Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Anniversary Foodie Friday!

Happy First Anniversary Foodie Friday!

In honor of this momentous occasion, I've baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and invited a few friends to help celebrate. You're invited too, as we thank Michael Lee, at Designs by Gollum, for a year filled with fabulous recipes and wonderful Foodie ideas.

Pull up a chair, grab a cookie, then hop over to her blog and join in the fun and festivities.

And again, thank you Michael for a wonderful year of Foodie Fridays. I've met new friends, tried new recipes and learned much. I've had a ball, and I'm looking forward to year two!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Food for Thought

Very Valentine****

This post is being linked to Food for Thought. Please click on the icon to the right to connect to more "Edible Reviews."
In my little reading corner 'chick lit' always has its place. Sometimes I need a pick me up, or I know I'll have limited reading time. In those cases, I need a novel that's a quick read and not too thought provoking. But most frequently, I treat myself to this genre in between 'heavier' reads.

A good piece of chick lit can serve the same purpose as a sorbet served between courses in a fine restaurant. It can cleanse the mind the way the sorbet cleanses the palate. The very best chick lit can also stand alone as dessert, and that's where I would place Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani. The only reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is that it's part of a trilogy, and the novel ends with unresolved story lines. A fifth star will have to be earned by books 2 and 3. (The second book, Brava, Valentine, was release last Tuesday and is on its way to me now.)

The main character is Valentine Roncalli, a 33 year old, single, Italian-American woman who abandons her career as a high school teacher to become an apprentice to her octogenarian Grandmother. Together they create handmade bridal shoes in their workshop/home in Greenwich Village. Along the way, Val has a proposal of marriage from her long standing boy friend, Brett. Here's her reaction:

"...I felt the great relief that comes with being alone. I needed to seek my own counsel, to think things through. So I made a dish of spaghetti with fresh tomatoes from this garden, olive oil from Arezzo, and sweet white garlic. I made a salad of artichokes and black olives. I opened a bottle of wine...Then I sat down to eat a glorious meal, slowly savoring every bite and sip.

I realized that my answer to his proposal, upon his return, would not be the great moment; the great moment had already happened. He had asked."
Valentine is a woman who enjoys good food and she's also a thinker.
She turns down Brett's offer of marriage, because she realizes that they're heading down different paths.
Of course another love interest pops up in the form of restaurateur Roman Falco. He's a hunk and he cooks...need I say more? He prepares a meal for Valentine's family on a night that his restaurant is closed. Truffle ravioli is the pasta course, followed by roast pork with root vegetables and preceded by a fabulous sounding antipasto. Despite the sumptuous fare, the evening is ruined by a Roncalli family squabble.
Roman has issues with the in-fighting in his own family, and he is not amused.
Roman and Val are both devoting huge amounts of time to their careers and business problems, and not making enough time for each other. To make amends, Roman makes plans to meet Val on the Isle of Capri after she concludes a buying trip to Tuscany with her Grandmother.

On their arrival in Tuscany, they check in to an inn where the proprietor knows Gran from her previous trips. The Senora serves them each a crock of perfect minestrone, crusty bread, fresh butter and wine.
In Tuscany, Gran reveals a few secrets about her past and present. Val meets one of Gran's suppliers who is also a special friend, and his son Gianluca. Gianluca becomes Valentine's tour guide in Tuscany and when Roman has to cancel his trip to Capri because of problems at the restaurant back in Manhattan he also shows up on the Isle. Val is attracted to Gianluca, but basically remains faithful to Roman, despite his no show status and her subsequent anger.

Left to her own devices on Capri, Valentine spends her days working with an elderly master shoemaker, Costanzo, who is 'besotted' with her. He approves of the fine shoemaking skills that she has aquired. She learns much in only a week and she hates to leave him. He feeds her breakfasts of fresh figs and pizza alige, and makes a special lunch of fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella on her final day. He calls it their 'last supper.'
Valentine falls in love with Tuscany and the relaxed lifestyle, but she has to admit that she also loves Manhattan. She ponders how to bring elements of Tuscany into her New York life. Ironically, I was reading Frances Mayes Bringing Tuscany Home while I was reading Very Valentine, and they made perfect companions.

