'.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

My birthday is a couple days before Valentine's day - on the 12th, so I prefer to keep it low-key on the heart holiday. We'll be staying in, making pizzas, and likely starting Season 4 of the Wire on DVD. Although I'm kind of apathetic about Valentine's I do like any day that combines chocolate, 


And Bourbon (for Rafe) he loves his bourbon.

No matter your romantic status, this holiday is a good reminder to tell people we care about them!

So to all you people out in the vast internet, thank you for reading, leaving comments, and generally making me extremely happy every time I hear from you.  

So tonight, have that extra bite of dessert, and CLEAN YOUR PLATE!

Happy Valentine's Day!


Friday, February 11, 2011

Around my French Table: Almond Flounder Meuniere

Rafe was not the biggest fan of my first two meals from Around my French Table. He didn't hate them, but he didn't rave about them either.  I wanted to keep him on board with my little post-it note scheme,  so for my third crack at Dorie's book, I let Rafe do the picking.

He chose the Almond Flounder Meuniere.

It's Dorie's interpretation of two classic French dishes: trout amandine and sole meuniere. And lucky for me, it makes use of a slightly cheaper fish than sole!

I couldn't fine fresh flounder, so I used frozen.

Though the fancy name was a little scary - the recipe couldn't be easier: only 5 ingredients before garnishes.  

After one read through, I felt confident enough to invite our friend John over for dinner and even tackle making some fresh french bread to go along with it.  

What's better than a crispy nut crusted fish, fried up in a little puddle of browned butter?  This was very easy and equal parts delicious and impressive on the plate. 

Since the fish was pretty heavy on the fat with all the nuts and butter, I served the meal with some simple brown rice and steamed asparagus.

I even loved the simple garnish of parsley, sliced almonds, and a little squeeze of lemon juice.

This was a perfect dinner, and Rafe finally found a recipe he could endorse. 

This was my first time cooking flounder.  Have you ever tried it? Or were you also concerned about eating a character from The Little Mermaid?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Killer Meatloaf!

It's a tough life being a food blogger.  Well, actually - there are a lot of great things about it!  But trying to come up with a new and creative meal night after night can start to wear.  I sometimes feel guilty when I just want to make chili or peanut noodles again.

I'm deep in my comfort food zone, and by measure of the snow piles, I'll probably stay in this zone until sometime mid-April.  So when I was menu planning this week, and saw the 1.25 pound baggie of local beef in my freezer, I immediately thought meatloaf.

In my family, we call it KILLER meatloaf.

Traditionally meatloaf has a couple eggs in the mix to bind it.  My father is allergic to eggs.  He can have one if its mixed into something like a cake batter and dispersed, but if I fed him flan or a scramble, he'd be VERY sick.  Many recipes call for a couple eggs, so the first time my mom made a recipe with multiple eggs it made him pretty sick, so we nicknamed it killer meatloaf.

She learned quickly to omit the eggs.

This go round, I made mini meatloaves, because they looked so cute when Michelle made her's mini

Like many of the recipes that are inspired by Mom, this one it made from memory and feel, and not real specifics when it comes to amounts. I can tell you that this meatloaf includes about a half an onion, 1 clove garlic, soy sauce, pepper, worcestershire, parsley and ketchup.

This is when a frying pan is my friend.

Once the mixture is combined, I heat a frying pan over a medium flame, add a drop of oil, and make an itty bitty meat patty....I just scoop out a scant teaspoon, form it into a mini burger, and drop it in the pan.  Once it is cooked through, I let it cool and eat it. 

I taste it for seasoning: salt, pepper, garlic, onion. Does it need more of something?  Once I am satisfied, I shape it into a loaf and bake it.

Served with Rafe's garlic mashed, these little meatloaves were divine....In homage to the traditional ketchup topping that mom's meatloaf has, I basted mine with my beloved Flour tomato chutney (Joanne sent me the coveted recipe).  It was delicious.

The play of the raisins, currants, and sweet/savory tomato were the perfect compliment to the hearty beef. And those tater's were pillowy soft. YUM.

Does your family have any funny stories about a meal?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Orange and Soy Glazed Chicken Thighs

So, sometimes I think ahead and plan meals - like with the white chicken chili.  Then there are the times when I find an ingredient for super cheap, don't think it through, and just throw it in my carriage at the grocery store. 

