an offal dinner

of·fal (noun) 1. the parts of a butchered animal that are considered inedible by human beings; carrion.
2. the parts of a butchered animal removed in dressing; viscera.
3. refuse; rubbish; garbage.

Okay, so none of those definitions make the word seem any more appetizing. Perhaps you might wonder if there is any way that offal can be appetizing? After my dinner last night, I can say with absolute certainty that offal can be phenomenal. Sorry for the rhyme.

Two of our friends, Jeff and Erin, were willing to accept the challenge of a four course dinner at Petite Maison on Halloween that consisted predominantly of offal. I’ve posted about Petite Maison before, so I won’t go into too many details about the restaurant except to say that this was the first time I’ve had a chance to have the chef’s cooking (I’ve previously only been for a staff meal which is prepared by a guest chef). We got seated at one of the patio tables, which was nice because the nights lately have been perfect. The one choice we were given was whether we wanted to wine pairing with the meal or not. Jeff and I chose to have the wine pairing, while Erin decided to have sips off of Jeff’s (admirable since she was our DD). I’m not going to go into the wine pairings, because I’m sure I’ll screw them up. Suffice it to say that every wine paired with its course was perfect. It cut through the richness of each dish without being overpowering. I was thoroughly impressed.

First Course – Country Style Head Cheese with Grilled Rustic Bread, Cumberland Sauce and Spicy Mustard
IMG_2111.jpg

The waiter indicated that not only all of the various parts of the head (thus the name head cheese) were used for this course, but also the heart and kidneys were used. Head cheese is interesting. You get the meatiness of the various parts, but then you get this delicious richness from all of the gelatin around each piece of meat. The Cumberland sauce had a nice sour note that played well with the grainy mustard when all combined onto the bread. That was one thing that we all noted. Each component of each dish was really nice on its own, but if you got a little bit of everything on your fork, the dish just sang.

Second Course – Trotter and Sweetbread Crepinette with Fried Chicarones
IMG_2112.jpg

I’m Southern. I might not live in the South anymore, but there’s a part of me that will always love Southern things. One of them is fried pork rinds. That’s what fried chicarones is, delicious crispy, fried pork rinds. This was served on a mustard cream sauce (I’m not going to attempt to misspell what the waiter called it and we joked about for the rest of the evening. It was some fancy French name that I can’t perfectly remember anymore). The trotter was remarkably meaty. I was expecting a lot more fat, but was definitely pleasantly surprised. The sweetbread was tender and delicious. Sean swears I’ve had sweetbread before. Now I can definitely say I have and am open to eating them again.

Third Course – Sous Vide Veal Tongue with Crispy Bone Marrow and Foie Gras Jus
IMG_2113.jpg

I don’t know what the fuss everyone has about tongue. Granted, this tongue was cooked sous vide which will take the toughest cut of meat and make it melt in your mouth. This tongue, though was fall apart tender with a richness that I rarely taste in any meat. The dish itself was like a pot roast style comfort food dish. The tongue was served on top of creamed potatoes and the foie gras jus was this wild mushroom gravy. If my system wasn’t already getting overloaded with rich foods, I could have easily devoured my whole plate of food. And the bone marrow. Wow. Jeff’s comment was that it was like a mozzarella cheese stick taken to a whole new plane. I agree.

Dessert – Sonoma Foie Gras Creme Brulee
IMG_2114.jpg

The creme part of this dish wasn’t so much custard as a heavy mousse. The sugar on top was burned perfectly so that it was this intense caramel flavor that melted as you took each bit. The salt flakes on top kept the dish from being overly sweet. Sadly, by this point, though, all of us were in overload from amazingly rich food. I think Erin summed it up best for us.

IMG_2116.jpg

Once again I was thoroughly pleased by Petite Maison. Everything from the ambience of the restaurant to the food was excellent. I look forward to another meal here.

