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Thanksgiving Burrito

October 22, 2012 4 comments
Thanksgiving Burrito

Thanksgiving Burrito

Admittedly, I don’t like most chain restaurants. Most of the food is overpriced, and for lack of a better term, tastes like crap. The portions are measly and nothing is ever quite prepared the way food should be.  And since the goal is consistency — an Olive Garden in Pittsburgh should taste (and look) exactly like an Olive Garden in Minnesota — that means you’re probably getting canned or frozen meals heated by your “chef”.  Do I have facts to back this up, not really…but stop and think about it.  Yet, despite chain restaurant’s shortcomings, they remain successful.

I get why this is the case and by all means, who am I to tell you how to spend your hard earned dollars.  It’s just with so many local restaurants serving fresh, local food, I’d rather spend my money there.  To me, it just makes sense to help out the local guy.

Now, this doesn’t mean I won’t visit a chain from time to time — sometimes it’s just convenient. Other times I will go to a chain (or pseudo chain) because they serve a specialty item that, despite my displeasure of chains, can only be had by venturing to the restaurant that serves them.

Enter Mad Mex.  A decent tasting Tex-Mex restaurant, Mad Mex is a pseudo chain, with locations only in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  And every year I venture to tackle their seasonal burrito, The Gobblerito.  I’m not the only one as many of my other anti-chain friends also find their way to Mad Mex to get their hands (and ultimately mouths) on one.

Available annually for one month (Mid-October thru Mid-November) The Gobblerito is easy to explain – its Thanksgiving served in a burrito.  That’s it.  Simple, yet extremely tasty.

The craving was getting the best of me so it was time to give in and venture out.

Unless I could make my own.

Of course I can. But for fear of being sued, I will need a catchy name to protect my ass(ets)  I came up with “Thanksgiving Burrito.”

I’m so clever!

By the way, making the gut-busting burrito is so simple that I’m surprised I haven’t done it before.

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy — roll it up…heat it up…eat it up.  Done!

It came out almost (you’ll read why in a second) identical to the version we get at Mad Mex.  So much in fact, we’ll probably skip this years visit to Mad Mex.  That is unless one of us gets the craving for their Thai Curry Burrito.  Damn you Mad Mex!

By the way, this makes for an awesome alternative to use up your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Ingredients (everything is approximate to make 4 burritos)

  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, sliced diagonally and thin (I used breasts from a roast chicken I made earlier in the day for soup — ideally you would use turkey, but chicken worked perfectly and it allowed me to make 2 meals with one chicken)
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes (homemade if possible)
  • 1 cup of sweet kernel corn
  • 1 cups of cornbread stuffing (I used cornbread but use whatever you like)
  • 1 cup of chicken gravy (homemade if possible)
  • 4 burrito sized tortillas
  • Cranberry Sauce (optional)

1.  For each burrito, layer the ingredients in the center of 1 tortilla as follows:

1/4 cup of stuffing
1/2 of one chicken breast
Gravy
1/4 cup mashed potatoes
1/4 cup of corn

2.  Roll each tortilla to form a burrito and repeat.

3.  Wrap the burritos in foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

4.  Remove from foil, top with a few more spoonfuls of gravy (optional) and serve with fresh cranberry sauce (also optional).

5.  Finding yourself passed out in the recliner moments afterwards — not optional!

Carb Coma

Be prepared for a “Carb Coma”

The Lost Supper

July 22, 2012 5 comments
The Lost Supper

The Lost Supper

Every now and then a meal comes along that is so special you can’t wait to share it with all your friends.

Perhaps its was an expertly prepared,  mouth-watering entree. Maybe it was a decadent dessert that  left you savoring each bite, afraid to take your last one because you knew there would not be more. Or maybe it was eye-popping presentation, so carefully planned out and visually appealing that you wonder if the work of art can even be eaten.

What if your meal had all of these elements and added in the the perfect wines to compliment (or in some cases intentionally contrast) each course?

That is exactly how I would describe Chef Cory Rockwood and Chef Chaz Smith’s “The Lost Supper,”  which my wife, friends and I attended last night.

According to The Lost Supper’s website, the dinner is described “…as a clandestine exploration of food and libation that will present both the known and unknown and will challenge your beliefs about food, flavors and visual presentation.”

