Wednesday, August 31, 2005

chocolate sorbet to die for

If you have access to a Trader Joe's, go buy this sorbet immediately. That's right, grab your keys, put on your shoes, go.

I would buy this even if it were full-fat chocolate ice cream, but it happens to be 99% fat-free sorbet. (Apparently vegan as well, for what it's worth.) You'd never guess, as deep dark chocolatey as this is. This stuff is intense.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

more love for CHOW mag

Hey tarts! I'm back from my long weekend in D.C. and vicinity. I picked up the new issue of CHOW while I was out there. In it was a "reverse-engineered" salsa recipe, emulating what is apparently some amazing salsa sold somewhere in San Francisco's Mission district.

I spent a good portion of my flight home salivating over the picture of said salsa, so I decided I would make it today. I even had a dream last night about making this salsa. (Incidentally, I once had a copy editing/cooking dream in which I was trying to figure out my employer's house style for handling blue cheese. Not printed references to blue cheese -- actual blue cheese. "What do we do when it's too blue?" I wondered. "Will that confuse readers and make them think it's just plain moldy?" Anyway, I digress.)

I'm glad I live in a place with a sizable Latino population, because this salsa called for things I would've had a hard time finding in some places: chiles de arbol, pasilla chili powder, and raw, shelled pumpkin seeds. Here, though, no problem:

Anyway, this recipe has you roast the tomatoes, then cook them again with the chilies, like so:

Meanwhile, you're toasting pumpkin seeds and chopping your green onions and cilantro. Then you stick the tomato mixture and the pumpkin seeds in the blender, along with a little vinegar. I think the pumpkin seeds are really key -- you get a depth of flavor and a nice mouthfeel that's a little like mole.

The verdict? Pretty damn good salsa. I would go a little easier on the salt next time, but I'll definitely be making this again.

Oh, and also, thanks to this issue of CHOW, I am currently curing my own salmon. This basically involves covering salmon fillets in a ton of kosher salt, some sugar and some herbs, weighting it down, and letting it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. I'll let you know tomorrow how that turns out.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bustin' Fondue Fo' Noah, Fo' Shizzle

Inspired by Lis' recent post about her discovery of "Gizoogle,", which translates web pages into gangsta-speak, I decided to try it on one of my earlier posts to see how ludicrous it would turn out. Voila:

Mr. Tart n I recently joined some niggaz friznom grad schoo` fo` a fondue baller. Its just anotha homocide....Our fearless hosts, completely undaunted by tha prospect of bustin' fondue fo` tha first time ta a French teacha, decided ta experiment a bit ta avoid tizzle whole meat-dipped-in-boil'n-oil thing fo` tha main course. Katie found a recipe fo` grilled steak brushed wit pesto dipped into a bizzy cheese cream sauce (which mizzy Mr. Tiznart a very stoked mizzan) n shit.

We all loved all of it. The biggest fiznan, though, was perhaps two-year-old Noah, who delighted in tha fruit n chocolate. We thought it dangerous ta give him a fondue fizzork, see'n as he doesn't yet have tha manual dexterity fo` sum-m sum-m so long n pointy, so Katie jizzust put tha pre-dipped food on his plate so you betta run and grab yo glock.

Isn't that sum-m sum-m?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

the backpacker's guide to British cuisine

A trip to England is never going to provide much culinary inspiration, unless you have hundreds of pounds to eat at one of Gordon Ramsey's restaurants or some other posh joint. But, if you are backpacking and more appreciative of calories than taste, you might just do all right. Much of my trip was spent consuming this, the English breakfast:

We had it at every B&B we stayed (along with toast and a pot of tea, of course). I don't think I've ever eaten so many eggs and so much meat in a week--thank goodness for the mornings we were camping and could just eat nuts and power bars. While I was thoroughly sick of English breakfast by the end of the week, the huge meals did much to carry us through our long days of walking. I've never considered "hearty" a good recommendation for food, but this week it was just what I was looking for. While English food is not particularly interesting or subtle, it is reliable and filling. It was quite a lovely thing being able to walk into a pub each afternoon and eat a big plate of meat and potatoes before finishing the day. I think, though, that I will go on an all-veg diet for at least a week.

