Tag: foodie


Weekend Gourmet: Staplehouse

Posted 17 April, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Places, Topics

staplehouse
Staplehouse
: Atlanta, Georgia

Experience Date: April 16, 2016

Price: $85 per person for five courses, $40 additional for wine pairing (six pours) – includes gratuity

I read quite a few articles about Staplehouse before we went last night. It’s being hailed as one of Atlanta’s up and coming new restaurants. I have to agree for the most part. On the whole, the food itself was quite good. My main issue with the experience was how damn loud it was in there. Also, the atmosphere was a little more laid back than I felt like I was paying for.

But let’s talk about the food.

Amuse Bouche: Party for the mouth! Buttermilk curd on crackers, sushi, and foie gras balls. I don’t remember what those sticks were. Those balls are covered in hazelnuts and are absolutely heavenly. It was paired with a surprise sparkling wine, I think it was an Atmospheres out of Loire, France. It was light without being too sweet.

staplehouse amuse bouche

amuse bouche

1st: Excellent Alabama blue crab with fresh asparagus, radishes, and egg yolks. The dish was initially a little bland until I managed a bite that also included an egg yolk. The saltiness of the egg allowed for the flavor in the rest of the dish to come out and I was really impressed. It was paired with a gentil vin d’alsace, a white wine that was just the right balance.

staplehouse crab

blue crab, asparagus, radish, egg yolk
Wine: gentil vin d’alsace, MEYER-FONNÉ, alsace, france 2014

2nd: Absolutely one of my favorite courses. The homemade ravioli was so fresh it melted in my mouth and was cooked to perfection. The green garlic and snap peas on top definitely were the perfect added crunch to make the dish just right. It was paired with a pošip out of Croatia, (that’s a white wine). I’m not sure that I’ve ever had Croatian wine, but it was an excellent pairing to go with both the pasta and the vegetables.

staplehouse ravioli

ravioli, green garlic, koji, snap peas
Wine: pošip, ZLATAN, hvar, croatia 2012

3rd: Poached sablefish. I pointed out to my husband that we didn’t get fish forks or knives with this course.  Poached fish generally isn’t something I care for, but in my experience when you have a phenomenal chef, foods you don’t normally care for can be made magical. This did not happen for me with the poached sablefish. The lime was overwhelming in this dish and the texture of the fish was something akin to warm sushi. I like sushi. I like cooked fish. I don’t like that state in between. This course was a fail for me.

The wine pairing was decent, but didn’t save the course. It was a Napa Valley Chardonnay that was unremarkable. Not bad, but unremarkable.

staplehouse sablefish

sablefish, salami, lime, nasturtium
Wine: chardonnay, TRUCHARD, carneros, napa ca 2014

Bread Intermezzo: Potato sourdough with homemade salted thyme butter. Heavenly.

bread intermezzo!

bread intermezzo!

4th: Meat course! Steak. The cut is best described as the top of the ribeye. Just like the ravioli, it was cooked to melt in your mouth perfection and topped with whipped fat – which I know sounds a little iffy – but I promise you was absolutely delightful. The charred vegetables on the side here should not be overlooked as they were a perfect compliment in both flavor and texture. The wine was a nebbiolo (red). To me it was a little like a cabernet in how it was a bit heavier and more bold than I generally like in a red, but paired with the beef, it was just right.

staplehouse steak

bear creek beef, spring onions, english peas, smilax
Wine: nebbiolo, BORGOGNO, ‘no name’, piedmont, italy 2011

5th: Dessert. Strawberries and butter cake. Sounded a little dull on paper, but Staplehouse delivered strawberries in a couple of different ways. Homemade sorbet, fresh strawberries, and strawberry bark were presented. The cake itself was a bit dry and lackluster. The most notable thing for me about this course was that it was paired with a moscato, which I normally really dislike – but this moscato wasn’t cloyingly sweet and it was paired perfectly with the strawberries.

staplehouse dessert

strawberries, butter cake
Wine: moscato d’asti, vietti, piedmont, italy 2014

Chocolate Truffles: Made in house! Surprise!

Cheers! Home made chocolate truffles!

Cheers! Home made chocolate truffles!

Overall: More or less this was worth the money for me. Like I said before, I felt that the casualness of the venue and the staff to be a little bit underwhelming considering the price. However, I get the idea behind trying to get the millennials who are allegedly ‘less casual’ in their desire for dining experiences.

Personally, I don’t need the white tablecloths and the guys with crumb sweepers – though they are nice touches. But I do require a certain amount of formality based on the price. This isn’t to say that the staff wasn’t incredibly knowledgeable about what they were serving, but …. the price just makes me wish that it was a little quieter and the tiniest bit more formal.

Worth a trip.

So Reader, what do you think? Any amazing recommendations for me? Anyone else been to Staplehouse?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Magical Truffle Salt

Posted 20 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Have you heard the good news? No, not Jesus. Truffle salt. 

Guys, I’m a salt lover by nature – I pretty much can be counted on to salt everything. I also love gourmet foods so a little truffle shavings on my gratin works just fine for me thank you very much.

You can get truffle salt at World Market and other high end grocery stores. Of course you can also get it through Amazon as well. A few weeks ago I made a very boring crockpot pork chop recipe, I added some truffle salt and holy poop on a stick, I could not stop eating those pork chops. 

What else? Popcorn, y’all. Instead of using Morton’s to salt your popcorn whip out that truffle salt and it turns popcorn into an amazing gourmet fancy treat. 

So far I’ve been using it willy-nilly on things that it seems like it might be good on, but pretty soon I’m going to check out some real recipes and report back. For now here are 15 Delicious Ways to Use Truffle Salt.

Hopefully I’ll remember to link this up to Weekend Cooking on Beth Fish Reads.

Do you have a favorite seasoning or spice, Reader? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Sous Chef

Posted 11 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Weekend Cooking: Sous ChefSous Chef by Michael Gibney
Published by Random House Publishing Group on March 25th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Cooking, Essays & Narratives, General, Personal Memoirs, Professional
Pages: 240
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.   In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare.

An interesting little memoir that’s told in a weird second person format. Overall, it’s pretty enjoyable. It’s especially enjoyable if you like to eat at expensive high end restaurants. Sous Chef gives an enlightening feel of what goes on behind the scenes at such places. This is the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. 

I reveled in the idea that celebrities aren’t getting any special attention from the kitchen, but even someone as ‘lowly’ as a staff writer for the New York Times receives VIP status. Who says journalism is dead? 

The second person style didn’t really work for me. It was arresting at first, but after a bit I found it to be a little irritating. The narrative is strongest during the sections before and during the actual service. The last portion of the book waxes a little philosophical for my taste – the meaning and importance of preparing good food for people and the such. I appreciate the sentiment but it did seem to meander on a bit too long.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to foodies. Especially foodies with expensive tastes in restaurants. I loved finding out exactly how things work behind the scenes.

Everyone else? Well, it’s probably a take it or leave it book for you. Especially if you can’t comprehend why anyone would pay $500 a plate for a single meal. 

I also enjoyed the review on Beth Fish Reads for this book.  

So, Reader does Sous Chef sound like it might be for you? What’s the most expensive meal you’ve had? Did you love it? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Tasty Tuesday: The Dinner

Posted 15 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Tasty Tuesday: The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
Published by Crown/Archetype on February 12th 2013
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

I picked this book up because it was one of the slimmer volumes that was in the Tournament of Books for 2014. I didn’t know a whole lot about it, except it was originally in Dutch. 

I really liked it. I thought it was delightful how the book was broken down into sections such as Apertif, Main Course, etc. Since I’m a foodie going through the motions of an expensive meal is always thrilling in a book. 

But what was really interesting about this novel was how skillfully Koch unravelled his story and the characters behind them. Told in the first person by Paul Lohman, the reader not only gets a play by play of every minute detail of the dinner, we are treated to the innermost workings, desires, and fantasies of someone who seems (over the course of a single meal) to become increasingly unhinged. 

 I’m reading Lolita right now, so unreliable narrators are on my mind. I think Paul Lohman can definitely be categorized as an unreliable narrator.  This book is suspenseful but it’s very subtle about the suspense. The action is fairly limited so it could almost be described as a suspenseful character study – two genres that would seem to be at odds with one another. 

I’ve seen criticisms of this book being too pretentious, I didn’t get that feeling at all. True, none of the characters were overly warm or relatable, which may have hindered the impact that the author was going for – but despite that I was still interested in the characters and wanted to find out what was going to happen to them, and more importantly, who they really were. 

The Dinner was, in a word, delicious.

In my opinion this book was robbed during the Tournament of Books, it probably shouldn’t have won, but I don’t think it should have been eliminated in the first round! 

Have you read The Dinner, Reader? Has anyone read it in the original Dutch? Do you have an unreliable narrator that you love to hate? Or just feel confused about? 
 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: The DeKalb Farmers Market

Posted 29 March, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! This week I have something that’s a little different. I ‘discovered’ the local ‘farmers market’. I’m using farmer’s market in the loosest possible sense. 

Your DeKalb County Farmer’s Market: A World Market has the feel of an old world (read: European) street market and a Costco. The Costco feel comes from the market being housed in a large warehouse-style building, the old world feel comes from the vast selection of items that can be purchased there. 



Let’s start with traditional fare of a farmer’s market – produce. 


Ten aisles (maybe more!) of all produce you can possibly imagine, there were at least four seperate types of yams, fresh lemongrass, sugar cane, all the normal stuff you would see in a grocery, and things that I couldn’t even identify. (Large signage was helpful with that). 

Next up! Seafood. I grew up in Florida, so I grew up with fresh off the boat gulf shrimp and fish. My husband who is totally clueless doesn’t understand, scoffs and swears that you can’t tell the difference between fresh and frozen shrimp. The nerve. Anyway the DeKalb Farmer’s Market solves those problems. LIVE CRAWFISH, the video is a little creepy crawly. I’ve probably eaten triple my body weight in poundages of crawfish over the years, but weirdly, I’ve never seen them live. Here’s the video I took for you!



