Where Does the Time Go?

End of May we got together with an old friend. He lives in Maryland but was going to be in Wisconsin for a funeral. I estimate it has been over 30 years since we have all seen each other face to face.

We met Jon, and at that time, his wife Molly, when we were in graduate school at Northern Illinois University. Curt was a Graduate student in Ceramics and Jon was one of his ceramics professors. The unusual part was Jon and Curt were the same age, separated by 25 days, Curt being the older. A friendship and a mutual respect developed between the two of them. I got to know Molly better and the four of us became friends. Once we graduated, we left Illinois. There was no email then, no Facebook so  but kept in contact with each other through letters and Christmas cards. Jon and Molly visited us once in Green Bay and we visited them once in Maryland.

Then: Curt and Jon

But over the years the cards and letters got fewer, life happened, as it does, and we lost track of each other. A few years ago I found Jon (or he found me) on Facebook. Our mutual interest in birds, love of food and Jon’s connection to Wisconsin (he was born here) brought us together. He was going to be in LaCrosse in May and then planned on doing some camping in Door County, so we knew this was the time to rekindle an old friendship. In the intervening years there has been homes in 5 states, 3 children raised (He-2, Us-1), careers built, a divorce, less hair, gray acquired and a couple of retirements. But here we were again eating and talking and laughing.

Now: Curt and Jon

Funny thing with good friends, the conversation picked up like we just saw each other yesterday. And with that many years gone by we had a lot of catching up to do.

Peru comes to NE Wisconsin: Pisco Mar

Back in November, our friend Carol shared a newspaper clipping with us about a new Peruvian restaurant opening in Appleton (WI), a nearby city. Always on the lookout for new culinary adventures this was a possible contender. My first impression was that there was lots of fish, not my favorite. But we all agreed that maybe we should give it a chance sometime. Then the article got shuffled into a pile of papers and was moved and kicked around until last week when we and our friend planned a trip down to Appleton (about 45 minutes away) for a museum exhibit. Carol said, Why don’t we go later in the afternoon and then try that Peruvian restaurant for dinner? So destination ‘Pisco Mar’ was on.

First impressions were good. It was nicely decorated, warm colors, Peruvian art on the walls. Good variety of seating and even some outdoor tables.

Pisco Mar, outside and inside

After ordering drinks (pisco sours) we perused the menu. Lots of appetizers, small plates and main courses. In order to maximize our first time here we all decided it was going to be a dinner of sharing from the first two sections. If all was good we would try main entrees on the next visit.

So first choices were Crab Cakes w/baby arugula aji aioli, rocoto sauce and Beef Carpaccio w/ lemon vinaigrette, baby arugula capers, shaved Parmesan.
Both were excellent. The two Crab Cakes were softer than I like but the flavor was very good. Rocoto is a red chili pepper that is a staple in Peruvian cuisine. The sauce is a combination of a paste from these peppers combined with mayo, lime, vinegar and dry mustard. I loved the Carpaccio, beef sliced super thin. Frankly I was sorry I had to share this one.

While we were enjoying these and deciding what to order next our waitress brought a complimentary bowl of crispy homemade potato chips with a chili mayo dip to the table. She said they were from blue potatoes that are white inside. Really good.
Feeling the need for some greens we ordered a Kale Salad. Quite nice with radishes, cherry tomatoes, avocado, shaved Parmesan and pine nuts tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. It was a pretty large bowl, easily shared by three, or four. Pictured is just a serving on my plate.After more discussion we decided to go with two more dishes, Peruvian Ceviche Mixto (fish, shrimp, octopus, scallops) and Empanadas Criollas. The Ceviche came with plaintain chips (very tasty) and large corn (interesting). This was a huge plate of food and could have served as a main. Maybe all three of us could have finished it but since I am not a fan of octopus or fish there was some leftover. Carol and Curt liked it, there was just too much after already having four previous small plates. Empanadas are a puff pastry with a filling; we went with ground beef. These came with a chimichurri sauce. The pastry was a bit soft but at the same time very flaky. with very nice preparation and an interesting combination of flavors.

