in search of the perfect restaurant meal
Part Two: Varenna and Venice, i.e., Italy, where pasta and gnocchi reign supreme! From Barcelona we headed to northern Italy, landing in Milan and taking a train directly to Varenna, a lovely town situated on Lake Como. (Well, to rephrase...the Milan airport is NOT close to the city but after a couple of trial and error attempts with a finicky train ticket machine, we managed to take a train to the city center of Milan and THEN navigate our way through the confusion of finding the correct train to Varenna.) Needless to say, no time for lunch!
Happily, our hotel in a tiny little haven in the hills was a five-minute taxi ride from the train station. We were deposited at the Hotel du Lac, just 8 minutes after arriving, checked in within 5 and out on the cobblestone path to find sustenance within 20 minutes of landing in Varenna. The weather was a little drizzly so searched no further than il Nilus, where we sat on the covered patio directly at water's edge to have our first meal in Italy. Starvation had no bearing on the deliciousness of our roasted sopressata-potato-gorgonzola pizza, which we immediately scarfed down with a glass of wine. Oh my. Superb.
Did I mention that within the 20 minutes from train stop to seated for lunch, we managed to ask our hotel receptionist/concierge/girl Friday to find a reservation for dinner? She found us a table at La Vista, a terraced restaurant atop the Albergo Milano Hotel. It's a tiny town but we experienced some trouble finding which little alleyway to climb. But so worth the search, steep hill, and confusion. Sitting outside, wrapped in a fleece blanket provided with each and every table, we watched as the lights twinkled on in Menaggio, the town directly across Lake Como from Varenna. After the hustle and bustle of the big city Barcelona, we were drawn into the calm, quiet beauty of the water and the Alps that towered above.
And our dinner! What a fabulous meal we had that evening. The menu offered a la carte and either a 3 course or 4 course fixed price option which included the entire menu. If you tell me I can have a starter, first course, second course and dessert for 45 euro...it's a no brainer! After all, this is RESEARCH! I definitely researched my way to satiation in the most delicious fashion.
- Starter- RB: charcuterie platter, JB: velvety potato soup
- Primi- RB: ravioli with seafood, JB: risotto with scallops
- Secondi- RB: baked lake fish with creamed potatoes, JB: lamb shank osso bucco
- Dessert- RB: cheese plate, JB: chocolate cake with raspberry sauce
Oof. It was too much food. But so enjoyable.
On the dawn of our 5th day in Europe, we had a light breakfast in the hotel cafe and went out to explore Varenna. At 10am, we were picked up by van to take us to Ristorante il Caminetto (in the hills of Perledo), for a day-long cooking class. Our driver was also the chef, owner and instructor, Moreno Maglia. It was a delightful six hours...Moreno is charming, humorous and well-versed in American culture. The class was made up of two other couples from the US, a couple from Manchester, England, two young girls from Poland and a lady from the Netherlands. We watched our host prep a veal roast, form pasta dough entirely with his hands, and we learned to shape gnocchi. Then he rolled and cut the pasta, adding a dollop of ricotta filling to each square and allowed us to shape the packets into tortelloni. He demonstrated one porcini mushroom sauce for the gnocchi and then a fresh tomato topping for the tortelloni. And finally, we lunched on all of these amazing dishes, helping ourselves to refills of wine and laughing at his references to American rock and roll and movie stars. If you are ever in the Lake Como area for a few days, I highly recommend this cooking class--such an insight into meal prep at a small local restaurant. I loved it.
Following the class and being dropped back in our little town square, we had just enough time to walk to the train station and meet our son, who arrived from Rome after a semester at John Cabot University. What a happy sight to see him step off that train! He looked taller, wiser, and tired; it was so wonderful to put our arms around him after 4 months apart.
That evening, we had a very late supper at Osteria Quatro Pass, another tiny restaurant. Sometimes it is a challenge to order food coherently when trying to soak up each moment with a child you haven't seen in some time. But we managed to have a delightful meal which we shared family style: salumi board, cheese plate, seafood spaghettoni, fish fillets in an almond sauce, and a cheese ravioli before consuming a sweet apple tart to finish. Note: you can never order too much food when you have a 21-year-old at the table.
The next morning, the three of us hiked to Castello de Vezio, a wonderful castle ruin with beautiful views overlooking the lake and town below. It was a gorgeous morning and the hike was a perfect bit of exercise after the previous day spent wining and dining.
That afternoon we headed to Venice which also provided some physical exertion in the manner of hauling our luggage through tiny little streets, inaccessible to any other form of traffic. We spent a quick 24 hours touring with just one real sit-down meal. A carafe of wine, a little bourbon, some lasagna, gnocchi, and fried calamari was consumed and delighted in while sitting at a small table on a cobblestone street, 15 steps from our hotel. The next morning when we walked through that same street, any evidence of the quaint little eatery with a gregarious host had been shuttered away, only to be discovered again later in the day by other lucky wanderers.
Next week: follow along as we wrap up our trip in the City of Lights. ❤️ Ruth
Three countries. Five cities. Ten days. It was an ambitious trip but we managed to accomplish two end goals: bring our son home from his semester abroad and eat our way across several different regions. We were also able to celebrate 30 years of marriage with every glass of champagne or prosecco, beginning on the flight over! So the journey was a success and I am excited to share so many delicious memories with my readers.
Our flight touched down in Barcelona in the early morning and we hit the ground running. After a quick Cafe Americano at the charming Cotton House hotel, we hopped on a bus to drive by popular sites and get our bearings. Ignoring the chilly weather and any tinges of jet-lag, we capped off our first evening with a walking Tapas Tour. If you know me at all, you know that I L-O-V-E nibble food, so I was more than ready to check out this very Spanish style of noshing.
