Monday, April 30, 2007

Spicy Hot Brownies

I have a confession to make: I love brownies from a box. I have never tried homemade brownies that I liked better than ones made from a mix. Homemade brownies always seem to be either fudgy or cakey, and what I want is CHEWY. Therefore, when I started out looking for a base for my chile pepper brownies, I chose a recipe at random. They turned out to be of the fudgy variety. The flavor is fabulous - spicy like a cinnamon red hot melted together with the most decadent chocolate, tons of cinnamon-chocolate flavor with a lingering heat. But it still doesn't have the boxed mix texture I long for... I have high hopes that somewhere in the browniebabe round-up there will be lurking my ideal brownie. But in the meantime, these were a fun experiment, and I'm sure they would be fabulous to those of you that like fudgy brownies (particulary spicy-hot fudgy brownies.)

Spicy Hot Brownies

- 1 stick butter
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 8 ounces dark chocolate
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9x9 pan with parchment.

Melt chocolate and butter together, then allow to cool slightly. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in small bowl. Stir sugar, eggs, and vanilla into butter and chocolate. Add dry ingredients and stir until mixed. Pour into pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until toothpick has crumbs. Cool in pan, then remove and cut.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Never-to-Be-Repeated Crab Cakes

My mom had left-over crab the other day after making a crab quiche. I was lucky enough to obtain the left-over crab just before lunchtime yesterday. I was starving. I went home and frantically starting throwing things into a bowl. To the best of my recollection, these are the things that wound up in my crab cakes:

- crab
- mayonnaise
- panko bread crumbs
- random spices, including celery seed, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, parsley, lemon pepper
- aioli garlic mustard sauce*
- egg

Everything was mixed together, then I tossed dollops onto a cookie sheet and baked at approximately 350 degrees until they looked good. Then I ate them. Now I am sad that I was not paying closer attention to what I was doing because they were so tasty.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

They are good, but not what I wanted. I am in search of something peanut butter flavored, but with the texture of a brownie. These are peanut butter flavored, with the texture of a peanut butter cookie. Dammit. I would welcome suggestions or advice from anyone.

In the meantime, here is the recipe that I used. It was modified from my old Pillsbury cookbook.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars:

- 1 cup peanut butter, divided (I used Trader Joe's creamy, natural style)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 6 ounces chocolate (I used a mix of dark and milk chocolates)
- 6 ounces heavy cream

Line a 9x9 inch square pan with parchment paper. Place 1/2 cup peanut butter, butter, and sugars together in large bowl and beat. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients and beat. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes, and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Press chilled dough into pan and bake for about 18-20 minutes, until it starts to become golden at the edges. Heat remaining 1/2 cup peanut butter, then spread carefully across bars. Allow bars to cool completely.

Heat heavy cream and chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth, and pour across peanut butter layer, spreading to edges. Chill bars until chocolate is set. Remove bars from pan and slice into squares. Store in refrigerator.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

HHDD #11 Frozen Cherry Mousse and Chocolate Malt Sandwiches

I am new to the world of food blogs, and I must confess that I was slow to figure out why so many bloggers would suddenly be inspired to make the same thing... I LOVE Donna Hay, so when the meaning of "HHDD" finally became clear to me, I decided I needed to participate. I anxiously awaited the theme, and then honestly had no idea what to make of mousse! It is not something that would normally find its way onto my table, but then that is the whole idea behind a challenge, right?

This mousse recipe was adapted from a raspberry mousse torte I found on epicurious. I got rid of the liquor, and swapped cherries for the raspberries. The cookies I have been making forever, and were modified from a recipe that came from an old Pillsbury cookbook.

Frozen Cherry and White Chocolate Mousse

- 1 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin***
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 2/3 cup cherry puree*
- 1/3 cup of juice from cherries*
- 12 ounces white chocolate, chopped
- 2 cups whipping cream
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla

*Note on the cherries: I used the jarred morello cherries from Trader Joe's. It required just over one jar to get the puree, and that provided more than enough juice. I drained the cherries, reserving the juice, then tossed them into the food processor until I had 1 2/3 cup.

