Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

the morning after

There are so many things to love about hosting dinner parties other than the obvious.
What's even better are the things one gets to enjoy after the dinner party. Here are some:

Fixing up the house

Fresh flower arrangements

Left overs

Hostess gifts

Monday, March 9, 2009

making fresh pasta

Making fresh pasta is not as daunting as it seems. It can actually turn into a fun-family and friends-Sunday afternoon event. The possibilities are endless. In the post-Florence world, pasta making is a fun, communal, extremely rewarding event.

Monday, February 2, 2009

osso buco

Osso buco is one favorite comfort food. It's one of my favorite to eat and to cook and share with as many people as possible. I always have pictures of me as an Italian senora, merrily chopping, mixing, stirring, in my hillside villa in Tuscany, while my friends and family sit, play and drink in the garden. Yes, it brings out the ilusyunada in me.
With that in mind, I bought close to three kilos of beef shank over the weekend to make one big batch to share with a favorite couple whose prawn lunch I "stole". I always start by dredging the pieces in flour, salt and pepper, and browning them in olive oil. Then I saute onions, celery, carrots and garlic until they're wilted and sweet. Then I pour in a generous amount of red wine to help scrape the bits stuck on the bottom of the pan, and let this simmer. I then put back the browned pieces of shank, dunk in crushed tomatoes, cover this with broth, season, and boil and simmer away. I would pressure cook for 20 minutes, stir, top up with broth and pressure cook for another 20 minutes. If I'm making a really big batch, I would just leave the pot on the stove for a good three hours, stirring so as not to burn the bottom. Right before serving, I add grated lemon zest and an extra squeeze of lemon for a pop of freshness.
I brought remains of my oh so lovingly made osso buco to the office to share with the staff. I served half on spaghetti noodles, while leaving the other half for those who would prefer to eat it with rice. Lovely, glowing reviews from one and all. Until accountant comes over and says, "ms annette, pa'no ka mag-mechado?". I haughtily say, "I don't do mechado". Not quite finished she was and asks, "ano ba 'to? kaldereta?". Haay, in the post-florence world, not everybody shares an understanding of the finer things in life. Brown meat stew is brown meat stew. Reality has a funny way of hitting us on the head and I have only myself to keep my "ilusyons" alive.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

seafood risotto

The perfect risotto was on top of our list of dishes we wanted to learn in Florence. So on the very first day, we were already shown the secrets of the perfect, authentic, Italian, cooked by a cute Italian chef risotto. Yes, the cute Italian chef was an unexpected but very welcome bonus. (Sex and the City moment in another post)

We learned several "secrets" actually. First being, your risotto is as good as the stock you use. The restaurant's seafood stock was a cauldron that approximated a witch's. It had swimming in it flora (celery, white onion, leeks) and fauna (fish
and seafood heads, tails, trimmings). They don't put anything that will dominate the delicate balance of flavors- hence, no garlic, no salmon, etc... Once again, it was about the perfect balance and complementing natural flavors.

Second secret- Saute the rice in butter until it is translucent, releasing the starch, before adding the wine and the broth. They introduced us to Carnaroli, which according to Chef Cutie is better than the more familiar Arborio. And if Chef Cutie says so, then we believe! Doing this takes longer than what I was used to before. I guess I was afraid of burning the rice but this step does make a creamier risotto.

Third secret- You don't have to watch the risotto as much as we were lead to believe. We actually cooked several other dishes while the risotto was on the stove so we did pretty much leave it on its own for at least 5 minute intervals. Just make sure to stir and add more broth to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Fourth- Take the pot off the stove before you think the rice is done. Following the al dente school of thought, we don't want to end up with lugaw. Sayang naman ang canaroli. Then add a chunk of butter, cover and let rest. If just before serving, your risotto stands or hold its shape, add more broth. I think this was a wonderful restaurant secret/lesson we learned not just for the risotto. Stop cooking before something
is truly done. That way you can "heat" it or finish cooking just before serving without overcooking a dish.

So there, four valuable lessons and Cute Italian Chef in just one lesson. Sulit di ba? In the post-Florence world, there may be no cute Italian Chef, but the lessons he shared go a long, long way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

chicken asparagus involtino

Involtino is a rolled up piece of meat with stuffing inside, usually cheese and/or vegetable. Again, it is one of those dishes I would normally scoff at as being so last season, overdone and passe. But once again, discovering new combinations of flavors and the importance of freshness and quality brings a tired dish to new life.

Chicken breasts, fresh
asparagus, parma ham, panchetta and pecorino make the base of this amazingly easy to prepare dish. the combination of flavors is so subtle, with no one ingredient overpowering any other. The asparagus serves as a very mild counterpoint to what might otherwise
be a salty and rich roll. After rolling the stuffing in the flattened chicken breast, we tie the roll with a string, dredge it in flour and quickly brown in oil. We bake it in the oven for around 10 minutes just to finish cooking. We also puree a few more asparagus stalks that have been blanched and drizzle this over the cut up rolls.

This, I discovered, makes for an excellent party dish as I can prepare it a day ahead, all the way to browning, stick it in the ref and just bake it the following day. This has also inspired me to try other involtino combinations (we did a salmon involtino in class also). Awakening the senses and teaching it to be more discriminating and sensitive to the subtleties of flavors is a post-Florence lesson worth pursuing. In the post-Florence world, there's no excuse for the ordinary.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Scampi thermidore and melanzane parmigiano

It was my definition of a perfect weekend-- long, lazy and with nothing on the agenda. There was an open bottle of truffles in oil in the ref and a container of slow cooked ragu in the freezer begging to be used. So I gladly obliged and prepared a most decadent prawn thermidore and eggplant parmigiano.

Prawn thermidore has never been on my list of favorite dishes. To me it seemed so 80's and a total waste of good prawns. Most probably because the thermidores I've encountered were those butter-laden bechamel creations from cheap but pretentious caterers. UNTIL I met thermidore with truffle sauce. Now that's bringing the pretentious bit a big notch.

First I had the make sure I had hefty, big and plump prawns. Heck I was cooking for just the three of us, so why not go all the way? The prawns were butterflied and cleaned. Then it's popped into the oven for 5-8 minutes, just to dehydrate a bit. Now for THE bechamel- made with butter, flour, milk, an egg, a shot of cognac, Parmesan cheese and drizzled with a generous amount of truffle oil. A whiff of the truffle oil takes it to a different and sublime level. I lovingly ladled the bechamel onto the prawns, sprinkled some more parmesan, and for an extra shot of love, topped the prawn with a precious sliver of truffle. The prawns then went back into the oven for some bonding with the bechamel. What came out was an all out declaration of love. It was analogous to loving with all your heart and not holding anything back.