Spaghetti and Meatball…Balls

Leftovers are the worst. There’s nothing more upsetting to me than the thought of having to eat the same meal for two consecutive days. With the exceptions of cassoulet, veal rib chops and cold Chinese food. I’ve found myself at times with my back against the wall and nowhere to run. Staring down what seemed to be a never-ending pot of chili. No matter how many spoonfuls you choke down on day two, three and four, it never lives up to the luster of that first bowl. That half eaten carcass of whole roasted lemon chicken and potatoes never looked more appalling than 24 hours after its first performance on the dinner table. Act 2 is always lacking panache and flair. A bit like seeing the touring version of Dame Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express. There’s nothing like seeing a roller skating rock opera on or in the vicinity of Broadway. Anything else is a deflated Yorkshire pudding.

This scenario played out for me not too long ago. I found myself without transportation as my wife had driven away for a day of shopping and such. I had no clue that she left me in near dungeon-like conditions. My stomach was clueless as well, since it had enjoyed a heaping pile of ricotta pancakes earlier in the day and was quite full. Fast forward 5 hours and I was still abandoned.

When I opened the fridge that afternoon it was like the scene in Pulp Fiction where that guy opens the briefcase and an ultra bright glowing light shines back at him. Like that but not in a good way. T’was none other than a frustratingly enormous, and quite frankly revolting pot of spaghetti and meatballs (duh, see title).

I pulled out the pot of pasta and just kind of stood there for a minute staring at it with my hands on my hips. Having to deal with such a vulgar subject takes a lot of meditation. What to do?

Spaghetti and Meatball…BALLS!

Trust me, you will forever have the chance to make this. There’s no such thing as a single serving of homemade spaghetti and meatballs (unless you live in Jimmy’s house, in which case no pasta survives to see another day).

Begin by taking 3 minutes to reflect on the amazing things you’re about to do with leftovers.

Spaghetti & Meatball Balls

• Heat your oven to 375°
• Throw the pasta on a cutting board and finely mince it. I made a batch of 3 balls, which requires about a cup and a half of chopped pasta (if your pasta was already sauced, then spread it out on the board. If not, then add about a 1/2 cup of sauce and mix it around)

Multiply if you want to make more than 3 balls. Place a meatball on the board and form a layer of chopped pasta around it until it’s completely surrounded. Now that you have the base formed, it’s time for some breading.

I used sea salt rice chips and grated Parm for mine but you can used anything really. Just regular bread crumbs or panko and the cheese would work, because honestly I didn’t really get much from the breading except a nice textural coating. Roll the spheres in the crumbs and place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until they start getting some color and have set up a crust.

In the meantime you really should make this thin aioli I thought up as an accompaniment.

Logan’s Thinkin’ Time Pink Aioli

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• The juice from a lemon
• 3 cloves of garlic
• 6 grape tomatoes
• A few shakes of smoked Paprika
• Sea salt to taste

Dump everything in a processor and pulverize for a few minutes. You will end up with a thin pinkish sauce for your lovely golden globes of goodness. I used the excess rice crumbs as a bed for my playful take on Arancini.

 

If you use breadcrumbs, I wouldn’t bother. Have you ever had success taking unappealing leftovers and ending up with a masterpiece? We’d love to hear about it!

Perla – New York City, NY

When I come to the city for pleasure, which isn’t often, I make the most of it. This means following Eat a Duck’s patented mantra, do your homework! My mother would be proud. Now I keep an ever-growing list of restaurants with me that I feel call for a visit. On this particular day, I chose the wonderful SoHo tapas bar, Boqueria, and a slick Italian joint hidden away on the diminutive Minetta Lane, called Perla.

If you’re looking for an alternative to the über high-end A Voce’s and Marea’s of the city, but don’t want to sacrifice in quality and taste, Perla is the answer. Located just off 6th on a quiet street, this little gem has all the qualities you’d look for to have a romantic, relaxed and truly memorable Italian meal.

As with most restaurants I visit, I was drawn to Perla by rumors of a dish that had my name written all over it. Cavatelli with duck ragu and grated frozen foie gras. Are you kidding me Perla? Anyway, we hadn’t made reservations but we’re flexible young people, so after a short wait, we were seated at the bar with a fantastic view of the restaurant. One of the most refreshing aspects of Perla is its laid back environment. Make no mistake, the staff are the epitome of professionalism when it comes to knowledge of the menu and dealing with diners, but they keep things fun and comfortable. It didn’t hurt that everyone was in jeans and madras shirts, with a soundtrack of Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Zeppelin setting the mood. I have to say it was a departure from most restaurants serving this caliber of food.

