Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Country Fried Fail

Ok, so dinner wasn't a total failure. But it certainly wasn't one of my best efforts.

Over the weekend, Bill recorded two episodes of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," both of which happened to be chicken fried steak throwdowns. One sent Bobby to Texas where he took on a cowboy with a woodfired grill affectionately named Bertha (no joke), and the other brought him to Savannah where he surprised Paula Deen. (BTW, every time I see Paula on TV, I desperately want to go to Savannah. I'm pretty sure I can talk Bill into it, too.)

Bobby and his oponents made chicken fried steak look easy enough: heat some oil in a cast iron skillet, dip the steak in some buttermilk, dredge it in some flour, and fry it up. Simple. That part really isn't too tricky, but when you get to the gravy you run into problems (or at least I did). The gravy also looks easy: make a rue with oil and flour, add some milk, season with salt and pepper. Done. Um, not so.

I explain the problems I faced following the recipe. Keep in mind all of these measurements are approximate, as I didn't follow a recipe other than what I saw Bobby and Paula do on TV. (In retrospect, I probably should have done a little more research before diving in.)

Country Fried Steaks and White Gravy
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups  plus 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 lb. top round steak, pounded to 1/4-inch thick and cut into 4 steaks
1 cup milk

Pour buttermilk in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, combine flour, onion powder, paprika, salt and pepper.

Heat oil in cast iron skillet over high heat. (Note: Oil is ready when tiny bubbles form around the handle of a wooden spoon.)

Coat steaks in buttermilk, then dredge with flour. Repeat so steaks are double dipped. Carefully lay steaks in oil and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, flipping just once. Work in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Remove cooked steaks to baking sheet topped with a wire rack.

While steaks are cooking, heat milk in a small saucepan. Milk should be scalding (which is apparently very hot but not boiling, or about 185 degrees).

Pour off all but 2 or 3 tablespoons oil from skillet. Add flour and whisk until smooth and pasty (adding more flour as necessary to adjust the consistency). Slowly add milk to skillet, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper.

So that all sounds very easy, right? Well, here are the two problems I encountered:

1. My breading began falling off of the steaks as soon as I removed them from the skillet, and
2. My gravy was a complete disaster (as in, it tasted like flour-y paste)

I have a couple hypotheses about my steak-breading problem. First, I probably should have patted my steaks dry with paper towels after pounding them, to ensure a nice dry surface for the buttermilk to stick to. Second, I probably should have done a quick dip in flour before the buttermilk, further ensuring there was something for it to stick to.

As far as my gravy goes (notice it's not in the picture ... it really was that bad), I'm pretty sure I went wrong with the scalding milk. Both Bobby and Paula mentioned it, and I clearly remember steam rising from their milk as they added it to their pans. I was a little nervous about it going in, so I did some cursory research to figure out exactly what "scalding" meant. There's a good chance my milk was too hot because my gravy immediately started boiling and then got super thick as I added the milk. I ended up starting over because I had reserved some of the cooking oil. This time, I got my rue going, started adding milk, and it started bubbling a little too quickly again. I immediately removed it from the heat and began adding cold (well, close to room temperature) milk instead. That appeared to work because the gravy looked right, but when I tasted it I knew I'd added too much flour to my rue. Looks like it's very important to have exact proportions of oil to flour.

I'll give it another shot. (Actually, Bill suggested chicken fried chicken, which might be a little easier.) Plus, I'll be studying some of Paula's recipes in the meantime!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chowd-ah Pow-ah

Years and years ago, when I cooked only occasionally, I remember making a corn chowder recipe. I'm pretty sure it involved a can or two of creamed corn, some chicken broth, an onion and a red bell pepper. It was good, but it didn't seem like authentic corn chowder. So, wanting to make something a little more traditional and a bit more challenging, I added corn chowder to my recipe wishlist.

I recently saw this recipe in an old issue of Cook's Country and thought it fit the bill ... well, maybe not in the "traditional" department. I selected a variation of the recipe with chorizo and jalapenos, making it more of a Bobby Flay-ed, Southwestern version of corn chowder. But at least it involved fresh corn, which earned points in the "challenging" department!

