Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sidney at Willoughby Run — Gettysburg, PA — A Restaurant Recommendation

When my siblings and I visit my parents in southern Pennsylvania, we tend to have the tradition of going out to eat at least once at my parents' favorite restaurant, Cafe D'Italia, located on the square of downtown Chambersburg. It's a delightful little place that offers real Italian cooking by a young chef who loves what he does.

This past visit, however, Cafe D'Italia was closed for renovations. My sisters and I wanted to take my parents out to celebrate their anniversary, and so we were a little bit stumped. What was close by but worthy enough to honor my parents for their anniversary dinner?

After some research, my eldest sister came up with a solution: Sidney at Willoughby Run in Gettysburg, PA. The reviews seemed to be pretty good, and so we took the plunge.

After living in Chicago and Boston more than half my life, I have to admit, I've become pretty accustomed to having my pick of super-great restaurants. I no longer fear reheated frozen vegetables on my dinner plate at the local "nice" restaurant. But when I'm back in my small hometown in ol' PA, it's pretty hard to find a place that doesn't serve just that.

So that is what I was honestly expecting when we drove up to Sidney's. It was located on a golf course, so that right there meant weddings. And when we walked in, the decor was nice, but it still had that "hotel" feel to it. You know, large rooms with "elegantly" patterned, wall-to-wall carpet. And wainscoting. And draperies. Which was all translating to "canned gravy+slices of dry roast beef" in my head.

And I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Let me just put it this way: I was shocked—SHOCKED—at not only the homey hospitality that was exuded by the staff of Sidney's but also by what the chef was cranking out of the kitchen. Every single dish we tried was delicious, beautifully presented, and accompanied by the sincerest charm of our server. I was so engrossed, in fact, that I actually forgot to take pictures!

I take that back. I did snag a shot of my parents toasting each other with the champagne that our server graciously provided to help them celebrate:

An anniversary toast, provided by Sidney at Willoughby Run in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

And I did get a shot of the glorious dessert we all shared, a creation composed of sour cherry sorbet, baby panna cottas, cilantro flowers, torn and dried cake crumbles, and crisp, piped meringues.

The sour cherry composed dessert at Sidney at Willoughby Run in Gettysburg, PA

It was a spectacular end to a spectacular evening, an anniversary celebration that we all were looking forward to, and none of us expected to be so special. 

Will we all be going back? Heck, yeah. Cafe D'Italia has got some competition finally, I believe. Anniversary or not, I think we'll find an excuse to go back to Sidney's. It's chef and it's staff have done what every restaurant dreams of doing: they completely won over our hearts.

Keep it up, Sidney. We expect to see you next time.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Childhood Classic or A New Classic Cocktail?: The Baldwin Bar's Take on Encyclopedia Brown

Ran and Company have done it again.

After spending the entire day yesterday impatiently waiting for evening to arrive, Chef Reiton and I drove to Woburn and spent the dinner hour with some friends, sampling dishes and creations from Volume 2 of the Trading Company's newest menu.

May I suggest, based on our completely destroying all five dishes brought to our table, the Cucumber with Garlic Sauce as an appetizer? It will leave your mouth singing, but your tongue will get used to it, I promise. We also loved the House Special Eggplant, one of Sichuan Garden's chicken dishes that will not leave your nose running (Ran's father runs the restaurant portion downstairs; it is the best Sichuan food you will ever eat. For real.). When it comes to the beverages, I also highly recommend that you just let the staff pick what you drink. Trust me.

We had the great pleasure to be served by Luteh, who can not only read minds but also has the uncanny ability to see into your past. How do I know? Because at the end of our meal, at my request to "just have one more," I was delivered this:

The Encyclopedia Brown cocktail at The Baldwin Bar, Woburn, Massachusetts, my first cocktail-in-a-flask ever!

