Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: Darwin

I have driven by Darwin many times, but always at night, after they close. I had never taken the time figure out what they were all about. When fellow = local blogger, Margaret over at Eat First, mentioned a contest Darwin was having to come up with a new sandwich I had to give them a look.
Maybe my submission will make the menu.

After a bit of reading about their connection to Rileys and their philosophy on food it became a must stop.
I stopped by at about 12:30 on a Thursday afternoon and the place was full. There are only few small tables and a counter so don't plan on eating in. I'm sure you could, but especially in spring and summer I'd say find a nice place outdoors to enjoy your lunch.

I had a few minutes to look over the menu while I waited my turn to order, even as busy as it was, it was 5 minutes or less to place an order. The menu changes all the time so what you see will be different than my choices. Today there was only one choice for me, and that was the muffaletta. I'm an absolute sucker for muffalettas and good one will keep me coming back. I added a cup of the beef and cheddar onion ale because it sounded perfect for the day.

I placed my order and moved around the corner to wait. Again it was only another 5-7 minutes or so at most to get my sandwich and soup. The very friendly woman behind the counter asked if I wanted bread with my soup and I couldn't turn her down.

I grabbed my sack of delicious smelling food and headed home.

Once I got home I unwrapped my soup and sandwich and got ready to dive in. As I took the lid off my soup some spilled onto my finger and I was compelled to lick it off, it was delicious, off to a good start.

As good as the soup tasted form the lid, I wanted to dive in to the sandwich before I could have any more. The roll selection was perfect, nice and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and the ride home gave the olive spread enough time to soak into the bottom so that it was saturated with flavor. The olive spread was the star, bright, briny and a little bit of heat. The ratio of meat to cheese to spread to bread was right on and each mouthful was a complete bite. My only issue was the meat itself, don't get me wrong it was excellent, but it was a little too cold. I find meats like salami, cappicola, mortadella, etc are better when they have warmed up a bit and the oils start open up. I could have waited for it to warm up but it was too darn tasty as it was. No ones fault but my own really. And I'm sure the health department would have something to say if they weren't kept at the right temperature.

After a couple of bites I went for the soup for real. I scooped up some of the broth and a big chunk of beef for my first bite, the complete soup was even better than my initial taste. Rich and meaty with a great balance of cheese, onion and beer. I dunked a hunk of bread into it and was equally happy.

All in all this was a delicious sandwich and a great cup of soup. With this quality of food, outside of price, I can't imagine why anyone would go to the subway around the corner. My complete lunch was just under 10 bucks, and there isn't a 5$ footlong anyplace that would even come close to the delicious meal I had for lunch.

If you are downtown for lunch and need something great to take back to your office or  even eat in the car, get yourself to Darwin and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Italian Stuffed Meatloaf

I was looking at older recipes and it dawned on me that I needed to make Polpettona Ripiena again. I really enjoyed it the first time around and wanted to do a better job documenting my changes and results.
The finished product is just beautiful, the colors really stand out.

1 pound Italian-style pork sausage (sweet or hot), casing removed
1 pound meatloaf mix (beef, pork and veal) You can use all beef if you can't find it
2 + 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 cups Pecorino Romano, freshly grated
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 pound baby spinach
2 carrots, peeled and cut lengthwise into 3 x 1/4 x 1/4 sticks
6 scallions, root ends trimmed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for extra dusting
5 thin slices mortadella
6-8 slices of a semi-soft sheep's milk cheese, I used greek Kasseri
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, combine the sausage, beef, 2 cups of the breadcrumbs, the pecorino, eggs, milk, and salt and pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands. Cover and refrigerate.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Set up an ice bath nearby. Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water.
Add the carrots to the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes, then remove with a spider or slotted spoon and drop into your ice bath.
Drop the scallions into the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Add to the ice bath

Combine the flour with the remaining 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, lay out 2 sheets of overlapping wax or parchment paper then spread out the flour and remaining 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs. Press down the meat to make a flat rectangleish shape

Lay the spinach over the meat, leaving a 1-inch border on the sides.

