Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spaghetti with Curry Sauce

Last night, I created a delicious pasta sauce. This is big news, since I usually stick to other people's recipes. However, as I had a limited variety of ingredients to choose from, I had to be a little creative. It was pretty fun! Now I can start collecting recipes for a book (some day...).

Next time, I think I'll try adding something spicy to give it a kick, or maybe I'll use a little bit of white wine for some acidity. I was also thinking some fresh mint leaves thrown in at the end would be tasty!

Spaghetti with Curry Sauce
Serves 3 or 4

8-12 oz. thin spaghetti
3 quarts water
2 cloves shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 TBSP unsalted butter, divided
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
2 TBSP flour
1 TBSP curry powder (sweet)
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 TBSP plain greek-style yogurt
3 TBSP fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Boil the 3 quarts of water in a large pot. Salt the water generously. Once boiling, put the pasta in, and cook for 6 or 7 minutes, until pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta (but let it stay a little wet).

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt 2 TBSP butter and 1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, and saute shallots until soft (4 or 5 minutes). Add the garlic and the curry powder, and saute for another 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to burn (turn the heat down if you have to).

Add 2 TBSP butter to skillet. After it has melted, whisk in 2 TBSP of flour. Allow to cook for 2 or 3 minutes, whisking continually. Slowly whisk in the vegetable broth. After broth is fully incorporated, allow to simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring once in a while. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat. Whisk in the yogurt and parsley until fully incorporated.

Toss the spaghetti in the sauce in the skillet. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Philadelphia: Tria

123 S 18th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: (215) 972-8742

Sorry I haven't updated in a while: I've been on Spring Break! But you can expect a steady stream of "in retrospect" reviews. I'll try to limit myself to comestibles and potables, since I had so many fun experiences in two short days visiting my brother in Philadelphia that I'm not sure I'll be able to restrain myself from giving a detailed play-by-play otherwise.

Even before my sister and I had arrived in Philadelphia, plans were afoot to go at least once to Tria, which is basically my idea of heaven. Tria is a sophisticated little bar that offers wines, cheeses, and beers (and some food, too). But not just any wines, beers, and cheeses! Tria prides itself on offering the off-the-beaten path experience, and at very fair prices, I am happy to say.

I loved the atmosphere. If you go to their website, they have a lovely photo that really captures it. Smooth lines but not a lot of space: it feels like what I think a "European" wine bar would be like (I haven't had the pleasure of that experience yet). It's pleasantly cramped in both the bar and table areas, which somehow just makes the whole experience more charming.

We went on a Sunday evening (in order to take advantage of their "Sunday School" half-off special, featuring a Greek red wine ($5.50/glass), a Gorgonzola ($3 for 3 oz.), and a Victory Brewing Co. beer (though I can't recall the name of it) ($2.50)). The lighting was a little dim, but not too dark so as to make it difficult to appreciate the color of our beverages (color is important in wine and beer!).

It took me about 15 minutes to finish perusing the menu for what I wanted. We opted not to try the Sunday School specials, at least not right away. The Greek red wine ran out, sadly, so the special changed to a Carmenere, which I tried later on. We tried so many wonderful wines, cheeses and beers (for under $100 between the four of us, not including tip!). Unfortunately, I didn't take notes while there, so I'm not going to try to recall all the beautiful things I smelled and tasted. But seriously, you have to visit this place to believe it! Below are a few of the things I remember trying; the menu changes often, so some of the things I had are no longer available online for me to refresh my memory!

I only wish that I could remember what the red wine from Cahors, France, was that Jeremy ordered: that wine was so perfect! I miss it.

One last note: Tria serves each 5 oz. serving of wine in simple, classic crystal Bordeaux-style stemware. Thank you for caring about the swirling and the sniffing, Tria!!!

Things I remember trying (and loving!):
1. Chinon Les Graves Gasnier (2006) from the Loire Valley, France [Cabernet Franc]: $8.50

2. Viogner, Renwood (2005) from Lodi, California [Viogner]: $7.50/glass

3. Tete De Moine (Cow cheese from Switzerland): $6 for 3 oz., served shaved (and shaped into a carnation!!) with hot pepper jelly

4. Cashel Blue (Cow cheese from County Tipperary, Ireland): $7 for 3 oz. served with chocolate pate

5. Allagash White (Belgian style wheat beer from Portland, Maine) $5 for 16 oz. draft

6. Reed’s Spiced Apple Ginger Brew: $2.50/bottle

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Pittsburgh Fare : Church Brew Works

The Church Brew Works
3525 Liberty Ave
Pittsburgh PA 15201
Phone: 412.688.8200

I will not attempt to review everything I've ever consumed at the Church Brew Works: Karl and I are actually considered regulars there (i.e., the bartenders know us by name). Since Karl lives about a block away, several times a week, we will go there to share a pitcher of the beer brewed on site. And yes, this is a brewery and restaurant set up in a church. The atmosphere this creates is truly unique. Add the fact that the food and beer are generally a cut above what you'd expect from a bar and restaurant and you've got a winning combination!

When you walk in through the imposing double doors, the bar is on the left and the two dining sections are divided by an aisle (that used to divide the two rows of pews). This division is utilized to divide the two "sections" of the restaurant. The area near the bar boasts a "Pub Menu" and the other side is the "Dinner Menu." If you want the famous pizza, you have to sit on the bar side (although, I'm sure the servers would make an exception if you requested it). Karl and I have eaten dinner at the CBW, and unless you're out for a special occasion, on a student budget, I do not recommend it (it's pretty pricey!).

But I don't want to talk about that. Last night, Karl and I finally managed to get our hands on some of that pizza. The last time we ordered it, we were told we would have to wait an hour (it was a busy night!). Gene, our favorite bartender at the CBW, informed us that they can only fit a maximum of 5 pizzas in their wood-fired brick oven at one time, so it tends to get backed up on weekends. So, we decided to wait for another time.

Last night, we ordered the Garden Plum Tomato Pizza ($13), with plum tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and just the right amount of mozzarella cheese. The key to any pizza is the crust. The toppings are hard to ruin (although, it has been done), but if the crust is bad, the whole pizza suffers. The Church Brew Works makes a great pizza. Because it is baked in a hardwood-fired brick oven, the crust is the perfect texture: lightly crisped on the outside, and tender on the inside. Pizza crust should never be tough and chewy. The pizzas are also a nice, generous size (I think cut into 8 or 10 large slices). They are certainly large enough to feed up to 4 people, but Karl and I managed to put the whole thing away by ourselves (I blame it on the beer! I always get hungrier when I drink beer).

Because you can't go to the CBW without ordering beer (and really, pizza and beer is a classic combination!), Karl and I indulged in a pitcher of the Millennium Trippel ($15, 9% ABV). I don't tend to be the biggest fan of Belgian-style beers, but this Trippel is one of my favorite beers that the CBW brewmaster has created. I'm not kidding when I say it tastes just like banana cream pie! Even if you don't get the smooth, creamy texture that makes it taste pie-like to me, you will not be able to deny the banana flavor. One of the reasons this Belgian-style beer is more palatable to me is that the sweetness is balanced by a subtle acidity balanced with the creamy texture. I felt that this beer paired surprisingly well with the pizza for that reason as well.

CBW pizza gets an A+ in my book! I think next time, I want to try the intriguing "Pittsburgh Pierogie Pizza, topped with potato puree, sautéed onions, garlic, and cheddar cheese ($13.50). But if you want your pizza in a timely fashion, don't go on a busy night (e.g., Friday or Saturday!).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Baking Frenzy: Cinnamon Pecan Cheesecake Bars

While shopping in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, Karl and I stopped in Penzey's Spices to ogle (and smell!) the myriad spice offerings. While there, Karl bought me a jar of their Sweet Curry Powder (thank you!), and I picked up a copy of their free catalog, which contained a few recipes. One of the recipes in the circular was for Cinnamon Pecan Cheesecake Bars. I had some leftover pecans from making Banana Nut Bread a couple of weeks ago, so I decided to give it a try. Besides, how can you go wrong with a cheesecake bar with a shortbread base?

YUM! That's all I have to say, really. I may eventually adapt this for a full cheesecake recipe. It literally tastes like a cinnamon roll cheesecake. Added bonus: you can use Neufschatel instead of cream cheese to at least pretend its not that bad for you!

Cinnamon Pecan Cheesecake Bars

Crumble Topping:
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 TBSP butter
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup pecans, chopped

Shortbread Base:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt

2 8-oz. blocks Neufschatel (light cream cheese), softened to room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350˚ F.

To make the crumble topping, mix the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Using your hands, cut the flour mixture into the butter until crumbly. Mix in the vanilla extract and the pecans. Set aside.

Next, make the bar base. Beat the sugar and butter together with an electric hand mixer until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Gently mix in the flour and the salt. Grease a 9x13 inch glass baking pan, and press the shortbread mixture into the bottom. Bake in the 350˚F oven for about 15 minutes. While it's baking, make the filling.

Beat the Neufschatel with sugar until creamy. Then beat in the eggs until smooth. Pour over the baked bar base. Sprinkle the crumble topping over the filling, then put in the oven for another 25 minutes. Turn off the oven, and leave the oven door open with the bars inside for about 15 minutes, then remove, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

Use a sharp knife to cut into squares (or just eat it voraciously out of the pan with a spoon!).

Saint Clair 2006 Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc

Saint Clair 2006 Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
Winemaker: Matt Thomson
Price: $13.99

New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are considered some of the best in the world right now, so I decided to put that reputation to the test. I bought the Saint Clair Vicar's Choice 2006 vintage, produced in the famed Marlborough Region, the region attributed with starting the New Zealand wine industry in the 1970s.

The power happened to be out in my apartment that day, so I couldn't really chill the wine (the refrigerator had warmed up too much). Since white wines are traditionally served chilled, this could have proved to be disastrous. However, the situation turned out to be an unexpected boon. Gary Vaynerchuk is always saying that drinking any wine chilled makes it more difficult to taste everything it has to offer (and also hides the flaws), and I think I am starting to come around to that. At room-temperature, this wine was bursting with complexity of flavors, while the next day, when I had it chilled, it seemed uninteresting and rather common.

The color of this wine is about average for Sauvignon Blanc: a pale, delicate yellow. On the nose, the characteristic grapefruit is very strong, but there are also hints of dill and more tropical fruits, like mango perhaps. The mouthfeel is really quite lovely, with a nice, clean acidity balanced with a hint of sweetness. On the midpalate, there is a really clean burst of lemon or tangerine rind, and the finish is bright and clean. This is a super refreshing wine, even warm!

On a side note, this bottle (like most bottles from New Zealand and Australia) is sealed with a screw cap instead of a cork. I found this very interesting Wikipedia article about cork alternatives that talks about the various benefits and disadvantages of cork and the alternative sealing devices. Check it out!