Owen and Engine

Owen and Engine: More Mash than Bang(ers)

As a marketer, I often wonder how it is a place seeps into your subconscious.  “I’ve heard great things” turns into you recommending to other people, which inevitably turns into a reservation.

Fish and Chips

The ambiance tries very hard to mimic an iconic London pub experience, with some success, though, given the price point- one would expect a setting more Buckingham than back-alley Brighton.

I went with some of my favorite eaters, and we sampled widely, sadly, with widely varying results.

The scotch egg was a highlight, lovely golden crust, the yolk just soft and creamy.  A pretzel served with a delicious (though very unappetizing grey) gravy with chunks of cheese (Rarebit—not nearly as exciting as the name would imply).   The bone marrow & escargot was over breaded- the escargot were so flavorless and amorphous I was sure they had forgotten to add them to plate. We also sampled the Amish Chicken Wings—which were good, drenched in a rich, spicy mole—but I couldn’t help but feel that they were completely out of place.

When we sat down, the waitress immediately informed us there was only order of Fish & Chips remaining- which seems odd, given that it was fairly early on a Saturday evening and it’s meant to be their signature- frankly, they could have kept it in the kitchen. For $17, the two lonely pieces of haddock where crisp, but under seasoned and bland.  Meanwhile, the Ribeye steak was a seared salt lick.  The “filet” featured huge globulous  lumps of fat, circled in untrimed gristle. It was tender, and the flavor good if you could ignore the way your mouth seemed to be curing itself with every bite. The chewy, overly large Yorkshire pudding- think a popover with no butter- only highlighted how unbalanced the whole mess was.  The pinesol did act as a pallet cleanser… The all-important cocktail menu had interest to spare- clever sounding combinations that either came on too strong, or one in particular that completely eschewed herbal and landed in Pinesol territory.

That brings me to the bill: I’ll grant you- we ordered 4 apps, 4 entrees, and drinks- but the bill came to a whooping $300 for 4.

A great food experience can be transportive – but my money would have been better spent on a flight to London.

arepas

grazingbears:

Lovely infographic about the joys of Venezuelan Arepas! See the Grazing Bears recipe here: http://grazingbears.com/2011/05/19/arepas-venezuelan/

Originally posted on Eating The World:

VenezuelaI found this infographic by Sorelys Liendo about Venezuelan arepas floating around on Pinterest (follow ETW if you haven’t already!) and I thought it was too good not to share. Check out all of the combinations – including the viuda (widow) – which has no filling. Arepas are one of the most popular foods in Venezuela and consist of a fried or grilled masa pocket filled with…pretty much whatever you want, as the graphic demonstrates. Adriana Lopez has a great history of the arepa for the curious, and here is a simple recipe. They really couldn’t be easier to make.

Venezuelan Arepas

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mussels

Steamed Mussels with Andouille and White Wine

grazingbears:

Steamed mussels is one my favorites!

Originally posted on Jereme's Kitchen:

Wow.  It is definitely weird how much having a new full-time job affects your life.  There’s a whole new schedule to figure out, there are weeks of intense training, there’s tests, new policies and procedures, new people, new office. . . well, you get the point.  So my mind has been preoccupied lately, which explains the dearth of postings lately.  Sometimes you just have to make a paid gig a priority!  But I am sad that I’m probably gonna have to close up the bakery at this point.  Just a sign o’ the times!  Maybe I’ll just go super-super small-scale, although there is a limit to the amount of downsizing that you can do, especially if your workforce consists of one.

I could eat this everyday!

So this is my attempt at achieving some sense of normalcy — a return to blogging, a return to working out, a return to…

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lovley-package-uncle-vals

My new favorite uncle: Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin

I’m a tonic man.  Quinine and sugar are my friends.  It’s bubbly, sweet, and glows in the dark.  What could be better?  My go to drink has always been a vodka (preferably Kettle One) and tonic.

Soda on the other hand.  I loathe.  Its a stain remover; its the basis of those fountain sodas.  It tastes like carbon. Or something. I would never willingly order soda. Unless there was a stain.

