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.

The Omnivore’s Hundred

Here's a list I came across at I was just wondering to myself if there was any kind of food that I wish I could try that I still haven't. Went through my mental list that included foie gras, caviar, truffles, etc and couldn't really think of anything. This list brings to fore some other stuff I haven't even heard nor thought of. My score's pretty decent. What's yours?


Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake