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That’s Italiano: sul Fuoco

March 26, 2010

On the way into work today I noticed that long time, local east Phoenix restaurant, That’s Italiano was empty.  Well empty is a confusing word – it is usually empty.  I mean to say empty, as in cleaned out, gutted, shuddered, and closed for business.  I often wondered how this place always stayed open.  Passing by, it never seemed that they turned enough tables to make a profit.  Regardless it is a shame to see yet another long tenured local restaurant crushed under the weight of our faltering economy.

I am very familiar with the code of the food critic (sometimes loosely applied to food blogging): always visit a restaurant 3 times prior to writing a review, never visit in the first month of opening, always remain anonymous, never except freebies, etc.  I’m ripping up that first rule.  I passed judgment on That’s Italiano after just a single visit, long, long ago.   I’m ignoring the first rule based upon the following mitigating circumstances; for starters it is closed – so I can’t return for more punishment, oh – and it also caught on fire with me in it.

That’s Italiano had been open since at least 2000.  Located in the 3700 block on the main drag of Indian School Road afforded it a very high level of visibility.  Driving by it all the time – it reminded me of an old school, Italian family run restaurant, something like that seen in the movie Big Night. It was small, run by a sole proprietor, family oriented, local – it called to me.  A few years back my wife and I decided to make our first trip there – it ended very badly.  It was a fairly busy Friday night.  The host and presumed proprietor informed us of a 15 minute wait for our two top.  We decided to get a drink at the bar.  I ordered Jen a wine and myself a Peroni.  Even before the bartender finished serving the drinks, we were told our table was ready.  I paid for our drinks and joined Jen at the table.  The dining room was nice enough – but cliché Italian, with white linen table cloths, faux fresco paintings adorned the walls, and a bust of some Caesar over in the corner.  We ordered our appetizer, entrees, and another round of drinks.  We tried the predictable fried calamari it was good, served with the obligatory house marinara sauce.

While waiting for our meal we noticed some commotion coming from the kitchen, make that a lot of commotion.  There was some yelling and shouting, odd for a quiet Italian restaurant.  Then came the smoke.  I had just assumed they tripped a breaker on an exhaust hood or something.  No big deal.  Then came our meals along with more smoke from the kitchen.  As soon as I picked up my fork the wait staff started telling all the patrons to evacuate!  Okay – done.  I grabbed my full beer and headed for the door.  Our waiter stood guarding the door, like  one of Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirt secret police.  He had his priorities though – he was well versed in the liquor laws of the county.  “You can’t bring that out here sir – we will lose our liquor license”.  I was thinking he is about to lose more than just his license – he’s going to need to find a new place to work soon.  As soon as I tacitly complied with his order – I watched a different waiter bring out a tray of drinks to some regulars standing next to me – nice.  I see how this works.  Meanwhile the Phoenix Fire Department arrives on scene.  At this point I’m watching the sauce separate on my Farfalle con Salmone and I am wondering if we should just leave and go somewhere else – or wait it out and see if the incident is minor and we might be allowed to return.  You see, my wife and I have this morale dilemma:  we ordered food, ate appetizers, sipped some drinks.  We have worked in the industry.  At our core we feel we can’t just stiff these guys.

We opted to wait – mistake number two.  It is often during times of great calamity that the true colors of a manager, owner, waiter of line cook shine through.  In this situation the owner/manager could have been talking to all his remaining patrons, given them an update, thanked them for their patience etc.  Instead he just paced around outside, back and forth, talking on his cell phone.  I realize your life’s work might be on fire right now – but thus far it is contained in the kitchen, the Fire Department is in house. At this point, it is time for damage control – it is time to write off your night’s losses, comp the meals, smile and offer freebies to your customers for their next visit, and start anew tomorrow.  Instead he instructs his wait staff to box up the meals left on the table bring checks out the guests.  I am in utter shock at hearing this.  I’m thinking I should have left, but didn’t so now I’m in.  I’m pot committed – I guess.  My waiter appears with our boxed food and a check – I look at the check and see my confiscated beer on the bill.  I hand it back to him – “you’re kidding right?” and walk away.

Until this week I had always felt guilty about writing a negative post about That’s Italiano.  I just felt bad about bagging on a guy trying to make a living in the restaurant business.  Then, I couldn’t bring myself to write negatively about them without having given them a second chance, and while at the time I had vowed to never return; now I no longer need to worry about that commitment (unless of course they just opted not to renew their lease and relocate).

Almejas Al Vapor at The Mission

March 19, 2010
Almejas Al Vapor

peruvian clam stew + rock shrimp + chorizo + pan de yucca + aji amarillo + roast corn (the plus signs on the menu are a nice touch).

As listed on the Arizona Republic’s 50 Best dishes in Phoenix. Yeah I had to try this.  I must admit it was good!  A great mix of creamy broth, roasted corn and clams.  A terrific marriage of flavors!

