Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dinner Out at One-41 Trattoria

You may think I am always in a cooking mood. Nope! Only when I have an idea of what I want to eat or have inspiration from a cookbook or magazine and the foresight to procure ingredients. Lots of times WSH just "handles it." Sometimes we treat ourselves to a meal out, which is what happened last night. We visited Trattoria One-41 for I guess about the 4th time -- and sorry-- I don't take pictures of food in restaurants  - they would be unviewable anyway LOL. For those of you in this area, it is located on 141 (get it?) just north of the intersection with Medlock/State Bridge. It's a small place but very cozy, nicely appointed and comfortable. No doubt this is not geared for a young hip crowd, but it isn't a blue hair place either. They serve dinner only and request that only children over 14 be brought along.  From our experience, the service has always been friendly, knowledgeable and just the right amount of attentive. No hovering, no disappearing. There is a decent wine list and maybe other beverages but I never read past the white wines, so I couldn't tell ya.

Soon after you are seated they bring out some fresh from the oven bread, crunchy crust and soft inside (maybe ciabatta,, not sure) and with this bread comes something truly amazing. Its a spicy tomato sauce with some basil and a glob of goat cheese in it. Now I confess those who know me, know I HATE HATE! goat cheese, it usually tastes the way goats smell... But not this cheese.. it is subtle and very very creamy and blends perfectly with the spicy tomato sauce. I have considered asking the name of the cheese, but decided I don't want to know. I want it to be a special thing I can only get here.. It's sooooo good.

We started with the antipasti which the menu said was for two but could have easily fed four. Presented on a board, we received olives, 3 kinds of cheeses, some red and white grapes (which we think were wine grapes- not sweet like supermarket grapes) and some really fine meat products. There was fried pancetta, which we arm wrestled over, there was a lovely prosciutto, some mortadella and beef carpaccio and a couple of slices of different types of cured meats i.e. salami.  Wonderful flavors, perfectly complementing each other.

For our main dishes I chose the Chicken Marsala and WSH the Cannelloni. The chicken wasn't flat pounded breast as is usually done, it was the breast filet but with the wing bone attached. Perfectly seasoned with herbs and resting on a bed of creamy cheesy polenta with the perfect Marsala sauce over all. It was very tender and so rich with flavors, a little sweetness from the marsala, the earthy mushrooms and the creamy polenta. Yum!

The Cannelloni is stuffed with braised beef short rib meat, garnished with blue cheese and served with a bechamel sauce and the braising jus. This is usually what I get but I wanted to try something different. It was as tasty as I remembered when I sampled it last night. Since we didn't order a salad we shared a side plate of garlicky sauteed spinach which was very simple but very tasty.

Needless to say we took home leftovers. But it was a reasonably priced dinner with great service in a relaxed atmosphere. If you live around me, give them a  try! You can check their menu in the link.

Their website

See you soon, will start cooking Easter in the next day or so.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bouchon Potato Leek Soup -- Take 2

It was a bit chilly today, with a blustery wind and I felt some soup was in order. As you may remember, I tried this once before. I had a bunch of leftover leeks from making the brunoise the other day and thought I'd try again. This time I stood, unwavering, by my pan and stirred my little spoon off. Nothing like a little soup making to get one's self out of a funk. Yes, soup is my favorite comfort food when I'm having a pity party. Whether it's Pho or Matzoh ball soup, Italian wedding soup or Potato-Leek or Chicken tortilla (the list is endless), soup is my favorite food of all time. So here we go on our "If at first you don't succeed, try try again" adventure.  CR- we will explore this later LOL

The cast of characters:
Leeks, shallots, onions, garlic, chives, 1 potato, 5-6 c chicken stock, a sachet of leek leaves, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns, some butter and salt and pepper, 3/4 c cream and a little olive oil for garnish.

I will never understand why this is called Potato-Leek soup. The onion team clearly out-numbers the Spuds.

Melt the butter and throw in the leeks, shallots and onions, season with S&P Let them sweat over medium heat for about 5 minutes Stand by your pan! 

Add the garlic and cook another minute.
Add the sachet and the potato (sliced) and cook about 5 min.

Add the chicken stock and bring to simmer, cook until potatoes are tender, about 30 min.

