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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Katie's Passport Dinner: Tuscany

Two of my favorite things, STLwinegirl, Angela Ortmann, and Katie's Pizza and Pasta got together to create a "Passport Dinner" series featuring different areas of Italy. Each dinner consists of five courses paired with Italian wine, of course.

Even though I am a long-time lover of all things Italian, I had no idea there the were so many different areas of Italy with unique dishes. Katie has really challenged herself with this dinner series, and it has to be one of the best meals I have ever had in St. Louis.

Since this was the first in the series, I didn't know what to expect. Here is a short video of what the evening was like: http://vimeo.com/116987663

Unfortunately, my Katie's film debut didn't quite happen, so we'll go with how things looked from my point of view. And my view was pretty much nothing but large amounts of food and wine!

We were all spread across three separate tables, which made it easier to converse with your new friends for the evening. Each setting had a "passport" and a course listing on paper from the Tuscany region. On the other side (not shown) is a "postcard" picture - so beautiful. Even some of the ingredients had to be shipped over from Italy. Talk about going all out and paying attention to detail. I was really blown away.

Each course was introduced by Katie herself and the wines were explained by the STLwinegirl, Angela. My table mates were shocked at the level of service at a casual restaurant located in a strip mall. It was like fine dining...but at your friend's house.

Passport and Menu
While we waited for everyone at our table to arrive, we were served an appetizer of three crostinis, Now when I think crostini, I think small...like the size of a silver dollar. These crostinis were the size of my hand and there were three of them.

Crostini Trio - Liver, Bean & Sage, Pecorino Toscano & Pear
My favorite was the chicken liver in the middle because it was not that far off from my step-grandmother's chopped liver. I could have just eaten a bowl full of the liver and ended my night there.

Yet, another favorite was the Pecorino cheese paired with the sweet pear. This Pecorino came from Italy and was much softer than any version I had ever tasted. I actually pulled out the cheese just so I could taste it by itself. OK...chicken liver and a plate of the cheese and that would have been enough.

The second course, Cacciucco, was another huge favorite and another huge portion. This reminded me a lot of a cioppino, a fish stew, but in a creamier broth. It came piled with mussels, clams, and shrimp and I ate every single one of them!

Cacciucco
At this point in the evening, I was feeling full and would have loved a nap, but the party was just getting started.

I'm sure you're wondering where the pasta is, right? Well, instead we had hand-rolled farro pici covered in a wild boar ragu. Katie turned the farro into long, thick noodles to hold up against the heavy sauce. It will be hard to go back to regular spaghetti after this. And do you see the cheese shaved on top? I learned from Katie that they don't sprinkle Parmesan on top like us Americans.

Hand Rolled Farro Pici, Juniper Berry Wild Boar Ragu
At this point, I probably should have hoisted a white flag because the next dish was a very heavy Bistecca Florentine, but the beef was perfectly cooked and covered with shaved Pecorino and I couldn't stop.

Bistecca Florentine, Shaved Pecorino, Lemon
You can't have a Tuscan wine dinner without a Chianti and it was perfectly paired with this beef dish.

The last course, dessert, was a Castagnaccio or a chestnut cake. The cake was dense and crunchy and reminded me a lot like holiday fruitcake. Since it was a little dry, I enjoyed spilling the dessert wine, a Vin Santo, all over the gelato and cake and eating them together in one bite. Not that I could have that many at this point.

Castagnaccio (Chestnut Cake) with Gelato
Forgive me for not going into more detail about the wine as they were all wonderfully paired with each course and let the food shine. Of course, I preferred the white wines and shared most of my reds with my new friends at the table.

In addition to losing out on my fifteen seconds of fame, I also failed to write this in time for you to register for the next dinner in February featuring the Veneto region. If nothing else, you will be prepared for the announcement for March, and according to the "passport" I received, there are still many more regions to eat your way through.

Resources:

Katie's Pizza & Pasta = http://katiespizzaandpasta.com/

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hiro Asian Kitchen Brunch

We got invited to a brunch for "January birthdays" and since we needed to eat breakfast before another birthday party, I thought we'd try it out. If nothing else, we definitely got to try very different food...food with an Asian flair.

Heading down to Washington Avenue is not bad on a Sunday morning and we were easily able to find parking on the street. It was a little tough waiting until 11AM though, so we were pretty hungry.

The interior looked really beautiful with high ceilings and there is even a party room upstairs. But we just sat at the bar, which is so pretty with the way that it's lit up. There are very unique light fixtures everywhere!

