Tag Archives: Vegetarian

heart-healthy red salad for your valentine

It’s not often that you’ll see me extolling a dish for its hearth healthy qualities. It’s not that I don’t care about good health, it’s more that I prefer to focus on eating a diet that is balanced, with the philosophy that “all things in moderation” will render it unnecessary to have to specifically seek out recipes that are low cholesterol or low fat or whatever. But at the beginning of this year, Marvin let it be known that he’d like us to eat less meat and more vegetables and grains. He specifically requested whole grain salads, which I already make from time to time and which are great for quick lunches when you have the hectic schedule of a freelance photographer.

I happily obliged by adapting a recipe from Once Upon a Tart (a great cookbook for soups and side salads) with wheatberries, beets and pomegranate. The recipe instructs you to fold in the beets and pomegranate at the end so they don’t stain the salad, but I wanted the dramatic, deep reddish-magenta hue to soak into the wheatberries… so much prettier and seasonally appropriate. The salad is quite good as it is, but even better with a little crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese on top. (This I would add at the last minute though, since I draw the line at pink cheese.) Although there’s no reason not to make this any time of the year, it would make a dramatic Valentine side dish- I plan to serve it alongside a venison tenderloin tomorrow. And you can serve it feeling comforted in the knowledge that you’re not potentially bringing about your loved one’s early demise with rich foods. If you do have a decadent main dish or dessert planned, no worries- it’s all about balance.

Wheatberry Salad with Beets, Pomegranate & Cherries (loosely adapted from Once Upon a Tart)
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Prep time: 15 minutes/ Cook time: 30 minutes (inactive)/ Serves 8 as a side dish

2 cups wheatberries, rinsed
1 lb beets, peeled with a vegetable peeler and quartered
¼ cup dried cherries, chopped (cranberries may be substituted)
1 shallot, minced
seeds and juice of 1 pomegranate
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
2 Tbs olive oil plus additional for roasting beets
½ tsp salt plus additional for cooking
2 tsp minced fresh thyme
a few turns of black pepper
optional: 2 ounces crumbled feta or goat cheese

Preheat oven to 425°. Toss the beets with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a foil-covered baking sheet. Roast until they are easily pierced with a fork, about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the wheatberries in a medium pot with a lid. Cover with plenty of cold, salted water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until done (about 20 minutes)- they should yield to the tooth but remain pleasantly chewy. Drain, return to the pot, add the cherries or cranberries and cover (this helps plump the fruit).

While the beets and wheatberries are cooking, combine the shallot, pomegranate juice, vinegar, and salt. You can do this in the bowl you plan to serve the salad in.

When the beets have cooled enough to handle, cut them into ½-inch dice. Place all ingredients except olive oil in a serving dish and stir well to combine, adding the olive oil after the wheatberries have had a chance to soak up some of the vinegar and pomegranate juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, vinegar or pepper as needed. If desired, serve with crumbled feta or goat cheese on top.

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first dinner married

Ok, so technically our first dinner married (not counting the actual reception) was some carryout from Thang Long. But our first home-cooked meal- cooked as a joint effort, no less- was a simple but satisfying meal of grilled rib-eye steak, a green salad, some sliced heirloom tomatoes (left over from the wedding), and roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and lemon. (Oh, and a bottle of Zinfandel, also left over from the wedding, if you can believe it.)

It’s an understatement to say I’ve never been drawn to cauliflower. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate it, but it’s certainly not a favorite, especially when steamed or raw (allow me to insert an immature “blech“). So it was pretty uncharacteristic of me to pick up a head of it while we were shopping for dinner. But leave it to New York Times food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark to make something as unsexy as cauliflower sound appealing. I’ve been making my way through her book In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite as bedtime reading, and came across a section where she talks about roasting vegetables- when in doubt, crank the oven to 425°, give the vegetable(s) a sheen of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt, and in 40 minutes or so, you’ll have roasty caramelized goodness. I’m no novice when it comes to roasted vegetables, but sometimes it takes someone else’s enthusiasm to reignite interest in a tried-and-true method.

