Thursday, April 26, 2007

On big salads, for dinner

One of the great standby meals at Chez French Tart is a grilled chicken salad. This is basically a big salad with whatever leftover veg we have in the “rotter” drawer coupled with some sliced grilled chicken. Usually we haul out the George Foreman grill for this, because it’s easy to clean and we don’t have to use the stove. But yesterday i decided to pan-fry the chicken instead, mostly because the boy brought home thin chicken filets from the store and i didn’t want the GFG to scorch them.

Normally, i season the chicken with salt, pepper, and whatever other dried herbs/spices that suit my mood (usually a good sprinkling of cayenne). But last night i wanted something slightly different, and wanted to go with a somewhat similar marinade which we normally make for chicken. I went digging through our overflowing fruit bowl looking for a lemon, or even a lime, but was really shocked to not find any. We always have lemons on hand! it’s just one of those staples that we never run out of, like butter. But i stood there kind of stunned and wondered what to do... then i noticed that we had about 3 dozen tangerines falling out of the fruit bowl all over the floor, so i grabbed one of those. The tangerine gave off a remarkable amount of juice; i’m used to dealing with stingy lemons and limes, so this was nice. A couple of cloves of garlic crushed with the flat side of a knife, some freshly snipped lemon thyme from the yard, and a good dose of olive oil completed the quick marinade; and i put that to the side while i made my lunch for today (grilled eggplant – again – but hey, it’s good and healthy and i’m not complaining).

A quick rinse of the grill pan, and back to the stove. I cooked the chicken on medium-high flame for about 4 minutes a side (these were really thin). Tossed with a mixed green salad with whatever other stuff we had in the fridge plus a hard-cooked egg and some garlic greens from yard, and dinner was served.

Unless i’m feeling in the mood, i won’t post anything tomorrow. I took the day off from work to have some quality “me” time. I plan on sleeping late (which means, 7 am), possibly going to the gym or even kickboxing (depending on my mood), and most definitely making cupcakes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

lord knows i love me some good kimchee

I’m really looking forward to my lunch today. It’s the same kind of lunch i’ve been eating lately, tofu stir fry of sorts with either rice vermicelli or glass noodles (i’m on a tofu stir fry kick these days). But what makes me drool in anticipation is the side of kimchee i brought along.

Okay so – i love kimchee. My introduction to kimchee was pretty late in life: I was 27 and living in Savannah and most definitely a dirt poor college student. My neighbors and i would go down to the chinese buffet somewhere near the corner of Abercorn and Victory Drive (i can’t remember exactly) because it was cheap and we could fill up and not be hungry for the rest of the day. As it turns out, the people who owned the place weren’t chinese- they were korean. And they had a cucumber kimchee on their buffet which i absolutely loved and craved and would request whole plates of.

I’m particular about my kimchee. I feel grossly sacrilegious in admitting this, but I dont like it overly fish-saucy. It’s not that i have an aversion to fish sauce. I see its necessity and understand that it brings a savoriness to a dish you can’t get with salt or soy alone. But when i’m following a recipe that calls for it, i usually halve the amount requested. I just dont want my whole dish to taste like rotted fermented fish. So when i saw bobby flay make the following recipe on one of his shows a few years back (sans fish sauce), i made it and could hardly wait one whole day to go by without diving into it. it is very addictive and spicy. And i know that we’re probably breaking some culinary law about not using fish sauce, but hey.

Maybe i’m just buying the wrong brand of fish sauce? I mean, shit, the Super H has a whole aisle of it. i am bewitched by the bottles full of little itty bitty fish with gleaming eyes, but i know deep down it’ll probably be far too fishy for me. What the hell is wrong with my taste buds? If i could just find the perfect fish sauce, i’d be a happy kimchee eatin’ fool.

Anyway, here’s bobby flay’s version of kimchee which has me all hot and bothered today. The recipe calls for the cabbage to be finely shredded, but i prefer to cut it into larger chunks, since it wilts down to next to nothing anyway (if you can keep your grubby hands off of it long enough to wilt – i sure can’t).

1 head Napa cabbage, finely shredded
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup red chili flakes, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

Place cabbage and green onions in a large bowl. In a blender, combine vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili flakes, and sugar, blending until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and gently toss. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days before serving to let the cabbage wilt and the flavors meld.

Monday, April 23, 2007

on sangria

yesterday's boat outing was fun. i brought along sangria for Mrs. B and i to drink. there really is no recipe for this. sangria is just a boozy fruit salad. it's a way to get enough fiber into your diet in order to poop well for the rest of the week.

so what goes in?

1. wine. i normally make red wine sangria, but this time opted for white. i used pino grigio, which frankly, is not my favorite, even straight from the bottle. it's painfully dull. even italians won't drink it. if i make a white wine sangria again, i'm going to have to try a different type o' white.

2. fruit. whatever you have in your "rotter" drawer. although i did go to the store and bought what looked nice. at the last minute i added some halved strawberries and kiwi. there's also a mango in here,some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, and some orange sections.

3. other booze. a good dollop of cognac or brandy (use cognac though. don't be cheap) and some grand marnier. seriously, don't measure. but i would be a bit frugal with the cognac only because the green apple i chunked into the wine soaked it all up and man were those strong! and next time i'll add more GrandMa.

