pondělí 30. listopadu 2009

Jamie Oliver’s pasta with bacon, peas and mint

I was watching Jamie’s ministry of food on TV Spektrum when this dish attracted my attention. Jamie said that he cooks it for his kids and that he and his wife eagerly eat it too. He taught one of the participants to cook it and it looked so appetizing that I just had to do it. In the original recipe Jamie uses mini pasta shells, I haven't found any and so I used fussili instead. I think any smaller, shaped pasta which you can eat with a spoon should be ok.
This is the original recipe and the result.

I used pretty much the same ingredients, except that I used dried mint (from our own garden) and sour cream with a high fat content instead of crème fraîche. I do admit that the substitution of the latter probably made a difference, but it was good nonetheless! It's one of those dummie recipes, but I cook it over and over again.

Il Gattopardo

The place is operated by the owner of A Putia, a Sicilian specialty shop which is located opposite the restaurant, so clearly it’s a restaurant specializing in Sicilian cuisine.
It’s quite spacious, and has seating for about 50 people, but might easily host a party for 70 if more chairs were brought in. It’s decorated with photos of scenes from Il Gattopardo movie, generally the décor is a bit eclectic, but not bad.

We were the first customers, we came at about 11.45. We were waited by a nice Italian gentleman, service is a bit slow but attentive. He handed us the menus and informed us that we could order from special menu only, it was the lunch menu for this week. This special menu offered 2 antipasto dishes (prosciutto and bruschetta), 4 pasta dishes and 4 meat dishes (2 pork, 1 chicken and 1 beef). All dishes in this menu ranged from 110czk to 170czk, which is acceptable IMHO.

The main menu is quite extensive and also fairly priced, I will post some photos of the menu at the end of this post because the restaurant has no website. They also have a monthly special wine offer with 5 wines about 100-150czk cheaper than the regular price. There are wines around the 250czk mark but also some much more expensive ones. They also offer a wide variety of Italian drinks, including 6 kinds of Italian beer, soft drinks, mineral waters etc. I was pleased to see that they also offer the more decently priced Czech Korunní water, a thing not too common in places like this, where you end up ordering stuff like San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna.
We were after some pasta and so mom ordered tagliatelle with artichokes, chicken and cream (130czk), I ordered the lasagna (110czk) and we also ordered the tuna bruschettino (120czk) to share.

Mom’s tagliatelle were very good. They were clearly made from fresh pasta, not my favourite in Prague restaurants because it often comes out too soft and overcooked, these ones were perfectly al dente. There was a perfect amount of sauce, and although it needed some salt, it was very tasty and delicate. The chicken meat was not roasted, it was “pulled” and added a nice texture to the dish.

My lasagna was equally good, if not better. The photo is not too appetizing, in fact, it looks plain bad to say the least :)) The ragú had a pronounced meat flavor with a perfect amount of tomatoe. It looks like a small piece, but believe me, it was so rich that this smallish piece was more than enough.

The bruschettino was a bit odd IMHO. The huge piece of bread was smeared with some tuna paste that tasted very "sharp", it clearly contained tuna, onion and vinegar. On top of that there were small pieces of mozzarella, tuna, tomatoes and capers. The taste of the paste was very intensive and I’m not sure if I liked it. It’s probably an acquired taste.
We had espresso after the meal, it was extremely strong, it least for us. I’m not a big coffee drinker and felt like I drank 3 redbulls afterwards.

If you are looking for a fast lunch I suggest you get there later than we did, we waited almost 45 minutes for our food. People that came later were served faster, the kitchen must have started to fully operate by then, as I said, we were the first customers.
There is no other place in the area that serves such good pasta.
Next time we will sample some antipasti, meat and fish dishes from the regular menu. Generally, I thought that it was a nice spot and I would go back for the lasagna any time.
Sorry for the lousy photos, I still can’t get used to making photos in the dark.
Here are some pages from the menu, I think it looks interesting although a bit too extensive.

