Friday, July 28, 2006


One of the most fun things Mark and I did in London was visit Vinopolis, a wine museum located near the Tate Modern and the new Globe theater. I could tell you it was fun because I learned about the Georgian origins of wine, about how to estimate the age of a white wine by looking at it in the glass, and about wines being produced in lesser-known wine regions like Thailand and India. But really, I suspect the fun lies in the fact that by the time you leave Vinopolis, you've tasted a total of 15 wines, champagnes, whiskeys, beers, absinthes (more on that in a second), martinis and the like. Let's just say you leave in a really good mood.

The museum is organized by continent, with tasting stations set up at various points along the way. Our visit began with a "how to taste wine" session. Then we were turned loose in the museum proper, where we sipped various wines while taking in the exhibits. I learned, for instance, that the bubbles in champagne were originally considered a manufacturing flaw, but the public liked them and began demanding their wine with them.

Some of the exhibits were interactive, such as this one, which shows you what a wine with cork taint smells like:

One of my favorite wines I sampled was the icewine, which is made from grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine. This extracts a lot of the water from the grapes, making them sweeter. (The end result is similar to late-harvest dessert wines, which develop a mold on the vine that extracts water and concentrates the sugars.)

Now, about that absinthe. Absinthe, as you probably know, was once rumored to make people go crazy. In the early 20th century, it became something of a scapegoat for all sorts of social ills, and several countries banned it. It's still illegal in the U.S., but perfectly legal in most of Europe. England, in fact, never banned it. When absinthe is improperly distilled -- as some of it surely was in its heyday -- it apparently can have elevated levels of substances you probably don't want to imbibe, but there's no evidence that the properly-made stuff is unsafe.

Anyway, because absinthe is incredibly strong -- 60% to 75% alcohol -- there's a fancy little ritual for diluting and sweetening it. Here's our tour guide preparing our absinthe, diluting it first in the fountain-like thing, where it then runs over a sugar cube sitting on a special slotted absinthe spoon.

You can read more about absinthe here. Our verdict? It was actually quite tasty. We were both expecting a harsh drink, something you'd have to down like a shot, but it was very smooth and sippable with a nice anise flavor.

If you're ever in London and you decide to visit Vinopolis, the perfect post-drinking dinner is a big bowl of noodles at nearby Wagamama. Try the cucumber-celery-mint-lime juice, too.

Monday, July 24, 2006

a midsummer gardener's dream

Here are pictures from early July to accompany my previous post about zucchini from our garden. Looking at them makes me want to eat nothing but salad and veggies for the rest of the summer!

This is the base of every salad I've made this summer: home-grown mesclun mix. The seed packet produced five different types of lettuce which spring up side by side, light green, dark green, burgundy, crinkly, crunchy, lofty. These leaves' freshness and beauty almost make up for the fact that neither the spinach nor the arugula nor the mache made it this summer.

This year we planted haricots verts, very thin French green beans, for the first time. Not only are they delicate and delicious, but they also grow quite quickly! Only a couple of weeks since this picture of blossoms and tiny tiny beans was taken, we've already harvested four or five meals' worth and have plenty left. My favorite way to prepare these is sauteed in butter with minced garlic or shallots and sprinkled generously with salt and pepper. They taste like summer in France.

These sugar snap peas are also a new addition to the garden. Very few of them have actually made it into the house--I just snack on them sun-warmed, straight from the vine, while I weed.

The purple blossoms here have now turned into long, skinny Japanese eggplant. They are the most gorgeous glossy dark purple and almost too stunning to eat. We cut them in half lenthwise, marinated them in soy sauce and sesame oil and lime juice, and grilled them. I've read that they're supposed to be less bitter than regular globe eggplants, and I think that's true. Cook's Illustrated recommends using this variety for baba ganoush, which will be the next recipe I'll try with them. We'll probably have to grow more of these next year--this one plant was just an experiment.
And finally, Mr. Tart's beloved raspberries. When they were producing, he'd pick a handful or two every morning before breakfast--we were so spoiled! The picture below is of our first now-crowded raised bed; this spring he built a new bed twice the size of this one, and we're now trying to convince the shoots we transplanted there to grow big and strong. Only about six of them actually survived, though, but we'll keep at it. We eventually want enough to be able to pick raspberries and then bake with them, rather than just enough to nibble on or drop on our cereal.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

zucchini blossoms four ways

Step one: Grow zucchini (or buy the flowers at a farmers' market or steal from your neighbor's garden when she's not looking).