What you see is a little box disguised as a book. Tucked inside are a frosty flask full of the dreamiest (yes, dreamiest) bourbon cocktail I've had in a long time—if ever; a frosty glass with a wedge of lemon peel clothespinned to the rim; and a "library" card printed with the recipe for the cocktail: The Encyclopedia Brown.

(Pardon the imperfect picture, but it's romantically dark in the bar, and I was using my phone. One of these days I will take an Uber and my good camera and go crazy.)

I'm tempted to provide the recipe here, but—I'm a librarian and a violent opponent of copyright infringement, so.... I think you will have to go yourself. If you read the Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid, you'll remember that Encyclopedia Brown would never have stood for such injustice, either.

So. Instead of going to that truly God-awful Chinese restaurant down the street, make a reservation online for the upstairs section of The Baldwin Bar. Savor every bite of your mind- and tongue-numbingly good dinner, every divinely drinkable work of art that are the cocktails, and at the end of dinner, ask to check out "Encyclopedia Brown." It's a "read" you will never forget.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Delicate Nasturtium Flower...and How to Eat It (and Other Lovely Blooms)


A nasturtium flower

is a nasturtium flower.

A sweet, delicate specimen, it grows from long and leggy stems, protected by lily pad-like leaves.

A yellow nasturtium flower

Orange nasturtium flowers in a garden

Loved by bees but hated by garden pests, I plant them amongst my veggies in my garden boxes in order to deter bugs that will destroy my tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers.

But I have to admit: I also plant them because I like to EAT THEM.

There is nothing more beautiful on a summer dinner table than the bright splash of flowers on your cool, green salad.

Nasturtium flowers on a green salad for eating

And there is nothing more delicious than the peppery bite of a nasturtium flower crunching between your teeth.

Okay, well, maybe this garlicky, paprika-y, finger-sucking-good chicken we experimented with last night:

Garlic-and-Paprika-Rubbed Spatchcocked Grilled Chicken

Chef Reiton and I intend to experiment further on wings, instead. (We'll get back to you.)

The next flower we intend to devour? These babies:

Squash blossoms for stuffing, frying and eating

Squash (or zucchini) blossoms. When I can't take eating one more damn zucchini this summer, I will be plucking these gorgeous blooms then stuffing and frying them in an attempt to mimic one of the jewels of our Besh Restaurant Honeymoon. (This, too, we will keep you informed on.)

Also waiting to be eaten in my garden? Violas.

Purple and yellow violas in my garden

Orange violas in my garden

Time for a crash-course in sugaring flowers for a cake? I think so! (Aaaaaaand, I'll keep you posted on that, too.)

God bless summer, right?!?!? 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Awesomeness of Dinner Leftovers: Breakfast Barbacoa with Eggs

What to do with leftover chipotle barbacoa from our amazing Latin dinner?

Breakfast barbacoa, baby.

Heat the chipotle beef in a skillet on medium with a bit of cotija (or whatever you've got) cheese sprinkled on top. Crack in a few eggs and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Simmer away for a few minutes until the egg whites are mostly set.

chipotle barbacoa reheated in a skillet, topped with eggs and cotija cheese

Broil for a couple more minutes until whites are all white but yolks are still runny. Sprinkle with more cotija cheese and chopped cilantro and serve.

chipotle barbacoa in a skillet, topped with eggs, cotija cheese and cilantro

A gluten-free, primal, protein-packed breakfast with a kick. Dig in!

breakfast barbacoa made with leftover chipotle beef or barbacoa, cotija cheese, eggs and cilantro

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Latin American Dinner Menu—and a Few Reminders of Why I Cook (and You Should, Too)

I woke this morning to dreams of last night's dinner—the dinner I emergency-posted last night in a fit of delirious food love. Our kitchen still held the faintest smell of smoky chipotle as I came downstairs for our morning coffee. If we had been hungry, I would have pulled out a bit of the barbacoa, heated it up in the skillet and cracked an egg on top for Chef Reiton.

