Thursday, December 20, 2007

Guest Post: Spaghetti with Garlic, Onions and Pancetta

My little brother cooks lots of Italian food and he's quite proud of many of his dishes. Back when he started cooking for himself, he absolutely RAVED about this pasta dish. I promised him that I would try to cook it but never did so now that I am visiting him in St. Louis, he can cook it for me! Sorry if this opening is less than stellar...I'm super frazzled cause my mom just got here and it's been a bit overwhelming!

This recipe is pretty much straight out of Molto Italiano. James also raves about Marcella Hazan's cookbooks but that's for another post.

Here we go:

First up, pictures of their refrigerator:For some reason, James and his GF were somewhat ashamed of the Hershey's chocolate syrup...not really sure why. Not a whole lot of note in this fridge.

Start boiling a large pot of water for pasta.
Mince garlic and pancetta. This represents about 1/2 of a pound of pancetta and a few cloves of garlic. The recipe calls for 2 cloves of garlic but James likes extra so he uses extra.

Next, cut up a red onion into half moons.
The assembled mis en place.
Some of you may have noticed the latex gloves James is wearing. We're not going to go there...

Also, mince about 1/4 cup of Italian parsley. Grate 3/4 cup of Pecorino-Romano cheese. Set aside until the end.

A couple of tablespoons of olive oil and the pancetta in a pan over low heat...allow the fat to render out of the pancetta:
Pancetta in a pan with a teaspoon of dried chili peppers (actually, James used a bit more than a teaspoon but a teaspoon should be sufficient):
A little later on during the cooking process:
Add the onion and garlic:
Onions will soften after 5 or so minutes:
Take the onions/pancetta off of the heat. Start cooking the pasta.
Add the cooked pasta (this is a full pack of spaghetti) and toss:
Bonus action shot!
Add the chopped parsley. Add 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Plate up. Finished product:
Add more cheese to taste.

This was super tasty. The noodles are covered in the wildly flavorful pork fat/chili oil and the bit of sweet onion and parsley add a nice counterpoint. I like this so much that I might try to make it myself! Good work, James.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

You Might Be Asian If...

You snack on tiny little fish instead of popcorn while watching a movie.

Bahn Mi

There are some things that I absolutely can not refrain from purchasing. Err, there are many things that I can't resist buying but I'm only here to talk about bahn mi. Bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich. There are usually a few common denominators in these sandwiches such as pickled carrots/daikon, fresh cilantro, green chiles and cucumbers. Usually, mayo and pate are standard. Your pick of proteins include chicken, pork, meatballs etc. They're usually no more than $3.00 and are often quite delicious. Because they are so inexpensive, I ALWAYS buy one just so I know whether that sandwich shop is any good.

I ordered a bbq pork sandwich from the shop at the corner of 7th (I think) and Clement St. BBQ pork usually means one of two things: charbroiled pork or Chinese roast bbq pork. In this case, it was the charbroiled version. This brings with it a few problems. The first is that the char flavor usually isn't strong enough. The second is that the pork can sometimes be a bit dry. This pork suffered from both. As you can see from the pic, the sandwich is stuffed with all of the usually items. More importantly, the bread was great. My one requirement for bahn mi is that the bread must shatter when you bite into it. This bread did. So, given that the bread is good and the chiles, pickled veggies and all that are present, I'll give the shop another go. However, I'll go with something other than the bbq pork.

BTW, my gold standard for bahn mi is this restaurant here. If you are in San Francisco and haven't been, go. Absolutely go. The meatball and the BBQ pork sandwiches are to die for. Sooooo good. My favorite sandwiches of all time. And only 2 dollars.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Really??!?!? I Graduated?!?!?

This is REALLY hair-brained of me but today was my graduation ceremony and I had no idea. Boy, my Mom is gonna be pissed when she finds out...she wanted to go and take pictures and all that.

Anyhow, I spent much of the day sitting in a coffee shop reading Judgment of Paris. It's about the historic 1976 wine tasting where American wines were rated more highly than some of their French counterparts. It's kind of a big deal. Pretty entertaining read although the writing isn't the greatest, especially the first third which recounts the lives of 3 winemakers in the Napa sorta seems disjointed...more timeline of their lives rather than a cohesive narrative. And don't read the book expecting to find detailed tasting notes of the wines which were'll be disappointed.

