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Post Christmas Recovery and Recap

Well, the big day has passed. The carefully wrapped gifts have been enthusiastically unwrapped. The cookies, pies and festive dinners have been prepared and consumed, with minimal leftovers to speak of. New toys have been put through their paces and new clothes have been worn and washed. Our house guests and house pets have all made their way home and all that’s left is to launder the sheets and towels. It was a beautiful holiday filled with laughter, love, and smiles.

And now, things are gradually returning to normal. We’re slowly reclaiming the house from the holidays, sweeping up the pine tree needles, and finding places to stash the new toys. As much as I thrive on the Christmas festivities, I’m looking forward to a bit of normalcy. I’m ready to pack away the cookie sheets for a while and get back to our normal day-to-day cooking and routines.

I must admit, I’ve been feeling a bit of post-holiday indulgence remorse. I ate way too many cookies and slices of eggnog pie “for the baby”, which I’m pretty sure went straight to my hips instead. The measly remainder of holiday cookies have been officially exiled from the house and I’m looking forward to some light, nutritious meals for the sake of my hips. But speaking of the baby, we found out yesterday morning that we are expecting our third boy! Looks like my husband just formed himself a foursome for golf!

I’ll be whipping up some healthy new recipes soon. But first, here’s a quick recap of some of the goodies we enjoyed with our holiday guests.

We started on Christmas Eve Eve (does that make sense?) with a request from my brother-in-law for my Steak Bordelaise Pizza. I’ve shared this recipe for you before, back in my Pizza Dragons and Chairs of Stock post. I guess you can say this is one of my signature dishes. It’s sort of a steak dinner on a pizza crust. This is definitely not your run of the mill pizza. My pizza traditionalist father would be reluctant to call it a pizza at all, but we’re all big fans of the dish around here.

On Christmas Eve, I cooked up a Chicken Parmigiana dinner, complete with spaghetti and toasty hot garlic bread. I’ve been cooking Chicken Parmigiana on Christmas Eve in this house for many years now, long before my husband and I were married and long before this house was our house. I’ll give the Chicken Parm it’s own post with a proper recipe soon, but for now, you can take a look back at my recipe for Eggplant Parmigiana. My Chicken Parm follows the same basic recipe, only substituting breaded thin-cut or pounded chicken breasts for the eggplant. It’s a delicious meal that can be almost fully prepared ahead of time. It’s definitely a satisfying crowd pleaser!

On Christmas, we started with two easy appetizers of Fresh Mozzarella and Tomatoes with Basil Pesto on Baguette and Shrimp with Spicy Cocktail Sauce. You can find my recipe for Basil Pesto back in my Toasted Caprese Sandwich post. For the shrimp, simply boil large de-veined shrimp for a few minutes until they curl and turn bright pink. Or, take the easy route, as I do, and buy a large bag of frozen, peeled, tail-on shrimp and allow them to defrost in the fridge overnight. Make a quick, delicious cocktail sauce by combining about a cup of ketchup with a healthy dose of horseradish (a few heaping tablespoons), a splash of Worchestershire Sauce, splash of Lemon Juice, and splash of Tabasco.

Our Christmas dinner featured Roasted Beef Tenderloin with two sauces. I trimmed and tied a 5 1/2 pound beef tenderloin, rubbed it with olive oil, generously sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted in a 425 degrees oven for about 45 minutes. Smaller roasts will cook quicker. On the side, I served a Horseradish Cream Sauce (made with sour cream, a generous amount of horseradish, dash of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper) and a Red Wine Mushroom Sauce, which was simply an adaptation of the Bordelaise Sauce used on my Steak Bordelaise Pizza; a little less wine, slightly less reduced, with sauteed mushrooms added at the end.

On the side, we enjoyed my Cheddar Garlic Biscuits, Spicy Utica Greens, Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts. Every bit was enjoyed. The brussel sprouts even managed to surprise a few apprehensive diners. For dessert, we enjoyed massive platters of cookies and Chocolate Eggnog Pudding Pie. Overall, it was a simple meal to pull off for a large group, which gave me plenty of downtime to enjoy with the kids and our guests.

It was another truly wonderful Christmas season, topped off by the revelation of our third baby boy! We are so very thankful for all of our blessings. Stay tuned for new recipes, coming up soon!

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Asian Chicken Salad in Phyllo Bowl

Syracuse, New York was recently given the distinction by Farmer’s Almanac as being the #1 Worst Winter Weather city in the United States. Speaking for all Syracusians, I’d like to express our sincerest gratitude for this special honor. We’re all truly humbled by this special recognition. We’d like to thank Mother Nature, Queen Frostine, and Madam Lake-Effect-Snow. We couldn’t have done it without you all.