IImage‘ve always assumed gin (and frankly, most vodka), that it’s about the same.  It was clear, certainly got the job done, and you could mask it with anything.  In college, plastic handles of Uncle Gordon’s Gin could be found littering our house.  In fact, hangovers were referred to as “visits from Uncle Gordon”.

Enter Junipero Gin from SF’s Anchor Distillery.  Its a craft gin that really changed my mind about what’s possible in a white liquor.  Unlike Gordon’s, which had a strong smell of alcohol and and an astringency of juniper– Junipero is wonderfully complex.  I thought, wow, that’s what Juniper tastes like?!!?!  Give me more.  There’s an herbal overtone that’s intriguing, a citrus delight that makes it refreshing– and a perfect summer drink.

I really thought this to be the pinnacle (and it’s very close) of Gin.

Then I met my new favorite uncle. Uncle Val’s.  The bottle itself, is arresting.  Everything about the design is simple, but elegant and thoughtful.

According to Maple Street, the blend was inspired by said uncle’s Italian garden and has juniper, sage, lavender, cucumber and lemon.  That almost, slightly astringent medicinal botanical smell is palpable.  When you taste it, the juniper flavor fades to the back and the citrus and sage, followed by cooling cucumber makes drinking it worth really savoring.  Complex, not harsh, it needs no further adornment.

In fact.  I had it a Uncle Val’s and soda (no lime), of all things.  And it was actually deliciously unblemished.

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coconut chocolate chip cookies 2

Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies: baked mounds bar

As the national obsession with coconut continues, why not add it to a classic?  Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (a slightly healthier alternative) serves in place of butter in this recipe (get it at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods) and the oats and coconut flakes add a really nice chew factor to the whole endeavor.

This recipe is modified from Joe’s Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (which I love)—it’s literally every kind decadent cookie rolled into one.  I think you’ll find the coconut a subtle riff.

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of extra virgin coconut oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
8 ounces of good quality semisweet chocolate chips (use your judgment)
¼ cup unsweetened, untoasted coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 325.

Grind about a cup of the oats in the food processor; then add the remaining oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Beat the coconut oil (which smells delicious) together with the brown and white sugars, until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the vanilla extract and eggs and blend until smooth.

Continue beating and add the flour/oats/dry ingredients a little at a time until it’s well incorporated.  Finally, fold in the chocolate and coconut flakes.

Using a cookie scoop (ok, fine, or a tablespoon) and plunk the cookies down on parchment paper.  Since there is so much oatmeal and coconut oil has less fat, note that the dough will be drier than what you’re probably used to.  If you find the dough falling apart a bit, just press each ball tightly so it comes together.   Fret not, they’ll be delicious.

tango

Breaking Up with Tango Sur

One of my favorite first dates took place over a huge slab mushroom encrusted steak in the deafening darkness of Tango Sur.

The restaurant is extremely loud and incredibly close, the food was excellent, the whole experience exuberant, boozy (byob), mysterious and oddly nostalgic.

Several 12-person birthday party extravaganzas followed over the years- the experience was consistently fun, loud, and – given the one bottle of earthy red per person (why does that always happen with BYOB)—the after glow lasted a few days.  Prices are fairly reasonable too—you felt like you’d gone on a trip (somewhere dark) and got a great value.

Then came Folklore, the sister restaurant on Division.  Different décor, essentially the same menu.  Full disclosure, this was a long time ago, when the restaurant had just recently opened, so perhaps they were still getting their sea legs.  BUT- my steak was cold, the service awful, the magic gone. The overall experience prompted me not to return to one of the Argentine darlings for about two years.

This changed this Sunday night, for a – you guessed it- birthday party.

Again, the loud darkness is the first thing that assaults you. I’m all for muted darkness (see the upstairs room at Maude’s which is plunged into luxuriant darkness), but the feeble candle light (no other lighting seems to exist)—makes it impossible to see the menu, much less the person sitting next to you or what’s on your plate.

Our boisterous group couldn’t out-shout the other enormous tables and not one, not two, but three birthday parties—all happening in the same heart of darkness.

