Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two for One

Greetings, Culinary Friends.

I must apologize for being "off-line" for the past couple of weeks. Between a head cold, some kind of stomach bug, and the usual daily chores that creep in, I was derelict in my blogging duties.  But I am back now.  And I feel so bad about being AWOL, that I am submitting today for your approval a restaurant review and a cookie recipe. Sort of like two weeks in one.

First, the cookies.  I am not a Martha Stewart watcher, but a couple of weeks ago I saw a promo for an upcoming show where she was raving about these cookies.  Being a cookie lover, my ears perked up. She was making "Cowboy Cookies;" she wasn't sure of the origin of these cookies but they have so many luscious ingredients in them that I was intrigued.  I had planned to make these last weekend and bring them to you, but what with the above-mentioned maladies, I didn't get to it. This recipe has some of my favorite things in it: oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut - what could be bad? They go together very quickly and there is really not alot of fuss. They come out on the other end light and crispy. For my taste, I would add a little more coconut and maybe some additional brown sugar - they could use a touch more sweetness. Other than that, these are very nice and they would make a great addition to a packed lunch or for a hike. Here is the recipe. The restaurant review follows below.

Cowboy Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen

2 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1-1/2 C old-fashioned oats
6 oz semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks (1 C)
3 oz (3/4 C) pecan halves
1/2 C shredded unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or nonstick baking mats; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.

Beat butter and sugars with a mixer on medium-high until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

Reduce speed to low, and slowly add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Beat in oats, chocolate, pecans, and coconut until combined. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days).

Using a 1-1/2 inch ice cream scoop or a small spoon, drop dough onto baking sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart.

Bake until edges of cookies begin to brown, 11-13 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks. Let cool. (Cookies can be stored up to 3 days).

The Highlands area is what alot of us (New Jerseyans) might consider the beginning of the shore. Heading down the Parkway, it's not too far off of exit 117, right before Sandy Hook.  I love the Jersey shore, but in the summer (when it's at its most appealing) you can't get near it. So we're forced to go in the dead of winter. But going to places like Bay Avenue Trattoria make it much more pleasant.

A little store-front in a little waterfront town, this is a little gem. The owners used to run Joe & Maggie's in Long Branch.  I was never able to get to that restaurant but now that I've found this place, I will be back. Staffed by very efficient, friendly waitresses, our server read off about 6-7 terrific-sounding specials, in addition to the ample menu. I began with Crispy Artichokes a la Romano (see photo above) - crispy, light, fried hearts, on a bed of arugula, parmesan, and served with a lemon aioli. My friend thoroughly enjoyed a special appetizer (photo above) of beets and white asparagus, on a bed of greens with pistachio-crusted goat cheese. This goat cheese was one of the best I've ever tasted.

They offered several specials that sounded good until I read Pork Shank Osso Bucco on the menu. The only other place I've ever seen this is at Melissa Kelly's famed Primo in Rockland, Maine (one of my all-time favorite restaurants). Bay Avenue's dish is served with fennel sausage, white beans, and broccoli rabe. It was delicious and I've got half of it in the refrigerator here at home for a much-anticipated leftover. Another delicious entree was Hoisan and Ginger Glazed Duck Breast served with Crisp Duck Leg, Sweet Potato Puree, and Citrus Mango Relish. Seared Day Boat Sea Scallops with Forest Mushrooms, Crisp Bacon, Leeks and Brown Butter Sauce were exactly what you would want in a shore dinner - plump, tender, sweet scallops.

Only one dessert was sampled but it was terrific: Polenta Citrus Pound Cake with a Lemon Glaze served with a Blackberry Coulis and Lemon Sorbetto - delicious (no photo - it went too quick!). It reminded me of a recipe sitting here on my desk that I've been thinking about making: Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake.

If you are in the area, put this restaurant on your list. You'll need a reservation -- we could only get a table at 5:30 - on a 20 degree night in mid-January. The economy may be lagging, but at least there are some bright spots.

Bay Avenue Trattoria on Urbanspoon

One more thing.  Not to get all political on you, but I have been captivated by the inaugural festivities happening this weekend. Right before sitting down to write this post, I watched the "We Are One" inaugural celebration from the Lincoln Memorial in DC. Not that I would expect anything less, but this had to be one of the most stirring, inspiring, and well-produced events I have ever seen (and I was very happy to see New Jersey well represented). From Bruce Springsteen's solemn "The Rising" that opened the concert, to the duet by Betty LeVettye and Jon Bon Jovi of "Change is Gonna Come," to dramatic readings by some of our great American actors, to the final, unbelievable, rendition of "America the Beautiful" sung with incredible grace by Beyonce, and then backed up by the entire star-studded cast, this was an amazing two hours.  Oh, and let me not forget the song tribute (In the Name of Love) to Martin Luther King, Jr by none other than U2, who said they were incredibly honored as "4 boys from Dublin" to be part of this. If you get the chance, catch a repeat on HBO. If you are a music lover, you won't be disappointed. As an American, you'll be proud. 

Bringing this all back around to food (because it is all about the food), there is a great article in today's Washington Post on some of the Obamas' favorite Chicago restaurants and where the Obamas might want to eat in DC once they settle in. Two of their favorite Chicago spots -  Spiaggia and Topolobampo - a Rick Bayless restaurant - are definitely on my short list for when I get to Chicago. I think it's pretty safe to say that Barack and Michelle like good food and they like to dine out, and that's gotta be music to the ears of DC restauranteurs. 

Have a good week.


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