Monday, October 7, 2013

A Whole Lot of Wonderful



 I have to confess to a fairly deep rooted fondness for brunch. There is a certain celebratory element to brunch that elevates and differentiates it from any other meal.  A festive indulgence that is most delightfully delicious. Brunch allows for a measure of decadence, a deviation from the otherwise healthy pursuits of conscious cooks. Brunch provides the perfect opportunity to indulge in something sweet, savory, salty and sublime, simultaneously presented on the same oversized plate. If you are a grazer, like me, then you deeply appreciate incorporating a multitude of flavors in one meal. The leisurely pace of brunch is ever so pleasing as well and is a splendid opportunity to enjoy a special occasion libation.

  As much as I love preparing brunch at home, I derive equal pleasure in being cooked for. Sundays are the supreme day for a scenic ride and discovering new dining destinations. Such was my luck that on a glorious September day, BK whisked me away in his sports car, destination; Stonington, CT.

  I keep a file of “wish restaurants”. Tips from waiters, bartenders, hair dressers and just plain strangers, have all been scribbled on scraps of paper,  and tucked away  to accumulate in in a manila enclave, accompanied by newspaper reviews touting the attributes of all kinds of restaurants. For over a year I had harbored an article about Noah’s, which co-incidentally is located in Stonington! Noah’s claim to fame is an obsession with “scratch cooking” and using basic, as well as local ingredients to prepare delectable food. I find it quite stimulating when chefs put true love into their cooking, and utilize superb ingredients. So you had me at scratch, Noah’s.

  As BK and I zipped along, wind in our hair and a rumble in our bellies, I called Noah’s to see if a reservation was necessary. When Lisa, the hostess, answered the phone, it was like talking with a girlfriend, the warm, kind, “come on over right now” kind of girlfriend. “12:30-12:45, that’s great”, she said.


  A half hour later we coasted off the highway and slipped into centuries old Stonington and instantly fell in love. This seaside hamlet is suffused with charm, a little Nantucket, a little Newport, a whole lot of wonderful. We parked at Whalen’s Wharf, and on this particularly iridescent day, the sun shimmered on the harbor, the sky gleamed sapphire blue and the whole vista seemed to glow. Boats bobbed happily in the harbor and seagulls greeted us from above with their piercing cries.

  We pulled ourselves away from this joyful sight and soon were stepping inside Noah’s.  Comfortably casual and full of personality, we felt so at home. I thought an enormous whisk anchored to one wall was a terribly clever detail. Oversized kitchen tools…very cool!

  Lisa came over to greet us and graciously accommodated our request to wait at the bar until a table by one of the windows was available. We perched ourselves at the big wooden bar and quickly ingratiated ourselves with Courtney, who pours a phenomenal brunch cocktail. She wowed me with her version of a screwdriver, a scintillating combination of Ketel One Oranje and freshly squeezed orange juice, with just a kiss of lime. Perfectly balanced with just a bit of bravado, it was like drinking in sunshine and the whole day just continued to sparkle. In fact, no drink has dazzled me quite so much since that superlative day. BK was enormously enlivened by his Bloody Mary and we both offered kudos to Courtney. Several times.

 Soon enough Lisa led us to sun drenched window seats and a table graced with a fat pink dahlia. We just couldn’t stop smiling, BK and I knew we had entered the perfection zone. Speaking of perfection, it takes skill and grace, good timing and a great sense of humor to be an amazing waitress. Our waitress Andy, parried with us on par, wielding witty repartee, never once missing a beat, while simultaneously coddling us with superb service.
                                                                    
  BK is an Eggs Benedict fanatic, so I knew there would be other entrée choice for him. But for me, this menu offered such diversity, I was momentarily stymied. I could have homemade chicken liver with brandy and pistachios, or French toast of the day, or perhaps I should consider offsetting my liquor intake with a Big Messy Dan Burger laden with avocado, bacon, chipotle mayo and cheese, or venture into heretofore unknown territory with Portuguese Baked Eggs, enlivened with linguica, peppers and onions. I was overthinking it all, when suddenly I saw oysters on the page and swiftly ordered a half dozen. Andy was most informative as to their origin, but my memory only retained the East Beach variety, small yet sassy, these saline soaked beauties slid down with much satisfaction. I tend to avoid  any accompanying sauce with raw oysters, preferring just a light shower of fresh lemon juice, but Noah’s mignonette was bright and vinegary, a tasty accompaniment.

