Monday, July 25, 2011

Nostalgia for Dinner

Back in our early 20’s, my friend Stacey and I would go out for drinks, believing ourselves to be both the coolest and hottest girls that ever were. We would put on our “going out” get-ups and order Cosmopolitans and bask in the knowledge that we would never be wiser or more worldly than we were at that moment. (Hey, we all go through it.)

Too cool for school...

Our wallets were pretty tight at that point, and there were plenty of options for frugal 20-somethings in Providence. Thayer Street comes to mind – back then, it was pretty awesome. But remember, we were “So Cool.” So our destination of choice to start an evening of festivities was usually Neath’s on South Water Street. We loved that we knew of such an upscale spot. We loved that we drank martinis and ate actual culinary creations instead of slugging back beer and pizza. But on our limited budget, we usually stuck to an appetizer and a drink or two before we moved on to - well, cheaper pastures. Our most favorite, favorite appetizer was the grilled bread with coconut scallion dipping sauce. Conversation would all but stop when this dish arrived. We dropped the “cool” act and ate with reckless abandon.

Long after Neath’s closed, Stacey and I would still occasionally reminisce about the luscious, sweet sauce, contrasted with the salty, grilled bread. And then it happened. The heavens parted and Edible Rhody published Neath Pal’s recipe for this venerable dish.

On a recent girl’s night, with Stacey at the helm for this one, we made the grilled bread with coconut dipping sauce and were so giddy while eating it that it was almost as though we were 21 again. Though we had traded our Cosmo’s for a simple Vino Verde, and our “staying in” get-ups leaned a little more towards the comfortable, we couldn’t have been more anxious to dig into the dish we remembered so fondly. And miraculously, it was just as good as we remembered.

So here it is, with slight modifications...

Grilled Bread with Coconut Dipping Sauce

1 baguette
3 Tbsp olive oil
kosher salt
4 cups coconut milk
¾ Tbsp palm sugar
(Since we did not opt to pay through the nose for palm sugar, we did a little research and discovered that a mixture of brown sugar and maple syrup do just fine. About 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar and 1/4 Tbsp of maple syrup, blended)
1 ¼ tsp nam pla (fish sauce)
2 Tbsp scallion, sliced

Slice ½-inch pieces of baguette on a bias. Brush slices of baguette with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill or toast baguette slices until golden brown on both sides.
(Grilling was not in our cards on this particular evening. We baked the slices in the oven and they worked just fine, though grilling is preferred.)

Make the dipping sauce in a saucepan. Bring the coconut milk, sugar and fish sauce to a boil. Lower the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes. (Upon tasting, we added a few drops more of nam pla and a scoche more maple syrup.)

Add scallion slices and spoon over grilled baguettes. Serves 6.


Monday, July 11, 2011

One Rockin' Hors d'oeuvre

On Friday, I was going to a girlfriend's house for wine and girl time and was looking for a morsel as tasty as the gossip would be. And I was feeling decadent... this is not new for me. An extensive cruise through the interweb lead me to this little gem from Bon Appetit.

Crostini with Figs, Robiola Cheese and Pistachio Oil

First, I must apologize for the agressive "brownness" of my photo. I think we are all comfortable admitting that you come here for my writing and NOT for my photography skills. But this one is definitely worth sharing, despite its  brownness. Below is the Bon Appetit recipe, with my two cents interjected in green.

You'll need:
12 slices ciabatta bread (Sliced as thin as your knife skills allow.)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (I only had white wv. That was fine.)
2 tablespoons sugar
6 dried figs
2 tablespoons pistachios, toasted and shelled (Pistachios at a certain organic grocery store were very expensive for a container of way too many. So I bought a snack-sized pack at a drug store. Hello, resourceful.)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Robiola cheese (Man alive, the Robiola..)

The low-down:
Combine vinegar, sugar, and dried figs with 1/4 cup water in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let sit until figs soften, about 30 minutes. (Since I was bringing the components to my friend's house to assemble there, I put the figs and liquid in a container and let them relax in the car with some good music.)

Halve the pickled figs lengthwise. (Hey, cut off that little nubbin, too. Nobody wants that.)

Finely crush pistachios and combine with extra-virgin olive oil.

Grill bread slices. (It was a very rainy night, so instead of grilling the bread, I brushed it with olive oil and baked. Not as good, but a fine alternative.)

Smear room-temperature Robiola cheese onto warm toasts. Top with halved figs. Drizzle with pistachio oil. (I used an obscene amount of Robiola.)

These little babies were flavorful and rich and a giant hit... especially when served with my friend's family wine. And the bonus was the extra pistachio oil. I mixed a teaspoon full with balsamic vinegar for a nutty, complex salad dressing tonight. I continue to look for ways to use that wonderful stuff...

Thanks, friends!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ravioli Improv

A pasta craving does not go away until it is fed. And I have some mean pasta cravings. Last week when the pasta monster came to call, I was in a distinctly non-grocery-shopped state. So I improvised with the packaged ravioli I had in the fridge and some other scrounged ingredients and got a result worth blogging about. I even repeated the effort for dinner guests shortly after. Here it is.
- Packaged ravioli, any variety that floats your boat
- Olive Oil
- Butter
- Heavy Cream
- Garlic, chopped
- Italian style sausage links, chopped into pieces (I used Al Fresco chicken sausage)
- Shitake mushrooms, stems removed, chopped into strips
- Sun dried tomatoes, patted dry of excess oil and chopped into strips
- Parmesan Cheese
- Fresh Parsley and / or basil, chopped

1. First, I boiled some water in a big pot for the ravioli. Drop the ravs in to the boiling, salted water and cook for about 4 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, sauté the garlic in olive oil and butter. Don’t be shy with any of these ingredients. But keep your flame low so that you don’t burn off all of your butter.
3. When the garlic starts to get nicely golden, add chopped shitake mushrooms and chopped sausage. When those are nicely browned, add chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add more butter at this point if your pan is starting to get dry.
4. Over the heat, pour about a half cup of heavy cream into the mixture and cook. What? I never claimed this was a healthy meal! Add ravioli to pan and delicately stir to incorporate. Continue cooking until raviolis are warm and lightly golden. Adjust seasonings.
5. Transfer ravioli mixture to plates. Top with Parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley and / or basil and serve.


Friday, July 1, 2011

A Very, Very, Very Fine House

 Chez Coquette has moved! As charming as our old place was in its advanced age, it left a few modern conveniences to be desired. And so we packed up countless boxes of belongings and hit the road… exactly 12 blocks.

I’m sure you can be with me on this fact: a new place to live changes your whole outlook. Seven years of same-old was a distant memory and I was intoxicated by the shiny and new. It felt great. Needless to say, I started entertaining right away.

As we start to settle in and the newness begins to turn into familiarity, I’m so happy to be here. I want to cook more, simply because it’s such a joy to do it in this kitchen. I want to have people over because I’m so proud of where I live. Mr. Coquette agrees. He planned his work rotation to be home for the move, but he basically put the boxes down in our new place and left to go back to work. When he came home two weeks later and marveled at how settled everything was, he walked through nodding and touching the appliances. He made a personal quest out of readying the whirlpool bath for my long swims. Dare I say, he nested right along with me.

So as they say, c’mon down. I’ll be here cooking something good up for you.

(Poor Girl Gourmet's Blueberry Crumble)