I have dined at the Mission on numerous occasions.  They sell themselves as nuevo latin cuisine, however I feel they are a solid representation on upscale traditional Scottsdale dining.  Thomas Keller trained Chef, Matt Carter, is doing a terrific job illustrating to both locals and tourists alike that Scottsdale / Phoenix is more than just kitschy southwest style food.  Carter has put forth efforts in conquering french cuisine with Zinc Bistro, Asian fusion with nine 05 and latin with the Mission.  He does all of them well.  The Mission has it all with good eats, a spectacular outdoor patio, and indoor atmosphere, replete with a translucent salt block kitchen wall.  Carter really created an atmosphere that diners want to be a part of. 

His award-winning soup/appetizer titled Almejas al Vapor is definitely great.  But also be certain to try the Pork Belly Pibil.  A lot of great chefs are offering pork belly these days,  a very undervalued cut of meat.  Not only because it is a rather inexpensive cut that they can make a buck on, but because under the right slow cooked or braised preparation it is heaven to eat.  The perfect combination of succulent pork fat and lean meat with just the right amount of citrus, aciote/annatto seeds, and allspice make s a great first course.  Also worth trying is The Mission’s Puerco Porchetta.   A spectacular slow cooked pork shoulder roulade stuffed with chorizo, rosemary and cojita cheese.  Make certain to ask for a moist middle cut.

Below is the award-winning recipe for Almejas al Vapor 


Courtesy: Arizona Foothills Magazine

Almejas Al Vapor
1 lb. Manila clams
1-2 Shallots, shaved
2-3 Cloves of garlic, crushed
1-2 oz. Extra virgin olive oil
6 oz. Spanish chorizo, peeled and
sliced 1/8-inch thick on a bias
6-8 oz. Rock shrimp
6-8 oz. Peruvian potatoes, cut
into batons and blanched
1 T Aji amarillo (add more for extra spice)
1-2 T Cajeta (can substitute
sweetened condensed milk)
2-3 Cloves of roasted garlic
1-2 C White wine
1-2 Sprigs of oregano
1 C Cream
2 C Milk
2 C Clam juice or chicken stock

In a large sauce pot, heat oil until just before smoke; add shallots, garlic and cook two to three minutes. Add the clams and cover with white wine. Cover the pot with lid until clams open. Strain the clams; cool and separate the meat. Reserve the liquid and reduce by half. Add cream and reduce by half. Add aji amarillo, cajeta, oregano, milk and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce until consistent. Add the rock shrimp and cook for two minutes. Add potatoes, chorizo and clams; adjust seasoning and serve. Serves six.

Tapas Bars

February 12, 2010

On the streets of Madrid you can find them all over the place, like Starbucks in “Any City USA”, on every street corner, are simple walk up tapas bars.  You’ll find locals sampling an afternoon snack of marinated olives or a quick bite of tortilla Espanola after work. They are sort of the antithesis of the creed of American cuisine – where large jumbo sized dinners are the benchmark, which make, in many an American’s case, the sole meal of the day (bookended by bags of chips and midnight snacks).   Perhaps yet another reason that Spaniards live healthier and longer lives then Americans are these small and frequent meals, in the form of trips to their corner tapas bar, thus curbing their gluttony for the monster feast at the end of every day. The one thing that may be a commonality between American fast food and Spain’s tapas bars might be speed and convenience.  Spain’s tapas bars provide healthier, faster food, and with real ingredients, serving their denizens that frequent them great eats and a better alternative to that western bacon fast food burger that Paris Hilton likes so much.   

Some dishes one might encounter at a local tapas bar:

Ensaladilla Rusa.

This has proved to be one of my wife’s favorite tapas plates.  It along with paella, tortilla Espanola, sangria, and the pastelerias serving flan, churros, and mantecados (I could go on and on) were all she talked about from her semester in Spain.  There isn’t an establishment in Spain that doesn’t have some variation of this dish on their offering list. A simple mix of all the great mayonnaise based salads: potato salad, egg salad, and   tuna salad. Like any traditional dish you’ll find many simple additions and variations.  If you can boil water you can make this dish.

  • This will yield about 4 to 6 plates
  • 4 cups of boiled Yukon gold potatoes (halved or quartered)
  • 2 carrots boiled and chopped into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 cup of green frozen peas, cooked
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 8 oz jar or tin of high quality white tuna, drained
  • 1 cup of fresh mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper
  • optional spoonful of trout or lumpfish roe

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add your potatoes, carrots, and eggs. And boil for about 9 – 10 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are “fork tender”.  Remove from the water and set aside to cool (in the fridge even). Now add your peas, and then turn off the heat.   Let the peas cook for about 2 minutes, then remove and set aside to cool.  In a large mixing bowl combine the vegetables, tuna, mayonnaise, mix gently.  Salt and pepper to taste. You can use a round mold to “foodie” up the presentation. If you don’t have one, use your rinsed tuna tin. Lightly spoon in the salad mixture into mold and slide out onto a serving plate.  You can top it off with a spoonful of colorful and salty lumpfish or trout roe (about $10 for 2 oz).  Or if that stuff just isn’t for you, how about a spoonful of salty capers?