Coincidentally, that morning I had come across an article in this month’s issue of Saveur by Lesley Porcelli entitled “The Soft Approach”, about cooking vegetables past what common kitchen wisdom would deem done. As someone who has never appreciated, say, the overly vegetal, grassy taste of a near-raw green bean, I recognized a kindred spirit. Porcelli talks about cooking vegetables as her Italian grandmother did, to the point where their sweetness develops; a stage many would call overcooked. This is exactly what I planned to do with my cauliflower: heat-blast it into submission.

I preheated my oven and cut my cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Into a large bowl it went, tossed with olive oil and salt, and then dumped on a baking sheet. If I’d been at home, I might have sprinkled on some additional seasonings at this point as Clark does in her recipe, like smoked paprika or even curry powder, depending on what I was serving it with. I put the cauliflower in the oven for 10 minutes before adding whole peeled cloves of garlic and chunks of red onion (also tossed in oil and salt). In retrospect I probably could have added the garlic from the beginning, but I wasn’t sure what the timing would be and didn’t want to risk it burning. When the onion and cauliflower were done, the garlic was soft and cooked through but not browned at all. Still, smashed and smeared on a piece of rare rib-eye and dragged through the tomato juices on our plates, neither of us was complaining.

To finish the dish, I sprinkled on some fresh chopped parsley and squeezed a bit of lemon juice over everything to brighten the flavors. Next time I might follow my friend Evan‘s lead and add capers and a dash of good-quality vinegar (a combination which I raved about in this post). For someone whose attitude toward cauliflower has been ambivalent at best, I was more than pleased at my results and would definitely repeat the experiment. In fact, if I’d had enough left over, I would have played around with a roasted cauliflower & garlic soup. Note to self: next time put an additional tray of veg in the oven to be used for this purpose!

All photos this post courtesy of the hubs. Check out his sweet new website.

Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Parsley & Lemon
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You can change this recipe up in a dozen different ways- substitute a sweet onion for the red, or leave it out altogether; ditto for the garlic (although… roasted garlic!). Add spices as you see fit, or finish the dish with the simple parsley/lemon combination I used. In her version, Melissa Clark uses whole spices cumin, coriander and mustard seed for an Indian-influenced dish, adding sliced almonds in the final 5 minutes of cooking. I was away from home and didn’t have my spices, so I settled on this simpler version.

1 head cauliflower
1 large red or sweet onion (optional)
cloves from one head garlic, peeled (see note)
about 3 Tablespoons olive oil (less if not using onion)
salt
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
juice of half a lemon, or to taste

Note: If garlic cloves are on the small side, add them with the onions after the initial 10 minutes of cooking so they do not burn.

Preheat oven to 425°. Rinse cauliflower and trim away any brown spots. Cut into small bite-sized florets, about 3/4″ to 1″. Place cauliflower in a large bowl with the garlic cloves and toss with just enough olive oil to coat. Toss with sea salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon, and pepper or other spices if desired.

Spread cauliflower and garlic on a baking sheet large enough to hold it all without crowding; ideally, there should be a little space between all the pieces so they roast and don’t steam. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the onion into 1″ pieces; toss with olive oil and salt. When the 10 minutes is up, give the cauliflower a stir and add the onion. Cook for another 10 minutes and stir again. Continue cooking for a final 10-15 minutes or until cauliflower has plenty of browned spots (see photo). Transfer to a bowl and finish with the lemon juice and parsley to taste. Sample and adjust any seasonings as needed.

first ice creams of the season: honey pistachio & rhubarb ripple

For someone without much of a sweet tooth, I make a fair amount of ice cream. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I think it’s the fact that there are so many possibilities (endless, really) when it comes to flavor. Unlike baking, which requires a bit more precision, ice cream making has a lot of wiggle room when it comes to proportions. Recipes vary wildly in the amount of eggs, dairy and sugar called for, and somehow all end up yielding a fairly similar end product. As long as you understand the basics of making a custard (and many versions don’t even require that!), you can vary the other elements a great deal and still get a good result. Add to that the fact that making ice cream doesn’t require turning on the oven, and usually only dirties one bowl and one pot, and you have some pretty strong motivation for turning your creative energies in that direction.

