Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mega Meatball Pizza

One of the things I like about Rachael Ray's recipes is that they're simple enough to allow substitutions and minor changes. Her "Mega Meatball Pizza," for example, is made of store bought pizza dough and an easy, meaty topping. (Pizza dough is convenient to make from scratch because it's cheap and doesn't require much attention. After you mix the ingredients, all you have to do is let it rise.)

To make Rachael Ray's pizza, I used homemade pizza dough, sprinkled it with rosemary like she said, and baked it. I followed her instructions for the meat and tomato paste mixture but I opted for ground turkey instead of sirloin. In addition, I added some spinach at the very end, and used fresh mozzarella instead of shredded. The recipe made a generous six servings (it said it would serve four), and the last time I did it I made three little pizzas and froze the other two before baking them again. I think Rachael would be proud...even though she might not recognize the recipe.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Lacking Limani

Limani was one of Richmond's best restaurants, with the freshest fish I've had in an inland location, and a classy, elegant environment to highlight the cuisine. Everything there was good - the cocktails, the desserts, the side dishes, and especially the seafood, which was prepared with only lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper before it was placed on a wood-burning grill. I remember the actual moment that I discovered the end of Limani's existence. I was walking down Cary St., and instead of passing by the familiar cobalt blue doorway, I saw a new name and red paint on Limani's entrance. The familiar and enchanting smoky smell of grilled seafood was gone, with only the name "Duro" on each of the doors, and no further clues about the former venue.

I soon learned that Limani's owner decided to reopen his eatery as Duro, a pasta restaurant that isn't supposed to be Italian. Duro r
efers to "durham," or the type of flour used in the hand-made noodles. I had my doubts about a restaurant that claimed not to be Italian when it features pasta, but I felt obligated (and curious) since Limani was such an amazing dining experience.

My friend and I started with the "Stuffed Purses" appetizer ($8), which were pasta "purses" filled with fontina cheese, marscapone, and pear. They were sweet and light, with a certain richness from the marscapone and the shallow pool of parmesan cream sauce. Unfortunately the starter was the best part of the meal. My Bellini, which I settled for because Duro doesn't have Limani's fabulous cocktails, was made with peach schnapps and cheap sparkling wine. I know because the waitress said they were out of champagne, and that she was already sending someone to get diet coke so she would have them pick up something sparkling.

Limani's servers were always knowledgable and attentive, but I wasn't impressed by the waitresses at Duro. Similarly, the food was decent but not extraordinary. My entree, Sonoma Shrimp, consisted of four medium-sized "tiger shrimp" and hand made linguine. There were also fresh spinach leaves and some "oven-dried" tomatoes tossed with the pasta, and a fairly boring sauce that tasted like chicken stock. As my friend said, it was difficult to tell if the chef was trying to highlight the shellfish or the pasta, and neither was particularly inspiring.

The other dish I tried was supposed to be pulled chicken with eggplant gnocchi, but the meat came out as a whole half of a chicken. There was no information on the menu regarding the sauce, which tasted very strongly of onion, and the gnocchi was edible but not very flavorful. I had no desire to try dessert, even though the tartufo at Limani was exquisite. Duro has a long way to go before it can live up to the standards set by its predecessor. And I'm not rushing back for any non-Italian pasta.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Trendy Dining

Since Can Can opened over a year ago, I've been resisting the urge to eat there. It's a mere five minutes from my apartment (on foot), but its snobby air and trendy reputation always made me wonder if the walk there would be worth it. All of my curiosity was eased on Sunday when my friend and I tried to go to Duro - the former Limani - right across the street from Can Can. When we found that Duro was closed, we crossed Cary to try our luck at the fashionable French eatery.

Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the interior, which had an upscale European feel to it. The booths and tables are set up in various sections, so you can sit almost anywhere and still feel like you're in a small restaurant. In contrast, the impressive bar spans an entire span of the restaurant, and there is an area in a front corner with baskets of bread and pastries for sale. I had tried the bread once before, and it is worthy of a French bakery. Our waitress brought three different kinds to the table (olive, French rye, and baguette) with olive oil.

I ordered a Bellini, which is champagne and peach puree, and it was sweet and refreshing. The last cocktail I had out was at 3 Monkeys. It was supposed to be one of their signature Monkey martinis, with lemon, simple syrup and club soda, but it was flat and bland. It's nice to know that some trendy spots care about the quality of their drinks.

Our appetizers were just as appealing as my Bellini. I got a half dozen mussels for $3 with lemon and mignonette (a peppery oil and vinegar sauce). They were beautifully presented over ice, and tasted very fresh. We also shared fondue ($3), which was served warm in a small bowl with 3 long, soft pieces of brown bread. For my main course I chose a shrimp salad ($11), which was gigantic but light. There were small shrimp mixed with baby arugula, roasted red peppers, white beans, and a crisp lemon vinaigrette. It was a perfect complement to the fondue and mussels, and I enjoyed ordering multiple, reasonably priced items as opposed to one entree.

Although my friend and I went to Can Can just to try it out, I know I could go back for a drink, appetizer, or a full meal. Other popular restaurants, like Davis & Main, have let me down on more than one occasion - with unevenly cooked pork and salmon. I didn't find any flaws in the food or the service at Can Can, but I was too full for dessert. Judging by the quality of the bread and everything else I tasted, I may have to return in the near future for something sweet, and I'm sure it will live up to my high expectations.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Grill Season

I have a friend whose parents used to grill all year round, in any weather condition, at various times of the day. As jealous as it made me, I believe that grilling is especially magical in the summer, when corn on the cob is in season and party guests contribute warm weather desserts like banana pudding. On my past two visits home, I had the privilege of participating in two delicious cookouts.

One of the meals, which took place on Father's Day, centered around grilled prime rib. None of us had eaten prime rib from the grill before, but my dad used his trusty copy of How to Grill (by Steven Raichlen) as a guide. I've never followed the book's instructions myself, but I know that any grilled item my dad has made with Raichlen's help has been a success. Father's Day was no exception; the meat was so succulent that I can't remember what else we had, although I know all of the side dishes were also tasty.

For his 4th of July cookout, my dad smoked a chicken, two pork shoulders and a brisket. We sliced the brisket, pulled the pork and chopped the chicken to make barbeque sandwiches. I brought Extra Billy's barbeque sauce (hot and regular) from Richmond, and my dad made his own vinegar sauce for the sandwiches. We also had cole slaw to put on them, along with my mom's potato salad, a green salad with pine nuts, tri-color rotini pasta salad, and crisp green beans with sesame seeds, lemon juice, and olive oil.

Paired with locally brewed beer, the meal was flawless, dessert was just as appealing. The aforementioned banana pudding was a perfect complement to the grilled food, and we also had homemade chocolate chip cookies, turtle brownies, and a lemon curd cheesecake with raspberry sauce. Parties like these don't happen too often, certainly not all year round, but the fruits of the grill are not soon forgotten.

Food Photos

Here are a few pictures of meals I've made in the past couple months. The first is a chicken and green bean stir fry I made in my wok (I composed the recipe as I went along):

Next is a recipe from the Food Network's website (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_33515,00.html). I watched Giada de Laurentis make this on her show and it looked so easy that I had to try it. I followed her instructions exactly, and the escarole and white bean soup was delicious. It would also be excellent with hot sausage or chicken:

This photo illustrates the preliminary stages of salmon burgers (chopped fresh salmon, dill, and bread crumbs), which were very tasty but didn't hold together too well. I'm going to look into some other recipes for salmon burgers and see if I can find one to improve the one I have now: