27 August, 2012

Happy Anniversary!!

Since we had the Sprout, when our anniversary rolls around we struggle to figure out what to do to celebrate.  In fact, whatever we did last year....had to be a dud because I can't remember what we did.  At all.  *waits for it to come to her*  Nope...not even two seconds of a memory of the event.  Apparently, my Mister was determined to make this one memorable.  

We've had a rough year...I've kept you informed enough that I suppose you can add together moving across the country, a miscarriage, an emergency surgery, my mom having a heart attack, a pelvic surgery/losing an ovary, a brain surgery....another brain surgery and you get the same answer most people do.  They are surprised I still smile.  Lol....but I'm not surprised...and I still do.  Plenty!

The first thing my Mister did was hire a loverly girl from church to sit the Sprout, then he went and bought me a brand new dress and cover up (I tried it on before my brother's wedding...it was a dress he REALLY liked on me, but in the end we didn't buy it for the wedding.) and then...he made reservations at a fine dining place.  Beckta Dining and Wine.

 I was really excited to eat here, it was on my "to eat" list after all.  I had taken a look at their menu the day before and couldn't decide what to get, so I made an executive call and went with the 8 course tasting menu.  Why not?  Then I'd be trying "a little of everything" right?  Of course right!  When we walked in for our 6:30 reservation it was already humming in there.  I instantly felt way overdressed for the occasion though.  None of the other customers were that dressed up.  Oh well...

When our waiter came to ask us what we would like I ordered the 8 course tasting menu for us.  If one person at the table orders it...everyone has to have it and my Mister was fine with that.  I wondered if the optional cheese course came with it and he told me it was sort of worked into it.  I found out later...there really wasn't much cheese included but, I also discovered with 8 courses I didn't have room for anything else.  But lets get started....and let me apologize now for the lighting in my photos.  It was slightly dim inside....

(Mushroom Croquettes)

These little spoons were the PERFECT bite!  A nice mellow mushroom flavor in a fine crispy coating with a smooth garlic aioli and a robust relish.  It was balanced perfectly.  It really got me excited for the rest of the evening!  I assumed that on a Friday night the place was going to be filling up so as soon as I finished my croquette I got up to take what pictures of the inside that I could without disturbing the other customers.

Bench & Table Seating

 Private Dining

By the time I made it back to the table, our first course was served and it looked amazing!

Heirloom Tomato Salad

The heirloom tomatoes were beautifully meaty and fresh, the grilled halloumi was nice and salty and just set off the sweetness of the tomatoes so well, and add to that the tomatillo gazpacho, yellow pepper puree and the creamy toasted pine nuts and you have a real winner!

Foie Gras Mousse
I won't lie to you...I wasn't a fan of the foie gras mousse.  I love rich foods as much as the next woman, but I could barely handle this.  I had to dip my fork in the sweet Peking Glaze and the salty, sour purslane and a bit of the wonton cracker to be able to make it "okay" to chew.  I always try things on their own first, it was a huge mistake with the foie gras.  My Mister and I both thought it felt like we took a giant bite of a stick of butter.  

I needed something to cleanse my palate...  Lucky for me, there was a guy walking around handing out fabulous bread from True Loaf Bakery in Ottawa.  That concept is very important to me...staying local with your offerings and ingredients as much as possible.  Way to go Beckta!

Date & Fennel Bread

When we were in Manhattan back in 2007, we lunched in Central Park with some food we picked up from Dean & Deluca.  I will never forget my sandwich, ham & swiss with stone ground mustard on fennel and golden raisin bread slices.  It was a thing of beauty.  The bread I chose to try at Beckta was True Loaf's Date and Fennel bread.  It far surpassed my expectations...but if I kept eating bread I wasn't going to be able to finish my other 6 courses still to come!

Oysters 3 Ways
My Mister was less than excited when this landed in front of him.  He has trouble swallowing more than one vitamin at a time.  So *giggles* I KNEW as soon as I saw the terror in his eyes, the he was dreading trying to swallow the oysters whole.  He asked the waiter if he should chew them or not, he kind of left it up to my Mister.  But for me it was down the hatch with the first one.  The very top oyster on the plate was raw and simply dressed with horseradish and it was pretty good.  The middle oyster was lightly crusted, perfectly fried and served on a bed of sauteed, sweet wakame.  That was my favorite of the plate... The third oyster was warm and enveloped in a savory, lightly sweet cider soubise sauce.  It was my runner up...  I LOVED this course!!

