Monday, November 26, 2007

Homemade Gnocchi

So the Big Eating Day is finally over and I have no turkey post for you. Not that I didn't have turkey- I had plenty of it plus oyster stuffing (my absolute favorite!), sausage stuffing, corn, watercress salad, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, uni mousse and pumpkin pie at my parents house. All of it was delicious, but I'll leave the posting of that to my sis since she took photos and all that.

This post is somewhat Thanksgiving related. You see, my parents bought a 10 pound bag of potatoes with which to make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, but of course 10pounds was about 8 pounds more than we needed. So, in addition to the usual turkey/stuffing packs that they send home with us, they also added a few potatoes to each parting gift. It's strange- as much as I love potatoes, I rarely buy them. Maybe it was the whole carb thing that scared me off of them for awhile.....well wait, I still eat loads of bread so that can't be it...but for some reason they don't find their way into my kitchen often. I stared at the little suckers and wondered what to do.

Milled potatoes

Then it hit me. Gnocchi! I'd been meaning to try my hand at the small dumpling-like knobs of dough for awhile, but I'd also been a bit fearful. I'd heard so many tales of how overworking the dough resulted in tough erasers or how not kneading the dough enough resulted in the gnocchi falling apart in the boiling water. I set my fears aside and opened up my trusty Mario Batali cookbook. It seemed easy enough- potatoes, check. Egg, check. Flour, check. I boiled my potatoes and got to work.

The skins came off easily from the still-hot potatoes and I ran them through my food mill which resulted in a big pile of fluffiness. After a liberal sprinkle of flour and one egg and a bit of salt, I worked the mass with a fork until it came together. I continued to knead it with my hands for only four minutes, as the recipe said, and it ended up in a nice ball- still a bit tacky but not at all sticky.

Now the time consuming part began. After dividing the dough into six sections, I realized that I needed to divide it even more in order to easily roll each into a one-inch rope that would still fit on my cutting board. For the next hour or so, I rolled, cut, rolled over tongs of a fork, placed on a cookie sheet and then boiled a batch for one minute, dumped the gnocchi into an ice bath and did it all over again about four times. It did take some patience but I got the hang of it after awhile, and I was pleased to see that the cooled gnocchi did not stick together at all. Mario's recipe calls for you to toss the finished gnocchi in 1/2 cup of oil in order to store it, but I skipped that step entirely since it was unnecessary and I didn't want my gnocchi coated with oil.

Boiled and cooled gnocchi

The recipe made a LOT of gnocchi so I bagged a couple of batches into ziploc bags and froze them. Then I took my portion, boiled it in salted water until they floated to the surface and tossed them in homemade marinara mixed with chicken sausage and eggplant. A sprinkle of parmesan later and dinner was served.

How were they? TOTALLY worth the effort!! It's true what they say- homemade gnocchi are as light as air if done right and these were fluffy and tender. Each was like a potato pillow and would be delicious tossed with just a bit of browned butter and pecorino, as well as a heartier tomato sauce or pesto. I would definitely make these again, and it's a good thing that one recipe makes so many of them. Mario himself stated that you could make any old weeknight meal special by whipping out a batch of these homemade gnocchi, and he's right. I'm looking forward to eating them again and again.

Recipe here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What To Eat Before Thanksgiving + 2 Year Blog Anniversary!!

First of all, I completely missed my two year blog anniversary of Tuna Toast which was November 11th! I can't believe it's been that long since I posted my first attempt at French macarons in teeny tiny font (what was I thinking?). And although my photography skills still leave a lot to be desired (as you'll see in this post!!) I just want to thank all of the readers for sticking around and reading my rants on various topics. It's still something I love to do and I hope there's at least another two years left in Tuna Toast.

So one could argue that this week is the biggest eating week of the year. Thanksgiving is a time for turkey, mashed potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, roasted veggies, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie..........yikes, yeah, that's a lot of grub. Since J and I know we're going to get our eats on this Thursday (and probably Friday, Saturday and Sunday cos nothin' is better than turkey leftovers!) we want to prep for the feast by keeping things light until then.

