Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Auberge Nicolas Flamel

I am dying to write about our dinner at Auberge Nicolas Flamel, the most sublime place we dined in Paris, but I am taking my time to consider the memories in delicate layers, like savoring the pages of a first love letter.

Gimme the Mona Lisa Burger, SVP

We Are Still Americans.

Horrors! By the time we'd slogged through billions of dollars and centuries worth of art treasures at the Louvre, we located a chic cafe inside the museum with a multi page menu filled with mouth watering offerings that would boggle the mind of anyone with taste buds.

But it was day six or seven of the trip, and by God, we craved a big ass hamburger, fries and a giant Coca Cola. For a mere 18 Euros, plus another 5 Euros for the Coke (about $30 U.S.) we were served a half pound, succulent beef burger slathered with a flawless Bearnaise sauce, crisp hand-cut fries and a large Coke with at least three gratuitious ice cubes in the glass.

It felt so lovely to be seated in the elegant cafe, surrounded by international travelers, dignified servers and an interior decor in shades of ivory, gold and mossy pastel green that would have suited any member of the French nobility.

It was hard to believe that just moments earlier I'd been nearly forced to elbow the temple of some pinched faced bastard from Wisconsin who kept jostling me as I tried to photograph the Mona Lisa. He and his haggy old Korean 'bride' (whom I referred to as Yoko) ended up at a nearby table in the cafe, but I sat with my back to them as they gnawed at their meager salads in bitter silence.

Regardless of their nattering presence, that burger was one helluva great lunch.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Help a Girl Out

What's Your Favorite French Food?

As some of you know, I'm going to Paris next week for a couple of weeks.
I've never been, and I don't want to miss even one culinary treat.
Will you please share in the comments your most memorable French food, snack, meal or dessert?
Even if you had it in America or another country, if it's French I want to know about it.
Merci beaucoup!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Guacamole Heaven

Controversial Guacamole Recipe You'll Love

Do not argue with me or say eeuuwww, this is the best guacamole recipe on Earth, and that's all there is to it. Just give it a try and you'll see.

2 large, ripe Hass avocados, mashed into chunky consistency (reserve the pits)
2 firm, medium sized Roma or vine ripened tomatoes, cut into 1/4" dice
1 small white onion, cut into 1/4" dice
1 large jalapeno, seeded and scraped to remove pith, minced into small specks
2 heaping Tbs. chopped cilantro
1 heaping Tbs. good quality mayonnaise (I said no arguing)
Sea salt to taste
Using rubber gloves or Baggies over your hands, squeeze all ingredients together in a roomy bowl until well mixed.
Place pits in the bottom of a clean bowl and spoon guacamole over them. The pits keep the guacamole from turning brown. You can add a little lime juice on top to retard browning if you must.
Garnish with a little bit of chopped tomatoes, onions and a little cilantro.
Serve with tortilla chips.

Now, listen to me and stop that smirking. The mayo adds a creaminess that elevates this dish to another dimension. You cannot taste it per se, you just notice something extra that makes the avocados taste even more avocadoey.
The jalapeno is minced extra fine and seeded and depithed to distribute the heat without blistering your little pink tongue. Just add more if you are some kind of heat freak, really, it's okay.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

