Monday, January 28, 2008

Rainy Weekend

Had a fantastic but quick weekend.

Went to the school’s graduation on Saturday morning then headed over to the Reunion Resort for a nice lunch. Reunion is a private resort community but we were able to sneak in under the guise of knowing the food and beverage manager. We had the pleasure of sampling the new Asian inspired menu at Eleven, the restaurant on the top floor of the Grande. First off, the view was amazing, and I’d pay big bucks just to lounge by the rooftop pool. We sampled lots of food (ever pull the “We’ll take the left side of the menu” before?). Everything was super beautiful and delicious. One of the highlights was the sweet-crusted Salmon with Miso Eggplant (ala Nobu) and Edamame Fried Rice. Also yummy were the Crab and Pork Shu Mai, or opened faced dumplings. I had neither a notepad nor a camera with me, so the meal wasn’t exactly well documented. But right when the dessert was served I realized that some people might have one of those camera phone things. So here’s a picture of the Chocolate Fondue compliments of JR and his snazzy phone.

My rainy Saturday evening consisted a trip down to south Orlando for a pedicure and a meal at Fusion 7 on JYP. I had heard about this restaurant/lounge from students and figured I might as well try it. We started off with a bottle of Viognier (or as I call it, “Vion Yay!”) from South Africa and decided to split a few apps for dinner (mainly due to the steep price of the entrees). We started with Calamari, a good standby. Then came the Crab and Avocado salad, Bruschetta with Chorizo, and the Mediterranean platter (seen below).

The highlight was the tasty Chorizo Bruschetta-it really brought an extra element to the dish. The Crab and Avocado salad was light, fresh and quite a large portion for seven dollars. But the platter, at twenty-one dollars, was a bit of a let down. While the stuffed cabbage was delicious, the stuffed grape leaf (yes, leaf-we only got one) and Tabouleh were inedible.

Overall the night was a success-great company and even greater wine. But I was a bit confused by this establishment….is it a restaurant or a nightclub or both? The strobe light definitely took away from the calming Mediterranean d├ęcor and karaoke was starting as we finished out meal. Apparently when the kitchen closes it's the hottest hangout on the JYP. But kudos for the organized and interesting wine list.

*One quick note on Fusion 7, the menu on the website is NOT a representation of the actual menu offered in house.

Eleven at Reunion Resort on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Habana Grill

So my Saturday morning started off with a bang. Literally, the banging inside my head after a night of Grand Marnier laced Margaritas. (This time it is no more Tequila for good!) A nice walk in the chilly gloominess and a cold shower chased out the cobwebs, so I confirmed plans for a “roadtrip” up to Longwood for lunch and a fieldtrip to Petty’s gourmet market.

So here is the real formula for a hangover. Yeah, yeah, yeah, water and time also do the trick, but this one is much more fun. We went to Habana Grill (formally Don Pepes) up in Altamonte. For starters we got the Lil’ Introduction, a small sample platter of appetizers. Our definite favorite was the Chicken Empanadillas, a crusty pastry stuffed with Sofrito flavored chicken. The pastry crumbled in my mouth and the house Cali sauce was sweet and tangy perfect. The Papitas Rellenas were amazing. Fried mashed potato balls stuffed with ground beef. Enough said. The last selection, the Chicharrones de Pollo (think fancy chicken nuggets) was dry and a disappointment, but the other two selections really made up for it.

I then got the Media Noche sandwich to assist with the hangover transformation. Served on sweet egg Cuban bread, it was stuffed with pork, ham, salami, Swiss cheese and pickles (and yes, it probably was the source of my heartburn a few hour later). But at the time, and with the Mariquita chips, it was pretty much the best thing in the world. And, quite honestly, along with two fantastic and not too sweet Mojitos, it really did the trick to making my hangover go into oblivion. I only finished half, and it was still good the next day for lunch.

My luncheon companion got the Vege-Frita and cheese sub. It was pretty much the veggie version of my sandwich, served on the same bread but also topped with the irresistible tiny shoestring French fries.

Petty’s was a success as usual. I stocked up on some hard to find items (including my new favorite Fig flavored Balsamic Glaze) and also grabbed a nice Filet that I made for dinner. All in all, not a bad day!

I headed over to the folks place on Sunday for an early evening of football and bar-be-que. The Backwater takeout went surprisingly well with the CA Zinfandel, and I enjoyed spending time with the fam. Even though I was staring at the amazing pictures on the TV pretending that I knew what was going on. But it really was the perfect end to another weekend that went by way too fast!

Habana Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ethos Vegan Kitchen

Let me start off by saying that I’m not a vegetarian. Not only am I not a vegetarian, but I am also by no means a Vegan. Living in a world without cheese simply doesn’t interest me. But I’m open to all foods (obviously) and when I heard about Ethos Vegan Kitchen having their grand opening, I grabbed a good veg friend and went for lunch this past Saturday.

First off, the environment is fantastic. Ethos is located on Orange Ave in the space that used to be home to the bar Lava Lounge. They’ve redone a few things inside and still have a huge patio area with a view of Lake Ivanhoe. The ambiance inside is very clean, hip and calming all at the same time.

