Sunday, October 26, 2008

Charity Cookbook Sale Set for November 1, 2008

It is time for The 2nd Annual Secret Ingredient Charity Cookbook Sale!

Back in the spring of 2007, I decided The Secret Ingredient Cooking School should hold a charity event. Being that I do not have a staff or army of volunteers, the charity balls, concerts, and auctions were out of the question. But then, while attending a lecture, I had a brainstorm. I'd collect used cookbooks from around town, hold a sale, and give the money to charity. Simple enough, right? Well, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of people in my area, and collected nearly 500 cookbooks. It was a lot of hard work, collecting, organizing, categorizing, and pricing the books, but it was all worth every minute. The sale was a big success, and I was able to give almost $1000 to a local charity supporting programs for kids with autism in the public schools.

This year, the donations were a little on the low side, so I cancelled the sale, which was originally scheduled for September. Then the phone calls came pouring in. People wanted to know when it was rescheduled. They wanted to know if I was still collecting books, and then started dropping off boxes and bags of books. One woman called to tell me how much she'd been looking forward to the sale. She went on to say that at the event last year she was able to replace several cookbooks in her collection of nearly 500 which had been lost. At that point I decided it was worth soldiering on and set a new date.

For this year's sale, I'm doing things a little differently. Instead of having a set price for each book, attendees pick out the cookbooks they would like, and then simply make a donation. Considering the state of our economy in these last months, people can contribute whatever they are able and still take home some great cookbooks. Give whatever seems like a fair amount based on the books you choose! My goal is to find each and every cookbook a new home, all while raising money for The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, which supports breast cancer research.

So, come one, come all, in the name of cooking, in the name of fighting breast cancer, and in the name of finally giving my husband his garage back!

For more information about the sale, or to donate books, go to

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Interview at Cooking With Trader Joe's

I was recently interviewed by the folks over at Cooking with Trader Joe's, one of my favorite food blogs. I discussed what I love about TJ's and shared my recipe for Purple Coleslaw with Orange Supremes. Check out the interview here!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Restaurants: 55 Degrees Wine Bar, Fairfield, CT

55 Degrees, which refers to the ideal temperature at which to store wine, is Fairfield's newest hot spot. The restaurant and wine bar, which was formerly Mulino's Restaurant, is barely recognizable after an extensive renovation. The proprietors, who also own the acclaimed Cava Wine Bar in New Canaan, completely gutted and reorganized the space, creating a comfortable first floor bar, a bi-level dining room and a large, seasonal outdoor seating area.

On each of my visits to 55 Degrees, the bar was lively and crowded, but not overwhelmingly so. Bar service was prompt and courteous. There is an extensive list of wines by the glass, but it is also a full-service bar with several beers on tap. Bowls of marinated olives are placed around the bar, which lend authenticity to the Italian-vibe.
The restaurant is large with soaring ceilings, which give a great, urban feel to the space, but also tends to be very loud. We had our best experience while sitting in the lower dining area (a half flight up from the bar). That night the service was excellent, and our server was extremely knowledgeable and helpful in suggesting items on the menu. On a separate visit, after some confusion about our reservation (apparently the less desirable, and extremely noisy bar tables are included in the reservation list--a policy that should be reconsidered), we were seated in the upper dining area. That particular night the service was extremely slow, and we never figured out if it was our server, the fact that we were up an extra flight of stairs, or if the kitchen was overwhelmed that evening.

The food, however, was consistently excellent on every visit. Everything we ate was very good, but I particularly enjoyed the grilled calamari appetizer and the Caprese salad. I loved the house-made pasta selections, which were just a little out of the ordinary. The Rabbit Angnolotti (a stuffed pasta), which I thought was fantastic, was served in a lemony sauce with prosciutto and sage (my friend agreed it was delicious after she got over the fact she was eating rabbit). My other favorite pasta was Veal Mezzaluna (also a stuffed pasta), which like the rabbit, may be politically incorrect to enjoy, but it was excellent! The next time I go I'm dying to try the Lobster Papperdelle, which is paired with the unusual combination of cauliflower, golden raisins, pine nuts, and sausage.

Among the selections on the "secondo" section of the menu, the Diver Sea Scallops were the biggest hit with my friends. Also popular was the Leek-Wrapped Salmon and the Angus Sirloin. While I tasted everything at the table, I was so drawn to the interesting pasta dishes that between all my visits, I never personally ordered a meat or fish entree.

Overall, I very much enjoyed 55 Degrees and will certainly go back soon. It has a great vibe and a fun atmosphere, and is perfect for groups (there was a group of birthday revelers and a number of tables dedicated to 'girls night out' on our most recent Saturday evening visit). The service in the bar is good, however the hostess and dining service was inconsistent. However, what stands out the most is the food, and for that I'm willing to give them a chance to work out the kinks.