I, as usual, didn't stay entirely true to the recipe as it was printed (which I'm beginning to think is a good thing ... at least America's Test Kitchen can't accuse me of plagiarizing!). I made a couple tweaks, which I noted inside the recipe directions.

Corn Chowder with Chorizo and Chiles
5 ears fresh corn
2 (18 oz.) cans whole kernel corn, drained
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 lb. ground chorizo
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper
1 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cut kernels from ears of corn; reserve cobs and kernels separately. Puree canned corn and 1 1/2 cups broth in food processor until smooth. (Note: I read this wrong and ended up pureeing the fresh corn instead of the canned. Whoops.)

Cook chorizo in Dutch oven over medium heat. Using slotted spoon, transfer chorizo to paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Cook onion, jalapeno, corn kernels, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in chorizo fat until vegetables are softened and golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add potatoes, corn puree, remaining broth, and reserved corn cobs to Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Discard cobs and stir in cream. Season with salt and pepper. (This is where I decided I wanted a smooth instead of chunky soup, so I broke out the stick blender and blended the soup until it was mostly smooth.) Stir in chorizo and serve.

Always mommy's helper, Lola takes a snooze on the recipe!
I have to say, this soup would have been very good had I followed the recipe exactly, but I think I made an excellent choice in using the stick blender. Really, I just like to bring it out because it's fun, and I don't find a lot of excuses to use it. But having had corn chowder leftovers for lunch today, I'm convinced that it helped the flavors concentrate and become that much more yummy overnight. It's the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, and the potatoes and cream give it just enough richness while still tasting fresh. Way better than any canned creamed corn version of chowder you'll find!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hit and Miss Chicken and Potatoes

Did you miss me? It's been a long two weeks without posting (and an even longer two weeks without doing much cooking beyond grilling hot dogs). The summer got super busy with big projects at work, friends in town and festivals starting. So I haven't been home a lot lately and I haven't had time to make our usual yummy meals. Now there are only a few days left in the month, and then I'm going to take another brief hiatus when I head to Santa Barbara next weekend. I'm sure my loyal followers are heartbroken, but I promise I'll come back with a vengeance after the Fourth of July!

Since I have a little more downtime this week, I was anxious to start menu planning and get my butt back in the kitchen! I have a TON of recipes on the list, but obviously won't get to all of them before I leave for vacation on Friday. What I figured I can accomplish this week is:
  • Crispy Roasted Chicken
  • Corn Chowder
  • Artichoke and Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken Breasts
If I listed all of the things I want to make but won't have time for, we'd be here all day (like Key Lime Bars, Pink Lemonade Cheesecake Parfaits, Lemon Crumb Cake, Mocha Cake, Monkey Muffins ... ok, I'll stop).

So to get back on track, I made Crispy Roasted Chicken last night. This was another delicious recipe from America's Test Kitchen, but it was a little bit of a hit and a miss. I'll explain in my notes that follow the recipe.

Crispy Roasted Chicken and Potatoes
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon paprika
1 whole roasting chicken (about 4 lbs.)
2 lbs. red potatoes, scrubbed and halved
2 teaspoons olive oil

Line roasting pan with foil, folding it over the edges of the pan. Adjust oven rack so that top of pan will be about 6 inches from the broiler (assuming your broiler element is at the top of the oven like mine is). Heat oven to 475 degrees and place roasting pan inside. Spray a V-rack with cooking spray and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch, salt and paprika. Set aside.

Remove giblets from chicken, rinse inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels. Rub chicken all over with cornstarch-salt mixture. Set the chicken on its side, wing-side up, in prepared V-rack. Place V-rack in roasting pan and roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss potatoes with olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Using a wad of paper towels, flip the chicken onto its other side, and roast, other wing-side up, for 15 minutes.

Remove V-rack from roasting pan and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Remove foil and collected juices from bottom of roasting pan and discard. Arrange potatoes on bottom of pan and replace V-rack on top. Roast 20 to 25 minutes, until themometer inserted in chicken's breast reads 180 degrees.

