construction update

Those of you who have visited will almost certainly recall the big, old, ugly, sometimes smelly tobacco factory within spitting distance of our apartment. They’ve been working on remodeling it into apartments ranging from 22m² to 300m² (236ft² to 3229ft²) in size. They’ve made a lot of progress (to the outwardly visible parts at least). Compare and contrast late last summer with a currents snapshot below.

late August 2005 mid-March 2006

status as of late August 2005

status as of mid-March 2006

late dinner with a great soundtrack

Walnut Romano Pasta Sauce

That’s a link to the sauce we just made and chowed down on. It’s a late dinner tonight, mostly because I took two, count ’em **two** 4-hour naps today. I’ve been run ragged by work, trying to get to and depart from the office during daylight hours and also clocking overtime from home. I think all of that has caught up with me, such that I just couldn’t stay awake today (though I woke up at 6:30 and went grocery shopping between 12:45 and 14:00).

So it’s a late dinner, and a mighty tasty one, augmented by grooves from KT Tunstall (http://www.kttunstall.com/).

Sarah discovered her at the gym on the muzak and then saw the video for “Suddenly I See” — which was weird, because usually MTV Germany and Viva play nothing but crap. She kind of reminds me of a good mix between Snorah Jones and Joan Osborne (whom I’ve grown to appreciate a lot more lately — thanks Phil and Malge!). What are the hipsters in the States saying about her, if anything?

Walnut Romano Pasta Sauce

We got insprired to try this from a book our pal Natasha lent us. It’s easy to make, and a creamy sauce based on milk, not cream…so the guilt factor is a little lower.

1/2 cup walnut pieces
2 T butter
11/4 cups milk
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs*
2 T freshly grated parmesan cheese (we used lots more than that and it was pecorino romano)
pinch freshly grated nutmeg (OK seriously, who grates their own nutmeg?)
salt and ground black pepper to taste
fresh rosemary sprigs to garnish (we skipped those altogether)

*When they say fresh, they mean fresh. Using dry means you’ll have to tinker with the milk and cheese ratios to keep it saucier than chunkier.

1. Toast walnuts in dry, wide, flat skillet, over medium-high heat, 3-5 minutes or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Coarsely chop if desired. Set aside.

2. In medium saucepan, heat butter and milk until butter is completely melted.

3. Stir in breadcrumbs and nuts and heat gently for two minutes, stirring constantly until thickened. If sauce appears to become too thick, add a splash more milk.

4. Add parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

5. Toss with cooked pasta. Serves 2-4 people.

Homemade Salsa

It’s time to update this one! I’ve simplified my salsa technique and now it only takes about 10 minutes active time. Roasting the tomatoes enhances their natural sweetness (sometimes improving lackluster produce) and reduces the odds you’re going to have a watery, sad salsa.

Note: If you don’t have a ton of storage space and cook a lot, you need a stick blender. Especially if it has a bunch of attachments (food processor bowls, whisks, etc.). I use mine at least a couple of times a week: smoothing out soups and sauces, making quick work of bread crumbs, whipping cream or egg whites, you name it. We have a 1.25 liter/5 cup blender attachment that makes very quick work of this.

8-10 medium tomatoes; Romas or San Marzanos are best, but any ripe tomato works
1 small white or yellow onion
1-2 hot green chilies; jalapeño or serrano are best, we can only get thai chilies
1 clove garlic
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
1-2 limes, juiced
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ground cumin

Heat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise, cutting out dense top of core but leaving the lower core and seedy goo. Lay all tomatoes on a large, rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle the cut surfaces with a little salt and roast for 30-40 minutes or until browned in spots and blistered. Set tomatoes aside to cool.

Cut top and bottom off of onion (the rooty and shooty bits) and slice lengthwise, discarding papery skin. Roast cut side up on a medium, rimmed baking sheet for 30 minutes or until browned in spots. If using a fleshy chili, stem and slice lengthwise and add cut side up to roasting onion for last 10-15 minutes of cook time. Since we use tiny thai chilies, we don’t bother roasting them. If you don’t like your salsa spicy, cut the seeds and membranes out of the chilies.

Place the roasted vegetables into a blender. Add peeled and quartered garlic, cilantro, juice of 1 lime, salt and cumin. Blend until large chunks are processed, taste and adjust seasonings as desired. This benefits from chilling for a couple of hours before serving.