Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tapas at Casa Mono

Restaurant Name: Casa Mono
Location: 52 Irving Place, (near Union Square) NYC

My husband and I tumbled into the tiny warm cave that is Casa Mono around 6:45pm on a chilly Saturday night. Lacking a reservation we were expecting a wait, even for a seat at the bar, but the early hour and the fact that it was Thanksgiving weekend (and everyone in New York was shopping above 34th street) turned events in our favor. Moments later we were tucked away in a little corner inches from the open kitchen.

Everything at Casa Mono is small. The restaurant is small, perhaps only 10 tables (as well as seats along two bars - one of which is in front of the open kitchen in which four chefs dance precisely around each other at top speed). The tables are small - they even have a lower "shelf" to hold the water glasses! The food is also small; everything is done in the Spanish tapas style of small plates, each a work of edible art. In a nation that prides itself on "bigger is better", Casa Mono perfectly shows up the foolhardiness of that sentiment. Why would you want a plate heaping with a single entree when you could sample your way through six or seven different dishes and leave equally full?

And, indeed, we tried seven small plates. Six were amazing and one was just okay.

Our favorites included a revelatory Bone Marrow with Pickled Radishes (we actually contemplated ordering a second round of this), Confit Goat with Saffron Honey (this was really interesting, served with a goat cheese sauce, caramelized red onion, and swiss chard), Piquillo Peppers with Oxtails (a sizzling stew topped with glistening, red peppers), Housemade Cured Ham (which was served with crispy crostini infused with lots of olive oil and the most wonderful pickled salad of fennel, onions, radishes, and golden beets), and Patatas Bravas (crispy roasted fingerling potatoes tossed with soffrito, garlic aoili, green onions, and a healthy dose of smoked Spanish paprika). The Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Croquettas were just okay - crisp, sweet, and tangy and served with fried sage. For dessert we thought we'd go "light" and we ordered the Tangerine Sorbetto y Moscatel 9. It came as two perfect scoops sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and nestled in a pool of sweet wine jelly.

The wine list at Casa Mono is, as one might expect, almost exclusively Spanish. And its looong...and a little overwhelming, too. The sommelier was very helpful though. Not really knowing what we wanted, we gave her a vague "how about a medium-bodied red wine, more earthy than fruity"? She picked a perfect Reibera Sacra from producer Themera on offer for $65. It was very drinkable and paired wonderfully with all the rich, meaty dishes we'd ordered.

Perhaps our overall experience here would have been a little different if we'd come on a regular weekend and encountered the crowds that are rumored to make for a long wait (making a reservation seems advisable). But nothing could have diminished the pleasure of the food - complex, interesting, and challenging. Also, I should mention, delicious.

This foray into decadence wasn't the cheapest meal we've had - our total bill was around $200 (for 2 people, including wine and tip) - but as we wandered back out into the cold night we both agreed it was well worth the splurge.

Casa Mono on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cookbook Review: The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young & Alan Richardson

The Breath of a Wok is an excellent cookbook for a beginning to moderately-skilled home cook who is looking to make an initial foray into the world of wok cooking.

This well-made, hardcover book is essentially broken into two sections. The first contains what the authors refer to rather loftily as "lore" about wok cooking, but which is really a history of the wok and description about how to select and season a wok. There is also a section on how to use the wok to achieved the elusive flavor of "Wok Hay" (the unique, concentrated flavor of food rapidly cooked at high heat, which the authors translate as breath of the wok). While the discussion of Wok Hay is somewhat instructive and certainly poetic, it is the information on how to chose and season your wok that is the most useful. For those who've never made such a purchase, or used such an item, this information is vital. From my cheat sheet: get rid of the fancy, expensive non-stick wok you got off your wedding registry. This is not a wok. Go spend $10 in a Chinese market on a carbon steel flat-bottomed wok. Be willing to not scrub it clean each time you use it, rub it lovingly with peanut oil, and in a few weeks you'll be cooking wonderful dishes in no time.

The second section of the book is, of course, the recipes. You'll find all the basics here, but none of the icky Americanized Chinese food you get at so many restaurants. This is simple, quite authentic-tasting food with minimal ingredients, and all of them *fresh* ingredients. Most of the things that the recipes call for are easy to find. The recipe sections are broken down by technique (Stir-Frying, Smoking, Pan-Frying, Braising, Boiling & Poaching, Steaming, and Deep-Frying). There are recipes for chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, and seafood (lots of great shrimp dishes). Some are things you might expect, such as Kung Pao Chicken, but many are new to the American home cook, and are wonderful (think Braised Beef Short Ribs with Scallion, Singapore-Style Squid, and delicate Scallops with Asparagus).

The book is dotted liberally with beautiful photography, the recipes are well-explained, and a glossary provides information on potentially unfamiliar ingredients.

If you know someone who has been contemplating getting into Chinese cooking, get them this cookbook ($23 on along with a good, cheap wok (I've had plenty of luck with my Joyce Chen wok) and a wooden stir-fry paddle. They'll be set for a great new culinary adventure!

Bon Appetit!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas Gift Ideas for the Cook - Sieve

Thomas Keller calls the fine mesh Tamis, Chinois, Sieve as "Tools of Refinement". These items will raise your sauces, purees, and soups to a whole new level of smooth and beautiful. Basically what you do is pass semi liquids thru the mesh to remove all pulp, seeds, skins, fibers, lumps of starch, or whatever and produce a velvet, clean, beautiful product.

The fine sieve is a tool most chefs don't have and they are frankly very hard to find. I own the set above $30 for the sieve's and $6 for the scraper. You don't need all 3 sieves but they come as a set. Both of the items above are listed as baking items. They are very useful there as well for Sieving dry ingredients and counter scraping and dough turning.

Really, you will be amazed what these simple items will do for you cooking.

The two images above are a set of Sieves and a scraper from Amazon - see link.

Christmas Ideas for the Cook - Thermometers

Using a cooking thermometer will improve the consistency of your cooking greatly. It will also teach you the look and touch method of determining doneness as you can use those techniques along with a thermometer to know at exactly what temperature a certain look or touch is achieved.

The items pictured are a waterproof instant read, and a remote oven or BBQ thermometer.

The instant read needs to be waterproof (most are not, so look for this feature) as one of the things you need to measure is liquids and for stupid reasons I really don't get most of the instant reads on the market are not sealed properly and thus are ruined within a few uses if used in measuring liquids or if you wash them. The instant read is helpful mostly for uses outside the oven or BBQ and is fast, accurate, easy to carry in your pocket or apron and generally all around useful. I use it for measuring the temperature of rising bread dough, or water for yeast where temperature is the difference between success and failure. I also use it to check internal temperature of meats on the stovetop, simmering water, you name it. Knowing the temperature of items you are processing is essential to good cooking.

The remote thermometer is useful in the oven or BBQ because you stick it in and can close the door or lid over the wire without compromising the seal. You can then monitor the temperature of the cooking item at it's thickest part without opening the door. Every time you open the door or lid of a hot oven or BBQ you are totally screwing up the air heat by up to 100 degrees which is a disaster. I don't cook by time I cook by internal temperature. Bread, for instance is ready when it hits an internal temp of above 200 degrees (depends on what kind of bread between 200 and 210). Custards like quiche are done at 165 degrees. Meats depend upon the item - figure it out based on what it is and how rare you like it. Note that most dense items will continue to heat up after the item is removed from heat so if you want to serve a roast with an internal maximum temp of 140 degrees you need to take it off heat at around 130 degrees.

