Monthly Archives: November 2012

Greek Glory Cruise–Split, Croatia

For our second to last day on the cruise, we made our final stop in Croatia to a town called Split.  Split is decidedly smaller than Dubrovnik, but had a really wonderful charm about it.

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The first thing we did in Split, is climb the city’s church tower (which is where the above picture was taken).

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I have to say that I was a little bit scared of this climb because the stairways were narrow and quite steep.  My mom also told me that she had a mild panic attack the day that climbed the tour a few years prior. 

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Despite the fear, Tom, Kate and I forged ahead and eventually made our way up to the top.  Once we got a look of the views, we were glad we did!

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After our trip up and down the tower, we explored the city center a little, and then as was our tradition, found a local beach to visit!

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Like our experience in Corfu, this was more of a concrete platform that people went swimming in than it was a sandy beach, but the water was warm and clean and we had a great time swimming in it.

After the beach, Tommy and I broke off from my parents and Kate and opted to check out a local Split produce market.

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In addition to the beautiful produce that was for sale (some of it I suspect was from the vendor’s gardens or farms, others (like bananas) may have been purchased), the market also had nuts, meats, pasta and cheeses for sale.

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Essentially, this open air market had everything that you could possibly need if you were a local.  It was like a grocery store, but everything was sold by individuals, was probably locally sourced and looked extremely fresh.  I wish that I could make this the place I did my weekly shopping trip.

Finally, as is Tommy and my tradition on European vacation, we purchased a piece of art from a local artist.

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The painting was inexpensive and simple, but we loved buying it from this man who was doing all of his paintings right in the streets of Split.  Having it hanging on our wall will be a great memory of the wonderful time we had in Split and on our cruise (plus the boat in the painting plays off of the fact that we were on a boat during the cruise!).

After a full day in Split, we went back to the boat to enjoy the sights during sail away.  The Croatian ocean views were spectacular.

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For dinner, we enjoyed our last meal in the main dining room.  The food, as always, was delicious, and the service was wonderful.  Some of the highlights included:

A creamy corn bisque served with freshly popped popcorn (served as an amuse bouche)

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A beautifully presented beet salad with fresh goat cheese, romaine lettuce and balsamic vinaigrette.

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Beef Wellington which included beef tenderloin coated with duxelles (mushrooms, shallots, garlic, butter, among other things) and wrapped in puff pasty.  With the exception of the first night on the cruise , every singly piece of meat that we ordered was perfectly cooked – a difficult feat for a restaurant that is turning out as much food as the ship did.

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A moist, tender and flavorful roasted chicken dish.

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And as we “re-discovered” every night, the cheese and desserts were to die for.  On this particular night, we got a rich chocolate cake and a cheese spread that included manchego and camembert (plus one more than I can’t remember!)

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It was a wonderful meal to cap off a great trip to Croatia.

Blue Cheese Soufflé

A few months ago, Tommy and I were browsing the aisles of Costco on a Sunday afternoon with plans to make pizza for dinner that night.  The problem with “browsing” at Costco is that you inevitably get sucked into buying all the amazing things that you absolutely don’t need.

Bottles of Kim Crawford priced at a reasonable $10.99 each?  I’ll take five!

A lifetime supply of Dove soap?  Why not, its only $10!

Giant Pepperoni pizzas on sale for $5 a piece?  If they taste anything like those samples, just load them right in my cart!

Well on this given Sunday, Tommy and I were intrigued by a huge block of blue cheese.  As all cheese freezes well, we figured that we could try it out (the price was right) and then continue to enjoy it for as long as it lasted in the freezer. 

So we brought the cheese home to top our pizzas with and discovered that while it tasted great, it did not have the same crumbly blue cheese texture we were used to.  Instead, it was more like the texture of mozzarella with the flavor of blue cheese.  Once it was melted on our pizzas, we couldn’t tell the difference, but the odd texture meant that it wouldn’t work well crumbled over a salad or served with crackers.

