Sunday, June 27, 2010

Snap Peas, Please.

I have a cooking companion.

His name is Bleu.

No matter what I am cooking or baking my furry little friend sprawls out on the linoleum and sleeps with one eye open, always prepared for the moment when a stray snap pea or diced carrot finds its way to the floor.

These snap peas with mint, orange, and a sliver of butter were exceptional, and unfortunately Bleu never got to try one. But you should cook them and try them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Father's Day

I'm not sure if I would be the cook I am without Cook's Illustrated. I learn a lot from their testing narratives and their step-by-step instructions.

For Father's Day, I relied almost fully on the Cook's Illustrated's 2009 Summer Entertaining issue, and, not to brag, but the meal was huge hit.

Seriously, no one can go wrong with a Cook's Illustrated recipe.

The Menu:
Slow-Cooker North Carolina Pulled Pork
Grass-fed Burgers
Cool and Creamy Macaroni Salad
Buttermilk Cole Slaw
Root Beer Baked Beans (Food and Wine July 2010)
Strawberry Poke Cake

While the whole meal was easy to make, I feel like the pulled pork yielded the most flavor of all the dishes. And what was really great was I didn't have to worry about grilling it all day with temperatures in the 90's. Using the slow-cooker let me forget about it and get to my other dishes. And the flavor was AWESOME. Because the recipe calls for ham hocks, a rich red color emerged as well as a smoky, cured flavor. The meat was perfectly moist too. My Pops couldn't stop praising it, which made me feel good because I made it special for him on Father's Day.

The Macaroni Salad and Cole Slaw were fantastic. Perfectly easy make-ahead recipes, which made my cooking life extremely simple. And again great flavors, and, if there are leftovers, they keep for a couple of days.

I had higher hopes for the Root Beer Baked Beans. They were good, but I thought they needed less molasses and more smokiness. I think next time I will add coriander, cumin, and liquid smoke, and I'll cut down on the molasses.

Out of all the dishes, the best was the Strawberry Poke Cake. I was extremely worried about making the cake from scratch but it came out light and moist with a perfect crumble. I tweaked a few ingredients for this recipe, though, which I think made a difference. Cook's Illustrated calls for store-bought frozen strawberries, but I bought 2 quarts of homegrown strawberries, sprinkled them with a little sugar and froze them. Then I cooked them down to get the juice for the pokes and the puree for the jam filling. (I didn't want to use the fresh berries because Cook's Illustrated said the flavor was a bit inconsistent.) Instead of Strawberry Jell-O I used a plain gelatin. In my opinion the berries had enough flavor; I didn't want to cover up their natural sweetness with artificial flavoring. Finally, for my fresh whipped cream topping, I added vanilla to intensify the flavor.

My brother, one of the world's most picky eaters, had three pieces of my Strawberry Poke Cake. In other words, I never got a chance to photograph it. It was that good.

Good enough that I just might make it all over again for 4th of July.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Birthday Meals

Last week I turned 33.

I have no problem admitting my age. I'm happy to be in my thirties with several years separating me from my wild, crazy, dramatic 20's. Ugh.

The thirties are pretty mellow. I naturally wake up around 5 a.m. I crawl between my ever-so-soft 400 thread count sheets around 10 p.m. I catch a wine buzz pretty quickly.

If given a choice between going out and ironing laundry, I probably would pick ironing. And if you were to tell me in my 20's that by 33 I would pick laundry over going out, I would have probably slapped you. Just for the drama of it.

Of all my birthdays, though, this one was my most mellow, which I assume is a sign of maturity rather than getting old. I didn't expect anything. I didn't anticipate anything. I just went with the flow and kept a positive attitude. I was cool, almost zen-like.

I started the day with 6 a.m. yoga. I went to work where I was surprised with delicious Lemon Rosemary Cupcakes made by a very sweet friend and co-worker.

