Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pasta with Hunter's Sauce - 1/19/2012

I mysteriously received a beautiful cookbook called The Organic Cook's Bible in my school mailbox, which I later learned was a birthday gift from my dear friend Annie. The hefty unit boasts not only tasty recipes, but also extensive information about a wealth of ingredients - produce, spices, and herbs, to name a few - and tips on how to select the freshest variants. It seemed appropriate that we cooked the "Pasta with Hunter's Sauce" while in New Haven - Claire Criscuolo, chef and owner of the city's popular vegetarian restaurant Claire's Corner Copia, submitted the recipe.  
This was the first time Andrew and I tried a new recipe while cooking for other people - we'd asked Andrew's friends Luke and Becca if they'd like to join us for our experimental dinner. The recipe seemed simple enough - straightforward ingredients, the standard requisite chopping and sauteing - yet stress levels rose when realized we hadn't allotted enough time for the essential cooking down and simmering processes. The primary ingredients in the sauce were plump red, yellow, and orange peppers - five to be exact, they were chopped in medium sized pieces and sauteed with coarsely chopped garlic and red onion, and small measurements of fennel seeds, crushed red pepper flakes, minced rosemary leaves, and salt and pepper for spicy flavor. What initially looked like an inordinately large amount of vegetables - reminiscent of our Thanksgiving stuffing ingredient portions - cooked down a remarkable amount once the peppers softened, a fifteen minute step we anxiously monitored. Next came the cans of whole peeled tomatoes, which we crushed by hand as we added their fragrant flesh and rich juice to the already-vibrant pot. To our dismay, the sauce now had to simmer for half an hour to allow the sizable tomato chunks to cook down, and some of the liquid to thicken. As the sauce entered its final stages, we cooked the pasta with flawless timing, for a change - the rigatoni were delicately al dente, and when added to the sauce pot, the wide tubes absorbed the hearty liquid and provided a welcome space for the tender pepper pieces to nestle. The final product - a little behind schedule, I'll admit - was toothsome, the hearty fresh pepper and tomato flavors fusing with the distinctive herb tastes for a satisfying savory combination. The pasta accompanied by plain ciabatta and our - rather, my mother's - signature salad of spinach, thinly sliced fennel, tart green apple bits, and creamy avocado chunks coated with the classic mustard-shallot vinaigrette provided the delectable sustenance necessary for a most enjoyable, lengthy dinner with excellent company. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Coveted Caseus - 1/28/2012