A Lion on the Clearwater Beach Dunes...moments before he charged at me and bit my thigh

Winters are a truly cold and snowy mess up here. So, you may understand why my family ran away to Florida last year. We hopped in the car and drove ourselves down for a month-long winter reprieve. While there, my husband worked as he would work up here. And I tended to the family, as I would tend to the family up here. We just did it all in the Florida warmth. The modern luxury of telecommuting is a priceless gem.

Playing in the sand, while waiting for a table at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill

We retreated to an area called Clearwater Beach, where we rented a townhouse, which was situated a block from the Gulf of Mexico. Most nights, I cooked, as I would at home. But, we also enjoyed some of the local beachfront dining options. The place that became our favorite was called Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill. The menu featured a predictable selection of salads, sandwiches, burgers, and seafood. But the sunsets were always beautiful, the pitchers of Sangria were oversized, and the food never failed to hit the spot.

During our stay in Clearwater Beach, I became somewhat addicted to the Rockaway Grill’s Asian Chicken Salad; crisp lettuce and tender chicken tossed in a slightly sweet and spicy sesame dressing, topped with crunchy nuts and noodles and served in a phyllo dough bowl. It was a perfect blend of sweet, spicy, savory, tender bites, and crunch. It was, by far, the most satisfying Asian Chicken Salad I’ve ever tasted. So, now whenever I think of Asian Chicken Salads, I think of Clearwater Beach.

With Clearwater Beach on my mind, I’m making up my own version of Asian Chicken Salad, served in a phyllo bowl, Rockaway Grill style!

Asian Chicken Salad in Phyllo Bowl

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Chicken, cooked and chopped
  • 8-10 cups Lettuce (Iceberg/Romaine blend)
  • 1 cup Chow Mein Noodles
  • 1/2 cup Cashews
  • 1/2 cup Green Onions, chopped
  • 4 sheets Phyllo/Filo Dough, defrosted according to package directions**

For the Sesame Dressing

  • 1/2 cup Sesame Oil
  • 1/2 cup Rice Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 4 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 2 tsp Fresh Ginger, grated
  • 2 tsp Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Black Sesame Seeds
  • Cayenne Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a medium sized bowl with cooking spray or lightly coat with vegetable oil. Gently arrange one sheet of phyllo dough inside the bowl, so that it takes the shape of the bowl. Hang the tips of the phyllo dough corners over the edge of the bowl to hold it in place. Place the bowl in the oven and bake for about 4 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. Remove the phyllo shell and repeat with the remaining three sheets, to form four phyllo dough bowls.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together all dressing ingredients. Season with cayenne pepper, as desired.

To arrange the salad, toss the lettuce and chicken in the dressing. Place the phyllo bowls onto plates. Distribute the dressed salad into the four phyllo bowls. Top each salad with chow mein noodles, cashews, and green onions.

Serves 4

**It took me a few tries before I got the phyllo bowls just right. Once I got it, they were a cinch to make. Just to be safe, you may want to have a few extra phyllo sheets on hand!

To keep the phyllo bowl light, I chose to use one single phyllo sheet for each bowl. But, for a thicker, puffier bowl, simply brush one sheet of phyllo dough with melted butter. Lay another sheet of phyllo on top. Brush the second sheet with butter. Lay a third sheet on top and brush with butter. Arrange the three stacked layers into the bowl and bake until golden brown and crisp.

Fair Day!

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Well, we did it. We had our day at the New York State Fair. Excuse my slip. I mean the Great New York State Fair. It was hot, crowded, and slow to get around, but it was still greatWhat’s not to love about the fair?

Painted horses, spinning round and round, up and down.

Crazy wind men, mesmerizing as they flap through the air.

Time to smell the roses (or other assorted potted plants).

Shopping, shopping, shopping.

The annual sand sculpture…

…and the sand sculptor, hard at work.

The ferris wheel, glowing in the clear evening sky.

Buildings full of prize-winning cows and rabbits, horse shows, butter sculptures, giraffe-feeding, and free Styx concerts. These are all valid reasons for attending the fair. But there’s one main draw for me. Fair food!

Gyros, oozing with Tzatziki Sauce.

Corn dogs, a sweet and savory meal on a stick.

Chocolate-Vanilla Twist Ice Cream, a sweet treat for my sweet kids.

But, I didn’t eat a gyro, or a corn dog, or ice cream. And I didn’t eat the bloomin’ onion, salty butterfly fries smothered with cheese, or fried dough sprinkled in sugar, all of which my family enjoyed. I was saving myself, exercising my most remarkable fair day self-control ever, for this year’s grand-daddy of fair food offerings; Nick Tahou’s Garbage Plate.

