I was craving for the comfort that only a good glass of wine and a soothing bowl of brothy braised meat could provide me to combat the chilling effects of a late Fall Pacific Northwest drizzle. I couldn’t decide which to eat, so I made both: a batch of oxtail pho and a classic ‘pot au feu’, France’s version of a boiled beef dinner. I arranged all the ingredients on my counter and began cooking. I came to the quick realization that both were very similar; each dish featured meats being braised for long periods of time with similar spicing, the main difference seemed to be how each culture finished their dish. The Vietnamese serve with basil. mint, bean sprouts and rice noodles while the French with potatoes, cabbage and root vegetables. …
Do you want a fun, edible project to tackle this weekend? Then try making these delicious chocolate eclairs for your family. They are only slightly harder than making basic brownies, only because there are three components to prep instead of one. You will need a few tools like sil pats, pastry bags and star tips to make this. There are plenty of stores like Michaels or Sur La Table where these easy to find items can be located if you do not have them already. The results will be worth any frustrations you may experience….
If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. — Carl Sagan
I love apples a lot, I really do. Most are kind of one dimensional; yes, they are sweet and crisp, and seriously who needs more than that from an apple? But then you bite deep down into a mountain rose apple and quickly figure out that every other apple is just a pretender to the throne. It would be easy to proclaim that simply on the merits of its deep red hue, it is a gorgeous apple to look at and behold. Then the bright acid and complex flavors, reminiscent of a strawberry jolly rancher, wash over your mouth and you realize how perfect an apple can be.
The modern mountain rose apple originated from a single tree found on an 80 acre farm in Airlie, Oregon, just north of Corvallis. Lucky Newell bought the property in 1959, and one day he was riding his horse near a well and spotted an apple tree growing. He reached up, took a bite and was amazed by the red fleshed fruit. That discovery was during a time when diversity was not as celebrated as it is today and so the apples remained hidden and unknown.
This morning, we travel far from sunny Provence out to the cool, foggy Oregon Coast for a look at a revolutionary seaweed that is destined to take over the world or at least the kale share of the market. As a disclaimer, I should mention I work for a specialty food and foraging company named Foods In Season that scours the Pacific Northwest looking for unique offerings. The amazing thing about this seaweed is it tastes just like bacon when fried, which literally makes it a superfood if ever there was one; though I only made delicious seaweed chips instead.
I wanted to be a skinny little ballerina but I was a voluptuous little Italian girl whose dad had meatballs on the table every night. Lady Gaga
Is it just me, or does this happen to you as well: every time I talk with an Italian, even a fake conversation in my head, I begin to talk with my hands? I know that sounds slightly racist and like I am stereotyping a wonderful and very diverse culture but I cannot help it. If I have a glass of wine before, it gets worse, I start adding an ‘a” at the end of key phrases, like who wants a meat- a- ball, eh?). Chalk this up to watching too many movies with Italian Americans as the subject, besides, who doesn’t want to be Italian?…
On July 29th, I am hosting a pop-up dinner promising an exciting evening of Spanish Tapas, Wines and old-world Conviviality. The genesis for the event came during a lunch with friends several weeks back; I was hungry for the tapas I used to make when I was Chef of the award winning Pili Pili in Chicago and wanted some people to share in the fun. I actually forgot how much I loved canalons; there is something incredibly satisfying about eating them. Not sure if it is the textural aspect of soft pasta baked in a creamy sauce that harkens back to the emotions of my childhood or maybe the utter simplicity of it. Canalons are truly an everyman’s dish that crosses several cultural lines. Try making canalons this weekend!
For father’s day, I made a very simple summer time dessert utilizing two of my favorite flavors, lemon and strawberries. It was the combination of two basic pastry components, Pierre Herme’s delicious lemon curd and a basic panna cotta recipe enhanced with a touch of zested lemon. I wanted to share this quick recipe with everyone. Sometimes simplicity is hard to beat.
A pie iron, pudgy pie iron, sandwich toaster, jaffle iron, or Toastie iron, is a cooking appliance that consists of two hinged concave, round or square, metal plates on long handles.