Our bartender was friendly and warm and made us feel right at home, setting us up with a couple of glasses of hearty Montepulciano. After a quick look over the menu, we chose a couple more dishes to go with the aforementioned Cavatelli. A Razza Piedmontese beef tartare with Parmigiano Reggiano and black truffles, which, as the name suggests, uses the fantastic meat of the Piedmontese cattle. Due to a unique genetic trait, it produces meat with less marbling and less connective tissue, leaving you with smooth and tender meat which is especially conducive to a great steak tartare. The truffles managed to stay in the background and served as a great compliment to the sweet meat. Of the many steak tartares I’ve sampled, this was one of the finest as far as quality of ingredients.

The second dish was the orecchiette with sweet Italian sausage and ramp pesto. First of all ramps, I love these things, they’re a cousin of onions and garlic that gives you the addictive aroma we all crave without the eye-watering spiciness that comes from raw garlic. Let me say, Italian sausage was a brilliant addition to the pesto. I’m slightly embarrassed that I haven’t thought of doing it myself, especially since pesto is almost a weekly dish at our house. The key here is the fat of the sausage and how that mingles with the flavors of the basil and ramps. This resulted in a creamy, unctuous texture that coated the tongue and definitely gave the pesto a more luxurious personality.

After we devoured the first two courses, I made eye contact with the bartender, I had a concern. When I ordered the cavatelli, I didn’t see anything about grated frozen foie gras on the menu. When I mentioned that I had chosen this restaurant upon hearing about a pasta covered in foie, his response. “don’t worry, you ordered it dude!”. I let out a sigh of relief, that was a close one. Shortly after this exchange, my cavatelli arrived. Despite its inviting appearance, I held my fork until I spied a girl approaching with what looked like a medium-sized salami and a cheese grater, my frozen foie was here no doubt. She began grating…and grating…and grating. She went on grating longer than most restaurants grate your cheese, I wanted to hug her. It was like a dream, it was snowing foie gras on my plate, which instantly melted when it hit the piping hot pasta, mixing with the sauce to create a duck foie-gu. Sadly, despite the length of grating, the foie flavor was a bit lost in the ragu. Of course I could taste it, but I’m greedy, and probably a bit ridiculous wanting pasta with a foie gras sauce. I’ll have to save that for my death-bed.

I knew I ordered the right stuff when I noticed the couple sitting next to us at the bar practically drooling over our food. They asked what I ordered and promptly followed suit. I had done my good deed of the day. It was the perfect finish to a perfect day with my wife, everything cooked to perfection, delicious wine, great atmosphere and friendly staff. I’ll definitely be heading to Perla again at my earliest convenience. Maybe next time I’ll sneak in my own torchon to satisfy my foie fever!

Perla on Urbanspoon

Boqueria – New York City, NY

Like any respectable romantic comedy, whatever you’ve been looking for has usually been right in front of you all along. So it was with Boqueria, which is situated along my daily walk to work on Spring St. Since I don’t normally have the time (or the money for that matter) to go out and indulge in a tapas feast, I never really gave it much thought, regardless of how enticing their daily quips about sangria and pirates on the blackboard out front were.

Recently though, my wife and I had a chance to come to the city and actually enjoy its most valuable commodity, food. I already had a couple of places in mind, Boqueria and Perla, but that’s for another post. All I needed to see was the fresh cheeses and cured meats in the window and I was sold. Despite the risk, I was fairly confident that we’d be in for a great meal even after doing little to no research (out of character I know).

The danger lies in the fact that many restaurants wrongly tout themselves as “tapas bars” when they don’t understand what that means. It’s similar to how Logan feels about “fusion”, yet another word that American eateries have re-purposed to take advantage of the whimsical imagery that one gets when they think of tapas. A wonderful seaside niche, serving up small dishes of freshly caught seafood and locally sourced meats and cheeses, along with endless glasses of simple (yet delectable) house wine and sangria. Sadly this is rarely what you get when you enter a restaurant advertising tapas in the States.

