The Gleeful Gourmand: September 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Great Sauce-Off!

My dear friend Kiki over at I Still Hate Pickles threw this challenge to me last week: We both make each other's tried-and-true sauces, the ones we've been talking about forever, and see which one is better. Then we open it up to our readers to learn your secrets for successful tomato sauce, and maybe even have a throw-down where you make both our sauces and tell us which one is the winner.

So here it is, The Great Sauce-Off! I wish we had been able to do this together, maybe even in a more dramatic, Mad Max and the Thunderdome type of setting. But since she lives in Houston and I live in Richmond, we settled for our own boring kitchens instead.

Here are two differences right off the bat between our sauces: Hers was created completely in her own beautiful brain, and mine was ripped straight from the pages of Bon Appétit. I have to give Kiki major points for this. She futzed (yes, that's a word) with it over years and finally accepted it for what it was: A great sauce.

Anything with wine has to be good!
There are other major differences too, like consistency, flavor, richness, and acidity. Kiki's base starts with sweating onions and then tossing in garlic and finally deglazing with red wine. Anything that starts with red wine could never be bad. I chose one of my favorites, Cline Cashmere. The wine adds a depth of richness and aroma that is so very good. Long after all the other spices were added and it had simmered for 45 minutes, I still got hints of the wine working its way in through every bite.

She also adds in yummy herbs where mine does not; basil and italian seasoning. And then came the weird part. Sugar (okay, that's not so weird), and baking soda. She says the baking soda is to take the edge of the acidity, but I've never heard of that. I went along with it, and thought it was weird, but fine. I'm dying to know what it tastes like without it. The only thing in the world I would change is the sugar content. Kiki uses 1 Tbsp., and I think you could get away with much less, like maybe 1 tsp. Crushed tomatoes can be especially sweet, and the sugar can kick that into overdrive. It isn't cloying or anything like that, but it does end up being a little sweet for my taste.  I also tossed the spaghetti into a large skillet with about half of the sauce and simmered them together making sure all the strands were coated.

Kiki's sauce, simmering away.
Otherwise, her sauce is delicious. It's hearty and substantial, and I love that you can use it for more dishes than just spaghetti, which I really believe is pretty much the only thing my sauce can tackle. Together with the spices and the wine, every single mouthful was delightful. And here's the major difference: I could see enjoying this on a crisp Fall evening, or even a bitterly cold one, whereas mine feels more like a Spring/Summer type of sauce because of its lightness.
The finished product!

So readers, I'm dying for someone to take on this challenge! Kiki's recipe is listed below, and she will post my recipe on her site. Click the link below the recipe to enter the challenge and post to your blog! Or, feel free to leave your own favorite recipe in the comment section.

Kiki's Sauce

2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes 
1/4 c red wine 
1 sweet yellow onion (vidalias are great)
A ton of garlic (about half a head)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. italian seasoning
1 Tbsp. basil
1 tsp crushed red pepper 
1/2 tsp baking soda
 salt & pepper to taste

I start by chopping the onions.  I don't mince them, but chop them smaller so they aren't ridiculously chunky.  If I am using fresh garlic, I will also chop that.  Saute the onions in the olive oil til soft and almost clear, then add the garlic and let that cook in for a few minutes.  Pour in the wine and stir to get anything stuck on the pot unstuck.  Add the two cans of crushed tomatoes and stir.  Add the sugar and seasonings and bring to a simmer.  Add the baking soda.  It has a chemical reaction and will get all crazy bubbly.  Let it do that, then stir. (It helps cut the acidity, which the sugar also does.)  I typically lower the temp once it simmers and let it cook on a lower-medium heat for a while. If I'm in a hurry, less time, but I like something like 45 minutes.  Serve over whatever pasta you like or use anywhere you'd use a red sauce (covering manicotti, etc).  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Feast Even The Romans Would Envy

A $17 million restaurant. Nine kitchens. 500 food items to choose from.

You basically know what you're going to get when you sign up to eat at a buffet, and the line above is not it. Rarely is anything ever fresh. Most dishes languish sadly under heat lamps, and despite the right price and the beckon of tempting desserts and chocolate fountains, you know it's not going to be a lavish affair. Buffets rarely are. Unless you're in Las Vegas, that is.

Vegas has been known for a long time for their buffets - places to fuel you up and overindulge you before spitting you back out into the casinos where you have no idea what time it is, and your money seems to disappear mysteriously from your wallet. When you talk about Vegas buffets, you talk about them with a sort of nostalgic fondness. And the two I've been to have been quite good.

The Bacchanal Buffet in Caesar's Palace promises to be more than "quite good." It promises to take hedonistic gastronomy to a level previously unheard of. At around $40 per guest, you can sample all ranges of fair featuring only the freshest ingredients, with many dishes being made out on the open so you can enjoy their creation. Most dishes will rival anything you'll find in other high-end eateries. But it's not just about the fare - the chefs have been professionally trained to interact with guests, and the number of staff is around 180. That's more than enough people to cater to your every culinary whim.

Of course, there are already many high-end buffets in Vegas that have the same type of concept, but Bacchanal hopes to edge out the competition with its decor as well. Roughly the size of half a football field, it will overlook the Garden of the Gods pool complex in a thoroughly modern setting.

I'm not one to usually raise my hand when asked who wants to go to a buffet to eat. My favorite breakfast spot in Las Vegas is Society Café in the Encore, with its not-to-be missed gigantic cinnamon bun that your table can share. But even I have to admit that the fare offered at The Bacchanal Buffet sounds too sumptuous to pass up: Red Velvet Pancakes, house-smoked BBQ, dim sum, and miniature fry baskets holding a serving of waffles and fried chicken are just a tiny fraction of what's being served.

But my question is, would you be satisfied shelling out $40 for a meal when you know that you'll only be able to gulp down a fraction of the offerings? Would you be willing to go back again and again at that price during what is usually a short stay in Vegas? Caesar's Palace is betting that you will, and I feel certain that the next time I'm there, it will be on my list of things to do.