Monday, June 30, 2008

weekend update

Oy! What a weekend. It all started on Friday, after the opening of the Charles package and the discovery of the absinthe. Four shots of absinthe and I was a hot mess.

Saturday, the boy woke up at 4:30 am to get the smoker started for his pork butt. I heard him shuffling around downstairs for a couple of hours, but the absinthe fog had me dreaming in bright vivid Technicolor and I couldn’t distinguish between being awake and asleep.

I crawled out of bed at 8:30 am so that I could run up to the farm to pick up my share, where I received a very lovely large amount of yellow green beans. They’re green beans (but they’re yellow in color!) and I like them. I think we’ll use them up tonight as we’re doing dinner with the neighbors. After the farm, the boy and i ran around the house like big silly chickens and did all kinds of food prep and housecleaning. I did all the mise en place for everything so that I wouldn’t have to worry about being stuck in the kitchen later and missing out on party fun. I found time to take a 30 minute power nap, which fortunately revived me completely and I woke up feeling fantastic. I mastered the power naps when I was in college. All those damn drafting assignments and term papers kept me up nights (not to mention the 4-hour Saturday class I had my second year, which meant I didn’t go to sleep on Friday nights). I fine-tuned my body to 20 minute naps – I’d look at the clock and tell myself that I would wake up in exactly 20 minutes, put my head on the pillow, pass out blissfully, and wake up refreshed 20 minutes later. I can still do that, and it came in handy on Saturday.

I’d so love to show you what food we had. I really would. But with all the running around, I didn’t remember to take any food pictures, which is a total shame and really ridiculous, because we had a lot of food. The only picture I managed to take was this one of the grilled pizzas we had for appetizers.



these are versions of grilled sweet onion with white cheddar and fresh thyme; white pizza with roasted garlic, fontina, mozzarella, with some chopped basil and parsley on top. These were so laden with good cheese that they had to rest for about 20 minutes after pulling off the grill in order for the cheese to not melt all over the place once the slices were cut. I made two of each, but only tasted a piece of the onion one, and it was mighty good.

We’ve had great success grilling pizzas. The grill must be super hot, but then turn it down (if you’re using a gas grill; if using charcoal, move the dough over to the cooler side if possible). If you’ve got a pizza peel, use it to haul the dough on and off the grill. If you don’t, you can improvise with a cookie sheet or big flat plate. Make sure that your peel or cookie sheet is coated in cornmeal, and make sure the grill is well oiled before scooting your dough onto the grill. Cook until you get the grill marks you want on one side, then flip the dough over. It should be easy to flip over once one side is done; you can flip it using your asbestos hands or with a pair of tongs. You don’t want to cook the next side all the way; just crisp it up a bit then haul it off onto your peel or cookie sheet so that you can put toppings on it. Once the toppings are on, carefully slide the pizza back on the grill and lower the grill lid until the pizza is all melty/gooey/looks how you want it to look. Alternatively, you could leave the dough on the grill and bring your mise out there and, working fast, top your pizzas. There really is no correct way to grill pizza; it’s more of a trial and error until you get adjusted to using your own grill and figure out how to get the pizza just so; however, I wouldn’t put too many toppings that are apt to make the pizza too heavy to shimmy on and off the grill. Of course, you could do all of this in an oven with a pizza stone, but I’ll be damned if I’m turning the oven on to 500+ degrees in this weather.

The other food we had: those grilled shrimp, the boy’s smoked pork butt (complete with two different barbecue sauces; I made versions of Mario Batali’s cherry barbecue sauce and Bobby Flay’s mesa barbecue sauce), our buddy Ken’s smoked beef brisket. MA brought baked beans; others brought salads and sides. We also threw some corn on the grill but forgot to serve until after most everyone had eaten. Afterwards, the party (and the giant cupcake birthday cake that Mrs. B made) migrated to Mr. and Mrs. B’s house where other latecomers showed up. We didn’t get home until the wee hours.