4. if you want to, you can add simple syrup. you can also add some kind of nectar, like mango or peach. i have to be careful with peach anything (nectar, schnapps, etc) because one time when i was 19 my roommates and i at treehouse village in gainesville florida did shots of vodka and peach schnapps. i counted 16 and i know i did more after that. since that day, so many fucking years ago, i cannot bear the smell of peach schnapps. and apparently Mrs. B had a similar situation when she was in high school.

5. if you can, make this ahead of time and let the flavors meld. i'd add the smooshy fruit in last, though; things like strawberries and kiwi which dissolve and get mushy pretty quickly.

6. soda water. add some. don't ask me why; i don't know why. i'm sure there's some scientific reason for adding soda water to sangria, but i just do it out of habit.

7. drink copious amounts of this while boating around Lake Lanier** and people watching. Lake Lanier has this little area affectionately called "cocktail corner" or something like that (sorry - can't remember, it's cocktail-something-or-other) but i call it Ego Alley, like in Annapolis MD. lots of people with their boats and their girls with big fake boobs. i point out all the good ones to the boy, who hauled out his binoculars but then put them away after we scolded him for being so obvious.

8. make sure that you drink enough of this before jumping into the lake in mid-april. Mr. B insisted that the water was much warmer than the last time we jumped in a month ago, but i'm not so sure. i jumped in anyway. it'll definitely cure any lick of a hangover you may have. fri-gid and hard nipples.

i had a good time yesterday. thank you, Mr. and Mrs. B!

** okay this kind of freaks me out: apparently, there are houses and gas stations and whatnot at the bottom of the lake. before they flooded the valley, they cleared out some towns. so of course, i get told this while we're on the boat, and while i think this is fascinating, i also am kind of freaked out about this. didn't anyone see In Dreams? i know - terrible movie, but still.

UPDATE: okay. this spooks me like nobody's business.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

a quick friday night appetizer. goes along splendidly with martinis.

we had people coming around for drinks on friday before going out to dinner and bowling, so i figured i'd make a snack to go with our apéros. so i did what any good French Tart would do, and that was to watch The Empire Strikes Back and have a martini while cooking.

i can't take credit for this recipe; the idea came from Barbara Wilde, whose website and Paris Postcards i've been reading for years (i was happy to see that she was featured in Food & Wine magazine a couple of months ago).

1 box of frozen puff pastry (because i may be nuts, but i'm not a glutton for punishment. i buy it ready-made)
blue cheese. you can buy a pack of crumbles, or a block of it.
1/8ish lb prosciutto, sliced awfully thin (optional)
1 egg, separated

preheat oven to 400 degrees F and roll out your puff pastry. each box of puff pastry that i buy has two sheets. however much you want to use is up to you; i'd start with one sheet. you have to wait until the pastry is thawed to unfold it (shouldn't take long at room temperature), and then roll it out on a lightly floured surface.

spread some blue cheese crumbles around the pastry - again, however much you want to use is totally up to you. the boy told me i used too much of it and it smelled like feet, but i think he's wrong. after all, i am French, and the stinkier the cheese, the better! if you're using prosciutto, chop it up and spread that around now.

roll the puff pastry from the bottom up to a couple of inches from the top. it doesn't have to be perfect and it doesn't have to be exact. it might even be lumpy. beat the egg white and using a pastry brush, brush the egg white along the edge that is exposed and finish rolling the pastry. the egg white will act as a glue and hold your roll together.

at this point, if you want to, you can put the roll on a cookie sheet and chill it for a few minutes - you don't have to if you're short on time. line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. using a serrated knife, cut the roll into pieces, between half to 3/4 inch wide, and lay each piece flat on the cookie sheet. beat the egg yolk with a bit of water, and brush this onto the top exposed part of each piece. put in the oven; i would start checking this around 14 or 15 minutes, but it can go up to 20 minutes depending on your oven. let cool on cookie sheet for a minute or two before serving.

we're off to go boating on lake lanier with Mr and Mrs B, and in preparation for that i made a white wine sangria. i'll blog about that tomorrow. hope everyone is having a great weekend.

Friday, April 20, 2007

grilled eggplant

I have cooked eggplant only once before. There’s a couple of eggplant salad recipes in The Vegetarian Table: North Africa that i’ve been meaning to try, but frankly, the eggplant hasn’t made its way into our kitchen. And i honestly can’t think why not, because my mom makes an eggplant gratin from Provence which is most excellent. The last time i cooked eggplant was 9 years ago while i was in Paris for three months; i was having friends come around for my birthday dinner, and my mom and i spent the whole day making Provençal food, her eggplant gratin included.

So why have i never cooked with eggplant since? It’s not so ugly, or unappealing, is it? is it because of the Fear of the Great Bitter? These questions were passing through my pea brain while i was standing in the eggplant aisle at the Super H last weekend (i do blog about the Super H a lot, but that’s where Mrs. B and i do most of our produce shopping these days). Yes, the Super H has a whole aisle devoted to eggplant from all around the world. The big hefties we see in our regular American grocery stores, as well as all kinds of indian and asian varieties; from the teeny tiny rounded ones to the long and lean. So without really thinking too much further about it, i grabbed two chinese eggplants, which are long and thin, with a bright almost fluorescent purple color near the tips.

