Wednesday, September 27, 2006

the new CHOW has landed

We at Three Tarts were greatly saddened when our favorite new food magazine, CHOW, announced several months ago that it was eliminating its print publication and going Web-only. It was bought by CNET, a publisher known for its tech media. All three of us were brand-new subscribers when it happened (has anyone received their replacement issue of Intermezzo, as promised? I haven't).

I visited the new CHOW today, and my tentative response is that I'm pleased. I can't fully pass judgment until I look around a little more. A little bit of the old DIY spirit is gone, but not much. I think CNET did a decent job of preserving the tone. And I totally want to make that caramelized mango ice cream.

I'd also totally forgotten that CNET also bought Chowhound. They're really tying CHOW and Chowhound together. They're still separate websites, but there's a lot of cross-pollination going on. And even though the message boards on Chowhound are MUCH easier to use now, I have to say that the old board's impenetrable nature was part of its odd charm. I'm not sure why.

And, finally, I'm happy to have just discovered DCFoodies (Ed, this blog may interest you as a former Washingtonian). It's helping me build my list of things I must try in my new city (the tasting menu at Komi, the lobster roll at Hank's Oyster Bar, amazing Szechuan at Joe's Noodle House).

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I subbed for a teacher who went out of town last week, and to thank me for teaching her class, she brought me back a bottle of Angostura Bitters from her home country of Trinidad. Now I need to figure out what to do with it! It tastes strong and, well, bitter. Web searches haven't given me any recipes that sound that good to me (gin and bitters, for example, would surely be just as bitter) or use ingredients that we keep handy (no apple brandy here). Most recipes, in fact, seem to call for just a dash or two of this liqueur (perhaps because it's, well, bitter?), although who knew that Betsy Ross was a bitters drinker? (Here's more about its history, if you're curious.) Please share your favorite recipes that use bitters!

Friday, September 22, 2006

We've been tagged!

Melissa at the blog The Traveler's Lunchbox is trying "to create a list of food bloggers' top picks for things you've eaten and think that everyone should eat at least once before they die. Think of it as kind of a global food guide, which can enrich and inform our travels and perhaps even clue us into things closer to home that we've somehow overlooked." William at Never Trust a Skinny Chef has tagged us to share our top five! Here they are.

Melissa's Picks. While there are many, many things I'd like to eat/drink before I die (among them: truffles, dinner at the French Laundry, a really expensive bottle of wine) I suppose this list has to be food experiences I've actually had that are worth recommending. So here it goes:

1. Just-caught, pan-fried trout. All you need is a lake, a good fisherman/woman, and a little bit of butter.
2. Jam that you've made all by yourself.
3. Fish and chips wrapped up in newsprint (with a side of mushy peas, of course). And if you can arrange it, be sure to be sitting at the edge of the North Sea.
4. Dinner at Hell's Backbone Grill. If this dinner follows a long backpacking trip in Escalante, the food will taste even better. Trust me.
5. Tea and dark chocolate at the top of a mountain. In the winter. At dark.

Lisa B., over at the Megastore, I'd like to hear your picks.

Sarah's Picks. Yes, this list is France-heavy, but that's where I was when I learned to cook (and to eat with gusto).

1. French fries, not too thick, meltingly potatoey on the inside, perfectly crispy on the outside, preferably as served at Bistro Vendome in Denver: sprinkled with herbs, champagne vinegar, and salt (creating a sweet-salty-crunch punch like Kettle Corn, which would be on this list if I could add a sixth food).
2. Pain au chocolat, a square croissant with a thick line of dark chocolate running through it.
3. Raclette, the traditional Swiss dish that dates back to the days when all people had left to eat by the middle of the winter was ham, potatoes, cheese, and cornichons. Something magical occurs when they're all melted together, especially if you're in a chalet on the top of a mountain with a group of foreign exchange students and one hardy professor handing out shots of Chartreuse. But that's a story for another post.
4. Salade au chevre chaud, mixed baby greens with a garlicky sherry vinaigrette and sliced garden-fresh tomatoes topped with a round of goat cheese that has been broiled, baked, or fried so that it turns golden on the outside and melty on the inside.
5. Fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Sarah tags Ringloss, a friend and dinner companion who always makes her laugh, owns a Fry Daddy, and isn't afraid to try black pepper creme brulee.

