Sunday, July 26, 2009

hellenic on earth

if you live in astoria you can't escape it; the greek "taverna" - a small, casual restaurant specializing in traditional greek fare. aside from their seafood, i'm not too impressed with what the greeks have to offer, however, if you are an astorian for any length of time you're bound to explore the possibilities. from street vendors hawking souvlaki to the swank restaurant-cum-nigh club, "Cavo" - the options are almost endless. with ample consideration, i recommend "Opa!" (Tony's Souvlaki) as your best bet.

28-44 31st Street
Astoria, NY 11102

Opa! is very reasonably priced and boasts a beautiful outdoor garden dinning area. the service is warm and attentive, and if you are lucky you might receive a visit from their incredibly gracious hostess. it might not be the best, but the food is SOLID and satisfying, time and again.

all of the usual suspects make an appearance:

-gyros. souvlaki. spinach pie. tzatziki. various mezze. tasty fish specials-

i recommend the mixed grill. also, try the greek wine - it's white, but it's got some balls and is best enjoyed in their open-air garden.

p.s. -- ask your waitress if she likes loukamades

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

puddin' head

a recent conversation with my uncle made me realize that i really need to up my game when it comes to desserts. you can bet that any well-rounded cook has a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to sweets - myself included, but you'd never know it. i seldom strive to satiate my own sweet-tooth, so the only time i find myself partaking in the fairer forms of the culinary arts is when i am entertaining. i recently took liberties with a delicious mango/pistachio bread pudding w/ garam masala creme anglaise. it sounds fancy, i know -- but it's not; it's peasant food. bread pudding is a great way to make use of stale bread, slightly over-ripe fruit and rouge nuts; amongst other things.

bread pudding can be either a sweet or savory application - here's my take on the sweet:

Bread Pudding
yields: 9x13 casserole

1 cup pistachios, rough chopped
2 cups mango, medium dice
8 cups light-textured bread, medium dice*
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 quarts (6 to 8 cups) custard mixture -- recipe follows
non-stick cooking spray, as needed

--grease a 9x13 oven-safe casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.
--pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.

1. in a large bowl, toss bread cubes with custard mixture. cover and allow to chill for at least 5 hours; up to 24. mix-in mango and pistachio after the mixture has rested for several hours; just prior to baking.

2. pour pudding mixture into a greased 9x13 casserole or gratin dish. bake in a pan of water* for ~45-60 minutes, or until custard has set and bread is beginning to brown slightly. you can test for doneness by inserting a knife into the center, if it come out clean you are good -- if not, try again in another 5-10 minutes.

*why bake bread pudding in a hot water bath?
-custard won't curdle. -cooks evenly, in less time. -stays moist and delicious.

the water should be HOT and come half way up the bread pudding's vessle.

Cardamon Custard Mixture
yields ~1 1/2 quarts.

1 quart half and half
8 oz (1 cup) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
8 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cardamon
1 stick of cinnamon
1 tsp whole cloves
1/2 inch french ginger, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. heat the half-and-half and sugar together in a medium sauce pan, stirring often until sugar dissolves. kill the heat and allow to steap for 10 minutes. strain and reserve.

2. whisk eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl until a smooth liquid. temper the hot liquid and the eggs by slowly whisking the hot half-and-half into the beaten eggs in small amounts. DO NOT ADD ALL OF THE LIQUID AT ONCE, IT WILL COOK THE EGGS!!!

3. strain into a clean bowl and skim the foam from the surface. stir in vanilla extract and allow to cool.

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

box social

if i said it once, i've said it a million times; i love me a box lunch. the prospect of eating an entire meal out of a single vessel elates me beyond belief -- compartmentalized take-out containers get the highest marks. i'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that my affinity for box lunches stems from a childhood romance with the entire line of Hungry-Man products in the late 80s. what can i say? i've been conditioned.

we had a pretty big 4th of July cookout over the weekend, michael jackson was there. i was too busy to photo-document any of my culinary endeavors the day of, but i did manage to pack myself a lovely BBQ box of leftovers for lunch:

st. louis style ribs; a proprietary dry-rub recipe that makes mouths water and lips sing. drenched in a sweet'n'spicy homemade BBQ sauce and slow-cooked until you can spread the bone with a butter knife. mmh hmm.

red cabbage slaw; crisp red cabbage macerated in fresh-squeezed citrus juices; tossed with razor-thin slices of gala apples, olive oil, currants, and sunflower seeds.

charred corn salad; sweet jersey corn, charred to hell on the grill,with black beans, jicama, red pepper, scallion, and cilantro. tossed with a lime vinaigrette.

Q: what is jicama?

A: jicama is an edible tuber related to the yam and turnip. it is very popular in mexico where it is enjoyed both raw and cooked. it reminds me of a chinese pear in both taste and texture.

© 2009 c. c. villani @ "mission: insatiable" -