So I'm reading in the coffee shop and my buddy Mark calls me. I ignore the first call and he calls back and leaves a message. I listen to the message as I'm walking home. It goes a little something like this:
"Mikey, I know you mentioned that you might not go to your graduation but I'm here and I wanted to congratulate you on graduating."

What?!?!? I immediately called him back. Yep, I am in the program for today's ceremonies. Whoops. However, I guess I should celebrate as I've fulfilled my goal of graduating with honors... I'm not really sure how to react.

What I think I'll end up doing is curling up on the sofa and finishing the rest of the book. :-)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Winter Break

Fret not. Although I am going to St. Louis for break, I will continuing blogging. However, the food will be quite brother shops pretty much exclusively at Whole Foods and cooks alot of Italian food. My mother will also be flying down so there'll be all sorts of Chinese food as well.

Bonus pic: One of the two sous chefs to be. What a handsome young man!Chief taste-tester? I think so...


Remember how I mentioned that I was going to go to a fancy-shmancy restaurant called Manresa? Well, my prophetic powers proved strong and last night at 6:30, I found myself walking into the restaurant with George, Carrie (George's GF) and a bottle of 2004 Corton-Charlemagne. That's a bottle of wine for you complete noobs and I'll get to that a little later on.

Anyhow, I'm just going to post pictures and menu descriptions...yes, I took pictures of my meal but cut me some slack! Last night was the first time and I noticed 2 other tables doing the same thing! Actually, I don't need to rely on the "appeal to a common practice" argument. I wish I had started doing it much, much earlier...I've been lucky enough to have been a participant in some pretty spectacular meals and a photographic record would've been nice. Oh well, the menus will have to suffice but, in this case, I've got a menu AND pictures so let's get to it:

Let me apologize up front for the slightly blurry nature of the photos...I'm still getting used to the new camera.

Section 1: These were 5 little palate teasers typically called amuses which is short for "amuse bouche." They're simply small, 1-2 bite courses which, among other things, give you an indication of the chef's style and direction of the meal. This is always my favorite part of any meal.

Petit fours "red pepper-black-olive"
(My taste buds are defective because I just don't get the black-olive madeleines...they don't taste black olive-y to me although my roommate thought they were rockin')

Horchata and lightly toasted parsnip
(I get horchata all the time when I go to taquerias but I've never had one like wasn't sickly sweet, it was warm and the parsnips really added something...would drink again.)

Chestnut croquettes
(Fried little cubes which we were instructed to eat in one bite...they exploded with a rich, warm gushi-ness)

Oyster in urchin jelly, nori croustillant
(Not actually an urchin jelly...more like oyster and urchin in sea water jelly...just a filthy-delicious-stopallconversation dish...could've easily consumed a half dozen of these things)

Arpege farm egg
(L'Arpege is a restaurant in Paris...It is CRAZY expensive but considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world...this egg dish is an homage to an egg dish served at L'Arpege. It is a perfectly fresh egg gently poached and flavored with sherry and maple syrup. When you combine all the flavors in one gooey spoonful, it's memorable.)

Section 2: Done with the amuses. Onto some bigger plates.

At this point, they brought bread and butter to the table. This butter is phenomenal. The milk comes from a Normandy cow in nearby Watsonville, CA and is hand churned. The end-product is almost cheese-y in it's complexity. Bovinity Divinity (to quote Ben and Jerry) and I found myself eating the butter all on its own...crazy delicious stuff. I have reason to believe that this is the incredible animal whose milk gave us this lactic gold...yumyumyum.

Golden butterfish and geoduck clam, sashim style, exotic citrus
(Don't remember any geoduck clam in this but I'd like to point out the quenelle of caviar. Yummy dish. The chef has a way with raw fish...judicious use of seasoning which enhances rather than overpowers the fish...)

Shellfish in a pine mushroom broth
(A deliciously sweet, briny piece of crab meat with a juicy mussel hidden underneath. I believe the green is ice lettuce, an especially succulent variety of lettuce. A first for me.)

Spot prawns on the plancha, exotic spice
(Loved this. Curry-ish, I swear there were fermented black beans, prawn roe...nothing to dislike. I am not ashamed to mention that we ate most of the shells and sucked whatever we could off of the head. Really tasty. Oh yah.)

