Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tarte aux pommes

One of my favorite parts of stage managing is baking for my cast. This may not sound like a typical managerial duty, but, in fact, it's a wonderful one. I often try to make something that relates to the play in some way or other, though other times I just settle for brownies--my old stand-by.

Not too long ago, I was stage managing for a cast that was suffering from low morale. We agreed to have a line-through, without the director present, late on a Sunday night when everyone was done with their other commitments. For the occasion, I baked a Covered Apple Pie, deciding that real fruit was better for my cast than massive amounts of chocolate. Because it was a busy week, I didn't have time to make my own dough (another thing I should start doing in the New Year) so instead I used a frozen Trader Joe's crust which was truly tasty--the best prepared crust I've had yet. It was buttery and had a real flavor, not at all like the parchmnet paper in which it came wrapped. The only problem is that it does break easily, so it needs to be handled with care and a little extra butter.

Tarte aux pommes

2 9-inch Pie Crusts
6 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
2 tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
2 tablespoons Butter

Pre-heat oven to 425 F. Place 1 Pie Crust in a 9-inch pie pan. In a large bowl, toss together Apples, Sugar, Flour, Vanilla and Cinnamon until well-combined. Transfer to pie pan. Stud with Butter.

Cover filling with second Pie Crust. Pinch pastry edges together to seal, using the edge of a fork. Btush visible crust with Milk, more if it seems brittle. Cut several holes on-top to allow steam to escape while baking. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F and bake another 30 minutes. Serve warm or cool.

and and and and and

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Paper Chef #14: Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Stir-Fry with Cashews, over Quinoa

I've never yet participated in a Paper Chef competition, but I've always enjoyed reading the ingredients and trying to come up with my own creation. So this weekend, in spite of hosting a dinner party Saturday night, I was thrilled to be able to try my hand at the ever-bizarre Paper Chef.

This month certainly promised to be an exciting one, with the wacky Belly-Timber as the hosts. The four ingredients were: Cashews, Quinoa, Yogurt and something "baby." First off, I had to do some research. I'd never used Quinoa before, so I checked what it was and, seeing it was a grain, I decided to treat it much like I would rice. In spite of the dirth of fresh vegetables, I've been seeing beautiful Baby Bok Choy lately, so I picked that as my "baby." And finally, after some searching, I decided to make a fusion stir-fry, using Quinoa as the bed upon which to spoon up the stir-fry. While not crazy, it was simple and surpisingly healthy, as per Owen's instructions.

Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Stir-Fry with Cashews, over Quinoa


2 large tablespoons Greek-style Yogurt
1 tablespoon Extra-Dry Vermouth
Salt, to taste
1 tablespoon Potato Starch
2 pounds skinless, boneless Chicken Thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes


1 tablespoon Ginger, minced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Leeks, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon Ancho Chile Powder
Salt to taste


1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
2 tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
2 teaspoons Extra-Dry Vermouth
2 teaspoons Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Orange Juice
1 tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
Salt, to taste

1 cup Quinoa
2 cloves Garlic, minced
Salt, to taste


1 bunch Broccoli Rabe, chopped
2 tablespoons Roasted Peanut Oil
1 Yellow Onion, diced
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
2 Baby Bak Choys, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Ancho Chile Powder
Salt, to taste
1-2 cups Roasted, Unsalted Cashews

In a bowl, combine ingredients for Marinade. Mix well. Add Chicken and toss. Cover and place in refrigerator to marinate.

Mix Aromatics together in a dish. Set aside.

Combine Sauce ingredients in a bowl. Stir well and put aside.

Take Chicken out of refrigerator and bring to room temperature.

Meanwhile, cook Quinoa: Place in sieve and Rinse with water, getting rid of the outer shell. Over medium heat, toast Quinoa with two minced cloves of Garlic and Salt to taste in a saucepan. Add 2 cups of water, bring to a oil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Keep Quinoa warm while you cook the Chicken.