Since that time, I have looked for hot recipes that could incorporate this blue cheese.  Enter the Blue Cheese Soufflé.  Despite its reputation for being difficult to make, I find soufflé to be extremely easy as long as you have an electric mixer that will whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks.  I consider myself a pretty strong woman and I don’t think I have the strength (or patience) to whisk egg whites to the necessary stiffness.  Thank God for my KitchenAid, because otherwise, I might not have been able to enjoy this wonderful dish.

The basic ingredients for this particular soufflé couldn’t be easier: eggs, milk, blue cheese, parmesan cheese, butter and flour.

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Season this dish with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne and nutmeg, and dinner is served!

The only other special requirement for this dish is that you have a couple of souffle dishes.  If you only have one – then halve the recipe and make it a light lunch or side dish to the meal.

Blue Cheese Soufflé – Serves 5 Entrees (inspired by Ina Garten’s Recipe)

Ingredients

  • 5 TB butter, plus extra for greasing the soufflé dishes
  • 5 TB flour
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 cups milk
  • 9 eggs, 9 whites and 8 yolks separated
  • 6 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • S+P
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Butter the inside of the soufflé dishes and sprinkle evenly with parmesan cheese, set aside.

Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks.  This is an important step.  Egg whites will not beat properly if they have any egg yolk in them.  For this reason, I crack one egg at a time and separate it in a separate bowl than the bowl I plan to whip the egg whites in.  That way if I break a yolk by mistake (which I did last night), it won’t ruin the entire batch of whites.  Just put the broken egg into a air-sealed container and make for breakfast the next day!  Once you have separated all eggs (remembering to add one less yolk than you have white), place the whites into your mixing bowl and whisk on high for 2-3 minutes or until the whites are stiff.

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Meanwhile, in a medium sized sauce pan over medium low heat, melt the 5 TB of butter.  Once melted, added the flour and cook together, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.  Add the milk and turn the heat to medium high, whisking constantly and getting rid of any lumps.  Cook for approximately 2 minutes or until thick.  You know it is thick enough when the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.  Season sauce with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne pepper and turn off the heat completely.

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Now it is time to add the reserved egg yolks.  One at a time, pour the egg yolks into the white sauce and whisk constantly until combined.  It is important that you whisky quickly and often so that the eggs do not get scrambled.

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Once the egg yolks are fully combined, it is time to add the blue cheese crumbles and the 1/3 cup parmesan cheese.  Stir everything into the egg yolk and milk sauce until well combined and the cheese is melted.

Add 1/4 of the egg white mixture to the pot and stir in completely.  After combined, add the hot mixture into your egg whites, folding the whites in carefully.  You do not want to over mix or your soufflé will not rise.  Pour your mixture into the two soufflé dishes.  Draw a large circle on top with a spatula to help the soufflé rise evenly.

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Place the soufflés in the oven and turn the heat down to 375 degrees.  Cook for 30-35 minutes until the soufflés have risen and the tops are slightly browned.

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You can see that my soufflés rose beautifully and got a really wonderful browned top.  In addition to folding the egg whites into the mixture, the other thing you can do to ensure success is to  NOT open the oven door during cooking.  Lowering the temperature of the oven may result in soufflés that don’t rise, and while it should still tastes good, it definitely won’t be as pretty!

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Serve your soufflé with something green (I used steamed spinach with butter) and you have a completely delicious and French inspired week night dinner.  Plus, if like me, you get a little overly excited at Costco, you have six ounces less blue cheese than you started with!

Butternut Squash Risotto

Sorry for the lack of blog posts of late!  I took some much needed time away from my computer in the last week to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family.  After a very eventful and delicious Thanksgiving, I actually made my way south to Tommy’s mom’s beautiful home in Jupiter, Florida.  Even if I wanted to blog there, I didn’t have any time!   Between the golf, paddle boarding, restaurant eating and family time, there was little time left for anything else.  I think those are the best kinds of vacation because they leave you totally rejuvenated.

Now that I am back in Chicago, I have a really wonderful, post-Thanksgiving recipe for you.  I know a lot of people use various pumpkins, squashes and gourds for decorations around the Thanksgiving holiday.  The best thing about this is that these beautiful decorations double as delicious foods.  The key to breaking down these seemingly impenetrable gourds is by roasting them.  Not only does it make them extremely tender, but I think it also does a great job of bringing out their sweet flavor.

I think that squash makes a great starch alternative when served alongside a protein and a green veggie.  The bonus is that while it feels as though you are eating something indulgent, squash and pumpkin are low in calories and bursting with nutrients.  For a less traditional spin on uses for squash, I add big roasted chunks to risotto or pasta.  While risotto takes a bit more attention than pasta, either way, it is an easy weeknight meal.

Butternut Squash Risotto – Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 large butternut squash (Acorn Squash, Delicata Squash or Sugar Pumpkin would work well too), cut into large chunks (approximately 3 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped spinach (optional, but I liked the green and orange color)
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 quart chicken broth (you can use water too)
  • 1 tsp thyme, chopped
  • 1/4 EVOO
  • 2 TBs butter
  • S+P to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Peel, de-seed and chop the squash.  To peel the squash, I separate the bottom half from the top half.  Then I peel both parts with a vegetable peeler.  The seeds are only going to be located in the bottom half of the squash.

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Then I chop the squash into large pieces (the grocery store will often sell pre-cubed butternut squash if you want to avoid this entire process all together).  Add the squash to a bowl and season with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and peppers (about 1/2 tsp each). 

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Lay the squash out onto 1-2 cookie sheets in an even layer.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the squash is tender.

While the squash is baking, chop the onions and thyme.  Melt the butter and remaining 1-2 TBs of olive oil together in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook for 5-7 minutes until they are translucent but not brown.  In the last minute, add the thyme and season with salt and pepper.

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Meanwhile, pour the chicken broth into another sauce pan and keep warm over low heat.

Once the onions are translucent, add the risotto and mix around in the butter, oil, onion and thyme mixture until coated. Toast risotto for 1-2 minutes. 

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Add the white wine to the pan and cook until all the liquid is evaporated.  Once evaporated, add 1/2 cup of warmed chicken broth and stir risotto occasionally.  Continue adding 1/2 cup of liquid each time the previous liquid amount gets evaporated.  You will notice that after every addition of liquid, the risotto will start to get fluffier.

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You will know that the risotto has finished cooking when it stops taking in the liquid.  When it gets to the point, you want to add your chopped squash.  Cook the squash and risotto together for the last 5 minutes of cooking. 

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Add the chopped spinach (if using) in the last two minutes to allow it to wilt slightly.  Serve the risotto in shallow bowls and top with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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Note that one of the risotto dishes looks a little bit different.  That is because my dad doesn’t like butternut squash.  Instead, I made him some mushroom risotto by just precooking some sliced mushrooms into his risotto (I cooked all the risotto together and then in the last five minutes, removed a portion of his into another pot).

The butternut squash was just slightly sweet and added great flavor to the risotto. I also loved the addition of spinach to this dish because it gave it color, flavor and nutrition.

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This is the perfect fall or winter dinner that really celebrates the wonderful squash produce available right now! Enjoy!

Restaurant Review–Little Bucharest

My Dad recently found a Groupon for a restaurant that he and my Mom used to dine at over 30 ago called Little Bucharest

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After seeing the Groupon come through his email, he decided to check out the menu and see what had changed in the years since he had been there.  For one, he learned that the restaurant moved locations and is now in Chicago’s Old Irving Park neighborhood.  He also noticed that the menu had been modernized and updated.  Specifically, the menu included some Greek and Mediterranean dishes in addition to the classic Romanian ones that the restaurant became known for.

When we got to the restaurant at 6:45, there were only a few diners in the restaurant.  A lack of busyness on a Friday night is usually not a good sign for a restaurant, but Little Bucharest proved my preconceived notions wrong.  I think one explanation for the limited number of patrons is the fact that Little Bucharest is pretty far north and west in the city.  For people who live closer to the loop and may not have cars, it could prove difficult to get to.  But if you do have access to a car or can take public transportation, I would suggest you hightail it to this restaurant, because the distance is definitely worth it.  Also, I should note that by the time we left around 8:30, there were quite a few more people eating!

