1.26.2010

Finally, Fondue!


Occasionally I get a brain flower and announce these bold statements to anyone who will listen. “I’m going to get a gym membership and work out 3-5 times a week!” or “This is the year I learn how to use jumper cables and change tires!” or “I’m going to watch Werner Herzog’s entire catalogue this month!” or “I’m going to bring back fondue!”

More often than not these things are never realized.

About 5 or 6 years ago I assertively declared (more than once) that I was, in fact, going to bring back fondue. Now, I don’t know where I thought fondue went.  Perhaps it was hiding in someone’s attic, along with their old tunics and issues of Good Housekeeping. Regardless, I was bringinnit back. Reinventing it. Modernizing it. Making it cool. Or so I said (more than once).

One Christmas, much to my surprise, my friend Heather gave me an All-Clad fondue set as a gift. Admittedly, I was shocked that anyone actually listened to me and my fondue braggery. Or any of my crackpot ideas for that matter. In any case, I was really excited and became even more audacious about a Fondue Night that I was to orchestrate for all my friends and, of course, Heather.

I guess you can guess what came of that. Zip.

So a few weeks ago, while having dinner at Heather’s new house, she decided to get something off her chest: “You know Elliott, I have to admit that I was pretty upset and insulted that you never used the fondue set I gave you all those years ago.”

Well, crap. I felt horrible. And it’s true – that fondue set has been parked in my cupboard for half a decade, along with a fondue cookbook and a vintage fondue set from another friend who also made the mistake of falling for one of my fondue-blathery moments.

But at least I have always, and continue to, make good use of the martini glasses Heather gave me the next year?

Anyway, you guessed it – 6 years in the making, with far less fanfare than one would have thought – Fondue Night was realized. Heather came over in the afternoon and helped me find an appropriate recipe. She is not a bells-and-whistles-with-her-food kind of girl. She eats hot dogs with NOTHING on them, salad consisting of only lettuce and a dressing of oil and salt  (just a little bit and sometimes none). You get the idea. So my grandiose plans of a rosé fondue or to incorporate shallots were shot down immediately. This was probably smart as it was my maiden fondue voyage. Best to keep it simple, learn the rules before you break them and whatnot.

Interestingly, Heather has only a few taste memories from her childhood from what I can tell. Popovers and fondue seem to be the biggies. And it’s true. My recollection from our high school days include those items plus homemade popcorn and experimental salad dressings (maybe that’s why she doesn’t like fun dressings now?). So it was important to her to keep the recipe as classic as possible. And after all these years I didn’t want to rock the fondue boat, so to speak. I will say I sneaked a smidge of truffle oil in at the end.

It was great fun. Heather grated the cheese and chopped the bread while I rubbed garlic in the interior of the pot and mixed the cornstarch with kirsch. We listened to the Pharcyde’s second album, sipped wine and enjoyed the preparations in my little kitchen. I occasionally consulted with her as to the consistency of the fondue since she had such a strong memory of it. It was good kitchen give and go.

An aside: I think I have actually only ever had fondue once in my life. It was at a Melting Pot in Jacksonville, Florida. I’ll leave it at that. Perhaps that’s why I have assumed fondue was in dire need of being brought back.

We set up our dining operations in the living room around my coffee table as it felt more communal, noshy and less formal. Even though I violated Heather’s fondue taste memory by including the truffle oil, I think we pretty much achieved what she remembered as fondue. Hell, I guess that means I did it. It may have taken slightly longer than I may have implied – but I brought back fondue! Take that, world!

____


Although I quite enjoyed this recipe, I am eager to experiment with more and different ingredients in the future. A champagne fondue, perhaps? Maybe even a brie and wild mushroom fondue! So look forward to more fondue stories to come…

P.S. Photo styling credit goes to Heather.


Swiss Fondue with Truffle Essence
Serves 4


Ingredients: 

1 loaf of country bread 
½ lb. blanched broccoli florets 
1 garlic clove, peeled 
1 1⁄4 cups dry white wine  
1 lb. (about 3 cups) gruyère cheese, grated 
Pinch of nutmeg 
1 tbsp. cornstarch 
2 tbsp. kirsch 
2 tsp. truffle oil 
Salt and freshly ground pepper


Directions:

1. Tear country bread into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

2. Rub interior of a medium stainless-steel pot with garlic clove, then chop garlic. Add garlic and white wine and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add gruyère cheese and nutmeg. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until cheese melts (cheese and wine will not yet be blended).

