Tag Archives: shrimp

Breakfast in Bed (Except Not in Bed and Not Breakfast)

But that was the name of the class we attended at ICE: The Institute of Culinary Education way back in October.

Actually, the full name was “Couples: Gourmet Breakfast in Bed” and we had been meaning to go for almost two years. It was a Christmas gift, you see, and a good one at that. My wife gave it to me for Christmas 2007, back when we were in Philadelphia. Two location changes later and we were running out of time, so here we were.

James Briscione

Our instructors were the husband-and-wife team of James Briscione (a professional chef who some may recognize from his appearances on Chopped) and  Brooke Parkhurst (an author). Overall, the class was loose, fun and informative.

Our group consisted of the instructors and five other couples, whose experience ran the gamut from novice to fairly good. We split into three groups to tackle the six dishes on the menu.

The wife and I (and our partners) were responsible for two of the more basic dishes: blueberry pancakes and breakfast burritos. After James taught us some knife skills (including a killer move for chopping sweet peppers), we were basically left alone to go at it. Some interesting things I learned along the way:

  • Breakfast burritos are a favorite meal of many chefs. James was not the first who’s told me that it’s his go-to comfort food.
  • You don’t have to cover rice to cook it. You can make it “pasta style” by adding the rice to salted water and draining the results.
  • If you want the blueberries to stay in the middle of a pancake, do not mix them into the batter. Instead, add a handful into each pancake right before you flip it.

In addition to the above two dishes, each person was given the chance to make a perfect lump crabmeat omelet. If you do it right (like James), it takes only a few minutes to cook. He taught us the French folding technique, which makes these omelets look more like crepes than what you see in a typical diner. Mine turned out pretty well, although it was slightly overcooked on the bottom. (Though compared to some of my fellow classmates’ attempts, my omelet was a masterpiece.)

After assembling the burritos and making a ton of pancakes, we were ready to assemble all of the dishes for a breakfast feast. Of course, it was a Friday night, which is kind of weird time to have a breakfast feast.

Here’s a final rundown of the dishes. See if you can identify them all in the images.

1. Sherry Shrimp and Grits

2. Blueberry Pancakes

3. Buttermilk Raspberry Muffins

4. Baked Apples with Creme Fraiche

5. Savory Sweet Potato Tart with Garlic Custard

6. Lump Crabmeat Omelet

7. Breakfast Burritos

For the most part, everything turned out nicely. Some of the muffins were a bit undercooked, but the tart was amazing! Not only was the experience worth the time and money, but we got to take home the recipes. Writing this may be the inspiration I need to finally whip up some burritos.

To the kitchen, mi amigos!

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Marigold Kitchen

This is Erin O’Shea and she is directly responsible for the best meal I had in Philadelphia.

As the new executive chef of Marigold Kitchen, O’Shea was given the task of reinventing the menu of this nearly 70 year-old restaurant location yet again. And for inspiration, all she had to do was look south.

Yes, we’re talking grits, bacon and plenty of old-fashioned butter. But this is no country style breakfast joint. Marigold serves some of the most sophisticated Southern fare this side of the Mason-Dixon, and O’Shea has won over the local Yank population with an endlessly inventive menu of new classics.

So let’s get to them, shall we?

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Citrus Mushroom Risotto with Spicy Garlic Shrimp

shrimp-risotto.jpg

Ah, risotto: bane of the lazy cook.

If the end product weren’t so deliriously delicious, I’m not sure you could convince me to constantly stir a pot of rice for a half hour straight. Repetitive, monotonous tasks just aren’t my forte.

This dish is mostly based on a Food & Wine recipe (you can see a by-the-books version here). I felt it was necessary to add the mushrooms and Parmesan because, well… all risotto should have mushrooms and Parmesan. It’s kind of a peanut butter and jelly issue for me.

Regardless of your personal preferences (and I highly encourage you to experiment further), the juxtaposition of the light, spicy shrimp and the heavy, tangy risotto really dances on the tongue and warms the belly.

