Archive for July, 2007

“Take a seat, they’re always free”*

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Cati’s out of town.  So naturally, I turned to the steely and indifferent (yet comforting) embrace of another; Ms. Excel.   

Just the stats, ma’am.

Playing with the numbers from the reports that I linked to in my previous post brought me to the following conclusions:  

  • You are 126 times more likely to die in a car accident (odds are shockingly high, actually), than you are to even encounter a salmonella enteritidis tainted egg. 
  • You are 4 times more likely to win the NYS lottery (that is, if you play) than you are to die from an egg you buy and eat raw. 

I used the data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service Article and the National Safety Council.  How’s that for a little perspective? 

Just as my lonliness was about to consume me and cause me to buy Originlab and Minitab to really evaluate and present the data, I got a package in the mail.  In it, I found some Spanish-food goodies (from LaTienda.com.  Great site).  They were sent to me by my most thoughtful and lovely wife, Cati. 

Among the goodies was the key-to-my-heart-via-my-stomach; morcillas, thus galvanizing her already secured monopoly on mi corazón.  :) 

Here is a shot of the contents of the care-package, along with some wine and olives that I already had:

The goodies

Here’s a shot of the delicious berberechos that I had while I was cooking.  I squeezed some lemon on them, and used a toothpick as my utensil right out of the can (mmmm):

Very good.

I fried the morcillas and had them with some crispy bread and a glass of wine.  Despair thwarted; thanks to good food![whew]

How lucky am I to have my Spanish bombshell?

*It’s puzzling that YouTube has not been sued to oblivion yet for copyright infringement.  How can they get away with making all these videos available for free (and placing their own advertising on the same screen)?  We’ll see what happens with Viacom, eh?  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but it reminds me of another short-lived but glorious Internet phenomenon

I owe Lee

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

We make aioli pretty frequently.  If you like garlic, and/or have friends who do, make some for your next party to put out with some bread or nice crackers (and a bowl of olives too). 

We usually make some whenever we are having green beans, brussels sprouts, artichokes, rice, and/or crab legs, or any seafood for that matter.  I usually slap whatever is left over on a piece of bread with some sliced tomato (and salt) the next day.  It’s good with pretty much everything.  One warning though: if you are in a couple, make sure your sweetheart has some too, otherwise your garlic stench will pretty much ruin your chances.   Here’s how to make aioli if interested:

you’ll need a hand blender, like this one:

hand-y tool

  • one egg
  • 1-3 cloves garlic
  • ~1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch salt

Add the egg, garlic, and salt to the blender cup, and give it a whirl.  Then, while mixing, slowly start pouring in the olive oil.  Continue adding the oil slowly and working into a homogeneous emulsion.  Once you’ve added enough oil, the aoili will be a nice thick mayonnaise consistency.  Chill before serving. 

Some people are a little apprehensive about eating raw eggs because of the (extremely low) salmonella risk.  But hey, with the way I drive, salmonella is the least of my concerns [rimshot].  I kid.  Experience tells me, it’s safe.  As do these links:

http://www.mercola.com/2005/feb/9/raw_eggs.htm 

http://www.healingdaily.com/detoxification-diet/raw-eggs.htm

however, the FDA advises against it:

http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fs-eggs.html

You make the call.

Here are some photos of the process:

start-up

keep going

The aioli is done

the fixin’s

dive in

I recently found this product from “Saratoga Garlic” in the grocery store, and it’s pretty good.  Although I didn’t check, I assume it’s pasteurized to completely eliminate the salmonella risk. It’s pretty good stuff, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing (i.e. making it yourself). 

que aproveche!

“Now there’s a reliable disappointment.”

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Due to our last experience there, we went to Nicole’s Bistro with this song on our minds. 

We went on July 14 for their Bastille Day prix fixe menu (Vive la France!).  The last time we went to Nicole’s Bistro, it was a minor disappointment (see 1st link above).  When the bill adds up to $75/head for the evening, it quickly becomes a big disappointment.  We chalked it up to an off-night for them and figured it wouldn’t happen again. 

