Tuesday, November 28, 2006

keep it simple

Fervet olla, vivit amicitia.
While the pot boils, friendship endures.
-Latin Proverb
Red Wine Risotto:
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 side-dish portions, 2 main-dish portions
You'll need:
  • 2 cooking pots (1 for broth, 1 for risotto)
  • 1 bottle Chianti (some to use, some to drink)
  • 1.5 C Arborio Rice (risotto)
  • 1 C. grated parmesan-reggiano
  • 5 C. Chicken Broth
  • 1 Medium sized Yellow Onion
  • 1/4 C. Olive Oil
1. Fill one pot with chicken broth, or 5 C. water/2 cubes boullion - put on M/High heat, to boil.
2. Chop onion, put in the other pot with some olive oil over Low/M heat, to sweat* the onions.
*Sweat: The opposite of sautee. The goal is to cook the food gently over low heat until, in this instance, the onion becomes translucent but not brown. You can do this with plenty of olive oil, and the lid on the pan.
3. When the onion is done, and the boullion is boiling, add 1 1/2 C. Arborio Rice to the pot with the olive oil and onion in it. Make sure the rice is covered in olive oil so it doesn't stick to the pan.
4. When the rice starts to stick to the pan, ladle in the chicken broth. Start with 2 ladles-full, and wait until the risotto absorbs all the liquid. Stir constantly. (Approximately 5-6 minutes).
5. Add 1 C. Chianti to the pot with the onion and risotto. Stir, and wait until the liquid reduces/the rice absorbs it. (Approximately 3-4 minutes).
6. Continue to stir & add chicken broth to the risotto until it no longer absorbs liquid, or until the rice is soft to the bite. (Approximately 20-25 minutes).
7. Add the parmesan to the cooked risotto.
8. Buon appetito & enjoy the rest of the wine with dinner!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

hello, fabulous

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating."
-Luciano Pavarotti

Bangkok Joe's
3000 K Street NW
(202) 333-4422
Cuisine: Thai
Price: $$/$$$

Bangkok Joe's is right at the heart of swanky DC waterfront culture--it's missing only the giant price tag. Appetizers run around $7, and entrees are $13. Whether you're hitting up the nightlife in Washington Harbour, hanging out on M Street, or cozying up to a movie at the giant AMC Megaplex nextdoor, Bangkok Joe's has your date night covered.

Belly up to the golden-lit bar and enjoy any of their cocktails while you wait for your seat. It's really crowded, but wait times are usually managable (est. 10-20 minutes). The super-chic decor inside has everyone in the mood for cool. Beware Armani-scented collegiates--they smell, but they usually don't bite.

After we got our seat, a cozy/chic table for two in a row--we ordered some awesome pan-seared appetizers and drinks to share:

Winter Squash Dumplings ($7 for 4):
Delicious. They sound a little weird, but we were both feeling brave and in the end - glad we took the leap. These savory-sweet pockets of squash were perfect--and not too filling.

Spicy Chicken Dumplings ($7 for 4):
This is the gold standard in chicken dumplings--spiced chicken and veggies inside, crispy/chewy dumpling on the outside. Great starters!

We also ordered a bottle of cold sake ($9) to split, and a Thai beer (Singha) draft apiece. I enjoy the beer/sake combination. Sake is a must with all asian cuisine, and the Singha just makes the dinner taste right.

I ordered the Chicken Basil Rice Bowl ($13): Spicy but not debilitating, super flavorful! The chicken was minced with basil, garlic, and chili paste to create a great example of a Thai standard.

Bangkok Joe's does a great job with their presentation and their details -- serving in gigantic, impossible-to-finish-sized bowls with giant red chopsticks. Their service is very, very quick -- which is great while you're waiting for a table but might make you raise an eyebrow when they bring you the food only 5 minutes after you've ordered it. All in all, this is a truly wonderful spot for dinner on the Waterfront.

