Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I (Heart) NYC!

Alrighty, I’m back from my whirlwind NYC trip and ready to share the culinary adventures! A quick note for anyone reading this who has not met me (maybe 1 or 2 of you?): this trip was purely a Tulane MO9 reunion weekend. My thanks to all the girls who put up with me taking pictures (with their cameras) at every meal!

I arrived late on Thursday night after sitting on the runway in Orlando for about two hours. After fighting car sickness on my bumpy cab ride, I met up with the girls at the apartment in Tribecca, and following a glass of wine we went for a quick dinner at one of the neighborhood eateries: Viet Café.

My first impressions of the ambiance were of immediate sophistication and comfort. Hence I was not surprised to learn on their website that the Chef/Owner focused on fung shui principles with the furnishings, all of which were imported from Viet Nam. Between the amazing real life photographs, bistro-open style kitchen, and Elliot Smith in the background, I felt right at home. I was also thrilled to read about Chef Lan Tran Cao who is originally from Viet Nam but studied in Australia. She became a restaurateur while receiving her Masters in commerce, and opened Viet Café while working on Wall Street.

On the recommendation of our hostess for the weekend, I got the Pan Seared Snapper for dinner. (At this point in the day we didn’t bother with apps). Served in a creamy lime tomato sauce, it was accompanied with small chunks of pineapple and strips of crispy tofu. I’m glad I took the recommendation because I was absolutely thrilled with my meal! The fish itself was perfectly cooked, tender and moist. I found the sauce to be delicious, light and tangy. The pairing of the crisp 2005 Trout Valley Sauvignon Blanc made for a perfect meal.

If you are ever in the area, I would definitely check this place out: www.viet-cafe.com

On Friday, we basically just wandered and shopped. We did stop for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien (the daily bread) to enjoy a meal at the communal table. Literally, communal tables. Again I was transfixed with the atmosphere: tall ceilings, bright light and absolutely beautiful large wooden tables. With a quick glance at the website, I was shocked to see all of the locations of Le Pain Quotidien: Belgium (where it originated), France, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, and locations in NYC and LA.

We started the meal with some yummy breads and spreads. (Sorry Dr. South Beach, but when in Rome…) The Brunette Belgium Praline Spread was highly recommended, but it was a bit too sugar grainy for me. We did have an excellent sliced baguette and a fantastic raisin bread. I then had a cup of the gazpacho (it was really really hot out) that was pretty much the antithesis of the Infusion gazpacho from last week. Over pureed, it was nothing to write home about. My tartine (a fancy word for an open face sandwich) however, was decent. Grilled chicken with smoked fresh mozzarella and arugula; it was served on thinly sliced wheat bread. The cheese was out of this world and really put the sandwich over the top for me.

Overall this was a great meal experience and I wish I could do it again. I think the main problem was that I just didn’t order correctly. Other tartines I was considering were: roasted peaches/prosciutto/asparagus and ricotta/fig. I know better than to ignore my gut instinct! I would recommend this place if anything for the originality of the experience. Check them out: www.lepainquotidien.com

That’s it for now! Check back in a few days and I’ll have the rest of the trip….including my big night at Nobu!!

Le Pain Quotidien on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Few Quick Notes

Hey all! Here’s a quick update of the past few days….

Season’s 52

Went to Season’s 52 for dinner Sunday night.
Alright, before anyone starts screaming “Hypocrite!” at their computers, I realize that I have been pretty vocal about my Season’s misgivings. You know, the whole illegal health questions on the job application thing. (I still want to do an undercover sting operation!)

That being said, the food is consistently really really good. We met up for a family dinner (sans Dave who was on a golfing man-cation) at the Altamonte location. Once we found a booth in the bar area, we had our two favorite flatbreads: Vine ripe tomato and Steak, mushroom and bleu cheese. Half the table had salads-my Summer Salad was ok with the toasted pumpkin seeds, but the vinaigrette was soooo acidic that not only couldn’t I finish it, but it also made my nose run.

For entrees Matt had the Trout, Tracy had the Veggie plate and Dad, Mary and I all had the Filet (Med Rare, extra veggies for me). My meat was over cooked, so my dad traded with me so that I had the perfectly sized and cooked piece. (Thanks, Dad!) The filet was served with a fantastic green peppercorn sauce, and the asparagus were absolutely perfect (although I’m sure quite pricey at this point of the season!)

We finished the meal with a few of those adorable desserts (Red Velvet, Tiramisu, Key Lime Pie and the new PB chocolate one) and some great conversation.


