Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cajun meatloaf

Never been too crazy about meatloaf: it's tasty enough. That's changed now that I've found this recipe with this sauce to go on top. The sauce is rich (a blond roux), spicy, flavorful. Via Paul Prudhomme, the grandmaster of Louisiana cooking.

Just out of the oven:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Warm beet salad

Another salad, with a hat tip to Audrey for introducing the delicious combo of beets and rosemary to me. Sauteed beets in olive oil, rosemary and salt, add spinach to pan and wilt. Top with a good chevre (Bucheron here).

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer salad

Unbelievable even to myself, I made a salad today. This one is a typical French thing and old-hat to millions of people, and something I've not eaten often enough. On a base of spinach and pink lady apples, I put a spring salad mix, walnuts, bucheron, and mustard vinaigrette.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Once upon a time, I spent a few very cold January weeks in Central Europe, and I'm sure part of the reason for my survival (and overall great time) was the goulash. It came in many variations, all pretty good. My time in Budapest only reinforced my love for stewed meats Hungarian-style. Yesterday I make a pörkölt, which is Hungarian for roast, and is a cousin to goulash (gulyás). Stew beef, paprika (hot and sweet), a bunch of onion, and caraway seeds. Stewed for a real long time. Rich, deep flavor, great with a side of potatoes or dumplings.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bistro Les Gras, Northampton (MA)

First thoughts:

For starters we had the chevre salad and the pissaladiere, for mains we had the cheeseburger, and for dessert we had pot de creme, and cookies. The salad was unremarkable, not in a bad way, just in that it's pretty standard fare. The pissaladiere (a south coast pizza featuring onion, anchovy and olive) is a tart at Les Gras, and was delicious. You must, of course, enjoy anchovy to find this dish palatable. The cheeseburger was fantastic, easily the best in Northampton. The meat was delicate, soft, very nice texture. The toppings were well appointed, although I'd prefer if the aioli and gruyere were not on top of one another so as to taste each distinctly.

The bad: the desserts were terrible. They had run out of the ganache tort, so we tried the other two. The pot de creme tasted like yogurt and was runny. The cookies tasted like they were out of a tin - why bother?

In addition, and this is a complaint particular to the restaurant week deal, they were not doing their full menu. Instead they were offering the three course fixed price menu for the restaurant week. Of their three "principle plates" they offered lentils with vegetables (for whatever reason they are omitting the pork belly which appears on the website and their regular menu, which was rather disappointing), salad nicoise (which is on their appetizer menu typically and to me is not a main, also disappointing) and the hamburger. To my mind they went the cheap way out, which is understandable since they just opened, but for the same reason a bad idea since they just opened. They are generating first impressions.

We'll return at some point, but the missing pork belly and ganache dampened the enjoyment of the dinner. This wouldn't have been a big deal ordinarily, but the alternative options were limited by special menu.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Birthday rib-eyes

'Twas somebody special's birthday, and she got two big rib-eye steaks off the grill. I also grilled some asparagus, the leftovers of which are going to make a fine risotto.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trattoria Toscana, Boston

If this trattoria represents the upper echelon of trattoria-style Italian joints in Boston, then Boston is a sad place for Italian food lovers. Based on several rec's found at Chowhound of this trattoria, three of us tried it out tonight. Versus what I know of Tuscan food, this trattoria was not particularly Tuscan. Secondly, I would not recommend it to Italian foodies, or those who are accustomed to and seek out actual Italian cooking.

The cheese selection on the antipasto misto was parmesan, pecorino, and gorgonzola. Not exactly exciting, and the waiter didn't know which type of pecorino they served (hello, toscano?). My partner got the rucola salad, which was the one thing that made my tongue happy, considering the difficulty of finding rucola here in Western Mass.

The primi were disappointing as hell. Audrey got penne alla carrettiera, which at Trattoria Toscana is a tomato sauce with pancetta, chili pepper, and garlic. Sound familiar? It's basically a spiced up amatriciana, which is a Lazio dish and has nothing in common with Tuscan food. I ordered the ravioli with sausage and rapini. Huge disappointment. Instead of big, plump ravioli stuffed with the sausage and rapini, I got what appeared to be your typical frozen ravioli, filled with ricotta cheese of all things, and with the sausage and rapini on top. Ricotta cheese wasn't even mentioned on the menu (if it were, I wouldn't have ordered it - ricotta is an Italian-American cop-out filling). And again, ricotta does not feature in Tuscan food. Lastly, our friend ordered the vegetable risotto, which tasted to me like nacho cheese (I kid you not). Risotto - not particularly Tuscan either.

The tiramisu was also terrible, it was clearly made in advance and frozen - it had yet to thaw completely and was icy. That's assuming they make it in house, which like the ravioli, I'm not so sure.

In sum, this "Tuscan" trattoria is not Tuscan at all, and the food was not up to par.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Orecchiette with anchovy and broccoli

A southern Italian (Apulian) classic: "little ear" pasta with a sauce of anchovy, olive oil, chili, and broccoli. Topped with pecorino sardo. Fantastic flavor, next time I think I'll add some broccoli rabe for some added complexity. I love the mustardy flavor of rabe, it goes well with the chili and the anchovy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Super easy carnitas, delicious on a taco.

Buy a couple pounds of pork shoulder/butt, cut into hunks. Add to a dutch oven or some other heavy, large pot. Add a roughly chopped onion, some garlic, a couple bay leafs, and some salt. Cover with water. I used half a can of Coke for sweetness (believe it or not, it works, and is something widely done in Southern California carnitas joints). Orange juice would work as well, has roughly the same acidity/sweetness profile as Coke.

