House of Skip

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Paleo Pen Pals October- Chili!

It's Paleo Pen Pals time again! For October I was paired with Tarah from What I Gather. She sent me something that was so exciting because I had never used them before but always wanted to! Dried ancho chiles!!

I was planning on making some chili the week that they arrived so I thought it would be perfect to add them to that recipe! If you read my post about Taverna Ouzo (and if not, make sure you check it out here) then you know I was not so smart and did not transfer all of my photos from my old phone when I got a new phone last week. Yikes. So, the photos of my beautiful chili and the step by step process are not available :( So I'll recap the best I can and you'll just have to use your imagination to picture how amazing this chili looked. If you attempt the recipe, sharing your own photos on the House of Skip facebook page is encouraged!

 Here is what I used in the recipe:

1 lb ground lamb
One 14 oz can of tomato sauce
diced white onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
roasted butternut squash
diced bell pepper (use any color you want, I choose green for contrasting colors) :)
3 dried ancho chiles
liquid from soaking the chiles
Skip's special chili mix* (dark chili powder, chipolte chili powder, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, coconut sugar, garlic powder, oregano and salt)

*Skip does not measure, she just dumps the spices into a container and stirs them together, go by your own taste, you can certainly feel free to omit or add any of your favorite seasonings to the mix and use as much as you want to flavor your chili. Making this ahead of time and storing with your other spices is a good way to assure the flavors are married together.

Start by covering your dried chiles in boiling water and let soak for about an hour, you may want to use a small plate or bowl to make sure they are completely submerged. While that is soaking, you can also set your oven to 400 degrees and put your halved and de-seeded (save those seeds!) butternut squash, cut side down on a foil lined, greased baking sheet and roast for 1 hour.

When you are ready to start the chili, saute onion, garlic and bell pepper in a little olive oil in a heavy stock pot, I use my Le Creuset french oven. Once they are soft, give them about 5 minutes or so, add your ground lamb and stir to crumble it in the pot. Cook until the meat is browned While your meat is browning, or before you start, you can drain your chiles (reserve the liquid) and put them in a food processor or blender and puree until they form a paste, you may need to add a little of the liquid to really get it going, make sure to get a close look that all lumps are gone.

When your meat is browned, add a splash of chile liquid to get any brown, crusty bits form the bottom of the pot. Add your tomato sauce and spice mix and stir well to combine. By now your butternut squash should be done, if you roasted it earlier in the day it may already be cooled or you can use it straight from the oven if you roasted it while you were prepping the other stuff.

Use a large spoon to scoop the meat of the squash into the pot and stir until it blends into the chili. At this point your chili may be pretty thick, add the reserved liquid from the chiles until it reaches your desired consistency, you could also use stock for this. I usually make my chili on a day when I am home and it can simmer for long time on the stove, but you can certainly eat it immediately if you want!

Thanks Tarah for the awesome dried chiles! I loved them and will definitely incorporate them in future recipes.

Oh! Don't forget you should have saved the seeds you took out of your butternut squash and you can toast them in the oven for a nice snack! Also, if you don't have a butternut squash or don't want to roast one, you can sub canned pumpkin puree!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tavola Barone, Robbinsville NJ

My companion and I realized a little while ago that this new place with a familiar name popped up in Robbinsville. Being very near by our house we had to check it out. The rumored back story is that the family originally owned our beloved Villa Barone on the corner of Route 130 and Route 526, but had some time ago sold it to someone else who is now running it (and still doing a fabulous job I might add as it is one of our favorite local joints). Now the Barone's have opened up a little ways down the street at Tavola Barone. It is an unassuming location, in a small strip mall with a liquor store (mighty convenient for this BYOB). But upon entering you a transported to a lovely rustic looking kitchen. The stone work is lovely and the place really feels like home.

We were greeted quickly and only waited a short time for a table. The place was pretty busy, a good sign for a Saturday night. Service was somewhat slow, we only saw 2, maybe three servers in the whole place. But they certainly made up for it with a smile and lots of apologies.  Our waitress was extremely nice and we really felt for her as she ran from table to table doing her best to make sure all her guests were well cared for. Once she opened our wine, we didn't really mind waiting, we were just enjoying a nice Italian red and checking out the menu.

Once we had heard the specials and ordered we kept seeing the other waiter coming by and checking up on our waitress. At first I found it annoying, like he was only asking us because he thought she was doing a bad job, but as the night went on I think he was really trying to help her out.

