Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 3 – MELBOURNE - Show at the Corner

We woke up today determined to ride the tram back down to Fitzroy and get brekkie at Soul Food. The ride took a while due to rush hour traffic but we managed to evade payment once again. By the time we made it to the Café, our heads pounded as a consequence of our caffeine deficiency. The waitress greeted us - Two Soy Lattes stat! I should mention that I’m beginning to fall in love with these drinks. These Aussies somehow get the “milk” to froth up like I’ve never seen, and sometimes it tastes just like a nice, slightly sweet and nutty cream. I’m already setting up my self for disappointment, but I might have to do a search around Philly for one like I’ve been getting here (Ants Pants – I’m looking at you). Soul Café does a fine rendition – they even do the froth art that adorns the top. No matter – I needed my fix so it was gone in a flash.

For breakfast Eric and I went with the Big Brekkie – 2 Eggs any style (I got mine fried; Eric went with scrambled), Multigrain Sourdough Toast and a choice of three sides (I chose avocado, onion, and spinach; Eric selected the same, but he sub’ed out onion for hash browns). I also ordered a side of the house relish – when I asked what it was like, the server replied that it was really beautiful – sold. I wish people in the States used more flowery words like that to describe food – it really causes the eater to grow excited.

Just about everything on the plate was great – a perfectly ripe avocado, sweet and toothsome caramelized red onion, free range farm fresh eggs, and absolutely delicious thick-cut, crunchy Multigrain toast smeared with a creamy vegan spread (I couldn’t believe it wasn’t… oh never mind). Eric’s hash browns were shredded and shaped into balls before they were fried, so they had an extra crispy exterior and a nice, soft, chive-studded center. My house relish was indeed beautiful – a lime-y, cumin-y, tomato puree that had a nice sweet and spicy kick. The only clunker on our plates was the spinach – it had a weird spice or flavor added to it that I’d never had before – I hate to say it, but it tasted like barnyard hay. No matter, everything else was so good, we just pushed it to the corner of our plates and forgot about it.

We walked around Fitzroy a little bit more and I stopped in an art store to buy some sketching supplies. I felt like I had a "Don't Help the Stupid American" sign strapped on me, because I felt like everyone who walked in was getting assistance but me. I stood looking at pencils for 20 minutes and another 15 at the sketchbooks. With no help, I was forced to answer my own idiotic questions - and the longer I went without advice, the more ridiculous the inquiries were. What size tablet should I get? Do I need pages that will rip out? How big should the point be on the pencil? Will the graphite smear on this kind of paper? Wait, they don't still use lead here, right? I certainly don't want to get lead poisoning as a result of some innocent doodling. Should I get a spiral-bound book, or will it come loose and prick my fingers like my high school notepads. Is this a paper recycled? Will the pages disintegrate if I drip coffee or wine or curry sauce on them? These are all things I love to consume while drawing!

No one came ever came to answer these ludicrous inquisitions. Perhaps the workers glimpsed over to see a wild headed girl kneeling to the stacks of tablets as if she were in the midst of some sort of insane prayer to paper. Maybe they investigated further to view my furrowed brow adorning crazy widened eyes which examined just about every writing utensil in the store. No wonder they avoided me! Either way I made it over to counter with some sort of selection. A young man clad in an apron approached me just before I set my purchases down. "Did you need some assistance in finding something today?" I examined his face for a sarcastic smirk - did this fool not see me wandering helplessly about his shop?! There was no indication of a smile - I relaxed my squinted glare and shook my head. I paid the $5 for a pad, pen, pencil, and eraser. At least I most likely (inadvertently) picked out the cheapest sketching commodities - ah the Slick Frugality gene. Hey - I'm not complaining.

We hopped the Tram back to the hotel (haha - avoiding payments yet again - what rogue criminals we are). Eric did his laundry in the tub, and I found it too humorous NOT to take a picture.

Pretty much right after that we headed over to the venue (The Corner Hotel) for sound check. There was free wireless there, so of course Eric and I opted to stay there for the night, rather than going back to our room.

The show was great - the standing-room-only crowd was so energetic that any jet lag or exhaustion instantly dissipated. At the end of the night, Adrian even repeated his crowd surfing adventure that first happened at The Corner 3 years ago. I'll admit that I ran off stage to avoid getting pulled in myself - but in doing so I rammed my knee into one of Adrian's 4x12 Marshall cabinets. YOW! If any of you ever wanted to know - those edges are SHARP. I still have the bruise to show for my yellow-bellied clumsiness.

In the end, it was a fantastic time and I couldn't wait to experience the rest of rambunctious Australia!