Not too long after Valentine and Gran return home, Gran takes a fall and is hospitalized. Gianluca and his father fly to New York as soon as they hear, and in an amazing hospital room scene many things occur, including a face to face meeting between Gianluca and Roman. Roman is there because Gran was complaining about hospital food and he had specially prepared panne cotta for her.

I liked this book for many reasons. I've always loved New York city. I learned to love Long Island, (although it took a while), and I love Forest Hills where Val's parents live. (We actually have Italian family there.) We always go to Ferrara's in Little Italy for pastry, and we've been to a wedding at Leonard's of Great Neck. All of these places are exactly as Trigiani describes them. She writes with warmth, humor and great affection for her characters. You really can't ask for much more.

I love this Italian family and found it refreshing, and much more realistic, that they were portrayed as just a loud, large Italian family and not cast members of the Sopranos. The family members as written are people I've met. Gran is a very hip 80 year old, Valentine is the quintessential 30 something New Yorker, and Val's mom is the chic middle aged Italian matron that I've encountered several times over.

I also liked the fact that there were no shortage of food scenes in this book. If I illustrated them all, I'd still be in the kitchen! I even finally used the pasta machine and ravioli press that my husband bought me last year! Thank you Adriana.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Foodie Friday - A Chinese New Year Valentine

This year, Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year are on the same day, and what better way to treat your sweetheart than with a few of his favorite Asian dishes. This worked out well for me, because I prepared one dinner that covered both occasions. I planned this for tonight because of this post, and the fact that it will leave us free to do brunch on Sunday! That's a nice bonus.

We started our meal with Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls accompanied by nuoc cham for dipping. Round rice wrappers, (banh trang), are soaked in warm water until softened, then filled and rolled like an egg roll. These were filled with prepared rice noodles, cooked shrimp, cucumber, carrot, scallion, snow peas, and fresh cilantro. They're a year round favorite here, but are especially nice during the summer when it's too hot to do much cooking. When the mint is over running the garden during the warmer months, we add that too.

Our main course was Thai Green Curry Chicken with Long Beans. Chicken is poached in a coconut milk sauce that is seasoned with Thai green chile paste, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, fish sauce, lime, and fresh basil leaves. This dish is packed with flavor, and can be mildly hot or very hot, depending on how much curry paste you add. We serve this over jasmine rice. The rice collects some of the sauce, which is very thin, and also mitigates a bit of the heat. This dish is simple to prepare. Finding 'exotic' ingredients is what consumed my time.
I would have made Thai Black Rice Pudding for dessert, but in my travels to local food stores I've yet to find the special rice. As a substitute, my husband requested my regular rice pudding. It's a perfect finish to almost any meal, so I'm including the recipe that an Aunt gave me years ago.
Creamy Rice Pudding

Cook 3/4 cup long grain rice in 1 quart of water. Don't let dry out. When the rice absorbs most of the water and looks creamy, add 1 quart of milk and bring back to a boil.

Thoroughly mix together 2-3 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, a dash of salt, and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract. (You can also add a cup of raisins now, if desired.)

Using a whisk, whip the egg mixture into the boiling rice mixture. Stirring constantly bring back to a boil. Pour into a large serving bowl. Chill before serving. (Note: Pudding thickens as it stands.)

This post is being linked to Designs by Gollum, where Foodie Friday is well under way. Please stop by and visit our hostess, Michael Lee, and see what others are cooking up for the dual holiday on February 14th.

Happy New Year and Happy Valentine's Day..........Nancy

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Foodie Friday - Japanese Steak House Sauces and Restaurant Week in NYC

If I ask my husband what he'd like me to make for dinner, 9 out of 10 times it will be some type of Asian food. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, or Thai food will put a smile on his face any night of the week.

