Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sunday dinner

On Sunday night we made dinner for our friends Phil and Anthony. I love summer cooking, especially its unfussiness and the abundance of fresh flavors. We kicked off the evening with cheese straws, Marcona almonds with rosemary (A new-to-me Trader Joe's find --wow!) and raspberry royales -- the recipe was from Barefoot Contessa's Barefoot in Paris, which I had checked out of the library after our France trip.

The inspiration for our main dish came from this beautiful photo in Food & Wine's summer grilling guide. I love serving different types of food on large platters, and I just liked the idea of pairing grilled beef tenderloin with roasted cherry tomatoes. (Though we opted for ribeyes instead of tenderloin.) My companion grilled the steaks along with the cherry tomatoes I had bought that morning at the North Market. I sliced a log of herbed goat cheese to go with it and we served it in a little bowl on the side. Juicy steaks, ripe tomatoes and creamy goat cheese. It tasted like summer.

In lieu of the grilled bread shown in F & W, I made one of my all-time favorite summer recipes: this summer-garden tart from Cooking Light. (I have to credit my mom with finding it.) It's become one of our summer staples. I stopped making it for a while because I wasn't able to find the cornmeal crusts, but then I read about these scrumptious crusts from Vicolo on Not Martha, whihc I found at our Whole Foods. Perfect!

Phil and Anthony provided us with an excellent dessert: a raspberry-blueberry tart made with Julia Child's pastry cream recipe. I was especially excited to try it, given that I recently re-read Julia's exquisite memoir My Life in France.

If only we could eat like this every Sunday night!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The NYT chocolate chip cookie recipe

So I had been dying to try the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe ever since I read the accompanying story a couple of weeks ago -- it was the No. 1 most e-mailed story for a couple of days! That warmed my heart.

This recipe differs from other chocolate chip cookie recipes in a few ways, the most significant being that you let the dough sit for 36 hours in the refrigerator before baking. This gives the wet and dry ingredients sufficient time to mix -- apparently eggs are rather slow moving. I have to admit, it was hard to make cookie dough knowing that I wasn't going to get to eat warm, gooey cookies that night, but a day-and-a-half later I sure loved having the dough all ready to go. The recipe also instructs you to form the dough into balls the size of large golf balls -- this allows enough of surface area on the cookie so you can have a really nice variation in texture between the crunchy edge and soft center.

The recipe calls for a sprinkle of sea salt before baking -- I used my fleur de sel from Brittany. The resulting taste is sweet-salty near-perfection.

The only modification I made to this recipe is that I replaced the chocolate disks (our Whole Foods didn't carry them) with the chocolate I happened to have on hand, which included two bars of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate and two bars of Ghirardelli white chocolate. I chopped all of them up and into the batter they went. I also found that it helped to let the cookie dough soften for about 30 minutes once I took it out of the fridge -- it was impossible to spoon out before that.

On average, I didn't think this recipe took any longer than your average batch of chocolate chip cookies, but there was enough difference in taste that I think it's going to become my go-to for all future batches.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Summer baking

It's getting too hot to turn on the oven, but when I saw this recipe for salt-kissed buttermilk cake on 101 cookbooks, I couldn't resist trying it out that very minute. I already had some beautiful fleur de sel, having just returned from Brittany, and my mom bought me some Michigan raspberries at the South Haven Farmers Market that were just begging to be made into something fun.

This is a very un-fussy recipe, and it only took me about 30 minutes to make it on Tuesday after work. It functions very well as both a dessert and morning coffee cake or a mid-day snack break cake, and as Heidi points out, you really could make this recipe with any kind of fruit. I loved the caramelized sugar (I used turbinado from Whole Foods) mixed with the crunchy fleur de sel on top. It added just enough sweet-saltiness to the whole concoction.

Heidi recommends using a tart pan for this recipe. I don't own one, so I used a springform pan. This made the cake a little too thick, so I think if I were to make this again I would purchase a tart pan -- I like this one from Crate and Barrel. The recipe calls for whole-wheat pastry flour, but I used all-purpose flour and it turned out just fine.

Hooray for a not-too-sweet, easy-to-make seasonal summer cake!