Simmer for a couple hours, let the liquid evaporate until the fat is left, then fry the pork in its fat until you get some browning. Voila, easy as hell carnitas. Make it a taco with some lime, cilantro, onion, maybe some avocado and some chopped Fresno peppers.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tomato and mushroom gnocchi

Forget the unassuming title, this might be the best gnocchi I've ever had. It has its foundations in Marcella Hazan's ultra-simple tomato sauce, and builds up from there. The result are brownish-reddish lightning-bolts of flavor gnocchi. Here's how:

To make enough roughly enough sauce for one box of gnocchi (I like the Zia Russa brand, Pastene seems fine as well): In a saucepan add 2.5 tbsp of butter, roughly 2 cups of canned Italian plum tomatoes (mash them up), and one half of one onion, peeled. I used red onion for its sweet sharpness. Choose a saucepan that is small enough so that the tomatoes cover or mostly cover the onion, ensuring maximum contact. Let this simmer gently for roughly 30 minutes. Stir on occcasion.

As that's going, sautee some crimini (aka "baby-bella") mushrooms. I think the best method for doing so is to cook them whole because it saves their internal juices which are delicious once cooked. If you're asking: "mushrooms have juices?" it's because you've never had them cooked whole. That first bite into a whole button mushroom will reveal all.

How to: You want to cut off the stem, but you do not want to take the entire stem out. Cut the stem where it meets the body, so that the mushroom will lie flat. If you remove the entire stem it leaves a crater, and out of that black gill-lined cavity the mushroom's moisture will exit while cooking. This would be no bueno. Anyway, once prepped, I first sautee them head down on high heat until the tops brown, then flip them over and lower the heat to medium-ish until the bottoms brown. Use a mixture of butter and olive oil to sautee with, the oil is there to raise the butter's burning temperature - if you sense the butter is burning, simply add more oil. For this recipe I used a tablespoon of butter and olive oil, for roughly 10 average sized criminis. How long you continue sauteeing the mushrooms depends on how cooked through you like them.

Back to the recipe: Once the mushrooms are done, add the tomato sauce to the sautee pan, and simmer that for 10 minutes or so to marry the mushrooms and the sauce together. You can save or toss the onion, it's deliciously sweet at this point and I save mine, cut into big chunks. Some of the mushrooms I cut in half to release their meaty and earthy juices into the sauce. Do it in the sautee pan to conserve all that mushroomy nectar. Most mushrooms I leave whole for aforementioned reasons.

Boil your gnocchi, when done add them to the sauce and grate a generous helping of parmigiano reggiano on top. Add black pepper, and voila: tangy, rich, meaty, sensual gnocchi. The tang comes from the tomatoes, the richness comes from the butter (browned and onioned), and the meatiness comes from the browned mushrooms and their juices. The parmigiano ties it together. All on heavenly silky gnocchi. You'll have a hard time doing better than this.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chipotle picadillo

For Cinco de Mayo, I made a picadillo featuring ground pork and chipotle peppers. Turned out well, but on the second go-round I learned from my initial try and rocked it. Picadillo means "mince" and so I liberally use it to describe my minced-ground pork dish here - typical picadillo's you'll find in Mexico won't resemble this. They might not be as tasty either.

In some olive oil, I sauteed some onions and then garlic. Then goes in the ground pork, turned over till browned. Then add in tomatoes, chopped chipotle peppers and their canning sauce (assuming you go canned chipotle, hard to find otherwise), along with salt and black pepper. I added some chopped serrano chile for good measure - nice heat kick. Chipotles are hot enough for most people. Cover all this with water. Simmer for a half hour roughly.

Here comes the good part: remove the meat, and then boil down the remaining sauce until most of the water has evaporated. At this point, you'll be left with mostly liquid fat and sauce. What's left should be sweet, tangy, spicy. Return the meat to the pot, coat with the reduction, and serve. Pictured below in a burrito.

Sausage and St. André rigatoni

Pizza and pasta are so similar I occasionally use a typical pizza combination to influence my pasta, and vice versa. See my carbonara pizza for an example. So I had some sausage in my fridge, and thought of making a pasta that played off the typical sasuage and onion pizza you find in Italy - with a tweak that likely no Italian would make (although perhaps a French cook would).

I julienned some onion (they are always julienned and not chopped on Italian pizzas), sauteed it with garlic, then added tomato, a lot of red pepper flakes, black pepper, and the sausage (sweet Italian pork from the Whole Foods butcher). Pretty standard stuff. Inspiration struck, and I added about a tablespoon of St. André cheese (the soft French stuff) to the sautee and let it melt and disappear into the sauce. This all went onto some rigatoni and topped with parmigiano reggiano.

The result was fantastic. Had a good deal of spice from the pepper and garlic, the sausage sweetened the sauce, and the St. André added a slight background creaminess along with just a hint of its brine and funk. Think of it as a more interesting option to simple cream, an ingredient I tend to hate in pasta as it drowns out flavors. The idea is to add just enough to get a touch of creaminess but not enough that it or the cheese flavor stands out on its own.

Here's a pic. The misshappen chunks of sausage don't look appealing I know, but the taste was heaven.