Step 2: Stuff blossoms with cheese and pesto or tomatoes, cheese, and artichokes.

Step 3: Dip in batter and deep fry or pan fry.

First, choose one of the following fillings.

Filling #1: Goat Cheese

3 oz goat cheese

3 oz cream cheese

1 Tbsp pesto (or 1-2 Tbsp fresh herbs you have around)

salt and pepper to taste

Filling #2: Italian

1 c. diced tomatoes (fresh or canned, drained)

1/2 c. chopped artichoke hearts

3 tsp minced onion

3 tsp pesto (or 3 Tbsp fresh Italian herbs of your choice)

3 Tbsp shredded mozzarella

3 oz cream cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Next, remove stamens from 8-10 zucchini blossoms and stuff with filling mixture, twisting the tips of the petals together.

Now choose one of the following methods for cooking them.


Mix 3 Tbsp flour, 3 Tbsp cornmeal, and 1 1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning (or other dried herb blend of your choice). Dip the stuffed blossoms into milk and then the flour mixture. Shake off excess breading. Heat olive oil in skillet and pan fry till brown on both sides (in several batches so as not to crowd the pan). Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with shallot salt (or other seasoned salt blend).


Mix 1/4 c. cornmeal, 1/4 c. flour, 1 egg, 1/4 c. water, 1/4 c. milk, and 1 1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning (or other dried herb blend of your choice). Stir batter ingredients together and let rest for one hour. Fill a saucepan to a depth of 2 inches with vegetable oil and heat to 375 degrees. Dip blossoms in batter and deep fry till golden. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with shallot salt (or other seasoned salt blend).

I'm approximating some of the quantities here, trying to recreate what I threw together, but this should be pretty close, depending on the size of your flowers. Clearly, you can get inventive with the innards--try other cheeses, other veggies, other herbs. The deep-fried ones are my favorite; they leave the stove a mess, but their texture reminds me of jalapeno poppers or chile rellenos without the heat--but with a flavor explosion inside!

Monday, July 17, 2006

mid-summer meatloaf madness

A bit of advice: On the hottest day of the year, when the thermometer is reaching up to 104 and you live in an apartment that barely has air conditioning (a much-loved, but ineffectual, window unit) you should not make meatloaf for dinner. But if you can’t resist the temptations of slowly roasting comfort food in the middle of summer, I have a meatloaf recipe for you.

Sometime in March, Will brought over a recipe for meatloaf that he’d torn out of the NY Times. I’m not much of a meatloaf fan, but this one seemed irresistible. Mustard, maple syrup, bacon. I would always choose butter over bacon, but when we’re talking meatloaf, there’s nothing better than bacon. Bacon.

Spring would have been the right time to make this meatloaf—the evenings still cool, the apartment air not stifling. But we left the torn recipe languishing on the fridge along with restaurant reviews and pictures of my adorable niece. We wanted the meatloaf enough to give it a favored place on the fridge, but not enough to cook it.

So what possessed us to put it on the menu for a day so hot you think your brain is that sizzling egg even without the drugs, a day so hot you can’t even waste time on metaphors I’ll never know. But what can I say? When you want meatloaf, you want meatloaf. And if you’re going to have the oven at 375 for 90 MINUTES, you may as well roast a few potatoes.

Damn, it was hot. Hot, hot, hot. Luckily, Will busied himself making us iced lattes and lime spritzers. He also took on the nasty job of mushing and shaping the loaf. Initially, he tried to mix everything with a spoon and only dug his hands into the mix after much admonition from me (always the kitchen nag).

Oh but it was good meatloaf. And as Will astutely noted as we sweated over our meal, it would make a great sandwich.

And so, the next day, as I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement (which coincidentally features a poorly planned dinner of beef and roast potatoes that really should have been a salad), I munched on an appropriate summer meal: a thick slice of cold meatloaf smashed between crusty French bread and topped with red onions, farmer’s market lettuce, a bit of mustard.

You can find the recipe for Maple-Glazed Meatloaf here (scroll down a bit).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

lost in the translation

Two gems from a Chinese restaurant menu in Barcelona, translated into English.

