Booze is Good Food Too!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fondu on Christmas Eve....A New Tradition!

Ahhhh, the season of food is upon us. It starts at Thanksgiving (or is it Halloween, Football season, FOURTH OF JULY??) and comes to a head on New Year’s Eve. A time of indulgence in high caloric drinks and food, and all around gluttony. It’s fantastic. My favorite night to eat is Christmas Eve. A new tradition was started at my parent’s house 2 years ago, a Very Merry Fondue Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, my parents table beckons with a spread that would rival the Melting Pot. A large lazy Susan style fondue set with hot bubbling oil is the centerpiece with an assortment of dipping sauces. I think we had teriyaki, cocktail, Asian "yumyum" sauce (you know, the pink stuff they serve at hibachi style restraunt for seafood), A1, marinara and soy sauce.

Also on the table was the ubiquitous cheese fondue. Or what could pass as cheese fondue. We didn’t particularly follow a recipe and I think Kroger may have been out of the required melting cheese we needed that day, so substitution followed....anyway it was passable. Of course we still ate it (everyone except for my cheese phobic husband...I die). And when it was mixed vigorously, it did resemble and taste like a cheese fondue should, with hints of white wine (well it was white zin) and garlic. I think this year though, we are going to use a different recipe for the cheese, we will see...
Into the sauces surrounding the cheese and hot oil we dipped literally everything fry-able or dunk-able you can imagine. We had no less than the following spread over the table

-marinated strip steak
-raw shrimp
-uncooked ravioli
-breaded cheese cubes
-chunks of bread (pumpernickel rye I believe)
-curly fries
-tortilla chips
-buffalo chicken dip
-sushi (um, not sure why we had this for fondue night, but I'm NOT complaining

The first year we did this we had WAY WAY WAY too much food. Even for 7 of us. We scaled it down last year and we still had plenty of leftovers. That’s the thing with fondue though. It is such a process that you can’t really gulp down your food in 10 minutes and be done. The oil needs to be reheated after so long, the shrimp and steak need to cook, and there are only 2 utensils used for dipping per person (one cheese, one oil). Therefore, fondue makes the perfect dinner for a family who loves talking as much as we do! We spend at least an hour or longer dipping/discussing/digesting/drinking....and loving it! I can’t wait to do it again this year, only 2 days to go until the feast :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pizza night

The other night since the hubby was out, I decided to have pizza. I did California Pizza Kitchen thin crust personal margarita pizza and it was quite tasty. Not, terribly filling, but when you add wine, it wasn’t too bad. Have to admit that it came from a box (this turned out to be a no cook weekend) but it got me thinking about my favorite pizza toppings.

With the news that Pies and Pints will open a new location in Charleston on Capitol Street, and Lola's becoming busier than ever, the pizza trend seems to be getting bigger. We probably have pizza one or two times a month. And pepperoni isn’t this only topping that people are craving these days. A look at Pies and Pints menu on their website reveals such toppings as coconut Thai curry with shrimp, pulled pork and jalapenos, and even a grape pie with gorgonzola! It seems anything can go onto a pizza these days, even salads are making an appearance.

Lola's pizza seems to be the place to go for people in Charleston when a pizza craving and a gourmet craving hits at the same time. It is a little pricier than your average pizza, but it my opinion, well worth it. If you have never tried the prosciutto and pineapple with gorgonzola, you are really missing out. AMAZING. Also, the spinach and feta drizzled with balsamic reduction is to die for as well. These topping really just highlight what every really spectacular pizza should have....a great crust. Thin enough to be crispy and nicely browned along the bottom and edges with enough heft as to not taste like a cracker. Great, now I'm salivating...

Anyway, when I make pizza at home, I usually go with the Pillsbury roll out dough from a can. It bakes up very flaky and crispy and is super tasty. Turkey pepperoni, fresh basil (if I have it), and fresh grated mozzarella are my toppings of choice, especially when the hubby is home. If we are ordering delivery, he will venture to the meat-za pizza on occasion, but that’s about how adventurous he will go when it comes to pizza. My absolute favorite would be the Honolulu Hawaiian from Dominos with onions added. Comes with roasted red peppers, ham, bacon and a cheesy crust. Yum.

