Buttery Red Pepper Chicken with Cacio e Pepe Orzo

This was never a recipe I intended to write and share, but after playing around in the kitchen one night, Shawn proclaimed that this dinner tasted like something you'd get in a restaurant, so I thought it might be good enough to write down. Try it and let me know what you think!

Buttery Red Pepper Chicken with Cacio e Pepe Orzo
Serves 2

  • 2 Chicken breasts, boneless (skin-on or skinless)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 Jar roasted red peppers in olive oil
  • 8 oz Can tomato sauce
  • 3 T Butter
  • Pinch Red pepper flakes or 1 minced Calabrian chile
  • 1/4 C Fresh Basil leaves, torn
  • Pinch dried oregano
  • 2 Cloves garlic, minced
For Ozro:
  • 1 C Orzo
  • 1 T Butter
  • 3 T Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • Black Pepper
  • Splash Heavy Cream

  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and saute in a skillet over med-high heat in 1 T butter and 1 T of the oil from the jar of roasted peppers. 
  2. Boil a large pot of water for orzo. 
  3. In a food processor, blend garlic, roasted peppers, and tomato sauce with some more of the jar oil. If there are garlic cloves in the pepper jar, substitute one of them for the fresh garlic.
  4. Drop orzo into salted, boiling water. Cook according to package directions.
  5. When chicken is nearly cooked, add in sauce with pepper flakes and oregano and bring to a simmer. 
  6. When chicken is cooked through, lower heat to low, and swirl in the remaining butter and torn basil.
  7. Drain ozro, and off heat, add butter, cream, cheese, and pepper. 
  8. Service chicken and sauce over orzo, with additional fresh basil, cheese, or parsley. 


Truffle Love Mushroom Pasta

Until recently, work trips to my company's sector headquarters in Nashua, NH were sweetened by dinners at a restaurant called Pigtale. You may have seen me post food porn from there on my Instagram feed. Unfortunately, Pigtale closed a few months ago, and shows no signs of reopening, so I was inspired to take an item of its menu - pasta with mushroom cream sauce - and invent my own version to make at home. My colleagues Carrie and Brandee also loved that dish, so I'm dedicating this recipe to them.

As you probably know by now, I'm not into following recipes very well. I always want to make food my own, and this pasta is no exception. I decided to dress Pigtale's version up with truffles, but when you make it, you may want to change the type of pasta, the richness of the cream, or the herbs you use to finish the dish. I encourage this! You're the boss of your kitchen, and I would never presume to undermine your authority there.

Fall is almost here, so this quick and easy weeknight dish is perfect for a crisp, cloudy Tuesday or Thursday. Eat it up!

Truffle Love Mushroom Pasta
Serves 2-3

  • 1/2 Box Linguine, Fettucine or Papardelle, cooked 1 min under pkg directions
  • 1T Olive Oil
  • 1C Mushrooms, sliced (I use baby bellas, but do your thang)
  • 1 Shallot, minced (or 1/4C onion)
  • 1 Clove Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Dried Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 tsp Truffle Salt
  • 1/2C Light Cream
  • 1T Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 1T Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
  • 5 Basil leaves, torn or chiffonade if you're fancy (or chives or parsley)
  • 1 tsp Sabatino Truffle Zesst (optional, delicious, highly recommended)

As water is coming to a boil for pasta, start mushrooms in oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once they start to brown and some of the liquid has cooked out, add shallot and garlic, along with spices. 

Once pasta is in to cook, add cream to mushroom mixture, and bring to a bubble. Lower heat to med-low while pasta cooks. Once it's al dente, add it into skillet and reserve about a 1/2C cooking water. 

Turn off heat, add cheeses and basil, and toss the pasta with the sauce and cheese to mix. Serve in wide bowls sprinkled with more herbs and truffle zest (but never truffle oil! Blech). Make yummy noises whilst eating. 


Is Clayton Trying to Have as Many Restaurants as There are Islands?

There are many more than a thousand islands in the Thousand Islands region. Just north of 1,800, I believe, studding the St. Lawrence River like chips in a cookie, or maybe herbs in a biscuit. Lately, with Clayton proliferation of great eateries, I've been wondering if the village is trying to rival the river with enough dining locations to match its island neighbors.

The Island Bay Pier House opened up out on State Street last fall, and while it isn't located on an island nor on a pier, it is yet another jewel in Clayton's culinary landscape, and you should make an effort to get there this summer.