Remove roasting pan from oven. Lift chicken from pan, allowing juices from cavity to drain over potatoes. Stand chicken up on the insert of a bundt pan, or over an empty soda can (this allows any remaining juices to drain from bird, so it's not greasy). Return potatoes to oven and roast 10 minutes while chicken cools.

Carve chicken and serve with potatoes.

So here's the thing. I don't typically eat chicken skin because I think that's gross. So while my chicken looked beautifully golden and crisp-skinned, I can't say whether or not that was true. (Although Bill sure seemed to enjoy it, so let's just say I succeeded with the crispiness.) I can say, however, that the meat was super tender and moist, just like a good roasted chicken should be.

That was the hit. Now here's the miss (sort of). I, of course, saw no need to roast 2 pounds of potatoes for 2 people. So I halved the number of potatoes I was making, which maybe means I shouldn't have cooked them quite so long. Because some of those potatoes turned out awfully brown (ok, black) on the outside. I'm not going to say I burnt them because they didn't taste burnt ... they tasted perfectly crisp and delicious on the outside and really smooth and creamy on the inside. They just weren't very pretty.

I also thought I'd toss some Brussels sprouts in the mix, which, in hindsight, was not a very good idea. My usual roasted Brussels sprouts recipe calls for sauteeing them on the stove for a few minutes, and then popping them in the oven in a cast iron skillet for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. I simply tossed them in with the potatoes at the bottom of the pan, and 35 minutes at 475 degrees later, I had charred Brussels sprouts scattered throughout my potatoes. Whoops. I forgot about the increased temperature and time. Needless to say, we didn't eat those sprouts. But at least the rest of the meal was mostly successful!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Give Turkey (Burgers) a Chance

A while ago, I discovered this turkey burger recipe in a magazine and decided to branch out from our usual beef burgers. Bill turned his nose up at the mere suggestion of turkey burgers, but I convinced him to try them ... and it turns out they were awesome! He must have forgotten that, however, because when I wanted to make them last weekend he said he didn't want one. So I made myself a turkey burger while he had brats. But when he tried a bite, the deliciousness came flooding back to him and this weekend he requested that I make them again.

Green Onion Jalapeno Turkey Burgers
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
1 green onion, white and green parts, sliced very thin
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
4 slices pepper jack cheese
4 hamburger buns, split and toasted

Combine turkey, onion, jalapeno, garlic, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Using your hands, thoroughly mix all ingredients, then shape into 4 patties. Place patties on a plate, cover, and place in fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the grill (this is Bill's job). Grill patties over direct heat for 12 to 14 minutes, flipping once or twice. Place buns cut side down on grill and grill until toasted, about 1 minute. Top each patty with a slice of cheese and grill until cheese melts. Sandwich each patty between a bun and enjoy!

I have to be honest. I used to be kind of grossed out by the thought of turkey burgers. I couldn't figure out why you'd want to eat a dry, boring turkey burger when you could have a perfectly juicy, delicious beef burger. But it turns out that turkey burgers can be delicious, too! I'm not sure what it is exactly, but these burgers turn out just right every time. They're moist and perfectly seasoned ... Bill can wolf down two in a sitting, and that's nuts considering he was less then willing to try them when I found the recipe. So if you never have, maybe you should give turkey a chance :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Nice Rice!

Tonight I asked Bill what we used to eat for dinner every night before I started cooking so much. Neither of us could really recall, but I suspect it was a lot of pasta (with jarred sauce ... yikes!), the occasional frozen pizza, and even cereal. Well luckily those days are behind us, and now we can always count on meals like the one I made tonight :)

Flipping through an old issue of Cook's Country this weekend, I landed on a recipe for Greek Rice Salad. I was intrigued, so I picked up what I needed and decided to make it with chicken. Best idea I've had all week!

Greek Rice Salad
1 cup long grain white rice
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 green onion, green and white parts, sliced thin
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water, rice, and a pinch of salt to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 16 minutes. Spread cooked rice on a baking sheet and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, combine cucumber, tomatoes, and onions in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In a food processor, prepare the dressing by pulsing the feta, olive oil, vinegar, honey, and oregano until smooth. Toss dressing with cucumber mixture. Fold cooled rice into dressed cucumber mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.

