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.