Thursday, 24 January 2013

Kitchen Essentials: Pasta


Who doesn't love pasta, right? There are so many different varieties. Different shapes, sizes, flavours, textures... whole wheat, gluten-free etc. The possibilities when it comes to pasta are endless. Pasta is an essential in my kitchen, and for a lot of others, with good reason.
Pasta in History

Popular legend has it that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy following his exploration of the Far East in the late 13th century; however, we can trace pasta back as far as the fourth century B.C., where an Etruscan tomb showed a group of natives making what appears to be pasta.
The Chinese were making a noodle-like food as early as 3000 B.C. And Greek mythology suggests that the Greek God Vulcan invented a device that made strings of dough (the first spaghetti!).
Pasta made its way to the New World through the English, who discovered it while touring Italy. Colonists brought to America the English practice of cooking noodles at least one half hour, then smothering them with cream sauce and cheese.
Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing the first “macaroni” machine to America in 1789 when he returned home after serving as ambassador to France.
The first industrial pasta factory in America was built in Brooklyn in 1848 by, of all people, a Frenchman, who spread his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry in the sunshine. (source)

Here's why you should definitely keep a stock of pasta in your kitchen:

  • It's cheap. If you're on a budget or looking for a cheap weeknight meal, pasta is a definite go-to. You can find many varieties of local and foreign dried pastas at the grocery for under TTD$10.00. The higher quality pastas are a little more pricey, but still very affordable.
  • It's filling. Carbs is a good way to keep you full for a good amount of time. With all the possible add-ins for pasta (anything goes great with pasta), you're sure to have a hearty meal that will be very satisfactory.
  • It's quick and easy. It take fifteen minutes or less (based on the type of pasta) to prepare a batch of pasta. Thicker pastas would of course take more time to cook, just as dried pasta add a few more minutes compared to fresh pasta.
  • It's healthy! Depending on your preparation of pasta, and the variety you choose, pasta can be a very healthy meal. Wean yourself on to more whole wheat/grain pastas, add lots of fresh vegetables and herbs in there, and you've got yourself a healthy meal in no time.
  • Fresh pasta is easy to make, and tastes delicious. Homemade pasta may seem a bit scary for some, but there are many easy recipes for fresh homemade pasta that are always worth the effort. Many varieties of kitchen equipment are now available for making pasta and fresh dough.
  • The possibilities are endless! There are so many recipes out there for any type of pasta you'd imagine and as mentioned before, pasta goes great with anything! Meats, cheeses, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, oils... what can't you put into pasta. When you have something prepared and run out of serving ideas , pasta it is! 

Here's a few recipes I have discovered for pasta, pasta sauces and complete pasta dishes, that I'm sure you'll love too.
  1. Jamie Oliver's Fresh Homemade Egg Pasta - There's really nothing that can compare to homemade pasta... and it's easy to make it your own!
  2. Homemade Potato Gnocchi - If you've never made homemade gnocchi, you should definitely give it a try. It's easy to prepare and takes hardly any time at all. Season it to your liking and those soft pillows of pasta will be divine.
  3. Spaghetti a la Carbonara - One of my favourites, most definitely! It requires minimal ingredients but delivers maximum flavour. It's amazing how easy it is too!
  4. Aglio e Olio - It translates to garlic and oil which are the star ingredients in this pasta dish. It requires very few ingredients but that definitely does not compromise it's taste. For such a simple pasta, quality ingredients are best, but it results in a light, refreshing and gratifying pasta.
  5. Chicken, Ham and Cheese Penne - Pasta is a great way to use up leftover ingredients, just as the writer did for this recipe.
I will, without a doubt, be posting more pasta recipes that I have tried, and those of my own. My Pinterest  page is loaded with great recipes I have found and pinned, including those of numerous pasta dishes. Special sections are dedicated to cheap dishes requiring very few ingredients as well as healthier alternatives including vegan and gluten-free options. I may have a bit of a love affair with pasta, but I am attempting to opt for healthier pastas such as the whole wheat and homemade kinds.
Very often, even when I eat out, I choose pasta as my meal. I would always recommend the alfredo from Abraham's Grill Hut on Caroni Savannah Road which is divine! And affordable. For more deluxe dining, try Angelo's on Ariapita Avenue! There are a lot of other great places out there, but that's just to name a few.
If you'd like some great pestos to whip up a delicious meal at home in minutes, check out Del Mano for a great variety of local, organic pestos. I personally love the sweet pepper pesto with a bit of garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes for a nice kick. Delicious!

I'll always keep some pasta on hand, will you?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Old Fashioned Pancakes

Nostalgia. =)
This is what a pancake is supposed to taste like. Soft, light, fluffy, subtly sweet... delicious!

After a lot of trial and error, I created an easy and yummy pancake that works for me. And it doesn't take much more time to put together than those pre-mixes which, trust me, fail in comparison. There's nothing like warm homemade pancakes, piled high, for a lovely weekend breakfast. This recipe is so fast and easy however, it's ideal for even busy weekdays. Or anytime you feel like it... there's no wrong time for breakfast is there?

