Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Admit I am Powerless Over Pasta

Is there a 12-step program for me?
I have been a pastaholic these last few weekends.
Last night, for Andy and his son Matt, I made fresh fettucine with cracked black peppercorns incorporated into the dough. And if that's not naughty enough, I tossed it in a decadent sauce of heavy cream, ricotta, parmesan, and stilton. Threw in a few peas for the English guys, of course.

I almost feel as if I need to go to church today to repent. I think I'll take a 5-mile walk instead.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Collaborative Carrot Soup

I've created a compilation recipe for carrot soup, based on recipes from Bob Cleveland (Andy's dad) and Debra Wagoner (my friend and neighbor). I'm going to use it for our dinner tonight, and add a few of my own embellishments:

5 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. minced ginger root
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp. curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro to garnish

Saute the onions in about 2 tablespoons of oil. When they have become translucent, add the garlic and ginger. Saute one more minute. Add broth, potato and carrots. Simmer until the carrots and taties are very tender, probably about 30 minutes. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth.

If you don't have an immersion blender, go out right now and buy one, you culinary slacker! Alternatively, you can blend the soup in batches in a blender, but what a pain in the patootie that is!

But I digress. When the soup is smooth, add the coconut milk and heat through. Garnish with cilantro and serve to your sweetie with a kiss.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Remember The Lighthouse?

Lisa Kotula made a comment the other day about missing the spinach pie from The Lighthouse, which is now the Six Burner on Main it Vine? I can't recall the cross street, but I feel sure I could drive home there with my eyes closed, as I probably have many times

George Vlasidis was the ever-present owner who seemed to never go home. The Lighthouse was a family place, with lots of George's kids working there through the years. His wife was always there, too, though you rarely saw her come out of the kitchen. George was intermittently gracious to respectful and loyal patrons and appropriately bossy to presumptuous college actors who strode into his restaurant and started pushing tables together without asking permission.

There was a decade or so when The Lighthouse was THE after-show hangout for the theatre community. I don't really know why. It was a place where you could show up with a big group. Perhaps it was the menu that had something for everybody--authentic Greek dishes, a big selection of pastas, sandwiches, appetizers, etc. The food was not fancy or very creative. It was plentiful and cheap. They just had a real potpourri to pick from and their prices were great. I particularly remember their marinara sauce. It was divine, thick and rich and perfectly spiced with just the right amount of tender tomato chunks and made fresh every day by either George or his wife.

For a time, it just seemed to be the place to go. I'm sure that there's some hip new place that has become the new theatre hangout. I wouldn't know, because I hardly ever do shows anymore, and I go out after shows even less! But I have many fond memories of The Lighthouse.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Making Lasagna

Making pasta is like having a play-dough fun factory! I made spinach lasagna this afternoon. Lasagna's easy because it doesn't have to be perfectly shaped. I am in love with the new pasta machine.

Andy devised a drying rack by removing an oven rack and propping it between 2 chairs. Worked pretty well! And look at that gorgeous green color.

This recipe takes a long time to prepare, especially when you make the noodles from scratch. It's one of those dishes that takes a good 3 hours to make, and a scant 3 minutes to devour. It is wonderfully rich, but mild on the spice front for those of you who like mild. I would probably spice it up somehow the next time I make it.

I forgot to get a picture of the sliced and baked eggplant that goes into this lasagna, but I did get a pic of Andy brushing the tomato slices with a mixture of tomato paste, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The recipe just called for plain old sliced tomatoes, but at this time of year, fresh tomatoes need some serious help. So Andy dolled them up and baked them for about 25 minutes to concentrate the flavors, which proved to be a great idea.

Fresh mozzarella was layered with the tomatoes and eggplant, and the sauce was a parmesan white sauce accented with nutmeg.

I can't even begin to calculate the calories in each serving! One may debate whether it's worth the time to make your own noodles. I think it is, just because you can achieve a very thin but resilient noodle that I have never been able to buy in a store.

So that's an account of our second pasta making journey. I'm sure there are many more to come!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

We're off to the pub for breakfast.

Yep, you heard me right.

Tomorrow, Liverpool plays Manchester United. Big match. No self-respecting Englishman will want to miss this match. That means Andy and I are going to Penny Lane Pub on Fifth and Franklin for breakfast, soccer watching and probably beer. Terry, Penny Lane's owner, is from Liverpool. For special game days like tomorrow, the pub usually serves up a good proper English brekkie, like bangers and eggs and taties. Liverpool is Andy's favorite team, and Andy's dad's fave as well.

Are you getting a sense of the build-up here? My boyfriend was pouncing on the bed this morning at 8 a.m. telling me to "guess what we're doing tomorrow! And guess why I'm kissing you on the cheek right now!" My guess was "that we are going to a bar to drink beer and watch soccer first thing in the morning?"

