Friday, May 30, 2008

Brasserie Faux?

Per our usual tradition, my girlfriends and I hit the town last evening and found ourselves at Sasso and Brasserie JO, two neighborly Back Bay establishments. For the entire month of May, Brasserie JO is celebrating its 10th year anniversary with a daily array of promised fun and deals. Some festivities include a complimentary crepe station, champagne tastings and $10 entrees. Clearly curiosity got the best of us because we narrowed down on the $10 entrees (let’s be honest, it seemed like the best deal). Before we stuffed our faces with French cuisine, we had our aperitifs at the lovely cocktail lounge Sasso, where we all sipped on a delicious N. V. Zonin Prosecco Brut. After whetting our appetite, we wandered next door in hopes of a bargain and satiating meal. The space was impressive; high ceilings with commandeering columns, art deco bar, traditional French brasserie chairs and wait staff that appeared to be plucked from Les Deux Magots. After we being seated, we were immediately served fresh carrots in a tangy vinaigrette and piping hot loafs of fresh baguettes with salted butter. So far, so good. In addition to the daily specials, Brasserie JO was also offering $10 martinis throughout the month. Their martini menu was quite impressive and we chose an array: ginger martini, French cosmos and a Dirty 10 martini, to name a few. All were strong, well infused and went down well. Enough said. We were also quite impressed with the Special offerings, ranging from salmon, trout, sea bass, pork, chicken and steak. Unfortunately, they had ran out of the steak frites, so we all ordered the trout with roasted cherry tomatoes and haricots verts and the sea bass in a fennel bouillabaisse. Usually a big fan of sea bass, I was a bit disappointed in the selection. The portion was less than half of that of the trout, and lacked a lot of the flavor that the trout captured in the herb seasoning. Also, I was hoping for a stronger fennel flavor. But beggars can’t be choosers--I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt--we are talking about $10 entrees. On a more positive note, we also ordered pommes frites that were sensational. I am excited to return and order a huge portion of steak frites off the regular menu and try their $5.50 house draft Hopla brew. A demain.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Leftovers for Pizza

I've been a huge make-your-own-pizza fan for years. It's so easy and you can basically put anything on it and it will be delicious. This week my friend and I rolled out dough, smeared fresh pesto and minced garlic, then added freshly cut tomatoes, shredded part skim mozzarella, sauteed chicken and prosciutto (quel surprise). As a precautionary to prevent a mushy crust, we spread a thin layer of olive oil on the pan and it worked like magic- thin, crispy and unburnt. Other ideas for pizza are barbecue sauce with sauteed red onions and aged gouda, asiago and mozzarella with shrimp, scallops and bacon and feta and fresh roasted vegetables.
On another unrelated note, I also indulged in fondue this weekend as a farewell meal for the season. My companions and I used the traditional Gruyere packet, added some white wine and then cut up two crusty loaves of bread and some Granny Smith apples. Mr. Lincoln spoiled us with his Seduction Salad: fresh spinach leaves, strawberries, kiwis, feta, red onion and a lemon honey vinaigrette. A delicious meal and a perfect finish for the fondue gruyere season.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hard Peaks

Friday evening called for a special meal to celebrate a special occasion. Naturally, I spent hours deliberating, scheming and dreaming of a feast that would serve worthy of such an event. Needless to say, after deciding on fried risotto balls, steak frites with homemade béarnaise sauce, sautéed mushrooms, asparagus and chocolate soufflé, we were definitely able to revel in the flavors.
To start the evening off, we uncorked a 2006 Napa Valley Avalon Cabernet to let it breathe and then opened up a chilled Prosecco for immediate consumption. There is nothing like buzzed cooking to start an evening off. Now on to the food... Although I had selected a recipe for béarnaise and soufflé guidance (thank you, Gourmet), I was eager to do some experimentation with the meal. I rummaged through the fridge and found my leftover risotto. The wheels started turning; I vaguely remember hearing of a fried risotto dish (NB, 2007). It was one of those dishes that just deemed too time consuming to even think about since it required at least two days of prep. However, since I had the risotto at my mercy, I decided to give it a whirl. Unfortunately, I do not have a professional deep fryer, nor I have a deep fryer thermometer, but being half Jewish, I felt as if my homemade latke frying familiarity had provided me with basic frying proficiency and at least some level of comfort. As I reached for the canola oil, I desperately tried to remember the various heating points of different oils. I know with latkes we used vegetable oil, but I figured canola would be second best. One must make due, after all. After the oil started to lightly bubble, I rounded up the risotto with a small ice cream scoop and gently placed them in the pan. The balls sizzled and quickly browned. We let them cool off and experimented by dipping them in different dressing and sauces. Not bad, but not great. Personally, I found the balls to be too oily and I knew that with the proper equipment and a recipe (I believe Giada has one), I would one day be able to master the fried risotto ball. After our appetizer, we quickly began dovetailing with the other dishes. We thinly sliced potatoes and rubbed them with minced garlic and parsley and set them in the oven on 450d to crisp. After we had the fries going, I worked obsessively on making a perfect béarnaise sauce (success) and my better half buttered a skillet and browned our thick rib eyes to a perfect medium rare. In the meantime, we sautéed mushrooms in butter and boiled asparagus and then sautéed them in the leftover mushroom jus. The timing worked out perfectly and the meal was even better. The steaks were incredible. They were flawlessly cooked to our delight and the béarnaise was the perfect addition with the meat and fries. I made sure to squeeze in extra lemon into the sauce so there was a nice twang at the end of every bite. As I focused on replicating the perfect bite: steak glopped with béarnaise, fries and mushrooms, we guzzled down wine and oohed and ahhed over our masterpiece. After eating every morsel of delectable goodness, we attempted our next challenge of homemade soufflé. I had my first brush of identifying with Laura Ingalls Wilder when I realized that we did not have an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites. Clearly, I was not thinking straight when I settled on a soufflé as our dessert. But we took matters into our own hands and just like they did in the olden days, we frantically took turns whisking the whites. And to our surprise, soft, medium and hard (Ok, more medium) peaks were formed. What is even more amazing is that our chocolate soufflé rose. We were so proud by our exertion and even more amazed by the taste. Three days later, my forearm still hurts, but it was worth it. Needless to say, I'm a little "egged out," but I do look forward to making the dessert again, with the proper equipment, of course. I also hope to one day be back at my body’s appropriate set point, after consuming upwards of 100 grams of fat in one setting.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Vegetable Risotto

My girlfriends and I have begun a tradition of having a dinner party every Wednesday evening. It’s a pleasant way to aid coping with the work week and is also fun to scheme, cook and consume. This week, we used a Real Simple Edamame, Lemon and Tarragon Risotto recipe, but decided to turn up the volume a bit. Like many foodies, risotto tends to have an autumnal/ winter ring, however, with the right mix of vegetables, this dish lends itself well to spring. In addition, the recipe called for vegetable stock, as opposed to the slightly heavier alternative of chicken broth, which added a lighter texture to the dish. Being vegetable freaks, we decided to incorporate additional vegetables and chose crisp asparagus and sweet potatoes. We simply par-steamed the asparagus to ensure a bit of crunchiness and cooked sweet potato until soft, and then diced into bits. I found this dish to be delicious. I liked how the lemon gave the dish a nice spring and the tarragon added a fennel-like spice to the dish. The vegetables were a perfect medley and became the main attraction as opposed to sticky, cheesy rice (although that sounds good too).