No matter how hard I look I simply can’t find the function with which the photos can be opened full size in a new window. The menu must be difficult to read in this size. Can anyone help me with that?? :-)

neděle 29. listopadu 2009

Saltimbocca style cod

I sometimes have a hard time deciding how to cook fish fillets and most often I do it the most simple way, I panfry them with olive oil and herbs. But this time I decided to do something different and since I had a few slices of prosciutto in the fridge saltimbocca it was. Of course, the original saltimbocca is made from veal, but why not experiment a bit?

fish fillets - I had cod and next time I will use a firmer fish
enough thin prosciutto slices to cover all fillets
salt, pepper
olive oil

Season the fish with salt and pepper, be careful with the salt as the prosciutto is salty. Cover each piece of fish with a suitable slice of prosciutto and put 1 sage leaf onto each piece. Secure the sage and the prosciutto with toothpicks. Heat up a pan with dome olive oil and pan fry the fish for 1-2 minutes on every side, depending on how thick the fillets are, mine were quite thin. Serve! I served the fish with some buttered rice which I mixed with sauteed baby spinach.

pondělí 23. listopadu 2009

Depression cooking with Clara

I accidently bumped into this very interesting series of cooking videos. All of them are available on youtube.

Clara, an American lady of Italian descent, started making this show when she was 91 and by now she turned 94! She is cooking meals that she and her family cooked and ate during the Great Depression in the 30s. She also reflects on her childhood and teenage years and comments a lot on the fact that people ate simple but healthy food back then.
Clara’s family ate meat only once a week, and not every week too, they mostly lived on pasta, vegetables, beans, home made bread etc. They would turn off the heating to save money and sit next to each other to warm themselves.
Now, let’s reflect this onto the current situation. Have people started to eat healthier during the recession? No, the majority went from buying expensive ham (containing meat) to buying cheap ham (containing crap)! How many people started buying local, seasonal and cheap apples instead of bananas? It’s a rhetorical question.

Clara wrote and published a book and a DVD with her complete show can be bought online.
It’s never too late to start a career! :)

čtvrtek 19. listopadu 2009

Nigella's banana chocolate muffins

This recipe comes from the Nigella Express book. It’s the easiest muffin recipe ever and they're good too! The original recipe contains toffee, but chocolate is mentioned as an alternative. I used dark chocolate since toffee wasn’t available. Oh, you also need very ripe bananas, those that are already going brown.


3 very ripe bananas
125ml of vegetable oil
2 eggs
250 gr of flour
100 gr of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baker's powder
150 gr of toffee or dark chocolate

Preheat the oven onto 200C.
Mash the bananas in a bowl. Blend the oil with the eggs. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and combine with the oil and eggs mixture. Add the bananas and mix. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the dough into each muffin form and bake the whole lot for about 20-25 minutes. One of the shortest recipes ever!

They are just basic and simple banana muffins, but you can make them more spectacular by frosting them with a cream cheese and butter frosting!

pondělí 16. listopadu 2009

Letenská husa, Hvězda and Lokal

St Martin’s wine is available from 11 November, but we didn’t have the time to go out for dinner or wine tasting somewhere. We took advantage of a Sunday off.
This St Martin's wine trend trend that came out from nowhere is amazing. Following the tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau Czech wine makers decided to give it a go and make this into a full scale wine festival. Restaurants caught on quick, more and more of them offering goose specialties and St. Martin’s wine. It’s a marketing trick from A to Z but it works well.
But why are geese eaten during St Martin’s day? My Culinaria Germany book says that geese gave out St Martin’s hiding place by squeaking and so during this saint’s day geese’s necks were wringed and the geese eaten. A bloody habit…
Not having eaten any goose during the St Martin’s festival we decided to check out the Letenská husa in the agricultural museum. It’s a small presentation of young St. Martin’s wines and some thematic food.

Unfortunately, there was no goose! Only duck, and it wasn’t particularly cheap. I thought that 160czk for a leg of duck was quite a lot, regarding the fact that there was no seating and the food was served on plastic plates. We decided that it was not worth the money. It always amazes me how inflexible some vendors are, they sell klobasa for 40czk or duck legs for 160czk. Why not sell duck paté or picked duck meat in sandwiches etc.??? But it's always either the cheap stuff or the expensive stuff, nothing in between. 160czk is simply way too much money to spend on stánek food and I don’t think I saw anyone actually buying or eating the duck.