Oh, and don't leave without checking out the shadow-dancer bathrooms...

variations on a theme

"I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation."
-Madam Benoit
To say nothing of my intelligence (or not), this is a great lasagna shortcut! It's pretty quick, and not bad-looking, either!
Pesto Stuffed Shells
Prep time: 25 minutes.
Bake time: 40 minutes.
Yield: A lot of food for 2 people, enough to feed 4-5.
You'll need:
  • 1 box Extra-Large Shells (I used Barilla)
  • 1 16 oz. Container of Whole Milk Ricotta (Sargento works!)
  • 1 small jar roasted red peppers
  • 1 small container pesto genovese (basil and garlic pesto)
  • 4-6 slices provolone cheese
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tbs. butter
  • 2-3 tbs. flour
  • 1/2-3/4 C. Milk
  • 1/2 C. Grated Pecorino cheese
1. Start by putting a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
2. Begin again by making the roux (est. 10 mins):
Melt butter in a small saucepan on LOW heat.
Put 2-3 T flour in melted butter over low heat.
Whisk in flour immediately.
Add milk, blend butter/flour and milk together.
Remove from heat, keep stirring.
Add grated pecorino (and I like to add cracked black pepper), stir until completely blended.
Place back on low heat, add a little more milk (1/4 C.), keep stirring.
3. Open can of crushed tomatoes.
4. Put 2-3 T crushed tomatoes in roux until it turns a light pink.
5. Take pink roux off of heat, pour in the bottom of the baking pan (you will put your shells on top of the roux).
6. Your water should be boiling -- add salt and oil to your water, then add your pasta and follow package directions!
**I recommend cooking the pasta until 1 minute before package-recommended "al dente" cooking time. For each 1 minute the pasta is not boiled, plan on another 15 in the oven. For example, if the package said cook 12-13 minutes for "al dente" I would take the pasta out after 10 minutes, and put it in the oven for 40. Got it?
7. While your pasta is boiling, put the whole container of ricotta in a medium-sized bowl (big enough for mixing).
8. Chop the roasted red peppers and drain the oil off of them. Add them to the ricotta.
9. Add the pesto (1/2 to 1 whole container) to the ricotta.
10. Blend the pasta, the red peppers, and the pesto.
11. When your pasta is done, drain it and let it cool for 2-3 minutes.
12. To stuff your shells, take one pasta shell, and 1-1 1/2 T of the ricotta/pesto/pepper mixture and spoon into the shell. Place stuffed shell on top of the roux in the baking pan.
13. Repeat until your pan is full of stuffed shells! If some of your shells were damaged during boiling, not to worry -- they will still taste great.
14. Spoon the crushed tomatoes on top of the stuffed shells (appx 2 T per shell) -- be sure the shells are covered with but not swimming in the tomato sauce.
15. Place slices of Provolone on top of the stuffed shells. Facile!
16. Place stuffed shells in a 300-325 oven for 40 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly.
17. Mangia, mangia!
Serve with:
Salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and pine nuts
Italian Red Wine -- Cesanese di Piglio ($10) An AWESOME find!
For dessert:
Italian Sorbetto
When there's bubbly, vodka, and lemons involved -- it HAS to be a good time!
Prep time: 5 minutes.
Cook time: 0 minutes.
You'll need:
  • 1/2 pint lemon sorbet (I like Whole Fruit and Haagen Dazs)
  • 1 cup champagne
  • 1/2 cup vodka
1. Put everything in a blender!
2. Turn the blender on for 1 minute.
3. Pour into glasses, serve with spoons and a silly grin.

Monday, November 13, 2006

a sunday night classic

"I'm not into 'this' food, or 'that' food, I just like good food."
-From my Real Simple Book

After taking something of a sabbatical from petitpoule, I'm back, and I'm hungrier than ever. I have been on the campaign trail, with almost no time at all on my hands. We braved the campaign trail 7 days a week - I had all but forgotten about weekends.

Imagine my delight upon my return when I woke up last Sunday! No doors to knock on! No dogs to fight!

No, I hit the 'snooze' button and slept til eleven. Then I went to Starbucks and got a $5 peppermint soy latte to celebrate the return of Starbucks red holiday cup. I love that cup! I took my time drinking that latte, reminding myself with each sip how nice it was to drink coffee because I enjoy it.

I decided to do some exploring in a very hungry state...and stumbled upon one of Arlington's best kept secrets for a cibo-phile like myself! "Cibo" means "food" in Italian. The place is called The Italian Store, a shocking little discovery sandwiched in between a CVS pharmacy and a Giant food store. Oh, forgotten gem!

You can visit the website, www.italianstore.com, but you won't find anything there. Yes, in true Italian style these folks have kept things offline and in-person. When you go in, it doesn't matter if you want 1 slice of pizza or 4 ounces of 9 different kinds of meat -- average wait time once you take a number is about 20 minutes.