Nick Tahou’s is a well-known Rochester, New York joint, famous for its greasy, sloppy, and delicious Garbage Plate. My college days are marked by more than a few 3 a.m. garbage plates. I hadn’t had once since, until our fair day, that is. Boy, did it bring back memories!

The Garbage Plate. A messy mound of deliciousness. Bed of french fries and macaroni salad, topped with two, hot cheeseburgers, then smothered with Tahou’s signature, greasy-beefy hot sauce, chopped onions, and mustard. Other options include hamburger, white or red hot dogs, Italian sausage, or chicken tenders for the meats and baked beans or home fries for the sides.

This year is the first year that Nick Tahou’s has made an appearance at the fair and I certainly hope it’s not the last!

Here piggy, piggy.

Some time later in the evening we found our hunger again. This time, a huge ear of sweet, roasted corn on the cob, brushed with cajun butter, satisfied my cravings.

A creepy clown lured us towards his fried dough van…

…where he tempted us with Funnel Cakes and powdered sugar.

The grand finale of the evening came in the form of twinkie, dipped in batter and deep-fried, until the outside took on a crispy golden brown and the inner cake and cream blended together to create a deep-fried twinkie heaven.

Until next year, dear fair…

In other news…

I’m currently the proud owner of my first domain. You can now find The Gourmand Mom by going to http://www.thegourmandmom.com, which will take you right back here to this site!

And…

I’ve set up an email account specifically for The Gourmand Mom, so to contact me with any questions, comments, or feedback about this blog, you can email: thegourmandmom [at] yahoo [dot] com

Taste of Syracuse

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Zippity doo dah! Zippity day! My, oh my, what a wonderful day!

Over the course of the year, Syracuse hosts a wide variety of festivals, celebrating everything from jazz, food, wine, film, beer, heritage, and crafts. Even in the freezing winter weather, Syracusians head outside for Chili cook-offs and Martini mix-offs. I’ve had the pleasure (and disappointment…I’m talking about you, pitiful Syracuse Octoberfest) of attending many of these festivals.  But, the one I look most forward to every year is the Taste of Syracuse!

**I should note that I do not categorize The Great New York State Fair as a mere festival. We’ll talk about the fair in 82 days. (But, I’m not counting down or anything.) Mmmm…deep-fried oreos, cinnamon-sprinkled funnel cake, wine slushies.  Mmmm…

Focus, Amy! Focus!

During the annual Taste of Syracuse, local restaurants take over the Clinton Square  area of downtown Syracuse, each offering a $1 sampling of food. For a few bucks, you can stuff yourself silly. There’s also live music, children’s entertainment, a beer sampling tent, wine tasting area, and an assortment of vendors. Absolutely my kind of festival!

So, today the family and I headed down to gorge ourselves on $1 treats.  A few pics for your viewing enjoyment…

Stromboli from Cam's Pizzeria. Delicious, but doesn't hold a candle to my Uncle Tom's stromboli!

Chicken Riggies from Dominick's Restaurant. Riggies are a Central New York specialty, featuring chicken and pasta in a slightly spicy, tomato-cream sauce. Excellent!

Meatball Sub from J.J.'s. Fantastic!

Gulasz-Beef Stew from Eva's European Sweets. Very tender beef and flavorful broth.

Keftedes (Greek meatball) with Tzatziki Sauce from Kiki's Authentic Greek Cuisine. Well seasoned meatball. Perfect tzatziki!

Baked Beans from Dinosaur Barbecue. Oh yeah! OH YEAH! Best baked beans ever!

My husband, savoring the baked beany aroma.

Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill. Spicylicious!

Fudge from Em's Specialty Candies. (See the pictures of the kids for reviews.)

A positive review for the fudge!

Undecided between the fudge and a homemade hot dog from Liehs and Steigerwald.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake from Big Mama's Cheesecake. Luscious!

Chicken Spiedie from Charlie's Famous Steak Pit. Spiedies are marinated, skewered, and grilled chicken, native to Binghamton, New York.

Hot Apple Fritter from Navarind Orchard. Crisp slice of apple, dipped in batter, fried, and coated in cinnamon sugar. Doesn't get much better than that!

Cheesecake Calzone from Kalzonies. Two thumbs up from my husband.

Full bellies. Happy family.

In appreciation of Long Island weddings…

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The morning of my friend’s wedding, my husband could not stop himself from eating two bagels; one with bacon, egg, and cheese and the other with scallion cream cheese. I chastised him, “What are you thinking?? Remember that you are attending a Long Island wedding today!”

