Wednesday, March 30, 2016

T's Restaurant: A Rhode Island Brunch Favorite

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You guys, I'm in love!

...with T's Restaurant.

This breakfast/brunch/lunch spot has three locations in Rhode Island, in Cranston, East Greenwich, and Narragansett, two of which I frequent regularly. I've always been a bit of a brunch fiend, but I'm utterly addicted to T's. I love coming here, whether it's for a classic breakfast, or a comforting lunch.

Circa 2010, I loved this Fresh From the Garden Eggs Benedict off the summer specials menu. It featured baby spinach, fresh tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, poached eggs, and Hollandaise atop toasted whole wheat English muffins. Not a shabby way to start your day!


T's is known locally for their fantastic home fries or "homies." These come in several different varieties, including one of my absolute favorites: Buffalo!


The recent winter specials menu included a whole slew of fantastic options that I sampled over the past several months. My sister's favorite was actually the Gingerbread Pancakes, topped with honey gingersnap butter and whipped cream. This is pure winter comfort.


My personal favorite from that recent winter menu was the Southwestern Chili Benedict Skillet. Grilled cheddar jalapeno cornbread is topped with beef and bean chili, two poached eggs, Hollandaise, barbecue sauce, and a dusting of chili. I ordered this on more than one occasion! I hope this makes it onto next winter's specials ;-)


Another special I tried recently was T's Cider Braised Pork and Egg Platter, featuring cider braised pulled pork and sweet potato hash, a drizzle of barbecue sauce, two eggs (poached in my case), toast (my pick was a griddled English muffin) and a side (Buffalo homies for the win!). This was very tasty and filling, but still didn't beat my beloved Southwestern Chili Benedict Skillet!


I also tried the Pulled Pork and Fried Egg Brioche Sandwich. This was a bit of a miss for me mainly because what was supposed to be an over-easy egg on the sandwich (along with the pulled pork and melted pepper Jack cheese) was actually over-hard. Nothing worse than an overcooked egg when you're really craving runny yolks. This was also my first time trying the Southwestern homies, which are topped with Hollandaise, melted cheddar, diced bacon, and fresh salsa. The lack of melting on the cheese in my case, and the over-cooked egg was really one of the only times I think the quality of the food has been off. I've never had this issue repeated again...


Speaking of runny yolks, a total win for me happened recently when I asked if they could make me a customized breakfast sandwich. One of the sandwiches on the lunch menu is called a Brie LT and features harvest grain bread, spread with creamy brie, and topped with crispy bacon, baby spinach, and sliced tomato.


Normally, they do not serve items off the lunch menu until after a certain time, but I asked the waitress to see if they could make me a Brie LT topped with an over-easy fried egg, and after checking with the cooks she confirmed they could! It was exactly what I wanted! Totally hit the spot, and erased any bad breakfast sandwich memories that ever plagued my soul. I will be ordering this sandwich again, and I've asked them to call it the Victoria (though I doubt it will catch on). They also did a better job with the Southwest homies this time by pouring the hot Hollandaise on top to help melt the cheese better. Swoon!


T's is currently featuring several spring specials on their menu. They always have some variety of Eggs Benedict, and the current one is called Verona Florentine Eggs Benedict. They've had a version of this in past years every spring, but it now features herb-toasted focaccia, prosciutto, sauteed baby spinach, poached eggs, Hollandaise, and a drizzle of balsamic syrup. In past years I've seen a similar rendition with either cream cheese or ricotta thrown in there, but regardless of the details, this is a solid breakfast choice..


Another item I recently sampled on the spring specials menu is the Pulled Pork Breakfast Burrito. A grilled flour tortilla is stuffed with pulled pork, diced red onions, green peppers, scrambled eggs, and cheddar cheese, and served with salsa and sour cream on the side. I again elected to order the Southwest homies, which were a great compliment to the breakfast burrito.


One of my favorite sandwiches at lunch time is the Mediterranean Style Chicken Wrap, which is an herbed garlic wrap filled with grilled chicken, sauteed spinach, kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta cheese, with a sweet balsamic dressing. These fillings are also featured in an excellent omelet on the breakfast/brunch menu, the Athenian Grilled Chicken Omelet. I don't have a photo of that one, but take my word for it, it's delicious! Also, the fries at T's are always really crispy and well-seasoned. In the past, I've also ordered the side of house-made potato chips, and those are excellent too.


