Monday, September 29, 2014

Castle Hill Inn: A Scenic Meal Like None Other


Whenever people ask me to share my favorite restaurants in Rhode Island, Newport's Castle Hill Inn always makes it to the list. A quaint seaside inn is set against a beautiful nautical backdrop with a sprawling lawn scattered with ever-popular Adirondack chairs boasting to die for views.

From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, the lawn is the place to be, featuring lunch Monday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday (complete with live jazz music).

Although there is seating in the small dining room indoors, the seasonal outdoor seating is incredibly popular. During the non-summer months, lunch and brunch is only served indoors, so it is nice to take advantage of the beautiful outdoors while you can!

The lunch and brunch menus periodically change to make room for seasonal updates. I recently visited Castle Hill Inn on a couple different occasions for brunch and once for lunch. I love sitting outdoors and enjoying the beautiful weather, but please note that toward the end of the summer the bees really start to get in your face while you're dining. Eek!

Tall Ship sighting!

On another visit recently, we saw an actual submarine go by!

View of Castle Hill from the water

I can't count the number of times I've dined at Castle Hill over the years. Probably at least a dozen, and over the years I've been pleased to discover that the ever-changing menu still meets my expectations. Here's a look at what you can expect to find if you visit Castle Hill in the near future...

Summer 2014 Sunday Brunch Menu

Currently, when  you visit Castle Hill for brunch, your bread basket will include sticky buns, while visiting for lunch will feature homemade cornbread with butter. Both are delicious and a wonderful alternative to traditional bread offerings.

Sticky bun at brunch

Corn bread at lunch

There are a lot of great options for drinks, whether you are looking to booze it up or keep things alcohol-free. Unsweetened iced tea is a standby option, but a few great drinks for brunch time include Castle Hill's famous Blueberry Lemonade (don't let the name fool you--it's alcoholic), their mimosa and their delicious bloody Mary. I also enjoy their iced lattes for a cool caffeine kick.

Iced Tea

Iced Latte

Blueberry Lemonade


Bloody Mary

The Rhode Island Calamari is a starter on both the lunch and brunch menus. We're famous for our calamari in Little Rhody, and the calamari at Castle Hill is a great example as to why. It's crispy and tender with bright acidity from pickled banana peppers. The tomato aioli on the side is fantastic and a wonderful compliment to the perfectly cooked squid.

Rhode Island Calamari $14

Another great fried starter featured on the lunch menu is the Chouri├žo and Clam Cakes, served with roasted garlic sour cream and grilled lemon. Clam cakes are another RI specialty, and the ones here at Castle Hill are definitely elevated. Small bites of clam and chourico offer a surf and turf twist on this beachside favorite.

Chourico & Clam Cakes

At lunch, as much as I love the actual entree options, over my last handful of visits I tend to lean in the direction of the sandwiches. They are considerably well-priced and wonderfully executed, perfect for lunchtime fare. My sister and I recently split a couple of the sandwich options.

Grilled Acadian Redfish Sandwich $18

Starting with the Grilled Acadian Redfish with bibb lettuce, dill-marinated tomatoes, lemon and caper aioli, and three bean salad, the chef at Castle Hill has done a great job over the years creating delicious fish sandwich options for the menu. My personal favorite was several years back in the form of a fish wrap, but this slightly messier fish sandwich is lovely with tender fish and a surprisingly unexpected three bean salad on the side. I didn't expect it to have a creamy dressing, but I really liked it overall.

Additionally, we tried the Cajun Turkey Club with Cajun turkey breast, Vermont cheddar cheese, avocado relish, applewood smoked bacon, spicy tomato aioli, and served with salt and vinegar kettle chips. This sandwich hits so many notes and yet it remains stoically balanced in terms of flavors and textures. What the homemade chips lack in vinegar flavor, they make up for in crunchiness! Overall, this is a tasty sandwich choice.

Cajun Turkey Club $16

If you're perusing the brunch menu instead, there are some great options there as well. On both recent brunch visits, one of my friends ordered the Traditional Eggs Benedict with North Country bacon and Hollandaise sauce. It's such a well-executed classic that my friend repeated her choice and I have a feeling on a future visit I could see her do it again. There's nothing quite like a perfect Eggs Bene.

