Monday, May 24, 2010

Wow! What happened?

Officially this blog (and FoodMuse) should be enjoying a well earned retirement. I went to Paris, I ran the marathon, and I came back, so now what?
Well, let's just say that I got hooked on the cooking thing : ) I can't imagine just not doing this anymore, and I actually got a bit depressed after returning and realizing that there really wasn't a reason to continue. First let me tell you about the marathon, which is sadly overdue.

The marathon was anti-climatic. I arrived in Paris on Friday morning (Paris time), navigated Charles de Gaulle airport and found the train that goes into the city. The ride takes about 45 minutes, at which point I got out at Chatelet and took a metro to the stop near the apartment that I had rented. Of course no was there - (yes, it may be possible for Madame to do the "sheck-in", but you must call). I rolled my luggage along the cobblestoned sidewalks festooned with my various appendages (a.k.a. carry on luggage), found a cafe, and waited. Of course it all worked out. I was cold and bone tired from the trip, but eventually I was able to leave my stuff with Yazmina, the Serbian cleaning lady, found the Monoprix (local supermarket), and eventually found myself alone in my very own (albeit temporarily) Paris flat!!!!!!

After a nap and some food I felt much better, and finally went out to explore the neighborhood. I was close to the Tuileries garden and the Louvre, off of Rue St. Honore, an ideal base for exploring the city. On Saturday I went to the Expo and met up with another couple from Austin who were also running the race. I walked along the Champs Elysee and tried to get the lay of the land, since the race would be starting from here.

The next day I woke up and tried to get ready. I had set my alarm for 6:30 AM, ate, checked out the weather (sunny and beautiful), made decisions about what to wear - gloves, no, arm warmers, no, sunscreen, yes! Soon it was time to go. I took the metro up to the Arc de Triomphe, tried to find my gate (all the way at the back), and got in line for the port-o-potty. (Can I just talk about the potty options for a minute? OK, there were TWO TWO TWO (2) port-o-potties for CONSERVATIVELY 2,500 people in my gate. There was also a 4 sided contraption that men could sidle up to and relieve themselves - a stand up urinal with concave sides that more or less covered the urinating male from view. Not a prepossessing sight.) Anyway, the race finally started at 9 AM, and I was STILL in line for the port-o-potty.

So I finally started out. The first quarter mile was an obstacle course consisting of all the garbage bags and extra clothing that all of the other runners had discarded. I managed to clear the starting mat without breaking anything and set out at a comfortable pace. OK, did I mention the cobblestones? Let's just say that cobblestones are not a known running surface for this runner from Austin Texas - they HURT! My feet HURT, and this was only the beginning of the race... There were beautiful stretches of scenery and many moments where I almost felt like I had to pinch myself so that I could feel like it was really happening. (Here I am RUNNING THE PARIS MARATHON!!!) Running along the Seine, the Left Bank, the Bois de Boulogne... Amazing. The crowd was great, and so many people came out to cheer us on, and believe me, that really helps! Things were actually going pretty well, and then the front came through - about 11:30 or so the wind sharpened, and the temperature dropped precipitously. I checked after the race, and the temperature went down to 34 degrees with a wind of 18-22 mph. Ouch! The lack of facilities continued to be an issue as well, and I spent 30 minutes in line at a McDonalds waiting to use their bathroom, only to return to the course and find that there was a set of port-o-potties about 5 minutes further along the route. (Yes, I asked the volunteers, but they had no idea if there were facilities much less where they were located.)

Between all of the unscheduled stops and the cold, my time was a whopping 5 hours and 47 minutes. I think I could have crawled faster. This was really disappointing since I had hoped for about 4 hours and 30 minutes - this is not exactly fast either, and based upon my training times should have been achievable, but it was not even close. Instead of being proud of my achievement I was embarrassed and reluctant to talk about it. I am trying to work through this by attempting to realize that results are not the issue. I got to try something that I had wanted to do, I finished the course, and I was upright at the finish and still running. Not so bad after all.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Welcome Spring!

After three days of sunshine my bones are finally thawing, and I am willing to be lulled into the belief that Spring may be on the way. This winter has reminded me of all the reasons why I moved to Austin in the first place. As it turns out I have not become any more fond of the cold and damp than when I first drove the UHaul across the Texas state line. And I have had more viruses/colds/and other nasty maladies than I can remember from in any other year.
So I REALLY hope that the weather has changed... I love the tender veggies and greens of spring, and I am ready to turn over a new leaf (so to speak :) One of the best ways to showcase these treasures is with a warm salad. I know, I know. Aren't salads supposed to be cold? If you believe that statement, then you too are a victim of the COLD and CRISP brigade, guilty of brainwashing countless innocents by depriving them of the knowledge of the true potential of salads. One of the best qualities of a salad is its versatility - it can indeed be cold and crisp, but it can also be served at room temperature, or slightly warm, utilizing the heat of some of the ingredients to wilt more acerbic greens and provide meltingly tender canvas for its other ingredients. Such is the case of the salad pictured above. This is called a "composed salad" (as opposed to a tossed salad, where all the ingredients are - you guessed it - tossed together). It's actually very easy to make, and just requires a small amount of advance preparation. Be warned though, this will not keep well and so you should only make as much as you will finish at one time.

*Warm beet salad with new potatoes and tender greens
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Scrub beets and cut off root and bottom ends. Place beets in foil, drizzle with a little oil if you like, then close the packet making sure that it is well sealed. ***If you are using different types of beets, i.e. red and yellow, make separate packets for each. The cooking time will depend on the size of the beets - medium size beets should take about 40 - 45 minutes. When you can pierce them easily with the tip of a paring knife they are done. Allow beets to cool until you can handle them easily, then peel.
2. Cook eggs. Place 4 eggs in a saucepan and cover by an inch with cold water. As soon as the water reaches a boil turn off the heat, then cover and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Shell the eggs and set aside.
3. Find the prettiest new potatoes that you can (I like fingerlings and the little red potatoes), and cook them in salted water for 10-15 minutes. You want them tender but not falling apart.

Assembly: Place greens on a pretty platter - I like arugula and torn dandelion greens, but for kids I would just use baby spinach which has a much milder flavor. Arrange sliced beets, halved or quartered new potatoes, and eggs over the greens. Drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette, or make a quick emulsion with a bit of vinegar, grainy mustard, and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, fresh ground pepper, and enjoy a taste of spring.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Citrus sunshine...

Here in Austin TX we have gotten our share of sunny citrus to brighten the week's overcast skies.

On Friday I picked up gorgeous Moro blood oranges and used them to make a sauce and garnish for homemade angel food cake. I adapted a recipe from the store, and simply reduced 1 1/2 cups of fresh squeezed juice, added some superfine sugar and honey and just let it cook down until it was glossy and coated the back of a spoon. Then I made a simple caramel (1c sugar: 1/2c water) and coated Moro orange slices with the result.

I put the slices on parchment and before serving decorated the top of the cake with the sliced oranges and random pieces of the caramel. The sliced cake was served in a pool of the blood orange reduction. It was lovely. The sauce added a thrilling floral, aromatic note to the homier scents of almond and vanilla, and for a moment I also felt as if I might be on a faraway island in the Mediterranean...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Make this now!

This is a great, easy weeknight dinner that can be put together in a snap. Since both items go in the oven to cook, it's also great to make during cold weather.
*Roast pork tenderloin
*Baked spaghetti squash with Parmesan
(By the way, both the tenderloin and organic spaghetti squash were on sale this week at CM, so it's a good time to try this.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash the outside of the spaghetti squash, then cut it in half - these are pretty tough so you will need a sharp knife and a sturdy surface. Remove the seeds from each half. (I use a teaspoon to scrape out the inside by cutting into the flesh just slightly - you will get the hang of it soon enough. If it gets slippery just use a paper towel to hold the outside edge as you scrape.)

