Wednesday, August 30, 2006

RCE: Garlic & Sapphires: Chocolate Cake!

Wow! This is great response guys! I can't wait to see what you come up with for our September books! Here's kT's review of the Garlic & Sapphires Chocolate Cake!

Sorry, Eric, no picture. Honestly, it's not that impressive looking -- just a loaf of chocolate -- but it tasted great.

I tend to avoid any recipe that requires me to rig a double-boiler. I supposed I *could* just buy one, but I've nowhere to store it and so I live without. This means that I tend to avoid any recipe that requires melting chocolate (no, I don't own a microwave, either). But this was supposed to be a challenge, right?

Despite the fearsome chocolate melting, Reichel's cake truly is a last-minute wonder, a picture of simplicity with an impressive flavor. Oh, and about that chocolate melting? I cheated with a *Barefoot Contessa* trick. I finely chopped the chocolate and used the hot liquids to melt it (half into the hot coffee, half into the hot butter. It only took another 30 seconds or so on the stove for complete melt (in my omelet pan -- the best for melting butter).

Cakes are my specialty -- I am in no way an aspiring pastry chef, but when asked to bring food to a gathering, I bring cake and have for the past 20 years. In the past two years, I've been exploring Bundt cakes. I love the simple beauty of the shape, but most of all, I like that these cakes are generally designed to stand alone -- no frosting. Sometimes I glaze, but not often. Not that I have anything against frosting, but preparing it tends to be tedious and my results are hit and miss. Plus it's messier.

Reichel's cake is baked in a loaf pan, but comes from the same cake philosophy. The cake can be served plain (maybe a good coffee break snack?), with ice cream as Reichel suggests (classic, of course), but I'd suggest a few spoonsful of fresh whipped cream. I would stick with plain vanilla in any case, so as not to detract from the rich, multi-layered flavors of the cake.

The cake is dense with a texture similar to a cake-like brownie -- moist and a little crumbly. The butter is key in a frosting-less cake; it adds richness of texture and moisture. The coffee adds depth to the chocolate, but doesn't stand out on its own, taste-wise. The orange liqueur (I used curacao, as I had that, and not the Grand Marnier Reichel calls for) *is*there in the flavor profile, though everyone I fed it to noticed it more than I did. Somehow, the fruit flavor balances the chocolate.

The only note I have on the recipe is on baking time. I haven't tested my oven recently, but it was on target about a year ago. The recipe states 30-40 minutes and my cake took 55.

All in all, I think this is a keeper. The cake is simple but impressive. My guinea pig coworkers gave it two thumbs up overall.

As for your food questions:

I don't know that I have real "foodie" moments. I sometimes feel a little outclassed here. I live in the middle of nowhere and we do not have five-star restaurants. We do have decent local food places, but they all serve solid Midwestern food. Then again, this is what I grew up eating.

I can think of two significant moments, though. When I was 11 or 12, on a family vacation to Florida, I found a recipe in a USA Today paper -- Heaven and Hell Cake. The chef who created the recipe said he grew up in his parents' diner and hated choosing between angel food cake and devils food cake. This cake combined them (8 layers total, alternating the two flavors) with a peanut butter mousse and a chocolate ganache over the whole. The cake took me an entire Saturday to make. The success? A cake that only leaned very slightly and tasted amazing. The failures? A ganache that never set and an overly rich cake that our family of 6 plus guests couldn't finish it before it went stale. At over 1000 calories a slice, can you
blame them? After that, though, I worked my way through nearly all the cakes in my mother's Southern Living cookbook.

The other moment was my introduction to Persian food through my high school boyfriend's Iranian father. The man was an absolutely amazing cook. Persian rice is so different from Uncle Ben's that to compare the two seems erroneous, at best. Beyond that, the creation of pilaf dishes is an unparallelled and delicious art form. I wish I had paid more attention to how the dishes were made, but the flavors were so much different than anything I'd tasted before that it was like new worlds had opened up.

I honestly don't know much about the star-rating system, so can't choose a four-star place. I like small restaurants that have an intimate, quiet atmosphere, a unique but not fussy menu, and usually an ethnic flair. Were I ever to consider opening or investing in a restaurant, I would keep that all in mind.

Brussel sprouts? Coming up only if I can find the damn little mini-cabbages. I've only seen them in one store and they were pitifully wilted.

So, kT, sounds like you've got a bit of a challenge in your area to find the same variety of produce that we take for granted - but you're absolutely ingenious in the substitution department! Why don't you send us a few of your favourite tips for cooks in a pinch?

Try and find frozen Brussel Sprouts if you can't find them fresh, kT, they will hopefully be fresher and FAR more tasty! No need to feel outclassed - there is nothing wrong with good, hearty mid-western cooking. I once had the best sandwich I'd ever eaten (and still holds true to this day) at a diner in the middle of nowhere in Utah (I think... It could have been South Dakota now that I think about it...) - great bread, freshly roasted turkey breast, cream cheese, alfalfa sprouts, cranberry sauce, mayo and a special something that gave it an extra kick - PASSION.