Tuesday I met Tracey and Annette for lunch at the ever-popular Infusion Tea (at their newly expanded location on Edgewater Dr.). Our sandwiches/wraps were good, but both Tracey and Annette reported the Gazpacho to be very thick and described it as “kinda like salsa”. I think it worked better when they used the Pita Chips from my plate to scoop and eat. Annette raved about the beautiful Garibaldi sandwich with Ricotta, Roasted Red Peppers and Spinach, and I enjoyed my hummus and veggie wrap.

I did have my first disappointment with an iced tea at Infusion; I found the Green Moroccan Mint very bitter and astringent. So to make up for it I got a few of the sample sizes to try some new flavors: Blackberry Sage, Mint to be Mate, and Happy Tummy (yes, an herbal blend to soothe achy stomachs!)

One quick note: I found the “order at the counter” system to be rather cumbersome and time consuming. If you are thinking about going for lunch during the golden hour, prepare for a long wait both to order and then to eat. And, quite honestly, some of the people who work there weren't exactly, um...nice. I found myself more agitated than relaxed after this visit. But they do have (in my opinion) the best tea selection in town so I'm sure I'll be returning.

I'm off to NYC for the weekend....check back next week for fun filled posts!

Seasons 52 (Altamonte Springs) on Urbanspoon

Infusion Tea on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Remember these from your childhood? My mom used to make the minis every year at Christmas…Along with a plethora of cookies we gorged ourselves on every year (Pizelles being my fav!).

I heard some P&B students talking about these last week, and well, then I really really wanted one. So I did what any responsible girl on a diet would do, I made a batch for a client, took two for myself, and left the rest for them!

I also made a very abbreviated version…using “Pre-measured Dry Ingredients”!

Black Bottom Cupcakes

1 Box Devils Food Cake Mix (+ whatever ingredients listed on the back of the box)
8 oz Cream Cheese (softened)
1 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
1 Cup Chocolate Chips

Make cake batter according to the directions on the back of the box.

In a separate bowl combine cream cheese, sugar and egg. Beat until mixture is smooth, with no lumps. Add chocolate chips.

Line muffin tins with liners, or spray well with cooking spray.

Fill the muffin tins about 2/3 full with the chocolate mixture. Add about 1 Tbsp of the cream cheese mixture on top. Bake according to the directions on the box. Cupcakes will be done when the cream cheese mixture just starts to barely brown on top.

To do minis, follow all directions, but just bake for less time!

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Finally, Orlando, the day is here! There is now officially a great, maybe even excellent, Mexican restaurant in the City Beautiful! And it’s very close to my house!

Saturday evening, after a 75-cent showing of Oceans Thirteen, my friends and I decided that margaritas were a necessity. Desperately tired of the usual PRs and Amigos, I was ready to drown myself in Tequila to help forget the inevitable mediocre meals at both establishments. But, alas, it was not meant to be! Annette’s eyes brightened as she remembered the soft opening of “Some new Mexican place in Baldwin Park!”

So off we went to Colibri, the newest addition to BP. Located at the very end of New Broad St. by the lake, they’ve been open for about two weeks. I have to admit that my first impressions of the entire BP project were not, well, positive. Preplanned development. Cookie cutter houses. They even tore down the old navy base ship that I used to love when I was a kid!

But with their expansive Publix, a Barney’s that serves Abita, and now Colibri, I have officially become a fan. Right off the bat, I have to tell you that I was really impressed by the food. We started with warm homemade tortillas, served with a “green” dipping sauce (mild) and a “red” dipping sauce (yep, you guessed it, hot). The tortillas were gooey, delicious and not greasy whatsoever. For entrees I had the Quesadillas Tulum (steak); Annette had the Mole Poblano; and Amy had the Rollos de Pollo.

My Quesadillas were delicious. The flank was quite tender, with a bit of a sweet sauce, and served in a grilled flour tortilla. The small dollop of Guacamole proved to be fantastic. Annette loved her Mole Poblano. I tried the sauce and was very impressed. It was rich and not too spicy, with hints of cocoa. She described the chicken to be falling apart tender. Her cilantro infused rice was very light and perfectly cooked (even I liked it!). Amy wasn’t quite as thrilled with her Rollos de Pollo, which was a chicken roulade stuffed with bacon and cheese. I think they just didn’t “roll” it correctly; she only had a few bites on the ends that contained bacon. The highlight of her dish was a fresh and summery corn and pineapple salad.

