26 July, 2012

Flanks A YUM!!

We were headed to pick up mail today...downtown.  Oy...  This is always an "ordeal".  There is never NOT copious amounts of vehicles, buses and peds to try to maneuver around and get through.  Finally, the police agree...they were also out in full force; car and bike alike, handing out tickets to "jaywalkers".  YES!!!

We were on Murray Street after grabbing the mail and all I could think was...."Murray Street...Murray Street...there is a place on Murray Street that I wanted to eat."  I sifted through my purse and looked at my "To Eat" list for a while.  I had forgotten the place I wanted to eat at on Murray Street was called...Murray Street.


Yes, I swear I went to university....  *sigh*

I wanted to eat here once before, but the crew I was with couldn't "fall in love" with anything on the menu that evening, so we pressed on.  But today, I was with the easiest person to please on the planet.  My Mister.  He's like me, he will try ANYthing once; sometimes twice if we could tell it had potential but failed in the execution of the concept/idea of the dish. 

It was so comforting to see all of those "Where To Eat In Canada" awards.  I hate wasting money....I hate wasting time and most of all, being a foodie, I hate wasting space in my stomach on things not worthy to pass through my lips!  Four awards!!  Their menu changes daily and lunch choices aren't as numerous as dinner, so this "meet and greet" with the menu board is hit and miss for some.  At any rate, I knew before I saw the lunch menu I wanted meat.  Red, rare cow to be exact.  I was in luck, which doesn't happen often....  There it was in all its glory, listed on the menu, "Flanks A Lot".

Being someone who has a hard time deciding what to eat sometimes, having a menu with only 7 choices made my life...and everyone else's SO much easier!  I went straight for the "Flanks A Lot" and we ordered a "Fat Fries & Spicy Mayo" to share.  I got to work checkin' the place out while we waited for our entrees.

There was one other occupied table when we sent in our order, they were 2 seconds in front of us when we walked in.  I rather like not being smack dab in the middle of mayhem when I am trying to enjoy a meal.  As the waitress brought that table their meal I started to notice the people piling in the front door.  Groups, couples, loaners...  So...noon 30.  That's when all the downtown business folk eat.  Good information to have!  Before I could think about anything else, our food had arrived.

Flanks A Lot

Flanks A Lot is marinated flank steak, sliced and arranged on a bed of greens that has been dressed with bacon ranch dressing (you had to know bacon would be in there somewhere...who loves bacon more than me??) and studded with beautiful chunks of Bleu D'Elizabeth Cheese and some potato salad.  This was food for the eyes AND the belly!  The meat was cooked beautifully and was SO tender.  There isn't much you need to do to a good cut of meat to make it perfect...you just have to cook it right so it can show off its natural flavors.  The marinade complimented the meat and highlighted the earthiness of the beef.  The green salad was a work of art!  The cheese was SO creamy and rich, I loaded up my fork and shoved a bite in my Mister's mouth before he could wave me off.  He had to admit, it was some damn good cheese.  The bacon was crisped perfectly before it was tossed in the dressing and it had retained much of the crispiness and meatiness.  Its always a let down to bite into a chunk of bacon in a dressing and have it taste like a lump of cold, rubbery lard.  This salad dressing was spot on...I'd buy it if Murray's started bottling it.  Yeah...even with my dairy allergy...I'd risk it.  

The only thing on my plate I didn't finish was the potato salad.  I'm a Minnesota girl...I LOVE a good potato salad, but "good" is a relative term.  For me "good" means basic and bare bones...let the 'taters do the talkin'.  I despise crunchy textures in my potato salad that aren't minced, even onion.  It has to be close to pulverized or not be in there at all.  This potato salad had huge, thin slices of radish.  *gag*  It also tasted a little "off" somehow.  By "off" I mean...a tang.  Like...when mayo has gone bad...  But these days, it could just as easily have been that they had used yogurt or sour cream in their salad goop.  People do it quite often to cut the fat content and richness in potato salad, especially in healthier cities. I asked the waitress, but...she wasn't sure.  I didn't want to be annoying, so I let it go.  Having traveled as much as I have and eaten what passes for "potato salad" in so many places, I don't have to spend too much time wondering where they came up with that recipe.  Potato salad changes from region to region, always something being added or replaced so its creator can make a statement about where they are from.  Its common, and I am used to it now.  Moving right along...

Murray Street was overall a great experience.  Comfy, quaint atmosphere with courteous staff that were knowledgeable about their menu and they had perfectly simple, clean lunch fare to offer.  Prices were reasonable for downtown lunch and looking at the dinner menu on our way out, I would go back for most of what they had to offer.  The "Awesome Bucco" sounded like it was right up my alley.  If you're ever down on Murray and looking for some great food and you need it in 30 minutes or less, stop in at Murray Street and give 'em a whirl.  You'll be glad you did!  

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22 July, 2012

Mushroom Risotto

From time to time random people send me recipes.  Okay....really, it happens all of the time.  (I just spent last week testing 3 different recipes for the same thing; there was only one winner.)  Most of the time I am not sure where they came from originally or, after reading through them, if they even turn out well.  There IS a science to cooking and baking and some of the recipes people send just do NOT add up to "edible".  But, I'm not here to judge...I'm here to cook.  So keep on throwin' your recipes my way and we'll see what magic we can make in the kitchen!

