Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Livin La Vida Retro

I can't explain it.  Retro Dog has been within 10 minutes of my house for several years now and I've never been  I don't know, so don't hassle me!  But now that I've been, I do believe I'll be going back. 

I already knew there were more things on the menu than hot dogs, which is good because I'm a notorious hot dog hater. I really just never liked them and don't plan on starting now.  But I do love all things retro.  And I do love burgers and all that goes along with a burger.  So on a particular Saturday night with not much else do, it was finally time to check out Retro Dog.

I love the whole look of Retro Dog, from the neon sign, to the old style diner interior, to the crazy artwork on the walls.  It's just a damn cool looking place.  And you can eat at the car hop if you'd prefer.

Looking over the menu I decided that I had to try a homemade root beer, that they have on draft.  Interestingly, I don't love root beer.  But the description sounded so enticing (Local Artisan and craft brewed to guarantee freshness and bold signature flavors.  Brewed with all natural ingredients including fresh winter green, vanilla bean, pure cane sugar and filtered water.  A combination that provides a delicious creamy caramel vanilla flavor that's sure to please sip after sip!) that I decided to give it a go.  It came out in a frosty mug and truly did not disappoint.   It was delicious!

The man decided on a peanut butter milkshake.  Yeah, you heard me right.  And Oh.  My.  God.  It was so good.  Thick and creamy, delicious peanut butter flavor.  A work of milkshake art.

And now for the main event.   The man got the dogs, 2 Retro Dogs.  As hot dogs go, they did look good.  They were chargrilled, which if I ate hotdogs, I'd want.  They are topped with Coney sauce, cheese sauce and onions.  The man loved them, loved the snap of the dog (which is a natural casing dog), and all around was very pleased.

He also go the fries.   Nice fresh cut fries.  Portion was good and they were fresh and hot.

I chose the Retro Burger.   This isn't an interesting gourmet burger, but a good old fashioned classic done right.  The burger is topped with American cheese, grilled onion, sliced tomato, shredded pickle, shredded lettuce, and mayo/mustard sauce.  As a burger lover, it doesn't disappoint.  In fact, I'm quite smitten with it.  Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong if you chose the Retro Burger.

Really, check out that beauty!  Yeah it's messy, but aren't most good burgers?   The cheese is oozy, the sauce drips out, the burger is juicy and flavorful.  

I also chose the tempura onion rings.   Now, there are times when onions in general don't like me very much.  But sometimes you just have to take one for the team and deal.  This was one of those times.  I mean really, if you saw these could you resist them??

I don't think you could!  They come with a sauce to dip them in, that I'm not exactly sure what it was but it was mighty tasty.  These are some stellar rings.  The onion themselves are thin and battered perfectly.  Not too much batter and fried to a crispy perfection.  

Yeah, I'd say my first Retro Dog experience won't be my last.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Little Trip Down South

It was a very welcome phone call I got a few weeks ago.  My friend Andi Smith, who wrote a fab book of sock patterns to knit called Big Foot Knits, was teaching a knitting class in North Carolina and asked if I'd like to go with her.  A chance to get out of town a few days?  You don't have to ask me twice!

It was a Tuesday morning when we got underway from Akron, Ohio and before too long we were starting to feel a bit peckish.  We pulled off in Cambridge, Ohio thinking we were going to have Chinese food when we saw Mr. Lee's Restaurant.  It was a no brainer.  We had to stop once we saw the place.  Most of you probably don't know, but maiden name is Lees! 

And really, isn't part of the fun of a road trip discovering those little hidden gems?  Mr. Lee's was just that.  It definitely catered to an older crowd and we were just a touch concerned that small town Ohio was not going to be very accepting of us coming onto their turf, what with Andi's purple hair and my tattoo's.  But we couldn't be more wrong!   Our waitress was the sweetest woman ever and really bent over backwards in her service.  And guess what?  The food was pretty darn good!  I had a turkey club with mashed potatoes instead of fries and cole slaw.

You can argue that a turkey club is a turkey club, but when it's made right, with good ingredients, it hits the spot.  The potatoes were real, which is always a plus and the cole slaw was fresh and very tasty with a little bit of a bite to it.  We were definitely off to a good food start on this journey.

