Thursday, April 24, 2008

last night's successful dinner

The boy and I have our daily morning rituals during the weekdays when I’m at work. After he wakes up, he gets online, and if I’m not too busy being pulled into meetings or having people come up to my desk and flail their arms wildly in the air while I stare at them sternly, we chat via gtalk about stuff and nothing. Eventually, the conversation turns to food, namely, what we’re having for dinner. Such as the conversation we had yesterday.

the boy: hey whatcha want for dinner
me: dont care, whatever is easy and tasty :)
the boy: i have no idea
me: as long as it isnt a ham sandwich
me: cos that is what i'm about to eat for lunch
me: give me a sec to think about it
(checking Food Network site for inspiration)
me: booby flay is making bbq short ribs right this sec
me: but
me: that's not really what i want
the boy: yeah i just turned it on
me: i'm on the bon appetit site looking at mexican barbecue menu
me: DAMN
me: pineapple chili margaritas
me: yum-o-la
me: sounds muy excellente
the boy: how bout Grilled Flank Steak with Bacon Balsamic Glaze?
me: ummnummm
me: bacon ......

okay, so. Before you start getting all uppity about the source of this recipe, let me tell you something that carnivores already know, but I feel the need to review with you all. Bacon is king. Bacon is God. David Lebovitz added bacon to ice cream, and I’m seriously considering making that recipe sometime soon (after the peanut butter with chocolate river and chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups that I promised the boy I’d make soon). And let me tell you another thing: just because I don’t personally care for most of the hosts and/or chefs on Food Network doesn’t mean that they don’t have a good idea every once in a while. After all, a recipe is a guideline; you can use it as-is or run amok with it.

And frankly, it’s quite hard to screw up a grilled flank steak.

A couple of things to note:

As Nigella Lawson once said, “Meat without salt is vile”. Truer words were never spoken. Especially if you’re going to be slapping that steak down on a grill, you’ve got to season it liberally. We use kosher salt in this household, and keep it in one of those swivel-topped bamboo containers by the stove for easy access. I like the feel of kosher salt between my fingers. I can control how much or how little I add to food. Douse your meat (heh) liberally with salt before cooking, and you’ll have great flavor.

Other things to note:

We weren’t quite sure what to make as sides, so the boy threw some asparagus on the outdoor grill (again, liberally salt and pepper first), and I asked him to grill up some sweet onion slices. When the onions were done cooking, the boy removed them from the heat onto another cooler area of the grill and topped them with a bit of brown sugar. This melted and added more sweetness to the onions. They were excellent.

If you’re following the recipe, skip the slurry in the glaze. Also, skip the “reducing” of the liquid. Since oil does not reduce, the only thing evaporating is the balsamic vinegar. and although the bacon can get a really nice balsamic-y flavor going on if you reduce it, you’ll end up with no balsamic left. This step should really be a last minute thing. I’d start rendering the bacon bits while the meat is already cooked and resting. If you cut up the bacon rather small, it won’t take long for it to start crisping up and letting off that wonderful aroma. Add the balsamic (and reduce this to about a 1/3 of a cup – ½ cup seems a bit extreme to me, but that’s up to you), give it a stir, and top everything on your plate with it.

You could also take this as-is and toss it with some frisée lettuce in a large bowl, and there you’ll have one of my favorite salads ever. Hot damn, you can’t go wrong with frisée aux lardons.

We ate this while watching a DVRed episode of NCIS from Tuesday night.

Tonight, what’s for dinner? I haven’t a clue. The boy is still sleeping. We haven’t had our conversation yet. I’m still working through my coffee.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not remotely food related: one of the best things ever

yeah, i'm sorry. i've been kind of bad with the non-food posts. i've been eating! i swear it. we got a cabin in the North Georgia mountains this weekend and all we did was eat. i ate hash browns, eggs, bacon, toast, and pancakes for breakfast TWO days in a row. i drank like a fish. i (sorta) hiked with Mrs B. up a mountain called Gobbler's Knob (tee hee!). we sat in a hot tub and toasted the sun setting over another mountain range the boy affectionately called "Boob Mountain" because to him it looked like, well... you know (and the evening continued on with endless jokes about the "Escape from Boob Mountain"). we ate s'mores by the campfire. we (and the dogs) had a good time.

but i've little pictures to show. i be sorry.

what's gotten me so very excited to write tonight, though, is this gem the boy introduced me to. this is terrific. not only is it great, but i just realized not 5 minutes ago that they have all (i think) the episodes of La Femme Nikita. when i moved to Atlanta the first time, back in 1999, i watched this show religiously. the best music, the hokiest storyline. love it.

so why am i wasting time typing this out? i've no idea. i'm off to drool over Birkoff.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not remotely food related: on why my mom and I are like night and day

One of my great-aunts on my mother’s side passed away a couple of days ago. It was not unexpected; she was 100 and had been gravely ill for some time. The French side of my family is very, very close; but due to several issues, I’m unable to go to the funeral (which is tomorrow somewhere in the vastness of Los Angeles, a place I happily and purposely haven’t been to in 21 years).

