Monday, August 31, 2009

What Julia taught me

I saw the movie. Of course I saw the movie! It's about Julia Child, impossible-not-to-love Julia Child, AND food blogging. I liked it a lot - the parts about Julia more than those about Julie - tho the kissie pooshkie between Julia and Paul (I always do enjoy Stanley Tucci!) felt like watching grandma and grandpa getting it on. And, really, who wants to see that?!?

Everyone who asks me my opinion of the movie also asks how much an influence Julia Child was on my cooking career. And what I say is this: indirectly. While it's impossible not to feel gratitude for the road she paved or impressed with her life's work, it (her life's work) just isn't my bag, baby. I like more simple, less contrived food. Fewer steps, fewer ingredients. And while I do love butter (and totally agree with the meteor-hitting-the-earth-in-30-days-so-I'm-totally-spending-it-eating-butter philosophy) I really do feel that butter is a cheap thrill, and often an easy way out. My bag is leaner, not to mention more seasonal and regional, and mainly a lot less involved. I just don't DO that much to the food we eat, and I feel my life is the richer for it.

Follow this link to walk down memory lane with Julia Grownup.

Read Full Post

Pizza by any other name?

What I don't get, among other things like carburetors, engineering and electricity, is how one gets the word NEAPOLITAN from NAPLES. It's so confusing to me that on occasion I've been stumped when trying to recall the city of origin for my favorite pizza.

Is the root of problem that the city has different names - the whole Naples/Napoli thing? Napoletana is an obvious relation to Napoli, if we could just agree to call the city Napoli and not Naples. Pizza Napoletana...I like it. It isn't even hard to say! Or, if we've got to keep the Naples thing, why not Napolese? Like Calabrese from Calabria? I'm adding the name-translating phenom to my list: carburetors, engineering, electricity, and mankind's penchant for translating names. I get that there's a certain laughability to mispronouncing names in foreign tongues (gringos dropping Neeka-hwa-hwa comes to mind) but, really, does Nicker-ah-gwa sound better? Just because we CAN translate a name doesn't mean that it's helpful. Especially when one is attempting to book a train ticket to Vienna and cannot remember the Austrian name for the city.

ANYWAY, I just love this thin crust, quickly cooked goodness. My all time favorite spot is Coalfire here in Chitown. Pictured above is the pizza Margherita, named after an Italian Queen whose grave we saw in Rome. It's the only pizza we order at Coalfire, and yes, it's that good. Drop everything and get one of these soon. I've been checking in weekly regarding the opening plans for a neighborhood pizzeria, said to be called Nella's Pizzeria. Nella was the pizza maker at Spacca Napoli for awhile, and while Coalfire puts SN's pizza to shame, the latter brings down the house with their salads, salumi and gelato. Oh, the gelato! The cappuccino flavor is unrivaled.

Read Full Post

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Introducing Miss Sylvia

Meet our Rancilio Silvia, principesa of the kitchen. Rancilio, btw, is pronounced Ran-chilly-o. She's Italian.

It's been many years since we've had an espresso machine in the house, and so far it's remarkably similar to having a puppy or an infant. I expect to sleep little (downside of sampling too much espresso) and clean up a lot.

It's a sign of something, perhaps maturity, that we're back to espresso. Over a decade ago, in a fit of nutritional living, we cleared our counter of a sleek La Pavoni lever espresso machine to make room for a hydraulic Norwalk juicer. (I bet at the time I thought that change was a sign of maturity.) Anyway, I kept up with the juicing for several years, but the Norwalk hasn't seen a carrot in years. I was going to say that it hasn't seen the light of day in several years but I realized that's not true. In addition to grinding up fruits and veggies, the Norwalk is capable of grinding meat (tho I never used it in that capacity) and shaving ice. Since my daughters inherited my sno-cone gene intact we occasionally haul out the 60-pound machine and enjoy - with some help from Torani - some sweet, colorful, icy goodness. But I digress...

Sil arrived yesterday, we we're still getting to know her. So far I've steamed some gorgeous milk and enjoyed a few slightly bitter caffes. My last effort, about an hour ago, was my best yet - a two-shot Americano type drink (equal parts hot water and espresso) and some warmed milk. The sugar-free thing is totally new for me, but a Murano glass salesman showed me the light. His opinion - adding sugar to espresso makes it too clingy in the mouth - is right. Espresso is much more clean without sugar.

Anyone have any home brewing tips? If you have experience temperature surfing, hand tamping, or shot timing I would love some advice.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Menus? We don't have menus. We have cake.

So, I've been doing some traveling. There are many great things about getting out of one's everyday. Being with the people I love best in a new routine (that included, among other things, cake for breakfast) afforded me the opportunity to spend some time in life's back seat, where the view is always better because you're neither captain or crew. Ahh, vacation.

As much as I love cooking I never miss it. Eating someone else's food each day gave me tons of new ideas. And even if the dish was beyond my skill level (I totally lack the requisite hit points to recreate Marina Piccola's amazing curried scampi penne) it's always a pleasure to try new things.