Yesterday afternoon, several folks came over to dine on leftovers, and I found a couple of bottles of cava while rooting around in the fridge, so we popped those open. And that was the beginning of the end.

Today I am understandably tired. Methinks I need one of my 20-minute power naps when I get home.

My birthday is tomorrow, and I don’t know what I want for dinner. Anyone have any suggestions? I’m talking low-key at-home dinner. I think I’m done with big parties for a little while.

at least until the next big party.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

very briefly: about absinthe

so my friend Charles, he who sends the odd/weird/comical/childish gifts, sent me an early birthday present. on the outside of the UPS box was written "Do Not Open!" in Charles' handwriting, which amused me. Do not open until when? Christmas?

so i called him today to thank him for the package, and to ask him exactly WHEN could i open it? (my birthday is not until next week - but we're having a huge shindig tomorrow to celebrate it - and my friend MA has the same birthday as I do, so it will be a Double Shindig). and Charles laughed and laughed. he told me i could open the box when i got home today.

which i did.

and in it was a bottle of absinthe.

so what did we do?



yeah.


and our reactions?



I don't know if you're supposed to shoot it straight or sip on it like a Ricard or a Sambuca. but we shot it straight. and that's how it tasted, at least to me.



and emily's reaction is priceless.

ah, absinthe. 55% alcohol. it made me feel a wee bit woozy, and everything is in technicolor. a wee fraction of what it must have felt like 100 years ago. fun, though.

UPDATE: absinthe hangovers are not your friend.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

by popular demand: on ribs

Rose: Why do men chase women?
Johnny: Well, there's a Bible story... God... God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Now maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a big hole there, where there used to be something. And the women have that. Now maybe, just maybe, a man isn't complete as a man without a woman.
Rose: [frustrated] But why would a man need more than one woman?
Johnny: I don't know. Maybe because he fears death.
[Rose looks up, eyes wide, suspicions confirmed]
Rose: That's it! That's the reason!
Johnny: I don't know...
Rose: No! That's it! Thank you! Thank you for answering my question!


I love Moonstruck. It’s on my Varying Top 5 Favorite Movies list, along with Jaws, The Empire Strikes Back, A Fish Called Wanda, and Steel Magnolias. Okay okay, in defense of that last pick, I’m no girly girl, but I just love Steel Magnolias, and, along with half of the gay men in Atlanta, know the entire movie by heart.

What is it about ribs that we love so much? For me, the first obvious reason is that I like to eat with my hands. Ribs, along with fried chicken and buffalo wings, are one of those foods that you really have no choice but to eat with your hands; however, you can get away with it and throw all etiquette out the window. Eating something delicious with your hands is truly a very satisfying experience.

This is what I loved about my rehearsal dinner. The boy and I held our rehearsal dinner at Cantler’s Riverside Inn in Annapolis, where long wooden tables covered in paper have bushels of steamed crab dumped right smack in the middle along with cans of cheap beer. My mother was aghast, totally upset about the situation. She stood there scowling in her $200 outfit, bedecked in diamonds and perfect manicure, glaring at the humble surroundings (until Al Roker walked in, and then she deemed herself worthy of gracing the place – and to this day all she talks about is Hal Roh Kaire! Hal Roh Kaire! but that’s another story). Before long, after a brief tutorial by my sister-in-law on how to eat a steamed Maryland blue crab, all my French family was digging in and had crab all over their faces and forearms. My uncle Guy ate at least 20 (no joke!) and was having the time of his life.

I previously mentioned that the boy has been doing a lot of homework on smokers, and has had good luck with working jointly with Ken using Ken’s smoker. For the inaugural use of his newly purchased smoker, the boy made ribs. He followed this link for smoking instructions (I just love that title! Porknography!), and made a couple of mason jars worth of the Memphis Magic Dust to use right then and to have on hand for future ribbing. He was a little skeptical about the use of ground ginger, but he needn’t have worried, as the end result was fantastic.

For a finishing barbecue sauce, which you could slather all over the ribs or serve on the side if you’re a rib purist, I made a variation of Bobby Flay’s mesa barbecue sauce. I used canned whole tomatoes instead of raw, and used regular chili powder in place of the ancho and pasilla chili powders.

For years, ribs have been the bane of the boy’s culinary existence. He’s always wanted to cook a proper rib slab. He’s made them before, but not without a lot of last minute and post-cooking tweaking to get the ribs just so. I always enjoyed his previous results, but now that he’s spoiled me with this new incarnation of them, he and I will only want them this way. There is just nothing like a good smoked slab of ribs. You come to visit us, and we'll make you ribs.

I don’t have any pictures of what the ribs looked like after they were done cooking. We were in the middle of plating up when the boy mentioned that we ought to take pictures, but I was feeling selfish and the glutton in me wanted to eat, and I blurted out, “BUT I’M HUNGRY!”. And then I ate. Milles excuses.

pre-fab food

so this kind of bothers me, seeing as i had just posted about my love of grilled corn. i have a hotmail address which is useful for online ordering and newsletters. today's Dean & Deluca's newsletter is all about grilling. so i half-disinterested-half-curiously open it and what's the first thing i see?



who orders this? who are these people? $36 dollars for 6 pre-slathered and tin foiled corn?

i don't even know what to say.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

the long overdue Father's Day post

I meant to write about this last week, but I was waiting on a certain someone (who shall remain nameless) to send me the list of recipes he used. And then, frankly, I got sidetracked/lost interest/took a couple of naps/procrastinated/watched a significant amount of terrible television. This kind of stuff happens. I formulate what i think is a fantastic and supremely witty blog post in my head, thinking of all the accolades I’d receive for being so clever and beguiling in my prose. And then I leave it to fester on the back burner until it’s almost too late to write anything about it. Sigh.

Does that happen to you?

So anyway, Ken and MA, who are from Atlanta, have a ton of family around. And since neither the boy nor I have family in town, they graciously invited us over to their house to meet family on Father’s Day and pig out.

Surprisingly, we actually didn’t have any pig at all. But we did have turkey legs and beef brisket.

It started the day before. I was, um, incapacitated all day (meaning, I was unable to lift my head off the pillow all day Saturday until about 4 pm without the room spinning due to hitting the sauce all night Friday with Chris), and the boy ran back and forth between our house and Ken’s. God knows what they were up to. I heard a lot of giddy food talk and back-slapping going on downstairs, which meant that they were using Ken’s smoker again. The boys made a couple of rubs for the meats (hee!), and spent the evening at Ken’s getting the smoker ready (the brisket went on about midnight).

Photographic evidence of what we ate:



the smoked turkey legs and brisket (the boys adapted this recipe and that recipe)



MA's baked beans



this is my new favorite way to make corn on the cob. remove silks (and husks, if you want). mash up some room temperature butter, lime zest, some lime juice, salt & pepper (and if you want some kick, some minced jalapeno), and slather that all over the corn. wrap in tin foil and place on the cool side of your grill. you can keep it on the grill for a long time this way. i used the last of my farm butter for this batch of corn, and it made an ultra-rich slather.



MA's hash brown casserole, for which I want the recipe.



here the turkey legs are resting....



... while the boys work hard at the brisket with a couple of forks.

MA's sister also made a red velvet cake (she used a Paula Deen recipe), and we also had some grilled pineapple with pineapple sorbet, recipe which i found on Serious Eats.

the boy has his own smoker now. he went back to barbecues galore, that of the Great Toe Incident of last week. he haggled the salesman and got a good price on their floor model. he's since broken the smoker in by making smashing smoked ribs... but that's for another blog post.

Thanks to MA for providing the photos, seeing as my dumb ass left our camera at home.

And happy belated Father's day to all Dads out there.

Monday, June 16, 2008

random stuff from the last week

My mom is currently in France, due back relatively soon since she’s hosting some big shindig on the 4th. I sent her the address of a restaurant in Paris that I’d read was pretty darn great. She responded, Friday at midnight Paris time. I’ve kept in the typos and all.


