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!