Sunday, January 30, 2011

Where You Been, Making Risotto? has been over a week since my last post. What am I lazy or something? No, not really, as I've been blogging for the last week over at eGullet and we (my friends and I) did one heckuva job. I mean really blogging; taking pictures and writing about every damn thing that crossed my lips...and then some. It's hard to do. A lot of work. I'm sure glad I don't do that here.

However, some of it was so good that I figured I 'd share with you. And I'm starting with rice. Well...risotto to be more precise. In the past, I used only arborio rice to make risotto; now it depends on what type of risotto I'm cooking. However, if you only want to keep 1 type of risotto rice on hand, my go-to is carnaroli works well for all styles of risotto and doesn't overcook as easily as the others.

Since we were engaged in a little competition, we all had the same ingredients to make a meal with. I had a good pound of baby artichokes (which aren't really babies, but that's another story altogether), a bunch of spring onions and a quart of homemade chicken stock in the freezer. Sure, you can use canned or boxed (Swanson's Low Sodium; Pacific) chicken stock, but will it ever be as good as homemade? No. You can even make you're own vegetable stock if you're a...gasp...vegetarian; that's easy and only takes an hour. If you're a vegan, well - work on that yourself. Pantry wise, I always have Parmesan cheese, and really - you don't need much else. Salt & pepper - of course.

I wanted something a little special for the garnish (it was a competition, after all), so after cleaning the artichokes, I frizzled them. Okay, deep fried...

Then I proceeded to make the risotto. First, sweat (which means to lightly fry without getting the vegetables all brown) the onions and artichokes in butter and olive oil till they're soft, then add the rice till it's translucent...

Then add 1/2 cup wine, and continue making the know, waiting until each addition of stock is absorbed before you add more and stirring a lot...

The final step in making a risotto is generally adding the cheese and sometimes more butter. I try to be a little judicious, only because. So, when the risotto is almost done to your liking - you're tasting it, aren't you? - turn off the heat. Then add the cheese. If it gets too tight, a little more stock can't hurt; it will get absorbed, and it's why I start with at least 4 times the amount of stock vs. rice.

I like to serve the risotto in bowls, garnished with a little finely minced parsley and those frizzled baby artichoke hearts. It's so good...

Oh - make enough for leftovers, which make awesome risotto pancakes.

Baby Artichoke and Spring Onion Risotto - serves 2 with leftovers

1 C Carnaroli rice
4 C stock (chicken preferred, vegetable okay)
1/2 C dry white wine
1 T butter and olive oil ( or 2 T of one or the other, I don't care)
1 lb. baby artichokes, cleaned and sliced
1 bu. spring onions (or 1 medium onion, diced)
1 C grated Parmersan
2 T Italian parsley

Make risotto. Some directions are above.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's Not Nice To Fool Mother Nature

I'm sure you all...okay, some of you...remember that great ad campaign which ran for almost 10 years back in the '70s. It featured Mother Nature (or an actor portraying her) getting all pissed off when she's fooled by the taste and texture of a certain product.

And I'm sure you all...okay, some of you...remember a blog I wrote a while back about trying to get Significant Eater to eat her oatmeal...well, I didn't have much success then, but that doesn't mean I don't get to keep trying.

In another one of my vain attempts to get SE to eat some healthy cereals, today I tried a new approach with a cereal she really doesn't like. That be this stuff...

I've stopped making it when we have breakfast together, since it undoubtedly will just sit in the bowl; oh, it gets pushed around enough, but eaten? No way.

So, in my sneaky, underhanded mind I figured there had to be a way. And the aha moment came when I simply read the side of the package and decided to use one of these...

I mixed up the batter (it's a quick bread, but you knew that) and glopped it into the cups...

Baked 'em for about 17 minutes and they looked like this...

And this...

Not bad looking, huh? And guess what - they didn't taste bad. I mean, how bad could they be? After all, they do have sugar and salt in them, along with a little vanilla.

Interesting then, that the first thing I heard from the other room, as Significant Eater was downing her half, was something along the lines of: "So what are these, health muffins? Stick with the cookies, will ya!?"

It's not nice to fool mother nature, now is it? Or Significant Eater either.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Birthday Boyz

I grew up on Long Island - and let's use that term (grew up) rather loosely, because, like all guys of a certain age, we think/hope/pray? that we're a lot younger than we really are. Be that as it may, it was a pretty good upbringing...I mean other than the funny accent, Long Island wasn't too bad a place to grow up. The beach was close (it IS a friggin' island, after all), the "city" was close, my schools were minutes away, there were cool cars (I actually had a '63 Chevy that rocked), there were Jack-in-the-Boxes, there was Nathan's in Oceanside, there were drive-in movies that showed porn - in general, not too bad.

And then there were the boyz. You see, we moved to Long Island when I started the 4th grade and was about 9 years old; I say moved because we had lived in Forest Hills, which is in Queens and which is part of New York City, so people don't think of it as Long Island, but go look at a map - it's part of Long Island no matter how you slice or dice it. Anyway, back to the boyz.