Lay the carrot pieces and then the scallions over the spinach, arranging them lengthwise down the rectangle.
Lay the mortadella and cheese over the scallions.

Starting from a long side, roll the meat up like a jelly roll, use the wax paper as a tool to help keep it tight, make it as compact as possible; patch any holes like modeling clay. Behold the loaf ready for baking.
Pour 1 cup of water into the pan. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the olive oil down the length of the loaf.
Bake the loaf for 1 hour, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 F.
Carefully transfer the loaf to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.
Slice the meatloaf into 1 inch-thick slices and serve.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Vodka Sauce

There are hundreds of recipes out there for vodka sauce. I have made it 3-4 times and I don't think I have ever used the same recipe. This batch turned out so well that I was seriously considering eating it like a bowl of soup. My inspiration was a recipe from The, I didn't follow her recipe particularly closely but I liked the method she used and I figured it was a good place to start. As a general rule I do like to start any tomato based sauce with whole tomatoes, or as close too it as possible. Most Vodka sauce recipes I see start with a pre-made (hopefully home made) tomato sauce and build from there. Sadly I didn't have enough in my freezer to make vodka sauce in the time I had available so I had to punt. As a result I think I may have settled upon a very quick and very easy vodka sauce recipe.

Cook time 40-45 minutes
Prep time 10 minutes
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup (or more) vodka
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 28 oz can tomato puree
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Chop the onions and garlic, heat your olive oil in a pan, any sauce pot will do, I like my calphalon everyday pan, and saute the onions for a couple of minutes until they soften, then add your chopped garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Carefully pour the vodka in the pan and cook it for about 5 minutes. I found that the smell changed pretty drastically when it was ready, it went from smelling like, well like alcohol, to something much more pleasant. Once most of the alcohol had cooked off I added about 1/2 of the butter, I don't know why I added it then, I just did. Next stir in your tomato puree and heat it to a simmer, I simmered the sauce for 8-10 minutes and tasted it, I thought the vodka flavor was lost and added more, perhaps an ounce, you may not need it. Once the tomatoes started to lose some of the canned tomato flavor I added the basil and oregano and some more salt. Have I mentioned tasting as you go yet? You really need to do it for this recipe. Simmer for another couple of minutes to incorporate the herbs and give it a taste, adjust if needed and add in the cream, bring the sauce back up to a gentle simmer and let it cook for another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust, I added still more vodka here. Next up add the cheese and let it come back to a simmer, simmer another 10-15 minutes on low, stirring so it doesn't stick.  Right at the end add the rest of your butter and swirl it in. You could let it cook longer if you wanted to, I was out of time and it tasted delicious so I called it good. We actually brought this over to a friends house for a pasta bar night and it got reheated for 15-20 minutes but that was more for temperature than flavor. It tuned out wonderfully and I think I have found my go to vodka sauce recipe, and one I can make in under an hour.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lobster and Foie Gras a l'orange

Foie Gras has become a bit of a tradition for Kerries Birthday, I order a couple of slices from Dartganan and figure out what to do with it from there. This year I found this recipe on the Cointreau website and just couldn't get it out of my head. I used a loaf of French pain de campagne and cut off the crust. I really hesitated to do so because I love a good crusty bread but I'm glad I did, the pan fried bread was a perfect crunchy element for a dish that could have been too soft. If I had left the crust on it would have made it too hard to cut through and it could have been hard to eat. With the crusts off it was easy to slice through it and get a complete bite of crispy bread, buttery foie gras, tender lobster and the slight acidity of the oranges. The shallot and Cointreau sauce was a perfect complement and cut through the richness of the dish.  For a dish this decadent it was incredibly simple. You can easily cook the lobster up ahead of time.