Jamon and queso.
This is a really simple tapas dish you might find in Spain and it too may have many variations.  Go with what you can find at the grocer, for example if you can’t find thick sliced ham steak, try using very thin slices of prosciutto or other salty cured meat.

  • Yield about 4 to 6 small plates
  • 2 cups of cubed ham steak
  • 2 cups of cubed manchego cheese
  • 1 sprig of pulled Rosemary leaves
  • 2 tomatoes halved and grated.
  • 1/2 cup of marcona almonds
  • salt pepper
  • olive oil.

I like to brown the ham steak in a small sauté pan with a bit of olive oil. You don’t have to but it adds a little more to the dish. After browning for a few minutes, be sure to let the ham cool before tossing it in with the cheese.  Pinch and pull apart your rosemary leaves add them to the bowl with the ham and cheese.  Toss in your almonds.  Next with a cheese greater take your tomato halves and grate them over the contents of the bowl.  Drizzle with a few glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper, then gently fold the contents together.  You can serve this dish on small plates with some aioli (mayonnaise mixed with a bit of olive oil and minced roasted garlic).


Second City Brawts in the Morning at Midway

February 4, 2010

A few years back, airports were a weekly part of my life. Traveling isn’t that provocative when you have to do for the man. It is much more sophisticated and takes on a different air when it is for a relaxing vacation with the wife… or a romantic getaway to visit the mistress in Argentina.  Recent changes at work have ended my 4 year respite from travelling. So I am back at it, puddle jumping around the states in pursuit of cheap airfare – taking up whole days for travel in what should be a 4 hour non-stop flight, all in the name of saving my company’s executives $200.

My recent return from back east laid me over in Chicago’s Midway airport. My immediate thought after touching down was that I have to head to Super Dawgs for one of these.  To my great dismay Super Dawgs was in another concourse and thus going through security checkpoints again just wasn’t in the cards. But I have to add a shout out to the security officials at Midway. They not only make sure that we are safe from underwear and shoe bombers they made certain we were protected from creepy politicians playing footsie with us under the stalls in the bathrooms. Check out the adjacent photo.  Floor to ceiling stalls.  There was no way Larry Craig could slide his foot into my stall, maybe a proposition note or a dirty photograph – but that was about it.  Nice addition Midway – thanks.

In my quest I walked right on by Harry Carey’s.  I had to.  You know this.  Yes I am certain they unquestionably had some kind of tasty salty pig parts in a casing on their menu but there is something that puts me off to chef-less celebrity restaurants.  No disrespect to the loveable mis-pronouncer of Paul Assenmacher.  Hearing him struggle with that and lisping out Luis Salazar between swigs of hooch from his flask at a Cubs day game was utterly hilarious at times.  It is just that it rubs me the wrong way when a guy like a Harry Carey or a Ted Turner, who after scoring Barbarella, and ruling a bazillion dollar cable network empire, says to himself “I always wanted to open my very own restaurant”.  Then with a snap of a finger, some multinational conglomerate comes in and crams it and his image down our throats.  Meanwhile the sous chef at the local gastro-pub day dreams of one day having the same opportunity while scrubbing out the broiler and dragging out floor mats after a dinner shift in the weeds.  So thanks Harry Carey – for the memories of taking me out to the ball game but let’s just leave it at that.

But this is Chicago right?  There invariably is another hot dog stand somewhere in my terminal. The culinary technique of assembling a Chicago style hot dog isn’t some arcane practice only learned at Le Corden Bleu. As certain as you can find a deli in New York I stumbled upon Gold Coast Dogs.  Scanning the menu all I’m seeing are omelet muffins and sausage and egg bagels!  Did I fail to mention that it is 8:50 in the morning? When you are traveling and jet-lagging around the country you never know what time it is.  After all, waking up at 4:00 in the morning for a flight to Phoenix really subjugates the incongruity of wanting a hot dog for breakfast.  I was fortunate the grill cook had already started his prep work for the pending lunch rush.  As luck would have it he had a nice tasty juicy looking bratwurst ready to go.  “We can do that Chicago style right?” I asked.  His response was simply; “Is there any other way man?”  Why no, when in the Second City, there is no other way and for that brief moment I was the man.  A nice snappy crunch on the charred casing, the heat from the sport peppers and the sweetness from that funky looking too green of a relish, really hit the spot.  One of these days I’ll try and get out of the airport and experience the real food Chicago has to offer as a destination instead of a layover – it has been 8 years, so maybe in June.  In the mean time thank you Gold Coast Dogs for making my breakfast.

