Friday, July 20, 2007

Say hello to my leetle fren

Cheeselings, meet the spiral slicer. I know it looks like one of those wacky contraptions you see on the Home Shopping Channel that’s too gimmicky to purchase, but I am here today to sing the praises of this little blade runner.

I’ll cut right to the chase (cut, get it? hyuk hyuk). Plain and simple: it’s bikini season. And come the summer months, many of my favorite food groups are a highway to the danger zone (apologies to Kenny Loggins). See, when the weather gets warm and the sun is shining, I’d like to be frolicking on the sand and splashing in the surf. But I’m too busy cursing the pasta people (who I suspect are in cahoots with the tankini inventors).

Enter the spiral slicer. This little baby makes vermicelli and capellini style strands out of raw veggies like zucchini. And believe it or not, when dressed with a gingery soba sauce or a fresh pesto, THE STUFF TASTES LIKE PASTA! I mean, if I really, really concentrate, of course it’s not the real thing, but it’s pretty amazing how textures and shapes can fool your mouth into thinking you’re enjoying a carbtastic treat, when really it’s raw veggie stuff.

I discovered this wonder tool over at the bro-and sis-in-laws’ place, and I can tell you, it’s going to be a summer staple. When I perfect the soba, I’ll share the recipe and you can try it for yourself.

And no, I’m not off pasta for good. Heaven forfend! Just cutting down on carby pleasures so I can be a beach bunny, not a beach bum. (Get it, bum?) Clearly, all this sun is going to my head. I’ll sign off now and resume healthful living.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sunday Supper: Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Pork Sausage

I'm exhausted. On Saturday, we drove to LA for a friend's art show and then drove back Sunday, which is, in my opinion a grueling amount of time to be in the car, in 100+ heat, on the 5. We did however manage to squeeze in a poolside lunch at Casa del Mar and some sketchy late night behavior. (And I mean that literally--our hosts, who are acquaintances at best-- welcomed us home latenight, and then broke out their sketch pads and started drawing us. Seriously. This, to me, was hilarious, since they were both totally straight-faced and didn't even acknowledge it--just sketched away while staring intently at us and holding another, completely unrelated conversation. The worst part was, when the final products were revealed, they were horrifying. Michael announced he was ending his friendship with the sketchy male upon seeing his rendering of me.)

ANYWAY, we were tired. So tired in fact, that we wasted $70 worth of tickets to The Alarm/Psych Furs/Fixx show at the Mezzanine, and instead, watched Bret Michaels in "Rock of Love" and Scott Baio in what has to be the saddest reality show ever conceived. Poor Chachi has the emotional depth of a sea pudding.

However, as most of you know by now, my cravings are powerful things, and even in a state of utter fatigue powerful enough to keep me from three great '80s rock bands, I will do what it takes to eat something super-satisfying.

On this particular Sunday, it was a Penne with Vodka Sauce and Pork Sausage.

Sadly, I was too tired to photograph it (yes, that tired), but I made it in under 20 minutes (beat that, Rachael Ray).

This is so easy and so delicious, I highly recommend it for a quick dinner that's good enough for guests.

Penne with Vodka Sauce and Pork Sausage

1 pkg penne
4 cloves garlic
26 oz diced tomatoes, including juice
1/2 c. Vodka
1/2 c. cream
1/2 pound ground pork sausage (w/fennel, if poss)
Parmigiano Reggiano
crushed red pepper
ollive oil
sea salt and coarse ground pepper to taste

Bring large pot of water to boil, add salt and olive oil and add pasta.

In separate skillet, warm olive oil and add garlic, minced. Keep heat on medium so garlic turns golden, but doesn't burn. Once you're there, add the tomatoes including their juice. Add a few shakes crushed red pepper, plus the vodka and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce to a simmer. In a second skillet or small saucepan, sauté your pork sausage until it's thoroughly cooked through and then set aside. By now, your pasta should be ready, so drain it and set aside. Your tomatoes and vodka will have been simmering for a few minutes, but you should probably let it go a bit longer to make sure the alcohol's been cooked out. I would say it should simmer at least 10-15 minutes, all told. At that stage, add the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Give it a stir and then add the penne and sausage to the sauce so everything gets blended and mixed through. Serve with generous gratings of parmigiano on top and enjoy.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Breakfast of champignons

Sometimes when you wake up, you know tea and toast just isn't going to cut it. Such was the case this morning, when I awoke with a dull headache owing to last night's festivities with my husband's relatives, who are in town from London. (More on that to come.)

So for whatever reason, after a losing battle with the treadmill at the gym (I kept envisioning those cartoons in which a character slows down on the treadmill and then gets sucked through the conveyer and flattened like a pancake. Not to worry, I emerged in 3-dimensional form. Rather more than I'd like, I'm afraid.) I was just winded and starving and overcome with a craving for sauteed mushrooms. Hence this morning's breakfast creation: Poached eggs on toast with shiitake and truffle ragout, alongside arugula tossed in blood orange olive oil. Do I need to tell you how good it was? I think not. I'll just include my prep notes and pictures so you can see for yourself.