While the Brits don't do food so well, they are masters of sweets. And every hiking trip is made better by chocolate, cookies, and candy--and of these we had plenty. I can't write about sweets, England, and hiking without mentioning the Kendal Mint Cake. It's a strange and wonderful bar of hard, minty, sugar. The texture is at once creamy and grainy and the confection provides nothing but carbs. The mint cakes were taken to Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and you can't get a better recommendation than that. I don't particularly like peppermint candy, but this I love.

Terra enjoying her mint cake

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Noah's First Fondue

Mr. Tart and I recently joined some friends from grad school for a fondue dinner. We brought the chocolate dessert fondue, very traditional, and Cynde and Todd provided the swiss cheese fondue with bread and veggies. Our fearless hosts, completely undaunted by the prospect of serving fondue for the first time to a French teacher, decided to experiment a bit to avoid that whole meat-dipped-in-boiling-oil thing for the main course. Katie found a recipe for grilled steak brushed with pesto dipped into a blue cheese cream sauce (which made Mr. Tart a very happy man). Doesn't it look good?

We all loved all of it. The biggest fan, though, was perhaps two-year-old Noah, who delighted in the fruit and chocolate. We thought it dangerous to give him a fondue fork, seeing as he doesn't yet have the manual dexterity for something so long and pointy, so Katie just put the pre-dipped food on his plate:

Isn't he just the cutest thing you've ever seen at the dinner table? His enthusiasm soon spread:

And here's the "after" picture. The dinner party was clearly a rousing success! After all, nothing says "good party" like chocolate up one's nose.

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The Lemon Balm that Ate my Garden

I come from a non-gardening family: growing up with a backyard full of sandy coastal Carolina soil and weeds, we were lucky to have any grass, a hydrangea bush, and some roses. Mom grew some herbs in pots on the patio, but that was the extent of my exposure to gardening. Mr. Tart, on the other hand, grew up weeding and picking raspberries regularly; however, he never tried growing things on his own as an adult.

Last summer, even before I moved in with him, we decided to devote a portion of his backyard to a vegetable garden, and not just because we wanted fresh produce: we were both interested in learning how to grow some of our own food, but we didn't have any idea of how to go about it. We decided that learning how to do something together, working together and reaping the benefits of this new creation, would be important (and humbling) for us as a couple.

Our 2004 garden produced some gorgeous tomatoes that required very little work from us, plus lots of herbs and some spinach. A few albino carrots appeared, followed months later by correctly orange ones that were just as wide around as they were long (and trust me, they were short and squat for carrots). And one radish.

Part of the problem, we realized, was that the garden lay on a significant slope, which meant that every rainstorm washed the topsoil (and any seeds hiding immediately below the surface) right out of the garden. Plus I think I pulled up a lot of the incipient radishes, thinking they were weeds (while I kept other sprouted green things, hoping optimistically that they would turn into vegetables, but nope, just unruly but pretty weeds).

Having heard that houseplants grow better when spoken to, I decided to apply this principle to our garden, and began chatting with them as I planted and weeded. That drew a few curious stares from the neighbors, but not as many as when I concluded that simple greetings in English weren't sufficient and tried to encourage them to grow in the appropriate foreign languages: French for the thyme, Spanish to the cilantro and peppers, Italian to the parsley, basil, and tomatoes (that was a stretch), and Thai to the Thai basil (okay, I just made up sounds that reminded me of Thai restaurant menus).

This year we made some changes. We terraced the garden to cut down on the washout and added more items that we could actually eat on a regular basis (we tired quickly of trying to find uses for all the basil--but did have pesto all year round out of the freezer): lettuce, green beans, green onions, eggplant. And then we decorated the borders with small sunflowers. Voila:

The tomatoes are pretty miserable this year, but the herbs are in good shape (except the cilantro, which died early last summer too), and we've harvested beans once and tons of lettuce (which is why you don't see much in the picture).