Last night I felt brave, so I whipped out a random risotto recipe.  I've had risotto a bajillion times, some fabulous and some disgusting, but never really had the patience to mess with it with my 2.5 year old pulling at my legs.  I've seen enough episodes of Hell's Kitchen, Restaurant Nightmares and Masterchef to know you are NOT allowed to mess up a risotto.  I have this feeling...wherever you are in the world, if you mess it up, Gordon Ramsay WILL come find you and tell you how much of a "brilliant DIS-ASS-TER!!" your dish was as he furrows his brow in shame and glares at you.  This dish takes patience, technique and finesse...  Bring your "A game" if you are going to make this dish for someone else...and for Heaven sake...don't use substitutes for anything except perhaps the herbs!

Mushroom Risotto 
1 large shallot, finely chopped
4 T. extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. portabella mushrooms, diced
10 oz. arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white wine
4 c. unsalted chicken stock
1 T. fresh basil, finely chopped
1 T. fresh chives, finely chopped
2 T. mascarpone cheese
3 T. freshly shredded parmesan cheese (NOT grated)
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 T. unsalted butter 

In a large saucepan sauté the shallots in the olive oil over medium-low heat for about 3 to 4 minutes, then add the mushrooms and sauté for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently until the mushrooms have softened.  

Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine, stir and cook until absorbed. 

Pour in a quarter (1 cup) of the chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook until absorbed, stirring frequently.

Gradually stir in the rest of the broth over a period of about 15 minutes, adding 1 cup every 5 minutes or so, waiting until each previous amount is absorbed. This helps to give you a creamy, full bodied risotto.

When the rice is al dente, mix in the chopped herbs. Check the seasoning, you may feel like you want more herbs in.  Stir in the cheeses, the heat will melt them.  Finish by stirring in 1 T. of butter for shine; sea salt and pepper to taste and serve in with shaved aged parmesan curls or more shredded parmesan.

This was worth the time and effort and everyone, even the Sprout, loved it.  He took big spoonfuls and added a "Mmmm...." to his critique after each bite.  My Mister isn't in love with mushrooms and even he had to give it some "props"...and said he would eat it again.  

When I make this again I'll try beef stock with thyme, burgundy wine and gorgonzola cheese or turkey stock with sage, a sweeter white wine and shredded swiss...  There are a lot of possibilities, but you can't play TOO far outside of the parameters if you want this dish to work.  I hope you and your family enjoy this as much as we did and...above all, have fun!  

08 July, 2012

I'm Melting...

If I said "Lately, it has been SUPER hot outside." most of my readers would want to smack me across the face for not adding an exclamation point to the end of that statement.  "SUPER hot" isn't even a good enough phrase, "scorching humidity" fits SO much better!

Ottawa, according to most of the people I have met here, has a "normally mild northern climate" but I keep hearing that it has been "unseasonably hot and humid" this year.  We heard that last summer as well.  Citizens of Ottawa be warned, I officially don't believe people who say such things anymore.

This being the case I didn't feel like subjecting myself to being in the kitchen too often.  Who wants to eat hot food when it is this hot outside anyhow?  Not I.  I picked up a tip from my mom when I was growing up in Minnesota, look at the forecast for the week and pick the coolest day...then cook up a STORM of cold salads.  On Thursday I decided it would be a great time to get ready for what the forecast showed was gonna be a killer.  I got right to work making one of our family's favorites...Greek Pasta Salad.  Mmmmm.....

I will warn you ahead of time, most of these ingredients come out of cans or bottles.  I don't prefer to "cook" like this which is why it is reserved for insufferably hot days OR when I just don't have time to spend 4 hours in the kitchen but I need something that will be fabulous anyhow.  I put a homemade extra virgin olive oil sun dried tomato recipe at the end if you aren't crazy about bottled dressings, like me.

Greek Pasta Salad
1 lb. box of farfalle, prepared al dente
1 can Libby's sea salted green olives, halved
1 English cucumber, peeled, quartered and diced *
1 8 oz. bag of sun dried tomatoes, sliced
1 jar of Cora's marinated artichoke hearts, lightly chopped
2 bottles of Kraft extra virgin olive oil sun dried tomato dressing
10 oz. crumbled goat cheese feta

Cook pasta as directed on box; normally al dente on farfalle is around 7 minutes.  While your noodles are boiling prep your veggies and toss them into a large mixing bowl with 1 bottle of dressing to start them soaking in the flavors.

When the pasta is finished, drain in a large strainer.  Rinse repeatedly with cold water to get any extra starch off of the noodles.  This will help prevent them from sticking together (If that doesn't work, drizzle a tablespoon of EVOO on the noodles).  Wait about 20 minutes before adding them to the mixing bowl with the vegetables.  They can still be warm when you add them, but they shouldn't be hot.  Warmth will help release the flavor from the tomatoes and artichokes, but "hot" will cook them.  

Pour another bottle of dressing over the noodles before attempting to mix them into the veggies.  Pour into a large container with a lid and let it sit in the fridge for 1 hour, take it out and stir.   Put it back in for another hour before stirring again, then serving.

EVOO Sun Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
16 sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, sliced
1 c. red wine vinegar
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
8 T. fresh basil, lightly chopped
2 c. extra virgin olive oil
fresh cracked pepper
sea salt

Add tomatoes, vinegar, basil and garlic to food processor.  Pulse until tomatoes, garlic and basil appear to have a nice pasty consistency.  Open the lid of the processor and s-l-o-w-l-y add in the oil while the processor is running at medium speed so the oil has a chance to emulsify.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.  You will have to double this to use it for the pasta salad.

*You can switch out the English cucumber's crunchiness for something else if you prefer, celery or shredded carrots work well.