Andrew and I anticipated our third trip to Caseus since we planned for my Dead Week visit, an adventure we masterminded during winter vacation. I suppose a month is a long time to be excited, but the thought of another delectable meal at the quaint restaurant actually gave me periodic waves of excitement throughout January. Finally, the night arrived—a testament to the fromagerie’s popularity, we have only been able to secure a reservation around the fringes of standard dinner hour. Contrary to our previous 9 o’clock reservation, we entered the cozy, understated dining room at dusk's conclusion, the tender hour of 6 sharp. 
Of course, we began with the specialty cheese board - that is, after our requisite 22 oz. Houblon Chouffe - and the decadent selection commenced a most exquisite eating experience. Vermont has become quite the cheese hub, and I believe each variant came from the nearby dairy land. The nearest slab was a blend of cow and sheep's milk, and possessed a much stronger flavor than other types of equivalent creaminess. Andrew and I especially relished the warm, luscious cranberry walnut bread topped with delightfully thick plum-cranberry jam and a hefty smear of the soft cheese - although understated, the flavor of the jam neutralized the gaminess of the cheese. The two middle cheeses were both delicious, yet quite similar - the triangle was entitled Twig Farm tomme, a dense sheep's milk cheese, and the long rectangle was slightly milder yet also crafted to embody the influence of the French Alps and Switzerland - perfect when paired with cracked pepper water crackers. Flash fried Marcona almonds and a thick, leathery strip of pressed fig provided further accompaniment. The final selection, a blue, can only be characterized by the farm feeling it invoked - the gamely flavor invoked the essence of Pownal, VT's dirt roads, with a purported hint of apricot. 
I'd been craving a wintry salad, and the kale and apple variant was a true delicacy. Thick, fresh kale leaves coupled with crisp, thinly sliced apples, bacon lardon - tantalizingly flavorful cubes of smoky, crunchy pig fat, and a creamy rogue blue cheese, topped with a decadent yogurt maple dressing. Each flavor present in the mixture was remarkably intense, yet this enabled each to contribute something to the melee - by some culinary genius, the dish was defined by dichotomies: it managed to be rich yet fresh tasting, sweet yet overwhelmingly savory. 
The night presented a wealth of specials, and Andrew and I certainly took advantage of the expanded options. One such menu addition was the pork chop - this beautiful cut of meat from the Berkshires was tenderly cooked in an apple glaze and served with butternut squash macaroni. The white pork flesh was juicy and and tender, generously infused with the complementary sweet fruit flavor. The elbow pasta was divinely creamy, with soft orange squash chunks - delicata and kabocha - scattered throughout. A standard forkful included a succulent slice of meat with a few pieces of pasta and an earthy piece of sweet squash flesh, thoroughly coated with rich cheese sauce. 
In the latter part of the week, Caseus crafts a dish that is inspired by some international cuisine, and Saturday is "Germany." Although the hodgepodge mixture did invoke the heartiness of central-Eastern European cooking, the dish certainly derived influence from Vietnamese stews as well. Potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, lentils, and white beans coupled with sausage rounds, tender strips of free range chicken, rabbit, and prosciutto-esque strips were suspended with flavorful herbs in a light broth, spiced with jalapeno peppers - panko breadcrumbs and a light dusting of parmigiano-reggiano topped the final product. The broth had a remarkable kick to it, and each vegetable was meticulously cut and perfectly cooked, slightly soft without hint of mushiness, while the meat pieces provided utmost robust satisfaction. An impressive wealth of rich, savory flavor, the dish was so large we couldn't finish it after consuming the sizable pork chop. Nevertheless and after much debate, we decided we couldn't forgo dessert. Luckily, we opted for the light option - Oreo cheesecake with Oreo whipped cream. 
Words cannot describe how rich and dense this unit was - solid chunks of Oreo were embedded in the hard cheese body, the graham cracker-like crust similarly thick and buttery. Not a dessert for the light hearted, even the whipped cream was a voluminous, hearty mass, flecked with chocolate cookie and Oreo creme.  Decadent cannot even begin to describe this gargantuan dessert, and unsurprisingly, it was beyond delicious. I adore cheesecake both because I relish rich food and revel in desserts that are not too sweet, and this unit certainly surpassed any standards I have set in those respective domains. Needless to say, Andrew and I both experienced delirium after this meal, both from the quality and quantity of the eats consumed. A long post-dinner walk easily rejuvenated our gluttonous spirits, however, and when we returned to our nearby parking spot, I'd say we'd both have reentered the restaurant for another go if given the option.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Paresky Pasta Bar - 1/26/2012

Although I always relish the pasta entrée at Paresky—the pasta, sometimes handmade, is not overcooked, and the sauce selection boasts some combination of creaminess, meat, and classic marinara—last night’s innovative rendition stood out. Rather than sauce covered noodles, diners received a large bowl of plain spaghetti, and an extravagant spread of toppings enabled construction of the ideal personal pasta. I opted for a small spoonful of marinara, a simple foundation for my meticulously crafted creation. 
There were three kinds of cheeses in the melee—I sprinkled coarsely grated pepper jack, finely chopped fresh mozzarella, and chunks of feta on my heaping mound. I spooned some parmesan on top for good measure. Succulent mushrooms, both alone and sautéed with spinach, also graced the toppings bar, and the pungent, salty capers and kalamata olives invoked Mediterranean influence. Tangy pieces of sun dried tomatoes and cubed prosciutto provided further rich, savory flavors, which were complemented by the freshness of fragrant, coarsely chopped basil. I reveled in each delectable bite, overcome with strong flavors and satisfaction—I eagerly anticipate the next appearance of this dinner option.  

This entry created in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WTF? Where's The Food Without The Farmer? - 1/24/2012

