Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

Lasagna Dinner

July 23, 2009

002All the rain this summer (?) got Donna and I hungry for some comfort food.  One of our favourite comfort food is Lasagna. We are not Italian but have grown to love Italian food especially the classic casserole, lasagna. 

I have been making this for years and our older kids in Canada, Steve and Wendy,  always make me make it when we visit them during vacation. I think the key to most pastas is in the sauce. I start my sauce by browning some Hamburger and then setting it aside while I saute, in order, Onions, Garlic, Green Peppers and Mushrooms. I seasoned as I went with salt and pepper and once the veggies are done I season that mixture with Thyme, Basil, Oregano and some Hot Pepper Flakes. I then added the hamburger back to the veggies and seasoned again. I used store bought red sauce to complete my sauce.  The rest is pretty straight forward with alternating layers of sauce, noddles and cheese –Mozzarella, Ricotta & Parmesan. Into the oven covered with foil for 35 minutes, uncovered for an additonal 15 minutes and wait time for another 10 minutes then serve.

 Homemade LasagnaThe resulting dish was good, if I do say so myself and I just did. LOL.  I think it was good because of the different flavours and textures in the dish.  Although the dish is fork tender, there are different textures within the different layers, the creamy smooth ricotta versus the denser noodles versus the melted mozza and parm cheeses.  The tastes of the classic savory Italian spices, the sweet & heat of the red sauce, the tang of the ricotta cheese and the oregano flavoured mozza cheese. A great mixture of flavour and texture differences. A great homemade casserole.

Come on over the next time it rains we can do it again. Wait with all the rain this summer, I could be making this every night LOL. Come on over anyway.

BTW if you haven’t participate in the different Food Surveys, you can give us your opinion on a variety of topics.  Check here to see the different surveys.

BYOB to the Villaggio

July 19, 2009

Viiagio AppetizerDonna and I had supper last night with Poker buddy Steve and his wife Joan at Villaggio just down the 202 in Lashaska.  Steve and I go back a couple of years playing poker, in fact he was at the final table when I won my first tournament.  Donna usually sits at Steve’s table on Tuesday nights so we knew each other well. It was our first time meeting Joan but she was fun and gave me some good tips about taking photos of food. Thanks Joan.

I started out with the appetizer special of Prochuttio, Melon and Figs. I think this classic appetizer is so popular because in addition to being so simple and colourful, it has nice contrasts in flavours and textures. I never ate Figs as a kid because they were always dried figs which although very sweet reminded me of old people food and an attempt at getting “fiber” into their diet. LOL. Last night the Figs were fresh, sweet and had an almost jam like consistency when I bit into them. The Melon was also sweet but a fresh taste. The saltiness of the Prochuttio stood out against the sweetness of the two fruit making both tastes more intense. The thin slices of Italian ham needed to be cut with my knife making another texture contrast in the dish. I amused myself by varying the combinations of ham, fig and melon on different bites making multiple taste experiences. A great dish, simple in design, complex in tastes and textures.

 INSALATA DI CESARE at VillaggioDonna went for their Insalata di Cesare. It was a classic interpretation of this famous salad. Romaine lettuce, toasted croutons, creamy garlic dressing and no anchovies. The Romaine Lettuce was a little wilted but generally crisp. The Dressing was flavourful with strong garlic note and nice and creamy.  Donna would have like a little more Parmesan Cheese but the Croutons were excellent with a nice toasting on the outside, soft on the inside and a mild garlic taste. Good try guys but still not as good as mine. Check my version out here. Donna and I both love Cesare Salad but let us know your Favourite Salad here

 PARMIGIANA - VITELLO O POLLO at Villaggio

Steve’s main course was the Parmigiana – Vitello o Pollo or as I knew it, Chicken Parmigiana. Steve took the photo of this generous portion of pan fried breaded chicken with pasta.  The Thick Rich Red Sauce was coverd with what looked to be fresh Mozzarella.  The thin breaded Chicken Cutlet revealed itself after Steve cut through the sauce and pasta. By the end of the meal it was all gone and Steve look really satisfied.