We were given a plat of cheese bread to start. This was no ordinary, complementary bread, this was special. It was soft, warm, delicious bread topped with a creamy, tasty cheese sauce. It was so good, a little messy, but so good. We started with an appetizer, which was the Polplette, or giant Italian meatball. These things were huge, they come two to a serving and are accompanied by a huge glob of ricotta cheese. So amazing. Next up were salads, which I am always so impressed by a restaurant that includes a salad with your entree. These were also very good, a nice mixed green salad with onion and tomato and a really good lemon vinaigrette.

Next up, entrees. Of course Tavola Barone has additions to the menu! And as usual at least one of us was tempted by the specials! I stuck with a menu item because it sounded so good and I was totally in the mood for it, homemade gnocchi with pork ragu. My companion was tempted by the specials and ordered a seafood fra diavolo risotto. I'll give you a minute to absorb that. Yes, not often do you see risotto with a red sauce let alone the spicy fra diavolo, my companion could not resist. Especially since (now hold on to your seats) it came with a half a lobster tail. Yes, that's right folks. Which is why we weren't too shocked when the bill came and his special was significantly more than my menu item. I will tell you that the menu items are very reasonably priced. And while the risotto special was a lot more (like more than twice the price) than my entree, it was a special and it had a ton of seafood in it, not to mention lobster, so we agreed it was worth it.

They were both delicious and huge, we both took leftovers home. Our meals came out in giant bowls that I would use to serve food family style to guests. :) Things had not slowed down when it came time for our entrees, our waitress had new tables, some people having dessert and some wanting their check.  There was a slight mix up with my entree, at first she served me a different gnocchi that was one of the specials, it had shrimp, it looked great, but I nicely informed her it was not what I ordered. It turns out the people behind us had ordered it and I think there was a mix up in the kitchen about how many special gnocchi and regular gnocchi were needed. In the end it all worked out and everyone got the right dish. As I said, our food was excellent. My gnocchi were soft and pillow like and the pork ragu was full of flavor, lots of tender pieces of pork in a rich tomato sauce. My companion's seafood was all fresh and his fra diavolo was perfectly spicy.

Since we were boxing up the rest of our meal, we didn't really have room for dessert so we skipped it (I know you aren't shocked). We paid up and had lovely conversation with our waitress, thanked the owner and assured all that we'd be back. Tavola Barone is so close by, it is definitely going to be added to our local rotation.

Check them out for yourself, you won't be sorry. And if you forgot your wine, check out the liquor store next door!

1179 Route 130 North, Robbinsville, New Jersey

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Taverna Ouzo, Monroe NJ

In looking for a new place not too far from home, I stumbled upon Taverna Ouzo in Monroe Township. Surprisingly close to HOS's home base and something out of the norm. We've been to other Greek restaurant's, most of them BYOB, so we were surprised to learn that Taverna Ouzo had a full bar!

Now, my companion and I had been out at one of our other favorite local stops, Working Dog Winery (previously Silver Decoy) enjoying a couple of glasses of wine outside. Once we hit the road for Taverna Ouzo, it was an interesting ride. This place seems like it is in middle of no where. You are driving along these roads where there is very little around and then all of the sudden, bam! Taverna Ouzo is right there.

We walked in and were immediately greeted by a very friendly host (who may have been an owner/manager). We were seated at a lovely table near the bar, there was a family behind us with small children, they were a delight. The whole place has a family feel to it, like you are at a large gathering in someones home. It is a good spot for a family dinner or a couple's night out without either feeling out of place. We were soon greeted by our waitress who was just as nice as the man who seated us. She spoke to us about the menu, helped us select a wine, she was just terrific. In fact, all of the staff at Taverna Ouzo was very friendly.

The decor is typical Greek, blue and white everywhere and just a real nice feeling. It was also very busy, the place was full of people coming and going.

As I said, our waitress helped us select a wine. We wanted a Greek wine, but were not super familiar with their varietals. We were both having seafood as a main course so she recommended a nice white wine. I do not recall the name and I knew I wouldn't so I took a picture of the label so I could tell you and also for my own reference. Where is that picture? On my iPhone which I exchanged for a Galaxy S4 last week. Duh. Sorry guys, but I can tell you it was a nice, clean, crisp white wine that was perfect with our food.

We started with two appetizers, I'll tell you about the most obvious one first- grilled octopus! You know by now (and if you don't I suggest you go back and read previous HOS reviews) that my companion and I (especially my companion) love octopus. It is always nice to see it on a menu as grilled, it was wonderful. Fresh, tasty, with lovely little char marks on it, I wish I could show you the picture and how wonderful it looked, but you know where that is... Anyway, our second appetizer (we were really hungry!) was Greek meatballs- Keftedakia. They were delish! So much flavor, seasoned with all the usual Mediterranean herbs and accompanied by the famous Greek yogurt, which provided a nice tang and a textural difference from the meatballs. We devoured them while singing their praises- if you go there you must get them!