When I came home for lunch FD made me a cheese quesadilla with Canal Junction's Charloe (MY FAVORITE CHEESE RIGHT NOW! BUY SOME!) and Frontera Grill's Salsa with Roasted Garlic and Tomatillos. I figure if I can't eat at Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill I might as well pay the extra money and buy his stellar salsa at Kroger. The side dish was a small portion of the Santa Fe Quinoa Salad recipe I made from Food Wine. One of the best summer salads I've made it, the quinoa created a nutty flavor while the black beans, peppers and cocktail onions added some crunch and spice. Without a doubt this easy to make recipe is going to be a stand-by for us, especially because of how light and filling it was.

For dinner, FD was in Cleveland to support the prose poem anthology he co-edited. But our friends and neighbors A&J insisted that I not eat alone on my birthday and invited me over for wine, salad, Lettuce Wraps and dessert. It smelled so good and I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture and I didn't use my fork (for the lettuce wraps). Imagine PF Chang's Lettuce Wraps--only way better--with red romaine picked from the garden only an hour earlier. Now imagine a perfectly seasoned filling of ground turkey, peppers, and spices with a homemade peanut sauce with just the right amount of kick. My intention was to eat two. I ate six. Okay, maybe eight. I'm sure A&J think I'm a some champion competitive eater. When something that good is placed in front of me, I don't have any control. Even with the help of Weight Watchers. God help me. A Lost Angel Chardonnay perfectly accompanied the heat of lettuce wraps and the Muscat paired nicely with the mini apple torte and mini carrot cake I bought that afternoon from Bella Cuisine at the BG Farmer's Market.

But out of all my birthday foods possibly the most fun was delivered today by the baker herself. One of my all-time favorite people, SEM, baked me up a fierce chocolate cake with Hello Kitty's picture in icing. I love eating. But I adore eating something cute that is made of chocolate. While SEM was worried her cake wouldn't be all that tasty, after she left I devoured 1/4 of it with a glass of Happy Badger milk. All birthday long I had been craving chocolate cake. For some cosmic reason, I couldn't find it. So when I opened the door to SEM holding out a Hello Kitty chocolate cake, I almost cried. (Okay, maybe I am as dramatic as I was in my 20's...but at least now it's only over food.) What really got me was SEM coupled my two favorite things: food and Hello Kitty.

I've had many good birthday meals prepared by my family, my in-laws, my husband, my friends, and Revolver. And all of them are dear to me. I might not exactly remember every dish, but I always remember the love put into every meal.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Revolver Restaurant: A Benefit for Sister Rita and the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center

For me a good meal is like a good mix tape. There's a wide range of different styles with a calculated pace and subtle threads create connections and an umbrella of thoughtful themes.

The benefit for Sister Rita and the Franciscan Earth Literacy at Revolver this week reminded me of a perfect mix tape. The kind you listen to so much the tape becomes worn and warped with each re-play.

In a sense, though, the event was a culinary mix tape. Revolver's Chef Bulkowski brought in four talented chefs from around the country: Top Chef cheftestant Valerie Bolon from Chicago; Andrew Maykuth, executive chef at The Admiral in Asheville, North Carolina; James Lohse, executive chef at The Watermark in Nashville; and Pastry Chef Erin Mooney from BLT Steak in Atlanta.

And each chef brought with him/her their styles and music selection.

Yes, in the tradition of Revolver, the music of the evening set the tone for the menu. And the music became an actual mix tape. Chef Bulkowski chose Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Chef Bolon selected Gomez. To pair with his Halibut, Chef Maykuth picked The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack, and Chef Mooney and Chef Lohse requested Roky Erickson and the Avett Brothers.

As a music lover, I derive much joy from obsessing about the connections between the dishes and music pairings. And as food lover, I delight in obsessing about flavor combinations and wine pairings.

In other words, during this event I was in heaven.

For the first time we choose to eat during the late service (8:30) because we wanted to end the night listening to Revolver co-owner Debi Bulkowski's band, and we wanted an opportunity to chat with the chefs and friends.

What I loved about the late service was I didn't feel alone in my food obsession. After each course was served I could hear the click of camera shutters before the restaurant came alive with flavor dissections and discussions. It was intoxicating to feel part of a culinary community rather than a lone foodie in a room of here-to-be-seen-ers.