When tender, remove and discard the sachet. Then, working in batches, ladle a small portion of the soup into a blender and starting on a slow speed, slowly work your way up to the fastest speed until it's pureed, placing each batch into a cleaned pan. Just one pan, but a clean one LOL.

Bring it to a simmer and add the warmed cream. If you are serving the soup warm, stir in the chopped chives, reserving enough to garnish each bowl.

To plate, ladel into the bowl and garnish with chives, a grind of pepper and a little drizzle of olive oil.

This is a wonderful soup, so smooth and creamy. The leeks add a tang and the cream a touch of sweetness. Even though the Spud Team was far outnumbered, It certainly held it's own. Potatoes are the best EVER!
I read in Cook's Illustrated that this recipe was the first one Julia Child chose for her tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It is an easy soup, really, and can be served hot or cold (as Vichysoisse). Definite make again, and I laughed when I read all the Cook's Illustrated research... All they needed to do was read the Bouchon Cookbook because that's exactly what they ended up with.

Soup = Home = Love = Life
See you soon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TFL- Pan Roasted Scallops with Morel Mushrooms and Asparagus Puree

I've stopped numbering The French Laundry posts, math confuses me as I've told you before. Anyway, here we are with MORE asparagus. It will be a miracle if I don't have gout before March Madness ends. I finally saw fresh Morels in the market and knew this was on the menu. Morels, like Truffles and Chanterelles (I'm pretty sure about Chanterelles) cannot be cultivated; they must be harvested in the wild. Because of that, they are rather rare and very, very seasonal, and thus, quite pricey. $39.99/lb on these babies.

This was fewer than the recipe requires but rather than make 6 small plate servings (as would be appropriate for a 9 course meal) I went heavy on the scallops per plate and this was the right amount of morels for us; this was our supper.  Besides... $39.99/lb!  Not truffletastic but wallet shrinking nonetheless.
OK so you soak them in 2 changes of water and then cook them in a bit of broth until tender and then dice them. I did this ahead of time. Sorry I don't have a picture of the diced morels worthy of posting.
On with the rest of the mise en place... One of these days I'll get educated and fancy and be able to post text onto photos and save a lot of this verbage....

Up there we have a ton of brunoise (carrot, turnip and dark leek leaves -- I only needed 2 T) we have tomato diamonds, which actually look more like squares, asparagus tips, minced mushrooms, 2 cloves smashed garlic, 1 T minced shallots, asparagus stalks and chicken broth. All veggies except the garlic and shallots have been blanched and then put into an ice bath to preserve color.

We also have thyme and some chives from my garden!! YAY Spring:

Of course the recipe also calls for a lot of butter, some kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper... Oh and don't forget the canola oil (gotta watch those calories LOL) and what else??? Scallops!

After mincing the chives, I pureed the asparagus stalks with a few T of broth. Then I set the puree into a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl for excess liquid to drain.

Then I rinsed and trimmed the scallops, dried them and seasoned them. Bad picture, I know.. waiting for my birthday :)   when the camera fairy will visit me!

The remaining steps I failed to photograph until the final plating. Everything comes together very quickly at the end of this recipe. The morels, garlic and thyme are sauteed in butter about 2 minutes, then the garlic and thyme are removed, chives, shallots and brunoise added, cooked a couple of minutes then kept warm. Separately, the asparagus tips and tomato square-diamond-polygons are warmed in some more butter, set aside and kept warm. Thirdly, the asparagus puree is warmed with buerre monte and set aside and kept warm.  If you haven't run out of burners of pans yet, there is one final step: heat 1/8 in canola oil in a medium sautee pan over med-high heat. Cook the scallops about 2 min per side, until nicely browned.

Now to the plating: first asparagus puree, then morel-brunoise-shallot-chive mix, then scallops, then garnish with tips and tomato pieces (2nd pic).

 I'm really disappointed in these pictures. I shot 5 of each plate, so 10 total and these were the only ones I would post.  I'll get better! Just as I have gotten better at cooking ( most days). BUT this isn't a photo or food styling blog! I am generally not a seafood fan, but the whole purpose of this project was to help me stretch my boundaries. I have to say this dish was delicious and really very beautiful! The combination of flavors was just perfect. The texture of the slightly crunchy brunoise and tips contrasted well with the silky and soft puree and scallops. This is a definite do again... If I can use less expensive mushrooms. : )

See you soon!  Oh! and if you have trouble commenting, just try pressing "post comment" a second time. That usually works for me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs

It all started with a cookbook. I sent my friend Loren (of meatloaf fame)  a crock-pot cookbook because he and his brother work long hours and need slow cooker help.  He made meatballs. He stretched it over two days , only heightening my hunger for meatballs.