Traditional Eggs Benedict $16

The Lobster Hash with local arugula and pea tendril salad, poached eggs, and chive creme fraiche is famous. It was actually featured on the Food Network as well, and it's as delicious as you'd expect for a signature dish at a place as exquisite as Castle Hill.

Signature Maine Lobster Hash $24

I love anything with poached eggs, and recently decided to try the Steak and Eggs featuring Archer Angus tenderloin tips, piperade, poached eggs, and bernaise. This was a really unexpected choice because steak is not usually something I select so early in the day, but the tenderloin tips are super moist and don't overwhelm the rest of the dish. I also love the little potatoes! There's a mix of red, white, and purple.

Steak and Eggs $24

I've also recently tried a new addition to the brunch menu, the BBQ Pork Benedict, served atop jalapeno and cheddar cornbread, with fried onion strings, poached eggs, smoked gouda cheese sauce. The cheese sauce is decadent, and a wonderful compliment to the slightly sweet pulled pork. The corn bread is a somewhat softer texture for the base of this Benedict, but the flavors are lovely, and overall it's an enjoyable dish.

BBQ Pork Benedict $21

If you're looking for something sweet, the "Peach Melba" is a great choice and features buttermilk pancakes, roasted Sweet Berry Farm peaches, raspberry-maple syrup, and puffed rice. It's a truly contemporary revision of an old school dessert, but in the form of breakfast.

"Peach Melba" $18

I never get tired of visiting Castle Hill Inn, and I never get tired of recommending it. It's really one of the most beautiful views in the entire state, with excellent service, and incredible food. Castle Hill will stay on my radar for a long time to come.

*Update 6/29/15* I've been visiting Castle Hill for about 6 years now, and could easily wax poetic on an annual basis, sharing all the fantastic new options on the menu, along with old favorites. My post from last summer was quite thorough, but upon a couple recent visits to Castle Hill for lunch and brunch, I've discovered more I'd like to share! As of this update, the following items are available at Castle Hill...

Summer 2015 Sunday Brunch Menu

The lunch menu features an excellent Fried Whole Belly Clam Po' Boy with remoulade and shredded lettuce. It's briny and delicious with a side of crisp fries.

Fried Whole Belly Clam Po' Boy $22

The Lobster Roll has been on the menu for ages for both lunch and brunch, and it's always topped with zesty onion strings. Years ago it was served on a buttery brioche bun, but they're now serving it on a hot dog style bun. I have to say, it's easier to eat than its predecessor, and just as delicious, chock-full of succulent, chilled lobster meat.

Lobster Roll $24

A new addition to the summer brunch menu is the "Taquitos," featuring shaved smoked beef, cotija cheese, red chile-lime crema, and chimichurri-grilled corn. My sister ordered this and shared a single bite with me. Even with only a small taste I absolutely loved it, and my sister couldn't stop raving. This might be the highlight of the summer brunch menu this year! Absolutely fantastic! I'd be hard pressed to order something else on my next visit...

"Taquitos" $24

Although with that said, I was equally impressed with my own choice at brunch, the Fried Green Tomato Benedict. The applewood-smoked bacon is perhaps the best I've had--thick cut and super crispy, just perfection. Between the fried green tomatoes, crisp bacon, perfectly poached eggs, and of course the obligatory Hollandaise, this a decadent option, but so worth it. Speaking of Hollandaise, this particular variation features bacon and truffles! The truffle flavor is subtle, but still shines. The "home fries" appear to be battered and well-seasoned, a really unique spin on breakfast potatoes. Holy breakfast, Batman, this is a winner!

Fried Green Tomato Benedict $21

We ordered some dessert on the most recent visit, a couple of the "individual" sized parfaits. We tried the Lemon Meringue and S'mores flavors, but honestly, both of them were incredibly sweet, especially the S'mores. I can't see how a single person could finish something so sweet. Even sharing them both, we still ended up with some residual S'mores in the glass. Personally, I'd skip these particular desserts in the future. Save your appetite and try one of the amazing starters instead.