The space has been redecorated and spiffed up by its new owners, with nautical touches and a serene blue color story. A recent interview with the couple revealed that they hope to expand down to a waterfront dock area, which I think would bring the sense of the river you want when you dine out in Clayton.

Our meal began with a dish full of cheesy, herbed biscuits that may remind you at first of a certain national seafood chain I particularly dislike, but which turn out to be much tastier - more tender and less salty. We stuffed ourselves silly on them, and started to realize we were in for a really good meal, which is exactly what an appetizer should do.

The Caesar salad with shrimp was dressed to perfection with house made dressing, crisp romaine, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese, and grilled, herbed shrimp. Caesar salad shouldn't be fancy - it should be simple but flavorful, and this one did its job. The five shrimp up on top weren't overcooked pencil erasers, as shrimp like to be. They were succulent and well-seasoned.

When the fish of the day is perch, that doesn't inspire a salivary response in me. Or rather, it didn't until I tasted the fried perch at IBPH. This fresh catch was breaded lightly, but enough to create a crisp exterior, which was in delicious contrast to the actually juicy, clean-tasting whitefish interior. My Dad added copious lemon juice, and a sprinkle of parsley on top worked with the citrus to create a fresh flavor in every bite. Smashed potatoes alongside were a rustic, basic accompaniment. This is one of the better fried fish dishes I've had in recent memory. 

Admiral bleu, a play on chicken cordon bleu, seems like a throwback menu choice. On the contrary, this dish was the surprise of the meal - the swiss cheese cream sauce and the simple fact that the chicken itself was cooked properly and not all dried out made it great. The bite of salty ham stuffed inside the chicken and the smart addition of slender spears of grilled asparagus didn't hurt, either. Once again, a shower of fresh parsley over top may seem like just a garnish, but that herbaceous punch actually lends a considerable flavor component to the dish. 

My little birds tell me IBPH has the best wings in town, but we didn't try those on this visit. Everything we did taste, we were nuts about. Less enticing was the noise level in the main dining room - some more soft surfaces added to the decor would maybe help with this. We could barely hear one another at our small table for three on a busy Friday night. I also think more natural light would be welcome - if they open up the back of the building to the water, that would be a huge improvement on the ambiance of the place. 

All that said, the food here is dialed in, and the variety of entrees, sandwiches, and appetizers seems suited well to the restaurant's likely clientele and juxtaposed with other offerings in the village right now. I give Island Bay Pier House a seven on the BHS Scale, and I look forward to another visit once the owners' expansion plans are realized. This new restaurant is a wonderful additional to Clayton's current lineup of great places to eat, cementing this community as my favorite in TI. That's all this time for BHS - always hungry; never thirsty!


Two Manhattan Bests

As you know, I usually keep a northern exposure to most of my restaurant reviews. New York City already captures so much of the attention when it comes to food writing in our state, and I like to shine my spotlight on points a little more bucolic. But I spent a couple of days in NYC with Big Hungry Melinda this past week, hitting up one new best and one I’ve been eyeing for nine (9!) years, so I’d like to share those experiences, in case you have a jaunt to the big city coming up on your agenda.

And how cute did we look at Upper East Side's Ophelia?
Frenchette is a greater France area restaurant in Tribeca that snagged Eater’s Best New Restaurant accolade in 2018, and is on James Beard’s shortlist this year. I say greater France area, because while the food is French-influenced, it’s by no means traditional, and Lee Hanson, wildly famous for City classics like Balthazar and its celebrated fries and the Minetta Tavern burger, is a chef adept enough to twist regional European cuisine into whatever he likes and still be successful. BTW, I have to fan girl for just a moment here: I have been spotting Lee for decades popping up on Food Network and Travel Channel food shows, and he came out with his kitchen staff for a post-lunch meeting at the table RIGHT NEXT TO OURS while we were there. I managed not to make direct eye contact or ask for a photo, and I am exceedingly proud of myself for not bothering the man while he was working.

ANYWAY, the food is bonkers here, and you should go. But beyond that, the first thing I want to talk about is the service, which, despite an incredibly busy late-Friday afternoon lunch rush, was friendly, easy going, and attentive. We didn’t ring up a particularly high check, and our waitress still treated us like we were someones. That was nice.

Let’s start with the lobster in curry butter sauce, because it was bomb. The lobster was tender and sweet, and the sauce bathing the whole thing was complex yet subtle, warm and rich without overpowering the shellfish. This is not the dish to order if you’re famished – it was only about four bites and served with a tiny carrot and fennel salad – but I was lucky enough to drag some of Melinda’s fries through the extra sauce pooling in the lobster sauce, and called myself satisfied.