The service and prices are fantastic across the board. I wouldn't keep returning so frequently over the years otherwise. Also, if you're a Yelper and you check in on your phone, you always get a coupon on the Yelp app to use during your visit. I believe the only restriction is you can't use it on Sundays or holidays. No biggie. If you ever find yourself in Cranston, East Greenwich, or Narragansett, RI, check out T's Restaurant for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. You won't be disappointed.

T's Restaurant
Three locations in Rhode Island
http://www.tsrestaurantri.com/

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bob's Burgers: Hit Me With Your Best Shallot Burger

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One of my first full-time jobs after graduating from college was working on a popular animated television show on Fox. It wasn't Bob's Burgers, Futurama, or Family Guy. It was the other one. I was an assistant to the producers, and through my time working at the show I learned a lot about the long process of animation.


I remember during my very first week working on the show, I attended my first table read of my Hollywood career. It was July. That episode was the season finale which aired the following spring. There are so many steps between writing, re-writing, voice recording, and many stages of animation that take place before even a 30-minute animated episode is ready to air. I have a lot of respect for animation.


With that said, this is a food blog after all, so where am I going with this? Another popular Fox animated series has a very food-centric theme. Emmy Award-winning Bob's Burgers features hilariously titled specialty Burgers of the Day. Scheduled for release tomorrow, March 22, 2016, The Bob's Burgers Burger Book features recipes from Cole Bowden's fan blog, The Bob's Burger Experiment. This book brings together my love of animation and cooking. How exciting!


There are tons of clever burgers in this cookbook, and each recipe is tested by chefs so the recipes are the real deal. If you're a fan of the show, you're sure to find some great inspiration between the pages of this book. And even if you're not, you'll still love these burgers!


I decided to try the Hit Me With Your Best Shallots Burger from Season 1, Episode 10: Burger Wars. If features herb-laced caramelized shallots, chèvre, and arugula. The recipe below is exactly as it's written in the book, but I personally made some changes to my preparation.


For the post part, I followed the instructions for caramelizing the shallots (which I cut into wedges--slivers just didn't really resonate with me as a vegetable cut). My preferred method is sweating them in a covered pan on low until they are tender and then uncovering and continuing to cook very slowly until caramelized. I didn't do that. I used the frying pan as the recipe indicated, and the shallots browned a bit more aggressively, so I hovered on lower heat for the most part. They could have gotten even darker with more patience, but we were getting hungry :)


I also chopped the rosemary and sage. The recipe didn't really indicate how to prepare them. I assumed perhaps you were meant to include them whole, and then remove them at the end of cooking, but it wasn't clear, so I just chopped and incorporated them right into my shallots.


I used potato buns instead of French rolls. I just felt the shape was more appropriate for a round burger, and I personally just love the flavor! I grilled them lightly before grilling my burgers, another variance from the recipe. It states to cook the burgers in the frying pan after removing the shallots, but I decided to go for the grill instead.


The final change I made was to mix my seasonings of salt, pepper, paprika (not in the recipe), and fresh thyme right into the meat instead of seasoning the exterior.


Even with my tweaks, I thought these burgers were fantastic! I'm not sure if I've ever had goat cheese on a burger, but I really loved it! Placing the arugula on the bottom bun, with the burger on stop of it really helps to keep it in place and yields a less messy burger than you'd otherwise get. The shallots had a great mild sweetness that paired beautifully with the chèvre.


The recipes in this book are considerably easy and straight-forward to prepare. There are lots of creative and clever burger creations throughout the book which would please any burger lover, even more so if they're fans of the show.


Hit Me With Your Best Shallot Burger
Season 1, Episode 10: Burger Wars
Makes 4 Burgers
(From The Bob's Burgers Burger Book by Loren Bouchard, Universe Publishing, 2016)

10 small shallots
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs sage
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 (4-ounce) log chèvre, room temperature
4 French rolls
Arugula

This is a garlic peeling technique that works for shallots too: Put your shallots in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for about 10 minutes. Remove from the water, cut the root end off, peel them, and then slice into slivers.

In a frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Put your shallots in, along with the rosemary and sage. Cook, stirring once in a while, until the shallots are dark brown. Stir in the red wine vinegar at this point. Remove the shallots and set aside, leaving any liquid in the pan.

Form 4 patties and season both sides with the fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook your patties in the pan you used for your shallots.