They carry all kinds of imported meats and cheeses, first-press olive oils, fresh pasta, a selection of wines from the many regions of Italy, Mamma Mia! It's enough to make me swoon. And the prices -- you won't believe this -- they're at or below what I would pay for food at an average food store. I had to do it, I just couldn't resist -- I bought all kinds of ingredients, and made Lasagna Rolls to celebrate.

Lasagna Rolls
Prep time: 40 minutes
Bake time: 40 minutes @ 300 degrees
Yield: 12 rolls, will feed 6 normal people, or 3 hungry Tringes.

Serve with: Salad and red wine.
Dessert: Lemon sorbet.

For the lasagna, you'll need:

Flour (2 tbs).
Milk (1/4-1/2 cup)>
Butter (3-4 tbs).
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
Tomato Sauce (I always favor using the crushed variety)
Lasagna Pasta (I like Barilla, the long kind, but short works just as well!)
Mozzarella (I like buffalo mozzarella, about 3-4 balls)
Pecorino-Romano (grated, +/- 1 cup)
Ricotta (whole milk, 16 oz.)
1/2 lb Provolone
Chopped Frozen Spinach
4 oz. Prosciutto di Parma sliced thin
4 oz. Genoa Salami

This takes about another 4 ounces of coordination, so...here's what I did which seemed to work out:

1) Thaw the spinach in your microwave, put on defrost for about 5-6 minutes.
2) While spinach is defrosting, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil, and take another smaller pot out.

Now you'll want to make the roux, keep focused on this, it should take about 10 minutes:
3) Use about 1/4 stick of butter in smaller pan, melt on low.
4) When the butter is melted, whisk in about 2 tbs. flour, gradually. It will make a paste. Allow it to get golden but not brown!
5) Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk, whisk.
6) Add pecorino-romano cheese, whisk until melted.
7) Add about 3 tbs. tomato sauce, just to make the roux a light pink color. You can add pepper to taste, but will not need salt with all the cheese!
8) Pour the roux into the bottom of your lasagna pan. It will just hang out for a while until your rolls get started...

By this time, your water should be boiling. It's best to cook lasagna noodles a few at a time. I usually do 4 at a time, but be sure there's sufficient oil in the water and on the plate where you'll put the cooked ones, or else you'll be sad when your noodles rip.
9) Add 4 noodles to your boiling water.
10) A hint: Set a timer for 9 minutes every time you put a new batch of pasta in to boil, just to help your busy mind remember your noodles so you don't end up with lasagna dough.

While your pasta is cooking, take your spinach out of the microwave and drain it...get a medium sized bowl ready and add your ricotta cheese to it. Mix in the drained spinach.

11) Check your pasta! If it's done, take it out and put it on an oiled plate, add 4 more pasta noodles to your boiling water

12) Take out your and cut it into little strips, about 1 cm. thick.
13) Mix your salami in with the ricotta and spinach.
14) Tear up the prosciutto and put it in the ricotta mix, try to get an even a mixture as you can, but it might be hard depending on how thinly the prosciutto was sliced.

15) Check your pasta! If it's done, take it out, put more in...

Now the fun begins.
16) Take out your provolone.
17) On a plate, put one lasagna noodle, and tear provolone slice in half and line your lasagna noodle with it.
18) Put two tablespoons of your ricotta/spinach/salami/prosciutto mixture on each noodle.
19) Roll it up!
20) Repeat 11 times, until you have 12 little rolls, or your mixture runs out.

You should have a neat little bundle of lasagna, which should fit neatly in a pan, in rows, when you get done. If they're less than neat the first time, not to worry! You've got eleven more chances to perfect your perfect lasagna roll style. Now...

21) Take some more tomato sauce and put a tablespoon on top of each roll, just enough to cover the roll -- don't drown it!
22) Slice the mozzarella in about 1 cm slices, place on top. It will be very pretty!
23) Salt and pepper on top, if you want. Fresh mozzarella can be kind of bland when baked...
24) Put it in the oven and FUGGEDDA BOUTIT! ...for40 minutes. Go have a glass of wine and a good conversation and when you come back everyone will be very happy that they know you because you will have made them a wonderful dinner on a Sunday night!

Enjoy! Due baci e amore...