Owner Bernie Lee was kind enough to come over and greet us even though he was very busy. I really appreciated his kindness.

I had a hard time picking out just one cocktail, since there are a couple of unique "Bloody" drinks and a couple of champagne drinks. I went with the Mango-Mosa, which had a small scoop of mango sorbet at the bottom.

I also had a hard time picking out an entree because everything on the menu was so unique and different...all with an Asian twist.

Patience chose the Taiwanese Chicken Fried Steak with a fried egg on top and corn on the bottom.

Taiwanese Chicken Fried Steak
I ordered the Shiitake Rice Porridge since it had the most vegetables: chicken, fried egg, eggplant, spinach and adorable crispy Chinese donuts on top. Bernie told me this was like "chicken noodle soup" - a comfort food. The texture reminded me a lot like grits, which I just love and it was very warming..
Shiitake Rice Porridge
I do hope to get back to try out the dinner menu for sure...

Resources:

Hiro Asian Kitchen = http://hiroasiankitchen.com/

Pappy's Smokehouse

To kick of my birthday weekend, and to make up for not getting to follow through last year when it was way too cold, I went to Pappy's on my day off. I was afraid to make dinner plans there in case they ran out of food, so I was waiting for the right time to go for lunch.

Since it was the middle of a work day, I had no trouble finding a parking spot at a meeting nearby, but it turns out there is a fairly large parking lot behind the building!

When I walked in, the line was not quite to the door, but long enough so that it gave me time to figure out what I wanted to eat, and post on Facebook where I was eating. I probably only waited 10-15 minutes so that was not bad at all. I'm sure the line is much longer on the weekends though!

I loved that it was extremely organized and they had someone assign you a seat when you got close to the front. Then when your meal is ready, they'll call out your name and find you.

I wish I could have tried one of everything, but I did go with the two meat platter (brisket and turkey) just so I could try a couple of things at once. (Really, one meat would have been enough!) The platter comes with two sides and they were plenty filling since I went with baked beans and potato salad. The potato salad was a little too tart for me so I almost finished the beans, but I got full quickly.

Brisket and Turkey Platter with Potato Salad and Baked Beans
I really hope to get the chance to go back and try their ribs, but I just hope it's not my last time! Maybe a birthday lunch tradition?

Resources:

Pappy's Smokehouse = http://www.pappyssmokehouse.com/

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cheese & Beer Pairings at Dierbergs

I was beyond thrilled to be invited to a new series at Dierbergs Cooking School called "The Tastings", which is a monthly series of cheese and beer pairings. That's right! Cheese! And what a unique idea to pair it with beer...actually a different local craft brewery each month!

To kick off the series, Urban Chestnut was the featured beer and the cheese was selected by Michael Landis, a cheese and beer pairing expert from Gourmet Foods International.

Urban Chestnut
Urban Chestnut was kind enough to kick off the evening with a "welcome beer", which was their easy-to-drink Zwickel lager. You can see the pale yellow lager in the cup on the left and you know that it's perfect for drinking on a summer afternoon.

Completely opposite was the first beer paired, the Harwood Myth English-style Porter. You can see how dark brown this beer is in the second plastic cup as compared to the Zwickel in front of it in. Yet, the beer still had a smooth finish and I'd classify it as an easy-to-drink winter beer. This was paired with the Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper cheese. (YES! The same Cypress Grove who also makes my favorite cheese, Midnight Moon!). The slight bitterness of the goat cheese helped to cancel out any bitterness in the darker beer.

We went back to a lighter beer with the Stammtisch German-style Pilsner, although there was a definite crispness to this beer, which helped to cut through the sharpness of the 24-month aged cheese. The Barbers 1833 cheddar is an English cheese that has been passed down through six generations and has a slight maple flavor.

The Roth Kase Grand Cru is actually a Gruyere cheese, but since this Wisconsin cheesemaker is actually owned by a Swiss company, they had to play by the rules and change the name to avoid any conflicts with Swiss Gruyere. This cheese is very mild and was an evenly balanced match with the H.M.S. English-style India Pale Ale. Now normally I would not even get close to an IPA, but this one was so incredibly mild, that I would have never guessed it was an IPA! I would definitely order this beer again.

Another popular Urban Chestnut beer is the Winged Nut, which to me is very hoppy and therefore has that strong grapefruit finish. An equally strong cheese is needed for an IPA, and the La Bonne Vie ("The Good Life") Garlic & Herb fresh goat cheese stood up to the big flavor of the beer by coating the inside of your mouth. You definitely needed the beer to help cut through the cheese!