Our guide led us and two other couples through the Mercat de la Boqueria where we sampled Serrano Jamon and Manchego cheese from little paper cones, nibbled on cocoa covered hazelnuts and gaped at the butcher stands where EVERY part of the animal was available for purchase. We also visited two different style Tapas Bars--the first served popular tapas family style at the table: Patatas Bravas, fresh tomato bread, marinated peppers and veggies, croquetas, and Tortilla Española all came out in little dishes to be shared by the group. The second establishment offered a pinchos buffet. In this style of bar, you help yourself to any number of tapas varieties, all skewered on toothpicks, and the server simply counts the number of empty picks on your plate to calculate your bill. Seafood figured heavily into these offerings.
My takeaways from casual food in Barcelona:
- Amazing slices of bread on which you spread fresh tomatoes that are so tender, they burst open when you rub the fruit on the crispy surface
- Spanish extra-virgin olive oil which I loved drizzling over the above mentioned bread
- Paper thin slices of jamon (spanish ham)
- Salty, delicious manchego, a sheep's milk cheese that makes my heart sing
You could serve me the above items any night of the week and I would call it dinner! So first day/night done, and we were able to see a little of the city, taste some of it's flavors, partake of some wine and we were off to a great start.
The next day dawned cold and rainy in the city so we headed out on an hour train ride to visit Montserrat and the monastery set in the mountain. Our lunch at the Restaurant Montserrat was surprisingly lovely--surprising because most of the patrons are tourists and we've all experienced mediocrity of touristy establishments--lovely due to the inexpensive bottle of wine we shared (thought we were ordering a couple of glasses, got the entire bottle!), the fresh tomato bread, and the seafood we consumed.
That evening marked another culinary milestone for us...we dined at a Three-Star Michelin restaurant: Lasarte was elegant, subdued, and pleasantly meticulous. The service was perfection, casually friendly but at the same time, oh so professional. After we made our course decisions, a parade of amuse bouche found its way to the table. My favorite: a jalapeño ice cream that melted into a foam with a single salty clam. And of course, I loved the array of flavored butters presented in tiny little logs to accompany our bread selections. There were five flavors to choose from and I couldn't eat enough bread to sample them all! Our main courses of Chargrilled Pigeon (him) and Sea Bass (me) were stunning. It was a gastronomically excellent night and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary.
Our final day in Barcelona was spent self-touring the cathedral and Ramblas area and a quick stop at the beach. For a mid-morning snack, we stumbled upon a pastry shop, Caelum, where we sipped cappuccino and agonized over which nun-produced pastries we wanted to try. No lie: the shop specializes in "heavenly" sweets baked by nuns from all over the country! For lunch we sat in sunny Plaça Reial and shared yet another board of tomato bread and serrano ham as well as a bottle of wine. (What?! I was on vacation!) Our only disappointing meal: the paella at Vez Pella, (which came highly recommended) which was served with little shrimp instead of the promised ubiquitous prawns.
And we were on to the next city...
*The above title translates to "Part One: Barcelona, city of tapas and paella."
Ten years ago, my husband took me to Paris to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It was an amazing trip, the adventure of a lifetime, a triumph on so many levels. Paris is truly a magical city and we ate, drank, toured, laughed, sat, strolled, and explored as much as possible. Since that year, we have taken other trips, exotic and foreign, but Paris still holds the power of unshakeable memories over us, always drawing us back into the "remember that time..."
One such remembrance is our actual anniversary dinner at the Michelin starred restaurant, Guy Savoy. The ambiance: elegant and reserved. The service: witty, attentive, and intelligent. The fare: delicious, rich, and artistic. The bill: exorbitant. That meal, that night, remains to this day in our top five food experiences of all time.
We were in love with each other, fell in love with the city and in turn, in love with all things France. Fast forward to this year when I have undertaken this crazy goal to cook my way through Fine Cooking magazine. I opened the April/May issue to find the "Moveable Feast" article highlighted a visit with none other than Guy Savoy (the chef and namesake of our beloved restaurant) and cookbook author, Patricia Wells, who resides in Paris! So I was quite excited to prepare the recipes from this particular issue.
On a cold and windy evening in April, I invited friends to join us and they graciously agreed to suffer through this menu:
Spring Greens Salad with Fruit, Roquefort & Balsamic Dressing
The conversation was lively, the wine poured and though the steak was a bit underdone, I think the meal was a success. I'm definitely not Guy Savoy, but when I was crafting his sabayon (a cooked egg yolk sauce), I felt a renewed appreciation for the art that is Fine Dining.
My experiment or goal or resolution, whatever you want to call it --to step out of my comfort zone and create recipes that I would not otherwise attempt--is succeeding. For the "numbers" people out there, I stand at 55 completed recipes out of 114 from 3 issues. Still a ways to go...hoping the June/July issue does not arrive for several more weeks!
Spring has been an absolute whirlwind. Maybe because I have been sleep deprived beginning with Daylight Savings or perhaps it's due to trying to schedule FaceTime sessions with a son on the other side of the world. Whatever the reason, I feel constantly behind, always running to catch up.
Long weekends spent with family are usually a great way to slow things down. In that spirit, our Easter week began on Palm Sunday with church services alongside our son and his pregnant wife. Oh wait. Haven't I told you? Our family is being blessed in 2018 with new babies. My eldest daughter (residing in Arkansas) is expecting her fourth child, due in May and our eldest son (lives here!) is expecting his first....TWINS! SO. EXCITING. I. MAY. JUST. WRITE. LIKE. THIS. UNTIL. SUMMER. Jk. But we are indeed overjoyed by all of these tiny blessings headed our way.