**I used two disposable foil cake pans from the grocery store for the mousse. They were 12 inches x 8 1/2 inches. I lined them with parchment paper. I am thinking that one of my large baking sheets would have worked fine.

***For the record, this was the first (and probably last) time gelatin has ever entered my kitchen.

Place juice in large saucepan. Sprinkle with gelatin and allow to sit for about 20 minutes. Add puree and sugar, stir over medium heat until mixture begins to steam, just shy of a simmer. Add white chocolate and mix until it has all melted. Stick in refrigerator for about two hours, stirring about every 20-25 minutes.

When cherry-chocolate mixture is cool, beat whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until whipped cream has stiff peaks. Fold in cherry mixture, then beat briefly for another 10-15 seconds. Pour into the two prepared pans and freeze until firm.

Chocolate Malt Cookies

- 1 cup butter, softened but cool
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 eggs
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup malted milk powder*

*This is what I mean by "malted milk powder"

Oven to 375 degrees, baking sheets lined with parchment.

Beat butter and sugars. Add baking soda and beat. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and chocolate. Beat in flour and malted milk powder.

I used an ice cream scoop (1 tablespoon capacity) to form these cookies. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Edges will be set, cookies will be puffy and appear underdone. Leave on cookie sheet until firm enough to transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

When cookies are cool, find a round cookie cutter that approximates the circumference of your cookies, and cut out circles of mousse to make your sandwiches. Return sandwiches to freezer and store in airtight container. Serve these directly out of the freezer.
In the end, I will probably opt for ice cream or pudding when craving a dairy-style sugar bomb, rather than repeating this recipe. However, I wasn't exactly disappointed with the results. I found my sandwiches to be quite tasty. I just can't say they are worth how labor intensive they turned out to be!

PS: Go see the HHDD#11 mousse round-up!

Monday, April 16, 2007

My First Cupcakes

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I’ve never made cupcakes, probably because I figured I would eat them all in one sitting. But as they are probably still the number one fad-food going these days, I decided to try my hand. I don’t have a lot of strong opinions about cakes in general, except that I’m usually disappointed by them. They’re usually too sweet, or dry. The frosting usually just tastes like powdered sugar and butter. There are of course exceptions – my dad has an amazing chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache frosting that is a family favorite. We made it famous among friends at our wedding, when we shared the recipe and its secret ingredients with the kitchen at the Wild Basin Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado. All my friends had heard of these cupcakes, but didn’t quite get what we meant by “special” until they took their first bite.

I guess I also avoided making cupcakes because; what was the point? There is only one recipe that is worth eating: my dad’s. I also haven’t done the big taste-testing that a lot of people do, as most cupcakes taste the same to me (other than my dad’s). Magnolia never fails to disappoint. They taste like sugar mixed with sugar and flour. They set the trend, but the product in my opinion doesn't live up to the hype. There are many cupcakeries all over the city with their own version, many of them are former Magnolians, I hear. And I have friends who SWEAR by so-and-so’s and such-and-such’s cupcakes. I just haven’t really cared much. Yawn.

After an Armageddon-like rainy Sunday spent indoors, my husband and I decided to venture out during the eye of the storm, when the sky had stopped dumping, and there was an eerie warmth and quiet in the air. We made it to and from our Corner Vegetable Store just in time, as the sky opened up again, this time with electrical fury. Our fruit and vegetable market is so fabulous – it’s open 24 hours, and they have so much more than just the fruit and veg; tons of canned foods, baked goods, juices, cereal, herbs, some dairy, nuts, coffee beans by bulk…and all sold so cheaply that even if Fresh Direct DID deliver to us, we would continue to cross porn-store avenue to get our produce.

While there, Mr. Roux scanned the snack selections for some kind of sweet. There were the usual Entenmanns cookies and donuts, but he wisely passed them up when he saw the “25% more, free!” advertised on the boxes. He knew that we would eat all 125% ourselves, even though it was meant for a family. So I promised to bake something fun.