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15 - PHILADELPHIA - Brekkie Break

Just wanted to keep you readers posted - I'm back from Oz and will (I swear) have more posts to share about the trip. Of course I've been tremendously busy since I got back (late Friday) - buying gifts, working shifts, and signing a lease to a killer apartment. My mom also threw her back out, so in the midst of all this I threw together (an Aussie inspried) brekkie this morning:

Julie's Brekkie Stack - Honey Wheat Toast topped with Caramelized Onions, Poached Eggs, Truffled Meyer Lemon-Yogurt Hollandaise, and Grana Padano
2 slices Honey Wheat Bread, cut in half or 2 English Muffins, split
Dash of White Vinegar
4 Eggs
Caramelized Onions (recipe below)
Meyer Lemon-Yogurt "Hollandase" Sauce (recipe below)
Shaved Grana Padano, or any other firm, aged cheese
Truffle Oil

Fill a small-medium sized saucepan with water, until it's about 2/3 full. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, start making the caramelized onions.

Caramelized Onions
olive oil
1 sweet onion, sliced into thin rings
1/4 tsp salt
dry sherry (optional)
1-2 tsp sugar (as desired)

Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot (the oil will move loosley around the pan), add the onions and salt. Cook until beginning to brown, then lower the heat to medium-low. When the saucepan of water is boiling, start making the hollandaise sauce.

Meyer Lemon-Yogurt "Hollandaise" Sauce
2 egg yolks
6-8 tbsp plain yogurt (I used Pequea Valley whole milk)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated meyer lemon rind
drizzle of honey (if desired)
dash hot sauce

Bring the water to a simmer. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients in a glass bowl and put atop the simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly. Once the sauce begins to thicken (8-10 minutes), you want to finish your onions - add the sherry and sugar to the onions and increase the heat to medium. After about 12-15 minutes, your sauce should be thickened, and therefore finished. Reserve water at a simmer on the stove and remove the sauce, keeping it warm (I put it on the toaster oven). Back to the onions - when the alcohol is mostly evaporated, turn the heat back down to low to keep warm.

Put the bread/muffins in the toaster and cook as desired. Meanwhile, add a dash of vinegar to the water (it helps with poaching). Crack one of the eggs into a small bowl or ramekin. Stir the water in a circular motion, creating a whirlpool. Carefully add the egg to the center. Quickly crack the other egg and add. Cook 3-5 minutes, or until set as desired. Remove with a slotted spoon, reserve, and continue with the other eggs. As the last two cook, start plating. Add the two halves of bread (or split muffin) to each plate. Top with caramelized onions and poached eggs (the last two should be coming right out of the simmering water). Spoon on the hollandaise and drizzle with truffle oil. Scatter grana padano atop and serve immediately.

So cheers - and more tales from down under to follow!

Friday, December 5, 2008

December 2 – MELBOURNE - Radio Stars

I guess I was a little jetlagged, after all – I woke up at 3 and tossed around until 7. Eric finally woke up then and we set out for brekkie. We had seen a cool café a few blocks from the hotel the day before so we decided to go there for our morning fix. Having splurged on chocolate last night, Eric and I went light with two yogurt dishes – he got a parfait with berries and granola, and I ordered fruit salad with bircher muesli.

Nice and healthy, and it got the job done. It should also be noted that the coffee here is also amazing. But that was to be expected, as one of my favorite breakfast joints in Philly is Ants Pants Café, an Aussie brekkie/lunch spot that imports its beans from Oz – and of course the coffee is strong and great.
We went back to the hotel to wash up and prepare for our long trek today – we were returning to Fitzroy to do some damage. At 11 we hopped on the tram like good, seasoned international travelers and hopped off at the corner of Gertrude and Fitzroy. Actually I shouldn’t say our ride went off without a hitch – we were really confused about payment on the tram. We were told that it cost $1.70 or so but we couldn’t figure out how and where to pay. There was a conductor up front – but he didn’t take our money. We went to the back, where there was a ticket machine and sign detailing the Metcard system. But it still wasn’t easy. The questions raced about between us: Were we going to Zone 2? Staying in Zone 1? Why is there no zone map – I’ve never heard of those neighborhoods – where’s Fitzroy? I thought that was the name of the area… Wait, who’s going to check to see that we paid? Maybe it’s free. What if there’s an officer waiting to check our tickets when we get off? This brochure says we could be fined or even arrested! But we don’t enough change to pay for two Metcards – it says it’s $3.50 – how could it be that that we were told that it would could half as much? I glanced around to see what everyone else was doing – they were just getting on and sitting down. But what if they have monthly passes? Senior discount cards? We rocked nervously for the rest of the ride. Here – let’s just get off here – there’s no cops – they’ll never catch us. At the stop we surveyed the scene like two criminal amateurs who just pilfered candy bars from a convenience store. Either way, we made it, un-incarcerated.
The walk was a blast – there are so many cool shops here. I could’ve spent my entire life savings in one block. Various art supply stores were littered between galleries and local clothing and fabric boutiques. There were records, vinyl, shoes, bags, handmade jewelry, funky house wares and many, many book stores showcasing new and used items – there was even one dedicated just to cookbooks. I was frustrated – how could we not have this king of shopping at home. Then I acknowledged that it was probably better that we don’t have these things – or I’d be one broke woman.
We walked for a bit, until our tummies started to grumble – we needed fuel to continue our spree. I had noticed a place the day before called Soul Food Vegetarian and we happened upon it just in time. The place obviously reflected the super funky, artsy neighborhood, with dreadlocked waitresses serving hipsters seated at mismatched tables. Eric and I sat ourselves at the most square table we could find and ordered two salad combos – he got the Roasted Veggie and Chickpea Tagine; I got the same Veggie with Asian Mint.
The Roasted Veggie consisted of unpeeled sweet potato, eggplant, pepper, and onion dressed in a light balsamic vinaigrette. The Asian Mint was a lovely medley of spinach, Tofu, sprouts, and cilantro in a lime and mint dressing.