Back to Palm Sunday. After mass, the four of us came home for brunch because a leisurely meal accompanied by mimosas is a surefire way to slow time. The menu was Eggs Benedict as requested by my DH. It's a timeless breakfast entree, isn't it? Crisp english muffins topped with canadian bacon, a pillowy poached egg and rich, decadent hollandaise sauce. In the Butterfield house, we like to change things up and sometimes replace the muffin with hash brown potatoes, or even stack the potatoes on top of the toasted bread. Also, we seldom serve the traditional skinny slices of canadian bacon and opt for slabs of smoked ham. Or, maybe a crab cake for ultimate, sinful gluttony. Whatever version, the crowning glory remains the same--bright, lemony hollandaise, and I'm sharing my recipe at the end of this post.
Dinner that evening was also a feast. Expertly grilled New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes, sautéed spinach, roasted eggplant, a lovely crisp green salad with balsamic dressing. And there was chocolate cake for dessert. That was just for 4 of us! But our celebratory week was off to a good start.
Happily on Thursday, my in-laws arrived from Albuquerque without incident. They have not been in Dallas since 2015, the year of two weddings, a graduation, and a family reunion. We scheduled a number of outings for their visit and tried not to wear out their 80+year-old bodies too much. They were able to see our son's new home and hear the glad news that the twins are GIRLS! (see how I keep sneaking those announcements in..?!) On Friday, our youngest daughter, husband and canine child, Frank, were here with us from Round Rock. We enjoyed a margarita lunch, strolling around the Arboretum and a fabulous meal at 20-Feet Seafood Joint in Lakewood.
Side Review: If you haven't heard of this little hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant, I am here to endorse the establishment and send you as soon as your little feet can carry you that direction for the following reasons:
- It's BYOB. We brought 3 bottles of wine with us: rosé, sauvignon blanc, and a red blend. Also a premixed shaker of Manhattans (the in-laws go-to cocktail.) (we did NOT consume it all!) And they will uncork your bottles as well as provide stemware in which to enjoy your beverage of choice!
- The Lobster Roll. It's amazing. Also, the Green Room Mussels, Fried Oyster Po Boy, Fish & Chips, and any special they're offering that day.
- Service is better than any I've encountered in a casual setting. You place your order at the counter, but the servers are patient, pleasant and helpful. The table bussers are young and sweet, also helpful. There's just nothing to complain about. Tables are first come, first served, but they'll help put tables together and find an area, outside or inside for you.
The weather was ideal Thursday-Saturday so we sat out on the patio and enjoyed our mussels, french fries, Lobster Rolls (3), Fish & Chips (2) and Shrimp Po boy (1). Afterwards we indulged in a little custard from Wild About Harry's and came home to play cards.
Saturday breakfast was 2 casseroles I pulled from the fridge making my life so easy. The kids returned to Round Rock and we prepared for the next round of guests--my brother-in-law, wife and canine arrived from Houston. We supped on homemade lasagna and caesar salad and dined al fresco while watching the NCAA Final Four.
Easter Sunday dawned cool and cloudy and the mass was just beautiful, uplifting and joyful. And then we headed to another brunch, this time at The Mercury, where although our server is the best (Medy?) the food was honestly, just ok. Not that they didn't have variety: prime rib, fried chicken, sushi, salads galore and waffles. But it's really hard to do Eggs Benedict for a crowd because it's always cold and a little congealed, don't you think? So that brunch was a bit disappointing.
I know right now you're thinking, all those Butterfields do is EAT! And sometimes, it feels that way to us too. I have omitted the boring details of walking pups, gardening, and any exercise that made it's way on to the schedule.
Sunday dinner was a bit of a masterpiece, if I'm allowed to say so. Beef Tenderloin roast, perfectly seared on the grill by my hubby and accompanied by au gratin potatoes, maple-bacon roasted brussels sprouts, spring salad with asparagus, fruit and citrus vinaigrette (on the menu this week!) and finally a luscious Chocolate-Espresso Cream Pie for dessert was shared with my dear friend, Rosemarie and her three girls, making our number 10 for dinner. What a fun evening! After our meal we watched the live production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and digested slowly.
Monday was so nice and quiet, with just the four of us. The weather turned cold, giving us an excuse to read the paper by the fire and only venture out for a little chinese bistro lunch. They departed on Tuesday morning and it was back to work for my husband and me. Thanks to their visit, we were able to extend those five days and truly experience five days rather than the rapid, whirlwind, collapsed time that I've been feeling is my life. In three weeks we head to Europe to meet my son--can you believe the semester is at a close?
Guest post by Lara Slabisak
Salty. Sour. Sweet. Spicy. The four components of nearly every Thai dish, and the underlying structure behind what allows Thai food to strike that delicate balance between brightness and warmth. Think: yin and yang – seemingly contradictory forces working together to create complex flavor profiles worthy of lending Thai food the epithet “French Fare of the East.” It’s one of those cuisines that has an answer to every occasion and craving.
This January, my family and I were able to spend three incredible (delectable) weeks in Thailand, where my father was born. I had not been back to visit my family there for a few years, but felt instantly at home as I was greeted with plates of coconut sticky rice and mango, mounds of pomelos, and bowls filled with green and yellow curry. I was inspired this trip to taste each food with a discerning tongue and the intention of bringing back some Thai culinary know-how and dishes to add to my arsenal. I tried not to shy from anything, even the street carts boasting unidentifiable seafoods and congealed pigs blood soup…but don’t worry, I left everything I ever wanted to know about pig’s blood there.