It is very educational to watch the speed of temperature rise increase as food nears its "done" point. It will impress you with how easy it is to overcook or undercook an item and convince you to use a thermometer instead of the "time" in the recipe. Note that where you place the probe is critical to getting a proper level of doneness. Bread near the surface of at the edges will be 30 degrees hotter than at the center - that is the nature of oven cooking. So, you must place the probe in the "coldest", usually the dead center of the thickest part, part of the item to be measured. Not a bad idea to check in several places before you conclude you have things right. My Thanksgiving Turkey was not adequately done in some parts (had to go back in oven) even though the temp in what I thought was the right part said 165. It was really only 145 n some spots.

The variance in temperature in various parts of the item being cooked also explains why you MUST allow items to "rest" after coming off heat. What happens is that physics of heat causes an evening out of temperature through out the item to get an even doneness. In meats it allows juices that have rushed to the cooler inner parts of the meat to evenly distribute throughout. In baked items it allows evening out of internal steam. If you don't allow items to rest before cutting them open you are really ruining the item.

Christmas Ideas for the Cook - Knives

Sharp, good knives are absolutely essential to good cooking. Get rid of the old dull, worthless cooking knives and get the 3 essential knives every chef needs. You can seriously get by with these three knives.

First is the 8 to 10 inch chef's knife in the top left picture. Yes, it is big but it can be used for mincing garlic as well as for cutting through a duck leg bone. You will notice the handle is much higher than the blade and that the blade is quite curved. The blade also is quite thick at the handle end and very delicate at the point end. This shape is essential to safe and efficient cutting as it allows essentially rolling the blade back and forth to mince or do the other fine cuts you need with your hands out of the way. the thick handle end is for cleaver like cutting as in the duck bone. You really do not need all those other chef knife sizes and if you only use and maintain one good knife for chef knife purposes you become more proficient at handing it.

The middle knife above is somewhat incorrectly referred to as a bread knife. This is really a slicing knife and is essential to that task. It has large scalloped "serrations" and is a big, but thin and light blade. If you have ever tried slicing a ripe tomato with any other kind of knife you will understand why this type of knife is essential. It can cut trough delicate items like bread and soft fruits in very thin slices without crushing or damaging the edges of the food. It is also great for thin slicing of meat or really any item.

The third knife on the right is a boning knife. It is very thin fairly straight blade and is used for filleting fish - separating the skin from the flesh easily and cleanly. It is also essential for cutting up poultry like chickens or ducks. And if you get to cleaning Foie Gras it is great for those pesky veins you have to find and remove. If you are buying poultry any other way than whole and cutting it up yourself you can pay for this knife in about a week. The cost of a whole chicken or duck compared to what you get in return (11 pieces and carcass for stock - in a duck the duck fat alone separately costs more than the whole bird) is incredible. Example, at Costco you can get two organic whole bagged chickens for about $20 at around $2 a lb. . Organic chicken breast alone cost $6-10 a lb.. I will write another post on how and why to buy whole poultry - and why to buy organic when it comes to poultry. In any event, when you get ready to do your own butchering (cutting up meat - slaughtering is the killing it part - I always have people confusing those 2 when I talk about butchering). you will need this knife.

In general spend a lot for a good knife. I prefer Wusthof brand but here are lots of brands. What is important is that they have and keep a sharp blade. A sharp knife is essential and is much SAFER than a dull blade. All CHEAP knives are worthless in a few months as they dull and will not properly sharpen. A knife steel is good to use after every use run the blade down it. It actually does not sharpen the blade as is normally supposed - what is does is smooths out any small nicks, or other imperfections created while in use. This is why you need to do it every time you use the knife - as it cannot fix big problems created over time only deals with small ones on a regular basis. Also, DO NOT put Kitchen knives in the Dishwasher as the buffeting action dulls them and weakens the handles quickly. they are designed to be quickly cleaned off by hand after use. They are hard and sharp and don't require lots of scrubbing or soaking to get rid of 100% of contaminants quickly.

Christmas Ideas for the Cook - Cookware

The Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot with a tight fitting lid comes in many sizes and shapes. If I could only have one piece of cookware it would be a Le Creuset Pot. We visited France last year and stayed with our Vashon friend Ann Donaldson in her home in Normandy. I cooked the whole week 3 meals a day most days using all the fabulous fresh French ingredients that make visiting France such a sensual pleasure. The only piece of cookware I used the whole week was a Le Creuset pot - Sauteing, frying, braising, roasting, baking bread, boiling water, literally you can use this pot for 100% of your cooking needs.

What's so great about it? 1. the heavy cast heats up and retains heat as only cast iron can. 2. The enamel finish makes clean up a breeze -I hate taking care of raw cast iron. From a cleanup point of view this stuff is as good or better than nonstick (which you really don't want to use but that is another story). 3. The pot can go from stove top to oven to table. Many ingredients reach their peak potential only by starting on the stove top and finishing in the oven - everything from grilled meats to freshly baked bread. 4. The tight fitting lid allows for low, slow braising or confit of meats and makes the perfect moist "oven" within the bone dry air of your main oven for baking the perfect loaf of bread (you heat the pot on the stove top on high with the bread in in for 2-3 minutes before sticking the whole thing in the oven - to get a hot pot for oven spring). 5. Unlike raw cast iron you can cook anything, including acid foods without having to re-season your cookware and there are no rust problems- another 2 things I hate about raw cast iron.

The Le Creuset comes in many sizes and colors and is available at Amazon, Macy's and many other places. they are expensive but last a lifetime and replace most of your old crappy cookware with one item. I prefer the large oval baker as it can handle a big cassoulet, large pot blanching, a big pot of chili,and a 2 kilo loaf of sourdough dread with ease - or cook a single fried egg.

Despite what conventional wisdom says Harold Mcgee (my personal choice of food scientist info) has proved that on the stove top cast iron including Le Creuset does not heat evenly. The part of the pot directly over the burner can be up to 100 degrees hotter than the edge of the bottom of the pan. You can either really screw up or use that to your advantage. When searing meats for a braise you want to not only not crowd the pan (common wisdom) but you also want to only use the center of the pan. When cooking bacon or sausages or things that tend to cook unevenly move the more done pieces to the edges and the less done to the center. In the oven however the cast iron pot with a lid on is PERFECT for even heat - unlike many other thinner pots.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cookbook Review: French Laundry Cookbook Thomas Keller

Miranda and I agree Thomas Keller is not only the greatest working Chef, of 2 (per se and French Laundry) of the best restaurants in the world, he also has the best cookbooks in the world for serious chefs.

His restaurants and his cookbooks are so good because he uses the best ingredients and the most exacting, most precise, best explained well thought-out techniques to each and every thing he presents.
Take advantage of his years of experience and his flawless techniques and your cooking will move to a whole new level. The techniques and sub-recipes he spells out in this book and in his Bouchon cookbook are world changing for the home chef.

In cooking classes and foodie get-togethers many folks have told me that they bought this book but never cook out of it because it is far to advanced, time consuming, and complex for them. My response is to just go back and read a few of the technique sections such as Big Pot Blanching, Tools of Refinement - the Chinois and Tamis, Salt, pepper, and Vinegar, Stocks and Sauces,and of course, The Importance of France!. What you will learn in these few pages will DRAMATICALLY improve your cooking. Then I advise reading the recipes for the TECHNIQUES he describes in detail as well as the many wonderful simple sub- recipes for everything from tempura batter to tomato tartare. The only great cooking is cooking from scratch in my opinion and knowing the simple sub recipes for things you might ordinarily buy will improve your results, save you money and help you avoid many nasty food additives that are in almost all commercial prepared ingredients and products.

I personally refer to this book by far more than any other cookbook I own. I totally recommend it. It is also beautiful and makes a great gift at around $30 from Amazon online. I also recommend his Bouchon Cookbook (see Miranda's review below).