Snowy Peace Valley Farm
Fall colors
“I used to not care, but now every living, breathing moment centers around the relationship we’ve built with Williams,” says Bill Stinson of nearby Peace Valley Farm. Although I’ve volunteered at Peace Valley a couple of fall mornings with my cross country team, motivation struck to pay the place an educational visit, and thus I found myself winding along muddy Treadwell Hollow Road to the picturesque yet desolate three acre farm. Sitting at the wood table in his rustic kitchen and clutching a ceramic mug of coffee, Bill Stinson described the modest beginning of his partnership with Williams. Transactions began in the 1980’s, but at this point in time Williams was merely a “dumping ground” for Stinson: he would offer the college leftover produce, and when proposition corresponded with institutional need, the exchange was beneficial for both parties. Today, a much more developed symbiotic relationship exists not only via sale and purchase, but also between Stinson and members of the college. In 1990, Peace Valley hosted its first intern from Williams, and since then, the farm has seen over 60 student interns during the summer months. Involvement has been multifaceted: students have stayed for various lengths of time, some residing with Stinson and his wife while they work the growing season, while others have served as liaisons between Williams College Dining Services and the cultivator, a rendition of the reputed “farm to table” experience. Indeed, Stinson credits these students, current director of Dining Services Bob Volpi, and his own personal efforts with fostering the relationship between his small farm and the high-powered organization of which we are a part. 
Greenhouse exterior
Greenhouse interior

            Posters scattered throughout our dining halls attempt to encapsulate Peace Valley with a glossy photograph and short blurb about what produce the farm routinely supplies to us, yet various student groups have also had the opportunity to connect first handedly with farmer Stinson and his land. Beyond team volunteering, a physical education class buses out to the farm a few times a week to assist Stinson, and a Williams orientation program, Where Am I?, highlights the farm when familiarizing new students with the surrounding Berkshire region. In fact, these freshmen get their own “farm to table” experience during the first couple of weeks of school: they harvest Peace Valley’s fingerling potatoes, which are then served in all the dining halls during a particular Harvest Dinner. As a Junior Advisor, I witnessed the tangible connection my freshmen made with their work on the farm and the contents of Mission’s dinner, and I was heartened by the intense excitement in their voices as they informed the rest of us that they, in fact, were the driving force behind the beautiful golden nuggets on our plates.
XC - Fall volunteering
            The tie between Williams and Peace Valley is, of course, quantitative as well: last year and the few preceding, the institution bought $35,000 worth of produce from the farm. This figure represents roughly 55% of Stinson’s output, and he sources the remaining crop to Berkshire Medical, seasonal farmer’s markets, and various restaurants in the northern Berkshire region such as Mezze, Hobson’s Choice, and Gramercy Bistro. It appears that Stinson forges a relationship with all transacting parties: a self-proclaimed foodie, he described the complex interplay that occurs between chef and farmer regarding produce quality and cost. Stinson’s culinary expertise was evident as I watched his eyes get dreamy over his mouthwatering fantasy of “firm turnips, sautéed in fresh olive oil with a little garlic and salt.” Indeed, dining at Williams during the fall and winter season has given me firsthand knowledge of Stinson’s delectable root vegetables, a cornerstone of his practice.
The same scene...
Fall & Winter

            The wintry scene outside enabled Stinson to devote far more time to our conversation than if I had visited him during another season. A native of Northern California, I was curious about how farms operate year round in a not-so-moderate climate. The cultivation process is, perhaps unsurprisingly, much more compartmental: Stinson takes “off” Christmas through March 1, maintaining equipment and doing other indoor prep work while his hills are shrouded in snow. When spring hits, Stinson must hit the ground running, so to speak—the growing season is roughly 100 days long, and thus all farm planning and action must be timely. Although Stinson belongs to a loyal network of local buyers, he still faces the obstacles that plague most small farmers. He successfully faces the daunting task of using a relatively small, hilly plot of coarse soil to produce large amounts of crop, yet worries about competition, pricing, and turning a profit in this remote region. Indeed, Stinson repeatedly touted the benefit of cooperatives for small produce, dairy, and meat farmers: an overarching organization would be able to effectively negotiate transactions that would be economically feasible for large institutions such as Williams, and keep the farmers afloat via an assured market. My visit concluded with a tromp through the ice and snow, motivated by my desire for photographs—there is something eerily beautiful and melancholic about the quiet farm during winter—and a further connection with Stinson’s life work. I have a shirt that says “WTF? Where’s the food without the farmer?” and my visit to Bill Stinson’s Peace Valley Farm provided a definitive answer to this important question.
Old fashioned charm

This entry created in collaboration with the William Sustainable Food & Ag Department. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Something Little - 1/24/2012