Nantucket bay scallops with lemongrass, leeks
(Neptune himself could not have found more perfect sweet and tender...perfectly cooked. The creamy sauce is a scallop jus which was poured tableside. Hidden underneath are some melted leeks which added a bit of oniony goodness.)

Into the vegetable garden...
(Okay, so most of you are probably like, "WTF??!? It's a weird lookin' salad." NO. This is totally incorrect. This is a completely unique dish which evokes a sense of place, which is, a garden. I swear, it tastes like how my hands used to smell after a day of helping my mom in our garden. There must be 30 different vegetables in this dish and you can eat them one at a time or in combination with each other. The individual flavors never really get muddled but remain distinct. A really remarkable dish. Of all the dishes I was served, this is the one I could eat every day for the rest of my life and I would never get bored of it. If you want to learn more about this dish, click here.)

Abalone in its own bouillon, foie gras
(You can smell this one coming...the smoky dashi gives it away. This picture kinda looks a mess so I'll try to help you along...The abalone is on the bottom, a thin slice of foie gras is laid on top of the abalone, the white shreds are enoki mushrooms, the darker green is seaweed and the thin green shreds are green onions (i think). The dashi broth is the broth..duh. As a lover of salt, I rarely complain of overseasoning but the broth was definitely overseasoned for my taste. However, the foie and abalone is a fun combination. Surf & turf? haha.)

John dory and butter beans, squid and clams with vin blanc
(No, John Dory is not a man...ya noobs. Hidden underneath the fish are thinly sliced clams, squid and beans. Nothing really "out-there" about this dish but it's executed really, really well. My only regret is not having a spoon served with this course because I couldn't get at all the sauce!)

Sweetbreads, roasted whole, cereals with parsley root
(What's a sweetbread, you ask? Click here to find out. Anyhow, I have mixed feeling about this one. I kinda enjoy sweetbreads more when they have a crunchy exterior and that provides a contrast to the creamy interior. However, the parsley root provided the contrasting texture in this case...meaning, i found the roots a little undercooked. Love the wheat berries tho...I'm gonna have to find some...The red bits are cranberries. Very autumn-y, winter-y. Felt like Thanksgiving.)

Beef roasted in its fat, chestnut with horseradish
(A big meat course here...40 day aged beef. Some mushrooms underneath, the green is a kale (i think) puree and the little pucks off to the side are really, really cool. Chestnut and horseradish bombs. They're PERFECT with the meat. Grab a bit of meat, swipe a bit of green puree, grab a horseradish bit and it's a great mouthful of food.)

Section 3: Sweets.

Parsnip pain perdu and caramel ice cream, toasted barley gelee
(I'm tired of writing so I'll just leave pictures and menu descriptions)

Cranberry and pecan involtini, apple preserve with buttermilk sorbet

Milk chocolate coffee mousse, oat crisp and stout ice cream

Petit fours "strawberry-chocolate"

And, with that, the meal came to a close. All in all, a memorable meal. Not much more to say. I love the focus on veggies and seafood. This is my favorite restaurant in the Bay Area...and I need an excuse to go back...Maybe when I graduate?

Anyhow, I said that I'd talk about our beverages for the evening so here we go. Keep in mind that I'm not a great person to ask about wine.

We started with some complimentary Cava. Cava is Spanish sparkling wine...think of it as their answer to France's champagne. Most of it is produced in the Catalan region of Spain...think eastern Spain on the border with France. Chef was kind enough to send flutes out for us and we drank the cava with the amuses.

After that, the Corton-Charlemagne. Corton-Charlemagne is the name given to a set of vineyards in the Burgundy region of France. For white wines, you're primarily looking at wines made from the Chardonnay grape. Corton-Charlemagne is designated as a Grand Cru wine which is the highest rating one can achieve in Burgundy. I don't know what else to say but damn I'm tired of typing. I hope someone reads this!

edit: I e-mailed the chef with a few questions and here are the answers:
1. How is the beef cooked? the beef was roasted in a slow oven.
2. Do you consistently get prawns with the roe? I love the roe. Do most people eat it? We also ate some of the shells. I guess we're weird. yes, all prawns with roe. i go to a market and pick them out alive myself 4 times a week.
3. The veggie dish is amazing. Are all the veggies from your garden? All veggies from the garden, is rrequired.
4. The shellfish with pine mushroom broth...i assume this means matsutake mushrooms? yes, matsutake
5. The chestnut homage to your time with Marc Meneau? yes, Meneau.
6. How'd you insert the parsnip flavor into the horchata? Make some sort of parsnip milk? yes, parsnip milk.
7. Was the (incredible) butter from Pim's cow? yes, pim's butter.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warm Lentil Salad

Easy, cheap and tasty...all hallmarks of the Budget College Cook. I think it goes really well with roasted meat dishes and the best thing about it is that you can make it an hour or two ahead because it's great at room temperature or when it's slightly warm. Makes life a bit easier when you're in a dinner party situation.