Steak at Villaggio

Donna went for the Bistecca del Cuoco or as I knew it, New York Strip Steak.  She had it cooked Medium Well, which I think is always too much but I wasn’t eating it. LOL. Served With Green Beans And Mashed Potatoes it was a complete dish.  Donna thought the steak was very good with simple seasoning and cooked exactly how she liked it. She enjoyed what we thought was an Au Jus that added flavourful moisture to the steak. The Potatoes, Donna’s favourite vegetable BTW, were simply prepared with just butter, salt and pepper. The Green Beans were a nice contrast to the steak and potatoes with some of them having a nice bite but others had been around the kitchen for a little longer.  Net-net good steak but a little more attention to the veggies was needed.

Grilled Scallops and Shrimp at VillaggioJoan and I went for the Grilled Scallops and Shrimp. We both loved the presentation with the colourful pink shrimp contrasting with the bright green of the sauteed Spinach and grill marks on the scallops and shrimp. The perfectly grilled Shrimp were sweet but the char of the grill marks contrasted with a bitter almost acidic taste making the different bites interesting.  This sweet-char contrast was also there on the Scallops. The different density of the scallops contrasted with more dense shrimp and the wilted spinach. I found the Spinach to be well cooked with a nice bitter flavour with a slight garlic note. The bitter flavour contrasted nicely with the sweet shellfish. Good Presentation, Good Flavours and Good Textures – a very successful dish.

Along with the Apps and Mains, Villaggio served up some very nice marinated veggies and great bread to start our meals. So by the time we  finished our mains we were pretty full.  Steve and Joan had invited us for dessert back at their house so we skipped dessert at Villaggio and went to Steve and Joan’s.  More on dessert in the next post. Net-net, a very good meal, generally well cooked and definitely well presented. Thanks to Steve and Joan for joining us and putting up with the photos and the food reviews. I hope we can do it again soon.

Read other review about Villaggio here, here and here.

Villaggio – 5861 York Road, Lahaska, PA    215-794-2777

Memorial Day Family Picnic

May 27, 2009
Tom BBQing

Thom at the Grill

Ryan, Robbie, Donna and I got invited to our Thom and Reno’s for their Memorial Day Picnic.  It was a blast meeting their neighbours and family.  It was also great from a food point of view too.  There was tons to eat and a variety of items to make it interesting.  We got there on time and Thom was already cooking up some ribs on the grill. The Marinated Pork was moist and sweet a sTom BBQing burgers and Dogslight smokey taste from the grill.  Once the ribs were done Tom switched the classics;  Burgers and Dogs. Both were great but for some reason you weren’t suppose to put ketchup on the dogs, it was ok on the burgers but not the dogs.  The BBQ featured only Sabrett hot dogs which they felt were the best dogs in the USA.  I am a Nathan’s fan myself but the Sabrett Dogs were very good.  They had a nice snap when you bit into them and a pleasant spice mixture in the meat of the dog. Not sausage spicy but flavourful enough to be a great dog.

BBQ Fix'insA nice surprise was some Breaded Eggplant that one family member brought in from New York City.  Poker buddy Pete explained that this eggplant only grows in Italy and every year the relative brings it.  Pete suggest that I eat it without the red sauce to really taste the eggplant.  I did and sure enough it was good.  I normally steer away from eggplant regardless of preparation but when Pete said it was special I knew I had to try it.  Either way I would get something to write about.  It was a good recommendation.  Eggplant, to me, has almost a metallic taste and can be tough if you get a thick slice.  These slices we thin with a light breading.  The taste was sweet with almost a cold cut density to the flesh. It was good and I would have ate more but they disappeared by the time I got back the table.  I didn’t try the pull pork but it looked and smelled great.

Tomatoes and MozzaA classic Italian Salad is Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella.  The picnic’s version was really special because of the two varieties of heirloom tomatoes and some really fresh basil leaves.  The mozza was obviously fresh from their taste but aroma coming off the giant basil leaves and tomato.  You could smell this dish from across the room.

Deviled EggsAnother treat were the Deviled Eggs made by local Chef Gary from Dish Catering.  Gary catered my 50th Birthday Party so I knew these would be good.  They eggs were seasoned with mustard, cayenne and paprika giving them some heat.  Not to much but a good match to the mayo and egg yolk base to the egg filling.

