Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fridge Googling

We've all had those days where we think "what on earth am I going to cook tonight?" Instead of reaching for the phone to order Chinese food, try Googling the contents of your fridge. Yes, you read correctly---Google them! Before I became comfortable creating my own recipes out of leftovers, pantry items, and whatever else I could find in the house, I would type in the names of a few ingredients into a Google search. With fingers crossed, I'd hit return and hope for something to inspire me. Each time, I'd find a number of recipes that were tailor made for foods I already had. Even if I had a general idea of what might work together, having a recipe to follow made things just that much easier when it came time to cook.

As I look in my fridge today, I see that I have some leftover rice, a few pieces of smoked salmon, chives, dill, and cucumbers. My "fridge Google" results produce the following recipes: Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon and Chives and Cucumber and Smoked Salmon Sandwiches. Perfect----scrambled eggs with the smoked salmon and chives, paired with some English muffins I have in my freezer. A great way to use up these things that would soon be out-of-date, AND a delicious combination I may not have considered. So I didn't get to use the rice, but perhaps I'll Google that with a few things from my pantry and see what happens. (You can also "Pantry Google", if you have a decently stocked pantry--a topic I recently blogged about).
So, the next time you find yourself with some random leftovers, don't toss them, Google them!

Herbed Cream Cheese "Crostini" with Smoked Salmon
This recipe came about when I found myself needing an hors d'oeurve without time to head to the grocery store. Maybe someone else with the same items in their fridge will find this post as a result of Fridge Googling!

4 oz cream cheese
2-3 tablespoons chives, chopped
a few pieces of smoked salmon, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
bagel chips

In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, chives, and a pinch of salt.

Spread a small amount of the cream cheese spread on top of each bagel chip, and top with a bite of smoked salmon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Restaurants: Two Boots-Bridgeport vs Frank Pepe's-Fairfield

I love pizza, but I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to the perfect pie. Spare me the Hawaiian Pizza, the BBQ Chicken Pizza, and the Cheeseburger Pizza, please. I prefer a good ol' plain cheese pie. Every now and then I'll take a walk on the wild side and get sausage (crumbled, not sliced), but by and large, I like to keep it simple. This works for my kids too, who don't care for "stuff" on their pizza, particularly if it is "green stuff".

While living in New York City, it took me years to find my favorite neighborhood take-out pizza. As irony would have it, as soon as I found it, we were packing our belongings to move to Connecticut, and the search resumed. I'm happy to report that I found a few new favorites relatively quickly in my new hometown of Fairfield (Nauti Dolphin and Southport Pizza House). These are both strictly for take-out pizza, so when it came to actually going out for pizza, for some time we were out of luck. But in the past couple years, two venerated pizzerias have come to this area and I couldn't be happier. Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napolitana of New Haven opened its first outpost in Fairfield in 2006, and earlier this year, the famed Two Boots Pizzeria of New York City opened in Bridgeport.

Frank Pepe's has been in operation on Wooster Street in New Haven since 1925. It is famous for its long lines, no-frills atmosphere, curt service, and most importantly, amazing pizza. The menu is very basic---pizza, soda, beer, and wine. The Fairfield location nearly caused a revolt when they began offering side salads, which had never been on the menu in New Haven. The pizza is served on big metal baking sheets which are placed right on your table (get a big booth if you can---you'll need the extra room). The haphazardly cut pies are made in the open kitchen and are always piping hot. If you aren't fussy about atmosphere and don't mind eating off tiny glass plates, you are in for a treat. We always order a large cheese pie with sauce (you need to specify everything you want on the pizza, from sauce, to the type of cheese), and a small white clam pie, which is one of Pepe's specialties (and one of the few non-traditional pizzas I'll eat). We always have leftovers, but that's how we like it. My youngest daughter, who eats like a bird, enters Pepe's and suddenly becomes capable of eating four or five pieces of pizza in one sitting. Now that's a good pie!

Two Boots is a more recent newcomer to the Fairfield County restaurant scene, and is located in an area of downtown Bridgeport that is in the process of being rejuvenated and re-gentrified. The large, colorfully decorated space has a long narrow bar and plenty of seating both in front of the bar and in the back, where there is also a stage for live music. The menu offers both regular pizzas with your choice of toppings and specialty pizzas named for various people and characters. We ordered a house salad (which was surprisingly good for a pizzeria), a large cheese pie, plus a small pie named after Newman, of Seinfeld fame, which was a white pie with ricotta, crumbed sweet sausage, and sopressata (all ingredients that do have a place on pizza, unlike pineapple). Both pizzas were delicious, but my kids felt the sauce on the cheese pie was too spicy. The menu does have a kids' section, so I asked how the kid-sized pizza differed from the regular version. I was told that they use a milder sauce and make a smiley face out of veggies. So, if you are going with kids and want to share a regular pie, it is worth asking for the milder sauce if you're kids are adverse to some heat. Overall, it is a great, kid-friendly restaurant destination with some seriously good pizza.
Who ever said the best pizza is in New York?

Frank Pepe's
238 Commerce Drive, Fairfield, CT
203-333-PEPE (7373)

Two Boots
281 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport, CT

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kids in the Kitchen

Ask any kid about his or her favorite snack food and you'll inevitably hear about some sort of junk food. Ice cream, cookies, chips and candy have forever been associated with the between-meal munchies. In an effort to encourage children to make smarter snack choices, the Junior League launched "Kids in the Kitchen", a nationwide event connecting inner-city kids with nutritionists and chefs in the name of healthy eating. Last week, I was honored to serve as the "guest chef" at the Bridgeport, Connecticut "Kids in the Kitchen", sponsored by the Junior League of Fairfield County, where I shared some simple recipes for nutritious snacks that didn't skimp on taste.

After a local dietitian explained the food pyramid and the importance of eating a balanced diet, it was my turn to put principle into practice. We started by preparing Ham & Cheese Pinwheels, using whole wheat tortillas, low-fat cream cheese, and low-fat deli ham. While most of the kids were familiar with tortillas, none of them had ever seen the whole wheat version. Skeptical as they may have been, they enthusiastically assembled and rolled their wraps, and I went around and cut them crosswise into "pinwheels". As the gobbled down their snack, I think most forgot they were even eating the "brown" tortillas, a few admitted that they liked them even better than the white flour ones.

Next we moved onto a sweet snack that still packed a healthy punch. While a few of the volunteers sliced up fresh apples, I whipped up a dip for the fruit which incorporated protein-rich walnuts and low-fat cream cheese . I sweetened the deal by adding some sugar and vanilla to the mix, and in no time the kids were enthusiastically digging in their apples. Anticipating that they’d love dipping, I’d planned another dip for the last snack. This dip was a savory one and used canned black beans, garlic, and jarred salsa --- a super simple combination using three ingredients most people have on hand at home. By mashing the beans with a fork (I couldn’t assume these kids had fancy food-processors), and stirring in the salsa and some chopped garlic, we created a creamy, low-fat dip with plenty of flavor. I set out bowls of baby carrots and pita chips alongside the bean dip, and it was immediately clear that the snack was a hit.

At the end of the presentation, the kids all went home with recipes for some new and easy snack foods, a green-grocery bag stuffed with more healthy goodies, and a belly full of healthy food. I was amazed that they were absolutely willing to try everything. I never heard one “ew”, “yuck” or “gross”. They were attentive, curious, and seemed genuinely happy to participate in the event, even though it was 3:00pm on a Friday afternoon. Hopefully they’ll go home and share what they learned with their families, and get more kids in the kitchen!

Ham & Cheese Pinwheels
Serves 4
4 tablespoons low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 – 10 inch whole wheat tortillas
4 slices deli ham (or turkey, roast beef, or salami)
Lay the tortillas on the counter. Spread half of the cream cheese on each tortilla, covering as much of it as you can.
Place 2 pieces of ham on each tortilla. Tightly roll up the tortilla into a log shape and cut off the ends. Cut each “log” into 8 pinwheel slices.

Apple Wedges with Creamy Walnut Dip
Serves 8
(This recipe was given to me by my friend Carolyn G..)

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup chopped walnuts
Apples, cut into slices
Mix cream cheese, sugars, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth. Add the chopped nuts and serve with apple slices.
(NOTE: If you have a blender or food processor, you can use that to blend the ingredients)

Black Bean Dip
Serves 8
(This recipe is from my friend Sarah S., which was so many years ago she probably forgot she even gave it to me.)

1 can black beans
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½-3/4 cup tomato salsa
Drain the beans in a colander and rinse them thoroughly with water.
Place into a bowl, and using a fork or potato masher, mash all the beans into a paste.
Add garlic, salsa, and mix together.
Serve with raw veggies or pita chips.
(NOTE: If you have a blender or food processor, you can use that to blend the ingredients)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Restaurants: Sarabande, Fairfield, CT

***Please note that Sarabande is now closed.

Sarabande, a modern American bistro in Fairfield Center, is a restaurant I recently rediscovered. The menu, which changes seasonally and features appetizers, gourmet pizzas, entrees, and main course salads, has something for everyone. That is not to say it lacks focus; it features fresh, high quality ingredients artfully prepared to please a wide variety of tastes. Chef Phyllis Bodek even picks much of the produce used in the restaurant herself, at her friend's farm in Easton. In addition, the fresh bread that arrives at your table upon arrival is baked in-house.

Over the course of several visits, I've worked my way around the menu. On my most recent visit, I wasn't overly hungry, so I ordered a bowl of curried butternut squash soup (it hit the spot!), and the "Tonato Salad" from the list of nightly specials. "Tonato" is an Italian sauce made with tuna, and is usually served over veal or turkey. I'd enjoyed Veal Tonato while visiting friends in Italy, but had never seen it in any form on an American menu. Sarabande's twist on this Italian classic was a colorful salad of arugula, tomatoes, olives, and roasted red peppers with a creamy, delicious tonato sauce on the side. It instantly transported me back to Italy, and before I knew it I'd put my manners aside and used the last piece of fresh bread to mop up every last bit of sauce left behind on my plate!

The ambiance at Sarabande is appealing, and features a spacious front room with large picture windows looking onto the street, and a cozier back room with a long banquette along one wall. The small bar is adorned with pendant lighting and is a great place to have a glass of wine while waiting to be seated. There is also a small deck for outdoor seating in the warmer weather, although it was not open as of late April. The service is efficient and attentive, and the wine list has a nice variety of wines with plenty of moderately priced selections.

Sarabande's location is perfect for an evening out with your significant other or friends, as it is nestled on Unquowa Place, right off the Post Road. There is a parking lot adjacent to the restaurant, but there is always street parking if the lot is full. My husband and I recently enjoyed dinner there, and then took a walk down to Starbucks for a quick coffee & dessert before heading to the Community Theatre to see a movie. If I wasn't rushing to relieve a babysitter, we may have even walked over to O-Bar for a post-film cocktail. An entire evening's worth of activities within walking distance of a single parking spot---now that's a date!
Note: Sarabande is offering a 2008 spring special that can't be missed: Monday-Thursday evenings, enjoy a three-course dinner (starter, entree and dessert) for only $20.08!!

12 Unquowa Place
Fairfield, CT 06824

Lunch: Tuesday - Friday, 11:30 am - 2:15 pm
Dinner: Monday - Saturday, from 5:30 pm
Closed Sundays