My friend N is currently a bachelor since his fiancee is in Japan taking care of her parents. He'll join her next week, but in the meantime I thought he was probably living on Cup Ramen so we invited him over for some Japanese food last night. I love making Japanese meals with small amounts of many different things- it's a great way to eat since it keeps your mouth busy with different flavors. It's also quite healthy since everything is light but you never miss anything since there's such a variety of items. It's also nice to share a Japanese meal with a Japanese friend since maybe it reminds them of their "ofukuro no aji" or "the flavor of my mother." Or maybe it's flava, ha!

We had:

- Hamachi (yellow tail) and kohada (gizzard shad) sashimi

-Beef rolled with carrots, green beans and gobo (burdock root) in a sweet soy sauce

-Miso soup with asari (clams) and tamanegi (onions)

-Hiyayakko (cold silken tofu) with a sesame/soy sauce/green onion mixture

-Mizuna and daikon (white radish) salad with bonito flakes, nori (dried seaweed) and Japanese dressing

-White rice with multigrain mix

-Mushrooms steamed in a foil pack with sake, lemon, butter and soy sauce

Cooking like this also gives me a chance to use the many Japanese plates and bowls we got for our wedding almost six years ago, which is fun.

Tonight we'll be eating Japanese food too, and then it's two more days til the feast! Can't wait!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Restaurant Review: Katsuya Hollywood

My best friend M and I decided to hit the new Katsuya Hollywood this past Saturday for a little girls' night sushi. Wait, not little girls night but a little night of sushi for us girls. Ok, glad I cleared that up. Although I'm usually wary of flashy, over-hyped restaurants, I know that Katsuya has grown into an empire based on the popularity of his Studio City restaurant which J and I used to frequent years ago. We'd live for the famous baked crab roll wrapped on soy paper and would save up just to go. Of course, it's been a long time since those days and a visit to that original location a year ago should have given me a hint that things were on the decline: the waitress kept practically barking at us about what we wanted to order, people waiting for a seat were hovering so closely I could feel their body heat and the "crispy" rice cakes were hot and soggy. But hey- that is the Studio City location, not the big, huge, multimillion dollar Hollywood one! Despite that last awful visit to the other location, I decided to try the new one anyway.

Well, big mistake. I know, I know- it isn't right to write too many negative comments after only one visit to a restaurant and I'm sure I'll get reamed by some readers, but here goes. The place has been so hyped and the Katsuya name is so well known that I expected more than what I got for my money.

The restaurant is absolutely gorgeous- all shiny glass, muted candlelight, a gigantic centerpiece of sake tubs in the middle of the sushi bar- it's breathtaking. We were led past the bar which, at 7:00 PM, was already buzzing and into the main room where we were seated at the sushi bar, like we requested. There is about one sushi chef for every four sushi bar customers, we were pleased to see, so we checked out the menu as my tummy grumbled. Katusya offers a nice selection of sushi, sashimi, hot and cold appetizers and a several different set menus. M and I knew we wanted sushi to be the focus and would maybe order a couple of appetizers from the kitchen. Our waiter was nice and a bit overzealous in his effort to try and make recommendations, but when we asked him which of the seven or so sake options were the driest, he seemed puzzled and avoided the question with a nervous giggle. There aren't many lower priced sake options- with the house sake coming in at $24 for a 300ml bottle. I ordered one, M got her Asahi Super Dry and we hunkered down for what we hoped was some great sushi.

Our sushi chef, L, stood about 3 feet in front of us on the other side of the counter, but due to the music and overall noise in the place, we had to wave at him to get his attention. When we did, he seemed awfully nervous. When I said "Blue crab roll please" he turned for a minute and said "Oh sorry, we're out of that." Um, I'm sorry- at 7:00 PM on a Saturday night? So I ordered the aji (Spanish mackerel) and M started with the kanpachi (amberjack). When L opened his giant rice maker to scoop out some rice, I knew we had a problem. Big, billowing wafts of steam rose up beyond the stacked sake tubs, and the resulting sushi was warm and mushy. M looked at me and said "ok, we're not ordering any more of this" but we were freakin' starving and had already valet'd the car so we were determined to eat something else. I saw that the obviously-on-a-first-date-annoying-guy-and-ambivalent-girl next to us had a plate of rock shrimp tempura in a creamy sauce, so we ordered that from the kitchen. We had also ordered the spicy tuna on crispy rice which had just arrived- and same thing- the rice was bordering on hot and was definitely mushy.