The roast chicken with maitake mushrooms was a more classic French dish, and that chicken had had a proper spa day before it came to our table. She was tender and juicy, with crisped, seasoned skin, and she had been bathed in a jus so deep and rich, it was difficult not to tip the entire bowl straight into my mouth. Actually, there was a trencher of bread under the chicken soaked in the jus and Melinda didn’t even get a bite of it. I annexed it for my own mouth. Fries dipped in that sauce were another good idea I devised, and if there comes a day when using your main dish’s sauce as a fry delivery mechanism isn’t acceptable in restaurants, I may have to give up dining out.

Those fries were no slouch, of course. This is the guy who used to cook at Balthazar, remember. He does not screw around when it comes to potato management. They were double-fried, salted and served with a very light aioli, though I mostly skipped that in favor of soaking the frites in all the other sauces on our table. We got a big bowl of them, and I would choose that again, they were so good.

For dessert, Melinda ordered sorbet, and I actually didn’t grab a bite, because mine was so good I was distracted. I had the PARIS-BREST A LA PISTACHE, which I only noticed this instant is meant to share. That probably explains why I wasn’t able to eat more than half: IT’S FOR TWO PEOPLE, YOU PIG. Hahahaha. Like I even care.

The important information you need to know about this big donut that’s crispy on the outside but as light as angel food cake on the inside is that it’s filled with caramel sauce and pistachio cream that gush out into your mouth with each bite and force you to audibly groan, which is only okay because Frenchette is so bustling, no one can hear you embarrass yourself.

So, if Frenchette is the best new restaurant in New York – and I have a strong suspicion, given the social media love it's received lately from the likes of Andrew Zimmern and Eden Grinshpan, that it will be – then what’s the long-simmering love I also hit up? Well, almost 10 years ago, Alex Guarnaschelli was on The Best Thing I Ever Ate waxing poetic about French toast made with actual chocolate cake at Norma’s at The Parker NYC. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since. Lo and behold, The Parker was next door to the hotel we stayed in this visit, The Viceroy, and it was ever so easy to slide right over there last Saturday morning for brunch.

Now, I didn’t order French toast, and I regret it. I always hesitate before going sweet at breakfast time, and because of this, Melinda won brunch wars with her berry French toast. The slab of brioche this dish was centered around was roughly the size of Queens, and while the flavor was rich, it wasn’t heavy at all. Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries were strewn all over the place, and yet, the sweetness was kept at bay to stunning effect. It was epic and delicious - basically the epitome of what French toast should be. 

I asked our lovely waiter if I should get the foie gras French toast or the artichoke benedict, and he steered me wrong. You know, he was a slim fellow and I should have been smart enough not to trust a skinny. The truffle porcini sauce on top of my eggs and pile of vegetables was delectable – silky and sexy, with all the umami flavor mushrooms should bring to the party. But it was completely thinned out by poached eggs, artichoke hearts that weren’t very well trimmed (I got a couple bites of choke), and a moat of sauteed bell peppers, spinach, and small diced potatoes with no seasoning on them.

This dish needed texture, it needed seasoning, and most of all, it needed a carbohydrate vessel worthy of soaking up the masterful sauce. An artichoke heart is not an English muffin, Norma. It’s not even a piece of toast. And a tiny diced potato with no seasoning and no caramelization is just sad. I know this breakfast emporium has better dishes, and I felt gypped by this one.

This banana orange smoothie was yummy, tho

So I didn’t live out all my Food Network-born fantasies at Norma’s, but if I return, I will be a sadder but wiser girl, and order better. Never trust a skinny waiter when breakfast is on the line. I think sweet is the way to go here, Hungries.

So that’s my tale of two bests. We had a terrific time in The City, and I finally saw Hamilton! Not only was it more than anyone bargained for, but The King, Lin-Manuel Miranda, popped out onstage after the curtain call to say hi and I almost died of happiness. You don’t always get what you want to eat in the big city, but when Lin-Manuel graces you with his presence, you’ve won no matter what. How lucky are we to be alive right now?

That's it this week from Big Hungry Shelby: always hungry; never thirsty.  


BHS Grouper Guide: St. Pete Beach Eats

We made our second trip to St. Pete Beach, in Florida, a couple weeks ago, and I learned a lot about myself. Okay, okay, what I really learned is that, on vacation, I am a person who mostly wants to not do my hair and eat beer-battered grouper several times a day. Near the end of our week in paradise (which St. Pete Beach totally is - the sign on our hotel said so!), Shawn asked me to rank all the grouper I'd eaten from best to worst, and the idea for this post was born.

