Midweek Lunch Thursday, Jul 28 2011 

One of the great pleasures of not having to go to the office every day, is the ability to go have a leisurely  lunch on a whim during the week. We had such a whim this week and our  destination was Annie Gunn’s. Located in the Chesterfield valley, Annie Gunn’s is considered by me to be one of the finest restaurants anywhere. The atmosphere and the service are first class, and product that comes out of the kitchen is always delicious.

This visit we began with the very refreshing ice tea which was extra special good since we just came inside from the 95 degree July heat. Wonderful classic tea flavor with no frou-frou raspberry or hibiscus flowers.

Since we were in no rush to return to the office, We started with appetizers. Don had the house bacon and potato pancake (of course) while I preferred a half-dozen of the east coast Plymouth Rock oysters. The oysters were briny with the muscle professionally cut off the shell. They were served with the classic mignonette and cocktail sauce. Perfect. light and delicious for a hot day. The potato/ bacon assemblage was smoky and very tasty with the occasional hit of fresh thyme.

For our entrees, Don selected the beet salad with grilled prawns and red wine vinaigrette, which was very refreshing. I chose the seafood stew special of the day. This stew was filled with clams, mussels, shrimp and grouper atop a bed of velvety polenta. All of which was bathed in a sublime saffron broth. Think shrimp and grits with the best saffron broth you ever tasted and you are there.

Being well satisfied we declined dessert including the special cinnamon ice cream we usually get. 

Once again leaving Annie Gunn’s  feeling well fed and basking in a wonderous midweek frivolity.

Birthday Bistro Monday, Jul 25 2011 

Every now and then a word becomes so ubiquitous in language it gets overused and becomes bland and banal. Usually, it is  media ineptness which causes this shabby treatment to turn perfectly good words into tasteless leftovers.

Lately, in the restaurant scene the word “bistro” has fallen into this abyss of triteness. It seems every restaurant, coffee shop, Chinese takeout place and hot dog stand has either “bistro” in its name or a special “bistro menu.”

A few weeks ago, we traveled to Soulard for a celebratory Saturday night dinner at Franco. I am here to tell you that although Franco does not have Bistro in its name, it has every right to stand tall among the bona-fide french bistros I have frequented. That includes its bar scene with enjoyable cocktails,  right through appetizers, entrees and dessert. It also includes the lack of cool air conditioning experienced during our visit, making it seem more like an authentic French bistro.

We arrived a few minutes early for a six PM reservation and went into the inviting bar area for a wine and one of Franco’s signature cocktails. Shortly, Tom and Kristy arrived and we were shown to our table. In true Parisian style, the table was small, but nicely placed.

Our waiter arrived sixty seconds later and was helpful and friendly. Not exactly Parisian surliness, but welcomed and expected in St. Louis.

For appetizers, we selected a number of small plates; a shrimp cocktail, country pate, steak tartare, escargots and sweetbreads. All met or exceeded expectations, especially the tartare and the sweetbreads with mushroom confit, which were my personal favorites.

As we finished our appetizers and awaited our entrees, I noticed the room becoming more crowded, noiser and noticeably warmer. Just like a French bistro, but thankfully without the cigarette smoke.

Our dinner arrived and was beautifully presented. Kristy had the Missouri trout, Donna the steak with the obligatory pomme frittes and Tom and I each got the bouillabaisse.

The saffron laced broth, perhaps not as flavorful as bouillabaisse served in the waterside bistros of Marseille, but it  was delicate,  delicious and full of seafood.

After dinner, we had coffee and Tom could not resist the outstanding sea salt caramel ice cream. I think he likes that ice cream as much as he likes pork bellies, only unlike some faux foodies, he has the good sense not to mix the two.

As we left the restaurant, we could not help but notice how much cooler it was outside. But, as I recall, that is true to the Parisian bistro experience.

Well done, Franco.

Revived by a Simply Delicious Jar Friday, Jul 15 2011 

We’ve had so many amazing meals lately. It would be a crying shame not to recount even if we have lost our readers. This journal of food gratitude is getting another go, and I believe we’ve been revived by pesto …

My mother-in-law presented us with a jar of the most perfect basil pesto, made from her garden, while we were dining at Franco last weekend (hopefully more to come on the restaurant). Before noon the next day I dove in using a grilled chicken sausage for delivery. The sauce was delicious, balanced, sweet and nutty with just the right amount of cheese—-so super fresh.

Inspired by Donna’s basil recipe and still freshly stocked, we made a tomato version she turned us onto in 2009 spaghetti ai due pomodori. I had two salsiccias from Manzo’s, so I made a small batch of meatballs to go with the pasta.

