Saturday, April 10, 2010

Date Night - Part Deux

When my parents and kid brother came over from Canada to visit us over Easter weekend, DH and I got another chance for a do-over of our previous disastrous date night. We nixed the idea to give sushi another shot (seriously, is there anything worse than mediocre sushi?), and opted for this little place right in our neighborhood that I'd been meaning to try out for ages - Ibiza. I'm not going to leave you hanging till the end of this post to tell you how I felt about it, because I'm not a tease. Not today anyway! Ibiza turned out to be better than I'd hoped for. Perhaps I purposely kept my expectations low, maybe I was desperate for a night out, or maybe it was the company (we dragged my brother along, despite his protests that he didn't want to be the third wheel - but between him and DH, I was thoroughly entertained!), whatever it was, I loved it! Now let me break it down for you and explain why. Oh, and let me apologize in advance for the dark photos; I still haven't figured out how to take decent shots in a dark restaurant. If any of you fab food photographers have tips on how to do that, do tell!

Ibiza is a tapas and wine bar. Their menu was split into the traditional hot and cold tapas, and the modern hot and cold tapas. Since I've never been to Spain, I can't vouch for their authenticity, but I know for a fact that they didn't try to dumb down their menu, which a lot of ethnic places are guilty of. Of course, they had an extensive wine list, but if you're looking to see me review those, you're on the wrong blog! It's all about the food here, and the occasional non-alcoholic beverage or two. The restaurant itself was cute, albeit a bit of a tight squeeze, but the atmosphere was really buzzing. The service really friendly too. Our waitress, Tiffany, was a sweet little thing who actually seemed to like her job - which makes a huge difference in the quality of service, folks.
Roast lamb on toast with roasted tomatoes and a kickin' chimichurri sauce. We should've ordered more of these delectable babies.

Nevat goat cheese on toast with fig, walnut and truffle oil. I wish I didn't have to share this plate with anyone (note to self for next time).

Grilled baby octopus with caramelized onions. So tender, they just melted in my mouth.

Baby squid cooked in its own ink, over baguette slices. A revelation! So damn good! Turned all our teeth black, but so worth it!

Sauteed shrimp in garlic sauce. Not half bad; it was all about the sauce.

Peppers stuffed with ground lamb, with crispy chickpeas. So complex and scrumptious - these disappeared so fast, I just managed to squeeze in a shot of the last one on the plate!

Cuttlefish with pasta. Probably the least interesting dish of the night, but overall not a bad choice.

The special dessert they had that night - Chocolate fondant cake with homemade strawberry gelato. I liked it.

My brother's favorite dessert of the night - Coffee and hazelnut tart. Smoooooooooooooth.

DH had the creme catalana, which is the spanish version of a creme brulee, and it was delicious, with specks of real vanilla bean swimming around. But if you know DH, you'll know that it was done with before I had time to get my camera ready.

After dinner, the three of us took our butts over to Mamoun's Falafel in New Haven (once we made the mandatory call to check in with B and his grandparents - they seemed to be getting along like old pals, so we knew we didn't have anything to worry about), where we sat outside and smoked some gooooooood sheesha (water-pipe) and munched on a plate of crispy, freshly-made falafel. It was a great way to end the night. Too bad the sheesha gave DH a headache (pfffft. Lightweight.), but I was was only slightly giddy and definitely happy. So there you have it, dear readers. A successful date night at last!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Simplicity Itself - Rice & Peas

I have a lot of thyme on my hands. But not a lot of time. Hmmm. English. It's a phunny language.

Luckily I also happen to have a Jamaican friend who always mentioned a dish called Rice & Peas during her stay in Canada, where we used to work together (feels like a lifetime ago). I believe she sighed with nostalgic pleasure every time she said it. Oh, don't feel too bad for her - she's now back in her native Jamaica, and I'm positive she is scarfing down all the rice & peas she can get her hands on. I, however, was a skeptic the entire time, because I'd never had it, and frankly just didn't get what the big deal was. Recently I came across a recipe for it that appealed to me because of its use of thyme (per my previous post, you know I'm swamped with it), so decided to go ahead and test it out.

Tara. If you're reading this, I'm eating my words. As well as a big bowl of this stuff for dinner tonight. Again.
Before I go on to the actual recipe, let me quickly clarify to my fellow Indian/Pakistani friends - this isn't rice & peas, aka mattar pulao, like we make it. These aren't green peas. They're pigeon peas, which is a whole different animal. You'd know it as toor daal, the non-oily version, with the skin still on. I was lucky enough to find a can of these in the international section of my grocery store. I also happened to find the prettiest habanero pepper I'd ever seen, so of course, ended up buying it and photographing it a million different ways.

Jamaican Rice & Peas (adapted from the fab blogger over at My Recession Kitchen)
Serves 4-6

Click here for printable recipe

2 cups cooked pigeon peas (toor daal, whole, non-oily) OR 1 can pigeon peas - can substitute with another red bean, like kidney.
2 cups basmati rice
1 can coconut milk
2+ cups water
1-2 green onions
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 habanero / scotch bonnet chili pepper
1.5 tsp salt

1. Rinse the rice in water and drain. Put the rice and beans in a large pot.

2. Slit the green onion down the middle and add it to the pot. Lay the thyme sprigs on top. Add in the chili pepper (if using a habanero like I did, pierce it once or twice to impart more heat into the dish)

This was one of those "aha" moments, when a pretty picture just emerged without any staging required.

This is definitely the prettiest habanero on the planet. My goodness, what a beauty.

3. Add enough water to the coconut milk for the mixture to equal 2 cups. Pour this over the rice and beans, then add an additional 2 cups of water along with the salt. Stir once, but make sure the onion, thyme and pepper remain on top.

4. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. Cook for 30 mins or so, until the liquid is completely absorbed and rice is cooked.

5. Let stand for a few minutes before removing the pepper, onion and thyme. Serve.
Verdict: I had this on it's own and thought it was pretty damn good. Then I had it with a curry and thought it was perfect! It's a simple recipe, which produces unexpected results - complex with the subtle flavors of coconut and thyme and onions. Not to forget that faint hit from the pepper. I'm not even going to kid myself into thinking that this is even close to anything you'd get in Jamaica, but if it's even on the same track, I'm happy. I'm also going to book my next vacation there, then proceed to pig out like a maniac.