I love camping in all its glorious forms; from car camping, back country camping, one night camping, six month camping to our own unique version of glamping. Glamping is a newish term used to define a style of luxury camping usually associated with staying in a posh tree house or hipster yurt that you drive to and do nothing but be pampered all weekend. Our style is slightly different, kind of the gourmand’s version – maybe call it Gourping. We still camp in the old fashioned way, with a tent staked to the bare earth, devoid of all modern luxuries like toilets and running water. The big exception is our fare; that might be more closely associated with the good life and fine dining than the usual dehydrated hiker meals. Not to say anything is wrong with stereotypical camp food; and after hiking 2,167.2 miles in one direction along the Appalachian Trail you quickly become a sort of Macgyver chef with the various incarnations of Kraft mac and cheese, Lipton dried noodle and various packets of condiments you squirrel away along the route. Oh I have seen miracles appear right before my eyes in the woods. For instance, my hiking buddy, known affectionately as Guerilla Pete, had a great hiker dish he dubbed “Bad Hunter” that was concocted from dried ramen noodles mixed with Velveeta cheese sauce packets – bright orange + no meat = bad hunter.
It’s a good thing that dumplings are small because Lee Anne’s goodies will make your willpower vanish as you reach for ‘just one more’. ~ Roger Mooking, Musician and Celebrity Chef
True confession. I have two massive obsessions in life, collecting cookbooks and eating dumplings. Both started sometime early in my adolescence and only intensified as I aged and cured. The limits of how far I would travel for either knows no boundaries and certainly there is no excess too great in order to obtain just one more. I attribute both of their roots directly to my dearly departed father Real. He was a classicist with an unbridled passion for literature and books combined with a mastery of language unmatched. He learned to speak, read and write fluently in Chinese and Arabic in less than two years through an aggressive immersion deep into their native cultures. Well, at least as immersed as one could be based in Chicago.
The ‘Arabic Years’ were spent sharing plates of kibbeh, hummus and pickled turnips in the smoke filled dingy back rooms with Lebanese taxi drivers teaching my father the finities of street Arabic between fares. During the ‘Chinese Years’, we visited many dim sum palaces in search of truth and enlightenment deep within the often hidden, underground populations of Chicago’s two Chinatowns. My father’s unabashed penchant for answering anyone who looked Chinese in perfect Chinese opened many secret doorways to hidden worlds of immigrants largely out of view from the general American public.
It was in the skilled hands of Chef Jimmy of Moon Palace that I experienced my first real profound dumpling revelation, a moment in time I can and will never forget.
Happy and successful cooking doesn’t rely only on know-how; it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life. – Georges Blanc
I used to worship quite a few famous chefs when I first began my cooking career. I believed by studying and role modeling the chefs I idolized, I could glean bits of information and techniques to add to my growing repertoire. Georges Blanc was a perfectionist chef who really spoke to my sensibilities. One bite conveyed the story of his family’s long culinary heritage, the products of his region, a strong sense of seasonality and an essence of simple purity. Virtues I strived to incorporate into the foundation of my personal cooking style….
It seemed like only yesterday that the ink was drying on my last post and I had to start the next one. This project may very well end up killing me. I am a slow writer with a busy schedule and a small child. Anyone who does not have a child will never fully understand what the word “busy” actually means. I laugh out loud when younger, single friends tell me how busy they are with all the bars they have to go to and tv shows they need to watch. Try weaving in the curve balls parenthood throws you from time to time.
Portland’s week long ice storm ended as abruptly as it started and spring emerged victorious. With the demise of winter, so ended the season of heavy eating punctuated by the artery clogging big guns of French cooking and all the holiday classics. It’s fortunate because my belt did not have a wider notch to go to. My next move would have been similar to Homer Simpsons when he bought a mumu and decided to embrace obesity. My palate was looking forward to spring and a rebirth of lightness punctuated with bright, colorful splashes of flavor.