Lemon Meringue $6

S'mores Parfait $6

Castle Hill Inn
590 Ocean Ave
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-3800

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sweet & Southern: Coffee Tres Leches


I'm a baker at heart. Although I went to culinary school and not pastry school, there is something so gratifying about the process of baking. It's like an edible form of chemistry, and whereas with cooking you usually can see your progress as you go along, with baking it really does come down to the anticipation of seeing the final result (or peeking through the window of your oven). I always feel like baking is kind of magical. I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true.

I recently received yet another baking cookbook to review. You would think with so many in my arsenal I'd be passing on more baking books, but nothing could be further from the truth. I think if you're an avid baker, there is always room to learn more from other bakers. There is always someone pushing the envelope and I want to be there when they do!

Sweet & Southern is a lovely cookbook released by Rizzoli (one of my favorite publishers) and written by Ben Mims, a former associate food editor at Saveur magazine. Mims takes a really unique approach to Southern desserts (and non-Southern desserts) but really twisting many traditional recipes on their axes. I love perusing through the pages of this book and seeing comforting sweets through a whole different lens. I have bookmarked many recipes throughout, including the likes of Peanut Butter Cup Smith Island Cake, Pineapple Tarte Tatin, Peanut Butter-Apple Tart, Pure and Sinful Trifle (uses angel food and devil's food cake... and peanut butter mousse!), and Old-Fashioned Peach Ice Cream to name a few.

Pure and Sinful Trifle!

I've actually made two different recipes from this book so far and both have been delicious. First (and this is the recipe I will be sharing today) I made the Coffee Tres Leches. Imagine the most decadent tres leches cake (that means three milks in Spanish) with a tiramisu inspired twist. I'm shocked no one's thought of this before (or have they?). Making the cake itself is quite easy and basically starts with a meringue to which you add the egg yolks and milk, then fold in the dry ingredients.

A mixture of heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cooled espresso soak into the finished cake after it cools. The result is utterly sublime. I made this cake for guests and decided to try and serve it out of the pan on a platter. I used parchment beneath the cake that came up the sides and allowed me to remove the cake from the pan quite easily. I don't think I would do this again in the future though, because after removing the cake from the pan the "milks" started to seep out of the cake. I think this is inevitable even when you just cut into the cake, but it's worse when you don't have the sides of the pan to at least hold in most of the liquid.

The resulting cake was still incredibly moist and delicious. Guests swooned over this Coffee Tres Leches and I would definitely make it again (mainly because it's so easy AND impressive). It's not super pretty, just brownish squares to serve your guest with perhaps a dollop of whipped cream. It's not as stunning as some other desserts, but it tastes amazing. I would also only make this if I were feeding a crowd because the liquid does start to seep out once it's cut, and you can get A LOT of pieces of cake from this pan since it's so rich. Leftovers are still tasty, though!

One final note, when making this cake, be careful about how you wrap it with plastic wrap. My plastic wrap accidentally touched the surface of the wet cake and took a little bit of the cake with it, leaving a kind of ugly surface on one portion of the cake. It's nothing that can't be covered with whipped cream when serving, but just beware.

The second dessert I made was the Coconut-Lime Cornmeal Pound Cake. The reason I picked this dessert? I had extra coconut milk I wanted to use up. It turned out to be a great way to do that, and yielded a fairly dense texture (a cross between corn bread and pound cake) that was studded with coconut and had an intense citrus glaze. This cake basically a tropical spin on cornbread in the shape of a pound cake.

The cake itself isn't too sweet, so the glaze really adds an extra bit of sugar. To be honest, I think you could cut the glaze recipe in half since about half of my glaze ended up on the tray beneath the cake and not on the cake itself.

I would happily make either of these recipes again; both were incredibly easy and used basic ingredients I already have or could easily obtain. I would also recommend this cookbook to anyone who loves to bake and is looking for some less traditional variations on some Southern favorites (as well as fun desserts in general).

I think the next recipe I'm dying to make is the Pure and Sinful Trifle, but that's another one that requires a crowd to feed, with a few more steps than the recipes I've already made. Maybe with the holiday season approaching I will find that perfect opportunity to make a non-pie dessert to feed my hungry family. Stay tuned!