One of the unique features of the dinner is that the location is unknown.  It is only revealed to those lucky enough to get tickets (only 50 people attend and it sold out in 4 days) approximately 2 days before the event, although the organizers do provide email clues.

Not only is the location a secret, but not a lot of people know about it (although I have a feeling this will change).  As a matter of fact, I happened on it by chance through a fellow food blogger, Blake, who runs the website Taste of Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to attend because of a previous engagement, so hopefully she can experience it vicariously through me.

The dinner, which started at 6pm, was held in the Lobby and Theater of Father Ryans Art and Culture Center in the McKees Rocks section of Pittsburgh.  It kicked off with 2 passed appetizers: Wild Field Greens/Goat Cheese/Walnut Crostini and 24-Hour Tomato/Quinoa/Salsify/Garam Masala/Lemon Oil.  Additionally, there was a Mango-Nectar cocktail, which Chef Chaz previously made on Food Network’s Grill It with Bobby Flay.

After some brief mingling in the lobby, the guests moved to the theater which was set up with 4 long tables (enough to each hold 12 guests).  Each table was simplistically decorated with pebbles, fireplace logs and votive candles atop white table clothes.  Despite its simple decor, I thought the setting was just right.

Once seated, the chefs explained the theme of the evening (asking the diners to think about which course compliments or contrasts the wine that is paired with it).  After the explanation the first course, a chilled roasted summer squash gazpacho with crab and mango was served. It was paired with a white wine, Quinto Do Casal Branca Ribatejo 2011, Spain.

Chilled Roasted Summer Squash Gazpacho/Crab/Mango

Chilled Roasted Summer Squash Gazpacho/Crab/Mango

The 2nd course to accompany the first white wine was Red Lentil Falafel with Marinated Faro, Olives, Pickled Carrots, Smoked Paprika Yogurt and Cucumber Caviar.  This meal was served on a wood roof shingle.  The olives and carrots were atop a nail sticking up through the shingle.

Red Lentil Falafel | Marinated Faro | Olives | Pickled Carrots | Smoked Paprika Yogurt | Cucumber Caviar

Red Lentil Falafel | Marinated Faro | Olives | Pickled Carrots | Smoked Paprika Yogurt | Cucumber Caviar

The next 2 courses were paired with Chardonnay de Pennautier 2009, Languedoc, Southern France.

The 3rd was a Salad of Baby Octopus.  My wife, who isn’t as adventurous as me was skeptical, but she ate every bite and it surprisingly pleased her.  I reminder her that most anything, if prepared properly, can have that effect.

Salad of Baby Octopus | Grilled Shrimp | Kimchi | Kalamata | Frisee

Salad of Baby Octopus | Grilled Shrimp | Kimchi | Kalamata | Frisee

The 4th course was one of the two courses I was looking forward to the most, a confit of pork belly with a fresh pea puree.  It was served in a hinge-locked glass jar.  Chef Rockwood came around with a cold-smoke canister with cedar to fill the room.

Fresh Pea Puree | Confit of Pork Belly | Scallion Potato Cake | French Fried Chickpeas | Apple and Cherry Chutney

Pork Belly Confit Presentation

Fresh Pea Puree | Confit of Pork Belly | Scallion Potato Cake | French Fried Chickpeas | Apple and Cherry Chutney

Fresh Pea Puree | Confit of Pork Belly | Scallion Potato Cake | French Fried Chickpeas | Apple and Cherry Chutney

For the 2nd half of the evening, the remaining courses would be paired with red wines. Courses 5 and 6 were paired with Pirineos Mesache Tinto 2010, Somontano, Spain.

Course 5, which I think was the overwhelming favorite of the night among the guests in my party, was a cumin dusted scallop atop avocado puree and rosted corn and black bean salsa. Personally, this was my 2nd favorite course.

Cumin-Dusted Seared Scallop | Mezcal Avocado Puree | Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salsa

Cumin-Dusted Seared Scallop | Mezcal Avocado Puree | Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salsa

A date stuffed rabbit was the 6th course.  It was served with a crispy pullet egg (egg from a young chicken – less than a year old).  Curious as to how the egg remained soft boiled, even though it was fried, Chef Rockwood revealed that he first soft-boiled the egg, then froze it before he breaded and fried it.  Pretty crafty (and tasty).

