Saturday, May 26, 2007

Mango Madness

I seem somehow to have lifted my food curse. Dinner was really pretty great tonight. With tropical humidity here in NYC this weekend (YUCK!!!) I decided to purchase a bunch of mangoes and see what I could come up with.

Mango Gazpacho with Shrimp
This is actually much easier than it sounds because if you can dig up all of the ingredients and a blender, it's pretty hard to screw it up. Take about 8 vine-ripened tomatoes and peel them (much simpler if you cut an "x" at the bottom and blanch them for 1 minute before shocking them in an ice bath. ) Chop them up and throw them into a bowl along with half a cucumber diced, half of yellow onion diced, half of a red onion chopped, 2 pressed cloves of garlic, and 2 minced jalapenos. In a food processor, blend together the juice of 1 lemon and 3 or 4 glugs of good olive oil. Put it on pulse and pour in the bowl of veggies, chopping until it is "rustically" textured (soupy but chunky). Add the zest of one lemon, the zest of one lime, and about 4 inches of microplaned ginger, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a large bowl and stir in 2 roughly chopped mangoes and about a dozen small boiled or steamed shrimp (or you can chop up larger ones if that's all you can get). Garnish with cilantro and lime. Sweet, salty, spicy, scrumptious!

Mango and Brie Quesadillas
Do all of your prep ahead of time, with piles of mango, sliced brie, jalapenos, and cilantro ready to go so your tortillas don't burn. Get a cast-iron or nonstick toasty over medium heat. Place a tortilla on it and move quickly. On half of the tortilla, layer sliced mango, brie, minced jalapenos, and chopped cilantro and fold the other half of the tortilla over omelette style. Press down with a spatula until the top sticks to the bottom. Let it cook on that side for no more than 45 seconds and then flip. Serve it with a cool sauce made of non-fat sour cream, the juice of 1 lime, lime zest, and chopped cilantro and garnish with a few more slices of mango. This dish is both refreshing and decadent. (Oh, and you might have noticed my dog Ben hiding underneath the table; he LOVES mangoes!)

If you're looking for a wine pairing for all of this (or if you're too tired to blend up some margaritas or Cran-quilas!), I suggest Cambrago's Soave Classico 2005. As the wine store clerk said, if you can deal with the fact that it's got Soave written on the label, it's actually a really great wine, and a nice bargain at $13.95.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Food curse?

Oh, friends. Your resident truffle pig is going through a rough patch. As if my earlier post about osso bucco bungling and tiramisu trauma weren't enough, I had a veritable salt cod catastrophe this evening. Sure it looks good (see inlaid photo) and sure 70% of it tasted great, but the cod pieces themselves were practically inedible. Thing is: I can't figure out where I went wrong. I soaked the cod overnight and shredded it just like I have in the past. I think it might have just been a bad cut of salt-cod. From here on in, I'm sticking to fresh scrod for this recipe.

"Flaky Fish of Some Sort" Biscaino:
Heat up some olive oil over medium high heat with some red pepper flakes and anchovies. Once the anchovies melt, drop in diced carrots, celery, and onions and some sliced garlic, sauteing until they start to caramelize a bit. Deglaze with Vermouth and pour in a can of crushed roasted tomatoes. Stir it up and let it get a little bubbly before you stir in some saffron, cinnamon, and ground cloves. Lay the shredded fish in the mixture and cook until it gets flaky. Pour in some capers, green olives, and some boiled new potatoes. Once their warm, garnish with parsely and serve over rice.

Two Italian Meals

I think I've cooked (and dined out at) much more Italian this year than in years past. I have no idea why. The only reasons I could come up with happen to directly negate each other. Either (1) the presence of CSA produce in my life makes me want to cook and eat food that showcases freshness (which Italian does well) or (2) my inability, as of late, to go grocery shopping on a regular basis has forced me to rely heavily on pantry ingredients (which, with its dried pastas, canned tomatoes, etc, Italian cuisine naturally excels at).