The Chickpea Tagine was basically just a cold rendition of the Morrocan classic. A delicious, yet intriguing idea I felt like a hungover chef woke up late one morning to discover nothing but leftover take out in the fridge – “Dude, I know people eat, like, cold pizza and Chinese food for breakfast, but did you ever try cold Morrocan? It’s, like, totally sick.”

We were enjoying our salads immensely when I noticed two ginormous veggie burgers being delivered to an adjacent table. I’m not gonna lie – I had burger envy. At least we were being healthy…

As far as shopping was concerned, we got off pretty easy – Eric bought a pair of Golas that I had actually spotted in the window the night before. They weren’t in the window today, so we went into the shop and asked about them. The clerk actually informed us that she was about to ship them to other store and that they were actually the last pair. Wouldn’t you know it – they were in Eric’s crazy size.
We strolled around for a while longer, stopping into shops to check out the cool local designs. The Land of Oz may be far from everything, but you can see the Asian influence in otherwise Western shapes and patterns. I don't know how I managed not to buy anything.
We met downstairs at 6, starving for dinner. Adrian had enjoyed a cocktail in the bar while I ordered a Sebatron pre-amp over the phone. Oops, did I say I didn't buy anything today? I was planning on getting their 4 channel pre-amp in the States, but I realized they were based in Melbourne so I figured I'd pick it up while here. Anyway, while I was making my transaction, the boss was recommended a place called Tutto Benne along the river. We tried to hail 3 empty cabs – nobody would take us. Clearly we were doing something wrong, so we went to reception and called on instead. The cab driver took us to the waterfront and dropped us off – “The restaurants are all around, but you have to walk from here.” Adrian paid him but we were short 40 cents – “Don’t worry about it,” he smiled. Adrian tried to give him $5 for a tip. The cabbie just shook his head and waved his hand, “Have a nice dinner.” Not only did we not have to tip him, but it was as if he tipped us 40 cents – ha!

We walked around for 15 minutes trying to find Tutto Benne and failed miserably. We ended up at a place called eGusto - it was the only place that was packed, had veg options, and looked like it would be fast. We only had 45 minutes to eat and get to ABC radio to do a live interview.
We started with some Bruschetta to curb our appetities as we perused the menu. It was ok - perhaps covered with too much feta.

Adrian's main was a simple Spaghetti with sundried tomatoes, capers, and peppers in a spicy garlic sauce. It was good - al dente pasta, tangy veggies - but nothing extraordinary.

Eric got a vegetarian risotto, which was also somehow gluten free. Perhaps they used barley as the starch rather than the traditional Arborio rice. Like Adrian's it was good, but it lacked the "stirred by the hand of Nonna" touch.

I was trying to be healthy, so I got a salad and some sauteed vegetables. Meh. They gave me too many crunchy carrots - have they never heard of blanching here?

Having sampled everybody's dishes, I'd say overall I'd say the meal was fair, but effective. We even had five minutes to spare before we jumped in a taxi to get to ABC.

The interview was great - Eric and I were nervous about doing a live rap session at first, but Derek (the radio host conducting the questions) made us feel so comfortable, we immediately relaxed. Or maybe the wine from dinner sank in a little bit...
After the interview we hopped in another cab and the driver lit up when he heard our voices – he had just listened to us on the radio! We were going to go Madame Brussels, a relatively new, somewhat hidden cocktail bar located above an Italian Restaurant. How exclusive!

So of course I got red wine and immediately realized that I made a mistake when Eric received his drink:

A Caipiroska – brown sugar and lime muddled together and blended with vodka – basically a Caipirinha with a different spirit (rather than cachaça). It was almost as strong, which rendered Eric funny and drunk. The night was great.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

December 1 – MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Tim Tammery Chocolate Mania

We finally made it to Oz! We traveled all day and night to get here – a total of 33 hours from door to door. That would be our record, but I’m pretty sure the trip to Toyama, Japan was longer – we had to switch airports in Tokyo and fly there a day earlier because of a typhoon scare (there was an earthquake the next day).