Tomorrow the two sauces are going on a plate together with some imported bucatini — due pesti! Grazie Ma-ma!

What begins with heating bourbon, coffee, butter and cocoa? Friday, Dec 18 2009 

It’s a bundt cake, a whiskey chocolate bundt cake , and it’s delicious, not fancy or complicated but really tasty. It’s not the dessert you would choose when staring at the table of post-dinner decadence because it looks … maybe a little boring, maybe you’d be afraid it would be dry. No really, it’s moist, rich, flavorful, comforting! Go on, add it to your Christmas menu because it makes for great breakfast leftovers when nobody’s watching. Thanks to my dear friend Tracey for turning me onto this recipe a few years back. I’ve made it many times since. Last year I added vanilla bean to the whipped cream, it was great to have the cream on the table for coffee drinks, too. MMMMmmm …. 7 days til Christmas. What’s on your menu?

Tom’s Been Drinkin’… Tuesday, Nov 17 2009 

Hercules Double IPA, Great Divide Brewing Co. (Colorado)

This shit will mess you up good. You should get some and get some now. Hoppy and fragrant, sloppy and flagrant, it’s Hercules Double IPA.

What’s in Joe’s Kegerator? Sunday, Oct 25 2009 

I am currently featuring a fine beer from the Founder’s Brewery in Michigan called Red’s Rye Ale. It is quite hoppy (but not too much, like some of the new creations out there) and flavorful from being brewed with actual rye. A unique, powerful, flavorful, wonderful beer. One of my favorites. I will miss it when it’s gone.

Yankee Gumbo Wednesday, Oct 21 2009 

Back in the day, I used to live in this bungalow-style house in Maplewood that was located directly across the street from a little park. It’s a nice big space with room for a small playground (the kind with those spongy floors) and a couple of port-a-johns. Anyway, every summer they’d have a concert series and folks from all over the neighborhood and surrounding municipalities would come out with their kids and their dogs and their lawn chairs, to watch the (mostly) cover bands.

One such band was orginally from New Orleans and, between songs, frequent mention was made of their origins, in addition to the following statement: We’re from New Orleans and, you know, food is a big part of our culture.

To which I say: Well, I’m not a doctor but, isn’t food a big part of most cultures around the world?

Now then, on to the gumbo…

I’ve been making this for years and despite the fact that a person from Louisiana might spit it out and attempt to punch my lights out, it tastes pretty good to me.

Kristy chopped up celery and onions while I made the roux. I got it a nice reddish-brown color, sorta like a penny, and we dumped the veggies in, followed by the chicken stock and the andouille (this time, I used the organic Applegate Farms turkey/chicken variety … you know because I’m a health nut and all) and a can of Miller’s Select Backfin lump crabmeat and its juice. Some freshly grilled chicken breast meat (or leftover) would’ve been nice as well, although I’m determined that next time I’m going to toss in some duck.

Next we threw in some cayenne and other cajun-y spices, along with some Louisiana Hot Sauce and let it go awhile.

Soon, it was ready for some skrimps and the okra (i used frozen for both since I’m lazy) while we cooked the rice and … presto change-o … Gumbo time.

Gumbo

Now that that’s done, I’ll just have to satisfy my jones for an oyster po’boy and some crawfish.

Dance of the forty cloves of garlic (and some pie) (and also some cocktails) Saturday, Oct 17 2009 

Tonight my friends are going out drinking.  Because my job requires me to be lame every third week and be on call, neither Chris nor I are joining them.  Because of this, I had to make my own fun for a homebound Saturday night, so I consulted my pal Mark Bittmann and his rad book, How To Cook Everything.

We decided on Chicken & Garlic Stew, which (according to Bitty) is more commonly known as Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic.  Forty cloves of garlic seems a bit…prohibitive, don’t you think?  I mean, I am a married lady, and I’m so not concerned with natural body functions and the like, but forty cloves of garlic seems like it would stay with you for a while.  But when I read that these forty cloves basically roasted in the pot while everything was cooking, I was on board.  Roasted garlic on crusty bread is heaven.  So onward to the store to get our forty cloves…

Just in case you want to know, here’s what exactly forty cloves of unpeeled garlic looks like.  I thought it would visually make more of an impact.  40 cloves