Cookbook Review: Bouchon by Thomas Keller

As part of our ongoing Holiday Culinary Gift Guide for 2008, I am reviewing a few great, classic cookbook favorites of mine. There is no better place to start than with Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. Now available deeply discounted on ($32 down from $50) this is an excellent gift for anyone who is serious about cooking excellent food at home, improving their cooking techniques, or is in love with the food of the French bistro.

Of all the cookbooks on my shelf (and there are many) Bouchon is the most weathered. Unlike Keller's other cookbooks (The French Laundry, and now Under Pressure), Bouchon can be turned to for everyday comforts-of-home cuisine. This is not to say, however, that many (or any) of his recipes can be whipped up an hour before dinner time. In classic Keller fashion, most involve sub-recipes (for example, in a recipe for Lentil Soup there are sub-recipes for Chicken stock and Veal stock; in a recipe for Roast Chicken there are sub-recipes for Chicken jus and brine). However, for those able to work outside the confines of a recipe, these can be adapted and substituted as you like depending on your time constraints. Thomas Keller himself, though, is not a short-cut kind of guy and, indeed, the sub-recipes (included in an extensive index at the back of the book) are a real goldmine in of themselves, providing exacting and detailed instructions on everything from roux to stock and creme anglaise to garlic confit.

The book is roughly organized into sections based around small plates ("First Impressions," "Hors d'Oeuvres," and "Raw Bar"), more lunch oriented or first-course oriented fare ("Anytime," "Soups," "Salads," "Quiches," and "Sandwiches"), Entrees ("Fish & Shellfish," "Birds & Meat," and "Gnocchi") Sides ("Accompaniments") and, of course, Dessert ("Custards," Tarts & Cakes," "Ice Creams & Sorbets," and Puffs, Crepes & Fruit"). The book also includes full page and panel spreads on cooking techniques and ingredients (such as "The Importance of Salt").

Bouchon is also beautiful with lush photographs, heavy stock pages, and a durable cover and jacket (to this last I can definitely attest, having really put the book through its paces). This cookbook has had a deep and lasting impact on my cooking (and that of another blogger on this site: Steve). It is my go-to source for favorite recipes, including wonderful French Onion Soup, true quiches (deep, custardy, high-sided affairs that take several days to prepare), fabulous frites, classic seared hanger steaks with caramelized onions and butter, rich desserts such as a velvety chocolate terrine with creme anglaise and perfect ice creams. I've had the book for several years, cook out of it regularly, and still there are recipes nestled within waiting for me to try them.

For the foodie and home cook willing to devote several hours to preparing amazing food, (or to the collector of beautiful cookbooks....or even to the person looking for a little culinary inspiration in their lives) this is the *perfect* gift.

Bon Appetit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weekend in San Francisco

This last weekend I visited San Francisco for a conference. Though I was wrapped up with work much of the time, you can bet that I made every meal count!

In this post I review the restaurants I tried (which include Madeline's, Clift Bar, Ame, Crepe o Chocolate, Ferry Plaza Seafood, King of Thai, Cafe de la Presse, and Canteen).

San Francisco Weekend - Madeline's

Thursday, 3pm: late lunch at Madeline's
43 O'Farrell Street (between Grant and Market)

After my long flight across the country, I was ravenous (American Airlines doesn't even bother to pretend to offer you "food" for purchase...). After checking in to the Westin Market Street, I descended on Cafe Madeline (not far from the hotel) like a wild jackal and immediately pounced on one of their scrumptious looking, freshly made-to-order sandwiches (Camembert and proscuitto with aioli and field greens on an onion ciabatta roll). It was very tasty and of an ample size. But, (and I never thought I'd say such a thing), I think there was just too much proscuitto and as a result the sandwich was overly salty. I didn't try any of the delicious looking pastries.

Cafe Madeleine on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Redwood Room

Thursday, 6pm: drinks at the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel495 Geary Street
My friend Pam and her husband had stayed at the Clift Hotel on a previous visit to San Francisco and she was eager to take me to the Redwood Room, a beautiful bar in the hotel that is paneled entirely guessed it: redwood. As you might imagine, it is lustrous and fabulous in all its non-PC glory. Drinks here are expensive (about $15 each) and the staff are little high on their own horses, but its well worth it to recline on the comfy sofas or lounge at the bar.

San Francisco Weekend - Ame

Thursday, 7pm: dinner at Ame
689 Mission Street

Ame is billed as fancy-pants New American cuisine, but it has a definite Asian flavor to it (from the sashimi bar to the yuzo and sake flavoring many dishes). Pam and I wandered in here without a reservation but had no trouble getting a table at such an early hour on a Thursday. The staff were a little stiff (it *is* an elegant place with lots of high-backed chairs and heavy drapes) but welcoming enough. I think we may have been a bit of a disappointment to them, only ordering entrees and a single glass of wine (about which the waiter practically insisted that Pam order a Pinot Noir with her Black Cod. Little did he know Pam - she got what she wanted, which wasn't a Pinot).

The food here is very good, with plenty of subtle flavors and interesting ingredients. Pam had the house signature dish, the Broiled Sake Marinated Alaskan Black Cod and Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth. It was very fabulous - all the flavors balanced just right. I tried the Seared Maine Diver Scallops on Cauliflower Puree with Bacon Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Truffle Sauce. The scallops were sweet, tender, and lovely - and were cooked perfectly. Other elements of the dish were more of a miss. The cauliflower puree, for example, tasted a little musty (and not in the good truffley way one might hope, but in an odd basement-smell kind of way). Also, the brussel sprouts were thin on the ground, as was the bacon.

Ame on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Crepe o Chocolate

Friday, 12:30pm: lunch at Crepe o Chocolate
75 O'Farrell Street

This tiny sidewalk cafe is awesome. Awesome, I tell you. They serve crepes (sweet only), omelettes filled all manner of goodness (think black forest ham, gruyere, fresh veggies, and so on), gorgeous sandwiches with figs, proscuitto, get the idea. They also make these wonderful foamy hot drinks that are works of art. When Pam ordered a hot chocolate, we watched in contentment as the barista ladled gloppy, freshly melted chocolate from a deep ceramic bowl into the cup. It was as good as it looked - maybe better.

Crepe O Chocolate on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - King of Thai

Friday, 6pm: dinner at King of Thai
420 Geary Street (plus other locations)

This hole-in-the wall Thai joint has several locations throughout San Francisco. It is small (probably only about 8 tables) and pretty dingy, but they serve up piping hot, heaping portions of pretty good Thai food for dirt cheap prices (our dinner at King of Thai was less than our drinks at the Redwood Room). We ordered a seemingly bottomless bowl of dumpling soup swimming with wide noodles, the Pad Thai with Shrimps (noodles flavorful and good, shrimps not great), Stir fried wide noodles, and fried spring rolls. This was a good spot for quick, hot, and flavorful food but was far from the best Thai I've had.
King of Thai on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Ferry Plaza Seafood

Saturday, 12:30pm: lunch at Ferry Plaza Seafood
Located in the Ferry Building

With a great panorama of the San Francisco Bay and simple, fresh seafood preparations, this little restaurant is worth fighting the crowds in the Ferry Building for (and, indeed, the Ferry Building itself - a formalized indoor market - is well worth a visit). Pam and I popped in here for a quick lunch. She had the oysters on the half shell (two types of Washington oysters served with three different sauces which she slurped down with a pretty happy look on her face) and the smoked salmon (several smoked preparations served with toast). I had the crab cake, which more closely resembled a timbale of fresh crab meat with a very light sear on the top. While I was more than happy to devour this, I had actually hoped for a more cake-like crab cake; this seemed in the vein of heated crab salad. But, hey, it was fresh and full of crabby sweetness.

