Date Night at Sur La Table

Has anyone ever seen food poisoning listed on those Hallmark lists of traditional anniversary gifts?

I didn’t think so.

Which is why, instead of attempting to make Chester a fancy steak dinner at home to celebrate our second anniversary back in June, I signed us up for a steakhouse themed “Date Night” cooking class at Sur La Table instead.

This was my third experience with a cooking class Sur La Table (I previously attended a cake baking and decorating workshop with my mom and aunt and a class on French pastry) and I really enjoy them. There is ample counter space to work, really great kitchen equipment and someone else to clean up the mess.

 Flank steak, ready for the grill

The instructor split everyone up into groups of four people and we all took turns preparing the ingredients and doing the cooking. My culinary ineptitude was on full display, as I had trouble operating a vegetable peeler. Chester, of course, was one of the star students. The instructor could tell that he knew his way around a grill.

Grilling zucchini

We made four different dishes, starting off with shrimp wrapped in pancetta:

Rosemary stuffed flank steak, topped with Parmesan cheese and accompanied by a side of zucchini with pesto:

Dessert was a caramel apple “pizza,” baked on puff pastry and topped with vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche sauce.

All of the recipes were fairly simple and, since we got to take them with us, I’m fairly confident that I could recreate them at home. Everyone seemed to agree that the zucchini was one of the highlights of the evening, particularly since the pesto had a few non-traditional ingredients–earthy parsley, sweet almonds and tart red wine vinegar–that made for a great combination of flavors.

As a bonus, we got ten percent off all of our purchases at the shop that evening. We bought a bench scraper and a food scale. I was pretty excited about the latter item because now I can try my hand at making macarons.

Chester and I had a great time cooking together, and it made me kind of sad that we don’t have a big enough kitchen to do that more often. That’s definitely going to be a priority when we move to our next home.

Enjoying the end result of all that hard work.


This Week for Dinner

Hope that everyone had a good weekend! It seems as though the summer is just flying by, but July has been a bit more relaxing than June was. Thank goodness for that.

Still looking for some ideas for dinner this week? Well, here you go!

Steak Fajitas with Sweet  Potatoes

From: Real Simple

I’ll get these out of the way first, because I just wasn’t a fan. I’ve decided I feel the same way about skirt steak as I do about snow peas. Big dislike. Maybe with a different cut of beef, I would have enjoyed these more. And, maybe you like skirt steak. In which case, you should make these.

Honey Cashew Chicken

From: Cooking Light

Moving on to better things, with this stir-fry, which had a great combination of flavors and ingredients. You could substitute whatever vegetables you happen to like or maybe what you have growing in your garden this summer.

Summer Pasta Bolognese

From: Real Simple

This sauce has a nice, chunky texture and includes all of the best summer vegetables, including sweet tomatoes and basil and cool zucchini. I really need to start growing tomatoes though, because those things are expensive–four beefsteak tomatoes at our grocery store were nearly $8. That’s crazy.

Mini Greek Lamb Burgers

From: Martha Stewart

We don’t eat lamb that often, but this recipe reminded me how good and versatile it can be. If you are grilling, you could make these into larger patties, but the sliders are pretty adorable, aren’t they?

Summer Squash, Prosciutto and Pasta Salad

From: Cooking Light

We make so many pasta salads in the summer that they all start to run together. That’s all I have to say about that.

What was your favorite recipe from last week and what’s on your menu this week?

Lunch in Tuscany: Officina della Bistecca

Shortly before we left for our trip to Italy, Chester was watching an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain visited Dario Cecchini, owner of the butcher shop Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti. Dario, whose family has been in the business for more than 250 years, has an encyclopedic knowledge of and passion for traditional Tuscan cuisine, particularly when it comes to the proper way to prepare Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine grilled steak).

On Sunday afternoons, Dario celebrates this and other classic dishes with his “Officina Della Bistecca” menu, a family-style luncheon on the second floor of the butcher shop, which features beef prepared five different ways. If you have been following along for any length of time, you know that Chester has never met a piece of steak that he hasn’t liked. So, when we discovered that Panzano was only about an hour away from our home base near San Gimignano, we immediately made a reservation.

The drive was much more complicated than we had anticipated. We traveled up and down hills and through winding roads and I spent most of the ride trying to contain my carsickness and praying for a gas station to materialize, since we were dangerously close to running out of fuel at one point. Luckily, one did, but by the time we finally made it to Panzano we were nearly 30 minutes late for the 1:00 p.m. seating. We almost scrapped our plans to go to Dario’s, thinking we were too late. Fortunately, Dario’s wife, Kim, who handles reservations totally understood the reasons for our delay and showed us to our places table.

We were seated with a really nice group of people, including an American couple who spends part of their year in Tuscany (she is an art teacher) and a Brazilian couple who had been enjoying a month-long stay in the area, and the conversations with them made the afternoon even more enjoyable. The atmosphere in the dining room was very homey and festive throughout the afternoon, with everyone laughing, being loud and passing jugs of wine back and forth across the table.

In addition to the five beef dishes, the menu includes bread and raw vegetables (which become highly addictive when dipped in olive oil, seasoned with a generous helping of the salt/pepper/garlic blend bearing Dario’s name), white beans and baked potatoes, Chianti “butter,” (which is actually lardo, or pork fat.) dessert, red wine, grappa and military spirits, and coffee. At 50 euros per person (right now, about $62), the pricing is far less than what you would pay for a similar experience in Philly, and the quality of the beef was far superior to the best cut of steak I’ve had here at home. All of the preparations were grilled to medium rare, seasoned with salt and pepper and doused with a bit of olive oil. This simple preparations allows the flavor of the meat to really come through.