Corn and Bean SalsaHaving just come off our Mexican Hold’em party the week before, I thought I was full of salsa until I spy-ed the Corn and Red Bean Salsa.  This colourful salsa was a good change up from the spicy mostly tomato salsas were served at our event. This salsa was also mild in spice making it a refreshing appetizer on a hot day.

Scilian PizzaReno now runs the family pizza business in Ringoes, NJ taking over from his father Frank.  Not that we didn’t have enough to eat already, Thom started to grill some  Sicilian Pizza that Reno had made earlier that day.  I am more of a thin crust pizza fan myself but I had to try it.  Glad I did. the grill had heated the crust nicely but the biggest impact was on the melting of the cheese, basil, garlic and homemade tomato sauce. I restrain myself in eating only one piece, cause my MD is reading the blog now so I gotta watch what I eat or at least what I right. LOL.

Spinach Salad with StrawberriesNew Facebook Friend and Poker Buddies Pete and Stella’s daughter Geri made Spinach and Strawberry Salad.  This was a refreshing break in the heat of the day.  The lightly dresses greens were a nice contrast to the sweetness of the berries.  I helped Geri pass the salad to her family and got to meet more of this great family. It was a lot of fun.

Finnish BowlingOf course a bunch of us player poker for part of the picnic but the most interesting game was a version of Lawn Bowling from Finland. The idea was to knock over the different wooden markers with wooden cylinder until you get 50 points exactly before the other players. Ryan and I tried it and it was a lot of fun.  Ryan later partnered with Poker buddy Tony and they almost won.  I can see why it was a popular game and great for picnics. 

Thanks again to Thom and Reno for inviting us.  We had a great time and hope we get to do this again next year.  Happy Memorial Day.

Delicious Scientific Communication

May 13, 2009

Cafe EmiliaCo-worker and Global Marketing Leader Gary and I met for lunch with Alice and Charlie from a UK Scientific Communications agency today.  The shop talk was good but the food was delicious.

Cafe Emilia is an upscale Italian restaurant conveniently located to our office and despite that I don’t go there enough.  They have all the classic Italian dishes but I generally go with the specials of the day.  Today was no exception as I ordered the salad of the day, the pasta of the day and finally the fresh fruit of the day.

Cafe Emilia Salad

 The salad of the day was a Jersey Tomato salad. For my Canadian readers, New Jersey is famous for it’s tomatoes and it a big deal down here when the new crop starts to arrive.  Cafe Emilia’s special salad had two thick Jersey tomato slices covered with crispy shredded endive, thinly sliced cucumbers, freshly grated Parmigiana cheese and finally some ground black pepper.  The dressing was a light lemon vinaigrette that complemented the crispy fresh veggies.  The actual slices of tomato were thick and meaty matching well with the light dressing a crispy veggies.

Pasta at Cafe EmiliaThe pasta of the day was rotini with scallops and calamari in a pink vodka sauce.  The perfect sized lunch portion dish was delicious.  I still remember that when the dish arrived at the table is was like a ocean breeze flowing over me.  There were plenty of calamari rings that weretender and juicy not rubbery as they often get.  The scallop chunks were also skillfully cooked making them sweet and just dense enough to know you are eating scallops.  The pasta was just how I like it, just past el dente but still firm enough for the pasta to maintain the shape. The pink vodka sauce, I think it always looks orange to me, was sweet with a slight tomato taste match well but not over coming the sweet scallops and calamari.  A classic combination for me and a recommendation for you.

Strawberries at Cafe Emila'sMan did I show some huge amount of self-control! LOL. Cafe Emilia had a dessert tray that was four levels high with just about every cake I could name.  They also have those great fruit shaped sherbets that only a few top end Italian restaurants still offer. A real old school dessert but I went with fresh fruit of the day.  It still amazes me that with all those great cakes and desserts I went for strawberries. My PA is going to be so proud of me.  Actually the strawberries were very tasty and obviously freshly cut up.

All in all, a delicious meal and we had some great shop talk.  Thanks to table mates Alice, Charlie and Gary for putting up with my picture taking during the meal.  I hope they get to read this as I enjoyed their conversation as much as the meal.  Thanks again guys.

