Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Forever Autumn

A bunch of people at Nigella.com joked a little while back how summer is completely overrated, and they preferred the coolness of autumn or even the cold that winter brings -- though I doubt that some of them have experienced New York blizzards! LOL. They even said that Nigella's next book should be called Forever Autumn. Though I don't really like cool weather, detest rain, there is just something so wonderful about the first cool days after a sweltering summer. Today was grey all day. The rain outside was more like a mist - almost made you feel like you were walking through a sprinkler. You smell autumn in the air. The salad days are far behind and all people could think about is hot chocolate, warm duvets, popcorn, tea with milk and honey.

With the ricotta I had left over from Tom's spaghetti recipe, I felt like I had to make something before it went to waste. I thought perhaps Nigella's baked pasta shells with ricotta and spinach, but I couldn't find jumbo shells after work. Then I looked up 'ricotta' in the index to Apples for Jam and thus I started on my journey of lovely autumn cooking.

The only entry under 'ricotta' is Ricotta Gnocchi. I love gnocchi, but I was a bit dubious about making it myself, and most importantly, if it would be any good or not. I looked at the ingredients and figured that if it was a waste, I wouldn't have ruined loads of expensive ingredients.

Well, it was ridiculously easy! Tessa says to serve it with tomato pesto, but I didn't
really feel like blitzing so took my time in making a lovely and aromatic tomato sauce. Have a look yourself!

(click on the pic to see the lovely texture of the gnocchi! Trust me!)

And here's the recipe I came up with, if you're interested. Tessa's recipe, of course, was not adapted in any way. When I made it for myself, I quartered the recipe to make one serving, but I am including the ingredients for two servings.

Giacomo's Ricotta Gnocchi with Homemade Rosemary Tomato Sauce -- serves 2

Homemade Rosemary Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary
1 small onion, chopped finely
about 1 cup passata (sieved tomatoes)
about 1/4 cup water
sea salt to taste

In a small pan, warm extra virgin olive oil. Add the garlic and rosemary. Let the flavor of the oil develop on a gentle heat for about five minutes. Add the onion to the pan with some sea salt. Put the lid on and let the onions sweat for five minutes. Then, add the passata and water. Add a bit more sea salt and bring to a boil. Then simmer covered on a very low heat for ten minutes. Keep warm while you get on with the gnocchi.

Ricotta Gnocchi: (from Apples for Jam)

250g (9 oz.) good-quality ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
50g (1 3/4 oz.) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 quantity Homemade Rosemary Tomato Sauce (above)
Parmesan shavings to serve
Handful pine nuts

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Mix together the ricotta, parmesan, flour and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. With lightly floured hands, roll out the dough into thin sausages (about 1.5 cm/ 5/8 inch thick). Try to avoid adding extra flour or your gnocchi will be tough. Cut with a sharp knife into little dumplings and about 2 cm (3/4 inch) long.

Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and cook for about 45 seconds until they float to the surface. As they bob up, lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them into warmed serving bowls. Drizzle on sauce and then pine nuts and a few parmesan shavings.

** I was so excited about sharing these recipes that I forgot to mention how delicious this was! Sooo delicious! I thought the gnocchi would be bland bland bland, but they weren't! Not in the slightest; they were light and fantastic! I think Tessa says they are something like fluffy pillows - what an accurate description. And not to toot my own horn, but TOOT TOOT! My sauce was fab! Mmmmmm.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

I've run out of clever post titles! (But can think of some naughty ones!)

Sunday was a complete washout. It seemed to rain from morning to night; and the summer seems to be waning here as it was the first time in months that I had to put on a sweatshirt to go out. I looked on the bright side and knew that now was the time I could make the recipes I was saving for cooler weather. I did some baking and cooking out of Apples for Jam, but also wanted to make a warming soup for lunchtime.

114. Potato, cabbage and chorizo soup - *Soup*

This particular soup caught my eye because it just looked like it would be really good. My mouth would salivate at the thought of frying up onions and chorizo. As mentioned in previous times, I am not really a hot dog/sausage person at all. Chorizo is just about the only thing that doesn't make me gag - and thank goodness for that, because we have located some fabulous chorizo here in New York; chorizo that even my Spanish hubby happens to love.

The soup is very simple and works on building layers of flavor. First, you fry thin chorizo slices in a dry pan so that they release their fat and oil. Once they are crispy, you set them aside.

You use the oil from the chorizo to gently sweat some onions and garlic. This is about the time that the apartment started to smell HEAVENLY! Sorry for the CAPS, but oh my, did it smell good!

Then you add some chopped peeled potatoes (floury ones, not waxy ones!) and a mugful of water. This is brought to a boil and then left to simmer for about 20 minutes.

Then, finally, you add some chopped savoy cabbage leaves...

and the fried chorizo. You add more water and boil the soup until the greens are tender. We were a bit hungry at this point, so I have to admit to rushing things a bit. I served up the soup when the greens were just tender. Al dente would be a nicer way to describe them, LOL.

The soup was delicious but I guess not as good as it could have been. I blame the fact that I added too much water, as I don't really like thick soups, and the fact that I didn't leave the greens long enough to be really tender. However, the broth and potatoes and chorizo were really good.

I imagine this soup is the type that you slowly cook for a bit longer, and it really makes the flavor develop.

A lazy Sunday like yesterday was the perfect environment for that type of cooking, but we just happened to be really hungry! LOL.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Holy Mackerel!

Improvisation is key to innovation in the kitchen. Considering how picky I am, and how I would have to improvise in the kitchen if I didn't want to go hungry, then I must be getting to be a great innovator!

In the Stir Fries chapter, Tom includes a recipe for Mackerel and Ginger as a perfect accompaniment to stir-fries. Not being a fishy person at all, I couldn't face eating a non-familiar fish and a whole one at that! I instead focused on a fish I didn't have too much of a problem with -- salmon.

113. Mackerel and Ginger (but with salmon) - Stir Fries

Since I wasn't cooking a whole fish, I had to work around it but still give the salmon the same essence the mackerel would have.

I decided to combine all the ingredients for the fish in a paste first, rather than drizzling it over. The sauce consisted of minced garlic and ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice and chilli flakes.

I cooked the salmon a la Tom's grilled fish instructions, using the 'hot pan/hot oven' method. Before I put the salmon in the oven, I pasted the sauce on it. I baked it in the hot oven for just a few minutes, and it was done! Nigella helped out with dinner too; I made her lovely Lemon Rice from Forever Summer. Apart from lemon juice and zest, the rice is wonderfully flavored with turmeric and dried mint.

The two together were really lovely. Salmon is usually bland, but the sauce flavored it beautifully. As good as it was, I don't think salmon is my thing. I just can't get excited about it. But for salmon fans, or fish fans, the sauce for the fish is really punchy and yummy. You should definitely give it a go.

Rafa liked the meal too... I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was starving, plus he was in a particulary good mood because his soccer (whoops, football!, sorry!) team won the Super Cup or something ridiculous like that. Sorry, had to add that part into my blog, otherwise he wouldn't talk to me.

Now we have a lovely weekend to enjoy.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

It's not easy being Pluto!

We all sometimes feel the we're not really in the club! We all have our off days - those days where nothing seems right. I've had those off days for a long long time now, and I have no idea why. I hardly cook. The only thing that comforts me is the risotto I make now with practically my eyes closed. I am a full-fledged member of the Risotto Club, if there really was one actually. Well as bad as my day could be, at least I could say I don't have it bad as Pluto.

Pluto just got booted out of the planet club - that's right, Pluto is not a planet anymore. Hmmmn. Well some days I may not feel like human, but I bleed and I get headaches and get into arguments with my spouse, so yes, I am a human. Well all I could say is, at least I'm not Pluto. Poor Pluto , I need to send him/her a bowl of risotto. I've made history today too; I made it in 15 minutes! That has to be like a risotto-making record!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ta Dum! (The Return of The Procrastinator)

With my friends now gone and no real reason not to be home, the procrastination has to come to an end -- NOW!

I flicked through Cupboard Love to get an idea of what I will be cooking... it's still pretty hot here so many things did not appeal, like the whole Soup chapter.

I had remembered a pasta dish I quite liked when I was cooking at Lisa's in Florida, so I made a variation of the recipe.

112. Spaghetti with Ricotta and Herbs (variation) - *Pasta*

There are a few suggestions for variations that Tom gives -- asparagus, broccoli, peas, broad beans, arugula, or my choice, baby spinach.