Here’s how it goes:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms (preferably chanterelles or wild mushrooms)
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small chilies, chopped or 1 tbsp dry red pepper
  • 6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1.5 cups arborio rice
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1.5 tsp grated lemon zest
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

Saute mushrooms in 1 tbsp of butter until liquid is released. Remove from heat and set aside.

Crush garlic and chilies together, preferably in a mortar. If using red (or chili) pepper, combine with crushed garlic and a little olive oil. Cover and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Cover and keep hot.

In a larger saucepan, melt 1 tbsp of butter in 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Gradually add the stock, one cup at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all of the stock has been absorbed before adding more, about 25 minutes total.

When the rice is cooked through but still al dente, add the sauted mushrooms. The risotto is done when the grains are just tender and the sauce is creamy. Remove from the heat and stir in lemon juice, zest, remaining butter and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and cover.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook over high heat until the shrimp are almost pink throughout, about 2 minutes. Add the chile/pepper and garlic mixture and cook, stirring for 1 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

Stir the risotto. Spoon into bowls or serving plates. Top risotto with shrimp. Serve with lemon wedges and/or extra parsley.

sizzling-shrimp.jpg

As you can tell, I didn’t have parsley. Which is really a shame, because a few flecks of green might have livened up the pictures.

I should really work on my presentation skills.

My Valentine’s Day @ Mercato

It was a dark and stormy night.

Well, that’s not wholly true, but it’s close. And I always wanted to write that.

It’s also not true that it was Valentine’s Day. In fact, it was the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day, and while it wasn’t exactly stormy, it was dark and there was precipitation. Freezing precipitation.

Let me back up a bit. The reason we were going out on such a crappy night was because my lovely wife, who is still in veterinary school, was scheduled to work the night shift during the national love holiday. The reason we chose Mercato was more because of chance. While we’ve always wanted to try this tiny BYOB in Center City (#4 on “the list”), we figured we’d try to beat the weather by going local (within a block). Alas, our first choices, Le Castagne and Matyson, could not seat us.

Not ones to be beaten down by adversity, we grabbed a bottle of wine, walked gingerly to the curb, and caught a cab to Mercato. After ten slip-sliding, life-threatening minutes, we were there.

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Amada or Amadon’t?

First of all, hats off to Amada for even taking us in without a reservation after that whole Mandoline debacle.

The hosts graciously took us off the street and gave us a nice table in the back room to enjoy our first meal at this ultra-hyped Spanish restaurant. Executive Chef Jose Garces has to be one of the most decorated food wizards in Philadelphia (if not the country) thanks his efforts here, as well as his new venture – Tinto – which, conveniently enough, is right around the corner from my apartment.

Stylistically, the place was certainly hip. Unfortunately, in cultivating such an inviting ambiance, someone overlooked a bit of the practical. For example, I was seated in a booth whose cushion I almost drowned in. Even the addition of an extra pillow under the tuchus barely got me up to the table.

But enough with the environment, how was the food?

Drinks

All of Amada’s specialty drinks are named after Pedro Almodovar movies, which is a nice touch for a film geek such as myself. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her Talk to Her (a margarita-like concoction) but thought it a little skimpy.

My “red” sangria (one of three kinds offered) was excellent. It had a little more spice than I was used to, but it worked.

Appetizer

Since all the plates are small, Amada doesn’t serve an appetizer course, but we did enjoy a Spanish version of bread and butter. It featured long, elegant pieces of crisped tortilla with a tuna/olive dip. While it was tasty, it didn’t really deviate far enough from regular tuna salad for me to truly recommend it.

Tapas

We ordered five, which was more than enough food. The PIQUILLOS RELLENOS / Crab-Stuffed Peppers was the first to arrive. Again, while these were good, they seemed only to be a richer, more creamy version of something I’ve tasted elsewhere and were not all that impressive.

Next to arrive were the GAMBAS AL AJILLO /Garlic Shrimp. While these were tasty, they were also super-buttery, arousing my suspicions that the cooks were hiding something. Once again, we were not impressed.