That's all for now. Of course, I have much to say about my European adventure, but the Internet connection in this hotel is spotty at best, so posting tons of photos would take all night. But we're having a blast! I've eaten homemade Jamaican fish cakes at a neighborhood street fair in London, picnicked on the Champ de Mars in Paris, and noshed at a Basque tapas bar in Barcelona. Tomorrow we're taking a Spanish cooking class. I can't wait!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

my new favorite pizza topping

Raw spinach on pizza is good. Sauteed spinach on pizza is phenomenal! How come this never occurred to me? Thanks, Pulcinella! (This lauded Fort Collins-based restaurant now has a pizzeria in our neighborhood in Lafayette.)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

California comestibles

As promised earlier this month, here are more details about our cuisine-driven trip to California (well, yes, we went because Tara was getting married, but after the ceremony Friday night we had the rest of the weekend to go gallivanting gastronomically). Mr. Tart's first choice of places to visit was the Old Town Root Beer Company in downtown Temecula. Beyond the tacky tourist t-shirts in the front of the shop was an entire wall lined with shelves of soda pop, mostly root beer (his favorite drink after red wine--and sometimes with!) from all over the country (plus a few English and German imports). Some claimed creaminess, some promised old-fashioned taste, others bragged of their nuances of nutmeg or nostalgia. Mr. Tart bought four and Lis one (after putting back a $10 commemorative bottle from overseas) while I indulged in a funky ginger ale, my favorite carbonated drink.

Probably our favorite restaurant meal during the trip--and certainly our most picturesque--was brunch at Tara and Mark's beloved Ramos House in San Juan Capistrano, which she has chronicled about twice in the short history of this blog (here's their first meal there and here's the second one). So with that kind of encouragement, how could we not go? The town itself is charming--how often do directions to a restaurant instruct you to "walk across the railroad tracks" onto the oldest street in the state and look for "the second shack on the right"?--and the nearby old Spanish Mission is lovely in its gardens and crumbling walls. And the food was as delicious as we expected--though slightly different than it was a year ago for Tara and Mark. Our prix fixe menu included the drinks (we all skipped the scary crab-claw bloody marys), unlike theirs, while our mimosas were served in thin champagne glasses, not the large and homey mason jars. Lis and Mr. Tart started with the beignets, which they raved about, while I had the hushpuppies in sweet pepper jam. Now, I haven't had a good hush puppy--or perhaps not any hush puppies at all--since my last visit three years ago to North Carolina, where I grew up. You might argue, therefore, that any old hush puppy still warm from the deep fryer would make me happy. True, but Ramos House's hush puppies are earthy and yet ethereal and crunchy and corny. Just right. Plus we all loved the pepper "jam"--thin enough to qualify as an almost-pourable jelly--that took up the entire plate (unlike Tara's serving, which only had a large dollop). Fortunately, a Ramos House cookbook was floating around the patio so I was able to copy down the recipe. I haven't had a chance to make it yet--been traveling and still am out of town--but this would be a great chance for a loyal Three Tarts reader to try it out and let us know if it works!

Ramos House Sweet Pepper Jam

1/4 c red onion, finely diced
5 red jalapenos, finely diced
6 large yellow peppers, finely diced
1 1/4 c rice wine vinegar
2 1/4 c sugar
1.5 oz fruit pectin

Combine vinegar and sugar in stainless steel pot and bring to a boil. Add peppers and onions. Whisk in pectin and return to a boil. Chill over ice bath. Refrigerate up to one month.

Our main dishes were the following: Smoked Bacon, Baby Spinach & Caramelized Onion Scramble (Lis); Wild Mushroom, Roasted Garlic & Sun dried Tomato Scramble (Mr. Tart); and Basil Cured Salmon w/ Herb Sauce & Toast Points (me--though they were actually baguette slices). Oh yum. The egg dishes were served with some kind of roasted small potatos and decorated with teeny filaments of fried onion. My salmon was exquisite and I used the last piece of bread to sweep up every smear of sauce left on the plate. And guess what--we have that recipe too!

Honey Mustard Sauce for Smoked Salmon

1 c creole mustard
1 c honey
1/2 c lemon juice
2 tsp black pepper
2 1/4 c grape seed oil
drizzle of sesame oil

Mix all ingredients together except oils. Add oils gradually while whisking. Refrigerate for up to several weeks.

Speaking of loyal Three Tarts readers, by the way, Lis and I were very surprised as we stood at the entrance to the wedding winery, handing out programs, and having total strangers greet us with cries of "I recognize you from your blog!" and "You're a Tart!" and "We love your blog!" Thank you! We're thrilled to hear that people outside of our immediate circle of friends and family even know that our blog exists (we plan on taking this responsibility a little more seriously from now on, yes indeedy). And we'd love to have you all write in with comments, suggestions, questions--let us know who you are and what you think and what else you want to read about! (Lis and I agreed that since we read so many cookbooks and other books about food, we should start posting book reviews, for example.)

