"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize." - Julia Child

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Butter never hurts you"

I love this article from the New York Times about how Mastering the Art of French Cooking is now, after 48 years, finally a best-seller, because of the Julie and Julia movie tie-in.

I STILL haven't seen the movie, but I definitely have to (and will write about it after seeing it, of course). And I have yet to cook anything from my edition of MTAFC, but just having it in my house makes me feel better.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A salad that was a long time coming, plus my first homemade burgers

I love Trader Joe's and any occasion to go is a joyous occasion indeed. Many times when I'm there I pick up a container of balela salad (a Mediterranean chickpea dish), and pretty much every time I sit down to eat it I think, gosh, I should just find a recipe for this and make it myself! It seems easy! It's so tasty! It'll be cheaper if I just make it myself. I should do it! This went on for about a year. I kept forgetting to look up the balela recipe.

Well, no more! I finally remembered and my expert Googling skills turned up many results. Here's the recipe I finally used (it looked most similar to the balela I was used to getting from TJ's), from Relish magazine. It's easy and very delicious. It also keeps well, so you can make a big tub of it and let it sit for a couple of days in the fridge--everything marinates even more in the olive oil and lemon juice, so it gets even tastier.

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2/3 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

As this recipe calls for half a cup of freshly chopped parsley, I thought it was time to put my herb mill to use--a handy little device into which you put whole fresh herbs and turn a crank that minces them up.

It's a little messy because the moisture released by the leaves tends to make them stick to the apparatus, but you just shake them out or scrape them out with a fork, and it makes easy work of that much parsley. (Half a cup is a lot of parsley and I'm lazy!)

Also, last night we made hamburgers out of some tasty ground beef and they were amazing. We combined the package of ground beef (which was one of those all-natural no-hormone, grain-fed kinds) with some salt and pepper, some garlic and onion salts, and a dash of Worchestershire sauce, and then we took a bundle of shredded horseradish cheddar cheese and rolled it into the center of each burger. We seared them in a pan for about 4-5 minutes on each side and they were a nice medium-well: still juicy and soft, with the tangy cheese inside. Yum! And even better, we had them on lightly toasted onion rolls--divine! We froze the extra two patties but we sort of already want to eat them.

The moral of the story: don't forget to find recipes you want in a timely fashion, and also eat horseradish cheddar cheese, especially wrapped in a slice of Genoa salami (which we also had this weekend) or in the center of a tasty burger. It's super amazing!

Why hello, delicious horseradish cheddar, please be my new best cheese friend.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Boozy lemonade recipes

Couldn't resist posting this cute series of photos and recipes from Shecky's for three different lemonade-themed cocktails. Click the link to see enticing photos; recipes below.

Cherry Squirt
2 oz. Three-O Cherry Vodka
2 oz. lemonade
½ oz. Triple Sec

Make it: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.

2 oz. SKYY Infusions Citrus Vodka
2 oz. lemonade
Splash of X-Rated Fusion Liqueur

Make it: Muddle a handful of mint leaves with 1 Tbs. sugar and 1 large piece of lemon peel. Add all other ingredients, shake with ice and pour into a collins glass. Garnish with a mint leaf.

1/2 lemon
4 blackberries
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3 oz. Tanqueray Gin

Make it: Muddle the lemon and two blackberries. Add all other ingredients, shake with ice and pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with remaining blackberries.

I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of the X-Rated fusion liqueur. It is delicious! (I got rather tipsy after drinking 6 cocktails made with it at Shecky's Girls' Night Out last weekend. Don't judge me.) The Bramble cocktail looks immensely delicious. I've had blackberry lemonade cocktails before and they are so good (and dangerous).

I'm a huge fan of citrus fruits, so overall, any way you serve it, I love lemonade. It's so summery and light. Trader Joe's makes a delicious strawberry lemonade that comes in cartons in their refrigerated section, if you're looking for a quick treat to pick up.