So what the heck was I going to with it? the first thing that popped into my mind was a grilled vegetable sandwich.

on Sunday, while making lunch food for the week, i attacked my purple prey. I cut the top off, sliced it thinly, then cut each slice in half width-wise. Then i made a quick vinaigrette with balsamic and red wine vinegars, olive oil, lots of chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. This went into a tupperware container, where i laid the eggplant slices, then put the lid on and forgot about for a few minutes.

Since i’ve never really cooked with eggplant before, i wasnt sure how long to marinate the slices. I figured eggplant might be like mushrooms; mushrooms soak up all liquid around them like a sponge, so i thought, Maybe the eggplant will too, no? I shook the tupperware around for a bit, making sure that all of the slices would get equal vinaigrette love. And then i hauled out the grill pan, let that warm up with some olive oil, and proceeded to grill the slices.

These took about 5 minutes per side, but i’d definitely hang out near by and not walk away because grill pans vary. I also have a two-burner grill pan which gets rocket hot in seconds; if i’d used that, i’d probably not turn the heat all the way up under it and wouldn’t grill the slices for that long.

I let the cooked slices cool on a plate and drizzled more of the vinaigrette over them.

These turned out to be really good. I could have just eaten a whole plate of them as is, as a garlicky eggplant salad. What i ended up doing with them was making a couple of sandwiches. I had some leftover whole wheat from the Great Harvest Bread Company which needed to be used up, so Sandwich #1 was eggplant and avocado. I meant to put some roasted red peppers in that sandwich too, and had a jar of them in my pantry; but the morning i was assembling this before work, i couldn’t get the damn jar to open. It turned out really well anyway. Sandwich #2 was pesto, eggplant, and lettuce. I have a whole container of what’s labeled as “Taiwan Basil” (from, you guessed it, the Super H), so i put about 2 cups of these leaves in the food processor with some grated parmesan, a couple of cloves of garlic, some olive oil, and some of the jarred roasted red peppers which i couldn't open earlier. This turned into pesto (kind of, since i don’t have any pine nuts), although it was more pungent and spikier in flavor due to the different type of basil. I spread two slices of bread with this, then layered on the eggplant and some lettuce leaves. Actually, i assembled all this at work because i was afraid that it would be all soggy if i made it ahead of time.

I later had to apologize to a couple of people who came by my cube for a quick chat because i’m sure i was breathing garlic all over them.

I shall be making this again.

(top eggplant photo courtesy of stock.xchng)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

on being a girly girl - or not?

It’s been a hard work week for the French Tart. So many silly things happening, things like my Vice President calling me at home late one day about a work issue (at the Big Ass Corporation where i work, it’s not a great thing if someone low on the totem pole gets a call from their VP). So in light of all that, i needed something particularly strong and but very girly to drink.

Now, i’m not a girly girl, not remotely, not at all. Okay – i do know the entire script for Steel Magnolias by heart – I may not have been born and raised in the South, but I do have Southern roots (my dad’s family is from here), and i have lived here on and off for 19 years. I love that movie. But i also love and know by heart: Die Hard, Fatal Attraction (don’t ask why), A Fish Called Wanda, the Fifth Element, Top Gun, the aforementioned Star Wars trilogy, and Jaws. I friggin love Jaws. I’m secretly in love with Quint. Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies....

Okay so back to last night, and my having a girly moment. I needed a martini, but i decided not to go my usual super-dry-super-dirty route, but instead opted for a lychee fruit martini. I’m sure this would be so much better, so much like heaven if i could find fresh lychees, but according to lychees online, these aren’t in season until the end of next month; so i used a can of lychees in syrup that I recently purchased at the Super H.

In shaker:

Crushed ice
A big whoppin’ jigger or two of Grey Goose (i dont measure. I just pour in)
A tablespoon or two of the lychee syrup
A couple of splashes of pomegranate juice (i used a pomegranate mixer that someone brought to our Christmas party)

Shake. Strain into glass. Add a couple of the lychee fruit to the glass and voila, i had a most marvelous pink concoction.

For the record, I’m normally not a huge fan of pink. Mothra insisted on buying me only pink clothes when i was in high school, because she said the all black look i had going on flustered her and made me look like Marie la Desolée**. It’s only been a recent thing that i have succumbed to the pink, and I even made a pink t-shirt which says “French Tart” across the front (i found it to be very Me). But the pink in this beverage was delicate and nice, and man i slurped it down as if i’d been dehydrated all day. My problem with martinis is that i can only drink one and then i have to move on to another beverage (usually wine), because if i have too many in one sitting then Evil French Tart comes out. The boy is not a big fan of her, and frankly, neither am i.

**Maria Soledad Torres Acosta, 19th century spanish catholic saint.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

on our new deep freeze (thanks, Mr and Mrs B!)

“How many dead bodies do you think we can fit in here?”

That’s the question the boy asked me while we were staring down into the depths of our new deep freeze in the garage.

And then we kept standing there, deeply pondering this. Personally, i think there is plenty of room for 3, as long as they’re all folded up in the fetal position.


One of the appliances we’ve always wanted was an extra stand-alone freezer. As long as i’ve known the boy (7 years now), he’s always talked about wanting one because his Granddad had one (Granddad was a caterer), but it never seemed to be something we ever got around to buying. We’d look at them, but couldn’t justify spending the money, and forget about it until the boy would mention something about how great it would be to buy an entire cow via the innernets.