Wednesday afternoon, while Andi was teaching her class at the adorable shop Warm 'n Fuzzy in Cary, NC, I went off on my own and headed over to Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  This is one beautiful shop!   If you're local to Akron, it's like West Point Market times 10!  Which is not to say anything against West Point Market.  I love that place.  Southern Season is definitely bigger though.  I really loved wandering around and looking at everything from the homemade chocolates, the extensive wine department, the housewares and the wonderful specialty items.  If I had access to refrigeration, I probably would have bought more than I did.  But I did get a lovely bottle of Sicilian wine (recommended to me by Darrin in the wine department and so pleased with the choice!), some hazelnut bark ($25 a pound! yeah I only bought a small piece), and some dried pasta.  

I headed over to Andi's class to pick her up for our evening out only to find out that the incredibly sweet proprietor, Rebecca and her employee Jairlyn wanted to take Andi out to dinner as a thank you for spending the day in the shop.  Lucky for me they didn't mind if I tagged along.  This was going to be a dining experience new to me and to Andi, Turkish food!  Bosphorus Restaurant was as quaint as they come!  Small and inviting and wonderful aromas.  We quickly decided to just order a bunch of stuff and share everything.  

We started with the Bosphorus Meze Platter served with their delicious pide with sesame (which is the Turkish version of pita bread).

This platter consisted of Hummus, Baba Gounush, Ezme, Tabouli, Eggplant salad, Cucumber Dip, Stuffed grape leaves.  Yes, yes, yes.... a thousand times yes!!!  Everything I tried was wonderful.  The bread was soft, warm and flavorful.  The grape leaves were tender and succulent.  Oh my. Yes I gush over this first course because this was where my meal ended.   Oh to have continued but sometimes you just have to know your limits.  I was assured by everyone else how incredible the rest of the meal was and I believe them!

Cigar Bourek is feta cheese mixed with parsley, chopped onions rolled in special filo dough and fried. Served with marinara sauce. Oh wait!  I did have one of these and I would have liked to have had several more!   Oh that crispy filo with the creamy cheese.  *sigh*

And here are the rest of the selections that my dining companions assured me were just as amazing as the first two...

Mixed Grill Kabobs was three pieces of baby lamb and chicken, kofta, adana and beef liver. It was served with bulgur pilaf, pide bread and grilled veggies.  (I did sneak a little piece of chicken and was blown away by the flavor.   SO much flavor!)

Greek Salad is Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, stuffed grape leaves, parsley, black olives and copious amounts of feta cheese.

And finally, Feta Cheese Pide (which they also call pizza) consisted of feta cheese mix with chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley, egg and spices.  How did I resist diving into that?  How I ask!!!  How!?  A big thank you to Rebecca and Jairlyn for their hospitality and understanding.  I hope to come back to Cary so I can fully enjoy this amazing place!

The next day we were leaving North Carolina and were determined to have some Carolina BBQ before we left.   In a real moment of serendipity, my old friend Kevin sent me a friend request on Facebook after many many years out of touch that day and sent me a message wanting to catch up.  I told him definitely, but I'm in North Carolina at the moment and would be happy to catch up when I got back.  He responded with a BBQ restaurant recommendation that was pretty close to where we were and raved about how good it is.  And then later the same day, my friend Valerie recommended the same place.  Sold!   Off we went to Chapel Hill, NC in search of The Pig.

It was kind of oddly located, in a small strip mall.  I think both Andi and I expected some dilapidated old shack with smoke coming out the roof and some crusty old guys hanging around.  But it was a very clean, amazing smelling little place where you go up the counter and order and they bring it to your table when ready.  It is whole hog barbecue that uses antibiotic and hormone free pasture raised pigs for their BBQ.  Andi and I both decided on the BBQ plate (small!) which was a generous pile of house smoked pulled pork, cole slaw, pickles and hush puppies.  Seriously!   This "small" plate was only $8.00!

Does the photo do this food justice?  Probably not, but let me assure you there was nothing on this plate that disappointed.  On the table was four sauces to chose from and I went for the classic Carolina vinegar sauce.  Oh.  My.  God.  This is food of the gods.  The pork was the most tender pork I have ever had.  The sauce was perfect for it.  The smoke was just right.  It melted in my mouth.  The hush puppies were perfectly crispy and not grainy at all, which I find that sometimes hush puppies are.  The slaw was so good, with a very noticeable orange tint to it, be it from the carrots or a seasoning that was in it.   And the pickles were stunning.  Very reminiscent of my mom's homemade pickles.  Tangy and sweet, a perfect compliment to the meat.

