I’ve decided something important

9 Dec

CounterSpace is going to be on hold for a while until I get my act together. I’ve said time and time again that I’ll try and keep a regular schedule, but clearly I haven’t been. So, I’m putting this project on hold. I’m announcing this so that my absence is not without an explanation. It is also a promise to you and to myself that one day this blog will come back, stronger than ever, with more to offer than it ever has.

Wish me luck and see you soon!

Olive You!

5 Dec

Another long dry spell, forgive me. I need to be talk about a meal I had back in September (this is how behind I am.)

A dear friend and I attended a screening of Amelie in the park in Little Italy– a great deal of fun despite the freezing winds. Afterwards we were both starved and craving food and warmth; luckily, finding comfort food in this part of town was not going to be difficult. Which to choose though? The decision was daunting.

We were walking up Stockton, clutching at our coats and our grumpy tummies when it happened– I knew I was already in love. It was like catching the gaze of the perfect woman. I was too shy to speak up and say, “that way, I want to go that way!” I locked eyes with her, the object of my affection … my head turned as we kept walking, my little heart weeped. My friend pointed this way and that way– “this place? This place! No, no, thiiiiiis place…”

We turned a corner and I thought I had lost her forever. We walked into another Italian restaurant, but I felt dead inside; it felt as if I had missed my one chance at true love. But! To my delight and my friend’s dismay however, the prices on the menu were just shy of atrocious. We walked out and I doubled back, knowing she’d still be there, waiting for me, windows aglow exuding a come-hither sort of warmth and charm. The sign displayed her name so I may remember it forever: Maria.

Caffe Maria. Her prices won our immediate approval– it was warm, moderately crowded, warmly lit, and the waitstaff was pleasant. We were seated in a nice romantic corner nook and served bread, butter, and this was just… oh my goodness– a whole dish of olives. Olives. It was only recently that I had developed a taste for them, but the combination of the fresh bread, soft flesh, crisp skin, absolutely rich, flavorful butter, and these perfect ovals of savory complexity. It didn’t matter what we were going to order and have for the meal. This appetizer made my night.

Both of us ordered gnocchi; my friend had it with pesto, I had it with pink sauce. There is not much more to say than to describe the gnocchi as divinity. Gnocchi are always described as pillows of potato, and yes, that’s exactly the description that fits. The housemaid gnocchi gets two thumbs up and multiple high fives. Highly, highly recommended.

I’ll visit Maria next time for their seafood, because it’s apparently what they are known for. Maria, Maria. And if that wasn’t enough, there were huge bowls of dessert cookies and Andes mint chocolates circulating the room. Our eyes grew wide and we nibbled and were tempted to stuff our pockets. I chose to take six of the chocolates, only to be devoured on the train ride home, but seriously? A delectable meal, affordable, generous in variety and portions, a beautiful ambience, and what I imagine would be a just-as-reasonable Italian wine list. This is love.

A word on olives. If you’re thinking that olives are a pizza condiment to pick off, oh baby, are you missing out. There are so many many many different kinds of olives. My favorite thing to do with olives though is make a tapenade. A tapenade is defined by the Food Lover’s Companion as a “thick paste [from Provence] made from capers, anchovies, ripe olives, olive oil, lemon juice, [and] seasonings… used as a condiment.” Now I know plenty of people who hate olives, capers, AND anchovies. I used to be one of them. The whole, however, is most definitely more than the sum of its parts. Tapenade is that statement’s culinary testimony.

I have several fantastic recipes of variations, many of which come from a book called Pestos, Tapenades, and Spreads. I am a sauce and spread fanatic, this small little book was just the best thing that can happen to a girl like me.

Then there is Big Small Plates, which also has a tapenade recipe that claims to be the “best ever” that I haven’t tried yet. I’m going to come back with a tapenade that takes the best of both worlds, but for now…

Traditional Tapenade, Take one (modified from Pestos, Tapenades and Spreads)

  • One 10-ounce jar or can pitted kalmata olives, drained and rinsed
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper

Put everything in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a course mixture forms. Makes about a cup.