A note on foie gras, make sure you let it come to room temp before trying to pan sear it. it only cooks for 15-20 seconds per side so if it is cold it won't have the right texture. I use the joy of cooking recipe which is simple, season the foie gras on both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat a pan up with a very thin coat of vegetable oil, you want  the oil to get right up to almost smoking, add the room temp foie gras, sear on one side for 15-20 seconds and then flip, cook for another 15-20 seconds and then remove from the pan and let it drain on a paper towel.



2 qts water
2 lobsters of about 450g (2lbs) (Maine lobsters)
180g (6oz) fresh slices of foie gras
White pepper, freshly ground
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon shallots, peeled and minced
1/4 cup (60ml) Cointreau
1/4 cup (60ml) lobster or chicken stock
2 slice white bread, crusts removed, buttered and pan toasted
10 mandarin orange slices 
2 fresh thyme sprigs


1- Poach lobster for 6 minutes in boiling water; drain; chill
2- Remove tail and claws from shells; slice tail into 4 medallions; reserve.
3- Heat skillet over medium heat; season foie gras; crisp sear on all sides; drain on paper towel; reserve.
4- Heat butter in skillet over medium heat; add shallots; sauté until golden; deglaze with Cointreau; add stock; reduce by 60%.
5- Add lobster to skillet; sauté 30 seconds.
6- Place foie gras and lobster on toast; drizzle with sauce; garnish with thyme and mandarin slices; serve.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Some Perspecitve on Food

As a part of my new job, we got to volunteer some time at one of several local charitable organizations. Before I get to my experience I just want to say how great it is that not allows, but very much encourages and rewards our volunteer activities. I get up to 48 hours a year of paid volunteering time, which I intend to use. Companies with policies like that should be applauded and I'm proud to work for one. The Salesforce foundation  is a wonderful arm of the company. OK gushing over, lets talk about my experience.

As soon as I saw the list of choices I knew I wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen. My relationship with food being as strong as it is, it just seemed like the right choice.  About 15-20 of us hopped on a bus about 3 PM after our orientation and made our way over to the Glide Memorial church. After figuring out who was going to do what, I was set up with an apron, some gloves and a hairnet. Duly equipped I was ready to bus tables, fill water pitchers and help out with any requests that came my way.

Once the line started it just didn't stop for 1 and one half hours. During the service time I saw such a wide variety of people in need. From people who had clearly been on the streets for a long time, to folks with pretty pronounced mental illness, to people who looked like they just needed a hot meal, in order to stretch whatever budget they might have. 

My primary job was clearing trays and making space for the next person. The cafeteria could probably sit 80+ people, and there was rarely a moment where there wasn't someone waiting for a place to sit. Most people came in, cleared their tray and got out. Many people brought their own containers for food and water, scraped their trays in to it and went on their way. Some had a pretty elaborate system of scooping their food into slices of bread and wrapping them up for later. 

There seemed to be a community interplay between some folks, some knew each other and were talking, in some cases there was just one person who was happy to scoop up the unwanted oranges or carrots that someone was not going to eat.

Which brings me to the one major shocker, the waste. The number of people who arrived, ate the one or two things on the tray they wanted, or some even just a few bites, and then left, was stunning. I can't come close to putting myself in their shoes but could not figure out why someone would come in for a meal and then leave it 90% untouched. I had one guy who pointed to the salad on his tray, admittedly it was pretty brown, and say "would you fed this to your family?" I didn't answer but I thought to myself, "Of course I would it if it would keep them from feeling hungry." I'm not really trying to make any kind of statement here, it was just so striking to me.

That was the exception, to be sure. The overwhelming majority were grateful for the food, and seemed genuinely pleased to have someone asking if them if they were done, or wiping up some spilled water, or just taking their tray to the back for them so they didn't have to. Anytime I had a package of baby carrots or an orange that went untouched I could ask people in my path if they wanted it, and it went into thankful hands. And that was really the exchange that stuck with me. A simple kindness like serving someone some food and offering up an extra was so well received that I couldn't help but feel like I wanted to do more.