  Time had come to order the mains, and true to form, BK had ordered the classic Eggs Benedict, but upped the ante with a side order of a single blueberry buttermilk pancake. Andy counseled that they are light and fluffy and their chef was a master of pancake production. As for me, my happy state of haziness brought on by Courtney’s cocktail inspired me to experiment with Lobster Eggs Benedict.

Not one for marring the lusciousness of lobster with the addition of eggs, I was encouraged by Andy to let go of any preconceived notions. I asked for only one modification, might I have the brioche, rather than the English muffin? There was discussion that the chef would be challenged by that request, but assurance was offered that my deviation would be dealt with.

  Lo and behold, a short while later, Andy came bearing gifts, a platter sized pancake, BK’s classic and there they were, 2 perfect white globes perched atop a plump pile of lobster, all balanced atop the brioche and liberally lavished with hollandaise with a squiggle of Sriracha dotting the perimeter. A plentiful pile of potatoes came along for the ride. I picked up my fork and prepared for takeoff.

  First bite reaction? Hollandaise…oh lovely, laced with lemon, vivacious, slightly frothy yet with a pleasing thickness, oh yes, with a nice kick from the Sriracha ( very, very zesty Vietnamese hot sauce for the uninitiated). Poached egg, yes, nicely tender and lobster, oh goodness, how did they do this to the lobster? It’s actually snapping a bit, standing all on its’ own with that amazing texture, yet melding marvelously well with all the other elements. And those potatoes? No tasteless undercooked or overbrowned filler, these nuggets has a crisp, spicy edge with a pillowy, puffy interior that collapsed in your mouth. I was completely enraptured.

  As for BK? He too was in gustatory glory, having eaten his Eggs Benedict in classic fashion, with a happy smile on his face. And as for that pancake, I took a forkful or two and found it to be completely delicious, the blueberries piggybacking off my lobster in complete harmony. Pushing back from the table I had to leave a few choice mouthfuls behind, it would have buried me to continue, almost too much pleasure for one woman to absorb.

  Loathe to leave such a paragon of perfection, we decided to linger and made our way back to the bar to Courtney, the self- proclaimed “Queen of Cappuccino”. So confident is she of her absolute domain, Courtney had a blazing cup emblazoned on her shirt. As we waited for the result  of her boldness, a slightly frazzled man came out from the kitchen and poured himself a giant glass of cold soda. I instantly realized he was the chef and asked him his name. “Yul”, he replied”. “Oh Yul”, I exclaimed as I grasped his hand to shake, “thank you so much for giving me the brioche. I knew the buttery flavor of brioche bread would be so perfect with the lobster!” I continued to grin at him as he gave me a sideways look.

“Oh, you’re the one-it wasn’t easy stacking that you know”, he sighed just a bit, weary from his labors…but after a moment he looked me right in the eye and gave me a huge smile.

  As for the Queen? Well, yes, her assertion is completely justified and after finishing off the fine frothiness of stellar cappuccino, I can, with all confidence, say take a drive to Stonington and stop into Noah’s for a spectacular Sunday brunch. But maybe give Yul a break and lay off the brioche.