3. Combine cornstarch with kirsch in a small bowl. Mix thoroughly and stir into cheese mixture. Continue to stir and simmer until cheese mixture becomes smooth, about 5 minutes, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding up to 1/4 cup more wine if fondue is too thick. Drizzle with truffle oil.

4. To serve, transfer to a fondue pot set over a flame. To eat, spear bread pieces and broccoli florets with fondue forks and dip in cheese, continuing to stir with forks as you dip.

5. Have fun!

1.19.2010

My Little Pony and a Ghettoblaster.


The sky is crying here in the City of Angels. It plans to continue to weep for the remainder of the week. Knowing this in advance, I stocked up on all sorts of fun ingredients at the market so I could stay in as much as possible and give myself loads of neat-o kitchen projects.


I’ve mentioned in the past that I didn’t exactly have traditional meals growing up. Things like meatloaf, spaghetti & meatballs, lasagne, Stove Top stuffing, casseroles, macaroni & cheese, hot dogs, “taco night” or “pizza night” did not exist in our house. Rather, they were replaced by swordfish steaks, schezwan string beans, oyster stew, sautéed baby bok choy, bulgar salad, olive sandwiches (don’t ask), tabouleh, "Anarada Rice", seared sea scallops in fish sauce and Sriracha, spaghetti squash and grilled portabella mushrooms. Although, mom baked a mean apple crisp and dad whipped together the world's best egg salad. They both still do.

As a result of the unusual cuisine served up by my folks, I often craved normal food and embraced it when dining at my friend’s houses. I even really liked frozen dinners. Hell, I even liked (and still do) cafeteria food. One standard in both frozen dinners and cafeteria fare is chicken pot pie. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t get a glimmer in their eye when they are eating it. It seems to elicit some specific, visceral memory for everyone.
I remember when I was about 9 years old – living in a house on the South Side of Richmond with my mom, a friend/roommate of hers and her two sons, who were around my age. And their dog – a German Shepherd. I can’t remember any of their names anymore and I don’t think I was that wild about them either. The boys were really into GI Joe and Transformers. I was really into My Little Pony. 

Anyway, my friend Kelly came over one afternoon to play. We were really into making pretend radio shows and recording them on tape with songs peppered in. I believe Let’s Hear It for the Boy and Smooth Operator were a few of the gems in there. I believe we were also, shall we say, obsessed with Breakfast Club (who wasn’t?). For some weird reason, my mom fed us pot pies for dinner that night (highly unusual) and, as a result, we could not stop repeating and recording, “Go fix me a turkey pot pie!” I also think we said, “film at eleven” a lot, which makes absolutely zero sense. Ah, youth.

What I wouldn’t give to hear that tape now. Hell, what I wouldn’t give to lay eyes on that old school ghetto blaster again.

This is me in that house, around that era.

The thing is I have not had too many pot pies in my time. One or two of the Stouffer’s variety, as in the story above, a few cafeteria versions here and there, and a particularly awesome one at Atlanta’s famed Collonade restaurant. Their crust is actually a big, flaky biscuit atop the creamy, decadent insides. In fact, that may very well be the last pot pie I can recall eating - and that was 10 years ago – until last night. 

I had some leftover pie crust that my mom made for a pecan pie in the freezer, I had chicken, I had cute, little green ramekins. Chicken pot pie just popped into my head. Interestingly, I scoured through my fairly extensive cookbook collection only to unearth precious few recipes. They all called for carrots, celery and potatoes. I had no carrots or celery. Rather than scuttle off to the store in the rain, I looked into my fridge and decided to use what I had to come up with my own recipe. The sage, mushrooms and brussels sprouts added a rich, earthy flavor and the crème fraiche, rather than cream, gave the insides a thickness but kept it more solid than stew-like. 

My rainy, blustery night, listening to Elmore James, in my pine cone jammies, with a generous glass of Bordeaux, and my pot pie: this was perfection. This will be the pot pie that elicits my specific, visceral memory in the future.

Film at eleven!


