Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Carefree Thursday

After a busy week and an upcoming parade, Thursday had arrived, and I was without a dinner plan.

Luckily, DucCat had a little ace hidden up his sleeve. I returned home that night to two fistfulls of tomato-laden, basil-laced love.

He'd popped by Florimonte's earlier that day, and picked up a couple of containers of sauce: Marinara with Italian Sausage for him, and Zucchini and Sundried Tomato for me. "Va benne!" I said, and with a quick kiss, we got to work.

He got the sauces bubbling away, along with a pot of water for pasta. Meanwhile, I arranged a few giardiniera, blanched some broccoli raab, and wilted some spinach. Dinner was done, and in less than thirty minutes... Rachel Ray would be proud.

We sat down with a new quaff, a 2003 Tusk'n'Red. A wine that, I assure you, was not purchased due to the cute animal-friendly label. No, I think that perhaps- just perhaps- I recognized a little something of myself in that bocce-ball-crazed elephant.

The colour was a carefree garnet, and the aroma intense, heady, like something in last-winter's memory. Late evening dancers kicked their heels up with soft, dark accents, while a languid trio trickled down my throat to triumph with velvet-touched spice. Very nice, and completely arm-in-arm with the food.

Ah yes, the food. Somehow in the excitement between plating and sitting down, I completely forgot to photograph DucCat's dish, which was rife with pasta, meatballs, and a rich, sausage-studded sauce. It was truly a thing of beauty. But, after all, mine was more colourful- let's not forget the zucchini. Or the greens

Even the cats seemed slightly distracted by the vegetables that night. Or perhaps they just felt I was the easier mark.

Zippidy Doo-Dah!

Hey local folk!

Come out to Norfolk tomorrow, and join us for the Occasional Downtown Doo Dah Parade. Be there at High Noon on Granby Street, and you too can catch a glimpse of a harajuku'd-out s'kat gliding gracefully down the parade route, as part of Cowboy Syd's entourage.

Be there, or be... um, elsewhere! :)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

True Blue

A summery Saturday can often find DucCat and I tooling around on the cool, blue vibe of the ST-4. Unerringly, it always seems to point us in just the right direction for a lovely little lunch nosh. Today's destination turned out to be Williamsburg's Blue Talon Bistro.

It had been some time since our last, rather disappointing, visit, and I was definitely in the mood for another go. A little early for the lunch hour, we were led through a fairly quiet restaurant to our requested patio seating.

DucCat ordered some wine to sip on as we browsed through the new menu.

The Guy Bocard 2002 Bourgogne Chardonnay was a pleasant enough quaff, well-balanced with bright apples and cool glints of mineral and oak. Bistro patio wine, for certain.

After much indecision, we finally decided to each order an appetizer along with our main course, in order to taste a couple of new menu items. Since the ST-4 is equipped with hard bags, it would be no problem to take home any leftovers.

As the patio began filling with an assortment of locals, tourists and students, my first course arrived, with DucCat's following closely behind.

The Parmesan Tart with Bacon & Leeks ($7.95) was curiously delivered hiding beneath a blanket of romaine.

Lettuce aside, the tart was a knockout. The interior was rich, creamy and satisfyingly smooth. Thick chunks of bacon in just the right amount pulled it all together admirably. It was a real effort not to finish it all then and there.

DucCat, bless him, began with the Macaroni Gratin($8.95). Delivered in a fun-sized baking tray, it was the epitome of cheesy goodness. A luscious mixture of Swiss and cheddar were trumped by the thick cubes of smoky country ham on top. I laughed in pleasure as I savoured the bite DucCat proffered.

After such a powerful start, my Grilled Asparagus Salad ($7.95) seemed a touch anti-climatic. The greens were lightly dressed in a zippy sauce that was all the better when mixed with the poached egg yolk. Following the cheese explosion of the tart and gratin, the rapidly softening Brie seemed a touch overboard, and was saved to enjoy another day.

DucCat was inexorably drawn back to that lunch-time favourite, the Bistro Burger($9.95). When the Blue Talon crafts a burger, they get it right: a thick, flavourful beef patty comes with all the fixin's, and is joyously crowned by a poached egg. Accompanied by a cone of frites, it was safe to say that nobody walked away from that table hungry.

Oh, and the leftover portion of Parmesan tart? It was just as delicious eaten surreptitiously out of the fridge later that night.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Zed's dead, baby, and dead's dead.