I don’t eat red meat often, and on the occasion where the odd craving for it strikes me, I can barely ever finish a steak when I order it in a restaurant or when Chester cooks it at home. At Dario’s, I had seconds (and, occasionally, thirds) of everything. It was just that good. My favorite dishes were the beef tartar, which was finished with just a bit of lemon (I overheard one of the waiters referring to this dish as “Chianti sushi”) and the Panzanese steak, which is a cut from the rump of the cow that Dario helped popularize. I was surprised at how tender and flavorful it was.

Clockwise from top left: Beef tartar, rib eye, Florentine Steak, Panzanese steak, seared beef

Dario stopped by to expertly dismantle a cut of beef, fresh off the grill. As you can see from this video Chester shot, Dario is quite the showman, quoting Dante as he demonstrates some crazy knife skills.

Olive oil cake was the perfect finish to this meal. I must try to recreate it at home, although I know I’ll never be able to achieve the perfect balance of sweetness and crunchy top crust that this version had. I stayed away from the spirits and grappa, though, but can verify that they did make everyone, really, uh, spirited (including one of our table mates, who got into his car after lunch for a three hour drive to the Milan airport. Here’s hoping that he made it!).

If you plan to check out Officina Della Bistecca, you can also reserve your place on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Or, you could just visit the shop itself, where you will likely find the crowds spilling out on to the sidewalk and enjoying free wine and samples of food. Dario will likely be there as well, entertaining everyone while covered in blood and wielding a frightening looking saw, like so:

Chester’s favorite photo of the trip


Restaurant Review: Del Frisco’s

The twice yearly Center City District Restaurant Week, in which restaurants offer three course meals for $35 per person, is probably the best known restaurant deal in Philly. But, various restaurants in the city also run promotions throughout the year. Keeping an eye out for these is a good way to discover a new place or to try out places that might otherwise be out of your price range on the average day. Summer is a good time to take advantage of these promotions because restaurants are looking to keep their tables filled, as locals spend more time on vacation and less time in the city.

For example, it’s no secret that Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse (1426 Chestnut Street ) is one of the fanciest steakhouses in the city, with a price tags to match. But, Chester and I recently discovered that summer is a great time to visit, since it is celebrating the season with a variety of special menu offerings.

Through September 3, Del Frisco’s is offering the “Power Couple” a three-course menu, including a salad, dual-entrée and side, and a choice of dessert. Priced at $99 for two people, this represents a savings of nearly $40 per person than if these menu items were ordered a la carte.

The meal begins with a choice of Caesar or Del’s salad. The latter features iceberg lettuce with tomato, onion, carrots, and croutons and is topped with two large slices of crispy bacon and an avocado vinaigrette dressing. For me, the dressing servings were a bit heavy-handed, so be sure to request it on the side if you prefer it a bit lighter.

The entrée plate, from which the “Power Couple” derives its name, features a crab cake and a tender, eight-ounce filet Mignon, seasoned with salt, pepper and clarified butter. Although these are simple ingredients, the mixture was applied so generously that the peppery flavor was just a tad bit overwhelming, in my opinion. Since Del Frisco’s wet-ages its steaks for 28-days, a lighter application of the seasoning would have let the flavor of the meat itself come through a bit more. The crab cake was a standout, when compared to similar offerings at other steakhouses in the city, because it is comprised of a generous helping of jumbo lump crab meat, with minimal bread crumbs or other fillers. A spicy Cajun-style lobster sauce was a nice complement.

Side dishes are served family style for easy sharing. I had the broccoli, which was simply prepared with salt, pepper, garlic and butter. On the opposite end of the spectrum, were Chester’s rich chateau potatoes, smashed with butter and cream. Other side options include from included sautéed mushrooms, baked potato, creamed spinach.

Dessert choices include cheesecake, bread pudding or chocolate mousse. The mousse, made with a high-quality dark chocolate, was rich and smooth. It was topped with sweet whipped cream and strawberries and was a light finish to the substantial meal. The banana and nut laden bread pudding has an incredibly fluffy texture. It is served warm so the accompanying butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream melts right in.

In addition to the “Power Couple” feature, Del Frisco’s is also offering several Father’s Day specials through the end of June. These include a 16-ounce bone-in filet Mignon ($65) and a 20-ounce boneless prime ribeye ($52). Bourbon peppercorn sauce or lobster butter can be added to these dishes for $6 and $8, respectively. During Father’s Day Weekend itself (June 15 through the 17), the two featured sauces will be complimentary when you order one of the featured steaks and the restaurant will also offer an eight ounce filet and eight ounce lobster tail ($79).

If you are up for more of a spluge, Del Frisco’s is still offering its regular menu throughout the summer, including its specialty cut—the Wagyu “Longbone”, a domestic version of kobe beef ($89). Seafood fans will enjoy the Shellfish Plateau, featuring chilled Alaskan king crab legs, iced jumbo shrimp, fresh oysters on the half shell, chilled crab claws and assorted garnishes ($77 for two people/$148 for four guests).

Del Frisco’s impressive décor and attentive customer service alone make it worth a visit. The restaurant is located in an old bank and many of its features, including iron gates by renowned blacksmith Samuel Yellin, high ceilings, marble columns and the bank vault (which has been converted into private dining space on the ground floor), were all preserved in the renovation of the space. The large bar area on the main level of the two-story dining area boasts a wine tower housing the offerings from Del Frisco’s impressive wine list. At the very least, a stop at Del Frisco’s for a glass of wine or a cocktail on a hot day would be a wonderful summer time treat.