Monday, December 28, 2009

Cowboy Ciao, Scottsdale AZ

Several friends and I went to Cowboy Ciao in downtown Scottsdale on a Saturday night last month.  We had reservations for 10 and had a large table waiting for us when we arrived.  The low lighting and rich decor set a festive mood with the group and we were all in good spirits after getting our first drink and placing our orders.

For the most part service was excellent.  A few small glitches (I was brought the wrong drink and the scotch selection was very limited which disappointed my husband and brother) were smoothed out so well they were hardly memorable.

The food absolutely made up for any trouble we had with drinks.  We started with Pork Belly.  It was perfectly cooked - crispy and salty on the outside, layers of fat on the inside that melted in my mouth and moistened every bite.  It was served with a tangy Thai cucumber salad - pickled cucumbers with some peppers.  The hint of sweet tangy-ness of the pickle with the salty crunch of the pork was ethereal.

Next my husband and I split the Espresso Rubbed Filet Mignon.  Another food revelation.  We asked for it medium and the kitchen did just that, splitting the meal on two plates for us so we didn't have to knife each other over the meat.  The Tortilla-Smashed Yukon Gold Potatoes tasted a bit strange but were just the right consistency, and overall went well with the fantastic hunk of meat and the chipotle aioli around the plate.  The demi-glace added a nice touch of sauce to the dish and was the perfect accompaniment to the excellent meat.

We were so full after the first two courses and drinks that we skipped dessert, although the dessert menu was extensive and sounded delicious - such offerings as Peanut Butter Brownie (Upside Downie) and Bread Pudding with cranberries, pine nuts and five spice ice cream almost made me overindulge.

While the restaurant was a little noisy, the good service and excellent food easily make up for it and I would definitely suggest Cowboy Ciao for an intimate dinner for two or night on the town with a crowd.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Adventures in Lettuce Land

I've been on a salad kick lately.  I used to pretty much hate salads - they all seemed boring with their limp lettuces and bottles of dressings in varying colors.  Now I've started playing with them and I've discovered they're so fun!

Mache salad with orange muscat vinaigrette and herb-chevre

I especially like the possibilities with changing up the lettuces.  I'd never tried Mache before (also called Lamb's Lettuce) but it is fantastic!  Small little bouquets of mild leaves with a hint of pepper.  They are especially good with avacado.

Mache with avacado, walnuts, apple, and lemon-dijon vinaigrette

I've been so inspired that I started growing some things in the garden specifically for salads (radicchio, Chinese radishes)  and I'm hoping with my spring garden I can expand a lot to include things like endive and more herbs for dressings.

Mache with avacado, radishes, pomegranate, and herb vinaigrette

Making dressings is another new fantastic world.  The possibilities for vinaigrettes are endless and now I've even started playing with buttermilk dressings.  Those might take a while to perfect though - they seem a bit more complicated than the vinaigrette.

Spinach salad with candied pecans, onion confit, and goat cheese

The winner for best salad topping has to be the onion confit that I made for the salad above.  It's the perfect mix of sweet and tangy (almost like an onion marmelade) and paired with the mild creamy fat of the goat cheese is a match made in heaven (or in my kitchen more like).

Onion Confit

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb red onions - very thinly sliced into half rounds
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp dried fruit (I used apricots)
1/2 c. good red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in pan over medium.  Add onions.  Let sweat gently until onions give off their juices and become transparent.  Stir in sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper until the mixture starts to melt.  Add dried fruit and wine, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Watch and stir often, adding more wine (or water) as needed.  When onions and fruit have melted to a jam-like consistency taste and adjust for seasoning (takes at least 30 minutes).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Breakfast Tacos

At long last I am free of school!  No more papers, no more tests.  No more cramming.  I'm free to just cook and garden and eat.  Well and work now  too (started a catering job the same day I finished my last final).

 To celebrate my new found freedom I lounged around the couch on Saturday morning watching my favorite Food Network chef Tyler Florence, flipping through old Food and Wine magazines to get some ideas for an upcoming party, and making/eating some awesome breakfast tacos which I made with leftover pork (yes another pork post!  I can't help it! - as Bourdain would say, these were porktastic!)

