Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cappuccino via the Bialetti Brikka

Here's a quick ode to my new coffeemaker, the Bialetti Brikka. Bialetti's coffee machines seem to be one of the few areas of contemporary Italian innovation. This machine has only been on the market for a few years, and is an upgrade to the venerable Bialetti Moka pot. I say upgrade as its larger base and new spout enables the machine to build more pressure than the moka, resulting in coffee with more body and richness. In addition, it creates a crema that matches an espresso in terms of appearance if not in taste. The end result is not quite espresso, it lacks the complexity and depth of a good espresso, but it's as close as you'll get without buying an espresso machine. With a little hot milk it makes a very nice cappuccino.

A very good investment for $45 (at Amazon), along with ACF cups, and beans from Northampton Coffee it generates morning happiness.....

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunrise Bakery, Easthampton (MA)

Hands down the best doughnut of my life is sold at Sunrise Bake Shoppe. Old fashioned glazed, al dente on the outside, soft and cakey on the inside. Perfection. They also make a mean whoopie pie and a good cheesecake. Their pies look fantastic too. Prices are good, people are regular folk which is quite refreshing compared to Northampton's kewl youth. The place reminds me of Black Sheep in Amherst, only smaller and not filled with undergrads.

Amendment: one Sunrise item I cannot recommend are their cannoli. Filling was more on the side of whipped cream than ricotta. La Fiorentina wears the cannolo crown around here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Baku's in Amherst (MA)

Last night the lady and I tried out the Baku's, an "African" restaurant* in Amherst. The highlight was the mango ginger ale - spicy (real ginger) and delicious. The food was tasty, not amazing, but good. I liked the tomato curry sauce, it came with everything from fried plantains to black eyed peas to chicken and goat. I had the goat with curry, damn good. The plantains weren't of the sweet variety and a bit too starchy for me.

The kids working in the kitchen were great.

*Africa, just one big country!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lasagna bolognese and baked beets with brie

Lasagna bolognese and baked beets topped with an amazing brie from Liuzzi's Cheese Shop in North Haven, CT.

Modern Apizza, New Haven (CT)

Another weekend, another trip to New Haven to visit Ikea. For eats, the plan was to stop at Frank Pepe's for a pizza. We arrive there at 5:30pm only to find a line down the block of people waiting to get a table. I guess Pepe's fame is no joke. Knowing that Modern makes a good pie with less wait, we headed over there. Took us roughly 20 minutes to get a table, 15 more to get a pie, which is probably half the time we woulda spent at Pepe's. Anyway, about the pizza. Here's a shot of their delicious crust...

The crust is very thin, but what sets it apart is its char. They get a really nice char around the edges on top, and on bottom the crust is littered with little bits of carbon that taste delicious. The crust at Pepe's is a bit thicker, chewier, with less char. I like both crusts, but gotta go with Modern. With that said, I like the ingredients (particularly the meats) at Pepe's more. Both are places I'll happily go to in the future, both offer superior pizzas, but I surely won't try to go to Pepe's after 5pm on a weekend night again.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fagioli all'uccelletto

Tuscany loves beans, I love beans, and I love Tuscany. So imagine how much I like Tuscan beans. Fagioli all'uccelletto means literally "little bird beans" and supposedly it's to reflect the garlic and sage in the dish, which is also typically used on small game birds.

In a nutshell this is Italian pork and beans. Cannellini beans, garlic, sage, pork sausage (no fennel!), tomatoes. The sausage is optional, I think it typically does not use sausage, but I wanted this as a main rather than a side. It's best to start with dry beans for their toothy texture, soak them overnight to prep. Once soaked (8 hr minimum), boil them till al dente. In a sautee pan, brown the sausage in olive oil. Once browned, add the garlic and sage. Only let the garlic get to golden, then add tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans. Cook for another 10-20 minutes, depending on doneness of beans desired. You may add water here to cook the beans further if necessary.

Friday, February 15, 2008

El Guanaco, South Hadley (MA)

Salvadoran food. Tasty. Priced right. Good pupusas ($1.75 per). Kinda hard to find, it's tucked away on the left hand side when coming south on 116, just after 116 splits off to the right and before it goes over the bridge to Holyoke:

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cedar plank salmon

Seen this whole cooking with cedar thing on TV a few too many times and decided I should try it myself. Went down to Northampton Lumber and had them saw an 8' plank into one foot sections. Made sure it was untreated wood first. I was assured and reassured. If there was any arsenic et al in the wood, it sure made for good eats.