Thai green salmon

I'm unaware of how often salmon features in Thai cuisine, but I'll go out on a limb and title this "Thai green salmon". In a nutshell, I whipped up some green coconut curry (from a paste base, perhaps over the summer I'll start making my own pastes) and sauteed some salmon steaks in it along with some veg. The red/green color thing gets me jazzed, and the flavor is incredible. Salmon's meatiness and its fattiness combine perfectly with the curry. I highly recommend the combination.


I love birria, and of course being something that's actually Mexican, you can't get it at the Mexican restaurants in my area. I did have a good birria taco at a place in Jamaica Plains, Boston, but that's been it. So I turned to Rick Bayless and followed his recipe, using a lamb leg. Flavor turned out an A, the meat itself ended up a bit dry - next time I'll use a fattier piece of meat. I marinated the lamb overnight in a chile guajillo sauce, then steamed it in the oven for 3 hours the next day. Made delicious, rich tacos.

Sriracha macaroni 'n cheese

Fuck Rachel Ray's 30 minute meal BS. If you are going to go pre-made, go all the way. I heartily recommend Rising Moon Organics Macaroni and Cheese. I then put the lifejuice on top of it, Sriracha sauce, along with some cayenne, oregano, and olive oil. Spicy, tangy, sweet, creamy. Fuck yea.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Packard's burger puts me down

Had a burger at Packard's on Sunday night. Spent the next two days in bed dealing with nausea and cramps. Safe to say it's the last burger I'm eating there, ever. Their burgers have gone way downhill anyway, so it's not a big loss, although I'd like the two days of my life back. Ultimately, there is no good place for a burger in Northampton. Sad state of affairs, especially for someone who comes from the land of In 'n Out and other fine burger joints.

I'm out of town until next Tuesday. Hopefully San Francisco does me good. I'm looking forward to cheap Mexican and Chinese food.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Apsara, Providence (RI)

Audrey picked out this great Southeast Asian restaurant. They seem to specialize in Cambodian and Vietnamese, but also do Thai, Lao, and Chinese food. Priced cheap, big portions, great taste.

Audrey had the nime chow (shrimp, basil, rice in cellophane wrapper; with peanut sauce) and for a main she had fried lemongrass with pork in a chili coconut sauce. Her main was spicy, rich, really good. I had natang, which basically was a Cambodian hamburger (crispy rice noodle squares with ground pork and coconut sauce as topping, to which I added Sriracha a la ketchup). Really good. I went adventure-style for my main: ground anchovy and chili coconut curry, with a side of fresh veg and rice. On the menu it describes it as a "special Cambodian dish" to which I say, special indeed. The waitress warned me when I ordered it that it would have a strong smell. She was right, it smelled of funk. Some have sent this dish back, but I ate it with a grin. The anchovy was not as briny as I expected, instead it gave the coconut curry a tangy, meaty flavor. I recommend it for those who want something new.

Major thumbs up.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lamb madras

Lamb madras with chickpeas and green peas. Ginger, serrano chile, garlic, madras curry powder, onion, tomato, lamb.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gnocchi alla gorgonzola with broccoli rabe

This dish is a tale of two Italys. On the left, broccoli rabe sauteed with anchovy, garlic, red pepper, and lemon. On the right, gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce. One would be well at home in Naples, the other Turin. This dish demonstrates how both the north and south of Italy have forceful, intense flavors at hand. The rabe is briney and fiery. The gnocchi is pungent and sharp.

Broccoli rabe Naples style
1. Sautee anchovy fillets in olive oil until tender, then mash with back of fork and mix into the oil until it forms a paste.
2. Add garlic, some more olive oil, and sautee till golden.
3. Add red chili pepper flakes, let sautee in the oil for 30 seconds.
4. Add broccoli rabe, sautee on medium heat until wilted. Coat well with the rest of the ingredients.
5. When plating the rabe, squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the top.

Gnocchi alla gorgonzola
Very simple. Take a tablespoon of butter and a tbsp of olive oil, melt together in a sautee pan on medium-low heat. Add hunks of gorgonzola (I used total around 3 oz, adjust to taste) and let melt. Do not let simmer too rapidly. In a separate pot, boil gnocchi till they float to surface. Remove quickly and place immediately in the gorgonzola sauce. Combine and serve with fresh black pepper.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Eggplant and tomato pasta

Step 1: chop eggplant, fry in olive oil. Good olive oil here helps the overall flavor considerably. I prefer to slice the eggplant into discs, then chop into fourths.
Step 2: add fried eggplant to blender along with some tomato puree.
Step 3: blend to a puree.
Step 4: add garlic to sautee pan, sautee in olive oil until fragrant (do not brown), add eggplant-tomato puree, tomatoes (canned best), rosemary, red chili pepper. Sautee 15-20 minutes.
Step 5: in another sautee pan, fry some more chopped eggplant.
Step 6: combine the sauce and the eggplant, grate some pecorino cheese over the top (I used pecorino sardo here).
Step 7: add to your favorite pasta, it went well with rigatoni.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Miss Florence Diner, Florence (MA)

We went up to Florence to try this place based on a recommendation given by one of Audrey's friends about Miss Flo's great reuben. Heh. Well, I'll simply say that I must have ordered off the kids menu because my reuben was sized for an 8 year-old's stomach, not my manstomach.