Happy to hear from you; You need to come to France so we can enjoyed the wonderful tables and bread .;;;; Georges Buch is in Paris today but nobody care because we are playing a soccer game for the European cup against Holland and so far we are losing.;;;; I will call you this week end when you are off let me know when i can call



English is her second language, and normally she’s a lot better at writing than this. Hmm, I wonder how much of this was wine fueled?

France got their asses kicked in that match.

***

In other news, the boy screwed his big toe up. Do you want to know how? Cos I’ll tell you. It’s truly classic.

The boy’s been buttering me up to get a smoker. He’s whined, pleaded, done some homework, used our buddy Ken’s smoker to “get the feel of it”, done more homework. I finally consented.

So he drove to Barbecues Galore and got out of the car. Through the store window he saw shiny, new grills. A lot of shiny, new grills. They beckoned him, like sixteen vestal virgins singing to him through the haze, like candy to a toddler in a stroller. In a trance, he rushed up to the store window and didn’t see a wee small concrete step.... and slammed his sandaled foot into it. Blood everywhere. Fun times.

Being a boy, he got his ass up and hobbled into the store anyway because the damned grills were not to be ignored. Then he called me at work to tell me what happened, and I told him he couldn’t get the smoker that day because I didn’t want him lifting anything and oh, I don’t know, dropping it on his foot or something. He reluctantly relented. I told him to go to our doctor. He ignored my request and said, “I’m going to Costco. You need anything?”.

He eventually went to the doctor. The next day.

***

We made these shrimp last week because we needed to do something with them as they’d been defrosted for a couple of days. I must say, for Publix brand peeled and deveined frozen shrimp, these were not bad at all, not bad at all.



We used a version of this recipe, except we didn’t do the whole garlic slices sizzling in oil, because we were feeling a bit lazy. We also don’t have any ancho chili power on hand, so used regular chili power. Once the shrimp were off the grill, we ate some, then shared the rest with our neighbors. Easiest damn recipe; I urge you to make these.

***

We’re slowly trying to get all of our friends to move into our neighborhood, and so far we’ve not done so badly. Some friends of ours who used to cook with the boy at Rainwater are moving in not a block away from our house. They are pretty great people, although they fall into the hippie category and listen to Widespread Panic. We’ll forgive them for this one flaw. Heh.

I say this in jest, because it turns out that most of our friends up here in Suburbia are really huge fans of hippie jam bands and stuff; something that the boy and I are not into one least little bit. We have a pretty great group of friends these days, so as long as they forgive the boy and I for being the oldest of the bunch and pooping out on them early in the evenings, we’ll forgive them for their taste in music. (dear Mrs B, please don’t send me hate mail! Love, FT)

This coming from the girl whose ipod is full of 80s stuff and what we used to call back in my day Progressive music. Which turned into Goth. Which turned into... what do they call it these days? Emo? Sigh. Who wants to go see Peter Murphy with me in July?

Punk rock is not dead; it just sucks now.

Friday, June 13, 2008

my thoughts on the outcome of Top Chef

To be honest, I haven’t yet read any of the reviews/comments/etc regarding the outcome of Wednesday night’s show. The boy and I didn’t watch it until I got home from work yesterday, because, frankly, I just can’t stay up that late at night, anxious and wide awake. I mean, I have stayed up that late at night, such as last Friday when I talked my friend Chris’ mom’s ear off at the bar at 5 Seasons North until 2 am. But that’s different. I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn the next day and roll my ass into New Big Corporate wearing a power suit.

Not that I wear power suits. But I digress.