But on to start of the meal, you know, the food. The appetizers included a pile of melted argentine provolone (as delicious as it sounds), empadadas (somewhat pedestrian, the Empanadas truck is better), and palm hearts and prosciutto (also delicious, but hi, it’s pile palm hearts and some sliced prosciutto).   Feelin’ spendy- and boozy– I got the filet mignon.  It was- GASP- tough.  Like, difficult to cut with a steak knife.   It was cooked to perfection, but unforgivably- it was lukewarm.  It was served in a puddle of brownish (I assume it was brownish, since I couldn’t see) — gravy that tasted watered down.  Even worse, it was served with spinach mashed potatoes – which beyond their unusual color (I had to use a lighter to confirm) – bright green—were mealy, flavorless and I could almost swear it was potato spuds.  It had an artificial quality and a mouth feel that literally made it inedible.  Suddenly $30 for an entre doesn’t feel like such a value.  Assorted complaints came from my compatriots—someone on the far end of our table (who I couldn’t see) sent something back and then didn’t eat it—the grill platters (parillas) seemed suitably charged, but also tough.

Alas.

Maybe it’s me. I’ve changed.  Tango Sur, I don’t think we should see each other anymore.

PolentaRagu

Creamy Soft Polenta with Meat Ragù

Its been a while since we last posted, but we are back and promise at least weekly updates (if not daily, but I don’t want to walk before I crawl, as they say.)

We recently has some friends over, and I wanted to try my hand at something that I have never done before…Polenta. I have always been afraid of tackling it mostly because, in my mind it is much harder than it actually is.  I found a recipe that I was really interesting in trying and I have to say it turned out pretty amazing..(This recipe is pulled from the book “Fantastico! Little Italian Plates And Antipasti From Rick Tramonto’s Kitchen”)

Ragu

  • 3/4 pound dried porcini mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
  • 1 pound pork butt, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 pound Spanish onions, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • Two 14-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, juice reserved
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground fennel seed
  • 1 bay leaf

Polenta

  • 2 cups chicken stock or water
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup yellow polenta or cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Torn fresh basil
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. To make the ragu: Put the mushrooms in a small bowl and pour the wine over them. Set aside to soak and hydrate for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, reserving both the mushrooms and the wine. Strain the wine through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois.

2. In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon, for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and much of the fat is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, lift the sausage from the pan and set aside. Add the pork and beef to the fat in the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, until browned. Season with salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon, lift the meat from the pan and add it to the sausage. Leave the fat in the pan.

3. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the reserved wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer briskly for about 3 minutes or until reduced by half.

4. Return the meat to the pan, season again with salt and pepper, and add the stock, tomatoes, basil, oregano, fennel, bay leaf, and reserved mushrooms. Simmer gently for approximately 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Skim any fat that rises to the top of the pan during cooking. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

5. To make the polenta: Put the stock and the cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Slowly pour the polenta into the hot liquid, whisking briskly to prevent clumping. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.

6. Add the cheese and butter, stirring gently until incorporated.

7. Spoon a mound of soft polenta on each of 4 or 6 plates or shallow bowls. Ladle the ragu over the polenta and garnish with basil, parsley, and grated Parmesan.

mojito

Rosemary Smoke Foux-Jito

For a while I have been thinking about starting a ‘Drinks’ section of the blog featuring some cocktails I have created, tried and enjoyed. Not to toot my own horn but after making us a pretty amazing cocktail while watching the Oscars yesterday I was inspired to finally start writing.

Ingredients:

1 – Fresh rosemary sprig

2 parts – Tonic

1 part - Arehucas Guanche Honey Rum Liqueur

1 part - Chase Elderflower Liqueur 

1/2 part -Roses Sweeten Lime Juice

This is a pretty simple drink to make, for the rosemary smoke just take your spring and light the tip on fire, you are going to want to blow it out right away turn your glass upsize down and place your smoking rosemary sprig underneath. Keep the sprig and smoke trapped under the glass for about 2-3 min. While you wait place your other ingredients in a cocktail mixer and give it a good shake ( I kept the ice in the drink but it will be just as good severed without). Once your drink is mixed and your glass smoked pour the drink into the smoked glass (leaving the rosemary inside) lightly mix and enjoy. The rosemary will not add a lot in the way of flavor but will create a smokey herbal aroma while you are drinking it which almost makes you feel like you are having a cocktail next to a warm fire, Enjoy.