The next two dishes came simultaneously: TORTILLA ESPAÑOLA / Spanish Tortilla, Saffron Aioli and ALCACHOFAS Y SETAS /Artichoke & Wild Mushrooms, Black Truffles, Manchego. The first (pictured above) was especially disappointing. Having been to Spain once in my life, but subsisting on tortilla espanola sandwiches for that entire short time, I did not know what to make of the thick slab of potato pie that was put in front of me. Both my wife and I agreed that the spuds were too mealy and the presentation was just not delicate enough.

The flatbread dish, however, was fantastic. Though a bit heavy on the cheese, this mini-pizza had some wonderful funghi flavor, highlighted by the black truffle bits. It was very rich and salty, but nicely prepared.

Finally, we ended with ARROZ DE LANGOSTA / Lobster Bomba Rice with Clams, Lemon Zest & Golden Pea Shoots. This paella cousin was the highlight of the meal. While still succulent in flavor, the dish was not at all heavy, and had an amazing mix of flavors that danced on both our plates and palettes. It was unfortunate that this exuberant dish only came at the end of the meal, and could not save us from the buttery onslaught it had followed.

The Verdict

Like most heavily hyped restaurants, Amada fell quite short of great. Of course, in its defense, this was only our first experience and we did not try any of the meat dishes – usually standouts in Spanish cuisine.

That being said, what we tasted was just too rich and heavy, relying on the salty/fatty tastes that haughty French places usually peddle. I would stop short of saying I’d never go back, but I won’t rush out to eat there again as a couple, especially with the delicious tapas and more intimate experience that Tinto provides a mere hundred feet away.

Il Portico (Tappan, NY)

The occasion was my grandma’s 90th birthday and the scene was Il Portico Ristorante in the small town of Tappan, NY. The cousins (save one) were in attendance, the boomer generation was in full force, and, of course, the guest of honor beamed among her friends. It was a fantastic afternoon of memories, tributes, and good humor, as only a grandma could inspire.

But what about the food? Did it live up to the occasion or dampen the celebration? The answer was decidedly mixed.

Appetizer – Grilled Shrimp with Italian White Bean Salad

We had a choice from among four appetizers, including this one, a tomato & mozzarella salad, a scallop entree and beef carpaggio. I didn’t see the carpaggio, but the scallops looked great. The tomato & mozzarella salad was a little underwhelming (this dish is one of my favorites but should be reserved for the late summer when beefsteak tomatoes are at their peak) and my plate was just ok. The shrimp were a little tough, but the beans were comfortably filling.

Entree – Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushrooms, Peas and Prosciutto in a Marsala Cream Sauce

I can’t remember the other entrees in detail, but there was a salmon, a chicken and something else. I went with the pasta (as I usually do at Italian restaurants) and was slightly disappointed. The gnocchi had the right consistency but the flavors, which should have really worked together, didn’t come together the way I was expecting. I hate to say it, but the dish was fairly bland; I had to add plenty of salt and pepper, even on top of the sprinkle of Parmesan. With such an all-star list of agreeable ingredients, this should have been a more satisfying dish. A bit more spice might have helped.

Dessert – Midnight Chocolate Cake & Chocolate Mousse Pie

Oh. My. God. The chocolate cake (if you even want to call it that, considering it tasted like a slice of dark chocolate itself) was amazing. I’m not sure if they made the desserts on premises, but kudos to whomever put that concoction together. Naturally, my opinion is biased since I’m a (not interested in recovering) chocoholic, but this was one of the better heart-stopping artery-cloggers I’ve had in a while. On the other side of the plate was a slice of grandma’s birthday cake, which just couldn’t stand up, literally. While structurally deficient, the chocolate mousse was fluffy, light and sweet. A nice complement to the sinful dark stuff.

Other desserts included a raspberry tort, a lemon cheesecake and some other things that were not chocolate.

In summary, the restaurant has work to do on some food elements, but I’d definitely go again. The wine was great, the service was awesome, and you can’t beat the small town ambiance. Seek it out if you can.