Tutto in Old Town

January 28, 2010

Our monthly dinner get-together took us to Tutto this past weekend.  Tutto assumed the location of the fallen Digestif right across the street from Cowboy Ciao.  Tutto, meaning “everything” in Italian is a fitting name as the menu offers pretty much everything Italian form traditional carpaccio appetizers to the standard tiramisu and “take the gun, leave the” cannoli desserts.  The owners of Tutto didn’t bother redecorating their predecessor’s restaurant and they didn’t necessarily need to as Digestif opened only 2 years ago.  So this is a good thing as you don’t feel like you are in some hokey “Under the Tuscan Sun” or faux Las Vegas restaurant.  While Digestif was a great “foodie” restaurant, its allure was lost on most their demographic.  Tutto on the other hand brings something everyone is familiar with – great Italian food with an upscale twist. 

Our service at Tutto was amazing.  Granted it was a slower night and our waiter was doubling as the bartender – but obviously knew the menu and offered great recommendations.  We sampled three appetizers – beef carpaccio, calamari and mozzarella caprese.  The mozzarella caprese was terrific, thick slices of buffalo mozzarella and beefsteak tomatos, drizzled with a basil balsamic dressing and served with mixed greens.  This appetizer could have made for a light meal.  The Conniglio Pappardelle was a great dish – the rabbit was rich and tender and paired perfectly with a hand made pappardelle and a tomato cream based sauce.  The tiramisu was rolled in a chocolate shell and artistically served standing upright with a chocolate garnish.

Hopefully the word gets out that good eats are back in this location on the canal, and the owners of Tutto make it longer then their predecessor.

Modern Steak at Mid-Day: can I get a knife with an edge please?

January 24, 2010

My wife and I have been wanting to give Sam Fox’s latest carnivore angled creation, Modern Steak, a try since it opened a few months back.  Sam Fox, like Columbus Ohio’s Cameron Mitchell, seems to be a master of developing the perfect “concept” for a local demographic.  However let’s face it, Fox is a businessman.  The man owns basically every restaurant around the Camelback / Goldwater area.  While he is genius at putting together great dishes, cutting edge environments, in the most prime of locations – his efforts sometimes come off as sales pitches to larger chain conglomerates, screaming “Buy Me, Buy Me.  Make me the next Ruth Chris or CPK chain”. 

Modern Steak is a totally different spin on steakhouse.  It’s not your typical dimly lit, deep red leathered, white linen steak house.  In a refreshing way, it has somehow figured out a way to fuse 16th century French décor with Miami Art Deco, in brightly lit expansive spaces.  The glam appointments will definitely appeal to the neighboring Barneys shoppers at Fashion Square.

We were in the area during lunch hour and sampled three different lunch dishes: their 8 oz. Sirloin, Kobe Burger (while kobe is wasted on a burger – it is the only burger they offer… must be so they can charge more), and the all Kobe Beef Hot Dog (see kobe burger).  The 8 oz. Center Cut Sirloin was a nice thick cut and cooked medium rare, exactly as ordered.  Drizzled with a melted herbed butter, and accompanied by caramelized onions making for a formidable lunch.  It was served with their crispy French fries and a (presumably) house made ketchup which was fantastic – a perfect mix of sweet, salt, and vinegar.  The Kobe Burger was cooked perfectly, moist and mouthwatering.  The cheddar and smoked bacon were a right match with the 1000 Island dressing.  The Kobe Beef Dog was great. Had some real nice flavor to it, and a nice sharp snap when you bit into it.  It was served with a little tray of “all the fixins” (except for ketchup) and their crispy fries.

My one knock was that they gave us classic “edged” steak knives, rather then the typical cheap and chunky serrated ones you see at Outback.  This is fine and I don’t mind that per se, but if you are going to offer these to your customers you better make sure they are sharp.  It probably would have worked for a tenderloin fillet, but not sirloin.  Perhaps they thought I looked a little too unbalanced to handle a sharp knife – maybe it was the meds I was on that day.  I just felt like I was trying to slice my meat with Bob Ross’s “happy little” wooden palette knife.  Now granted I am certain they would have rectified the situation had I informed them, but then I ask myself why should I have to?

The bottom line is: hats off to Sam Fox for another winning concept for the Fashion Square demographic, and presenting different dining options to those in Scottsdale.  We’ll certainly return for dinner to try something in their wheelhouse perhaps a 12 oz. NY strip, maybe with some roasted sprouts and Nueske’s bacon.  Oh, and a sharp steak knife!

The Vig’s Pozole

January 17, 2010

There is a great neighborhood restaurant/bar about a mile from us, called The Vig .  The self proclaimed Modern Tavern has a nice mid century modern feel on the inside and a terrific patio, replete with an outdoor bar, fireplace, and bocce court. 

Today was the day of the local annual marathon here in Phoenix.  For residents that means one thing – forget about trying to go anywhere by car.  So Jen, Ethan and I hopped on our bikes and met up with some friends for lunch at The Vig. 