Good Old Fashioned Pancakes
(yields 8 units)

  • 2 Tbsp Butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 Cup All-purpose Flour
  • 2 Tbsp Sugar
  • 1 Tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Tsp Baking Soda
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Whole Milk (or Buttermilk)
  • 1 Large Egg
  • (optional) 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • (optional) 1 Tsp Cinnamon Powder
  1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and sugar.Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter. Whisk until smooth.
  2. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Pour approximately 1/4 cup batter into the pan for each pancake. Cook until small air bubbles form, flip, and brown on the other side for a minute more.
  3. Enjoy hot with butter or your favourite syrup.
This is a basic recipe which can easily be adjusted for add-ins such as fruit or chocolate, or using whole wheat and dairy/egg replacers.

Sunday, 20 January 2013


Rustica, located at Upper Level, Trincity Mall, is a modern Italian restaurant, serving classic pasta dishes, paninis, salads, along with brick-oven pizzas. The restaurant is run by the proprietors of J.Malones; they share a kitchen, and a drinks menu.
One of my favourite elements of this restaurant is its calm ambiance. It is a lovely place to get away from the clamorous environment that is Trinicity Mall. The restaurant never seems to be crowded which allows for quicker service. However, they seem to be a bit understaffed, and the servers (or anyone at all) is often absent from the dining area of the restaurant. This may be inconvenient to some if they require additional service during the meal, but the servers do return mostly in a timely manner. However, this is not the norm, as I have visited this restaurant repeatedly and received good service. It may be a one time thing or it may signal that the service is worsening.

Steak at Rustica. Yes, it's as huge as it looks.

Being a repeat customer, I have tried a number of their appetizers and entrees. Some meals have been very good, others fair. Here's a brief account of some of the meals I have tried:

  • Appetizer: Meatball Sliders - Most definitely my favourite appetizer of choice. Three open faced meatball sandwiches, each with two meatballs each, served on foccacia, topped with marinara and cheese. It's very filling, best to be shared among three. 
  • Appetizer: Fried Calamari with Dipping Sauce - The sauce is delicious, compliments the calamari well and makes you want to keep eating. 
  • Appetizer: Chicken Tenders with Artichokes - I adore the fried artichokes, probably moreso than the chicken itself. The tenders and artichokes are lightly battered and very crispy.
  • Soup: Minestrone - The minestrone is light and refreshing but can be very filling as well. It could even be eaten as a main with a side salad.
  • Main Course: Sausage Baked Penne - Fantastic! Cheesy penne with sausage and chicken baked to form a nice crust on top. 
  • Pizza: Shrimp Alfredo - Pizza crust, sauce, ingredients are delicious... would like a bit more shrimp on the pizza though. Serves two.
  • Main Course: Chicken Piccata - Tangy lemon and caper sauce over grilled chicken breast and fettuccine. I love lemon/lime flavours and the tangyness of it, but it may be more of an acquired taste.
  • Dessert: Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream - One of my favourite desserts, I must admit. The apple crumble is served hot with the vanilla ice cream on top. A wonderful combination. It's pretty big though, so it's best to be shared since you wouldn't want to take away leftovers with melted ice cream on it.
The menu includes numerous vegetarian and pescatarian options such as the minestrone, three cheese lasagna, veggie pizza, eggplant parmesan, to name a few. I am unable to confirm any vegan or gluten-free options.

Shrimp Alfredo Pizza at Rustica

Most recent experience at Rustica:
Upon arriving, we were warmly greeted by the hostess, immediately seated and given menus. The server shortly returned to take our orders. However, the server seemed new and not very knowledgeable of the menu items including what was out of stock or unavailable. Once those issues were cleared, she took out order and headed to the kitchen. Unfortunately, she took quite a while to bring our drinks (all we asked for was water). After waiting a short while more, the appetizers came to our table. We did not receive any plates for our appetizers but then the server returned a minute after with the main course! At the same time! While we tried to eat the appetizer, our food was becoming chilled, so we were unable to finish our appetizers before starting the main course.
As always, the food was delicious. We ordered the seafood pasta (with shrimp and lobster in a cream sauce), the steak served over fettuccine Alfredo, and the Jerk Chicken Alfredo. Although the steak was cooked perfectly as requested (medium) it lacked a bit of seasoning. Just a tad more salt would've gone a long way, but our table did not have shakers. The Jerk Chicken pasta was more on the spicy side (moreso than the first time I tried it), but still very good, especially if you like spicy. The seafood pasta was good but did not contain a lot of shrimp and (imitation) lobster. We did not order dessert at this particular visit so we were ready for the bill shortly after.
The server had disappeared for a short while so we had to wait before asking for the bill. However, when she returned, the payment procedure was prompt. One brilliant thing about this restaurant is its prices. They are unbeatable.

Overall Experience: The overall experience was fair, though previously, the experience was much better.
Would you return?: I most definitely will return in the event that I am in the area, and craving some Italian. The food is most often very good, and though the service lacked a bit during my last experience, I may still give it another try, as the service has always been good before.

This is not intended as an official review; it's my personal opinion.