 

Noah’s Restaurant

113 Water Street

Stonington, CT

860-535-3925


Robin Glowa HHC, AADP,  is The Conscious Cook, a food and wellness professional who teaches healthy cooking classes to students of all ages utilizing simple, delicious recipes with healthy, natural, organic and local ingedients. She is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher's College. She writes about eating and living well in her column "The Conscious Cook". Confessions of A Conscious Cook follows Robin's adventures in cooking and eating on the more decadent side, as she pursues all the ways to live a delicious life.
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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's Gettin' Hot In Here!


I willingly confess to cooking a great deal less in the summer. About the only thing I’m conscious of during extremely steamy, humid days is the relentless rising of the heat index. When even the slightest

movement causes salty sweat to slide slowly down my nose, just staying coherent is an exhausting event. No way is that oven dial passing go.

During this sweltering season, “cooking “ is all about selecting satisfying ingredients that can be assembled with minimal effort. Thank goodness for all the spectacular summer time ingredients that can help cool a candent cook. I pop frozen grapes, superb little sugar bombs, that instantly cool a torrid temper, greedily suck down ice cold chunks of watermelon and consume copious quantities of crisp, garden fresh cucumbers, doused with vinegar and feathered with fresh dill.

But my ultimate cool down method is simply to support my local restaurants. The calming climate of an air conditioned dining room and the pleasant banter of someone taking my order provides such lovely relief.

My latest destination of deliciousness is Campania in Branford, CT. Campania fulfills every criteria my conscious cooking self cries out for, especially my desire for exquisite ingredients, perfectly prepared.

But it’s really a rather intimate experience. This is a restaurant where the owners, Ron and Nancy Solevo, welcome you with genuine interest and delight , as though they were expecting you and are truly happy you’ve arrived. “It’s all about the love” has never been a more appropriate phrase when it comes to describing Campania. Wonderful, wonderful Italian love, dished up in big portions and big cheek kisses.

Whenever I am asked why I think the food is so good at Campania, I simply respond again and again “it’s all about the love.” Ron presides over his kitchen with a passion that renders dishes that consistently, reliably and deeply satisfy. Each time I visit, I become a little more enamored with the Campania experience.

It’s not just me succumbing to the many charms of Campania. Even BK, my frequent dining companion, a man who definitively declares that he “only eats to live” has proclaimed Campania one of his favorites.

At Campania, he sniffs, he savors, he smiles. He has been observed swooning over the beautifully vibrant beet salad, a plenteous platter filled with glistening magenta beets, richly infused with flavors of balsamic and fig, and crowned with creamy goat cheese. When presented with an immense portion of meltingly tender pork braciole, BK reverently took his first bite, closed his eyes and said breathily “I love this food, I really love this food”. And when Nancy informed him that she had made icebox cake for the evening’s dessert special, Mr. “Eat to Live”, lit up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

I really love a creative cocktail. Nancy and Ron’s son, Joe, serves up sensational cocktails that are potent yet palatable, several concocted from homemade fruit infused liquors and fresh herbal embellishments. A recent  blush pink watermelon martini was so luscious on a languid summer night and delighted the entire table with it’s liquid Jolly Rancher like flavor.

I also love choosing from the day’s specials. I feel this is where a chef can really shine and share his creativity. I have been duly dazzled by Ron’s interpretation of chilled seafood salad. Calamari, scungilli and scallops were pleasantly sweet with a terrifically tender texture. But it was the amazing immersion of lively lemon and herbal flavors that made it so memorable.  A dissecting discussion determined that there was exceptional olive oil bringing this dish to full fruition, indeed, that good oil gave a long lingering layer of eloquence to this quintessentially summer selection.

My exploration as cook and food enthusiast requires that I taste as much as possible, no? So I am truly blessed to have loving dining companions who generously share their bounty. Not everyone easily tolerates a roving fork. That genial generosity at Campania has filled my plate with tasty bits of seared ahi tuna served with piquant, peppery arugula, spicy cherry peppers stuffed with tuna, capers and anchovy, veal piccata with a melodious mélange of capers, shallots, white wine and lemon, and zuppa de pesce, an astonishing assortment of seafood. At Campania, it’s an ocean liner sized platter, well laden with an enormous lobster tail, shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and more!!