Choucroute is only good after it has been reheated seven times – an old Alsatian saying
Every family has their own sacred Christmas traditions they look forward to and cherish every year. As children of immigrants, we celebrated in the French style with Christmas Eve being the big social event while Christmas Day was reserved for intimate family. Growing up it was always the same ritual, my sister and I would go to sleep early on Christmas Eve so Santa could come and deliver presents. I remember many a Christmas trying so hard to stay awake and catch Santa, only to be awaken much later by the ringing sound of a sleigh bell and my father shaking me telling me that Santa had just left. After midnight mass we would return home and have a huge feast called Réveillon that was always shared with a large group of friends. My sister Anne and I would open our presents as the party began and be ushered to sleep just before the dancing started. On Christmas Day, my mother always served a traditional choucroute garni from her ancestors in Alsace.
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. ~ George Eliot
For those of us who revel in the sensuality of life, Fall is a wonderfully bountiful time of year. The trees adorned in vibrant autumn hues of deep reds and golden yellows are a feast for the eyes. A refreshing crispness fills the air, stimulating our appetites for heartier, more comforting dishes. Much needed rains replenish aquifers and awaken the slumbering mushroom spores. Soon chanterelles, boletes and matsutake will poke their curious heads through the forest humus adding to our table. Coho salmon get nature’s signal and begin their runs up several rivers in the Olympic Peninsula to spawn. And perhaps the most elusive and forbidden of all harbingers of Fall, the red fleshed Mountain Rose apple, appears for a brief glorious moment.
Many people in the Chicago area will remember my father Réal well. He was the longtime director of the Alliance Française. A wonderful gregarious man, very gifted at public speaking who absolutely loved food. There are two things I did not inherit from his set of genes. The first is the gift of public speaking. To speak publicly at my father’s level is an art form. He was brilliant. He could say one thing and literally mean another. I can remember one speech he gave while mad at me. He wove in some fatherly advice and a healthy dose of discipline. Not a single person in the crowd realized it. People were clapping and cheering. I was getting scolded publicly. The second was his cooking gene. Very sad about the first one. Positively giddy about the second. Quite frankly, the man could not cook at all. Or for those who knew my father well, his cooking was ‘god awful’ as he was fond of saying. I think my sister Anne inherited that gene. Thankfully my cooking gene came directly from Provence via my mother….
Time just passes by too quickly. Maybe I am getting too old. One season is gone and another arrives before I am fully ready for it. It seemed like only yesterday I was sauteing spring’s flowering kales and broccoli rabes with chili flakes, garlic slivers and olive oil. Now summer is here. For many parts of the country, the first perfect tomato eaten warm with salt in your your or that impossibly juicy peach signifies summer’s presence. In the Pacific Northwest it is July’s arrival of wild huckleberries. Extremely juicy and reminiscent of a blueberry except with a more intense sweet, tart flavor. They are hand picked high in the Cascade mountains and can range from a deep bluish black to purple to a bright firetruck red. A very versatile fruit used both in savory dishes and a wide range of desserts like clafoutis, cobbler, milkshakes and pancakes. You can eat them raw, pickled or cooked. Of all the ways, I like them baked in a traditional clafoutis which is somewhere between a pudding and a custard. They are quick and simple to make. Baking them in France is like making cobbler….
Liet and I once stood picking and eating salmonberries, trying to find words to describe their somewhat caramellike flavor, when two elderly men came down the dirt road behind us. They, too, had been berrypicking, and they proudly displayed the fruits of their labors. These included salmonberries in three colors with bright bits of green fern enhancing their fresh look. – Time Life Books, ‘American Cooking, The Northwest’
My mother is a wonderful baker. From an early age she instilled in me a love and passion for fresh fruit tarts. More often than not, apples were the preferred medium. At 85, her caramelized apple tart (tarte tatin) rivals anything any Michelin starred chef could ever hope to conjure. She made dough unapologetically, with the same certainty an artist feels knowing the exact shape of a statue long before the marble was ever chiseled. Every unmeasured step, deliberately repeated methodically. She too had learned the secrets at her grandmother’s apron strings. Carefully mixing small cubes of ice cold butter into the mound of flour and sugar. Pressing hard with the heels of her hands till the mound resembled a coarse corn meal. Adding just the perfect amount of chilled water to insure it would ball. Her hands repeated these same moves for so many decades she no longer had to think. Tart making is an art learned by practice. I am sharing the same experiences with my five year old son Beaumont. This morning we wrestled with the dew covered thorny bushes that protected a hidden cache of sweet salmonberries. Carefully we pulled them one by one, periodically stealing one into our mouths thinking the other wasn’t watching. I envisioned my mother smiling; knowing what she had so devotedly learned would continue long past her final breath. She had done her job. Le feu sacre was safe for one more generation.
