Friday, April 30, 2010

Apple Tart to Celebrate Mom

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts. ~Washington Irving

Today is my mom's birthday - happy birthday mom!  I really love my mom - she's taught me a lot and given me a lot.  She's taught me to laugh through life - everything is always a lot funner with her around.  She taught me to crazy dance (a very important skill when trying to scare people away).  She taught me to bake - one of my most cherished skills.  And she gave me some of her French blood without which I may not have this ridiculous addiction to bread and wine and cheese.

To celebrate her birthday I thought I would write about a recent visit with her.

I went up to Carson City last week to spend some time with my parents and my brother before I move to Taipei.  We hiked and played games and crazy danced and made a lot of really good food - including this fantastic apple tart.

We made a simple pastry crust from the Williams and Sonoma Pies and Tarts book.  I forgot to write down the recipe before I left, but it was a pretty easy crust which we made and blind baked.
Next we made a pastry cream, also from the Williams and Sonoma book, also easy, also not written down.  The only change we made was my mom's idea and it was a fantastic one!  Instead of adding vanilla extract after it cooled we added almond extract which turned out to be the perfect pastry cream flavor to go with the apples we put on top.

Finally we get to the really good stuff - the apples.  This was pure invention and pure fun!  My mom is a cinnamon fanatic so we just went crazy with the stuff.

The following is an approximate recipe - I'm pretty bad about writing things down when I'm experimenting.  It's hard to go wrong with these ingredients though.

Apple Topping

3 granny smith apples, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp butter
about 1 tsp. cornstarch slurry (a little cornstarch with some water to make something that resembles milk)
1 cup apple juice
2 good swigs of bourbon
1/2 cup brown sugar
as much cinnamon as you can stand

Put apples in a big pan or skillet with the juice, sugar and a little bit of the cornstarch slurry.  Let juice reduce until it starts to form a thick syrup and the apples start to cook.  Add some bourbon and some cinnamon and reduce this until you get a really good thick syrup.  When the apples are cooked through and the syrup is nice and thick, take it off the heat and add in the butter.  Let the butter melt then pour the whole thing over the pastry cream in the tart.

I wish I could be with my mom on her birthday.  We might maneuver around each other in the kitchen, baking and laughing (and probably drinking a little wine).  Instead I'll just have to remember being with her last week. I love you mom!

A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. ~Tenneva Jordan

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Breakfast Frittata

I rarely go a day without eating breakfast. It’s my favorite meal, a good time to sip some coffee and munch on good food – wake up a little and get ready for the day. Since I left my job last month (in preparation for our upcoming move to Taipei) I’ve had a lot more time to experiment. Omelettes, French toast, and home-made granola have all graced my breakfast table.

Last week I was on a frittata kick. They are so easy and so versatile! Combine almost any ingredients and top them with some eggs mixed with half and half and in just a few minutes you’ve got a wonderfully satisfying breakfast.

Ham and Vegetable Frittata

½ cup ham, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
½ medium bell pepper, diced
½ medium onion, diced
4 eggs
½ cup half & half
salt and pepper
olive oil

Saute vegetables and ham in a little olive oil until heated through. It’s important to cook the tomatoes enough that most of the liquid is gone.

Mix the eggs, half & half, and salt and pepper together and pour over the vegetables.

Place in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Sprinkle a little cheese on top right before pulling it out of the oven if desired.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Restaurant Review: Posh

I went to Posh in Scottsdale AZ with a couple of friends back in early March and had an unforgettable time.  Certainly one of the most unique dining experiences I've encountered.  Also one of the most expensive.  But the meal was so incomparable that the amount of money I had to shell out was worth it.  Of course I won't be able to afford eating there again anytime soon.  I'll just have to rely on wonderful memories of a one-of-a-kind meal.

The most unique aspect of Posh is that they don't have a set menu.  You get a card with some animal ingredients listed - mostly strange and outrageous, including frogs legs, wild boar, sweetbreads, and foie gras (for an extra charge).  You have the option to mark off anything that you don't want to eat.  Then you decide how many courses you want - anywhere from 3 to 11 (or the full tasting menu which I assume was something more than 11).  There is also a space to add in anything you don't like or food allergies.