Ferry Plaza Seafoods on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Cafe de la Presse

Saturday, 5:30pm: dinner at Cafe de la Presse
352 Grant Street

After a long day at the conference we were attending, four of us headed over to Cafe de la Presse (located just outside the Chinatown Gate) for dinner. I had made a reservation here but was a little nervous about how it would turn out because the reviews on Zagat and Yelp had been somewhat lukewarm. I need not have worried - we had a utterly satisfying meal at this charming Parisian-style bistro.

Between the four of us, we tried the escargot, the French Onion Soup, and the Steak Frites. I did not personally sample the escargot but I can attest that they looked and smelled fabulous (redolent of garlic and parsley, sizzling, beautiful) and Jane, who ordered them, dispatched them with relish and contentment. The soup, chosen by Ellen, Jane and Pam, was great - not overly bready (as so many sad French Onion Soups are) and not under-salted (another common offense). The broth was complex - both tangy and oniony-sweet. If anything could have been modified here, I think a little more cheese would have been in order. The Steak Frites was also great. The frites were perfect (a little bigger than shoestring, golden, not at all greasy and scattered with parsley). They were served with aioli. The steak was incredibly flavorful and was served with a peppercorn gravy but it was overcooked a little (I had asked for rare to medium rare and it was probably closer to medium-rare to medium). It was also an odd, unidentifiable cut. Definitely not a hanger steak. But, hey, it tasted good. With all of this we enjoyed a Sancerre - always a crowd-pleaser and a clear choice given that the wine list seemed to be composed almost entirely of wines that were either $30 or $150 (the Sancerre was one of the few in between).

Cafe de la Presse on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Canteen

Sunday, 9am: breakfast at Canteen
817 Sutter Street

And now, as on my trip (though unwittingly), I have saved the best for last. On my final morning in San Francisco I tottered out of bed and headed out by myself for breakfast at Canteen. A brisk, early morning stroll up the hill from the hotel primed my appetite for one of the most fabulous breakfasts I have ever eaten.

Canteen, first off, is adorable. Only four booths and a long formica counter, the whole place was being serviced by one waitress and two cooks. Everything was cozy and welcoming. And the food....oh my God. Honestly, I don't think I've ever had hollandaise sauce quite like that before. It was tangy and ethereal, pillowy, cloudy (get the idea?). The Hollandaise was floating atop two perfectly poached eggs nestled on thin crisps of english muffin and thick, salty ham. This was honestly the most awesome Eggs Benedict of all time. On the side was a small congregation of perfectly cooked home fries flavored with green onions (a really great addition that I'll be trying at home soon). A foamy, bittersweet hot chocolate rounded things out. Sitting at the counter, I was able to easily ogle the other dishes. A little girl sitting next to me ordered the pancakes, which were filled with creme anglaise and apples. She looked pretty damn happy, and who can blame her?

Canteen on Urbanspoon

I waddled back down the hill wishing I had the time to try Canteen for lunch or dinner before I left. But, alas, it was not to be. The airport - and the chill of the east coast winter - awaited.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas Magazines Subscriptions - Food Porn

In addition to Miranda's great list of magazine ideas I thought I would add a couple for the Foodie on your list who has it all and is really into the food porn (that is a foodie term - not something kinky).

Art Culinaire $59 a year for 4 issues, and Gastronomica $48 a year for 4 issues are for the Foodie who really wants to be visually inspired on what is new, or about to be new in professional kitchens in terms of ingredients, presentation, and techniques. I currently subscribe to Art Culinaire which is an 11 by 14 inch hard cover quarterly. It usually features one trendy new ingredient and then has 8-10 high end chefs who present visually and with technique menus using that ingredient. It's cool! I have Gastronomica on my Christmas List this year.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Holiday Culinary Gift Guide: Food Magazines

This post is the first in a series of holiday gift guide reviews and suggestions for all things culinary.

I'm beginning with a review of several popular food magazines (Saveur, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and Cook's Illustrated).

Buy for: the adventurous home cook or avid reader of culinary/travel writing
The first thing to know about this magazine is that it does not come out every month. There are only 9 issues per year. An annual subscription currently costs about $20.

I have received Saveur for many years now, and in my opinion it differs greatly in terms of content from other food magazines. First of all, the recipes in this magazine seem to be much more authentic than those in other mags. For example, in an issue on the cuisine of India you are likely to find recipes that call for items like goat meat and gold foil. These recipes aren't adapted for the typical American kitchen. Often such ingredients are difficult to find and so I tend to make fewer recipes from Saveur than from other food mags. Another reason for this is that there often seem to *be* fewer recipes in the magazine than in others (and in general, the magazine is the shortest of the bunch). So, I would sum up by saying that the recipes might be more exotic and challenging than the average home cook would want to attempt and that they are not as abundant as you might find elsewhere. That being said, Saveur is great reading. The articles are typically really interesting and often look in-depth at non-Western cuisine. I'm always excited when it arrives in the mail.

Gourmet Magazine
Buy for: a home cook aspiring to become more serious about food
Gourmet offers 12 issues a year and a gift subscription is $20.

I actually canceled my subscription to Gourmet about two years ago. This wasn't because it isn't a good magazine but because I was receiving too many food mags and this one stood out the least in the crowd. I found that its recipes tended to be somewhere in between an easy adaptation for the casual home cook and a gourmet sensibility and that, as a result, they were often not home runs. The magazine does have a nice mix of articles and recipes (and plenty of the latter). Its visually very pretty, too.

Bon Appetit
Buy For: a casual home cook who is looking for inspiration
Bon Appetit comes out 12 times per year and a gift subscription guessed it, $20.

This food magazine has a special place in my heart. I think its the most populist of the fancy food mags and would probably appeal to the widest range of aspiring home cooks. I can never make it through this magazine without folding down at least 10 pages worth of recipes I'm ready to try, the photography is lovely, and they have a nice mix of everyday, easier recipes and special occasion dishes. As with any food magazine, not everything I've made from here has turned out well (and not always due to my cooking techniques...some of the recipes are simply not good). But many things do shine. The articles are the weak point of this magazine, in my opinion. They are rarely in-depth or particularly interesting. Go to Bon Appetit for the recipes. A final pet peeve: too many ads! Seriously, there are TONS of them.

Food & Wine
Buy For: the home cook/foodie who loves to impress guests and family with great food
Like Bon Appetit and Gourmet, this mag comes out 12 times a year and costs $20 for an annual subscription.

This is my favorite magazine of the bunch. First off, its got lots of great information about wine, as well as food. You get suggestions for pairings and plenty of interesting (and accessible) articles about different wine varietals. I feel like I've learned a lot about wine from reading this magazine. The recipes are also the most consistently good of any of the food magazines I've cooked from. If a recipe sounds interesting and you follow the directions, its likely to be great and impress your family or guests. The articles are also good; much more interesting/intriguing and better researched and presented than those in Bon Appetit (though probably not rivaling Saveur).

Cook's Illustrated
Buy For: the serious foodie who wants to improve their technique
This is the pricey one of the bunch - $24 for 6 issues (only 6 issues per year).

Cook's Illustrated is different from other food magazines. It is focused on technique. What is the best way to brine chicken? Which kitchen knives work best for which tasks? Who makes the best butter and which butter is best for which purpose? These are the kinds of questions addressed in this magazine. There are lots of kitchen tests reproduced in the magazine, lots of descriptions of the science of cooking, and so forth. I know my technique as a cook would improve if I subscribed to this magazine, but I think at heart I'm a lazy hedonist. I'd rather learn by trial and error and ogle food-porn pictures and recipes in other magazines. If you want to improve your understanding of how cooking alters different foods and what tools and techniques will help you achieve the best results, this is a great addition to the mailbox.

A cooking magazine is a great gift for a food lover or cook. It keeps on giving all year long and exposes the recipient to new ideas (and the giver to good meals...). Best of all, you can buy all of these subscriptions online, so its very easy too!

Happy Shopping!