Coffee Tres Leches
Makes One 9-by-13-inch Cake
(Adapted from Sweet & Southern)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder (I actually used regular cocoa power and also added 1/8 teaspoon baking soda)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream, plus more cream, whipped and lightly sweetened, for serving
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1/2 cup brewed espresso, cooled

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan evenly with baking spray.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed until soft peaks begin to form. Gradually add the sugar while mixing, then increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk in the egg yolks, then the milk, then remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the dry ingredients until evenly incorporated and no pockets of flour remain. Pour in the prepared pan, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool completely.

In a pitcher, whisk together the 1 cup cream, the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and espresso, then slowly drizzle the mixture over the cake until all of it is used (don't worry, the cake may look like it's drowning in too much liquid, but it will absorb it eventually). Wrap the cake in plastic and refrigerate until it absorbs all the cream, at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Cut into squares and serve chilled with a large dollop of whipped cream on top.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Chicken and Dumplings


I love America's Text Kitchen. I enjoy watching the Cook's Country shows on PBS and I love their recipes. The recipe testers really do an incredible job developing and perfecting recipes that are perfect for the home kitchen.

I prefer and trust their recipes significantly more than I do recipes developed at the Food Network. I think America's Test Kitchen does a more thorough job really focusing on every detail and variable before coming up with their final result. You can really see this when they demo recipes on the TV show because they explain everything so well.

One of their cookbooks I love the most is Comfort Food Makeovers. So far I've tried about half a dozen recipes from the book, including their Pork Lo Mein and Chicken Enchiladas among others. I haven't been disappointed by anything thus far, and I really love that the testers have tweaked recipes for some of my favorites while figuring out where to cut the fat and when to leave it in.

I've made the chicken and dumplings on a couple occasions, and I'm so pleased with the results. The stew itself is not thickened with a roux (this saves calories) but it develops wonderful flavor from searing the chicken with the skin on (fat equals flavor--the skin is later removed), then adding some sherry, thyme, and aromatics.

The chicken remains moist in this super chunky stew. The flavorful broth is a lovely base for the dumplings, which are somewhat dense, yet tender at the same time (especially when soaking up the rich broth).

I love the balance between hearty veggies and chicken, fragrant broth, and fluffy dumplings. I'm not sure I'd ever feel the need to create a full fat version of this dish when this slim downed variation hits every note. With fall approaching quickly, dishes such as this will be in high demand!

Chicken and Dumplings
Serves 8
(Adapted from Comfort Food Makeovers)

3 pounds bone-in split chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 onions, chopped fine
2 celery stalks, minced
1/4 cup dry sherry
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 minced fresh parsley

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk, chilled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and hot
1 large egg white

For the stew: Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown chicken well, 10 to 12 minutes; transfer to plate and remove skin.

Add carrots, onions, celery, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to fat left in pot, cover, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in sherry, scraping up any browned bits. Add broth, thyme, and chicken and any accumulated juices. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook until chicken registers 160 degrees F, about 20 minutes.

Remove pot from heat; transfer chicken to plate. When cool enough to handle, shred meat into large pieces, discarding bones.

For the dumplings: Whisk flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl. In separate bowl, stir chilled buttermilk and melted butter together until butter forms small clumps, then whisk in egg white. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated.

Return stew to simmer and stir in shredded chicken, peas, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Using greased tablespoon measure, scoop and drop dumplings on top of stew about 1 inch apart. Wrap lid of Dutch oven with clean kitchen towel (keeping towel away from heat source) and cover pot (this will prevent steam droplets from dripping onto the dumplings and making them soggy). Cook over low heat until dumplings have doubled in size, 13 to 16 minutes. Serve.

*Note* For serving, I suggest gently removing dumplings from Dutch oven and then ladling stew into individual dishes, then topping with dumplings again. It's awkward trying to evenly distribute the stew without moving at least some of the dumplings out of the way.

Nutritional Information for 1 1/2 cups stew with 3 dumplings: 350 calories, 7 g fat, 36 g carbs, 30 g protein, 3 g fiber


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