Now for the important stuff: the food! I decided to continue with my Orlando Tour of Hummus Wraps and so far this one seems to be the winner. I’ve been introduced to what could be my new favorite flavor combo-hummus and banana peppers (although in all fairness if you put banana peppers on anything I’m a happy girl). Served on a spinach wrap with homemade hummus and a variety of other veggies, the Hippie Wrap was fresh and quite tasty. My lunch partner had the What’s the Dilly, Philly? Sandwich-a vegan take on a Philly cheesesteak. Just take out the meat and mayo, add marinated Seitan (a veg friendly wheat gluten meat substitute) and veganaise (think mayo without the eggs) and voila! A delicious sandwich. In all honestly, a few bites into our meal, and after she was gushing over the sandwich, I asked my friend to swap halvsies so I could fully experience the Philly. She said no, but let me try a few pieces of the Seitan (which was quite yummy).

While we were eating the owners/chef popped over to say hello and gave us a free sample of the Shortbread. They were super nice and I realized how rare it can be to not only meet the owners, but when do you ever get to witness the pride in their eyes over the opening of their new restaurant? Their genuine amiability made me feel like I was eating at a friend’s house. Oh, and the shortbread? It was really delicious and had the perfect sweet and savory balance.

My only real constructive criticism is the beverage issue. Kudos for no soda fountain, I need to cut back on the Diet Coke anyway (urgh-I think I might have to join a twelve step program to get through that one). Also, being a tea lover, I was bummed that my only hot tea options were Tazo, and my only ice tea options were either sweetened or unsweetened.

All in all I was thrilled with my lunch experience. And my veg friend already can’t wait to go back. It’s nice to continue to see Orlando grow, not just in terms of the skyline, but also in it’s openness to expanding the wide variety of great restaurants.

After spending the afternoon shopping, my bro and I went to the new Red Star Tavern at the Fashion Square Mall. A definite ten out of ten for the ambiance-it was warm, inviting and comfortable. We split a pizza for an app and also split two sandwiches for dinner (see-he’ll go halvsies!). I probably won’t run back to this restaurant, but it was just the place for a rainy Saturday night. The sandwiches were average, but the white pizza and the two dollar drafts were perfect!

Ethos Vegan Kitchen  on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 7, 2008

Butternut Squash Soup

Had some friends over for a great dinner last week. After eating we broke out my new favorite game Winenerd. It's basically a board game about wine, so what's not to like?

Here's a recipe for my new favorite soup:

Butternut Squash Soup

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
½ Onion, rough chopped
1 Tbsp Garlic, minced
1 Butternut Squash, large, peeled and medium cubed
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp ground Black Pepper
4 cups Chicken Broth
1 tsp ground Nutmeg
¼ cup Sour Cream

Heat Olive Oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add Onions and cook until translucent. Add Garlic and cook until fragrant. Next, add Squash, season with Salt and Pepper and continue to cook for about 5 minutes.

Slowly add the Chicken Broth. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer until Squash is fork tender, about 25-30 minutes. Let the mixture cool briefly.

When Squash is fully cooked, drain the veggies and reserve the cooking liquid. Rinse the saucepan.

Place the veggies in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Carefully incorporate the cooking liquid into the blender/food processor with the blade moving. Add only enough liquid until desired consistency is reached.

Next place the soup back into the rinsed saucepan. Over medium heat, add Nutmeg and slowly stir in Sour Cream. Keep hot and serve or cool, portion and freeze!

*I served this soup with an extra dollop of Sour Cream, a Garlic Crostini and some Cajun Seared Shrimp.
*I often add a bit of extra Garlic if I am freezing portions. Also, feel to use Heavy Cream. The Sour Cream is simply better when freezing.
*For extra flavor (and if I have extra time), I’ll roast the Squash with OO, Salt and Pepper before adding to the Onions and Garlic. This will significantly reduce stovetop cooking time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

It's supposed to bring good luck and wealth in the New Year

So as the New Year rolls in, I realized that I’ve been a bit, well, negligent about this whole blog thing. Turns out December was extremely hectic, which is good because in my life hectic equates to money, so I guess I can’t complain too much.

I won’t bore you with the details, or with a list of resolutions (the usual culprits-be more organized, eat more veggies, etc.) but I hope to be a bit more diligent with interesting things for you to read. That being said, I’m starting the new year with overload at work which means I’ll be pretty incognito for the next few weeks, but again no complaints (see above).

I kicked off 2008 with a long walk along the river in Ft. Myers and a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch/German feast with my hero (Grandmother), my hilarious aunt, the extremely witty cousin and some of my Grandmother’s friends. It was actually my first time being introduced to Pork and Sauerkraut and I took Bob’s warning of never ever eating this meal with a hangover quite seriously! Here’s what we did:

Pork Loin and Sauerkraut with Dumplings

I trimmed, seasoned and seared the tenderloins while my aunt seasoned the sauerkraut with brown sugar. I then finished the pork in the oven, on top of the kraut. When the pork was done I dolloped the dumpling mixture (Hooray for Bisquick…premeasured dry ingredients at their best!) on top of the kraut and finished cooking in the oven. I also made a sauce for the pork, an Apricot Brandy reduction with some booze my Grandma found in her cabinet that was probably purchased sometime in the twentieth century. It was quite tasty.

The meal was fantastic; I went back for seconds of the kraut and dumpling mixture. Hopefully it will bring the good luck and wealth that it symbolizes!

Here's a pix of the yummy Summer Salad with Coconut Shrimp from Amy's Overeasy Cafe on Sanibel Island. (Isn't that the best name for a restaurant ever?)

I hope you all had a great holiday! Thanks for reading and the constant support!

Me and my hero on the walk to the infamous Bowman's Beach.