Spread some chèvre on your top bun, and build your burger: Bottom bun, arugula, burger, a couple shallots, top bun. "Best shallot?" More like new best friend, right?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Painkiller

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You can't have a Caribbean meal without a Caribbean cocktail. One of my absolute favorites is the Painkiller. It originates on the island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, and was made famous at the Soggy Dollar Bar on White Bay.


It's traditional served on the rocks, and features pineapple juice, dark rum, orange juice, and cream of coconut. Freshly grated nutmeg is the final touch. I used nutmeg purchased from Grenada on my recent Southern Caribbean Cruise on the Disney Wonder.


I actually made a pitcher of Painkillers instead of shaking individual drinks. It's easy to multiply the recipe by your chosen number of drinks. Just be sure to stir vigorously, and also stir again if the mixture sits for any period of time, because it will separate.


This is quite possibly my favorite tropical cocktail! It features all my favorite things, and it's so simple to make, no blender required.


Painkiller
Makes 1 cocktail

4 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce cream of coconut, such a Coco Lopez
Freshly grated nutmeg

In a cocktail shaker combine pineapple juice, rum, orange juice, coconut cream over ice. Shake for about 10 seconds and strain into a glass filled about halfway with ice. Top with freshly grated nutmeg. Serve immediately.

Alternatively, to make a pitcher of painkillers, multiply quantities by however many drinks you plan to make* and stir together in a pitcher. You may refrigerate the pitcher for several hours, but you will need to stir it before serving as it will separate. Serve over ice.

*I managed to make a total of 10 cocktails out of 1 (15-ounce) can of cream of coconut (although you'd think it would yield 15, I measured out about 10 fluid ounces in my measuring cup).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Curried Tomato Salad

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For my sister's recent birthday dinner, I created a Caribbean experience. We sipped Painkiller cocktails while dining on curried tomato salad, curried citrus rice, and a twist on jerk chicken topped with slices of caramelized carambola, or star fruit. The curried citrus rice is one of my long-time favorites, while the painkiller is perfection, and seriously took us back to the Caribbean. I'll be sharing that recipe in the near future.


Today I'm focusing on the curried tomato salad. It seems so unassuming, but it seriously stole the show! It's incredibly easy to make, and begins with a combination of diced peeled, seeded tomato, and onion. Red onion is the best choice, but I used a brown onion I had on hand and it still turned out really well.


The dressing is super straight-forward: mayonnaise, parsley, and curry powder. I use reduced fat mayo for all my mayo needs. It makes me feel just slightly less guilty. The curry powder I used was obtained on our recent Southern Caribbean cruise on the island of Grenada, otherwise known as the Spice Isle. I used the same curry powder as well as bay leaves from Grenada in the rice, and nutmeg from Grenada grated over the painkiller cocktails. It was just about as authentic as we could get!


We LOVED this curried tomato salad. It boasts freshness from the tomatoes, sharpness from the onions, creaminess from the mayo, and delicious curry flavor. And of course don't forget the crunch from the lettuce. I use romaine lettuce as my vessel for this salad, but any lettuce cups will do.


Stay tuned for additional posts featuring recipes from this delicious Caribbean-inspired dinner!


Curried Tomato Salad
Makes 6 servings
(From The Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook)

3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced (I used 5 small tomatoes)
1 large red onion, chopped (I used a brown onion)
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup mayonnaise (I used reduced fat mayonnaise)
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon curry powder
Loose-leaf lettuce (I used romaine lettuce)

Combine the onions and tomatoes in a bowl. Add the salt and pepper, and chill the mixture well.

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, parsley, and curry powder. Add the curry dressing to the tomato mixture, and mix well. Spoon the tomato-onion mixture onto lettuce leaves, and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Camembert Cheese

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You may remember that time I made cheese last summer. I kind of made a huge deal out of it, because let's be honest, it was a huge deal. It was my first aged cheese, my beautiful baby Stilton! I had made some other basic cheeses in the past, such as mascarpone, ricotta, and fresh mozzarella, but the Stilton was my first endeavor with aging cheese.


At the time, I purchased some cheesemaking supplies, which included cultures and mold spores for both blue cheeses and Brie/Camembert. This past December, the time finally came to try out my second aged cheese. I decided to make Camembert, which is very similar to Brie, but smaller.

Fun fact: Salvador Dali's famous painting of the melting clocks (The Persistence of Memory) was inspired by wheels of Camembert melting in the sun.


