The Trattoria Project and Spectaculars: November 2007

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Proper Minestrone for my Testosterone

Apparently, the throat infection has not resolved. In fact, it is now spreading to my left ear. It doesn't only hurt like a bitch, it also makes my life awfully miserable by abstaining me from booze and women, which happen to be two of my most favorite things.

My doctor swears by the almighty oath of the godly stethoscopic nerds that any form of alcohol consumption will put me straight into comatose with white foamy drool oozing out from every hole in my body. The thought of it scares me. No booze.

I love all women, if you are a female reader, I love you too, therefore I cannot bear to have this karmic wrath orally transfered to you, I face my reality and will stoically turn myself into a douche bag until I recover.

Above all, I have to also abstain from my comfort foods, mainly fried chicken and fries, which will barbarically rupture my already inflamed soft throat tissue with each mouthful. The sick is dragging me away from my innate human needs, it leaves me in apoplectic ire. I never had such a strong urge to throw or hit something.

Sadly, there are only three stupid ways to get out of this quickshit I'm sinking myself into. One, to drink truckloads of water until my piss becomes safe for human consumption. Two, to regularly swallow pills of all hazardous sizes and motley-ness. Three, to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables that won't cut my throat tissue.

I've got one and two pretty much covered, three makes me think of mashed papayas, cooked oats, baby food, over wilted greens and maybe something soupy. Soup, soft with loads of veggie - this can only mean Minestrone in my still-meager culinaria. And no, not the pathetic war ration I made four months ago. I will show you how I make a REAL Minestrone.

You'll need overnight preparation and a garden's worth of veggies.

Uncle Purple's Minestrone
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Mise En Place
Serves 4

Advance Preparation
1 Cup Chickpeas, soaked for 24 hours
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Vegetable Stock
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2 Carrots, roughly chopped
2 Onions, halved
1 Celery Heart, chopped
1 Leek, halved
4 Tomatoes, halved
5 Cloves of Garlic
1 Small Kyuri, halved
2 Potatoes, peeled
5 Sprigs of Italian Parsley
5 Sprigs of Thyme
1 Tbsp White Peppercorns
1/2 Cup White Wine or Vermouth
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Cover all ingredients with 3 liters of cold water, bring to boil then simmer for 5-6hours or until stock is reduced to 1 liter. Remove impurities that would surface. Cool and filter.

1 Carrot, peeled and diced
1 Celery Stick, chopped
1 Onion, diced
4 Streaks of Pancetta, chopped
1 Medium Zucchini, diced
4 Large Organic Tomatoes, chopped
1 Cup Soaked Chickpeas(see advanced preparation)
100g Spaghetti, broken into mini batons
1 Bunch Spinach(preferably red), roots picked and washed
3 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp EVOO plus extra for garnish
1 Handful Italian Parsley, chopped
1 Liter Vegetable Stock(see above)
Sea Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

- Saute garlic, pancetta, celery, carrot and onion with EVOO. Add a pinch of salt to release its juices.
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- Once the onions turn slightly translucent, add stock and bring to boil.
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- Add tomatoes, chickpeas and zucchini. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 hour.
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- 10mins before serving, add in pasta and spinach. Continue simmering.
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To serve, drizzle good EVOO, sprinkle a good amount of parsley and crack in salt and pepper. Eat with hot, crusty bread. Smile. That was enough nutrients and healthy vitamins to shun off the doctor for many lifetimes to come. Feel like a rabbit. Enjoy.
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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Beggar's Orgasm

I was market strolling again. That happens for three reasons. One, I feel the need to help clueless hot women fix their dinner. Two, the overtly obvious, getting something I've already planned to cook. It was none of those today.

Call me eccentric, but every once in awhile, I give myself weird tests to gauge my culinary proficiency. One of which leads to the third reason, the "Hitting the Beggar's Orgasm Test". It was a test of my ability to make cheap ingredients spectacular. I'd set a budget of $2.50/pax(which is what a beggar would pay) then throw myself into the market to search for a good dinner.

There had been four past attempts so far and the results were nothing out of the ordinary. My last attempt was a month ago, a bell pepper and bean salad. It tasted okay but I was definitely expecting more. I didn't want to think my style of cooking was cost dependent, but I was afraid that was so. As I've momentarily realized, holding my money back on food wasn't my usual practice. The truth was saddening. That wasn't the chef I had aspired to be in mind. I had to hit the beggar's orgasm.

Today's a month away from that day. Just last night, I soaked up a huge chunk of information on Vietnamese food. It was invaluable, all these was new to me, the flavor combinations were out of this world, tonnes of ideas filled my mind. I was fired up and ready to explore the new planet of Vietnamese flavors. But deep inside me, I wanted to test myself again, I wanted to see if anything changed at all.