Top Chef, Season 6, episode 1

Last night was the premiere of this season's Top Chef. I have to confess that I really enjoy that show.

Jennifer was the first contestant eliminated--she made this truly dreadful looking chile relleno with seitan. Now I'm all for meat substitutes when appropriate, and yes it was ballsy that she chose that instead of a traditional protein, but girl's dish looked NASTY. Sometimes it's not good to take a risk THAT early on. Though Eve's shrimp and scallops looked pretty bad. They looked like they were the consistency of rubber. And poor Hector, trying to fry his steak and everyone looking at him like WTF. Maybe the judges just don't understand that we Latinos like to fry things--EVERYTHING. Meat included. ALL meat included. Although I suppose that since we do traditionally tend to fry pork products more so than beef steak, it was a little unconventional to do it.

The winning dish by Kevin (a slow-poached Arctic char) looked really good. And I also thought Jesse's chicken dish looked yummy (even though the judges complained that the breast was dry) because I love that she included a fried egg with it. I love eggs... maybe too much for my own good. And Laurine's bacon donuts with chocolate and beer sauces? Yum. I think my arteries just clogged a little.

Should be an interesting season. Don't know who my favorite is just yet, as the first show is always kind of a clusterfuck of too many people, but as weeks progress I'll find someone to root for. I definitely don't like Michael as he has already made more than one misogynistic comment and I am just PRAYING that he gets his ass kicked by all the talented women on this show in upcoming weeks. I'm just glad that Jennifer was booted when she was. I couldn't stand looking at those huge gauges in her ears... they grossed me out.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When it's too hot to eat food, read about food

It's too hot to cook, but it's never too hot to read (or sit around in an air-conditioned place watching food movies [RATATOUILLE was on recently!] or Food Network). Lately I've been eating whatever I pull out of the fridge without any cooking/boiling/toasting/nuking, but I did recently finish Julia Child's My Life in France, her fun memoir about her years living in Paris and beyond with Paul--the years when she learned to cook and began putting together Mastering the Art of French Cooking. My knowledge of MTAFC was limited to what I understood of the book through Julie and Julia--Julie Powell's memoir of spending a year cooking every recipe therein--and my knowledge of Julia Child was mostly limited to having watched her various appearances on PBS. So I had no idea just what a labor of love it was to produce Mastering, how long it took to perfect and put together, and how close it came to never actually being published.

Having finished Julia's delightful memoir, I purchased a copy of Mastering, and it is truly a delight to behold. It is so thorough, explaining every ingredient, tool, and step in detail (sometimes with drawings) and never giving itself over to snobbery or the assumption that someone can't do something. It is like friendly, encouraging advice, offering tips on how to fix botched mayonnaise or sauce and the best way to dice an onion. As I read the section on roasting a chicken (and having watched the episode of The French Chef where Julia trusses and roasts a chicken on a spit), I remembered that there is a side compartment to our oven that had some mysterious tools inside. I went and poked around and was delighted to find that we have a rotisserie in our oven. I think this winter Jeremy and I may have to roast a whole chicken, Julia-style. How could we not! (And this will give us plenty of time to figure out how to use the darned thing.) Hopefully by then I'll have a digital camera so I can document the whole thing.

But anyway... food books. Cook books. Mastering the Art. It's really fun to read the book and think about what recipes I want to try. These are for serious, hefty food, nothing I feel like eating right now in 95 degree heat, but tempting to think about for cooler months ahead, when you want a comforting, robust meal to tide you through the chill. I also couldn't help myself and got Jose Andres's Made in Spain, the companion cookbook to his fantastic TV series. Oh, I miss Spain! It has been too long since I was last there. So I'm excited to try some of the food from that one too. (I think Jeremy is particularly excited about that one, as he is a huge Jose fan.)

It's fun to read about food and the people who cook it. I definitely recommend My Life in France as a light yet satisfying read about a woman who discovered her passion, followed it, and shared it with the world--and who never apologized once along the way. Her greatest achievement, I think.