Thanks again for participating kT!

Monday, August 28, 2006

NYC here we come!

After much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth at the inefficiency of the scheduling system my boyfriend is required to use, we finally got notice of his working schedule for September. I was fully expecting that he was going to have to work on our NYC weekend but lo and behold, we actually caught a break and the ONLY weekend he has off is the weekend we're headed to NYC!

Plane tickets reserved. Check.
Hotel reservation in Soho. Check.
Dinner reservation at Babbo. Check.

Now I just need to go shopping for some clothes to wear. Seriously, I've got NOTHING in my closet that would be even halfway fashionable to wear in Autumn in New York. Time to get going! (and yes, I'm aware that I could do some shopping there, but frankly the prices here are so much better as to make shopping there a very large waste of money... Money I'd rather spend on Illy coffee or Broadway Panhandler or the Apple Store Soho...

Me SO excited!

RCE: Garlic & Sapphires: Matzo Brei!

So there I was, at home, Thursday night, nothing to do and on my own for dinner. Typically, I use this kind of time when my boyfriend is working a night shift to make something I love but know he just won't eat (like liverwurst on rye bread or mushroom omelettes), but this time I went for the Matzo Brei.

It seems as though the poor little brei just was seeing no love from the RCE Book Club as no one wanted to make him. He was the lone holdout from our recipe listing and I just couldn't stand to see him left all alone. Particularly when the recipe was so easy and quick (and hopefully filling, I was STARVING).

So, I crushed up my matzos (got them for 99c at my local market - yay!) and soaked them under running water and dumped in my eggs and poured the lot into a hot pan with some butter. Mushed it around for a bit until it seemed cooked and dumped it on a plate. Add ketchup and there it was - Matzo Brei.

How did it taste? Actually, it was kinda boring and bland without the ketchup but I'm sure it was just the kind of dish that kids would love. There were crispy parts and eggy parts and all together it just kinda worked. Its a dish I would serve to someone who was just not feeling so well or had a bit of a tummy upset or just needed a bit of comfort food (gotta love the Jewish comfort foods, I say!).

So, here's the one caveat - make twice the amount called for in the recipe - I managed to eat the entire plate on my own. :-)

RCE: Garlic & Sapphires: Spaghetti Carbonara!

Wow, now its Susan's turn to be on a roll - this time taking the plunge and making Spaghetti Carbonara a la Reichl. It sounds really like a very easy workday recipe - and far better than anything Ms. Ray would dream up (Lucas, I'm talkin' to you here! LOL)

Well! I finally did it. Tonight I was rushed, harried, had a houseful of hungry people, and just happened to have in my kitchen a pound of spaghetti, a pound of bacon, some eggs, parmesan and garlic. What else could I do but make the Garlic
& Sapphires Spaghetti Carbonara?

It was fantastic. It was delicious. Everyone loved it, although I suspect my Very Healthy Husband was biting his tongue at the combination of major cholesterol items all on one plate. The kids seemed shocked. My mother said, "Um, where's the sauce?" I answered, "You just made it." (she had been stirring the bacon pieces in the pan) I asked everyone, "Would you eat this again?" I got a resounding YES. (husband was washing the dishes, so he did not get to participate in the vote).

I have a confession to make. I was afraid of this egg business and worried that it would NOT get cooked by the hot pasta, that my pasta just would not be hot ENOUGH, and I would end up with slimey, not quite cooked egg all over my pasta. I added just a teensy bit of half and half to the beaten eggs on the bowl. As if that would somehow help? As if it would cut the degree of horribleness in case the eggs didn't cook? I don't know. So I did cheat a bit. But the eggs did cook, we all ate it with great gusto, and now I have something new and wonderful and EASY to make. Thank you Ruth Reichl, and thank you Eric for the assignment, and thank you Muffin Toppers for encouraging me to go for it.

You're MORE than welcome, Susan, and thank you for demonstrating the entire purpose of Read.Cook.Eat. Trying new things and new ingredients and new techniques that we would have been too nervous to try on our own. And it looks awesome!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

RCE: Garlic & Sapphires: NY Cheesecake

Our latest report from the world of Garlic & Sapphires comes from Susan who made the REALLY deliciously gorgeous NY Cheesecake:

So I finally got around to making half of my Garlic & Sapphires assignment: the New York cheesecake. I haven't made a cheesecake in eons. The dinner reception I had last week was a perfect excuse to get a new springform pan and go for it.