I'm a little embarrassed by the frequency with which I document and salivate over my recent fixation, and have noted that Piggy Heaven is quickly becoming Panini Heaven. In any case, bear with me, and stay tuned for a more extensive, intellectual piece that's in progress..
I thought up this rendition during breakfast - yes, future meal brainstorming occurs during current consumption - and the ingenious planning occurred as I swam laps pre-lunch. After much frantic slicing, spreading, and scurrying around the dining hall, I placed my first sweet panini ever on the grill. I can't take credit for this innovation because I've seen people create similar entities before, but mine took form as follows. I coated each slice of bread with smooth peanut butter - I can't stand when only one side receives such treatment - and cut a banana into equally shaped and sized sixths, hence constructing the sandwich so that these pieces were evenly distributed along the surface. Honey was the final addition - I slathered the banana ridges with thick, translucent liquid before placing the opposing bread slice on the voluminous other half. The grilling today went exceptionally well - the outside of the bread was slightly crunchy, and the griddle marks gave aesthetic assurance that the sandwich was, indeed, panini-ed. And oh, how delectable this combination was! The heat and pressure of the maker's jaws caramelized the banana, and enabled its fusion with the honey and peanut butter, which in turn interacted with the warm bread. I cut the sandwich into asymmetric triangles, and the ingredients coupled with this preparation made the unit look like a child's lunch. I have no qualms - I bet I was the happiest kid in the dining hall while ingesting the sweet, melted mass.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dodd Log Lunch - 1/20/2012

It was rather disconcerting to eat Log Lunch at a different location, but Dodd's similarly cozy atmosphere and the toothsome meal invoked a parallel experience. I did, however, miss the Log Lunch bowls and plates - since Dodd was once a dining hall and still serves select meals, the eating materials are institutional. A small misfortune, this presentation could not detract from the delectable home-cooked spread.
More than ever before, every component of the meal was remarkably complementary. The roasted cauliflower and broccoli soup was mild, yet possessed a subtle rich flavor and an interesting texture - although it was smooth, these particular vegetables made the liquid slightly grainy. The rosemary pepper rolls, accompanied by a rosemary balsamic dipping sauce, were luscious as always and possessed a satisfying saltiness, which the soup needed - the strong flavors of salt, pepper, and rosemary in the elastic dough interacted wonderfully with the understated, roasted tastes in the soup. The salad, bursting with flavorful ingredients, also went nicely with the moderate soup. It was comprised of divinely crunchy lettuce coupled with long strings of spicy red onion, fennel, green onion, salty capers and olive chunks, and voluptuous clementine slices, which imparted fresh flavor on each bite. Although each of these tastes could be domineering, they interacted pleasantly both with each other and the benign soup. Log Lunch today was different, in more ways than one - my birthday earlier in the week rendered me incapable of eating any more dessert, so I passed on the double chocolate ginger biscotti. This deviation from the standard proved to be a delightful lunch nonetheless.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

'82 Grill - 1/19/2012

The wintry weather outside brings the appeal of the '82 Grill to new heights - the cozy, intimate space coupled with the promise of a personal pizza attracts students looking for warmth, company, and most importantly, quality eats. For a dinner swipe, an eager diner can obtain a small salad and soup, a personal pizza with three toppings, and a drink. The various sauce options and the massive topping list offer infinite combinations, and on this particular evening I chose classic red sauce with roasted eggplant, sundried tomatoes, and chopped artichoke hearts. The already impressive topping selection is constantly evolving, and most recent additions include handcrafted feta and smoked mozzarella from local Vermont producer Maple Brook Farm.
Everyone likes to be pampered, and there's something extremely satisfying about the buzzer's announcement that a fresh pizza whose construction reflects your preferences is waiting for pick-up at the counter. Although it is obvious that these decadent rounds are made individually, most students are unaware of the process that takes place deep in the Grill's interior. Dining Services purchases all the grain used in the pizza dough from Nitty Gritty in Vermont, a small, family-owned, and certified organic company committed to producing wholesome products through sustainable practices. Using this grain, Dining Services makes the dough from scratch in the basement of Paresky. Knowledge of this process makes it unsurprising that the dough is divine - it possesses the perfect elasticity, and the crusts are slightly crunchy but not too hard, while the interior sheet is soft but unyielding to the wealth of toppings that grace the surface. I was very happy with my topping selection - I love the texture of eggplant, and the generous rounds covered a large portion of each slice. The sundried tomatoes and artichokes contributed distinctive savory flavor and saltiness, and the rich sauce and melted, browned cheese bound all the ingredients together in a most toothsome fashion. Lunch is quickly approaching, and I have an idea of where I might go..