By now we were pretty full so when our waitress arrived with the dessert menu I was ready to pass. Just coffee please. But Carol wanted to try it all and thought we should have dessert just so we could make a full report on the dining experience. One order of Doughnuts please.

Ping pong ball sized doughnut holes, light and fluffy inside, vanilla sugar coated on the outside and served with Peruvian sweet cream.

There were six and yes, I ate two and loved the sweet cream as well. My advice, leave room for dessert.

Before I end, just a little background on the co-owners. Laura Saintgoers has previously operated restaurants for 11 years in Appleton and Miami. While in Miami she met and joined up with Hugo Torres, a native of Honduras, who spent five years learning and cooking Peruvian cuisine under a chef from Peru. Lucky for us they decided to come up to Wisconsin instead of trying to insert themselves into the overcrowded restaurant scene in Miami.

Here is a peek at the main entrees on the menu. We definitely want to go back. Want to join us?

 

BFFs

Last week I spent three fabulous days with two dear, dear friends from high school  (graduation: June 1967). We have been getting together on and off over the years either going out to Colorado to where Lynn lives or up here in Wisconsin with me or to Arlington Heights in Illinois, Audrey’s stomping ground. Last year we got together in Santa Fe, New Mexico and vowed that we would not let years go by before getting together.

Reason 1) We ain’t getting any younger.

Reason 2) We heard about the untimely death of one of our former friends.

Granted we had lost touch with Sue but it still was a shock to hear of her death in a car accident. In high school we used to be a “group” of five but Marie left us very early from a severe health issue. Then we were all working on marriage and kids and everything else that comes with life so we hadn’t even started to think about our mortality or getting together to celebrate old times, since those times weren’t that far in the past.

But hold on, this wasn’t supposed to get so maudlin. This year was our 2nd consecutive gathering and I was not going to miss it no matter what. That meant hobbling around on my arthritis riddled knees (coming up this fall: knee replacement ). So with drugs and a knee sleeve, I made it. Of course my besties sure made it easy. We held back on the walking (the tram around the Chicago Botanical Garden was great) and Audrey even had a small stool for getting into the back seat of the van. However the bag of frozen carrots I iced my knee with in the evenings might never be the same. The rest of the time we talked and ate, and laughed and drank, and talked and ate some more. Another year, solving all the problems in the world. We’ve all had our trials and tribulations, our health issues and setbacks, our joys and celebrations. It was good to share them. So I am ending here with some pictures that I know Audrey is going to kill me for posting. I subscribed her to my blog last week but I think I heard her say something about not wanting to see herself on it. Close your eyes Aud!!

Then: circa 1967. Looks like Aud and Lynn went to the same hair salon. Hmm, so that's what they did on those weekend outings without me.

Then: circa 1967. Looks like Aud and Lynn went to the same hair salon. Hmm, so that’s what they did on those weekend outings without me.

Now: circa 2016. Looks about the same to me except Aud and I have exchanged smiles.

Now: circa 2016. Looks about the same to me except Aud and I have exchanged smiles. (from left – Jeanne, Audrey, Lynn)

Sturdy and Fuzzy go Birding

sf7Recently we were together with friends who had just returned from a trip to Florida. While there they had seen some unusual birds. Well unusual for Wisconsinites but quite normal for Floridians. One they already had identified as an American Oystercatcher. A cool bird to see. After some description and explanation we determined that the other bird had been an Avocet. Another fine bird to see. Our friends said while they were there a group of birders had also gathered to view the birds. They knew they were birders because the men all had facial hair and outdoor vests or L.L. Bean jackets and the women, dressed similarly, were sturdy.