Devin Tavern in Greenwich Village

A week ago I went to Devin with four friends. It was about 8pm on Friday night. There wasn't much going in the neighborhood near the place, but the place itself is very nice. It feels like a colonial time tavern redone in a modern way. There is lot's of exposed brick and soft lighting. I was expecting it to be jam packed, being a bar in the village on Friday night, but this wasn't the case at all. There was space at the tables near the bar for me to wait for my friends. (I later found out there is a large bar downstairs as well.) Once they all arrived, we got seated without a reservation immediately. That's pretty amazing for 5 people on a Friday night. The host, bartender, waitstaff and wine guy were all very polite and accommodating.

On to the food. We ordered the House Made Bacons for the table. This consisted of veal, duck, and mushroom bacons. The mushroom bacon tasted like meatloaf and was a bit of a miss for me, although others at the table liked it. The Veal and Duck bacon were awesome! Everyone at the table was clamoring for that stuff. I could have easily eaten all that they served us myself. I ordered the steak frites as an entree. The steak was well executed with a crispy exterior and a red, melt-in-your-mouth middle. It was not quite as hot as I would have liked it - maybe it sat in the kitchen for a few minutes before being served. That was a bit odd because, as I said, the place wasn't all that crowded. The frites were good, not great, but good. The wine list was extensive with many choices, both affordable and high end.

In a nutshell, if you're in the village and need a decent spot for good sized group with no reservations this is your place. Don't miss out on the duck and veal bacon. As I said in a previous post, a good restaurant needs to be able to allow you to have a good time with your friends. This place certainly does that since there is no waiting and no pretense. The food was good, but not great.
Devin Tavern on Urbanspoon

Mediocre French in SoHo

Restaurant Name: Bistro Les Amis
Location: SoHo, New York City

Having read some pretty positive reviews of Bistro Les Amis in SoHo, my husband and I chose it for our Friday night dinner out. We were hopeful, yearning for a great dining experience.

We were very disappointed.

While Bistro Les Amis is charming, cozy, and very welcoming - the place has very good service - the food is just not good.

We had an appetizer and entree each and shared a bottle of Sancerre for a final bill of $130.

We started with two of their specials - the escargot and the lobster bisque. Of the two, the bisque was the better. It had a good flavor (not complex, but with a strong lobster taste) and was nice and hot. But, the texture and consistency were pretty bad. The bisque wasn't smooth; there were tons of tiny lumps (either a problem when cooking the original roux or the need to pass the soup through a tamis).

The escargot were simply a sad failure. Usually when this happens, its because the snails themselves are no good (overcooked, etc.). In this case, the snails were fine. They were also, however, smothered in so much harsh, raw-tasting garlic that they were virtually indistinguishable from it. We couldn't even eat half of the dish between us.

For dinner, my husband had the cassoulet. This started out pretty promising (it was served at the table in a Le Creuset dish, piping hot). The duck confit was tender and moist (it was the best part of the cassoulet). The beans were strongly tomato-flavored (which was weird) and otherwise had little presence. The sausage was downright awful. Worse, none of these elements cohered (I can't imagine that this dish was actually prepared over 3 days, as is traditional).

I had the filet mignon with caramelized onions and bearnaise sauce. The filet itself was huge and cooked as I had requested (bloody). But it tasted like nothing. I realize that this cut of beef is not very flavorful, but this tasted like *nothing*. Well, I thought, at least I have caramelized onions and bearnaise sauce to spice things up! Um, not so much. The onions were good - very dark and brooding. The sauce was gloppy and actually tasted sweet. Not a happy thing.

We wisely skipped dessert and headed down the street for chocolates at Vosge (which never disappoints).

I really wanted to like this place (not only because we were dropping a large portion of spending money here, but also because it was cute and run by such friendly people). But it was just no good.

If you are looking for a great French bistro, make the effort to head over to Brooklyn Heights and eat at Le Petit Marche."

Bistro Les Amis on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Skinny On Fat - Cooking Techniques

Fat is probably an unfortunate name for Lipids but, Lipids isn't that cool a name either. Fat is an essential element in cooking and has an undeserved bad name. I would like to dispel a few misconceptions about fat in food:
1. Fat does NOT make you fat. For a normally healthy person the only thing that causes you to gain or retain weight is very simple - calories in minus calories out. All human life , and weight, depend on getting enough calories, including fat calories, to give you the required energy to run your power plant (body) and perform the given amount of work (calories used) you do each day. Over time if you consume more calories than you use you will gain weight PERIOD. Yes, Lipids (fat) have more calories than proteins of the same weight, but that doesn't mean they make you fat - it just means you have to consume the proper amount of calories based on your calorie usage. I will do another blog on NOT GETTING/BEING FAT. The thing to remember here is that Lipids do not make you Fat - more likely it is sugar in the American diet.
2. Fat is not bad for your heart or your cholesterol. Unsaturated fats like Olive Oil and to a lesser extent Canola Oil are actually GOOD for your heart and Cholesterol. I could go on for a long time here but let me just simplify it. Use ONLY the following types of fat, in moderation and you will be heart healthy: Olive Oil (for low/no heat/want the flavor applications), Canola Oil for all high heat and salad dressings, Grapeseed oil (for flavored oils - an advanced topic), and specific animal fats (butter, milk fat, duck fat, fat on certain cuts of meat and fish) in moderation for the flavors they bring and the mouth feel so essential to satisfying, and therefore healthy, eating. All those other fats/oils -GET RID OF THEM and don't eat processed foods period. The REALLY BAD FATS are Saturated fats other the the above (the animal fats above are saturated but are essential even if not the best for you), Hydrogenated fats (see processed foods), Trans fats, corn oil (the average American gets WAY TO MUCH corn in their diet because of modern agribusiness and process foods. Just stay away for non animal fats except the ones I mention and you will not be missing anything but bad stuff.
3. You cannot substitute low fat alternatives in a recipe. Recipes that call for fat NEED IT for the various IMPORTANT reasons to do with flavor , balance, mouth feel, as well as, for thickening qualities in sauces, or other applications. You cannot substitute milk for cream in a sauce, nor can you substitute most fake butters for butter - the food won't "set up" properly and will not taste as it should. If you need to cut calories eat recipes that don't use fat (we have lightly dressed,salad every night as part of the calories in), eat the recipe less often, o eat a smaller portion, or exercise more that day - those are good ways to "cut fat".
4. All fats have exactly the same number of calories per gram of fat. Yes, it is true - all fat is created equal - a gram of light olive oil is exactly the same calories as a gram of lard. In fact things like butter may have less fat per volume because they have a high water content whereas many fats are 100% fat by volume. See points 1 and 2 above.
5. Using FAT FREE or Low Fat processed "substitute" products is actually worse for your health and weight than using the proper fats. Guess what, they put really NASTY, UNHEALTHY chemical additives, fillers in these products to give them the mouth feel, and texture that they remove with the fat. Read the labels and Be AFRAID. See the last sentence of point number 3 if you think you have to have Fat Free substitutes for real fats in your food. There are plenty of foods low in fat and calories naturally - eat them. But if you want and item that calls for fat USE REAL FAT.