 Cafe Emilia, 705 US Highway 202, Bridgewater, NJ 08807 (908) 429-1410

Sfingi and Swai

May 13, 2009

Actually it was swai first then the sfingi at poker last night.  Honestly I never heard of either of them as I walked into Cafe Europa but I was glad I got to. Come to find out swai is river catfish from Asia. I’m told that it’s becoming very popular and beginning to replace tilapia as the featured fish on several menus. So when Carolyn recommended it, I figured it was an adventure to try something new and either way I would have something to write about.

Swai Franchaise Cafe EuropaIt was one of my better gambles of the night as the Swai Franchaise was excellent.  The light breading protected the delicate moist flesh of the fish while absorbing the garlic the fish was pan-fried with.  I have had tilapia and catfish but this reminded me more of flounder with flaky white flesh.  The generous portion was paired with tomato risotto, broccoli and asparagus.  The risotto was creamy with a mild tomato taste.  The broccoli and asparagus were steamed a little too much but just a little leaving them still flavourful.  I thought the dish was well conceived and nicely presented as you can see in the photo. I would recommend this as a great way to try this new (at least to me) fish.

The entree was preceeded by a house salad with basalmic vinaigrette. The salad had romaine lettuce, red onions, back olives, cucumbers and tomatoes. Pretty standard with nice fresh veggies and the solid house dressing.

Garlic knots Cafe EuropaAs the poker tournament played out over the evening, the players started to pick up a wonderful garlic smell coming out of the kitchen.  Garlic smell coming out of Italian restaurant kitchen is not unusual but this was different, it seemed sweeter and more garlicky than normal.  It was even making the Italian folks hungry.  Come to find out that Phil was making some garlic knotsfor the bar crowd. Although these are very simple to make; infuse the pizza dough with some garlic, roll out dough, tie the knots, bake in pizza oven and the brush with garlic infused butter. The hot-out-of-the-oven knots were delicious and nice surprise for those of us still in the bar.

Sfingi at Cafe EuropaThe second surprise of the night was the Sfingi.  I had never heard that term before but  come to find out these are basically Italian donuts.  Phil made these from the same pizza dough (without the garlic) and deep fried them for a few minutes and then coated them with granulated sugar while they were hot.  Somehow the granulated sugar almost fluffed up and appeared powdery on these dough fingers.  The hot dough and sweet sugar was a nice but unexpected treat.   Thanks Phil.

Survey Says II

May 11, 2009

Currently I have four different food polls running on the blog to capture the readers’ input.  This post will summarize the results todate.  If you haven’t given your opinion yet, you can still do that but once  you vote, the software drops a cookie so you can only vote on that poll again.

My first poll asked about your Favourite Food Style and current leader is Italian followed by Japanese and Comfort. As of 11:00 tonight there are 21 votes.  Italian makes sense to me and I think Japanese is being driven by sushi but I think Comfort food was a bad choice in the survey because it could be comfort food in any style rather than what I thought comfort food was when I orginally labeled the choice (lots of mashed potatoes, grilled cheese and tomato soup, etc).  Let us know what you think is your choice of comfort food in the reply box below or the comment link at the bottom of the post.

The second poll asked about your Favourite Sandwich and the current leader is the Hamburger followed by the Hot Dog. With 43 votes cast perhaps the first and second place finishers were not really in doubt but what about third place?  A surprise with the Rueben sandwich beating out the Philly Cheesesteak for third place.  Where is your pride Philly folks?  The poll continues so if you haven’t voted you can still vote.

The current Favourite Salad leader is the Ceasar Salad.  I may have influenced the decision with my posting on my recipe for Ceasar Salad on the blog. LOL.  Second and third place was tied for the Waldorf salad and the Tossed/Green salad. With only 18 votes the salad catagory is wide open for more votes so click here to have your opinion heard. 

So far the Favourite Food Holiday is Thanksgiving. Not really surprising when you considering that the holiday is almost entirely focused around food with almost not religious cermonies getting in the way so that all people can participate.  Second place was Christmas and third place was a tie with virtually every remaining holidays I put in the poll. To be fair this was the last poll I creates so the number of votes was very small. So vote for your favourite holiday at this post.