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Generally, the atmosphere is really nice at Little Bucharest (PS – Bucharest is the capital of Romania).  It is sort of dark, which is not great for blog picture taking (sorry for the flash!), but is a nice relaxing environment.  What makes the ambiance in this restaurant even better is the quality of the staff.  The maître ’de, who we think is also the owner, was extremely friendly and welcoming the moment we walked into the restaurant.  He continued to come over and check on us throughout the course of dinner making sure everything was up to par.  While receiving too much attention can sometimes get annoying during a meal, this guy struck the perfect balance.

Our waiter was also knowledgeable, friendly and beyond gracious.  He, like the owner, checked in on us often, provided us with explanations of the Romanian dishes and even offered us recommendations on his favorite dishes.  To boot, he insisted that we take an extra bottle of wine home because we were too full to enjoy a dessert that he wanted to give us on the house!

Speaking of the wine, the four of us (my Dad, Mom, Kate and I) enjoyed a Romanian Cabernet Sauvignon.  The waiter informed us that this wine wouldn’t be like the big bold ones that you might expect from Napa, but that it was still a good wine.  And for the $25 price tag per bottle, I thought it was great.

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As for the food at Little Bucharest, I would say that it is pretty meat dominated.  That isn’t to say that a vegetarian couldn’t eat here, because they certainly could, but I think that the most interesting of all the entrees that I saw had meat in them.  I don’t eat a ton a meat when I am out because I am often not sure of the source, and prefer to eat stuff that is local, organic and/or raised ethically.  However, I did later learn that Little Bucharest does try to source its meat and dairy from local farms that produce their product in sustainable ways. 

One of the other reasons I sometimes opt to eat veggie when I dine out is that these dishes can be some of the best options on a menu!  While Little Bucharest didn’t have a ton of veggie offerings from an entrée perspective, they did have lots of delicious looking soup and appetizer options that the waiter recommended.  One of these dishes was the “Ciorba de Borscht,” or Beet Soup. 

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While the picture might not be much to look at, don’t let that fool you about this soup.  Borscht is popular in many Eastern European counties including Romania, Poland and Russia and every country makes it a slightly different way.  My Dad could remember getting a cold Polish version many years ago and being turned off from all beet soup from then on.  Well this beet soup turned his opinion around!

It was chock full of beets and cabbage (loved this addition) and was absolutely perfectly seasoned.  Little Bucharest also stirred in some sour cream to the soup which offered a nice balance to the tartness of the soup.  I also took this opportunity to dip the restaurant’s fresh, homemade bread into the soup.

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In addition to the Borscht, we also got some saganaki, which is not traditionally Romanian, but the owner insisted was so good that he had to put it on the menu.  Let me tell you, he is not wrong.

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My whole family agreed that this was some of the best saganaki that we had ever had.  I am not sure if it was a specific brand of kasseri cheese or if the chef seasoned it just right, but we all loved this dish.

Per the recommendation of our waiter, I ordered the “Vinete” Eggplant Spread for my entrée.  This dish is listed as an appetizer on the menu, but it was a generous portion thanks to the plentiful amount of dip, pita slivers and fresh salad that was full of cucumbers, olives, onions, tomatoes and fresh feta cheese.

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The eggplant spread was very creamy and had a good balance of flavors thanks to (I think) garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and roasted eggplant.  I actually took some of this dip home with me because I got full eating of my parents’ and sister’s dishes.

They all ordered different entrees and we did a rotation around the table, so that we could try a bit of everything.  My dad ordered the Bucharest Signature Braised Short Rib Goulash.

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The short rib came in a tomatoes stew that included green beans, pearl onions and homemade gnocchi.  Traditionally, you might expect goulash to be served over mashed or roasted potatoes or with plain white rice, but I thought that addition of gnocchi was not only delicious, but it was also unexpected and unique.  The seasonings in this dish were also completely unique and unlike anything flavor combination I have ever had.  There was a subtle sweetness (perhaps from cinnamon or nutmeg) that complemented the tender short rib so nicely.  All I could think about when I ate this dish is how much Tommy would LOVE it.