This past weekend, Mr. B’s mom decided to buy herself a new fridge and give Mr. and Mrs. B her old fridge... and being the nice friendly neighbors that they are, they gave us their stand-alone freezer as long as we helped out with the switcharoos. They would keep their old fridge and put it in the garage where the freezer was. So of course we totally jumped at this.

Sears had been so kind enough to deliver the old fridge, and they put it in Mr. B’s garage. So Saturday morning, the boy, j, and I walked over and helped haul that thing up their front steps and into the kitchen. It was done fairly quickly, but not without a whole lot of shouting “Motherfucker!!” (on my part), “This fucking thing is heavy as shit” (one of the boys), and “OW! MY FUCKING FINGER!” (me, again). Then with the handy help of the hand-truck, we hauled the deep freeze down to our house, looking like we’d just robbed a house down the block.

And then later, the boys went over and helped Mr. B haul the old fridge down the front steps and into the garage. I wasnt there to help, but apparently someone got their cojones knocked into. Much booze was imbibed after that to help heal that ailment.

So i’m happy to report that so far, our new freezer holds pizza dough, two bottles of vodka, my ice cream maker insert, and 2 ½ pounds of whole wheat flour. no dead bodies or whole entire cow yet, but i’m sure that’s soon to come.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

On deep fried tofu, part whatever

So i’ve become more handy with my new wok, have developed a sense of comfortableness, of ease, and have developed great dexterity and swiftness in my wok-ness (i’m totally laughing while writing this. Me? Swift with the wok? I think not! i still drop utensils, but i manage not to burn myself - that wok does get rocket hot).

Since my evenings this week will be a bit weird hours-wise (homeowners association meeting today; late work meeting on Thursday; and i have Grand Ideas about getting to the gym too), i spent some time on Sunday making ahead some lunch stuff. Mrs. B and I have doing weekly runs to the Super H in Duluth, so i come home with bags full of cheap produce, rice vermicelli, and kirin ichiban; and I really wanted some stir fried tofu again.

What i did differently this time: i dredged the tofu pieces in whole wheat flour**. texture-wise, it’s somewhere between potato flour and regular ol’ all-purpose flour. i did not have much luck with potato flour the last time i made this, and i happen to have a lot of whole wheat flour lying around, so decided What The Hey i’ll try it. the tofublobs fried up pretty nicely, although the coating wasn't as crispy as i’d like. After a few minutes of frying, i hauled the tofublobs out and poured out the excess oil from the wok (making sure to wipe along the side where some of the oil might have dripped down – i wasn't in the mood for a grease fire in the kitchen seeing as i was on a roll making lunch for the week). Next up, i added some store-bought sauce into the wok. This is one of those spicy sauces that the Super H makes a whole batch of on site then puts in plastic containers for sale. I could (and will) probably make my own batch of it in the future. If memory serves me correctly, i think it was labeled “korean sauce” (which is so very insightful, ain’t it?), and consists of chopped green onions, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds. I think there was one other ingredient (not fish sauce, i’d remember that), but it was a minor player. Anyway, i added a good dollop of this to the wok and let it heat up for a few seconds before throwing in a handful of snow peas and then a handful of torn up bok choy before turning the heat off. I let this cool down before adding to a tupperware container along with some cooked and cooled rice noodles and the fried tofu, which i happily ate at my desk yesterday. After i heated it up in the microwave in our breakroom and walked back across the floor to my cubicle, someone walking by said out loud to no one in particular, “Something smells good!”, which made me happy, then made me hide behind my cubicle walls – it’s mine, all mine!!. Now i just need to go home and perfect my own version of “korean sauce”. And next time i make this, i will probably add some kimchi at the end. Because life without kimchi is not worth living at all.

** i recently picked up a copy of Super Natural Cooking, which i’d been hearing a lot about on other people’s food blogs (if you’ve got a spare 14 bucks please go buy yourself a copy off of amazon). As soon as the boy saw the cover, he groaned and said, “This book will be the bane of my existence”. but i had to comfort him and tell him that it’s not all that crunchy hippie, and it’s really got great ideas (and i’m not turning veg anytime soon, are you out of your mind?? I like bacon and cow intestines far too much). And since last summer when i had that not-so-great checkup which led to tests and biopsies and whatnot, i’ve been trying to change a few things about what i eat (hence, organic milk, no more high fructose corn syrup, etc), things that i can control. Things like incorporating unbleached organic whole wheat flour into things. i’m not totally replacing all the white flour i use, because lets face it – 100% whole wheat pizza dough sucks ass. But i did manage to make a pretty fantastic pizza dough this weekend by replacing one-third of the bread flour with organic whole wheat flour. i thought at first that it wouldn't work out, but it did and was really great. I’ll post some other time about pizza dough – we have homemade pizza about once every week or two weeks. And i really do have great dexterity and swiftness with a pizza peel – that i’m not kidding about.

Monday, April 16, 2007

i failed at jam

So, um. I’m a Star Wars geek. not crazy geeky in the way that i go to Star Wars conferences dressed up like boba fett, but i know all first three movies by heart. Well, actually, episodes 4, 5, and 6, if we want to be technically correct here. One of my top 5 favorite movies of all times is The Empire Strikes Back. But i digress. What the heck does Yoda have to do with cooking, you ask?

As yoda once said, “Do – or do not. There is no Try”.