What I learned: Cooking Thai food can be deceptively difficult. If you look at a list of ingredients in a recipe, they are seemingly simple and few. The tricky part lies in achieving that delicate balance of flavor I spoke about before. You don’t want to overpower the subtle hints of lemongrass and galangal in Tom Kha with too much salt, or assault your Pad Thai with an overabundance of lime juice. To master this, the structure-loving, rule follower in me wanted to know exactly how much of each component is required to attain that intricate balance so I can reproduce each dish perfectly and consistently every time. However, this trip I learned that to authentically create harmony and complexity in a dish, I had to throw my measuring spoons and desire to strictly follow a recipe to the wind and instead “cook with my tongue”…as my aunt would say.
I can’t help but think that this is great life advice too. It’s okay to deviate from the script in the name of exploration. Maybe you’ll happen upon a new favorite flavor combo! Don’t shy from trying new ingredients or methods. If there’s a better way, find it. Allow space for your palette to grow! Maybe you can only stand one Thai chili pepper per dish before scurrying to grab the closest glass of water (me), but eventually your tastes will mature and change.
Life certainly doesn’t give us the perfect recipe to follow. This can sometimes be scary, but it’s also exhilarating! That means we have the chance to discover, even if through our mistakes, something new and exciting each time we have the audacity to step out and take a risk. So here is my charge…As we approach this week, may we be adventurous, make mistakes, and cook outside the lines!
I am the first to admit that I have an unusual background. Born in Kentucky, childhood in the mission field in the Far East, adolescence and college in the American Southwest, and finally adulthood in the great state of Texas. To say my culinary influences are wide and varied is a vast understatement! If you’ve read my blog, you know that I draw heavily from my Asian influences (Chinese New Year) and my time in New Mexico (love me some Hatch green chiles). But I most often return to the South where my mother first learned to cook American classics.
During my infant & toddlerhood in Wilmore, Kentucky, Mom was blessed by neighbors and friends who shared recipes and techniques with her that she was able to prepare for her young family. The biggest takeaway: Fried Chicken shaken in a paper sack. (original blog post here) Because I love fried chicken, I am repeatedly tweaking new recipes not to necessarily improve on the original, but to add another option to my arsenal.
Last summer I became quite obsessed with making a perfect fried chicken sandwich. Not gonna lie: I have loved Chick-fil-A in my life…I remember being a teenager in Albuquerque, working at Orange Julius in Coronado Mall and trying their sandwich for the first time. It was a revelation! Best mall food ever! (Oh, and Hotdog on a Stick, but that’s another story.) Even these days, if the only option available is fast food when we are on the road, we head for the red and white sign.
Back to the perfect fried chicken sandwich. I made the first batch for the hubby and me to take to the Memorial Day concert at Flagpole hill. I am all about those picnics and the bubbly that usually accompanies the lawn food! They were good, but the breading was a little thick for my liking, the slaw too spicy, the roll too much. For my second try, another picnic, a wider audience: my two sons, daughter-in-law and us for the July 4th concert at Heritage Park in Farmers Branch. The sandwich received 5 thumbs up.
James loved them so much that the recipe made his “last meals” request before heading to his semester abroad in January. We invited a few of his friends over for a send-off meal and this time, the chicken breasts got a special pickle juice bath and I cut them in half and served them on slider buns. 3 dozen sandwiches and 7 college boys later, I knew I’d found the winning combination.
So what’s next? I need a new favorite southern recipe to try out and make my own. Any suggestions?
Confession: I am quite proud of my Asian heritage. I love being a "halfie" -- Dad is Anglo (white boy) and Mom is of Asian descent. My brother, sister and I grew up very aware of our "difference," teased by our American cousins, treated as a novelty by Taiwanese relatives, adored by members of our father's church. Our mother, too, was so proud of her halfie children. She grew up poor in Taiwan, of mixed race herself (Japanese/Chinese), and adored anything Western (American). She wore poodle skirts in the 50s, and watched every Jimmy Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Grace Kelly film that made it to the screens in Taipei. It was purely chance (an act of God) that brought she and my father together and she immediately swooned over his movie star good looks - tall and thin, with hazel eyes and shiny white teeth. He was so good looking, she thought he would never find her attractive. But he adored her petite, exotic beauty, and then gave her the best gift ever -- three halfie children!
I grew up hearing pride in my mother's voice as she declared mixed-race children to be the most beautiful of all offspring and lacking in flat feet, flat noses, and possessing superior intelligence. Lol. Ring familiar? Every mother swells with delight over their progeny. For me, her pride led to a fascination and appreciation for my heritage, and especially the cuisine. We did not live in Taiwan long but I do remember fondly some of my favorite foods from that short time.
Jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings. My mother and grandmother would make hundreds at a time, using triple stack bamboo steamers. After steaming, my father could wolf down dozens in one sitting, dipped in a simple sesame oil-soy sauce-ginger mixture. I preferred them pan-fried after steaming, with a crispy bottom. Spicy Diced Chicken with Green Peppers. In my mind, this was my mother's signature dish. A lot of preparation went into each of her courses; dicing the chicken into exactly the same size cubes, ditto with the bell peppers, hot peppers and slices of fresh ginger, marinating, double wok-frying and finally, sauced and brought to the table. Spring Rolls, not the Vietnamese version with rice paper but not Egg Rolls either with a thick doughy wrap. My mother's spring rolls had thin, crispy skins and were stuffed with lots of hand-shredded cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, strips of lean cooked pork and tender baby shrimp (if she felt like splurging). We didn't ever dip them in Sweet & Sour Sauce and only in simple soy sauce.
So with the advent of Chinese New Year, I have occasion to celebrate my heritage! Although I no longer have children in the house on which to bestow red envelopes as I received from aunts and uncles in Taiwan, I am able to stuff myself with Chinese cuisine. Chopsticks up!!