The delirous laughter already started as we went through customs - the guards were convinced Andre was Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish fame. They confiscated his apple thought to save the core to put on ebay.
It’s summer here, but of course I have a pension for packing incorrectly – the temperature changes drastically depending on how sunny it is. I brought all of my tank tops and t-shirts and only two sweatshirts – I suppose I’ll be going shopping on my day off tomorrow. Rats, I hate excuses to buy new clothes.
Eric and I were surprisingly bright and chipper, so we hit the streets almost immediately after checking in. Luckily the hotel is located in the center of town, so we could easily access some cool places on foot.
The streets are perfumed with strong coffee and roasted chestnuts (which smell much better than the acrid burnt-nut aroma that wafts about New York). We checked out a couple malls and bookshops, but mainly we just wanted to walk about and get a vibe for the place. We stopped and got a coffee at one of the street stands – it was even better than I expected. I wish Philly had espresso machines on every street corner – and not just in the form of a Starbucks…

Without Adrian being here yet, we were free to eat at a vegetarian restaurant for dinner. Since Eric and I skipped lunch, it was awesome that we could dine somewhere that didn’t just offer salads or steamed veggies as our only options. Our Aussie Tour Manager Charney took us The Veggie Bar on Brunswick St in Fitzroy – a really cool area that reminded me of a more streamlined East Village, lined with hip shops and restaurants. Eric and I instantly decided to return the next day.
Eric was the only to order an appetizer – a Samosa whose pastry crust almost melted in your mouth. It was served with a tangy Cucumber Mint Raita and a Tomato and Tamarind Chutney. My stomach grumbled after I took a bite – I awoke the beast and was ready for my main course.

The main portions here were mammoth – perfect for our mammoth appetites. I had the Mostly Greens platter – a plate of (you guessed it) green veggies and tempeh stir fried with garlic and ginger and topped with my choice of sauce (I chose Tahini, but I was tempted by the other two options – Satay and Tamari). The veggies (broccoli, sugar snap peas, green beans, asparagus, carrots and cauliflower) were cooked just al dente, just the way I like.

Eric got the Duo Platter for his main course. This included Stewed Lentils and Curried Chickpeas (think Chana Masala but with pureed tomatoes). It came with the same Raita from the Samosa and a nice, warm piece of folded roti. The chickpeas were cooked like my veggies, slightly al dente – quite tasty. The lentils tasted more of Jamaican curry than what I expected, having a stronger clove flavor.

Charney ordered the Original Stir Fry Platter, which was basically just like mine, but with more variety of vegetables. The tempeh is also subbed out for Tofu. She got hers topped with Satay sauce – spicy peanut-y, coconut-y goodness.
We skipped dessert at the Veggie Bar in favor of going to San Churro – a chocolate bar a few blocks away. I told myself I’d only taste what Eric got so I could satisfy my sweet tooth without being too bad. But I knew I was in trouble when I saw the platter of churros (crispy tube-shaped Spanish donuts) being delivered to a table of giggling twenty-somethings sitting outside. Then we opened the door to the café and things got worse. The aroma of sugary hot pastry and chocolate was too much for me to handle – it was like kryptonite to my self-control. I managed to abstain from getting anything when Eric and Charney ordered their Hot-Colds (hot cocoa topped with vanilla ice cream). But then the table next to us received their fondue platter – a plate full of marshmallows, fresh fruit, churros, and ice cream balls surrounding a steaming bowl of chocolate. Enough!!! I stood up promptly and ordered the kids portion of Churros with dark chocolate. At least I got the small size…

Eric and Charney’s Hot-Colds were a culinary revelation to us ignorant Americans. Why have we never thought of this before? It makes me excited to bring the idea back to Eric’s girlfriend, Katy. She works at Capogiro, (the world’s best) gelato shop – and guess what? They serve hot cocoa. I can already envision the combinations…

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

November 27 – PHILADELPHIA – The Thanksgiving Recipes

Greetings from Oz - posts to follow. In the meantime, here are the recipes for the sides (made with all local ingredients) from Thanksgiving dinner:

Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

4 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, sliced into ½” rounds (I prefer them left unpeeled)
1 stick (or more) of butter
¾ cup heavy cream (or milk if you want to be slightly healthier)
1 head roasted garlic (or 4-6 fresh cloves, minced)
big dollop of sour ceam (optional)
salt and pepper

Rinse potatoes in colander until the water beneath them runs clear, about 2 minutes. Dump them into a 5-6 quart dutch oven and cover by an inch or so with cold water. Add a nice big pinch or two of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 15-25 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, bring butter milk, garlic, and a tsp salt to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium low heat.
When potatoes are fork tender, drain and return to Dutch oven over medium heat, until steam no longer escapes. This prevents the mash from becoming too soupy. Reduce the heat to medium low.
Slowly add about half of the heated cream mixture. Begin to mash and see how thick or thin your product is. If it’s too thick, slowly pour more of the cream mixture, while mashing with the other hand (sometimes having a helper is a good idea). Once you’ve reach the desired consistency, you might like to add a nice dollop of sour cream to finish. Taste to adjust seasoning (I like to add a ton of cracked pepper at the very end). If not serving immediately, cover and keep warm over a low heat.