It was pretty easy too.  I just chopped up some leftover pork and root vegetables and sauteed them quickly, then scrambled some eggs with some jalapenos from the garden.  I combined the two and added a little bit of tomatillo cilantro sauce (also from the garden) and grated pepperjack cheese.  What a great way to start any day!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Birthday Feast

Yesterday was my husband's birthday.  We celebrated with a feast last night.  I made sure to include all his favorites - what he likes to call the trifecta (lime, cilantro, and jalapeno) and chocolate.  Most of the produce ingredients came from my garden which made me really happy.  Ever since I realized my honeydew plant was actually the long-lost tomatillo plant I thought never grew from last season I've been inundated with tomatillos, so it was good to use some.

I slow-cooked a big hunk of pork butt (actually a cut of the shoulder) with onions, garlic, and cumin, then seared it off in the broiler and made an amazing green-chili/tomatillo/lime/cilantro/pork drippings sauce that was totally outrageous.

I served the pork with some chipotle-cheddar mashed potatoes and grilled onions.  Definitely a winner dinner.  :)  I think my husband's favorite were the brownies with home-made double chocolate ice cream though.  It was devoured too fast to even get a picture.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chez Jacques: Inspirational

I just spent my wonderful afternoon off from school looking through "Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook"  I love this cookbook.  I think it's probably my favorite of all.  It isn't about the recipes, although the ones I've tried are definitely fantastic.  It's really about the deep love of food, how food infuses life and makes it richer.  The pictures in the book aren't just of food but paintings which Jacques has painted (not only is he one of the most accomplished chefs in the world but a good painter) and pictures of him spending time in his environment.  These last are the pictures I love the best.  One shows him sitting with a friend by a stream with some wine and a picnic.  They have the wine bottles tied up in the stream and their feet dangling over the edge and it just looks so peaceful and comforting.  I would love to spend a day by a stream with a friend, great food, and some chilled wine.

The pictures demonstrate a concept that I've been thinking about a lot myself lately - how food, friendship, culture, family, and the environment all intertwine to enrich life.  It makes me want to go out and hunt mushrooms in the woods, or sit on a lake by myself and fish, or cook comforting French food with my husband.  It also makes me wish that American life was less stressful and more about the things I mentioned above.  We spend so much time running around, working, stressing out, and don't devote the time needed to create deep friendships, to become close with our family, to enjoy nature, or to really taste our food.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I've noticed that since starting a garden (a picture of some summer bounty is on the left) my food philosophy has changed quite a bit.  I find myself thinking seasonally much more than I used to.  This might sound a little hokey, but I almost feel like my body and mind are a part of everything and if I listen closely enough to myself, I find that I crave the foods that are in season.  In the summer I want fresh salads, fish and seafood lightly prepared, crisp white wine.  In the fall I start craving stews and thick slices of bread and dark red wine.

In the spring I planted eggplants, melons, tomatoes, squashes.  Now with my fall garden I'm eagerly waiting for my leeks, shallots, winter squash, and radicchio.  I like the feeling of changing with the seasons.  It feels very natural to me and comforting somehow.  I wonder where all this comes from and how my body keeps track of seasons.  It's strange because I live in this hot desert and it doesn't even resemble fall right now but I want the fall food anyways.  Regardless of where it comes from,  I'm going to embrace it.  I'm thinking leek and zucchini soup and roast for dinner.  And maybe some Pinot Noir.

Summer Party

A few months ago I catered a small party for a friend. The food was a pretty big hit. I did tostones with chicken and mango chutney, goat cheese balls, hummus, herb dip, flat-bread with swiss, ham, and onions, and skewers of veggies, chicken, and beef. I wish I would have taken more pictures - I thought it was a really pretty setup.  I think the two favorites were the ones above - the goat cheese balls and the tostones.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Element

I just finished reading a book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything It's about finding your personal passion, or your element.  I've been on a hunt for my element for many years.  After reading this book I realized that I'd already found it years ago, but I've been trying to get away from it for some reason.  My element is food.  Hence the name change on this blog (it used to be A Food Affair).

I don't know why I tried to deny my passion for food.  I guess part of me wanted something sexier, more refined.  I wanted to be a painter or a novelist.  Chef just didn't seem to command respect in the same way.  There's no fighting it though - I keep coming back to food.  I am happiest in the kitchen.  I don't know if this passion was something I was born with or if it was developed over the years.  I see now that fighting it will only make me miserable.

Thus the re-birth of my food blog. I hope to have many new food adventures to share.  I hope you enjoy coming with me on this journey, as I re-connect with my passion for food.