Cold fish + hot rice = unhappy tastebuds

I decided to at least get my beloved baked crab roll- after all, I have such great memories of it. Same problem- that damned hot and sticky rice reared it's ugly head yet again, and a side of "spicy" mayo had barely enough heat to register on a baby's tongue. Yeah I know, I know- I'm getting too sarcastic but I feel myself getting annoyed just writing this. Luckily the rock shrimp tempura in creamy sauce was good- but not any better than my neighborhood sushi joint, Z Sushi, makes it. We slurped down our drinks and sat there, hungry.

M wanted dessert so we opted to share the vanilla tempura ice cream. Hey- who can screw up ICE CREAM, right? Well, the limp, soggy tempura "crust" that encapsulated the ball of ice cream was clearly made ahead of time and put back into the freezer. Isn't the entire point of tempura ice cream the contrast of hot and crunchy with cool and creamy? It's like that El Torito dessert where they deep fry ice cream in a tortilla shell and douse it with cinnamon sugar. But it wasn't. So we called over a manager and he just stared at me, took the dish in hand and said curtly, "Would you like something else?" I said no and asked for the check as M stared at me in disbelief. It isn't like I asked for his first born to sacrifice, but his icy cool demeanor was enough to keep that ice cream rock solid. He must have realized his error, however, because 5 minutes (and no check) later, he scampered back to us and said, "I guess our version of tempura ice cream is a bit, er, spongier than other restaurants" and smiled. Oh yeah- when one thinks of tempura, they think "spongy." "Just get me the check you clown," I said. Ok, well I didn't say that but lemme tell ya- I was THIS close.

Soggy, solid mass of icy cold tempura

As I waited for the check, I glanced around and realized that it was me who was at fault. I should have never gone to a restaurant whose demographic I just do not fit into. Sure, I'm in my early 30's, work in the entertainment business and like to get my drink on (which I'm guessing hits the Katsuya demo right on the head). The problem is, I actually LIKE TO EAT GOOD FOOD. Especially Japanese food, and even more so, SUSHI. I mean, I was literally surrounded by aging entertainment execs who were trying desperately to appear cool to their jailbait dates and young, spiky-haired dudes reeking of Axe body spray sporting awful dress shirts etched with dragon designs yapping on their Blackberry Pearls. To translate- I was in HELL. My hell, to be exact. At the end of the day, I would actually put up with some of this BS if it meant I'd get a chance to consume a fabulous meal, but I'm guessing one won't be found at Katsuya Hollywood.

Sorry for the lack of photos, but I was just too irked to snap any more!

Katsuya, 6300 Hollywood Blvd (at Vine), Hollywood, 323-871-8777

Friday, November 09, 2007

Braised Oxtail Ravioli w/ Gremolata

Things have been absolutely bonkers at work so I'm afraid I'll have to keep this very short before I keel over into a state of a coma!

Last weekend I asked my very handy dad to come over and replace a broken faucet in the kitchen since J and I are so very unhandy. Don't get me wrong- I'm not helpless with tools but after one look at the 14 step installation drawings (what's with manufacturers not providing written instructions these days???) I figured I'd better call Papa since I didn't want to flood my kitchen.

Braised oxtail....doesn't look like much but it's delicious!

As a big THANK YOU I invited him and my mom over for dinner that night. It's always a challenge to figure out what I'll make for guests since I literally have a thousand recipes calling out to me "Please try me! You said you'd make me one day!" As much as I love a dish, I always seem to pluck a new recipe from the pile when it comes to cooking for more than just J and me. Of course the many food blogs that I peruse are a constant distraction from the recipes in my cookbooks and magazines, and of course that is where I found my latest project: braised oxtail ravioli. It's a dish that, if I ever spy on a menu at a restaurant, I must order, but I'd never attempted to make it myself. Actually, although I've made handmade pasta several times, I'd never attempted any ravioli.