Roasted Lemon and Herb Chicken
4 chicken pieces (legs, wings, breasts ... whatever you've got!)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion, green and white parts, sliced thin
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large Ziploc bag. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking dish with non-stick spray and arrange chicken inside. Cook 25 minutes. Turn oven to Broil, move dish to top rack, and broil 5 minutes. (I didn't think of it until after I prepared my baking dish, but what I should have done was placed a rack on top of a baking sheet and cooked the chicken on that. That would have allowed the juices to drip fromt he rack and ensured crispier chicken. But there's always next time!)

This chicken was delicious, but the rice salad was AMAZING! I don't think I've ever had cold rice before, but it's a genius idea. Even Bill loved it (and went back for seconds!). I think he was a little weirded out by cold rice at first, but it certainly didn't take him long to get over it.

I can't wait to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow because I'm sure the rice if going to be even yummier after sitting overnight!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quesadilla Paradise

The best tacos Bill and I have ever had are at a place called Margarita Paradise (they have pretty good margaritas, too). Affectionately known as the MP, they have a couple traditional locations and a counter inside the Milwaukee Public Market. Bill can easily inhale six or more tacos in a sitting because they're just that good.

What I love about the MP is the mix-and-match menu. You choose your meat, choose your tortilla, and choose your "style." The style options include anything from gringo (lettuce, tomato, cheese) to raza (onion, cilantro, lime). We can't get enough of the raza ... that onion, cilantro, lime combo is delicious on everything! So when I looked at my leftover steak from last night's dinner today, guess what I thought would be the perfect accompaniment?

Instead of doing tacos, however, I thought quesadillas sounded like a good idea! After all, I just made steak tacos a couple weeks ago, and I felt like something different. So steak quesadillas raza style it was! Bill wasn't home (funny, he missed my last Mexican dish, too), so keep in mind that the recipe below serves just one. (BTW, I googled "raza" like crazy and couldn't come up with the origin of the word or the "style." But I did learn that "la raza" means "the race" in Spanish.)

Steak Quesadillas Raza Style
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Pinch salt
1/2 cup Jack cheese, shredded
3 corn tortillas
2 oz. cooked steak, sliced thin

In a small bowl, combine onions and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice into over mixture and spinkle with salt. Toss to combine and set aside.

Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Spray one tortilla with cooking spray and place greased side down in pan. Sprinkle the entire tortilla with a little cheese, then top half of the tortilla with some of the steak. As cheese begins to melt, use a spatula to fold the tortilla in half.

At this point, you want to press the quesadilla to completely toast the tortilla (giving you that yummy, crispy exterior, and gooey, cheesy interior). My grill pan came with a press that you can place directly on top of the food you're grilling, but you can use another heavy pan or just press with your spatula. Press for about 1 minute per side, or until cheese is nice and melty and tortilla is nice and crispy. Repeat process with remaining two tortillas. Serve with onion-cilantro "raza" mixture.

It's such a shame that Bill misses out on some of my best meals. These quesadillas were probably just as good as those tacos with mango salsa. They toasted so perfectly in the grill pan that I ended up with deliciously crispy cheese seeping out of the edges of the tortillas. Yum!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Granola on the Go Part II: Tropical!

The first time I made granola bars, Michelle and I did some genius brainstorming around other possible granola concoctions. I mean really, the options with granola are endless. I was head over heels for the almond-raisin-cranberry version, but I was sure a tropical variety would take it up, like, 10 notches.

I took a look in the pantry yesterday and pulled out everything I could find that seemed tropical-ish. When I had this idea, I'd picked up some macadamia nuts and dried pineapple. Since then, I'd also acquired some dried mango (thanks to Tiff!). I was out of coconut, but still had a lot of white chocolate chips from my red velvet cookie venture. They seemed like an appropriate sweet substitute, and now my bars included just about everything but the kitchen sink.

I was super excited about this combination, but it turns out that sometimes more isn't better. I may have overdone it ... but just a tiny bit. Check out the recipe and my notes to learn more.

Tropical Granola-to-Go BarsIngredients:
3 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sunflower kernels
1/2 cup dried pineapple, chopped
1/2 cup dried mango, chopped
1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Place oats in a 15x10x1-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until toasted, stirring occasionally.

In a large bowl, combine the egg, butter, honey and vanilla. Stir in the sunflower kernels, pineapple, mango, brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir in macadamia nuts and chocolate chips. Stir in oat mixture.

Press into same baking dish you used to toast the oats, coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 13-18 minutes or until set and edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

So the first time I attempted granola bars, I had to rebake them because they didn't set. And even after that, they were sort of chewy ... but super chewy-licious (even if they were sort of falling apart)! This time, I set the oven timer for 20 minutes instead of the initial 18 the recipe calls for. But then Bill waltzed into the kitchen wanting to make a frozen pizza (I didn't feed him dinner last night). Since his pizza needed a 400 degree oven, I decided to crank up the heat on my granola bars and check them in a few minutes to be sure they weren't getting too golden. Well, it's a good thing I checked them when I did because they were done at about 16 minutes. And when I say done, I might mean overdone.

They still turned out mostly chewy, but they are definitely not crumbling like they did last time. I'm wondering if I overloaded them with ingredients, making them too dense. (Or it could be that I just baked them a bit too long.) I'm not sure that my wet-to-dry ingredient ratio was quite right with either recipe ... perhaps I still have to find the right balance ... and actually measure instead of tossing in a handful of this and a pinch of that! Regardless, they still taste delicious! Although next time, I might melt the chocolate chips and drizzle them on top instead of baking them in. That would take it up, like, 20 notches!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Melon Berry-licious Salad

Last week I discovered that Bobby Flay has a new show called "Grill It!" (Or at least I think it's new. I happened to catch it on Saturday or Sunday afternoon and I'm not very often tuned into the Food Network at that time.) I immediately told Bill that he needs to figure out how to get on this show because the entire premise is Bobby cooking with a viewer. He makes his recipe and the guest viewer makes his or her similar dish. It's kind of like "Throwdown," without the cut-throat competition. (Read: not as much fun, but you don't have to be a local celebrity to get on an episode.)

I can imagine Bill challenging Bobby to a rib-off on this show. But until we make that happen, I guess I'm going to have to settle for trying out some of the other recipes. One of the episodes I caught had Bobby and  a guest grilling rib eyes, which looked delicious, but not as delicious as the watermelon-respberry-feta salad the viewer paired with her steak.

I had heard that watermelon and feta make an awesome pair, as odd as it may sound. But the addition of raspberries and a red wine vinaigrette took this over the top. I was skeptical about Bill's willingness to try it, but he told me he'd try anything I make (not true ... I guarantee he'll turn down anything with beans in it). Given that, I thought I'd take the plunge and give this a shot.

Watermelon Raspberry Feta Salad
1/4 watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 carton raspberries
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup Vidalia onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch cayenne
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

Toss watermelon, raspberries, and feta together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together onion, vinegar, olive oil, vanilla, salt, and cayenne. Pour over watermelon mixture and toss to combine. Sprinkle with mint and serve chilled.

Note: The original recipe called for one step and one ingredient I skipped. First, the watermelon was supposed to be grilled to better bring out the sugar in the fruit. I'm sure that would have been delicious, but after cutting a whole watermelon (only a quarter of which I was actually using in the recipe), I was exhausted. Second, there was supposed to be something called "vanilla salt" in this recipe. I've never met vanilla salt, but I would like to be introduced. That sounds amazing. Since I have no idea where to find it, and haven't had a chance to search it out yet, I had to do a little improv with the dressing. I added a scant amount of vanilla extra and a pinch of salt to the vinaigrette, hoping to achieve a similar flavor. I'm sure that's not a good substitute for the real thing, but it was the best I could do.

