27 June 2011

Adventures in recreating signature restaurant items

Tonight's was a simple meal: garlic bread and tomato soup. But there was more than met the eye.

I had set out to recreate two beloved restaurant menu items. One new - the garlic knots from C&O Trattoria in Venice Beach. I've only tasted them once (well, on one occasion. On that on one night, I probably ate half-a-dozen!). And one old - the beguiling Glenwood tomato-cheese soup I ate bowl after bowl of in Eugene.

We'll start with the tomato soup, as this is now my third post about this elusive recipe. Tonight, I inched ever closer to recreating the Glenwood's magic. The soup base wasn't quite right - some herbs and flavors are still missing. (Tonight I tried this recipe, subbing in whole milk for cream, forgetting to add the butter, and tossing in some shredded cheese.)

But tonight I may have unlocked the cheese's secret. Glenwood's cheese never melts - no matter how hot the soup. After mulling the question How? for nearly two decades, I posted here about the quandary. A couple of dear readers have found my post and provided what I now think is exactly the secret: vinegar.

On try #2, I tried cheddar steeped overnight in apple cider vinegar. The texture was right, but the flavor much, much too overpowering.

Tonight, I opted for a mellower combo: approx a cup of shredded mozzarella steeped in a few tablespoons of white wine vinegar; also, I let the two mingle for only four hours vs overnight, and rinsed the cheese before I stirred it into the pot.

Voila! Bouncy, intact shreds of cheese sans vinegar! My husband even commented that he preferred this cheese to Glenwood's. Well, I'll be!

I think we have won part of the battle! If only I could perfect the base... I think the soup needs a bay leaf (or several), maybe a sprinkle of sugar. And... ____. There's a gap. I'll keep working on it.

Next up: the garlic knots, aka "Killer Garlic Knots" from Venice Beach's C&O. My cousin took us out to C&O when we visited LA in April, and I've been drooling over these garlic knots since (I'm probably still breathing their pungent fire, too!) They're a free appetizer at this charming, communal eatery - but they were the highlight of the meal.

Since I don't live close enough to C&O to pop in for a bite - and a two-hour flight seems a bit extreme for a freebie - I decided I need to make these at home. I surfed the net and found a few recipes to start with. This post from Misanthropichostess looked spot-on and well-researched, so I started there.

I followed the recipe to the T, and am beyond thrilled to report these are a-ma-zing. I halved the dough recipe as she suggests (stashing the other half in the freezer) and came out with 22 knots. Only 8 are left - a testament to their sheer deliciousness, as are our stuffed bellies. (For the record, I liked the batch baked for 15 minutes better than the 12-minute batch, and I sprinkled a pinch of salt atop the warm knots for added kick.) These are a sure-fire hit that I will make time and time again.

C&O's - more gloss (it is LA, after all)

Mine (via Misanthropichostess). Even better than the real thing?

The last menu item wasn't from a restaurant, but it's worth documenting because it was so darn easy: Mini pies baked in muffin tins.

I went to a lovely BBQ this weekend, and one of the guests brought a similar treat. I had 2 bags full of fresh Rainer cherries on hand + some frozen pie dough, so I threw together a concoction:

Fill the muffin tin with just enough dough to line it, disregarding perfection ("rustic" is chic). Toss halved cherries with some sugar, flour, lemon juice, and almond extract (not measuring). Fill dough. Cover with leftover dough scraps any which way you like. Bake at 375 for approx 15 minutes. Enjoy! (PS - these can be eaten on the go. They'd fit perfectly in the palm of your hand en route to work, with a steaming mug of coffee on the side. Hello, pie for breakfast.)

So that's it! A resounding round of success in tonight's meals. Leave me a comment if you have any other tips on that Glenwood tomato-cheese soup base!

03 June 2011

Happy Blog Birthday!

Amy Dishes is officially entering the terrible twos- though let's hope they aren't so terrible. It's been two years - 730 days - since my first post. I think I've stuck pretty well to my mission, with a few deviations here and there.

This past year has been a bit slow due to my schoolwork, but I'm getting back on track.

I'm happy to have you all as readers and encouragers and look forward to many more years with you!


PS: Thanks to my friend dj for the red velvet doughnut - in honor of National Doughnut Day (and serving double duty for blog bday)