Sorry about the lack of pictures...I sorta forgot about the camera!

Start with two cups of lentils. If you can get your hands on authentic lentils de Puy, great...if not, don't sweat it. You're looking for the little brownish/greenish lentils generally sold as French lentils. I purchased mine from the bulk section of local health food store...$1.89/lb.

Measure out two cups and sort through them...there might be small bits of branches, little stones..whatever...better to carefully remove them now rather than when you and your guests are already at the dinner table.

Rinse and drain the lentils. Place in a pot. Add enough water to cover by a few inches. Drop in a bay leaf if desired. Maybe a sprig of thyme if the spirit moves you. Bring to a boil and drop the heat to a medium simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes. While cooking, add a few heavy pinches of salt. I started tasting at 20 minutes. You don't want to overcook the lentils...they should hold their shape.

While the lentils are cooking, finely mince a carrot, a stalk of celery, a clove of garlic, an onion and, I used my ghetto mandolin, slice a bulb of fennel. A word of warning on the mandolin: please, please, please, please be careful when using those things. Especially if you've got a cheap one with a not-so-sharp blade...i don't know if there's a more dangerous piece of kitchen equipment. I've nicked up my fingertips on multiple occasions...

I took the time to actually do a somewhat decent job mincing the veggies...My goal was to have the lentils and veggies mirror each other in size.
Make the dressing: Take your usual 3:1 ratio of oil:acid. I used olive oil and sherry vinegar. I used a blender to help emulsify the mixture. I didn't add enough vinaigrette to mine...I like this dish with a vinegary time I will add more. I guess I forgot how thirsty the hot lentils are...they really soak up the mixture. Anyhow, I think I used 6 tablespoons of oil, 3 tablespoons of vinegar and a teaspoon or two of dijon mustard.
Cook the minced veggies...just saute until they wilt a bit. Season with salt and pepper. I cooked my veggies in duck fat...sooooo tasty.

When the lentils are done cooking, drain them and combine with the cooked veggies and vinaigrette. You might want to add some of the vinaigrette, taste and add more if you want. After all, your taste buds are different than mine. Season with salt and pepper. I also tossed in a tablespoon of duck fat to the lentils. That stuff is avian gold.

Time- 30 minutes.
Food Cost- Maybe a buck in lentils, 60 cents in veggies a bit of money for the sherry vinegar and olive oil...$2 total?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Duck Confit pt. 4

So. How was it? Pretty darned tasty if I do say so myself. Recipe for the lentils will go up tomorrow, salad was, well, salad. Dressing made with sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt, dijon mustard and maple syrup. Yes, maple syrup...I love sherry vinegar and maple syrup when they're paired together. The sauce is sorta invisible but it was duck stock, the strained, left over duck jelly from the confit, shallots and a bit of red wine. And butter. Can't forget the bit of butter. Cheese for dessert was a hit. Some pretty interesting stuff including a German cheese. Who knew Germans made cheese? Very mild and sweet compared to the more assertive Gorgonzola and Monte Enebro.

Also made the ultimate sacrifice:
It was bleeding pretty seriously for a while...the kitchen is splattered with blood...heh heh. Just another war scar tho, right?

George's Parents


Monday, December 10, 2007

Duck Confit pt. 3

7 hours later, the confit is done. You know, it just occurred to me that some confused readers might not know that "confit" is a French term. So, you don't say "con-fit." Rather, "con-fee."

So, duck legs fished out of the pot and into a tupperware container. Poured the fat over the legs.
Notice the two layers:
The top layer is the actual fat. The bottom, darker layer is...i dunno how to describe's like duck juice...all the juice that the duck exuded during the cooking process. I LOVE eating that stuff. It's like meat gelatin. Yummy!

And Now For Something Totally Different...

This is Dwight Howard. He is 6'11" tall. A regulation rim is 10' tall. You do the math.