The first ice cream I made this year was inspired by sweets of the Middle East and North Africa. Honey and pistachios play a starring role, with orange flower water as supporting cast. But unlike some pastries in which the honey can be cloyingly sweet or the overuse of rosewater brings to mind your grandmother’s perfumed soap, this ice cream strikes a delicate and, if I may say so, delightful balance. Rosewater is perhaps more commonly used in the region, but I’ve never loved the scent or taste of roses so I opt for orange flower. Orange blossom honey would be a natural partner, although any flavorful honey will work. Swirl in a generous amount of toasted pistachios, and you have a dessert worthy of an Arabian prince. In fact, according to Wikipedia’s entry on ice cream,

“As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world’s major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts.”

This experiment turned out better than I could have even hoped for. Despite my non-proclivities for sweets, I found myself sneaking spoonfuls of this a bit more often than I should for someone trying to fit in a wedding dress in 3 months. Those pistachios! (I’m on a bit of a pistachio kick right now, by the way.)

The second ice cream I made, a few days after the first, was designed to use up some rhubarb I’d over-enthusiastically purchased at the farmers’ market. I made a rhubarb sorbet with St. Germaine (an elderflower liqueur) that turned out so-so, but still had a fair quantity left over. I made a basic vanilla custard, a rhubarb purée, and combined the two into an ice cream that tastes like rhubarb pie à la mode. I made the custard slightly sweeter than I normally would, to balance out the pucker-tart rhubarb, and it turned out just right. After making the ice cream, I thought of a better way to get the “ripple” effect (detailed in the recipe), but I suppose there’s always next time for that.

Meanwhile, I offer you these recipes, two of my best to date. The other half of my household, who happens to get very uncomfortable if our ice cream supply ever threatens depletion, is in full agreement.

Honey, Pistachio & Orange Flower Water Ice Cream
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2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk (doesn’t matter whether it’s skim, whole or whatever)
4 egg yolks
½ cup flavorful honey
¾ teaspoon orange flower water (available in most Middle Eastern groceries; rosewater may be substituted if that’s all you can find)
¾ cup pistachios

Heat the milk and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the honey. When the milk is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). Add the orange flower water and remaining 1 cup cream. If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator to chill.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, toast the pistachios either in a dry skillet on the stove over low heat, shaking frequently, or spread on a tray in a low (250°) oven or toaster oven until warmed through. Either way, watch them closely, as nuts burn easily. Allow enough time for the nuts to cool before adding them to the ice cream. When the ice cream is the consistency of soft serve, stir in the pistachios. Pack into a container and place in the freezer for about 2  hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

Rhubarb Ripple Ice Cream
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For the custard:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or half a vanilla bean

For the rhubarb purée:
½ pound rhubarb, washed and cut into chunks
½ cup sugar

Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan until steam begins to form on the surface. In a bowl, stir the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla. When the milk/cream is hot, stir it into the eggs about ¼ cup at a time; return entire mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the custard coats the back of a spoon (a swipe with your finger should leave a clean trail). If you like, strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any eggy bits. Put in the refrigerator until completely chilled through.

To make the rhubarb purée, combine the rhubarb and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is falling apart. You’ll need to stir at the beginning so the sugar doesn’t burn, but the rhubarb will quickly begin to render its juices. If you have an immersion/ wand blender, use that to purée the rhubarb; otherwise, you can use a regular blender, but don’t over-mix as it adds too much air to the purée. Transfer to a zip-loc bag and chill thoroughly.

