Monday, August 16, 2010

Dinner with Friends

So, there has been quite a delay between postings. My brother came to Vermont from Texas to visit me last week, which took up a significant amount of time and energy. Although his presence did provide a number of culinary adventures – the most amazing buffalo chicken dip EVER and a trip to the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Waterbury – my foodie highlight of the week did not occur until after he left. On Saturday evening, I had dinner at the Bluebird Tavern with Danielle and a couple of her friends to celebrate her birthday.
Now, this was not my first visit to the Bluebird, and I have to tell you, I was a little wary. Although my previous experiences were not necessarily bad, they were…different. A little about the establishment: In some ways, it fits into the cookie cutter mold of so many other Burlington restaurants, in terms of atmosphere, service, and so on. However, in a lot of ways it is more unique. First of all, the menu changes daily based on what is at its peak in season – so the food it always really fresh and creative. This does lead to some…interesting…dishes, however. Rabbit and veal tongue come to mind.
On my first visit to the Bluebird, I was there for brunch, about a year ago. That particular meal was nothing special. I had brioche French toast, which was okay but a little soggy, and my companion had chicken and waffles. I did enjoy how they served coffee in a mini French press, and there was a live jazz duet playing that was very good, and added something special to the atmosphere. My second visit was quite a different experience. I was there for dinner with Danielle (shocking, right?). We ordered the butcher’s board for an appetizer, which consisted of various meats that they make it house (something neat about the Bluebird is that almost everything is homemade, from ricotta to ketchup and aioli to sausage). I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater – I think you have to be in my intended field. I’ve tried alligator and escargot and all sorts of strange food. On that evening, I added rabbit, pate, and lardo to the list. Some of the things we tried were really good, and others, no so much. I also had a burger after that, because it was the only thing on the menu I felt comfortable with. It was really good, and the frites that came with it were yummy. Their house ketchup is absolutely AMAZING, so that really helped the meal.
So, I was a little nervous about going back – would there be anything on the menu that appealed to me? I shouldn’t have worried. It was honestly one of the best meals I have ever had. The company was the first success. I hadn’t met Danielle’s friends before, but they were fellow foodies and lovely ladies, and we hit it off for a very enjoyable evening. The atmosphere was nice and the service was decent, but the food was the star. First, my drink – I had a cocktail they called the ‘grey gardens.’ It had a prosecco base (Italian sparkling wine, for anyone who does not know), and then flower essence added in. It was a beautiful gray color – hence the name – and arrived with a flower floating in it. I felt so classy and sophisticated drinking it! We ordered a cheese plate to share, which was much more satisfying than the butcher’s board. I then ordered two different salads – weird, I know, but they both sounded so good. First was a baby squash salad. It had goat cheese smeared underneath it, so it kind of mingled in with the greens as I ate it. A fried zucchini blossom stuffed with more goat cheese was served on top. I have to admit, this was the whole reason I ordered the salad. Fried blossoms are something I’ve seen on Food Network many times, but had never actually tried. It was delicious! My second salad was a heirloom tomato salad, served with fresh ricotta and grilled peaches. I have to tell you, that ricotta was the best I have ever tasted – and that is saying something. So good! Both salad were light and fresh and dressed perfectly. I was very happy with my dinner selections. Dessert was a cup of tea and a berry shortcake – yummy, but nothing spectacular. I didn’t mind, because I was so thrilled with my prior dishes. A sucessful evening, indeed -- the Bluebird Tavern is completely redeemed in my eyes (I'm sure they're thrilled).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A confession and a recipe -- finally!

So, I have a culinary confession to make – I am absolutely horrible at making quesadillas. I know, I know – they are so simple, and yet I constantly mess them up (usually in the form of burning them). It happened again last night. I have had this weird obsession with avocados lately. I didn’t always like them, but now I love them – so smooth and creamy, and, bonus, healthy! I have had a lone avocado sitting in my fridge for a week and a half now, and I was trying to figure out some use for it before it went bad. Suddenly, inspiration struck – in the form of Napoleon Dynamite, no less. “Make yourself a dang quesadilla!” So, I pulled out a couple tortillas, some shredded Cabot cheese (yes, that was a shameless plug for my favorite local cheese company), some salsa, and of course, the avocado. I filled the tortillas with the cheese and put it on the burner while a sliced the avocado. I then decided it was time to turn the quesadilla before it burned, and low and behold, it fell apart. Now I had half melted cheese in the tortilla and burning in the frying pan, plus a semi-burned tortilla. Awesome. I was able to salvage most of the cheese and trim away the burned part, and then top the whole mess with the sliced avocado, sour cream, and salsa. Did it look pretty? No. Did it still taste good? Yes. So, I guess lesson learned – I simply cannot make quesadillas!
Thankfully, there are plenty of foods that I can successfully prepare. I’ve been into French toast lately – I love making breakfast for dinner! French toast has become one of my go-tos, along with the unsurpassable Dutch Baby. The other night I accidentally invented the most delicious stuffed French toast I have ever tasted (the ugly photo above does NOT do it justice). I made just regular old French toast (the recipe out of the classic red and white plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook – eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon soaked bread – homemade wheat bread is ideal because it is denser, but I made do with store bought wheat instead). I was trying to think of a way to jazz it up, and I remembered some leftover goat cheese I had in the fridge. I’d had French toast stuff with cream cheese or ricotta before, so I figured, why not? I microwaved the cheese for just a few seconds to soften it up, and then added two teaspoons of sugar, a generous squirt of honey, some chopped almonds, and more vanilla and cinnamon. I spread this mixture over each of my four slices of bread, and topped the whole thing off with some Vermont maple syrup (only real maple for this girl, none of that fake “pancake syrup” here). OMG, it was delicious! I only made it through about a third of it that first sitting, but the leftovers were dutifully devoured over the next day or so. The French toast was very sweet – homage to my insatiable sweet tooth – from the syrup and the sugar and honey in the cheese, but also crunchy from the almonds and tangy from the goat cheese. What a perfect combination! As Rachael Ray would say, “yum-o!”