All of the non-seafood entrees are supposed to come with your choice of black bean or chicken soup, and because our server forgot to offer this to us, we were treated to a free dessert. And, really, here’s the climax of the meal for me. The best Tres Leches Cake I’ve ever had. I’m serious. It was perfectly saturated, served swimming in some sweet cream, and topped off with a dash of cinnamon. Whoever is responsible for this cake should be proud!

And yes, I won’t forget the booze. We got a pitcher of house margaritas infused with Bauchant Orange (they were out of Cointreau and Grand Marnier). FYI, the Bauchant was quite good. A cognac blended with fruit juices, they also offer raspberry, pomegranate, apple and pear. The margaritas did the trick and the after dinner shot of Cabo Wabo Anejo was the perfect finishing touch!

I have no doubt that Colibri will be successful and I look forward returning!
Check them out:

Infusion Tea on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Maple Chipotle BBQ Chicken Lasagna!

Alrighty, you’ve asked and now you shall receive. Here’s the recipe for the BBQ Chicken Lasagna!

Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion, minced
1 Tbsp Garlic, minced
2 Chipotles packed in Adobo, rinsed and seeded*
½ cup Ketchup
½ cup Maple Syrup
1 cup Chicken Broth
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1/8 tsp Ground Allspice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
Stir in chipotles, ketchup, syrup, broth, vinegar and allspice. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to simmer for 20-30 minutes or until sauce has thickened slightly.
Strain sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

BBQ Chicken Lasagna

6 Chicken Thighs, with skin*
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
6 Lasagna Noodles, cooked al dente
15 oz Ricotta Cheese
2 Eggs
2 Cup Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese
Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Coat chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven for about 15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 F. Remove and allow chicken to cool.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
In a bowl combine Ricotta, eggs and 1 cup of the cheese. Set aside.
Once the chicken is cool, remove and discard skin. Shred the chicken meat off the bone, and add meat to BBQ sauce.
Lay 3 cooked lasagna noodles on the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking dish. Cover with ½ of the cheese mixture. Next, add ½ of the BBQ sauce mixture, followed by ½ of the remaining cheese. Repeat this procedure to complete lasagna assembly.
Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.

Practically everyone I have cooked this for has fallen in love with the non-traditional twist on lasagna. Kudos to my bro: this idea stemmed from a BBQ shredded pork lasagna he made for me one night a few years ago!

*Chipotles are smoke dried jalapeno peppers. You can find canned chipotles in adobo sauce in some grocery ethnic sections. If you can’t find any, substitute 1 tsp chipotle powder, which can be found in the spice aisle. It still has that smoky flavor of chipotles that really makes this sauce.
*Yes, by all means, substitute boneless skinless chicken breasts. However, keep in mind that you will want to poach them instead of roasting them to preserve moisture.
*Feel free to pump up this recipe however you want! Add some fresh roasted corn, or wilted spinach. Let me know it you have any other ideas!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Room 39

Continuing on my Orlando urban living streak, I went downtown for lunch Monday with my good friend T. We hit Room 39, which a few years ago became a staple of the downtown bar scene. Ultra swank with a classic retro feel, this bar stands out amidst all of the obnoxious bass pumping hoochie bars in the near vicinity. Back in the day when I lived within walking distance (and before the ban on smoking in restaurants-remember those days?) I would consider myself a semi-regular of dinner at Room 39. They had an amazing White Pizza that I think I might have been addicted to. I was heartbroken when they stopped serving dinner to keep their smoky evening bar scene alive.

So, yes, I was shocked to learn that not only do they serve lunch, but also that they have an apparently large and regular crowd. All the tables were full in the non-smoking lunchtime atmosphere, with numerous parties either waiting to be seated or making a hasty exit after seeing the multitude. The service was on the slow side, but it was expected considering there were only two servers for all of the tables.

My lunch partner and I both ordered the Hummus Wraps, hers served with an Israeli Couscous salad, mine with fresh fruit. While I am an admitted lover of hummus, I have to say that this was probably my least favorite hummus that I’ve ever had. Obviously homemade (which is usually a good thing!), it was so strongly flavored with cumin that I actually felt kinda sick after I ate it. I think I even muttered the words, “Ohhh, I shouldn’t have eaten that” as we were leaving. Also, one of my biggest peeves of dining out experiences: If you list it in the description on the menu, please make sure that it actually makes it to the plate. Both the red onions and roasted red peppers would have gone well in the wrap! They may have even reduced the cumin-fest! They were sorely missed.