Actually, one of the herbs is in TOO good of a shape: the lemon balm is taking over the entire bottom of the garden. I planted it last year because it's fun to stick sprigs of it in lemonade or iced tea, and because I dry it and mix it with dried mint to make herbal tea. And that's about all lemon balm is good for. So what in the world do I do with all this?

Aiighh! See how it dwarfs the heads of lettuce? I mean, three months ago it was a sweet, docile circle of delicate leaves. Now it's big enough to qualify as a bush, with some leaves as big as my palm--and this picture was taken after several harvests of entire branches! It keeps growing and growing and growing and we're starting to be afraid of it. We're also running out of ways to use it--vasefuls on the dining room table, gallon baggies of dried lemon balm for tea later, invidual leaves frozen into ice cube trays to decorate drinks with, and my personal favorite new brilliant idea, infused into canola oil that I can decant into attractive jars and give away. (I tell people they can use the lightly lemon-scented oil in quick bread batters like zucchini bread and pancakes, in vinaigrettes, and to drizzle over fish.)

Any other suggestions before the lemon balm bush grows massive enough to block the sunlight from the rest of the yard ?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A kitchen I'd like to visit

Wouldn't you love to watch this Italian grandmother prepare a meal?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Wines I don't ever want to taste

Quick! What do the following descriptors have in common?

Burnt Match
Wet Dog

I want to say that last one again:
Wet Dog

Apparently they can all be applied to wine. Clearly my palate has a long way to go.

They're all featured on this "Wine Aroma Wheel" Mark brought home. There are all the normal wine adjectives you've probably seen on labels--say, jammy, berry, spicy, oaky, citrus, for instance--and then there are the disconcerting ones you see above. Granted, most of the gross ones mean there's cork taint or some other thing wrong with the wine, but still. Good lord, wet dog? Not even Two-Buck Chuck tastes like wet dog.

Monday, August 15, 2005

How I spent my weekend:

OK, so it's a bit off topic. But I just wanted to share what are clearly the most bad-ass pictures ever taken of us. We have a friend who's been climbing off and on for a few years and whose brother has been climbing for quite some time, and they took us out. We'd done the indoor climbing gym before, but never outdoors.

Here's a great one of Mark:

Anyway, there you go. We now return you to your regularly scheduled food blog.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Chow Mag and energy bars

I ran into a new food magazine recently: CHOW. The style of it reminds me quite a bit of ReadyMade--modern typefaces with little variation from article to article, photos in natural light, the lowbrow transported to the high. The food photos are perhaps not as dazzling as in some mags, but there's something to be said about photographing food without wax and whatever else you need to make it look perfect. Anyway, seems like it has good recipes (haven't tried any yet), good tips, and interesting product suggestions. Their website also has good content (perhaps better):

They turned me on to LARA bars, which for an energy bar is actually quite tasty. The secret to the taste is a few basic ingredients (basically nuts, dried fruit, and some spices). They don't have that unfortunate taste typical of energy bars (not sure how to describe it, but if you've eaten many energy bars, you know what I mean). Also new and good on the energy bar scene is Clif's new line: nectar. Same deal here: just a few ingredients, primarily nuts and fruit. I haven't yet found them at outdoor stores, but you should be able to find them at natural foods stores. They're actually worth eating off the trail.

I know pictures of energy bars aren't quite food porn, but now you'll have easy product recognition should you feel the need to buy some. And really, I'm just entertained by my digital camera

And on a totally unrelated topic, I made a salad this week that I think everyone should try: greens with plums and marinated goat cheese (it's from Epicurious). Really delicious--the plums add amazing texture and tartness.

That's all the food news from me. I'll be sure to report on the thrills of British cuisine when I get back.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Cinnamon Toast and Snackmasters

What is your first memory of baking/ cooking on your own?