We did order pie, and not all was lost because they do a delicious apple pie. Really good crust, not too sweet or spiced. Also in the good category, the awesomely retro mini-jukeboxes in every booth.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cous cous with shrimp and peas

Delicious, quick, simple dish. Cous cous spiced with cinnamon and garam masala, with peas and shrimp. Dish takes not even 10 minutes to put together.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pad kee mao, aka drunken noodles

This is a classic spicy Thai noodle dish. I luckily happened across a very good recipe for it at this excellent blog, also see the author's follow up post here. I've made pad khee mao from this recipe multiple times, the author got it right. It's not really difficult or complicated, the only problem is getting all the ingredients. You'll have to go to an Asian grocery store to find some of these items, such as the Thai black soy sauce, the wide rice noodles, palm sugar, and the all important Thai basil which makes this dish pop. With that said, most of the ingredients have long shelf lives and can be used in a variety of other Thai or Chinese dishes. You can freeze the leftover basil.

Recipe: Drunken Noodles – Pad Kee Mao
Note: like with all Thai food, it's all about the balance of salty, sweet, spicy, bitter, and sour. Try to follow the measurements as they balance very nicely in the end.

6 ounces of sen-yai (or any wide) rice noodles

1/4 cup of firm tofu, cut into small cubes
Extra protein, your choice
2-3 tablespoons white rice vinegar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons of palm sugar [palm sugar is a thick, dark, moist sugar. I substitute 3 tbsp dark brown sugar and 1 tbsp maple syrup]
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons ground, dried red chili

For frying:
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped shallots or onions
2 green jalapeno peppers, 1 red (chopped/sliced finely)
1 red jalapeno (sliced thickly as topping)
Handful of coriander leaves, plucked from stems (retain stems for frying)
Vegetables, if desired
1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
Dash white pepper, ground
4-5 tablespoons oyster sauce
1-2 tablespoons black soy sauce [this is a Thai soy sauce which is much thicker and more sugary than the Chinese version. The Chinese version won't work here, you can get the Thai style soy sauce at one of the Asian/international markets on Route 9]


1) Prepare fresh ingredients. Combine ground pepper, rice vinegar, dried chili, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, and tofu/other protein in a bowl. Marinade tofu in mixture while proceeding with further steps.

2) Soak sen-yai noodles in water for 15 mins. Place soaking noodles on the stove and bring to very slow boil, removing the noodles while they are still toothy. Drain immediately and with cold water to halt the cooking process. Set noodles aside.

3) Season wok with oil. Add the shallots, japapenos, garlic, and coriander stems to oil, frying briefly to make the oil aromatic. Stir fry your choice of vegetables and protein and the marinated tofu. Then add noodles and marinade.

4) Turn wok to high. As the noodle marinade/sauce begins to become reduced, add the Thai basil leaves, oyster sauce, and soy sauce. Just before serving, add the green onions and turn off heat.

5) Top noodles with freshly sliced jalapeno and coriander. Serve with a side of fresh cucumber to cool the tongue while eating. You'll need it!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Roasted tomato soup

I got the idea from Mark Bittman and followed his recipe with some changes. I tripled the garlic, doubled the carrot, added bread (same potato and thyme bread mentioned below), reduced the liquid addition, and in the end pureed the soup. I think the changes were warranted - it turned out flavorful and thicker than his version.

1 28oz can tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved
olive oil
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
2 cups water
bread (crusty baked bread works well here)
red chili pepper (optional, I used a half teaspoon)

Cut the tomatoes in half, put on baking sheet, top with olive oil and thyme, and roast at 375 till the edges start to turn black (Bittman says 30 mins, I put mine in the broiler after 30 mins to finish them off).

In saucepan, sautee garlic, onions, and carrot in olive oil for a few minutes, till roughly the onion has cooked through. Add salt, pepper, water, bread, the roasted tomatoes, any liquid that collected in the roasting pan, and the reserved tomato liquid from the can. Raise heat till soup boils, boil one minute, and reduce to a low simmer. I recommend adding more olive oil at this point, it makes for a richer soup, maybe 2 tablespoons. Simmer 20-30 minutes till veg is cooked through.

Once done, puree in blender. Add more freshly ground pepper and serve. Unfortunately this photo cannot convey flavor:

Coppa and fontina antipasto

Sunday comfort food - an improvised appetizer dish featuring coppa, a delicious fontina, olive oil (Nuñez de Prado, good for dipping), and potato and thyme bread from Hungry Ghost. One day I'll do a writeup on Hungry Ghost, a place Northampton is maad lucky to have. Their bread + good olive oil = good.

As to the fontina, Whole Foods has it in two varieties. One is a whitish color, about $10/pound, the other is more yellowy and is $16/pound. The former is a pretty boring cheese, tasting creamy but little else. The latter is real fontina - complex, rich, nutty, pungent - flavors brought out by ageing. The former isn't worth its price, but the latter is.

There might be some places in Springfield where you can get coppa, something I plan to investigate.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Green Street Cafe, Northampton (MA)

Went last night to Green Street for the second time. Again we weren't disappointed. This time we were seated in the fireplace room, it was toasty and felt really comfortable. I really like the lack of pretension in this restaurant. No linens, chairs that show their age, an owner that mingles.

Anyway, the food. We had a few small plates: onion and bacon tart, potatoes and escargot, and goat cheese and mixed greens ravioli. Delicious comfort food all around, and a hefty dose of good ole fat. Dessert was had as well, caramel torte and a goat cheese cheesecake. The caramel was really well spiced, and the goat cheese was great - not overly sweet or rich.

