Thursday, August 27, 2009

French Food for All

Good evening dear readers. This isn't really a food post though I assure you I have some good things coming up shortly! I've been very disassembled these last couple weeks as I've had birthdays to tend to, gourmet dinners to host, a fairly emotional move out of my charming apartment, and some other news I hope to share with you soon! I've felt terrible about not getting on here to give you something tasty to feast on. So I just wanted to say hi. And to tell you to stay with me and hold on tight because I've got goodies. They are coming. I promise.

I'm sure you've guessed by the photo that I've just seen Julie and Julia. Of course I totally loved it. What wouldn't be to love? Paris, Julia Child, Meryl Streep, a blogger, book deals, and LOTS of cooking and food joy. Movies are funny things, they often hold such promise but the thing is is that until you go and actually seem them they can't be yours. I've looked forward to seeing this film for months now and had ideas of how it would be but nothing beats going and actually letting it take you away. This movie definitely took me away and I love that I was able to share it with my favorite ladies in town, the Around the Table gals. Our group is blossoming into something beautiful and I'm constantly amazed by how special it truly is. We spent eight hours around my dining room table this last Saturday night blissfully talking and eating our way into the morning hours. More on that to come. I guarantee it will get you wanting some Italian food... But so yeah, all us girls are turning into a bit of a sisterhood and I can tell that beautiful friendships are beginning to form. Food and friends. Isn't that just about all you need?

Before I go I just want to add that the blog may start feeling just a bit more personal. I originally started the blog because of my love of food and wanted a way to journal it and share. I wanted to keep it semi-professional in the case that potential employers could use it as a way to see my culinary perspective and style, etc. I still want it to be those things, I just want to start feeling a little bit more free with it. So that means more stories, thoughts, and basically just more of plain ol' me! How do we feel about this? I welcome lots of feedback, just so you know!

During the film this evening, I noticed many things similar about Julia and I. And I liked it. I'm pretty good... but not great. And I'm starting to get pretty okay with that! So while I think on that note and really should probably go and try to unpack a couple more boxes, I think I'm going to curl up on the sofa and catch up on the new season of Project Runway. It's been days since I've had some lazy me time.

I just wanted to say hello before another day passed. Goodnight friends...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sweet as Pie

I come to you this evening bundled up in my favorite down comforter and sniffling up a storm. I'm right in the middle of a cold. It's been so long since I've had a real case of one of these that I'd really forgotten how irritating they are! You become very aware of the anatomical parts that hover over your shoulders. They are all affected. Nose, ears, throat, even hair. My hair looks like that of a sick person today! Stringy and gutterish. Gutterish. I do realize this isn't an actual word but it just seems perfect! So, while I deal with ailment after ailment over here, it's been a week people, I'd like to give you a reason to stop and dwell on pie. Pie is a very good way to start the weekend indeed.

This whole week while I've been sick I've had the darnedest time making decisions. Case in point, all of these photos. I just couldn't make up my mind. Thinking just hurts too much. So here is a lil' smorgasbord of pie pictures for your viewing and taste bud pleasure.

Some people spend their childhoods growing up with things like meatloaf or weekly helpings of liver as my husband. His Dad believed it was very good for his growing, thriving young family so they like clockwork had it every Sunday night. To this day, if Ethan gets even a whiff of a smell remotely reminding him of liver he gets pretty weirded out.

Lucky for me, I grew up with pie. My mom happens to be known for her pies. I remember many a Friday night when my mother would make and roll out her olive oil pie crust between wax paper. The raw dough which I must have only tried once or twice, tasted like a salty, dull, floury wad. And definitely oily. But when she filled it with apples and sometimes peaches or rhubarb, and topped it with an egg wash and lots of sugar, people always had lots of good things to say about it. My dad could swoon for days about her pies. I always liked how proud he was to be married to the Pie Lady.

I think I'd like to try my hand and being a Pie Lady. Being a pie lady isn't as sweet as it sounds. It takes a lot of hard work and love. It takes years of practice and determination. Well maybe not years, but it sounded good right? It definitely takes practice and that's what I need. My pa came to town last weekend and we met up for a little dinner at my sisters. She made chicken tacos with her own seasoning concoction and served them with jack cheese and a lovely cabbage slaw. I brought the pie. For some reason, I got a bee in my bonnet to make strawberry rhubarb pie. It sounded like such a sweet idea in the beginning.

I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that that pie dough gave me a good run for my money. As a budding chef, there's little that bothers me more than battling with pastry. Namely rolling it out when it's too warm or has too much liquid in it and has crossed over into what we will call goo. It was hotter than hell last Sunday and my chilled pastry quickly warmed up and for several minutes there I didn't know if I was going to be able to pull it all together. But like any true pie lady, even an amateur, I didn't give up. I got that pie crust in line and luckily it turned out. Beautiful even. So beautiful that I will keep on trying my hand at pies. I will struggle with pastry no more! Plus, I picked up two new friends, well kind of new: egg wash and sanding sugar. They make everything look pretty!