We also ordered a side of Sprouts and Shrooms, which were roasted brussel sprouts and mushrooms, with what I believe to be the pork rub on them.  It was a nicely spiced seasoning, just perfect.  Not too spicy hot but just the right amount of heat and the roast on those spouts was to die for!  (Thanks to Kevin for recommending them!  I may not have even seen them on the menu if you hadn't!).  I'm a sprout lover anyway, but these would make a believer out of a sprout hater.  They are that good!  This is a big side, definitely enough to share (which we did).

And last but not least, we also ordered the house made pork rinds.  PORK RINDS!!!   I mean it.  Honest to goodness pork rinds.  But don't think for a minute these are your average old run of the mill, buy em in a bag pork rinds.   These are freshly made, and come to your table warm and they practically dissolve in your mouth.  But not quite.  You still get to crunch down and enjoy that texture.  Oh the porky goodness!

The Pig is not to be missed if you find yourself in the area of Chapel Hill, NC.  I promise, you won't be sorry you went and experienced it.  I'd go back just to eat there, it's that good.

How do you follow that?  You can't really so as we ventured on our way to journey home, I think just about anything was going to pale in comparison.  But we forged ahead with a plan in mind.  Drive until about 6 pm and then start looking for a place to hunker down for the night.  That place ended up being Ghent, WV.  About 30 minutes away from the destination, Andi found a Knight's Inn online and booked it for us.  And when we arrived, this is what we came upon:

Well... this is going to be interesting!   So yeah, the Knight's Inn wasn't the best.  The first room we were given had dirty sheets on the beds and a lovely view overlooking the dumpster.  But once we moved it was good enough for a night.  OK, we dealt with the skeevy surroundings and flat out refused to partake of the continental breakfast.  We just wanted to go somewhere and get a bite to eat then come back and watch Project Runway and get some sleep for the rest of the ride home the next day.  We spoke to the front desk clerk and asked about restaurants nearby.  We were hoping for a little family run diner with homemade food and as luck would have it, he knew just the the place.   It just turned out that it was the only place nearby and was 10 miles away.  So off we went, in search of Sherry's Diner.  

Again we were confronted with the idea that the locals in small town West Virginia might not be too welcoming of two crazy looking Yankees.  And while you could hear a pin drop when we walked in that door (or if you prefer, you could hear pig squeal and banjos playing), it really turned out nicely.  Our waitress was quite taken with Andi.  She loved her hair, she loved her accent (she's English), loved her purse and just loved her.  It was kind of cute.  I guess there aren't many Brit's hanging around Ghent, West Virginny.  

I ordered chicken and dumplins.  How can you not order something homey and comforting when you're in such a place.  It came with cornbread and two sides.  I got cole slaw and corn.  Andi ordered a chicken pot pie and a side of stuffing.  I'd like to say that everything was homemade and wonderful, but as it turns out, that while the menu said home cooked and the hotel clerk said everything was homemade, that was not the case.  I think the chicken and dumplins was mostly homemade,  and the cornbread was too.  But oddly, the chicken was grilled and then cut up into the dumplings, veggies and gravy, not cooked in it. 

But Andi's chicken pot pie was very clearly made by Marie Callender and her stuffing was made by Stove Top.

But props to them for the dessert.  Unfortunately I don't have a photo because we got it to go and by the time I did sit down to eat it, it didn't look as attractive as it would have if I had eaten it there.  What we got were banana fritters with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.  There were about 8 fritters in each order.  They were chunks of sliced banana (about an inch thick chunk) battered and deep fried, then drizzled with chocolate sauce.  Andi's fan packed it all up for us and packed the ice cream separately so it wouldn't melt into the fritters by the time we got back to porn town.  That was very sweet of her.  And they were mighty tasty!

The next morning we hightailed it out of the seedy Knight's Inn, did not pass go, did not collect our free continental breakfast.   We were on a mission, again.  This time we would be stopping at Tamarack.  If you don't know of it, when you are driving on 77 through West Virginia, there are about 150 million signs telling you where Tamarack is.  It's a very large place where you can get anything West Virginia you can think of.   They also happen to have a food court there, which I found to be kind of a misnomer.  It was more of a cafeteria.  But a little search online and I found that Tamarack has an award winning breakfast.  Truly.  Tamarack has been named in Saveur Magazine's Top 100 American Eateries, Blue Ridge Country's Best Buttermilk Biscuit and a Regional Favorite from Southern Living.  Yep, that's where we're going!