The best part of the meal was the one bite I had of the Israeli Couscous Salad (also known as Pearl Pasta). Lightly tossed in oil and combined with toasted pine nuts and dried cranberries (go Craisins!), it really was delicious.

Even though the lunch didn’t amaze me, I’m sure I’ll be back at Room 39 soon, both for lunch and for drinks. After all, I was reminded of reasons I’ve always loved this place: it’s comfy yet hip atmosphere, it’s unpretentiousness, and it’s prime location for people watching. Check out their website and let me know if anyone wants to hit up the 12 for $12 on Tuesdays!


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Urban Orlando

Yesterday really was a picture perfect summer day. Nothing like spending about 5 hours floating in a pool with bright blue skies and the mercury hitting 97. Even playing Marco Polo. Really, fantastic.

Lunch was definitely a spread. Grilled dogs and portabellos with fresh fruits and veggies. I got a good lesson in the “best” brands of hot dogs, as well as their proper preparation before grilling. We sampled Hebrew National (97% fat free and my fav) as well as Buffalo dogs (sorry, I forget the brand name). Apparently the key is to make a spiral slice in the dog, not too deep, not too shallow. And grill on a low/medium low heat. Still on a high from the Mixology class, we even brought out the blender, making a yummy frozen daiquiri style cocktail with Coco Lopez (my new fav), strawberries, and blueberries. Oh, and the Captain.

Last night we went to the newly opened and eagerly anticipated Urban Flats in their downtown “Plaza” location. Still in their soft opening, they’ve been open almost a month, and seem eager to get the ball rolling and the customers in the door. The Plaza building is really quite pleasing to the eye, but rumor has it the movie theater might not make their Labor Day opening due to the fact that no companies want to take ownership, apparently intimidated by the notorious Cameron Kuhn.

Anyway, back to the food. The menu for the most part seemed similar to the Winter Park location, with a few new additions. We tried the Baked Brie with Honey and Strawberries for a starter, and the first attempt was a flop. The Puff Pastry was still raw and the Brie still ice cold. Round two brought a slightly burnt Puff Pastry, but after waiting so long for the re-cook we ate it anyway. It was good; the honey soaked golden raisins in the salad were the highlight (hopefully Dr. South Beach isn’t reading this!)

Entrée Flatbreads were the usual favorites: Tomato with Arugula and Fig/Prosciutto/Bleu Cheese. The latter was it’s usually brilliance. Seems like they have departed from their fig “jam” and are back to using more solid figs. That were heavy on the cinnamon. Ummmmm, cinnamon spiced figs and bleu cheese…..It really was delicious. The Tomato with Arugula was ok, the Arugula being a bit bland, and the tomatoes used pretty sparingly. Like ½ of a cherry tomato per slice of flat. I’m not kidding. That coupled with the heavy handedness on the black pepper led to this flat to not living up to its reputation.

But the manager was very amiable, promising (in the form of a coupon) a free flat and dessert on our next visit. Between the fantastic wine selection, uniqueness of the flats, and that all so fantastic urban flair that Orlando has been lacking, I’d have gone back anyway. Finally! The new downtown we’ve all been waiting for is right around the corner….

Urban Flats on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Wednesday Recipe

Here’s a quick mid week recipe! I did this last week for some clients and I was surprised by how amazingly light and delicious it turned out.

Mushroom “Salsa”

3 Tbsp Sesame Oil
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
1 pint Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced
1 Shallot, minced
1 Tbsp fresh Cilantro, minced
1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Scallion, sliced
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper

Heat Sesame Oil and Red Pepper Flakes in a small sauté pan. When the oil is hot, add the mushroom. Sauté until the mushrooms start to brown slightly. Add the shallots and sauté until they soften.
Remove the pan from heat. Add Cilantro, Vinegar, Scallion and seasoning.

So…take a quick look through the ingredients list. Anyone who is reading this blog probably knows about my relationship with cilantro. In the past we haven’t gotten along all that entirely well. Not that I’m officially saying that we are now best buddies, but I think it might be growing on me. As my dad would say, “Everything in moderation”.

I served the salsa over a seared tenderloin filet, but I can only imagine how it would be with a little extra sauce and served over those infamous Shirataki Noodles! Also, you can get sesame oil in the Asian section of your local grocery store. It's a great alternative to Olive Oil when you are doing a stir fry.

And yes, this picture was taken at an impromptu food photo shoot at my client’s house. Thanks for your help AL!

This recipe was adapted from Cat Cora’s “Cooking from the Hip”.