Boqueria rectifies that sorry state of affairs. As we sat, my eyes were immediately drawn to the enticing list of tapas items. My wife and I settled on three dishes and a salad to compile our midday feast:

To start, a simple organic mixed green salad with herbed croutons and a citrus vinaigrette. This was no tired house salad. The greens were vibrant and the citrus vinaigrette sparkled with freshness, excellent olive oil didn’t hurt either.

Sangria & organic mixed salad

Skewered Colorado lamb marinated in lemon and cumin and slathered in a salsa verde (more like chimichurri but no complaints here)

pintxos-morunos

Beef and potato croquettes with salsa brava and garlic aioli were moist and tender with great heat from the salsa offset by the creamy tang of the aioli.

bombas-de-la-barceloneta

Sautéed wild mushrooms with shaved Manchego and thyme. These were reminiscent of the wonderful sauteed cepes we had in Paris. Tender and juicy, the Manchego-thyme flavor was a winning combination.

salteado-de-setas

Wash all that down with their refreshing house made sangria, and you’ve got yourself a Barcelona Teleporter right there on the table. Boqueria is the perfect spot to grab a few nibbles on an activity filled Saturday afternoon, especially since it doesn’t leave so full that you ruin the wonderful Italian meal you have planned that evening. More on that later…Boqueria everyone, get your tapas on!

Boqueria Soho on Urbanspoon

Con-Fusion: How American Ignorance Ruined Cuisine

It’s high time the proprietors of the newer “foreign cuisine” establishments, stop dumbing down their dishes because of the perceived ignorance of the consumers palate. Would you please cease and desist the Americanization of all things un-American? The problem has to be a financial one, am I right? Making food for the masses that’s “safe” is probably more lucrative than escorting people out of their comfort zone where they can actually experience something meaningful. However, while this country is appropriately known as a melting pot for one and all, those coming from overseas with an immense knowledge of exotic flavors seem to have abandoned sharing their traditions in favor of appeasing the “meek of tongue”. And you know what? It’s all your fault.

The word “fusion” has become an increasing source of irritation for me, mostly because of the blanket definition it tends to assume. Gone are the days when an exclusive breed of chef transformed the food world by mixing cuisines from completely opposite sides of the Earth to create something new and inspiring. Nobu successfully managed to mix Japanese and Peruvian in a way that was groundbreaking many years ago because of two reasons; he was already a master of Japanese cuisine and because the time he spent living in Peru gave him a passion for the culture as well as an in-depth knowledge of the ingredients indigenous to South America. This has allowed him create dishes as an insider of both cultures.

However Nobu’s loyalty to the flavor of his cultures is a rarity among restaurants these days. If you people think you’re getting an authentic rendition of Com Suon Bo Dai Han Bi Cha Trung, and on the menu it just says “rice platter”, you’re probably not going to get the flavor tour of Hanoi you were hoping for. If your plate if full of fluffy rice, char grilled strips of fatty pork and thinly sliced short rib, a brick of pork pate, fresh slices of cucumber, tomato, carrot and daikon,  a sunny side up egg, sprinkling of fried shallot, a nice big cup of nuoc cham, and finally a heaping side platter of Thai basil, cilantro, mint and bean sprouts, by all means let the feast begin.

Sadly, I can’t find that exact dish within an hour of my house unless I break several traffic laws. There are two places that sell similar things, but I’ve had both and neither are worth the time. I’m not going to knock anyone for settling, well, maybe I will. If you don’t have the time or the money to travel a considerable distance to get a better meal, I’d say just do without. Eat somewhere local that does what they do well. If nothing else, maybe you can learn to make that certain thing you like so much, depending on the cuisine, I’d wager it’d be cheaper. Since I mentioned my favorite Vietnamese dish earlier let us use that as an example.

Say four people order the same dish plus drinks at my favorite Vietnamese joint, Anh Hong. It’ll run you about $45 if you include a 20% tip. The same meal at a local establishment won’t give you all the accoutrements I described earlier, and would cost closer to $62 if you leave the same tip amount.  I’m sure it wouldn’t cost more than $17 to travel to a city with better food. You do the math.

