October 31, 2009

NYC Chocolate Show!

Back when I had my Recession Recipes party, Yoga Jen proposed a bunch of us hit the NYC Chocolate Show. It seems so long ago now, but before we knew it, the weekend had come. I met Jen, her BF, and her friend Karen for a tour of more candy than you could ever hope to eat. This was not Jen's first time to the show, so she came prepared with gallon-size Ziploc bags which she handed out to all of us (yay!). This year, the show just happened to fall on Halloween, so I joked that it was like trick-or-treating for grownups.

The first thing we saw was a display of Halloween costumes that featured chocolate details. My favorite was the Marie Antoinette-style dress with chocolate roses on the bodice.

The French Culinary Institute set up their own haunted house, made, of course, entirely of chocolate. The aroma was quite tempting, so people weren't just leaning close to get a look at the tiny details, they were inhaling that delicious scent of chocolate!

One of the more interesting exhibits we visited was based out of Egypt. They sold camel-shaped chocolates (like the one Jen is holding in this photo) that were also made from camel MILK. Oh yeah. I tried one. It was very sweet and not that bad, but the whole time my brain was screaming "CAMEL MILK! CAMEL MILK!" I might not be ready for this full-time just yet.

There were quite a few places mixing the savory-sweet cards: chocolate-covered bacon popped up more than once! One maker had a good balance, the other one tasted too much like bacon and not enough like chocolate (not a TERRIBLE thing, mind you, but not the one I preferred). A trend I enjoy even more is the spicy chocolate--we found quite a few infused with serrano, jalapeno and other hot peppers. Que rico!

Another favorite stop was at the chocolate martini exhibit. Makers of a liqueur called "Love Potion #9" were making tiny doses of chocolate martinis with the citrusy liqueur. These were scrumptious. Not as good as the ones at Ayza, but definitely a close second.

It wasn't all chocolate, though. In the back of the hall, there was a huge table with an aromatic array of herbs and spices. I stood there a few times, just inhaling the wonderful scents. They had sweet, savory, exotic, run-of-the-mill, you name it. It smelled even better than it looked, and it seemed to be doing some brisk business.

We must have spent a good 3 hours or so wandering the aisles of the (packed) exhibit. Liqueurs, dessert wines from California, rums from Puerto Rico, chocolates from South America, and plenty of sweets from the good old USA kept us busy snacking and packing our goodie bags.

We saw chocolate making, chocolate carving, and did plenty of eating on our own. This was so much fun!

October 22, 2009

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

I must be getting better--my appetite is returning! I figured this out quickly last night when I saw The Barefoot Contessa's Ina Garten make these shrimp. I had everything in my fridge & pantry to make this, and decided that by Thursday I'd be feeling well enough to eat something besides chicken soup and toast. Boy, am I glad I was right. Not to knock the regular boiled shrimp with standard cocktail sauce...there is room in my heart (and my stomach) for both. But this version kicks the other one's tails.

The shrimp I used are a recent favorite find from Trader Joe's: Red Argentinian Shrimp. They're wild shrimp caught of the coast of....yes, Argentina. They are described as having a lobster-like flavor, and I found that to be absolutely true. They are buttery and delicious and an affordable buy at 8 bucks a bag (I get at least 3-4 servings from one bag). Look for them in the frozen food section at TJ's!

I bought some Trader Joe's cocktail sauce the last time ABF & I went there (a few weekends ago now). It's about 1.89 or something equally ridiculous, so I figured why not? My only complaint is that it's a little sweet for my tastes. I used some tips from Ina, adding Tabasco and some Worcestershire sauce to it, zinging it up in just the right way. Quick little rant here: the serving size is one TEASPOON. Who eats one TEASPOON of cocktail sauce. Seriously???

This recipe is SO. SIMPLE. Get some shrimp, olive oil, salt and pepper. Got all that? I thought so. Mix it all up, roast it in the oven at 425 degrees for about 10minutes, and ENJOY. Ina uses jumbo shrimp in her recipe, but mine are on the small side, so I didn't cook mine quite as long...I think mine took about 7 minutes? When you can smell the roasted shrimp, they're done. I also didn't use as many--this was just enough for me. It's so easy and makes an incredible difference in the taste of the shrimp.

These were gone before I even made my way to the living room. Trust me...you must try this one...if not for your next party, for your next Friday night!

October 21, 2009

The Frisky Oyster

Years ago, I was at The Frisky Oyster, a Greenport restaurant, for the birthday dinner of a friend's husband. I don't remember much of that evening, as it was years and years ago, but I do remember I savored every bite I ate and walked away thinking "That is one of the best meals I ever had." Their key lime pie lived on as a legend in my mind. A few weekends ago, Yoga Jen, her BF, and ABF and I traipsed out there for a winery visit. We ended up on the North Fork way past dinnertime, and despite the wicked blustery wind and cold rain, I was delighted to see that The Frisky Oyster was still open for business (when ABF & I tried to go in February, it was closed).

When we stepped inside, it was much darker and more formal than I remembered. For the birthday dinner years ago, I remember the lights being very bright, the dining room being very loud, and overall the mood being boisterous (frisky, even?) Of course, that was in the middle of summer, not on a cold fall night.

The server immediately placed a chunk of bread and a cold plate with a sizeable slab of butter and some reddish crystals. My face scrunched up (both out of curiousity and in an attempt to see better--did I mention how dark it was there?) and the server explained the crystals were Hawaiian sea salt. He suggested we sprinkle some over the butter. I did so cautiously, but was quickly won over by the gentle crunch of the crystals and the zippy tang the salt carried with it. Yum!! We all agreed this was fantastic.