Spinach and ricotta go hand in hand in lasagna or pasta with shells, so I thought, why not?

As before, the preparation was very simple. While the pasta was boiling, I took out a few tablespoons of pasta water and mixed it with ricotta so that the cheese melted to make a sort of creamy sauce. I added pecorino this time, to ensure the sauce would be salty enough, plus some chilli flakes, as I wasn't catering to kiddies this time. I also chose oregano for this time, because basil around my parts never looks very pretty. With a tablespoon each of lemon juice and olive oil, the sauce was done.
I tossed it through the pasta with the chopped spinach, and the preparation was done!

This was really tasty! I think, though, that I should continue catering to kiddies' tastes as it was a taaaad too spicy for me, and this is after quartering the chilli flakes amount. Man, Tom, you like things spicy - wow! You know I was never a big fan of ricotta -- I always found it bland and bla. But this recipe really showcases it. I just love spaghetti, mmm.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

But enough about me... (A week in pictures and food!)

I love cute little turtles now -- my most recent purchase is a T-shirt with a very cute turtle on it. It says on top, 'Shut the Shell Up'. I wore it to work on Friday. You shoulda seen my boss' face. LOL.

Since I had to work the entirety of the last few days that Lorena and Isaac were here, I only got a chance to join them for the evenings.

Day 5

We we went to one of my favorite haunts, Dojo. There are two in NYC; by Washington Square Park and in St. Mark's Place. I just love Dojo. It is good, it is cheap (!!!), there is always a lively crowd because it seems to cater to college students' appetites and budgets!

The menu is a mix between American, Japanese and Mediterranean. And sometimes there's fusion. For instance, Lorena got a burger, in a pita, with a salad that had sprouts and that had Dojo's signature carrot-tahini dressing. The dressing is similar to the ones in Japanese restaurants - you know the ones that come with the basic lettuce salads and you always say 'on the side' but you end up drowning your leaves in it. Yes, that dressing! Mmmm.

I decided to go all veggie and had an ALT - avocado lettuce tomato. Mine was in a CHALLAH! roll. Yum yummy. The only annoying thing about the sandwiches section of the menu, as opposed to the burgers section, is that you don't really get a side salad or french fries, so of course I had all of Rafa's! YUM! In case you haven't caught on, New York visitors, Dojo - highly recommended!

Oh and forgot to mention, before Dojo, the gang, sans me, had hot dogs. You can't come to New York and not have one of these beauties.

The funny thing about hot dogs is that I absolutely love the idea of them, the smell of them, the thought of all those fixins on top - but when I eat them, I just feel so awful afterwards. And not just vendor hot dogs, all hot dogs! Those stupid times when I convince myself I will not get sick from them, about halfway through I get a mental image of how they are prepared and just get totally grossed out; I can't even finish them. Is it a mind over matter thing? Hmmn. Well if I ever figure out this conundrum, I think I should tackle the burger.

Day 6

Day 6 did not comprise of a lot of eating, at least not on my part. The gang had gone to lunch at Olive Garden, in Times Square, and were still at it when I was done at work. They utilized the 'endless breadsticks and salads' policy to its fullest extent. By the time I had arrived at the restaurant, they were on their fourth salad!

Now that's what I love about Olive Garden. Apart from the fact that yes, endless breadsticks and salad means endless breadsticks and salad, the food is really good! I may get a lot of rolling eyes at that comment but let's get real. What do you really want from an eating experience? Good food and good service, right? Well who bloody cares that it's a chain restaurant and all tourists flock to it. I always have had delicious food and impeccable service at Olive Garden. Maybe my tastes are not as refined as others, but I know what I like, and Olive Garden has got it for me. I always get the portabello mushroom ravioli - yum! Recently, I tried their risotto. Also very very good! I just really have no patience for people who love to jump on the let's-hate-chain-restaurants bandwagon just because. If you have a valid reason, then fine, but don't go ahead and be hatin' just because everybody else seems to be doing it. Be an individual, know what you like and don't like. Ok, rant over. LOL.

Day 7

Now that I've taken a deep breath, let me tell you about Day 7! Oh just let me tell you!