Friday, July 11, 2008


My favorite stop in Paris had to be the legendary boulangerie Poilâne, a bread shop established in 1932. The whole experience was a little bit like a pilgrimage for me -- I could have stayed in that shop all morning. I got to see their giant wheels of pain Poilâne slashed with the signature "P" or embossed with a sheaf of wheat.

While we were in the shop we saw several restaurant workers, identifiable by their white aprons, come into the shop and fill huge sacks full of loaves to take back, perhaps for their lunch crowd.

Edible Adventures in Paris had promised that there would be a little basket of blond butter cookies by the cash register, and sure enough, there was. I was smitten with my first bite, not only by the delicate crunch and butter flavor, but also by the pretty scalloped edges. I bought a boîte for the plane ride home and I was so glad I did.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Aw, shucks

I recently found out that I received an Ohio Excellence in Journalism award for my story “Farm to Fork,” which was published in the June 2007 issue of Columbus Monthly. The story described the burgeoning relationships between local farmers and chef-owner-restaurateurs and the fresh, seasonal dishes that result from their collaboration. The story was two years in the making, and it was one of the most fun (and labor-intensive) pieces I’ve ever worked on. I’ll try to get a pdf of it up soon.

The awards are coordinated by the Press Club of Cleveland, and they’re inclusive of magazines and newspapers across the state.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

En vacances

One of the reasons for my prolonged absence from this blog is that I recently spent a week and a half on vacation in France. That's a pretty good excuse for not blogging, don't you think? In the picture at left, I'm sitting in one of those uber-touristy boats that cruises the Seine. The picture was taken on the Fourth of July, a day when we decided that being on the water was a mightily appropriate way to celebrate.

We spent several days exploring Brittany, where I made sure to snap up some of the region's famous fleur de sel caramels and caramel sundae topping. We also explored the D-Day beaches in Normandy, which was a profoundly moving and sobering experience.

One of my favorite parts of our vacation was the three days we spent in Paris. The best thing I did in preparation for the trip (besides brushing up on my French) was picking up a copy of Clotilde Dusoulier's Edible Adventures in Paris. Clotilde is most famous for her food blog Chocolate and Zucchini, which I read quite regularly. The book is divided into two sections: The first focuses on restaurants and the latter section focuses on specialty food and cookware shops. This is where I turned most of my attention. If you're visiting Paris, I highly, highly recommend you pick up this book.

Thanks to Clotilde's fantastic recommendations, I found many, many affordable and portable food gifts to bring back to the U.S., as well as a few great finds for my own kitchen. (The only non-food item I purchased was a little navy-and-white dress from Petit Bateau. It's for our little bebe girl, who is scheduled to arrive in November.) I'll share some of my favorite purchases and Parisian epicurean destinations very soon!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Season’s greatest hits

I thought I’d share two of my most favorite go-to summer recipes. Below is a recipe for roasted corn guacamole that came from a friend in South Bend, where I'm moving in just a few weeks! I’ve been making this guacamole for almost 10 years now and it’s always a huge hit at parties. It’s colorful, festive, and even good for you! (Sadly, I can't find the photo I took to use with this recipe. It looks like edible confetti when you're done.)

Roasted-corn guacamole
1 c. frozen/canned corn kernels
3 T. corn oil
2 large avocados, cut to ½ in. dice
1 large tomato, cut to ½ in. dice
¼ c. chopped cilantro
2 T. minced red onion
1 t. minced jalapeno
1 t. minced garlic
2 T. fresh lime juice
1 t. cider vinegar
1 ½ t. kosher salt
¼ t. cumin

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss the corn with 1 T. of the oil. Roast, tossing often, for 7-8 minutes, until golden. Let cool, then transfer to medium bowl.
2. Fold in avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion, jalapeno and garlic. Stir in the lime juice, vinegar, coarse salt, cumin and two more T. of corn oil. Cover and refrigerate for up to six hours.
3. Serve with tortilla chips—of course. (I like to use blue corn chips to add even more color.)

Now, onto dessert. If you’re looking for a way to use up all those amazing local strawberries, this strawberry-almond cream tart from Cooking Light is delicious and relatively easy. I’m pretty fast in the kitchen and it takes me about 45 minutes to put it together, not including cleanup. It’s great as a make-ahead dish because it needs to chill for four hours before serving. (Though we’ve also chilled it on the go in a cooler in the trunk of a car, which also works in a pinch.)