Also like old world markets they had tanks of farm raised fish swimming around waiting for your execution order. I took a peek at the cod and the catfish, though there were other varieties available. They weren’t nearly as crowded as the fish that I saw when I was in Budapest (picture below). The cool thing here is that the employees at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market will clean the fish for you. Buyer’s choice! They’ll just clean it, and leave the head on, clean it and take the head off, or even filet it for you.  Talk about fresh. I think that there will be fish and chips in our future.


The selection of meat was also vast. There were fresh cuts of the usual suspects – beef, pork, chicken, lamb (to be cut to your specification by a butcher). But there was also goat (I don’t even have a recipe for goat!) rabbit, and bison. Also! Fresh sausages made on site!

Cheeses from all around the world, you know this made me happy. (Who knew Australia produced anything but Foster’s?) The bakery consisted of several aisles, everything from croissants, to naan, to breads I’d never considered. There was a whole room that just had chocolate in it. There was freshly ground flours of all types, rice, flaxseed, wheat. Fresh pasta, fresh pizza dough

But the coup de grâce was the pâté and the wine selection. It’s no secret that I love foie gras, the picture I snapped below was just a small selection of the different kinds of pâté available. The wine selection was completely international and there was a whole shelf of just sake (I hate sake). The beer was almost as impressive. I just hate that Georgia state law prohibits liquor sales in ‘grocery stores’ because I would love to see the liquor selection these people could bring in.


Final Thoughts
The prices were very reasonable. Since I know my (cheap) wine, I found some of the brands that I knew you could get at Wal-Mart and the prices were competitive. (Definitely cheaper than Publix) Everything else seemed very reasonable as well, but I know my wine price points best. 🙂 (Don’t ask me what a gallon of milk costs.) 

I also picked up all the ingredients that I need to make my grandmother’s seafood gumbo, so be watching for a post on that in the future!

To me, the most exceptional thing about the DeKalb County Farmer’s Market is it’s location. I never in a million years would have expected to find something so cool, so international in (near) Atlanta, Georgia. We’ve been here nearly three months and I’m beginning to think that I have misjudged this city. Even the suburb that we live in is surprisingly progressive in events that happen, people that are welcome, and diversity of ideas and shops. Maybe Atlanta is to Georgia what Austin is to Texas. We’ll see. Foodies coming to town, I’d highly recommend a stop by this ‘farmer’s market’. Foodies nearby, I’d recommend a day trip out here. 
 
Who’s coming to visit me, Readers?


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: ‘High Flavor, Low Labor’

Posted 1 February, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! This weekend I want to spread the good news about one of my all-time favorite cookbooks.

While it’s not a classic like The Joy of Cooking (which belongs in every kitchen), I have confidence that as more people ‘go foodie’ and eschew easy solutions like Hamburger Helper or that old standby the tuna casserole the more kitchens that this cookbook belongs in as well. Just because it’s a weekday doesn’t mean you have to eat slop! This cookbook shows you exactly how to avoid that.

I bought this cookbook after hearing an NPR piece on it a few years ago. Ever since then, it’s been dog-eared, bookmarked, spilled on, and written it. I keep coming back to it over and over again.

Why? Because unlike the series of Rachel Ray cookbooks promising 30-minute meals, (but that instead when you factor in prep work, take more like an hour and a half) this book actually delivers.

While I haven’t cooked every recipe in the book I haven’t encountered any that I absolutely will not cook again. In fact, this cookbook has several recipes that are on standby for me. Every recipe that I have cooked has taken no longer than about 30 minutes and cook and prep times are accurately represented.

Hirsch maintains a conversational tone throughout the book. In the first four chapters (which are short), his premise is easily understood:

There are recipes that hail from Asian, Hispanic, Indian, African, European, and American traditions. Despite this amazing variety most of the recipes use fairly common ingredients so you won’t have to travel to the ends of the earth to find that strange, essential ingredient.

Courses represented in High Flavor, Low Labor are the following:

  • First Up (Appetizers)
  • Tossed Around (Salads)
  • Souped Up
  • Mainly Speaking (Entrées)
  • Punched Up Pasta
  • Sandwiched
  • To the Side (Sides)
  • Sugar Rush (Desserts)
Here’s one of our favorites from the book.
Spicy Black Bean, Sausage, and Rice Burrito
Ingredients
4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 precooked chicken sausages, cut into rounds
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 (15oz) can of black beans, drained
1 cup jarred tomatillo salsa
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
4 burrito size flour tortillas
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon for two minutes, or until it lightly coats the pan with fat. Add the onion, garlic, sausages, and smoked paprika. Sauté for 3 minutes.
Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for another 30 seconds. Ad the broth and beans, stir well, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Mix in the salsa, then season with salt and pepper.
Microwave the tortillas for about 15 seconds to soften them. Divide the rice and beans mixture among the tortillas, then top each with chopped cilantro, cheddar cheese, and sour cream.
Enjoy!

