Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pork with Red Wine & Chocolate

Last Friday I held a class on Southern Italian cooking down at The Kitchen Studio. Now, I'm about as Italian as Mu Shu Pork, but the food was the Best. Food. Ever.

The menu was simple: Broccoli Rabe with Pasta, Pork with Red Wine & Chocolate, a Potato-Wild Mushroom Gratin, and an Olive Oil Walnut Cake. We have 5 people in class, plus two kitchen assistants and me. Can I just say that this food was crazy good?

You see, I picked up a great new cookbook called Cucina del Sole by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.

I was inspired by the recipes she had written and the ingredients she used (all simple, simple, simple) and changed the recipes around a little to reflect my own taste a bit -- changing a few ingredients, doing things a little bit differently here and there, making them work for the time I had. Bottom line: Really fantastic food that was a snap to make!

I was most interested in a recipe that featured pork with red wine and unsweetened chocolate; kind of like an Italian mole sauce. We started by caramelizing onions for a solid hour to give a great base to our flavors. The onions were brown and sweet like you wouldn't believe. Holy cow! I would have been satisfied just sucking down caramelized onions all night, but I resisted (thanks in part to following Weight Watchers right now -- don't ask!).

After we set the onions to the side, we browned some pork chops (bone-in work best, but that's just an opinion), slid in some garlic, Italian herbs, and a ton of red wine, and then a bit of finely grated chocolate. Please understand -- we did NOT use Hershey's milk chocolate here. This was all about the richness from the cocoa butter and the bitterness from the lack of sugar. Don't bother if you're going to use any other chocolate besides unsweetened. It just won't be the same.

We slapped a lid on the sucker and let it braise for a while. Woo-freakin'-woo! Thank goodness I got a couple of loaves of bread for us to sop up the amazing gravy once the pork was done. It was indescribably good. I swear that I could have tipped up the serving dish and had it all myself, but I might have had to wrestle the rest of the class for it.

If you're interested in more info, just let me know, or better yet, pick-up the book yourself. Here's a link to my favorite online cookbook site: http://www.ecookbooks.com/p-9435-cucina-del-sole.aspx. Be sure to let me know if you make anything fabulous!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Free Demo At The Common Market This Saturday!

That's right folks, MORE free demos -- woo hoo! If you've got kiddies, you won't want to miss this one on Saturday, September 27 at 11:30 & 1 at our very own Common Market on Buckeystown Pike.

I'll be doing two quick demos on how to make your child's lunch box a little sassier. The recipes are quick and basic, but totally yummy, and dare I say, good for you too (it is at The Common Market after all!!). We'll have samples of the three dishes I'm preparing (3 dishes in 30 minutes? Say it isn't so!), plus I'll be around to answer questions and meet and greet between demos.

While I've got you, don't forget to sign up for awesome classes and Make It, Take It, Bake It! sessions at The Kitchen Studio this fall. Not only will you have a great time and a full tummy, but you'll be supporting a local business, and truthfully, you know you want to come down and hang out. Even though our food costs have risen sharply over the past several months, we haven't changed our portion sizes or raised our prices, because we're crazy like that! We want to continue to give you an excellent product and a good time, even though the economy has us all a little nervous right now.

That said, come check us out (www.KitchenStudioFrederick.com), take a class, bring a friend, join our email list (we send out special offers all the time that aren't advertised anywhere else!), order some delicious cookies :), well, just come to The Kitchen Studio. We want you to Come Play with Your Food!


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Open House Today

If you're up for an adventure, or, let's be real here, and excuse to get out of the house, we're hosting an open house down at The Kitchen Studio today from 10 am until 1:30 pm.

There's food for sampling (Black Bean Pumpkin Soup and Slow Cooker Cassoulet), Chippa Chippa Bloem Bloems available for tasting and buying, plus discounts on fall classes and MTB sessions. You'll also get to meet me, and more importantly, I'll get to meet you!

We'll have a few cooking demos for kids, plus show off a few basics for grown-ups like how to properly cut an onion etc., and will do our best to answer any food questions you throw out at us.

There will also a food trivia game with...PRIZES! Can you say "free t-shirt"??? And lastly, our Annual Used Cookbook sale. Keep in mind, these aren't loser titles like The Florence Henderson Shortcut in the Kitchen Cookbook, but good quality cookbooks and commentary by folks you've heard of (Rachael Ray, Mad Martha, Cooking Light, Gael Greene and dare I say, Jessica Seinfeld -get that one out of my school now please!!!).