My favorite restaurant in Northampton.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cappuccino via the Bialetti Brikka

Here's a quick ode to my new coffeemaker, the Bialetti Brikka. Bialetti's coffee machines seem to be one of the few areas of contemporary Italian innovation. This machine has only been on the market for a few years, and is an upgrade to the venerable Bialetti Moka pot. I say upgrade as its larger base and new spout enables the machine to build more pressure than the moka, resulting in coffee with more body and richness. In addition, it creates a crema that matches an espresso in terms of appearance if not in taste. The end result is not quite espresso, it lacks the complexity and depth of a good espresso, but it's as close as you'll get without buying an espresso machine. With a little hot milk it makes a very nice cappuccino.

A very good investment for $45 (at Amazon), along with ACF cups, and beans from Northampton Coffee it generates morning happiness.....

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunrise Bakery, Easthampton (MA)

Hands down the best doughnut of my life is sold at Sunrise Bake Shoppe. Old fashioned glazed, al dente on the outside, soft and cakey on the inside. Perfection. They also make a mean whoopie pie and a good cheesecake. Their pies look fantastic too. Prices are good, people are regular folk which is quite refreshing compared to Northampton's kewl youth. The place reminds me of Black Sheep in Amherst, only smaller and not filled with undergrads.

Amendment: one Sunrise item I cannot recommend are their cannoli. Filling was more on the side of whipped cream than ricotta. La Fiorentina wears the cannolo crown around here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Baku's in Amherst (MA)

Last night the lady and I tried out the Baku's, an "African" restaurant* in Amherst. The highlight was the mango ginger ale - spicy (real ginger) and delicious. The food was tasty, not amazing, but good. I liked the tomato curry sauce, it came with everything from fried plantains to black eyed peas to chicken and goat. I had the goat with curry, damn good. The plantains weren't of the sweet variety and a bit too starchy for me.

The kids working in the kitchen were great.

*Africa, just one big country!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lasagna bolognese and baked beets with brie

Lasagna bolognese and baked beets topped with an amazing brie from Liuzzi's Cheese Shop in North Haven, CT.

Modern Apizza, New Haven (CT)

Another weekend, another trip to New Haven to visit Ikea. For eats, the plan was to stop at Frank Pepe's for a pizza. We arrive there at 5:30pm only to find a line down the block of people waiting to get a table. I guess Pepe's fame is no joke. Knowing that Modern makes a good pie with less wait, we headed over there. Took us roughly 20 minutes to get a table, 15 more to get a pie, which is probably half the time we woulda spent at Pepe's. Anyway, about the pizza. Here's a shot of their delicious crust...

The crust is very thin, but what sets it apart is its char. They get a really nice char around the edges on top, and on bottom the crust is littered with little bits of carbon that taste delicious. The crust at Pepe's is a bit thicker, chewier, with less char. I like both crusts, but gotta go with Modern. With that said, I like the ingredients (particularly the meats) at Pepe's more. Both are places I'll happily go to in the future, both offer superior pizzas, but I surely won't try to go to Pepe's after 5pm on a weekend night again.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fagioli all'uccelletto

Tuscany loves beans, I love beans, and I love Tuscany. So imagine how much I like Tuscan beans. Fagioli all'uccelletto means literally "little bird beans" and supposedly it's to reflect the garlic and sage in the dish, which is also typically used on small game birds.

In a nutshell this is Italian pork and beans. Cannellini beans, garlic, sage, pork sausage (no fennel!), tomatoes. The sausage is optional, I think it typically does not use sausage, but I wanted this as a main rather than a side. It's best to start with dry beans for their toothy texture, soak them overnight to prep. Once soaked (8 hr minimum), boil them till al dente. In a sautee pan, brown the sausage in olive oil. Once browned, add the garlic and sage. Only let the garlic get to golden, then add tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans. Cook for another 10-20 minutes, depending on doneness of beans desired. You may add water here to cook the beans further if necessary.

Friday, February 15, 2008

El Guanaco, South Hadley (MA)

Salvadoran food. Tasty. Priced right. Good pupusas ($1.75 per). Kinda hard to find, it's tucked away on the left hand side when coming south on 116, just after 116 splits off to the right and before it goes over the bridge to Holyoke:

View Larger Map

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cedar plank salmon

Seen this whole cooking with cedar thing on TV a few too many times and decided I should try it myself. Went down to Northampton Lumber and had them saw an 8' plank into one foot sections. Made sure it was untreated wood first. I was assured and reassured. If there was any arsenic et al in the wood, it sure made for good eats.

I heated the plank for 15 mins at 400 degrees. The salmon got a lemon pepper, garlic salt, and salt rub, then marinated for 30 minutes in soy sauce, dark brown sugar, red pepper, veg oil, and water. Salmon went on plank, went in oven, came out of oven, went in my stomach. Made my mouth very happy in the process. The finished product:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Salsa fresca

Making good salsa is so easy that it surprises me when I come across bad stuff. The longer I've lived in New England the less surprised I have been on successive occasions, but with that said, there is still no reason to make bad salsa - anywhere! These ingredients can be purchased in most places of the world.

A simple recipe like this + a blender = tasty. People like Rick Bayless will rightly tell you that using a blender makes a frothy salsa, but the froth (air bubbles) dissipate after a couple hours, and you want to let your salsa marinate and marry for a few hours before eating it anyway.

1 28 oz can of plum tomatoes
2/3 medium white onion
cilantro, handful or so
9 serrano peppers (this make it medium-hot, adjust to your taste)
2 garlic cloves
Juice of one lime
pinch of salt

Combine, blend, enjoy. Below is this salsa accompanying huevos rancheros.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gypsy Apple Bistro, Shelburne Falls (MA)

A special night required a good dinner out, and I picked the Gypsy Apple Bistro in Shelburne Falls. 'Twas about 13 degrees outside and so going in their cozy, warm environment was a big plus. A small room, beautiful, transports you to the Continent in all the right ways.