How freaking cute are they?

Also, here's a fabulous article on Julia Child from Vanity Fair.

Friday, August 14, 2009

101 Simple Summer Salads! plus a recipe I tried

Oh. My. GAWD. HOW did I forget to post this magnificent article?

101 Simple Salads for the Season

By (you guessed it) my boyfriend, Mark Bittman.

There is a salad for everyone on this list! Really! I printed it out and have a copy in my kitchen so that I can mix it up with my boxes of arugula.

And speaking of arugula, here is a delicious salad that I found in an issue of Glamour magazine earlier this summer that is easy and amazing.

Take 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar and allow it to simmer in a saucepan on low heat for a few minutes, stirring every now again, until it begins to thicken/reduce. Add 1 tablespoon of honey and stir together with vinegar until thoroughly blended. Mix up arugula, cubed watermelon, and crumbled feta cheese in dishes and top with a little of the balsamic-honey mix. You can add some olive oil too, or not, and just dig in. It's sweet, salty, peppery, and delicious!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Friendly Toast

So... The Friendly Toast! At last I can sit and write about it for a few minutes. Apparently this place is legend in New Hampshire, where its original restaurant is, and they opened a few months ago near Kendall here in Cambridge (a handy 10 minute walk from my apartment). I've been meaning to go and finally just went this past Sunday to celebrate a friend's new job in Baltimore.

There were 6 of us waiting for a table on a Sunday at noon... which was a problem. We had to wait over an hour and a half to be seated, because not only was there a 20-top in the restaurant that just wouldn't leave, but the emo-hipster doofus host sort of forgot we were on the list and had to put us back on. I was feeling wary about the place, having read mixed reviews on Yelp (most of the bad ones indicating that the service was terrible), and also having to wait so long, so I had low expectations.

The service actually wasn't that bad once we got in there, just a touch slow because there were quite a few people still in there eating at 1:45 pm. I got an herb omelette that had roasted peppers and brie in it. It was big for an omelette, and pretty good... not too greasy, still a bit moist inside, and just a tad browned along one edge (I'm an egg slut and I tend to judge a place on its capacity, or lack thereof, to make good eggs). The home fries are sliced red potatoes with seasoning, not really super fried, which was nice because that keeps them from sinking like a rock in your gut. The coffee is expensive. $2.15 for a cup of non-fancy, regular old coffee is ridiculous, but at least you get refills. My friend got the black tea, which comes in a cute individual teapot and is brewed loose in a metal filter. It was filled with almonds and smelled delicious, so I might actually get that next time I go.

Most of us got an order of toast included with our meals, but of course my toast (cinnamon raisin) didn't come out with my meal because the waitress said that "the machine" (did she mean toaster, maybe?) was acting up. Or some such thing. And by this point I was nearly done my meal and said it really didn't matter, but she assured me it would be out soon, and it was.

And oh my, am I glad that I didn't forgo the toast, because it was easily the best part of my meal. A huge slice, thick as a pillow, swirled with cinnamon and covered in sweet, melty butter. It was like eating a lighter, fluffier cinnamon roll. Oh, so delicious. So delicious! Really, that toast saved the place for me. The interior has all this diner-y, kitschy design, but so much so that you feel like the place is trying too hard. And everyone who works there seems too cool for school, though our waitress was very nice.

But the toast! I will go back for more of the toast. I would literally just order toast at that place. Not even French toast. Just toast. Just bring me two slices of delicious toast and some tea and I'm set. MMMM.

So in closing: it's not a bad place to go, and the food is decent, if a tad expensive, but the toast is amazing! Don't go if you're in a rush to get seated; better luck might come later on a weekend (like after 1 pm, when the brunch rush seems to be dissipating) or even on a weekday or an evening. But at some point do go, if only for the toast.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bring on the summery beverages

I need to try one of these two recipes for strawberry basil lemonade, which I had with vodka in it at a friend's BBQ this weekend and which was DELICIOUS.