We were particularly tickled to find ourselves the answer to a question during the "Tara and Mark Trivia Quiz" portion of the wedding reception: "What are the names of the two friends that Tara has a food blog with?"

And to conclude, our most disappointing meal was at an airport Applebee's which kept denying that it was actually an Applebee's. You might say that it's our own fault to choosing to eat an an Applebee's--but you don't understand. The Ontario, CA airport is modest in size but still has 30 or so gates with a handful of restaurants on either end of the terminal. Strangely enough, the only one open in the late afternoon was Applebee's. The only one. Not the burger joint nor pizza place nor bagel bakery, nothing. It was literally the only place to eat. So we resigned ourselves to it and went in. When I ordered a cocktail to start with, the waitress told me that although there was a flippy laminated Applebee's drink menu sitting on the table, the bar doesn't actually make half of them. They don't stock all the booze or the extras. (For example, no orange slices to garnish my drink.) This was no big deal, but a bit odd. As we tried to place our order, the waitress--wearing an Applebee's nametag--confessed that not everything was available because it wasn't actually an Applebee's--they just had the Applebee's name, the decorations, and the menu. But not everything on the menu. Because they weren't really Applebee's. Very postmodern. But our salads were respectable.

So we parted after that meal, our suitcases loaded down with bottles of local olive oils (garlic for me and Mr. Tart), pineapple sparkling wine, and other treasures from the local vineyards, and returned to Colorado and Utah, promising each other another Tart reunion next year, this time not just for a wedding but rather just because. We're toying with the idea of a weeklong cooking class in an area like Tuscany, you know, where a grandmotherly lady takes us to the market every morning to buy ingredients grown down the road and then we go back with her to her farmhouse where she teaches us how to make authentic pasta filled with pungent mushrooms and decadent desserts....

Thursday, July 06, 2006

bacon and egg ice cream

At a recent party, I declared that any flavor of ice cream would taste good. Of course, everyone started throwing out odd possibilities. "Bacon?" someone asked skeptically. "Of course bacon," I replied with a good deal of bravado (it'a habit of mine, speaking confidently regarding things I know nothing about). I love ice cream, so I almost believed it, and started trying to concoct a recipe for bacon ice cream. I only got as far as soaking bacon in milk, which is a pretty obvious first step.

I told Sarah about my bacon ice cream idea and she was doubtful of its merits. And then, in what was surely a fated act, I bought a copy of Food & Wine to read on the way home from Temecula. In it was a charming article by Alec Le Seur about taking his kids to eat at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, the recipient of three Michelin stars and reportedly the best restaurant in the world. And on the menu at the Fat Duck? Bacon and egg ice cream.

Well, if the best restaurant in the world serves it, it must be a good idea. With a bit of Google searching, I found a recipe. I had to figure out a few ingredient equivalents (liquid glucose?) and do a lot of math (including halving the recipe--how much bacon ice cream does a girl need?)

The result? hmmmm. The color and texture are lovely. I may borrow some of the techniques for future, sweeter ice creams. The taste is pleasant--certainly like bacon and eggs, but sweeter and cold (similar to the sensation of eating buttered popcorn jelly bellies). The mix of sweet and savory is a bit disconcerting, but if you let go of preconceptions about ice cream and bacon, then the taste is actually quite good. At the Fat Duck, Blumenthal serves the ice cream with a variety of accompaniments (carmalised brioche, tomato and pepper jam, tea jelly, etc.) that together create a riff on English breakfast. I can imagine that all of these flavors would make a compelling eating experience, but I don't have the patience.

Here's my adapted ingredient list (you can find the instructions at the link above: roast the bacon at 350 degrees and bring the egg mixture to 185).

5 oz. smoked bacon
1 pint whole milk
1 T. dry milk
12 egg yolks
1/8 cup light corn syrup
3/8 cup superfine sugar

Soaking the bacon

Cooking the egg mixture


Removing the solids

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

a weekend of tastings: wine, olive oil, salt

(Note: Blogger's photo function is not functioning, so pictures are forthcoming).