The menu is small, changes monthly. There were hits and misses. We especially liked the mushroom ravioli in a saffron cream sauce. The sauce was also flavored with carmelized onion, and came with greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic. The earthy flavor of the mushroom combined well with the onion and garlic. The other hit was the mussels with a riesling and shallot cream sauce. This is probably the only time in my life I've ordered two cream sauces in one sitting, see my post on carbonara below - cream to me is usually a culinary cop-out, it drowns out the other flavors (or worse, is used to cover up the lack of good flavors, such as when the other ingredients aren't at their freshest). In this case, the garlicky greens gave the ravioli dish some bitterness and bite to offset and compliment the cream. I liked that. And dipping their seriously hot bread into the riesling cream sauce was pretty sinful.

Duck confit was tasty, nothing to write home about. The venison dish wasn't as good. The venison was ok, the bigger problem was its unsatisfying red wine reduction and the accompanying horseradish mashed potatoes. Neither were very good separate (if you're going to go horseradish, don't wimp out). Together they clashed and very much tasted like they didn't belong together.

Overall, a good experience. They pour a generous wine glass and have good beers on hand. The chef was friendly and gregarious. One day we'll return, hopefully to all hits.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bucatini alla carbonara

One of my favorite mainstays, pasta alla carbonara (this time its bucatini, probably one of the most underappreciated pastas this side of the Atlantic). It's simple, comfort food, and goddamn delicious.

No cream! Every single time I've seen this dish in a restaurant there is always cream in the sauce. Unnecessary and it kills the taste. Carbonara is simply pancetta, pecorino romano, pepper, and egg. I add a bit of garlic, dry white wine, and red pepper. Do what you want with it, just don't add cream. You can't really get pancetta around here, I always pick some up when I'm in a coastal city (bought some in New Haven recently). Bacon is a substitute, definitely a second best though. Make sure you get some good slab bacon if you do.

Here's how I do it: first, whisk your eggs. 1 egg per portion. Grate some pecorino romano, a small handful per portion. Add this to the whisked eggs and mix together. Start your pasta. Along the way, temper your eggs with some of the water from the pot.

In a sautee pan: depending on the fattiness of your pancetta, add more or less olive oil. The stuff I got last is pretty lean, so I add a couple tablespoons of oil. Sautee pancetta on low heat until it renders most of its fat, then add the optional garlic and sautee till you smell its aroma (do not let it brown). Add the wine, and simmer it all on medium for a couple minutes. Add your pasta and combine in the pan. You want the pasta to get fully coated in the fat and olive oil.

When your pasta has been well coated by the oil and fat, add the egg and cheese mixture and stir to coat the pasta. Keep heat low enough that you don't get scrambled eggs but high enough to cook the eggs. Approx 1 egg per serving size. Serve hot.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Baked ziti

Normally I avoid Italian-American food like the plague. Then last night I get the crazy idea of making baked ziti, perhaps the most iconic Ital-American dish after spaghetti and meatballs. Turned out monster delicious due to the addition of fried eggplant and lots of red chili pepper. I now must admit, sometimes a crapload of garlic and mozzarella can make a palate happy.

Didn't take a picture, was too ashamed of my transgression into the red sauce world.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Braised country ribs with polenta

I wasn't real satisfied with this dish. I think white wine and sage go better with veal as saltimbocca than they do on these ribs. Country ribs braised in white wine, garlic, and sage, chunked and served over polenta.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

TJ Buckley's in Brattleboro (VT)

A mixed review of TJ Buckleys. We ate there last night and were at the same time impressed but ultimately disappointed. First, it is a lovely space, very intimate and it's always a treat to see the kitchen work (everything seemed to go quite tranquilly). The hostess and the chef were nice people.

The food was hit and miss. The appetizer plate was pate with crackers, mustard, chutney. Pretty standard stuff, but tasty and enjoyable. Our mains were scallops with fried polenta, golden beets, and pork belly; and hangar steak with mashed potatoes. The scallops were great, the polenta done well, and the pork belly tasty. The steak dish was disappointing. When it hit my table the steak had cooled to room temperature, and it had done so for two reasons: 1) it was undercooked (rare when I asked for medium rare) and 2) the chef had 4 of these finishing at the same time, and they sat on the prep table for a few minutes prior to plating. In other words, by the time it got to me it had cooled down to a degree that made the steak less enjoyable than it could have been. The steak itself was ok, nothing to write home about. Lastly, we shared a chocolate cake for dessert, which was dry and really had nothing going for it.

In addition to the food disappointments, each entree was $35. Anywhere else and these are $25 meals, particularly mine, which was no frills steak and potatoes. The emotionless cake was $7. I could justify such prices if the entrees were lights-out delicious, but they weren't, and considering the simplicity of the dishes, there didn't seem to be much to justify such prices.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Pizza alla carbonara

I wanted to do something interesting with my pizza tonight, and the terrific bacon in my fridge sparked the imagination. Next thing I knew, I had added the bacon, an egg, garlic, red pepper, and pecorino romano to my pizza. It turned out beautiful, and really, really good. The egg adds moisture and a silken texture. It's carbonara, on a pizza.