I read lots and lots of recipes for the crust. Ashley over at Not Without Salt is a Pie Lady. And she has lots of good looking pie and tart dough recipes. But being the stubborn girl I am, I wanted to try and replicate a Martha Stewart pastry brisee recipe I used a couple of years ago. You can use any recipe you like, if fact, I'd love to hear about your favorite pie dough recipes. They seem like handy things to know about!

So just whip your favorite and least stress-inducing pastry recipe and make sure there is enough for a top and bottom of a very deep pie. Head to the store and buy lots of strawberries and rhubarb. Throw in a vanilla bean if you want to make your pie feel like a diva. Slice the strawberries any old way you like, and thinly slice the rhubarb. I left mine in too big of chunks and let's just say some were a little too al dente. You want a little more rhubarb than strawberry in your ratio. You will need about six cups of fruit or more to make a really deep, tall pie. Add around 1/2 - 2/3 Cup each of white and brown sugar. You also need to add about a couple pinches of salt, a sprinkle of cinnamon, several good shakes of cornstarch, about a quarter cup. You can also add a little vanilla extract or vanilla beans like I did. Blind bake your bottom crust and then fill with the fruit filling mixture. Cut up lots of little pieces of butter and scatter them over the fruit.

Now you have to pick between a lattice or regular top. Do your thing, add cut outs if you want, I chose hearts. Whisk and egg white with a little water and brush all over the top of the crust. Then sprinkle with lots and lots of sanding sugar and bake at 375' for about forty-five minutes or until golden and the juices are all bubbly. You really want to bake your pie several hours before you will be serving it because it takes almost that long to set up. We enjoyed ours with some organic vanilla ice cream.

You can expect more pies from me as I work to become a Pie Lady. It's really a title any decent woman should aspire to possess. Right? Have a good weekend everyone and I'll try to work on getting better over here. I've got a gem of a salad coming up for you. Till then, shall we have pie?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Baby, let's BBQ...

Exactly twenty-four hours ago I was still enjoying an amazing evening and meal. Around the Table met up for the July dinner by honoring the essential summertime classic, the BBQ. Of course we kicked it up a notch and a thought a bit outside the box to come together and enjoy one delightful dining affair. I have to say that it was up there with one of the best we've had. This is good news! Many of you recall where we started and what we had to go through to get here! I don't know if these posts about our dinners are something you like reading about or not as I usually don't get many comments on them, but I share them in hopes that you will find the menus appealing or perhaps get inspired to start a fabulous group like this in your area. Joining this group is honestly one of the neatest things I've ever done and I don't think I'll be without one ever again. The whole thing is just way too good!

So sit back and make room for a lot of beautiful, mouth-watering photos and recipes. You might have to loosen your belt a bit... The talented and ever domestically-inclined Mallory hosted the soiree and will be blogging about it herself soon and very soon. I invite you to pop over to her site to see her take on things.

As usual she did an absolutely bang-up job making the atmosphere gorgeous and special. She actually drug her kitchen table out to the back deck. When it comes to entertaining Mallory does all that she possibly can and I really love that about her. All of her efforts are very worth it because what it brings to the dinners are touches that make it unforgettable. I think atmosphere and aesthetics are almost as important as the dishes we create. Wasn't it gorgeous?

I had the task of providing the beverage for the night. I knew weeks ago when we started brainstorming our dishes that I wanted to make sangria. I personally love the stuff because of it's easy drinkability and endless flavor possibilities. You could make a lovely, refreshing white sangria enriched with peaches, pears, lemons, and nectarines. Or a rosé version filled with plums, strawberries, and grapes. Or you could stay classic and make a red wine concoction like mine. I wanted to be playful with it by adding lots of fruit and just making it gorgeous. Mallory's precious antique white cart housed the drink beautifully! My sangria didn't realize how good it was going to have it! I'd live in there if I could.

I used a very traditional recipe that involved eight cups of Burgundy wine, don't be afraid to reach for low-grades like Carlo Rossi, by the time you add all the fruit and liqueurs any fine nuances of expensive wine will be ruined. To the wine I added two cups of orange juice, one-third cup each of lemon and lime juices, one-third cup as well of Triple Sec and brandy, one-half cup sugar, and one cup of filtered water. After letting that sit overnight to meld the flavors and get very nice and cold, I added one apple thinly sliced on a mandolin, an orange, lemon, lime, peach, and both bing and maraschino cherries. This will yield four quarts which will be about the perfect amount for six.

Dipping the glasses in key lime juice and then super-fine sugar made for pretty and very delicious framework for the sangria. It was perfectly sweet and tart and paved the way for the cold, fruity wine to spill over your taste buds like a wave hitting the shore. Seriously. : ) There were many moments in the evening where I looked at my glass and couldn't get over how gorgeous this cocktail really is. Red, green, pink, orange, yellow. Ooh la la.

Okay, just one more for the cheap seats in the back...

Ahhh, Ina Garten. And Mallory. Two women to treasure. And when you put them together what you get on a warm, summer evening is caramelized onion dip. So simple and easy but unbeatable in taste. We seriously couldn't stop ourselves from gorging like it was going out of style. Unable to find sweet potatoes for her oven chips, Mallory used yams and purple potatoes. Chives garnished the dainty bites.

