Archive for December, 2008

Ricotta Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage Sauce

Ricotta Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage Sauce

Ricotta Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage Sauce

After flipping through some Cook’s Illustrated magazines recently for some new recipes to try, and I came upon a recipe for gnocchi.  I have maybe only had it once in a restaurant, but after looking at the recipe I thought I would give it a try.  In case you have never had gnocchi (pronounced “nyokee”) it is an Italian dumpling that is similar to pasta.  It is often made from potatoes, but this recipe is ricotta cheese based.  Gnocchi is considerably easier to prepare than fresh pasta, and makes a fantastic accompaniment to many dishes.  It has a nice creamy texture, with a nice cheesy, herbal flavor.  Make sure you use fresh herbs in this dish because they play a major role in the complex flavor of this dish.  Next time you are looking for a new side dish I would recommend giving this recipe a try.

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Allen and Son Barbecue

The great barbecue debate rages on. The regional differences in barbecue are astounding. I have become a huge fan of the vinegar based sauce found in North Carolina. The big rival, of course, is the tomato based Texan barbecue. Sweet sauces and mustard based sauces are also popular.

Allen and Son Barbecue

Allen and Son Barbecue

Allen and Son is one of the best example of North Carolina barbecue. It is located just outside of Chapel Hill in what feels like the middle of nowhere. There isn’t much else going on around it, but it nonetheless has a steady stream of customers coming to try to food.

Stew and Cue Plate

Stew and 'Cue Plate

I had the barbecue and Brunswick stew combination plate. A mound of barbecue shredded with some sauce mixed in is served with some coleslaw and a bowl of stew on the side. The barbecue is served all mixed together and those little pieces of outside brown are fantastic. With more chew and smoke flavor than the interior meat, I cherish each piece I find. The ‘cue itself is tender and still moist. More sauce is available and always poured on. The stew is very tasty with a decent amount of meat mixed in as well.

Stew up close

Stew up close

The plate also comes served with a basket of hush-puppies. Now, to me, these hush-puppies are amazing. They actually have flavor of corn meal and have a great crust with a soft bready interior.

Hushpuppies

Hushpuppies

Feeling adventurous, my friend and I decided to go for dessert. I got the Apple Crumble and he got the Klondike Pie.

Dessert, Apple Crumble and Klondike Pie

Dessert, Apple Crumble and Klondike Pie

Meh, the desserts were mediocre. The pie and crumble were overly sugary and the ice cream didn’t taste like much at all. Skip the desserts and stick with the barbecue.

Despite the lackluster dessert, Allen and Son comes heartily recommend and I would absolutely go there again. Just stick with the stew and ‘cue combo platter and you can’t go wrong.

Argentine Asado

Street Asado (click for bigger image)

Street Asado (click for bigger image)

I quickly learned that beef is king here. Parrilla restaurants are everywhere. I even came across a guy in the street grilling out on the sidewalk. Not even in a restaurant or anything–he was just making lunch. (See after the jump for the photo of this guy’s lunch—Bonus points to anyone who can name all the meats in the Street Asado.)
And it’s not just beef that is popular, anything that can be grilled is fair game. All kinds of animals–goat, lamb, cow, pig, poultry, fowl–, vegetables and fruits are all options for an Argentine in front of a parrilla.

I would like to introduce you to the Argentine way of grilling, the asado.

Asado

Asado

Everyone has seen the round Weber Grills used in the US. These are perfectly capable machines and can grill a good steak, but the Argentines have a method that I prefer. I always seem to have a problems grills in the US. I feel that I cannot regulate the heat as much as I would like and adding more coals to a lit grill is always an issue. The resourceful Argentines of course figured out a way around this by using a multistage process and an open cooking area.

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Argentina

As I mentioned in my last post, I was in Argentina recently. I spent my time between the wine region, Mendoza, and the capital, Buenos Aires. Long days of travel and sightseeing (and staying out late) meant that I went to a lot of cafe’s in both areas.

The view from Bodega Finca Decero

The view from Bodega Finca Decero

Mendoza recap: Mendoza is knows for its malbecs, and they had some very good ones. I went to several bodegas to taste some wine; my favorite were Renacer, Ruca Malen and Bodega Benegas. On the wine tour, I had lunch at the bodega Ruca Malen. A great meal, each course paired with it’s own wine, of course.

Tapas at Ruca Malen

Tapas at Ruca Malen

Roasted Apple with Quince Jelly at Ruca Malen in Mendoza, Argentina

Roasted Apple with Quince Jelly at Ruca Malen in Mendoza, Argentina

The main course was a beef tenderloin grilled “a las brasas” served with potatoes and bacon rolls and a goat cheese and black pepper sauce.

Beef tenderloin with potatoes and bacon rolls and a goat cheese and black pepper sauce at Ruca Malen

Beef tenderloin with potatoes and bacon rolls and a goat cheese and black pepper sauce at Ruca Malen

I also had a fantastic meal at 1884, Francis Mallmann’s restaurant (voted the 7th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine). Fantastic meal, great atmosphere. The restaurant is part of the Bodegas Escorihuela winery which had some very good wines. I had the Escorihuela Gascon Malbec and the Escorihuela Gascon Viognier; I preferred the Malbec, but both were nice. The menu is split into three sections: From the Grill, From the Clay Oven, and From the Kitchen. I would recommend getting a dish either from the grill or the oven. Mallmann is classically trained in the French style and tends to over prepare many dishes. Getting a dish from the grill or oven forces a simplification of the dish and, in my opinion, produces a more authentic Argentine meal. I had the chivito de Malargue (baby goat from Malargue), which I would recommend to anyone going there.