Well, not really. Zed's actually right as rain, and living life anew as a tart and saucy 2004 sauvignon blanc.

New Zealand has hit another homerun with its latest screwtop offering- all the classic flavors sing out loud here, along with apples, grapefruit and a teasing shot of lime.

All this for under $10? Looks like I've found a new patio wine for summer!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Upside Down

Spot loves to be held with all four feet sticking straight up. My big, fluffy, white dorky kitty. :)

Check in with Clare at Eat Stuff for the most recent weekend cat blogging round-up!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Pawn Bon Yay

So tell me: is it winter, spring, or fall? What with temperatures racing to and fro, I certainly can't keep up with it. So last weekend I locked myself in the house, cranked up the heat, and went full gusto with thoughts of warmer times.

Light sandwiches are a summery staple in my house, and it inevitably culminates in the Mediterannean tuna sandwich. First discovered on summer vacation, with then-fiancee DucCat, when his mother whipped some up one day at lunch.

"It's from a Gourmet recipe called Pan Bagnat," she told us, "and it is just so good!" Boy, was she ever right, and we've been making them ever since.

The sandwich requires a boldly crusty bread to stand up against the juices, or you'll be left with mush. Albeit, good-flavoured mush. I try to stick with day-or-more-old baguettes, with the interior slightly hollowed out. And DucCat, my dear, don't look at me like that- this method simply provides more space for the filling.

What's in it? The basic blueprint is canned tuna, an oil-and-vinegar dressing, onions, tomatoes, capers, olives and lettuce. Missing an ingredient? Leave it out. Have a stray something laying about? Throw it on in there. I've added basil, roasted red peppers, even sliced carrots- it's all good.

To quench our parched palates, DucCat selected a 2004 Delfosse Chardonnay, a little trinket from our last Virginia wine country journey. Classically crafted with buttery pears and warm oak, it was just right for staving off the idiosyncrasies of the season.

Mediterranean Tuna Sandwich
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, sliced very thinly
capers, drained and rinsed
1 can tuna, opened and drained
tomato, sliced 1/4-inch thick
kalamatta olives, sliced
leafy greens
day old crusty bread

Combine red wine vinegar, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and a crack of black pepper, adjusting to taste as necessary. Place sliced red onion into same container, and let sit while preparing the remaining ingredients.
Slice bread in half, and hollow out a portion of the interior.
Beginning with bottom piece of bread, layer with vinaigrette-drenched onions. Follow with capers, tuna, tomatoes, olives and leafy greens.
If desired, add one more layer of onions, finish with top slice of bread, and press down firmly.

Arm yourself well with napkins, and keep in mind that this is in no way first date food!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Like Buttah, Baby.

"So George," I purred, casting a knowing eye downwards, "DucCat won't be back in town until tomorrow. Got anything... interesting for me?"

Never one to let me down, he deftly pulled a soft and sultry-looking cheese from the refrigerated case, offering me a taste. My eyes widened.

"I'll take two! And a nice bottle of chard for his return. And, er, some more Alessi. Well, if I only need another bottle for a half case, throw in a Pac Peak as well."

I may never walk out of the Warwick Cheese Shoppe for less than $100, but it's always with an armful of old favourites and delicious new finds.

King Island Dairy's Seal Bay Triple Cream is Australia's sassy answer to brie- rich, creamy and decadent, with a smooth and suave nutty character. A single bite can elicit joyful laughter- two may cause swooning, and by that third luscious taste, it's pure, brazen, cream-fueled ecstasy.

No cheese stands alone 'round here, and the Charles Creek 2003 Las Patolitas Chardonnay was a lovely partner. Rich and buttery in its own right, but with enough sweet pear and pineapple to provide balance and contrast. A sip of wine left a luscious, lingering finish that seemed to come full-circle with each new taste of cheese.

Welcome back from racing school, honey!

Monday, March 20, 2006

It’s Good To Live in the South...

...where barbecue and the art of smoking are time-honoured traditions.

What better way to begin a blustery Saturday morning?

The saucin' liquid- really, just a blend of Pigman's "Hot" Barbecue Sauce, Dave's Insanity Hot Sauce, and apple cider vinegar- was mixed up, and ready to go, just as the coals hissed to temperature.

A few hours passed, and each plump little butt was judiciously basted.

Meanwhile, I gathered the ingredients for a piquant and properly Virginian side of no-mayo coleslaw.