The cupcake recipe I dug out of an old issue of Cook's Illustrated. I trust their test kitchen implicitly, and wish I could just camp out in one, giving my opinions and consuming all the test foods – successes and failures alike. They touted this as the best cupcake recipe, so who was I to argue? They suggest a chocolate ganache frosting to pair with the simple yellow cakes, but I didn’t have all the necessary ingredients. I found an easy frosting recipe in my new Better Homes And Gardens Cookbook. (Tangent: I so wished that I would have gotten this red and white checkered cook book as a wedding present, but I didn’t. I always associated it with “your first year as a wife” kind of thing. So I bought it a couple weeks ago myself and realized it was the one key cookbook missing from my mostly cookbook-bare kitchen. From the notebook layout, the tabs, to the meat, herb, mushroom, and poultry guides within – this is the funnest cook book ever. Granted, the recipes tend to be for the “busy parent” – in that they are not all based on fresh ingredients, I find the variety and basics very helpful.)

cupcakes 005

Results: The cake is good! I like that they’re a little tangy – the sour cream keeps them moist and adds a little zip. I almost wish I had taken them one step further and added lemon zest. I might have over baked them, as the top of the cupcakes were a little crunchy on the edges (I like this, but I don’t know if it’s de rigueur). The frosting wasn’t the best pairing. As my husband put it “it’s like whipped cream, or cool whip. Not like frosting." And he’s right – I really liked it’s tanginess too – again from the sour cream, but it wasn’t substantial enough when spread on a dense cake. I think this frosting would be PERFECT on a really light lemon cookie, or a light, tart lemon cake. But these cupcakes really wanted something a little denser. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well the frosting held up – I thought it would melt instantly, and run down the sides of the cakes. But it held up like a meringue. Mr. Roux ended up scraping off the frosting so he could eat four, one right after the other. I managed to eat two, and brought the rest in to work.

A couple of recipe notes: I didn’t have room temperature butter or eggs, as the recipe calls for. Per the test kitchen notes in Cooks Illustrated, I added the cold butter one tablespoon at a time to the dry ingredients in the mixer until they were blended, and got fine results. Also, where the cupcake recipe indicates your batter should be “smooth and satiny”, I found mine wasn’t as much of a satin liquid as I expected, a little doughier.
Lastly, I baked these in foil cupcake liners set on a cookie sheet – no cupcake tin required!

Yellow Cupcakes (from Cook’s Illustrated Jan/Feb 2005)

1 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1) Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin cupcake tin with paper or foil liners (or place 12 foil liners on baking sheet).

2) Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add butter, sour cream, egg and egg yolks, and vanilla. Beat at medium speed until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

3) Divide batter evenly among cups of prepared tins using 2 oz ice cream scoop or heaping tablespoon. Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean, 20-24 minutes. Use skewer or paring knife to lift cupcakes from tin and transfer to wire rack; cool cupcakes to room temp about 45 minutes.
4) Spread 2 to 3 generous tablespoons of frosting on top of each cooled cupcake; serve.

Easy Crème Fraiche Frosting (from Better Homes and Gardens cookbook)

1 8 oz dairy sour cream
1 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large mixing bowl combine sour cream, whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until mixture thickens and holds soft peaks. This frosts the tops and sides of two 8 or 9 inch cake layers, halve the recipe if making cupcakes (unless you like lots of left-overs!). Store frosted cake (or cupcakes) in refrigerator.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pas Pots De Crème

Pas Pots de creme 009

Sigh. Heavy, heavy sigh. I’ve mentioned before that I have my I Love Lucy moments in the kitchen. They’re usually of the “hey, I can fix this and make it okay” variety, but sometimes they lead to great dissatisfaction and disappointment.
I’ve been coveting this recipe since January when I received my Martha Stewart February Valentine issue. I’ve had the expensive dark chocolate in the freezer for two months, somehow managing to ignore its presence every time I required a sweet, saving and hoarding it until I could try this recipe.
The thing I loved about this recipe is that the only sugar involved was that found in the chocolate bars themselves. I had even been dreaming up the subtle variation I could make to the recipe to make it taste more like Jacques Torres Wicked chocolate – the ingenious addition of cinnamon and pepper flakes, making it a little spicy, and bringing out the depth of flavor of the dark chocolate.

Wonderful intentions, all.

