Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Relaxed Italian Dinner Menu for Feeding My Army

Two weeks ago I invited my army of best friends over for a dinner party. I call them "my army" because that is exactly what they are: my backup, my support, my armada. And last night I needed them, so in exchange for their services, I (and Beth) decided to feed them.

And—surprise, surprise—what a fantastic time we had together. An evening with tears of laughter, full bellies and empty wine glasses.

Our appetizers were simple: Vodka-Spiked Tomatoes with Pepper-Salt (from 150 Best American Recipes) and cheese straws. Beth worked on the cheese straws

cheese strawswhile I prepped the tomatoes for the vodka marinade. To share in the experience, we both peeled the tomatoes together. My father, I believe, is the only one who can appreciate the peeling bit—so I took a picture of the "after" so he can have a little flashback:

peeled grape tomatoesFor the main course, Beth made antipasto-stuffed shells. Delicious.

antipasto stuffed shellsFor the entree, I wanted to make something different but easy, so Beth lent me her copy of "Best Make-Ahead Recipes" by Cooks Illustrated. I decided on stromboli. I hadn't had it since I was a teenager, and I thought it would be fun to try. I adapted my pizza dough recipe with a bit more whole wheat flour and then made three different strombolis: Pepperoni with Provolone and Mozzarella; Mushroom, Onion, and Roasted Peppers with Mozzarella, Provolone, and Romano; and Caprese with Mozzarella. They all turned out to be delicious. Will definitely do again. Easy to make the dough, easy to put together, easy to bake.

homemade stromboliAnd, then...Beth made dessert. OH MY GOD. She brought dough for beignets, which I'd never had, and rolled, cut and fried them right then and there. I masterfully sprinkled the steaming beignets with powdered sugar, thank you very much. And took the pictures. Just try to keep from drooling:

homemade beignets
homemade beignetsTo say the least, I thoroughly enjoyed myself: cooking, talking, eating, drinking, sharing old stories, relaxing in the presence of those I trust and love. But I don't think I was the only one. I believe, as Beth says, "A good time was had by all." For sure.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Il Mito—Wauwatosa, WI—A Restaurant Recommendation

The food:

- Bread - Warm, thick Italian bread, cleanly sliced (major pet peeve of mine when it's not) into chunks, served with a roasted red pepper puree with a swirl of basil pesto, to dip. Delicious. Nice segue from the classic olive oil and parmesan.

- Drink - Hendricks Gin & Tonic sans Cucumber. Il Mito does not include cucumber in any of their salads, and so did not have a cucumber to put in my Hendricks G & T. They all felt really bad about it, and Deanna told me that if the supermarket across the street were open she would have run across to buy one. Sweet. I missed it, but Hendricks is so fucking good, I somehow survived. Deanna actually recommended that the next time I make a Hendricks G & T to add one twist from a black pepper grinder to finish the drink. I am very intrigued. Will definitely try that. Sounds very Violet Hour.

- Insalata Mista - a mix of baby greens and sliced lettuces, including basil, which gave the salad a delightful kick every couple bites, with diced tomato and julienned carrots, tossed in a creamy white balsamic dressing. Note: the julienned carrots were pretty, but annoying to eat. And my salad server only gave me one twist of black pepper???

- Ortagi Pizza - a nicely sized vegetable pizza with spinach, grilled tomato, eggplant, zucchini, basil pesto and mozzarella cheese. My waitress, Deanna, recommended adding some goat cheese to it. I usually am not crazy about goat cheese, but I said 'yes' since she recommended it. Wow. I'm glad I did. A light, crisp, thin flour crust. Needed a sprinkling of salt, but just a teeny bit.

- Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte - an individual flourless chocolate cake flipped from a ramekin over a swirl of chocolate and raspberry sauces, garnished with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a sliced strawberry. Thank you for not including mint! The chocolate flavor could have been a bit headier--darker--for my taste; it finished a bit bland, but the sauces and whipped cream helped curb that.

- Coffee - Alterra Coffee, roasted by two local brothers in Milwaukee. Delicious. I'd put it up there with LaVazza. Almost.

A Single Diner's Observation—and the Creating of a Food Blog

This evening was not unlike other nights. I was hungry, and I wanted to eat.

Being in Milwaukee for a weekend alone, I decided to take myself out for dinner. After a quick search on Open Table, I found a highly recommended little Italian restaurant called Il Mito on the western edge of the city in Wauwatosa. I booked myself a reservation for 6:30 and got ready to take myself out.

Upon arriving at the restaurant and being seated, I began to take note of something I had never noticed before: there are definite perks to dining alone. Servers aren't used to individuals--and I'm going to assume here--especially women, dining out alone. I think most people find the thought of not having anyone to talk to during the meal uncomfortable, and so find it slightly out-of-the-ordinary when someone does come walking into a restaurant, especially with a reservation, to eat a meal alone. And because of this supposed oddness, servers feel bad for you. And intrigued. I was asked by the host as I was seated if I had been in last week. I told him, no, this was my first time here. My waitress, Deanna, came to the table and said, "You've been here before, correct?" Again, I said no. She told me that I looked familiar. That I actually looked like someone from TV. We began to chat and laugh about my "twin," and the atmosphere for my evening out, right then and there, was set. Deanna and I were buddies. I was going to be taken care of.

And I was. But not just by Deanna. The bartender talked to me several times. The host stopped by again to check on me. The waiter from two tables over chatted with me a couple times. I was an anomaly. I was unattached. So I was approachable. Deanna and I talked repeatedly, about my food, my drink, the coffee. I got more personality from all of them than anyone else in the restaurant. And that made my dining experience especially enjoyable.

My royal treatment might have also been because I had a notepad on the table and wrote continuously during my meal. I could see it being eyeballed during the course of the evening: what is it that she's writing? Honestly, it began as notes for the bottles of wine that I saw on the bar. But I suddenly realized as I ate that I was having a dialogue in my head about the food that I was eating, just as I do with my friends when we go out. And it came to mind--why don't I write this stuff down? Take notes about the food I eat. What I like about it. What I don't like. Ideas that I have to try. Restaurants that I'd recommend. Stories of dining.

And so my notebook became not just a list of wines that I saw on the bar, but a record of what I ate and what I thought about it. A running tab of random thoughts--about my food.

And so, here I am, beginning another blog for myself and for my friends: a track record of everything food- and drink-related. For ourselves and the food that feeds our souls.

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