Truffled Rainbow Chard and Cremini Mushroom Sauté

Extra Virgin Olive oil
3-4 Bunches of Rainbow Chard, leaves torn, stalks removed, chopped, and stored separately
1 small onion, cut into thin rings
12 or so ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 head roasted garlic (or 4-6 cloves minced fresh)
Dash of Dry Sherry
Drizzle of White Truffle Oil
Freshly grated Grana Padano, or other hard Italian cheese, if desired

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large Dutch oven or sauce pan over medium-heat. Add onion and stalks, and sauté several minutes, until onion is translucent and stems are softened. Push to the perimeter of the pot, and add a bit more oil and the sliced mushrooms. Increase heat to medium high and do not stir – this prevents the mushrooms from browning. After about five minutes, stir the mushrooms around and cook until most slices are nicely caramelized.

Add pinch of salt, the garlic and the torn leaves. Cover. After a few minutes, add the sherry and stir frequently once the greens begin to wilt.
Once they are all cooked down, turn off heat and add the truffle oil (remember it’s very strong, so be very careful!). Taste for seasoning (if adding the cheese, make sure you don’t add too much salt) and cover until ready to serve. When prepared, transfer to a serving bowl and cover with grated Grana Padano.

Fresh and Tangy Cranberry Sauce

1.5 cups water
1.5 cups brown sugar
2 pints cranberries
3 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp grated orange zest

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. When sugar dissolves, add cranberries. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer on medium low until cranberries begin to burst, about 7-10 minutes. Turn off heat and add the other seasonings.

Green Beans with Crispy Shallots and Black Walnuts

4-5 tbsp butter, softened and divided
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
t tsp lemon zest
6 shallots, peeled and sliced into rings
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb green beans, cut into 2 inch pieces
½ cup black walnuts (any variety is fine)

Combine 3 tbsp softened butter, garlic, thyme and lemon zest. Set aside.
Heat remaining butter and olive oil in a large nonstick pan and over medium heat and fry shallots until caramelized (or burnt, as desired). Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in your serving bowl.
Add the green beans to the pan and increase the heat to medium high. Cook 4-6 mintues or until they begin to brown in spots.

Add ¼” cup water and cover. Cook another 5 minutes so that they steam and cook throughout. Uncover, and add reserved compound butter, shallots, and walnuts and cook 1-3 minutes longer.

Apple Streusel Pie
makes 2

2 8" Frozen Pie Crusts (I normally make my own - but I was busy enough today)
2 2/3 cups apple cider
4 Granny Smith apples, cored and diced
2 Pink Lady apples, cored and diced
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
juice from 1-2 lemons (4 tsp)
Streusel topping (recipe follows)

Boil cider til reduced to 2/3 cup and set aside away from heat.

Put rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Combine apples, flour, sugars and cinnamon. Add cider reduction and lemon juice. Put into crusts, and bake 20 minutes. Prepare streusel topping and add to the top of the pies. Bake 20 minutes longer, until browned and bubbling. Serve warm with ice cream (we chose Pistachio Gelato from Capogiro and Chilly Philly Vanilla).

Streusel Topping
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup pecans
1 cup butter, chilled and cubed

Combine first 3 ingredients with hands and then add butter, rubbing between forefingers and thumbs until slightly incorporated. Keep refrigerated.

Friday, November 14, 2008

November 13 - PHILADELPHIA - Back to the Future

Okay, so this whole blog thing is more labor intensive than I thought. I had a hard time keeping up at the end of the tour, as we were in the van most of time and I got carsick every time I tried to type. Now it's a matter of remembering what went on - it's tough trying to recall what I ate for lunch in Austria two weeks ago! I promise the posts will come as the jetlag slowly goes away and I am able to summon up everything. In the mean time - I've been a cookin' machine since I came back. A month away from the stove is just too long for me! Last night I made dinner for friends:

Antipasti Platter
  • Assorted Pecorino cheeses (Tosano, Caciotta al Tartufo, and a Garlic and Onion infused one whose name I can never remember)
  • Linguica Sausage
  • Peppadew Peppers which I warmed with oregano, rosemary and whole garlic cloves
  • Sarcone Seeded Baguette toasted and rubbed with garlic and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Bogle Petit Syrah