Arguably one of the best items offered here, isn’t on the menu: their pork pozole soup, aka pozole rojo.  I guess after frequenting there enough you start to learn about the hidden menu – kind of like “animal style” at In-N-Out I suppose.  The red chilies used in cooking it impart an intense brick red coloring.  For a great take on pozole verde check out this recipe on filf ( Pozole Verde ).   

Well I’m in a pozole rut right now.  Every time we head there I just have to order a cup or bowl.  With the required warm flour tortilla the bowl is a meal in itself.  The chef at the Vig really nailed this dish.  It is a perfect blend of chiles, slow roasted pork, hominy, oregano, garlic and cilantro.  It has the right amount of kick to.  It is so good, that it is one of those dishes that I am just too afraid to try and make at home – because you know it just won’t be the same.  So for now when I am in the mood for pozole I’ll hop on my bike and ride over to The Vig.

Pan Roasted Duck with spinach, pancetta and marcona almonds

January 16, 2010

Originally uploaded by Drifting Luminosity

Duck is a very interesting type of poultry. The meat of a duck is much darker then that of turkey or chicken and it has a higher fat content (think flavor). Since they spend most of their time in water – evolution has given them a nice layer of fat. This layer of fat is what makes the breast meat of a duck taste so good, it really locks in the juices and gives the meat a nice flavor – almost like a steak! You can pan sauté a duck breast and give it a nice crispy outside texture while the breast meat on the inside stays nice moist and tender. Most of the duck meat you’ll find at the butcher will probably be Pekin, aka Long Island, Duck. I used a Moulard variety of duck for this dish, a sterile cross between a Pekin and a Muscovy duck. I also flash cooked the spinach in the left over pancetta oil to give them a nice smoky flavor and made a boysenberry glaze to spoon over the sliced duck breast.

– 2 boneless Duck Breasts, skin and fat left on
– 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil
– Kosher Salt and cracked black Pepper
– 4 oz. of Pancetta or bacon, sliced into ½ inch pieces
– 1 handful of Marcona Almonds, crushed into large pieces
– 4 oz. of sliced Shitake mushrooms
– 4 large handfuls of Spinach, chiffonade into ½” ribbons
– 2 tablespoons of butter
– 1 Shallot, chopped
– 2 cloves Garlic
– 1 cup of Red Wine
– 1 cup of Red Wine Vinegar
– 2 tablespoons of sugar
– 2 tablespoons of boysenberry preserves (or any seeded berry just don’t use jelly!)

For your Boysenberry Glaze: In a small sauce pan over medium high heat melt your butter. Add your garlic and shallots and sweat until translucent – about 5 to 8 minutes. Turn heat to high and add the red wine. Let the wine boil for a couple of minutes until the alcohol smell is gone. Add your red wine vinegar and sugar and a dash of salt. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced by 2/3’rds to a thick glaze.

For the Duck Breast: Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Season both sides of your duck breast with salt and pepper. Add your olive oil and sauté your duck breasts each side about 5 minutes each. Remove duck breast to a plate. Next add your pancetta pieces and sauté until crisp. Remove your pancetta to another dish leaving their residual cooking oil. Now add your duck breasts back to the pan and cook a total of another 16 minutes (go 4 minutes per side, flip, and repeat). Each flip you should ladle some of the cooking oil over the top side of the meat with a spoon. Remove breasts and set aside to rest.

Next add your shitake mushrooms to the pan you cooked the duck breasts in – there should be plenty of residual cooking oil in there. Cook them over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add your spinach, almonds and pancetta pieces. Turn off heat and quickly stir the spinach and other ingredients coating them in the cooking oil. Don’t over cook the spinach you just want to see a light wilt. Quickly move the contents to another bowl and season with salt and pepper.

To serve heap some spinach in the middle of each plate, fan some sliced duck breast around the spinach and ladle some boysenberry glaze over the top.

Roasted Beef and Barley Risotto

January 14, 2010

I borrowed the inspiration for this meal from a can of Campbell’s Beef Barley Stew… except this isn’t stew, this is a family style meal.  Barley is one of those real popular whole grains that everyone says we should be eating more of.  Plus its used to make beer so it must be good!  In this dish the barley stands in as a sort of no fuss risotto since you don’t have to constantly stir like one does with arborio rice.  Once cooked barley quadruples in yield.

Roasted Beef and Barley.

