Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cooking again

I know, I haven't posted here since February. What can I say? I've been busy. But a little time has opened up again, and I'm thinking a lot about food and cooking these days.

I've been clearing out books I don't need, including cookbooks, which has made me think about which cookbooks are the ones I really like and use. One of those is called Ottolenghi, a cookbook I had to order from abroad. It's the cookbook from a café in London run by an Israeli and Palestinian, with vegetarian-friendly (but not exclusively veg) dishes and an emphasis on Mediterranean cuisine= lots of lemon and garlic. It took forever to get it, but it's worth it. Pictured above is a dish I've made a few times from it.

It's Israeli couscous, which is the large-grained kind, with tomatoes that have been roasted for a couple of hours with olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar. You would be astounded at how sweet tomatoes get when you roast them like this. Then, they are tossed with herbs (here tarragon) and slabs of goat cheese, and add more olive oil. You can get the Israeli couscous in the bulk section at Honest Weight Coop. These tomatoes are from the Troy Farmer's Market. Something magical happens to the oils and juice: they meld, creating a tomatoey, orange oil that coats the grains of couscous. By the way, the Ottolenghi recipe tells you to put in regular couscous, too, but I think it's better without.

Something else I made lately: pickled turnip, which sounds awful, but is addictively good. I got the idea for it because I love the bright pink pickled turnips they have at the Lebanese restaurant in Troy, Al-Baraki, now called Beirut, reviewed recently in the TU by Celina Bean. By the way, if you read Celina Bean's reviews, you will get very very hungry! She makes me want to go out and eat food. Anyway, these turnips "torshi left," are typically served with felafel, hummus, or baba ghanouj. They get their color from beets, which are part of the pickle recipe.

Anyway, I had a ton of turnips (not to mention beets) from this year's garden, and thought it would make a great experiment. It's easy because you don't have to seal the pickles: they are your basic refrigerator pickle, which will last a month or so. I used a basic recipe from online (this one from the Palm Beach Daily News is similar). The fuschia-colored pickles are garlicky and tangy and are *amazing* with a sandwich (I put them on a salmon burger), or just by themselves as an appetizer with olives and a glass of wine. What makes them great with humus is that they are piquant and slick where humus is heavy and dry.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tosca's Brunch a Winner

This is a long overdue post, as we went to Tosca for brunch almost a month ago. Chef Larry Shepici does a themed brunch every month, and this one was Armenian. The next one, slated for March 15, is Irish for St. Patrick's Day. It's a wonderful idea and keeps the menu interesting. At these brunches, in addition to the special ethnic choices, there are also brunch standards, all scrumptious: eggs benedict, waffles, potatoes, blintzes, and a carving station. Unlike Tosca's dinner menu, which I felt was too pricey, the $25 brunch menu gives you tons of excellent food at a reasonable price (plus coffee). It goes from 10 am to 2 pm-- also a great idea for those of us who might not be up at the crack of dawn on the weekend. It's an excellent place to keep in mind when you have relatives or friends visiting from out of town and you want to show them a good time.

At the Armenian brunch, I got a combination of the ethnic food-- a delicious chicken in tomato sauce, a cheese turnover in phyllo dough, some grains and beans--along with my usual high-calorie breakfast favorites. Here the eggs benedict were great, and the waffles came with a sumptuous array of sauces and fruits. 

Then, there was dessert. Mini eclairs, tarts, and even a selection of ice cream/gelato.

You'll notice that, tucked in between all the sinful choices (cinnamon twist, chicken dish, fried potatoes) I placed Caesar salad-- yes, it was a pathetic attempt to eat my veggies. No, I wasn't fooling anyone. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Last weekend we went to explore Creo: I'd heard a lot about its renovation as it replaced Mangia. (Warning: their web site starts playing some lite jazz as soon as you go there!) You can read about it in the Times Union. I am always excited when there's a new restaurant in town, and so I went with high hopes.

Maybe that wasn't such a good idea. While I was really impressed with the renovations and interior, the food left me disappointed. Not entirely disappointed-- and I have the feeling that if you become a regular, you can find things that truly satisfy, because some of our dishes were good. But I did feel quite let down.

All Over Albany liked it, while others posting on Chowhound seem to agree with me about the food. Also, while the interior room is nice and big and airy, the volume was pretty loud. They brought us salted edamame to start with. Sorry all my photos are so dark; it was actually pretty dark in there, and I should have used the flash.

They also brought bread. These are the potato chips we ordered for appetizer. They are smothered with a bleu cheese sauce. As good as they sound, they actually weren't that great. They didn't taste potato-ey at all, (or for that matter very bleu cheesy) but rather just greasy. Just looking at them, I could feel my arteries stiffening up.

If you go to the All Over Albany site, there are better pictures of the food we had. They seem to have ordered many of the same things: I think it might be the novelty factor, because the things we ordered are things you can't find elsewhere around here. I got the fig pizza and was really disappointed there. First of all, the crust was more like thin pita bread or lavash than pizza crust; secondly, the thing was covered with gooey sweet balsamic sauce. This confused me, because you can see into the kitchen, and they have big brick-style fire ovens, so it would be the ideal scenario for authentic crust. Then there was the overly sweet issue with the balsamic sauce (which Daisy Baker's also seems to use with abandon). I agree with Mark Bittman's recent judgment that balsamic is something people have gone way overboard with. It's now everywhere, the quality tends not to be that good, and a little goes a long way. Unfortunately it's overused. The cheese on the pizza was totally unflavorful, with no saltiness to balance out the sweetness of the figs and balsamic. And the pizza wasn't really warm, either.

My husband got the pasta with mushrooms, and this was actually quite good with homemade noodles and a nice mushroomey, buttery sauce. (I envied him) For dessert we got the creme brulee, which was pretty good also.

The waitstaff were excellent: very attentive but not overweaning. I had a lovely glass of prosecco; and the bar is really nicely done. Overall, a good place to get drinks and something simple, but, I'm sorry to report, it left me underwhelmed in the food department.