Friday, January 23, 2015

Easy & Healthy Pasta Salad with Shrimp

This is one of my favorite recipes for feeding a crowd. It's easy and healthy, but totally filling. The only time consuming element is all the chopping...but once that's done, you pretty much just toss it all in the pan and let the flavors combine! It's an astonishingly forgiving recipe; you really don't have to measure anything...just eyeball it or adjust based on your personal preferences.
Cavatappi with shrimp, veggies, and bacon

  • 1/2 lb Cavatappi
  • 1/4 lb shrimp, cooked
  • 1 1/2 cup baby peas
  • 1/8 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced cherry tomatoes
  • 3 slices cooked bacon, chopped (I use Applegate Farms because it's nitrate free)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TBS capers, rinsed and minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers, diced
  • ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and dried basil to taste
  • approx. 1/4 cup olive oil

Get a pot of water boiling for your pasta, which you'll add at the end. Pour some of the olive oil into a medium saucepan and heat until shimmering over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and saute till slightly transparent, then turn up the heat and let the edges get a little brown. Add the peas, give them a stir. Now is a good time to add your seasonings; just keep sprinkling and tasting till it tastes right to you! I usually use half a teaspoon pepper flakes, a teaspoon each of oregano and basil, and several generous turns of the pepper grinder. 
Now throw in the artichoke hearts, red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon. Stir it all together, add some more oil if needed (remember, you'll be adding pasta so it will "use up" a lot of the oil as it gets coated). Make sure the heat isn't too high; you don't want the bottom to burn. If it starts to stick or look like it might burn, just splash some white wine in the pan to deglaze it (and then pour yourself a glass!) Now you can cook your pasta; I let it boil for 7 minutes, cook longer if you don't like it al dente. 
Lastly, add the bacon, shrimp, fresh cherry tomatoes, and garlic. These don't need to cook much, so by the time the pasta is done they'll be fine. Now drain the pasta, add it to the pan, and stir it all around! Drizzle a little more olive oil if needed (if you're feeling indulgent, white truffle oil REALLY pops the flavors). 
You're done! It'll serve at least 4 people, especially with a salad and bread. Enjoy in good health and good company. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

A True Sports Bar Serving Great Food: The Newly Opened Tigers' Den in Ridgefield

Note: The chef has changed since I wrote this review, and I have not had a chance to try it again!

There's a new bar in the area, and I'm happy to report that it isn't just more of the same. Tigers' Den, located in the space that used to house Sagi, a popular Italian restaurant in Ridgefield, is part sports bar and part cozy pub. When I first heard that Tigers' Den was coming to town, I had serious doubts. Ridgefield not only has many restaurants, but several of them already fall under the sports bar/pub/casual dinner category. There's 50 Coins, Bareburger, The Hideaway, The Little Pub; that's a lot of competition! 

Tigers' Den, however, has 12 TVs, which means it's much more of a true "sports bar" than anywhere else in town. They have fun specials every night of the week, from "Moonshine Mondays" and "Wine Wednesdays," to trivia on Tuesdays, Sunday Brunch, and regular tap takeovers, which sets them apart again. And as far as food is concerned, they are serving high quality bar food that's more affordable than the competition. 

After meeting Joe Attonito, owner of Tigers' Den, it's clear that the new kid on the block is a real contender in Ridgefield's restaurant scene, and I think my original doubts are unfounded. Joe is passionate about his business, truly invested in what he is doing, and really cares about being part of the town. 

Last week I was treated to a delicious sampling of Head Chef David Fierstein's creations, and was not disappointed! When the restaurant first opened, there were some hiccups in the kitchen, but now that David has joined the team, things have truly turned around; David is an experienced chef who was formerly in the kitchen at Ridgefield's Bissell House. 

First, I sampled their blackened ribeye sandwich (normally a full size dish, but I tried them as sliders) with american cheese, caramelized onions, and garlic aioli. Great flavor here, with the smoky meat perfectly complimented by meltingly sweet onions.

Next, ribs slathered in house made BBQ sauce. Usually I'm not a rib eater (at least not in public), as there's just no way to eat them without making a giant mess of myself, but I tossed self-consciousness aside and happily devoured them. They fell right off the bone, and were served with a tangy cole slaw made with dijon mustard. 

It's a good thing I didn't make any diet related resolutions this year, because the next dish, house made mozzarella sticks, would have immediately derailed any attempts at avoiding fat. These delicious sticks are worth the calories, I must say. They are head and shoulders above any I've had in the area, as they are made from fresh mozzarella rather than dumped frozen out of a bag and into the fryer. 