As the shadows lengthened, the winds shifted, and what had been a blustery March morning turned into an afternoon of howling Northern winds.
The smoker's temperature plummeted dangerously, and DucCat was suddenly in motion, starting two chimney's worth of additional fuel to stoke the fire.

Finally, the temperature stabilized, and with another round of saucin', the smoking continued.

With the setting sun looming, the time had arrived. The butts were pulled, securely wrapped in tin foil, and left for a little rest. The heady aroma of pork and spice was mouthwatering, and it was difficult to resist tearing into one for a little taste.

Restraint rewarded us with meat that split like silk, glimmering with juices, and rouged just right with a magnificent smoke ring.

Chop, chop, chop... short time, 36 pounds of barbecue was dispersed to several containers destined for friends, family, and freezer.

Slaw at the ready, all that was left was the eatin'. With a pile of napkins, and the sweet smell of smoke still in the air, we dug in with relish. True classics never go out of style, y'all!

note: Now, I'm not trying to start anything, but it's my belief that a bun stifles the purity of the barbecue, and I'm nothing if not a purist when it comes to such things. Of course, if you have to go the bun route, at least make sure that its a CWB (cheap white bun)

The Renowned Mr. Brown

"In old Southern slang, "Mr. Brown" is the dark, smoky outside part of barbecued pork, usually the shoulder. This is the traditional cooking style, perfected by generations of pitmasters to give Mr. Brown his deserved renown."
-from Smoke & Spice, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison

1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
2 Tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoonon cayenne

Link to Coleslaw recipe

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I Got Raab-ed, Yo!

I’d seen this curious plant before, labeled rapini, sitting humbly in the produce section. Long, leafy greens were tied in bunches, with the occasional cluster of broccoli-like florets peeking out. With no earthly idea of what it was, or how to use it, my intention to indulge in some research had generally dissolved between the harried check-out lines, and the ride home.

Then, Alanna from A Veggie Venture threw down the gauntlet with her month-long celebration of all things broccoli rabe. If, like me, you've not been keeping up with the cognoscenti these days, it's actually pronounced broccoli “rob”.

Determined to join in the festivities, I searched through epicurious until a particular sandwich caught my eye: a provolone and broccoli rabe panini. Score!

Having the foresight to do a little research this time paid off: broccoli raab goes by a plethora of names, not the least of which is broccoli rabe, rapine, brocoletto and choy sum. You may have guessed that it is also known as ‘rapini’, which is precisely how I found it.

Contrary to what the name implies, it is in no way related to broccoli: it's actually a relative of the turnip family. The leaves look very similar to turnip greens, while the broccoli-like florets are dappled with small, yellow flowers. Flourishing famously in Mediterranean and Chinese cultures, it's still a bit of a curiosity stateside.

Not after today. Cooking it up was effortless. A quick wash, chop, and plop in boiling water, and I was ready to sauté. Just as the garlic hit the pan with a sizzle, I realized that there wasn’t a single winsome anchovy to be found in the kitchen. I added a bit of Worcestershire sauce and an extra crack of salt to the pan; thinly sliced leftover pork tenderloin stood in for that little extra panache, and then, pure panini-making fun ensued.

The sandwich was a delightful mélange of flavours, and the raab proved itself to be a natural partner for the sharp provolone. The taste was somewhere between broccoli and spinach, but with a delightful, slightly bitter edge, softened by just a hint of nutty sweetness.

Ay, now that’s the raab!


adapted from epicurious

1/2 lb broccoli rabe, tough ends discarded
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½-1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt, to taste
1 (8- to 9-inch) sliced (1/4 inch thick) fine-quality round Italian loaf
2 Tablespoons roasted red pepper paste
1/3 lb sliced provolone

In 4-quarts of boiling, salted water, cook raab uncovered until tender, no more than 3 minutes. Drain well, wring out excess water with tea towel, then coarsely chop.

In heavy skillet over medium heat, sauté garlic in half the oil until just golden- add raab, Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch of salt, stirring for about a minute.

Heat panini grill according to instructions. Brush the outside slices of two pieces of bread with half the remaining oil (or use an olive oil sprayer). Spread half the roasted red pepper paste on inside of two slices, place half the provolone on bottom slice, half the raab mixture, then cover with top, oiled side up. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Place in panini grill and cook until browned and crispy, about 8 minutes.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

s’kat’s notes: I also added some thinly sliced cooked pork tenderloin to this, but it would have been just fine without. And since I had some extra cheese left, I put it on top of the raab as well- it may have been the perfect leaf-to-cheese ratio.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Feelin' Brothy

The usual Wednesday cooking conundrum struck late that morning, upon final confirmation’s of DucCat’s poker game. What seafood dish to have for dinner? I spent my coffee break thumbing leisurely through crisp print-outs and stained cookbooks.