Place the squash cut side down in a 9x13 pan that has been oiled with a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven, set the timer for 30 minutes.

Remove tenderloin from the package and dry with a paper towel. Put a heavy bottom skillet or saute pan over medium/high heat on the stove - you want this to get jot as you season the meat.
- Crush a garlic clove with the flat of your knife so that the skin slips off. Quickly rub the crushed clove over the surface of the tenderloin - you are "scenting" the meat but not really using the garlic clove itself (it would burn and get bitter if you put it in the skillet as you brown the meat).
- Season the tenderloin with some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a small amount of olive oil to the hot skillet, swirl it around and then add the tenderloin to the pan.

Brown the meat on all sides. DO NOT MOVE the meat until each side is brown and releases easily - remember you are not cooking the meat this way, you are searing and browning it. The whole procedure should take you about 5-6 minutes total.

Once the meat is browned on all sides take the pan and place it in the oven. (Make sure your pan is oven safe.) Let the pork cook for about 15-20 minutes in the oven. The internal temperature should reach 145 degrees (good to check with an instant thermometer), but remember that the temperature will continue to rise by about 10 degrees - because it's still cooking - as the meat rests. I usually aim for about 140, then let the meat rest as I finish getting everything else ready. ***Why am I telling you to "rest" the meat? This step is essential to getting juicy meat from your oven. The meat (pork, beef, chicken, what have you) finishes cooking as it sits, covered loosely with foil, and the juices redistribute themselves throughout the roast giving you a juicy, flavorful result.***

Remove squash from oven. Hold squash edges with a cloth or paper towels so that you don't burn yourself, then with a fork pull strands of the squash from the interior. (The texture of the squash is already like this, so you are just helping the process along.) Put all the squash into a bowl, then add a little butter or olive oil, a 1/2 tsp. or so of KOSHER salt (if using table salt use half the quantity), some fresh ground black pepper, and about 1/4 to 1/2 cup coarsely shredded Parmesan. Taste it! Does it need more salt, more pepper? More cheese?

Slice the pork and pour the accumulated juices over the meat. Serve with the spaghetti squash, some of the cranberry grape compote (see previous "Make it Now!), and maybe a bowl of the carrot ginger soup. A nutritious, colorful, and easy menu that everyone will enjoy!
*FYI - the photo is of the leftover spaghetti squash, which I heated up with some extra cheese, sliced avocado, grilled whole wheat tortillas, and smoked coho salmon for Ione's lunch today. She gave it 2 thumbs up!

Friday, January 8, 2010

What I am thinking about this week...

Today I woke up to an impossibly cheery announcer on KUT chirping that it was 24 degrees in Austin. I'm pretty sure I moved to Austin just so that I would never have to hear these kinds of announcements again, but apparently it's not working this week.

This kind of cold makes me want to dive head first back into bed, and after the covers are dragged off, it makes me want to go straight to the kitchen and start cooking some comfort food. "Comfort food" is a term that is everywhere these days, but what really is "comfort food"? Is it the food of our childhood? (As a kid in Portugal I remember eating some kind of dried meat pastries that were put in hot sweet tea, and I have NEVER found myself craving those...) But familiar is a quality that is welcome in comfort food. As I walked into my daughter's elementary school today I smelled pizza - the kind of pizza served by lunch ladies in a cafeteria, and I was right back at Nokomis, my old elementary school, with a massive craving for 2 slices of that Friday pizza hot lunch.

Nostalgia aside, I don't really want cafeteria pizza to warm me during the remainder of the Arctic cold spell. But I do want warm delicious food, that is immediately identifiable. Nothing strange, no food that causes even a hint of hesitation before springing fully loaded onto my mental taste buds. I want tomato soup. I want baked macaroni and cheese - the kind with cheddar and gruyere and buttery crumbs on top, that sends out sirens of fragrance to call you as it emerges golden and bubbling from the oven. Let's face it - I want a chocolate cream pie. So that's what I'm making - a wonderful creamy tomato soup, baked mac & cheese, some hot yeast rolls, pork tenderloin, and chocolate cream pie. A warm embrace of food to keep the cold out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Make this Now!