I was particularly excited to try their mac and cheese, which they've claimed is truly top notch. I've eaten a lot of mac and cheese in my day, and I must say, theirs is indeed excellent. The cheese is creamy and not greasy, and clings to the pasta nicely.

My favorite dish was the Philadelphia Crab Fries. They look messy, and they sound a little odd, but they were absolutely delicious. A mountain of great fries topped in a cheesy sauce studded with generous chunks of crab meat. This dish brought to mind the "crabby snacks" mentioned so many times in the movie Silver Linings Playbook

If you're looking for something on the healthier side, never fear. There are plenty of choices, including a light but satisfying spinach salad dressed with their special cranberry black pepper vinaigrette and tossed with dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and gorgonzola.

Sports fan or not, I recommend Tigers' Den. It's not too rowdy, they have great beers on tap, a personable and caring owner, and a great chef in the kitchen.

Tigers' Den is located at 23 Catoonah Street, Ridgefield CT
Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for news, events, and specials.

Photos by Jason Varga

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Four Foodie Festivals to Look Forward to in 2015

I love going to food, beer, and wine festivals. They never get old, it seems. There are always new things to try, knowledge to be gained, and people to meet. This year, there are a few events in particular that I'm looking forward to. Here's the roundup:

Before you watch the Super Bowl this year, head to Chilifest in Westport, where area restaurants will be sampling their chili, and you get to decide who is the best!

A two day festival of food, wine, spirits, and celebrity chefs including Robert Irvine, host of Restaurant: Impossible on Food Network - sounds like my cup of tea! Plus, a portion of the proceeds from the event will support the Robert Irvine FoundationSavor will be held at the Connecticut Convention Center which overlooks the Connecticut River. Why is it that food tastes better when you're on the waterfront?

The second annual CT on Tap festival will feature over 100 beers, live music and food.  You'll have three hours to indulge (VIP ticket holders get an extra hour). The event takes place at Ives Concert Park in Danbury, CT.

This is an event not to be missed. Seriously. I look forward to it all year. There's a "Culinary Village" full of incredible restaurants sampling their creations, as well as free flowing wine and beer. There's a BBQ competition, live music, two tents entirely dedicated to beer, multiple demo tents packed with celebrity chefs, and it all takes place right on the water. The festival benefits Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
Check out my coverage of 2013's fun, and last year's.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Even More Instagrammers Worth a Follow: 15 Fun Foodies

After getting such a great response to my first post about some of my favorite instagram accounts, I thought I'd do another one! This one's also Connecticut focused, with a sprinkling of New York and beyond. Some are purely food, and some are more varied, but all of them are full of great content. Enjoy! 

Tom McGovern is a professional food photographer, and it shows! His account is mostly mouthwatering food, but drinks and places are sprinkled in. Happily, there are a lot of Connecticut hotspots represented, as well as NYC and some from Virginia. 

Kim runs a great blog full of restaurant reviews and more. Her photos are a fun mix of restaurant cuisine and home cooking. Photos are heavily Connecticut based, hooray!

Gina is a woman of many talents, a lifestyle blogger more than just food, and it makes for a fun and varied account. She's also Connecticut based, and is a editor.

Julie is a cat lover just like me, as well as beer, food, and music all over Connecticut. Plus, how great is her handle? Wish I'd thought of it.

She has a ton of followers, and it's easy to see why. These aren't just yummy photos, they're beautifully styled ones.

Andrea's a PR pro in Connecticut who focuses on the restaurant business, but there's a nice smattering of NYC action represented in her feed. Plus cats. Always points for cats in my book.

I'm pretty jealous of this guy. He's the food guru at Thrillist, and always doing fun articles about the scene in NYC.  Watch out, his account will make you want to head to the city and immediately begin eating.

She's based in Australia, I'll almost certainly never visit any of the places she photographs, but it sure is a pleasure to see what she's up to. Her food photos are lovely, and the landscapes make me dream of travel. Plus, this is another charming and creatively named account.

Delicious photos from a city full of deliciousness. They're professional photographers, and their photos are always polished.

I don't know who is behind this account, but I love their photos and a ton of them are from places in my immediate area. One day we'll cross paths, I hope. Or maybe we already have...

Love these guys. Be sure to check out their new Florida based spinoff site, MIABites1.

Dan and Kristien are always hitting great places, mostly in lower Fairfield County. They're super cool people in real life, and so is their instagram feed!

I met Erica back in college, and now she's a big time food blogger in Chicago! Congrats!