Date-Stuffed Rabbit | Pancetta | Roasted Fennel | Fingerling Potato | Crispy Pullet Egg | Agrodolce

Date-Stuffed Rabbit | Pancetta | Roasted Fennel | Fingerling Potato | Crispy Pullet Egg | Agrodolce

Up next was course 7, and as a big fan of short ribs, I highly anticipated it.  The mole braised short ribs were cooked for 3 days and was accompanied by wild mushrooms, potato gnocchi, spinach with an espresso demi-glaze and bechamel.  Thinking back on the evening it was my favorite (non-dessert) course.

Mole-Braised Short Rib | Wild Mushroom | Potato Gnocchi | Spinach | Espresso Demi-Glaze | Bechamel

Mole-Braised Short Rib | Wild Mushroom | Potato Gnocchi | Spinach | Espresso Demi-Glaze | Bechamel

The 8th and final non-dessert course was a crispy red-snapper with curried cauliflower and lentils, kale, and a 141-degree cooked egg in a mint oil.  On the side was a sweet raisin fritter.  I thought both the snapper and fritter were delicious.  However, this was the only course that left me a bit confused as I wasn’t sure how the two together complimented each other. That being said, I devoured every bite and really loved the runny egg with the fish. The presentation of this while simple, was extremely clever, as it was served in a sardine can.

Crispy Red Snapper | Lacinato Kale | Curried Cauliflower and Lentils | Mint Oil | Cured Lime Raisin Fritter

Crispy Red Snapper | Lacinato Kale | Curried Cauliflower and Lentils | Mint Oil | Cured Lime Raisin Fritter

Those final 2 courses were paired with “Mas Donis” Barnca by Cellar de Capcanes 2007 Old Vines, Montsant, Spain.

With 8 courses and some appetizers behind us we still had room for dessert.  And both dessert courses, paired with a Chilled Van Gough Double Espresso Vodka, did not disappoint.

The first was a chocolate hazelnut napoleon.  Honestly, had this been the only dessert I would have been a happy man.  Crispy and sweet, the hazelnut chocolate brought me back to my childhood.  It was amazing.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Napoleon | Toasted Cinnamon | White Chocolate Toasted Hazelnuts

Chocolate and Hazelnut Napoleon | Toasted Cinnamon | White Chocolate Toasted Hazelnuts

Luckily the napoleon was not the only dessert, because Chef’s Rockwood and Smith certainly did save the best for last.  4 desserts on one plate and I was indeed ready to die and go to food heaven.

Not only was this dessert delicious, it was one that I’ll remember for a very long time.  Coconut Cake, Chocolate Mouse with Tobacco Cream, Milk Jelly and Nutella Powder.

Coconut Cake | Chocolate Mousse | Milk Jelly | Nutella Powder | Tobacco

Coconut Cake | Chocolate Mousse | Milk Jelly | Nutella Powder | Tobacco

Both nutella powder and tabacco cream left lasting impressions.

Imagine if you took Nutella Hazelnut Spread and turned it to ashes. The ash actually turned back to the consistency of the spread when I ate it.  Incredible.  It was mind-blowing and was culinary creativity at its finest.

Coconut Cake and Nutella Powder

Coconut Cake and Nutella Powder

The tobacco cream, which topped the mousse, was made by soaking the tobacco of a cigar in cream for a few days, strained, then whipped.  The tobacco was just subtle enough to know it was there, but not enough to overpower the dessert.  Amazing is the best way to describe it.

4.5 hours, 2 passed appetizers, 8 courses, 2 desserts, 1 cocktail, 4 wines, and a shot later, The Lost Supper came to a close.  Chef Rockwood and Chef Smith wowed me and the 49 others who had the privileged of attending this exclusive event.  In true theater style the crew came out to take a bow and it was time to go home.

The Lost Supper was certainly a culinary adventure that I soon won’t forget.

The End

The End

Bacon Blue Cheese Deviled Eggs

July 7, 2012 4 comments
Bacon and Blue Cheese Deviled Egg

Bacon and Blue Cheese Deviled Egg

I met Josh several years ago at work and pretty much immediately knew we’d become friends.  Partly because he was a smart-ass like me and partly because he knew his stuff and was always a big help on projects I managed.  So when our team was looking to fill an open position, myself, along with some co-workers lobbied for him to fill it.  After working together for a few months I introduced him to my wife and he introduced me to his partner Chuck.  The 4 of us got along pretty well and we’ve been close ever since.