I don’t usually name names here, but in response to an Urbanspoon troll, Saigon Bistro is nowhere near the level of quality that Anh Hong provides. To compare the two would be like comparing Flip Burger Boutique to McDonald’s. Honestly, it’s dumb, and you’re ignorant. The service is slow, the food is bland, the prices are exorbitant and I’d sooner have Sriracha sprayed in my eyes than call that Vietnamese fine dining.  I tried it twice, as I feel I should to give everything a fair chance, but both times I was completely disappointed. Places like this are a cancer to my local food scene.

The Rise of Risotto

A very wise and handsome man once said, “The only thing you need to become a success is to show up and pay attention. Nothing magnifies that FACT better than a perfect risotto.”

For years I’ve held on to a precious risotto recipe, keeping it mentally locked away, never ever sharing it with anyone. When asked for the recipe, instead of writing it out or sending it through a simple email, my answer was always, “Just let me come over and make it for you myself”. On occasion, believe it or not, the offer was accepted by a close friend or two.

I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that people are intimidated to make risotto at home. Possible reasons being volatility and consumption of time as well as the needed attention of literally slaving over the stove for a minimum of 30 minutes. Perhaps that’s why I’ve shied away from offering it up. For fear of others failure? That’s it.

However, the latest request was different. There was no possible way I could have found the time to do what was needed to make it for her. So I caved and gave her what could be considered the starter recipe. The simplest risotto. You know what? It’s time I start having more faith in my friends. Because she nailed it.

This recipe was derived from a mixture of a few different ones I’ve found while searching out a simple yet luscious marriage of rice and broth. The main idea came from chef Jamie Oliver with a few tweaks from other contributors. I feel that I’ve figured out the perfect risotto for home cooks, with a base ingredient list anyone can collect from any grocery store.

I’ve taken the liberty of converting crazy British words into easy to understand “American”. Unless you fancy a nub of butter? Here is the gorgeous risotto recipe I use.

Ingredients

  • 32 Oz Beef or Veal Stock (Use chicken if you think beef or veal stock is too rich. Little baby.)
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Stick Butter (Room temp)
  • 3 Small Shallots (Finely diced)
  • 4 Cloves of Garlic (Smashed and minced)
  • 2 stalks of Celery, with leaves (Finely diced)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Arborio rice
  • 1 glass (4 Oz) Dry Vermouth
  • 6 Oz Freshly grated Parmesan

Heat the stock in a saucepan that can hold at least 4 cups

In a separate pan, at a low temp, heat the olive oil and 2 Tbsp butter, add the shallot, garlic and celery, and fry very slowly for about 15 minutes without coloring. When the vegetables have become soft and translucent, add the rice and turn the heat to medium.

The rice will now lightly fry. You will see slight pops and cracks from the grains. After a minute it will become translucent as well. Add the vermouth and keep stirring.

Once the vermouth is cooked, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat as low as your stove will go. Keep adding a ladle of stock at a time, whilst allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep moving the rice around. Stirring and folding so you can see the liquid evaporate before adding more ladles. This will take around 15 minutes if your lucky. More like 30 minutes. Taste the rice every time you put another ladle of stock in the pan. You will notice a gradual softening occurring in the rice. You don’t want al dente. You want it to become soft to the tooth, but not mush. Don’t forget to season as you go. I say this because unless you are a pro and use the same stock or make your stock and already know how salty or peppery it will become when reduced, you’ll probably need to add salt as you go. Once you feel that you’re ready, take a breath, and maybe stretch your back a bit. It’s been a long journey, but you’re not done yet.

Remove from the heat and add 6 Tbsp of the remaining butter and all the Parmesan. Stir well. (If you decide that you want to add a little flair to this basic recipe, this is the time to let your freak flag fly as Luke Wilson would say. Add Lobster, or roasted mushrooms or whatever strikes your fancy. You can even throw in some extra creamy Tallegio to increase the goo factor. Or do nothing at all…whatever).

Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. If you think that putting a lid on it isn’t important, Congrats! You’ve ruined everything and dinner is cancelled. Everybody hates you now. I hope you’re happy. Seriously though, every thing is mostly not too technical and can be tweaked except this step. If you fail and don’t cover the Risotto for the last 2 minutes, you will not meet the Oozy gooeyness you were searching for. I don’t know why this is the way it is. I just know that you don’t mess with science.

Eat it as soon as possible.