Without sounding too much like a oh-my-life-is-so-fabulous-be-jealous-of-me-now blogger, let me just tell you that my life is just so fabulous and you're going to be jealous of me now!! Haha! I live fairly close, that is walking distance, from the most wonderful Turkish restaurant in New York - and I mean it, New York! I've mentioned Sahara before when I made Tom's red lentil soup, because all I could imagine doing then was dipping Sahara's fab bread into the soup. Well my foodie dreams were realized.

To celebrate Rafa's first day at work (yay!), the four of us went to Sahara for dinner. I love going to a restaurant that I've been to many times before and knowing exactly what we should order. Well the starters were eggplant spread, shepherd's salad, and hummus. My family has been going here for years, something like almost 20 I think, mainly because it reminds us of the food from Israel, and the bread, wow!

I had a bit of a stomach ache so only ordered soup as my entree. My eyes instantly focused on 'Red Lentil Soup'. I was thinking, oh I know this soup. If you remember, Tom said his version was inspired by the Soup of the Day at his local Turkish restaurant. The one I had at Sahara was practically the same, only the lentils were pureed, so what I got was this intense, rich and lovely soup. This time I had 'the' bread on the side, and it was perfect together. Rafa and Lorena got the Sahara shish kebabs. The meat is so tender and you could taste the smokiness of the barbecue on them. Rice is usually what is served with kebabs and other main dishes. Sahara's rice is buttery and fluffy - it is not the typical long grain rice. My mom buys Turkish rice, so it has to be something else, although I do not know what. Isaac got some grilled chicken. That's always a good thing!

All in all a fabulous restaurant and eating experience. I could have been rude and not mentioned Sahara at all for fear that it would become too crowded with new customers, but it already is so there is nothing I could do about it. Since we started going it has expanded on both sides and added a garden eating area and an upstairs. Good restaurants should do well; I'm glad to call this one a neighborhood favorite.

Day 8

I was Ms. Crankypants on Day 8 because I was just soooo tired; you'd be surprised how un-fun shopping gets to be when you do it every single day for an entire week. Well thankfully my mood brightened when we had some yummy food at a great Cuban place we have gone to quite often - Havana Central. I usually get a Cuban sandwich with a heap of sweet potato fries -- can you say YUM!? But, this time around I got Pollo Al Ajillo with yellow rice and red beans. It was good but not fantastic! Ah, should have gone for my usual.

Day 9

I cooked! Finally! I think the tourists were tired of eating out every single day, so I think they were looking forward to a home-cooked meal. In the last few days we have eaten Italian, Japanese (kinda), Chinese, Mexican, Turkish, and Cuban. If my friends ever wondered what foodie delights New York City had to bring, they need not wonder anymore. I took them to all my favorite places.

So back to dinner. A bunch of fellow N.com'ers are cooking out of Feast's Ultimate Feasts and Partytime chapters. I made a gorgeous ultimate feast - crunchy pork chops with garlicky spinach and tomato salad. The pork chops are dipped in an egg mixture of egg (durr!), dijon mustard and oregano. They are then coated with breadcrumbs mixed in with some grated parmesan.

The dinner was a great success... It brought a smile to this domestic goddess to see Isaac pick up a chop at the end and eat almost every last bit. The salad was garlicky and perfect with the crunchy chops - yum!

Day 10

I brought bagels! No New York experience is complete without some fresh Brooklyn bagels! I got up and went out while some were still sleeping (rum 'n' coke hangover) to get some fresh bagels from Bagel Boy, known for its fab bagels and long lines! Well the line wasn't too long, and the bagels were fantastic! I picked up some cream cheese and egg salad too. Yummy breakfast! The bagels were soft, chewy, and warm. Mmmm.

After breakfast we got some sun and surf at the beach, and then joined the rest of my family for dinner at my mom's. It was a full lunch Russian-style. Vareniki, salad olivé, eggplant spread, zharkoi (a type of veal stew with potatoes), avocado spread, etc. I made some Challah! for the occasion. Lovely.

Afterwards we went into Times Square for a last look, and had some awesome elevator-riding experiences at the Marriot Marquis. We apparently weren't 'business casual' enough for The View restaurant - that revolving thingamigy restaurant. But the elevators were awesome.

The Spaniards, hubby included, were a bit hungry - I won't tell my mom, it's a sin to be hungry after a meal at her place! They put out a whole Spanish spread complete with Spanish wine.