But first, an honorable mention: Castile Restaurant, in the Hotel Zamora, on the bay side of Gulf Boulevard, was our Valentine's Day destination. The ceviche, butter-poached shrimp, and ricotta donuts with pistachio creme anglaise we indulged in there were some of the most developed, delicious dishes of our trip. Castile is a big step up from SPB's typical beach bars, but you should check it out when you visit. Butter poaching is my new standard in shrimp cookery.

5. PJ's Oyster Bar - Beer battered grouper sandwich

I loved this massive slab of flaky, moist fish encased in a beer-forward golden crust served on a toasted kaiser roll with some lettuce and a lemon wedge, but the fries alongside were ice cold. Moreover, Shawn's grilled grouper sandwich was over-seasoned, the fish just tasting salty. PJ's came recommended from a lot of the online research I had done about SPB, but it's pretty dingy and dated inside. It makes my top five, but comes in last on the list.

4. Sea Critters Cafe - Sauteed grouper with key lime butter sauce, rice and black beans

Another run-down restaurant recommended by a bunch of blogs and sites I assume are paid for by local businesses, Sea Critters has seen better days. The bathrooms were a mess, and the service was slow and not particularly gracious. The conch fritters were nearly burnt, and my grouper was overcooked. Though the rice and beans were flavorful and tasty, the rice also was overcooked, the key lime butter sauce plopped on top of my fish tasted neither of lime nor of butter. The only thing bringing this place in above PJ's is location - eating waterfront is always a treat.

3. Crabby Bill's - Beer battered grouper platter

We had a big group dinner at Bill's our last night of vacation, and I got so excited for my last batch of grouper, I forgot to take a photo, but it was delicious. In accordance with the beach prophecy, Bill's is shabby and the carpet badly needs replacing, but the food there is legit and really well priced. My grouper was cooked and seasoned perfectly, and the garlic butter shrimp we fell upon like hungry cavemen as an appetizer was groaningly good. Also, our waiter, Winston, was funny and charming, and if we had each had probably two more cocktails, we may have invited him to an impromptu after-party, we liked him so much.

2. Mad Fish - Grouper and shrimp in tomato caper sauce over risotto

This was the most delicate preparation of grouper I ate all week, and unlike our other contenders, Mad Fish is a delightful venue in ship shape. This renovated diner is slightly upscale, the service is friendly and upbeat, and the vibe is chill but swanky. The tomato caper sauce, by rights, should have overshadowed the seafood in my dish, or the parmesan in the risotto should have clashed, but instead, the acidity in the sauce smoothed out the richness of the cheese and made a marriage between it and the tender grouper and shrimp.

Special mention for Mad Fish, because it also served up our favorite dish of the whole trip: drunken island shrimp, which you are a fool if you miss on your next trip to St. Pete Beach. The blackened shrimp in a wine and cream sauce with some lemon juice and some heat was so good sopped up with an entire basket of slightly sweet, crusty Cuban bread, we almost went back again the next night. This dish belongs on a whole other list - top five dishes I've eaten this year.

1. Dockside Dave's - Beer battered grouper sandwich and onion rings

Dave's, in Madeira Beach, is a similar dive to some of the other spots on this list, but the food here is so good, you could be sitting in the middle of an actual dump and not care. Plus the service is faster than you can imagine. The onion rings were breaded in-house, and the breading actually stuck to the onion after your first bite, a rarity in the homemade ring game. They were well-seasoned without being downright salty, and had the sandwiches not been so incredibly resplendent, we might have eaten the entire basket.

The grouper sandwich was a champion, taking all other grouper sandwiches to fish school (get it?) and teaching them lessons on juiciness, flavor, and lack of grease. The fish was a huge, thick cut, and the batter was fried in the perfect temperature oil, rendering it robustly crunchy without holding on to the grease. It was served on a squishy white roll with romaine lettuce, and big squeeze bottles of ketchup, tartar, and cocktail sauce are brought to your table, but you won't need them, because this fish is everything you've ever needed, right on a bun. Let the truth of this fish set you free, my friends. Let your bun runneth over!

Ahem. So, uh, that's what I have to say about the grouper options in St. Pete Beach. Don't even come at me talking about The Hurricane in Passe-A-Grille, because that place is filthy and its fish is a greasebomb. But if you have other suggestions I might have missed, please do weight in! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!