As I mentioned in my Stilton post, I actually made my own forms for the Camembert using PVC pipe coupling fittings with holes drilled into them (these were actually cheaper last summer than they are at the time of this post, so you may be better off just buying actual cheese forms). You can easily purchase the forms (and all the necessary cultures, mold spores, etc) from The Cheesemaker.

Plain Camembert to the left, and topped with white truffle honey to the right

I used a pre-packaged mixture of the cultures and mold spores. I used two packets intended for Brie/Camembert for this recipe. I had already used all the rennet obtained from that purchase when I made my Stilton. Fortunately I had some frozen vegetable rennet tablets in my freezer from my fresh mozzarella-making years ago.


I had read that rennet tablets keep indefinitely in the freezer, but I hadn't tested this out. This was the first variable in my cheesemaking process. Would the vegetable rennet properly coagulate? Not only is it vegetable-based (still does the job, but not preferable to cheesemakers, who generally prefer calf rennet) but it was also several years old.


The second variable for my Camembert experiment came with the milk I used. The recipe in Kitchen Creamery specifies unhomogenized milk, which is more difficult (and expensive) to source. Whole Foods had this for sale, but it was much more expensive than regular milk. I also found a local dairy farm that sells it, but I would have spent an hour driving just to buy some milk. I decided to take a chance and use homogenized whole milk.


I was a bit nervous since I had kind of broken a couple of the rules/suggestions in the recipe, but I forged ahead with my cheese. On a cool Saturday morning in December, I got started with the tedious process of cheesemaking. Although the recipe may seem daunting (and it's not for the faint of heart), it is a really well-written recipe that covers all the important steps in the process.

The cheeses shrink in their molds as the curds continue to drain from 1 hour to 3 hours, 11 hours, and finally when removed from their molds at 21 hours

I managed to fill both of my prepared Camembert cheese forms, and quickly had to come up with an alternative for a third form. Although it wasn't the best option, since it was slightly tapered and also didn't have a completely flat bottom (I realized this a little too late), I used an empty yogurt container which I repeatedly punctured with a barbecue fork to create holes. This third cheese was a bit less wide than the other two, but was taller. It aged a bit longer than the other two cheeses because of this.

Ready to start aging!

I had aged my cheeses in a mini fridge in my enclosed patio. Although I had a refrigerator thermometer in there, the temperature often dropped below the preferable temperature (simply because it's winter and the patio got cold), so my cheeses took a bit longer to reach maturity than the book had stated.

After 1 week of aging

Camembert is a cheese that will continue to soften the longer it ages/ripens. You must be careful of this because if it ages too long, it will essentially liquify! My first two Camembert cheeses were ready (if not slightly over-ripe) right before I was heading on my recent Disney Cruise. I moved the two cheeses (which were loosely wrapped in parchment paper) to unsealed plastic bags (so they could breathe) and placed them in my cheese drawer to stay cold and hopefully not continue to age until I was ready to cut them. Camembert cheese will continue to age until it is cut, and then once it's cut, it should be consumed rather quickly.

After 2 weeks of aging

Promptly after returning from the cruise, I cut into the first of the two Camemberts (the third was still aging in my mini fridge until the following week). It was a little droopy, but still utterly fantastic! I actually like that it was slightly over-ripe because it was more easily spreadable. The flavor of the cheese was fantastic! Not too "stinky." I brought some cheese to work as well and got tons of rave reviews from everyone, including the CEO of the company, a self-proclaimed cheese-lover. Score!


This Camembert is excellent on its own, but really shines when paired with white truffle honey. I'm sure any honey would be a wonderful counterpart to this cheese, but I luckily had received white truffle infused honey at Christmas time, and it really was outstanding between the sweetness and the fragrant truffle flavor. It took this Camembert to a whole other dimension. Seriously.