I eat it on bread, but try to be creative with its application. Enjoy.

Lazy and crazy

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Sorry for the dry spell. I’m currently in Los Angeles dealing with life and family, spending important moments with my father while I can. You know how it is. And if you don’t, you may be able to imagine. But here’s my way to relieve stress: talking about food.

This particular delicacy is something I used to make all the time, my go-to food while both in a hurry and being conscious of my waist line. In the last few seconds I’ve decided to call it the lazy crazy taco. I know, me and tacos, right? Can’t get enough.

The lazy crazy taco is named this because it involves smashing ingredients together that might not necessarily belong together in a lazy way. This particular taco has sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, chopped up veggie burger patty, spicy hummus, shaved parmesan cheese, avocado and lime squished together in the comfort of a warm tortilla. It was pretty darn tasty.

And it really is that simple: you chop up your veggies and saute them in olive oil with some salt and pepper until the mushrooms are soft and the asparagus is tender. You heat up your patty on the same pan. Hell, heat up the tortilla on the same pan after that. Lather on the hummus, pile on your goodies, top off with sliced avocado, parmesan and lime. Simple, vegetarian, relatively healthy unless you have six of them– be reasonable, I know they’re good, but two is enough.

I guess the picture has mustard, but I don’t think that was involved. I

 

was thinking about it.

This is such a good lunch/snack/dinner/breakfast, and it really can be prepared in under fifteen minutes, maybe even ten. So get crazy, and I’d say get lazy but that’s bad advice. Unless you’re stres

 

sed. In which case, take it easy!

Ich liebe dich, Schmidt

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It’s been a very long while since I’ve had German food, but I really do love smoky sausages and spicy mustard. I love cheesy, herby egg noodles. I love potatoes.

This is a meal at Schmidt’s, a German restaurant in the city. On the plate is really yummy sauerkraut, a smoked wild boar sausage, sweet and spicy mustard, potato salad, and to accompany the table is a plate of spätzle.

The sauerkraut, “sour cabbage”, had whole peppercorns which added a lovely kick. The sausage was masterfully grilled, hearty, explosive with savory flavor. The mustards were tangy and wonderful; the spicy one went straight for my nose, the sweet one sat happily on my tongue and were great compliments to the sausage. The potato salad was one of the best I’ve ever had– they topped the boiled red potatoes with chives. I love chives! Little bursts of lots of fresh, oniony goodness. I can’t believe I’ve never thought of that before.

Spätzle is a type of soft egg noodle native to Germany and Austria; the word literally translates to “little sparrow”, which I thought was cute. It was just the ultimate comfort: pan-crispy on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside, seasoned with parsley and melded together with cheese. Beautiful.

This was the exact meal that turned me onto German cuisine, and I’ll be going back for more!


I heart brunch

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I don’t care what people say: I like brunch. I think brunch was destined for late weekend mornings, especially late Sunday mornings, be it with a significant other or a significant mother. Sure it’s girly, sure restaurants serve breakfast foods “you can totally make at home”, but brunch also can have menu items that are entirely unique to itself. Sometimes those fun omelets with the tortilla strips and chipotle sauce only come on the weekend menu. I’ve never seen potato latkes with a poached egg and asparagus be served on a Wednesday morning. No no, these beauties are exclusive to le week-end.

Here is mouth-watering image I have to share with you:

That’s right. Those are sliced almonds on my french toast. Brunch rocks. Tangerine, one of my favorite restaurants in the city, serves almond french toast. I absolutely adore french toast, but if executed poorly it can be quite the soggy mess. Not only was this french toast crisp on its own, it had the texture of sliced almonds to complement it. The nuttiness provided a nice balance to the sweetness of the syrup and powdered sugar (dissolved in the picture). Absolutely scrumptious.