In a saucepan, heat 4 cups of Water until barely simmering. Place Chicken in pan and cook for several minutes until almost fully cooked. Drain Chicken and set aside.

Heat wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add Oil, swirling it around. As it heats up, lower heat to medium and add Aromatics. Stir until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add onion and Bell Pepper and toss briefly for about 1 minute. Add Bok Choy and cook until partially reduced, about 1 minute. Toss in Broccoli Raab, Ancho Chile Powder and Salt, stirring until Broccoli Raab is reduced, about 1 minute.

Add Sauce to the wok. Raise heat. When Sauce is simmering, cover wok. Cook about 2 minutes. Add Chicken and cook, covered, for 2 more minutes or until Chicken is cooked all the way through.

Serve on a bed of Quinoa, a handful of Cashews on top.

and and and and and

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Year's Eve

Instead of having a crazy night out at a party, we decided to celebrate New Year's in style at a restaurant. Miss Jess, one of my ladies from California, is here visiting her boy, Ian, so they joined the Boy and me for dinner at a Moroccan Restaurant, Zerza.

Zerza is a dark, two-story restaurant in the East Village. When we entered, we were told by a busy waitress to wait for the owner before we were seated. We stood in the entryway for several minutes until the owner arrived, then were led upstairs to a table for four next to the main window. We sat down and ordered a bottle of Champagne while we perused the menu.

As it was New Year's Eve, the menu was a special, limited one, a 3-course prix fixe for $39. Nevertheless, we all had a hard time deciding what we wanted!

The waitress brought up the bottle of "the best Champagne we have" and served it. Unfortunately, I was unable to check what kind of Champagne it was, but it was absolutely delicious.

Our appetizers came soon after we ordered. The Boy and Miss Jess both ordered the Grilled Merguez, lamb sausage with tomato sauce. I didn't taste them, but apparently they were rather typical merguez, though surprisingly moist. The tomato sauce mitigated the usual saltiness.

Ian gobbled down his Moroccan Cigars, Spiced ground beef cigars with goat cheese, without offering anyone so much as a taste, so I assume he enjoyed them.

My Spicy Prawns, Sauteed spicy prawns with chermoula sauce, were extremely tasty, though not exactly spicy. The prawns were plump and sweet and the chermoula taste tasted very strongly of the fresh tomatoes with which it was prepared, with just a hint of garlic and cumin.

Before our entrees arrived, we finished our Champagne and ordered a bottle of Guerrouane Rouge, Morrocan red wine. The wine was good, pretty light, and smooth, with just a touch of spice. It was a more fruity wine than dry.

For our main dishes, three of us ordered the same thing--the Tagine Lamb Barkouk, Slow-cooked stew of lamb shank with apricots, prunes and almonds. It was delicious, the lamb falling off the bone and the prunes melted into the sauce. The apricots added a nice tangy break to what would be an overpoweringly sweet sauce, and the almonds were a perfect textural change. It also came with a small side of couscous--wonderful in the sauce. However, we would have liked a little more couscous, missing the massive quantities to which we had grown accustomed in Paris.

Miss Jess was the iconoclast and chose instead the Chicken Bastilla, Moroccan phyllo dough pie stuffed with shredded chicken, onions and eggs. Again, I didn't have a taste, but the presentation was impressive, the phyllo dough really puffed up. And Miss Jess cleaned her plate and said she fully enjoyed herself.

Desserts were also included in the prix-fixe, so the Boy and Miss Jess ordered Homemade Fig Ice Cream which was very good, not extremely sweet but creamy and tasting strongly of fresh figs.

Ian went for a Flourless Chocolate Cake, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was extremely dense, but similar nonetheless to a souffle. In fact, it was so rich he couldn't finish it!

I gave into a weakness and ordered Baklava. This may have been the best Baklava I've ever had, served warm, the honey oozing out of it. Nevertheless, it managed not to be over-poweringly sweet, the phyllo ver buttery and, again, tasting homemade.