Today I am going to give you a recipe for Carrot Ginger Soup. This is hands-down the tastiest, easiest, most nutritious soup that you can make with practically no effort, and I guarantee that you and your kids will both love it. If you have no kids try it out on your pets, I'm sure they'll love it too.

Carrot Ginger Soup
2 lbs. organic carrots, peeled
1 large sweet onion or 2 smaller yellow onions
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
4 Tbsp. butter

Melt butter in a large pot. Add roughly chopped onion to the butter and sweat over medium heat until translucent. Meanwhile, chop carrots into 1 to 2 inch pieces, then add to the pot along with the ginger and about 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt. (To use fresh ginger just break off a piece about the size you want to use, peel the thin skin from the exterior with a vegetable peeler, then cut into quarter inch rounds.)

Turn the heat to low, cover the pot, then set a timer for 15 minutes and let the vegetables sweat. (Check occasionally. If your heat is low, the carrots and onion will be releasing juices and smelling heavenly.) After 15 minutes, add about 2 quarts filtered water to your pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender, or in batches using a blender or food processor. Adjust the salt, and add 1 cup milk (or more) to bring it to the desired consistency.
VARIATIONS - You can make the soup with olive oil instead of butter, and adjust the consistency with broth instead of milk. I usually do this when I am making the soup for myself. In this case use about 3 TBSP olive oil at the beginning, then adjust consistency with a can of low sodium chicken broth at the end.

Yum! I decided yesterday that I needed to make a big batch to have in the fridge. I had oral surgery on Monday, and after suffering through a day and a half of commercially prepared cream-of-something soup I took out the soup pot and decided to remedy the situation. I still look like a chipmunk, but at least now I look like a happy chipmunk.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Top 10 list

2009 was actually a great year, not least of which is that I started my little business, FoodMuse. I LOVE LOVE doing it. I love the menu planning, I love the cooking, but most of all I LOVE my clients. (I do not love the paperwork or creating invoices, that part is really uninspiring.)

I feel so lucky every day that I get to do this - I still pinch myself when I start in the morning and realize that instead of a dreary office with 300+ emails in my Inbox to scan, I get to make a sponge to use for a yeast bread later in the day. My "To Do" list contains items that I will actually check off at the end of the day - and the results will be tenable and delicious.

So in no particular order, here are the things that I most enjoyed cooking this past year:

1. OK, really, the Rosh Hashanah brisket was magical. Ditto on the pillowy, golden challah bread that went along with it. (The matzoh ball soup not so much - the matzoh balls broke apart. It could have been better.)
2. The big vegetarian pot pie with root vegetables. Honestly, I am really scared that I will never be able to produce one that good again.
3. The Bolognese sauce with rigatoni. That sauce was a revelation in flavor. I did not know that anything could really become that dense, that layered, that complex, given a few ingredients and a lot of time to simmer.
4. Hmmmm. There's definitely a tie brewing between the Chicken Tagine and the Glazed Pork Tenderloin... No, I take it back. The Chicken Tagine. Definitely. That dish was also a revelation - I just didn't know that green olives and dusky apricots could marry so well with chicken and Moroccan spices.
5. If I was being reasonable this spot would now go to the Pork, but I will continue to be capricious, so instead it's the Butternut Squash Risotto. Lovely, creamy, almost unctuous --- the rice and parmesan perfectly balanced the sweetness of the roast squash and tang of fresh sage.
6. The Creamy Potato Soup I made two days ago. (OK, if I were going to be strict about the rules, I would have to save this for next year, but gosh darn it, it was just TOO GOOD.) It's amazing that such a paucity of ingredients should result in something so magical.
7. Giant molasses ginger cookies.
8. Cheesecake brownies.
9. Yeast Rolls.
10. Apple Butter - a total pain to make, but worth it for the results.

I hope that you too enjoyed 2009 and I wish you a wonderful year to come!