To make enough for six, you simply caramelize five Walla Walla sweet onions for about an hour or so over low heat. Midway through season them with a good sprinkling of salt, pepper, and cayenne. Let the onions cool and mix into one-half cup each of sour cream and softened cream cheese. Season to taste and serve with home-made potato chips or your favorite store-brought brand. Trust me, your guests and taste buds will thank you for making this.

One of our members is moving away to Portland unfortunately and she actually shared her last dinner with us yesterday evening and said her goodbyes with some mighty fine grilled halibut, more about that to come. So, we've added a new member, Annika, a close friend of Laurel who is also in the group and will be the star of the dish following this one. There is always some pressure on a newbie to 'measure up' and impress the first time they attend and it's always fun for us veterans to see what kind of flair and personality they will bring to the group. You can usually tell a lot about people with their first dish. I'll just leave it at that. Annika delighted our senses with a light and zingy first course. We deemed this dish: Cucumber, Orange, and Radish Salad with a Sweet Soy Vinaigrette. She didn't work from a recipe and created this beauty all on her own. It was just heavenly in my opinion.

To make this crunchy and refreshing salad, thinly slice radishes and red onion. Peel, de-seed, and dice cucumber. Supreme and orange and dice the segments in like-sized pieces. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and minced parsley. Seems easy enough, right? Here's where it gets tricky. This is one of those vinaigrette's where there is practically a dozen 'this and that's' and you are just going to have to tinker and make it delicious. It will be worth it. Here we go, for the vinaigrette... Canola oil, sesame oil, rice wine, a couple drops of Balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, Worchestire, soy sauce, and a generous amount of brown sugar. Annika did a great job with this dish and made a fabulous and very promising first impression. I could eat this every other day at least! Just take in those gorgeous colors! It tastes as good as it looks, friends...

Laurel furnished us with another lovely salad. This bacon-studded one was loaded with rich avocado scoops and watercress.

I thought this Tyler Florence-inspired salad was so pretty set on top of this lovely blue and white dish Laurel picked up on a trip to Mexico. Doesn't it just look like an utterly perfect summer salad? She layered lots of fresh, peppery watercress and big spoonfuls of ripe avocado and dressed it in the most classic vinaigrette there is: Olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. To garnish she added a few big chunks of lemon for additional usage and topped the whole thing off with crumbled, crisp bacon...

If you added some roasted grape tomatoes you could turn this into a BLAT salad! So good, Laurel! But wait, she didn't stop there...

To accompany her salad Laurel made some delicious corn bread cakes which at dinner time she decided would best be served with the fish that was grilling away on the BBQ. It was a good plan. This is a recipe that you can find over at Cook's Illustrated, if you really want to make it just write a comment and I'll try to track down all the details and whereabouts for you! She added lots of fresh dill which is why she thought it would go nicely with the fish and served them with two amazing spreads. One was a whipped honey butter spiked with lots of cayenne pepper. The other was of the cooling variety and was made by mixing sour cream with chives, shallots, salt, and pepper. We discovered that they were most tasty by alternating bites of the sweet and then savory. Even with all of the food and courses, most of us had seconds! So, so good!

We're nearing the end our our evening but the best parts of dinner are still to come, the entree and dessert. We've had some really intense heat waves here in the Northwest for the last couple weeks, so when Laura was planning her entree choice she quickly switched from ribs to halibut. And boy, were we glad she did! Grilled halibut with onions and dill and then topped with an herb compound butter that melted ever-so-perfect and puddly that you practically wanted to dive into the dish head first!? There's just something so wonderful about grilled fish on a lazy summer evening. It was divine and such a classy way to say farewell to the group! We're going to miss you, Laura! May Portland bring you many blessings and most importantly, delicious meals!! Thank you!

Oh how I love this picture...

And last but not least, but unfortunately always the last to be eaten and photographed... dessert! No matter how we try to plan and roll things along, dessert always gets eaten at about ten o'clock at night. Too late for any good natural light! I couldn't leave it out though and ran inside to steal a couple little peaks of it for you.

Alexis is a wonderful woman and also a vegetarian who has really stretched her boundaries and been trying lots of new things at our dinners. It's quite endearing and fun to observe! She's a sweetheart and has really been pushing herself to try new things and really get creative in the kitchen. It's delightful to see. For dessert she chose to roast peach halves and topped them with homemade mascarpone cheese! She made her own mascarpone! How many of you have ever done that? I have always wanted to but never had the guts to try it! She did it and it was lovely. She also topped the dish with some candied walnuts by using the recipe on here I recently posted that was part of the granola. It was simple, elegant, beautiful, and balanced. We all loved it!

Well there you go, folks. I hope that one or several of these dishes make their way onto your tables this summer! They really were delicious and so inspired! Everyone did a really lovely job!

Stay tuned for August's dinner where we will be serving up some Italian fare and will have Ashley back as she's been in Idaho for a few weeks! I'll give you a little sneak peak, well sneak mental image I suppose, I'm hosting and I'm making a giant ravioli pillow for the second course... Can't wait! Happy Summer, everyone!