Recipe 1

Recipe 2

The strawberry and sugar make it sweet, the lemon adds a nice bit of tartness, the basil adds an unusual and refreshing tast, and the vodka makes it extra-special! ;)

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Cheese" expert

Also, I can't resist sharing this post I found on Craig's List today.

Start up company looking for a "Cheese" expert. Who has written for a major food, wine, cheese magazine or website. Tell me why I want to hire you? Tell me what you know about Cheese?

LOVE when people use question marks with declarative sentences! LOVE when they put the word "cheese" in quotation marks!

"Falling dreamily into a pile of fresh arugula"

I love this Q & A with Frank Bruni, one of my favorite food columnists from the NYT and author of a forthcoming memoir that I am slated to get from the library very soon after it's released!

I completely agree with what he says about how people have more difficult relationships with food than what's normally written about. I do find that there is an over-saturation of memoirs about food that are completely one-sided--the love affair without any of the pain. I'm excited for his book, Born Round, because it sounds like his story is like mine: complicated, with highs and lows.

I just went to The Friendly Toast for brunch yesterday, so a review of that one will have to come in a separate post.

Also, I wouldn't mind falling dreamily into a pile of fresh arugula, as it's one of my favorite greens.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cheesecake, or, What a difference a bath makes

Ah, cheesecake! That cheesiest of desserts! I have always loved cheesecake, because it combines two of my favorite foods (cheese and cake) and because there are so many variations on it. One of my favorites is the banana caramel fried cheesecake that comes and goes (and I boo when it goes) from the menu at the Great American Diner in BucksCo. (Note: As of this writing, it's back on the menu. Phew! The giant chocolate tostada sundae, which Brie and I once nearly demolished all of, is sadly no longer on the menu.)

It's easy to find places offering cheesecake, but hard to find places offering exceptional cheesecake. The Cheesecake Factory, for instance, despite its name, offers what I think are mediocre cheesecakes; I had one once and found the cheese filling to be a little gummy. And herein lies the downfall of the cheesecake: the texture of the filling. No matter how delightful the flavor combinations might be, if the filling isn't melt-in-your-mouth creamy-soft, it's just not a perfect cheesecake.

I have attempted cheesecakes before, in bygone years. One that particularly stands out is one I made with a pecan pumpkin butter that was mixed into the filling, which was good, but not exceptional. And I must ashamedly admit that once or twice I was guilty of the buy the Philadelphia Cream Cheese cheesecake filling in a tub and fill a pre-made graham cracker crust. I hang my head in shame still. Seeing as how this is one of my favorite desserts, I thought it was high time that I attempt it again, but the right way this time. It is good to know how to make a delectable homemade version of your favorite dessert. And as Jeremy and I had been invited over to Derrick's for dinner with him and Chris and I was asked to bring dessert, the opportunity presented itself.

I'd originally thought of perhaps attempting a stone fruit cobbler or crisp or pie or tart, but nixed the idea after some thought. Dinner on Friday only a couple of hours after getting home from a day in the office didn't afford me the time to make something day-of, so I needed to make something that would keep overnight, but I am also cursed with a kitchen devoid in counter space, so I couldn't really roll out a respectable crust. While flipping through my basic kitchen primer bible (Bitty's How to Cook Everything), I found a recipe for a lemon cheesecake. It required 3 blocks of cream cheese, 4 eggs, a topping made of sour cream, and a bath. I was intrigued. And determined. This was the first homemade dinner at Derrick's new(ish) place, and by god if I wasn't determined to impress.

Thursday afternoon, Jeremy got out of work early and bought the ingredients we needed and I found a lovely Rubbermaid cake holder at Tags during my lunch hour, so we were ready to go. Almost. It took me FOREVER to get home due to a series of disasters with the bus, so it was nearly 7 pm when we began baking--a full hour after I'd imagined we'd be underway. Bah!