A Cooking Light recipe piqued my interest, due to the fact that it was fast, and I had most of the items already tucked away in my pantry. The fishmonger happened to be completely out of mussels that day, so I trotted out with a bag of impressively large prawns- hello, Shellfish in Tomato-Wine Broth!

I added some fading mushrooms for a little variety, and was generous with the salt and pepper. As with most ‘stews’, this could easily accommodate vegetable bin odds’n’ends, bulking up if necessary, or keeping it to its most basic components.

While this would easily lend itself to simply whetting hungry appetites, I found it filled the bill nicely as the main course, replete with grilled bread and fresh salad.

Shellfish in Tomato-Wine Broth
adapted from Cooking Light

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 package mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (14.5) ounce can no salt added stewed tomatoes, undrained and chopped
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
salt and pepper, as needed
1/2 pound jumbo prawns, peeled and deveined
2 Tablespoons mixed chopped parsley and basil

Heat olive oil in large heavy pan; add mushrooms, and cook for about 7-10 minutes, until mushrooms have released their liquid, and begun to brown.
Add minced garlic, sautéing for a minute.
Add wine, and the next four ingredients; add salt and pepper, then bring mixture to a boil.
Add shrimp, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until shrimp have just cooked through. DO NOT OVERCOOK!
Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.
Remove to bowl, strew with chopped parsley and basil, and serve with crusty bread and salad.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Girl's Night In

Because sometimes, it's just easier (and more fun) to stay in one's own kitchen, laughing with a friend over wine, and badly-thought out appetizers.

Luckily, the entree had been cooked up the day before. Chicken, Shrimp, and Sausage Stew was brimming with slow-cooked flavour, just the right dish to take the edge off the Monday night blues.

As this was the sort of thing that demanded soppin' materials, my friend brought along a garlicky dose of focaccia from the newly-opened Florimonte's Bakery. Betwixt the two, I found the perfect marriage of rich meaty broth, pungent garlic, and fresh, herb-studded bread.

My friend cleared the remnants from the table, as I cleaned the dishes in the kitchen. She came out holding up a spoon. "You didn't use this? How'd you eat the stew?"

I smiled, and said, "Who needs a spoon when you've got such great bread for dipping!"

Chicken, Shrimp, and Sausage Stew


1 pound andouille sausage, cut into rounds
6 large chicken thighs, around 2 1/4 pounds
3 cups chopped onions
3 cups chopped sweet peppers
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
1 14 1/2-ounce can low salt chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and de-veined

Saute sausage in large heavy pot over medium heat until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to pot, and cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side.
Transfer chicken to the bowl with the sausage. Pour off all but 1 Tablespoon of the pan drippings.
Add onions and peppers to the pot; saute until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, thyme, and paprika; saute for a couple of minutes.
Add tomatoes with juices, chicken broth, and wine. Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Uncover pot. Add olives, and simmer until chicken has become very tender, and the liquid has reduced to a thin sauce.
Add shrimp, and simmer just until cooked through, perhaps 5 minutes longer.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

s'kat's notes: I used 4 Cajun-style chicken andouilles, and 2 chorizo sausages. The peppers were red and yellow, as I find green a bit too overpowering.
A cautionary note about the paprika; if you are using hot, use half the amount, then taste and adjust for potency.
I made this stew the day before serving, and it was definitely better for it.

Friday, March 10, 2006

When Life Hands You Veal Chops...

...suck it up, and make chops in the style of osso bucco. Mmmmmmm...

...I promise it's almost as good! Thanks, DucCat!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Is That a Rigatoni, or are Ya Just Happy To See Me?

This was one of those recipes that had literally been in my ‘to-do’ pile for years. For about three years, as a matter of fact. So when the wind took on a distinctly Northern chill last Thursday evening, I finally decided it was time to cook ‘Rigatoni in Woodsman’s Sauce’ .

Everything was bubbling along nicely, and smelling even better. I had hot Italian sausage on hand, so used that to great effect. Just before adding the cream, I took a little taste- oh, and it was gorgeous. I called in DucCat to sample, and we pondered leaving well enough alone. In the end, I decided to trust the recipe, and added the cream.