Date nights are to parents what binge drinking is to college students.
It’s early Sunday morning and my head is still throbbing from a series of bad choices made on yesterday’s date night. The day began innocently with brown sugar and chili rubbed bacon and progressed through a few celebratory drinks at Rum Club and the most amazing fried chicken sandwiches at Basilisk, a Portland hot spot. Date nights are to most parents what binge drinking is to college students. Occasions to completely let go (let it go, let it go) and have a wild, carefree time. The difference is as I continue to improve with age my recovery time is not what it used to be. As the title of my pathetic blog suggests I have lived more a life of excess than most people. I am no stranger to debauchery in all forms. Date nights are liberating moments designed to foolishly make us believe, for however short a period, we can live as freely as we once did. Well perhaps before you acquired a five year old dictator hellbent on micro-managing every second of your waking life. I should clarify I am not the same irresponsible person I was thirty years ago. By wild time, I actually mean choosing the movies I want to watch rather than being forced to sit through an endless stream of Princess cartoons, often the same one back to back to back. Yes, it is true, I will freely admit it. I rather enjoyed Disney’s epic animated tale Frozen the first 117 times I watched it. I even donned a tiara and gleefully sang along with the stars at Frozen on Ice. Somewhere around the 200th time watching it during a single weekend binge I started pondering homicide as a viable method to regain sanity. I did the math. I might even get out of jail and still have enough time to enjoy what remains of life before senility engulfs me. Maybe one last bite of crispy bacon crack….
Summer suddenly appeared at the Farmer’s Market like a thief in the night. The market felt vaguely familiar but yet at the same very moment strangely different. The fiery heat wave abruptly ended Spring’s explosion. Suddenly the stands were brimming with sweet cherries, real tomatoes, vibrant eggplants, emerald zucchini and fragrant basil. I wasn’t quite ready for the change but then Summer didn’t ask for permission to intrude on my innocent bliss. I was offered only the choice to accept it. From March thru May, farmers buried us under a mountain of baskets filled with flowering brassicas, perfect miniature icicle radishes and early Spring lambs lettuce. Foragers pulled wild miner’s lettuce, flowering wild onions, peppery watercress, fiddleheads and ramps from hidden beds deep within the dank waking forest. Fishermen added their catch to the feast with translucent fleshed halibuts and fatty wild king salmon returning to the Columbia River to begin their famed runs. Overjoyed and spinning like a Sufi whirling dervish of Istanbul, I was easily seduced by this season’s garlicky allium tricoccum, better known as ramps. I bought my last pound and went home to prepare three easy ways to prolong the goodbye.
“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” ~ Willie Nelson
I apologize for apparently having fallen off the edge of Earth for the past month or so. Bad blogger. I returned from the Alsace Wine Festival and jumped directly into the overloaded work frying pan. Between an intense business trip to Japan checking out wagyu farms and a company rebranding I have had little time to even think let alone write. I feel the need for two quick ricotta recipes to hopefully act as a life preserver to toss to both of my faithful readers who are drowning in a sea of despair….
One of my favorite regions in America is Northern California. In a lot of ways, the picturesque Anderson Valley of Mendocino County reminds me in spirit of the South of France and Italy, though perhaps in an obscure kind of way. The sun-kissed rocky hills and foggy valley floor are home to thousands of acres of grape vines, small organic farms and herds of goats and sheep. Its bucolic small towns nestled among towering redwoods and craggy coastlines bathed in the golden California sunshine are a photographer’s wet dream. Like Peter Mayle’s biographical series ‘A Year in Provence’, Mendocino boasts a unique rhythm governed by its own cast of colorful characters that people the region. Artists, musicians, farmers, brewers, and vintners shape and enrich the colorful tapestry woven from a strong sustainable, organic and independent fabric….