As I was preparing the cheesecake, I started having major flashbacks to a cheesecake I learned to make from my college boyfriend's mother. Mrs. Cohen was famous for her cheesecake. For the four years I was with her son, she always made me a cheesecake on my birthday. It was an amazing and decadent treat. I mostly remember the part about having to stand over the bowl with an electric mixer for a full thirty minutes, so that the filling was as creamy and fluffy as possible. Not a minute less than thirty! The ingredients looked VERY similar, so I checked back on the old notebook with the handwritten recipe from Mrs. Cohen. Same ingredients, but slightly different composition. Instead of the 24 oz. of cream cheese that RR uses, Mrs. Cohen used 32. And instead of putting the sour cream on top as a glaze, she mixed hers in with the cream cheese.

I think it came out very pretty looking, and it was rich, delicious, but somehow a little bland. I think that adding the sour cream into the mix gave it a bit more zing. I don't know. People raved over it, and for the most part I think it was a huge success.

Now for the second half of my assignment: I picked Spaghetti Carbonara, but when I learned that it was "authentic" Carbonara, made with bacon and eggs (no cream), somehow I lost my appetite for it. (I am such a sucker for dairy products!) In fact, the idea of it kind of grosses me out. I am not sure I am going to be able to follow through on this one. Sorry, everyone!

Susan, we say go for it - try it out and if you don't like it? Chuck it in the bin and make a new one... :-)

Next I've got my report on Matzo Brei to post - and there's a few out there who I'm sure are working on their pieces still! Looking forward to reading them! September is just a few days away with a whole new set of fun reading, cooking and EATING!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

RCE Garlic & Sapphires: Roasted Rhubarb!

Roasted Rhubarb
Originally uploaded by virtualzen.
Okay, this isn't really a recipe as much as an excellent demonstration of a technique. Dump some fruit into a pan, add some sugar and chuck it in a hot oven for a while. Pull it out and go AAAHHHHHHH......

Yup, its THAT simple. You cannot mess this up - no matter how much you try (well, I guess if you left it in the oven for 4 hours at 450 it might burn your house down, but other than that...)

I actually couldn't find fresh rhubarb any more in my market (the season has kind of passed I guess) so I substituted some IQF from my local Dominion store (same as A&P, just so you don't think this was a highbrow operation). Literally, I ripped open the bag, dumped it in the roasting dish, poured over about a 1/2 cup of white sugar (I like it a bit on the tart side) and chucked it in. Checked it at the recommended time but since it was frozen to start I gave it another 10 minutes.

When it was done, I immediately put some on a bit of pound cake I had in the fridge and ate. Not only was it absolutely delicious but I felt as though I'd been completely transported back to my childhood where I used to eat just-washed stalks of barb dipped into white sugar. Yup, its that good.

So now that I had this stuff, what the heck was I going to do with it? Well, I tipped it all into a Mason jar, sealed it up and put it in the fridge for a day. The next day I was expecting a friend for dinner so I took about half a cup, added the same amount of water, a bit more sugar and simmered it for about half an hour. Strained it and put the ruby coloured juice back into the cleaned pot and boiled the syrup until it was just coating a spoon. I was planning on putting the syrup over ice cream but when my friend suddenly couldn't make it, I put it in a tiny container (it didn't end up making that much) and plopped it in the fridge.

Imagine my surprise when I found it the next day completely gelled. Yup, I'd turned it into rhubarb jelly. The taste of which was so completely rhubarby and fresh and tangy and tart and sweet and delicious that I ate it all on toast with just a smidgen of butter to join it.

In the end I'd managed to turn about $2 worth of ingredients into the most delicious warm dessert that a dollop of sweet whipped cream and a nice little biscuit would have done justice, followed by a great little syrup for ice cream (use a good quality vanilla here) and finally a jelly that needs no peanut butter. Not a bad investment if you ask me.

RCE: Garlic and Sapphires: Sort of Thai Noodles!

Sort of Thai noodles
Originally uploaded by virtualzen.
Wow, what an interesting recipe this turned out to be. I have to say that if I had never eaten good Thai before, I'd have really liked this receipe. If I had never made good Thai before, I'd not really know any better.
Having said that, the dish was actually pretty good. The flavour was strong and tangy and following in the Thai tradition it really did have the sour, salty, sweet and hot elements; not to mention the umami from the fish sauce. But... I made it better.

Like Christine, I can hardly keep from improving a recipe when I just know it can be made better. The noodles can't be blamed, the sauce itself was fine BUT there wasn't a lot of umph to this dish. Adding some extra lime, cilantro leaves, little dried shrimps and some sliced red peppers seemed to really do the trick. Not only was the dish now edible but it was REALLY good and even more Sort of Thai.

I actually think that this recipe lets down the readers. After reading about all this fabulous food in the book and how much she loves this dish; one would be tempted to think that the simplicity of it all, the sheer brilliance would come forth. It doesn't. Add what you like to the wok and enjoy it - adherence to the recipe be damned.