Chicken Pot Pie
Makes 4, Individual Pot Pies

Ingredients

Pie Insides:
  • 4 applewood-smoked bacon slices
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped brussles sprouts
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp. fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp. fresh sage
  • ½ tsp. dried mint
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
  • 1 lb. chicken breast – bone in, skin on
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. dried tarragon
  • ½ Meyer lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pastry
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons shortening (chilled)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons ice water

Sift flour, sugar and salt.  Add chilled butter and shortening.  Work quickly using fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal

Sprinkle on ice water, 2 tablespoons at a time and toss with fork.  Turn dough and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about 1/4 cup at a time.  Scrape into a ball and wrap in wax paper--chill in refrigerator for 2 hours

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350F. Dredge chicken in flour, tarragon, salt and pepper and brown all sides in butter in cast iron skillet. Place chicken in casserole dish, squeeze lemon over the top and roast for 20-25 minutes. Remove chicken and let cool. Remove meat from bones and coarsely chop.
Up the oven to 450F. Cook bacon in the cast iron skillet over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Chop bacon. Add onion to drippings in skillet; sauté until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add next 3 ingredients; sauté for 5 minutes. Add herbs and stock; bring to boil over high heat. Add wine and reduce heat to medium-high and boil until vegetables are almost tender and some liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in 2/3 cup crème fraîche, milk, chicken, and bacon. Bring to simmer. Season with pepper. Divide among four 2-cup soufflé dishes.
Roll out pastry to 12-inch square. Cut into 4 equal squares. Top filling in soufflé dishes with pastry; fold edges down onto rims of dish. Brush top of crusts (not edges) with remaining 1 tablespoon crème fraîche. Cut small X in center of crusts; pierce all over with fork. Bake until crusts are golden brown and filling is heated through, about 25 minutes.

1.15.2010

It's Hot in the Hot Tub.


I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth but, for some reason, I ended up with an arsenal of chocolate from the holidays. It’s all been sitting in a bowl in my kitchen, staring at me for weeks. It’s really nice chocolate. But on those nights when I’m curled up in my jammies, on the couch, watching movies, I will always go for homemade popcorn over bon bons. Although one night recently I enjoyed a few bites of the white chocolate with pistachios – because of the pistachios

Come to think of it, I’ve never really had a need for sweets. We never had them in my house growing up. We never had any fun junky stuff, actually. One time, in high school, during a particularly munchy moment (ahem) my friend Paz noticed that my dad’s fridge was made up entirely of condiments (which she promptly expressed to him in a very dire tone). There was not a single thing we could grab and nosh on. I do remember my dad having a bag of salt & vinegar chips once that I promptly consumed in one sitting while watching MTV. And, I might add, that that was the last bag of chips to enter our house on Grove Ave.

To this day, if there is a bag of salty, crunchy things near me, it’s bad news. I have no gauge. Chips, peanuts, popcorn, cheese & crackers, Chex mix, those little goldfish, you name it. They will all be but a distant memory once in my line of vision. So, as you may imagine, not too many bags of chips enter my house these days either.

One thing I do love is a slightly savory dessert. Remember the olive oil cake? I also like surprising and curious ingredients kissing one another – as long as gooey-fruity stuff is not on the billing - but I’m working on that.

Anyway, I knew I was going to make chili today. I wanted a big vat of it to have around the house to make my sphere seem cozy, and to share with any friends that swing by this weekend. I love a chili-ized house: all warm and snuggly and smelling good for days (as the pot never leaves the stove, simmering in it’s spices forever).

So, as I was rummaging through the kitchen trying to find new, fun things to throw in my chili, this wealth of chocolate stared me down. No, it’s not what you think. I did not put chocolate in my chili. 

But I did put chilis in my chocolate.


It seemed unlikely at first, but think about it – a little heat in that sweet... Think molé. You’ve likely seen Chocolat - remember how that spicy hot cocoa Juliette Binoche served Judi Dench just perked her right on up?

So I made chocolate brownies with chile de arbol, topped them with walnuts, garnished them with a little chocolate mint, and paired mine with a glass of milk. I’ll tell you what, not only did it clear up my sinuses from this little cold I’ve been fighting off, but it was shockingly delicious! Even my mom, the baker in the family, who is very anti-spicy, happily - and eagerly - scarfed one down. 

Chili AND Chocolate Chili Brownies in the same day?! It just shows to go, you never do know… Throw caution to the wind, my friends.