The only trick to this is to time the egg right. You can't place it on the pizza right away, or the egg will be overcooked by the time the crust is done (and vice versa). My pizza cooks for 10 minutes, so I put the egg in there at about minute 4 or 5, just enough time so that the whites turn opaque.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Green bean and potato torte, Genovese style

The Genoa area of Italy is mostly famous for pesto and basil. With that said, Liguria is famous too for using green beans and new potatoes in many of its dishes (see for example, this lasagna recipe). I made this pie from Marcella's book, and it turned out tasty - it'd go great alongside a hunk of meat and its drippings. It's probably not something that can serve as a main dish like her swiss chard torte.

The recipe goes as follows: 1/2 pounds of new potatoes, boiled then mashed. 1 pound of green beans, boiled in salted water, then chopped very fine. Combine in a bowl. Add to this 2 eggs, 1 cup parmigiano cheese, and 2 teaspoons chopped marjoram (if fresh, 1 tsp if dried). Mix well. This mixture goes in a springform pan that has a) been lubricated with olive oil and then b) breadcrumbed evenly to act as crust. Top with more breadcrumbs and drizzled olive oil. Bake for 1 hour, top rack of oven, at 350 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Frank Pepe's pizzeria, New Haven (CT)

Frank Pepe's pizzeria in New Haven is an institution, and probably the most famous pizzeria between New York and Boston. Sometimes these ancient (by American standards) pizzerie maintain their fame moreso due to their longevity and history than their actual pizza making ability. So I went into Pepe's a bit skeptical, expecting something good but probably not worth the fuss people make about it.

We went over at 4:30 in order to beat the rush and power up for an evening shopping at Ikea. We had to wait 15 minutes in their salon to get a table. Not bad. I'd skip from here directly to the pizza but for a wonderful throwback codger of a waitress that was fun in her own brusque way. She kept everyone on their toes. Anyway, the pizza. The two things I immediately noticed were the quality of the ingredients and the perfect doneness of the crust. I'd heard that Pepe's is prone to blackening your crust. Perhaps this happens, but in my case the crust came out spot on:

Slightly crispy on the outside edge, chewy everywhere else, with a slight char. Ideal. They call themselves a Napolitan pizza place, and their crust is in the Naples style. Not exactly what you'll get in Napoli, but enviably close. Back to the ingredients: it's refreshing to get a pizza where the mushrooms have flavor and the salumi aren't the overspiced pepperoni and salami that tend to dominate most pizzas in America.

In other words, Frank Pepe's is the real deal and I'll be going back for sure. Yet another reason to travel the I-91 corridor, aside from the Tim Horton's in Hartford.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chicken alla diavola

Getting grilled meat in the dead of winter (particularly the New England winter) is a nice treat, so I put my broiler to the test. Results: positive.

This was my first time dealing with a whole chicken. A bit of an adventure, but all turned out as it should. I was instructed to butterfly the chicken, which at first had me going $#@*%$, but with the help of Alton Brown and this video it was accomplished. Once butterflied, it got a bath of lemon juice and olive oil, and a rub of freshly cracked pepper (courtesy of my mortar and pestle) and sea salt. It then went in the broiler, lower rack, for maybe 45 minutes, turned over once.

Served with a side of nutmeg sweet potatoes, mashed again in the mortar.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Chilean sea bass with carrots

My lovely significant other cooked up this one. Chilean sea bass in a browned butter and lemon sauce, with scallions. Side of braised carrots with capers. Delicious!

Friday, January 18, 2008


Today's yum were crespelle filled with spinach, ham, bacon, onion, parmigiano reggiano and bechamel. Topped with more bechamel and parmigiano. In essence, these are Italian crepes (crepe:France = crespelle:Italy) with sauteed goodness added to them, rolled, and placed in an oven (top rack) for 5 minutes at 450 degrees. Then they go in the broiler for a minute or two to brown the top. Rich as hell, delicious, not at all healthy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The following photo probably looks like every other tomato-based pasta dish. But this sauce is serious. In addition, it's probably better than any puttanesca in your local Italian joint, and definitely better than what comes out of the can.

"Traditional" puttanesca doesn't call for rosemary or lemon, but I like them in this dish. They brighten it up and complement the anchovy and red pepper. This is a dish with big flavors. One big flavor I omit are olives, I don't find them necessary and they are overly salty in this already rather savory sauce. Be very careful with salt here - capers and anchovies are very salty. I don't add any salt to the dish, but your tastes may vary...

Nuts and bolts of it (no exact measurements really): olive oil and anchovy fillets go in a skillet, heat medium-low. As the anchovies soften, mash them into a paste. Add garlic and cook it until light gold, do not brown it. Add tomatoes, capers, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and rosemary. Mix well and cook at a very lazy simmer for 20 minutes or so. Before combining with your favorite pasta (spaghetti is traditional here), add lemon juice. It's important to add the lemon juice at the end or the lemon flavor cooks out and only the acidity remains.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Roast lamb with juniper berries (arrosto di agnello al ginepro)

Continuing the winter roast kick featuring Marcella Hazan. This delicious Lombard recipe featuring lamb shoulder and juniper berries. Recipe is simple: roast 2.5 lbs of lamb shoulder (bone in, 3/4" slices) with carrot, celery, and onion (2 part onion to 1 part the carrot/celery), 2 garlic cloves smashed (not chopped), 2 teaspoons of juniper berries (lightly crushed), 1 cup of white wine. Put it in a dutch oven or heavy pot, cook for 2 hours on medium low heat with lid on, turning the meat every 30 minutes. At this point my meat was done so I pulled it, and deglazed the pan with red wine. This turned into a fantastic sauce, the red mixing with the blackened lamb bits and the juniper.

