Saturday, September 02, 2006

RCE: Heat and The Nasty Bits: Food Pairing!

You didn't think that just because we were reading memoirs regarding two celebrity chefs this month that don't actually include recipes that I was going to leave you out in the cold, did you? Of course not!

A little hunting and digging on the web has brought you four recipes to attempt - one fairly straightforward and the other a little more involved. Two each from Mario Batali's Babbo Restaurant and two from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. All look absolutely amazing and I really do hope you give at least one of these a try. Remember to take a picture if you can and post it to a site for us to take a look at (or email it to me and I'll just pop it up on Blogger's system).

Babbo Ristorante
Bucatini All'Amatriciana
Pumpkin Lune with Butter and Sage

Les Halles
Boeuf Bourgignon
Moules Mariniere

(Please note that all copyrights for all recipes and names remain those of the owner, not of this site - if anything goes wrong with the recipe, blame them - not me.)

Just so you have something to listen to whilst you're cooking up these little treats, I dug up these podcasts for you!

Podcast with Bourdain
Radio Show with Bill Buford
Buford on McGee on NPR

And finally, some things to read as you wait for your dishes to be ready...

An interview with Anthony Bourdain on Bookslut
An interview with Bill Buford on NPR
A review of Heat on NPR
A review of Heat on Slate

Finally, I don't know if anyone's noticed yet but I've just opened the Read.Cook.Eat. Bookstore (link on the right below my profile). This month's books and a few other niceties are listed there for purchase either here or somewhere else. My intention is just to provide a nice little place for some culinary inspiration, not to actually make profit. For the one person who did actually make a purchase through one of my links, THANKS!!! I'm not ever expecting to make any money, more that I can provide a service to some of our readers who don't have such available access to great bookstores and shopping experiences.

RCE: Garlic & Sapphires: Hash Browns!

Poor Melanie... The poor dear has been struck with yet another of the poorly written and perhaps completely untested recipes from Garlic & Sapphires...

I must post this swiftly and regrettfully, with most of those regrets to Eric. Last night, the last day of August, I attempted to make the hash browns from Garlic and Sapphires. They were abysmal. I don't know how a person could f**k up freaking hash browns, but I managed to achieve this quite easily with a spare list of ingredients (8 new potatoes, an onion, salt, pepper, butter). I think I didn't boil them long enough. I think I used too much potato. I think I need to stick to what I'm good at, which is deep frying and pressing the button on a rice cooker.

Anyway, my bf thought they were good, although they needed more salt he said, and then he said they were like really good baked potatoes in a cake form, and then he said I'm going to put some salt and butter on these ok? And then he was throwing slabs of Plugra on it like frosting. Holy shit is it that bad, I said. And then he said, no! They're great!, but with a mouthful of the sort-of hash browns, so it was more like Mfno, fey're gwate! We ate them all, so they were tasty overall, but believe me - they weren't pretty.

So no picture for now. Sorry, Eric! I've failed the RCE club, and think I may be forced to renounce my membership.

If the two shots on Marcus' cameraphone end up being not so horrific, I'll post them later...but if I don't, just imagine the Texas Chain Saw Massacre -- with potatoes.

Goodness me, Melanie! You're so not going to be allowed to renounce your membership! Perish the thought! The entire purpose of the club is to read, cook and then eat. You did all three - sadly, with less than desireable results, but results nonetheless.

I think that we have a few more possible recipe tests to come up in the next few days but suffice it to say that in the end I think we can all agree that most of the recipes from Garlic & Sapphires fared less than acceptably. Perhaps a summary of our results should be sent to Ms. Reichl? Think I might take that task on... In the meantime, Melanie, I hope you like the next assignment - because its September and time for new books!!!

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.