We ordered a round of appetizers. I went into this meal knowing I had to save room for dessert, so I shared an app with ABF. We ordered the lamb meatballs, which sounded delicious. They were, but I will say you may not want to split these. One serving was four tiny meatballs, not even a tablespoon of meat per ball. These are packed with flavor, but they are tiny. For 14 bucks, you'd think maybe they'd give you another 2 or 3.

Jen got the brussels sprouts salad. These remain on my list of foods I just don't like, but I tried a bite. The sprouts were shredded, basically chiffonades of sprout over an ice cold plate. The sprouts were crunchy and interesting but just still too bitter for me. It had a citrus dressing dotting the side that was a big ol' shout out to their awesome key lime pie. That's right...I was still thinking about dessert!

Jen's BF got the calamari, and if I were to go back, I think I'd order this. The breading was light, the calamari tasted fresh, and the aioli was SOOOOOOO good. Tangy and citrusy and addicting. It was also the biggest serving, so you could share and still get plenty o' calamari. It also came with blistered peppers, a lot like the ones at (stupid) Boqueria. Jen's BF was nice enough to share these, too!

I ordered the garganelli (a pasta shaped somewhat like penne) that came with slow-roasted Wagyu beef, mushrooms, and fresh ricotta. Holy melt-in-your-mouth-meat, Batman. This was outstanding. It was tender, it was salty, it was perfect.

ABF got the braised short ribs over garlic polenta. ABF and I are foodies and Top Chef fans, and we decided that the braised short rib is 'the' big dish in the past year or so. We see it featured on almost every menu. I'm just glad to see something replace "Chilean Sea Bass." ;) There's a reason the ribs are so popular...they are succulent and hearty and when seasoned correctly, a very satisfying dish.

Jen ordered the monkfish. Monkfish is another food that I usually pass on, ever since I saw a photo of a whole monkfish. They are a butt-ugly fish, those monkfish. Something about the way it plopped/splatted onto the table in this TV episode stuck with me in the most unappetizing way, and that's the image that comes to my impressionable mind every time I see it on a menu. This dish, however, almost changed my mind. It was PERFECTLY seared with a crispy crust and bright flavors. For the time I was trying my sample, I almost forgot what this fish really looks like! :)It came over some jasmine rice that was so creamy it was almost like risotto. I am not a fan of rice, but THIS was spectacular.

Jen's BF got the scallop dish (which I briefly considered ordering myself!) These scallops were seared PERFECTLY. How do I know? He was generous enough to share with us. ABF & I split one of the scallops and were in complete agreement that it didn't get much better than this!

With our entrées out of the way, I readied myself for dessert. I decided not to ask during dinner if they still made the key lime pie. I'd rather have delayed being disappointed in that instance. However, by the wavering light of the tea light candles, I saw they still had the key lime pie, described on the menu as the World's Best Key Lime Pie. I ordered it immediately and sat back, hoping my memory would not have raised my taste buds' hopes in vain. Kevin ordered the chocolate fudge cake, which was fudgy, cakey, and good, but not great. Then IT arrived: KEY LIME PIE! I took a bite and was delighted to realize it was just as good as I remembered it. Tart, tangy, but creamy and sweet. I made everyone take a bite. Even ABF, who doesn't really care for KLP, said 'That might actually BE the world's best key lime pie!"

Sometimes, things turn out to be exactly the way you remember them, and that is a very wonderful thing. (PS: This place isn't cheap, but it's definitely worth a visit or two!)

Duck Walk Vineyards

This past weekend, amid the drizzly, windy, rainy weather (which knocked me out for most of the week with a bout of bronchitis...but I digress), ABF and I journeyed out to Long Island's South Fork with Yoga Jen and her BF. It was their first trip out there, so we took them to one of my favorite wineries: Duck Walk Vineyards. This is the place that makes THE Chardonnay I like (because I really don't like them, normally). Duck Walk's 2007 Reserve, however, is amazing. It's smooth and buttery and delicious, and I almost always bring a bottle (14.95) home with me.

Three of us opted for the wine tasting: 4.00 gets you 5 wines. ABF was driving, so he just came to look. :) Such a responsible mensch!

The awesome Chardonnay was my first taste, of course. The second wine I chose was the Blue Duck Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoy saying Cabernet Sauvignon more than I enjoy drinking it. ;) This was probably my least favorite. It was very light, too light for me. I described it as 'watery,' which probably isn't very helpful to you, but makes perfect sense to me.

Aside from the Chardonnay, I tend to favor their dessert wines. Their blueberry port has been one of their best-selling items for years. They serve it with a piece of chocolate, and recommend you sip the port first, then take a bit of chocolate and sip again, noting how the chocolate and blueberry flavors complement each other. I have several friends who are fans of this stuff. It makes a great gift, tastes wonderful on its own or drizzled over ice cream. It's intensely flavored, and a little goes a long way, so one bottle (18.95) will last a while.

We were surprised to hear that the blueberry port is currently falling into second place as a hot seller. The boysenberry wine is now in first place. I was especially surprised because I didn't care for the boysenberry the last time ABF and I tasted it (sometime this summer/spring). The man pouring for us said it tastes a little different every time they bottle it, and it's a lot tarter now. You taste a little sweetness at first, but the tartness of the berry dominates in a wonderful way. I liked this a LOT better this time around, and I think it was one of Yoga Jen's favorites.

After the tasting, we did a little shopping. Okay, a lot of shopping. I brought home the 2005 Merlot (14.95), the Windmill Blush (a fruity, slightly sweet blend 9.95) and my all-time favorite there, the amazingly flavorful Ice Wine (a bargain at 22.95). Don't worry..I'll balance out my spending by pairing these with food I cook at home! :)

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