This entry created in collaboration with Williams College Dining Services.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Caseus Cheese Truck - 1/18/2012

New Haven is populated with various food carts that boast quick, tasty and inexpensive food. I received a text last fall in which Andrew excitedly informed me that he had spotted the Caseus Cheese Truck - apparently, the quality New Haven restaurant also graces the streets with its cheese expertise. An active Twitter account (@caseusgrilled) informs eager eaters of the truck's daily location, and thus Andrew and I booked it to College St when lunchtime arrived.
Simplicity defines the menu - they serve tomato soup, a classic grilled cheese with the option of additional toppings, a sausage on a bun, and a singular salad, and offer specials that combine select items. The chalkboard displays the temporary options - there's always a special grilled cheese of the day, and a particular sausage variant. We ordered the first combo, an 8oz cup of tomato soup and the "Classic CT Grilled Cheese," a most decadent hot sandwich delicately constructed with (get ready!) provolone, swiss, comte, gruyere, gouda, and sharp cheddar on sourdough bread. 
This tantalizing blend of cheeses transformed a simple comfort food into an exquisite masterpiece - the sandwich was piping hot, yet somehow the cheeses melted together while retaining some of their taste and texture identities. The exterior surface of the bread was delightfully buttery, and the dense slab was accompanied by grainy mustard and cornichon pickles. The tomato soup was the best I've ever tasted - it had impressive thickness and a strong, rich tomato flavor, creamy but not cloying. Dipping the dense slab of cheese sandwich into the vibrant, beautiful reddish-pink liquid created a bite of utmost divinity. 
Although they don't offer a combo with the special grilled cheese of the day, Andrew and I figured it was a must try - we split both the classic and special selection for maximum sampling (no sharing of the soup though - we each wanted our own!). In addition to the requisite cheese, giardiniera - a medley of pickled vegetables - also graced the interior of this additional sandwich. While the classic rendition was quite flat, the voluminous vegetables caused the top sourdough layer to sit high above the rest of the sandwich body. This rendered the unit a little bit difficult to eat - and split - but the vinegary vegetables were an interesting accompaniment to the hearty cheese flavor and texture. Enjoyed in the beautiful sunshine at a nearby park, this was a birthday lunch extraordinaire.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Panini Rendition - 1/17/2012

Although I always relish a good panini, the innovative variant I have eaten for my past two lunches have surpassed any previous creations. Per usual, nothing satisfies the cold weather dweller like hot, griddle marked bread and melted cheese, yet a few recent additions to the layered ingredients have transformed these sandwiches into culinary masterpieces. 
Beginning with the standard bread, pesto, and mustard - we've been using Maille's honey dijon, and the vinaigrette's staple ingredient has proved to be delectable on its own as well - I achieve maximum cheesiness placing one slab of pepper jack on each end. Then comes the newest addition - I've been layering thin slices of green apple on top of one cheese surface, and the result is pure ecstasy. The cheese melts into the bread on one side, and warms - cooks, in fact - and coats the delicate apple slices on the other. The tart apple flavor in turn couples with the next adjacent ingredient, lightly spiced cracked pepper turkey breast. Indeed, there's not much separation between one cheese slice and the next - after the apple and turkey, wilted spinach serves as the final layer that graces the sandwich pre-panini process. After a little bit of time between the panini maker's awaiting jaws, I remove the sandwich and quickly pry it apart, placing avocado in between the other ingredients before the unit has a chance to cool. After a tiny bit of time back on the machine - just enough to melt the cheese around the avocado before it browns - I remove the thick, fragrant unit and slice it in half. Andrew and I have been making sequential sandwiches and splitting both so we can revel in the deliciousness together, and ensure that each half we consume is fresh off the grill.