Bits and Bites

There's a few cool things happening in the food world that I thought I'd share with you all...

First, starting on October 7th, PBS in the US will begin airing Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie. Hosted by Ruth Reichl and her gang of merry food seekers, they'll be bringing all kinds of foodie goodness to the screen. Too bad my local PBS station doesn't appear to be carrying it as yet. The website goes live September 22nd.

Second, on my travels looking for more information on whether or not I'll get to see this new show, I found a HUGE archive of Julia Child programming on the PBS website. Managed to watch Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery making brioche and sourdough starter on my lunch break today. Totally fun!

Third, I scored HUGE today. I, along with my persistent friend Caterina, made about 300 phone calls each trying to secure a reservation for my birthday dinner in New York. We now have a 6pm reservation at Babbo for dinner. I'm SO excited about this, I can barely realize it. After reading so much about not only the restaurant, but the inner workings and kitchen personalities - I can't wait to go! The only fly in the ointment is that I won't know until Friday night whether or not the boyfriend is working that weekend (the whole trip hinges on his not working from September 22nd to 24th). We have the hotel reservation in Soho and the plane tickets already on hold - we just need to ensure he's not working. Keep fingers crossed (cause you SO know if we go that I'm taking photos of the entire event!)

Fourth, thank you all so very much for your kind words of support for my upcoming return to classes. I can't wait to start and your enthusiasm just shows me that I'm on the right path.

Fifth (and last, I promise!) I'm going to be posting my review of Matzo Brei, Roasted Rhubarb and Sort of Thai Noodles - and my general impressions of Garlic and Sapphires - very soon. I know I've been promising for ages now that I'll post them but I've had some personal things going on and haven't really felt like writing that much. Should be better soon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Spilling the beans

Okay, for all of you who are bit perplexed and have been emailing me wondering what my little secret could possibly be - I'm about to spill the beans. There are a few people who know this already but I'm gonna go public with this and hopefully you can all help support me when I'm in the midst of it all.

Here goes: I have enrolled myself in the Part-time Chef Training program at George Brown College here in Toronto. The school itself has appeared on a few various top ten culinary schools in North America lists - and I live literally less than a 5 minute walk away. I have taken a few courses there previously (which still appear on my transcript, although they were taken nearly 10 years ago) and recall my time there as some of the happiest I have ever felt.

My partner is pretty supportive of this move, although he really doesn't, I think, at this point realize what it is that I've done. This time next year, all things going to plan, I should be ready to take on my practicum and complete a 2 month stage at a restaurant in Toronto, somewhere. This term I'm taking two academic courses - mainly to get myself back into the swing of being in school part-time and also to get my mind working again outside of my working environment. I'm taking Food Theory (think McGee in a class!) and Business Communications for Hospitality students (I'm thinking menu writing? - whatever, its bound to keep my GPA at a 4.0 where it currently stands). I know that my instructor for the Food Theory class is none other than Robert Rainford, known to Canadian FoodTV viewers as host of one of their shows. Not sure who is teaching the communications class as yet. I've also got an online sanitation and safety course to take and a one day CPR workshop to do this term.

Anyway, I'm planning on taking pretty much two classes a term until I'm done (its a one year/2 semester program). Next term will be Culinary Arts 1 (all day Saturdays 9:30 until 5pm) and Hospitality Math (totally going to breeze through that one - I'd normally apply for an exemption but its a prerequisite for another course and I'm afraid that if I don't do it I'll miss out on something that I'll really need to know). The only course that I won't have time to get to before next fall is the Culinary Desserts class but I'm going to see if my previous work in Baking (also at George Brown) will get me exempted from it).

So there you have it. Not a HUGE deal to anyone else but me (and Sebas, I guess, seeing as he will be the one who will have to deal with me doing homework and such) but it really is a big deal. I've alluded to this in the past but the one thing that has always stopped me (other than Bourdain scaring the shit out of me in Kitchen Confidential) has been the thought that I'm just too old to work in a kitchen, I'm too decrepit, I'm not fast enough, I'm not clever or creative or spontaneous or macho enough. Screw that. I'm ready, I'm eager, I'm hungry dammit and I want this.

As Connie reminded me (thanks Connie!) Julia Child started cooking when she was 37 for goodness sake - and look at where she ended up. If I have even half of one percent of her success as a cook I'll be one happy little guy, lemme tell you.