Spicy Garlic Shrimp and Broccoli Rabe over Mezze Rigatoni 

(serves 6-10, depending on your guests' appetites)

adapted from the December issue of Cook's Illustrated  (my favorite cooking mag)
  • 20 (yeah that's right) cloves of garlic - ten mashed, ten minced
  • 2 lbs of IQF EZ Peel Shrimp, thawed, peeled and cut into thirds, shells reserved (I buy them frozen to ensure freshness since all shrimp on this coast are frozen at some point)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • 2 Bunches Broccoli Rabe
  • 1/2 tsp - 1 tsp Red pepper Flakes (depending on how hottt you like it)
  • 1 lb Mezze Rigatoni or any other short pasta
  • 4 tsp Flour
  • 1 cup White Wine (I used Luna 2006 Pinot Grigio - one glass for dinner, the rest for the cook)
  • 1 1/2 cups Clam Juice
  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted Butter, cubed (Since I finish the sauce with butter I always use the best quality I can find - preferably freshly churned from a local farm. In a pinch Plugra or Kerrygold work well too.  Keep the butter in the fridge until the last minute to really bring out the fresh, fatty flavor and to prevent the sauce from separating.)
  • 1 cup chopped parsley leaves
  • Juice from 1-2 lemons
  • 1-2 Baguette(s)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

If you're stove has seen better years, you may as well start boiling a big pot of water now.  In the mean time, prep everything so you have a nice mis-en-place.  This 3 pot dinner should come together quickly so it's best to have everything ready to go.  Chop the garlic first, as recent studies show that letting chopped garlic rest for at least 15 minutes activates cancer-fighting components.  While you chop the shrimp, throw the shells into a small sauce pan with the wine and the clam juice.  If you buy peeled shrimp - don't worry.  This is not a necessary step, I did it just to fortify the shrimp flavor by making a nice stock that I'll use later in the sauce.  Heat on this pan on medium high and once it starts to bubble and boil, cover it and bring it down to a low simmer.  After twenty minutes, you can turn it off as that's all it takes for the shells to release their flavor.  You also don't want too much of the wine to evaporate.

Toss your chopped shrimp with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, 4 tsp minced garlic, 1/2 tsp (or more) of salt, and a dash or two of red pepper flakes.  This will allow the garlic and pepper flavor to really permeate throughout the shrimp. 

Once the water is boiling, add a handful on salt and throw in a bunch of broccoli rabe.  After two minutes, remove it with some tongs and put it in a colander in the sink with some ice cold water running.  Alternatively, you can plunge them in a large bowl of ice water - I didn't have a large bowl handy, so I went with the sink technique.  Put the second bunch in and repeat.  After the bunches are cooled down, pat dry and chop them into one inch pieces.  DO NOT discard the water - you will cook the pasta in the same pot.

Add the bread to the oven to warm.

Heat a large skillet with 4-6 tablespoons of olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the whole garlic cloves.  Saute until lightly browned - 5-10 minutes.  Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and chop it up.

Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions.  It should take about ten minutes.  If the pasta finishes cooking before the rest of the meal, drain it, put it in a large serving bowl and toss it with some olive oil to prevent sticking.

Increase the heat to medium/medium high.  Add the shrimp with their marinade and leave undisturbed for two-3 minutes (until the bottoms appear pink and the edges are slightly opaque).  Flip them over with and cook an additional minute or two, until they are just cooked through.  Remove them with the slotted spoon and put them in the large serving bowl.

Add the broccoli rabe, a dash of salt and two teaspoons of the uncooked minced garlic.  Cook about five minutes. Remove with the slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the shrimp.

Add the rest of the minced garlic and as much red pepper flakes as you'd like (around 1/2 - 1 tsp).  After about a minute, add the flour and stir constantly to prevent lumps.  After another minute, put a strainer or colander over the skillet and pour into it the shrimp/white wine/clam stock so that the shells stay behind.  Stir constantly until thickened (about two minutes).  Turn off the heat and add the parsley.  Slowly add the butter and lemon juice, stirring constantly.  
Once the butter is incorporated, pour the contents of the large serving bowl (which should contain the shrimp, rabe, and pasta) into the skillet. Alternatively, you can add the sauce to the bowl and toss everything there.

Toss together and season with salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve with warm baguette, lemon wedges, and the best extra virgin olive oil you've got.  Oh yeah, and a couple bottles of that Luna Pinot Grigio.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Excuses, Excuses

Just wanted to apologize for not updating so frequently - since Milan (post soon to follow) we've had only one day off, so it's tough to keep blogging! I promise more posts soon!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 22 – MILAN – Laundry Social Experiment and the Multitasking Puppeteer