We turned our attention towards the stall with ostrich meat.

This is an ostrich steak. I never had ostrich before and thought it was interesting. The meat was juicy although too salty, it had this slight metal flavor (like blood) and tasted like something between beef, pork and lamb. I didn’t think it was well prepared but if it’s cooked and seasoned properly it might be a delicacy. This piece cost around 80czk which is fine but, I found it appalling that they charged 5czk for every serving of ketchup, mustard and bread. They’re incredible, these people! When will they learn?? I've been charged 5, 10 and even 45czk for single serve ketchup packets, but never for ketchup and mustard out of 10 litre plastic containers. OMG
We bought some Černá hora beer for my dad in law, he collects beer stickers, his collection holds more than 3000 pieces now. We bought just one bottle of rosé wine, we’re not into St Martin’s wine. It's all about the hype, not about the wine.

We also had a potato pancake with garlic and smoked pork. The pancakes were prepared in advance. Upon order the lady and her little helper put some minced garlic and smoked meat inside the pancake, folded it and grilled it on the griddle with some lard. It was tasty! The pork lard on the pic below is ours. Pork lard with škvarky is one of my many guilty pleasures, it's simple irresistable on a piece of warm dark bread.

Some koláčky. We had quite a few and they were delicious.
We had a nice walk in Hvězda park afterwards.

And then we headed to Lokal. I will not go into much detail about this place, it has been discussed by many before. It’s a spectacular place, I never thought that Dahab (the restaurant that occupied this space before) was that big. It’s HUGE. Even if all the tables would have been occupied it still would feel kinda empty. It was fairly dark inside, not good for photos.
I had boiled beef with horseradish sauce and bread dumplings. I now know that I’m no horseradish sauce fan :) IMHO the horseradish flavor is very weak and the sauce is floury, milky and bland. I’ve tried horseradish omáčka for a couple of times before and it’s probably just not my thing, because the people sitting at the table next to us said that the sauce was finger-licking good and better than their grandmother's. The beef was cooked perfectly and the dumplings were some of the best I had.
Husband’s fried cheese with tar tar sauce was very good. Wow, husband had a vegetarian dinner ;-) It was not greasy at all. He ordered a cucumber salad to go with it, it was a classic Czech style grated cucumber salad with a sweet and sour dressing, very refreshing.

The beer is exceptional here, one of the best in Prague. I really liked how stylish the place is. The curtains, the wall painting (I mean the green flowers) and other stuff, it all looks like the hospoda in the village where our weekend house is :)
We will be going back for sure to sample more items and to have some more of that great beer. I can’t wait to try the Svíčkova in Lokal. Service was exeptionally good. The barman (or rather the beerman) eagerly answered our questions about the beer system inhouse and he even admitted that the spectacular cooling spirals served a mere decorational purpose. The other staff was very friendly and helpful too.

Big thumbs up for Lokal!

čtvrtek 12. listopadu 2009

Beef and broccoli

Seeing Pioneer woman’s beef and broccoli made me crave this dish. I seriously doubt that there is such a dish in China, it’s probably an American or European invention, but it’s one of the most popular dishes in Chinese restaurants.
Back in the days when I used to live in Barrandov, me and mom used to go to a local Chinese place called Dlouhá Zed’. The food was good and it did not taste like the cheapo Čínský bufet stuff, and they also made delicious home made dumplings. We also often saw Chinese families eat there. That was until mom found a dead fly in her beef and broccoli about 2 years ago. I haven’t eaten this dish since then, it gave me the creeps. I decided to cook it myself rather than eat out, if there will be a fly in my beef and broccoli I will at least know who to blame :-)

My recipe is a combination of several recipes from my cookbooks and it differs slightly from the recipe Pioneer woman used.
* For stir frying I use Rumpsteak from Makro. It’s not too expensive (under 200czk for 1kg) and is quite tender. I once tried making steaks from it and they weren’t good, but it’s totally fine for stir frying. It's sold in green plastic boxes in the aisle with steaks and "fancy" meats.