Lobster & mushroom risotto

Listen, I don’t remember saying anything about this being healthy, so I don’t want to hear your belly aching about it having too much richness for your “lifestyle.” Eat it. It will make people who hate you like you again. That’s my personal guarantee.

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill – Austin, TX

Today we’ve got another guest contribution. My little sister Sara just returned from an all-female food fraught fiesta out West, and she returned with tales of Moonshine, Texas style! We hope you all enjoy, and thanks to Sara for the review, our first one from the Lonestar State!

My girls and I recently went on a trip out West to Denver and Austin. The underlying excitement of the trip definitely stemmed from trying local cuisine, making sure to steer clear of any chains. When we landed in Austin, we met up with our friend who lived down the street from our hotel and immediately hopped on Yelp to find a decent place for a late lunch.  The first place that struck us, because of its incredible ratings, was Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill.

photo: www.moonshinegrill.com

We were escorted out to the covered patio and were informed by our incredibly polite and helpful server, James, that we had arrived just in time for happy hour. Half off drinks and appetizers! That definitely helped expedite the choosing process. For appetizers, we chose the Moonshine “Corn Dog” Shrimp with honey mustard and a blueberry swirl, the Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles with maple butter, warm syrup and chipotle gravy, Roasted Garlic Bulbs with goat cheese, roasted red peppers and toast points and the Baked Brie with cranberry-apple chutney and toast points. While we waited for our appetizers we each ordered a signature patio cocktail.  Since, for me, this was the first time being of age in Texas, I had to try my first Mint Julep.  It was smooth with that delicious bourbon bite, a real Texas Mojito.

 Mint julep & James

Shanna ordered the Ruby Slipper Martini, which consisted of vodka, grapefruit juice, grenadine and champagne. Lindsay ordered the Hard Lemonade with vodka, mint, fresh lemonade and a splash of Paula’s Texas Lemon. Even Diana, who detests even a hint of hard liquor, ended up ordering a Hard Lemonade herself.  It’s a dangerous but delicious drink that’s gone before you know it. James brought out two small buckets of popcorn dusted with some mysterious spice (I assumed it was Old Bay), which was a terribly addicting snack to place in the middle of five women.

 

Our appetizers were each incredible in their own way. The baked brie was melting and delicious and each component, the apple slice, caramelized onion and the melty breaded brie on a toast point, completed the dish. The Southern Fried Chicken was Diana’s choice and she stated that she would eat it by herself if no one wanted to share.  Of course when it made it to our table, none of us could resist digging in. The waffles were light and fluffy and went surprisingly well with the fried chicken tenders. I served myself a cut of waffle spread with the maple butter, then a cut of the chicken, drizzled on some gravy and the warm syrup on top of everything to make the perfect bite of Southern comfort food.  The roasted garlic was a no-brainer. It was drizzled with a thick balsamic vinegar.  This was another appetizer that required some assembly. First, a mashed clove of garlic on the toast point, followed by a shmear of smooth goat cheese, topped by a few bits of the roasted red pepper. The “Corn Dog” Shrimp was the first appetizer we heard about via Yelp so we had to order it.  Battered shrimp on a stick always sounds good to me.  The shrimp was cooked perfectly, just juicy enough, and the blueberry swirl in the honey mustard gave a nice zing to the dish. 

Roasted garlic & corn dog shrimp

In an attempt to be semi-healthy on the trip, I ordered The Bohemian wrap, which is Portobello mushrooms, grilled zucchini, red bell peppers, red onion, arugula, goat cheese and eggplant spread wrapped up in an herb tortilla.  It was the best vegetarian sandwich dish I have ever had. It’s rare when I can find a vegetarian dish that completely satisfies, but this sandwich blew me out of the water. As my side, I ordered the red beans and rice to complete my Southern theme for the afternoon.

The Bohemian & Big Red's bits

Diana ordered Big Red’s BLT, apple-smoked bacon, summer tomato and arugula on grilled farm bread.  Diana noted that the farm bread was incredibly buttery and the peppered tomatoes were perfectly juicy, as a bonus, both were locally sourced. I highly recommend this Moonshine to anyone visiting Austin.  After our meal was over, we contemplated going to Moonshine every day for lunch for the duration of the trip. A relaxed atmosphere, impeccable staff, and incredible food, what more can you ask for?

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon