Wednesday, January 30, 2008

tales of the Knife Guy

the boy was working one recent Wednesday when the Knife Guy came in. i'm not sure of this man's exact title, but he's the dude who goes around to all the area restaurants and sharpens their knives for them (he goes to the boy's restaurant on Wednesdays). i've never met Knife Guy, but just before Christmas when i dropped my small Global knife and the tip broke right off and i thought i was going to drown in a lake of self-pity, the boy brought it to Knife Guy who retooled the blade and made it brand spankin' new again. he wouldn't take any money for it, so the boy gave him one of my apples.

so back to a recent Wednesday, and Knife Guy showed up and practically jumped up and down when he saw the boy (okay - i don't know if he really jumped up and down, but the boy called me to tell me how ecstatic Knife Guy was to see him, so i imagine that he jumped up and down, or would have if he could). apparently, Knife Guy brought home my apple and his wife ate it and wouldn't share much with him. I think he got all of one measly bite; but the bite he had was so good, he said, that he wanted to know if i'd make him another and he'd pay me for it.

since Knife Guy has not only recently saved my Global knife, but previously he fixed one of our Shun's which, inexplicably, sported a big efffin' gouge right smack in the middle of the blade, and the boy has another Shun whose blade is just warped and fractured-looking that he wants fixed, Knife Guy is getting not one but two apples for free. yesterday, we decided to go to the Fresh Market near the house, a place i do not frequent very often because the prices are astronomical. but when one wants some specialty food, or a hard to find cut of meat, one goes there. we originally went there to buy some hanger steak so that i could make the hanger steak soft tacos (recently posted in Serious Eats), but they didn't have any (blasphemy!), so we settled on a nice flank steak instead. while at Fresh Market, i picked up a couple of ginormous Fuji apples, so big that they put the Christmas apples to shame. shopping at Fresh Market is odd in a way; it's like shopping at Neiman Marcus. everything is so overpriced, but shiny and pretty and you want one of everything. we managed to make it out of there only spending 33 bucks, which is a record, i believe.

so we came home, and i started coating the apples; and then i realized that i'd run out of toffee bits, so i did the next best thing and coated the remaining apple with gummi bears (also bought at Fresh Market).

i don't normally eat gummi bears, or candy for that matter. but while at Fresh Market, they had all these bins of gleaming bright jewel-like candy, and the gummi bears were inexplicably calling my name. when i was a kid, my buddy Sophie Attali and I would go to a candy store near my school on Avenue des Ternes and stock up on gummi coca-cola bottles, which had a sour inside and sugar coated outside. the ones they make here in the States don't compare. i never went for the gummi bears or worms or any of the others; and in fact i can't remember the last time i drank a soda, but i have fond memories of those damn coke bottles. anyway - the boy and i saw the gummi bears at Fresh Market and i pounced. and you know what? they're damn good. so one whole apple got a coating of them. the boy said he didn't think it was a very grown up looking apple, considering the recipient is a grown up. but i firmly believe one should never squash their inner child, hence why i am ridiculously silly at times.

Friday, January 25, 2008

life beyond the foam

so they announced the contestants for the new Top Chef: Chicago, and two of them are from Atlanta... and one of them is Richard Blais! i'm still kind of bummed out that we didn't get over to Element before it closed. the boy was willing to give it a shot, even though the first time we went to One (when Blais was there), the food was really not so great (and our waitress! dear lord. she sucked. but that's another story).

i am very excited to see what blais will come up with (i do hope he's progressed BEYOND the FOAM!). can't help but root for the local.

the other atlantan is some chick i've never heard of.

tonight i'm introducing the boy to bangladeshi food; we're meeting patty and zack over at Panahar. i do love that place, and i hope the boy shares my enthusiasm for it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

i'm in a ridiculously bad mood.

the boy and i are going out to dinner tonight. this is something we don't do very often, and apparently he may be taking me someplace swanky (so i better wash my stinkin' hair). i hope i cheer up so that i don't ruin it for him.

i'll be sure to report back on what i ate, though.

i'm going to go watch A Fish Called Wanda. that always makes me feel better.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

birthday monkeycake

i made this cake this weekend for Mr. B's birthday.

contrary to what you'd like to think, it wasn't a banana cake. just a good ol' yellow cake (recipe courtesy of Cook's Illustrated Baking) with vanilla and mocha buttercreams. i also ended up dyeing my entire right hand with red food dye for that mere 5 inches of mouth. heh.

off i go to play sonic the hedgehog. one of these days, i need to get the boy to teach me how to play bioshock or halo 3 or something.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

silly friday post

totally not food related.

so my friend patty is getting married later this year, and she's been all being busy planning the event. she's having her friend greg play the shofar as part of the ceremony.

(yeah, not being jewish, i had to look up what a shofar was).

our conversation via gchat or whatever that google chat thing is called:

Patty: did i tell you what z and i got in the mail yesterday? i might have.
me: no. what did you get?
Patty: so awesome
me: a baby polar bear?
Patty: let me find a photo. shofar

me: did you stand around playing all night? march around the house?
Patty: little known fact: the inside of an ibix horn smells kind of bad
me: i'll take your word for it
Patty: hey wtf, you can buy non-smelly versions. no fair.
me: hahah. does it say that? "non smelly"? i wonder if using febreeze on it would work (ed. note: febreeze is a necessary household item at the French Tart's abode. Mrs P likes to sleep on furniture).
Patty: shofar
"Easy Blow, non smelly."
me: OH MAN! it does!!!
Patty: whoops. we got one with extra stink. oh well
me: that's like the best thing i've read all day

so then patty called me on my cell so that i could hear her huffing and puffing away at that thing trying very hard to interlace the two notes it makes, and i sat here at my desk in the hallway at New Big Corporate and laughed my ass off while people walked by glancing over their shoulders at me.

Patty: last night my mom called when we were drinking wine and i played it into the phone at her. she found something else to do really quickly after that.

So, having said that this is not food-related is not really true. because the antelope had to be kosherly-killed, and probably eaten, or else it would be a waste otherwise.

go forth and enjoy your friday.

above image "borrowed" from

Thursday, January 17, 2008

we interrupt this program to bring you breaking news....

it's snowing!


UPDATE 1/17:

wanted to show pictures in case nobody believes that it actually snowed last night (as i type this, it's all gone. melted away, with nary a speck of white in sight).

that orange streak behind the gas grill is Mrs P, who was busily racing around in circles. she loves snow, and got used to it when we lived in Maryland.

this picture shows how much accumulation we got in Northern Suburbia. again, all gone this morning. phooey.

it was pretty while it lasted.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

on falafel

I don't normally eat lunch out during the work week, for several reasons, which include cost, quality, and lack of decent resources nearby. at my current job, i'm one of the only people who brings lunch in - most everyone either orders a pizza or something from Jason's Deli, or goes to the food court in the nearby mall.

on weekends, i sometimes make up a big vat of something which will last me a whole week's worth of lunches. i don't mind eating the same thing two or even three days in a row, especially if it's good. because when i crave something, i have to have it, lots of it, in major quantity; and i will eat it until i get totally sick of it.

a couple of weekends ago, while needing a break from the studying, i made a boatload of falafel. i'd been craving falafel like mad. the recipe i've used for years is this one by Joan Nathan. it makes a good falafel each time.

so i reached for my food processor, but the space on the shelf was empty. for a moment, i thought we'd been robbed! but then i remembered that i'd loaned the food processor to the boy's restaurant before Christmas as theirs pooped out. it was supposed to be a temporary loan until they got a new one. i groaned... i had all the ingredients for falafel in my hands and i couldn't make it.

but then i found a workaround. our stick blender (boat motor) came with a small capacity choppy food processor type thing, so i took that down off the shelf and ended up blitzing the chick peas in batches, then the herbs, and tossed that all into a large bowl; then i took my pastry blender and mixed the rest in all by hand. it worked, and i had just the same results as i would have had with the larger food processor.

I didn't have any tahini, or the mango sauce (which i love and have doused tons of on my shwarma at Pita Palace); so i used what i had in the fridge. namely, a container of Sabra brand hummus (okay, i know that hummus is easy to make, but Sabra makes a good one and they sell it at my local Publix), some pickles, some cucumber, lettuce, and some homemade harissa i'd whipped up the night before (using the stick blender attachment thingy - whatever it's called). i made myself a couple of pita-fulls of it, ate some the next day, ate some more at work, and froze the rest. this falafel freezes really, really well; so if i do get sick of it after Day 2, i separate them out into zip top baggies and freeze them. the next time i want some, i take a baggie out and put it in the fridge; by the next day it will have defrosted.

i remember the first time i ate falafel was with my friend Dawn in high school. Dawn had just come back from a trip to Israel and falafel was all she could talk about (other than the bomb explosion which woke her up one morning down the street from her hotel). A falafel vendor had set up a cart in one of the malls* near our school, and Dawn urged me to try some. My first falafel had pickles and all the sauces and trimmings, and i wasn't sure that i liked it. but it had an intriguing flavor, and i was willing to try again. the more times i ate it, the more i liked it. i'll always associate the flavor of pickles with falafel - i just remember that first time, thinking, "This is the weirdest thing i've ever eaten". i'm glad i kept going back for more.

I've heard that the falafel at Pita Palace is really good, and every time i go i say to myself that i'll order it; but i eventually always get shwarma instead, because it beckons me, from its rotating vertical spit, begging me to eat it. so i give in, every time. ah, the power of shwarma.

* it wasn't really a mall, not the same thing as an American mall at all. just a kind of glass-enclosed alleyway between two streets with shops on either side.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Steak Fritz night and other tales

so i cut my finger last night while peeling potatoes for frites. It was Steak Fritz night at chez French Tart; we hold those events every other month or so (you can see about previous Steak Fritz nights here and here). I was peeling some good ol' Idahos prior to mandolin'-ing them to matchsticks. i've had so much going on lately that my mind was elsewhere (more on that later), that when i picked up my favorite bright green Kuhn Rikon peeler and started peeling like mad i barely felt the peeler graze my left index finger... until i yelped when I saw all the blood. and the boy came running, and then breathed a sigh of relief, because he thought i'd cut myself on the mandoline (which would be a far, far worse cut than the one i am currently sporting; at least i'm still able to type respectably well).

i've a lot going on these days. for one, i really hate my current day job. i've not hated a job for a long, long time. even all those long years at Old Big Corporate, even all the turmoil and stress it caused and acid reflux and sleepless nights; i still liked the job reasonably well, and it didn't hurt that i had a lot of friends there. but i'm just not a good fit here at New Big Corporate. i'm unhappy with the job - and that's never a good sign. so i've been going on the occasional interview, and sending out the ol' resume and hoping that sometime soon i'll find a job in a company that i actually like and respect. let's keep fingers crossed over that, and as my sister-in-law says, Whammys for me.

and secondly, but most importantly, almost every single moment of my free time in the past few weeks has been spent studying for a certification exam. i've needed this particular certification for many years; and when Old Big Corporate ditched 1,000 of us last summer, i decided to spend some of my severance on a course for this certification exam. this is the only way i'll get ahead in my chosen career - the one that will open doors and pocketbooks, IMO. but let me tell ya - i'm having some difficulties, because this material is not easy. i literally spend all of my free time, all weekends (except yesterday's excursion with the boy to get some pho and a quick jaunt to the local Asian megagrocery) working on formulas and memorizations and flash cards. i'll be glad when I can get back to my life, and i pray that i pass the &@!*#$ exam.

so what i'm trying to say is that i've not done a lot of cooking lately. the boy has been a gem - a real saint in that department. he's been taking up my slack on all things cooking and housekeeping. But yesterday I felt the need to do something productive with my hands, hence the blood all over the kitchen sink.

Last friday (as in, a week ago because this past Friday i spent the evening in studying my tuckus off), we had Mr and Mrs B over for dinner, as a thank you for helping take care of Mrs P while we were busy cooking our way up and down Marin county over Christmas. I decided to make Dorie Greenspan's Galette des Rois for dessert, for two reasons: one, it was approaching Epiphany, and two, I haven’t had one since high school and This Girl needed That Fix.

The boy decided to make his fried chicken that I love so very much (that's the only picture i took of it and it's not a great picture - doesn't do it justice). Actually, it’s Alton Brown’s fried chicken, and has fantastic results. This is the best recipe for fried chicken I’ve seen anywhere, and if you do not deviate from the recipe one bit, you will have excellent results each and every time. I don’t think we even had any leftovers that night – we all went back for seconds. It’s funny because we were thinking of making some sumptuous elaborate elegant meal for the B’s, and then decided on fried chicken, which turned out to be the best idea ever. I remember watching an episode of The Barefoot Contessa where Ms. Garten was hosting a business dinner, and she decided to serve meatloaf instead of something really over the top elegant. People really like down-home cooking – I’m not saying that they don’t like elegant food, because hell, I do. But every once in a while, you want to push up your sleeves and eat with your hands and get pieces of crispy chicken skin on your cheek that someone has to tell you is there yet you don’t really care because the rest of the table has gone quiet, not from lack of something to talk about but because they’re so busy eating and enjoying the food. Sometimes, no conversation is necessary.

Okay, so I cheated on the Galette; I used Pepperidge Farm’s puff pastry from the freezer, but it still worked out quite well. I went rummaging through my craft and art boxes and found a skull-shaped bead to use as the fêve (hey – it’s all I had that would work). As for the crown, I used leftover Christmas wrapping paper, some black construction paper, and a glue stick. I made the crown the night before, and let it rest on the bust of Napoleon that sits in the far corner of the dining room until it was needed. As you can see, the crown is larger than Napoleon’s head, but I’m sure, being Napoleon, he would have liked that very much.

I’m definitely making the almond cream again – I can see it as a nice filling for croissants or some other pastry. I’m getting all these ideas of things I’d like to make once I get my life back.

And last night’s Steak Fritz night turned out well after all. The boy took over the potato cutting for me after he finished bandaging me up and listening to me wail. a bandage, a glass of wine, a good medium-rare steak, and all was right with the world again.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

the Christmas post

Our whirlwind trip to the Bay Area left us with no time to ourselves. Our first night there, we went into the city to pick my mom up from work, then to a really quick dinner (the restaurant we went to, Fish, closes at 8:30). And then the boy, my mom, and I sat around the kitchen table to discuss menus and grocery lists until the wee hours of the morning (with my dad watching us with a mix of interest and amusement on how we were going to "deal" with my mom). We discussed the pros and cons of everything, and I made a plan of action; and when it was all said and done, I told my mom that if she wanted to vary anything on the menu that she would have to discuss it with her project team (us) and we would agree (as a team and also because we were the stakeholders) to veto it or move forward with the change.

okay - I can already hear you - this tactic seems a little harsh, but my mom needs to be dealt with this way because otherwise we would have had two meat courses, 9 different appetizers, 14 different veggies, and 5 desserts - for 7 people. my mom doesn't plan a thing, and Dad had asked us to take over or we wouldnt eat Christmas Eve dinner until midnight.

Mom didn't like this plan of action too much; and she didn't take us seriously until the next day when we were at our third grocery store of the day and she was putting radishes in a produce bag. the boy and I zoomed in on her.

"What are those for? they're not on the grocery list".
"Do not worry about it".
"I will make a radish gratin".
"For what? for when? i've never had a radish gratin, never even heard of it. Did you just make this up?"
"Oh, you are annoying me. Tu m'énnerves. People will love it".

We let that slide and I didn't bring it up again. She bought the radishes, which sat in a bowl on the kitchen counter, unused.

radish gratin?

Then was her mad search for parmesan cheese. At our fourth grocery store, she was busy talking to herself about the merits of paying 5 bucks extra for imported parmegiano versus some locally made product. Parmesan wasn't on the list either. She waved us away impatiently.

So, on Christmas Eve, we went to 4 grocery stores (one of them twice, so make that 5). we went to the smallest Whole Foods i'd ever been in, so wee that the boy and I dubbed it "Whole Shed" . The Whole Shed parking lot had valet parking - California!** and by the time we got back to my parents house after dealing with my mom all morning, I thought the boy was going to have a coronary. when we arrived back at the house, my father was surprised that we hadnt taken long to do the shopping (for the record - it took hours. but it was hours less than my mom normally takes). Now - the boy and I like grocery shopping. I know people who can't stand it, but normally I like to take my time shopping around for the food i'm going to put in my body. HOWEVER - Christmas Eve is not the time to leisurely stroll through the Safeway, even if you wanted to, because it was so packed full of people.

So when we got home, we made ourselves a couple of drinky drinks, rolled up our sleeves, and started to work. Once we got home, once the cooking and chopping and prepping started, we got along famously. We harmoniously cooked for 5 hours straight.

So what did we have?