Thanks for participating with the different polls. I hope you continue to particpate as I add addition polls. Facebook Friend and Advertising buddy Emily has given me ideas for future polls so a shout out for that.  I am also interested in what others would think would be interesting polls, so use the Comment Link below or the Reply Box to make suggestions.

I am also collecting suggestions for the Best of Bucks in different categories. If you have a favourite restaurant here in Bucks County, that does a special job on any of the categories let me know thru the Reply Boxes or the Comment link at the bottoms of the posts or pages.

Cinqo de Mayo at my Favourite Italian Restaurant

May 6, 2009

On one of the episodes of Tony Bourdain’s Cook Tour, he goes to the hometown in Mexico of one of  his staff cooks.  The show highlighted a great deal of homemade Mexican food and made the point that the backbone of many restaurants in New York City are Mexican cooks and kitchen staff.  The same might be true in here in Bucks County.  My case in point is Cafe Europa which for the other 364 days a year is pretty hard core Italian but offers Mexican specials on Cinqo De Mayo.  The specials are created by the Mexican staff and they take a great deal of pride in the preparation and presentation of their specials.

Margaritas for Cinqo de MayoBefore I tell you about the food, let me tell you about the margaritas, the traditional cocktail served on Cinqo de Mayo.  Bartender and Facebook Friend Carolyn made this one with a mid-range tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and triple sec in a 2-1-1 ratio. The drink was shaken with some crushed ice and served in this delightfully tacky glass.  The glass actually glows and had settings for on, off, slow flash and fast flash and you got to keep the glass.  Carolyn’s margaritas were so good that by the end of the night my counter looked like an airport at night with all the glasses flashing in a row.  It was pretty funny.  For more information on where you can get a great margarita make sure you visit my co-worker Eric’s site Top Margaritas where he and his friends have ranked margaritas from around the world.  If you know where I can get a great margarita in Bucks County let me know on my Best of Bucks – Margiaritas page.  Let me know if you need a blinking margarita glass as I seem to have collected quite a few.

Mexican Chicken Special

For my meal, I chose the Mexican Chicken Special.  The dish came with moist pan fried chicken, brown rice, avocado slices, a salad of sweet onions and cucumbers over a bed of iceberg lettuce and deep fried tortillas pieces with a spicy green chili sauce. 

The salad was simply dressed with lime juice which matched well with the sweet onions and cool cucumbers and lettuce.  The lime dressing also matched with lime juice in the margarita. The chicken was pan fried with just salt and pepper.  The rice took on the brown colour from the cumin that gave the rice a slightly smoky flavour.   I especially enjoyed the green chili sauce and ended up dipping the chicken as well as the tortillas into it.  A very nice heat. The flavours were fresh and bright from the salad and avocado and filling and satisfying from the chicken and brown rice.  This combination made the dish a great success. 

I know an Italian restaurant is an unusual place to celebrate a Mexican holiday but Phil’s team made it work.  Let me know about the flashing glass thing or you comments in the reply box or comment link below.

Cry, ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war*

April 27, 2009

Still in Shakespeare mode from earlier in the week, so we made Caesar Salad for supper.  Alas the irony that the Casear Salad was not served to the Roman leader in ancient Rome but rather by a restauranter in Tijuana Mexico in the 1920’s. 

My personal history with the Caesar Salad began shortly after I started my first sales position with Searle Canada. It was the 80’s and those were the days of big hair, big red meat and big red wines. At our District Sales meeting, tradition had it that the second course was Caesar Salad.  The salad was prepared table side and there was much bravado over how much garlic and hot sauce the wait staff would put into the salad to meet the needs of my fellow salesmen. My favourite salad was prepared at the Old Orchard Inn in Greenwich, Nova Scotia. After many District Sales Meetings, Bob McAdam taught me his recipe for Caesar Salad and to this day I make my version very close to the one Bob taught me.