Corn Croquettes

These little babies were more complex than they looked.  On the inside of the, again...perfectly, but lightly crisp outside, we were favored with a mixture of peaches, grits and corn.  It was so interesting and it totally worked!  The yellow sauce up at the top of the plate was a bourbon curd, the sauce under the croquettes was a smoked creme fraiche and sprinkled over the top were some pickled watermelon rind.  With a dab of each sauce and a piece of the rind in each bite these little babies were pretty good.  By themselves, they were a bit rich.  The croquettes definitely needed those sauces and garnish.

Pork Belly
This was one of my Mister's favorite courses.  We both love bacon, but this was 50 times better!  It was lightly salted on top which actually brought the pleasant sweetness out of the meat.  The zucchini escabeche was wonderful and the eggplant puree was smooth in flavor.  I ended up leaving most of my fava beans on the plate though.  They just aren't my cup of tea...

I was starting to sense that I was nearing the "full mark" on my tummy.  It was SUCH luck that these courses were spaced out so well or I'd have been toast after course number 3!  But just then...our waiter brought us our new set of silverware.  There was a steak knife!  I was so excited!  MEAT...lots of it!

Duck Magret

This looked SO wonderful!  I almost didn't want to touch it, but...then again I LOVE a beautifully cooked duck breast.  I leaned in to inhale...it smelled like Heaven on a plate.  The duck breast was PERFECTLY cooked.  It is hard to tell from the lighting, but it was superbly prepared.  It was sliced and fanned over a bed of miso sweet potato gratin and dressed with shiitake mushrooms and a black garlic demi glace to DIE for!  The duck was so succulent and tender...  The sesame beans and pickled ginger tempura were just the icing on the cake.  There were so many complex layers of flavor built into this dish...I would go again JUST for that entree.  Everything was perfectly delightful on that plate.

When they took away my plate I felt like I was going to burst.  A couple times my Mister and I had tried to recap and count...what course are we on???  We weren't sure we could make it through the rest of the courses.  2 more...  Oofdah!

Sage Fried Cornbread

This baby came out of the kitchen HOT!  The little skillet was majorejo raclette just out of the oven and topped table side with oloroso sherry.  I waited a couple minutes for the sizzle to die down in the skillet, then I forked some of the cheese out of the skillet, added some of the sage cornbread and I dabbed it in the lingonberry gastrique.  All together it was pretty good, then I explored each component on its own.  I ended up eating the rest of my course without the lingonberry gastrigue.  It was simply TOO bitter for me, even with all of the sweetness from the sherry and the fried cornbread.

Dessert Trio
It was so sweet of them to write "Happy Anniversary" on our plates with chocolate.  After the waiter explained each dessert I started from left to right...  The first one was a shaved ice Mai Tai with a candied slice of lemon.  The lemon was pretty interesting but I couldn't handle the bitterness of the alcohol.  I went for the ice cream in the middle under the chocolate biscotti...  Blech!  All I tasted was coffee.  I don't drink it...when it is in chocolate cake recipes or the like, I leave it out.  I cautiously stuck my spoon into the last cup and tried the shaved ice that was margarita flavored.  There was a little coconut dacquoise on top.  It was the texture of a meringue but didn't have much of a detectable coconut flavor.  *shrug*  So I went for what I was leaving for last, because it looked like a "sure thing"....  The chocolate biscotti.  It was the best thing on the plate.  I dredged my biscotti in a bit of the melted chocolate and just reveled in it.  

It was our 8th and final course and I was seriously bursting at the seams internally.  My Mister asked for the check so I started getting my camera and notes ready to go...  That's when the waiter brought our whole menu typed out with "Happy Anniversary" written across the top.  Wow!  Such a helpful staff!  I spent some time making notes and trying to remember everything they told us so I didn't forget a single element on each course...so this relieved me a bit.  I knew I wouldn't get anything wrong now.

Then something else came out of the kitchen...a special cherry to the top of our already fabulous evening...

Petit Fours
 The two little cookies had peaches and what tasted like oats, they were pretty good.   But the best part for me was the little bite of bar in the back.  A seriously chocolatey, rich bottom that had all the feeling of a brownie but light enough you could still call it "cake" and it was topped with a moist layer of coconut cake.  I really loved that little bite of cake.  It was a wonderful ending to a spectacular evening of food.

I'd be lying if I said the best part of the evening was the food, though I can't recommend Beckta's enough for all your fine dining special occasions...  They really went out of their way to make the evening special with their service and the food was every bit of the description of "fine".  For me, the highlight of my evening was my company.  My Mister and I don't get out much, let alone without being totally preoccupied about what the Sprout is up to.  We spent most of our time talking about our relationship, traveling, food and his job; the first three of those are some of my favorite things to talk about, his job....not so much.  