Sometimes it’s a simple plate of pasta that feels right and I really enjoy the specially imported pasta used in Campania’s kitchen. I particularly adore the capellini, especially when kissed with cream, tomato and a touch of fennel, with plump, juicy shrimp entangled in it’s delicate strands. Mmmmmmm, maybe not so simple, but simply delicious.

Seeing as it’s a scorching summer out there, I leave room for gelato. Of course, I always leave room for gelato. Because it’s gelato…it’s sexy, it’s seductive, it’s very Italian and it’s so scrumptious. Here in the cool confines of  Campania, I slowly savor that gelato,  supremely sated and surrounded by love.

CAMPANIA

284 East Main Street

Branford, CT

203-483-7773

 

As “The Conscious Cook”, Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, writes about living and eating healthfully. She teaches cooking classes to students of all ages, utilizing incredibly tasty, natural ingredients and brilliantly simple recipes.

A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College, Robin is a passionate food professional who is always exploring new ways to live a delicious life.

“Confessions of A Conscious Cook” follows Robin’s more indulgent adventures and experiences.

For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Baby, Light My Fire

 


A successful marriage requires falling in love over and over again, always with the same person. A successful relationship with cooking requires a similar cycle of commitment to keep the excitement alive. But when the fire goes from a blaze to a simmer...if the sizzle seems to fizzle, where does a conscious cook find a fresh muse to fan the flames of desire?

Education leads to inspiration and my propensity for fresh inspiration led me to the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Like so many heart and soul weary travelers before me, I seek solace from the sea. The briny air and crashing surf never fails to relight my internal flickering embers. And I had read that the hotel offered cooking classes as one of their many guest activities. I hoped that this notable change of scenery would bring a blush to my cheeks and new purpose to my non stick pan.

The Ocean House has only recently risen from the ashes of it's own extinguished fire, after gradually disintegrating over the past century into a dismal state of decrepit disrepair. But just like the proverbial Phoenix, she rose up to take on new life. Morphing into a glorious grande dame, the hotel is perched high atop a bluff, a sensational sentry presiding over the tiny seaside community of Watch Hill.

A resurrection of such magnitude required great passion and great amounts of money. Enter Charles Royce, a man with an intense adoration for Watch Hill, the sea and a superior quality of life. When it was determined that the original structure could not be salvaged, Royce infused 140 million dollars into the project and had the building replicated, adding sumptuous and spectacular modern details, while paying homage to the eternal elegance of an upscale New England seaside experience.

The Ocean House reaches out its beautiful, welcoming arms and envelopes you in an embrace so warm, comforting and luxuriously attentive that you melt, almost on contact, with the place. This is a haven where new fires are lit, even in the kitchen, where this weekend's class was FLAMBE! How perfect for relighting fading flames!

Flambe, a French word meaning lighted torch, employs alcohol, a bit of flame and a deft hand to bring a dash of drama to cooking, desserts in particular. Not commonly offered in restaurants today, flambe is elegant and sophisticated, and apparently quite manageable in the home kitchen!

The class was held in the “Club Room”, a luxurious lair usually reserved for “members” and “invited guests”. What a decadent, delicious room, resplendent with gleaming wood paneling, rich red leather chairs, immense pieces of coral and oversize seashells dipped in shimmering silver and rare artwork lining the walls. Perfect for a fine cigar and a snifter of Delamain le Voyage cognac!

And presiding over the zinc topped bar (shipped from Paris, exclusively for this very room) was Dean Gardiner, lead bartender. He, along with Henry DeMartino, restaurant manager and class instructor, work closely together to create exciting recipes for these classes, utilizing unusual combinations of exotic liquors, fresh herbs, berries, fruits and other vibrant ingredients.