Here are my top five favorite things I ate on my travels:

1. A giant bowl of steam-sauteed baby clams and mussels under a full moon by the Adriatic. The clams were in the teeniest little white shells marked with a groovy brown snakeskin pattern. La Garzette's garden frito misto, that preceded the steamers, was perfect in every way.

2. Un Caf! This was our whimsical morning rally call to caffeine, conveniently understood cross-culturally. We enjoyed the Euro Caf so much that we're adding on to our family. I'm pregnant with anticipation! Our new arrival is due on our doorstep any day now! Expect to hear lots more about it soon. ('s an espresso machine!)

3. La véritable macaron Ladurée. Fave flavor had to be the caramel, tho the pistachio was surprisingly haunting.

4. Peach sorbet. Or caramel gelato. Or the classic raspberry-lemon combo cone. Mmm...gelato.

5. Squid ink linguine with equally well-stained clams. My husband wanted to take my picture after I finished - my entire mouth was black. I imagined I looked a little too much like that freak monk from The Name of the Rose and didn't want that digital image floating around.

Other memorable meals include awesome company and curry at Tandoori Nights, the still scrumptious Wagamama (now in, like, a billion locales), nearly every bite of pizza, pasta or panini, every sip of vin rosso and this one in Paris:

I'm back in my Chicago routine now. Thanks so much to all who wrote that you've missed Pinch.

Read Full Post

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Simple Tart: Bittersweet Chocolate

I don't make a habit of using those premade graham cracker crusts, but honestly, if you're ever going anywhere without a ton of time but want to bring something impressive, here it is. For those with time to make pastry, have at it. I use Pâte Sucrée for this, and most, tarts.

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart
Print recipe only here

Makes one 8.5-inch tart

one lined tart shell, prebaked*
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350.

Chop chocolate and place in a mixing bowl. Bring milk and cream to a boil** and pour over the chocolate, stirring gently (so as not to incorporate any air bubbles) until melted.

Let mixture cool slightly, then whisk in egg, gently.

Pour into prepared crust and bake for about 15-20 minutes. The filling should look uniformly glossy and firm, yet still trembling in the center. Don't worry - it will continue to set outside of the oven.

Cool to room temperature and, if you like, dust with cocoa powder. I like a Dutched cocoa powder for dusting - it's a deeper, more attractive color. Serve warm or at room temperature, cutting with a thin, hot blade.

* Standard baking time for blind baking is about 10 minutes with pie weights, and 10-15 without, until the crust is just lightly golden. For this recipe, since the filled tart will only bake another 15-20 minutes, bake the crust longer once you remove the pie weights - closer to 20-22 minutes.

**Just to a boil - Pour over the chocolate as soon as it boils

Read Full Post

Monday, August 3, 2009

Brown Butter Tarts for Summer

This is probably my favorite summertime dessert. I once worked for a pastry chef who never wanted a birthday cake (when you train under a pastry chef you usually get to make their birthday cake) - she wanted birthday PIE. I do not so much make pie - I cannot for the life of me remember what I made for her. I prefer the thinner dessert, the ever-elegant tart.

The one shown here was made peaches. I also love it with nectarines, raspberries, or blueberries. One year for the Fourth I made a raspberry one and a blueberry one and a lemon meringue for a patriotic red, white and blue kind of thing.

Critical to the dessert is the correct browning, and not burning, your butter. But it's not hard to do right - just keep close to the pan and follow the recipe.

Brown Butter Berry Tart
Print recipe only here

Makes two 8 1/2 -inch tarts

Two 8 1/2 -inch tart shells, blind baked
3 peaches or nectarines, or 2-3 cups fresh raspberries or blueberries PER TART (you'll need six peaches for two tarts).


4 eggs
12 oz sugar (1 1/2 cups plus 1 T)
2 oz sifted flour (scant half cup)
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted brown butter (see METHOD below)
½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Whisk sugar and eggs together in a medium bowl. Add flour and whisk until smooth.

Make brown butter:
In a stainless steel saucepan (or one with a light-colored bottom), add 2 sticks unsalted butter and scraped vanilla bean. Melt the butter over low-medium heat. Once melted, turn up heat to medium and continue to cook until it turns a deep nutty brown, about 8 minutes. Carefully remove vanilla bean and slowly whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture. Use some caution here - the mixture will bubble up substantially when you add the hot butter. Strain the mixture and reserve.

Arrange berries, peach or nectarine slices in bottom of cooled crust. If using berries, just scatter a handful (you will top the baked tart with fresh berries after it has baked and cooled). If using peaches or nectarines, slice about 3 large pieces of fruit per tart and arrange slices neatly on the baked crust.

Pour half the brown butter mixture evenly over the fruit. Place tart on rimmed baking sheet and bake until filling is puffed and golden, about 45 minutes. Cool tart for 15-20 minutes, then remove tart pan sides. Once cooled, you can dust it with a shake or two of powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature or warmed. If using berries, let the tart cool, then paint the top of with raspberry jam and top with fresh berries.

Can be made 1 day ahead. Store covered at room temperature.

Read Full Post