500gr of beef
500 gr of broccoli
light and dark soy sauce
starch - I use corn starch
oyster sauce - preferably without MSG (available in some stores selling organic food)
sesame oil – optional
Shao Xing wine – sold in bigger supermarkets and asian shops
sugar – preferably brown
1 large clove of garlic
just about the same amount of ginger

Cut the beef into very thin strips, the thinner the strips the softer the meat. Mix together 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce and 1 table spoon of the following each - dark soy sauce, sesame oil, Shao Xing wine, sugar and starch. Blend it all well together and pour over meat, mix well and leave to marinate. I usually marinate the meat overnight.
Cut the broccoli into small pieces and either steam it or boil it until almost done. Throw it into ice cold water so that it keeps its green color.
Chop up the garlic and ginger into tiny pieces.
Heat up a wok, preferably not non-stick, with a tablespoon of peanut oil (or other vegetable oil except olive). Throw in the garlic and ginger and stir fry until they become fragrant. The wok must be heated to the max! Add the meat and stir fry until it’s brown and soft. Pour in 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce, 3 tablespoons of Shao Xing wine and 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. Let it come to a boil and add the broccoli. Mix well and serve with steamed rice or over noodles.

Duck confit

Surprisingly, the technique of slow cooking in a big amount of fat gives you pure duck meat with a minimal fat content! All of the fat melts and forms a thick layer of duck “lard” that you can reuse later to make even more fantastic things.
Duck fat is the most healthy animal fat! It’s content of unsaturated fatty acids is very close to olive oil. No wonder it’s so popular in France!
I often cook this dish when I know that we will have a couple of busy weeks ahead and I won’t have any time to indulge in any serious cooking. Just 10 minutes on a pan and a gourmet dinner is ready.

You need duck legs, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs.

Cut off as much fat from the duck legs as possible. Make cross like cuts into every leg and rub in some salt. Leave for 12 hours. Salt is a natural conservative and, if you want your confit to last for a while the meat must get through a proper salting process. If you are planning to consume the dish within 4/5 days then you can drop 10-9 hours, but still leave the duck to absorb the salt for at least 2-3 hours.
Melt the fat in a pan on low heat. It will take you about 40-50 minutes.
Put the legs into a big but shallow cooking dish. The dish should really be shallow because you want the fat to cover the duck legs. If you use a narrow and tall pan or skillet you will end up with lots of excessive space unfilled by fat.
Place the legs into the bowl along with 2-3 unpeeled garlic cloves and a few stems of marjoram, thyme or any other herbs you like. Pour the fat over them and cover with a lid or alfoil. Don’t worry if some parts of the duck are sticking out of the fat, the duck has some more fat underneath the skin that will melt and cover the meat properly. Set your oven onto 150C and leave the duck alone for at least 5 hours or more.
Take the cooking dish out of the oven, let it cool and put into the fridge. If some of the meat is still uncovered by fat then you will have to find another container for the duck. Don’t be afraid to squeeze the duck into a smaller container, it's much more flexible when cooked.

When ready to eat, just take out the legs and roast them in a pan until hot and crispy.
The side dish is potatoes sautéed in duck fat. Only 3 ingredients, yet so incredibly delicious! Slice the potatoes into relatively thin slices, melt a couple of spoonfuls of duck fat from your confit in a heavy pan and roast the potatoes until soft and crispy, add salt to taste.

The perfect meal for a cold autumn night!

* When I cook duck in a different way, I never throw away the fat I cut off. I freeze it and it often comes very handy. If you don't want to make your own confit you can buy ready made canned confit. I'm pretty sure I saw it in The Seafood store (both locations) and in the big wine store in Nový Smíchov mall.

úterý 3. listopadu 2009

Výlov rybníku Dvořiště - the gastronomic part

There were all sorts of things being sold.

Hungarian sausages, salami and spices. Where is the goose liver??

Home made Slivovice (husband and mom were very happy about that) and surprisingly good homemade pickles and local vegetables.

The pickled cucmber (kvašáky) were a major discovery for me. They did not contain any vinegar and tasted just like they do in Russia and Ukraine, salty instead of sweet and sour.

One of the biggest stalls. There is carp goulash bubbling away in the huge pot.

Grilled trout.
The food was carp, carp, carp!