I’m sure what I’m going to write here has been written all over the innernets, so I’m not expressing a new opinion. But I’m really disappointed with the producers of Top Chef this season. Last week I read Chef Colicchio’s essay on the BravoTV website where he defends his position on why Lisa had stuck around. Lisa even says at the beginning of the final episode, “I got here by the skin of my teeth!”. I’m sure she’s a fine cook. But I can’t see her even remotely in the same culinary ballpark as a couple of the other chefs on the program. I’ll admit that I’m biased – I’m a big Richard Blais fan, and have been for a couple of years now, and my opinion of him is even more cemented after our lovely dinner at his restaurant, Home, last week. The guy is a phenomenal chef; he’s going places, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. (I’ll tangent off here for a sec to remind everyone who is in Atlanta that you must dash over there and order the marrow before it’s sadly taken off the menu – hoping that never happens!)

In regards to Chef Colicchio’s defensive blogpost, I had to shake my head at that. I understand that the chefs are graded for each episode and that episode only – none of their prior work is considered. I don’t find that to be necessarily fair. Blais and Stephanie had proved themselves as serious chefs to contend with throughout the course of the show. Where was Lisa throughout the show? Constantly showing up in the bottom. When the final three contestants were chosen, I looked at the boy and said, “Is this a joke?” As a viewer of the show, I thought it was a rip-off.

No matter what anyone on that show says, whether it be a judge or a producer, it was clear to the viewers that Bravo really geared this season’s show towards a woman winning. And I find that offensive. Sounds strange that I’d say that, seeing that I am a woman with dual citizenship who wears pants, occasionally doesn’t wear a bra, and who votes. Some of the women on this season’s show really held their own. I warmed up towards Antonia half way through the show, and I really enjoyed watching Stephanie cook. But it seemed as though the theme to this season was “We’re going to make a woman win this time!”, and I think that’s a serious shame. I find it very demeaning to fantastic women chefs out there who have been busting their asses for years to be as accepted and respected as their male counterparts. I’m not saying that Stephanie didn’t deserve to win, because she obviously proved herself worthy time and time again with her repeated wins, and in the end taking the whole shebang home. Good for her, she seems like a really sweet girl and a damn fine chef, and i'd buy her a beer and a shot any day. But I feel as though Bravo had already handed the win to a woman before the season even begun, thinking that it would make for better TV, get more viewers, etc... And it certainly did bring out a lot of controversy, a lot of pissed off viewers, a shit load of comments left on various sites, and a lot of hatred towards one or two of the contestants. Bravo to you, Bravo TV. You succeeded in your mission. But you may have lost some viewership along the way. Do you even care? Who knows if I’ll watch the next season of Top Chef. I won’t know until the night it airs if I’m even remotely interested in it anymore. My opinions change, though, so I’ll probably have mellowed my distaste for it by then. We shall see.

Friday, June 6, 2008

as our server said when he greeted us, "Welcome Home"

Look, I make a point about not blogging about restaurant food. I've talked about that before; i’m not that type of blogger. But, like Tami, I’m making an exception this time because last night, the boy and I had one of the best meals we’ve had in Atlanta (it’s in our top three Most Memorable, along with a night at Morton’s and another meal at Joël’s). We went to Richard Blais’ new place, Home.

I don’t even think I can even describe the meal as well as I ought to. I’d probably be doing a disservice to Chef Blais with my piss poor descriptions. But if you’re in Atlanta right now, you must, absolutely must go for the bone marrow appetizer alone.

The restaurant was swarming with legions of fans demanding that their servers get the chef out there. Actually, some people were downright rude about it. “Get Richard out here, right now!”. We did no demanding. Besides, the place was totally packed and the kitchen was swamped, and we were enjoying ourselves immensely.

What I like about the food at Home is that it’s totally seasonal. And I love the vegetables brought out family style. I grew up eating dinner family style and I think it’s a really lovely touch. So what did we have?

Appetizers: crab cake, lamb short ribs, beef marrow
Entrees: pork short rib, tuna and beef rib (a take on surf ‘n turf)
Dessert: moon pie and Coke float, sweet tea ice cream with pecan cake



I took this picture after we’d already started destroying the appetizers. I didn’t want to be totally obvious and take pictures of every dish, although now I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t. On the left is the beef marrow; on the right are the lamb ribs; in the back is the crab cake with a smoky mayonnaise, which you’re probably saying sounds weird, but it was really good (and it passed the boy’s crab cake test. It did have really finely minced green pepper, but it was cooked properly and was the best crab cake we’ve had outside of Maryland, other than our own).