Later this week my review of the food will be published in the BG News, so I'm saving the in-depth commentary on each dish for that venue. However, as I obsess about the meal and re-play it again and again in my head, I'm realizing more about it.

(Trust me, with a wine pairing for each dish, it's hard to remember everything. Unless you take notes. Which I did do. Thank God.)

The amuse-bouche: Chef Lohse's creation. English peas with serrano ham puree and lemon confit. Gorgeous and fresh. The initial crunch made the first bite of the meal so special. And when the puree hit, I started doing my orgasmic eye-roll. Pure awesomeness.

1st course: Chicken consomme with goat cheese ravioli, chicken meatballs, fava beans, and chanterelle mushrooms. For me the fava beans with the little itty-bitty mushrooms were the stars. And I fought--hard--not to tip my bowl and slurp down those last few sips.

2nd course: Wild Alaskan halibut with vidalia onion, anson mills farro piccolo, maitake mushrooms, English peas and benton's bacon. I've heard parents say again and again "I love all my kids equally." If anyone were to ask me, I felt that way about this meal; I loved all the dishes equally. That's the diplomatic answer, right? What parents don't want to confess is that they always have a favorite. Always. And I had a favorite course of this meal. It was Chef Maykuth's halibut. This surprises me because I wanted it to be the consomme or the pork belly or the venison. But no it was the halibut. The first hint that this dish was going to be my favorite was when I saw the night's playlist. I knew Chef Maykuth had to have picked the Life Aquatic soundtrack to go with the halibut. Why pick something so dedicated to the sea unless you were cooking fish? Immediately, I found that funny. And I'm a HUGE Wes Anderson fan. To the point I bought three copies of Wes Anderson's brother's book Chuck Dugan is AWOL. One copy to read, one copy to give as a gift, and one copy to cut pictures out with an exacto knife so I could frame and hang them in my office so I could feel like a Tenenbaum. While I wasn't exactly aware of it intentionally or in that moment, I guess I must have known that the halibut would be quirky, playful, and complex--just like a Wes Anderson film. So when Rachel poured the Anne Amie Pinot Blanco, which was provided by Adam Mahler at Ampelography Wines, with its killer notes of cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg, I had a feeling I would love the halibut. And when Chef Bulkowski let me in the kitchen to take pics of the halibut being plated, I think that was yet another hint. But when I sat down, set down the camera, and picked up the fork, I never imagined how much the dish would affect me. I'm a loud person. I'm dramatic. I love to exclaim my feelings. After my first bite, I was still. I sipped the wine. Then I wrote in my notebook. "Halibut: Fucking amazing. Flavor explodes with the wine. Fuck." I didn't say a word to FD or anyone. I stayed in a moment of personal zen, that space that only happens to me during yoga class. I felt divine. I felt like a Tenenbaum. How Chef Maykuth took ingredients that remind me of beef stew and made a perfect spring dish with halibut, I will never know. I'm a writer, not a chef. But I will spend my life thinking about it. In short, never believe a parent (or foodie) who says they don't have a favorite; they are lying.

3rd course: Local citrus braised pork belly with radish puree and smoked pak choi. I told FD that Chef Lohse's dish made me feel like I was at home. It was soulful, comforting, and rich. It truly melted in my mouth. What I loved during this course was the woman who sat behind me kept repeating over and over, "This is so special." I had a moment where I wanted to turn around and hug her. I restrained myself. But it made me joyful to hear someone who "got it."

4th course: Maple glazed broken arrow ranch axis venison with apple-beet-potato gratin and asparagus-fennel salad. Chef Bolon managed to get almost all of my favorite vegetables and fruit on one plate. If only kale had been there. The textures in this dish were spot on. The crunch of the asparagus with the velvety venison blew my mind. And the sharp cheese topping on the gratin did a lovely job of cutting the sweetness of the apples and beets.

