Sunday, January 19, 2014

homemade: bagels, boiled not stirred

Homemade gnocchi

I've always wanted to try making gnocchi. Those little delightful potato dumplings look so simple. I've seen them made on tv on several occasions, and I decided the other day to try my hand. It wasn't a resounding success, but I feel like I have something to build on.

Making gnocchi:

I consulted a few different recipes, with varied but simple instructions. Start with:

some potatoes
an egg
some flour (between a cup and 2 cups)
some salt and pepper

I was advised to boil, steam or bake the potatoes, usually accompanied by cautions against the other methods. Some recipes counted the potatoes, others weighed them. Quick question for you, internet chefs: How much is 3 potatoes? How big are these potatoes? A little frustrating, until I realized that I couldn't weigh them anyway, so I was going to have to wing it regardless of the recipe.

I used four medium-sized russet potatoes. The flesh is dry and powdery, excellent to use as flour.

I decided to steam the potatoes, as they wouldn't get as wet and therefore would require less flour. After steaming, I let the potatoes cool, then peeled, chopped and mashed them. I should have let them cool completely, but we were hungry.

I also should have mashed them more, but I'm not sure it made a difference. All the recipes called for the cooked and peeled potatoes to be forced through a potato ricer (how's that for a ridiculous tool?) or vegetable mill. Since I have neither (nor do I know what either are), I simply mashed them up. Les voila.

Add the egg, some salt and pepper, and mix. Then start adding the flour.

I started with one cup of flour, but might have ended up using about two. I was warned off using too much flour (making the gnocchi heavier), so I resisted adding very much. I shouldn't have, it turns out.

I rolled out some dough, cut the tube into pieces, and soon discovered that my dough wasn't dense enough to do anything with. I couldn't press it into a fork to make the traditional gnocchi shape, because it was so soft and just flattened. I think it should be more like biscuit dough than bread dough, maybe.

Cooking gnocchi:

Our first batch went into boiling water, and they quickly floated up, so we took them out as directed, but we should have left them in longer. Flour can't cook in a minute, so we were left eating uncooked balls of dough (with a quick tomato sauce).*

Our next batch we left in longer, and the difference was substantial. They probably cooked for about five minutes, much of that already floating. As above, I think my dough was too light and therefore floated too soon and then wasn't cooked.

* Mario Batali's recipe calls for only a minute... hmmm...

The best Chinese food in the world?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Restaurant review: Red Sea Cafe

Communal dining at the Red Sea Cafe.

East Vancouver has an odd concentration of Ethiopian restaurants. There are two in two blocks on Commercial Drive (Harare and the Addis Cafe), both of which I've enjoyed. Now further west in Mt. Pleasant, we've still got a few options, as there are two more in two blocks near Fraser and Broadway, an intersection that conjures up images of dirty East Van but has been slowly undergoing some revitalization. Fassil is just east, and the Red Sea Cafe is just west. A brief exchange at On The Bone led me to seek out Red Sea, and while it wasn't spectacular, it was enjoyable.

For those of you that haven't tried Ethiopian or Eritrean cuisine, I highly recommend the experience. It's simple, communal eating, with vegie or meat dishes piled on top of injera, a sourdough crepe-like bread. You rip off a piece of injera, uses it to scoop up some food, and pop it into your mouth.

All the food is rich and creamy. The vegie dishes are some legume in a butter and spice sauce, the meat dishes a bit more oily and spicy. It's hard to know what the flavours are; ginger, chili, garlic, others. Red Sea is nearly identical to Harare and Addis. The vegie dishes are a little less exciting, but the meat dishes were more tasty. Nothing surprised, though we didn't try the raw meat dishes. For $30-35, the vegie/meat combo for three was quite filling (two meat and three vegie dishes on a huge plate of injera with extra injera on the side).

Fassil's menu looks a little more enticing: I really want to know what the white food is, because I haven't seen it at the other three:

The crepe-like injera is slightly sour, nicely chewy, and a perfect utensil.

Red Sea Cafe
670 East Broadway at Fraser

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Campagnolo part two: the family-style dinner

Digging in to the pork ragu tagliarini. So tender.

To celebrate my birthday in style, we decided to go to Campagnolo, fine-dining northern Italian, with two friends. When we were there for brunch a short while ago, I noticed that they serve family-style if you want (only for tables of four or six), meaning the kitchen cooks for you for a fixed price, either $30 or $40 per person. Knowing that we would likely spend that much anyway, I thought it would be a fun way to go through their menu.

N and I have been before, but just after it first opened in December 2008 and we couldn't remember what we'd had, and they've changed their menu (no more carne cruda, unfortunately). For a great review of the place when it first opened, see On The Bone, an excellent Vancouver food blog.

Our server (who was excellent and quite friendly) brought us our wine (a wonderful Cusumano Nero d'Avola from Sicily) and some cheese sticks. The wine menu is excellent, and priced better than one might expect given the food prices.