Thank you to everyone with whom I shared my little (not so) secret ambition and all your support and kind words. Thanks to Christine for helping feed my foodie fire, to Drew for his encouragement as he's already walked this path, to Peter for being my rock, to Kathy for getting me to get off my butt, to Sebas for being the one who eats what I cook, to Lucas for reminding me what it is to learn to cook and to my parents for helping me realize that this truly is my dream, that life is too damn short to not do this - and finally to Bourdain and Boulud and Batali (lots of B's) for throwing down the gauntlet. Finally, to Julia Child, cause really - she started me on the whole thing in the first place.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Daniel Boulud's Letters to a Young Chef

I recently picked up and read this incredibly insightful book on a whim (basically I had $15 burning a hole in my pocket) and read it pretty much in a day. I wouldn't choose this book for the ReadCookEat bookclub as its really not for the average foodie - its far more directional for the professional cook - but I couldn't really let the reading go by without talking about it here.

Boulud's long and very publically noted career at some of the world's best restaurants places him squarely in the position of being able to speak to a young chef and to tell him or her exactly how it is. What is like to work for the best - what is it like to work hard for the best and how do you manage to survive in the industry and indeed thrive in it. Its got some interesting anecdotes and even more interesting foodie tips - but this slim little volume is more important for the direct tone it takes with the reader. Basically, this is a roadmap for someone to become the best chef they can possibly be.

The only sour note that I found in it is that he makes specific mention that this is written for the young chef in mind - and he specifically states that if he were talking to a 30 year old it would be a very different conversation. At first reading I thought he was saying that at 30 one is just too old to become a chef, but on second reading I'm thinking that he perhaps is saying that at 30 one is not really able to necessarily traverse the world in search of taste sensations and cooking mentors.

Personally, I found this a really very inspiring look into one man's culinary career - but that's what it is, precisely. One man's experience and one man's opinion. If I wanted to be a chef, I'd not let his telling me that I'm too old stop me in any way shape or form. If anything, Heat taught me that one is NEVER too old to step into the kitchen.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hell's Kitchen Finale

Its ON!
Yup - right now, the battle between Virginia and Heather is ON!
I don't know who I want to win more... Both would be great - but so far I'm more onboard with Virginia's vision.
I'm not going to say anything about who wins for those of you who won't get the show till afterwards - but holy crap, I'm just about busting to know who wins!
(Even Sebas, who doesn't watch the show, has asked me to tape it for him... :-)

Okay, only half hour left and I so have made my decision as to whom I would like to see win. This woman is phenomenal and deserves it more than the other. I'd work for her in a second...
What a kickass show this is! I am already dying for season #3!

Right, the person I wanted to win did - and it was COMPLETELY deserved. Such a close race, but let me know what you think after you watch it (and if you don't watch it - why are you here? LOL)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Plus ca change...

I can't really help myself with the French titles, what with having heard a massive amount of French over the past little while (which is what happens when your partner, his family and most of his friends are French Canadian). What the title really refers to is the same saying in English, "the more things change, the more they stay the same..." What I've noted this evening, however, has both to do with food and lifestyle. The more things changed, well in this case - they've changed.

I realized tonight that a year has gone by since perhaps one of the best summers of my life. I spent it out socializing with a terrific group of guys - all of us single, happy, free, unencumbered. We partied till the wee hours - drinking, dancing, carousing, eating, playing, flirting - until we collapsed back in our respective homes until the arrival of another weekend.

Boy, things have changed.

I spent the day running from shopping to coffee to more shopping to home to send the boyfriend off on his merry working way so I could get down to the business at hand. Making jam. Peach jam. One plain, one with ginger. Making gougeres to test a recipe for Christine. Filling them with smoked salmon and capers for a midnight snack. Freezing the rest to make for company as appetizers. Prepping ingredients for tomorrow's dinner - Japanese curry rice. Taking pictures of coffee and my Italian ingredient centre of my kitchen. Listening to music blaring from iTunes in a somewhat disturbingly psychic awareness of my mood, playing Tori Amos when needed and Madonna ("Push", from Confessions) just after Christine emailed to say, "Enough with the Tori!" :-)

Yep, I've hit my Carlsberg years. I'd rather stay in on a Saturday night cooking cheese puffs and skimming foam off jam and drinking Illy espresso than quaffing cheap pitchers of beer and getting annoyed by the silly drag queens who insist that blue is a good colour for eyeshadow. The venue has changed, the company has gone its separate ways - but I'm still having a good time in my own little way; the best summer I've ever had in so many ways. Plus ca change...

RCE Book Club: September coming up fast!

Just a reminder for everyone that we are halfway through August (pretty much, give a day or two) and that means that we're nearly halfway through Garlic & Sapphires! I've done my recipes and will post them in the days to come (roasted rhubarb gets TOTAL thumbs up!) but I've also been socking away some interesting stuff for our two books, Heat and The Nasty Bits. I just picked up The Nasty Bits this week and I'm really looking forward to getting into it.

I have to admit that I have an ulterior motive for selecting these two books - something that only one person other than my partner, my best friend and parents know about - and I'll reveal all on September 1st!

Hope you're all enjoying the summer!

RCE Garlic & Sapphires: Gougeres!