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Chicken Pho

Posted 19 January, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads and for the second week in a row I’ve actually cooked something. Really, the problem is that Atlanta just can’t compare to Chicago on the food scene, though if anyone out there has any suggestions on good eatin’ in Atlanta, I’m begging you to put it in the comment section! 

So, I ran across a recipe for Chicken Pho on Smitten Kitchen and decided I didn’t have anything better to do this week. Smitten Kitchen is a site that’s notorious (in my small circles, at least) for having amazing recipes, but generally the recipes are incredibly involved and require at least one ingredient that you must hike the Himalayas to find. But like I said, we’re moving in and I was tired of unpacking so a Smitten Kitchen recipe seemed just the ticket. It came out extremely well. It also wasn’t as involved as I thought it would be.

Note, I’ve never had traditional Vietnamese pho, so making this was a first for me and eating it was a first. The comments on the site indicate that it’s a pretty traditional recipe. I can tell you mine was delicious.

Let’s get started! Remember my notes will be this color. Her pictures are beautiful, much better than mine, but I have to add my own for a little illustration. 

Recipe – Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

The broth here is fairly simple (wonderful for beginners) but you should feel free to add any of the extra spices that sound good to you. Star anise is considered especially fundamental pho. It’s typically served with a plate full of fixings including lime wedges, Thai basil, cilantro, slivers of jalapeño, mung bean sprouts, and crispy shallots. You will probably see some chili-garlic sauce, Sriracha, and hosin nearby. If this sounds overwhelming to procure, do not sweat it; just get what you can or what sounds good. The beauty of pho is that it’s all about the broth, and one as good as this will taste dreamy even without a single bean sprout on top. Besides, Phan himself advises that “The trick is to add a little bit of each item as you eat your way through the bowl, not to dump them in all at once. You want the herbs to maintain their fragrance, the bean sprouts to stay crunchy — it’s all about aroma and texture, and if you add too much too soon you’ll end up with black herbs and soft sprouts, which defeats the whole purpose.”

Serves 6.

Broth
2 unpeeled yellow onions, quartered
Three 1/2-inch-thick slices of unpeeled fresh ginger, smashed
4 quarts cold water

3 pounds chicken bones or chicken wings I used 2.5 lbs of chicken wings and a chicken carcass from a store bought roasted chicken we had consumed the night before.

One fresh 3 1/2-pound chicken, quartered Save yourself a ton of trouble and buy it already quartered.

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

Additional spices (optional): Cinnamon, star anise, black cardamoms, coriander seeds, fennel seeds or cloves

I used two sticks of cinnamon, five or six pieces of star anise, maybe a teaspoon of ground cardamoms, a tablespoon of whole coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and seven to ten cloves. I also added a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic.
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce I probably used closer to half a cup throughout the recipe, this is because I ignored my distaste of star anise and honestly was looking for anything to cut the smell back.
1 pound dried rice noodles, a linguine shape (bánh phở) if you can find them


Garnishes
1 large scallion, thinly sliced
1 pound mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup torn basil leaves, Thai basil if you can find it All I could find was regular basil and it was delicious.

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

2 limes, cut into wedges

2 jalapeños, thinly sliced

Asian chili-garlic sauce

Hoisin sauce

Crispy shallots, the recipe I used was slightly different, it is found here.
I also used Sriacha, wherewould we be without Sriacha?

Char onions and ginger: Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the onions and ginger on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. [Alternate idea suggested in the comments: If you have a gas range, just char them a bit over a flame. It would save a lot of time.] 

I was a little put off by this, probably because I have issues in reading the entire recipe before cooking, it’s important to remember that the broth will be strained, so don’t be freaked out about not peeling the onions or ginger.




Cook the chicken: Fill a large stockpot with the water and bring to a boil. Add the roasted onions and ginger, and the chicken bones or wings, quartered chicken, salt, sugar and any of the optional spices and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to moderate and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken and finish the broth: Using tongs, transfer the quartered chicken to a plate and let cool slightly. Remove the meat from the bones and refrigerate. Return the skin and bones to the stockpot and simmer for 2 hours longer. Strain the chicken broth into a large soup pot and cook over high heat until reduced to 12 cups, about 15 minutes. Stir in the fish sauce; adjust to taste.

I didn’t put all of the skin and fat back into the broth (I know! That’s where the flavor is!). I also prepared the broth about 36 hours ahead of time. I hate deboning chicken, but for a great chicken soup it’s a necessary evil.



I strained this broth three times. The first with a normal colander to get out all of the big pieces, when I came back to it two days later I noticed there still seemed to be a lot of flotsam floating around so I got out my wire mesh strainer and strained it two more times. It helped to clarify the broth some, though I doubt my broth was clear enough to actually impress anyone.

*Prepare noodles: In a large bowl of warm water, soak the noodles until pliable, about 20 minutes. You can also prepare the noodles according to the package instructions, if they differ. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Drain the noodles, then add them to the saucepan and boil over high heat until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well. Divide the noodles between 6 large bowls and sprinkle with the scallion.