Penne Vodka Pasta - 1/15/2012

It's shocking that I haven't written about this dish yet - without a doubt, it's my favorite pasta recipe and a heaping, hot portion provides everlasting comfort. Its complex flavor conceals the fact that the dish is startling simple to make, and it's delightfully filling - a starving college student could last on one potful for days..
With knowledge of the ingredients, it's no shock that the final product is so toothsome. After initially sauteing minced garlic with red chili pepper flakes and salt until the former is golden brown, releasing a mouthwatering aroma, one adds crushed tomatoes and allows the mixture to simmer for about 15 minutes. The tantalizing scent grows stronger, building anticipation for the dinner ahead. Simultaneously cooking the pasta to the desired al dente texture ensures that the tubes will be ready just as the sauce has simmered to perfection, the tomatoes infusing with the flavors of olive oil, garlic, and chili pepper flakes. After dumping the steaming pasta into the sauce pot, a couple tablespoons of vodka join the melee - a small yet crucial amount, the alcohol cooks off immediately and imparts a subtle taste. Enthusiastic tossing precedes the addition of the heavy whipping cream - order is significant, the addition of the vodka and then the cream to the tomato and pasta mixture creates a full-bodied sauce with various layers. Chopped parsley is the final component, and tossing the pasta yet again ensures the insertion of fresh flavor into the delightfully thick paste. Placing a lid on the pot for a minute or two allows the pasta tubes to absorb the sauce - indeed, the chunky mixture oozes its way into the welcoming tubes, delivering a slightly spicy, creamy tomato flavor. The vodka, parsley, and mild spice ensure that the sauce is not overly rich and cloying; the final product is satiating yet certainly not heavy. Best when served in a bowl without cheese and consumed with a spoon, I enjoy this versatile recipe anywhere, anytime.
On another occasion, at the Gaidus residence

Monday, January 16, 2012

Marvelous Mezze - 1/14/2012

Our Mezze dining experiences are always defined by excellent service and delectable dishes, but this winter dinner surpassed all previous occasions. Andrew and I spent the day eagerly anticipating our reservation - I must admit that a little online menu browsing had us both salivating hours before seven o'clock - and the magic truly began when we entered the the aromatic dining room, warm with hospitality and the presence of toothsome eats. A day excursion into Vermont's chilly hills left us both desperate for some quality meat, and the menu - slightly different from the virtual version - corresponded perfectly with this craving. Indeed, every dish we ordered harnessed the hearty flavor and texture of meat, and our selections display expansive variety, a testament to the expertise of Mezze's kitchen. We began with the charcuterie plate, a restaurant specialty - Mezze sources the meat cuts locally and cures them on the premises.

The spread was comprised of five different varieties of cured meat, and I will do my best to remember the names and do the rich tastes justice. There were two sausage-like cuts - a deep red chorizo, and a pork variant that was a little lighter in color yet stronger in flavor. Compared to the blatant greasy spiciness of traditional chorizo, this version had subtle flavor and a tender yet substantial texture that conveyed the meat's quality. The pink slices of the accompanying cure were divine - the taste developed throughout the chew, releasing lasting flavors of fennel and toothsome pork. The tessa ham - the multicolored undulation pictured above - was most remarkable for its various textures, creamy fat interspersed with chewy, leaner layers, and hard, chewy strings bursting with flavor speckled the surface. The long, off-white rectangles are aptly entitled "lardo," and can only be described by their melting ability - upon contact with one's warm mouth, the tender fat strips dissolved and released rich pig flavor onto the tongue. I can't recall the name of the final variant, yet I remember its satisfying salty taste and heterogenous texture, a dark, firm meat riddled with light lines of tender fat. The plate was garnished with greens dressed in a lemon vinaigrette - a much needed refreshment - and pickled vegetables, the substantial vinegar flavor complementary to the umami meat taste. 
For the first time, we ordered something off the staff menu - this selection has an experimental feel, and boasts small plates that the cooks and waitstaff enjoy in the back. We ordered the beef bulgogi lettuce taco - a crunchy butter lettuce leaf encased tender korean BBQ style beef from nearby Berle Farm, and the neat unit was topped with kimchi slaw and garnished with whole cilantro leaves. I've previously been exposed the the meat and lettuce leaf taco in my familial eating endeavors, but this dish was different than anything I'd previously experienced - the taste of ginger and spices combined enthusiastically with the hearty beef flavor, and the lettuce, slaw and cilantro inserted integral freshness into each bite. 

