Thursday, August 20, 2009

Because Monkeys Are Funny

via boingboing



Monkeys and Japanese horror movies: two great tastes that...um...

Actually, you know what tastes really good together? Red wine and pasta.

Back in April, over on Serious Eats, Gina DePalma posted a recipe for Spaghetti All’Ubriaco. It's spaghetti, cooked in equal amounts of red wine and water, finished in the pan with garlic, red pepper flakes and even more red wine. I was intrigued by the idea and, when I was in Florence later that April, I mentioned to the tour guide who was leading our group that I'd be interested in trying the dish...only to be informed by him that no such dish possibly existed in Italian culture with the kind of tone that suggested that I was a stupid American for even bringing it up.

It wasn't the first disagreement about food that we'd had in the course of the trip. Earlier, we'd had a disagreement over whether or not calamari and seppia were the same thing which had resulted in a detour from the given tour into a fish market in Padua. Despite seeing the beasts side by side, he stubbornly continued to assert they were the same creature. I left the fish market feeling stabby and unable to numb my irritation with drink because I was chaperoning children. Sometimes, even a free trip has its downsides.


Oddly enough, he did bring us by the Piazza Santa Croce, where Gina DePalma found the osteria at which she had this dish. However, he did make up for the loss of that meal by taking us to a non-tourist frequented restaurant where I had my first taste of fresh young fava beans and Pecorino Toscano together...for which I curse him because they were fabulous and I can't find them in the markets around here - not even the really good Italian market two blocks from my home. Bastard.

When I got home from from Italy, I was (and am still slightly) obsessed with all things Italian cuisine. It didn't hurt that a wine shop that only carries Italian wine had just opened a half mile from where I live. I set out to try the All’Ubriaco pasta treatment almost immediately.

You can use pretty much any pasta. I've made this with spaghettini, bucatini and, most recently, gemelli. We found ourselves in the unusual position of having leftover red wine after a visit with the Manions, so we used the remaining Merlot to make the dish (and I do think it might be my favorite so far!). There were two and a half cups of wine left so, for 2 cups of short pasta, I used 2 cups of wine and 2 cups of water (and some salt...pasta cooking liquid needs salt!). Otherwise I just followed the procedure outlined in the recipe. I finished the dish with a sprinkling of Pecorino Crotonese, which the cheese guy at my Italian market tells me is similar to Pecorino Toscano but more aged. Use whatever pasta, wine and cheese you like though.

At some point, I hope to go back to Italy and see the country in a more leisurely fashion than the 7 cities in 8 days itinerary of the school trip allowed. The trick will be convincing Mr. Scoop of the boozeworthiness of the trip. I'm hoping it won't be a hard sell, after all Italy is a magical place where you can get your morning espresso with a side of grappa and no one judges you.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It Is Too Damn Hot



My summer vacation is rapidly approaching its end. A large part of the vacation did not actually feel like summer because of the constant presence of overcast skies, 70 degree temperatures and the ever present threat of violent thunderstorms. However, New England weather is notoriously changeable.


This week, the last week or so of my vacation, we're averaging 90 temperatures. Look! The flowers are blooming in the town square!



I took these pictures and then went home and stood on top of the AC vent for an hour until I felt human. The neighbors who saw me through the open window and complained to the condo association can't actively prove that I was naked. And for that I will not actively try to key their cars the next time they park in the common space between our garages and block my ability to pull out of my garage and get to work on time. As far as they know.

Flaring tempers aside, when it gets this hot, one of the biggest challenges to a peaceful existence is trying to feed yourself without making the temperature in your abode more uncomfortably warm than it probably already is. For that, I like to employ a couple of recipes and one nifty gadget.

Shrimp Salad on Brioche

You can make the salad a completely no-cook recipe by using frozen cooked shrimp (thawed, unless you're some kind of mutant who likes to eat frozen shrimp. I won't judge. Actually, yes. Yes, I will judge you. Freak.). I like to use frozen raw shrimp for this because it gives me an excuse to get away from the heat and stick my head in the chest freezer while I rummage around looking for the shrimp.

Ingredients

Shrimp Boil
1 T. whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf, whole
4 sprigs of parsley
2 T. salt
3/4 lb shrimp (unshelled), large

Dressing
1/4 c. reduced fat mayonnaise
1/2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. minced parsley
1/2 T. thyme, fresh
1/8 t. salt
1/8 t. white pepper
1/3 c. finely diced celery
2 scallions, minced
Directions

1. Add the salt, peppercorns, parsley and bay leaf to a 5- to 6-quart pot of water. Bring to a boil and add the shrimp, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer shrimp with a slotted spoon to a platter. When shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel, then chill, covered, until completely cold, about 1 hour.

2. Whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and chill until ready to use.

3. Devein shrimp and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper, then add to dressing along with celery and scallions, and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Breadmaker Brioche

Using the breadmaker lets you bake awesome, homemade bread in the height of the summer heat without heating up your kitchen. It's a no-brainer, really.

Brioche is lightly sweet, rich and eggy. It is what Legal Seafoods uses to make the buns for their lobster rolls. Being a fan of that, it seemed that the bread should be a natural match for my shrimp salad. If you would rather use hot dog buns, knock yourself out, but you'll be missing out on the awesomeness of brioche made lovingly by a coutertop robot who only exists to make you happy with warm, fresh bread. You don't want to make the robots angry. That's how you get Skynet.

Before you get started, be sure to outfit your breadmaker pan with its paddle so it's ready to go.

Whisk together:
1/3 c. half and half
3 eggs, large
3 T. sugar
3/4 t. salt

Pour that mixture into the breadmaker pan. Sprinkle over it:
1/4 c. cold butter, cut into small cubes

Top the liquid and butter with:
3 1/3 c. bread flour

Place the pan in the breadmaker. Make a small indentation into the flour with your knuckle. Pour into the indentation:
1 t. breadmaker yeast (or normal, dried "active yeast")

Close the breadmaker lid. Plug the machine in. If your maker has a setting for sweet bread, set it for that. Otherwise, use the white bread setting. Set the loaf size (if you have that option) for 1.5 lbs. Press start. Go relax until the bread is done.

When the bread is done, remove it from the pan to a cooling rack. Let it cool for at least a half hour (preferably an hour) before trying to slice it.

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We divided the shrimp salad between four slices of brioche and folded up the open faced sandwiches to eat, taco style. Go with whatever sandwich to face delivery system works best for you.

Stay cool!