For flavors that you wouldn't necessarily think to find together (watermelon and vinegar? raspberries and feta?), this was actually quite good. It was sort of unexpected, but definitely refreshing. And true to his word, Bill tried it. It certainly wasn't a favorite of his (he claimed not to like the mint, but I suspect it was more than that), but I'm proud of him for giving it a shot.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Downtown Dining Dish

It's one of my favorite weeks in Milwaukee: Downtown Dining Week. Every year at this time, a number of downtown restaurants participate, offering three-course meals for $10 at lunch and $20 or $30 at dinner. It's an awesome way to try new places, and it's given me an opportunity to eat at a lot of restaurants I probably wouldn't have thought of before. In the past few years I've been to Umami Moto, Swig, the Cafe at the Pfister, Charro, Libiamo and almost a dozen other places for Downtown Dining. And I've been back to almost all of them since!

This year, Bill and I decided to try Kilawat (I had been for lunch, but never for dinner) on Thursday. Then Tiff, Steph and I chose Zarletti for dinner last night (Bill came, too, but didn't participate in the restaurant-selection process). Both had bright spots, and I'm glad we got to try them.

I had a hard time making up my mind at Kil@wat because there were several delicious-sounding things on the menu. I debated between bacon-wrapped dates or soup, and was tempted by both the braised short rib and polenta cakes. Luckily, Bill made it easy ... I got bacon-wrapped dates and he got soup, and I got the braised short rib and he got polenta cakes.

I think it's pretty well-known that I love anything involving bacon. And these bacon-wrapped dates were no exception. They were the perfect combination of salty and sweet, crispy and chewy. And if Bill liked dates, I would totally be trying them at home! Bill's roasted red pepper soup was tasty, and he claimed it was the best soup he'd ever had, but I think that was the beer talking. I'm completely confident that I could make a roasted red pepper soup just as delicious (and in fact, I just might try it). So course number one was a winner.

Course number two didn't rank quite as high. Both of our entrees were perfectly good, but they lacked the wow factor. My short rib was tender, but not super flavorful. The mashed potatoes were good, but not delectable. And it turns out I don't like collard greens. Bill's polenta cakes were good (and I loved the fig and mushroom salad), but they went WAY overboard on the rosemary. When they called it a Rosemary Polenta Cake, I was expecting the rosemary to be much more mild. Instead it was overpowering.

For dessert, we both had the ice cream sandwich. And I wish I had taken a picture to remember it by. OMG, was it delicious. Vanilla gelato sandwiched between two chocolate chunk cookies with a side of hot fudge (the menu claimed it was chocolate-caramel, but I didn't taste any caramel ... it was just delicious, warm, gooey fudge). By far, the best course of the three.

We had a pretty amazing meal at Zarletti last night with Stephanie and Tiff. None of us had ever been there, but had wanted to try it. I actually attempted to go there for lunch during Downtown Dining a couple years ago, but it was packed and we couldn't get in. After that experience, I was sure to make reservations for last night. Turns out that wasn't necessary (downtown has been almost eerily quiet the last couple times I've ventured down there). It wasn't quite as difficult to choose from the menu, mostly because I love osso bucco and it's on my recipe wishlist (I swear, someday I really will make it). Bill decided not to order from the Downtown Dining menu because he wanted halibut (which was actually quite good ... and I'm not a big fish eater). Stephanie, Tiff and I stuck to the Downtown Dining menu.

The appetizers weren't anything to write home about (really, what's there to say about soup and salad?), but we all had a different delicious entree: Steph chose swordfish, Tiff had the ragu di funghi, and I chose osso bucco. We all agreed that our entrees were awesome. In fact, my osso bucco was better than the osso bucco I had at Mario Batali's Carnevino in Vegas. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised by that, but I actually am shocked. It was super tender and flavorful, the sauce was rich and tangy, and the risotto was a nice, creamy complement. (But while the risotto was good, I think I make it better. Mine is less sticky and dense than this was.)

For dessert, all three of us picked the torta al limone. (Bill had a banana semifreddo, which was good, but super duper banana-y.) It was delicious, but WAY tart. I think we all preferred the lime curd I made for my Super Bowl cupcakes, which was a bit sweeter than this.

So overall, this year's Downtown Dining Week was a big success. I'd go back to both Kil@wat and Zarletti ... Kil@wat for the dates and dessert, and Zarletti for an amazing entree. I can't wait to see what we get to try next year!