Tamarack is huge, and quite nice.  You can really spend some time there even though it really is at a rest stop on the highway.  When we got to the food court we both knew what we wanted.  You pick up a tray and stand in line and then the woman behind the counter makes your breakfast to order.  And she is a machine!   Two eggs over easy, bacon, home fries and a biscuit (what?  Did you think I wouldn't get a biscuit that is voted the best!?   Silly!).  We both ordered the same.  And then I saw a big bowl of strawberries and blackberries on the counter and ordered a bowl of them as well.  Andi did too.

This was a hell of a delicious breakfast and adequately washed the ick factor of the Knight's Inn off of us.  The awards are definitely worthy and the biscuit was to die for!  Oh and they serve on Fiesta ware!  Very cool.

And so we continued on our journey.  Both so tired from the whirlwind of 4 days to and from North Carolina.  We were both silent as I drove, zoning out in our own thoughts or no thoughts at all.  Just driving that beautiful drive.  West Virginia is truly beautiful.  The mountains, the trees, the curves.  A really beautiful part of the country   But before we got home, we had one more stop to make.  We had to stop back in Cambridge at Lee's Restaurant again for some pie and some coffee.  And my dutch apple was delicious (Andi informs me that her Coconut Cream was also lovely).

This is apple pie perfection.  The apples were cinnamony and just the right texture.  The pastry was to die for, both the crust and the topping.  If you are in Cambridge, Ohio go to Lee's and get the pie!   

And that my friends, is my adventure down south.  Thanks for reading this far too long post.  I hope you enjoyed it! And btw, Andi... remember that barbecue? ;)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Butternut oh Butternut, Where For Art Thou Butternut

With the possibility of another demo at the Copley Creekside Farmer's Market, I needed to come up with something fall in flavor.  After all, my demo was set for Oct. 10 (unfortunately I have since had to cancel, but for a very good reason).  So I decided I would try my hand at a butternut squash pasta sauce.  I'd actually never heard of such a thing until I saw a jar of it in the grocery store.  And loving butternut squash as I do, I had to try and make this.

It seems easy enough really, take a butternut squash and cut it in half.  Scoop out the seeds and then place it cut side down in a roasting pan with about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of water and roast at 350 for about 40-45 minutes.  My thinking was that I would roast it and then puree it and add whatever else to it after that for flavoring.  And while the squash is roasting, I threw in a few shallots to roast as well.  Two medium sized shallots was perfect.  I do these like I do garlic... cut off the top, place them in aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast for 40 minutes or so, or until nice and soft.  They will squeeze out of the skin just like garlic does.

You can check to make sure it's done by piercing it with a knife.  If the knife goes in and comes out easily and cleanly, you're good to go.  Let the squash cool a little before handling it again and once you are able to touch it without burning yourself, peel off the skin.  Cut it into chunks and then chuck it in a blender with the roasted shallots.  You can use sauteed onions if you don't have shallots.

Now... what to add?  Well add the cooking liquid if there is any left, first.  This is a sauce after all, you don't want it the consistency of baby food.  If there isn't enough liquid left in the pan add a little more water or chicken broth to the sauce.  I would say you want at least 3/4 cup of liquid added to the squash in the blender, total.  From there I added salt, pepper and about 8 fresh sage leaves.   I happen to really love the flavor of butternut and sage and I had sage on hand.  But if you don't, you can use parsley.  I also added about 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil just for kicks and half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese and then let the blender rip on puree until it was all blended and smooth.

After my linguine was done cooking, I strained it and then put the squash sauce in the pasta pan to heat back up a little and then added the pasta, cooking them together for about 5 minutes tops.

It turned out quite nicely.  It had a creamy richness without adding any cream at all.  In fact, aside from the added cheese, this is actually a pretty healthy recipe... no cream, no butter.  I think the only thing I would do differently when making this again is add more sage.  It kind of got lost in the sauce.  This one butternut squash sauce recipe was enough for a pound of pasta.   Top with extra chopped sage if you like and some grated Parmesan.

If you make it, let me know how you like it!