Celebrating with a Little Adventure

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I love, love, love giving presents - I'd be the ultimate philanthropist if I actually had any money. However, since I don't anticipate ever having oodles of money to just give away as I please, I make sure to put a lot of time and effort into gifts for my loved ones.

However because Steve's birthday is in the middle of January, I tend to be a wee bit tapped out on great ideas that will dazzle him. So, last year I decided to take him out for a total splurge dinner at a restaurant we had wanted to try (which I fully intend to blog about soon, Steve and I still talk about it a year later). This year, it only made sense to continue with tradition and hit up another great restaurant.

Since Steve had been talking non-stop about Top Chef finalist Dale Levinsky's new endeavor, Sprout, my decision of where to go was pretty easily made. Check out this article to read about how Dale ended up at Sprout and the inspiration behind his menu.

I love that Sprout is doing a prix fixe menu but calling it an adventure. Who wouldn't love to go out to dinner and choose the adventure option? For $60 per person on weekends ($40 on weeknights) it includes a starter, main, and dessert, along with a splash of wine, a little sorbet between courses and a yummy cheese course. The weeknights adventures are cheaper because they don't include the little extras, but the little extras were totally worth it in my book.

Ok, enough details - let's dig in! (Oh, and please note: we got to the restaurant and I realized that my camera was dead - so sad! Fortunately, Sprout has so fabulous pics of their food on the Web site.)

Steve started off with the scallop, which featured corn, parsnip, sage and peanut. I really really really wanted this dish, but it was his birthday so I let him win. I had a bite, though, and it was divine. I started with a yummy veal dish, however, no pictures or description are on their site right now.

Steve chose the rabbit for his main course, featuring celery root, chamomile, golden beet and hazelnut. Yum! We flip-flopped dishes so that we could try each other's mains.

I had read online that the short rib was amazing, but I was still torn as to what to order. I asked our waitress for suggestions, and when I ended up choosing the short rib her eyes just lit up. I knew I had hit the entree jackpot.

The short rib was super tender, flavorful and featured mushrooms, chicory, manchengo and TRUFFLE. Well, truffle dumplings, to be exact. TO. DIE. FOR. I really could have just eaten a whole bowl of the dumplings and been a happy camper. Since it was Steve's birthday, I managed to share two of them with him before scarfing the rest down.

No culinary adventure is complete without a cheese course, and I really don't think any cheese course could compare to Sprout's grilled cheese with sharp, aged cheddar, sauteed onions and Dijon mustard. Yummers. (And yes, you are correct - the whole top half of the sandwich is cheese that has gotten all brown and crackly in the pan, the best part!)


Our desserts were just as good as the rest of the meal. Steve went for the chocolate option, which featured a milk chocolate (I think) mousse, a dark chocolate dipping sauce, and a cookie for dipping. I chose the lemon, which included a cherry lemon poundcake and a tart lemon filling.

We had so much fun at Sprout from start to finish. We realized we hadn't been out to dinner just the two of us since our honeymoon back in September. It felt good to splurge a little.

The truffle dumplings were hands down the highlight of the evening. The only down side to the night? While Dale came into the dining room multiple times, surveying the room like a proud parent, he did not stop by our table. Waaah. I would loved to have told him in person how great our meal was, and that he most definitely should have won Top Chef, of course. He was totally robbed.

A happy happy birthday to my wonderful husband - I will make sure every year's celebration is filled with fabulous food and wine!

For the Love of Stainless Steel

Sunday, January 24, 2010

When we bought our condo a year and a half ago, even though we wanted beautiful stainless steal appliances with a French door refrigerator, we chose a place with 10-year-old, basic and boring white appliances. But, we also knew that buying new appliances one day would give us the opportunity to (hopefully) add some value to our little place.

So, we've dealt with our freezer leaking into our fridge, a dishwasher that cleaned nothing and was falling apart and a dirty old oven that didn't sit level on the floor. Booo.

Check out the "goods":

This dishwasher sounded like the door was going to blow off when it was running, and yet always spit out dirty filthy dishes that we had to re-wash. (Looking back, I wonder why we even used it...probably would have served better as storage.)

The black weather stripping stuff was falling out, too. Double ugh. Our silverware would get caught on it and continually yank it out. Stupidest. Dishwasher. Ever.

So, after putting together shopping cart after hopeful shopping cart of appliances online, debating amongst ourselves and trying to justify this major purchase, we bit the bullet at the beginning of the year and got a great deal from ABT Electronics on our new LG Appliances!