For appetizers, we had Maryland-style crab cakes, which (according to the boy and I) are the only crab cake worth having, along with a spicy rémoulade. we also had two different types of marinated shrimp (we had only planned on one, but Mom was insistant - and after a glass of champagne the project manager in me just let it go). we had some foie gras Mom had smuggled back from France, along with some thinly sliced and toasted Acme baguette (in my opinion, humble as it may be, Acme makes the best bread in the Bay Area). we also had some smoked salmon, but I don't think we remembered to put that out until the next day. Marinated scallops wrapped in bacon. I know we had one other hors d'oeuvre that wasn't seafood related, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was.

For the meal, we had a salad comprised of baby greens, grapefruit sections, toasted almonds, and dried cherries along with a warm grapefruit and shallot vinaigrette (i'll post this recipe later for those who want it - it's at home and i'm not). Emeril's standing rib roast; twice-baked potatoes (made with a container of Boursin! you laugh, but they were good); green beans sauéed with bacon.

For dessert, my mom made a Tarte Tatin, and I made a chocolate Buche de Noël (yule log). Mom originally wanted a chestnut-flavored one, and I am rather fond of that myself; but I know from experience that the rest of the family isn't keen on it, so I made Gaston Lenotre's chocolate one from Faites Votre Patisserie (oh I wish I owned that book! I have an English-language version I bought off of Amazon's used books, but my mom has Lenotre's whole series). The recipe is so simple, it's stupid. Basically: a chocolate genoise, baked and cooled then painted with a rum simple syrup and rolled up with chocolate mousse (then chilled for a bit).

I cut off one end on the bias and used that as the stump, painted mousse around the outside, raked a fork through it and topped it with powdered sugar run through a sieve. This is only the second time i've made a yule log - the first one was disastrous. It was also for a Christmas Eve dinner at my parents house about 14 years ago, and I made a chocolate buttercream for the filling and frosting. However, I made the buttercream far too thin and the whole thing ran out all over the place. Lenotre's version is much more user-friendly. My dad said it was the best buche he'd ever eaten; my mom said she prefered it made with buttercream, and she would have prefered a white genoise, but all in all it wasn't bad. i'm definitely adding this one to my repertoire.

The next day, we all woke up with hangovers. Since it was just going to be us four for dinner (our guests from the night before left that morning to visit other relatives), we totally relaxed on the schedule.

On the menu for Christmas day was Duck à l'Orange (from the excellent Cook's Illustrated Chicken cookbook, which we'd brought with us from home), mashed sweet potatoes (with not too much other sweet stuff added - this went really well with the duck), endive salad, roasted carrots with tarragon, and the leftover appetizers from the night before. My mom took the night off from cooking, and she seemed to be impressed at my ability to cook duck (my first attempt at cooking duck). my only problem was that the orange sauce didn't get as thick as i'd have prefered, but the flavor was really excellent.

After I hauled the duck out of the oven, I poured all the duck fat out of the roasting pan and made my dad promise to freeze it for another use. I would have loved to take it back with us, but I could only imagine the interior of my suitcase and all of my belongings coated with grease and me being unable to ever get it out. While we were cooking, my mom got on the phone to all of her relatives and told them that I missed my calling in life, that I ought to have gone to culinary school when I was 20, etc etc (this is the highest praise i've ever received from her).

And the next day, 6 am, we left.

The problem with being married to a chef (and not being a bad cook myself) is that my family thinks we eat like this all of the time. A couple of days later, after we got home, while on the phone with my Dad, he told me to tell the boy to leave the cooking at his restaurant, because he's "alarmed at how much weight you have gained these past few years and you're getting fat".

Up until I was 30, when I lived in Savannah and was broke and ate beans and rice all the time and rode a bicycle everywhere because I didnt have a car (and this is the only sane way to get around Savannah), I was a size 4. now that i'm pushing 40, i'm a size 8. I am healthy. i don't eat festive and fattening food all of the time; in fact my regular diet is comprised of a lot of fish and salad. I was really irritated that my parents focused solely on their illusion that i'm overweight and not on the fact that the boy and I are really happy (compared to some other couples in our family), and that we were all together for Christmas. next year, we're skipping California and going back to our usual just-the-two-of us crab cakes and caesar salad for Christmas eve dinner. Okay, I feel better now that i've let that out, and I won't bring it up again. but man, did that ever piss me off.

** This made me think of Bruce Willis in the immortal Die Hard when he arrives at LAX , shakes his head and exclaims, "California!" at the super-blond-super-tan couple embracing.