Christine was on a roll the last little while getting her recipes done - and this one, well... just read for the whole story...
I was madly emailing Eric while making gougeres when we both decided to just IM chat in real time as the gougeres were baking. Of course, then I was able to make real time updates on the situation--which was rapidly going downhill. I find "bloopers" almost as enlightening and definitely more amusing than kitchen/cooking successes, so I hope you're entertained as I detail...GLOOPY GOUGERES (gougeres are supposed to be super fluffy poofy spheres akin to cream puffs, definitely not gloopy).

I met each weird development with stoicism, even though inside I was shrieking, "This is NOT right! This is not right! " I was wishing i was cooking alongside someone when Eric logged in. I'd just popped my first batch into the oven, and decided to open my laptop and distract myself from the non-poofing gougeres....

CHRISTINE: halfpoofed gougeres!
ERIC: LOL - only halfpoofed?
CHRISTINE: I'm making my second batch which I sort of "dried out" beforehand ERIC: and the choux paste was totally balled up and firm before adding the eggs?
CHRISTINE: yeah totally
ERIC: huh... I wonder if she was using smaller eggs? 5 medium = 3 extra large? (at this point I noted that Reichl did not specify egg size, but the standard is "large eggs" and so she should have noted usage of eggs of other size)
ERIC: I'm laughing my ass off over here! LOL gloooooooooopy!
CHRISTINE: but the second batch seems to be poofing more since I "dried out" the choux paste on the stove on low heat while the first batch baked
CHRISTINE: i decided to try to make the 2 batches differently to get an idea of different techniques i mean even pepin's recipe says to dry out the mixture if it gets too wet--(pause here while I go to check on the 2nd batch) ok 2nd batch is not much better
ERIC: I'm thinking that the extra eggs are just making it too wet - I remember the mix being dry as hell and hard to pipe so perhaps it really just is too many eggs... Do they taste ok? that's the important thing, right?
CHRISTINE: they taste ok i think it's the 5 eggs plus she should have said "finely diced" gruyere and in fact i think it could have been grated the diced grueyer never quite melted all the way into the mixture
CHRISTINE: so in sum they taste okay that's what we'll do then but the choux paste was too gloopy due to too many eggs and chunks of cheese and drying out the mixture for the 2nd batch did not save the gougeres
Now, to help Christine out, I found the recipe for Thomas Keller's gougeres in the French Laundry cookbook - and made them this evening. Much better. Ms. Reichl, your recipe just doesn't work. Whoops! Forgot to test it I think!
Originally uploaded to Flickr by Smitten

RCE Garlic & Sapphires: Watercress Puree!

Wow! The entries are just rolling in - Connie actually made the watercress puree last weekend and had this to offer...

Well, I got Garlic and Sapphires last Friday afternoon, and finished while waiting for a few things to finish cooking (vichysoisse, polenta, another batch of fregola sarda, apricot galette, noyau ice cream) it on Sunday. As I was chopping up the leeks for the vichysoisse, I looked in my fridge and realized I had all the ingredients for the pureed watercress.
It's a very simple recipe - it's just watercress, potato and butter. You boil a chopped potato for 20 minutes, blanch four bunches of watercress with the potatoes, drain everything and press out all the moisture, puree it, then emulsify with half a stick of butter. So I decided to make it to go with the polenta and lamb chops Zack and I would be eating for dinner. I altered the recipe a little - I salted the water (whenever I boil pasta or potatoes, I always add enough salt so that it tastes like seawater) and added half an onion (left over from the vichysoisse). Also, watercress can be kind of fibrous, so I made sure to remove any thick stalks and trim the stems. In my experience, getting drained boiled leafy greens to puree to a smooth consistency is a little tricky. You either have to shake up the blender a little (I have a Cuisinart) or add more liquid. I wound up shaking the blender. Next time, I might use a food processor instead. I liked it, but Zack, who's accustomed to eating watercress salad, said he preferred having it in salad. But he doesn't like creamed spinach, which Reichl compares this dish to.

She actually sent me a GREAT answer to some of the questions I posed earlier regarding our food patterns and has this to say...

I received Garlic and Sapphires last Friday, and by Sunday, I finished it. So yeah, I liked it. It was a lot of fun - the kind of book that's perfect for reading during your commute if you take public transit. I'm now reading Heat, by Bill Buford, but first, and since this is a book club, I'll take some time out to answer Eric's questions.

One can imagine why she became food obsessed (I've not read her other books so don't spoil it for me if she actually writes about it outside of this book, ok?) and ultimately a food critic - but what were YOUR foodie moments? What brought you to seek out other like-minded food people?