Henry, a culinary impresario, Johnson & Wales trained, declared as he plunged a fork firmly into a large lemon wedge, “I believe there are 2 heats.. high and off,” and with that, fired up his presentation! Commencing with Cherries Jubilee, a classic dish first introduced in the late 1800's, Henry's very modern take incorporated maraschino cherries soaked in Luxardo, an intoxicating cherry liquer. As he dissolved sugar and orange juice in a saute pan, Henry admonished that “using cornstarch is cheating, let the sauce come into it's own!” After reducing the sugar and orange juice, Henry, now rapidly warming to his subject, added the cherries, a bit of Luxardo, and orange zest and let the mixture simmer for a minute.

Removing the concoction from the burner, Henry added brandy and like a true pyreman of the pan, tipped and swirled and brought forth a perfect flame! Brava, Henry, Brava!

When the flammables subsided, Dean handed Henry dishes of home made sour cream ice cream. Henry ladled the cherries atop the ice cream, which immediately yielded to the warm sauce and created a mouthgasmic puddle of sweet, creamy cherriness. Oh my, yes, yes, yes, I was feeling that familiar flush.

For his final hurrah, Henry prepared the ever impressive Crepes Suzette, an ambrosial dessert that was a particular favorite of certain English royalty. Henry reached for the fork impaled lemon, added butter to the pan and began swirling the lemon about, “to leach the lemon oil out”, he advised. Sugar, orange juice and lemon juice quickly followed. “You want to build the depth of this dish” Henry said, as the room quickly filled with the seductive scent of of sinfully rich butter and sugar. “Today I am adding Navan, a Grand Marnier with vanilla”, Henry said grinning, “this was Dean's suggestion, and you are the first to try it this way!” Henry added the Navan to the now caramelized sugar mixture, and the aroma caused both teacher and observers to swoon a bit.

Dean handed Henry a plate of thin, golden crepes, which Henry folded into triangles, then placed in the pan and carefully caressed with sauce until they were well coated. Removing the pan from the heat he added a measure of brandy and with his conflagratory finesse, brought the pan back to the heat and voila, a brilliant flame!

Crepes Suzette is music in the mouth, a song of such beautiful balance, it may make you both weep and smile simultaneously. Close your eyes, breathe quietly and experience the rare, elusive effects of pure sybaritic satisfaction.



Isn't that what falling in love should taste like?

Oh Henry, you matchmaker you!



I can't completely promise that I will ever actually attempt flambe on my own, but Henry, Dean and the Ocean House have given me the inspiration to bring new fire to my kitchen and my commitments!



Ocean House

One Bluff Avenue

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

www.oceanhouseri.com

401-315-5599
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

 
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Let it Roll, Baby, Roll


Thanksgiving is a spectacular holiday! Any holiday that encourages the eating of mashed potatoes and pie is ok with me. Never mind tucking into all the other luscious dishes, a beautifully bronzed turkey, brilliant scarlet cranberries, sweet potatoes and a fine glass of wine or two. The Thanksgiving feast is an ecstatic occasion.
This year I was a guest for Thanksgiving, not the cook. A delightful change of pace, being a guest.
Jay and Susannah graciously opened their home to a big crowd of friends and neighbors, each of whom contributed something special to the Thanksgiving table.
A brilliant, sunshine filled day, Jay took advantage of mild temperatures to grill the turkey. While it happily cooked under its Weber helmet, guests began arriving, bearing gifts of food, much as the Pilgrims did at the very first Thanksgiving.
One couple arrived with scrumptious shrimp, clams were steamed and served with bracing garlic butter. A neighbor brought his marvelous mashed potatoes, made even more decadent with the addition of certain secret ingredients..cream cheese may have been involved. I must have that recipe, but it was not forthcoming that day, not even another Chardonnay was loosening those lips.
Susannah prepared a brimming pot of fresh cranberry sauce and sauteed baby carrots.
As for me, I was asked to bring a pumpkin roll....??!