This applies to all walks of life, not just trying to haul your spaceship out of Yoda’s front yard swamp and giving up because you think he's asked you to do the impossible.

So here i am, sometimes Doing, sometimes Not Doing. Don't tell yoda this, but sometimes i just Try; and when this happens, sometimes i just fail miserably. Like the strawberry jam i attempted to make last weekend.

I’ve made jam before, but that was years ago; and now that i live in The South where we have a pretty good abundance of fresh fruit early on in the Spring, i decided to try my hand again (see, there i go again with the trying).

I sort of half-assed modified a strawberry jam recipe from Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures book. The recipe was meant for a smaller variety of strawberry which isn't indigenous to the US. The recipe called for 2 ¾ lbs of strawberries and (if i remember correctly) 3 cups of sugar (it might have been a bit more – i made this last weekend and man i would really love to remember numbers) and the juice from one lemon (for pectin). The process takes 3 days, and i know it seems like a long time but honestly, if you think about it, it makes total sense.

Day one: macerate whole berries with sugar and lemon juice (after cutting tops off of berries). Let sit in fridge overnight.
Day two: strain liquid from berries, bring liquid to a simmer on stove, add berries, put back in container and let sit in fridge overnight.
Day three: strain liquid from berries, bring to a boil on stove until it reaches 212 degrees F (can’t remember exact temperature), add berries, bring back to temp, check for set, then put into preserving jars and seal immediately.

So what did i do wrong? What to do differently next time?

1. Well, i checked the set several times, and it seemed ready; but turns out it wasn’t. because i adapted the recipe for a smaller berry to accommodate the Large American We are Bigger and Better Berry, perhaps i ought to have added more lemon juice.
2. I ought to have cut the larger fruit into pieces.
3. I’m not quite sure what else to do differently, so i’ll have to borrow one of Mrs. B’s preserving books and read more on the subject.

But i’m not going to throw out the contents of these jars. They may not have set into a jam properly, but they preserved beautifully. I’m going to pour it over ice cream. or throw into the blender and add to a cake batter, or a smoothie, or my yogurt. Or strain the liquid out and let reduce on the stove until i get a really thick syrup and add that to milk. STRAWBERRY MILK! Oh wow i just had a childhood memory get resurrected. Of course i was a big fan of chocolate milk (and still am), but i remember adding either grenadine or that Strawberry Quik stuff to my milk as a child. I havent had that in years. Mmm.

So hey, Yoda? I tried. I failed. But i’m reincarnating the spirit of the jam into things that could be much better. The Force, and its wisdom, is all around us, and for me it’s in the form of three glass jars full of strawberry goodness.

Friday, April 13, 2007

on stinky breath

phew! so apparently my last post was a mood doozy. and to ensure that everyone lightens up, i bring you this oral health gem of the week (much thanks to the boy for finding and sending me the link).

Top 5 Foods To Prevent Bad Breath

when i was a kid, i was mortified of having bad breath. i probably didn't have bad breath, but i thought i did. and it contributed to the painful shyness that i suffered from and got over one night after 4 shots of jagermeister. because after one shot of jager? yeah, you're friends with everyone, including the Porcelain God in the ladies room of the Covered Dish.

so i'm glad to see that yogurt is one of the 5 foods listed to help prevent bad breath, because if you read my last post, you would know that i eat yogurt all the damn time.

the funny thing is that i probably do have bad breath, but i have great friends who never point it out. although now that i've written that, i'm beginning to wonder why the boy sent me the link to the article in the first place. trying to tell me something, Oh Love Of My Life? ;)

much love,
French Tart

on yogurt, dealing with my mother, and mental well-being

After we got back from our honeymoon, i discovered a large shopping bag in our bedroom that my mother had “left behind”. Inside the bag: a really horrible gaudy pink flowery bedazzled makeup bag, a white leather Louis Vuitton purse, an opera CD, and a copy of French Women Don’t Get Fat.

This shopping bag was, of course, strategically left behind in her attempt to give me some culture and make me appear rich; but most importantly to her, make me believe that i’m overweight.

Mothra has been on a diet her entire life. I really can’t remember any time at all even dating far back to my childhood when she wasn't dieting. Back in the 80s, she was hooked on things like Dexatrim to get her through the day (and boy, was our house ever clean!). Then there was Nutrisystem. Then there was the binging and purging. The thing is, my mom isn’t eating anything that’s terribly bad for her; she’s just of this mentality that if you aren’t a size 4 or 6 then something is really wrong with you and you need to stop eating right now. The few times she goes to a gym, she spends the entire day there in hopes that taking every aerobics class offered that day will make up for the following month of no exercise.

I’m not of that philosophy. I like to take things in moderation. I make bread, i eat bread, and then i don’t have bread for a while. I eat creme brulee one day, and then i don't for a good long while. I balance it all out with a healthy dose of daily fruit, yogurt, water and wine (and, well, other food too). So yes, i’m not a size 4 or 6, and this distresses her so very much. I’m not kidding when i say that every single one of our phone conversations since i moved out from under the parental thumb in 1988 always revolve around food and how much (or little) i’m eating. She automatically assumes that since she has no control over me anymore, that because i haven’t seen her in a year and a half, then therefore i must be enormous. In fact, the day of my wedding as we were all dressed up and waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to the annapolis city dock, she was dabbing at her eye makeup and muttering about how ridiculously fat i looked in my gaudy wedding dress. Actually, the exact words she used to describe my dress were “You look like a Spanish whore”, but that’s another story.