Side Note: Our family is obviously Christian so we don't really follow or believe in the Chinese Zodiac calendar as a true indicator of personality and one's future. But just for grins and giggles, my family has 2 Rats, 2 Dragons, a Horse and a Snake. You can find out which sign pertains to your year at this site, and feel free to try and guess which is my sign!
I always have big plans to change habits and alter my behavior at the beginning of each new year. Most of these resolutions relate to behaviors, bad habits, weight loss, health, self care, etc. 2018 is my year to take it to a much simpler level. With regard to relationships, it's all about Cherish for me (see last week's blog).
And for self improvement, I want to Grow. Specifically, I cook every day of the year. It's easy for me to get into a plan, execute, serve mode. I spend so much time forming menus, shopping for ingredients and then cooking that I feel I don't spend enough time experimenting in the kitchen. But I truly desire to explore new cuisines, cutting edge techniques and recipes outside of my comfort zone.
For 2018 I am challenging myself to cook every recipe in Fine Cooking magazine, a publication that produces 6 issues annually. I subscribed in December and I love the format of the periodical. It has always been one of my favorite food magazines but it will take tremendous effort to accomplish this goal. I will have to commit to trying out unusual ingredients and new recipes every single week. But how fun!!?? The December/January issue has a section dedicated to Phyllo...with 5 completely different dishes! There are also recipes for 3 holiday roasts, a vegetarian Tikka Masala, 4 bar cookies, and a seafood pasta. Yummy....food coma induced now. There are 34 unique recipes in this edition and as it appeared in my mailbox mid-January, I'd better get busy before the new edition shows up with a whole new set of deliciousness to experiment with in the kitchen.
Follow my Instagram story to see the results...I'll post pictures of each new recipe as well as reviews from my qualified and unbiased official taste testers. 2018 is hereby declared the year of YUM.
We all have family traditions, some that you've cherished for years, can't remember when they began, and are automatically a part of every celebration. Then there are the special things you might do one year because you read about another family's participation or felt inspired and you try it out on your group and they love it so you add it to the annual festivities. No surprise, our family's traditions usually have something to do with food!
A few years ago, our Christmas eve dinner became a seafood meal. We had some Italian-American friends that introduced us to the concept, rooted in Catholic tradition that involves fasting from red meat on major religious days as Christmas Eve leading into Christmas day is such. The Feast of the Seven Fishes came into being to allow for a meal that would abstain from meat and of course, seven is a big number in the church!
So for a number of years, when we are fortunate to host our family or friends on Christmas Eve, I have attempted to serve SEVEN fish courses. Some years I have managed only 5 but last year was a winner...
Christmas Eve 2016
Smoked Salmon with crostini
Clam Chowder Shooters
Tuna Tartare with wonton crisps
Mini Crabcakes with Remoulade
Endive & Goat Cheese Salad
Shrimp Scampi & Angel Hair Pasta
Seared Swordfish Steaks on Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Chocolate Cake Roll
For 2017, I am planning to scale it back a little (maybe 4 or 5 fishes) for several reasons: 1. the meal follows a church service which limits time to prep. 2. there will be only 5 people at the table, so why overdo it? and 3. Christmas day dinner involves a complicated potato dish, a huge rib roast and a cream puff tower. Regardless, Christmas eve will be filled with laughter, spirits, fishy courses and family...I could not ask for more.
What are some of your family traditions for the holidays?
How many oysters can/should you consume in 72 hours? That’s a very good question and one that I tried to answer while in Charleston this past week. But since I really didn’t test myself completely, I can report that I probably consumed just a dozen or so. Because there were so many other good things to eat as well.
My hubby and I have this thing when we dine out. It’s a (sort of) contest to determine who chooses the most delicious entree for each meal. A few years back, he ALWAYS won. Until I caught on to what he was doing…consistently choosing the special of the day. When you opt for the chef’s special, you get the best the restaurant has to offer on that night. Well, I can say that these days (in all modesty) I am beating him at his own game and especially kicking his butt when there are no available specials on the menu. Because I know what I like and what I like is usually pretty darn good!
While we were in Charleston, we ate like kings. Or maybe we ate like an inmate enjoying his last meal? Our first night we went to 167 Raw, where they do not accept reservations and the little restaurant seats maybe 22 people. We arrived early and snagged the last 2 spots at the bar, split a dozen oysters on the half-shell, had the most amazing halibut ceviche (with housemade tortilla chips) and shared a to-die-for lobster roll. OMG. What a way to start the trip! A couple of glasses of wine and all we could manage was to stumble back to our hotel and hit the hay.
The following day arrived rainy, cold and pretty miserable. Hard to sight-see when the weather is gloomy & gray. But we did manage to eat….lunch at Leon’s Oyster Shop where surprisingly, we consumed not one oyster. We shared a basket of jalapeno-hush puppies with honey butter. Wow. And then I enjoyed a kale salad featuring tender strips of butternut squash followed by their Fried Chicken--two pieces of crispy, spicy, herby white meat heaven, which definitely trumped his Fried Chicken Sandwich. We waddled out of Leon’s and walked back to our hotel, mist or no mist. Ruth 1, JB 0.
After some aerobic shopping (gotta work off that lunch!) and a little rest, we headed to dinner at Hall’s Chophouse. This decision was my mistake. Visit a steakhouse outside of Texas? What’s the point when we have so many amazing options here in Dallas. However, after this evening we stand at Ruth 2, JB 0.