When completely chilled through, freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Snip the tip off one corner of the bag containing the rhubarb. Layer the ice cream in your chosen container,  squiggling the rhubarb over it as you go. Place in the freezer for about 2 hours to set. Makes about 1 quart.

gu detroit sherry tasting party

So, I know it’s Christmas Eve and you’re all probably running around doing your last-minute preparations.  But I’ve been sitting on this post for a long while now and wanted to get it published- there’s a recipe for romesco sauce that you just might be interested in if you need a last-minute appetizer for a Christmas or New Year’s party.

There ain’t no party like a Detroit… sherry tasting!

Those of you who have been following this blog are familiar by now with the GU Detroit*, a loose collective of “food and drink professionals and serious enthusiasts”. A couple months ago the topic of sherry came up in the forums, and since no one was extremely knowledgeable, and because we all love an excuse to get together and imbibe, our friend and cohort Suzanne seized the occasion to host a sherry tasting.

*That’s “gee-you Detroit”, short for Gourmet Underground, not “goo Detroit”, in case you were wondering.

The GU Detroit gang being what it is, I shouldn’t have been surprised to walk in and see a large table groaning with the weight of what seemed like several tons of food- Spanish charcuterie, cheeses, olives, and tapas of all sorts were nestled in tightly, and I was challenged to find room for my contributions.  Although I should be used to this kind of spread at a GUD event, it was still a bit overwhelming and I had that “kid in a candy store” feeling for at least the first hour I was there.

In addition to about 10 or 12 types of sherry, there were wines (including several bottles of Les Hérétiques, a GUD favorite that Putnam and Jarred turned us on to) and homemade cider my brother brought.  The tasting was semi-organized in relation to the number of people there- someone (Evan or Putnam, I’m guessing?) had lined up the bottles in order from the pale finos to the darker, richer olorosos so that we could attempt some semblance of a proper tasting.  However, due to the somewhat chaotic nature of the event, I can’t tell you much beside the fact that I preferred the lighter sherries;  the intense raisiny flavors of the darker sherries were not as much to my liking.

I hadn’t had a chance to cook for quite some time, so the day of the party I decided to go all out and make three different tapas to bring.  Flipping through The New Spanish Table, I came across a recipe for deviled eggs with tuna (which I blogged about in a less breezy post than this) that sounded perfect. I also made a batch of romesco sauce from the same book, a paste (although that word makes it sound less appealing than it is) made from hazelnuts and peppers and garlic and sherry vinegar that can be eaten with crudites. Last but not least, I sauteed some button mushrooms with garlic and parsley.  I think I’m at my cooking-mojo best at times like these- when I have the day to consecrate to the task, and an event to prepare for.

I can’t wait for the next GU Detroit gathering, aka excuse for me to actually cook.  I’m not anticipating doing much cooking to speak of in the next month (not counting lots of scrambled eggs/omelettes and salads for dinner), as I focus on packing and moving house and getting the new house in order, so unless there’s an event to kick me into gear it may be a while before you hear from me, at least regarding new recipes! But I’ll be around, regaling you with other food-related news and happenings.

For now though, here’s the romesco recipe.  If you’ve never tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so- it’s a nice break from all the roasted red pepper hummus and cheese spreads and ranch flavored veggie dips so prominent around this time of year.  In addition to using it as a dip, it has other applications as well- in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rodgers cooks shrimp in it (I’ve made this too and it’s uhhh-mazing!!) and I can picture it as a great sauce for chicken too.

Romesco Sauce (adapted from The New Spanish Table)

1 medium-sized ñora pepper or ancho chile
⅔ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ Tbs toasted breadcrumbs
1 small ripe plum tomato, chopped (if unseasonal, substitute 1 good quality canned plum tomato or 3-4 Tbs canned diced tomatoes)
1 Tbs sweet (not smoked) paprika
pinch of cayenne
6 Tbs fragrant extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (quality red wine vinegar may be substituted)
coarse salt

Notes: I could not locate a ñora pepper or ancho chile when I made this last time, so I used something labeled “chile California” which, although inauthentic, worked fine. Also, almonds may be substituted for the hazelnuts, or a combination used. The sauce will have a slightly different character but will still be delicious.  If you want to gild the lily, fry the nuts in olive oil instead of dry-toasting them.