Starting in the 4th grade, I began to form friendships and bonds that are still intact. There are a good dozen or so guys (and throw in a few gals as well) whom I am in contact with and see on a regular basis. In the group some guys are closer to others, some couples are closer to others, but all in all, the friendships are mighty strong. I mean, I moved to California, stayed for 18 years and then returned, and the bonds are as strong as they ever were...maybe even more so as we...ahem...grow up.

Calling ourselves the boyz came early on. Maybe we watched too many gangster movies (yeah, they were called gangster movies, not gangsta); they were the real tough guys. The Godfather came out the year I graduated from high school, but there were plenty of Bogart and Edward G. Robinson movies before that - and don't tell me they couldn't have kicked Biggie's or Tupac's asses, just like Corleone would have. So everyone had a nickname even though most of us were nebbishy jewish kids; and even though there was no baby-face or scar-face, as a group, we were and still are, till this day: the boyz.

So why do I wax nostalgic about all this crap? Well, this month we start wishing each other, like we have for 40 or so years, a happy birthday. Only this year, it's different.

Why? Because two months ago, we lost one of our boyz...and he was the one who was the glue that pretty much kept us all together, with semi-annual poker games (did I tell you about the time we were all smoking cigars and his wife Ro came home early? Well, that was the last time we smoked cigars in their house), trips to Vegas or the Mohegan Sun, barbecues, and on and on.

Yep, our friend Ron passed on, after a long-time battle against kidney disease. And I say battle in a good way; no one should have to go through what Ron did, but he always did it with grace and aplomb. Ron liked to complain about everyday things same as we all do - he was almost as curmudgeonly as me - but he never complained about the hand he was dealt (except sometimes in those all-night poker games we boyz engaged in) when it came to his health. Nope - he would have none of that. He lived every day like it counted and like it might be his last; that's a lesson I know all the boyz learned from Ron over the years. He enjoyed every sandwich and every roll of the dice. All his time with his family; his great wife (also a high school friend of mine) and great kids. The little things. The things we often take for granted. It's easy to say we won't, but we will...we always do. We should just try not to.

Anyway - today is Ron's birthday, and I've shed a tear or two. It's another of the boyz' birthdays as well. I've already wished Morris (a nickname, don't you know?) a happy birthday. This is for Ron, who for sure is in a good place. Thanks for the good times and the memories, pal. The boyz won't ever forget.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Yes We Can

Just so you know - this isn't a political discussion. After all, this is a food blog - at least most of the time. So what's the deal with the title? Well...

Quimet et Quimet is a "tapas" bar in Barcelona that Significant Eater and I absolutely adored. You could walk right by and not even know it's there - it's a bit off the beaten path but worth the ride...

But once you step inside...

A whole Spanish world of goodies awaits. There are montaditos, there are pintxos (pinchos), there are banderillas; all of which qualify as tapas, by the way. As Penelope Casas defines in her book Tapas - The Little Dishes of Spain:
tapas are not necessarily a particular kind of food; rather, they represent a style of eating and a way of life that are so very Spanish...
So what makes Quimet et Quimet stand out? For one, most of the ingredients come out of cans. Yes, cans (don't forget that reference in the title). For two, the proprietor (pictured above in the orange shirt) is a genius at putting together these things. Ask for some tuna and get this...

A beautiful hunk of tuna, topped with pimento and served with olives and a spicy chili pepper...all from cans and all of which is for sale and some of which is insanely expensive.

Want some artichokes or something with anchovies? Check it out...

Artichoke hearts drizzled with olive oil and sherry vinegar along with an anchovy, sweet roasted onion and olive banderilla. And if you want to impress your friends, those are some easy tapas to put together.

Ask for montaditos (mounted bread) and you're liable to end up with these...

Or these, consisting of herring and a host of other ingredients...

And don't worry...if you think it's all about canned food, there are some other worthy bites as well. When Significant Eater and I were just about full, we asked for an assortment of cheeses - and this magically appeared. We were barely able to finish it...

That's five or six cheeses from Spain, any of which can hold their own against those of France. Served with a couple of sweet accompaniments (from cans, no doubt), they're the perfect way to end a delicious meal. Next time you're in Barcelona, won't be disappointed.

Quimet et Quimet

c/Poeta Cabanyes, 25
Open 1 PM - 4 PM and 8 PM to 12 Midnight
93 442 31 42

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Spaetzle #1 - "Pasta" Made Easy

Little sparrow. At least that's the literal translation. Of spaetzle, that is. Or spätzle. It's a love of Significant Eater's, who often orders it when we're at our favorite neighborhood eatery, Cafe Katja. There, they do a classic version with emmenthaler and fried onions (Käsespätzle) as well as a version of buckwheat spaetzle; the spaetzle sauteed with a bunch of seasonal vegetables. When Bon Apetit wrote about Cafe Katja, the recipe they were kind enough to divulge was for their pumpkin seed spaetzle, another dish I've been lucky enough to try.