We didn't spend a lot of time talking about all of the unbelievably excruciating challenges we've been through in the past year, or how we didn't deal as well with some of those challenges as we did with others.  We didn't need to...we were just relieved to be sitting with each other, to be alive and to still be in love. 

Happy Anniversary
    Taken by Julie Jones, my little sister, at my big bro's wedding in Minnesota

I don't go a single month without hearing that someone we know is getting divorced...for whatever reason...or at least having some relationship trouble.  It has begun to feel like "forever" or a "50th" isn't something anyone ends up celebrating anymore.  But even through all our 11 years together, most of them married, and all of our own troubles...we keep growing and learning...and most of all, we wake up in the morning with our best friend.  Thanks for another year...I couldn't have made it without you!

Beckta Dining and Wine on Urbanspoon

25 August, 2012

Bring on the Autumn!!

I just came home from spending 2 weeks in Minnesota.  I was there for my big brother's wedding.  He married the most AH-mazing woman!  I love her to pieces...she really was meant to be one of my sisters.  There's no better feeling than that.  We spent 4.5 days in the Minneapolis area and 4.5 days in the Duluth area, where I am originally from.

 One morning, as I was walking out to my Momma's garden for a "shoot" (being a photographer she takes full advantage of my talent and has me take pictures of her garden every summer that I come), I took a deep breath and could feel the temperature was hanging just around 50F.  Mighty chilly for an August morning, even in Duluth.  August is usually the "grossest" month for heat and humidity everywhere in Duluth, even by "the lake".  It reminded me that my favorite season, autumn, is right around the corner.

I spent a lot of time in her garden taking pictures.  One thing that was evident is that it is very near to the end of the growing season.  Most of what was left were vined fruits, tree fruits and veggies.  Her grapes, squashes, pickling cukes, beans, pears and apples.  It was like a autumn farm market waiting to happen.  It made me want to eat some pumpkin...NOW!  I don't usually get like that until its really time for pumpkin pie and stuffing....and my favorite, green bean casserole!

 Pumpkin bread is something I make every year, but over the years I have come to love fiddling with it.  My favorite way to dress up my pumpkin bread is to add a rich praline crumble to the top.  It gives it an extra little boost aesthetically and adds an incredibly soft, crunch to the top of this very moist bread.

Praline Pumpkin Bread 
1 c. oil
2 3/4 c. sugar
3 eggs
15 oz. pumpkin (unflavored)
1.5 c. flour
1.5 c. cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. salt

 Praline Topping
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. pecans, crushed

Preheat oven to 350F

Mix the oil, sugar, and eggs together until smooth.  Add the pumpkin, and mix well.  In a medium bowl, add all the dry ingredients together and stir with a whisk.  Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture.

For praline topping, cut butter into brown sugar and salt.  Crush pecans and add them to the butter/sugar mixture. 

Grease and flour two 9x5x2 inch loaf pans or 7 mini loaf pans.  Divide the batter evenly between the pans, sprinkle the praline topping over middle evenly.  

Bake for 55-65 minutes for the bigger loaves and 35-45 minutes for the mini loaves, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack. 

23 August, 2012

The No. 1

Lately, I wake up in the morning and I just do NOT want to cook.  I am not sure why, and it really doesn't matter.  I still gotta eat right?  Right!  I dig through my purse for my "to eat" list and scan the breakfast section...  There was one place that I keep hearing about that has been on my list, but I was waiting for a day when my Mister and I could eat breakfast together before I went.  Knowing that the odds of that these days are nil, I went to Stone Face Dolly's all by myself.

When I got there someone was cleaning the windows...I wasn't sure they were open...  As I rounded the corner I saw on the door that they opened at 7:30am.  Brilliant!  I walked in to find I was one of only 3 customers in the place.  This is always a catch 22 for my brain.  It means I'll most likely be allowed to shoot the inside...but then I wonder "If they are so awesome...where is everyone?"  

I got to talking to who I assumed was the manager, Jeff, about their menu.  I knew what I was leaning towards, but there were some things that I was curious about...like "Lemon Diablo Sauce" listed with all of their versions of Eggs Benedict.  I noted right away that Omelets were the first thing on their breakfast menu...usually this means this is one of their most popular items or...what they know is one of their best offerings.  Sure enough, when I asked Jeff what he makes at home or what he would feed a friend he said "An omelet".  

Alrighty....when I looked at all of the choices the one that lept off the page right away was "No. 1".  A 3 egg omelet with basil pesto, tomato conasse, portabello mushrooms and your choice of either brie, goat or gorgonzola cheeses. Without hesitation I picked goat cheese and Jeff told me that goat was really the best choice.  Something else that caught my eye on the menu though was Banana Bread French Toast...  I told Jeff that and thought to myself that if this omelet was awesome, I'd be back to try the BBFT later.  With my order in the kitchen I poked around and took my shots of the inside...



 While I was on my walk about, I found a little cubby area near the bar.  It was filled with awards...  Stone Face Dolly's has some clout...hello!  In fact...one of the first things I noticed when I walked in was an autographed photo of the host from "You Gotta Eat Here!" hanging near the reception area.  (I love that show....I think I watch every single food show there is...cooking, eating, baking...you name it, I watch it.)  Discovering all of these accolades elevated my expectation to a place I usually don't take my breakfast.  As soon as I sat back down...breakfast was served.

I couldn't believe how HUGE my omelet was...and that Jeff had given me a slice of the Banana Bread French Toast and a cup of Lemon Diablo Sauce even though I didn't "officially" order them.  Thanks Jeff!!  But lets take this breakfast one element at a time, shall we?

Lemon Diablo Sauce

One of the first things I got my fork into was the sauce.  Jeff told me that most of the time people order this sauce as a side with their entree...whether it comes with it or not.  I tried a tiny dab of it and my mouth exploded with flavor!  There was the initial rich, velvety creaminess followed by the essence of citrus and rounded out with the tiniest bit of heat.  The PERFECT amount.  I was ALL in on this sauce, so I slathered it over my omelet....after I took a picture of it lol....

No. 1 w/ Brown Bread Toast, Salad & Home Fries

The first thing I tried here was the omelet, of course.  I will tell you right now, words don't do this omelet justice.  So, no matter what I say, I encourage you to get to Stone Face Dolly's with all due HASTE and order a No. 1 with goat cheese yourself.  But lets begin with texture...  This is one of THE fluffiest omelets I've ever had in my life, but the meatiness of the egg wasn't lost in the "fluff" factor.  It still felt like you were eating a nice portion of protein.  The herb and mushroom flavors just JUMP out of this omelet and the goat cheese really rounded everything out bringing a balance and a creaminess that was just stellar.  Couple this omelet with the lemon diablo sauce??  Unstoppable dish!!

Now...the brown bread toast.  Yeah...remember how I talk (almost incessantly) about growing up in Minnesota and all of the creating my Momma and I do in the kitchen??  This brown bread just transported me right back...  She always puts a generous portion of molasses in her wheat breads so...close my eyes, and I am back home.  They were loverly, thick cut slices.  Loved this bread!  Loved it so much I bought a loaf to bring home, yeah...they sell it.  Score!!

The home fries were good, but not the star of the plate and I don't tend to eat 2 starches at the same time with ANY meal.  The salad...I won't lie, I didn't even touch it.  For me, it didn't belong on the plate...even if it was meant to be a palate cleanser.  I don't do salad with breakfast, unless it is a fruit salad.

Banana Bread French Toast
Now, this isn't the full amount of slices you get when you order this for breakfast...it was just enough for me to try it out.  It LOOKED yummy, but when I poured the syrup over it...there was SO much cinnamon and powdered sugar on it the syrup evacuated itself to the plate and was coated in cinnamon.  I took a bite and BAM!...cinnamon.  This wouldn't have been such a crisis had the banana bread been sliced thicker.  The bread itself was a mild banana flavor so, it really needed to be thicker to balance the amount of cinnamon on top.  Aside from that...it is a great concept.  I have done this at home myself many, many times.

Bottom line on Stone Face Dolly's is it is fabulous...worth every penny and I would love to try more on their menu.  As I sat there eating my breakfast, Dolly's started to fill up with other customers.  The two men that were there before I started were STILL there when I left.  Even when I was tweeting and updating my Facebook status about where I was...readers were commenting back to me right away about how much they loved this place...especially their omelets.  

Dolly's is a nice, peaceful place to take your time and enjoy your food and your company.  The staff are friendly, prompt and take pride in making sure your experience at Dolly's is a good one.  Make the time to take some time and head down to Stone Face Dolly's for some heavenly breakfast.  I promise, it will be the best decision of your day!

Stone Face Dolly's on Urbanspoon