Soak the dried pepper in very hot water until softened, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the stem and seeds and tear into small pieces, either before or after the soaking, whichever is easiest. Reserve the soaking liquid.

Place the nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times until roughly chopped.  Add the garlic, pepper, paprika, tomato, breadcrumbs, cayenne and ⅓ cup of the pepper water and pulse until fairly smooth but retaining some texture.  With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil, processing until completely incorporated.

Scrape the contents into a clean bowl, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt to taste.  Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature for the flavors to meld, then taste and season with more salt or vinegar as necessary.

Serve with crudités such as endive leaves, fennel or celery sticks, or use as a sauce for grilled shrimp, chicken or asparagus.

how to make chlodnik in 9 days

My start-to-finish process for making a recipe often goes a little something like this…

Day 1 (Friday): Think about what recipes to make over the weekend.  Decide to attempt chlodnik, a chilled Polish soup with buttermilk and beets.  Look at recipes online.  Make a shopping list.

Day 2 (Saturday): Oversleep, miss the farmers’ market.  Instead of cooking, go out to eat later with friends who are in town playing a show.

Day 3 (Sunday): Go to the grocery store in the late afternoon; pick up beets, buttermilk, cucumber, dill, scallions, radishes.  Get home from the store late and too hungry to “cook”.  Make a veggie “taco salad” with romaine, tomatoes, avocado and cut up pieces of a Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex veggie burger and call it a night.

Day 4 (Monday): Work late, get home starving, make frozen potstickers and salad for dinner.  Finish too late to really have time or motivation to be in the kitchen.  Try to make some headway on your book club book.

Day 5 (Tuesday): Plan on at least prepping some ingredients tonight, but get an invitation to go to a friend‘s for dinner, and accept. At this point, decide that maybe instead of making the soup for weekday lunches/dinners, you’ll just bring it to a potluck picnic on Saturday.

Day 6 (Wednesday): Go to the gym after work because it’s been, like, over a month. Have another salad for dinner.  Actually get around to doing some prep work- peel and cut up the beets and cook them; set aside in the fridge.

Day 7 (Thursday): Fully intend to do the remaining prep after work, but instead get caught up cleaning kitchen for three hours because of discovery of an invasion of tiny bugs that have entered your home via a bag of cat food.

Day 8 (the following Friday- yes, a full week after the plan has been put in motion): Get down to business.  Cut up cucumbers, radish, scallions, dill; combine with beets and buttermilk, a little sugar & salt, and some sauerkraut for good measure.  Taste.  Beam with pleasure that it tastes as good as how you remember it when you used to work at that deli that makes it.  Refrigerate overnight to blend the flavors.

Day 9 (Saturday): Serve chlodnik with marble rye on the side to friends in an idyllic setting.  Bask in the compliments (hey, it’s no small feat to impress these hardcore gourmands, let alone expose them to something they’ve never tried before!).  Decide that this is going to be your go-to chilled summer soup for the next little while.

NB: I am not making any claims of “authenticity” for this version of chlodnik, other than to say it closely resembles the one I used to eat at Russell St. Deli when I worked there.  In looking at recipes online, it seems there is a great deal of variation.  One of the things I ran across a few times was that this recipe is supposed to be made with baby beets, about the size of radishes, and that you’re supposed to use the whole plant, stems, greens and all.  I couldn’t find any baby beets (see above re: sleeping in & missing the farmers’ market!) but I’d like to try it that way in the future just for comparison’s sake. Other variations include the addition of grated raw turnip, chopped pickles, and quartered hard-boiled eggs.  My only departure from the Russell St. version was the sauerkraut, but I didn’t add so much as to overwhelm the other flavors.