And it happened again, the quest to hit the beggar's orgasm. I strolled down the fruit aisle, pomegranates were in season! $2.30 each, it was stupid, I still have half of one in my fridge. I strolled down the vegetable isle, nothing interesting. Meat isle, too expensive. Seafood isle, mussels were going at $1.22 for a tray but I had too much of those over the last weekend. Misc Aisle, tofu and pre-made noodles, I wanted to get tofu because it was cheap and versatile. I was bending down to pick up the tofu when lights went out and streaks of lightning struck before me, rays of light shine to my point of view, ninja smoke fills my vision, angels come down with trumpets, rainbow unicorns glide above, smoke clears to reveal.. TEMPEH.. 4 for $1.20.
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Tempeh is traditionally wrapped in a huge ass banana leaf and packaged into mysterious bundles as you can see. It exudes a nutty-mushroomy aroma and has a texture like solidified chewing gum. It is an acquired taste but I'm sure if you like soybeans you'd like this one too.

Raw Tempeh
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So the tempeh was $1.20. I also bought the following items:
1 Orange $0.40
1 Lemon $0.50
1 Bunch of Watercress $1.30
1 Japanese Cucumber $0.85
Mint Leaves $1.95

It adds up to $6.20. This is for 4 persons. The exact budget for 4 persons would be $10. I leave $3.80 for the cost of 1Tbsp of Fish Sauce, 1 Red Onion, 2Tbsp EVOO, 1Tbsp White Wine Vinegar, 2Tbsp of Sugar, Salt and Pepper which I already have in the kitchen. $3.80 is more than enough for these. Budget met.

It was a recipe I came up in the market, there are no papers, no book, no web page, I had to focus. A good hour in the kitchen passed, I plated the dish, ready to eat. I placed a forkful in my mouth,

and DAMN! It's good. I proved myself wrong, the test was finally blog-worthy, I hit the beggar's orgasm.

Now you try it.

Salad of Tempeh, Kyuri and Watercress with Orange and Mint Compote
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Roasted Tempeh
4 Tempehs
1 Tbsp EVOO
Sea Salt

- Preheat Oven 175C.
- Rub tempehs thinly with EVOO and salt.
- Roast in oven for 30mins.
- Slice.

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1 Kyuri, thinly sliced
1 Bunch of Watercress
1 Red Onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp EVOO
1 Tbsp White Wine vinegar
Sea Salt and Pepper

- Mix everything together.

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Orange Compote
1 Orange, peeled and chopped, seeds removed
100ml Water
2 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Chopped Fresh Mint
1 Tbsp Fish Sauce

- Put a saucepan on medium-low, dissolve sugar in water.
- Add Oranges and bring to a boil.
- Simmer on low, for 45mins or until sticky.
- Off heat, let it cool. Stir in mint and fish sauce.

P.S Ignore the pomegranate seeds. They don't add flavor to the dish, just colors.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wake me up.

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Imagine you're strolling in a mall, it was a hot day and you're enjoying the air conditioning, a bird suddenly flies through the entrance and drops a glob of slimy wad on your nose and it splashes into your eyes and your hair and your 300 dollar Oakley shades while missing everyone and everything else in proximity. Then it makes a u-turn and flies out of the door.

If you are in touch with that emotion somehow, you will totally understand what I've been going through.

Hello foodies and curious people of all belly sizes. Life plays tricks on us. One day you get a vicious nightmare and you self-assured that it was just a dream, the next thing you know, your nightmare turns into reality, the unexpected happens and you find yourself drowning into a pool of melancholic inebriety.

I was in a situation which could be only described as "a recurring series of anomalous adversities" or in simpler words, "getting trapped in a bag full of shit." My mind was occupied by insecurities and the flow of my creativity was blocked. My vial of Mojo had suddenly disappeared. Poop was slapping on my face repeatedly through a tennis ball mortar. Riding the low wave has always been believed to be a pretty common and healthy thing, but there was something that gave me a fearful jitter, I couldn't get myself to cook. Hence, the lack of recent posts.

Fortunately, I am starting to pick things up once again, thanks to the atrocious food that my domestic maidservant expects me to dig into. A viral infection has got the better of me for the past two days, my tonsils swelled to the size of me testies, my face so pale it made me looked like I had goth make up. I was too weak to cook or eat out, I had to eat the maidservant's cooking. It was then that I realized life was suffering, so why suffer more with shitty food?

Last Sunday, I was told to make dinner. I had no ideas and I could not come out with one. So I adapted a recipe from Classic E`CCO, Confit of Duck with Crisp Pancetta, Wilted Ruby Chard and Truffled Polenta. It was my first time having Polenta and honestly and I didn't quite like it, even though its truffled. The confit, pancetta and greens were enjoyable.

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Confit of Duck with Crisp Pancetta, Wilted Ruby Chard and Truffled Polenta
Adapted from Classic E`CCO by Philip Johnson
serves 6

Confit of Duck
6 Thigh-Leg Duck Portions
1 Tbsp Orange Zest
1 Tbsp Lemon Zest
1 Tbsp Five Spice Powder
2 Sprigs of Thyme
5 Cloves of Garlic, Chopped
Sea Salt
Duck Fat or Light Olive Oil

Marinate duck portions with aromatics and a generous amount of salt in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Rinse off all aromatics and salt in a bowl of cold water.
Preheat Oven to 130C.
Put duck portions in a casserole and cover with hot fat.
Cook for 2-2.5 hours or until tender.