We flew in this morning from Barcelona – thankfully it’ll be our last flight until Vilnius in two weeks. It was also a much better experience than the Milan airport – we had plenty of time to go through security and get to our gate.
When we got to Milan I was a little disappointed when I found out that we weren’t actually staying in Milan. My room overlooked a highway and the weather outside was dull and gray. Oh well, that just meant that I had to buy internet and compute during the day off. Eric and I also really needed to do laundry, so we made that our first priority. We walked under the bridge (which supported the highway) and about ten minutes later, we found a coin op joint. Being that we’re inept and totally idiotic, Eric and I struggled to figure out how to use the machines. The old owner tried to show us by pointing us around the white and yellow checkered room, detailing steps in mumbled Italian. It took him three times just to describe putting the clothes in. The soap was a whole other story. Finally after fifteen minutes, our clothes were cycling in suds. We decided that we trusted this guy enough to walk around a little bit. Of course we were starving, so we figured we’d grab a bite to eat. We immediately noticed a pizza place two doors down. Hm… pizza in Italy? Yes, please. We walked in pointed to the Foccaccia Primavera, a slice of thick crusted pizza topped with tomato sauce, olives, capers, mushrooms and peppers. The crust was perfectly airy and crisp – not dense like some Sicilian style pies. The sauce was perfectly balanced in terms of sweet, salty, and acidity. It was so good, we went back the next day got it again, this time with a slice of Pizza Bianca, a sauceless, mozzarella-ey slice topped with diced tomato and just the right amount of rosemary.

Resisting the urges to get Gelato (next door), we paced back to the Laundromat to put our clothes in the dryer. The man was leaving, so we made it just in time. An older woman came in with a little dog that ran over to me. Thinking about how much I missed my Monty, I petted the pup. He pulled back a little, sniffing my pizza-scented fingers. He started to bark, as if he were angry with me for not having brought him back any. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were coming.” I giggled. We sat in the ‘mat until the clothes were dry and trekked back to the hotel.
A couple hours later and we met up with Adrian for dinner. Since we weren't in downtown Milan, I had no good way of searching for a nice spot to eat. Again we were left to the mercy of our hotel. They quickly handed us a card for Ristorante Morganti Enoteca. Sounded good - we made a reservation at once.
The taxi dropped us off in front of the restaurant, and we stood outside observing the menu. Meeting all of our standards (veg options, cheap, etc), we decided to go for it… but where’s the door? It looked empty inside, but the man at our hotel’s reception had called ahead and made a reservation… were they playing some sort of sick joke on us?
We walked around the block… that wasn’t right either. Finally we realized that the door blocked by a table was indeed the entrance. Wow, the place was completely empty – does no one in Europe eat before 10?

Finally we were greeted by an old man who looked like Geppetto. His mustache curled upwards in the most whimsical way. He lit our candle, poured us a complimentary Apertivo and took our drink order. Adrian and Eric split a half liter of house white; I got my own of red. He returned with the two pitchers and a plate of bruschetta.

Free stuff is good. I like free stuff – especially when it’s food – especially when I’m starving. “What do you like to eat?” he asked. “Everything,” we replied in unison. “You like fish?” I nodded – but I just wanted to get the order in before I got too drunk to talk from having alcohol on an empty stomach.
Eric and Adrian started with spinach and ricotta stuffed tortellini, which was topped with a fresh tomato sauce and a couple whole basil leaves. I could tell that the garlic and diced tomato was just briefly sautéed and that the pasta was most likely made in house, as it was soft (not in an overcooked way) and egg-y.

I got a nice big salad which came undressed, which I love since I can make the dressing as tart and vinegary as I want.

As we were enjoying our first course, another group of three sat down across the room. One was definitely Italian (a good sign) but the other two were English and American. Well, I thought, maybe this is a guy that knows his food and is taking his visiting friends to his favorite restaurant. I could overhear our waiter talking to them, “You like fish?” Apparently he was really trying to sell the seafood tonight – I got worried because I ordered bass. Just then our second courses arrived. Eric got a plate of grilled vegetables that were topped with cheese and broiled. How could that be bad?

Adrian got Veal Scallopini – which looked like a nice rendering of a classic, covered in arugula and tomatoes.

As aforementioned, I got the bass (luckily fillet-ed and de-boned), which was wrapped in thinly sliced potato and pan seared. It was really excellent – the potato crisped up really nicely and the delicately sweet fish stayed nice and moist. It’s a common technique that I think I’ll try out back home (“Ooh ooh! Make it for me Julie” - I know you’re salivating, Mom).

As we were enjoying a few more tables came in – I felt relieved – but it didn’t matter; I was enjoying my meal either way. Then I heard the server again “You like fish?” He gave the same spiel to every table. And every table was American. Oh man, I thought, this is just a place recommended by all of the hotels in the area. It made the whole experience less special for me. But then we were brought out a plate of complimentary cookies. Debate over – it was an excellent dining experience, despite the hokey-ness.

Then things really took a strange turn.