Chicken thighs, 99 cents a pound??! yes, I'll take 5 lbs of chicken thighs!  But now what?

An impulse protein purchase usually means that I've already bought all my groceries for the week, and I'll need to improvise a meal using things already in my kitchen. This isn't the opportunity to try a new recipe from Dorie- this is about being resourceful and taking advantage of a sale by NOT buying more ingredients.

 I can't imagine how I would do any of this without the internet.  I'd likely be eating these simply baked and slathered in BBQ sauce.....(which I am still considering for the other 3.5 lbs of chicken thighs that are now stored in the freezer)

I love you Fine because you had this recipe:

I didn't have all the ingredients, but I had the most important ones!  And I took a few liberties as well.

Chicken Thighs
1.5-2 lbs chicken thighs (I used 5)
toasted sesame and ginger seasoning (optional)

Soy Glaze
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
2 Tbs. fresh orange juice
1-1/4 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbs chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 450.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then oil with canola/vegetable oil.  Add the chicken to the baking sheet and prick the skin of the thighs all over with a fork (this will help some of the chicken fat to render) then season with salt and pepper.  I also used some of the toasted sesame and ginger seasoning I received in my Boston Food Blogger launch swag bag!

Roast the chicken until it begins to brown.  It took me about 25 minutes (the oven runs a little cold).
While the chicken is roasting, prepare the glaze: Combine the soy, sugar, and orange zest in a small saucepan and simmer until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally.  Combine the orange juice and cornstarch in a separate bowl, stirring to combine.  Add this to the saucepan, stirring until the sauce becomes glossy and thick.  Reduce heat while the chicken finishes.

When the chicken is browned, set the oven to broil.  Cook for 5 or so minutes, until the skin is deep brown and crispy.

Serve by spooning the soy glaze over the chicken and garnishing with toasted sesame seeds and chopped cilantro.

I served this with a mixture of brown rice, quinoa, and steamed broccoli.  
I think this glaze would also be great on chicken breasts (without the broiling of course) or pork.  Heck, I'd even use this sauce on a veggie stirfry - its good enough to stand alone!

 When was the last time a sale inspired your cooking?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Around My French Table: Lamb and Apricot Tagine

This recipe from Dorie's book exemplifies the influence of neighboring countries and cultures to the French food scene. This tagine is rich with Moroccan flavors, while still making use of a classic cooking method: braising.  

The contrast of sweet and savory is an absolute favorite of mine, and the warming cinnamon in this dish is a great antidote for the frosty, chilly temperatures of late while the cilantro makes me think of summery Mexican fair.....reminding me that winter will, of course, have to end at some point!

The recipe calls for boneless lamb shoulder.  And I wish you better luck in finding it.  Rafe did the boyfriendly duty of traveling to Stew Leonards with his friend John (who was on the hunt for some pork shoulder) in search of the lamb.  He could not find boneless, so he returned home with 2 lamb shoulder chops roughly the weight called for in the recipe.

I made quick work of the chops by butchering them from the bone, and cubing the meat.

The price on these shoulder chops (VERY low) made me question why I always order lamb when I dine out, but rarely cook it.  Must change that.

There was some initial prep work, between the butchering and the chopping.  But then the lamb cooked, largely unattended.

If you want the recipe for this one, I suggest you check out Dorie's website, as me putting this one in my own words would not do it justice.  I made a few minor changes....I don't prep garlic the way she suggests; I'm lazy and do the standard fine chop.  But if you're not as big a fan of garlic as I, you might want to try her suggestion of removing the germ.

Also, next time I make this,  I plan to cut the apricots in half.  Once they plump they are a little bigger than a polite forkful....but other than that, I wouldn't really change anything about this recipe.
I also forgot to drain my tomatoes, but the dish was appropriately saucy, so do what you feel!

Before serving, you top the lovely braise with the toasted almonds and cilantro. I served mine with couscous. 

I really enjoyed this meal, Rafe liked it, but wasn't wowed.  He isn't a fan of mixing sweet and savory, he's specifically put off by cinnamon in his meat dishes.  But I love how the combination plays with your expectations.  

I ate every last leftover.

Since Rafe hasn't raved about the first two recipes I've made from Dorie's Book, I'm going to let him pick the next recipe.

How do you feel about mixing sweet and savory?