This night marked the debut of the oxtail pierogi onto the staff menu, and I feel extremely fortunate to be one of the first to try such a delicacy - Andrew and I agreed that this might be the most interesting and delectable dish we have eaten at Mezze thus far, which is no small feat. The skin of the dumpling was luscious and buttery, doughy yet light, and tenderly encased the moist, intensely flavored interior oxtail. The sizable dumpling sat atop beet chunks and a thick reduction, both of which harnessed the earthy flavor of the vibrant vegetables. Pickled quail egg halves provided further accompaniment, and the unit was topped with a tantalizing dollop of cream and another root vegetable, this time julienned and tossed with fresh parsley and a delicate dressing. Both of us were in utter ecstasy with the complex flavor combination presented in each bite - of course, we made sure to construct forkfuls that included each component of the dish - and this staff pick truly embodies the term "mouthwatering."
Andrew's strozzapreti was the ultimate comfort food - delightful al dente pasta tubes with hearty meat sauce and a vast selection of aromatic meats including sausage, pork shoulder, and veal. The thick sauce owed its decadence to the various meat juices, and the rolled pasta units eagerly absorbed the generous liquid. The meat pieces themselves were tender and toothsome, presenting an impressive variety of wholesome flavor. Each hot, rich bite warmed us from the inside out, the delectable umami tastes similarly satiating our craving for substantial eats.
A dense round of dark chocolate cherry bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream completed our meal in the most appropriate fashion. It was most satisfying for our eager spoons to meet significant resistance whenever they came in contact with the decadent unit - chucks of bittersweet dark chocolate and flavorful cherry skins were interspersed throughout the thick, bready interior. Despite it's density, this dessert was certainly not coma inducing. The salted caramel ice cream lightened the tantalizing chocolate, and neither component was overly sweet. I literally cannot wait for my next visit, as I know that Mezze dinner guarantees two hours of utter happiness. 

Fiery Log Lunch - 1/13/2012

domineering spice
of headstrong chipotle soup
masks other flavors

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Comfort Zone - 1/10/2012

After a very brief hiatus from Tunnel City muffins, I can say with confidence that after this morning, I am back on the wagon. When knee pain rendered me unable to partake in morning practice, I knew that a raspberry muffin would provide the necessary comfort. Apparently, fellow customers had the same idea - somehow, the cold and winter melancholy make a hearty muffin seem all the more appealing - but I was thankfully able to snag the last one. I figured I'd just have half, and save a portion for the afternoon, but once I broke off an edge of the voluptuous top and bit into the sweet, buttery body, I knew that the gargantuan unit would not make it past the morning. I relish the edges because they are slightly crunchy, providing a provocatively complementary encasing to the luscious dough beneath. I reveled in the decadent density of each clump I broke off, savoring the rich flavor and texture. As always, the raspberries contributed aesthetics as well a relatively tart burst of fresh flavor. The daily selections have their work cut out for them, as now only the guarantee of something truly spectacular can steer me from this classic choice...
The cold may also have catalyzed my intense lunchtime cheese craving. By the afternoon, nothing sounded more heavenly than a hot panini, warmed to perfection on the hit griddle. Although paninis often frequent my plate, this one boasted both melted swiss cheese and cream cheese, a tantalizing combination that I had never tried before. 
On one piece of bread, I layered the cream cheese and then smeared the white surface with pesto, next making sure to place a thick layer of turkey and some obligatory spinach on top before finishing the mound with the cheese slice, and the opposing sandwich component. Most remarkable was the way the cream cheese fused with the pesto to create a creamy rendition of garlic and basil that in turn interacted with the bread, drawing out the starchy sweetness as always. I felt waves of utmost satisfaction with each bite, and I would periodically dip the melting layers into a cup of honey carrot soup. Again, a hot line miracle is the only thing that will make me deviate from a panini in the future - whenever I make another selection, I always regret it. Luckily, I stayed in my comfort zone today. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Log Lunch in the New Year - 1/6/2012

Finally, the Friday afternoon eating event I'd been waiting for since my midweek return to school - I'd received a little tidbit of insider info, and already knew that the soup selection was yet another rendition of glorious butternut squash. This time, the earthy flavor of the squash interacted enthusiastically with apple and pear, and although the smooth puree embodied solely the squash in color, the substantially sweet taste of the fruits was distinguishable. Dark green flecks of savory herbs peppered the vibrant orange surface, contributing further complexity, and I garnished my steaming portion with a mound of mild grated cheese and toothsome, crunchy seeds also from the soup's central character.
Each component of the meal was linked via sweetness - the craisin bread also possessed this characteristic, as the dried red berries added isolated bursts of fruity flavor within the luscious brown dough, succulent with a distinct sweetness as well. Per usual, the crusts were a little bit more chewy than the malleable interior dough, and were thus especially satisfying to saturate with the thick silky soup. Of course, I employed the edible spoon technique, the last bits of bread becoming synonymous with a delightful napkin as I mopped the bottom of the bowl until it was sparklingly clean. The "rooty tooty" salad was simple and hence allowed the sweet earthiness of the root vegetables - beets, carrots, and rutabaga - to speak for the earth's bounty. Thinly sliced, the colorful, dense, and crunchy vegetable rounds were well-matched with the airy lettuce leaves and a straightforward oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, minced garlic pieces mildly pickled in the heterogeneous mix.
For dessert, the trays boasted triangle wedges of cinnamon chai shortbread. Although the units were small, they were decadent and crumbly, a dense mass of spicy, buttery flavor. Even in the miniature cookie, the single layer was protracted in many places by chocolate chips, which contributed further gooey richness to each bite. Attending this first Log Lunch of 2012 made the transition back to school and into the new year feel complete at last.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The New Year - 1/2/2011