5th course: Red Wine soaked strawberries with honey-almond tuiles. What I love about dessert courses is that they are their own entity. There's no competition when it comes to dessert. How could there be? Both of Chef Mooney's desserts slayed me through and through. The strawberries were those little perfect hearts that are only in season right now. Imagine how sweet and tart and juicy they were. Such a perfect transition between dinner and dessert. I saw them as that song on a mix tape gets you ready for a change in pace. Absolutely perfect. I wasn't crazy about wine pairing with this dish; it was a rose that didn't compliment the berries as much as I hoped it would have. But that's the challenge of cooking, right? You take a risk and sometimes it works and other times it doesn't. In my eyes it was a small hiccup, one that I feel I need to mention in order to show readers I'm not completely biased and just bragging about all the great food I had.

6th: Soft chocolate with tres leches cake and mole crunch. I've never had pure chocolate until I tasted this dish. Come to think of it, this dish was pure. Pure in heart and soul and love. Quite frankly, dear reader, if I could I would find some way to shoot it up, every day. But then again I wouldn't be able to taste it, and that's what made it so much fun. It was hot, salty, rich, smooth, sweet. Ugh, I wish I could be eating it right now. Literally right now. And what made it even better was listening to Debi Bulkowski sing "House of the Rising Sun" while I ate it. Talk about sexy and sultry. Two more adjectives that describe Chef Mooney's dish and the amazing Debi!

To say that FD and I had a great time is the understatement of 2010. We cherished this meal, the music and the company. Yet again Revolver delivered--on so many levels.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Summer Updates and Teasers

My patio herb garden is out of control, and I'm craving the sweet acidic taste of tomatoes.

Summer is here.

And so far it's been a busy one that I haven't had much time to blog about.

I went to Florida on a trip with my Pops. We had fish and chips overlooking the Naples waterfront at M Waterfront Grille. To try to explain how important that meal was to me is for another blog post, which will happen soon.

A few weeks ago, I attended a going-away tea party for a very dear friend. Our ladies lunch at Clara J's at 219 in Maumee was delectable and delightful. I still need to share what a wonderful gem Clara J's is.

My brother and I went to Quarry Hill Winery--another (quite hilarious but slightly unfavorable) post that must be written at another time.

FD and I have made some great late spring/early summer dinners that use as much asparagus as possible.

And this past week I went small lake fishing with FD and Big F, my father-in-law. I figure if I'm a fan of locally caught crappies I should learn how to catch them. I brought the first crappie on the boat at 6:30 in the morning;I was baiting my own hook an hour in and handling--very slimy--live fish by the end. I wouldn't say I'm a natural, but I'm definitely going to go fishing again and learn how to filet a fish. We just didn't have enough time after this outing.

But the most exciting summer news yet is that I'm the Food Columnist for BGNews, our university newspaper. My weekly column is so much fun to research for and write. I only hope my readers enjoy it as much, if not more, than I do.

The June issue of Connotation Press rocks too! The contributors to From Plate to Palate outdid themselves. Read it for yourself. I promise the July and August issues will deliver just as much awesomeness.

The summer event I'm head-over-heels about happens tomorrow night. My all-time favorite restaurant, Revolver in Findlay, is hosting another celebrity chef event with wines of ampelography. Here's the scoop, and I quote from their Facebook page,

Revolver will be hosting a Celebrity Guest Chef Tasting Dinner on Thursday, June 3, 2010. There will be two seatings (5:30 and 8:30). The cost of $120.00 per person includes a five-course tasting as well as a complementary wine tasting. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center

Celebrity Guest Chefs for this event include the following:

Erin Mooney, Pastry Chef, BLT Steak (Atlanta),

Valerie Bolon, Season Four Top Chef Contestant, private chef,

Andrew Maykuth, Chef, The Admiral (Asheville, NC),

James Lohse, Chef de Cuisine, Rathbun (Atlanta),

Please call Revolver at (419) 424-4020 to reserve your seats for what is certain to be a exciting culinary experience. We hope to see you there.

Let's just say, I'm so giddy to attend with FD that I don't think I'll be sleeping much tonight because I'm going to dreaming about the good food and good times we'll be having tomorrow night. I feel like I did when I was a kid trying to the sleep the night before going to Cedar Point.

I promise a long blog post about that event.

In the meantime, happy reading and even happier eating!

*Photograph from Revolver Restaurant's Facebook page