La Traviata Austin

Zipdrive Review
La Traviata Italian Bistro

Start me out with a Mafia-esque locale in an old building and I'm already salivating for Italian food.
Add to that a beautiful young chef with a deft hand and an eye for composition and that salivating turns to drooling.
And if my Big Sis and her partner My Sharona happen to know the chef (and her Big Sis), you've reached the trifecta of great dining expectations.
We arrived early and were promptly seated by an Audrey Hepburn-type hostess who was so helpful, she even suggested to me the best seat at the table for people watching.
The restaurant was small but provided enough room between tables to ensure privacy. Its amber glowing lights were bright enough to see the menu, but low enough for romance.
As we perused the menu, we were joined at the table by Chef Molly Geeslin, a tattooed brunette with a lovely splotch of magenta in her hair.
Our bottle of Prosecco arrived and Chef Molly agreed to share a glass with us, amidst the evening's final preps for a madhouse of hungry diners due to arrive.
Despite the crunch, her poise told me she was cool under pressure--my guess was she knew what she was doing and her sous chefs trusted her judgment.
So amazing is this chef, rumor has it The Food Network has been trying to coax her into appearing on one of its new shows. Only her humble, unassuming personality is standing in the way.
I was hungry but not ravenous, but that hunger peaked after Chef Molly had gone back to the kitchen and sent us a gorgeous, custom designed antipasto plate.
It contained roasted, pickled beets dotted with toasted pistachios, sun dried tomatoes with tiny capers, gorgonzola crumbles, razor thin slices of Parmesano, sliced proscuitto and some soft mozzarella, tomato slices and fresh basil. A few long spears of fresh chives and mint leaves were thrown casually over the whole plate.
With it came sliced French bread hot from the oven, and olive oil.
As we devoured the last morsel, on came our salads.
Nestled in a perfect little pile were baby spinach leaves, ribbons of peppery arugula, paper thin apple slices, and the most amazing candied pecans, whose sweetness was a perfect counterpoint to the creamy mild gorgonzola dressing.
My Sharona had a nice mista salad, which included local baby greens, red wine vinaigrette, toasted hazelnuts and shaved pecorino toscana cheese.
We really deliberated over the amazing entree offerings, but I'm a sucker for pastas bolognese and carbonara, so I toggled between them as the Prosecco was kicking in.
The bolognese included a ragu of beef, veal and pork, which was tempting but my belly was already a little too full for a big, meaty dish like that.
Big Sis had raved about the carbonara and mentioned that it contained a perfect egg yolk on top you had to mix in before eating. I love deconstructed dishes, so the choice became clear.
My Sharona ordered the fettuccine al fungi, with portobello and crimini mushrooms, spinach, fried artichokes, parmesan and truffle oil. I tasted it and found the subtle flavors very complimentary, if not a tad too salty.
Big Sis and I ordered the carbonara, and you may have to relax, get a drink and get ready for the description.
See, basic carbonara contains bacon and a mixture of cream, beaten egg and cheese.
Chef Molly's version was spaghetti tossed with specks of amazing pancetta, scallion threads, cream and lemon, topped with a local farm fresh egg yolk.
Served on a pile, you had to dig a little hole in the center like a volcano and allow the egg yolk to drop into the mix and cook in the very hot sauce. Slowly, you stir the dish until the egg dissolves into the cream and lemon to create a silky, glorious sauce.
What I noticed most was the delicate pastel color of the dish. It's a visual trick that made me realize that a sauce that rich looks a lot lighter when the colors are so muted.
Clearly, Chef Molly approaches cuisine as an artform.
Taking the time to create pale green scallion threads, using specks of pink pancetta and letting the yolk dissolve into all that cream made the dish look like it was created by a French impressionist painter.
The fettucine al fungi was quite the opposite. The sauce was dense, earthy and dark, redolent of rich soil and shade mushrooms need to grow.
After we'd demolished the entrees, we talked about taking a walk after dinner and maybe grabbing coffee at a nearby shop.
Then Chef Molly sent us a dessert platter that looked like a jewel box of sweet delicacies.
We divvied up chocolate dipped strawberries, two tiny profiteroles (one stuffed with chocolate gelato and one with a vanilla panne cotta) a chocolate dipped once-baked biscotti with anise and pistachio granules and a tiny portion of tiramisu. Chef also threw a few candied pecans around for effect. Amazing.
If you love Italian food but you don't love the feeling of needing to explode after dinner, La Traviata is the best option anyone can find in Texas.
I'm not sure, but I have a hunch Chef Molly is the type who'd happily create a chef's tasting menu if anyone requested it.
La Traviata is located at 314 Congress Avenue in Austin.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Were they kidding?

Top Chef Ranch Episode

The elimination challenge for last weeks' episode of Top Chef was cooking dinner for a bunch of ranch hands, outdoors in the middle of a ranch near Vegas.
"Wah wah wah," the contestants whined. "It's hot," "No kitchen!" they cried.
Then they boggled my mind as they whipped up a variety of crap never before heard of on a ranch. Ceviche? Fish? Grilled Romaine?? What the fuhhh?
There was no beef. Not a speck.
One cheftestant actually made a coconut flavored ceviche, with a room-temp coconut milk mojito on the side. EEUUWWWW!
You want to win a damn ranch hand challenge?
Okay, you grill a mess of bone-in ribeyes, some sweet corn still in the shuck, a pot of spicy borracho beans, and a cast iron skillet full of cornbread.
Jesus. How hard is that?
I've never worked on a ranch, but I have been on ranches and the last thing ranch hands want for dinner is a sliver of amberjack with sous-vide baby octopus sauce, on a bed of candied fennel bulbs with a parsnip souffle on the side.
Get real!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon: The Remake

After seeing "Julie & Julia," my friend Susan and I decided to get together and make Julia Childs's classic boeuf bourguignon.
We looked at the recipe and decided it took way too much time and trouble, so I told her I'd retool the basic recipe and go from there.
Turned out the retool took just as long, but that's another story for another day.

For now, I'll talk about making the red wine reduction. Once that's done, I'll tell you in another blog entry about the rest of the recipe.
1 bottle drinkable red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 stick unsalted butter

While peeling, chopping and slicing the basic mise en place for the stew, we started to create the reduction.
I used a decent Cabernet Sauvignon, and started like this:

Using a heavy saucepan, just haul off and pour in the whole bottle. Set the flame on high to medium high and don't put a lid on it--you don' want condensation, you want evaporation. As the wine starts to simmer/boil, a fine red vapor will spray all over the place. Just ignore it; it's easy to wipe off later.
After maybe a half hour, the volume will reduce by about 50 percent. Don't try to taste it, it's awful at this stage.
Here's what it should look like after a half hour:

Once you get it boiled down to about a quarter of a cup, add one cup of organic beef stock, adjust the flame to a fierce simmer and reduce that mixture to about half a cup.

Once that's done, add the butter in small chunks and, over low heat, whisk until thoroughly blended in. The reduction should be satin-like and glossy. Add salt and pepper. Taste if you want, but it's way too rich to taste any good.
Set it to the side and prepare to make the rest of the dish. The hardest part is over.
...to be continued.