Finish and serve the soup: Add the reserved chicken to the broth and simmer until heated through. Ladle the broth and chicken over the noodles. Serve with the bean sprouts, basil, lime wedges, jalapeños, chili-garlic sauce, hoisin sauce and crispy shallots.

Note: Phan has you cook the noodles separately in water, so they can be drained and used as needed. I believe he’s concerned about them overcooking in the soup pot. Theoretically, you could of course save time by cooking the noodles in the broth pot while the chicken reheats, however, the noodles are likely to make the broth cloudy, when ideal pho usually has a pristinely clear broth. [Thanks to everyone who mentioned the clouding issue in the comments.]


Do ahead: The broth can be made ahead and refrigerated for two days, a great way to divide up this recipe.

Here’s the husband behaving properly, because he knows what’s good for him. That clutter in the back is because we’re moving. Don’t judge.


Final Thoughts
As I said before this soup came out very flavorful. Next time I won’t add as much star anise because the smell makes me just a little ill. I think the flavor blends well enough with the other parts of the broth so the taste isn’t offensive, it was just every time I opened the lid to the pot I was smacked in the face with the smell of the star anise (and now my entire spice cabinet reeks of it). 

Also, clearly I don’t have the proper serving bowls for this recipe. You need a deep bowl, not the European-style soup bowls that we’re using here. I still have leftovers (of course) and at first I couldn’t find the bánh phở type noodles, so I purchased a rice noodle that’s much thinner, it looks like it might have the consistency of ramen noodles. I think that I’m going to prepare those today and try it out that way as I found the bánh phở to be a little thick and heavy. I know that this soup isn’t supposed to be about the fixin’s, but I like the flavors of the fixin’s (I really liked the flavor of the broth too, don’t get me wrong), so less noodles and more fixin’s appeals to me. 

If you have a mandolin, this is a great time to use it, it allowed me to slice both my jalapeños and shallots almost paper thin, I never could do that with a knife, largely because I have no knife skills. I used kitchen shears to cut the shallots.

This recipe has inspired me to find a Vietnamese restaurant and check out the beef pho – the comments found on this recipe seem to suggest that it’s much more involved. 

I’d recommend this recipe, it’s probably possible to make smaller quantities of noodles and fixin’s and freeze the chicken and broth part for an easier weekday meal later. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Cooking: Boeuf Bourguignonne

Posted 12 January, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads! Just to change things up, I’ve actually cooked something instead of my usual restaurant/foodie review. It’s a result of being reunited with all my kitchen gadgets, spices, cookbooks, and dishes after being separated for seven months. So let’s get to it! 

I went grocery shopping earlier this week with no list, no idea what I wanted to cook this week, I just bought a bunch of meat, a bunch of vegetables, and a bunch of household staples (like soy sauce).

I decided to whip out one of my favorite cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking (2006). I know there are some francophiles about so I settled on Bouef Bourguignonne which is simply a French Beef Stew. You’ll find my notes in this color within the recipe.

Recipe – Adapted from The Joy of Cooking (2006) p. 479
Cut into 2-inch cubes:
2 – 3 pounds of boneless beef stew meat, such as shoulder chuck 
I measured two inch cubes roughly using my fingers, I had a sneaking suspicion that they were going to be too large, but I’m trying an exotic new experiment of actually following the recipe.


Place the meat in a large bowl and add:

2 cups of dry red wine I used ‘Mercer Canyons, Red Blend, 2009’.
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 carrot, chopped I used baby-cut carrots and accidentally decimated them in my chopper. So I added 10 or 12 ‘whole’ baby carrots later in the recipe. 
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley I used dried parsley.
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon of cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt



Stir to combine and coat the meat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours (I let mine marinate somewhere between 8 – 10 hours) turning the meat occasionally (typing this is the first time I noticed this particular instruction, I didn’t turn, but all the meat was covered). Drain the beef, reserving the marinade and reserve the liquid and vegetables separately. (Oops. I missed this too… so much for following the recipe.) Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Add and brown:

4 ounces of bacon, diced I failed to dice my bacon beforehand so I cut it up after it had been cooked.

Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan, you should have two tablespoons (I had more than that), if not add vegetable oil as needed. Return the pot to medium high heat. Add the beef in batches and brown on all sides, being careful not to over-crowd the pot. Remove with slotted spoon. Add the reserved vegetables and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in: 

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. (Just like making a roux for those familiar with making gumbo.) Stir in the marinade, then return the beef and bacon to the pot. (Since thoroughly decimated the vegetables using the Kitchen Aid chopper I didn’t separate them from the marinade so everything but the meat was returned to the pot with the marinade. This is where I added the extra whole baby carrots.) Add:



2 cups small boiling onions, peeled (OMG. This is the first time I’ve used boiling onions. What a pain.)

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until the meat is fork-tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Add:

2 cups of mushrooms, quartered (about 8 ounces)

Cover and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Skim off the fat from the surface. Add:

1/4 cup of chopped parsley
Salt and black pepper to taste

Fin.