This recipe is adapted from Rao's Recipes from the Neighborhood by Frank Pellegrino.  If you don't know about Rao's restauarant in East Harlem, New York, here's a little bit of background. The restaurant was opened by Charles Rao in 1896. Always family run, and always at the same location (with 10 tables no less) Frank Pellegrino and Ron Straci took over the operation from their Aunt and Uncle in.... I couldn't find a date.. 70's I would guess.  Certainly  a red letter day in the history of Rao's was that date in 1977 when Mimi Sheraton, the NY Times food critic at the time, gave Rao's a rave review.  She came to be known as "the woman who ruined Rao's"... in the sense that with only 10 tables and one service per evening, no one could get in! The decision was made to "give" a table to the regulars one night of the week. These were the people of the neighborhood, not the high and mighty in New York, although some came to be famous in their own time. Anyhoo, you can't get into Rao's NY from what I hear. But they have opened an outpost in Las Vegas, also run by a family member. Much of this is drawn from memory so I apologize if dates/names may be incorrect.

The thing that drew me to this cookbook was from my own life. In my late teens, early twenties, I lived with a family with a Mom from Parma, Italy. She married a WWII soldier and came to America with him. All of her siblings immigrated as well, only they ended up in Parma, Ohio and she was all alone here in Atlanta. I mean all alone as in, without her sisters, and they were very close. She was an AMAZING cook. Her Sunday gravy was something I will aspire to make for the rest of my life. She took the simplest ingredients and turned them into a grand feast.  I knew it was good at the time, but being a teeny-twenty I was not into cooking at the time and never asked her to teach me.  If I could go back in time, that might be the one thing I would do. She was a shy but a warm and gracious woman, I loved her very much and am forever grateful for the love she showed me. God rest her soul. This cookbook comes as close as anything I have seen to her style of cooking.

On with the show:
I was intrigued that on page 124 is the recipe for Frankie's meatballs and on 125 is the recipe for Mario's meatballs (Mario Curko). They are almost identical, just 2 differences that I counted.  Anyway, I went with Mario's because he uses milk to moisten and both WSH and I went to the store and bought milk, so we were overloaded.

Mario's Meatballs
makes 14-18 2.5 in - 3 in meatballs.  (My inch-o-meter must be broken! I wound up with about 24)

2 T olive oil plus 1 cup
1 onion diced
1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 ib ground pork * I used 1 lb beef and 1 lb pork
2 large eggs
1 c freshly grated Percorino Romano
1 1/2 T chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 small garlic clove minced
Salt and Pepper to taste * I used 1 t each
2 c plain bread crumbs ( they mean the dry kind - I went 50/50 dry and fresh 'cause that's what I had)
2 c milk (I only used 1 cup)
1 garlic clove lightly smashed

Heat 2 T oil in a skillet and sweat the onions until translucent, about 3-4 minutes, then remove to a bowl and set aside.

Combine the meat in a large bowl, add the cheese, garlic, parsley onions, eggs, S&P and using your hands gently blend them together. Next add the bread crumbs and mix it all together. Lastly, add the milk, 1 c at a time, blending until the mixture is moist.

Shape the meat mixture into 2.5- 3 in balls and heat the remaining oil in a  large skillet over medium heat. Thrown in a garlic clove and sautee until golden (2-3 min) then remove garlic and discard. Fry the meatballs in batches taking care not to crowd the pan, until a brown crust has formed (5 min according to the recipe) and then flip them and fry another 5 min.   **CAUTION** I followed these directions to a T and wound up with this on my first round (there is a cup of cheese and at least a cup of milk - translate lactose/sugar-translate burns easily):

Bullet was very happy. She knew she had won round 1. She HATES having her picture taken. I think she was in a travelling circus that visited that tribe in Africa that believes that photographs steal your soul.  And looking at today's celebrities... who's to say they are wrong? But I digress....