The sun finally made an appearance on Friday and we were able to walk down to Battery Park to see all of the gorgeous, historic homes. We worked up an appetite on our five mile loop of the city and so we were excited for our 2pm lunch at Husk, the much acclaimed southern gem on Queen Street. The flights of Hard Cider certainly enhanced our Pimento Cheese Toast but my Low-Country Shrimp & Grits were a disappointment. JB won this round by selecting Fried Chicken that he claimed tastes a lot like my homemade version. For dessert we just had to sample the deconstructed Apple Pie (it's called research, people!) Ruth 2, JB 1
For our final night in the city, we made a very late reservation at The Ordinary. Fortunately for us, we arrived extra early and requested an earlier slot if at all possible and the kind manager found us the perfect seats at their oyster bar. You know how I am about seat location! I think these were the best in the house...quiet comparatively speaking, private, near the kitchen but out of main traffic way. This restaurant spoke "shared plates" to us where you start on the raw side of the menu and work to the cooked. So we split a half-dozen of the plumpest, briniest oysters then moved to a Spicy Triggerfish Dip with housemade Sea Salt Potato Chips. Our most unusual and yet mind-blowing shared plate was the Steak Tartare topped with Fried Oysters and fresh Horseradish. Allow that description to sink in for a minute. It was SO unusual and SO delicious that we scraped that plate clean. For our hot dishes, JB chose the Fried Oyster Sliders and my selection was their Saturday night special - Stuffed Baked Lobster. While my choice was outstanding, the sliders were so unique that I'm afraid he won the round. Oh, and he also chose the most heavenly vegetable--Roasted Evangeline Sweet Potatoes with Sorghum Butter so he earns an extra half point. Ruth 2, JB 2.5 (Final)
We had one more half day to enjoy the flavors that Charleston had to offer so when the Farmers Market at Marion Square turned up nothing we were craving, we walked to Callie's Hot Little Biscuit and stood in line to taste some lovely, tender, melty orbs of flour, buttermilk and butter. Yummmmmmm.
Interesting side note about the City of Charleston: EVERYONE talks food there. Sales clerks in clothing stores ask where you're eating that evening. The Uber drivers make suggestions for you to try and one of them even claimed there are 2000+ non-chain restaurants in the area. Eating Out is considered the activity that entices travelers from New York, Chicago, San Francisco--some of the biggest food-centric areas in the country--to choose Charleston as a destination. And I'm going to have to give it two thumbs up as well, because I cannot wait to go back!
Everyone is talking about the new look for the French Room, the Adolphus hotel's formal restaurant. But I'm not going to talk about the refreshed architecture and how they took the interior design back to the early days when it opened in 1912. I want to give you our 411 on the actual experience of dining in the restaurant.
The occasion we were celebrating was our anniversary and we chose the French Room because it was newly reopened and we wanted a special venue. Our table location could not have been more ideal; coincidentally, we'd been seated there previously on another visit but after the revamp, we were delighted to sit on a pretty sofa in a private little nook facing the windows and most of the restaurant. On the table at our arrival were champagne flutes which were filled almost immediately and with which the restaurant congratulated us on our anniversary. A very nice touch and a lovely way to start the evening.
Our server was an energetic girl, full of knowledge and expertise--who needs the sommelier? We chose the seven course tasting menu because several of the items really appealed and if you have sampled tasting menus anywhere, you might think as I did that the price was actually on the reasonable side. We did not partake of the wine pairings because let's all agree, THAT'S A LOT OF WINE! So we ordered as our server suggested: a white to accompany the first three courses (an absolutely delicious Aligote) and a red for the following three (Pinot Noir) with coffee to finish our dessert.
The courses were very frenchy. What I mean is, exquisite presentation of proteins not on your everyday diet plan. The stand-outs were the Seared Foie Gras and the Duck Bigarade, the latter surprising me with how much I enjoyed the flavors and textures. Oh, and the seventh course was a winner too...Caramel Pot de Creme which I had just a taste of because I preferred the cheese course-always my choice!! Another perfect thing about our table, the lighting was excellent and therefore I snapped pics of all our courses...see below!
What I will remember most vividly about the evening: the service was impeccable. When I choose high-end for a special meal, I want to feel that the staff really cares about my experience in their establishment. The French Room did not miss on that count. Not only were we treated like royalty while at the table, upon our departure we were presented with a "sealed" copy of the menu as well as cards on which our server had written the names of the wines we'd enjoyed. Taking the extra step to make a final lasting impression.
Oh, and the company was as always, the highlight for the entire night. I highly recommend The French Room and I highly recommend taking someone you love with you!
That’s right. My Costco finally opened on Thursday, May 11, to great fanfare at Churchill Way & Coit, the first Costco warehouse within Dallas city limits.
I refer to the store as mine because I have been longing for a location here ever since we left suburbia in 2013. Because. I. Love. Costco. I love the wine selection, the gourmet cheeses, the organic meat, fruits, vegetables and olive oil. Their bakery is good, return policy rocks and the customer service is always pleasant and friendly. Seriously…what’s not to love?
The ONE thing that I do not care for about Costco are the sample carts. Many people love, love, love the samples as evidenced by the crowds that form around the space, but those clusters of free-food-seekers drive me crazy when I’m trying to shop! I’ve also never eaten in the little cafe at the front of the store for which the big box chain is famously known for their $1.50 beef hot dog & drink combo. Do you know that price has been in effect since the warehouse first began their cafe offerings in 1985? They’ve never once raised the price.
And that’s another reason I adore Costco. It’s one of the few retail establishments where I don’t feel like the goal is to gouge it’s customers on prices. In fact, their average product mark-up is 11% compared to 24% at Wal-mart!
But enough of my gushing over my favorite big box store…head on over, tell them Ruth sent you and pick up a $4.99 rotisserie chicken on an evening when you don’t have a Butterfield Gourmet dinner for your table!**
P.s. We had a great day out at St. Michael’s on Saturday and loved seeing some of you while we sold out of our inventory. I forgot to share the link to the awesome write-up in the Dallas Morning News last week, so hope you’ll read it and catch the nice mention they gave the market and Butterfield Gourmet! **all comments and opinions are my own and Butterfield Gourmet received no compensation for this essay. I just really love Costco!