When it comes to using fats in foods there are a couple of very important things that most people either don't know or have not thought enough about to really raise their cooking to the next level:
1. Fats have various taste profiles. Some fats are high in flavor and thus you are going to taste that flavor in the food you eat. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. It all depends on what you want to happen. Olive oil has a lot of "olive oil flavor", grapeseed oil, and to a slightly lessor extent canola oil have no flavor of their own. Thus, in the vegetable fat world you choose your oil based upon whether you want the flavor to come from the oil or from what it is being used on. If you are not sure the recipe is a good place to start - if it calls for a flavored oil use that type, if not don't. Animal fats tend to carry a lot of flavor - this is a good thing when it comes to butter, cream, duck fat, pork fat, beef fat, but can be a bad thing when it comes to lamb fat and game animals. The secret here is limit the amount of fat you introduce into the cooking of these "strong/not enjoyable" animal fats. For example I always trim almost all of the fat off lamb before cooking.
2. Fats solidify at various temperatures. Fats that solidify at or below body temperature are going to make you look like a much better cook than those that don't. Why? Solidified fat does not taste yummy in your mouth - it tastes greasy, sticky, and kind of yucky. If the fat dissolves at or below "mouth temperature" it is going to taste rich, smooth, yummy. Let me give you some contrasts: butter ( and lard) melts starting around 85 degrees whereas Crisco melts at 117 degrees. If you make your pie crust out of butter it is guaranteed to have a great smooth mouth feel - cold pie made with Crisco is going to taste a little greasy. In the animal world duck fat (the undisputed king of animal body fat for cooking) melts at 57 degrees, chicken are pork at mouth temperature, beef requires 113 degrees (why steak houses serve it HOT!), and lamb is way above that (trim fat off lamb before serving even if you want a lamby taste).
3. Fats flavor can be introduced during cooking and then most of the fat removed for final preparation in any "long" cooking recipe where the fat is rendered during cooking. Braises, stews, chili, soups, even roasts can be greatly improved in flavor by leaving the fat on during the cooking process. Many cooks trim the fat off chicken, duck, or meats before cooking them. You can greatly raise your flavor profile by leaving on the fat and removing most of it at the end of the process. In a braise or stew for example leave the fat on the meat and long , slow cook with stock, vegetables, herbs. After the braise is done do the following three things to raise your meal to a whole new level: First pour off all the liquid into a separating measuring cup (the ones with the sloping bottom and usually a plug that goes in the spout) and separate and discard the fat. Second, just compost all those nice veggies and herbs, they have already given all their flavor to the meat. Use a big pot of boiling salted water (see my blog on water) to cook, then shock in cold water, some nice new veggies to the perfect degree of doneness. Use the stock (the non fat part of the cooking liquid) and some fresh herbs maybe some wine, or lemon juice or cream to make your sauce (see Amy's More than Gourmet Fond blog if you need more volume of stock) DEGLASING the yummy bits sticking to the bottom of the pan if roasting with the initial shot of liquid. You will come out with a very clean, great mouth feel, great flavor stew or meat with veggies on the side.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bouchon Bakery NYC

Restaurant Name: Bouchon Bakery
Location: New York City

This review refers only to the take-away bakery counter at Bouchon, not the sit-down portion. It is based on two separate visits.

First off, the Pecan Sticky Buns. As much as I want to claim otherwise, these were good but not not great. On my first visit to the bakery (with other bloggers on this site), we ordered two of the buns to take away. They were dense and sweet and sticky. They were good. But they weren't mind-blowing or life-changing (as I like my pastries to be).

On the second visit, I chose more wisely. Between my husband and I, we had the Chausson Pomme, the Chocolate Croissant, the Lemon Semolina Pound Cake, and a Madeline. All were thrillingly delicious.

The Chausson Pomme was slightly warm. The pastry was flaky - crispy on the outside and buttery on the inside. The apple filling was sauce-like (no chunks of apple) and redolent of cinnamon (I am making a happy gurgling noise just thinking about it).

The Chocolate Croissant was really good, though I've had some in Montreal and Paris where the chocolate was melt-ier (and, frankly, I hold TK to such standards, so this could have been slightly better).

I did not try the Lemon Semolina pound cake because to my eye it looked like it would be dry, but my husband (who is the most critical eater alive) cannot stop raving about it.

The Madeline was sponge-like and had a fine crumb. All in all, an eating experience I hope to re-enact soon.

Bon Appetit!

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

From Miranda's Kitchen: Salt Baked Shrimp

Before getting to the recipe, let me share a little technique I've learned that can be used anytime you cook shrimp - a way to make the often sullen and sad shrimp we find on the market today firm, plump and crisp.

Cooking Technique

First off, try to find the best shrimp you can. Wild caught are best, though also usually the most expensive. Avoid any shrimp that have black spots or streaks on the shell (unless you are buying Black Tiger shrimp). Shrimp should smell like the sea, not anything else. Buying shrimp that are still frozen and in the shell is usually going to yielded the freshest results (almost all the shrimp we have access to these days are previously frozen. If you buy the shrimp still frozen then you will know exactly how long they've been thawed).

Thaw (if necessary) and peel and de-vein the shrimp (if the recipe calls for it). Rinse and drain the shrimp. For every 1lb of shrimp, toss with 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Let the shrimp sit for at least 20 minutes. Bring a large pot of salted water - use at least 1 Tbs salt (see Steve's Cooking Techniques on boiling water) to a rolling boil. Blanch the shrimp for 15 seconds then quickly transfer to colander and run under cold water to stop the cooking action. This process makes the shrimp plump and crisp by removing all water from the shrimp flesh.

The shrimp are now ready for use in whatever recipe. You can try this technique with the recipe I've posted on this blog for Spicy Shrimp Po'Boys, or with the recipe below for Chinese Salt Baked Shrimp.

Salt Baked Shrimp (adapted from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's The Chinese Kitchen)

Serves 4

Contrary to what the name of this dish suggests, Salt Baked Shrimp are not baked - they are (yummily) wok-fried. This is a dry, sauce-less dish that is quite spicy.

1 lb shrimp - de-vein and remove the shell (you can leave the tail on)
1 Tbs baking soda
1 Tbs plus 1 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbs cornstarch
1 quart peanut oil
2 Tbs minced hot chilies (you can use all jalapenos or mix a variety of hot peppers for a blend of colors and heat). Include the seeds in the mince for more heat.

For this recipe, you will need the following special equipment:
A wok
A Chinese strainer/wire net basket
A Chinese wooden spatula/paddle for stir-frying

Using the shrimp and baking soda, follow the technique described above to plump the shrimp [mix the shrimp and soda, let sit 20 min then blanch in salted boiling water and rinse under cold].

Pat the shrimp dry and sprinkle them with the cornstarch (toss to coat evenly). Heat your wok (it is important here to use a proper wok) over high heat then add the peanut oil and heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees (use a thermometer to test this - hot enough oil is essential). Place the shrimp in a Chinese strainer and blanch them in the oil for 1 minute (you can do this in batches). Put the oil-blanched shrimp in a strainer and drain off the excess oil in the sink.

Turn off the heat and carefully transfer the hot oil to a metal bowl.
Return 2 Tbs oil to the wok and return the wok to high heat (it might be a good idea to turn on the exhaust over the oven at this point). Add the salt and chilies to the wok and stir-fry (use a flat, wooden spatula for this). Then add all the shrimp and toss and stir them vigorously for approximately 1 minute. They should appear dry and crusted and the chilies should be slightly charred. Turn off the heat and transfer to a serving dish.

I like to serve this dish with sushi rice that has been cooked with a little salt and sesame oil. I've also included a recipe here for a nice broccoli side dish (below).

Broccoli Smothered in Garlic Oil

Serves 4

1 large bunch of broccoli, cut into florets
3 Tbs vegetable oil
10 garlic cloves (whole cloves, peeled)
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp kosher salt

Rinse and dry broccoli florets. Heat a frying pan (or you can use your wok - but if you do so, cook the broccoli before you cook the salt baked shrimp; set the cooked broccoli aside and tent with foil to keep warm while you cook the shrimp). Heat the wok or frying pan over medium high heat and add oil. When hot, add the garlic and saute, tossing the cloves until they turn golden (do not burn them). Add the broccoli. Let it sizzle for 1 minute, then sprinkle with salt, turn the florets over with tongs, and sizzle 1 more minute.

Reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pan or wok with a tight-fitting lid. Cook the broccoli about 8-10 minutes until tender. Uncover and continue cooking until all the moisture that has accumulated evaporates and broccoli is glazed with oil. Increase the heat to medium high again and toss in the soy sauce. Toss with the soy sauce 30 sections and then remove from heat and serve.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Opulence, Elegence, Service - Georgian Room - Fairmont Hotel

Without a doubt the Georgian Room at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel is the most opulent and elegant dining room in Seattle. Richly furnished, live classical piano music, huge windows, and an air of an era long past without stuffiness. Cindy and I were taking advantage of the Dine Around Seattle Promotion - $30 for 3 Courses - close to half price - and there was no stinting on the details.

The service was incredible with at least 5 different people all waiting on or checking on us BY NAME at various times. the table setting was beautiful and each diner had unique but color coordinated china as a little touch. First to arrive was house baked rolls with 4 different butters - fresh cream, pea shoot, saffron, balsamic - beautiful and quite yummy. The menu choices reflected very high end, opulent ingredients that were fresh and in season - from truffles, pheasant, dry pack scallops, black truffle mushrooms, valhrona, etc. There were 3 choices for each course - including vegetarian choice.

We decided to start with an Oregon Pinot ($15 a glass - some whites started at $7) a very generous pour of a very nice wine. The waiter then presented a beautiful amuse bouche - a strip of salmon lox with a stripe of creme fraiche.

My first course choice was an Arugula Salad with Shaved Jumbo Prawns, Warm Camembert and Bacon Beignets, and Citrus Dressing. Light, fresh, beautiful and tasty. the beignets were round fried balls filled with a hot liquid (good thing I had a napkin in my lat as I was not expecting liquid) Camembert filling.

My main course was Seared Scallops, Crisp Potatoes, Melted Young Leeks, Truffle Bacon Butter Sauce. Interestingly this was a very similar offering to the Seared Scallop offering Cindy had enjoyed Sunday night at CRUSH (see our other blog post) as it provides a good contrast between the two places treatment of outstanding ingredients. Crush's offering was 3 seared Scallops over an ethereal, light chowder sauce with vegetable brunoise - outstanding dry packed scallops with a heavy sear but still rare on the interior. A heavenly, light main course leaving you wanting one more. The Georgian offering was exactly the same quality and quantity of Scallops but with less sear and a lot more (way too much actually) assertive saucing and a huge quantity of accompaniments. It was excellent but to my tastes too rich, and too much food. It left me unable to finish (well not actually) and too full. I guess it depends on your tastes - if you leave fancy restaurants feeling hungry this is your place. If you want to leave feeling great and wanting more then perhaps only eat half of the main course offering.

The desserts were stellar and reflect the fact that Fairmont Hotels takes their food seriously and has a Fine Pastry Staff in house - not just a part time speciality as most stand alone restaurants enjoy. I ordered the Golden Pineapple Tart Tatin, Lychee Sorbet, with Sesame Crisp and it was a work of art both culinary and presentation wise.


Cindy's Meal and Comments

First Course

Dungeness Crab Bisque, Tarragon Infused, Cognac, Mini Crab Cakes
This was delicious, and light bisque, very subtly seasoned. The addition of crab cakes was not a good choice as they were breaded, and immediately became soggy. Otherwise a good first course.

Main Course

Pheasant Wrapped in Apple Smoked Bacon, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Delicata Squash with potato squares
The main course was a beautiful presentation. Pheasant can tend to be very dry, even when prepared properly, the addition of the Apple Smoked Bacon, added nice flavor and made the pheasant more moist. But unfortunately, the main course was too much, the portions could have been pared down or the potato squares eliminated. This would have avoided that 'too full feeling' at the end of the meal and would have left more room for the amazing dessert


The Georgian Black & White Soufflé, with Valrhona Chocolate
My oh, My... this straight from the oven, deliciously warm souffle was perfect! It was served with a cold creme anglaise sauce (usually served warm) with a subtle tartness, (maybe the addition of creme fraiche?) I thought at first the cold creme anglaise would be an odd marrying with the warm souffle, but it was great. This is a dessert not to be missed. In addition a lovely chocolate dipped strawberry was served on the side and made a nice finish.
Georgian on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A must-have for weeknight dinners

It's pretty safe to say that of all the Foodie Family members, I'm one of the least likely you'll find cooking in the kitchen. That's not to say that I can't cook, or that I don't enjoy it from time-to-time, but as a new mom of a 4-month old, I'm looking for quick meals that don't require a lot of fancy ingredients, but are tasty none-the-less. As such, I thought I'd take a moment to highlight one of my favorite kitchen staples (which Steve introduced to me)...Fond de Poulet Gold from

This stuff is truly worth it's weight in gold and definitely earns a permanent place in the fridge. And yes - it's worth the effort to order it online!

It's super handy when you want to make a quick sauce or pep up a week-night in's a great, super fast, weeknight dinner that tastes great too.....

Super Fast and Tasty Weeknight Chicken

serves 2

cook time: under 20 min.


2 chicken breast halves

salt and pepper to taste

1 small lemon

2 Tbs. vegetable or olive oil

4 Tbs. butter

Fond de Poulet Gold

Place the chicken breast halves between plastic wrap and pound until thin (the thinner you make them, the faster they will cook). Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium/medium-high heat with 2 Tbs oil and 2 Tbs butter.

When the butter is melted, add the chicken. Cook the chicken until nicely browned and then turn over. Continue cooking until the chicken is done (internal temp of at least 150).

Turn the heat down. Add 2 Tbs butter, a large spoonful of Fond de Poulet Gold, and the juice from one small lemon to the pan, and stir to mix (should make a thick sauce). Turn the chicken to coat in sauce, remove from heat, serve chicken, spooning any extra sauce over top.

We like to serve the chicken with buttered egg noodles tossed with Parmesan cheese and sauteed green beans. Yum!

Monday, November 10, 2008

CRUSH? No It's Love - A Sous Vide Masterpiece - Best of Seattle 2008

Restaurant Name: Crush
Location: Seattle, Washington

Sunday night Cindy and I took advantage of the November Dining Around Seattle promotion (3 courses for $30 at 30 Seattle area restaurants - at Crush this is a savings of at least $30-$40 each) and it was truly AMAZING. This restaurant is our blogs TOP Restaurant for 2008 for Northwest Cuisine and Crush also Tied Rover's and Lark for Top Food in the Seattle Area. The 3 course offering last night provided 3 choices for each course.

First Course Choices:
Leek and Celery Root Soup
Pork Belly over cabbage with bacon
Green salad with apple, hazelnut, and roquefort cheese

Second Course Choices
Short Ribs" over Trofiette pasta with Gruyere Cheese sauce
Seared Scallops in a sauce of "chowder with vegetables"
Fall Vegetarian Risotto

Third Course Choices
Cranberry Bread Pudding with cane sugar ice/pecan ice cream
Vahlrona chocolate dessert
Camembert Cheese with balsamic, nuts, pomegranate, and compressed pear.

I always like to spend the savings on these promotions back into the same restaurant so we started with a nice glass of Cremant D'Alsace ($12 ea) while we perused the menu. If you are stretching to go to Crush in the first place there is certainly no pressure to have wine or drinks before or during dinner. The wine list revealed you could spend anywhere from $7 to very high numbers by the glass with a nice similar range by the bottle.

I chose to start with the Pork Belly. It was a beautiful and tasty presentation. the pork belly was cooked sous vide (I know this because it was pink but melt in your mouth done), with crisp bacon both topping a nicely sauced cabbage saute.