So what about making these tiny dumplings at home? Sounds like it might be difficult, right? If you've ever wanted to make pasta at home, you should think about giving these a try, though my first attempt was a real mess; the dough is very sticky which led to a fair amount of cursing and cleanup. But it tasted good. To lessen the mess, I figured I needed a spaetzle maker to make my life easier, so a spaetzle maker I bought. At Sur La Table, this gizmo was a mere $15...the price of a good cocktail.

For my first spaetzle making attempts, I used a recipe from the
Time Life Foods of the World series, specifically that of Germany. That recipe is almost exactly the same as one that appears in The Dumpling Cookbook, by Maria Polushkin, which also happens to be on my bookshelf. At least the proportions of liquid to flour are the same, though Maria's recipe calls for water instead of milk. In any case, I made 1/2 a batch (only me for dinner), using milk on the verge of going down the drain, along with some chopped chives. The batter/dough is definitely thick and sticky in this version...

Then, I sprayed my new spaetzle maker with cooking spray and loaded it up...

Here is the first batch simmering away. It needs to be simmered, not boiled, or the dumplings may fall apart...

After about 2.5 minutes, I shocked and drained the spaetzle, then tossed them with a little olive oil to keep 'em from sticking to each other...

A close-up of the spaetzle...

Finally, for serving, I sautéed them in some duck fat, since I happened to have some duck fat in my fridge. Butter or olive oil would be fine too...

The verdict? Almost (but not quite) as good as Cafe Katja's - where they use water in the dough, according to Andrew, one of the owners. And I'm going to keep playing with spaetzle recipes, at least until I find the formula I like best.

Chive Spaetzle
- (Adapted From Time Life Recipes: The Cooking of Germany)

3 c A/P flour

1 c milk
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 T snipped chives

Combine ingredients. Stir till sticky dough forms. Stir it. Cover and let sit at least 15 minutes before cooking. Bring 2 qts. water to a boil. Using spaetzle maker (or some other more annoying device) force dough through holes into boiling water. When water starts to simmer, cook a batch of dumplings (don't do it all at once, perhaps about 1/3 of the dough) for about 3 minutes (taste and make sure they're done). Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Toss with a little olive oil and continue with however you want to use these things.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Noodles, New Year and Just Kids...

Significant Eater and I have a few traditions on New Year's Eve. Just like in many (most? all?) Asian cultures, we like to eat noodles at some point during the day and/or eve, in anticipation of a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. Of course, some of those Asian cultures celebrate the new year at a different point on the calendar, but for various reasons we still like December 31st - January 1st.

So I was glad to be walking into Sobaya Restaurant, a Japanese place on East 9th Street that has been a favorite of ours for many years. Sobaya has a pretty extensive menu, but their main focus is on soba, that wonderful and delicious noodle made from buckwheat flour. They make them throughout the day and their flavor and toothsomeness is, to this noodle slurper - and noodles should be slurped by the way - unmatched by any other (soba) noodle joint in the city.

I wasn't surprised that they were crowded even at the 2 PM hour; it's a holiday weekend, after all. I was actually surprised (okay, bemused) to see this on the wall...

A sign describing Toshikoshi soba; literally meaning "the year is passing" and which is the last thing eaten on New Year's Eve according to the great book Japanese Cooking - A Simple Art.

So, while it wasn't the last thing we ate on New Year's Eve, it was delicious. Here's the hot soba, served in a broth called Kake-jiru along with a side of tempura, in front of a happy, hungry SE...

And while Sig E prefers the hot, I like cold soba noodles in a basket (Zaru soba) served with a dipping sauce called Tsuke-jiru...

Zaru soba...

The verdict? Both damn good, the noodles nice and firm and cooked to the point of perfection Japanese style. In Italian, that'd be just past al dente.

Of course, what could be better after a nice Japanese meal than something sweet. They offer ice creams at Sobaya, but we decided on our walk home to stop into the new location of Il Laboratorio del Gelato for a few scoops. Kinda looks like a, mmmm, laboratory, doesn't it?

My bourbon/pecan and Mexican cinnamon were good, but SE's caramel and dark chocolate took the prize, the bitterness of both the caramel and dark chocolate playing nicely with the sweetness of the gelato. Still my favorite gelato in this city.

Oh, and I did say New Year's Eve traditions up top, didn't I? Along with the noodle thing there is another, involving one of our favorite artists. For the past 12 years or so, and hopefully for many more, Significant Eater and I go to see and listen to Patti Smith and her band at the Bowery Ballroom. Patti won the National Book Award this year for her moving autobiography Just Kids, and last night she closed with a brand new song Just Kids. Played for the first time ever and a great start to 2011...

Happy New Year from Significant Eater and me. Let's hope 2011 brings you all health, happiness and prosperity, along with lots of great noodles and songs.

il laboratorio del gelato
188 Ludlow Street (corner of Houston St.)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 343-9922

229 E. 9th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 533-6966