Guys with facial hair? Sure. Sturdy women? Hmm, should I take offense? I took some pictures of the people watching the birds on some of our trips. You be the judge.

sf4SF3SF8sf5SFsf6I don’t know. Do you see any hairy guys or sturdy women? Well maybe. Below is a picture of us and our friends taken about five years ago. Can you tell which are the birders? I guess Curt is kind of fuzzy and I am much more sturdy than Barbara. Or maybe the binoculars gave us away?

heuerslukens

 

 

Oh, What a Night!

Last night was almost surreal, or maybe I was hallucinating but a little “sort of surprise” retirement party took a lot of interesting turns. If I was Alice I might have thought I was sliding into the rabbit hole but no, we were at a new restaurant, to us, called THREE THREE FIVE. Seems it has been here in Green Bay for almost six years and we vaguely knew of it but had never been there. Fine foodies we are. Anyway this all started because a dear friend of ours is officially retiring from a fine academic career and we, Curt and I, and three other of her friends wanted to celebrate this milestone. We were initially called by Sid who proposed this outing. We readily agreed and the planning began. This particular restaurant was her first choice but they are a bit unusual as they are only open on Wednesdays to the general public. The rest of the time they host private parties, cooking classes and corporate gatherings. They tout themselves as an upscale private dining studio. Also they only take reservations a week ahead so on the off-chance we could not get a booking, Sid put an alternate plan in motion. She reserved us a table at Cafe Chanson, a local restaurant featuring French cuisine. If we couldn’t get THREE THREE FIVE, Cafe Chanson was a lock.

THREE I THREE I FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

THREE THREE FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

Fortunately she was able to get us a table and our guest of honor promised to hold the date open. We weren’t telling where we were going just that Curt and I were picking her up at 5:40pm. No dancing shoes required but bring your appetite.

When we entered the dining room we immediately saw two other friends and former colleagues from the University who had retired a few years earlier. They are great foodies and it wasn’t surprising that they had discovered this restaurant and were regular diners. They, of course, had a seat at the counter which overlooked the kitchen and the food prep. We greeted them and asked about the food, needless to say they gave it a vigorous thumbs up.

Once seated we got caught up in the atmosphere and the menu, which was printed on origami paper and had extremely small type. This group does not have young eyes and this was REALLY SMALL type and the lighting was dim. We muddled through but Ginny dug out her magnifying glass. The theme of tonight’s menu was the chef’s interpretation of Japanese cuisine.  We discovered later that each Wednesday is different and some evenings the menu has twice as many choices. Tonight happened to be Asian.

Origami Paper Menu

Origami Paper Menu

Three Three Five menu 1/6/16

THREE THREE FIVE menu 1/6/16

Once we started ordering I didn’t think of taking pictures of the food but this being a special occasion, it really wouldn’t have been appropriate. Some of us just wanted to graze on starters while three of us went directly for the Tonkatsu Ramen. Between the 6 of us we ended up trying everything except the Bread & Butter and the Steamed Bun (which we saw on another table and it looked great).

Now is when some of the special things happened. The chef arrived at our table saying this must be a special occasion because a couple at the bar wanted to buy us a bottle of wine or two bottles or cocktails. Well of course it was the friends I mentioned earlier. We went with a bottle of champagne (and asked him not to break the bank with his choice.) He chose well, not too dry, not too sweet.

After a few more plates were brought to the table, the chef sent an order of sablefish with his compliments. Okay here is the second weird thing this night. If you read us regularly, you know I don’t eat fish. I can’t even get it near my mouth. But Carol, after tasting the sablefish said I had to try this. It didn’t taste fishy. I would like it! All right, for the guest of honor, I would try. it. I am embarrassed to admit, I liked it. It was almost buttery. And…I had a second piece. Whoa! we were definitely down the rabbit hole.

As we ate and observed the other diners, we started to recognize people we knew but were not acquainted with, like the new director of the public library. He started after I retired so I was a stranger to him. Also one of our local sports stars, Jordy Nelson, from the Green Bay Packers. He is on the injured list so obviously can go out for a nice dinner instead of sweating it out somewhere preparing for this weekend’s playoff game.