No not that. The table of the American, Brit, and Italian began talking politics. They rolled their eyes at us, for we were talking politics earlier and they must’ve overheard us. I don’t want to get into details, but we decided that we’d had enough and that we’d go over to the Blue Note for a drink. We called Andre, got the address, and asked our funny server for a taxi. “Ok, 10 minutes,” he said. I couldn’t wait to get out of there; my blood was boiling as a result of listening to the snobby trio. “5 minutes.” After 3, we stood up to wait outside so that we could leave as soon as possible. “Ok here is your taxi.” Geppetto pointed to a new gray station wagon parked in front of the restaurant. “Huh – this is our cab?” we asked. “Yes it is,” he retorted, as he opened up the door and took a seat behind the wheel. Now I’ve seen everything… and I’m still wondering who took all of his tables. Then my thoughts turned became clear, and I realized that it was all an evil, evil plan. This guy must a friend of the bartender from Lugano – they did both speak Italian, and Milan is only an hour away from the Swiss town. We weren’t going to escape twice – they were going to make a feast out of our newly pudgy, tipsy bodies after all. “Yes, yes - fatten them up! Recommend the pasta and if they try to order vegetables cover them with gobs of cheese! Cheese imparts a nice flavor… Give them the free bruschetta and cookies too – and make sure to get them very drunk. It tenderizes the flesh.” I shook my head in disbelief – it couldn’t be true, right? “Oh no, I can’t take you there,” Geppetto sighed, “that’s very far.” I was about ready to jump out of the car. Then Adrian suggested that we just go back to the hotel. “Good idea!” I affirmed immediately. Before we could get out, Geppetto took off… how did he know where our hotel was?
No matter, we somehow escaped the jaws of cannibals yet again, and enjoyed a nice Lemoncello at the hotel bar. I guess he got a craving for sour conservatives instead…

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 21 – BARCELONA, SPAIN - Magic Mushrooms

The egg window is baffling. The restaurant gives you the option to have them scrambled, fried or whipped and folded into fluffy omelets. Since fried is one of the options, I know the cook can make whites, but he won’t give blanco as an option – he just shakes his head. There’s also a nice ripe, sliced tomato back there, but when asked if it can be put into an omelet, he points to placard “Tortilla de huevos – con: queso/bacon/jamon.” Apparently the tomato does not exist either. I order fried eggs, figuring I can just eat around the yolks. He proceeds to drop two eggs into a 2-inch-deep vat of oil. Lovely – so much for a healthy breakfast.
Like Rome, we barely had any time in Barcelona. We drove from San Sebastian to Bilbao and flew from there.

The flight was a piece of cake, but we really had to drop our stuff off at the hotel and rush over the to the Bikini Forum for soundcheck.
Ah, a rock club – finally. I knew this would be a good show once I met the crew and checked my amp – it was a great room. By the time sound check was over we were so hungry we were tempted to start gnawing off our own hands. Finally, the crew arrived with some crostinis, tortilla chips, organic vegetable crisps, hummus (that tasted oddly of refried beans), tomatoes and cheese. We inhaled as much as we culd in a ten minute period, and went back to the hotel.
The show was awesome – the crowd of 300 danced and sang along (and might I add with the best rhythm and pitch I’ve heard from just about any audience thus far). This is why we’re meant to play rock clubs: it just works. There’s something about the energy, the standing, the lighting, the sound… or is it the alcohol…
After the show we went back to the hotel to eat (yet another) late, late dinner nearby. When we walked into the restaurant, we received applause from the only other table. As it turned out, the man sitting there with his wife (or girfriend) was a very famous music critic in Spain. He loved the show, and took some pictures with Adrian, promising some future excellent reviews.
We were excited by this, but also hungry. However, we had to wake up early the next day, so I didn’t want to fill up so much that I couldn’t sleep. I was recommended the wild mushrooms and baby roasted peppers, flecked with clusters of delicate sea salt. The funghi reminded me of baby shitakes. They were very mild, sautéed simply in olive oil, garlic and parsley – delicate with a touch of bright (from the parsley) earthiness. Apparently they have a very short season so chefs try to feature these prized ‘shrooms at this time of year. The peppers were nice and sweet, not spicy at all - despite their green color (best of that shade I’ve had for sure).

Adrian got some chicken with a sauce comprised of the same mushrooms. This was served with fried potato. I didn’t want to be rude and take a photo from the other end of the table, so there’s no pic for that. Eric got a salad (which tasted alarmingly like it had Caesar dressing on it) and gazpacho. The soup was much more refined than any kind I’ve had before – it was really quite thin, but still flavorful.

Much better than some attempts that I’ve had, which make me wonder if the chef just dumped a jar of salsa into a bowl with some water or club soda and topped it with tortilla chips and sour cream. Blech, no thanks. Andre got a nice looking salad, full of crisp raw veggies and the gazpacho, though he didn’t eat the soup because it had a bit of white bread in it. I admire his self-discipline – rarely (and I mean rarely) does he consume refined foods.

Again we drank Albariño and Tempranillo – and how could we not? It was our last day in Spain afterall. After the meal I took some shots of Adrian in front of the walls. Guess which one we thought looked like him?