See how gorgeous?! I'm starting to realize that my major love for these appliances is a true sign of my age. Sigh. Oh, and putting the freezer on the bottom is the best invention ever.

I like to think that our new stove is pretty awesome. We have 5 burners, a warming drawer and big fancy knobs that make the stove look extra-important.

And finally, the wonderful world of our new dishwasher. Swoon (yes, I'm swooning over our dishwasher, sue me). The controls are on the inside of the door, we can delay its start by hours, it makes a quiet little "hum" when it runs...oh, and it actually cleans dishes.

Now that the wedding is over, it's been nice to start putting some time and effort (and, umm, money) into our place. This is probably the most major/expensive project we had planned, but I'm excited for all of the little things that will make our place feel a little extra fancy.

Nothing Says New Year's Like Quiche

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Our wonderful friends Stacey and Brian are always gracious enough to host parties at their place, especially on New Year's! Steve and I are now only a few "El" stops away from them, which is even better.

Since I was looking forward to spending a good night with friends ringing in '10, I decided to make a quiche. I mean, what screams parrr-tay better than cheese and eggy goodness? I found a recipe for a cheese and onion quiche in one of my favorite cook books, Best-Ever Pastry Cookbook. I picked this book up in the Barnes & Noble bargain section for $5 and it has never failed me.

I started with the really basic crust, so simple to make, and put it in my 9-inch removable bottom tart pan. While it looks pretty, I should have spent more time pressing the sides of the dough against the pan. You'll see why very soon.

I sauteed the onions with a whole lot of butter. This is about as close to cooking as I get. Fortunately, I like using our new Calphalon pans, so I find it more exciting these days to pull one of them out. The onions were sauteed until they were soft, golden, and smelling delicious.

After blind-baking the crust, I spread the onions out on the bottom, then covered with the cheese. (The recipe called for a grated cheddar or Grueyere. All I had was parmesan, which I finely grated with my zester. It works) On top of the cheese I added the egg and milk mixture. It looked like the crust was going to overflow and spew dairy all over my stove at any minute, but everything managed to stay put, much to my surprise.

After baking when the quiche was finally "set" (I looked it up, the quiche should still jiggle in the center and a toothpick should come out clean), I let it cool before removing the pan.

Now you can see what happens when you don't press the dough firmly against the side of the pan. When I blind-baked the crust, some of the sides moved away from the pan resulting in a misshapen crust. But no worries, I just told everyone I'd made a "rustic" quiche.

Or, by simply cropping down a picture, one would never know my mistake. Ha!

From what I heard, the quiche was mighty delicious and was enjoyed by many! I, unfortunately, did not get to try any of it. The New Year's Eve fairy decided to give me a wonderful cold to finish up the holiday season. Boo! By the time it came to actually eat the quiche, I had completely lost my appetite. But I would totally make this recipe again - it was so easy, I had every single ingredient on hand, and it made the house smell delicious!

Happy, happy 2010 everyone!

Cheese & Onion Quiche

For the filling:
2 T unsalted butter
1 large onion
3 Eggs
1 1/4 C light cream or milk (I used skim milk)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 1/2 oz hard cheese, such as Cheddar or Gruyere, grated (I used parmesan)
Salt and ground black pepper

For the pastry:
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsalted butter, dized
4 T chilled water

To Make the Pastry
Sift the flour and salt into a small bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add 3 T of the water and mix to a firm dough, adding more water if required. Knead until smooth, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.

Roll out the dough on a clean, lightly floured work surface and line a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the pastry FIRMLY into the sides and base of the tin and let it rise above the rim by about 1/2 inch to allow for a little shrinkage during cooking. Prick the pastry base all over with a fork.

Line the pastry case with foil and baking beans (I used brown rice) and chill again for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a baking sheet placed in it. Stand the tart pan on the baking sheet and bake blind for 15 minutes.

Remove the foil and beans from the pastry case and return it to the oven for 5 more minutes. Remove the pastry case from the oven along with the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

To Make the Filling
Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan. Add the onion and saute for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft and golden. Beat the eggs and the cream or milk together in a bowl. Add the grated nutmeg and seasoning to taste.

Spoon the onion mixture into the cooked pastry case and evenly sprinkle over the cheese. Pour the egg and cream/milk mixture slowly over the filling. Bake the quiche for 35-40 minutes, or until the filling as just set. Remove from the oven, leave to cool, then gently ease the quiche out of the tin and transfer to a serving place. Enjoy!