There are so many good things I can say about these two guys.  They’re kind and extremely helpful.  Also, they’re extremely passionate  with everything they’re involved in.  Pretty much nothing these guys won’t do to help out.  They’re currently in an adoption pool and if anyone deserves to be parents its these two.  I plugged their site in my last entry, but its worth posting again. Check out their amazing story here.

Like me, Josh and Chuck are enthusiastic about good food.  In addition, they are known for always throwing a good party.

So with the Independence Day Holiday smack-dab in the middle of the week and them living nearby, it was a no-brainer to accept an invite to their 4th of July party. Plus they were making Sangria (always a good reason to attend a party in my opinion).

Sangria

Just the right amount of fruitiness 😉

Our hosts informed us that they would be making the “main” dish (stuffed burgers) and everyone else was to bring whatever they wanted.

The guests brought a wide-range of delectable dishes including watermelon and tomato salad, potato salad with blue cheese, a quinoa salad, pasta salad, “fat-boy” baked beans, “boozy” watermelon, and so much more.

               

I must not forget about  desserts.  Banana cream poke cake, fresh blueberry and raspberry pie, mint-chocolate chip cupcakes, and homemade spicy vanilla ice cream (which I made and will most likely blog sometime this summer).

   

I did the ever-popular picnic staple deviled eggs.  While simple, this version, which I found courtesy of my new favorite blog – Framed Cooks, is certainly blog worthy.  The picture on her sight grabbed me right away but I chose it because it combined one of my favorite combinations: bacon and blue cheese.

The burgers and all of the sides were fantastic and my deviled eggs were a hit (even the non-deviled egg fans became fans).

My Plate

My Plate

The  desserts were decadent.

Pie and Ice Cream

A slice of heaven with a side of spicy vanilla ice cream

It was a great night that ended with patriotic music and fireworks among laughs with friends old and new.  My only regret was not taking the next day off of work.

Fireworks

We had a blast (pun intended)

Bacon and Blue Cheese Deviled Eggs

Ingredients (makes 24 deviled eggs):

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 8 strips of bacon
  • 3/4 cup of mayonaise
  • 5 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

Cook bacon to desired crispness, drain fat.

Crumble all of the bacon except one piece (to use as garnish), set aside.

Meanwhile, place the eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil and boil 2 minutes.  Place lid on pot and remove from heat.  Cook, with heat off, approximately  10-12 minutes until eggs are done.

When cooked, place eggs in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

Peel each egg, cut in half lengthwise, and gently remove the yolk from the white.  Place the yolk in a bowl.  Place white of egg on serving platter.

In the bowl with the yolks, add mayonaise and mustard.  Smash with a fork to incorporate the ingredients.

Fold in crumbled bacon and blue cheese.

Mixed and ready to pipe

Mixed and ready to pipe

Using a piping bag (or 2 spoons) divide mixture evenly among the egg whites.

Pipe in the mixture

Piping bag makes it look pretty

Add a piece of bacon to garnish.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.  Enjoy!

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Memorial Day: In loving memory of Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment
In Memory of Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy

In Memory of Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy: Photo courtesy of Noelle Pattison

For most, Memorial Day is the unofficial first day of Summer.  Millions of Americans across the country fire up their grills, cook some burgers and hot dogs, and enjoy time with family and friends.  I’m no exception.  But on this day, I take a break from my traditional blog to focus on the true meaning of Memorial Day.

As a veteran myself, I know what it takes to say goodbye to loved ones, not knowing if it would be the last time you ever saw their faces.  I was fortunate and I came back.   Thousands of soldiers and sailors never do.

One such soldier was Sgt. Nathan P. Kennedy.  Sgt. Kennedy was in the Army fighting a war in Afghanistan that many didn’t believe in.  On April 27th, 2010, I had just sat down with my family to blow out my birthday candles when the phone rang.  It was a call nobody wants to receive. My wife Darcie had just been informed that her cousin Nathan had been shot and was killed.