We continued to munch on the pita bread provided to us as we waited on our main course. The pita was good too, so soft and arrived to the table warm. Yum. O. As I said, we both ordered seafood entrees, they were both specials for the evening. My companion got a whole fish, this was his first experience with a whole fish and he loved it. It was served on a lovely platter with veggies and potatoes. Perfectly baked and seasoned, he really enjoyed it and thanked the waitress for recommending it. I went with a red snapper dish that was presented like a lasagna, layers of potato, vegetables and fish baked and served by the square. It was a lovely presentation and really very tasty.

We were so hungry when we arrived at Taverna Ouzo and so stuffed when we left! No dessert for us that night, although I heard the people seated behind us rave about the baklava! Oh well, next time!

I hope you venture out into Monroe Township and stumble upon Taverna Ouzo as we did. You won't regret it!

Taverna Ouzo
146 Applegarth Rd.
Monroe Township, NJ
609 426 9700

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Barcelona Wine Bar

When I began doing research for our trip, Barcelona Wine Bar stood out from the beginning. Great reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor, sealed the deal for a place that sounded good from the looks of the website.

We arrived for our reservations and found ourselves in a loud, dark and very busy restaurant. We had to wait for just a minute until they cleared a table for us. The bar was packed and so were the surrounding tables we sat at. After a few minutes our eyes adjusted to the darkness and you could tell this was a hip hangout for locals and visitors a like.

The tables are fairly close together and it has a very intimate feel. We did not feel intruded upon by anyone seated near us and our waiter did a great job of leaning in so we could hear him and he could hear us of the hum of noise in the background. Some people might complain about a loud restaurant, but in this place it was part of the vibe and the buzz going on around us was exciting.

We had a very nice waiter who started us off with a great red wine. We told him what we were looking for and he brought us a lovely Spanish Pinot Noir, yes you read that correctly, it's not just about France. It was a lovely wine that was sure to pair well with all the tapas that were about to hit our table.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Barcelona Wine Bar was a tapas place? Yes, that was part of the appeal for us. Wine and tapas are so much fun (see previous post- Despana, Princeton) and we couldn't wait to try out a new place.

We ordered like 4 tapas and figured that would be plenty for a meal. We were not wrong. We started with a meat and cheese board- they had a variety of meats and cheeses to chose from and you could order just one or you could pick three for a board.
meat and cheese board
We picked three- jamon serrano, coppa and Idiazabal- which was a raw, smoked Sheep's milk cheese. We also had grilled octopus, an arugula salad and figs with sweet and sour figs.

The tapas came out at a nice pace, we didn't want everything all at once, but we also didn't want to wait in between each. The meat and cheese board came first and then all the others came out shortly after. We were not quite done with one before the next arrived which was good because we could pick at them all while we enjoyed our wine. The octopus was
perfectly grilled and seasoned with just the right amount of garlic. The chorizo and figs were sweet, tangy and spicy and the flavors contrasted each other in a beautiful way. The arugula salad was a great choice because the fresh, crisp salad was the perfect thing to cut through the richness of our other dishes.
Chorizo and figs

 In addition to our waiter coming by to check on us (not too much, but just enough to make sure we were good with wine and didn't need anything else) we were also greeted by the manager who came to our table once during our tapas to see if everything was okay and then again before we left to say thanks for coming in and to ask if our waiter did a good job- of course we had nothing but great things to say about the food and service.

Since we had several small plates and not a full meal, we thought we had room for dessert and decided to share something. We ordered the warm apple crisp, it was a tough choice as the menu had some really lovely sounding desserts. But it was a somewhat chilly night and a warm apple crisp sounded yummy, we were not disappointed. It was a lovely presentation with a generous scoop of cinnamon ice cream on top. The apples were fresh and sweet, the topping crispy and crunchy (as a crisp should be), but as good as that was, the star was the ice cream. We volleyed back in forth with bites, trying to savor this dessert for as long as possible, while each searching for the perfect bite, trying to get the best ratio of crisp to ice cream.

We left Barcelona Wine Bar with full bellies and big smiles, but with a little sadness that we did not live closer to this gem of a place. My companion and I agreed that if we lived in the area we'd be there frequently. How could you pass up that sophisticated atmosphere, delicious food and courteous service?

18 West Putnam Ave.
Greenwich, CT 06830
Tel: 203.983.6400