Years ago, Nicole’s Bistro was infallible in our eyes.  They just seemed to do everything right; from when you walked in and were greeted to always fresh and delicious bread that was cut and delivered to the table, still hot from the oven.  But now, it seems they’re slipping.  I get the feeling they are trying to cultivate the “Authentic French Bistro” vibe at the expense of the “up-scale basics.”  Read on.     

Our party of five arrived and it was a beautiful summer night.  We wanted to proceed to our outside table right away.  The table wasn’t ready and we were asked to wait at the bar, no problem.  Here’s the kicker: the bar was in total disarray.  It was littered with empty, dirty, glasses and the bartender was (rightfully) flustered by the scene.  It was like sitting at the sink with the dishwasher.  We don’t want to see dirty glasses piled up, we are the customers.  Hide that stuff from us, will ya? 

We waited at the bar for ~20 min.  We finally asked the hostess to either put as at a four-top (any four-top) or come-up with something else as we were tired of waiting (and hungry).  The restaurant that once ran like a Swiss clock was running like a French car

The set-up of the patio was nice that evening; very charming, and the perfect summer night made it all the better.  The musicians were playing at a nice volume (not blowing us away) and were quite pleasant to listen to.  They were called Sonny & Perley, and they were a nice touch.  They even did a really nice rendition of the Edith Piaf classic, “Milord.”

In between sets, loud French music was played and I noticed more than one table asking their waiters to turn down the blaring music. 

The waiter brought us the, once-famous, bread, and it was, well, not-good.  Spongy and previously frozen, it was nothing like the bread they used to serve. 

The service for the evening left much to be desired.  Our waiter had to be reminded  several times to fulfill our requests (e.g. more bread, etc.). 

We looked at the menu, even though we already knew what to expect from the always-informative Table Hopping blog.  I ordered the escargot a l’ancienne (garlic herb butter and puff pastry dome) and Cati had the vichyssoise soup.  The escargot was good.  It was served with a puffed pastry, but if I could just get my hands on the quality bread they used to serve, I would have been set. 

Biting my snails

Escargot-ing, going, gone.

The vichyssoise soup, on the other hand, was out-of-this-world.  There is one thing Nicole’s Bistro still does very well, and it’s soups/bisques.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the leek-y, creamy, chilled summer-soup that was served that night.  “+1” for the soup.

man, that was great.

We ordered our entrées.  I ordered the steak a l’echalotte (grilled New York sirloin with shallot butter), cottage fried potatoes.  I knew from experience to order my steak under-cooked in order to get it prepared like I wanted.  The chef is a bit grill-happy.  So I asked for it rare, even though I prefer medium rare, and it came out medium (I can do that).  An exceptional cut of meat it was not, but I have no complaints about my entrée.  The sauce, potatoes, and vegetables were excellent.   

cooking mis-steak?

Cati ordered the gigot d’agneau (charred sirloin of lamb), rosemary-scented demiglace, garlic mashed potatoes.  It was good, but tepid.  She dislikes luke-warm food, so she politely sent it back to be heated up.  This is this kind of amateur oversight that the Albany market is out-growing.  With places like 677 Prime, Yono’s, and Marche less than a mile away, Nicole’s Bistro has to get their merde together, or get left behind.  I want to be loyal to Nicole’s Bistro, but they aren’t making it easy.  The restaurant scene is evolving in Albany.  The bar is getting higher

The lamb, the first time it came out.

So Cati had to wait for her food to be brought back out hot (as it should have been the first time).  [sigh] 

Dessert came out and it was very nice (forgot the camera), I had the crème caramel, which was a lot like flan, and Cati had the chocolate mousse.  I liked them both very much, but Cati was disappointed that it wasn’t dark chocolate mousse, but hey, that’s a 50:50 shot. 

One of our fellow diners asked to have her food boxed-up to take home, and the waiter never brought it back.  He came back and apologized, but c’mon, this place was/is better than this.  These little blunders shouldn’t happen (over and over, much less).