I embraced the experience wholeheartedly.  I didn't mark off any of the protein possibilities and ended up doing a six course meal with a foie gras course.  It was amazing.  Unfortunately I didn't get to take many pictures because I was so busy being infatuated with the food. We all got different dishes for each course which made the experience even better.  Lots of sharing and tasting.

My meal started with a popcorn soup, which sounded really strange but ended up being fantastic.  Then I had a course of a beautiful whitefish with leeks.  I also had braised venison, fried sweetbreads with a slice of beef aspic (a fantastic first for me!), wild boar bacon, an unforgettable bruleed foie gras with strawberries, and a decadent dessert course.

 Bruleed Foie Gras with Strawberries
The foie gras was the most memorable aspect of the meal. It was the first time I'd ever had foie gras and it was a fantastic mix of rich and creamy. It was so creamy and sweet (from the brulee topping and the spun sugar) it could have been mistaken for an ultra-rich crème brulee but for the unmistakable animal fattines. 

The desserts were amazing as well. They tasted exactly like the candy bars they were made to emulate but had so much more depth of flavor and texture that my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

 Trio of desserts - a take on candy bars (Kit Kat, Almond Joy, and Snickers) 

Posh was a once in a lifetime experience and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone up for adventurous eating.  Just take plenty of money.  And take plenty of pictures.  This is the kind of meal that needs to be shared.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Unexpected Feast

When my husband and I started dating 10 years ago, we both hated seafood.  I was worse than he was - I wouldn't even think about eating shrimp or crab, not to mention the horror of all horrors - sushi (which he loved).  But with my ever-increasing love of food I've done a complete 180 and now enjoy everything from the sea.  It's taken my husband a little bit longer, but he's come a long way.

We may not be able to have fish for dinner, but mussels are now on the menu!  Definitely an unexpected feast.

I love Mussels in Wine this time of year.  It's a nice transition from winter to summer; a beautiful warming broth reminiscent of cold weather and clouds and fresh seafood and ripe tomatoes hinting at hotter months to come.  Served with sourdough toast and a glass of the same wine it was cooked in it's the perfect light meal for a spring evening.

Mussels in White Wine

1 lb. frozen precooked mussels (or use fresh - just adjust cook time)
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 medium shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine (Chardonnay is a favorite in our house)
handful of Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Saute shallot and tomatoes in olive oil over medium heat 1-2 minutes, then add mussels, garlic, and white wine.  Cover and simmer about 5 minutes to heat the mussels.  Remove lid and let juices condense, cooking about 10 more minutes.  Serve with sourdough bread or french baguette to sop up juices.  Serves 2

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires

I just finished reading Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl.  The book is about Reichl's experiences as the new restaurant critic for the New York Times.  Reichl talks about the great lengths she went to so she wouldn't be recognized, describes experiences at several major New York restaurants (both in disguise and not), and imparts some insights about food, restaurants, and life in general that she gained in the process.

The book is witty and captivating.  I didn't want to put it down and finished it a little too quickly.  Reichl talked mostly about food and being a foodie, but also about being a mother and wife and friend and food in the broader context of life.  Several of her own recipes are scattered throughout the book and although I haven't tried any yet, they all sound delicious.

The deepest message I found in the book was the idea that we all really have several personalities inside us.  We collect ideas and traits throughout our lives which create unique personalities.  Reichl found that the people she became really were versions of her own self mixed with people she'd had contact with.  It was interesting that while in disguise every aspect of her changed, including her mannerisms, appearance, and even the way she related to the food she ate.

It was disconcerting the way people treated her differently depending on her disguise.  I would like to think that people are treated equally regardless of the way they dress or speak or carry themselves, but the book points out the obvious disparity between this view and reality.  Especially in the world of fine dining it seems that it decidedly does matter who you are, what you look like, and how you carry yourself.