Final Thoughts
This recipe was extraordinarily savory and delicious. Despite my usual missteps with the recipe it still came out well. In hindsight, I was correct in not wanting to cut the meat into the two inch cubes, next time I will probably try one or even half inch cubes. I wouldn’t want the meat to get too tough so I might be hesitant to go any smaller than that. Also, I think I would have enjoyed some potatoes in this stew, it would have made it heartier and a little more stew-like. Alternatively, I might cook up some egg noodles to serve it over as leftovers. 

The recipe itself was pretty easy and didn’t take a whole lot of time and effort, especially with the chopper. (Can you tell I love that thing?) If you’re tired of the old pot-roast this is an excellent alternative. 



April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Gourmet: Alinea

Posted 15 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Alinea: Chicago, IL
Experience Date: 24 November 2013

We’re Weekend Cooking (or eating, as usual in my case) with Beth Fish Reads again!

If the menu looks more like an unintelligible work by a modern poet than it does something to select food from, that’s because it essentially is. Alinea is the only three Michelin Star restaurant (out of three stars) in Chicago. Though there are twenty four other one and two star restaurants in the city, Alinea holds the distinction of not only being the only three star Michelin restaurant in Chicago, it has been maintaining that sort of excellence for many years.

There is no ala carte at Alinea and reservations are done in a non-traditional way. Instead of making reservations you buy ‘tickets’ (well in advance). You pay online, upfront and there are no refunds (think of it as buying tickets to a concert). The ‘tickets’ can be transferred, but only through Alinea’s website. (Note: there are no physical tickets.) My only problem with this method is that tickets can only be reserved in multiples of two. I would have liked to go with my husband and sister, but we didn’t have a fourth. Too bad for my husband.

Back to the menu. When you enter Alinea you are putting yourself in the chef’s hands. A menu is posted on their website, but it’s not necessarily representative of what you will be served when you get there. They do take in dietary restrictions and the waitstaff and kitchen are very sensitive and accommodating to that.

Okay! The meal! Naturally, we chose to get the wine pairing.

Burning Oak : pumpkin, birch
Champagne Jean Lallement Verzenay – Grand Cru Brut NV

So, this was almost an amuse-bouche, just a bite, but it was still delightful. Light breading on the outside and inside there were flavors of pumpkin (but not overwhelmingly so) and cream. I hate that this picture came out so badly because it was presented and eaten directly off of a stick from an oak tree – complete with leaves still on it.

Char Roe: matsutake, apple, mustard



There was a wafer topped with the roe and matsutake mushroom. Underneath the wafer was a mustard ‘sauce’ (for lack of a better word.) I really enjoyed this course. The roe was just the perfect amount of savory and you could feel the ‘bubbles’ popping in your mouth, a sure sign that the roe you are consuming is fresh. The wafer and mustard puree gave for the perfect amount of balance with the texture.

Scallop: citrus aroma, fourteen textures
Hexamer ‘Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg-Hochsgewachs’ Riesling Nahe 2001 (White)


This was definitely the most spectacularly dramatic dish of the evening. The dish arrived with the clam shell that you see above closed and the mist (caused by dry ice). When you open up the clam shell you see your course inside of it. Additionally, the dry ice is used to kick up aromas from the lemon grass that surrounds the clam shell. The first think that I thought I smelled: Bath and Bodyworks Lemon Verbena.

The fourteen textures are pretty evident here, though too many of them seemed to be chewy for my taste. I would have liked more crunch.

Dungeness Crab: squash blossom, cardamom, saffron
Giovanna Madonia ‘Neblina’ Albana Secco, Romagna 2011



First. You should know that everything on this plate was edible. That’s up to and including the leaf and the fluff. The two mounds of orange are the dungeness crab and a cauliflower puree. The white spots that you see on the plate are salt!  infused with lavender.

I really enjoyed this course, the crab and cauliflower were reminiscent of the savoriness of foie gras. The fluff tasted like cotton candy.

Binchotan: tokyo inspiration
Takatenjin Junmai Daiginjo-shu ‘Soul of the Sensei’ Don Shuzo, Shizuoka-ken and Hitachino Nest White Ale, Kiuchi Brewery


There were four bites in this course. The fire was strictly for effect, we didn’t have to grill anything. Closest to the fire you’re seeing a piece of sushi grade tuna (raw) it was just the right amount of balance with texture and taste. It was not overly fishy, which was good because it might have overpowered the other flavors being offered.

Behind that was a piece of beef that was grilled to perfection and it completely melted in my mouth.

The next cube that you see is pork-belly which was delectable, and finally on the end you see a shrimp head. The waiter informed us just to pop the whole thing in our mouths. I’ll admit that I was a little hesitant, I grew up in the south and was always a little repulsed by sucking crawfish heads. In the end, however, I decided to trust the chef and popped that whole shrimpy-head into my mouth at once. It was an excellent contrast in texture, being crunchy, from the other three items on the plate.

This was definitely one of my favorite courses.

There were two beverages paired with this offering, a sake, which is a traditional Japanese rice wine, and a Japanese craft beer. I found the beer to be refreshing and it paired nicely. I don’t like sake, I never have, and while I tried it I learned that it still isn’t my cup of tea. (Or glass of wine.)