Marcella instructs to cook another 1.5 hours with lid askew, but my meat was already finished at the end of the second hour. She makes no mention of the red wine reduction, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Swiss chard torte (tegliata di biete)

This is a Swiss chard torte with raisins, pine nuts, and parmigiano. Crust of breadcrumbs. Delicious!

Another gem from Marcella Hazan's book, although vastly less common according to Google. Googling "tegliata di biete" brings up practically no results, so here's my contribution to the cyberkitchen. It turned out wonderful and went mostly to Marcella's plan.

Tegliata di biete (Venetian origin). Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

2.5 lbs young Swiss chard w/ undeveloped stalks OR 3.25 lbs mature chard
Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup for cooking chard plus more for greasing and topping the pan
2/3 cup onion chopped fine
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (Buy the real thing. Parmigiano reggiano. Grate your own. Do not use pre-grated Parmesan or else this will not taste very good.)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup seedless raisins
Freshly ground black pepper
9" or 10" springform baking pan
2/3 heaping cup of unflavored bread crumbs, lightly toasted

1. If using mature chard, cut off the broad stalks and set aside [good sauteed with garlic and olive oil for a side dish!]. Cut the leaves into 1/4 inch shreds. Soak and wash the chard.
2. Boil water in a pot, using enough water and pot volume to accomodate the chard. Cook until tender, approx. 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
3. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the moisture from the chard.
4. Chop the chard very fine.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
6. Choose a sautee pan that can accomodate the chard. Put in 1/4 cup olive oil and the chopped onion. Cook at medium until the onion turns a light nut-brown.
7. Add the chopped chard, turning heat to high. Cook, turning the chard over frequently, until it becomes difficult to keep the chard from sticking to the pan (if using non-stick, you'll have to eyeball it to sense when the chard has properly heated through and become coated with the oil/onion mixture). When done, transfer entire contents to a bowl and let cool.
8. When chard has cooled to room temperature, add the grated Parmesan, the beaten eggs, and the pine nuts. Drain the raisins, squeeze them dry in your hand, and add them to the bowl. Add a few grindings of pepper. Mix thoroughly, taste and correct for pepper and salt (the Parmesan is salty, so a small pinch of salt is probably all that's necessary).
9. Smear the bottom and sides of the springform pan with olive oil. Use a little more than half the bread crumbs, spreading a thin layer evenly over the pan. Add the chard mixture, leveling it off, but not pressing it hard. Top with the remaining bread crumbs, and drizzle the top with olive oil (higher quality, the better here).
10. Put pan in preheated oven, bake for 40 minutes.
11. Remove pan, running knife edge along side of pan to release the torte. After 5 minutes rest, use a spatula to loose the torte from the pan bottom and slide it, without turning it over, onto a serving plate. Serve at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Roast pork with milk (arrosto di maiale al latte)

Roast pork with sweet potatoes. Marcella Hazan's incredibly simple recipe, comprising only of pork butt, milk, salt, and pepper. Slow roasted for two hours, the milk and the drippings form a gravy of coagulated milk clusters. It doesn't look like much, but the milk clusters are incredibly rich. Divine, even.

Arrosto di maiale al latte (Bolognese origin), adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking:

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2.5 lbs pork rib roast or 2 lbs of Boston butt
Fresh ground black pepper
2.5 cups whole milk

Do not have any fat trimmed away from either cut of meat. Most of it will melt in the cooking, basting the meat and keeping it from drying. When the roast is done, you will be able to draw it off from the pot and discard it.

1. Choose a heavy-bottomed pot (e.g. enameled cast iron) that can snugly accomodate the pork. Put in the butter and oil, turn on the heat to medium high. When the butter foam subsides, put in the meat, the side with fat facing down at first. Brown the meat well on all sides. If the butter becomes very dark, lower the heat.
2. Add salt, pepper, and 1 cup milk. Add the milk slowly so it does not boil over. Allow milk to come to a simmer for half a minute, turn the heat down to a minimum, and cover the pot with lid on slightly ajar.
3. Cook at very lazy simmer for approx. 1 hour, turning meat occasionally, until the milk has thickened, through evaporation, into a nut-brown sauce. The exact time will depend on heat and size/thickness of pot. When milk reaches this stage, add 1 more cup of milk. Let simmer 10 minutes, then cover the pot tightly with the lid.
4. After 30 minutes, set lid slightly ajar. Continue to cook at minimum heat, when there is no more liquid milk in the pot add another 1/2 cup of milk. Continuing cooking until meat feels tender and all the milk has coagulated into small nut-brown clusters. Altogether it will take 2.5 to 3 hours. If, before the meat is fully coooked, you find that the liquid in the pot has fully evaporated, add another 1/2 cup of milk and repeat above step.
5. When the pork has become tender and all the milk in the pot has thickened into dark clusters, transfer the meat to a cutting board. Let sit a few minutes, then cut into slices.
6. Tip the pot and spoon off the fat, saving the milk clusters. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water and deglace the pot. Spoon all the pot juices over the pork and serve immediately.

I had two smaller chunks of pork butt, thus my meat finished before the milk sauce. If this happens, remove the meat and simmer the milk alone. My pork wasn't especially fatty, so I kept the drippings and used it and the milk bits as my gravy. Richly delicious.