South In Ur Mouth – our intro to staff meals

Last night we went to this small restaurant tucked just off of Scottsdale Road and Camelback. The area surrounding it is filled with all of the trendy Scottsdale bars. Petite Maison, though, is anything but trendy or a bar. Instead, it feels like your walking into a small little French villa and you’re being welcomed into someone’s home rather than a restaurant. There’s more seats outside on the patio than there are in the small dining room. The interior is paneled in wood, giving a warm glow to the room. The patio is surrounded by vines and small potted trees. You feel like you’re in a garden sitting out on the patio.

Petite Maison serves a late night staff meal where their normal staff gets a chance to sit down and eat after service and other guest chefs can come in and prepare the meal. The rest of us also get a chance to sit down and have a nice late night (10pm – midnight) meal. There’s usually only a couple different plates that are offered and their reasonably priced around $10 – $12 a plate. There’s also a drink offered, fondly dubbed the “red cup”.

Sean and I finally got a chance to get up to Petite Maison because a friend of ours, Tony Morales was preparing the staff meal that night, which he fondly dubbed “South In Ur Mouth”. So, no, I didn’t make the title of this post up. It’s his fault. In my constant quest of good Southern food that I didn’t have to spend the time making in my kitchen, whenever I hear Tony’s working in a kitchen, I try to be there. Last night’s meal was no exception to a delicious late night meal.

The two dishes that were served were Rock Shrimp with Smokey Cheese Grits and Fried Green Tomatoes with Catfish Hushpuppies and a red pepper remoulade. The red cup was called Orange Marmalade. Delicious is a tame word for the two dishes. Sean was kind enough to let me have the shrimp and grits in front of me since he understands my obsession with grits. I took my first bite with a small piece of perfectly fried shrimp in a light flour batter, surrounded with cheesy looking grits and I was in heaven. The grits were perfectly cooked. At first, we thought the cheese in them was smoked Gouda, which would be a good one to put into grits because of the creaminess you get, but Tony corrected us. It was a sharp smoked cheddar. Brilliant! You get the smokiness, but also a nice tanginess with the sharp cheddar. Needless to say, there were no grits left when the plate was taken away.

IMG_2102.jpg

The fried green tomatoes were coated with the standard cornmeal style coating, but it was thick enough to truly encase the tomato slice. The green tomatoes used were at just the right ripeness so that they were soft enough to eat, but still had that slightly bitter tang that unripe tomatoes have. When Sean shared one with me, at first I thought that the tomato was under-salted, but then when he shared some of the remoulade on his plate, it was exactly right. Everything came together perfectly. Now, on to the catfish hushpuppies. I should put a disclaimer here. I eat catfish. I was raised on fried catfish, so I’ve never had a problem eating it. Sean does not like catfish. He doesn’t like the muddiness you tend to get from it and thinks that when it’s cooked, it’s usually too dried out by the time it’s served. Sean ate the catfish hushpuppies. Not only did he eat them, I was lucky to get one off of his plate to try. He consumed them. The typical muddiness wasn’t there at all and the fish was moist and delicate. If I didn’t know better, I would have almost questioned whether that really was catfish.

IMG_2104.jpg

Now that I’ve had a chance to wax poetical about the food, let me mention the “red cup”. It was called an Orange Marmalade. I love orange marmalade. It’s kept in the fridge and it frequently finds its way onto my morning toast. This was like orange marmalade turned up to 11. It was fresh squeezed orange juice, vodka and lemon peel that had been sitting in Everclear (the remnants of making limoncello). It was deadly delicious. I consumed 2 before I realized that I was going to have to drive my car home and I wanted to make it home in one piece.

IMG_2099.jpg

Overall, the late night meal was a great experience. We also got the added bonus of meeting some of the foodie friends that we know through Twitter. We’re already discussing an opportunity to go back to Petite Maison to order off of their standard menu.

weekly menu – 27 september 2010

After a couple of week’s hiatus (last minute traveling doesn’t allow for much time to post), I’m back with at least my weekly menus. The theme with this week’s menu was keeping the ingredients and combinations as simple as possible. Sunday was the exception, but it usually is to our menu planning.