For those uninitiated in Long Island weddings, you must prepare. For the feast will be more plentiful than anything you’ve ever experienced.

The cocktail hour itself is a bountiful buffet.  Crisp vegetables, fresh fruits, cheese, and olives adorn one table. A short walk away you’ll find a French crepe station with your choice of seafood or fruit crepes. Tables of fried rice with sesame chicken, sushi, and seafood paella are scattered throughout the cocktail area.  And don’t forget the roast turkey carving station or mashed potato bar!

Vegetable Crudite and Dip

Wine Bar

Mashed Potato Bar

Mashed Potato Bar Toppings

I had sweet potatoes with marshmallows, brown sugar, and BACON!!

Roast Turkey, anyone?

My first plate of cocktail hour goodies

After the cocktail hour, the party moves into the ballroom where a salad, decked with cheese and adorned with fresh fruits is waiting at your table.

Choose your main entree from the delicious options. But don’t worry, because you’ll have the opportunity for seconds of any entree!

Chicken Florentine

Filet of Norwegian Salmon en Croute aka "Croissanty the Whale"

Those things, which look like mushrooms, are actually roasted potatoes.

And then there is dessert, of course!

Bananas Foster Flambe, alongside an ice cream sundae bar.

Have I mentioned the open bar, with drinks refilled faster than they can be emptied? (My husband was fairly certain that our waiter was challenging him to some sort of drinking contest.)

Pour me another, bartender!

A beautiful wedding for a beautiful couple.  Wishing them a well-deserved lifetime of love and happiness. Cheers!

Cheers!

Woolverton Inn Lemon-Almond Biscotti

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I can’t remember how I fell upon the Woolverton Inn.  It may have been during my online search for a wedding venue. I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that I fell in love with it instantly. A wedding at the Woolverton would have been beyond-words lovely.  Though we chose to have our wedding at a beautiful historic house closer to our home, I never forgot about the Woolverton Inn. Many times, I visited their website and daydreamed about spending some time there. We finally had the opportunity in September, 2006. It was our first wedding anniversary. I was newly pregnant with our first son.  We had just announced our pregnancy at a surprise birthday party for my father. We had so much to celebrate. And the Woolverton Inn couldn’t have been a more perfect place to celebrate.

The Woolverton Inn in Stockton, NJ

Set in the midst of rolling hills, along the Delaware River, the Woolverton Inn was a tranquil escape from the rush of day to day life. The main building is a beautiful 1792 stone manor house, comfortably situated on 10 acres of land. A handful of private cottages are steps away. The grounds are peppered with beautiful gardens, frog filled ponds, and large open pastures with grazing sheep.

Tranquility

We stayed in one of the cottages, the Sojourn Loft, which featured a fireplace and a second level with jacuzzi tub and hammock. The featherbed on the mattress was so amazingly comfortable, that my husband later contacted the inn to order me one as a birthday gift.  My husband got an in-room massage on the first day and we spent another day strolling around nearby New Hope.  The surrounding area is full of interesting things to do, including wine tours, antiquing, hiking, and hot-air ballooning.  The inn even offers a package, which includes a bike rental and gourmet picnic lunch. There are many wonderful dining options in the surrounding towns and breakfast at the inn is indescribable. Seriously, you have to visit this place! I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Upstairs in the Sojourn Loft

I have so many wonderful memories from our short stay at the Woolverton. But one of the things which left an indelible impression on me was the biscotti! To be honest, I have no memories of tasting biscotti before the Woolverton.  I’m not certain if it’s that I never had it before then or whether their biscotti was just so delicious that it erased any other memory. (I’m inclined to believe it is the latter.) They kept a jar full of the fresh, sweet treat in the dining room at all times. I lost count on the number of biscotti I consumed during our time there. I apologize to the other guests for taking more than my fair share. I couldn’t help it.

As I was watching my son eat a biscotti the other day, I was instantly drawn back to the Woolverton Inn. I thought about the biscotti for a few days. Then, I started looking up biscotti recipes. Finally, I decided to send the inn a message to see if they’d be willing to share their recipe with me.  And, they were!! I am very delighted to share this wonderful recipe with you!

Lemon Almond Biscotti

The Woolverton Inn’s Lemon-Almond Biscotti

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½  teaspoons lemon extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole blanched almonds

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend.

Add the flour and almonds and stir until a dough forms.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead a few times; dough will be soft.

Divide in two and roll each into a log about 2 inches in diameter.

Transfer logs to sheet pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes.

Carefully cut into 1/2 inch slices with a serrated knife.

Place slices on pan and bake again for another 20 minutes.

These keep nicely in a cookie jar.