It is a miracle that i haven’t thrown myself off a bridge, you know.

It took me a long, long time to realize that it's not me, that she’s just plain nuts. She does need help, but she will never reach out for help because she doesn’t think anything is wrong with her, so there’s no point of even going there.

It took me a long, long time to develop a very thick skin and not take everything she says personally. Every notion, every idea that pops into her brain immediately comes shooting out of her mouth. I don't even think she realizes half of the things that she says because she’s not listening to herself. So when we get on the phone, and the conversation eventually comes around to my weight (or in her brain, how much she thinks i weigh and look like, which is usually way off the mark), i have developed a system of shutting myself off and responding with a bunch of uh-huhs and you-don’t-says until she’s done with her spiel. She feels satisfied and i feel satisfied, and this works for me. It took me 37 years to get to this point and my mental health has never been better.

So what’s the point of this entry? I know it seems sad and morose, but it’s not meant to be. People who know me know that Mothra drives me crazy, but they also know that i’m a huge sillyhead and i take what she says with a grain of salt. So she gives me this copy of French Women Don’t Get Fat (which by the way, really is a good book), but she’s never even read it herself and never will. In fact, it’s partially due to this book that i now make my own yogurt. I eat a yogurt and sometimes some fruit every morning for breakfast . Mothra told me that this was much too much food intake for the morning, that i should be limiting myself to either nothing at all or half a grapefruit, and just plain lettuce for lunch (umm..... yeah).

So i make my own yogurt. It’s not sweet, and it’s not riddled with high fructose corn syrup. It’s made with 2% milk, some nonfat powered milk, sometimes a squirt of vanilla extract, sometimes a squirt of honey. I never make the same batch twice. Sometimes i’ll mix in a teaspoon of sugar while i’m eating it, and sometimes i’ll mix it up with fruit salad. It’s a lot better than not having any breakfast, which is what i used to do; and it helps my digestion (i sometimes have a sensitive stomach). And i feel really good knowing that i started off my day on a good note. Mothra thinks that this is crazytalk. Make your own yogurt? No, i must be doing something wrong with it! I must be making it with 100% heavy cream! because after all, she just knows i’m fat, she can feel it in her bones. Uh-huh, you-don’t-say.

The point of this entry? Well, there are several points. I may not be the ideal supermodel-skinny daughter to my mother, but i am a size 8; Mothra is nuts; yogurt is good, but yoplait sucks.

Hey! That rhymes!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

on cookbooks, or What I'm Going To Do Sometime This Weekend

you know, i have no excuse. we just moved in to this house in November. and i'm sure this feeling comes over a lot of people just moving into a new place: you are SO DAMN SURE that this time will be different, that your house will be clean at all times, that there will never be dust, that you will keep on top of things; because the house is so clean and pristine when you moved in to begin with, so how hard can it be to keep up with your filth? right? so that's all fine and dandy, and for the most part in the past 5 months i've been on top of housework. the house is not supertidy all the time, not like when i worked from home for 5 years and i'd dust and vacuum during my lunch break; but it's also not dirty. but for the life of me, i have no idea how my bookcase of cookbooks and other food-related books got this way.

when i was unpacking the cookbooks, i sorted them by type of cooking (baking, barbecue, etc) and grouped by author. not in alphabetical order, but i had my own cracked-out version of dewey decimal system going on (and i'm probably way off on how that's organized, so i'll have to ask caprice one day all about that seeing as she's a librarian). all the oversized, heavy books were on the bottom shelf.

and now? not so much.

this thing is a mess. and i've started stacking food platters on the bottom shelf, sandwiched in between books and binders full of recipes. not good, especially as one of those platters was a wedding gift and costs $$$. and i can already hear Mothra's plaintive voice in the back of my brain nagging me about how i can't manage to keep nice things around without ruining them.

in my defense, i notice that i have kept all the nigella lawson books together, although that's probably because i've not been using them lately.

what this picture doesn't show are the stacks of cookbooks on all the other horizontal surfaces of the house. the stack of bobby flay, back issues of Food & Wine, and Cooks Illustrated in the downstairs bathroom (like most men, the boy reads in the bathroom. some men read porn, mine reads food-related stuff and Maxim, although i guess the latter is somewhat nekkedy and could be considered porn but hey I READ IT TOO).

so, Number One on my List of Crap To Accomplish This Weekend is to organize this damn thing. and Number Two is to venture out into the yard to see what the last freeze and torrential rains did to my freshly planted kitchen garden. i guess there are worse things to do on a weekend, like taxes (which i fortunately did a couple of weeks ago).

what are your plans?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

easter afterglow

the boy and i share very few holidays together, what with him working in restaurants. I dont think i’ve ever seen him on Easter, if only for an hour or two. So when his sous chef asked if i wanted to work on Easter and Mother’s Day, do prep and carving station duties, i jumped at it.

the boy and i have worked together before doing catering jobs in Annapolis; and i can do what is asked of me (i am handy with a knife), so this isnt as daunting of a task as it sounds. I have a couple of chef whites and slip-on no-skid nursing shoes (really, really handy for gardening as well). And I can’t believe i’m actually going to write this – but i do like working in restaurants. Now, i used to work front-of-the-house mostly, but when i was asked to do other stuff like prep and expediting, i enjoyed that a lot more than dealing face to face with customers. I loathed waiting tables and bartending (and i did it for far, far too long; i’ve paid my dues), but the back of the house is a different world altogether. I knew when i started at a new place that i had to make friends with the guys back there: hang out with them on smoke breaks, get them pitchers of soda, bring them boozy drinks i’d snag from the bar, give them all the front of the house gossip, be their beck-and-call-girl, and basically be a spy. This pays off bigtime in more ways than one.