I am glad that a cousin of mine spent a few hours a couple of years ago taping an interview with my great aunt, asking her about our ancestry (her Tuscan-born mother emigrated to France with her family at a young age and settled in Provence), and about life in France during the war. She owned a café on the port in Marseille, lost her husband very early into their marriage (and never remarried). During the war, she sent her kids to live on a farm, hoping that farm life would be best for their environment (and later found out that the farmers sons were part of the Résistance). She eventually followed her daughter to California, as her sister (my grandmother) did when all of their children moved out here in the early ‘60s. The woman was full of stories, and I’m glad my cousin made that recording.

I just got off the phone with my mom, who flew in from France day before yesterday and is headed down to LA in a bit. Even though my aunt’s passing was not a great shock, mom is still in need of consoling. At the end of our conversation, she tells me that she can’t talk much longer because she needs to run out and get a manicure and pedicure, as her family just cannot see her hands and feet the way that they are right now. And the thing she’s most excited about? due to all the trauma, she’s lost enough weight to fit into one of her St. John knit outfits that she hadn’t been able to fit into in over 10 years, and she can’t wait to show that to her sisters.

Sometimes I wonder if we really are related.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

pressure risotto

Last Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. B had kind of an impromptu dinner party, so we sauntered over (3 houses down; convenient and easy to get to and from especially if you’ve been hitting the sauce). Mrs. B wanted to make risotto, which I’m fond of. What I’m not fond of is standing around the stove stirring, stirring, stirring for a half hour to get it just so. But Mrs. B said that she found a risotto recipe in one of the Food Network cookbooks that uses a pressure cooker, and she wanted to try that out.

I will admit, the boy and I were skeptical that it would work out, because I’m so used to risotto being the way it is only after stirring, stirring, stirring for a half hour or so. The pressure cooker recipe requires no intense manual labor (you can actually walk away!), and we were all surprised and delighted when it turned out not just good, but really, REALLY good, just as wonderful and creamy as any original recipe.

The boy and I own a boatload of kitchen gadgets. We actually used to own way more, but got rid of the ones we never used or have no faith in, such as the garlic press. At one time we owned three garlic presses; people kept giving them to us because they noticed we didn’t use any. It’s a very nice gesture and all, but I find a garlic press to be a complete useless waste of space and time. I can do a much better job with the flat end of a knife and a quick chop through. But a pressure cooker is something we don’t have. We’ve been talking about buying one for at least 7 years now, but never got around to it, whether it was a price issue or because we found a better use for the money. They are not cheap.

I do think we’re going to eventually get one, put some money aside for some snazzy heavy one, because the risotto recipe alone is worth the price.

About the pictures, uh, yeah. I’d imbibed a half bottle of wine by the time dinner was over, and forgot to take pictures of risotto in the making. We were all in a pretty ridiculous and silly mood, so I made people gather around after dinner for a photo shoot.

This is Brad. I wanted him to show how much he really enjoyed the risotto. I think he conveyed his excitement quite well, don’t you? We couldn’t stop laughing hysterically while trying to get him to pose.

Risotto, loosely based from a recipe from Food Network Kitchens: Making It Easy.

¼ to a 1/3rd cup of minced onion, or shallot.
2 to 3 cloves of minced garlic (depending on how much garlic you’d like)
A couple of knobs of butter, for sautéing and for adding at the end
1 and ½ cup of risotto rice (what is that, Arborio? I never know)
3 cups of chicken stock
½ cup of white wine
1 cup of grated parmesan
A couple of tablespoons of minced parsley (optional)
salt & pepper

Sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat in a couple of tablespoons of butter in the pressure cooker until soft (about 5 minutes).

Add the risotto rice, stir until it is coated with the buttery mix until it begins to smell nutty (about a minute or two).

Add the chicken broth and wine, clamp on the lid, and turn the heat up to high.

Let the pressure get to high – the indicator will pop and steam will start to come out (depends on what kind of pressure cooker you have – Mrs. B’s has an indicator). Cook for 4 more minutes.

Slowly let out ALL steam...this may take 2 minutes.

Remove the lid (it will look soupy), stir once or twice then let sit about 3 minutes to absorb the liquid.