One of our favorite dinners is a Japanese steak house style plate. Mushrooms, zucchini, and rice are the mainstays. We use beansprouts if we have them, and then we complete the meal with chicken, shrimp, scallops, beef or lobster. This past week we chose chicken, because I had some in the freezer.
While the meat or fish and vegetables are certainly delicious served as prepared, they are tremendously enhanced by the addition of ginger or mustard sauce. Years ago I stumbled upon the recipes for both. I make them well in advance of preparing the rest of the meal, so the flavors mellow a bit.

Japanese Ginger Sauce

1 small onion , sliced 1 small piece of ginger cut into small dice

1/2 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix at high speed for 2 minutes, until ginger and onion are finely chopped. Just before serving, strain if desired.

Japanese Mustard Sauce

1 Tablespoon dry mustard 2 Tablespoons hot water 1/4 clove garlic, crushed

1 Tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted 3/4 cup soy sauce 3 T. whipping cream, whipped

In small bowl, combine mustard and water until smooth. Place in blender and add remaining ingredients except whipped cream and blend on high until smooth. Remove to bowl and stir in whipped cream.

BTW: You don't need a hibachi table to prepare this meal. Any griddle or large flat fry pan works just as well.

Please go visit our hostess, Michael Lee, at Designs by Gollum for more Foodie Friday surprises. She'll have Mr. Linky up and ready to take you on this weeks culinary tour.

Foodie Friday Extra!!!

Restaurant Week is drawing to a close in NYC. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, participating restaurants charge a reduced price for full course lunches or dinners. This year the lunch price was set at $24.07. Reservations are snapped up quickly, but this year my son was able to get one for lunch at Nobu, chef Nobu Matsuhisa's trendy restaurant in Tribeca. He's wanted to go there forever, but the budget of a family of four didn't really permit the luxury. To say he was excited would be a total understatement. He kept sneaking pictures of the food with his phone and sent them along after each course! Here's the email he sent when he returned home...further proof that some Foodies are born into the fold. (BTW: He's a really good cook, too.)

The food was simply outrageous. It WAS the best meal I've ever (and probably will ever have) eaten. The portions were proper, too. We left satisfied, and didn't have to make an emergency stop at Grimaldi's on the way home (that was our contingency plan should they give us teeny-tiny bites of really nice food). If they do it next year, I want you and Dad to come - he would've been in heaven between the Rock Shrimp Tempura w. Creamy/Spicy sauce and the Beef Anticucho. The sauce on the Anticucho was brilliantly spicy with Peruvian peppers, and required the provided sticky rice to temper the heat - right up Dad's alley. You probably would've chosen entree #3 - almost every diner around us did - the broiled Black Cod with Miso. It smelled heavenly, and the fish was flaking off of everyone's chopsticks. It looked perfect.

The Sashimi Salad was pan-seared tuna with pepper crust, two large pieces, over mixed greens, with Chef Nobu's personal dressing, the best variation on a sesame-ginger I've ever tried. I tasted equal parts ginger/garlic/onion, and had a low acidity point, as to not further cook the fish. The sushi was fantastic - every piece melted in our mouths, not like what we get at places around here, which is tasty but requires some work. These were all "like butter!" M shared two pieces of her tuna roll with me, as well as the maguro (tuna) and cooked shrimp sushi. She polished off three different pieces of white fish (looked like sea bream, yellowtail, and smoked salmon), salmon, salmon roe (I identified it for her - she loved it), and 4 pieces of the tuna roll.

Dessert was Tofu Cheesecake! I was worried we'd get some variation on green tea ice cream, but they totally came through - light, fluffy, and absolutely delicious, it was served with a lemon-orange sauce, a spoonful of syrupy diced apple, and a crispy chip seasoned with cinnamon and cardamom. It made for a perfect finish to a perfect meal.