mom's imitation
Guy's coveted omelet style
lemon addition

sourdough cheese rolls
neat wedges make consumption
appear minimal
 What an amazing "last supper" at home. Crescents of kabocha squash, decidedly more wholesome and starchy than the butternut variant, roasted to soft perfection on the interior yet still possessing some strength on the exterior surface. Mom's special red peppers, caramelized with balsamic vinegar, the brown liquid becoming a sweet, thick reduction encasing the supple red body. A tender grass-fed beef roast, first braised in balsamic and the exterior subsequently brushed with a chunky paste of rosemary, red chili pepper flakes, and other fragrant herbs and spices.

the best version yet
baby greens, apple, fennel
shaved parmesan top
The apple tart was the ultimate culmination of this glorious meal. Since the crust is the same buttery, flaky pastry as the pot pie topping, it isn't overly cloying or sweet. The light shell delicately encases finely sliced green apples, dusted with cinnamon and brown sugar. Before entering the oven, the tart's top is brushed with whipping cream to enable optimal browning, and visible flecks of brown sugar grace the outer surface. Accompanied by a scoop of ice cream, I claim without hesitation that I have never experienced a more tasty apple dessert, and that's saying something...

December Disclaimer

The holidays are a most toothsome time of year, and have consequently rendered me utterly incapable of keeping up with such delightful consumption. My recent failure to update has nothing to do with lack of documentation; indeed, I have been photographing almost every eating adventure that has occurred thus far over winter break. Rather, I feel daunted by the task before me - every meal is worthy of an extensive write-up, and as the pictures accumulate, I find myself buried beneath waves of delectable despair with an inevitable gourmet meal always on the horizon. Short prose and haikus provide hope that I can, in fact, do justice to all the quality eats I have experienced in the past couple of weeks.
Pre-dinner cheese and wine in California

New Year's Eve & Day - 12/31/2011 & 1/1/2012

Beyond the extraordinary company of the Corries, our long standing New Years companions, Guy Corrie's cheese selection gives me something further to look forward to in our gluttonous get togethers. In particular, the items from Berkeley's famous "The Cheese Board Collective" send me into a frenzy of excitement - according to our faithful forager, there is always a line waiting for the day's picks, and we are lucky enough to reap the benefits of the shop's expertise and Guy's remarkable drive. The Berkeley shop also boasts decadent bread choices, from rich sourdough cheese rolls to airy Zampano spheres, coated with salt and red chili pepper flakes. These cheeses are, unsurprisingly, most remarkable - pictured here are a triple cream, a fragrant blue, a soft goat's milk, a cow's milk from the parmesan family, and an oozing variant so stinky that after serving its purpose, the underlying cutting board was banished to the patio for the night.

Pizzas are the perfect New Year's Eve food - they allow variety, and most importantly, leisurely consumption - as we'd finish one, another one would go in the oven, easily constructed with the previously prepared ingredients. Multiple sampler slices ensured that everyone got a slice of our innovative combinations.

spinach, chunks of trout
farm fresh eggs, sunny side up
spinach, garlic base

caramelized onions
succulent mushrooms, thin crust
capers, rich red chunks

thin coating of cheese
on delicate wilted greens
and meyer lemon

our standard new years 
never complete without crab
and ocean's pink gift

thick pineapple chunks
bacon spheres and olive rounds
version, hawaiian 
bright red pepper rings
perched atop bright rainbow chard
melted cheese blanket

and it's the gift that keeps on giving - our New Years celebration would not be complete without Guy's omelets stuffed full of decadent leftovers and crafted with utmost expertise - on this occasion, the fluffy egg tortillas were filled with caramelized onions, crab or salmon, capers, quattro formaggio cheese, kalamata olives, spinach, chard - what a wealth of savory flavors, a perfect way to begin the new year. 
In the making - crab and caramelized onion thus far
The finished product
The salmon, not to be outdone