I just love how everyone has their own name for certain dishes…whether it’s a regional thing, family history or even happenstance based on a memory or experience. I ran across this situation recently when in New York, having dinner with a group of women. If I recall correctly, we were discussing dietary limitations and I mentioned that I had gone “Whole30” for the month of January and thereby consumed a lot of eggs for breakfast.
Growing up, I must admit that I was not a “breakfast girl.” I didn’t like oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, or eggs. Cereal, toast and bacon were the few things I enjoyed for my morning meal. My father, however, adored all breakfasts, especially any variety of eggs my mother was serving up. One of her specialties was Roundin’ Eggs, for which she would cut perfectly round disks out of the center of a piece of sandwich bread using an upturned juice glass. She would then toast the bread and the little disks in a frying pan and crack an egg into the center of the hole in the toast. She’d slather the little crisp round toasts with butter & jam to serve alongside the Egg in Toast. I would happily eat all of those little disks but she insisted I eat an egg as well, much to my pouty disappointment.
What? Your version of Egg in Toast wasn’t called Roundin’ Eggs? Maybe you called yours Egg in a Basket or One-Eyed-Jack? Egg in a Hole? Moonstruck Eggs? (Do you remember the scene from that movie with Cher and Nicholas Cage? Olympia Dukakis plays Cher’s very Italian mother and cooks these eggs for her, adding roasted red peppers on top of each egg before serving them to the breakfast table. It’s a very famous foodie scene.)
My favorite variation has to be the cute story one of the ladies in NYC relayed to me about her parents. Terry told me that when her parents were newly married, her mother, Ronnie, wasn’t much of a cook. But she worked hard to please her new husband and one morning he requested french toast for breakfast. Well, she didn’t have Google to help her look up what a recipe for that dish entailed! So she made the fanciest (and to her, French) breakfast she could imagine, by cracking an egg in the middle of toast. He loved it and the dish was christened Ronnie’s French Toast.
I have finally grown up and love many things for breakfast…bagels & lox, green chile scrambled eggs in a tortilla, chicken ‘n waffles, blueberry pancakes, and of course, Roundin’ Eggs!
My sister-in-law, Diane, turned 60 this month and she decided that for this momentous occasion she would like her sisters, mother, and sisters-in-law to meet for a girls’ weekend in a city to which she’d never visited. Nashville won the bid so the 7 of us traveled there from New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois a couple of weekends ago for a fast & furious 48 hours.
The weather was a bit chilly but warm for the upper midwesterners. We stayed at a boutique hotel in downtown Nashville, attended a concert at the Ryman, caught live music at Robert’s Western World, toured Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, and dined at a restaurant whose chef’s recipe was featured on the March cover of Food & Wine magazine. It was a fun, informative, tasty weekend but my biggest takeaway…
Nashville is THE bachelor/bachelorette party destination for 2017 weddings.
I have never seen so many brides-to-be and gangs of guys on Pedal Bars in a single downtown area. Not that they were especially wild or obnoxious but that the sheer number of party vehicles was astounding. Traffic flow was definitely inhibited by their slow progress so our Uber to dinner was a 25 minute ride when it should have been 10. The positive is that all of the partiers were having fun with no risk of DUI...
But back to food. I think my favorite meal of the weekend was breakfast at a restaurant in the Omni Hotel. We didn’t plan to dine there but when our driver tried to deliver us to Biscuit Love and we saw the line down the block (it was cold, remember!) we quickly checked our smartphones for “breakfast near me” to find an alternative. Kitchen Notes was a hit. I ordered hot chicken and waffles. Yum-yum-yummy. The chicken was tender and spicy and the waffles, buttery but substantial. Good stuff.
I hope to visit Nashville again but next time, I think I might:
a) stay off the beaten path a little
b) take the river cruise to see more of the beautiful natural surroundings
c) spend more time seeking out live music
d) go with my best friend and hubby! <3
Could there be a better match made in heaven? I mean seriously. Forget about coffee with dessert—I adore dark chocolate with a glass of red wine or port. So why not combine the two? Have you tried Red Wine Hot Chocolate?!
I made a batch for Boxing Day and it was a straight-up treat. So rich and creamy and can I say it? Sexy. This is the perfect beverage to serve your sweetheart after dinner this week. And according to our Dallas forecast, Tuesday (Valentine’s Day) has 100% chance of rain so this lovely, warm drink will make your toes all cozy too.
Red Wine Hot Chocolate
2.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups whole milk
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup fruity red wine, such as Merlot, Shiraz, or Zinfandel
Whisk the chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, and cinnamon together in a medium saucepan. Add the milk and bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until hot and smooth, about 5 minutes. Stir in the salt.
Remove from the heat and add the wine. Divide among 4 small glasses or mugs, (or 2 large!) garnish with a cinnamon stick and a dusting of cocoa powder, if desired, and serve. (recipe adapted from thekitchn.com)
Speaking of romantic meals, my husband and I don’t really go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day. The crowds are crazy, service is often sub-par and the food is predictable. We like to cook dinner together on nights when all the other couples are struggling to get out on the streets . One year we made lobster risotto and some seared sea scallops with champagne-butter sauce. Another time it was Barolo braised short ribs with pimento cheese polenta. This year I’m feeling Italian—because I think it’s romantic. I want to open a nice bottle of chianti and share a big plate of spaghetti & meatballs a la Lady & the Tramp! I’ll snap a picture for y’all… Hope you too have a fun, safe and delicious week!
Broccoli, broccoli, wherefore art thou broccoli?