Now pumpkin roll was never part of my previous Thanksgiving celebrations.
I grew up with pie for dessert. Devastatingly delicious pie and lots of it. Pumpkin pie, apple pie, cranberry raisin pie and pecan pie. Always pie. With a crust that would shatter at the mere prod of
a fork, flaky beyond compare, and tasting of the tenderness that only my grandmother and mother who have made hundreds of pies could impart. They are the pie masters, those two. As the magician of pie making, they conjured up that apple pie, richly scented with cinnamon and bulging with perfectly cooked slices of Cortland apples and pecan pie, so sweet it would make your teeth twang, melding with crisp pecans wrapped in that perfect piecrust. Absolute heaven.

Well, turns out Jay is a pumpkin roll fanatic. So my mission would be to make the best pumpkin roll I could. Now mind you, I can't roll anything. Not a sleeping bag, not my yoga mat, without it veering sharply off to one side. I had visions of my pumpkin roll, not as a perfect cyclinder of celebration, but a leaking, lopsided mess.
Something so seemingly simple should not have unsettled me so, but I was charting through
unfamiliar territory and was putting enormous performance pressure on myself. I was assured by those
who were NOT preparing pumpkin roll for their Thanksgiving that I should settle down. No sympathetic offerings of technique advice arose from any of my angst filled exchanges with other cooks.
Only my mother, God Bless Her, a constructor of many Christmastime Buche de Noels, had any understanding of the rigors of rolling. “But”, she explained merrily, “ I could always cover up any cracks with decoration!” Yes, there would be no opportunity to cover pumpkin roll cracks with miniature meringue mushrooms like it's Christmastime cousin.
You need a pristinely clean kitchen towel to roll the pumpkin roll in. No old kitchen towel that has been used repeatedly to clean cruddy kitchen counters will be acceptable. I purchased my new kitchen towel at the Christmas Tree Shop, not exactly an oasis of calm during the holiday season. Manoeuvreing my way past gigantic turkey lawn ornaments and flameless Christmas candles, I made a mad dash to the housewares aisle, snagged the kitchen towel, paid in cash and fled. Total time elapsed: ten minutes. I headed back to the kitchen to continue my quest.
I used the Libby's Pumpkin Roll recipe I found online. It's super simple and the only deviation I used, was to include an additional teaspoon of Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie spice. It has cardamom and lemon peel, as well as the usual cinnamon, cloves, etc. and adds a little extra layer of flavor.
You bake the cake in a jelly roll pan, which if you're unfamiliar with, is a pan measuring 15 ½ “ x
10 ½ “ , with 1 “ high sides. It works as a cookie sheet and roasting pan too. While the cake bakes, the pristinely clean kitchen towel is laid out on the kitchen counter and liberally dusted with powdered sugar.
Now the fun begins...when you remove the cake from the oven, you need to flip it onto the towel. Then peel off the parchment paper that you lined the pan with, slowly, slowly. Then you roll up the cake and the towel together, starting with the more narrow end. Breathe, breathe, easy..oh no, crackage. Stop. Breathe. Continue rolling. Now walk away. Just walk away and let the cake cool on a wire rack.
While the cake cools and the flush of anxiety on my face cooled, I prepared the cream cheese filling. Again, super simple. When the cake is cool, you get to unroll it. That part is easy. I spread the filling on the cake, spreading edge to edge.
The final roll comes next. The all important roll. I gently laid my hands upon it and gave it a go.
Obliging me, the cake actually looked normal, the previous crack did not deepen and fracture like a glacial gap, it simply rolled into submission. Sublime, glorious submission.
Wrapping it in plastic wrap, I placed the roll in the refrigerator. And when presented to Jay, the look on his face was pure pleasure. I have to admit, it's good stuff. Spicy, moist, creamy and sweet, it was devoured, not even a bird size crumb remained.
Move over a little, pie, looks like there's a new tradition to add to the table.

Sunday, August 14, 2011