The oxtail "filling" was a breeze to make, and the smell of beef, wine and veggies stewing in the oven filled the house on that cool Friday evening. After it all had cooled, I picked out the meat "cylinders" from between the layers of gelatinous tissue which makes up most of an oxtail. That part was a bit time consuming but nibbling on some of the meaty bits made the time go by faster. The meat was then combined with the veggies they were braised with to make the filling, and the cooking liquid was reserved to sauce the ravioli.

I decided to use Mario Batali's recipe for fresh egg pasta since I'd always used Thomas Keller's but wanted to try something new. Mario's is similar except that it calls for no oil or water- just eggs and flour. It came together quickly and took a bit of muscle to knead for ten minutes. After a nap in the fridge overnight, I started the process of rolling it out and making the ravioli. The dough was as smooth as silk and very easy to work with. I had originally wanted to use my small, round ravioli cutter that I'd just bought but found that it made for tiny ravioli containing little filling. So, I went ahead and cut them by hand.

About ten minutes before we sat down for dinner, I just dropped the ravioli in boiling water and heated up the braising liquid which had already reduced nicely. I tossed those together, then added the gremolata that the recipe called for- initially I wasn't sure how the lemon and garlic would play against the oxtail, but it was fantastic. Absolutely gorgeous! The grated parmesan I finished the dish with was just the icing on the cake.

I would absolutely make this dish again, next time being a bit more careful to push out all of the air pockets in each ravioli. It seems quite labor-intensive, but if you make the oxtail a day or two beforehand, it isn't that difficult and the flavors will probably improve.

Thanks to stonesoup for the inspiration!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Restaurant Review: Bashan, Montrose

It's been awhile since J and I made our way into Montrose, a charming little community about 10 minutes north of us. Every time we go, we wonder why we don't visit it more often since it really is a cute place....but then we remember that there just doesn't seem to be many good restaurants there. We'd been to Bistro Verdu a couple of times, but one successful outing was followed by a couple of disappointing dinners so we stopped going. Then, a couple of months ago I'd read about Bashan, a new place opened up by a chef who spent some time at Providence in the space that was formerly, well, Bistro Verdu. So we decided to give it a go.

After tasting some wine next door for about 10 minutes, we were called to our table in the nicely decorated space. The menu is still quite small, but we were both in the mood for fish so it wasn't difficult to find something that we wanted. I decided to start with the Burrata and Bresaola Salad with Parsnips, Dates, Endive & Pistachios since it just sounded like such an original combination. J went with the Kaboach Squash Soup with Onion Compote & Squash Tortellini. For mains, I ordered the Seared Barramundi with Jerusalem Artichoke, Cipollni, Chorizo & Shrimp while J opted for the Columbia River Steelhead Trout with Braised Daikon, Garlic Ginger Puree, Bacon & Buna-Shimeji Mushrooms.

Our waiter gave us each a nice, warm sourdough roll which was perfectly yeasty and chewy. J is nuts about sourdough and fell in love with their version. There's something about warm sourdough and cool, sweet butter, isn't there?! An amuse of olive tapenade and smoked trout arrived, but to be honest I could only taste the olive since the nugget of trout was so miniscule.

Our appetizers arrived. J's soup was warm and rich- the sweet onion compote mixed with the smooth kabocha soup made for a great combination. My salad was decomposed into two parts- the burrata sat snuggled in a cradle made by the bresaola on one side of the plate, and the remaining components were tossed together in a salad on the other side of the plate. The burrata/bresaola combo was great- I mean, what's not to like about cured filet and creamy cheese? The salad, on the other hand, was fine but didn't necessarily gel into one great flavor. I like dates, parsnips, endives and pistachios separately but together, it wasn't anything to write home about. I also didn't understand the pairing with the cheese and bresaola.

I had better luck with my barramundi which was perfectly cooked- crispy skin and melt-in-your-mouth flesh. All of the accompaniments married well together and I especially loved the cubes of chorizo which complimented the fish well. J's steelhead was also good, but we both agreed that the rectangular cubes of daikon made for a fussy presentation.

The service was good, space was lovely and the food, overall, was also good, but I think we'll give it some time before returning. The limited menu doesn't lend itself to repeat visits within a short period of time, but the quality of the fish is much higher than anything else you'd find in the area. I'm curious to see what other dishes show up on the menu as the seasons change.

3459 N. Verdugo Road
Glendale, CA 91208
818-541-1532 phone