A South American-inspired delight: Chef Simpson discovers empanadas during visit to Argentina

Clipper Inn Chef Michael Simpson makes an empanada, a South American staple he discovered while traveling with his son in Argentina. Photo by Justin Sorensen/ NNY Business

I have been active in the culinary industry since the early ’70s. Most of my career has been devoted to operating The Clipper Inn in Clayton, a community on the St. Lawrence with a proud river heritage. The restaurant has always been a seasonal business, which leaves time for other interests in the off season.

In some of my earlier years, an attraction to warm winters in south Florida drove me to Key West, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach. Each trip involved working in restaurants to learn from successful restaurant operators. Interspersed with trips to south Florida were shorter trips to Europe to experience the culinary scene in other parts of the world and to see the sights, so to speak. [Read more...]

A family favorite for the ages

Chicken orecchiette, a recipe from Massena's Vino Vidi Vici. Photo courtesy Crista Makdouli/Vino Vidi Vici.

Chicken orecchiette is one of those dishes we love to serve for every reason. It’s a signature entrée that provides guests with a full dining experience each time they order it.

For us, opening a new restaurant in the north country has been a process of both trial and error and slow and steady growth. This dish has illustrated that on many levels. It also has shown the success of what we have worked hard to create in the heart of Massena.

As many permanent menu items begin, it started as a featured special. When Chef Michael Austin first prepared it for us, we knew it was a winner from the very first bite. It had such a unique depth of flavor and captured everything people love about a great pasta dish. The chicken was beautifully marinated and grilled to perfection, and the sauce was perfect — not too heavy and not too light. It is ideal for those times when you’d love the richness of an Alfredo sauce, but don’t want its heavy feel.

The chiffonade of fresh spinach atop the chicken is the fun part of this dish that stands out. It may seem like something insignificant when up against stronger ingredients such as sundried tomatoes and roasted red peppers, but it really does complete the dish.

Fresh spinach has such a unique flavor and texture. The bite and flavor give just a subtle hint of something different. The sundried tomato butter lends a balanced richness that satisfies without overpowering. It’s not a heavy sauce, but the richness and depth of flavors will impress with that in mind. The roasted red peppers and shallots come into play, too, lending a delicious sweetness.

Chicken orecchiette is surely one of our family favorites. We hope it becomes a favorite for your family, too.

[For the recipe and instructions for Vino Vidi Vici's famous chicken orecchiette, please subscribe or purchase a copy of NNY Living at your local Big M Supermarket, at the Watertown Daily Times, Carthage Tribune or Lowville Journal offices and the Samaritan Medical Center Gift Shop.]

-Crista and Tarek Makdouli own and operate Vino Vidi Vici in Massena, serving upscale casual Italian fare. Visit them at 160 Harte Haven Plaza or online at www.VinoVV.com. Call 769-5050 for delivery or reservations.

Melt-in-your-mouth braised ribs

Chef Jose Alvarado and Aimee O'Connor, owners of Jose O'Connors Restaurant in West Carthage, with their dish of red wine braised beef short ribs with celery root puree, peas and carrots.

Red wine braised short ribs have become indispensable in my collection of hearty winter fare. It amazes me how popular they have become in the culinary world, taking a once undesirable cut of meat and transforming it into a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy.

There are several techniques to go about cooking them, which I have learned in my 13 years as a culinary professional. They all use a basic slow-cooking practice and my favorite is the sous-vide method.

A French term for “under vacuum,” it cooks food in airtight sealed bags in a water bath at a controlled temperature. You control the temperature using a thermal immersion circulator, which has become readily available and known to the public in recent years thanks to numerous cooking networks and reality television shows that glorify chefs. [Read more...]

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Opera cake: perfection in six acts

Rainbow Shores' opera cake. Photo by Norm Johnston/NNY Living

By Rebekah Alford
Executive chef and partner, Rainbow Shores, Pulaski

The classic opera cake is a work in six acts. Three thin layers of almond cake, each soaked in potent coffee syrup, a layer of espresso-flavored butter cream, a layer of ganache and a topping of chocolate glaze. Traditionally, white lettering “opera” decorates the top with gold leaf ornaments. The French patisserie house Dalloyau popularized this elaborate French dessert. [Read more...]

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Sweet succulent sea scallops infused with new flavors

Matthew Hudson, executive chef of Watertown's Great American Grill, holds the finished dish of his pan-seared scallop and creamy Parmesan polenta with grilled tomato vinaigrette. Photo by Ken Eysaman.

By Matthew Hudson
Executive chef, Hilton Garden Inn, Watertown

There is such an array of  flavors that can complement a scallop. It seems every time I visit my local market, it inspires me to create something new. Walking down the aisles slowly and looking up and down at the different ingredients that one could use to infuse the flavor of the scallops.

[Read more...]

Osso bucco ranks in top five

Once-scoffed-at peasant dish now has ‘very elegant reputation’

Chef Geoff M. Puccia holds a pot while posing in the kitchen at the Watertown Italian-American Club.

By Geoff Puccia
Club chef for the Italian American Civic Association

Everyone has a top-five list comprised of the best meals that they have ever eaten. This list changes over the course of one’s life, but like Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron sitting comfortably in the top five of all-time home run leaders, there will always be one or two dishes that will endure the test of time on your list.

I have had osso bucco on many occasions both locally and during my travels, each having its own unique twist to the classic preparation, but it wasn’t until I encountered this dish in its native region that it had an enduring effect on me.

[Read more...]

Simple, elegant crab cakes

Jump lump cakes with shaved fennel slaw an all-occasion treat

Brian and Jenny Walker at their restaurant, the 1844 House, Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter.

By Brian and Jenny Walker
Chef / proprietors 1844 House, Potsdam

Everyone can appreciate a great crab cake. I am sure we have all had our fair share of good, bad and the ugly when it comes to sampling the many different versions that are available. From region to region the differences are vast. This dish dates back to America’s colonial days and is thought to have been introduced by English settlers.

To create a wonderful crab cake, you must start with the freshest and best quality ingredients. It is absolutely vital to get the main ingredient right. The quality of the crab meat will either make or break this dish. So, know your grades. Commercial crabmeat is generally separated into four grades. Jumbo lump, back fin or lump, special and claw. Jumbo lump crab meat is what you are looking for in this dish and can be found in most higher end supermarkets. [Read more...]

An Italian Christmas tradition

Panettone a treat for the holidays that will stir the senses, delight the taste buds

Brenda Cavallario is executive chef and owner of Cavallario's Cucina in Watertown.

Brenda Cavallario
Executive chef and owner, Cavallario’s Cucina

We all share the familiarity of different types of sweet yeast-leavened breads. Some are filled with dried fruits, such as the hot cross bun, served during the Easter season, and we are all too well aware of the sweet indulgence of yeast bread that is filled with the aromatic spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, topped with a delightful sugar glaze, better known as the classic cinnamon bun.

For the people of Italy, the Christmas bread known as the Panettone is a familiarity they share. This bread, which is also referred to as a cake, contains candied orange, citron, lemon zest and raisins and has a fluffy texture.

[Read more...]