I heated the plank for 15 mins at 400 degrees. The salmon got a lemon pepper, garlic salt, and salt rub, then marinated for 30 minutes in soy sauce, dark brown sugar, red pepper, veg oil, and water. Salmon went on plank, went in oven, came out of oven, went in my stomach. Made my mouth very happy in the process. The finished product:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Salsa fresca

Making good salsa is so easy that it surprises me when I come across bad stuff. The longer I've lived in New England the less surprised I have been on successive occasions, but with that said, there is still no reason to make bad salsa - anywhere! These ingredients can be purchased in most places of the world.

A simple recipe like this + a blender = tasty. People like Rick Bayless will rightly tell you that using a blender makes a frothy salsa, but the froth (air bubbles) dissipate after a couple hours, and you want to let your salsa marinate and marry for a few hours before eating it anyway.

1 28 oz can of plum tomatoes
2/3 medium white onion
cilantro, handful or so
9 serrano peppers (this make it medium-hot, adjust to your taste)
2 garlic cloves
Juice of one lime
pinch of salt

Combine, blend, enjoy. Below is this salsa accompanying huevos rancheros.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gypsy Apple Bistro, Shelburne Falls (MA)

A special night required a good dinner out, and I picked the Gypsy Apple Bistro in Shelburne Falls. 'Twas about 13 degrees outside and so going in their cozy, warm environment was a big plus. A small room, beautiful, transports you to the Continent in all the right ways.

The menu is small, changes monthly. There were hits and misses. We especially liked the mushroom ravioli in a saffron cream sauce. The sauce was also flavored with carmelized onion, and came with greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic. The earthy flavor of the mushroom combined well with the onion and garlic. The other hit was the mussels with a riesling and shallot cream sauce. This is probably the only time in my life I've ordered two cream sauces in one sitting, see my post on carbonara below - cream to me is usually a culinary cop-out, it drowns out the other flavors (or worse, is used to cover up the lack of good flavors, such as when the other ingredients aren't at their freshest). In this case, the garlicky greens gave the ravioli dish some bitterness and bite to offset and compliment the cream. I liked that. And dipping their seriously hot bread into the riesling cream sauce was pretty sinful.

Duck confit was tasty, nothing to write home about. The venison dish wasn't as good. The venison was ok, the bigger problem was its unsatisfying red wine reduction and the accompanying horseradish mashed potatoes. Neither were very good separate (if you're going to go horseradish, don't wimp out). Together they clashed and very much tasted like they didn't belong together.

Overall, a good experience. They pour a generous wine glass and have good beers on hand. The chef was friendly and gregarious. One day we'll return, hopefully to all hits.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bucatini alla carbonara

One of my favorite mainstays, pasta alla carbonara (this time its bucatini, probably one of the most underappreciated pastas this side of the Atlantic). It's simple, comfort food, and goddamn delicious.

No cream! Every single time I've seen this dish in a restaurant there is always cream in the sauce. Unnecessary and it kills the taste. Carbonara is simply pancetta, pecorino romano, pepper, and egg. I add a bit of garlic, dry white wine, and red pepper. Do what you want with it, just don't add cream. You can't really get pancetta around here, I always pick some up when I'm in a coastal city (bought some in New Haven recently). Bacon is a substitute, definitely a second best though. Make sure you get some good slab bacon if you do.

Here's how I do it: first, whisk your eggs. 1 egg per portion. Grate some pecorino romano, a small handful per portion. Add this to the whisked eggs and mix together. Start your pasta. Along the way, temper your eggs with some of the water from the pot.

In a sautee pan: depending on the fattiness of your pancetta, add more or less olive oil. The stuff I got last is pretty lean, so I add a couple tablespoons of oil. Sautee pancetta on low heat until it renders most of its fat, then add the optional garlic and sautee till you smell its aroma (do not let it brown). Add the wine, and simmer it all on medium for a couple minutes. Add your pasta and combine in the pan. You want the pasta to get fully coated in the fat and olive oil.

When your pasta has been well coated by the oil and fat, add the egg and cheese mixture and stir to coat the pasta. Keep heat low enough that you don't get scrambled eggs but high enough to cook the eggs. Approx 1 egg per serving size. Serve hot.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Baked ziti

Normally I avoid Italian-American food like the plague. Then last night I get the crazy idea of making baked ziti, perhaps the most iconic Ital-American dish after spaghetti and meatballs. Turned out monster delicious due to the addition of fried eggplant and lots of red chili pepper. I now must admit, sometimes a crapload of garlic and mozzarella can make a palate happy.

Didn't take a picture, was too ashamed of my transgression into the red sauce world.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Braised country ribs with polenta

I wasn't real satisfied with this dish. I think white wine and sage go better with veal as saltimbocca than they do on these ribs. Country ribs braised in white wine, garlic, and sage, chunked and served over polenta.