I think my parents were pretty obsessed with food when I was growing up. I remember in my early childhood trips to the Newport Beach fish market, weekly visits to a local butcher, touring the Italian market near my house (Lucci's), how my mother would only purchase our fruits and vegetables from produce stands. "You should only buy asparagus in the spring," she explained (I wanted my favorite vegetable during Thanksgiving). "Otherwise, it's no good." I think I tasted my first fig when I was five (I didn't like it). And of course, I lived 10 minutes away from Little Saigon - I can still point out the very first supermarkets in that enclave. Though our cooking styles are nothing alike (I'm more Cal-Med/French, and I don't often cook Chinese. That's really easy for me, and if I'm stumped, I call Mom), I have the same attitude about ingredients. I didn't realize how particular I was about food until I started college, and encountered the UC Berkeley Unit 2 Dining Commons. Yuck! But during Welcome Week at Griffiths Hall, I met Justin, my BFF. We hit it off right away, and decided to BART into San Francisco's Chinatown immediately, which was how we discovered Sam Wo's. Soon, we were shoveling items from the DC salad bars into ziploc bags to be stirred into late night ramen hot pots. We like to joke that our friendship solely based on food. Food and fashion. When I visited him in Paris last year, I proposed making ramen once more, but we wound up at Pierre Gagnaire.

If you could pick one restaurant in your experience that deserves four stars what would it be and why?

French Laundry. Everything was perfect. The food, the service, the ambience. You can read about it here. [Ed. Its a GREAT story! Now I REALLY need to go there!]

What would the restaurant of your dreams look like? Sound like? Feel like? Smell like? Where would it be located and what kind of food would it serve?

Justin and I have a running joke about opening a restaurant that serves "go away baby" noodles (long story), bacon stuffed pork chops with gravy, parisian
macarons (because cupcakes are so 2003) that's also an optomotrist's shop and shoe store. But in all seriousness, I wouldn't be able to settle on one concept. I enjoy a eating at fairly wide variety of dining establishments, from ghetto taco trucks to my secret sushi joint to 3 star Michelin places.
Again, Connie, thanks! Totally surpassed my expectations - and I'm SO going to the French Laundry one of these days. Add it to the list!

Friday, August 11, 2006

RCE Garlic & Sapphires: Aushak!

This time, Christine chimes in with a great story of her dumpling obsession and making Ruth Reichl's aushak recipe! Sounds pretty good and turned out pretty well!

Hi Eric I made the aushak this past weekend! (I turned it into a "dumpling day" while I was at it, and decided to make Korean fried mandoo too). Note that I have never made aushak before, though I've had it at an afghani restaurant here in the Bay Area. So I can't really compare it to other recipes, but I will observe the results.

This is a remarkably straightforward recipe, I think. I researched other recipes on the net, including one at "cooking with amy's blog and the ingredients and their ratios in Reichl's recipe seem very much in line with other recipes I saw. The variations that did exist involved supplementing the scallions (green onions) with leeks. In terms of process, some recipes sauteed the dumpling filling beforehand, and Reichl's recipe involves no pre-cooking of the filling.

I chopped the scallions and in hindsight I would have chopped them finer (unless I precooked them)--the dumplings, while delicious, needed to boil a WHOLE lot longer to soften the green onions. I don't like green onions mushy, but as a filling I prefer them thoroughly cooked and not crunchy. I imagine if I'd chopped the onions finer (like nearly minced), they would have cooked faster in the 5 minute submersion in boiling water.

Otherwise the dish was GREAT! I am partial to dumplings of course, but the scallion filled dumplings, yogurt, and meat sauce were great balancing complements to each other. The yogurt and meat sauce are crucial to this dish as just the dumplings alone might be a bit bland. The meat sauce was easy to make, as was the yogurt sauce. The most time-consuming part of this recipe as you might expect, is making the dumplings, which I find soothing. If you find the edges of your wonton/gyoza wrappers not sticking, try using egg white instead of water as a "glue."

I just want to note that if you're not going to immediately boil the dumplings, you definitely want to place them on a flour coated surface with plenty of space between each dumpling (like 1/4") so that they're not touching. Otherwise, you'll end
up with dumplings that STICK to the plate, and fall apart if you try to separate them from the plate! (which is what happened to me because i forgot about the flour).
Oh well, there went about 15 aushak dumplings!

If you want to preserve the dumplings, leave them on the flour coated plate/baking sheet and stick them in the freezer until they're frozen. Then put them in a ziploc

I've also got the gougeres story from Christine, the roasted rhubarb, the Sort-of Thai noodles and I think I might take the Matzo brei on this weekend as well. If you've done your recipe, let me know what you think!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Since Sebas had brought me back a few things from Japan (including okonomiyaki sauce and kewpie mayonnaise amonst other things), I'd been dying to make okonomiyaki at home. I'd only ever had it out and never tried it for myself. Well, tonight that was all going to change. I stopped at the market and picked up a few necessary items and got straight down to it. I found this recipe on (mainly cause it was simple) and just went for it. Tasty, fast, easy and oh so filling (not to mention that it would be REALLY cheap if it weren't for the pricey toppings). I know it says you can use all kinds of toppings but really I just mixed in some little dried shrimp with the cabbage/egg mixture, topped with some katsuoboshi and scallions along with some okonomiyaki sauce and mayo and dug on in!