Since at this point it was much too early to even consider making dinner, I decided to make a pie.  I had some lovely peaches that were extremely ripe, and also some plums.  I got to work making a seriously easy pie, and I’m sorry to say that due to laziness, I used pre-made pie crust.  The pie was simple: peaches, plums, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cornstarch, and butter dumped into the bottom crust and covered with another crust.  Steam vents cut, I popped it into the oven for fifty minutes. That’s it.  I still feel a bit guilty for not making my own crust (especially since it’s the freakin’ easiest thing ever), but I’ll forgive myself.  Eventually.  Here are pics of the pie process:

peachesbowl pietobebakedfinishedpie

Yay pie.  Then it was on to dinner.  Already having prepared the garlic, Chris yanked the dutch oven out of the pantry and I dumped in olive oil, the garlic cloves, chopped Italian parsley, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and a four pound whole chicken, chopped up.  I left most of the skin on for flavor, but cut off the extra dangly fat bits and took the ribs out.  Anyone who has seen Shelley Long’s 1987 cinematic triumph, Hello Again, will understand.  I’m pretty paranoid about choking on chicken bits.  This chicken dish didn’t look very pretty, but believe me when I tell you that it was fantastic.  Especially the popping of whole garlic bits into our mouths and drenching crusty bread in the liquid.  As Chris so eloquently put it, “I’m just going to have to go ahead and beat this dead horse.”  For some context, that just means that we had to lose the utensils at that point.  There’s an hilarious back story to that, but this post is getting ridiculously long, so maybe another time.   So here’s the dead horse, pre-beatingchicken:

After dinner, it was cocktail time as we geared up for our triple-play of Alias, our current Netflix obsession.  Over the past years, I have become extremely fond of bourbon (being a Kentucky girl will do that, I hear) and especially of rye whiskey.  Rye Manhattans are second only to my other favorite rye-based drink, the Sazerac.  Chris is super skilled at making these cocktails (as well he should, because we drink enough of them), and tonight he hit another homerun.  Our ingredient list included Jim Beam Rye Whiskey, sweet vermouth, blood orange bitters, and maraschino cherries.  Here’s a nice action shot.  Enjoy it, because I’m going to drink the crap out of my Manhattan here in just a second…

drinks Obviously I made this picture large because drinks are important!  Also, before you judge that I’m drinking while on call, I’ll just tell you that I’m not a doctor or anything, so I won’t be wielding a scalpel or anything.  (Also, here, I like that I’m pretending that someone other than my friends will actually be reading this blog.  They know I’m not a doctor).  Also (and lastly in my cocktail paragrah), before you judge that we drank at home and didn’t go out drinking with our friends, here’s some context: we’re cheap.

Since this is far too long at it is, I’ll go ahead and wrap it up by saying the pie was really great and then we had some Sam Adams Cream Stout, which is some tasty beer.  Not the most super fantastic awesome beer ever, but it gets the job done.

One Amish Chicken’s Destiny Tuesday, Oct 6 2009 

I’m am omnivore, no doubt, but I realized I don’t do a lot of cooking that requires me to think much about meat.

Last winter I wanted to make a French chicken stew. I bought a three-pound chicken at the farmers market and  when I started to prepare it, I froze. I called a friend, a female hunter (maybe overkill but oh well) to help me out.  We/She made a delicious pot of stew, but I had not really taken the lesson in preparing meat.

This weekend I decided my family needed the warmth and full belly feeling that comes from homemade chicken soup. I went back to the Amish farmer and purchased a relative of the earlier bird—–a fine looking three pounder, a nice, whole, free-range chicken. Maybe interested in the learning opportunity that Joe the butcher could provide (he was coming over to watch football), I considered a handful of recipes. In the end, I consulted Martha and was off with it boiling the chicken in one piece. I saw her there, the pretty bird and decided this was a fine destiny. A warm salt bath with fresh herbs and leeks–dignified, respectable. I felt good about it. Carrots and celery chopped coarse, leeks sauteed soft in butter, finely chopped onion, sweet potato and turnips, Reames egg noodles (so doughy, they’re like dumplings) and fines herbes. You can tell the stuff was made with love.

As for my relationship with meat, I am exploring.

Tom’s Been Drinkin’ … Tuesday, Oct 6 2009 

Caldera IPA

Caldera IPA (Oregon)

Man oh man is this good. I’ve only just recently become aware of it’s delicious and intoxicating existence thanks to last month’s issue of Sauce Magazine.

I’m definitely not one of those beer lovers that can pick out this or that from the aroma and the taste (i’ll leave that to the good folks over at the Beer Advocate).

All I can say is, it’s hoppy, very fresh tasting, not too heavy and it’s ruining me for other beers.

Available at Wine & Cheese Shop in Clayton and Randall’s (and probably at a few other places as well), cans only.

Bottoms up.

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