Another person I thought of during this dinner was my brother-in-law Ben.  That guy is in love with schnitzel and when I tasted my Mom’s dish, I immediately knew we had to bring Ben back here to get his fix.

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My Mom kept exclaiming while eating this pork schnitzel: “this is the best schnitzel I have ever had, we have to bring Ben here.”  From what I tasted, I could definitely agree with her.  It was lightly fried, had a crispy exterior and was served over a bed of horseradish spatzle(!!!). I absolutely love spatzle, which is a type of egg noodle that is traditionally served in German cuisine, and the fact that this had horseradish in it, put it over the top.  It made for flavorful noodles of course, but when you added it to your fork with a bite of the schnitzel, it was the perfect pairing, flavor and texture wise.  Finally, the dish was served with arugula (which I think is a great addition because it cuts the heaviness of the fried pork a bit), some bacon and a red pepper coulis sauce.

For the last dish of the night, Kate got the stuffed cabbage.  Again, as I am sure is no surprise to you, this dish was over the top.

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The mini stuffed pickled stuffed cabbage leaves were filled with a mixture of pork, ground beef and sautéed rice.  They were then stewed in a tomato jus and served alongside some polenta with crème fresh on top.  Not only were the seasonings in the meat mixture fabulous, but the pickling of the cabbage was such a great addition because it gave some acidity to the dish.  The polenta was also perfectly cooked and tasted fabulous with the tomato jus.

All in all, everything tasted amazing and presented beautifully.  We could not believe that this small restaurant put so much effort into coming up with complex flavor combinations, non-traditional pairings and lovely presentation.  It is even more impressive if you consider the very small kitchen in the restaurant that has one tiny woman doing all the cooking!

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I think that, if possible, the little lady doing all the cooking, made me love this restaurant even more.  It was also interesting hearing about how the place has adapted and changed over the past 30 or so years from the time my parents went there (before they had us kids).

Even though its not as easy to get to as some of my favorite neighborhood spots, Little Bucharest is worth the extra effort.  I am already scheming to take Tommy here next time he is in town.

Have you ever had Romanian food before?  If so, what is your favorite dish on the menu?

Guest Post–Osso Bucco Recipe

My sister Kate and my mom were busy slaving away in the kitchen on Saturday night making a Cogswell favorite – Osso Bucco.  As soon as they started chopping the veggies for the sauce, they both looked at each other and exclaimed: “we should put this recipe up on YoungFoodies!”  I am more than happy to host a guest post especially when the the recipe is as good as this one is.  I will let Kate’s blog post describe the dish and the place that it holds in our family’s hearts and bellies.  Enjoy Kate’s witty commentary and delicious recipe.

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We like our routines in this family.  We go out to eat every Friday and have family dinner at home on Sunday.  But Sarah, Jess and I reserve Saturday night to do whatever for dinner—eat with friends or just each other!  My parents, however, can be found at home having date night.  My mom usually whips up a special meat dish that often takes a while to cook (making it perfect for a Saturday in the kitchen).

Recently, they’ve had an intruder on their date night and that intruder is me.  Ever since I started eating meat again (about a year ago) I’ve been able to fall in love with some of my mom’s best meat dishes all over again.  I have been known to change my Saturday night plans for one dish in particular: classic Italian braised veal shanks called Osso Buco. Ossobuco means “marrowbone” in Italian (thanks Google Translate) which is a perfect name for this dish because the best part is the marrow found in the veal shank bone.  In restaurants you’ll see this dish served in all sorts of ways, switching up the meat (I’ve seen beef used before), the vegetables and the starch (polenta is the most common).  My parents, being the routine people that they are, like white rice as the starch which is a great way to sop up the amazing sauce.

The other thing that makes Saturday night dinner special is the red wine.  My dad pulls out a nice bottle of red wine for every Saturday night dinner to match up to the amazing dinner.  I know my mom doesn’t mind me crashing the date night, but I think my dad might mind a little because I steal some of the nice wine that he opened for his honey.  But sharing is caring, Ed!  This Saturday we had a Cotes du Rhone.  Not exactly within the Italian theme, but we thought it would go along nicely with the veal.