My grandmother had a saying. I don’t know if it’s a purely French thing or a Provençal thing, but when something was so good it was enough to spank your mama, she would say, “C'est comme la petite culotte du petit Jesus” (like baby Jesus' underwear). it's a compliment; it means it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted. I ordered the marrow because I hadn’t had it in about 20 years and the boy had never had it. I think he was skeptical, and I think a lot of people who have never had marrow are skeptical about it. You have a preconceived notion of what it might taste like, and i'm telling you that you need to throw that out the window right now. The boy watched me take my first bite of it, and laughed because apparently the look on my face was priceless. The marrow melted in my mouth. It doesn’t really have a texture; it’s mostly the strong beefy flavor that is out-of-this-world good. I told our server about the whole baby Jesus thing, and apparently he ran off and told Chef Blais what I said. Heh. Later, as we were sitting at the bar having an after dinner beverage, I tried to convince the bartender that she ought to try it (the brunette bartender. We liked her. The blonde bartender, although great looking and showing a lot of cleavage, was kind of bitchy, not just to us but her coworkers too).

The whole meal was indescribably good, but the dishes that stood out the most for me were the marrow and the sweet tea ice cream. We didn’t order the pancakes with foie gras butter that all the critics have been raving about, because we’d already ordered three appetizers; but the outgoing girl at the next table insisted I try a bite of hers. My bite had pancake, foie butter, and a blueberry, and it was very mild, much less intense than the foie gras my mom hauls back from France. I was really impressed and totally transported to gastronomic heaven.

Outgoing Girl next to us was celebrating her birthday, and I must say that her husband was a total ass. He tried to rush her through her meal so that he could go home and watch a baseball game. The guy was a total class act. And when Chef Blais came over to us at the end of the evening, the ass blurted out, “Richard. You better fucking win Top Chef because I’ve got a lot of money bet on you”. Um. Nice, dude. Perhaps you should go to Charm School. In fact, it kind of bothered me that a lot of people called Chef Blais by his first name, as though he was an old friend of theirs. No Chef Blais or Mr. Blais. And I think I know why. He comes streaming through our television sets every Wednesday night into our living rooms. He’s pretty well known now amongst TV viewers. So when people see him, they treat him like an old friend who owes them money. I guess a lot of celebrities deal with this, but it’s weird to me that so many people were so familiar with him, and some (like Ass at the next table) downright rude.

So at any rate, when Chef Blais came over to talk to us, I told him about the whole baby Jesus thing. He chatted with us for a few minutes and you know what? He’s a really nice guy. He’s very personable. I’ve read the comments on various sites critiquing Top Chef, and a lot of people say that he’s pretentious. But in person, he really isn’t. He was very charming and nice. The guy’s got a vision which translates to food extremelly well. he's having a good time with food and it shows. It was truly a memorable meal.

We were really honored that he took the time to come by and say Hi too.


Tip: if you’re a smoker (or someone who pretends not to smoke yet sneaks off thinking his wife is not aware of his antics), go take your smoke break on the patio out back behind the bar. You will be greatly rewarded with a full view of the kitchen in action.

Also, if you want a better description of the food served at Home complete with pictures, please check out Tami’s great essay.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

fan or total idiot? you decide.

Look, i love me some julia child and nigella lawson, but you couldn't pay me to ink their faces on my ink-free body.

so what do you think about this?

i'm deeply afraid of needles, which is the main reason why i've never gotten a tattoo. plus, i change my mind so often about the things that i like and dislike that i would hate to be stuck with something awful and have to pay someone to get rid of it in a few years time. like that one time when i was dating this weirdo herpetologist who wanted us to have HUGE matching tattoos of dragon skeletons on one shoulder going down our backs. he got his... and i chickened out. my God, i can only imagine the look on my mom and dad's faces if i'd actually gone through with that.