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.