Another great option for cooking pizza at home is to use Flat Out (or another brand) flatbread. This does best when baked for 7 minutes then adding your topping on. Canned pineapple didn’t really work for this recipe because of the moisture content, but olives, sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella work great for this. I usually make 2 and cut into 4 to 6 pieces each. Great quick pizza meal for a night when you are cooking for yourself.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Food Sensory Overload Contd.

Okay, moving on...

The more I think about the marketplace, the more it makes me want to create mind blowing delicacies. Yeah, SURE I can make that $25 a pound Chilean sea bass with a lemon butter caper say you want a fresh goat cheese tarte to accompany that? SURE NO PROBLEM! This place really is FOOD PORN PARADISE. It inspires even the most timid of pallets to try the unknown, the sexy and the exotic. If you are leaning towards exotic transatlantic cuisine, the international aisles (YES AISLES, for every culinary region) have every kind of exotic spice, sauce or candy you can think of. Had a really great cookie in Cancun during Spring Break? They probably have it here. Most of the labels are in the corresponding language though, but if you are looking for an out of the ordinary ingredient, this is the place to find it.

Now, to one of my favorite spots in the store. The olive bar. And when I say olive bar, I mean a 20 foot spread of beautiful black green and deep red olives stuffed with almonds, 6 different kinds of blue cheese or garlic. L.O.V.E. Also available are olive salads, boccacini mozzarella balls, stuffed grape leaves, and an assortment of marinated yummies perfect for an antipasto plate or a night in front of the tube watching TV (no, just me?). Clear containers of differing sizes are available to stock up and mix/match anything you want.

Speaking of olive bars, the olive OIL and vinegar bar is also available. This sexy set up has beautiful spouted jars where one can pour their own olive oil from all over the world. It also contains just as many vinegars with such concoctions as blueberry, fig, or white balsamic. I was lucky enough to have a tasting of the fig balsamic and lemon infused olive oil. The olive bar barrista was kind enough to offer fluffy chunks of rustic bread to use for dipping.

Ahhh, I could really go on all day about this place, and maybe I will again after I've been there again. Going to hit it up around Christmas time and hopefully get a few pictures of the loveliness that this place really is.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Food Sensory Overload

Walking into Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson Township PA, I truthfully wasn't expecting much more than a glorified Costco. However, I discovered what I would forever refer to as my version of heaven.

I opened the door into the store, and it seemed innocent enough. Rows of refrigerated shelves of various fruits, veggies and other goodies greeted me like a old friend. A boring friend, at first glance, one that I saw during my weekly Wal Mart or Kroger excursions, but a good friend all the same. Then....I saw what all the excitement was about.

At 3 times the size of a megamart, the Marketplace was your one stop shop for everything from arctic char to ziti. And like every store in the 50 mile range from Pittsburgh, Steelers gear can be bought as well as hot wings to serve at the tailgate. One could browse for hours among the fruity lemon infused olive oil, dry aging New York strips, and 100 pound cheese wheels. Turns out, this wasn't your average market.

For example, how many stores do you know that have lettuce was being grown under bright growing lamps with hand written signs detailed the growing phases and types of lettuce being grown? I was fascinated! As a biologist by trade, I marveled at the little sprouts poking out of the metallic egg crate like contraption that sat shining in the middle of this SUPERmarket. Behind this wonder of modern technology were a plethora of made to order stands and tables to sit and eat it all at. I was also told by our waiter later that day (PF Chang's) that upstairs, beer can be purchased by the bottle and enjoyed with your selection of the day. Who wouldn't love that?

As I ventured further past the magic lettuce, I spotted a section with all sorts of exotic looking mushrooms. Shitake, oyster and even a white mold covered foot long log sprouting tiny fungi was in there. I also spotted a few grains of rice.....I was confused. Why would they keep uncooked rice with the portabellas and creminis? That's when I spotted them. Black truffles... out in the open???? I honestly have to say I was shocked. Coming from WV, I have never actually seen the specimen in whole form before. But as I soon discovered, black truffles were just the tip of the culinary iceberg that beckoned me forward.

More to come......