–          2 lbs of boneless chuck roast or beef brisket with the fat cap left on

–          1 table-spoon Mustard seeds

–          1 Bay leaf

–          1 table-spoon Cumin seeds

–          2 table spoons Kosher Salt

–          1 table-spoon cracked black pepper

–          5 whole cloves

–          10 allspice berries

–          1 1/2 cup cups of barely

–          1 cup frozen cooked peas, thawed

–          1 cup Green beans

–          1 cup of frozen cooked Corn, thawed

–          1/2 cup of shaved or grated Parmesan, or romano

–          1 small or ½ a large Red onion, chopped

–          2 cloves Garlic, rough chopped

–          1 Red chili pepper chopped

–          1 cup of sliced carrots, about 1 inch thick on a bias

–         1 Portobello mushroom cap, chopped into 1” pieces

–          6  cups Beef stock

–          1 cup of red wine

–          3 tablespoons of Butter

–         olive oil as needed

The Beef:  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Place an oven safe pot (I used a large enamel coated cast iron pot with lid) on your range over medium high heat.  In a coffee grinder add all of your spices: mustard seed, bay leaf, cumin, salt, pepper, cloves and allspice.  Give them a rough grind.  Rub half of your spice mixture all over the beef.  Add a few glugs of olive oil to your heated pot and brown the beef on all sides – no more than about 8 minutes.  Remove beef and set aside to a plate.  Now add your onion, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, chili pepper and sauté about 5 minutes.  Add one cup of red wine and 1 cup of the beef stock.  Bring to a boil.  Turn off the heat.  Add the beef, fat side up, and any liquid from the plate.  Cover and cook in the 325 degree until tender – about 30 to 40 minutes per pound.

The Barely Risotto:  Start the barley about 40 minutes before your beef will be done.  In a sauce pan, bring your remaining 5 cups of beef stock to a boil, cover and turn off heat.  In a large sauté pan over medium high heat melt 1 tablespoon of butter.  Add your barley, stir to coat the barley in the melted butter, cooking about 5 minutes.  Add your ground spices.  Give it a stir, then add 4 cups of your warmed beef stock (1 cup should remain).  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer barley until all of the liquid is absorbed – around 30 – 35 minutes.  Now add your remaining cup of beef stock, your peas, corn, and green beans.   Cook about 5 minutes, but don’t dry out the liquid.  We are aiming for a nice oozy consistency.  You can turn off the heat and put a lid on to keep warm while you slice your roasted beef.  Just before serving, fold in and melt 2 tablespoons of butter to finish the dish.   

Once the beef is finished cooking, place the beef on a cutting board to rest about 5 minutes.  Place the pot on the range uncovered.  Bring the liquid contents of the pot to a boil, and reduce to about 1/2.   Slice the beef across the grain into 1/2 inch thick slices. 

To plate, spoon a heap of risotto off to a side, garnish with shaved parmesan.  Fan a few slices of beef on one edge of the risotto with a few spoonfuls of the reduced sauce (with the carrots, onions and garlic) on top.

Pat D’s Tasty Tinola

November 11, 2009

IMG_9158My wife, Jennifer, and I have often said that we will never move – never leave Phoenix, because of our wonderful neighbors.  Not just one or two good neighbors – but all of our neighbors.  We have lived in many places in our lives, but we have never felt more at home than where we are now.  We are surrounded by nice caring people.

Recently Jen went out-of-town for a conference leaving me to fly solo with my little son Ethan.  One evening I had a meeting after work and our neighbors, Pat & Chris, offered to watch Ethan.  They have two girls near his age and the get along great.  So tonight we wanted to give them something as thanks for helping us out and we walked over some cupcakes.  Turning the corner to their house revealed some wonderful smells coming from their kitchen.  Pat is of Filipino and Japanese descent and she was cooking up a terrific looking traditional Filipino soup called Tinola.  Needless to say, to our great fortune, we ended up walking home with dinner.

Here is my attempt at reverse engineering her excellent creation:

– 2 to 3 pounds of chicken, use a mix of wings, small drumsticks, and boneless breast

– a few glugs of vegetable oil

– 1 small onion thinly sliced

– 1 clove of garlic finely chopped

– 2 knobs of ginger, peeled and minced (use a microplane)

– 4 small red chili peppers

– 4 cups of water

– 2 tablespoons of fish sauce

– 2 cups of green (unripe) papaya peeled and cubed

– 2 handfuls of fresh spinach

– crushed red pepper to taste

IMG_9154Heat a large wok or saute pan over medium high heat.  Add the oil and brown the chicken on all sides, about 5 minutes.  Set chicken aside.  Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic, ginger and chili peppers and saute another 3 to 4 minutes.

Now stir in water, fish sauce, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and add back the chicken and simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes stirring occasionally.  Now add the papaya and simmer another 8 minutes or so until the papaya is tender and cooked through.

Remove from heat, stir in the spinach and top with the crushed red pepper.  Serve with some fresh steamed white rice.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

October 1, 2009

IMG_6403This is a nice vegetarian dish – as long as cheese is okay.  The spaghetti squash is a low calorie, low carbohydrate alternative to pasta.  Spaghetti squash is quite an interesting vegetable, once cooked the meat takes on the shape of spaghetti noodles with a definite al dente consistency.  My nefarious way of getting my 3 ½ year old son to eat it was disguising it in tomato sauce and ricotta cheese in a lasagna like fashion.  The cooked squash yields close to 2 lbs and this dish could easily serve 6.