I can remember from about age 6 onwards making cinnamon toast (still a favorite) with a recipe from a kids' cookbook that involved first melting the butter and then mixing in the cinnamon and sugar. I'd spread the sludge on toast and loved the graininess and butteriness of it. The first full meal I cooked a few years later involved "Grand Slam Chicken" (pan-fried chicken legs that were apparently supposed to resemble baseball bats) and an applesauce cake make with 7-up (both courtesy that same kids' cookbook).

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

Rachel, my roommate the year I studied abroad in France. In our tiny kitchenette with two burners, one cabinet, and no stove or microwave, she would whip up multi-course meals from scratch. She showed me how good it could be when you prepare food as unprocessed as possible: the herbs were always off the stem, not from a jar; the salad dressing was always homemade; the tomato sauce was always from scratch; we'd have to rinse the slugs off the heads of lettuce fresh from the market or her parents' garden; and once she even came back from a trip home with a huge home-canned jar of rabbit her dad had caught in the backyard. Rachel also taught me how to cook without a recipe, which has been hugely freeing.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world?

Yep, here's four!

Mageiricophobia—do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

It used to be peeling shrimp, but that doesn't bother me any more. Generally I try to avoid spending much time with raw meat, though.

What is your most valued or used kitchen gadget and/or what was the biggest letdown?

Currently the most used: our microplane grater (good for parmesan, ginger, nutmeg) and a gizmo that produces paper-thin slices of garlic amazingly quickly.

Biggest letdown: the Snackmaster. After watching several hours of infomercials about this product in the 1980s, I convinced my parents to buy one so that we too could make hot pressed sandwiches (which I now know to refer sophisticatedly to as "panini") and dishes even more exotic, like tarts (!) from jam and refrigerator biscuits or pizza from tomato sauce, pepperoni, and refrigerator biscuits. Well, after a while, it wasn't all that thrilling. Years later, when I moved to Fort Collins, I got a hankering for the Snackmaster, but it was gone. Fortunately, my mom found one for me at a yard sale; I actually use it on occasion, just not with the original passion of my teenage years.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/ dishes you really like—and probably no one else!

There's this funky goat cheese flavored with cinnamon and cranberries that sounds scary but is actually lovely.

What are the three foods or dishes you simply don’t want to live without? Cheese. Chocolate. French fries.

Your favorite ice-cream? Very chocolatey chocolate.

You will probably never eat: most meats.

A common ingredient you just can’t bring yourself to stomach: bananas. They're vile.

Which one culture’s food would you most like to sample on its home turf? Japanese.

Any signs that your passion for food is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention?

My tea collection barely fits in the hanging racks on the back of the pantry door, and yet I keep buying (and receiving as gifts from friends and family) more boxes and bags and tins, because there are so many flavors I like (or want to try). And because we can't go through tea very quickly (except when making pitchers of iced tea in summer), the collection grows and grows.

Any embarrassing eating habits? Nutella straight from the jar with a spoon. (Mr. Tart adds that I tend to chew on my hair when pensive, but that doesn't count, because I don't actually digest it.)

Who would you want to come into your kitchen to cook dinner for you? Any of the Iron Chefs, Alice Waters, Julia Child.

Who’s your favorite food writer? Peter Mayle describing Provencal fare.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Two Things I Would Like To Say About Various Fried, Pancake-like Foodstuffs

Here's what I made earlier this week with some of my farmer's market goodies: corn cakes with pepper jelly and goat cheese, tomatoes (unadorned, because they were just that good--hooray, summertime), and a salad with figs, manchego cheese, and walnuts. (The only things I know to do with fresh figs are to put them in a salad or eat them with yogurt and honey. Both very good, if you should ever bump into some fresh figs.) It was all good, but the corn cakes were a definite will-make-again dish. (Let me know if you want the recipe.)