After dinner, we shared a Jasmine hookah which was wonderful, "like Jasmine tea without the tea," as Miss Jess aptly described it. At midnight, we were presented with free glasses of Champagne, not as good as the bottle we shared earlier, and various noisemakers and hats. Then a belly-dancer entered and entertained all of us for a long while, even convincing several diners to dance with us. While watching, the Boy ordered a cocktail, a Casablanca (he was attracted by its name) . Too sweet for me, it tasted like Grenadine, Campari, Sprite and Rum. Bright red in color, it was served ice-cold in a martini glass. Ian and I had more traditional after-dinner drinks, glasses of Port, although we were told it was brandy. Luckily, I prefer port.

This was a truly enjoyable evening--good fun, good wine and good friends. We'll definitely return, hopefully when they have belly-dancing again.

304 E. 6th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-8250

and and and and and

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

WBW #17: Hawke's Bay Merlot

I'm really not normally bad at picking wines, but for some reason whenever I participate in a WBW, I don't find the greatest wines. Granted, neither wine was terrible, but they were far from my favorites. Perhaps it's that I'm so limited in my selection, but, in the two WBW's in which I've participated, I would probably not buy the wines again.

The Corkdork is the host of this month's WBW and has chosen Red Kiwis as the theme. Red kiwis, you ask? New Zealand reds.

After doing some research, I was really looking forward to trying a nice New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. Unfortunately, it took me visits to two liquor stores to find even one kind of New Zealand wine, and that a Merlot. At least it was red. The first store, Union Square Liquors, which usually has quite an impressive selection, only carried about a dozen wines from Australia, half of which were over $30, and none from New Zealand. So I moved on to the less impressive liquor store around the corner from home, Village Wine & Sprits Shop, they carried only one bottle of New Zealand wine, a 2002 Babich Winemakers' Reserve Hawke's Bay Merlot for $11.99.

I bought the bottle, brought it home and based dinner around it, finally finding an excuse to try out my newest cookbook, Garlic, Garlic, Garlic, one of my Chanukah presents from the Boy. According to a review of the wine, it marries best with Ratatouille, so I made a Braised Salmon with Simple Garlic Ratatouille, from my new book.

The Salmon came out better than the Wine, but it was fun to see how the flavors played together. We also paired it with a Smoked Gouda in lieu of dessert.

My wine notes follow. Keep in mind I'm still learning a wine vocabulary.

From the back of the bottle:

"This ripe, harmonious Merlot displays an attractive wealth of berry fruit and plum aromas, balanced by a full-flavoured, soft tannin finish. Enoyable now, it will improve for several years in the cellar."

Legs: Very short, barely noticeable.
Color: Purple-Red.
Nose: Very acidic, no recognizable fruits.
Taste: Oaky, with an acidic finish. Although a 2002 wine, it tasted very young, as though it needed several more years to mature. It worked very nicely with the salmon,, though, the high acidity of the wine playing nicely with the slightly-sweet Eggplant in the ratatouille. It was also much better after taking time to breathe. Dad preferred it with the Smoked Gouda, finding the smokiness of the cheese able to stand up to the acidic wine. Mom and I disagreed, as the Gouda had a very soft mouthfeel, as compared to the wine's harsher one.
Verdict: While not bad with food, we probably won't be buying this again. It was too tannic for our tastes, although perhaps it will be better in several years.

Winemakers Reserve
Gimblett Road Vineyard Hawke's Bay

and and and and and

Monday, January 02, 2006

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2006! That's it--another year has gone by. As always, there have been highs and lows, good times and bad. As most people do at the beginning of a New Year, I'm looking back at some of the highlights and plotting some of the things I'm looking forward to next year. I'll list the food-related ones here.

Highlights of 2005

The Boy and I found an adorable apartment in Paris, which became our first home together. I accustomed myself to cooking dinner most nights a week and making sure we ate our vegetables! We welcomed the New Year in high style at Le Bistrot d'Henri.