It was still good, but not as good as before. Future renditions may still see me add a few dribbles, but certainly nowhere near the entire cup that is called for here.

Note that as usual, I had my sauce over spinach, while DucCat mixed his with rigatoni. And he was indeed very happy to see me!

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Wednesday Poker Night = s'kat's Seafood Night

The newest Wednesday seafood recipe turned out great on all marks.

Easy and truly quick to pull together? Check.
Carries the telltale signs of an 'everything and the kitchen sink' meal? Check.
Huge flavour payoff for relatively little work? Check.

I'm smitten, Daddy-o!

Spicy Sauteed Fish with Olives and Cherry Tomatoes
adapted from epicurious

2 pounds tilapia, red snapper or orange roughy fillets
dried breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, and grated parmesan cheese, as needed
1/4 cup olive oil
chopped broccoli florets
sliced mushrooms
white wine, for deglazing
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (I chopped a whole tomato)
1 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
baby spinach, wilted

Combine breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, and cheese in a shallow dish, and dredge the fish fillets in the mixture until completely coated. Let sit in the fridge for a bit to firm up while you do your prep-work.

Heat olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of fish to skillet and cook about 3 minutes per side, until nicely crispy on the outside, and translucent in the center.
Transfer fish to platter, and repeat with the remaining fillets.

Add wine to deglaze the pan; add the broccoli, mushrooms and onions, sauteeing until just softened. Add the crushed red pepper, tomatoes, olives, and garlic, sauteeing until tomatoes have softened and become juicy.

Season sauce with salt and pepper. Add fillets back into the pan, and cover for a couple of minutes to warm through.

Top with minced basil, mound atop baby spinach, and serve with crusty bread/rice/etc.

s'kat's note: The tilapia clung tenaciously to the pan, and a good portion of the crust came off; I may try using non-stick in the future.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Brekkie for Him, Lunch for the Missus

It’s Sunday, straddling the hour between morning and afternoon. I’d told DucCat earlier about the whole Peter Wells-cheese sandwich hoopla, and with that in mind, we set about making a little something to eat.

One of DucCat’s employees had visited home the previous weekend, and returned with something called a ‘pork roll’. Neither of us had heard of one before; it looked a bit like a massive, pale salami, and smelled rather like bologna.

After frying up a couple of slices on the stove, he poached some eggs, then added it all to a split and toasted hard roll, each with its own slice of individually wrapped American cheese.

The aroma was tempting to say the least, and since there were two sandwiches anyway, he let me try a bite. I’m not quite sure how to describe the taste of the pork roll itself, except to say it was a bit like summer sausage. This sandwich could have been the genesis for the original Egg McMuffin, an homage which never lived up to the prototype. This was truly delicious, made on great bread, a perfectly cooked egg, just the right amount of cheese, and a good, fatty layer of soft, succulent pork. Yowza!

My own sandwich paled just a bit in comparison, but in its own way was no slouch. Trader Joe’s Roasted Red Pepper Spread, baby spinach, thinly sliced red onion, chopped tomato and a mixture of feta and piave cheeses were all squeezed between two pieces of whole wheat bread in the panini maker. The resultant sandwich was excellent indeed, although I had the usual problem of the filling squeezing out with each messy bite.

When all was said and done, though, I found my mind’s eye wandering back to that luscious breakfast sandwich.

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Bookwalter Red Table Wine, Lot No. 19

Maureen asked what wine I’d had with the Risotto al Ragu, and I’m glad she did.

This bottle of Bookwalter Red Table Wine came to me not through the usual channels, but through the mail. I came home one evening to find a large-ish parcel on my front doorstep, one that had come all the way from Seattle, WA.

Tearing it open excitedly, I found a rich assortment of gifts, a late season of giving from two of my favourite Seattlites. I couldn't have been more surprised or pleased- thanks, Jen and Anthony!

One of the goodies was this sleek-looking bottle of wine. Wait for a rainy day? Ha, not around here! DucCat and I barely made it two days, before unabashedly tearing in.

The wine held a comforting scent of earthiness, with dark loamy fruits, and a touch of leather. The body was mellow and engaging, full, but not overly complex. It was as easy to drink on its own, as it was complimentary to the rich risotto. In short, this was everything an everyday red table wine should be- thoroughly enjoyable.

Delish, guys, thanks again!

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