–          1 spaghetti squash

–          1 eggplant, sliced ¼ inch

–          2 portabella mushroom caps, sliced length wise into ¼ inch thick rounds

–          8 oz of mozzarella cheese, sliced in ½ inch slices

–          16 oz of skim ricotta cheese

–          4 oz of grated parmesan cheese

–          4 oz of fresh basil

–          16 oz can of whole tomatoes

–          2 tablespoons of tomato paste

–          1 medium red onion, chopped

–          4 cloves of garlic, chopped

–          1 handful of chopped thyme

–          3 teaspoons of sugar or Splenda

–          1 pinch of cinnamon

–          1 pinch of red pepper flakes

–          Olive oil

–          Salt and pepper

Start ahead of time by cooking your spaghetti squash.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Pierce the outside of the squash several times with a knife, place in a large casserole dish and cook for 1 hour. 

While the squash is cooking start up on your tomato sauce.  In a large sauce pan, over medium high, sweat the onions, garlic, salt and pepper in a little olive oil for about five minutes.  Next open your can of tomatoes and, over the sauce pan, hand crush the tomatoes as you pour the contents into the pan.  Add the cinnamon, sugar, red pepper and tomato paste – stir.  Raise the heat to high. When the sauce starts to rapidly bubble (boil), reduce to a simmer.  Add the chopped thyme.  Let the sauce simmer and reduce in quantity by about half, stirring occasionally.  This will take around 30 to 40 minutes.

When the squash is done cooking – this ‘melon’ is going to be hot so let it cool for about twenty minutes before handling.  Slice it in half, spoon out the seeds and dense center.  Now using a fork pull the meat away from the skin into a bowl.  It should pull apart easily and assume the spaghetti noodle shape.

For the ricotta cheese:  Rip up half of your basil and fold it into the ricotta cheese and 1 oz of the grated parmesan along with  a few glugs of olive oil. 

IMG_6386Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Toss your portabella mushroom caps into the tomato sauce for a about 3 minutes to part cook them in the nice sauce.   Remove and set aside.   Assemble your “lasagna” in a lightly oiled casserole dish.  Start first with a light layer of tomato sauce (1 ladle), then a layer of eggplant across the bottom (save about 6 slices), then a layer of ½ your ricotta, then some more tomato sauce (about 1/3).  Next add your layer of spaghetti squash, top with the remaining ricotta and tomato sauce (about 1/3).  Now add your mushroom slices, top with the mozzarella slices, and the remaining sauce.  Lastly add your remaining 6 slices of eggplant and top the whole dish with the remaining 3 oz of parmesan.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned on top.  The parmesan on top of the eggplant turns into a nice crispy treat for everyone’s serving. 

Garnish with some fresh basil and serve with some toasted baguette.


Chopped Salad

September 8, 2009

IMG_9811There is a great restaurant in old town Scottsdale that some good friends introduced us to on our very 1st night upon moving to Phoenix – it is called Cowboy Ciao.  It has a great eclectic menu, sort of offering a little bit of everything from american cuisine.  They had a great dish called Puerco Lento.  A slow roasted shank of pork seasoned with cumin and served with roasted potatoes.  Regrettably it has disappeared from their menu.  Luckily they have not gotten rid of their best dish… the one thing that you must try from their menu is simply a salad before your meal, called a Stetson Chopped Salad.  Awesome.  Here is my adaptation from their spectacular dish.

The following ingredients serve around 3 people.

  • chopped arugula (sometimes called rocket) 2 cups
  • chopped roma tomato, 1 1/2 cups
  • cooked israeli cous cous, 1 1/2 cups
  • dry roasted corn (try Trader Joe’s) 1 cup
  • chopped smoked salmon, 1 cup
  • roasted papitas (pumpkin seeds or sub sunflower) 1/2 cup
  • dried cranberries (or sub golden raisins) 1/2 cup
  • shredded Asiago cheese, 1/2 cup
  • ranch dressing, 1/4 cup (or so)
  • dried Pesto Seasoning, a handful (find it in the spice aisle)

Cook the cous cous per the package directions and let it cool.  Roast the papitas in a saute pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes, set aside and let cool.  If you can’t find dry roasted corn at the grocery store you will need to dry roast it and a dash of olive oil in a saute pan over low heat for about  10 munutes, let cool.  Chop your smoked salmon.  

IMG_9809Arrange all the ingredients on a large platter in some nice tight rows – make it look cool.   Start with your arugula in the middle and work your way outwards with largest quantity of ingredients to smallest.  Sprinkle your pesto seasoning on top then drizzle with ranch dressing just before serving. 

At the table mix all of the ingredients together in front of your guests and serve.