Veal Cheeks: lapsang souchong, pine, blackberry
Faugeres Domine Leon Barral 2010


Inspired by traditional Chinese barbecue, is what the waiter told us about this course. The veal sat on a bed of forbidden rice and a blackberry reduction topped with a pine froth and a rice cracker. The veal was excellent and the blackberries gave just the right amount of sweetness to enhance how savory the rest of they ingredients were.

The wine was interesting here. It had heavy overtones of well… manure. The sommelier warned us of this, though I think he had a fancy French word that roughly translated to ‘barnyard’. Honestly, I think I would have picked out the smell anywhere though.

Hot Potato: cold potato, black truffle, butter



Okay, what you’re looking at in this picture is a hand-crafted wax bowl filled with hot potato soup, suspended over it with a pin is a piece of cold (but cooked) potato topped with truffles. The waiter informed us that this was a ‘time sensitive’ dish. It rather reminded me of chugging an Irish Car Bomb. (For the uninitiated: 3/4 pint of Guinness, drop a shot of Irish whiskey and Bailey’s in it and chug. Ah, youth.)

So, being a rule follower, I pulled the pin and went for it! Perhaps I didn’t wait long enough for the temperatures of the two potatoes to even each other out but the soup burned my tongue a little and when I bit into the cold potato, it was almost unpleasantly cold. Still, truffles can fix almost anything and despite the temperature the tastes and textures were still superb.

Duck: …..?????……!!!!!!











Black Truffle: explosion, romaine, parmesan 

This course was definitely the most fun and my sister swears that she had a religious experience during it. First, what you’re seeing is duck prepared in five different ways on the white plate. On the black platter in the middle you’re seeing an assortment of toppings and additional flavors. Crazy, right?

Then the waiter told us the rules. Each piece of duck was to be consumed in two bites, with each bite we were to choose one topping. No sharing. Also, he didn’t tell us what anything on the platter was, so it was a crazy discovery game. He also explained that there was no way that we could use all the toppings, so we were just to go for it!

Go for it we did and what a result! Greens, nuts, chocolate, even a marshmallow greeted me on my fork. There was simply no way to know what the next bite was going to taste like, but each of the toppings complemented the duck perfectly.

Then, when I ran out of duck, I cheated and had a little sampling of other toppings I was curious about. It was tons of fun.

 



Another one of my favorite courses. When looking at the menu online before we went I was trying to figure out what flavor exactly ‘explosion’ was. Allow me to enlighten you. Again, we received instructions from the waiter. We were to put the entire dumpling in our mouth and seal our lips tight before biting down, otherwise we could look forward to an unholy mess.

I managed to do this with grace and dignity, my sister squirted delicious black truffle broth everywhere. Inside the dumpling was some concoction made from black truffles the topping of parmesan and romaine filled out both the flavors and the textures. I would have appreciated more than one of these.

Ginger: five other flavors
The Rare Wine Co. ‘Boston Bual’ – Special Reserve Madeira


The waiter described this as a transitional course, which makes sense as ginger is often used to clear the palate. What was neat about this, other than the presentation, was that the ginger was flavored from savory to sweet (left to right) so that upon eating the last piece of ginger I had been transported from my black truffle explosion and I was ready for my green apple balloon.

Balloon: helium, green apple


The famous green apple helium balloon. Everything that you see, including the balloon and the string were edible. To eat the balloon the waiter instructed us to ‘kiss’ the balloon and suck in as much air as possible. Being a total nerd I had to ask, “Like a dementor’s kiss?” I think that’s the reason my sister has that look on her face, she was totally humiliated.

Anyway, we did as instructed and after I had inhaled the helium my first words (naturally) were, “Expecto Patronum!” and I totally sounded like a chipmunk. Again, my sister was totally humiliated, that made it even more fun.

The balloon itself was delicious and a little reminiscent of the flavor of the outer part of a green apple Blow-Pop.

Corn: white chocolate, honey, mango
Chateau La Haute Borie Monbazillac 2010


So again, everything on this plate is edible. The ‘nest’ is made of white chocolate and underneath it was frozen pieces of delightfully sweet corn and mango. The little tower protruding from the nest was made of corn-silk that was fried(?) and made deliciously edible. The corn-silk gave the dish texture that it otherwise might have lacked.

Again, I had a problem with competing temperatures on this. I don’t like my ice-cream cold so it’s unsurprising that I had a hard time with some of the frozen pieces in this dish.

Milk Chocolate: påte sucrée, violet, hazelnut
Maculan ‘Torcolato’ Breganze 2009


This was like hibachi – for dessert! The rest of the meal there was no table cloth, but after we finished our corn course the waitstaff came and rolled out this grey vinyl table cloth. A chef came from the kitchen (though not the chef) and proceeded to prepare this little lovely presentation for us.

