Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Italian Night

This actually happened right before our trip.

We'd been meaning to catch up with our friends Steve and John for a while. A bit of urgency was introduced when we found out that they had vacationed in Barcelona a couple of years back. We really wanted to pick their brains before we went. In the various planning emails, we were going towards a dinner out in the 'hood, but then Steve suggested an Italian place. That kicked off a domino chain of thoughts which prompted me to volunteer.

It was a perfect storm of Italian dishes colliding in my head. In thinking about local Italian places, I remembered I wanted to try the Lemon Pannacotta like I had at Ante Prima. Also, I had a recipe for Pizza Bianca from Cook's Illustrated I needed to make that weekend. Then there was my general plan to make some more tomato sauce for the house also that weekend. Finally, I was zeroing in on my target of making Gorgonzola Stuffed Gnocchi for Channing, having just bought gorgonzola to have on hand for when I finally got around to it. No time like the present.

Fortunately, they bit. So, the menu was:

  • Gorgonzola Stuffed Gnocchi with Broiled Chicken in Tomato Sauce

  • Roasted Broccoli

  • Pizza Bianca

  • Zucchine Sfrante

  • Lemon Panacotta with Lemon Sauce
So, the blow-by-blow:
  • The gnocchi pretty much worked great. I used my standard recipe, properly made with Russet potatoes this time instead of Yukon Gold. I did forget to drain the potatoes while they cooled and left them sitting in the water, which made the texture a little off. But not a disaster, by any means.

    My made-up method for stuffing them with the cheese worked pretty well. I rolled out the cylinder of dough a tad thicker then usual and then rolled that flat. I then placed a chunk of cheese at about every inch, rolled the sides of the tube back up and then cut the pieces in between the cheese chunks. I then rolled the individual dumplings, being careful not to puncture the dough with the fork. The results were pretty large and I think I could have been more efficient, so I'll have to look up how to do this right. But for now, this was fine.

  • For the red sauce, I made the Chopping Block sauce again, but used the canned tomatoes per the option given in the recipe. I let it simmer and reduce for a good 2 hours, which was a big, big mistake. That sodium in the canned tomatoes I mentioned before? Well, when it's reduced, you can really taste it. I had added none to the recipe at all, but the end result was way too salty for me. Channing, John and Steve didn't seem to think so, but I thought it overpowered the gorgonozla.

  • The Roast Broccoli was a big hit, even with Channing. Recipe: Toss broccoli with with olive oil and kosher salt, roast at 450F for 20 minutes. That's it.

  • The Pizza Bianca gets its own entry.

  • The zucchini was supposed to be an appetizer, but I got a late start with it and just served it with dinner. Though it was a half-assed effort (no fresh basil available, for instance), it went over well.

  • With the Pannacotta, I just added lemon extract to taste to the plain recipe, about 1/2 teaspoon. It could have taken a little more, but I wanted to keep it delicate. For the coulis, I used the lemon sauce from the Treebeards Gingerbread recipe.

(Spanish) Arroz con Pollo

Having returned from Barcelona, I figured the time was right for finally trying the Chopping Block's Arroz con Pollo recipe at home. This is the one that Channing was "almost embarassed at how much [he] liked it," when I brought home the leftovers.

The only change I made to the recipe was that I used one package of breasts (2) and one of legs & thighs (2 each), since I don't like dark meat.

Everything seemed to go according to plan in preparation. In the future, I would break down the legs into thighs and drumsticks (got a little lazy). But other than that, there were no surprises.

This was a decent result for at-home eating, but not good enough to serve to guests, by a long shot. While overall, it was tasty, I didn't do myself any favors by using the same rice that had given me problems with the Indian Spiced Rice. The texture is somewhat mealy and underdone at the same time. I think it's old and not absorbing water properly. I just have to suck it up and throw out that rice. There is also a chance that I over-compensated on the spices, which may have given us too much wet powder, essentially.

As I over-bought on the chorizo, I'll have an opportunity to try again, Probably this week.

Back from Travels

The last month or so has been awash in travelling and the preparations for that. We had the opportunity to travel to Barcelona and London with a day-trip to visit our friends in Dublin. Then, following a massive, pain-in-the-ass (but generally very successful) server hardware and database upgrade release, we went down to Houston for a few days for family visits.

There's some food-related stuff to comment on, but that will have be doled out in the next few days as I get organized and work more on my first draft of my Master's thesis.

However, there was a nice surprise on the way over. As you know, I am a huge fan of America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated. In American's in-flight magazine, American Way, I found this great article about the history and operations of the actual Test Kitchen. Good stuff.