Monday – Steak Fajitas
I take skirt steak from Circle Key at the Ahwatukee farmers market and sear it until cooked to my liking (medium-rare for me). I then slice it really thin and serve it on fresh cooked tortillas (My Nona’s ready-cook tortillas are found in the refrigerator area near the canned biscuit dough). I like to serve shredded lettuce and sour cream with my fajitas, but that’s always up to the consumer.

Tuesday – Chicken Stir Fry
I love stir fries. They’re the perfect “time to clean the veggie drawer in my fridge out” meal. This past week I used snap peas, onion, zucchini, bell pepper and bok choy. Combine that with chicken that’s been seasoned with Savory Spice Shop’s Asian Delight BBQ Rub and you’ve got a great meal. One thing to keep in mind about stir fries is that the vegetables are meant to be cooked quickly and at high heat. Don’t hesitate to let the oil in the pan start to smoke a little bit before putting the vegetables into the pan.

Wednesday – Chicken Dinner Salad
I’m not sure why I put two “empty my vegetable bin” meals in a row, but it’s how it turned out, so I rolled with it. More chicken breast grilled up with Savory Spice Shop’s All Purpose Seasoning. I cut that up and added it to a salad of mixed greens, bell pepper, snap peas and cucumber. Doesn’t sound fancy, but it really hits the spot when you’re trying to keep things simple and still eat healthy.

Thursday – Omelettes
Normally, I get home really late on Thursday nights because I take a yoga class until 7:45pm. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling well on Thursday so no class. The advantage, though, was that I had an easy dinner to fix. We had ham for dinner on the Sunday night before. I kept it simple and just made up a ham and cheese omelette. Don’t underestimate the tastiness of an omelette.

Friday – Grilled Salmon
Keep It Simple Stupid! I’ve been dying to use that saying for a long time. We took two salmon steaks and grilled them with just salt and pepper. We then served that up with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. So simple and yet so incredibly wonderful.

Saturday – Caffe Boa
Since Sean and I had to juggle our schedule a bit so that we could fly home last weekend to be with a friend, we had to change our plans to celebrate our anniversary (we still wound up having lunch together on our anniversary, but what better excuse to go eat at a nice restaurant?). We had just picked up a Groupon from Caffe Boa, so we made reservations for dinner there since we’d been wanting to try it ever since Chef Payton moved over there. On the menu for us? You’ll have to wait for me to type up the review to find that out. It was definitely delicious, though.

Sunday – Spaghetti and Meatballs
A while back, I had posted about a Cook’s Illustrated recipe called Hearty Italian Meat Sauce. You take baby back ribs, Italian sausage and homemade meatballs and simmer everything together in a homemade tomato sauce. The combination is to die for, but for whatever reason I’ve always felt like the ribs weren’t necessary. I decided to try the recipe this time with just the sausage and the meatballs (which are the best part of the recipe). It turned out phenomenally. Sorry baby back ribs, but you’ve been voted off of the island.

beer goodness

Sean and I like beer. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Yesterday, we went to a beer fest called Beat The Heat Winter Beer Fest with a couple of our friends. It was held up in Scottsdale and had many of the high end craft brewers at it. I was pretty impressed with the brewers and the selection that each brewer brought. One thing that the local brewers had over the brewers from further away was that the local brewers had people there that were knowledgeable about their beers so they were able to talk to you about them, which was great for Sean and me because we want to learn about them. The brewers from further away, like Vermont and Minnesota, only had volunteers serving their beers, so you couldn’t really get any information about them. Just means one of these days Sean and I will have to get out to their breweries. So, here’s a rundown of the beers that we sampled last night:

Deschutes Brewery
Hop In The Dark – Cascadian Dark Ale (think black ale meets an IPA)
Twilight – Summer Ale
Green Lakes (Organic) – Amber Ale

Samuel Adams Brewery
Octoberfest – Seasonal Amber Ale
Cherry Wheat – Wheat Ale with tart cherry
Coastal Wheat – Wheat Ale with lemon

Unertl Brewery
Muhldorfer – Weissbier

SanTan Brewery
Epicenter – Amber Ale

Telegraph Brewery
Stock Porter
Reserve Wheat – Wheat ale brewed with sour wild yeasts

Rock Art Brewery
Vermonster – American Barley Wine

Old World Brewery
Dark Ale

Odell Brewing Co
St Lupulin – Extra Pale Ale

Dogfish Head Brewery
World Wide Stout – Limited Release Stout
Raison d’Etre – Belgian-style Brown Ale
Indian Brown Ale
Palo Santo Marron – Aged Brown Ale

Full Sail Brewery
LTD2 – Limited Edition Lager
Double Barrel Pale Ale

Firestone Walker Brewery
Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale

Grand Teton Brewery

Bitch Creek ESB

Coronado Brewery
Mermaid’s Red Ale

Grand Canyon Brewery
Sunset Amber Ale

Widmer
Hefeweizen

weekly menu – 8/2/10

Can you believe it’s already August?! I can’t. Eight months of the year are gone. Phoenix is currently in the midst of what some call summer. I call it hell on earth. Anyway… this post isn’t about horrible summer temperatures. This is about food! My favorite topic. Specifically, this is about Sean’s and my weekly menu from this past week. So without further ado…

Monday – Chicken Quesadillas
So, remember how I was talking last week about how Sean’s on second shift now and how I’ve got to put meals together even on my nights when I get home from yoga at 8pm? Welcome to another one of my super quick meals that I love to fix, quesadillas! There is absolutely nothing fancy about these guys.
I cut up whatever meat I’m putting into them into relatively small chunks and season it with Penzey’s Fajita Seasoning. I then slice up and saute an onion and bell pepper with a little salt and black pepper. Once the veggies are sauteed, I put them aside in a bowl and saute the chicken until well cooked. Setting that aside, I clean out my pan and drop the temperature on the stove down to medium low.
To actually assemble the quesadilla, I put a little olive oil into the bottom of my skillet. After that’s heated up a little bit, I put a burrito-sized tortilla into the skillet and rub it around so that the olive oil gets distributed across the bottom of the tortilla. Cheese goes on to half of the tortilla (it will get folded over later) first as a binder. I like a combination of Tillamook cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, although whatever standard cheese you have on hand will work. Then, a layer of peppers and onions followed by a layer of the chicken go on. Finally, sprinkle a little more cheese on the top to hold the quesadilla together and fold the tortilla in half. Let the quesadilla brown a little bit, flipping once so that both sides get a chance to brown. Remove to a cutting board and cut into thirds. Serve up with a little sour cream and salsa and you’re good to go. This takes me about 20 minutes to prep up and have ready at the table.

Tuesday – Skillet Lasagna
This is a recipe that Sean and I discovered on America’s Test Kitchen several years ago when we still had cable. This is a great TV show on PBS done by the same people who write Cooks Illustrated, which is also a phenomenal cooking magazine. Unfortunately, this recipe is now only available on their website if you have a super-duper premium subscription. I have a subscription and don’t mind paying for it with how often I use their site to find a recipe, but I do mind all of a sudden making some recipes “premium” and even paying customers have to pay more. So, here’s another location that you can find this recipe from. The dish is super simple, takes about 30 minutes to make and easily serves 4 (which for Sean and me means at least 2 leftover meals).

Wednesday – Shrimp and Rosemary Bacon Grits
Mmmm…. Comfort food. Even better, this is quick comfort food. I love grits. I know that everyone from the South doesn’t necessarily like them, but I love them. I always have. I love how my great-aunt would make grits with milk so that they would taste creamier. I take it one step further now and make them with milk and then add cheese to make cheese grits. This meal, though, is an enhancement on one that Sean found a little while back. The recipe is for the Rosemary Bacon Grits. I take it one step further and season up some shrimp with Savory’s Creole Seasoning and then saute them up and put them on top of the grits. Life just doesn’t get better (well, maybe a glass of strong sweet tea could make it better).