Front

Living it up at the Livingston Inn (Madison, WI)

Though we typically do not write reviews about places to stay, this is an exception that just had to be made.

We drove up to Madison, WI for a little weekend getaway, and the most transporting part of our trip was probably our stay at this GEM of a B&B.

First, the  Livingston Inn (pictures taken from their site, plenty more to see!) is wonderfully located a mere steps from the lake and a very short walk from the State Capitol building and all the restaurants and shopping of that area.  Second, the inn is absolutely beautiful — lovingly maintained, delightfully decorated, warm, and rich.   Everywhere you look has interest and texture, without ever being gaudy or too much.  Despite its decidedly old world feel, it does it so seamlessly and without being stuffy or dated.   Our bedroom featured fabric wallpapered walls, a separate seating area, vaulted ceilings and a gas fireplace that only added to the charm and warmth of the furnishings.  The two person shower and Aveda bath products only helped make it feel more like a retreat.

Another real delight is the family who runs the Inn.  Peggy is warm, make you feel at home, has a great sense of humor and has great insight/advice about everything Madison.

Of course, it’s not just a bed that makes a B&B.  Peggy served a lovely wine and cheese hour in the evening, followed by an absolutely incredible breakfast spread.  Yogurt and fruit, delicious homemade coffee cake and bread, and an asparagus egg souffle, bacon, toast– essentially, the works.  Everything on the table showed the same style, attention to detail and class that gives everything about staying here the feel that there’s something truly special going on.

We will absolutely be back for anther treat.

Also worth mentioning: we had a lot of nice food in Madison, including a delicious brunch in Lake Geneva’s Simple, awesome burgers at Dotty Dumpling and decadent ice cream at the Chocolate Shoppe; but the stand out was a lovely meal at Sardine, a french restaurant in Madison who’s mussels and chicken liver pate really stood out.

photo 1

Himalayan Salt Plate: New Toy at GB HQ

I’m a sucker for kitchen toys- from the wildly specific, and hilariously useless cantaloupe knief, to more useful things, like my pastry cutter/scooper I cannot live without.

After receiving the exhaustive encyclopedia (with a limited few recipes sprinkled in) called “Salted: A Manifesto” by Mark Bitterman, my interested in all sorts of gourmet salts and associated products has skyrocketed.  Enter one such toy:  the Himalyan Salt Plate (we got ours at Sur La Table).

It is a thing of absolute beauty, it’s solid, weighs a ton, really feels like a piece of a prehistoric mountain is on your counter.  The advantages of cooking on a salt plate are that while it does take a long time to heat up, it will get very hot and retain it’s temperature for a very long time.  Meaning, once hot, you could put it on the dinner table and let people cook their own food, for example.

It imparts a very subtle but delicious flavor on food, a mineral essence that is hard to place, but complex and delicious.  As such, in general delicate foods, like the scallops we made pictured here, shrimp or fish is likely to be the most successful.  The plate gets VERY hot, so the scallops really caramelized nicely.   The amount of salt and minerals actually transferred to the food has to do with the amount of moisture on the plate, so you need to be a little careful with what you decide to cook on it.  You can heat a salt plate on the grill, on a stovetop gas flame or in the oven.  Note, however, that that very pretty plate does change colors once it’s been heated through.

In theory, salt is completely antibacterial, and all you have to do to clean it is to run it under warm water and dissolve/scrub off the top layer to clean it.   They recommend that buy and keep a separate one to use for display/service purposes (cheese plate, raw veggies, etc.) – because– heat will crack and discolor it.  Sadly, this is true.  And cleaning it has turned out to be a lot more.. involved, and less productive, than I had hoped.

Still, for $30 bucks, this really is a show stopper for your next dinner party.  And totally worthwhile to get one just for cold cuts, cheeses and other non-cooked things– since ours ended up kinda grungy looking.

P.S.  The scallops were marinated in a ginger/soy/garlic glaze, patted dry, then seared.