Monday, July 27, 2009

A Platter of Crostini

My mom introduced me to this great book - A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis (Chez Panisse). It is a cook book, split into four sections, one for each season, structured into various themed menus. Genius! I love it. Not that I don't love my books divided by "poultry" and "desserts." I can construct my own menu, and I can cook with the seasons, but if someone can do it for me, and do it well, with some interesting anecdotes along the way, it is much appreciated.

For my stepfather's birthday, we made:

Menu Ten
Feeling Italian (Part 1)
Cherry Tomato Crostini with Ricotta
Roast Pork Loin Porchetta-Style
Beans with Sage and Garlic
Nectarine and Raspberry Macedonia

Actually, we skipped the dessert in favor of his favorite raspberry pie from Turtle Bread Company. It was easier than baking a birthday cake, and was much appreciated.

While everything was delicious, the crostini stole the show. Easy to make, big flavor. Genius! I loved it.

Recipe for Cherry Tomato Crostini with Ricotta (adapted from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes by David Tanis):
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt-plus another peeled garlic clove or two
  • 2 lbs cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 loaf ciabatta, sliced into 1/2" slices
  • 1/2 lb fresh ricotta
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • A handful of clean shredded basil leaves

In a bowl, mash the shallot in the red wine vinegar with a little salt and pepper. Then whisk in the olive oil. Add the smashed garlic, and toss in the cherry tomatoes to marinate in the mixture for a few minutes.

Spread out the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler on both sides until golden. Swipe a peeled garlic clove over each piece for flavor.

Top with ricotta, salt & red pepper, cherry tomatoes and torn basil.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Ugh, New York

Returning to New York City after spending time in Minnesota is roughly the equivalent of crawling under someone's dirty, sweaty sheets.

That's all I've been able to think about the last couple of days. Not how fascinating the city is, not how convenient. How filthy. How I want to take a shower every 5 minutes. Good God I'm spoiled, right?

I had to go to the Union Square farmers market today to try to regain my perspective. That place always makes me feel good; like a little slice of heaven a brief train ride away. Dammit, wouldn't you know, all I could think about was how great the Minneapolis farmers market is, and how I wish I could go there right now. Ugh! The Minneapolis farmers market is pretty great - it's huge, there is an array of freshness and options, and you can get fried mini donuts and grilled sweet corn for breakfast at 7:30am! That's how it's done up North. Take THAT New York!

It's clear that my Minnesota pride has definitely kicked in. It might take me a few weeks to return to my fascinating, filthy, New York state of mind.

Minneapolis farmers market photos:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Highly Recommended: La Belle Vie

My old list of favorite restaurants needs rewriting. The experience at La Belle Vie, located near Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis, is, WOW.

It should be spectacular - some very talented St. Louis and other Midwest chefs lost out to La Belle Vie's Tim McKee for the coveted 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest. You don't even have to leave the bar area. We merely snacked on items from the lounge menu, which is enough to convince anyone that this place is utterly praise-worthy. From the pâté to the ketchup, everything is made in-house.

Pictured below is the "When in Rome" martini which, if I remember correctly, had orange vodka, Campari, bitter lemon, Cava, and rosemary; and a truffled crepe with Jambon-Royal, Brie D'Meaux, and topped with a slow-cooked egg yolk, which tasted simply luxurious.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ah, Minnesota!

Leaving New York City can be a strange experience if you're like me and don't get out much. Recapturing my sense of the concept of "personal space" has been simultaneously unsettling and lovely. The Twin Cities area is not desolate by any stretch, yet I still find myself wondering, where is everyone? It is peaceful. It is beautiful.

It takes me a day or three to get used to it.

Visits to my hometown always go like this: I go to my mother's adorable and colorful urban cottage home, where I stay. My arrival is announced by Buddy, small wiener dog -slash- lieutenant guard, who always reacts as though I have come to steal his food, when in reality, he should know me by now after 10 years of visits. When all suspicions have been relinquished, he is my friend once again. Ernie, my stepfather, has bought a pound of truffle cheese (cheese "al tartufo") in preparation for my stay. Upon entry to the kitchen, I am offered wine and cheese. My mom and Ernie are in the process of making a fabulous dinner, and I offer to help. My brother comes over. Conversations, consumption, and comfort ensues.

At some point, I meet my father for a meal. We go to Davannis, his progeny restaurant business of 30+ years. Dad presents me to the store manager, whom he insists that I am acquainted with, because we met one time approximately 20 years ago. He tells me what's new on the menu, and we try it. He asks my opinion. We talk about menu, ingredients, and marketing. And life, too, of course. He always has stories and wisdom to share.

I try to make it to all my favorite places to eat, which is impossible, because there are so many. Fortunately, this current visit is substantial enough for me to go to not just Davannis, but also to Caribou Coffee, Bruegger's Bagels, Rice Paper and Chino Latino.

Substantial enough to have plenty of wonderful home-cooked meals as well. I have really been looking forward to this visit.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How to: Pick a Fish

So, you're looking for a good fish to take home for dinner. How the heck do you know if you've got a good one? Well, there's smell... or, you could take your fishmonger's word for it. Or you could just look your fish in the eye. Like these yellowtails here.

See that guy on the bottom? That guy is lookin' a little ugly. He's giving me the stink eye - literally.

The guy just above - or should I say gal - looks great. Her eye is nice and clear, and her scales are shiny and fresh-looking. She looks like she just came from the water. Unlike the guy below her - eyes milky, scales dull and dark - he looks like he's been sitting there a while.

How do I know she's a "she?" The photo may not serve as clear evidence, but on close inspection, there is a defined little bulge in her belly, indicating that she's, well, preggers. There's roe inside that fish. Which some folks find to be a major bonus when buying a whole fish. "Buy one, get free roe!"

Other ways to tell you have a good fish: the flesh is firm, not soft; the eyes - in addition to being clear - are still rounded and not flat; and they don't smell fishy. Cook and eat your fresh fish right away.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken

I imagine you are dying to know about my pheasant eggs from the farmers market, so I thought I'd kill the suspense. They taste like eggs.

Actually, they taste better than eggs, because they are so fresh 'out the pheasant, they taste like really, really good eggs. Like, the very best of egg flavor, amplified. If you've only eaten eggs from a grocery store, you need to try farm fresh eggs a-sap. They will change your life. I'm serious.

There, now you can get back to sleeping through the night. You're welcome.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Burger Weekend

It's July. Therefore, I crave burgers.

I made these chicken burgers for the first time last week in the Ultimate Burger class - I had never used ground chicken to make burgers before, but I have to say, it's a great idea. I think there's a good reason why gourmet burgers are so hot right now. As much as I like the tried and true beef + cheese + pickle combo, there are just so many options. Like chicken + corn + avocado. The possibilities are endless! And everyone loves a good burger.

Recipe for Chicken Burgers with Grilled Corn and Avocado Salsa (adapted from John Scoff's recipe from class):

For the burgers:
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1/4 of a medium red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1/2 of a roasted red pepper, diced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 small chipotle pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
Saute the onions and garlic together for a few minutes over low heat in a little vegetable oil. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and blend well. (Keep in fridge while you make the salsa) When you're ready to cook the burgers, heat a skillet or grill pan brushed with a thin layer vegetable oil, form patties with your hands, and cook on each side until firm and well done.

For the salsa:
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 ear of sweet corn, shucked clean and rubbed in a little oil/salt/pepper; grilled on the hot grill pan until charred, turning every so often. Let cool and cut off cob. CORN TIP: If you cut using long, slow strokes, the corn will fall straight down and not go flying.
  • 1/4 of a medium red onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
Mix all the ingredients together for the salsa. Top the cooked burgers with the salsa.

Happy 4th of July!

Fruits of my Market Wanderlust

I love the Union Square farmers' market.

(Picked up: green tomatoes (and promptly fried 'em up), sour cherries (pie this weekend), pheasant eggs (not sure what will become of these...yet), the biggest zucchini I've ever seen, fresh garlic, scallions, and garlic scapes).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Goose Barnacles: Part 2

After receiving lots of feedback inquiring about the taste of the goose barnacles, I realized I failed to describe them much other than "expensive" and "delicious."

The flavor can really only be described as ocean-y. Not fishy, although they had a fishy-ness to them that I suspect was partially due to their trip from Spain to NYC. I imagine if they had just been plucked, the taste would have been 100% ocean-y. They were maybe similar to a clam, but also like calamari. You had to peel off the outer shell and suck the meat out using your teeth, similar to most other crustaceans.

On a side note, as a rule, I tend to really enjoy "hands on" food.

Not sure if that's a very good description, but now you have an excuse to take a vacation and taste them for yourself.