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I also know that my mom likes to have me around for date night because I help her out with the cooking!  This Saturday, we had Jessica’s help too.  When my mom and Jess were out running errands on Saturday, they got inspired to make pomegranate martinis to sip while we cooked (the recipe for 1 big cocktail is: 2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce triple sec, 2 ounce pomegranate juice and 1/2 ounce lime juice.  Mix it all together in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and serve in a chilled martini glass).

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Not only was Jess inspired to spice up our cocktails, she also thought it was time to christen her new dining room table for the meal!  This veal is definitely worthy of this beautiful setting.

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This recipe is great for a special occasion or for a special someone on a casual night. See how dirty this page in my mom’s cook book is?

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You should always look for the dirty pages in a cook book because then you know you have a good one on your hands.

Osso Bucco – Serves 4 (inspired by the recipe found in Recipes: The Cooking of Italy)

Ingredients:

  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrots
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • ½ TB finely chopped garlic
  • 4 lbs veal shanks – we like to find a shank a person usually (depending on the size)
  • Flour to lightly coat veal shanks
  • ½ tsp of dried basil (we used 4 fresh basil leaves)
  • ½ tsp of dried thyme (we used 4 sprigs of fresh thyme)
  • 6 parsley sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • ¾ cup beef stock (chicken stock is a good substitute)
  • S + P to taste

Directions:

In an oven safe casserole dish or Dutch oven, heat 2 TB of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic with some S + P (about 1 tsp of salt and ½ tsp of pepper).  Coat everything with the fat and let sauté for 10 to 15 minutes.  We turned the heat down to medium low heat after adding the veg because it seemed to be going too quick so keep an eye out to be sure that garlic doesn’t burn.

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As the veg sweats in the pan, check out your veal shanks. My mom usually cuts off any excess fat she finds. It doesn’t hurt to leave it on, but it just means your guests may have to do a bit more doctoring themselves to get to the meat.

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In a separate skillet or cast iron pan, heat the last 2 TB of olive oil over high heat. Add S + P to both sides (1 tsp of salt and ½ tsp of pepper). Coat the shanks lightly in some flour and shake off any excess. Once the olive oil is hot (test with a few sprinkles of excess flour if you aren’t sure), add the veal shanks to get both sides browned. Our shanks took just over 2 minutes a side to get a nice brown color.

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At some point during the browning process, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Once browned, add the veal shanks to the casserole/Dutch oven where your veg is still cooking away.  To the skillet where you browned the veal shanks, add the white wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up those browned yummy bits.  Let the white wine cook by itself for about a minute to let is reduce a bit.  Then add your diced tomatoes and beef stock.  Bring this liquid mixture to a boil then add to the casserole/Dutch oven over the shanks. With that, add the herbs.  Since we used fresh herbs, we tied them all together in a bouquet garni (French for garnished bouquet). 

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This trick allows you to put the herbs in whole, stems and all, tied together by a string—this way it is easy to fish out after cooking and no chopping is involved.  My mom usually just has fresh parsley, so she’ll add a few sprigs separately and lovingly fishes them and the bay leaves out one by one before serving.  I think she liked this technique!

Lightly stir everything together.  You may need to add some extra stock or water at this point to get the meat fully covered with liquid (we added another cup of stock).

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Cover with a lid and put in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

As the meat cooks, you’ll have time to cook any starch you fancy. We started our rice 30 minutes before the shanks were set to be done.

At the hour and 15 minutes mark, take out the veal out and give it a fork test to be sure the veal is tender. Fish out your bouquet garni, scoop up some rice, a veal shank per person then generously pour the sauce over the rice and veal.

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In case you haven’t had bone marrow before, don’t be afraid. Stick your fork or knife in there and scoop out the treasure inside. The marrow is fatty and flavorful. I usually like to eat it with the meat to vamp up the meat flavor.

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Though this meal takes some time to make, it is actually quite easy to prep.  If you plan ahead, this dish can be a very impressive addition to your repertoire!

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