I didn’t know Nathan very well, as I only met him on a few occasions.  But from what I hear, Nathan was a great kid. He was a well liked, popular student in school.  He was gifted athletically and won many accolades as a stand out wrestler.  He loved to live life to the fullest. I wish I had the opportunity to have spent time with him.

Friends and Family pay tribute to Nathan

Friends and Family pay tribute to Nathan. Photo courtesy of Noelle Pattison

Life for the Kennedy’s, his family and his friends will never be the same.  However, 2 years since Nathan’s passing his memories live on.  I’m sure those closest think of him everyday, but even more so today.

Thank you Nathan.  And thanks to the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who have sacrificed their own freedom in the hopes of continuing to keep America safe.

Nathan on Patrol

Sgt. Nathan Kennedy on Patrol

Whether you are spending time with family and friends or watching your local parade, stop to reflect on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that allow us to continue to have these moments.

Wild Mushroom and Scallop Risotto

May 14, 2012 2 comments
Risotto with Mushrooms and Scallops

Risotto with Mushrooms and Scallops

A few years ago I was mulling over ideas of what to do for my anniversary.  The norm was a fancy dinner somewhere on the town.  However, feeling a need to keep things new and exciting I decided to make a nice romantic dinner at home and win a few “brownie points” in the process.

Once I decided that I wanted to cook at home, I started searching for the perfect recipe.  Since Darcie loves mushrooms, I figured I’d start there.  In addition to mushrooms, it had to have an aura of elegance (cooking with wine generally does that). Whatever I choose needed to appear complicated* (but secretly it wouldn’t be).  Of course, it had to taste good.  Finally, and most importantly, it had to be something that she would want me to make for her time and time again.

The perfect recipe turned out to be  Wild Mushroom and Scallop Risotto.

With Mother’s day approaching, I asked Darcie what she wanted me to make for her Mother’s Day dinner.  She gave me  the “you don’t know” look.  After playing the guessing game for the next few minutes, I gave up.  Finally, she said, “THE risotto.”  I should have known.

I got those “brownie points” and Darcie told me that its the best thing I ever made her.  That makes this guy pretty happy.

This recipe will feed 4 as an entree or 8 as a side dish.

Ingredients:

Risotto Ingredients

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea Scallops (amount will vary based on size but figure on 2 per person) — you can also use bay scallops if you wish
Kosher Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
1 Small Onion, minced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
Assorted mushrooms (I get a pack of mixed mushrooms that contains oyster, portobello, crimini, shiitake)
2 Cups of Arborino Rice (found in the same aisle as other rices)
1/2 Cup of White Wine
6 Cups of Chicken Stock (homemade or store bought)
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (or parmesan) cheese

In large, deep pan, drizzle olive oil and turn heat to medium-high heat.  While oil is heating, sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper on both sides.  When oil is hot, add scallops to pan and cook on both sides until nicely browned.  When scallops are cooked, move to a plate and cover.
Meanwhile in medium sized pot, add the chicken stock to warm it.   Once heated, lower the heat to keep the stock warm.

Scallops

Scallops

In the same pan, drizzle a little more olive oil.  Add onion and garlic, stir until soft.

Onion and Garlic

Onion and Garlic

Add mushrooms and cook for 5-10 minutes until most of the moisture has been removed from the  mushrooms and begin to turn lightly brown.  Season with salt and pepper.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Add uncooked rice and stir for 1-2 minutes to coat the rice with the oil.  Stir in wine and cook for 1-2 minutes to remove the alcohol.

Adding the Rice

Adding the Rice

Pour in 1 cup of chicken stock and stir until rice has absorbed all of the liquid.  Continue this process 1 cup at a time, always waiting until the rice has absorbed the broth before adding more.  Continue until the rice is cooked — should be just a tiny bit firm and creamy (its possible that you wont use all the stock).

First Cup of Stock

First Cup of Stock

When you add your last cup of broth, add the scallops to warm them through.

Adding the Scallops

Adding the Scallops

When rice is done, fold in the butter and cheese.  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Serve hot.

The finished product

The finished product

*While this dish isn’t complicated, it is time consuming and your really can’t stray too far from the kitchen as there is a lot of stirring involved.  However, I hope this doesn’t discourage you from giving it a try because it really is worth it.