And in other fried, pancakey stuff news, a coworker brought Korean bean curd pancakes to work last night and said she wanted me to try some good old Korean grandma home cooking. Yum, yum, yum. They were a little bit like Chinese scallion pancakes. I think there was kimchi in them (which, depending on how you feel about kimchi, I guess, either just piqued your interest or turned your stomach). I told her to bring her grandma's food in anytime. :)

I think she said they were called pin-jay-dock, but a Google search on that brings up nothing. But "Korean bean curd pancake" brought up this, which sounds just about right:

"Pindaettok: This mung bean pancake is another favourite street food or drinking nibble, cooked and served piping hot off the griddle and usually filled with ground meat, bean sprouts, chillies and fresh coriander."

A foodie in search of a country

This week, I made a ginger cream and red currant tart for my family, which no one really liked. Granted, it wasn't the best tart I've ever made. The crust was a bit crumbly and I stupidly used sea salt instead of regular table salt (note to self: don't bake late at night) so it was a bit more pungent than usual. But, their general dislike of the tart was not because of my baking failures but the mix of flavors (the sweet crust, gingery cream, and tart berries). We had just had a dinner of stir-fry made with canned beef! (not my cooking, my mom's) I realized what a food outsider (except for my brother and marginally, one sister) I am in my family. My foodie friends who have children tell me how their kids are always pleading with them to make food from a box, and I'm sure this will be my fate should I ever have children.

So, I've been thinking about what generated my interest in food. I thought it might be fun to complete, as Tara suggested, the food survey from Chocolate and Zucchini. Here are my responses. Tara and Sarah (and anyone else who wants to join in) I hope to hear yours.

What is your first memory of baking/ cooking on your own?
I can't remember! I remember making some frothy Tang shake one day when I was home sick from school (a recipe that I think came from Reader's Digest). Most likely, my first independent cooking experience was making these peanut butter treats my mom taught us how to make so we wouldn't bug her for sweets. They were pretty tasty. The recipe: Mix together equal parts dry milk, peanut butter, and honey (or jam). Form into small balls, roll in powdered sugar, and chill (if you can wait that long!) Yum, yum.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
I can credit my mother with teaching me how to read a recipe. My brother deserves much credit for sparking my interest in food. My friend Carmen taught me how to chop an onion in my hand and how to taste for salt. My happiest cooking memories are being with her in her kitchen making rice and peas, curry chicken, salt cod. These days, I get a lot of instruction and inspiration from Marcella Hazan's cookbooks and

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world? Sadly, no.

Mageiricophobia—do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat? My favorite dessert is Bananas Foster, and I'd love to make it at home, but I'm deathly afraid of flambe-ing (how do you make that a noun?)

What is your most valued or used kitchen gadget and/or what was the biggest letdown? My George Foreman grill. I can hear the sniggering already, but it's truly fabulous. Oh, and my new ice cream maker. My biggest disappointment was my stovetop espresso maker. It made the coffee taste tinny.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/ dishes you really like—and probably no one else! Can't think of any--maybe marshmallow peeps and chocolate? Although they now make chocolate eggs with peeps inside, so I'm not the only one.

What are the three foods or dishes you simply don’t want to live without? Bread and ice cream. Not sure about #3--everything else seems to fit there.

Your favorite ice-cream?All kinds. Maybe mint chocolate chip. Right now, Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy

You will probably never eat: I think I'll try anything once.

A common ingredient you just can’t bring yourself to stomach: Velveeta cheese (it's common in these parts). At my parents' house:canned beef.

Which one culture’s food would you most like to sample on its home turf? Italian--obvious, but true.

Any signs that your passion for food is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention? Recently, I'd made so much ice cream in my new machine that I had three partially eaten batches in my freezer--couldn't eat one before I made another.

Any embarrassing eating habits? Maybe the marshmallow peeps. The fact that I can (and usually do) eat a pint of ice cream in one go.

Who would you want to come into your kitchen to cookd dinner for you? Marcella Hazan, Thomas Keller, Carmen.

Who’s your favorite food writer?Not sure about a favorite writer, but one of my favorite descriptions of food is Pearl Buck's musings on rice in The Good Earth

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

My market conundrum.