So, bring a friend and come meet us down at The Kitchen Studio!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Volt -- Oh Yeah Ba-By!

That's right; I finally got to visit Volt, and not just once, but twice! Now I know that Volt is in an interesting spot -- it's definitely going for high-end fancy-schmancy gourmet food, and for some folks, well, they're not quite sure if Volt is really living up to (or going to live up to) the hype.

Me? I've been nervous to give this new downtown Frederick eatery a try. It could be that I had high hopes and have heard mixed reviews. It could also be that I'm not so fancy-schmancy myself (though I adore extraordinary food in just about any environment) and have never quite gotten used to really posh service. Per Se? A fantasy, but I think I would be shaking in my boots before going in. I mean, this seems a bit unreasonable, don't you think? After all, it's just food, right? But is it?

Let's get one thing out of the way. Volt is good. I mean, really, really good. I mean, great. Seriously. If you're looking for a slam here, you're not going to find it. I like Volt. A lot. I think you should try it, regardless of budget (I have some ideas on that, just keep reading). But as I get started here, let me recap my visits for you.

Visit #1 - Drinks with a new friend somewhere else downtown (worst Lemon Drop ever BTW), then she drops that she'd like to pop into the bar at Volt. I was not dressed in a way that I considered Volt-appropriate and as mentioned before, I was apprehensive. I've read the blog; I know what some of you think (plus it seems like EVERY person I know has asked me my opinion of the place), I don't have tons of extra cash floating around. Regardless, she wanted to go, so off we went.

We hit the bar mid-week (I must get myself an orange leather couch!). It wasn't crowded and truthfully, we got some special treatment. The chef recognized my friend from some recent time they had spent together discussing all things foodie and started sending out some bonuses, which is always a plus. A tasting of 4 different items artfully arranging on tasting spoons, then tuna tartare (I am a sucker for raw fish). We each ordered a specialty cocktail and an item off the bar menu, plus they brought around rolls (SWEET CHRISTMAS--GET THE BACON ROSEMARY BRIOCHE!!!). We finished with a hazelnut chocolate dessert that knocked my socks off and a melon soupesque dessert dish. Bottom line -- a ton of food we didn't order, all excellent, plus a few dishes we did order, equally good. But let's be honest here -- you and I aren't going to get hooked up the way that we did that night. Portion size has been a major sticking point with folks and with what we spent (not very much in the grand scheme of things), I was stuffed. I was wondering what it would be like to go on my own without the hook-ups. So I did.

Fast forward -- Visit #2. Lunch this past Friday to celebrate my birthday (still accepting gifts btw :). That's right -- Volt does lunch. I was lucky enough to go with a couple of the delightful women that I work with and, having just visited Volt and taken the 2-minute tour, I knew that the kitchen was the place to eat. In the kitchen, you are in the heart of the restaurant. The staff is young and professional, and remarkably quiet. It's fun to be in the thick of things. Plus, tasting menus are available during lunch, and during the week too, so we were in luck.

We made our reservation and settled in at the Chef's table in the kitchen (there are 4 4-tops) with my dining partners enjoying the kitchen view. Now, if I had any clue how to use my fancy new camera phone (I'll trade a dozen cookies to anyone who can help me figure the darn thing out-for real!!), I'd fill this blog with photos of the fabulous meal we enjoyed. Unfortunately, I can cook a lot better than I can operate electronica, so my words will have to suffice.

My friends each chose the three course menu (3 options available for each course - $28 plus a $15 add-on for wine) and I, piggy that I am, went with the 5 course chef's tasting menu ($45). I asked to sub out the listed dessert for the hazelnut fabulousness, and this was no problem at all (whew!). Here's what I had:
  • Shiitake Mushroom Soup (there's a fancier name, but wasn't listed on my menu)
  • Summer Creek Farm Heirloom Tomatoes (they peeled the tomatoes -- seriously, plus the tomato-basil meringue was, as my friend Sharon said, "Like biting into summer")
  • Yellow Corn Ravioli (Holy S%*@ -- that was the -- best -- dish -- E-V-E-R)
  • Marinated Hanger Steak (who knew you could candy a rutabaga?)
  • the aforementioned Hazelnut-Chocolate yumminess, plus I snagged a little Goat Cheese Cake

Mistake #1: Getting the accompanying wine tasting (a $20 add-on). Did the wines suck? No way. They were completely delicious and perfectly matched; a little too perfectly matched. I couldn't possibly drink all of the wine that was poured, and man, did I want to. But that whole thing about walking out of the restaurant on my own without stumbling and crashing down the steps kind of helped me keep it in check, for the most part. Besides, I was wearing cute shoes and how often do I get to do that in my line of work? Like, never.