Kato Cafe

Kato Cafe

Buenos Aires recap: I did not eat at many restaurants in BsAs because I was living with my friend’s family while staying there. We normally stayed home and cooked something at home with the family. I did go to a few restaurants which I can recommend.

Cafe Biela

Cafe Biela

Bobo was very good. Located in the Palermo district, the food was well prepared with a good attention to detail. The style is modern and they blend cuisine from across the world but use spices more traditional to Argentina.
I also had the opportunity to go to a dinner club, Casa Saltshaker. This was one of the best meals I have had in a long time–easily the best meal on the trip. The dinner is served at a communal table with no more than 12 people attending. Each week is a different menu based off a theme. The week I went the theme was Thai food to celebrate the birthday of Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as Rama IX), the current king of Thailand.  The meal was a five course meal (sorry no photos of this one) that was perfectly paired with wines. I was very impressed by the preparation of the food and the wines chosen. The first dish was a smoked eggplant salad served on a tomato slice. This was paired with a Nieto Senetier Brut Nature sparkling wine. The second dish was a shrimp and lime consommé paired with a Jose L. Mounnier Torrentés. Again wonderfully prepared and delicious with the wine. The third dish was a double. One half of the plate was fried tofu served on a slice of pineapple and the other half of the plate was peppered sauteed calamari. This was paired with Monteviejo Festive Rodado which surprised me at first. I generally don’t go for rosés, but this one was perfect with the tofu and pineapple. The fourth dish was a melon curry with salt cured trout paired with Alredo Roca Pinot Noir. Argentines are not very used to spicy foods, so Dan, the chef, opted to refrain on adding too much spice and instead provided a spicy pepper sauce on the side. The addition of the sauce greatly improved the meal. To finish the meal a squash tart with caramelized cashews was paired with Callia Amable Dulce Natural.
I highly recommend it. If you go anywhere to eat in Argentina, go there.

(Update: I forgot to add a link to the Casa SaltShaker blog. There is an entry–with photos!–about the meal)

Cafe Civit

Cafe Civit in Mendoza

One more thing of note: ice cream. I am astounded by the capacity of Argentines to eat ice cream. The huge Italian influence (gelato style ice cream) mixed with South American flavors makes for some amazing treats. The Dulce de Leche flavor is a good start, traditional and delicious. Don’t stop there though, if you really want a treat, have Tramontana or Banana Split. Tramontana is basically a ducle de leche ice cream with chocolate crunchy nuggets mixed in. Banana Split is not like in the US. Forget about serving ice cream on top of a banana, instead make banana flavored ice cream with dulce de leche and mix in bits of chocolate. Amazing. If I can figure out how to make that here I would make a killing.

Roast Turkey with Stuffing

Roasted Turkey

Roast Turkey with Stuffing

It seems like a lot of people I know seem to dread making a turkey.  People often want a dressing or stuffing, but that makes it easier to dry out the turkey.   I was excited this year because my parents let me take over cooking the turkey for Thanksgiving.  I wanted to try and come up with a method that would allow me to have stuffing, and still have juicy meat.  One of the things I thought I would try (after watching Good Eats) was to brine the bird.  I noticed that Alton had two different methods for cooking turkeys (one with stuffing and one without), so I decided to combine them both and then use my parents stuffing recipe.  I figured I would post a recipe up to help guide people who might need help next year for Thanksgiving, or want to cook a Turkey during the Holidays.

The recipe my parents have for stuffing is actually from one of my dad’s roommates.  My dad tasted the stuffing and asked for the recipe.  His roommate’s mother refused to let him have the recipe, but as it turned out when his roommate moved out he accidentally left the recipe.  So as fate would have it, my dad got the recipe and now I can share it with you.   I really love this recipe, so I decided to skip AB’s recipe for stuffing and go with my parent’s recipe.

I was fairly happy with how my turkey turned out.  It definitely turned out to be juicier than my parents usual bird (although theirs was always good).  I do feel like I can do better next time I prepare a turkey (which probably won’t be until next Thanksgiving).  One of the things I think would be better would be to brine the bird overnight, because I didn’t start the brine until the morning of Thanksgiving (it probably got about 5 hours of brining).  Anyways, I would recommend this method to anyone looking for a better way to cook their turkey (especially if you want stuffing).  If you don’t care for stuffing I would try AB’s recipe without stuffing.  Hopefully this recipe will guide you to a more successful turkey next Thanksgiving.

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Stuffing

Ingredients:

2 Loaves White Bread
2 Celery Stalks, Chopped
2 Medium Onions, Chopped
2 Sticks Butter
3 Eggs
Salt, Pepper, and Poultry Seasoning

Directions:

1. Melt the butter and add the celery and onions to a large skillet.  Add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning to taste.  Cook over low heat for an hour.

2. Cut the crust off of the bread.  Run one loaf under water, and add the mixture above.  Then tear off pieces of the dry loaf and incorporate into the mixture.  Finally, add the eggs and mix everything together.

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Apple Cider Sauce

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Sauce

Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Sauce

I know it’s now Winter and apples are more of a Fall fruit.  Apples are still readily available, and I enjoy this recipe year round.  Although there’s something comforting about this recipe when it’s cold outside.  The savory, tender pork tenderloin mixed with the crisp, salty bacon itself makes a nice contrast.  The slightly sweet apple cider pan sauce is the perfect addition, and creates a nice medley of flavors that dance around your pallet with each bite.  This dish is perfect for a special occasion, or even a weeknight when you have some extra time on your hands.  This dish isn’t too complicated to throw together, but it may be a little more labor intensive than you would want on a weeknight.  So on your next special occasion or a night you are looking for comfort food, give this dish a try and you won’t be disappointed.

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