As to the food… the Tonkatsu Ramen was amazing. Fabulous broth, mushrooms, slices of super tender pork belly and a perfectly cooked egg with a firmly set white and a totally runny yolk inside. We were so impressed with the egg that we asked the chef for details on how he accomplished that trick.

Curt pronounced the oysters good even if there was too much granita on top.The Wagyu Beef Dumplings were fabulous. Sid and Carol gave us some little tastes but kept the majority for themselves; they were really almost too good to share. The only real disappointment was the Chilled Foie Gras…lots of Riesling gel, lots of ground pine nuts, slices of lychee but if there was foie gras in there, Ginny couldn’t find it. The rest of us looked too. Maybe they waved it over the plate before bringing it to the table.  But that was a minor blip in the evening.

The major surprise came at the very end when we asked for our check and was told, “your bill has been taken care of.”. What?  No way. Our friends again.  Where are those two?  Gone.  Of course, the waitress wouldn’t tell us what it came to so we might tip her appropriately and we couldn’t thank our benefactors. So one of us asked if THREE THREE FIVE had gift certificates. They did, so we left a $100 certificate for our generous friends and an additional tip for the waitress. Next time our friends come in, it will be their turn for a surprise.

Like I said, What a Night!

 

 

Another Turn of the Page: The Meeting I Missed

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship,
stories are the thing we need most in the world.”Philip Pullman

book-shelf2

I love my book groups. At this one, I sort of facilitate…you know, keep the discussion rolling, but frankly any of the members could do it. We are a very compatible bunch. We all love books and reading and we make sure everyone gets a chance to talk about the books they brought. I, unfortunately, had an unexpected trip to Urgent Care with my Mom this past month so there was no way I was going to get to the meeting. I quickly contacted a few people, asked them to keep a list of the books discussed and said I’d try to get there if I was able to get away in time. No such luck.  Later, I felt sad. I discovered that I really really missed being there. When I saw Philip Pullman’s quote (above), I knew it was the one for this post. I need the stories and I needed the companionship of my fellow readers.

The other Jeanne kept the list and dropped it off the following Saturday, saying, “I wonder if you can guess who read which book?”  Yikes! Quite a challenge. First of all I didn’t know who attended and who didn’t. We also have a few new people. I haven’t quite gotten a handle on their reading patterns yet. To be honest, we have some long time members who are pretty eclectic readers, so they are a challenge as well. At this week’s meeting, I am going to make my guesses. I will add a note later to this post with the results. (See note at end, added 12/10/15). In the meantime, here are the books.

november

1. The Innocent Killer: A True Story of a Wrongful Conviction and its Astonishing Aftermath by Michael Griesbach (2014) 283p. An in-depth look at a very important case in Wisconsin criminal law. It is the story of violent crimes against women, police investigations and the vital importance of evidence.

2. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson (1989) 299p. The author travels 14,00 miles through America visiting a variety of small towns. Remember this was the America of over 25 years ago.

3. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013) 404p. A far-reaching novel, Hosseini explores the ways families nurture, wound, betray, honor and sacrifice for each other and how we are often surprised by the actions of those closest to us.

4. Winter Stroll by Elin Hilderbrand ((2015) 272p. 2nd in a trilogy, following Winter Street, and it is another Christmas on Nantucket. In this one, Kelley Quinn, owner of the Winter Street Inn, reflects on the past year as he writes a holiday letter to friends and family.

5. West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (2015) 304p. A compelling but also heartbreaking novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood.

6. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (2015) 489p. The is the third in the Cormoran Strike mysteries written under a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling. It starts off with a bang when a mysterious package containing a woman’s severed leg is delivered to Robin Ellacott (Strike’s partner). Then it is just an exciting ride to the finish.

7. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (2012) 224p. “In this fable, the first man on earth to count the hours becomes Father Time.” –Goodreads

8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2004) 371p. Our second novel by this author. This one, his debut novel, is set in Afghanistan and is the story of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. Was made into a feature film.

9. Mamista by Len Deighton (1991) 410 pages. As a group of Marxist revolutionaries in Spanish Guiana prepare to unseat their country’s leader, a group of high-powered men in Washington prepare to keep the current government intact and capitalize on the small country’s newfound oil.

10. The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashini (2014) 464p. Set in Kabul, 2007, Rahima and her sisters, with no brothers or strong father, can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope is an ancient custom, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters. But this is a story of two women because a century earlier, her great-aunt, Shekiba, lived her life the same way.

11. The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison (2015) 464p. This is the story of a Somali pirate hijacking gone bad despite the best efforts of Paul, the best hostage negotiator the FBI has. It tries to explain the reasons behind such acts of piracy without excusing them. Though this is fiction the author uses real incidents to tell his tale.

12. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (2012) 384p. In 1922, only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, her parents insist she be accompanied by Cora Carlisle, a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Five weeks in the big city together will change both of their lives.

13. The Bavarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar (2011) 432p. Tobar, the author of Deep Down Dark, uses his fiction to take a look at life in Southern California. He centers the story around the well-to-do household of Scott Torres and Maureen Torres-Thompson and their over-worked cook/housekeeper, Araceli. Araceli happens to be an educated woman from Mexico City but because of her illegal status can only find work as a domestic.

Note: Checked in with the group today. I got 7 of the 13 correct. Not too shabby!!

Oysters on Chuckanut

view3Oysters on Chuckanut?  Is that a variation on the famous hors-d’oeuvre, Angels on Horseback?  Or, maybe some obscure British pub savory like Toad in the Hole.  Or, possibly a dessert even more obscure than Spotted Dick?

More precisely, it’s The Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive in Bow, Washington where we had more great food, more great views and more time with friends. But first, a bit about The Oyster Bar because I did a little homework.

During the Great Depression, the Rockpoint Oyster Company built an oyster shack between a cliff and Washington State’s first scenic highway, Chuckanut Drive. Here, oysters were sold by the plant manager, Mr. Maekawa, to the travelers that passed by. The little stand did so well a lunch counter was added and the Rockpoint Oyster Restaurant was born. But Maekawa’s family was interned during World War II and the restaurant sat empty from 1942-1946.

When Otto Amos bought the restaurant in 1946 his wife renamed it the Oyster Bar and they coined the slogan “The oysters that we serve today slept last night in Samish Bay.” The menu consisted of deep fried oysters and a ham dish. It was sold in 1954, major renovations were made, and the menu now included prawns, scallops, fish and chips and clam chowder.oldoyster barSince 1970 it has been bought and sold a couple of times and given a makeover in structure, the menu and the wine selections.

The Oyster Bar (2015)

The Oyster Bar (2015)

We were introduced to The Oyster Bar about 5 years ago when we were visiting our friends, Pam and Kenn, in Bellingham. As an afternoon diversion with our Green Bay foodie friends, Barb and Micheal, they suggested that we take a drive down Chuckanut Drive and have lunch at The Oyster Bar.  Well, the drive was spectacular, in part because of the view of Samish Bay and the San Juan Islands; in part, because of the breath-taking, sometimes white knuckle, curving road; and, in part, because of the precipitous, densely forested rise on the inland side and an equally precipitous and attention getting drop-off on the Bay side of the road.  About halfway between Fairhaven and Bow, The Oyster Bar is delicately perched on a steep cliff at a wide spot in the road with barely enough room to park a car between the roadway and the restaurant.

On this trip, because it is one of her favorite restaurants, Pam made reservations for all of us to go there for dinner. Once inside the restaurant you feel like you’re dining in a tree house because the view out the windows is nothing but trees and bay.  Here is a peek of the view from our table, that’s our friend Kenn in the corner enjoying the evening.

View from The Oyster Bar

View from The Oyster Bar

Once we pulled ourselves away from the view, we concentrated on the menu. Our waiter was very knowledgeable and steered us to a nice German Reisling to start things off. Not to dry, not too sweet. Something for every taste at the table.

A German Reisling

This was followed by appetizers all around.

row 1: crab cakes, gravlax row 2: raw oysters, mixed seasonal greens

row 1: crab cakes, gravlax
row 2: raw oysters, mixed seasonal greens

Curt, of course, had the oysters which he thoroughly enjoyed.  The high point of the oyster presentation was that little cup of a hard cider mignonette granita.  It was so refreshing and unexpected that, even though he normally takes his shellfish au naturale, he actually added some of the mignonette to his oysters this time.  I thought the salad, a combination of greens, toasted walnuts, blue cheese, red onions, gala apples, red grapes and a maple cider viniagrette, was fabulous. The gravlax disappointed. The salmon was very good but there was just too much goat cheese which overpowered the fish and most of which went uneaten. More on the crab cakes later.

After much laughter and talk and more wine being ordering, our entrees arrived. First up, Fresh Alaskan Halibut.

Halibut

Halibut

Pam and Barbara ordered this dish and found it delicate and perfectly cooked. The braised rhubarb and rosemary gastrique on top was a special addition. Going around the table, Kenn was next with Steak and Maine Lobster Tail.

Surf & Turf a la The Oyster Bar

Surf & Turf a la The Oyster Bar

I thought the presentation was interesting. This little tower didn’t last long once Kenn started to eat. I am not sure of the topping. From the picture it looks like pine nuts and maybe onion?

Michael ordered the special, Rockfish.

Rockfish

Rockfish

He described it as a very firm fleshed fish. As you can see by this picture and others, the vegetable of the evening was small new potatoes, steamed carrot, brussel sprouts and squash. Each entree also came with a starter of watermelon sorbet and a cheese souffle, see it up there above the rockfish?

Curt was next with, what else…the Fresh Local Oyster Fry!fried oysters?Not as pretty as the other dishes but he said they were great. They had a crispy parmesan breadcrumb crust and the dipping sauce was a creamy sour apple aoili.

Lastly, I had the Oyster Bar Crab Cakes ( from the entree menu). crabcakesPretty much the same as the appetizer, but a little bigger: Dungeness crab, Jonah crab, celery and onion cakes with a mango chutney. The chutney was a nice sweet addition along with the curried aoili.  And of course the vegetables of the day.

So if you are in Washington State, up near Bellingham, and someone says, “Let’s have oysters on Chuckanut”, run, don’t walk, to The Oyster Bar. Make sure you have good friends with you.

Latin Delights in Langley

porticoviewWe just got back from a glorious week on the west coast. Starting in Portland we ate our way up to Bellingham, WA and then back down a bit to Whidbey Island before flying out of Seattle. We were joined by two wonderful friends from Wisconsin (M/B) who are in our current eating group and two other great friends (P/K) who were part of our former gang of foodies in Green Bay. They now live in Bellingham, truly a wonderful place to visit. We thank them for choosing so well.

On Whidbey Island we stayed at the Boatyard Inn in Langley (for your information this is all Washington State except for the Portland part). It was a nice inn but it wasn’t a B & B nor did it have a restaurant attached, however the town of Langley had a lot of eateries. For lunch on our second day we ventured out to find someplace different, someplace good and someplace worthy of a group of foodies. We aren’t, for the most part, picky eaters but if all the menu has to offer is seafood I, for one, might not be happy.

Earlier while we had been shopping Pamela & Barbara has spotted a sign for the Portico: Latin Bistro & Cantina.

portico3portico2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After checking out a pizzeria and a Mediterranean grill, this looked more promising. And don’t you just love chalkboards, especially ones propped up on a chair and secured with a brick? The entrance was down a short hall  and looked quite nice. And yes, there was a water view (see the opening banner photo).