Mistake #2: Not taking one more person so that I could eat all of the yummies off of her plate too.

I hate to be a know-it -all, but I was right. Really, really right. Our service was impeccable (though I agree that the uniforms just aren't as fab as they could be -- let's see some of that signature orange somewhere, pretty please?), our food was dreamy, the staff, especially Aaron, the sommelier, was charming. All we needed to do was just give them some time. That's it. Let them figure out how to work well together.

Here are a few hints to make the experience more accessible:

#1: Try the bar: The bar menu is lower priced and just as delicious. A cocktail and a dish off of that menu will set you back around $20, plus tax & tip. That's doable, right? Wear some fancy shoes while you're out why don't you.

#2: Try lunch: Volt isn't hopping yet for lunch, so service is especially good (I still can't speak to the nighttime -- sorry!) and very attentive, but not too much so. Our server was new to the whole fine-dining thing, but she answered our questions without hesitation and you could tell that she really likes it there and respects what they're doing. She's learning on the job, but doing well and gave us the info we wanted.

#3 If you're really on a budget, skip the wine pairing and go for one glass to accompany your main dish. I wouldn't normally do a wine tasting at lunch, but it was a special occasion and my goodness does the sommelier know his stuff (side note: I think I have a little wine crush on Aaron. He knows A LOT and is charming (did I say that before?) and a pleasure to speak with. He and his family are new to Frederick by the way, so give them a little local shout out so that they can really enjoy this town).

#4: Budget not an issue? There's only one way to fly my friends. Full-on tasting menu in the kitchen with wine pairings. That's it. Something truly special is there. In a few months, it will be even better, but that could just be because I love fall food and I can't wait to see what they come up with (butternut squash meringue instead of beet meringue?? Please???)

I have about a million other things that I could say about Volt, but I'll save them and let you take the floor with your comments. Just remember that these are real people who have put (cliche alert) their hearts and souls into this place -- they really care and want you to be happy; thrilled in fact. To say that they want you to swoon may not be an understatement. Chef Bryan Voltaggio is earnest and sincere -- he wants your meal to rock in pretty serious ways. This is a real foodie experience right here in downtown Frederick, so keep that in mind when you're choosing this restaurant. Relax, trust them, save your pennies (and dollars and Benjamins) and go to Volt. Be sure to let me know what you think.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jen! Jen! Jen! Jen! Jen!

Ok - I know that I have waxed rhapsodic previously about the Lemon Drop martinis at Acacia, so forgive me this one small backtrack. I visited my favorite bar in Frederick (cozy, quiet, great staff) again this weekend and the mistress of the martini whipped up yet another girly concoction, but this time I have her name. Can you guess (look at the title of the post silly!).

Go visit Jen at Acacia and have her whip up one of these babies for you posthaste! They are a bit labor-intensive, so be sure to tip well. And fellas, don't think that just because she makes a mean Lemon Drop that she can't make anything else. Oh contraire! My husband said he had one of the best gimlets he's ever had, and he's been enjoying them for years.

SIDE NOTE unrelated to Acacia: Thanks for all of the feedback on Volt! I appreciate your time in checking out this new addition to the Frederick food scene and commenting. Please be sure to be polite to each other in your comments, as I won't publish them if they're unnecessarily mean or use nasty language. However, I will post them if you're giving your opinion and keep it clean. Everyone has different taste, so it may not be the right fit for every person, but to me, the menus sure look darn good, plus I've heard from folks who don't post (a lot!!) that the service is attentive and wonderful and that the food is absolutely divine, if not a little bit small on the portions (repeat after me, "tasting menu".) I'm hoping to finally make my pilgrimage for lunch right around my birthday (I do not yet have the dinner budget -- sorry!) and I'll be sure to let you know how it is. In the meantime -- keep those comments coming!