Add remaining butter and the grated parmesan and stir well. Let sit for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

Sprinkle in some chopped parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir once or twice and serve.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

mixed berry and chocolate pavlova from our cook-out

So we had a cook-out last weekend, and boy, did it ever rain! No matter. The rain did not dissuade anyone from having a good time. Fortunately for us, Mr. and Mrs. B go to a lot of festivals and own their own festival tent (thanks, guys!). Earlier in the day, when it was still nice out, we put that baby up over the grill, and we had a nice covered outdoor area for cooking (and for the smokers, although after the temperatures started to drop dramatically, said smokers retreated to our garage).

We made what I thought was a ton of food (and Mr. and Mrs. B brought some too), which everyone descended on like fiends, and it was with surprise and delight when, at the end of the night, we realized we not only had no food left, but the kitchen was spankin’ clean. A lot of folks helped clean up, and I thought that was really sweet of everyone.

For dessert, the boy made Bananas Foster to order, as a group watched and cheered when the rum flamed up. I made a version of Nigella Lawson’s chocolate-berry pavlova which I hadn’t made in probably 5 or 6 years, so I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received. I needn’t have worried, as there was not one crumb of it left. It’s the easiest thing to do in the world, just a bunch of assembling at the last minute. This was so well-received, and Patty requested I make miniature ones for her wedding later this year, which I will gladly do (did I mention that I'm making the desserts for patty's wedding? okay, well i'm mentioning it now, and I couldn't be more honored).

Below is my adaptation of Ms. Lawson’s recipe.

Chocolate and Mixed Berry Pavlova - adapted from Nigella Lawson

For the meringue:

6 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar (Nigella uses superfine, but don't spend the extra money on it. you can achieve this texture by blitzing the sugar in a food processor – however, I find this step unnecessary, so I just use regular sugar)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder passed through a sieve
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (you won't taste this, so don't worry)
2 oz of bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate, really finely chopped

For the topping:

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Mixed berries, about a pint each of blackberries and raspberries, whatever you have in season.
Half of one of those containers of strawberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Using a cake pan about 9 inches or so in diameter, draw the outline of the cake pan onto the parchment with a pen, pencil, or Sharpie. This will give you a guideline on where to mound the meringue. Flip the parchment over (you don’t want your meringue to taste of ink or pencil now, do you?) and place the parchment on the cookie sheet. Set aside.

Hull the strawberries and cut them in half (or in quarters if they are huge). I prefer to keep these pieces relatively large, because the smaller you cut them, the more prone they are to becoming mushy really fast. Put these in a bowl with a tablespoon or two of sugar (doesn’t have to be exact), stir, and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside. Give it a stir every once in a while until ready to use.

Using a metal bowl that has been cleaned and dried completely (you don’t want any residue from anything else in that bowl), beat the egg whites with a stand mixer or hand-held mixer until satiny peaks form (but not stiff peaks). Slowly add the sugar until the meringue is stiff and shiny (stiff peaks). Add both chocolates and the teaspoon of vinegar and, using a rubber spatula, GENTLY mix BY HAND until it is all incorporated. (I saw Ms. Lawson do this when her show aired on the Style Network years ago, and she explains what value the vinegar has to the beaten egg whites, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it does. Something to do with the stability of the whites, I think). Start mounding the meringue into the circle drawn on your parchment. It’s okay if you have so much of it that you have to mound outside of the circle; just ensure that your meringue disk is as round as you can possibly get it. Smooth down the sides and top with your spatula. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 300 degrees F and cook for one hour. It may take an extra 15 minutes, but in my oven, it takes one hour. After an hour, the edges of the meringue should be crackly, and when you push slightly in the center of the disk, it should not be completely dried out. Turn the oven off, leave the oven door ajar, and let cool to room temperature.

Right before you’re ready to serve, remove the meringue from the oven and invert it onto a plate that’s big enough to hold it (as flat a plate as possible).

Using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla extract until it’s thick and whipped thoroughly, then mound that on top of the meringue. Mound the macerated strawberries on top of the whipped cream, including some of their juices. Pile the blackberries and raspberries haphazardly around. If you want, you can shave some chocolate directly on top. Have people cut wedges of it themselves.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


One of my French cousins (meaning, he’s 100% French and not Franco-American, like me and Chef Boyardee) is planning a trip for this next 4th of July to fly out and stay with my parents in California. He’s bringing his kid, his new girlfriend, and her kid.

I hear through the family grapevine (which is catty as all get out) that this new girlfriend is anti-American and quite vocal about it. So we’re all kind of wondering why she’s hooked up with someone whose entire immediate family lives in the States, and who’s related (by marriage) to countless Americans. And why she is imposing herself on my parents!

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that visit.