Portico entrance

Portico entrance

The restaurant featured Latin American cuisine, which incorporated the tastes of Mexico, the Caribbean, Andean and Spanish. The small menu offered just two starters and five entrees but no one felt that the choices were limited.  Curt got things rolling by immediately ordering a plate of Chifles for the table. I took this as a good sign that he had quickly looked over the offerings and knew he was going to like the food here.

Chifles

Chifles

The Chifles were deep-fried green plantains with a garlic cilantro dipping sauce. They were excellent, the dipping sauce was wonderful, and everyone quickly polished them off while deciding what to order. P/K, M/B and I all decided on the Tostadas de Cochinita Pibil. They each were splitting their entree along with ordering Roasted Pineapple Salads. I was eating all my tostadas by myself.

tostadasThe tostadas consisted of braised pork with lettuce and salsa yucateca, which was a pickled onion relish. The dish came with rice and black beans. All was really good..

pineapplesaladThe salad was listed as a starter but our friends were glad they chose to share it because it could have been an entree  in itself. There were mixed greens, broiled pineapple, cotija cheese, avocado, and sweet potatoes all drizzled with a garlic & cumin vinaigrette. Another flavorful success!

Curt chose Ropa Vieja. The name means “Old Clothes” because the dish, consisting of slow cooked Cuban beef, peppers, and onions is supposed to resemble a pile of colorful rags. This came with fried plantains, rice, black beans and a dab of salsa yucateca. He loved it and I agreed, because I had a taste.

Ropa Vieja "Old Clothes"

Ropa Vieja “Old Clothes”

We had some interesting microbrews with lunch along with a lot of good conversation and naturally a lot of laughs. We are a merry group. And even though we all were full the waitress talked us into ” a chocolate flan to die for.” How could we resist? One order, six spoons and it was so good we devoured it before I even thought of taking a picture. Sorry.

All in all a very good choice for lunch. In hindsight I wish we had gone back for dinner that evening because there was still Ecuadorian Ceviche, Chicken Enchiladas with Mole de Xalapa and Jamaica Jerk Chicken to try.

Dinner was Served

It has been a week since Curt and I were shopping and cleaning and prepping for our Foodie Group dinner. But last Saturday did finally arrive. There were a few minor blips like forgetting the salad forks (my husband suddenly turned into Emily Post as the salad was served) and not spreading the vegetables out on the dinner plates (that remaining empty area next to the potatoes looked like we missed something). But everything tasted good and there was a lot of lively conservation and laughter, so I think it was a success.

We got so caught up in the cooking and plating and serving that I didn’t take any pictures but here is my table setting. It was fun having the dinner on Valentine’s Day.

tableAnd I know I was being coy about the menu last week but now that all is finished, this is what was served.

UntitledThe salad was very good, the potatoes were interesting, the carrots and beets could have been more attractive though they tasted good, the meat was fine but not special and maybe a little overdone. I could have had a 2nd and a 3rd of dessert but restrained myself. But in my opinion, the star of the evening was the chowder. Curt based the chowder on an escargot/mushroom appetizer he had at Le Petit Chatelet when we were in Paris. This restaurant is right next to the famous “Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.” You can get a glimpse of it in the last seconds of Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.”

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

In Paris, Curt’s soup/chowder appetizer arrived with a puff pastry on top and was quite amazing.  Hidden under the puff pastry crust was a rich escargot and mushroom chowder.

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

We tried doing the puff pastry top but that was pretty much a failure so our version had puff pastry croutons instead. And since snails are not a widely shared taste treat in our group, Curt used side-stripe shrimp and sea scallops instead. It was truly wonderful. Sorry about the lack of photo but here is the recipe we served.