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup soup stock (dashi)
1 egg
1/4 of a small cabbage (I used about half of a split napa cabbage)

For Toppings:
Thinly sliced pork or beef
Katsuo-bushi (dried bonito flakes)
Sakura-ebi (dried shrimps)
Beni-shoga (red ginger)
Ao-nori (green seaweed)
Okonomiyaki sauce (or tonkatsu sauce)

PREPARATION: Shred the cabbage into very thin slices. Beat an egg in a bowl and add dashi soup stock or water in it. Add flour in the bowl and mix well. Combine sliced cabbage in the flour mixture. Fry meat/squid/shrimps (your choice of toppings) in an electric cooking pan or a frying pan. Pour the flour mixture over the toppings in the pan. (Make a couple pancakes.) Cook a few minutes and flip pancakes and cook for a few more minutes. Put okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise on top of the pan cakes. Sprinkle katsuobushi flakes, aonori, beni-shoga on top. Makes 2 servings

RCE: Garlic & Sapphires Moules Marinieres!

Connie wrote me last week with her review of the recipe she selected, Moules Marinieres, and so she becomes the first entry into the discussion of our August book, Garlic & Sapphires. I've not edited this at all, in the interests of leaving the spirit of the review intact.
Okay, I'll admit it, I cheated! I haven't actually gotten the book yet - Since the recipe was so simple, I just jotted it down at the bookstore. I hope I didn't miss anything. I tried to take pictures, but my camera ran out of batteries. D'oh!

Anyways, I love mussels. They were a fairly standard dish during my childhood. My mom would stir fry them with purple basil and chinese black beans, and since then, I've eaten them many different ways - stuffed with garlic and grilled, in paella, roasted on a bed of rock salt, in a broth of mint and coconut milk, etc. I've even had them raw, on the half shell. One of the restaurants I frequent - Plouf - specializes in
mussels. The recipe I use the most is from Bouchon's cookbook. It incorporates saffron, mustard and lots of garlic. We eat it pretty often at home. And there's a facinating recipe from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France that involves packing the mussels very tightly hinge side up between wooden planks, placing a layer of pine needles directly over them, then setting the needles on fire. The mussels are ready when the fire subsides.

Reichl's recipe is the classic, straight out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's pretty simple - boil the aromatics in white wine (Julia sometimes says to use vermouth or pernod) long enough evaporate the the alcohol, then add the mussels and cook until they open. Throw in some butter and chopped parsley, et voila! C'est moules marinieres. With a side of fries, it becomes moules frites, Belgium's national dish. This recipe is a lot easier and lighter than the one I normally make, but just as
satisfying. Keller says to saute the aromatics in butter, stir in some dijon mustard, saffron and thyme, add the wine and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Allow the saffron to steep for at least five minutes, return the broth to a boil, cook the mussels,
then toss in the parsley. I found that the flavor of the mustard and saffron were assertive and rich enough enough that I started substituting olive oil for butter. In Reichl's version, incorporating the butter towards the end added an extra dimension of sweetness, sort of like when you stir butter into risotto as the final step. I may try that trick the next time I use Keller's recipe.

A few notes about the recipe - Bouchot mussels are considered the best, but PEI, farmed on Prince Edward Island, are pretty good and readily available. Before
I cook mussels, I always soak them for an hour in water with a little bit of flour, changing it halfway, to "flush" and plump them. As a final step, I scrub them with a brush and pull out the beards just before they go in the pot. If you're going to add butter towards the end, cut it up the so that it distributes evenly with the mussels. Oh, and even if you're not having the frites, be sure to serve them with crusty bread.

Thanks so much, Connie! I have to admit a bit of bias towards PEI mussels (being Canadian and all) but I'll pretty much eat them any time they're fresh and tasty! Its pretty common in most groceries here in Canada that have a fresh fish counter to find them in bags nestled in ice, just waiting to be cooked. I have to admit that the roasted pine needle trick is one that I'm dying to try. Perhaps next time I'm visitin my parents...

Anyway, next we'll have Christine's review of Aushak - and her obsession with dumplings! I'm planning on getting cracking on mine as well (although rhubarb season is pretty much over, I'm going to go with frozen to compensate) but I also bought matzos today at the market (99c, can't go wrong!) so I'll most likely make mazto brei as well... So bring on the recipe reviews and your thoughts on the book! Can't wait to hear what everyone thinks!

P.S. I've started on reading Heat, one of our September selections. You're in for a treat if you like the thought of working in a kitchen! I can hardly put it down!