Many people’s prejudice against fresh water fish is closely related to carp’s muddy flavor. Amur or tolstolobik do not have this muddy flavor and are healthier and cheaper than carp, but for some reason they are mostly ignored by the public. In the end it’s always the cook who makes the difference, cooking fresh water fish simply requires more effort than your average salmon, but it’s good nonetheless and most importantly it’s local!

Here we have the famous carp fries from the famous Šupina restaurant. Crispy, greasy and filling, the ultimate fastfood.

Carp steak with horseradish sauce (Petr Stupka stall). Delicious! It was coated with crispy polenta and was well seasoned, juicy and most importantly boneless!

Carp bifteček (Petr Stupka stall)

Carp potatoe cake (Petr Stupka stall)

Petr Stupka is a fairly famous Czech chef, well mostly TV chef. He apparently cooperates closely with Třebonský Kapr , the biggest fish farmer producer in the country. He is a nice person to chat with, he loves his job and is a good source of information on freshwater fish. Here, he cooked the 3 dishes pictured above. The last 2 were prepared with an interesting innovation Třebonský Kapr came up with. I had mixed feelings about it, until the first time I tried it at the Ryby a Víno festival in Prachatice about a month ago.

The Kapří product has been promoted by Třebonský Kapr for a couple of years. It’s basically a frozen, raw carp sausage with oatmeal. What you do is cut off a piece, unfreeze it and use as you would use other mince.
For some inexplicable reason this stuff cannot be bought anywhere, they only offer it for wholesale traders. The carp bifteček constits of this carp mince, spinach and cheese. This isn’t gourmet food, but it’s quite palatable! It’s also cheap and I would personally prefer this to the notorious frozen pangasius (basa) sold everywhere.

We had much more food, but I thought that only these two stalls stood out. The rest of the food was greasy and not very well made. The stalls looked as though they transformed from grilling sausages just for this one weekend and therefore the fish was cooked just like sausages - for a long time on a greasy grill. The Šupina stall had a nice and talkactive lady serving the food but no cook in sight, the food was brought in from somewhere else. Petr Stupka was the only real chef there...the only person who put at least some effort into cooking good and most importantly different food. All of the time we have been there he has been communicating with people, explaining what he was doing, answering any (sometimes very stupid) questions.

BTW here is the catfish we bought. It was surprisingly good just simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled!

pondělí 2. listopadu 2009

Výlov rybníku Dvořiště - the technical part

I had hard time deciding how I should name this post because until this weekend I had no idea of anything like that existing. Well, I actually heard and read about the famous pond haulings in Southern Bohemia, but I never thought about the English name for this process. I don’t even know whether the whole process is actually called hauling, so let me call it the more common Czech name - výlov rybníku.
Many people mentioned to me that they made their ways to the ponds upon sunrise. We are way too lazy to do that. We woke up at about 9, had a peaceful breakfast and drove to the pond. It’s only 70km away from our weekend house but the roads are peripheral and so it took us more than an hour to get there, we arrived at about 11:30. We parked our car and walked towards the pond. We were really quite amazed to see that the pond was HUGE, it doesn’t do it right to call it a pond actually, it’s a proper lake.

The fishermen start at 6 in the morning and work until 3 p.m., for 4 days in a row. It’s a tough job for tough guys. They all drink slivovice in the process but still it must be very exhausting to stand in this freezing water, sorting tons and tons of fish.

What they do is throw out the nets, haul them to the banks and then by hand they pick up the fish from the water into buckets. Their colleagues then sort out the fish into different containers. Most of the fish goes into trucks and is driven away, but some of it is sold on the spot. More on that later.

At 2 p.m. the amount of people attending dropped significantly and we decided to go too. It was very cold that day and we were freezing by then. Of course we couldn’t leave without buying some fish. We bought a 5kg catfish. There was a huge variety of live fish on sale. I thought that it‘s somewhat depressing that in a country with such vast ponds and lakes all we get to buy in supermarkets is local trout and carp. Even in Makro the selection of fresh water fish is small. One of the carps in the box weighed 6kg!!!

I enjoyed our trip immensely! Next year I hope to go see the same thing happening at the Rožmberk pond/lake, which is the biggest in the country.
The next post will feature food!