Broiled Cebiche over Quinoa & Roasted Corn

September 5, 2009

La Mar– lobster tail
– scallops
– little neck clams
– shrimp
– quinoa
– corn
– limes
– jalapeno
– chicken stock

– cayenne pepper

Chambord Berry Trifle

June 1, 2009

IMG_3700This is an easy dessert to make and is sure to impress your friends.  The thin layers of Chambord soaked sponge cake between layers of fresh fruit and marscarpone cheese – it’s summer’s version of Tiramisu.  The best part: no baking and no fancy pastry chef science is involved.  8 simple ingredients, and you can substitute the type of berry with whatever is in season or available; strawberries, blackberries, cherry’s etc.

This recipe serves about 6 to 8 adults, double ingredients if you are preparing for more people.

– 1 loaf of sponge cake cut into 1/2″ slices

– 1 12 oz. package of raspberries

– 1 12 oz. package of blueberries

– 2 limes, zested, juiced

– 2 tablespoons of honey

– 1 tablespoon of sugar

– 16 oz of marscarpone cheese

– 1/2cup of Chambord Liqueur

Take about two-thirds of the raspberries and blueberries, reserve the rest, and rough chop them.  Set aside in a bowl and let them sit.  You see some nice juices settle in the bottom of the bowl.

In a small sauce pan over medium low heat add your lime juice, sugar and honey.  Stirring occasionally heat until sugar and honey is dissolved into a simple syrup (about 5 minutes).  Add heated mixture to a mixing bowl along with the marscarpone cheese and lime zest.  Use a fork to fold and mix the marscarpone into the simple syrup.  This should result in a spreadable mixture slightly thicker then a whipped cream. 

Now begin assembling your trifle.  pour about 1/4 cup of chambord in a small bowl.  You should was a medium size clear glass bowl.  The first layer is 3 slices of the sponge cake.  With a basting brush dab the slices of the sponge cake with chambord.  Next smear on a thin layer of the marscarpone cheese.  The last layer is a couple spoonfuls of the maceratedberries, evenly spread over the marscarpone.  Now repeat until you run out of sponge cake (about 4 to 5 layers).  On top of the last layer of macerated berries pile on your reserved whole raspberries and blueberries.  Lastly drizzle about 1/4 cup of chambord over the entire trifle.

Chill in the fridge about 30 minutes or more before serving.

A Dog Day Afternoon…

May 23, 2009

Dog Day 1Whenever Jen and I head back to Cleveland for the holidays we inevitably have a layover in Chicago at Midway Airport.  Whenever we are there we go out of our way to find this hot dog stand called Superdawgs, where we always order up a couple of their famous Superdawgs.   These beauties come complete with mustard, relish, white onion, dill pickle spear and sport peppers.  Boy are they good.  This just goes to show that with the right ingredients and combination of complimentary flavors you can make any hot dog into a killer dish.  Sweet mixed with spicy go together like nothing else.  So we are marrying some sweet bread and butter pickle spears with jalapeno peppers.  The dish is served with some of Jen’s homemade French Fries and finished with a spicy brown mustard mayo.  Start with some good quality all beef franks.

For the Hot Dogs

– 4 all beef franks

– 4 buns

– 5 tablespoons vegetable oil

– 2 sweet bread and butter pickle spears, halved lengthwise

– 1/2 a cup of sliced jalapeno peppers (from a jar)

– ketchup & mustard

– kosher salt and cracked black pepper

For the French Fries

– 4 Idaho potatoes, sliced into 1/2″ size sticks

– vegetable oil

– kosher salt and cracked black pepper

For the Spicy Brown Mustard Mayo

– 3/4 cup of mayonnaise

– 1/4 cup of spicy brown mustard

– a few dashes of Tabasco sauce

For the Spicey Brown Mustard Mayo mix together all the ingredients in a bowl.  Set aside in the fridge while you cook the dogs and fries. 

Dog Day friesFor the French Fries, fill a small sauce pan about 1/2 way with vegetable oil.  Heat over medium high heat.  Add your sliced potatoes in batches, it will probably take about 1 and half  potatoes at a time.  You could use a larger pot and cook all at once… but you will need a ton more oil.  Your fries are done when they look golden brown in the oil… about 6 – 8 minutes each batch.  When the fries are cooked move to a cookie sheet and salt and pepper them while there is still some residual oil.  This will help the fries soak up the seasoning.  Move cooked fries to a warming oven to keep warm while we work on the dogs. 

Dog Day closeFor the the hot dogs, heat a very large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add a table spoon of the French Fries vegetable to the hot skillet and start frying up your beef franks.  Roll them around every so often to crisp up evenly.  Push franks to one side of the large skillet and now add about 4 more tablespoons of the vegetable oil.  Time to toast our buns.  Split open your buns and place the cut side down in your vegetable oil, swish them around a bit to coat the underside with the oil.  Toast your buns for about 3 to 4 minutes.  At this point remove your buns and dogs and start assembling your hot dogs.  Place the pickle spear half on each bun and dog, add about 4 jalapeno peppers, ketchup, mustard and sprinkle with a little kosher salt and cracked pepper.  Serve up with the french fries and spicy brown mustard mayo on the side for dipping the fries.  Enjoy.