Chocolate & Chile de Arbol Brownies
Makes 24 brownies

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for the pan
  • 1/4 cup pure chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chile de arbol
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus additional for the pan, at room temperature
  • 3 ounces 60% dark chocolate 
  • 3 ounces 70% dark chocolate 
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • A few sprigs of chocolate mint

Directions

Position the rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9x13-inch baking pan; set it aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, chili powder, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Set aside.

Place the butter and both kinds of chocolate in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. If you don't have a double boiler, place the butter and both kinds of chocolate in a heat-safe bowl that fits snugly over a small pot of simmering water. Stir constantly until half the butter and chocolate is melted. Remove the top of the double boiler or the bowl from the pot; then continue stirring, away from the heat, until the butter and chocolate are completely melted. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Beat the sugar into the melted chocolate mixture with a whisk or with an electric mixer at medium speed; continue beating until smooth and silky, about 5 minutes by hand or 2 minutes with a mixer. Beat in the eggs until well incorporated.

With a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated. Do not beat. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it gently to the corners. Top with walnuts.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.

Cut the brownies into 24 pieces while they're still in the pan. Carefully remove them with an offset spatula. Serve immediately, or let cool completely before covering with plastic wrap for storage at room temperature. They will stay fresh for up to 3 days. The brownies can be tightly wrapped in wax paper, sealed in a freezer-safe bag, and frozen for up to 2 months; allow them to thaw at room temperature before serving.  

Serve with a chocolate mint leaf and a glass of cold milk!



1.06.2010

Orange Crush


I have to admit, I have really fallen off the recipe part of this blog lately. The truth is I have been dining out way too much and not cooking nearly enough. I don’t think I’ve even stocked up on food for the house since the massive shoporama prior to my Christmas party, like 3 weeks ago. I have been working a lot. I have also been, well, out a lot. Today was the first day in a long time that I had some quality home time sans distractions. Today was the day to take stock of whatever food soldiers have made it to this point – and were still going strong – in my refrigerator. I hate to waste anything. Other than the fridge fossil fuels, milk, eggs, cheese, butter and my echo, there was only one option to work with. A pound of carrots.

Time to make some soup.

I’m not certain (well, maybe I am), but I think I have a crush. I don’t want to talk too much about it and I don’t want to lend it too much of my head right now. I also have not yet discussed this breaking news with my crush. As is the nature of this beast I don’t know if the crush mirrors my feelings or not. I think so? Oh, hell, I don’t have a clue.

I haven’t had a crush for a while, it seems. Maybe I have – it’s hard to remember that when you have a new crush. The old crushes vanish into thin air and weren’t really crushes anyway. Not like this one. What’s sort of funny is that my last crush… was this crush… but it was a little ways back. Then I wasn’t crushing any more. Now I am again. I'm nothing if not fickle. April tells me I've been blind and have been crushing the entire time. I don’t know. Maybe she’s right. If she is, it makes the whole thing sooo romantic, yeah?

I am thinking that rather than have a whole melodrama fiesta, heavy conversation, come-to-Jesus type of thing I am going to (try) to just play with the concept of having my crush. I am going to enjoy moments as they are happening. It’s always so unfortunate when the pretty moments get skipped over due to obsession with the next moment. I always think back on past relationships and recall that the crushy part was so much fun. Embrace the moment and all that.

So today’s soup had all of these thoughts, and more, stirred into it. It’s an uncomplicated soup but full-bodied and confident in it’s simplicity. The sweetness of the carrots and the pop of the ginger and cumin create an obvious yet unlikely marriage. Like John and Alice Coltrane. Tenor sax and harp. Tidy suits and rainbow-y mumus.

So I don’t know what’s going to happen. Well, I do know what will happen with the soup. I was referring to the crush. I guess I’m a little unnerved. But only a little. Heather calls it spun out – which I find to be totally cute and entirely appropriate.

I’m going out with Yvonne tonight. But on my way I may just drop off some soup on crush’s doorstep. Eek!

Hey, it’s fun to dork out sometimes…


Crushy Carrot Soup with Ginger & Cumin 

Serves 6 

Ingredients 

  • ½ stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ lbs. (approximately) peeled, chopped carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • a pile of sage leaves, divided
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 5-7 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add chopped celery and carrots; sauté 10 minutes. Add stock and bring to boil. Add cumin, ginger and sage leaves. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

Puree soup with immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cream.

Bring soup to simmer, thinning with more stock, if desired. Ladle into bowls. Top each with a drizzle of walnut oil and a sage leaf. 

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