In the center is milk chocolate on top of a traditional graham cracker crust, the chef brought out kind of a tiny, bottomless springform pan and shaped the cake right there on the table. On top of it is whipped cream and those cracker looking things are actually sheets of sweetened salt. (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron) The white swirls on the table are more sweet cream, the beige lumps are hazelnut whipped cream (very stiff) and the purple and pink spots are syrup from violets. The neat thing about the violet syrup was the darker spots were made first, the chef then stirred his concoction and then the liquid was magically more pink!

This was delicious and fun to eat right off the table, but way too much for the end of the meal. I don’t think we even managed half of it.

Final Thoughts
Alinea was definitely an experience to remember and I found it throughly enjoyable. However, it was not cheap. The bill for the two of us including the wine pairings was more than $1,000. The sting of this was taken out a little as I paid for the dinner months in advance ($596.70 for two) and so when we got the bill at the end of the night we only had to pay for the wine pairing. That being said, I would not recommend Alinea to the casual foodie. You can have a comparable experience somewhere like Tru for half the price.

I also was mildly put off by the lack of a cheese course. I understand that Alinea specializes in ‘New American’ dining, so the traditional French food customs aren’t necessarily expected or needed, but damn it, I like my cheese course! I also found the wine pairings to be rather unremarkable.

The food was incredibly fun to eat and equally delicious. The waitstaff was amazing, professional, and totally on top of things. It’s definitely going into the annals of ‘meals of my life’.

I’m glad that I did it once, but I probably won’t be back. Next time I make it to Chicago however, I would like to try out their sister bar The Aviary for the five-course cocktail menu.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Memoir: Deer Hunting in Paris

Posted 9 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Memoir: Deer Hunting in ParisDeer Hunting in Paris by Paula Young Lee
Published by Travelers' Tales on November 19th 2013
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Essays & Travelogues, Hunting, Personal Memoirs, Sports & Recreation
Pages: 360
Goodreads
four-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

What happens when a Korean-American preacher’s kid refuses to get married, travels the world, and quits being vegetarian? She meets her polar opposite on an online dating site while sitting at a café in Paris, France and ends up in Paris, Maine, learning how to hunt. A memoir and a cookbook with recipes that skewer human foibles and celebrates DIY food culture, Deer Hunting in Paris is an unexpectedly funny exploration of a vanishing way of life in a complex cosmopolitan world. Sneezing madly from hay fever, Lee recovers her roots in rural Maine by running after a headless chicken, learning how to sight in a rifle, shooting skeet, and butchering animals. Along the way, she figures out how to keep her boyfriend’s conservative Republican family from “mistaking” her for a deer and shooting her at the clothesline.

This memoir is warm and funny. It’s not crazy laugh-like-a-maniac funny like Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson but I think it’s because I was better able to relate to some of the moments of absurdity. (Choosing the proper chicken from a French butcher, for one.)


By her own account Lee’s memoir is not the traditional female travel journal. 

I wasn’t looking for love, drugs, yoga classes or any other “girl” narratives attached the stories about free spirits bravely traveling alone … When your trips abroad are being paid for by your father/divorce settlement/publisher, you’re not free. You’re expensive.

So true! This is one of the few recent memoirs that I’ve read that hasn’t had a blog precede it, which I think is kind of amazing these days. It means that the writing and stories have to stand on their own and for the most part they do. Her independence gives a bit of feminist flair to the book, though I’m not sure that this was necessarily her intent. 

It’s enjoyable how the stories are strung together with recipes ala Like Water for Chocolate, there are at least two recipes for venison heart, though since I’ve left Chicago I’m not sure I could find a butcher to supply me with one. In addition to the recipes, the narrative is also pulled together with information about artwork, language, literature, nineteenth century periodicals, and want ads in Uncle Henry’s. 

There are times that the passages on hunting seem to wax philosophical, but I didn’t find this overly intrusive or even inappropriate.  Lee’s description of removing the tenderloins from the deer carcass borders on a religious experience, she shows a deeper understanding and reverence for the deer than most modern Americans.  The passages on hunting and guns are written in a way that is accessible to those of us that can’t hit the broad side of a barn and prefer books to sunlight. (Yeah, both of those are descriptors of me.) 

She writes with an authority on food that makes my mouth water. I can’t imagine anyone but the hardest of hardcore PETA members taking any issue with the hunting portrayed in this book. Her willingness to slaughter and prepare animals ‘from scratch’ underscores a quiet courage and determination that pervades the entire book. 

I only had two real complaints with this book. The first was the title. I probably wouldn’t have even taken it off the shelf if I was just cruising a bookstore. Despite how much I love the cover, the title makes it sound like it’s written by someone with political leanings to the far right. Ironically, (though perhaps this was the author’s intent) this is the exact opposite of who Lee presents herself to be. Lucky for me, through the magic of review copies, I was able to get past the title and actually read the substance. 

My other issue with the book is that for the first three-quarters or so it’s difficult to pin down exactly how much time has elapsed between events or when exactly her childhood is taking place. This may be partially due to my casual reading, but I generally don’t have that issue. 

Overall, this book is an enjoyable read. Just make sure you have steaks in the fridge ready to grill. 

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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