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Wilted Chard
150g Ruby Chard
3 Cloves of Garlic
Juice from 1/2 a Lemon
Sea Salt and Black Pepper

Saute garlic in EVOO until fragrant but do not brown.
Cook chard until wilted. Season and squeeze in L.J.
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Crisp Pancetta
12 Slices of Pancetta or Streaky Bacon

Grill under a broiler for 5-6mins or until crisp.

Truffled Polenta
130g Polenta
1 Litre Milk
1/2 Onion, Chopped
3 Sprigs of Thyme
1 Sprig of Rosemary
4 Garlic Cloves, Halfed
60g Freshly Grated Parmesan
1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
Sea Salt and Black Pepper
Truffle Oil

Put onion, thyme, rosemary, garlic and milk in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling.
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Strain infused milk and stir in polenta. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20-30mins, whisking it occasionally.
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Stir in butter, parmesan, truffle oil and season before serving.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pasta alla Norma.

I make mistakes, you make mistakes, it is inevitable. 4 months ago, I was sulking over a failed experiment after taking on a Jamie Oliver recipe which I had happy hopes on. Jamie inspired me to cook, I always thought those colorful and vibrant dishes in his books would taste exactly like its description. I thought that by advocating in his way of cooking, I could make people happy with my food.

4 months later, I wrapped my entire Jamie cookbook collection with fancy papers for birthday presents.
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Last night, I was strolling around the supermarket and those huge, juicy looking eggplants were available once again.(Literally. Don't go naughty.) I stood in front of them for a good 5mins in disbelief that I actually went hysterical over the recipe. I was wondering what a good one would taste like. I put them into my shopping basket immediately.

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One thing I've realized from the cooking of my childhood culinary heroine, my late aunt, is that eggplants have sponge-like properties when you cook them, they absorb all soluble flavors in proximity. I try bacon. It was brilliant.

Mise en Place
Serves 4
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6 Streaks of Bacon, chopped
400g Chopped Tomatoes
4 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 Onion, chopped
1 Large Eggplant, diced
1 tsp Dried Oregano
300g Dried Spaghetti
100ml Chicken Stock
Crushed Red Pepper
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

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- Saute onion, red pepper and bacon in a good amount of EVOO on medium heat for a min.
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- Add eggplants and saute until they turn slightly brown.
- Add garlic and saute.
- Just before garlic turns brown, add the stock. Simmer for 5 mins on low heat.
- Cook pasta in plenty of boiling salt water.
- Add chopped tomatoes and oregano. Turn heat down to medium low, simmering to sauce consistency.
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- Remove and drain pasta when done, reserving some pasta water.
- Toss sauce and pasta. Season. Add pasta water if too dry.
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Serve with freshly grated parmesan.
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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Two Halves Make One Big Delish

Pepperoni, Rucola and Olives / Anchovy Oregano

I must apologize, I was completely taken away by the aroma and gobbled down half of the pizza before realizing I haven't taken a picture of it yet. Anyways, here lies the photo of the aftermath.
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There aren't any prosciuttos available for me today, so pepperoni salami was used in place. Sad, but true. Luckily, I came across some really fresh and peppery Arugula which I traded an entire poussin and 10 bucks for, and that makes up for it. It was far from any sort of perfection, but thank god for half and half pizzas!
Conjoined to the pepperoni of puissant plaintive-ness, lies a bunch of sexy and very inviting inmates. Inexplicable to the naked eye, anchovies and oregano make some outofthisworld food chemistry, that only becomes evident in the mouth when nobody sees them and they will do what they want. Crazy little things.
Pizzas are relatively easy to make, you just have to get the dough right and everything else would fall on blissfully. You'd also need a good oven with a high heat range, rest assured, your trusty toaster won't work this time. Otherwise, there's always the disgustingly convenient, almost inedible, pre-made pizza crusts.
I like my pizza crust thin, tasty, crisp on the bottom, soft and chewy on the inside. So if your pizza preferences are similar to mine, here's a recipe that might just make you go WOW.

Mise En Place
Serves 4
Pizza Dough

350g "00" Flour or Bread Flour
100g Semolina Flour, for dusting
1/2 tsp Dried Yeast
200ml Tepid Water
1 Tbsp Raw Sugar
1 Tbsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Black Pepper
3 Tbsp EVOO

- Preheat Oven to 240C/475F/gas 9.
- Stir yeast and sugar in tepid water. Let it rest for 5 mins.
- Pour bread flour and salt in a large bowl, make a well in the center.
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- Pour yeast mixture into well and add EVOO.
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- Using a fork, incorporate the flour and water mixture in a circular motion until it becomes a dough.
- Dust dough with semolina and prove for 30mins covered with cling film.
- Knead and roll out dough.
- Oil baking tray, lay dough, add toppings and bake to perfection.
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Add whatever you want, play with your imagination.