Thursday – Omelette
I don’t think I can say this enough, omelettes are not a breakfast item. At least they aren’t in my house. Omelettes are a great way to use up leftover foods in your fridge. I pull out whatever veggies are about to go bad, dice them up and then saute them. Reheat a meat leftover from a previous meal and then toss all of that in an omelette with whatever cheese I have on hand. This week’s was leftover chicken and peppers and onions from Monday’s quesadillas. There was also some spinach that was about to go bad, so that got cooked up. I finished it off with cheddar and cotija (a crumbly Mexican cheese that’s kind of like feta) cheeses.

Friday – Chicken Pot Pie
I love chicken pot pie. I do not, though, love the pot pies of today where the “crust” is a piece of puff pastry placed on the top of the pie. I’m old fashioned. I want a true pie with a nice flaky crust wrapped around the creamy filling. I start off with Joy of Cooking’s flour paste pie crust. Half of this gets rolled out to be my bottom crust and the other half is saved for the top. The bottom crust is blind baked and then allowed to cool while I prep the filling. I use this recipe from Bon Appetit for the filling. Once the filling’s in the crust, I roll out the top of the dough, crimp and seal and the pie’s in the oven until the top is nice and golden.

One thing that I like to do with this recipe is split this recipe across 4 medium sized ramekins that I have. It essentially creates little mini pies that are easier to serve up. These take a bit more time to do, but they also are a nice presentation for chicken pot pie.

Saturday – Metro Brasserie
Sean found a Groupon for a winery up in Scottsdale. It was two wine flights (5 tastings) and an appetizer for some ridiculously good price. We decided to forgot whatever my original plan for this day was (I think it was Polenta Gratin) and instead have a nice evening out. We had some nice wines at Su Vino Winery in the Old Town Scottsdale area and afterward decided to finally try a restaurant that I’d read good reviews on called Metro Brasserie. The restaurant is meant to make you feel like you’re in France at a local little brasserie. Not having been to France, I can’t vouch for that part, but it was a very nice atmosphere. Our waitress was very friendly. We chose a special that they offer. Dinner for Two for $42. What does that entail? 500mL of your choice of their house red or white wine, a choice of beef burgundy or cassoulet as your entree and then 6 beignets for dessert. We chose the house red and the beef burgundy. The wine was pleasant. Not too strong, but nothing weak and worthless to drink either. The beef burgundy was served in a cast iron pot with large chunks of meat that had been braised to perfection and then served with braised onions, carrots, potatoes and turnips. This is twice now that I’ve found a recipe where I will gladly eat a turnip. They were delicious. The whole dish was delicious. I only stopped because I knew I had to save at least a small amount of room in my stomach for dessert. I was glad I did. These beignets were tender rounds of dough fried to perfection, filled with a vanilla cream and rolled in confectioner’s sugar. They were served along with three sauces, Nutella sauce, a creme anglaise and raspberry coulis. Sean and I were both in heaven. Our waitress was kind enough to offer that if we couldn’t finish them ourselves that she would be glad to finish them for us. I think Sean almost growled at her. Definitely a restaurant we will return to.

Sunday – Salsa Verde Braised Pork
Sunday “dinners” for us have become just a late lunch. This way, Sean gets a nice freshly prepared meal before heading off to work for the evening. It also means I’m not preparing anything fancy just to be consumed fresh by me. This recipe is super simple and while it takes about 3 hours to cook, you spend about 5 minutes in the kitchen. The rest of the time, it just sits and braises away on the stove top. We serve this with tortillas, cotijo cheese, freshly chopped cilantro and sour cream. Sean even admits that this competes with his smoked pork shoulder that he prepares.

A note for anyone who wants to try this. The recipe calls for a 3.5 pound pork butt. The smallest I ever see in the grocery is between 7 – 8 pounds. If you ask your grocer, though, they’re usually very nice about cutting a pork butt in half. Take both halves home and freeze the part you don’t need for another use (like trying this recipe again).

I hope you guys are once more inspired to try some new recipes at home!