Chlodnik (Chilled Buttermilk-Beet Soup)
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6 cups buttermilk (if you’re in MI, the Calder brand is good)
1 lb beets + 1 cup beet cooking liquid (see recipe)
1 cup seeded & diced cucumber (½ a large English cucumber will yield this)
1 cup very thinly sliced radishes (3-5 radishes depending on size)
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
½ cup sauerkraut + ¼ cup sauerkraut juice
optional: ½ cup sour cream
optional: hard-boiled egg quarters for garnish

Notes:
Many of the recipes I found called for some sour cream, which made for a thicker soup than what I had remembered.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a good quality thick buttermilk, you may not need it.  If you’re using sauerkraut, use a salt-fermented sauerkraut (the Bubbies brand is awesome) rather than one in vinegar.

This recipe makes a fairly large amount of soup (about 10 cups). If you want to make a smaller batch, just use 1 quart buttermilk (4 cups), and reduce the quantities of the remaining ingredients by about 1/3.  As with many soups, precision is not of the essence.

Directions:
Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler and cut into matchsticks. Raw beets don’t stain much, so you don’t really need to worry about wearing gloves for this.  Place the beets in a small saucepan and add water just to cover.  Cover and cook at a very low simmer until tender (do not allow to boil or they will lose their bright color).  Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

If using the sour cream, place it in a large bowl.  Whisk in buttermilk a little at a time until the mixture is liquid and no lumps remain.  Add all remaining ingredients and stir well.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.  Refrigerate until well-chilled.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a little sprig of dill and a couple hard-boiled egg quarters, if desired.  Pumpernickel or rye bread is good on the side.

mushroom tart for a bordeaux wine tasting

Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal.  You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends?  Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!).  There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc.  Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question.  I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.

And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods.  I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection.  Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine.  I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.

I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t).  I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth.  I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable.  A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch.  The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.

As for those wines?  Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes!  A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!)  All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential.  (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.

Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity;  I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines.  This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar.  I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.

Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
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1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)

1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese

Directions:
Put some water on to boil.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.

Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding).  As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice.  About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry.  Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.

Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms.  While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly.  (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well.  Remove from heat.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream.  Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.)  Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell.  Grate a light layer of cheese over the top.  Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Tart Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
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Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes.  Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining.  Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds).  Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.

To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden.  Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil.  (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)

youn’s crêpes with ham, egg and cheese (crêpes complètes)

When my friend Youn from Toulouse called me on the eve of an out of town trip asking if he and a friend could come stay for a few days, I said yes even though it was inconvenient, because in my mind I want to be That Kind Of Person- the kind who has an open door policy for weary travelers, who can handle surprise visitors with aplomb, and (most importantly), someone who always has food and drink on hand to whip up an impromptu meal or refreshment for said visitors.

Mind you, this is what I strive for- the reality is somewhat different!  Unlike Marvin, who grew up in a household where people were constantly dropping by, we rarely if ever had unannounced visitors.  So although I wholeheartedly embrace the concept, I have to make a concerted effort to be prepared for this eventuality; it’s not something that comes naturally to me with my more Germanic upbringing.

As it happened, I had purposely NOT gone shopping that week in an effort to use things up before my trip, and the way things worked out, I had no opportunity to go to the store before picking up my guests. Luckily, Marvin came to the rescue in more ways than one- spending some time with them while I was at work, and taking them to the grocery store so that they could make dinner (Youn’s idea). We invited a couple more friends and Youn made traditional Breton buckwheat crêpes (although he has lived in Toulouse for over 20 years, Youn originally hails from Brittany).  My apologies for the somewhat haphazard photos, we were enjoying ourselves and I didn’t feel like stopping to bust out a tripod!  The two decent-looking pics are from breakfast the next day, when the light was much better.

Those of you who read this blog regularly may recall that, coincidentally, I just posted about buckwheat crêpes (galettes) a few weeks ago.  Curiously, the recipe I was using called for apple cider vinegar in the batter, saying it was authentically Breton, but Youn had never heard of it.  Just goes to show that “authentic” is a word that you should take with a grain of salt in the cooking world! He doesn’t even use a recipe, just does everything by feel, but he did give me some measurements so that I could share a recipe. Another interesting thing is that all the recipes I’ve seen call for half buckwheat and half white flour, but he uses all buckwheat which is a bit healthier.  I actually preferred the texture and will be making them this way from now on.  Last but not least, he uses beer in the crêpe batter instead of the usual milk, making the recipe friendly for the lactose-intolerant.  For the vegetarians, there are infinite possibilities for veggie fillings (ratatouille comes to mind).