I’m sure every person who tries a new recipe makes mistakes. Even the kind I made. I bet even Ina Garten has made this kind of mistake, and just started over! But I realized my mistake too late, and decided to pout instead, and stubbornly move on to other things. Mainly TV watching.

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I think the lesson here is to read the entire recipe through a FEW times before beginning. Maybe even just before measuring. That way, when you have poured the chocolate mixture into the serving dishes and are putting them in the oven, and you look back and realize that you poured the entire amount of cream (3 ½ cups) into the mixture, rather than reserving one cup for a whipped cream topping, you won't cry.

And as pretty as these look, they are mostly inedible. Imagine a delicious chocolate truffle, but a bowl sized portion rather than bite-sized. I have managed to find a creative use for my 6 portions of Pas Pots de Crème, but melting a spoonful in the microwave and pouring it over ice cream just doesn’t have the same enjoyment factor as a successfully tackled recipe.

Spiced Pots de Crème

6 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 1/2 cups heavy cream (reserve one cup for whipped cream)
6 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 teaspoon pepper flakes

Boiling water for pan

1. Preheat oven to 325. Put chopped/shredded chocolate, cinnamon and pepper flakes into a medium bowl. Bring 2 1/2 cups cream (remember to reserve one cup) to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour over chocolate in bowl. Let stand 5 minutes, and then stir until smooth.
2. Whisk together egg yolks, vanilla, and salt in large bowl. Pour chocolate mixture through a fine sieve into the egg mixture. Whisk all ingredients together.
3. Place 6-6 ounce oven proof cups or ramekins into a roasting pan. Pour chocolate mixture into cups dividing evenly. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan so it comes halfway up sides of cups. Cover pan with foil. Cook until custards are barely set, about 2 minutes.
4. Transfer cups to a wire rack, and let cool slightly. Cover each cup with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour (up to overnight).
5. Beat the remaining cup cream until stiff peaks form. Spoon a dollop over each Pot de Crème before serving.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Strawberry Shortcake

This shortcake is just a big mess of cake, strawberries, and whipped cream, piled as high as possible. The cake is perfect for shortcake however, because it holds up well to strawberry juice. It absorbs it without becoming mushy. It also just tastes really good - imagine a good homemade version of those scary little bowl-shaped cakes they sell next to the strawberries in the produce aisle at your grocery store.

I have made this shortcake with both all-purpose flour and cake flour, without noticing a difference. I have also made it in both 8" and 9" pans, and both worked well (the 9" cakes were obviously a bit flatter - the cakes in the photo were made in 9" pans with all-purpose flour).

Strawberry Shortcake:

- 1/2 cup soft salted butter
- 1 cup sugar, plus some for sweetening the strawberries and whipped cream
- 1 1/2 cups flour (see above)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, plus a dash for the whipped cream
- heaping 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 2 eggs
- about 2-3 pounds of strawberries
- about a pint of whipping cream

Oven to 350 degrees. Two cake pans greased and floured, 8" or 9".

Beat butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating between each until just mixed. Add dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with wet ingredients, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Pour into pans and bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for ten minutes, then remove from pans to cool completetly.

Clean and chop strawberries. Sprinkle with sugar and set aside.

Beat whipping cream with vanilla and sugar to taste.

Assemble cake with whipped cream and strawberries as desired, serve, then continue adding more strawberries and whipped cream; eat until you hurt.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Salmon Pasta with Lemon and Capers

I have been determined to do a savory post before doing another sweet baked good, and I have finally come up with something. The inspiration for this "recipe" came from something I saw in a Donna Hay book involving chicken. I don't eat chicken, so the first tweak was to try salmon, but then I wanted something green involved too...and if there is green, then you need here it is.

- pasta
- frozen green beans (or fresh if available)
- cherry tomatoes
- capers
- garlic
- cooked salmon, broken into bits
- parmesan cheese
- lemon pepper
- lemon juice
- lemon zest
- olive oil

Boil the pasta in well-salted water. Two or three minutes before pasta is finished, add frozen green beans to boiling water. Drain everything, and put into a bowl. Set aside.