We got the crust underway, doubling Bitty's recipe as instructed (thank the baby Jesus for pre-crumbled graham cracker crumbs, an innovation that saved us lots of time) and popping the crust into the oven. It's rather fun to press a crumb crust into a buttery springform pan, which sort of confirms my suspicion that people like to cook and bake as much as they do because it's an adult-sanctified form of making a mess (and also the end results are deliciously edible). Jeremy was immensely helpful, zesting and juicing the lemon (using my enamelled lemon press, which is fab!) and helping me to measure and dole out ingredients. I separated the 4 eggs (I cheated and used an egg separator), and despite the cream cheese being a little too soft, as it had been sitting out and waiting for me to use it and I was delayed in getting to it because of my bus woes, the batter making went relatively smoothly.

Once the filling was poured into the lovely, browned, crumbly crust, the real challenge began. Bitty instructs us to bake the cheesecake for an hour in a warm water bath, meaning that one puts the springform pan into a large roasting pan of warm water. The springform pan is heavy, even heavier when full of dense cake batter, and the whole thing is made heavier still when placed in a pan full of water. We don't own a metal roasting pan, so we used one of those foil ones you can buy in the market, which is much lighter, but which is still rather cumbersome when full of water and cake. Let's just say I'm grateful for Jeremy and his work-developed guns, which safely got the whole thing into and then out of the oven.

When the cake and accoutrements came out of the oven, I ladeled the hot water out of the pan into a bowl to make it easier to remove the cake and we set to cool briefly while I whipped up the topping: a container of sour cream with vanilla and a little sugar. Sounds odd but it's delicious! After topping the cake with a layer of it, it goes back in the oven for a bit, then you turn off the oven, let it sit there for a half hour, then take it out to cool more before plastic-wrapping the top and putting it in the fridge. The entire thing took us till about 10:30, and I was pooped and MOST ready for bed by then.

We hit a slight snafu Friday before the party, as I had planned to artfully embed some fresh raspberries in the cream topping (my idea, but I think Bitty would find it a nice touch), but it was no longer creamy (having sat in the fridge overnight), but thankfully my Cuban ingenuity kicked in (thanks, Mom!) and I remembered that we had a container with some leftover sour cream topping in it. I spread a thin layer over the top of the cake and was able to add my raspberries. We kept the cake in the springform to protect it during transport to Derrick's and were on our way.

Dinner at Derrick's was fab. We had some yummy crusty bread with manchego cheese and serrano ham, there was foie gras (I'm not a fan; I'd rather get my fat from my ham), and a tasty simple salad with beans, tomatoes, and super salami. Then we stuffed ourselves with my cheesecake.

I have to say, it was rather astounding. The filling was just vaguely hinted with lemon, not overly sweet nor sour, the texture was firm yet silky, like a good custard, and the sour cream topping was a perfect complement. The crust had set nicely and was buttery delicious. And the raspberries on top went really well with it. It was an awesome ending to the meal. (And considering that dinner had been pleasantly light, though filling, it didn't make anyone feel that bloated over-fullness that comes from having a heavy meal with a dense, rich dessert.) I really think that what made this cake so special was following Mark Bittman's advice and baking the cheesecake in the pan, no matter how odious or hard it may have seemed to do so. It cooked evenly and kept the texture just right.

So. My first serious attempt at cheesecake was a success, and I am excited to try the recipe again for other friends. And to go eat the leftovers in my fridge. There is something so gratifying about making something with time and care. You really can taste the difference, and it makes you feel proud about the effort you put into it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Back with food on the brain

Oh my goodness, it's been half an age, an age, nearly, since I last wrote in here! The holidays were upon me, I avoided the computer while I was home for Christmas/New Year's, and then the year began in Boston and I just didn't feel up to blogging anymore. Just didn't feel excited about it anymore. But I never lost the feeling of excitement about food, which is back with a vengeance. I am reading more and thinking more about food and want to delve whole-heartedly into experimenting and baking and cooking and making and enjoying food.

So I'm back! More to come soon, but gosh, it feels good to be here. :)