There are still a lot of good things about Nicole’s Bistro, but I was left disappointed on my last two visits.  Against the advice of every math teacher I’ve ever had, I am drawing a line through my two data points, and extrapolating to “lower expectations.” 

Although not obvious from my needling and nit-picking, we actually had a nice time.  Our dinner partners were/are a charming lot.  I’ll jut have to suggest somewhere else next time we all go out.   

Maybe Sickboy’s unifying theory of life applies to restaurants as well (i.e. you have it, then you lose it). 

Unfortunately, Nicole’s Bistro and I now have a new song.  

Some things fishy*

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

“Let me esplain; no, there is too much; let me sum up.”  Source. 

Cati made some excellent bacalao from some salt cured cod.  She made it; I helped.  We soaked the cod for 48 hours or so, changing the water three times to remove the salt.  The package said to soak for 24 hours and change the water 3 times, but what am I going to do?  Wake up in the middle of the night to change the water?  Pfft, not hardly. 

The important thing to do here is change the water 3 times; otherwise the fish will be super salty and inedible.  After soaking, and patting dry, we dipped the fish in a beaten egg and then dragged the fish through flour.  We then pan fried the fish in olive oil.  After all the fish filets were fried, Cati made a Spanish “sofrito.”  Sofrito is a sauce made from sautéed garlic, onion, and peeled and chopped tomatoes.  (Note: the tomatoes are easier to peel if they are not refrigerated, and easier still if you blanch them for about ten seconds.)  We added salt to taste, and sometimes we add a touch of sugar to cut back on the tomatoes’ acid taste (these particular tomatoes didn’t need any sugar as they were vine-ripe organic tomatoes that were just right.  We poured the sofrito onto our fish fillets, slapped a piece of bread onto the plate, and enjoyed.  That was a Thursday, see below:

soak it up

may flours

sofrito

making

done…all we had was wheat bread.

The following Friday, the lovely and talented Esti and Ryan came by for some pre-dinner drinks.  We drank Clamato bloody Maries (recipe here) and enjoyed some anchovy stuffed olives (available in the Goya section of your local grocery store) before heading to…wait for it…Saso’s for even more fish.  I have already raved about Saso’s here and here.  Really, if you like good sushi, you gotta go there.  We actually had some cheese and crackers too, but that doesn’t fit into the all-seafood theme, so I chose to exclude that.  And if there is no record of it, it didn’t happen.  I read 1984; I know how these things work.   

clam up

Ah say toon ah

mm eating

I forgot the camera until we were done

Another dish my lovely wife introduced me to is bacalaitos.  These things are terrific, and really easy to make.  We use the mix from Goya; open box, add water.  Then you essentially deep fry the things, a tablespoon-sized dollop at a time, in about a half inch of hot olive oil.  I prefer to use canola oil as you can get the oil much hotter and hence the bacaloitos come out much crispier.  Cati insists on olive oil, but she doesn’t use extra virgin or first cold press because it’s not necessary to use very high quality oil for deep frying.  They are so good.  I like them with a dab of sour cream, although this is totally not accepted by any Spaniards.  I can’t help it.  These things are like fishy potato pancakes, and sour cream just seems right to me.  Hey, my family is Ukranian, and we loves us some smetana

Bringing it bacalao

Get out of the box and into my heart (belly)

Since we are on a fish kick here, I am also including some photos of Cati making paella.  I would go into how she makes it, but that would take forever, and her recipe is her little secret.  I think she adds a little “wool of bat” or something (shrug).  I just show up with my appetite when it’s ready.  I do know one thing; there are always a lot more phone calls to Spain (her Grandmother) whenever she makes paella, so I know she gets outside help. 

 paella dos

looks good, eh?

she cooks too

it simmers

I forgot to take a picture of the final product.  I gotta work on that, I know.

Also, it’s really hot these days, and we don’t have AC.

feeling (hot)^3

So, we improvise:

I will get by

*Alternate/rejected titles (rejected by Cati, that is):

  • Just for the halibut
  • In cod we trust
  • I’m a sole man. 

You got one?