Biscotti Dough

Rolled Biscotti Log

Biscotti after first baking

Sliced biscotti

Biscotti after second baking

Watch out for sneaky babies.

A note about blanched almonds…

This recipe calls for 1 cup of whole blanched almonds. Blanched almonds are simply almonds with the skin removed. I searched online and found the same procedure for blanching almonds outlined in several places. Place shelled almonds in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the almonds.  Allow them to sit for a minute. Drain.  Rinse. Pinch the skins off with your fingers. Sounded easy enough. In actuality, it was a much more time-consuming process than I’d anticipated.  On my first attempt, the skins did not slip off at all.  I repeated the process, allowing them to sit in boiling water for another minute.  This time, some of the skins slipped off easily, others came off with a little effort, and some skins remained stubbornly in place.  I am not sure if the freshness of the shelled almonds has anything to do with it. For curiosity’s sake, I’ll probably try blanching almonds again to experiment with freshly shelled almonds and alternate procedures. But, in the mean time, most grocery stores carry blanched almonds slivers, which will work wonderfully for this recipe!

Enjoy!

Cinnamon Apple and Brie Quesadillas with a Side Salad of Spring Greens with Prosciutto, Figs, and Walnuts

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So, if you’ve been following this blog for the past few weeks, you may have started to notice some trends.

  • I love cheese.
  • I love to cook foods that I can eat with my hands.
  • I like to keep things pretty simple.

Don’t get me wrong…I love nothing more than to spend the day in the kitchen cooking up elaborate meals on special occasions, for dinner guests, or anytime I’ve got someone else to watch the kids. But, most of the time, I like to keep things simple. Just a few fresh ingredients, a little mixing and heating, and voila!  A delicious meal! (We’ll just save the boeuf bourguignon for Christmas!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this adorable little bistro we visited during our stay in Clearwater Beach.  It was a small place with wine-lined walls. There was a long bar for wine tasting, a few indoor tables, and a large outdoor patio. The menu was simple but interesting; mostly salads, sandwiches, and pizzas, prepared behind the long bar. On Friday nights, they featured live music.  We even walked by a doggie happy hour (a yappy hour, if you will), taking place on the patio one night. I’m pretty sure that if I ever had the good fortune to open a little place of my own, I’d want a place just like that. Simple, but elegant menu in a casual, inviting atmosphere.  I’d feature fresh baked artisan breads and cheese from local farms, seasonal produce, and wines from the Finger Lakes region. I’d personally welcome each guest and offer complimentary wine tasting. And, I almost forgot… it would be spring all year long and I’d wear pretty skirts every day. Wouldn’t that be lovely??

But, I digress. Tonight’s dinner is inspired by one of the menu items at that adorable Clearwater Beach bistro. I love, love, love brie! Hands down, it’s one of my most favorite cheeses. I especially love brie when it’s paired with something fruity, like fig preserves or dried apricots. So, when I spotted the Cinnamon Apple and Brie Quesadillas on the menu, I stopped reading and just ordered. They’ve been on my mind lately, so I decided to whip up my own version.  On the side, I’m serving Spring Greens with Prosciutto, Figs, and Walnuts in Balsamic. Though I was hoping to find fresh figs at my grocery store, they’re not in season until later in the summer/early fall.  So, I picked up a bag of dried organic Calimyrna figs.  Dried Black Mission figs would do the trick too.

Enjoy with a glass (or two) of your favorite wine!

Cinnamon Apple and Brie Quesadillas

Cinnamon Apple and Brie Quesadillas

Ingredients

  • 8 soft taco-sized Flour Tortillas
  • 1 wedge Brie, about 8 ounces
  • 2 Granny Smith Apples
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • Honey

Directions

Peel the apples, remove the core and finely dice. In a saucepan, melt butter.  Add apples and cook over medium heat, for about 4-5 minutes, until apples are slightly softened. Add cinnamon, stir and cook for another minute. To compose the quesadillas, sprinkle cinnamon apples onto a flour tortilla.  Top with very thin slices of brie.  Cover with another tortilla. Bake in a 350 degrees oven for 5-7 minutes, until cheese is melted and tortilla is slightly crispy.  Use a pizza cutter to divide the quesadilla into 4 parts. Drizzle with honey. Serves 4

Not too much to say about the salad…  Chop up some prosciutto and thinly slice some figs. Toss some mixed spring greens in a little balsamic or balsamic vinaigrette. Top with the prosciutto, figs, and some walnuts.  This salad is fantastic with crumbled goat cheese or gorgonzola!

Cinnamon Apple and Brie Quesadillas with Spring Greens, Prosciutto, Figs, and Walnuts in Balsamic

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