Reading about both of your adventures with vegetables and fruits at local markets makes me realize that I've only been to a farmers' market once this summer. (And it was a doozy--the one in Boulder boasts dozens of vendors selling all the expected produce, plus cheeses, gourds, breads, CDs, ostrich products, burritos, Izze floats, and probably much more that I can't remember. There are also enough restaurants represented that you could have both breakfast and lunch on site.)

I used to hit the Fort Collins markets two or three times a week, what with the one in the parking lot on Oak St just a couple of blocks from my apartment, the Thursday night market where they block off a couple of streets and have live performers (and kettle corn, my favorite snack), and the CSU horticulture club stand on Saturday mornings. The latter was always the smallest and cheapest and friendliest. I could buy individual flowers, bags of basil, fava beans, funky-shaped squash, and so on. (This is where I was introduced to garlic scapes, by the way, which Melissa loves so much.) The most user-friendly part of this student stand, though, was that whenever I wanted green tomatoes, they'd just wave me over to the tomato field and I could pick my own. I was therefore eating fried green tomatoes on a weekly basis (and pressuring my Colorado friends to try this Southern delicacy).

So here's the irony: I grow my own tomatoes now, and I've only had them green and fried once this summer!

I don't like being a 20-minute drive from the nearest farmers' market. Add this to the fact that Mr. Tart is not a fan of vegetables and that we are learning to garden in our own backyard, and the motivation to get to the Boulder market is very low.

But I'm thrilled to be growing my own veggies (and even fruit!)--although we've made lots of mistakes which I will be happy to detail in a later post (once I figure out how to post photos!).

Monday, August 08, 2005

See these grapes here?

I hate to carelessly throw around superlatives, particularly so early in the life of this blog, but I'll go out on a limb here. These are the best grapes I have ever eaten. They are the Platonic ideal of grapes. We got them at the farmer's market today in Claremont. The sign said they were Japanese grapes, and a Google search on that seems to bring up only wine-related pages, but these are definitely table grapes meant for eating, not winemaking, so I'm not sure what they are exactly. Whatever they are, supermarket grape varieties do not compare.

We were so pleased with our find that when we made our second pass through the market and past the grape man, Mark was compelled to call out to him, "We really love your grapes." Grape Man just smiled benevolently. He knows he's got a good thing.

My other market finds: pummelos (like grapefruits but sweeter, a little more orangey), fingerling potatoes, green beans and baby bok choy. The bok choy vendor also had several varieties of eggplant, though I didn't buy any today. Aren't these lovely?

Between this and the stuff I got at the Riverside market on Friday, we are now thoroughly flush with produce. Good eats this week.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Kohlrabi always struck me as an unfortunate vegetable--too bland, too hard to peel. My parents used to grow them in the garden and my mom would eat them raw with salt. I also remember some sort of battered fritter, but maybe that was the eggplant. I thought kohlrabi was "yucky." I haven't seen it since childhood, so I was surprised (and a bit dismayed) to see it in last week's share from the farmer's market. But I have realized that my dislike of certain foods when I was young was more about preparation than the food itself, so I dutifully searched the web for recipes and found kohlrabi and potato gratin. This was perfect because I could also use some of the abundance of garlic and potatoes I have in my kitchen. Much to my surprise, the gratin was delicious (I would show you a picture, but I ate it all up). The kohlrabi gave what would have been a predictable dish a suprising tang. I can imagine lots of other possibilities for the kohlrabi: raw in salad, stir-fry, maybe even mashed. Too bad I promised the remainder of my kohlrabi to my mom.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The United States of Cheese

I found this while browsing Epicurious for inspiration on what to do tonight with my farmer's market haul (tomatoes, corn, onions, potatoes, broccoli and figs, for what it's worth) ... it's The United States of Cheese! Fifty states, fifty cheeses. I see that their chosen Colorado representative is Fort Collins' own Bingham Hill Blue, which I still pine for. When I used to work at a bakery in grad school, we would sell our breads at the farmer's market, and the best part was that at the end of the market, all the vendors would swap leftover stuff. The Bingham Hill people were usually at the market as well, so I used to go home with giant chunks of this beautiful blue cheese, as well as all the free produce I could possibly use.