Garlic and Sapphires offers a unique glimpse into the life of a food critic.  I'm jealous.  How do I get her job?  I'd recommend this book to any aspiring foodie.  The glimpse of a life completely immersed in food is refreshing and exciting.  Definitely worth the read!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Poblano, Potato, and Corn Gratin

This is how we do Easter in the Southwest!  Grilled juicy flank steak and southwestern marinated shrimp with a side of hallelujah! (and by hallelujah I mean Poblano, Potato, and Corn Gratin - who ever said food couldn't be spiritual?)
Flank Steak and Shrimp with Poblano, Potato, and Corn Gratin

The gratin was amazing; a symphony of heavenly potatoes and cheese and a kick of spicy peppers to bring you back to earth and make you grab for a margarita!

The only way I really changed the recipe was by adding 2 jalapenos to the mix - my husband and I really like spicy food so I had to kick it up a bit.

Poblano and Jalapeno Peppers

Otherwise, very uncharacteristically of me I tried to follow the recipe exactly, even weighing out the 1 1/4 lb. of potatoes on a scale.

While I was making it, I was worried that there wouldn't be enough potatoes to make the full casserole so I rationed them a little too much and had a lot left at the end.  If you try this, trust the recipe!  It won't let you down!

Poblano, Potato, and Corn Gratin
From: Bon Appetit, April 2010

3 tsp. olive oil, divided
2 lg. fresh poblano (also called pasilla) peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into strips
1 1/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8" thick rounds
1 c. frozen corn, thawed
1 c. grated Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 c. half and half
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.  Rub 9 1/2" diameter deep dish pie dish or cast-iron skillet with 2 tsp. oil.  Heat remaining oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add peppers and saute until tender.  Remove from heat

Arrange 1/3 of potato rounds, overlapping slightly, 1/3 of peppers, 1/3 of corn, and 1/3 of cheese.  Repeat until casserole is complete, reserving the last 1/3 of the cheese.

Whisk half and half, flour, salt&pepper together and pour over potato mixture.  Press potatoes down to submerge.  Cover dish tightly with foil.  Bake 30 minutes.  Remove foil; sprinkle remaining cheese on and continue to bake until potatoes are tender and cheese is golden brown, about 25 minutes more.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

I just finished watching a mostly great TED talk given by Jamie Oliver, the crazy (and gorgeous!) British chef who's trying to change the way America views food.

Jamie Oliver's TED Prize Wish - Teach Every Child About Food

Some of the great parts:
  • There needs to be a revolution in the home - the home used to be a place for passing down food culture to one's children, but this isn't the case anymore.  Now a lot of the time we're just passing down bad habits like eating junk food sitting in front of the t.v.
  • School lunch programs need to change.  It is the responsibility of schools to keep children safe while they are at school.  Why doesn't this apply to what they're feeding the kids?  As Jamie pointed out in his talk, more people die of obesity every year in this country than all other causes combined.  That's scary stuff.  Schools need to be held responsible and expected to feed children correctly while the kids are in their care.
  • I also really like the idea of teaching kids about food in school.  If they know what vegetables are and how to cook and how to grow food, their lives can be changed!
Some of the not so great parts:
  • I don't believe that it's the job of the corporations to change the way America views food.  Yes it's awful that big food corporations mislabel things.  Yes it sucks that fast food chains are so pervasive and have managed to get most of us addicted to things that will kill us.  But in my opinion the responsibility lies with the consumer.  We have to know for ourselves what's good for us.  We have to look at the label that says low fat and know that the fat flavor was just replaced by a truckload of sugar.
  • Along the same lines I don't think the government should police the food industry.  For instance the idea that the government should involve itself in how fast food companies market their food and what they're allowed to serve is pretty ridiculous to me.  It isn't the job of the government to save us from ourselves or make all our decisions for us.  Those things should be left up to the individual.
Overall I agree with Jamie.  Our country needs to change how we look at food.  We need to learn more about it - where it comes from, how to grow it, how to cook and eat it.  We need to pass down our food culture to our kids.  But we need to take our health into our own hands and not expect government to police the food industry so we never have to think for ourselves.