Poached Eggs on Toast with Shiitake Ragout and Blood Orange Arugula Salad

4 eggs (if you're cooking for yourself and a honey)
2 slices rustic bread (I used Grace Italian country bread)
8 shiitake shrooms (or more)
3 tbspn truffle oil
handful arugula (extra nice if it's fresh from the garden)
blood orange olive oil (we used one from Asti, 2003)
coarse sea salt
coarse black pepper

Fill a saucepan with water to poach your eggs and set it on a high flame. Cut two slices of bread on the diagonal so they make nice long slabs and then pop them in the toaster. While you're waiting for the water to boil, slice up your shiitakes in small strips, discarding any rough stems. In a small skillet, sauté the shrooms in a little olive oil and then finish them with the truffle oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and cracked pepper. Set aside. By now, your water's boiling and you're ready to poach. This is the time when I holler for the husband to take over because he's an impeccable poacher. If you're the best poacher in your house, carry on. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I'm not going to walk through the poaching process as it's delicate and there are hotly-contested issues regarding best practices (vinegar v. no vinegar, etc). There are plenty of handy how-tos for this online, so I'll leave you to your own devices here. The last thing to do is rinse and dry your arugula, then toss it in the blood orange olice oil with a little sea salt and pepper. To plate, spread the toast with mushroom ragout, top with 2 poached eggs and clip chives on top. Serve with the arugula salad on the side. The fruity citrus of the salad is refreshing alongside the earthiness of the mushrooms. You won't be disappointed.

As usual, I photographed the results to entice you to try my creation, but for reasons you'll soon see, I had to include two shots. The first is here for the close-up.

The second for The Unbearable Cuteness of [a small] Being.

And lastly, I have to circle back to the aforementioned evening with the Londoners, they being Auntie Anna, the stern but loving family matriarch; Cousin George, the tough-talking lager lout who's actually just a big softie that loves puppies and his mum; George's bird, Donna who loves a pint and a fag and their precocious daughter Louise, who I repeatedly engage in zoo-related conversation just to hear her say zeh-bra in a lovely little lilt.

Anyway we were all on the deck making merry and catching up when Auntie Anna hauled out a suitcase with gifties "for the boys" and flopped it open. Now let's be clear that "the boys" are my husband (38), his twin (you do the math) and their brother (36). I am not telling a word of a lie when I say that that super-sized suitcase was chock full of candy and weird British sweeties that "the boys" go crazy for. The contents included soda bread, Bakewell tarts, Bird's custard, Jelly Babies, Wine Gums, and more, which, with the exception of the soda bread, I find to be vile foodstuffs, all. But, it's food from the homeland and the boys dove in with a rarely-seen glee. My boy alone netted this load, which, I can assure you, will be gone by nightfall.

The only thing that even interests me remotely here is the Turkish Delight. And that's only because I was such a Narnia-freak as a kid that I still conjure Romantic visions of the white witch luring the kids to her sleigh with the stuff. Once I tasted it, however, I remember thinking "they went with the witch for *that* stuff? Those kids got suckered, big time." So I'll leave you with visions of sugary sweets dancing in your head and sign off with a cheerio, pip-pip, ta ta and all the rest.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

At the risk of scaring you off...

I will admit it. Like most bloggers, I like to look at the sitemeter, which lets me know how many (if any) of you are reading the blog. I like to see how readership picks up when I write frequently and tapers off when I get lazy. It keeps me motivated.

And sometimes, while I'm there, I notice where you come from, you worldly readers, you. I mean, if the hit comes from Amman, Jordan, I know it's cousin Yorke (hi Yorke!). If it comes from Dublin, I know it's my darling friend, Aisling (hi Aisling!) And if it comes from somewhere like India or Japan, I know someone probably made a mistake or else googled something über-specific like "saenkanter" ....

In any case, this exercise provides some low-grade entertainment when I'm killing time at a client's office.

The reason for noting this is that I need to come clean on one count. Generally, I only see cities from which hits originate, though on rare occasions, I see a company server name. And generally, it means nothing to me. However, some time ago, I started seeing repeat hits from a company whose name seemed to be food-related. We'll call it Yum Marketing. And as a food writer for fun (and a marketing writer for, um, the opposite of fun), I thought, by golly, I should know more about this company. Maybe this reader is scouting me out for some fabulous food-writing opportunity, which would require me to travel the world and eat everything in my path, and pay me gazillions of dollars for writing my impressions.

As it turns out, the company is really nothing like what I imagined. I mean, it seems cool and all, just not food-related. I poked around the site anyway, 'cause I was there, and bored. Then I happened upon the company profiles, which included pictures of the small team. And of course I checked them out. That's when I started to feel like some sort of Internet double-agent, quietly lurking on a company's site trying to imagine which one of its employees likes to look at my site. It felt like when you voyeuristically look into someone's window with binoculars, only to see a similar pair of binocs staring back at you. Not that I know what that feels like, or anything.