At any rate, I cooked for K, E, and L for L's birthday schindig last week...the whole thing was sort of a culinary failure on my part but, with enough wine, few people complain about free food.

A list of my idiocy:
  • I made a mushroom ragout for some polenta patties and I FORGOT TO BUY CREAM TO THICKEN THE MUSHROOM SAUCE!!!
  • After whipping up the ingredients for this Tiramisu recipe, I delegated assembly to E and I FORGOT EXACTLY HOW LONG THE LADYFINGERS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE SOAKED!
There's more, but it just hurts to much to think back :)

I made up for my sins last night by cooking well for K.

Here's my Linguine alla Vongole:
Saute sliced garlic, minced anchovies, and a few red pepper flakes in a healthy amount of olive oil on a medium-high heat. Let it all get golden and yummy, taking it off the heat to make sure it doesn't burn. Deglaze with some white wine and lemon juice and then pour in a can of high-quality clams. Stir and give the ingredients some time to get to know each other under a lid and over some low heat. Boil up the pasta and drop a splash of the pasta water into the clam sauce. Mix the drained pasta into the sauce and pour on a glug on high quality olive oil off the heat. Garnish with parsley.

Preserved Salad: (see above picture!)
So, this simple salad is just mesclun, tomatoes, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, anchovies, and parsely doused with a vinaigrette made from rustic mustard, balsamic vinegar, orange blossom honey, lemon juice, and pistachio oil. Yum.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Boston, Day 2: Rachel Ray saves the day?

The Neighborhood Restaurant
After spending a few morning hours in the hotel hot-tub, K, E, and I went to meet some of E's grad school friends for brunch. The Neighborhood Restaurant is known for serving hearty breakfast fare at student-friendly prices. The entrees (between $5 and $12) are all served with orange juice, coffee, cream of wheat, and a virtually unfinishable main course. I ordered the "Portuguese Breakfast," tempting it me as it was with a bevy of unorthodox breakfast items. It came with two poached eggs, linguiƧa sausages, 3 croquettes (shrimp, cod, and some sort of cheese), and some sort of dark entrail meat (blood sausage?). Oh yeah, AND rice and beans.

While the eggs were perfectly poached (runny yolk getting absorbed by the yummy rice and beans) and the linguiƧa was spicy and flavorful, I wasn't wild about the croquettes and I really had a hard time with the unidentified entrails. But such is the risk that accompanies my ordering antics. The real star here is the cream of wheat appetizer that precedes the whole meal. It's creamy, cinnamony, and just a little bit citrusy, warm and comforting without being sedating.

With our tummies stuffed to capacity, it was time to hit Boston proper. E had us walk the freedom trail to provide a very scenic route to our eventual dining destination in the North End. En route, I had to sample some fresh crab from a street market a block away from the Holocaust memorial. $2 for a large condiment cup worth of steamed crab. I hit it with some lime and hot sauce and yum.

Seeing the line form outside Giacomo's an hour before the restaurant opens at 5pm makes one want to curse Rachel Ray for featuring this North End Italian Restaurant on her $40 a day. But here's the kicker: the lines were as long before the place became a Food Network celebrity. Don't worry about the line, though. If you can get there before opening I can't imagine you'd ever have to wait more than an hour, and I've waited at least that long just waiting to be taken to my reserved table at New York hotspots like Mesa Grill. And while I'm really not one for schmoozing with strangers, our incredibly friendly fellow line-mates made the time whizz by.

After waiting from 4:15-5pm (and seeing the line stretch around the block) until we were ushered in for the first seating, it was easy to see why the place was so popular: massive plates of delicious pasta at super-reasonable prices served up by hysterical no-nonsense waitresses who know their food and the neighborhood. I ordered the house specialty: the Frutti di Mare ($18). It is a plate of mussels, shrimp, calamari, clams, and scallops served on top of a bed of linguini and topped with the Fra Diavolo sauce (basically a spicy lobster-based marinara). It was simple and delicious. The seafood was all superfresh and pefectly steamed and the sauce was flavorful and just spicy enough (though I regretted not trying out their Scampiorgiacomo's sauce which is a lobster-based marinara with bechamel). The linguini itself was nothing to write home about, but the K's Butternut Squash Ravioli and E's Lobster Ravioli definitely impressed.