Then later, we are planning to make homemade lasagna. We're going to take another crack at the pasta machine, which excites me to no end. There's a recipe in Ann Willan's Perfect Pasta for a gorgeous spinach lasagna with eggplant and a mornay sauce. I'll try to take pics this time!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Very Expensive Dinner

We decided tonight that we would have pasta with tomato sauce. You know--something simple and satisfying.

Then we got a wild hair and decided to take the plunge and buy a pasta machine, which we've been wanting. So now it's a trip to Sur La Table. And we can't go to the snooty mall in our sweats, so it's showers and primping before we leave the house. We buy the pasta machine at Sur La Table, then we must go to Fresh Market and buy semolina flour to make the pasta, because after all this trouble, we'll be crushed if it doesn't turn out right! We buy all the stuff to make ravioli, spending nearly 40 bucks at Fresh Market. The plan is a mushroom-shallot-ricotta-goat cheese filling and Andy's amazing red sauce.

Andy's red sauce is a work of art. I can't say enough about it right now--it needs its own blog entry.

Making pasta dough looks easy in the book. You put a pile of flour on a surface, make a well in the middle, put the wet stuff in the well, and gradually mix it with your fingers until it's a lovely ball of dough. Easier illustrated in a cookbook than done! I ended up scooping the mess into the Cuisinart and finishing it in there. It turned out great, though!

The short story (I know, much too late for that) is that our simple, no-fuss pasta dinner took about 7 hours and cost about $118.00.

I am looking forward to playing with the pasta machine again! I really love it, and it works beautifully. And now that I've actually read some directions on how to use the thing, I'm even more optimistic about my second attempt. Next time I make pasta, I will take pictures.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I Need Frenchification Today. Vive la France!

I'm half French, the daughter of a French dad, and I am a bonafide Francophile. I feel like cooking something French today.

A few years ago, right at this time of year, I was on the French Riviera in Nice soaking up lovely sunshine and warm breezes. This is a splendid part of France. The pace is gentle, weather is temperate, and the people are gracious and laid back. I had the best time wandering around the market, looking at the beauteous bounty of vegetables, fruits and flowers. The market is open every day except Monday, and I could never tire of the sights, sounds and smells of it.

It was at the market in Nice that I was first introduced to Pissaladiere, a caramelized onion tart. It's traditionally made with anchovies, which I cannot stomach, so I am making mine without the stinky salty little bastards. I am instead going to add capers, which I think will add a nice bite and go well with the caramelized onions and calamata olives.
I start with a crust recipe that is not French at all. In fact, it's a Nigel Slater recipe from his book, Real Food. It's an easy, thin crust that I have used with all kinds of toppings. This method makes 2 pizzas. You can take half and refrigerate it after the kneading stage, then use it later. Or make 2 pizzas, but that can be dangerous!

Mix 3 tablespoons of whole wheat flour, 225g of plain flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a packet of dry yeast, a tablespoon of milk 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 120 ml of warm water. Knead it for 10 minutes. Should be a firm dough. Set it aside in an oiled bowl, cover with a dish towel and let it expand for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut into thin slices what seems like a mountain of onions.

I used about 4. Don't fret--they cook down to a surprisingly small mound. Heat some oil in a big saute pan and start cooking the onions. Only use a couple of tablespoons of oil, because you actually want the onions to stick to the pan eventually. When they begin to soften, turn the heat to medium low and be very patient, because this is going to take at least 30 minutes, and more like 45. When the onions are quite soft, go ahead and add about 4 cloves of thin sliced garlic and a handful of fresh thyme leaves.

Just keep turning the onions gently and fairly often, deglazing the pan with sloshes of sherry when the onions stick to the bottom. The onions will be so soft they'll seem on the verge of deterioration. Eventually, you'll end up with a nicely browned little pile of concentrated oniony perfection. Mix in some chopped calamata olives and set the mess aside.

By now, the crust dough has puffed up nicely. Cut it in half if you haven't already. Press it onto a baking sheet--try not to make it too perfectly shaped 'cause that's boring. Just go for an approximate oval or rectangle about 3/8 of an inch thick with a little ridge around it. Let that sit again for 10 minutes.

Now put the onion mixture on the crust and gently spread it out. Dot it here and there with capers. Use the capers sparingly, as they are very strong and salty.

Brush the crust edges with oil, sprinkle the whole thing with fresh ground pepper, (no need to salt this--there's enough salt in the olives and capers) then bake at 400 until it looks done. I like it to get quite brown around the edges.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff!