Ah, chocolate, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
Pork chop loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…
So I am on about day 20 for Whole30. I decided to try this health reset plan for January because 1) I way-over indulged during the holidays and desired not to drink wine/spirits for 30 days; 2) my daughter & son-in-law were also participating…you know, strength in numbers; 3) I wanted to see if the change in diet would affect my rheumatoid arthritis; and 4) let’s be honest: although it is not truly a “diet” I was hoping to shed a few pounds.
Surprisingly, the shift in my food choices has not been as difficult as I’d anticipated. It was not easy to eliminate the cream from my coffee (and I use half & half because what’s the point if you use that weak milk stuff?) but that suffering only lasted for 2 days and now I’m okay with black. We had already been trying to incorporate more vegetables into our daily meals so that was cool. I think the hardest thing has been to make sauces and dressings that didn’t use any soy, sugar or unacceptable fats but once I stocked my pantry with the funky staples that are utilized in so many of the W30 work-arounds, it’s been easy to whip up what I need to make a salad or recipe delicious.
I’m not sure if I’ve lost much weight. Probably a few pounds but one benefit that I had not anticipated and is a huge plus: my blood pressure has come down. Although throughout my adult life my bp has been almost vampire low, in the last year, it has spiked dangerously. My doctor had prescribed meds but I found they made me put on even more weight so I was avoiding the pills. But in two weeks time, my readings have ticked down to an acceptable level!
So now I’m a little afraid. Of wine. Of cheese. Of sugar. Of grains. Of soy. Will I learn to love my waffles again? Have I said goodbye forever to sushi rolls and chocolate chip cookies? Nah. Because just as in real-life relationships, the key to a satisfying, healthy relationship with food is moderation. So I will be back enjoying a cheese plate and a glass of wine with my husband on Friday nights. But I’m going to continue making extra veggies to fill our plates. I may even try to maintain Whole30 compliant meals during the week with a return to a “regular“ menu on the weekends. And honestly, I’ve been so impressed with the recipes that my daughter and I have found and creatively put into our weekly menus that I’ll make them again. The Whole30 Cookbook is filled with many delicious (albeit labor-intensive in many cases) meals so I will continue to cook from it.
I love food. Period. Though it’s not the center of my life, it should be the vehicle by which I add nutrition to my being and if I derive pleasure as well, then that’s a bonus. So what am I craving most after the end of these 30 days? Stay tuned…
Our college sophomore is just now heading back to school this weekend. His break was nice and long—four weeks to hang with friends, eat a lot of home cooking, chill out and even squeeze in a ski trip. He made the most of the time and is headed back to TCU ready for the semester, albeit not quite as excited as he was in August.
His fraternity brother has a home in Park City, Utah, and my son joined his buddy and 3 other friends for the coldest, powder-filled week he has ever had. What an adventure! Snow-boarding through pristine powder and filming it on a camera is an experience I can only imagine. I jokingly told my friends that I wish I had his life. And I have heard that same sentiment from many other parents. Our children have access to amazing experiences and adventures that we did not have in our youth.
However, I don’t really want his life. I kind of like mine. After all, his ski trip was just one week but every week I get to have Kitchen Adventures! Like refilling my gigantic rolling flour bin with a 50 pound sack of flour and spilling about 5 pounds on the floor. Or, locking myself out of the kitchen and having to run around the building to get in. Or, pouring the wrong kind of broth into a pot pie gravy and scrapping it to start over. These are real life adventures, people!
Just this past holiday season the Butterfield Gourmet team and I: rolled out 82 pie crusts in one week; shipped 212 gift boxes around the country; made 106 pounds of savory nuts, 76 pounds of chocolate bark, 852 caramel bars, and 68 pounds of pecan pie bar candy; baked 36 chocolate-pumpkin breads; rolled out and baked to buttered perfection 22 dozen dinner rolls. Mmmm-mmm, those were the best!
So I want to thank each of you, my loyal and hungry customers, for giving me the joy and pleasure to experience so many kitchen adventures in 2016. I obviously love what I do and I look forward to another year of excitement, peril, and delicious adventures with you via Butterfield Gourmet.
For all of my rambling about being organized, I must confess that I have not yet planned the menu for our family feast. It will take a little time for me to review what I’ve served in years past and which things I want to repeat and the new dishes I want to introduce.
But what are you serving? That’s the real question. If you’d like Butterfield Gourmet’s help with pies or sides, please visit the online store to order, asap. I would love to have your orders by Thursday at 5pm but the absolute deadline is Friday at noon.
If you were not able to stop by one of our tasting events, let’s talk pie! Our all-star options include, but are not limited to:
- Salted Caramel Pie is a decadent dulce de leche in a graham cracker crust and pretty piped whipped cream on top. – Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Praline takes the tried and true one step further with a sweet topping. (best seller) – Chocolate Custard Pie belongs on every Thanksgiving buffet because someone always needs a bite of chocolate. – New Mexican Apple Pie brings a savory note to piles of apple slices with green chile and pine nuts. Want to bring something different? This is your pie. – Chocolate Pecan Pie with Salted Caramel is almost too beautiful to eat but don’t miss the dark chocolate filling studded with toasted pecans.
See the rest of our goodies online and place your order today! (Please.)
For this week’s dinner table, I have all favorites planned for you. Making menu items that I know you all love and that I have made many times will ease my team’s transition into preparing Thanksgiving sides and pies for the coming week. Because of the busy days ahead, I’m asking that all menu orders be placed by Tuesday at noon, even if you are not picking up until Thursday. Thank you for your cooperation!
Check out the menu here (pickup times are listed on this document as well). Order online here. Please order Thanksgiving items separately from the week’s menu. Call me with questions at 214-675-1932. I am thankful for each of you! But…I gotta run now, I have a menu to plan!