So back to How I Spent My Easter, which was helping feed over 750 starving Just Came From Church And Need A Stiff Drink people. I have a callus on my right hand, which hurts like a bitch. It’s right where the base of my index finger meets the top of my palm. It throbs. After 4 hours of carving roast beast, i felt like my hand was going to fall off. So i’m pretty whiney about it right now, but i’m nevertheless happy about it. this is a good thing in chefdom. A callused hand is a good hand.

I worked one of the Carving Stations with the boy (there were many set up all around the restaurant); he handled leg of lamb. Many, many legs of lamb. So we got to work together and bullshit and people watch and whisper obscenities in spanish at the Omlette Station cooks, and gesture wildly at each other when no one was looking.

However, this next thing really pissed me off. About 3 or 4 times, some kid (different kids each time) came through the line and stared at the leg of lamb. They stuck their plates out and asked, “What’s that?”. And before either the boy or I could reply, the kid’s parent snatched the kid’s plate back and said, “Oh Tommy,” (or Lacey or Jimmy or whatever), “You won’t like that. That’s lamb. You won’t like that at all. Here, let’s get you a sausage link”. So the kid, thinking he didn’t like lamb, made a face and walked away.

This is a huge disservice to children. Those kind of parents are making big mistakes. These kids are going to grow up thinking, firmly believing that they dont like lamb (and whatever other food their parents refuse to feed them). they'll travel abroad and only eat at McDonald's (you laugh, but i know people like this). And they’ll either never attempt to try lamb again ever, or one day when they’re like 35 or something finally taste it on a dare at a dinner party and wonder, Why the hell did i think i didn’t like lamb all these years?

The boy and i were fuming and cutting our eyes at each other when this type of scenario played out.

But we were happy when one kid, who came up without a parent, stuck his plate out and asked “What is that? Is it meat?”. He was told what it was, shrugged his shoulders and stuck his plate out a bit closer. We gave him some lamb, and not 15 minutes later, the kid was back for more. I am really proud of that kid. He is really going to appreciate life. I only hope that when the boy and i have kids that they’ll be that adventurous with food. I am certainly not going to tell our kids that they won’t like something until they’ve tried it, even if it is tongue or tripe (hello, andouillette!).

Friday, April 6, 2007

17-minute chocolate mousse

as much as i love painstakingly putting together elaborate desserts, such as patty's birthday croquembouche, Mr. B's birthday cake, or even the boy's birthday cake, sometimes the simplest pleasures in life come from one small thing done very well. while sitting there watching the situation room and feeling a wee bit bored with current events and wolf blitzer in general, i decided i wanted some chocolate mousse.

it will probably take you less time to put it together than i took, because i did stop to take pictures along the way and munch on a piece of Lindt bittersweet chocolate. i use bittersweet and semisweet chocolate interchangeably, and OKAY I KNOW THERE IS A DIFFERENCE, but really, is it that important? i am not Jacques Torres so it doesn't matter to me. i find the difference too subtle to notice, and my feeding audience (that night, the boy and Mrs. B) probably didn't really care what chocolate i used as long as it tasted good. and i am out of semisweet at the moment. so there.

i seriously have one whole side cupboard full of chocolate. when chocolate is the main ingredient in a recipe, i try to use a good brand; although if you only have hershey's or nestle, that will do just fine. i'm not a big chocolate snob in the way that some people only use Valhrona or Guittard. i don't make enough money to buy those brands; but if you do, go right ahead and buy it and oh by the way, can i borrow some?

anyway, this is a good standby recipe for nights when you've been tasked to bring dessert to a dinner party and just plain forgot about it until the last minute. the mousse can set in the fridge while you're eating dinner and the wine is flowing à go go.

1 stick (what is that, 1/2 cup?) butter (does not have to be room temperature, as you'll be melting it anyway)
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (buy the best quality you can afford)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup heavy cream
about 2 tablespoons of sugar

Chop up your chocolate and melt it together with the butter in whichever way is your preferred method. you could use a double-boiler method, or do what i do which is to put both ingredients in a Pyrex bowl and place the bowl in the microwave for one minute. then stir with a spatula, which will help melt the last bits of chocolate pieces; set that aside.

separate the egg whites and yolks; put yolks in a small bowl, set aside. put whites in a large bowl and using an electric hand-held mixer or your kitchen bitch (for this i used my hand-held), beat them until just about soft peaks form. add the sugar, and beat on high until you have good standing peaks. add the egg yolks to the chocolate mixture (it should be cool enough to add the yolks without them scrambling) and whisk together. add a little bit of the egg white mixture at a time to the chocolate, carefully folding that in with a spatula.

go rinse off your beaters now, because you'll need them for the heavy cream. add the heavy cream and vanilla to another bowl and beat on high until whipped. add this mixture to chocolate and fold in carefully. then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to eat it. and go share the task of licking the mixing spatula with your significant other or run and hide in the bathroom and keep it for yourself (cooks treat, as Nigella Lawson calls it).