The last beer we tried was a traditional IPA, but since it's a mix of styles, it really cannot be classified, although it is said to be similar to a chestnut ale. Again, the hops flavor required a cheese that could stand up to it and the Beehive Creamery "Barely Buzzed" cheese did just that since it is rubbed in coffee grinds, giving it more of a bitter chocolate flavor.

The next class will take place on February 11th, 6pm at the Dierbergs Des Peres. You can sign up here: https://www.cookingschoolsofamerica.com/dierbergsdesperes/index.php?page=classes#685

Resources:

Dierbergs Cooking School = http://www.dierbergs.com/School

Urban Chestnut = http://urbanchestnut.com/

Gourmet Foods International = http://www.gfifoods.com/

Cypress Grove = http://www.cypressgrovechevre.com/

Barbers 1833 = http://www.barbers1833.co.uk/

Roth Kase = http://us.emmi.com/

La Bonne Vie = http://www.labonneviecheese.com/

Beehive Creamery = https://www.beehivecheese.com/

Sunday, January 4, 2015

STLCheesegirl 2014 Top Posts

Since my "Top Posts" was a big hit last year, I thought I should do a "best of 2014" as well. Most of the restaurants in this list are quite popular, but there are a few surprises as well!

Libertine Fried Chicken - http://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/01/the-libertine-fried-chicken.html
Top of the list is one of the best restaurants in St. Louis (imho) and I got to enjoy the Sunday night Fried Chicken dinner a couple of times. I also got to try the regular menu as well as the lunch menu and I never get tired eating there. Definitely someplace you must visit.

Bishop's Posthttp://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/08/bishops-post.html
This is one of those surprises because this post was very short and did not include any pictures. I actually was just there for a happy hour, not even for a full coursed dinner. This restaurant is in the old Oceano Bistro Chesterfield so perhaps that got it some attention.

Sweetology http://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/11/sweetology.html
This was a wonderful "treat" since I got invited to review the new "make your own cake or cupcake" adventure as a food blogger. The owners are great with social media and I really do hope everyone checks it out. I also wanted to support my friends and family, especially when they're women-owned businesses!

Peacemaker Lobster & Crab http://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/08/peacemaker-lobster-crab.html
This is probably my most favorite new restaurant and one of my favorites in St. Louis. Fresh seafood cannot be beat. You can't go wrong with Kevin Nashan. I cannot wait to go back!

Katie's Pizza and Pasta Brunchhttp://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/05/katies-pizza-and-pasta-and-brunch.html
I was a backer of Katie's Pizza and Pasta new location in Rock Hill and I always love going there. I got to enjoy their brunch a few times, especially since my Sunday School of Wine class was not that far away. I have even gotten my boss to take me to Katie's for lunch. This is always a top recommendation for me.

STLwinegirl 5th Business Birthday Party - http://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/03/stlwinegirl-fifth-biz-birthday-party-at.html
The STLwinegirl appears twice in my list, which  makes sense since I attend a couple of her events a month and she is the inspiration for me starting this blog. Can you believe it's been 5 years? This event was held at The Libertine, which is why this was a huge and popular event. It is also nice that STLwinegirl is big in social media.

Inaugural Wine Girl Wednesday at Scapehttp://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/08/inaugural-winegirl-wednesday-at-scape.html
STLwinegirl started a new type of event this past summer called "Wine Girl Wednesdays". The first one was held at Scape. Each month, on the first Wednesday of the month, the event is held at a new restaurant and there are wine and food pairings "special" for the night.

PW Pizza Six Row Beer Dinnerhttp://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/08/pw-pizza-six-row-beer-dinner.html
Patience and I made it to all but one PW Pizza Beer Dinner this year. Who doesn't love a beer and pizza pairing? Each month, a different craft brewery is featured. Feel free to go back and review all the different breweries we got to taste!

Annie Gunn'shttp://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/05/annie-gunns.html
This had been on my "must try" list for a very long time and luckily I needed a top place to take a friend out to dinner. The wine selection and entrees are pretty amazing. It might not be one of those new, hip places, but I feel like it's a St. Louis staple for a restaurant with class.

PW Pizza Excel Beer Dinnerhttp://www.stlcheesegirl.com/2014/07/pw-pizza-excel-dinner.html
Again, when you have a monthly event (and St. Louis is a beer loving town), I can see how these would be popular posts. I certainly hope everyone will come out and try their pizza!