Our weekend of tastings began at the Temecula Olive Oil Company. The oil was good, but the advertising was cheesy: “May olive your dreams come true.” Our tasting included early and late harvest oils. With the late harvest, they make three varieties by pressing other foodstuffs with the olives: blood oranges, garlic, jalapenos. Because these items are pressed with the olives and reduced to their essential oils, just like the olives, the flavors are much truer, more integral than flavors that are infused into oil. The jalapeno oil was the most striking, with a strong kick at the back of the throat, but I decided the citrus oil would be the most versatile (well, Sarah’s Mr. Tart decided that for me, as I was too charmed by all of them to make a choice). I also bought a bottle of vanilla and fig balsamic vinegar. I think the combination will be excellent drizzled on salads and soft cheeses. And the oil will certainly make a tasty cake.

The Oil Company also sold a variety of local honeys, soaps, and salts. Sarah and I tasted a lot of salt. She took home a pretty pink river salt, after some discussion about whether it would fit in their salt drawer. It’s a good kitchen that has a drawer devoted entirely to salt (in comparison to another friend of mine who has a drawer devoted entirely to jello).

And then there was the wine tasting. I’m not much of a drinker, so I felt like a regular lush. Temecula Valley reportedly has a climate similar to the south of France, thus the abundance of vineyards. A quick reporting of the vineyards we visited and the wines we sipped.

Tara’s wedding was at Falkner Winery. With the reception and a return the next day to use up some tasting tokens provided by the groom, we tasted nearly everything in Falkner’s cellars. Their Riesling was my clear favorite—not too sweet, with a distinct pear flavor. Tara’s wedding had a stunning backdrop of new and mature grapes.

Before the wedding, Sarah and I snuck a peak at the inner workings of the winery.

The day after the wedding, we made a quick tour of some of the area’s wineries before heading off to the beach. Our day of wine tasting took us to Oak Mountain Winery, Leonesse Cellars, and Filsinger Winery (The day before, we stopped by Maurice Car’rie for lunch, which included a bottle of their pineapple champagne and a quick stop into the tasting room for a bit of sherry). Oak Mountain is a new winery, with a vineyard full of young grapes. Our favorites were the Viognier and the champagne (the port was also tasty, especially with a bit of dark chocolate). I had to stop myself from slurping up all the champagne—hmmm, is slurp the right word for champagne?

Anyway, our next stop was Leonesse Cellars across the street. The tasting room was well-appointed with dark woods and walls of wine, but we opted not to do a tasting because they were out of two wines, but still charging the usual fee (and they were going to give us a lame souvenir wine glass, which we certainly didn’t want). The place was also crowded, with a wine tasting tour bus outside, and a gift shop, leading us to conclude that the wine was likely overrated.

Our next stop, Filsinger Winery, was the opposite of Leonesse in terms of decor. The tasting room clearly hadn’t been redecorated since the seventies, with orange and brown patterned vinyl tile, a weighty wood mirror, and a hodgepodge of counter surfaces. We were a bit skeptical, but the low price ($3 for 5 tastings) and the wall of awards encouraged us to stay. We were able to choose our tastings from anything on the winery’s list, so among the three of us, we tasted everything. I adored the orange and black muscats, and ended up taking home a bottle of the Black Muscat and a White Cab (some good summer wines, I thought).

I am a complete wine novice, so it was fun to learn a bit more about many varieties and to try wine without the commitment of an entire bottle. Of course, next time I go to the wine store, I'll still probably decide my purchases based on how much I like the label design.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cheers! from London

Hi all! Thanks for the kind wedding wishes. As Sarah and Lis can attest, we all had a blast at the reception!

Greetings from London, where so far we've experienced bad donuts, good pub grub, cheddar and onion chutney baguettes (I will definitely be making these at home) and cream scones. Yesterday, our first day here, was rough, but today I think we're shaking off the jet lag. There's no wireless in our hotel, so I can't get to my photos -- instead we're in an Internet cafe -- but I'll post photos as soon as I can. Take care!

Monday, July 03, 2006

eat, drink, and be married

Congratulations to Tara and Mark, the newest Mr. and Mrs. Tart! Here are the Three Tarts at the wedding in Temecula, California--doesn't Tara look happy and beautiful?

Stay tuned for details about our four-day foodie weekend in wine country and along the coast, where Lis and my Mr. Tart and I indulged in olive oil and wine tastings, a visit to Tara's beloved Ramos House, more root beer than we've ever seen in one place, yummy rehearsal dinner and wedding reception meals, and one confusing airport Applebee's. And Tara promises to check in periodically during her three-week honeymoon to London, France, and Spain. Bon voyage!