Seafood & Wild Mushroom Chowder after le Petit Chatelet
serves 6

1 quart corn stock
Mushrooms: 1/2 c. Chanterelle, 1/4 c. Morel,
3/4 c. Chicken of the Woods, 3/4 c. Brown Beech  – all cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large shallot, minced
4 large sea scallops, quartered
12 small shrimp, we used side stripe
1 c. heavy cream
3 c. seafood stock (Swanson’s or homemade)
white pepper
salt
saffron, pinch
2 T. flour
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 dash hot pepper sauce, like Frank’s

Saute chanterelles in 2 T olive oil till tender, add 2 T. flour and cook to make roux. Add 1 T. butter & remaining mushrooms and saffron.  Cook I minute, stirring. Add corn & seafood stock. Stir to incorporate roux. Simmer 20 minutes. (to this point all can be done ahead)

Add scallops, shrimp & hot pepper sauce, cook 5 minutes.
Add cream & 1 T. butter, bring to a light simmer.

Serve with puff pastry croutons & a drizzle of shellfish oil.

For croutons, just buy a commercial puff pastry. Cut dough into 3/4 inch squares and bake according to directions on the box.

Shellfish oil is made by combining a pile of shrimp, lobster. or crab shells in a sauce pan with 1/2 C. grape seed or canola oil, 1Tbs. tomato paste and 1/2 tsp. of smoked paprika.  Saute for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit until cool.  Strain out the shell bits and reserve the oil for garnish on chowder or soup.

Note: We had corn stock that we made at the end of last summer from fresh corn cobs after we cut off the corn kernels for freezing.

Hope your Valentine’s Day was as fun as ours.

 

Guests arrive in Twenty-Six Hours

rose2I usually use this blog to talk about the aftermath of a successful meal or dinner party. However, right now I am caught up in the whirlwind of preparation for the Foodies Group dinner this coming Saturday so taking a breath and talking about what’s happening seemed like a perfect break from the action. Tomorrow will definitely be crazier as we get close to opening the door to our guests so you won’t be hearing from me for days.

The past week has been taken up with the heavier cleaning, like the floors. But that is good, because if I didn’t invite guests over every other month or so, I’d just put off the major clean up and clutter purge till spring. And it’s not like the dust is an inch thick but the papers, books, magazines, mail, etc. really starts to take over tables, counters, chairs, the floor.

Another big project this week was the shopping. I think we went over our recipes 5 times, bought the meat last Friday, did a big shop yesterday and still found out this morning that we were out of honey. So while I finished dessert prep, Curt made a final run to the grocery. When he got home he mentioned it was a good thing we picked up our flowers yesterday because today every mother’s son is buying flowers for Saturday…oh didn’t I mention, we chose Valentine’s Day for our dinner. But it will be fun and I have a color theme to work with, those red roses in the opening banner will give you a hint.

stockThis morning Curt was already working on his fish stock for the chowder, and even I, the non fish lover, thought it gave the house a nice bistro-like fragrance.

shrimpOnce I finished my breakfast it was my turn in the kitchen. I don’t do much food prep when we have these dinners; I’m the ambience and logistics manager, but with Curt doing five dishes I said I would take on dessert. At first, there was a lot of lobbying for tiramasu. After all it is Valentine’s Day and that is a luscious sweet. But I discovered the new cookbook we are using, Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi did not just have wonderful vegetable dishes but also desserts.dessertI found one that could be made ahead and assembled just before serving. Perfect. Consequently, my food contribution is already complete.

cherreisNow all I have left today is the vacuuming, tomorrow is the table setting, the bathroom, dishes from food prep, a shower, the wine, the appetizers……wheh! I need a nap just thinking about it. How did we ever do these dinners when we were working fulltime? And where did those dirty dishes come from?

cleanBtw, if it seems like I am being coy about what we are serving, I am. It really isn’t a big secret but it is fun to surprise our friends and I believe they might read this before arriving tomorrow.