Ok, maybe barbecue Pringles aren't that Spanish - but these Spaniards eat potato chips with everything!!! I am not a wine drinker, but I was convinced to at least have some tinto - Sprite with red wine. It was actually very nice! Now it's 12:43am and they are still talking - take that rum away from them!!! LOL. They leave tomorrow. :( It'll be sad without them here. We've had someone to hang out with for the last 10 days, so it will be very quiet. We've had some good times and really good food. And now, I'll actually have to cook something for once!

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Spanish Invasion - Day 4

Day 4 was my last free day to hang out with my Spanish friends. With most of the major monuments already seen, we focused on some shopping and people-watching. We started in Union Square and went to Filene's Basement and DSW for some retail therapy - I picked up a fetching pink polka dot shopping trolley! The view from the store was really beautiful too!

Betcha didn't know you could get such a view from Filene's Basement! :)

After taking advantage of great markdowns, we walked down to Noho and Soho, stopping first at Max Brenner's new chocolate shop. I had reached chocolate nirvana!! Max Brenner is an Israeli that has a few chocolate stores in Israel; this store just off Union Square is his American debut. Brenner's belief is to make chocolate eating an experience onto itself. I like his philosophy!

A few blocks down and we were sampling the gorgeous drinks at the previously mentioned Aroma café. I had gone back there specificially for the iced chocolate, and it did not disappoint.

After walking around the shops in Soho, we made our way to Chinatown. Now, this was the disappointment of the entire day. Well, unsurprisingly, Chinatown was packed to the gills. I think Lorena and Isaac were overwhelmed by the noise and foot traffic. Lorena did take some nice foodie shots - you can't beat chinatowns when it comes to cheap and good produce and fish!

But, the worst part was the food! Now if you never thought anyone could possibly eat badly in Chinatown, think again. We headed down Mott Street to our fave Chinese restaurant, Wo Hop. This restaurant is steps down in a basement type of atmosphere - not the best decor, but the food is top-notch, and just as important, cheap as chips! There was a HUGE line to get down there (we think it is now popular through word-of-mouth and the signs which weren't there before), so we went to the above ground Wo Hop, where the chef is supposedly downstairs Wo Hop's son. I had some General Tso's shrimp which wasn't too bad, but the three had fried rice, and it just didn't taste good! I really hope to bring them to the real Wo Hop while they are here; and if anyone is reading this and in New York, downstairs Wo Hop is mine, all mine, don't go there!!!!

We called it a day after that -- we took the train all the way to the beach for some relaxation on the sand and a walk on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. I'm hoping to feature Brighton Beach on a soon-to-come stop on the Magical Culinary Tour, but here's a bit of sneak preview beforehand.

The boys were still hungry after our disappointing meal, so they dished up some Sevilla-ish sandwiches at home. Big baguette + jamon serrano + tomatoes + oregano = two happy Spaniards!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Spanish Invasion - Day 3

After all the walking we have been doing we decided to take Day 3 easy. Rafa was at work in the morning, so I cooked up a lovely American-style breakfast.

These are Tessa Kiros' Sauteed Potatoes with Egg from Apples for Jam. Sooooo yummy! The potatoes are first boiled and then sauteed in garlic and oil and sage. Mmmmmmm. This was loved by all!

After a bit of lounging around, all of us headed back into the city.

This time we would make Uptown our playground. We went to the fantastic and huge shops on
57th street and 5th avenue -- Lorena's favorite was The Disney Store. She's a confessed Winnie-the-Pooh-holic! As you could see, I got some honeybear action as well!

For some reason, Rafa just wouldn't quit 'monkeying' around... he just wouldn't let go of his monkey.

Rafa, why can't you do it? Why can't you set your monkey free??

We stopped quickly at Rockerfeller Center....

passing an awesome chocolate shop on the way!

Then, we grabbed some takeout, made-to-order, burritos and tacos at Chipotle and headed to picnic at Central Park.

We found a nice shady spot near Wollman Rink, and enjoyed our burritos and tacos with some fun music from below.

The food was yummy and just what we needed as we were all pretty starved at that point...
sitting on the blanket and just enjoying each other's company was all we needed to end the day.

(Damn you, Isaac, I wanted people to think these pictures aren't staged!!!)

After all that food and laying around, I needed to let out a big yawn!! Ah, on to Day 4!