Anyway, at this stage, my curiosity was in overdrive. Is it the guy who appears to be enjoying a croissant? The dude who likes gumballs? The one with a fauxhawk? Or maybe it's the chick who plays pool? I'll never know, I'm sure, and I think it's best that way. In fact, I don't want to know. I only wanted to come clean and say, hey whoever you are, I appreciate your regular readership. Really, I always think "Oh, look, Yum Marketer is checking in!" Now, if only you could start working for a food-related venture and recommend me for the above-mentioned position, which requires exotic travel and pays gazillions, I'd be forever grateful.

See what you can do to make it happen, mmkay?

And if not, just continue checking in–I love that I have repeat visitors and your familiar blip on the screen feels like a friend.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cheesehounds, let's get back to basics

All too often, one of you gentle readers pipes up and laments the dearth of dedicated cheese posts, and time and time again, I'm forced to direct you to the "n things" part of this here blog. The thing is, there is just too much yumminess out there to limit my scribbling to cheese-based observation. But when a fantastic cheese crosses my path, or more appropriately, my palate, you know I'll be here telling you about it.

Enter Charvollais from French affineur, Herve Mons.

I discovered this delectable delight while nosing around the cheese counter yesterday, pre-Fourth of July revelry, and man, am I glad I did. This fine fromage is goaty, with a thick creamy, golden layer between itself and the rind. It elicited "oohs", "ahhs" and even a few guttoral grunts of approval from the very cheese-loving company I keep. In fact, it was so toothsome (note to self: use the word "toothsome" more often) that I called my fromagerie friends back today and inquired about the likelihood of procuring this cheese again, and often. It seems Monsieur Mons is a highly-celebrated affineur and his cheeses are prized and somewhat hard to come by. Translation: make it your business to find some of this stuff and buy it when you can. You shan't be disappointed.

We found the Charvollais to be sublime on its own, but also nice alongside grilled figs drizzled with honey.
We served all of the above with a chilled Vinho Verde that, itself, had notes of honey and green apples–perfect on a summer afternoon.

Other than that, I've been eating a lot of fruit. It's what you do in summer, and when everything's ripe and juicy and looking this good, how can you not start your day this way?

Finally, I don't usually use this blog to make reading recommendations, but I'm loving "Cooking with Fernet Branca" by James Hamilton-Patterson and I think you will, too. It's a rollicking summer romp and I'm forcing myself to savor it since I can already tell I'll be sad to see it end.

So, to recap, your shopping list should now include Charvollais, Vinho Verde, and a ripe pineapple to enjoy under the trees while sipping your morning tea and reading "Cooking with Fernet Branca." You dig?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, America!

This morning has seen a frantic attempt to create a themed CD for the afternoon's events. At first, I was bogged in the mire of Sousa marches and Skynyrd songs, but then inspiration came charging like a frontiersman across the wild, wild West. Neil Diamond! Elvis! Don McLean! Too-many American-themed songs to download! Mellencamp! And let's not forget Hendrix wailing The Star Spangled Banner! Kid Rock's "Cowboy"? Genius! Morricone's epic "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"? I'll be whistling it all day long! Even "Born in the U.S.A." and a Green Day rant about W....what would an all-American overture be without a protest song or two? Just a little something I like to call freedom of speech, people. Let's remember the rights we're celebrating!

So anyway, this mix is shaping up to be a patriotic tour de force, which our hosts (and their neighbors) are sure to love.

As far as food, I'm sorry to report that the day's menu is really looking more Greek than American. I hear mumblings about lamb and fresh figs plucked from the tree out back. Not to mention Don Julio, a little nod to the newest Americans, who break their backs taking the jobs we won't. But really, it being well into the summer, we've been doing our fair share of good ole American chowing down. It is, after all, fair season, and we're no strangers to the midway diet of corndogs, icy cold Bud and funnel cake, all served up by a toothless-but-still-grinnin' carny. Plus, with an all-American backdrop of acts like Cheap Trick and Benatar belting it out across the county fair circuit, we've been having a marvelous time.

This summer has also seen us stay in a yurt in Santa Barbara (hey naysayers, g-d made yurt and yurt don't hurt), a cabin in the Russian river and a plush pad in Tahoe, all of which provided backdrops for more decadent dining. To wit: my recipe for grilled halibut on rosemary skewers will be posted soon. But right now, we've got flag waving to do. You know, in the barbecueing, good-timing, fire cracking sense–not the "America's number one, this is an awesome war" sense. I think we all understand the bittersweet complexities of being an American today, but I, for one, will shout it from the mountaintops: I love my country and I'll be goshdarned if I'm not going to revel in it today.

And last but certainly not least, a spirited salute to dad and both granddads for their proud service! "Anchors Aweigh" we go!