Caesar Salad

I make the dressing for the salad based on the number of people planning to eat the salad.  For each person, I mash a garlic glove on the bottom of our wooden salad bowl with some kosher salad to make a paste. One teaspoon of Dijon mustard is added to the garlic paste, along with one large egg yoke and the juice of one half a lemon. One half of a teaspoon of Worstershire and hot sauce is added along with a tablespoon of red wine vinegar.  Freshly ground pepper is added to taste and the mixture is wisked as olive oil is added.  The amount of olive oil depends on how much visocity you like with your dressing so wisk and pour to your own liking.  Bit sizes pieces of romain lettuce are tossed into the dressing. I recommend a quarter of a head per person for a dinner salad.  Two slices of bacon per person should be crumbed and placed in the salad bowl. I like lots of coutons so I toss a half of a cup of croutons, homemade if you have the time.  Finally a quarter cup of freshly gratted Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is added to the salad bowl.  The dressing, lettuce, cheese, bacon and crouton are tossed and finally seasoned with some salt and pepper.  After I portion out the dinner salads I ususally place some additional cheese and ground pepper on each plate along  a squeeze of lemon and a slice of lemon for garnish.

So far, most people enjoy this a recipe and it scales for larger numbers of dinner salads or as appetizer salads. Let me know your recipe and if you try this version in the reply box below.  Looking forward to your input.

*W. Shakespeare. Jules Ceasar Act 3 Scene 1 Line 268

More Food Options in Survey

April 18, 2009

Thanks to Ann and Emily, I got new ideas for surveys to capture your opinions.  I have updated the survey to reflect more choices in favorite foods.  It was ironic that the day after the first survey posting that I went for Thai and had forgot Thai on the survey. Then Ann reminded me how she loved Thai and Indian food with a get recommendation in the Conchy area just outside Philly. So I added Indian, then I added Caribbean and then an option to add your own favorite.  So please take the survey, pick or add your own choice and let see which cuisine remains supreme.

Dinner with Sid and Adeline

April 16, 2009

It’s a Wednesday but when Sid suggested we go out for dinner, I was up for it.  Cid and Adeline have great storied from all their travels and experiences so if the food matched the levels of the stories Donna and I were in for a good night.  It was our second visit to Villaggio in Peddler’s Village so we knew we would have a good meal. 

Villaggio's Wednesday Special

Villaggio's Wednesday Special

This BYOB has many of the classic Italian dishes but puts their own spin on them.  Donna and I split the Insalata Di Arance alla Siciliana, Adeline had the Insalata Di Cesare and Sid had the soup of the day,  Pasta Fagioli.  Our salad was very refreshing with fresh crisp greens matching well with the juicy orange slices and the olive oil dressing.  It was very good, so good, I had seconds and actually took home the left overs from the mega portion severed to us.  Adeline’s salad was classic but missing the anchovies.  That was OK with Adeline as she was not a fan of the salty little fishes. Donna and I shared this salad on our first visit and it was very good, not as good as mine but who could match that. LOL.  Sid’s soup, was very rich and had that great bean flavour you appreciate in chosing that soup.  The soup was very filling and a great choice when it’s the special.

For mains, Adeline had the Maelanzasa Al Forno, Donna had the Chicken Francese,  Sid had the Wednesday special Brasciola and I had the Chicken Pulcinella.  I was amazed at the amount of pasta Adeline and Sid got with their dishes and Donna and I didn’t receive any.  Both Adeline and Sid were happy with the rich red sauce that came with al dente pasta.  Adeline’s eggplant was well cooked and well Chicken Pulcinellamatched to the pasta.  Sid’s beef fillet stuffed with mozza and parma cheeses. He opted out of the roasted peppers that usually come with dish. Donna’s chicken was moist within the light batter and white wine lemon sauce. My roasted chicken with cheese, asparagus, basil and white wine was delicious.  Donna and I both had roasted potatoes and mixes veggies to complete our mains.  I always find the veggies the main indicator of chef’s skills.  I think veggies are tough to cook because most chef’s focus on the proteins and starches leaving the veggies to a narrow window to co them al dente and not over cook them.  Tonight the chef nailed our veggies along with the proteins and starches.  Well done.  In addition to the great food, the service was attentive and easily handed the extra request we gave them. 

Chicken FranceseAll in all a good night, great stories (as always) and great food.

Villaggio, 5861 York Road, Lahaska, PA 18931 – 215-794-2777