55 Degrees is a welcome addition to Fairfield Center, and is not only a great place to meet for a drink (or a few), but also destined to become an eating destination.

55 Degrees Wine Bar and Restaurant
55 Miller Street
Fairfield, CT 06824

Reservations recommended.

Hours: Lunch served M-F, 11:30-2:30. Dinner served Sun-Thurs, 5-10, Fri & Sat, 5-11.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pick Your Own Apples in Shelton, CT

Fall is apple-picking season, and it is one of my favorite yearly traditions. This year, we tried a new orchard, Beardsley's Cider Mill and Orchards, in Shelton, Connecticut. For years we picked apples at another orchard, closer to our home in Fairfield. At that particular farm, you are required to purchase a certain number of bags depending on the number of people in your party, and that was often far more apples than I wanted to pick (and ended up costing a small fortune). At Beardsley's, it is done much more fairly, where you are given a bag when you enter the orchard, you pick as many or as few apples as you wish, and when you leave, the bags are weighed and you pay per pound of apples picked. We picked four good sized bags of apples for around $25. Compared to what I unwillingly spent last year, that was quite a deal. Upon leaving, I also realized that you are able to bring your own recyclable bags to use while picking. Those of you who read my Season to Taste blog know how I feel about that, so next year I will surely remember to do so.

On the day we visited, the apples that were ripe for picking were Winesap and Mutsu (the varieties and rows you are able to pick are clearly marked with big signs). The Winesaps are a beautiful, deep red and the Mutsus are greenish, with a yellowish-peach hue. They are both decent eating apples, but because they are a bit on the tart side, I think they are better suited for cooking. We picked both types in equal amounts, although my young girls decided the Winesaps were "prettier".

Beardsley's has a country store that sells a larger selection of apple varieties, pies, fabulous cider donuts, and specialty items like apple butter, jams, local honey, maple syrup, and apple chutneys. They also press their own fresh apple cider right on the premises, which you can watch (pressing is done on weekends between about 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, and other random times as well).

While you're in the area, Jones' Farm is right down the road, where they have a corn maze, pumpkins, hay rides, and even wine tasting on weekends (at the main farm location)! For a fun fall excursion, make a day of it and head to Shelton!
Be sure to check out my recipe for Apple Crisp, which will be posted on October 14 over at my Season to Taste blog!

Beardsley's Cider Mill and Orchards, LLC
278 Leavenworth Road
Shelton, CT

Jones' Farm (Pumpkinseed Hill Farm)
130 Beardsley Road
Shelton, CT

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hitting the Sauce

For those of you who follow my other blog, Season To Taste, I recently wrote about one of my favorite, simple, meals: pulled pork. Well, tonight when I looked into my refrigerator and saw two giant chicken breasts and half of a package of whole wheat hamburger rolls staring back at me, I decided that some "pulled chicken" was in order! I also had a few bottles of barbeque sauce that I needed to test out for Country Bob's who is doing some test marketing, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to pull some double-duty. Although this particular sauce seems to be better suited to beef, the slightly tangy but sweet taste would make a nice addition to my chicken as well.

Pulled pork couldn't be easier, it does take some time to cook (albeit unattended cooking, but some pre-planning is definitely necessary). Therein lies the beauty of "pulled chicken"... the entire dish is ready in under 30 minutes! By using boneless, skinless breasts, the cooking time is reduced significantly, and then all you need to do is shred it and add sauce. Tonight, I opted to bake the chicken in a 350 degree oven, because I already had it on for a pie I was baking. It took only about 30 minutes for the chicken to bake through, and it retained its juiciness. On other occasions I've opted to broil the chicken, which cuts the time down even more. However, with broiling (and especially grilling), the close proximity to very high heat will form a "crust" on the chicken, making part of it harder to shred. When it is baked more slowly, it stays "softer" which is a better consistency for the dish.

Once cooked, I used two forks to shred the meat apart, then added the sauce. For barbeque sandwiches, I prefer slightly thicker, sweet sauces, since you tend to use a decent amount in the dish. Sauces which are overly tangy or have too much of a "kick" will overpower the sandwich. This type of barbeque sauce is better for brushing on a whole piece of chicken, pork, or beef, since you will not need as much of it.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
Serves 4
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut in half (about 1.5 lbs)
1 cup barbeque sauce
4 soft hamburger rolls

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake chicken breasts for approximately 30 minutes, or until cooked through and no longer pink.
Remove from oven, and using two forks, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Place in a bowl, add the barbeque sauce, and stir to combine.
Serve on hamburger rolls.