In spite of a twisted ankle, the Boy and I were able to celebrate Valentine's Day, spending it together for the first time in our 2 + year relationship. We also discovered what became our favorite restaurant, Les dessous de la robe.

The Boy went off to China for a month and, inspired primarily by Chocolate & Zucchini, I began a food blog! Among the culinary highlights, I think my favorite was my very first post--Filet de boeuf with livarot sauce, something that will unfortunately be difficult to recreate back in the States.

What a busy month April was! It started out with Free Couscous, then the Boy came home from China and I made him a Lamb and Saffron Stew. We held a much-belated Housewarming Party and I observed all the dietary laws of Passover, but still managed to cook Delicious Dinners.

My brother visited me in May and, with his help, I participated in my first WBW, Think Pink! I also conquered two food-related fears: Whole Fish and Gelatin. The latter was for my first entry in an IMBB, the theme of which was Gelatin.

June was a bittersweet month. At the beginning of the month, we moved out of our beautiful apartment in Paris and began a fantastic six-week-long trip around France. Unfortunately, blogging came almost to a halt, but we were having so much fun we hardly noticed.

I finally left Europe towards the end of July and came back to New York. For the short time I was there, I went to the theatre, ate out and tried my hand at cooking Chinese food.

Before leaving New York, I made one final meal and figured out exactly what was happening to the blog in the future. Then I drove cross-country to San Francisco and started cooking out there.

Although I was terribly late for one IMBB, the Lovely Ladies I live with gave me the impetus to participate in another one and helped me brainstorm my EoMEoTE entry.

I tried my hand at song-parodying, changing the words for the "Boy's and my song," Hotel California by The Eagles. I also found an excuse to buy a muffin pan and baked some Strawberry Muffins for my girls and me.

November is always a happy month for me because it's my Birthday Month! The Ladies totally outdid themselves, decorating our hallway and buying me food-related goodies. Yum! I also did quite a lot more baking, finally getting more comfortable with it.

How deliciously eventful December was! First of all, I came back to New York and finally got to relax and just spend some time with the Boy. He finished his first semester of law school and I made him a celebratory, savory Torte. I also wrote two posts in French and the Boy and I discovered a new French restaurant nearby.

And now for my New Year's Resolutions (or at least the food-related ones) . Let's see how many I end up keeping!

1. To make my own stock. I try to place a real emphasis on homemade food, never eating at fast-food chain restaurants, but there are certain homemade base foods I never take the time to make, like stock!

2. Make homemade pasta. One of our very favorite foods is a big bowl of pasta with almost any kind of sauce. The Boy has been trying to convince me to try my hand at making my own pasta and, having only made gnocchi, I'd love to give it a whirl.

3. Have some simple, but still delicious weeknight standys. Whenever I want to make a good dinner, it ends up taking hours, both to plan and to prepare, so we end up eating at midnight. I really need some easy dishes that are still nutritious and delicious.

4. Bake bread. I've started conquering my baking fears and I think I'm ready to start playing with yeast again. Or, at least I hope I will be by next December.

5. Poach eggs. Several days ago, I mastered the art of soft-boiled eggs. Now I'd like to learn how to poach them. They don't have to be beautiful--just not fall apart.

6. Creme brulee. I have yet to break in my blow torch, so, once back in California, that's an absolute goal.

7. Blog work. I would love to take the time to update this blog much more often and to take more time with each post.

8. Beautifying the blog. I haven't updated the design of my blog in over six months and I think it's time to re-think how it looks.

9. Recipe index. I'd like to figure out how to put together a good recipe index that would be easy to search. This may require switching to another blog host, which is another thing I will have to look into.

That's all for now. I may add new goals to this list as the year goes on, but for now I think this is quite enough.

Happy holidays! And a very happy New Year! All the best to you and all of yours.

and and