I like to use up leftovers for crêpe fillings, but obviously there were none, so we made the classic complète– ham, cheese and egg.  The egg is fried right on top of the crêpe.  Add a little grated cheese and some torn-up pieces of ham and you have a meal.  Amanda, who up until this point had claimed a dislike of runny yolk, was converted by the oeuf miroir, so called because the yolk is shiny like a mirror.  In addition to the buckwheat crêpes, Youn also made dessert crêpes with finely-diced apple in the batter, which we spread with confiture de cidre (cider jam) and sprinkled with powdered sugar (check out this post for a dessert crêpe recipe).  We cooked up more crêpes the next morning for breakfast… miam miam!  Next time I hope I’ll be able to spoil my guests instead of the other way around, but I was certainly grateful for the help and the opportunity to get crêpe lessons from a seasoned pro.

Crêpes Complètes à la Youn (Buckwheat Crêpes with Ham, Egg & Cheese)
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Crêpes:
1 lb buckwheat flour
3 eggs
1 cup beer (a lighter lager-style beer is best)
water- about 2 cups or as needed
1-2 Tbs neutral oil or melted butter

Filling:
additional butter for spreading on crêpes (optional)
eggs- one for each crêpe you plan to make
thinly-sliced deli ham
Gruyère or Swiss-style cheese, grated

A couple notes: The directions for cooking up the crêpes may sound a bit fussy, but once you get the feel for it, crêpe-making is one of the easiest things in the world. You’ll learn by trial and error how to adjust things like the batter thickness and pan heat to get the results you want. Best of all, crêpe batter is a relatively inexpensive thing, so it’s not the end of the world to have a few failed attempts before hitting your stride. This recipe makes plenty of batter so you have room to screw up and still have enough for dinner!  Also bear in mind that this “recipe” is very loose.  Feel free to thin the batter with more beer instead of water, or only use 2 eggs, or whatever.  Youn says that in Brittany the crêpe shops make their batter using only flour and water, so obviously it’s very flexible!

Directions:

Place the flour in a bowl.  Make a well in the center of the flour and place the eggs and oil or butter in it.  Gently whisk the eggs with a fork.  Slowly pour the beer and 1 cup water into the well a little at a time as you stir, incorporating the flour, until the batter is fully mixed and has no lumps. (Alternately, whiz everything together in the blender.) Add more water a little at a time as needed until batter is the consistency of heavy cream.  Let batter rest at least an hour.

Get your eggs, ham and cheese at the ready.  Warm your crêpe pan or griddle over medium-high heat until very hot. Smear a bit of butter onto a paper towel and rub it on the pan. Test the heat with a few drops of batter; they should set immediately. Give the batter a couple stirs in case it has started to separate.  Wipe the pan clean with the paper towel wad, and then rub it again with butter. Ladle batter onto the center of the hot pan (quantity will depend on your pan’s size) and quickly rotate the pan so it is thinly and completely covered.  If there is excess batter (i.e. batter that does not instantly set), pour it back into the bowl. Cook until golden brown on the bottom- a minute or so.  You want it to color, but not cook so much that it becomes crispy (although Youn says a little crispiness is OK).  At this point, flip it over.

As soon as you flip the crêpe, you can smear it with butter if desired, then crack an egg onto the center.  With the back of a spoon or a spatula, gently spread the egg white around the crêpe so it can cook.  When the egg white begins to turn opaque, add pieces of the torn-up ham and sprinkle with some shredded cheese.  When the cheese has melted, fold in the sides of the crêpe towards the center so it forms a square, and serve. (With this kind of crêpe, there really isn’t a way to serve everyone at once, but from my experience making them to order creates a casual, convivial atmosphere that is fun in and of itself.)