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.