My main course was also sous vide, Jason Wilsons' justly famous 24 hour cooked Short Ribs atop a Trofiette pasta in an great gruyere cheese sauce. Trofiette is a rustic looking pasta that looks like a twisted rolled up thin penne - the perfect mac and cheese with class!. the Short Ribs were melt in your mouth and beautifully seasoned. I added a nice Cote de Tablais red wine ($12)

I finished with the Camembert cheese service which was beautifully presented with nuts, pomegranate and compressed pear. The compressed pear is also a sous vide preparation that literally compresses the fruit in a vacuum and gently cooks it to intensify the flavor - wonderful.

I finished with a nice pot of presse coffee.

Cindy is feeling lazy so she asked me to blog for her as well.

After her Cremant she started with the Soup - Beautiful and Fabulous - could not have been more so. I tasted and loved it.

Cindy's 2nd course was the scallops - See picture above for a pretty good idea. There were 3 nicely seared scallops in a great sauce. I tasted and loved it.

Third course for Cindy was the cranberry bread pudding. sounded like it could be not the worlds best - but wrong again - It was a wonderful individual round moist bread pudding with some sugared fresh cranberries that kind of popped in your mouth. the cane sugar ice cream was a nice companion flavor. I tasted and love this dessert.

Cindy finished with a very elaborate, exotic tea service - it tasted a little too strongly of anise as she was looking for straight peppermint. But it was worth it just to watch the waiter do the service.

Speaking of service it was flawless, attentive, and it all made for a great evening.

In our recommendations review of the Dining Around Seattle Promotion we touted Crush and the Fairmont"s Georgian Room as incredible quality at incredible value - and Crush proved out 100% - AND we are going to the Georgian TONIGHT!

Crush on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Best of Seattle Restaurants – 2008 – Best Happy Hour Dining – Brasa

Brasa is a great restaurant and Tamara Murphy is involved in all kinds of fun food events such as Wine Dinners, Farmers Market Dinners, and Burning Beast – she is great. This review, however, is just of Brasa’s Bar Menu. The Brasa bar is not huge and during happy hours from 5 to 7pm it is like standing room only – so get there at 5 if you want a table or bar seat. The menu is pretty extensive and all is yummy. What wins it our 2008 Best Happy Hour Dining pick for 2008 is that it is all HALF PRICE from 5 to 7 pm every night!– and the prices are pretty good anytime. For good drinks and awesome cheap food be there for Happy Hours.

Brasa on Urbanspoon

Best of Seattle Restaurants – 2008 – Best Sunday Night Dining – Restaurant Zoe

Restaurant Name: Restaurant Zoe
Location: Seattle, Wa.

Restaurant Zoe is perhaps the most consistent go to place for all the couples at Between Courses – especially if dining with friends who you are not sure are too adventurous. Zoe is loud, fun, has good drinks, is affordable – considering the quality involved, and is just about guaranteed to make everyone happy. The food is always very good and offers choices that will please the timid as well as the Foodie. It is a nice central downtown location too. One Sunday nights it has a really great feature in this day and age when wines prices on restaurant menus are all 3 times retail. On Sundays you can bring your own wine with no corkage fee – about the only place in Seattle you can do that. Be sure to spend the money you save on an extra course or some of their addictive drinks.
Restaurant Zoe on Urbanspoon

Best of Seattle Restaurants – 2008 – Best Small Plates - Lark

Restaurant name: Lark
Location: Seattle, Wa.

Lark is consistently doing the best cooking in Seattle. The idea here is a minimalist space, small plates, no set courses, and food that is meant to be shared – a few bites each – communally. These are not concepts that come naturally to everyone in the Foodie Family at Between Courses. Some of us need structure in the sequence of a meal, others are not that hot to share if they really like a dish, and all of us love ambiance. It is the one great restaurant we generally do not invite friends to because of the format. However we keep coming back time and time again – Especially Jeff and Steve – who love to try stuff and share – and drink lots of wines by the glass. If you love great food you will be happy here – if you love the dining concepts laid out above you will be in HEAVEN. If you want great small plates but are afraid of the above issues go to Spring Hill in West Seattle - our Top New Restaurant of 2008

Lark on Urbanspoon

Best of Seattle Restaurants – 2008 – Best Sandwich – Paseo

Restaurant Name: Paseo
Restaurant Location: Seattle
Paseo has a number of great Cuban sandwiches and plates in an incredible shack in Fremont with a branch in an even more incredible shack at Shilshole. Our favorite - in the whole world by the way - well except perhaps the crazy Afgan gyro/kebab stacked with frites we got in the middle of nowhere France - is the grilled pork tenderloin slices with lots of grilled Jalapenos and onions. It is served with the world worst but most authentic mush corn on the cob. Order at the counter, get change for a $10 and then inhale, with water on the side, the messiest, best sandwich ever. Note our runner's up for great sandwich's for 2008 are Matt's in the Market, and Salumi

Paseo on Urbanspoon

Best of Seattle Restaurants – 2008 – Best French Brasserie

Café Presse is from a French viewpoint kind of a cross between what they call a Bar, a Bistrot, a Café and a Brasserie but we would put it in the latter category. The food is excellent but the atmosphere is a little too quickie/bar like for our tastes. We have eaten there several times and enjoyed the food and the atmosphere in the front room. The back dining room is not someplace I would want to eat – it lacks character and like most backrooms in Seattle restaurants just doesn’t feel good. An especially nice feature is that this restaurant is open early for breakfast in the French style!
Café Presse on Urbanspoon

Best of Seattle Restaurants – 2008 – Best Northern Italian – Café Juanita

Restaurant Name: Cafe Juanita
Location: Seattle Wa

Holly Smith, James Beard Best Chef in the NW for 2008, is an amazing chef. Café Juanita is a transporting experience in Northern Italian fine dining. When I got to choose where to hold my retirement dinner celebration Café Juanita was my first choice. Their treatment of Rabbit is the best I have ever had. Rabbit is a meat that really requires different cooking techniques for different parts of the animal – and Café Juanita does this perfectly – a 3 way treatment that brings out the best of each part. The pasta’s and risotto are wonderful – in fact having eaten here 6 times I can’t think of anything on the menu that isn’t awesome. The place and crowd are both kind of quiet so not as festive as I would prefer. One kind of odd thing – I think based on the restaurant name and outside looks - is that many times we have been there when it is obvious some party at another table is uncomfortably figuring out when they get the menu that this isn’t a mid priced neighborhood Café – it is a high end and high priced gourmet restaurant.

Cafe Juanita on Urbanspoon

Best of Seattle Restaurants – 2008 – Best French Bistro – Cremant

Restaurant Name: Cremant
Restaurant Location: Seattle Wa

Cremant in Madison Park is by far the best French bistro in Seattle – and also compares well to the best in Paris as the Foodie Family can attest. What make it the best is that Scott Emerick and his staff LIVE French Bistro. Scott is a veteran of many of the best restaurants in both Paris and Seattle. Cremant is named for the real champagne method excellent sparkling wines NOT grown in the Champagne region and it is a bubbly, noisy, happy place so matches its name well. The menu at Cremant, unlike most of the “bistros” in Seattle offers the full range of classic French Bistro food – all made from scratch in house. Their Charcouterie offerings are amazing. Their French bistro salads perfect – if a little large. Their entrees and plats are the classics done perfectly. Their FRITES are CONSISTENTLY PERFECT – an almost impossible feat that no other restaurant in Seattle can accomplish. The reason for this is that they make them every time as if it was IMPORTANT – most places first fail in their fryers! Boredom and complacency will show and it never appears at Cremant. It’s a good bar, a great Chocolate Cognac dessert, and a fun evening. Even though the location is inconvenient, especially for us on Vashon Island, it is my “go to place” anytime I want to eat a dinner of Bistro food out. Runner up is Café Champagne check their listing for our blog reviews.

Cremant on Urbanspoon