So...many...cheeses. Sigh. I feel so patriotic.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Greetings, tarts! Let's start this foodblogging party, shall we?

Three months ago, Future Mr. Tart and I moved to Riverside, California from Nebraska (I from Lincoln, he from Omaha 50 miles up the road). I had certain ideas of what California food would entail. Visions of fabulous farmers' markets and lots of slow-food-ish, Alice Waters-esque restaurants danced in my head.

The reality? Well, the farmers' markets are indeed good (more on that in a future post--just think beautiful citrus and avocados), and we do have Trader Joe's, a grocery store I'm currently having a torrid love affair with (more on that later too). But the restaurants? No, not so much in Riverside. The inland region of Southern California, which basically starts with Riverside and heads east from there, is very much a chain restaurant kind of place. If you're willing to drive an hour, you're golden, but if you want something close by, you sort of have to settle.

I'm going to make it my goal to prove that wrong. When I find a fabulous meal in the 951 or 909 area codes, I will document it and share with you. But first, I'll show you what driving an hour can bring: Sunday brunch at the Ramos House Cafe in San Juan Capistrano.

Ramos House sits on what is said to be the oldest residential street in California. Supposedly, one of the original families is still occupying the same property since the street was built in 1794. Ramos House isn't quite that old; it was built in 1881 and made into a restaurant about ten years ago.

The place is especially known for its weekend brunch, and that's what we came for on a recent Sunday morning. For a prix fixe price, you get a starter and an entree. We started with mimosas; Mark's was the traditional orange and mine was pomegranate. I love how they're served in mason jars:

Incidentally, their bloody mary looks pretty cool as well -- they stuff a whole freakin' salad in those things. heh. Several stalks of asparagus, a crab claw... alas, next time.

For our starter choices, Mark decided to go with savory and I went with sweet. His was hush puppies with pepper jelly (he wanted to know if the corn husk garnish made me homesick for Nebraska -- yes, a little):

Delicious, not too greasy, great with the pepper jelly. My choice was the apple-cinnamon beignets you see below. That's caramel and creme anglaise swirled on the plate, and if we hadn't been in public I would have licked this plate clean. Aren't these gorgeous?

I may have a certain allegiance to the beignets at Lucile's in Fort Collins, but these were pretty darn close. Actually, the place reminded me of Lucile's in a lot of ways. The old-house setting, the Creole-influenced food, the laid-back clientele. Very cool. For entrees, we switched it up and Mark went with sweet while I went savory. Behold this peach pain perdu:

Oh. My. God. This was heavenly. But not to be outdone, here's my crab hash with smoky bacon scramble, topped with crunchy sweet potato curls:

It's hard to tell from this picture, but there's a crab cake under the eggs and sweet potatoes. It sounds really rich, but it was actually just right, and the flavors were really complex. Dee-lish.

Sarah, Lis, if either of you come visit me, I will happily treat you to brunch at Ramos House. Is that enough of an enticement? Huh? Huh?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Welcome to Three Tarts, a collaborative food blog created by Sarah, Lis, and Tara. The three of us met in grad school seven! years ago and we are constantly talking about our favorite restaurants, recipes, and farmer's market finds. Since we now live in different states, we don't have much chance to eat together, so Three Tarts will be our virtual table (everyone's welcome, of course!).

Tara, Sarah, and Melissa at S's recent wedding--what a lovely bride!

Why Three Tarts?
"Tart" was a silly acronym for our grad. teaching assistant training, so we've been tarts ever since. We do try to keep our tarty behavior to a minimum (except in appropriate circumstances, of course!) Even though a blog entirely devoted to baking tarts would be lovely, we will write about much more than that. Sarah, for instance, is an expert cheese smuggler (nothing lovelier than a visit to Sarah's when she's just returned from France). Tara can pull off just about any recipe (including Martha Stewart's fussy but fabulous pine cone cake). Me? Well, I just like to eat.