Our antipasti quickly followed: sliced cured meats, tuna crudo (raw albacore), an arugula salad, fried chickpeas, olives with hazelnuts. Delightful. All their cured meats (and sausage) are homemade. The tuna was perfect, and the cured meats were top notch. Top notch, I say.

A pizza was next, with sausage and arugula and parmesan. Excellent. Then the primi. A pork ragu tagliarini that was a joy, every bite so tender, one of the best dishes of the evening. The arlecchino (bow-tie pasta) with fennel sausage and kale was too dry but still quite good. The mushroom risotto was earthy and comforting.

Tender chicken and slightly rubbery halibut.

For secondi we had a nice piece of Polderside chicken, some sliced steak and a piece of halibut. At this point we were quite full, but these dishes didn't impress as much. The steak was very good, the chicken was very rich and tender, but the halibut was overdone. A side order of potatoes was superflous at that point.

Delicious blood orange panna cotta and and slightly odd pineapple cake.

Vanilla panna cotta with blood orange compote and crushed hazelnuts was almost too much after all the rich food. The pineapple cake with Italian meringue didn't seem to fit, but was nice and moist.

Cappuccinos capped off what was the best meal I've had in a long time. I hope to return soon, once we've saved a bit.

1020 Main St. (just north of the bus station).
5pm till late seven days a week

Campagnolo part one: Saturday brunch

The delicious braised pork belly crepes. Whoever came
up with this dish deserves thanks.

It was my birthday a short while ago, and we decided to try Campagnolo again. I'll leave that for Campagnolo part two, but while we were browsing their menus, I noticed that they did brunch, and at very reasonable prices considering the quality they put out for dinner.

The menu is very short: only seven items, with four sides. They offer three different frittatas ($9 - $10.50) and four other breakfasts, or colazione ($11 - $12). Each main comes with one side, or contorni.

The frittata with pancetta, spinach and goat cheese looked too good to pass up. With a side of roasted potatoes, it didn't disappoint. The frittata itself was a little flat, but the pancetta (Italian bacon) was perfectly crispy. The potatoes could have been a little more flavourful, but they were still quite good.

Eggs with tomato on country bread.

My friend tried the frittata with potato, fontina and black pepper, and was quite pleased. The eggs with tomatoes on country bread was quite large (3 eggs) and looked delicious. But the winner of the morning was definitely the braised pork belly crepes (crespelle) with mushroom cream sauce. Tender pork, rich sauce, light crepes... delicious. I am really looking forward to a return visit.

The spare yet warm interior.

1020 Main St. (just north of Terminal)
Brunch Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 - 2:30

Friday, January 22, 2010

Restaurant review: Eating at the Libra Room

N and I went to the Libra Room tonight to hear a string quartet play some Shostakovich. I know, what? He's a Russian composer that I had only read about, but our friends R and J were interested so we agreed. R pulled out (something about touring NYC with his band... guess he missed out on Shostakovich), so the three of us went to enjoy an evening of modern classical music at what is normally a jazz-ish bar.

We started with a drink. The wine list is full of cheap drinkers that didn't appeal. I went for beer: Unibroue's Blanche de Chambly is a lovely wheat beer in the German tradition. N had some forgettable shiraz. I have no idea what J had. Like I said, cheap drinkers.

I ordered the southwest pork tenderloin with polenta, salsa and refried beans (of which I was nervous) for $14, N opted for a beet salad to start ($8) and the sable fish with purple potato mash and green pea puree($15), and J went for the steak with puff pastry potatoes au gratin and grilled tomatoes and eggplant ($19). The lamb sounded good (anything wrapped in prosciutto will taste pretty good), but for $25 I'll eat lamb elsewhere.

I'm not overawed with the kitchen's ability to put out a pork tenderloin. The pork itself was a bit bland (though nicely tender), the polenta was a touch too crispy (when polenta gets too crispy it's just chewy), and the refried beans came out of a can, I'm pretty sure. Still, for $14 I've had burgers that were worse than this. I wouldn't order it again, but I would try something else on the menu.

I tried a piece of steak, and it was decent. I hope the sides were better. The sable fish looked very good, though I didn't try it. N's beet salad looked quite good, with a generous dollop of chevre.

All in all, not a great dining experience. The Libra Room is not a place to go strictly for food, though they are trying to make it so. The menu has been improved, and you can tell that the chef is trying to offer interesting meals. They're just not pulling them off that well. It's decent for the price, and hopefully they will improve.

The real reason to go to the Libra Room is the music, which tonight was horrible at times, and merely good if uninspiring for the remainder. A Shostakovich string quartet is not your mother's classical music, I'll tell you that much. Moody, amelodic (unmelodic?), punctuated by sharp bursts of minor notes... pleasing dinner music this wasn't. It is, however, one of the only places I know that has live music seven days a week, and for that it deserves our support (even though I've heard there are rumblings about how they treat musicians). I'll come back the next time a friend's band is playing, order a beer, and maybe try the fish.

Libra Room
1608 Commercial Drive
5 - 1 seven days a week (and usually later on the weekend)