I am so excited to add another successful cheese to my arsenal. I will happily make both the Stilton and Camembert cheeses again in the future, but I'm also excited to try some new ones. There is a fattier, creamier blue featured in the book that I'd like to try, but also the Havarti is really calling my name. Stay tuned for more of my cheesemaking adventures :)


Camembert
Makes two (12-ounce) wheels
(From Kitchen Creamery)

2 gallons unhomogenized whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized) (I used homogenized, and it worked!)
1 cup heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/8 teaspoon prehydrated mesophilic cultures* (such as MM100 or Flora Danica)
Pinch of prehydrated Penicillium candidum mold powder*
Pinch of prehydrated Geotrichum candidium mold powder*
1/4 teaspoon calcium chloride diluted in 1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon rennet diluted in 1/4 cup water (I used dry vegetable rennet, as opposed to the preferred calf rennet, and it worked!)
2 to 3 teaspoons salt

Special Equipment: 2 medium-sized cheese forms (may be Camembert or similar forms, approximately 4 inches round base by 4 inches height, open bottom, untapered); digital kitchen thermometer; cheese paper (I used parchment--not the same, but I made it work)

Clean all surfaces and equipment before beginning. Set up a draining station by placing the cheese forms on a draining rack (I used a sushi mat) in the sink.

Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed stockpot and warm over medium heat to 86 degrees F, stirring gently. Remove from the heat.

Add the prehydrated cultures and mold powders to the milk, then stir in, using an up-and-down motion.

Add the calcium chloride solution and stir. Add the rennet solution. Stir in for 20 seconds, then stop the motion of the milk but stirring the opposite direction for a moment. As you add the rennet, start a timer and watch for the flocculation point**. When reached, stop the timer. Multiply the number of minutes elapsed by 5. This is how long you need to wait before you cut the curd. Goal time is 60 to 90 minutes.

At the timed moment, cut the curd into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Then, without stirring, let the curd sit for 45 minutes. During this time, the curd will sink below the surface of the whey (honestly, my curds didn't sink, but I let them rest like this anyway).

Remove the whey from the top of the pot until you see the surface of the curd again, then begin to stir (working from the top of the pot and moving downward) for 3 minutes. This action is more one of lifting and moving the curds than actually stirring. Allow the curds to rest in the pot for another 5 minutes.

Finally, scoop the curds out of the pot and fill each form. Fill the forms all the way to the top before moving on to the next form. Depending on the height of your form, you may need to fill it, then wait 10 to 20 minutes for the curd level to drop sufficiently, then fill again. If you are absolutely certain you can't fill your curds into the prepared forms, add another.

Let the curds drain for 8 to 12 hours, flipping regularly, covered at room temperature.

Sprinkle 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt on the top of each cheese while it is still in the form. Let the salt soak in for half an hour, then flip the cheese and repeat the salting on the opposite side. Let the salt soak in for 10 hours more at room temperature. During this time, make sure the whey can flow freely away, so that the cheese does not sit in a puddle.

Remove the cheeses from their forms and set on a clean aging mat (again, I used a sushi mat for this), cover with cheesecloth, and allow the cheese to air-dry at room temperature for 1 day more. Finally, blot the cheese extra-dry with a clean paper towel. Place the cheese on the aging mat in the aging bin and place in a 45 degree F location (I loosely covered with a lid although the original recipe didn't specify). If unavailable, store in the refrigerator.

For the first 2 weeks, with clean hands or wearing gloves, flip the cheeses every day, and remove any accumulated moisture with a clean cloth or paper towel. You should start to see Geotrichum candidium mold growing on the rind after about 1 week. It looks like shimmery velvet. Next, you should see a heavier white mold grown in--the Penicillium candidum.

When the cheeses are fully covered in mold, wrap in cheese paper to prevent the mold coat from growing too thick, or skip the paper and simply continue to flip and pat down the cheese rind on a weekly basis.

After 4 weeks, check the cheese for ripeness by looking for a softness at the center. The center should feel more like a soft peach than a firm eraser. When ripe, enjoy. Store, uncut, in the fridge for up to 2 weeks more, and no longer.

*To prehydrate cultures: two hours before beginning your batch of cheese, take 1 cup of warm (about 86 degrees F) milk (just grab it from the milk you'll be using) and sprinkle the freeze-dried cultures over the surface. Wait 2 minutes for them to hydrate, then stir in. Hold this cup in a warm location for up to 2 hours, and ideally no less than 1 hour before adding it to the vat when called for in the recipe.

**To find the flocculation point: At the same time you start the timer, set a bottle cap (upside down) or a Styrofoam bowl (right-side up) on the surface of the milk. It should float. Use your finger to tap the cap or bowl. Keep tapping until it stops moving easily and seems to bounce backward toward your finger; at that moment, stop the timer. This is the flocculation point. Take the number of minutes that passed and multiply by the numerical factor given in the recipe.




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