But we weren't hungry at four in the morning, so instead I uploaded our dinner photos from last night and dorkily reminisced over how fantastic it was.

A Latin American dinner of sorts with barbacoa on homemade corn tortillas, tostones and cucumber and mango chow

Our menu? It was an eclectic compilation of Latin American foods:
  • Puerto Rican tostones with mayo-ketchup
  • Mexican barbacoa served on homemade corn tortillas
  • Caribbean cucumber and mango chow
I definitely can't say the dishes we served were all 100% authentic, but I can say that, holy cow, I didn't want to stop eating!

This dinner, believe it or not, was actually super simple and quick. The barbacoa is made in the crockpot; the tostones fry up (twice!) in about 5 minutes total once the oil is hot; and the chow takes about 10 minutes to assemble before it chills in the fridge. The longest part is the tortilla preparation, but that—that I will get to. Save the best for last...

First, the chow. I may have already mentioned this salad-of-sorts in a previous post. I've certainly made it several times already since it was published by Bon Appétit in their April 2017 issue. The recipe is from Miss Ollie of Miss Ollie's in Oakland, CA. It has an easy-to-find list of ingredients and can be made in about ten minutes. The best part is that it can be made a few hours ahead and chilled in the fridge while you are making the rest of your dinner. I love it for its sweet but peppery mango, the heat of chiles, the coolness of cucumber, and the tang of lime. The cilantro allows you to serve it with a variety of ethnic foods that love cilantro: Thai, Mexican, Caribbean. It's simply fantastic.

Next, the tostones. Tostones are thick slices of green plantain that have been fried, flattened, fried again, then sprinkled with adobo seasoning and served with garlicky mayo-ketchup. We learned how to make these babies when we recently had our friend Chaz (JetBlue's BEST flight attendant!) over to cook a Puerto Rican dinner (yes, I will blog on that soon!). 

Green plantain slices after their first fry for tostones

A fried slice of green plantain waiting to be pressed in a tostonera

Pressing a fried slice of green plantain for a tostone

Smashing a fried slice of green plantain for a tostone

A smashed slice of fried green plantain ready to be fried again for a tostone

Not only are these just flat-out fun to make (no pun intended, really!), they are absolutely delicious and healthy, with about 2 grams of dietary fiber for half a green plantain and a low glycemic index. And as for the frying, if you still think fried food is horribly unhealthy, that's because—sorry—you are doing it wrong. Food properly fried barely absorbs any fat; the water in the food immediately starts to steam when the food is dropped into the screaming hot oil, pushing water out of the food so that the fat can't soak in. Don't believe me? Read the transcript of a Good Eats episode by Alton Brown, one of my favorite food scientists, who explains it in a more entertaining way. You can also do a bit of research on this. You'll find that science is right. Thank you, science. 

Now for the barbacoa. I have no idea who Queen To Y'All is, but I want to thank her for posting this recipe on years ago and making me and my friends extremely happy. It was a required party staple during my years in Chicago. Now you can find the recipe under "Chipotle Roast for Tacos and Sandwiches" on It's awesomely simple. Dump all the ingredients into the Crockpot in the morning, set her on low, and walk away until it's time to prep the rest of dinner. It will sit and simmer happily, silently taunting you, wafting smells of cumin and spice all day long. When it's time to eat, stir it all up with a slotted spoon and put it on the table. That's it. 

We are now left with the best for last... 

I've never in my life eaten a fresh corn tortilla. Even the Mexican restaurants that I've visited use prepackaged. You can tell: they are rubbery, pretty darn tasteless, and absolutely perfectly round. It's actually kind-of too bad I made these (in a good way) because after eating them, I don't know that I'm ever going to be able to eat another commercially made tortilla again.