Although after WSH came downstairs, the inventory had shrunk.

Round 2 on lower heat was more successful. Meanwhile I heated a jar of Rao's Marinara Sauce. Yes, I could have made my own but I had a very bad night and an equally bad day and didn't feel like it -- although the $8 price tag made me think twice. I heated the sauce and doctored it with a little fresh oregano and a pinch of dried Italian herbs. When the meatballs were crusted on both sides,I removed them to a plate,  I drained the oil and added the sauce to the still hot skillet and then gently placed the meatballs back in. This mixture simmered for about 45 min.

Then I asked WSH to make the Spaghetti, which he did, perfectly al dente and we ate. It was lovely!  Great flavors in the meatballs, very nice sauce too, I have to say. I think Mary Vinch Adams would have been proud!

Still waiting on the breast of veal.. More Keller coming I swear.

See you soon.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fun with Asparagus!

So, I ask you, is Asparagus singular or plural? If singular, would the plural be Asparagi?  I'll have to Google that and see.. In any case, one spear would not be enough to have fun with so we're using a bunch here.

This first concotion was just something we were having to go with a steak one night. I didn't think about posting it until the last minute so it isn't as carefully prepared as it might have been. Hmmm. It shouldn't be that way. I know full well that love in preparation makes a difference in the outcome of any food. And anyone who has been in any long term relationship knows that love requires attention and care. I'll work on that. But anyhoo, I had a bunch of spears and some leftover prosciutto, so I cut the prosciutto into thin-ish strips and wrapped it around the spears. I grouped 2-3 of the Kate Moss spears together - they were too skinny to hold their own against the prosciutto. I placed them on a baking sheet lined with foil and drizzled a little olive oil, sprinkled salt and ground pepper and then a dusting of finely grated cheese. In restaurants I usually see this as Parmagiano (which makes sense because Parma is where the ham comes from) but I was fresh out so I used Gruyere.  I've also seen Manchego used.

Roast that in a 400 oven until the spears are lightly browned and the cheese is melted about 15 minutes -OR- as was the case on this particular evening until the steaks have finished resting, whichever comes first, (when WSH is hungry). Here's how they look and the awkward looking plating of one large serving. I should have included the carved steak pieces.. LOL hindsight.

Two days later I still had a lot of Asparagus left so I decided to make my favorite food: Soup!
Take your bundle of spears, and cut off the hard fibrous ends.  Really the best way to do this is to grasp the spear in the middle and bend the end until it breaks, the Asparagus knows! But.. this was soup and it was all going in the blender anyway.. so I lopped with a knife. Cut the remaining spears into manageable sections, an inch or two, and save some of the prettiest tips for a garnish.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. When boiling, place the pieces in a large strainer and submerge them into the water.

Cook until tender and remove to the ice bath just for a minute to stop the cooking and preserve that beautiful green color.

Keep your water boiling. Place the pieces into a blender with 1/4 to 1/2 c liquid. You can use the cooking water, chicken or vegetable stock, whatever you like. I use chicken stock. Then puree the hell out of it.

Meanwhile, repeat the process (up to the ice bath) with the tips you have saved for garnish.  When pureed, taste and adjust seasoning as need, I used salt and white pepper, Mix to blend.

Serve straight from the blender or reheat if you wish, garnish with asparagus tips and anything else you like. I added a few (OK I got carried away- a LOT) of drops of creme fraiche. I wanted to make a swirly spiral in the soup but alas, I lacked the confidence. I'll try it on the next bowl, promise. This was almost as much fun as finger painting as a kid!

This is a wonderful soup, full of lots of good stuff, no fat (unless you count the creme fraiche har har) and lots of fiber. One word of caution..actually two. If you are one of those rare people like me who is prone to the hell on earth known as Gout.. take care with how much asparagus you eat.. if eaten in large quantities (which I have been known to do) it can bring on an attack.  And the second is: there is nothing wrong with you if you detect a funny odor when you pee after eating this --that link is really a hoot, check it out.  Click the links to become a veritable encyclopedia of all things Asparagus.  And BTW while I was out googling those things I sort of learned from none other than Merriam Webster that "Asparagus" is both singular and plural.. I guess.. it says "Inflected Forms: (plural) Asparagus.

Still hoping for that breast of veal...*hint* *cough*

See you soon.