Friday, February 25, 2011

Should Celebrities Be Chefs?

Would this man eat soup for dinner?

One thing that interests me is the celebrity chef phenomenon. America is head over heels for them, including many Food TV personalities like Rachel Ray, Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay. I think it’s interesting that we are more likely to seek out and trust recipes that are endorsed or created by names we recognize.

There are also recipes out there from ordinary celebrities who have taken a fancy to cooking. Last night, for example, we made a recipe titled “Robert Redford’s Lamb Chili with Black Beans”. Now, I don’t know if the ruggedly handsome actor actually came up with the recipe or if it’s a recipe that he enjoyed and merely contributed to the cookbook we were using. When I think of the kind of chili Robert Redford would eat, I imagine a hearty, thick, rich concoction - the kind of filling dish that any cowboy would enjoy in front of a campfire.

This recipe, however, was nothing like my fantasy, and was more of a soup in consistancy than a chili. It featured a TON of sauce (that caused me to squander a good deal of excellent homemade chicken broth, grrr!), interspersed with a few hard-to-find black beans and huge chunks of rather tough lamb meat. (Although I freely admit the toughness could be the fault of the cooks.) The flavor was decent, it just wasn’t what I pictured the Out of Africa tough guy to recommend for dinner.

Am I alone here or are have you ever been led astray by a celebrity chef?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Result of Valentine's Day Dinner

Everything came out De-Li-Cious! I highly recommend the Roast Chicken and Bread Salad, as well as the Winning Hearts and Minds Cake!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Peach Blackberry Crisp

I realize that this is the fourth recipe for some form of fruit crisp on my blog. I think that makes it quite clear where my dessert loyalties lie. This version comes from Alice Waters' cookbook called The Art of Simple Food.

If you're wondering why I made this seasonally summer recipe in late February, there are two reasons. First, I am eagerly anticipating spring and summer. We're almost to March - soon asparagus and even strawberries will start appearing, and I can hardly wait. In the meantime, I needed something to tide me over. I looked in my freezer and saw that I still had peaches from a CSA box we received last summer, as well as wild blackberries we had picked and frozen. This recipe struck me as a perfect way to use clean out the fridge as we start a new growing season.

Note: You could also use 4 pound of peaches, or substitute nectarines; use raspberries or blueberries instead of blackberries; and so on.

Peach Blackberry Crisp

3 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch slices plus 1 cup blackberries (about 7 cups of fruit)

Toss with:

1 T. sugar (if needed)
1 1/2 T. flour

Pile the fruit into a medium baking dish and top with Crisp Topping (recipe below). Bake in a 375 oven for 40-55 minutes (rotate once while cooking for even browning) or until the crisp topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling in the dish.

Crisp Topping

Toast in a 375 oven for 6 minutes:
2/3 c. nuts (walnuts, almonds or pecans)

Let cool, then chop coarse.
Put the chopped nuts in a bowl and add:

1 1/4 cups flour
6 T. brown sugar
1 1/2 T. white sugar
1/4 tsp salt (leave out if using salted butter)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

Mix well, then add:

12 T. (1 1/2 stick) butter, cut into small pieces

Work the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture comes together and has a crumbly, but not sandy, texture. Chill until ready to use. Crisp topping can be made ahead and refrigerated a week or so, or frozen for 2 months.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Restaurant Review: Gatsby's

A few weeks ago, my aunt who lives down in the LA area texted me and asked me if I had tried a local burger joint called Gatsby's. She had just seen it on Guy Fieri's popular Food Network show "Diners, Drive Ins and Dives". I personally have a hard time remembering the correct sequence of those words, and so I usually refer to it like Guy does, as DDD.

This weekend seemed like a perfect time to try the 1930's themed restaurant, so off we went. We had some trouble getting in because clearly my aunt wasn't the only one who had watched that particular episode, and the place was packed.

Besides neat vintage decorations, the restaurant features an open grill where you can watch your burgers being prepared. Before its current incarnation, this spot hosted a Japanese eatery featuring hibatchi-style grills, and the current owners decided to keep that element when they took over the location.
Almost everything on the menu is house-made, including the potato chips, mayonnaise, and pickles. The buns are baked by a local bakery.

This glorious gooey mess was mine, all mine. The Blood Orange Burger comes with the regular fixings, plus melted Gouda cheese and blood orange marmalade. The burger itself was a half-pound and very juicy.

Conclusion: You'll want a reservation (and make sure a real person takes note of it; I had a bad experience...) but Gatsby's is worth checking out when you're looking for a leisurely old-fashioned meal right out of an old 30's-era Hollywood film. And COME HUNGRY! You surely won't leave hungry.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Curd

I have a new mantra for you. When life gives you lemons, make lemon curd. A longtime favorite in England, lemon curd has in recent years begun popping up in everything from gourmet cupcakes to restaurant breakfast menus. When a friend gave us a bag of lemons, I researched making my own lemon curd at home and found that it's not to difficult - especially when you have Alton Brown to guide you.

Here's his simple recipe for lemon curd. I made a batch and for Valentines Day, I used it as a filling in mini puff pastry tarts, topped with a single fresh raspberry. They were adorable and my friends and co-workers went crazy for them. Enjoy!

Lemon Curd
Recipe from Alton Brown

5 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
4 lemons, zested and juiced
1 stick butter, cut into pats and chilled

Add enough water to a medium saucepan to come about 1-inch up the side. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium size metal bowl and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Measure citrus juice and if needed, add enough cold water to reach 1/3 cup. Add juice and zest to egg mixture and whisk smooth. Once water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place bowl on top of saucepan. (Bowl should be large enough to fit on top of saucepan without touching the water.) Whisk until thickened, approximately 8 minutes, or until mixture is light yellow and coats the back of a spoon. Remove promptly from heat and stir in butter a piece at a time, allowing each addition to melt before adding the next. Remove to a clean container and cover by laying a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Need You to Know... About Pork Belly

I consider it my solemn blogger duty to report that there may be something missing in your life. At least it was missing from my life until this weekend, when a trip to local Sacramento restaurant Roxy alerted me to the deficiency.

Pork belly.

Not pig stomach as my husband initially thought it meant, but pork belly - a tender, moist, rich cut of pork taken from the stomach region.

We had brunch at Roxy on Saturday, a rancher-owned restaurant where the quality of the meat draws locals out morning, noon and night. To be specific, the dish that blew me away consisted of the following: A crispy Southern-style biscuit topped with a slice of braised pork belly, melted aged cheddar, and a softly poached egg. Oh, and a few vegetables and greens, but they're not really the point here.

Have you ever cut open a delicate poached egg and watched the yellow yolk ooze over a braised piece of pork belly so tender that it falls apart when you cut into it? I highly recommend it if you haven't.

I now consider my duty complete.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Valentine's Day Menu

For several weeks, I have been eying (with trepidation) Judy Rodger’s perfect roast chicken with bread salad. Fortuitously, I received the famous San Francisco chef’s Zuni Café cookbook through the interlibrary loan just in time for Valentine’s Day. With timing like that, fate has chosen our dinner for us. (You can also find the recipe here). (Despite the intimidating several page-long recipe, I am determined to see if this bird is as good as it's rumored to be.

Also on the menu: a moist, dark Winning Hearts and Minds Chocolate Cake, as blogged and written about my Orangette, also known as Molly Wizenburg. This one is mostly chocolate and butter, so I went with the good stuff and procured some pure Irish butter and uber expensive but excellent Scharffen Berger 100% dark chocolate.

I hope that it's a recipe for romance. What's on your menu?