Corn tortillas may somehow look complicated (like anything does when you've never made one) but in reality are super simple to make. They are made with a fine corn flour called "masa harina" (I used Bob's Red Mill—totally gluten-free, by the way, and you can find it in most grocery stores), salt and water. I used my stand mixer to blend the ingredients into a smooth paste, then Chef Reiton formed them into little balls.

Shaping the masa dough into little balls

We experimented with different ways to roll them out. Chef Reiton started by rolling them on a sheet of parchment

Experimenting rolling out masa dough for homemade corn tortillas

but we decided that they tore less and came out rounder if they were flattened with my palm between two sheets of parchment and then rolled gently.

Rolling out a homemade corn tortilla between two sheets of parchment paper

Homemade corn tortillas made with masa harina

We also learned that the little balls need to be kept under a damp towel while the tortillas are being rolled out. They started to dry out rather quickly, making them break and tear when they were rolled. Because of this learning curve, I ended up actually dipping the last several balls of dough into a bowl of water twice then rekneading them to soften them back up again.

With our cast iron skillet smoking hot, we cooked up the tortillas, one minute a side, finishing with a final thirty seconds after the second flip. Later we realized we should have had two skillets going at a time. Duh. It would have gone faster.

Cooking a homemade corn tortilla in a cast iron skillet on the stove

The recipe for these tortillas came from a wonderful cookbook by Marilyn and Luis Peinado called Bienvenidos to Our Kitchen: Authentic Mexican Cooking. The book is loaded with every single authentic Mexican dish you've ever eaten plus some. 

A cookbook by Luis and Marilyn Peinado called Bienvenidos to Our Kitchen: Authentic Mexican Cooking

You are in luck, too! New copies are still available on as well as used copies on and eBay.

As Chef Reiton and I sat sipping our rioja at the end of the meal, we couldn't stop oohing and ahhhing over our empty plates. I do not mean this as a boast, but how could we have made probably the best Latin meal I have ever had in our North American kitchen?

The answers are simple:
  1. We are willing to experiment making new foods.
  2. We are willing to mess up and learn from our mistakes for the next time we try it.
  3. We are into saving money while eating food that is usually better than a restaurant's.
Do you want to know how much our dinner for two last night cost us? Actually it's probably closer to three dinners for two, thanks to the leftovers. Let's assume that going out for an average Mexican dinner costs $60 for two people. Sound reasonable? Maybe even a little cheap if you throw a few margaritas into the bill? 

Well, here's what I spent at Market Basket on the ingredients that make three full meals for two (and I'm even going to assume you don't have staples like cumin, garlic, chile powder or oil). I'll even throw in the bottle of wine we had with dinner:
  • 2 lb. chuck roast from Walden Local Meats, my pasture-raised meat share: $20.00
  • can of green chiles: $.99
  • can of chipotle peppers: $2.69
  • onion: $.43
  • can of salsa verde (even though mine was free because I used my own): $1.29
  • beef consumme (used my own, again, so technically free): $1.89
  • garlic head: $.40
  • cumin: $1.59
  • chile powder: $1.29
  • adobo seasoning: $2.79
  • green plantain: $.33
  • corn oil: $3.09
  • masa harina: $2.99
  • hothouse cucumber: $.99
  • mango: $.99
  • cilantro: $.99
  • shallot: $.25
  • bottle of wine: $18.00
TOTAL: $60.99

So, for a more expensive, pasture-raised roast, a good bottle of wine and ALL the ingredients for the meal, I spent the same as the cost of a Mexican dinner out—and I'll actually get THREE dinners for two out of last night, not just the one. AND my homemade dinner was SO MUCH BETTER than the food you get at a restaurant.

And it's not ME who is awesome! It's the FOOD!!!


I'll calm down. But, folks...this is why I cook. And it's why you should, too. It's cheaper. It's healthier. It's waaaaaaay deliciouser. (I know.)

So. Think about what foods you love. Find the recipes. Buy the ingredients. Make the meal. Even if you "screw up," it's going to be good.


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