The meal for 4, with a bottle of wine, came to $80. It was a perfect way to end our fabulous 36-hour trip to Bah-ston (though I should warn all prospective Giacomo patrons: the lite fm they blast hovers in that delicate balance between comical and fully intolerable).

But you can't end a trip without dessert!!! Armed with our waitress's recommendation, we strolled over to Cafe Graffiti for some sweets. As I've mentioned here before, I don't have a dessert stomach so I certainly wasn't ready for the cannolis and cakes they had on display. I was, however, fully prepared for a cappuccino with a shot of amaretto.

And that, as they say, was that. Thanks E, C, and K for a great trip!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Boston, Day 1: Peanut-butter burgers?

I spent Friday and Saturday in Boston (and Cambridge) with E, K, and C. It was pretty much 36 hours worth of eating and drinking, with just a dash of sleep thrown in for good measure. Here's what we stuffed our stomachs with:

A cute little sandwich shop a few blocks from the mighty Charles. The place names its menu after the local streets (which I discovered shortly after lunch when we passed the intersection of the two sandwiches I was choosing between). I ended up going for the Gerry, a Reubenesque (come on, how good is that allusion!) sourdough treat with hot pastrami, melted swiss, cole slaw, and thousand island dressing. As someone who feels compelled to every last bit of food I order, I was glad to see the portion-size was reasonable. Enough to fill me up but not quite enough to make me rue the day I was born. I washed it all down with an organic all-natural Cream soda.

Burdick Chocolate
We stopped in here for some quick sweet treats. While I wasn't in love with the ultra-cute handmade chocolates themselves (I suppose I'm spoiled by NYC's Vosges with its exotic flavor combinations), the iced hot chocolate certainly earned a place on my top 5 chocolate beverages.

Boston Beer Works
shark, marinated in Beer Works® We came here to stuff ourselves with enough grub to keep our stomachs from pestering us during the show we were catching that night. We only ordered from the appetizer column but the portions were certainly entree-sized. I ordered the Maco Shark Skewers: Fresh Mako marinated in Raspbeery Ale, grilled with tomatoes, onions & served with jasmine rice & fruit salsa. The very fresh fruit salsa and grilled tomatoes were excellent, with the latter popping with flavor in the mouth, but I was torn on the shark itself. The pieces seemed to come from very different parts of the sharks, as some were juicy and tender (like swordfish at its best) and others were more cartilaginous and tough. For some reason, the marinade was a little vinegary for my taste, but when I let some of the rice absorb it, I got more of the berry and less of the vinegar. I also nibbled from E & K's obscenely large half-portion of nachos, with dips placed conventiently in side-dishes instead of slopped on top in a goey mess.

Bukowski Tavern
With a kitchen open very late and a spinnable beer wheel for the indecisive, Bukowski's made for the perfect post-show dinner. There was one item on the menu staring at me like a dare: the Peanut-Butter Burger. Just a simple burger with the usual trimmings, except the patty was covered in chunky peanut-butter. A-mazing! One of those so-wrong-it's-right dishes. And yes, I know, peanut-butter and beef are combined all the time in various Asian cuisines. But, as many beef satay skewers as I've downed in the past, I was still surprised and delighted by the improbable taste of medium-rare meat with the salty goodness of the peanut puree. The crunch of the peanuts also gave the dish a lot of textural pleasure. I washed it all down with an equally rich oatmeal stout. I'm eager to try this dish at home with some of our left over CSA ground beef, though I'd by lying if I said I wasn't tempted to try to squeeze some jam between those buns :)

That's it for day 1. Day 2, or "Rachel Ray saves the day!", will be posted in the next few days.