Using the pot used for the pasta, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil along with the capers. Fry the capers for a bit, then add garlic, lemon zest, salmon and lemon pepper. Cook for a bit, adding in lemon juice when things begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Save a slice of lemon for serving.

Add back the pasta and green beans to the pot, and possibly some additional olive oil. Toss to coat and pour onto your plate (or serving dish). Add sliced cherry tomatoes and grate parmesan on top. Give one more squirt of lemon juice just before eating.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Spicy Sautéed Collard Greens

The one vegetable I’ve always really loved is spinach. I would devour it even as a kid, and particularly loved it with red wine vinegar. To this day, I could eat huge, massive portions of this leafy green and not feel like I’m eating something good for me. My mom always gave us the frozen kind when we were kids – that came out of the package in a frozen solid, furry green block - and to this day, it’s still my favorite variety, even more so than fresh spinach.

I’ve tried to branch out a bit, and try all other types of leafy greens. I like salads, when my plate is piled with a variety of ingredients that makes the lettuce almost pointless (red peppers, apples, grape nuts, kidney and garbanzo beans, nuts, olives…). I prefer the crunch of romaine, but will tolerate a little limp red leaf thrown in. Frizee is stupid - bitter and totally unsatisfying to eat. Kale is good, when cooked to a spinach-like limpness and smothered with red wine vinegar. I’ll also eat kale when mixed in with other things – the vegan restaurant Angelica Kitchen in the East Village makes an amazing plate with seaweed, kale, steamed sweet potato, brown rice and tofu. That Wee Dragon Bowl with the Southern Style Cornbread, ginger carrot spread, and soup of the day is to die for when my body screams for fiber, nutrition, and passive aggressive thinly veiled contempt from a waiter. I also adore red Swiss chard.
But I don’t cook many of these very often. Sometimes I will buy a bunch of one green or another with the best of intentions, stuff it in the crisper drawer, and forget about it until it decomposes and is discovered as the source of that rotten smell of decay.
Like a lot of native North Westerners, collard greens were new to me when I moved to NYC. As a food popular in the southern US, rarely did its purveyors make their way to the often grey and misty upper left territories. But in the most diverse city in the world, southern delicacies are easy to come by – just like most any cuisine. My first few encounters with collards were in their usual form; long simmered with ham hock and bacon. Delicious. But I wondered about other, less meatified versions of cooking collards. While the traditional recipe is one I enjoy, I rarely have ham hock in my refrigerator, and usually my bacon is of the turkey variety.
Then came Restaurant Week in Brooklyn.
I had never taken advantage of Restaurant week – while I would LOVE to taste what the expensive, high-end restaurants have to offer on their Prix Fixe menus, usually 3 courses for a mere $20 – crowded, loud restaurants with trendy richers and poseurs slumming it with us plebeians just never held any appeal to me. But my experience last week with Tennille was enlightening. Maybe my original judgment was founded in places like Le Cirque (I say this not having the slightest idea what I’m talking about – maybe Le Cirque is a lovely place with lovely people, I’ve never been. I just know its name is usually used in a sentence following words like “Paris” and “Hilton” – two words when strung together tend to send a sliver of evil, and well, yes, envy, down my spine – but I wish her happiness and…self discovery, and a dose of unconditional love…from someone, hopefully her Daddy, who I suspect is the source of her very public attention pandering.)
So, after a day of “boutiquing”, during which I for the first time EVER bought a pair of designer jeans for more than $100, and expensive perfume oil, I was in an “I’m enjoying treating myself in a more-than-Old Navy-kind-of-way” kind of mood. We sat down for some decadent 4PM cocktails at a cute little bartique (I believe that’s two phrases I’ve coined in this paragraph) in Park Slope. I had a lychee martini. Are you kidding? It was so fruity and delicious, I had a second one. I don’t usually order the fruity drinks, but as I said, I was feeling decadent.

Leaving a bar when there's still daylight, with a buzz, tends to send the message “let’s eat!” to my feet. Knowing it was still Restaurant Week, we meandered down 5th avenue wondering if we could get into Applewood. Then we saw the mecca of untouchables in my restaurant rolodex. Blue Ribbon.
I associate Blue Ribbon with a few things: 1) After-restaurant-or-bartending-shift dinner. They’re open until like 4AM, and for people with a lot of cash in their pocket and a menu with a long list of appetizers it was always the perfect late night spot for my co-workers back in the day. 2) Bone marrow. One of my former fellow bartenders couldn’t wait to sink her teeth into their bone marrow with oxtail marmalade. I’m not kidding. 3) Best. Bread. Ever.

Blue Ribbon began in Manhattan, expanded to Blue Ribbon Sushi and Blue Ribbon Bakery, then spread its wings to the borough of Brooklyn, and landed in Park Slope – with Blue Ribbon and Blue Ribbon Sushi right next door to each other. I’ve drooled over their menu online countless times when searching for the perfect husband-Birthday dinner or Anniversary dinner meal. Since my husband’s Birthday happens to be on New Year’s Eve, I always ended up picking another more affordable option, to leave plenty of cash in the bank for presents and wine. And since we never really celebrated our “dating” anniversary formally, it was a little out of our league. But it has remained on the tip of my tasty palate of “must try for dinner sometime”.

I get a little bitter when I look at the prices, I must admit. There was one time while out with friends when we wanted dessert, and no one else was open, so we trudged into Blue Ribbon. We managed to get a table pretty quickly, and while their long list of sweets tempted me, I balked at the prices – “$11.50 for a strawberry ice cream sundae!? Call me when you’re serious!” but the phone rang and I picked it up, and it turned out they were serious. Very, very serious. If I had been allowed and not in public, and had I not been monitored by my bulimic (literally) friend, I would have licked the bowl of all its deep dark chocolate and fresh strawberry gooiness.

But dinner at Blue Ribbon eluded me, until now. We walked into a pretty packed bar, but at 5PM, still managed to get seats to perch on while we waited for our table. The bar tender was so friendly, in that “wait, is he flirting with me?” kind of way. The glass of Côtes du Rhône was very tasty, and 20 minutes later as we were escorted through the crowd of bar-stool vultures, I started hyperventilating a little bit.

We were seated on the middle banquette, packed in among other two tops, but it still felt private, and not like we were sitting on anyone’s lap. The prix fixe menu was promising; 3 courses for $21.12. We both picked the asparagus soup. Between the game hen and the sea bass, I selected the latter because it came with mashed potatoes and collard greens. Tennille was offered a grilled vegetable plate with spicy dipping sauce for a vegetarian option. The soup? Creamy and hearty at the same time. The fish? Flakey and steaky. The potatoes? Dreamy. And the collard greens? Inspiring. Hence, this post. But before I move on to my recipe, let me mention the dessert: Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding. Okay. Ummm…just like that Saturday evening a week ago, I am nearly speechless. Like no bread pudding I’ve ever tried – it was more like custard. There weren’t any strange bites with little crunchy chocolate chips like I feared. And the chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream? The perfect balance of sweet and flavor – not too sweet and sugary in that throat stinging kind of way. And the portions were so perfect, I was content but not uncomfortable after cleaning all my plates. And I cannot fail to mention the impeccable service. Friendly and available, and we were treated no differently than non-prix fixe customers.

So last night I decided to try my hand at collards. A friend once told me that “olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes make vegetables sing!” and I agree.

Spicy Sautéed Collard Greens

One bunch collard greens
2 Tb olive oil
1 Tb pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves (or 1Tb jarred minced garlic)
Vinegar (optional)

Heat olive oil in large skillet on medium high until very hot. Add garlic and pepper flakes. Wash collard greens, and tear leafs from stems. Discard stems. Chop or tear leafs into small, bite-sized pieces. When garlic and pepper flakes have softened, add greens to skillet and stir, coating the leaves. Cover, and reduce heat to medium/medium-low. Allow greens to steam/cook under lid for about 10 minutes stirring frequently, or until they have reduced significantly in size, and are a deep, dark green. Reduce heat to low. Allow to sit on low heat for another 10 or 15 minutes, or until a taste test indicates the leaves are tender and flavorful. Serve, splashed with vinegar if you desire.