One of the things I find frustrating is that for all of the restaurants out there, it seems like the ones I like the most manage to close up shop just when I really start to like them. We’re don’t live in a large town, so we get mostly fast food places and the usual small pub type restaurants. I’m not complaining, some of those little pubs/bars have some great food. We do have the chance to go to quite a few good restaurants if we don’t mind driving awhile, but when we want the opportunity for a regular sit-down style family restaurant, we appreciate the chance to stay closer to home.
We’ve had restaurants come and go here before. It seems they just couldn’t keep the doors open with the amount of business they could get in our area. One such case was Cucina Fresca, an Italian restaurant that opened in our town some years ago. They were in business for maybe 2 years before they closed. Now, we have access to other Italian restaurants, but this place was a little different. They had dishes we didn’t found at the other Italian joints. My wife and I each had our personal favorites. For me, it was the Spicy Chicken Alfredo – unlike any other I’d had before – it was hot, but not too hot and that heat mixed very well with the creamy sauce. For my wife, it was a dish they called Balsamic Beef.
When the restaurant closed, we both lamented the passing of yet another nice place to eat in town. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but these dishes were unique, and we just couldn’t find them anywhere else. While I could (and probably should) live without the Spicy Alfredo, my wife was sorely lamenting the loss of her dish. I decided to set out replicating that dish myself. And so my quest was on.
I’m a fair cook. I can follow a recipe fairly well and can even improvise from time to time. But developing a recipe from scratch is not a particularly strong talent of mine.
Balsamic Beef consisted of strips of beef, marinated and sauteed in a balsamic vinegar sauce and served over a bed of creamy risotto. I wasn’t sure exactly where to start, so I started with the obvious – the Balsamic Vinegar. Prior to sampling this recipe, I hadn’t even heard of Balsamic Vinegar before (I’m not exactly cultured when it comes to food). I did some research and found what I was looking for. I sampled some straight from the bottle and realized I needed to temper the acidity and bite of the vinegar. I couldn’t decide what to use, so I went to the cupboard and started grabbing things. I tried sugar, salt, honey, soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce – nothing worked. I finally came very close to the taste of the sauce in the original recipe when I mixed 1/2 Balsamic vinegar with 1/2 Kikkoman Teriyaki. Kikokkoman is not a particularly sweet teriyaki, but it was sweet enough to calm the flavor of the vinegar. The taste was very similar to the sauce in the original dish. I figured the meat must have been marinated, so I took some strips of beef (pre-cut stir fry beef from the store) and marinated it for about 1 hour in the balsamic/teriyaki sauce. Next I cooked the beef in the marinade (yes, in the marinade) as that was the only way I could fully duplicate the taste of the beef and the sauce they used. I checked a few sources and found that it would be okay to use the marinade as long as it was well cooked. I succeeded in duplicating both the beef and the sauce, now I just needed to replicate the pile of carbs it was sitting on.
As I mentioned before, I’m not particularly cultured when it comes to food, so at the time, I could not figureout what they were serving with the beef. It looked like rice, but tasted like pasta and was creamy in texture. I looked around and asked questions, but didn’t get much help (this was before we had access to the internet). I tried what seemed to be close, some cous cous I had in the pantry. It was good, but it just wasn’t the same. I kept looking around and came across a show on television where they were talking about risotto. I’d never had risotto before, so I wasn’t sure what it was or how to make it. Bobby Flay to the rescue. He talked about stirring this stuff for the better part of 30 minutes. Sounded like a lot of work, but it was worth a try. Once I found that what I needed to buy was Arborio rice, I quickly snatched some up and hit the kitchen. You know, it wasn’t too hard – it just needs some attention and tender loving care.
I combined the ingredients together and voila, I had managed to recreate, as closely as my wife could tell, the recipe from our dearly departed eatery. Now if I could only muster the guts to try and re-make that tasty alfredo – maybe some day…
If you’d like a copy of my recipe, click here.