I was rifling through the fridge

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It’s the first night in a while I’ve had time to mess around in the kitchen, but the fridge held nothing particularly inspiring–that is until I saw a little wedge of sharp white cheddar leftover from a splendid macaroni and cheese I made last week. My eyes darted to the leftover third of italian crusty bread. Those two things alone would have sufficed to satisfy my craving, but I peeked into the fridge and saw an untouched pound of applewood bacon. I threw open the produce drawer and smiled when I saw avocados. And there you have it: the makings of the ultimate grilled cheese.

It’s more like a bacon, avocado and cheese sandwich, I know, but the grilled cheese part was what I came to crave most. The bacon and avocado, normally the stars of the show, became accessories to a glorious crime. A crime because it, as my roommate pointed out, is three layers of fat (bacon, fatty, avocado, fat, cheese, fatty), not counting the butter to crisp the bread. But it’s exactly what my tummy wanted, and I just can’t say no to her sometimes, not when my heart is in it too.

And this is how I went about it:

Ingredients

butter

a half narrow loaf of italian bread or any crusty bread

2 thick sliced of sharp white cheddar cheese

2 slices of thick applewood bacon

1 avocado, halved and sliced

salt and pepper

Instructions

Lightly butter a pan that is set to medium heat. Slice the loaf in half vertically and then each half horizontally. Put them in the pan and crisp the insides of the bread, around a minute.

Flip them over and add a slice of cheese to each “bottom” slice of bread. After heating two or three minutes, put the cheesy bread under the broiler for five minutes or until the cheese is completely melted.

Cook the bacon in the same pan, two minutes for each side of the bacon. Dry with paper towels and cut each slice in half.

Set the cheesy bread on a plate, add four slices of bacon and then half the avocado. Salt and pepper the avocado. Add the top piece of bread, and there you have it!

A sandwich is no joke

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In my professional kitchen months, I prepared sandwiches and salads which, believe it or not, takes a fair amount of cooking. Prep is a bitch– you spend the whole morning scrambling around to get everything into place on time (which is so much harder than I have energy to describe) and have back ups just in case you run out. The bacon has to be a perfect crispy dark pink and brown, the chicken breasts need to be marinated and never overcooked, the cheese and veggies sliced at exact widths. You can’t prep too much or you’ll be wasteful. You can’t prep too little or you’ll scramble during the day. It’s the ultimate balancing act, and it takes a lot of thinking. Not only is it physically exhausting, cooking in a professional kitchen is mentally draining. And I wasn’t even “doing the hard stuff”. The salad is tossed with the most delicate care to not crush the leaves, arranged so that it has a full, bountiful appeal, and dressed like you would be putting on a summer skirt and not a ridiculous ball gown, in other words, dress it lightly or your salad drowns.

So I learned how to not burn bacon (I’ve had such horrible nightmares about this, waking up in cold sweats for a week), check for doneness of chicken breasts by touch, built up really strange muscles for slicing cheese and vegetable on the deli slicer, learned how much to pinch to get a teaspoon of salt, how you DO NOT salt the water in order to make it boil faster (that is a lie) but how you DO salt the water generously for boiling pasta and blanching the green stuff. I also learned the secrets of how to make a perfect omelette, which I will definitely post about. I learned to secure a cutting board with a wet towel, how best to “peel” and slice an avocado, what arugula is and why it shouldn’t be peppered, how to make perfect grill marks on sourdough bread, how to slice loaves as big as a large man’s thigh, and how to not make a horrendous mess in the kitchen while cooking. I still have to get better at that, my roommate can vouch for that…

Now, I go to a place called Intermezzo to get my sandwich and salad fix. Their “veggie delight” is the most colossal mound of lettuce, beans, sprouts and avocado you’ll ever encounter in one sitting. My personal favorite combination is the sandwich/salad combo– chicken salad and their tossed green topped with tomatoes, croutons, carrots and other fun stuff. Their chicken salad has apples and pecans in it, and on the crunchy, chewy ciabatta bread, it’s just scrumptious. To top it off they serve it with a slice of pineapple– a perfect, refreshingly sweet note to end a most magnificent lunch.

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