Andy's coming to visit tonight and I actually haven't seen him in 2 weeks! Right after we got back from vacation, I went to work like a maniac (still haven't had a day off) and Andy hasn't been able to come up to Richmond because his car died an untimely death. But he gets new (new to him) wheels today and he's coming to visit, so I have to make something extra delicious for dinner. Something slightly sinful and comforting, too. This recipe for portobello mushroom stroganoff I found in seemed to fit the bill! Portobellos are so nice and meaty, and they soak up flavors divinely.

Here's a pretty blurry picture of how it turned out:

I paid heed to the readers' comments below the recipe and was glad I did. The addition of about a half cup of sherry in the saute stage of the mushrooms and the addition of worcestershire sauce to the broth were both brilliant improvements. I also only used about half a cup of sour cream, and I used the reduced fat kind. After all, I had to do something to balance out my flagrant use of butter! And lastly, I added a tablespoon or so of grainy mustard to the sauce. Yum.

This was absolutely delicious, and did not take very long to make. You can whip this up easily in 30 minutes or less. Andy consumed it with vigor, and when I saw him wiping up the last bits of sauce and licking it off his finger, it made me really happy!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wee Andy

I love this piccy of Andy.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Jonesin' for Some Cookin'.

Due to my working a very heavy schedule these last two weeks, I haven't cooked anything more complicated than toast and eggs since I got back from vacation. I'm dying to get in the kitchen, roll up my sleeves and make something deliciously complicated. Something that will smell up my whole house and make my eyes water.

My pick for this weekend is an eggplant and coconut curry that I was introduced to by Andy's sister. It has a huge list of ingredients, which always excites me. It involves going to more than one store, lots of peeling and chopping, roasting, sauteeing, making a spice paste, and leaving overnight before eating. Whew! I'm exhausted already! All that work, and I will likely inhale it in a minute and a half.

You can find this recipe here, on the BBC website, by the way. Here it is, with the English terms changed to American terms, and some comments from me:

1 medium eggplant, about 8¾oz
2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 medium zucchini
14¼oz canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
canned chopped tomatoes
14¼oz unsweetened coconut milk
sea salt, to taste

For the spice paste
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cardamom seeds, about 10 pods
½ tsp fenugreek seeds

2" fresh ginger, peeled roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp turmeric
1-2 chillies, de-seeded, or 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tomato, cut into quarters
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar

To serve:
steamed basmati rice
sprigs of coriander
mango chutney
Greek-style yoghurt


1. Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise, prick with a fork, and roast in a preheated oven at 425F for about 40 minutes, until soft.

Eggplant does a mysterious thing when it's being roasted whole in a hot oven. It smells slightly like chocolate. Or maybe that's just the LSD I had for breakfast.

Let cool, then peel and discard the skin. Don't worry if a few charred bits remain - this will add extra flavor.

2. To make the spice paste, dry-toast the spice seeds in a frying pan, shaking until they pop and turn lightly golden. Transfer to a blender or spice grinder, add the remaining ingredients, and grind to a smooth paste.

Bring the spice paste to your nose and have a sniff. You should be experiencing an olfactory orgasm right about now.

3. Heat the oil or ghee in a large, heavy-based saucepan, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the spice paste and stir for two minutes to release the aromas, then add the bell pepper, sweet potatoes, zucchini and chickpeas. Add some water to the mixture so it doesn't burn, just about half a cup or so. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, then bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.

4. Put the peeled eggplant in a blender, add the coconut milk and pulse to a coarse purée. Add to the pan and bring back to a simmer. Add salt, if necessary. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and let stand for at least 30 minutes or preferably overnight.

5. Reheat, then serve with rice, coriander sprigs, yoghurt and mango chutney.

Now, truth be told, I did not bother with coriander sprigs, mango chutney, or yogurt, though I'm sure they would have been gorgeous with it. I made this in the morning and ate it when I got home from rehearsal, so it sat around all day. I must say, this recipe benefitted enormously by sitting and letting the flavors meld.

It was so good, I almost slapped my own ass.

I just had it with some basmati rice.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beans for Breakfast? Are You Mad?

I've been having the same little strange breakfast every morning lately. It's toast with baked beans and eggs on top.

No, I am not pregnant. I'm barely laying eggs anymore. And as far as I know I've not gone completely crazy, as of yet.

Andy tells me of this landlady he once had when he was a young teenage lad in nautical school. She made him beans on toast with a poached egg every morning. It was part of the room and board and food arrangement they had. I thought it sounded good! I also noticed that beans are a very common addition in the proper English breakfasts that I ate recently on our trip.

At about 219 calories a serving, it's a lot better for me than a McDonald's cheese and egg biscuit (though those things are damn good.)