i don't know how long this will keep in the fridge because i've never had any sit around for too long; some big elf usually devours the leftovers while i'm sleeping.

i'm also not concerned with eating raw eggs. there are other things on this planet which will kill me far faster. however, it's probably not wise to feed this to pregnant women. you can buy spay-shul fancy pasteurized eggs if you'd like. i will probably go that route when i am pregnant.

by the way, that scale shown in the first picture? best scale ever. it's not fancy looking, but it does metric and US measurements. and i can't even tell you how many time's i've dropped it, had it break apart on me, had me go into hysterics, and still been able to put back together and work fine. i don't think they make that type anymore. i originally wanted a glass-topped one, but that would have shattered by now with my butterfingers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

on making my own bread starter

An idea i’ve had for some time is finally coming to fruition. I’m going to make my own bread starter. Dude, how daunting is this? I’m feeling a bit mortified.

The boy has been telling me for years now that i ought to make my own starter; and this was all fine and dandy and i usually dismissed the idea because it IS daunting and scary and looming. Kind of like that pie crust thing i finally got over not too long ago. Kind of like that one time when i was scared to go to the bathroom in the Club Charles in Baltimore because the boy’s sister, who worked there for yearsss, told me there was a resident ghost (or two) lurking about back there.

So what sparked me into attempting this now? I was talking bread with one of my coworkers last week. He left the company last Friday, which annoys me only because in all the time i’ve worked here, i never spoke to him about food until he was just about to leave; and then we had these long ass fantastic conversations about recipes and food, and now? He’s gone off to a better job. The fucker.

I can’t remember where i saw it (someplace online), some website describing how to make your own starter with grapes, and how you know when it’s ready because the stench is unimaginable. So i told the boy about that last night, about the stench part, and he just kind of looked at me and informed me that i was to keep this starter in the garage.

And that’s when i broke out The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and read the chapter on starters (no grapes involved, but some stench required).

When i think of starters, i can’t help but remember Anthony Bourdain describing the feeding of the Bitch in Kitchen Confidential. Heh. I hope mine doesn’t evolve into this. I can’t help but associate Bourdain’s “Bitch” with the Sarlacc in Return of the Jedi, the monster desert thing in whose belly one “finds a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years”. Yeah. Great. Just what i need, a great looming digestive mouth system lurking in the back of my fridge. a snaggle toothed thing screaming, “FEED MEE SEYMOUR!”.

What am i getting myself in to?

I need to do further reading on the subject before i tackle it.

on sake

while out and about on saturday, we swung by dreamland before hitting trader joe's and the Super H. dreamland for some pig (i had the rib sandwich and some great banana pudding), trader joe's for dried goods and 2 Buck Chuck, and Super H for one of my favorite culinary field trips.

unfortunately, the only times i've managed to get to the Super H is on a saturday or sunday, and let me tell you, the place is almost unnavigable. i'm going to make it there one of these days when i have a day off during the week and it will probably be unrecognizable. because the problem with the Super H is that it's very popular, and there is no parking and no navigating down the aisles without a lot of trouble (we had this same problem with the sister store in Maryland too). that's what we get for shopping at the biggest asian supermarket in atlanta.

but we still go because for one, it's cheap. their produce kicks ass; i would say a good third or even half of the store is soley produce, and it's from all over the place. they have all the hot peppers, all the types of pluot, herbs, mangoes, etc, all for dirt cheap. we picked up a flat of clementines for 5 bucks. but one of the main reasons we go to the super H is because they sell entire beef tenderloins for 20 to 25 bucks. so we go, and the boy does a little cleaning up of the silver skin and some butchering, and we eat like kings for a while. they have great looking meat, and a decent fish selection as well.

so i was really glad that we also went on saturday, because that meant their alcoholic beverage aisle was open (one of the perks of moving to the south is that they sell beer and wine in grocery stores, although this county is dry on Sunday), so i was able to browse the booze aisle and get some chinese cooking wine and stare at the sake. i have no idea what the differences in sake are. i heard that one should serve hot sake with cold food, and cold sake with hot food. i've also heard that hot sake is usually cheap sake which has been warmed up to mask the cheap flavor. but who knows? i'm wrong a lot. i decided to get cold sake because all those bottles looked so pretty on those shelves! they look just like jewels. i wanted one of each until i saw the prices. while some of the booze was reasonable, the cold sakes weren't. the bottle i settled on was $16, but the next one up was $35. there were some plum wines on the shelves too but since i dont know the first thing about plum wine, i need to do more homework before purchasing any. the last time i had plum wine was at a sushi place in gainesville florida about 13 years ago, accompanied by a raw beef salad which was OUTSTANDING.. but that place probably doesnt exist anymore for all i know. at any rate, my japanese booze knowledge is very flimsy, but this didnt prevent me from staring at all the lovely bottles for fifteen minutes.

i didn't buy any of this, but in retrospect i ought to have. i have no idea what it is. the picture is rather fuzzy because i took it up close with my cameraphone, but it is labeled "Crazy Milk - This Is Alcoholic Beverage". crazy milk? how exciting! i'll have to get some the next time i go to the Super H. a quick google search tells me that Crazy Milk is a type of sake. who knew? (certainly not me).