Tara's Picks.

1. Eat Moroccan food with your hands. It was probably three years ago that we ate at Boulder's lush, opulent Mataam Fez with Sarah and Ed, but I still can't forget it. When you experience food this way, it engages all your senses. It's slowed-down dining that really celebrates each course. You kick off your shoes and sit on the floor surrounded by pillows. You wash your hands in a fancy bowl brought to the table, you get spritzed with rosewater, and you leisurely savor things like lamb with honey and apricots sans utensils. It's so cliche to say that you feel like royalty, but you do.
2. Go to a farmers' market in Provence -- then have a picnic. When I think of Arles, I think in terms of smells. One of my favorites is the rotisserie chickens you find at the market, with potatoes roasting underneath to catch the juices.

And some of the best meals I had in France were picnics, so after the market, take your culinary finds to a park and settle in for some people-watching.
3. Homemade macaroni & cheese. Is it wrong of me to say that my own mac & cheese is the best I've ever had? A big plateful of this cheers me up on my worst days. You have to use really good cheddar, and you have to let the noodles on top get all browned and crunchy. Oh, I'm giddy just writing this. Add a tiny bit of mustard to the cheese sauce to enhance the sharpness of the cheddar (just don't add so much that it actually tastes like mustard). It sounds weird, but I swear by this trick.
4. Salt caramel. Especially the salt caramel from San Francisco's Recchiuti Confections.
5. Slow-cooked pork carnitas. Should be melt-in-your-mouth, falling-off-the-bone tender, and allowed to shine in a very simple taco: just the pork, a little cilantro and onion, and a squeeze of lime in a corn tortilla. Heavenly. Even better enjoyed with an ice-cold Pacifico.

I could go on and on, but then, that's the beauty of having a food blog. :)

And now, I'll tag KitchenMage. Looking forward to your list!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

there's even tomatoes in the dessert!

Mr. Tart and I recently had a delicious Supper Club dinner with our foodie friends Cynde & Todd and Katie & Aaron. We try to get together every few months for an Iron Chef-inspired meal, where we all contribute dishes using the theme ingredient. In honor of late summer's bounty in our gardens, this time it was TOMATO.

The appetizer was my perennial favorite, fried green tomatoes. Thick and tart with a spicy cornmeal crust, they just say "summer" to me. Our first course--as you can see above--was a tiered chilled soup of avocado and chicken broth and sour cream, topped with fresh tomato puree, decorated with chopped cucumber and shallots. My mother-in-law found the recipe in Sunset magazine and shared it with us (the long chives masquerading as straws were a last-minute inspiration).

The main course consisted of Cook's Illustrated extremely-picky-but-quite-successful ratatouille recipe. I spent much of the afternoon draining and pressing and roasting and pan-frying each type of vegetable separately, but when they came together, each one asserted its own flavor and texture instead of turning into Provencal mush. We served it with polenta (made from corn meal) with four ounces of goat cheese and some sun-dried tomatoes thrown in. Cynde brought a side dish of tomatoes baked with couscous, raisins, and cinnamon--adding to the Mediterranean feel of our meal--and a green salad with tomatoes.

Katie had the night's biggest challenge: dessert. She prepared crepes with a sweet, creamy filling and topped them with homemade tomato preserves which had been cooked with sugar, ginger, and lemon. Mr. Tart and I confessed later on that we were a little suspicious of the idea of sweet tomatoes, and Katie grimaced as she ladled them out, telling us we didn't need to eat them if they tasted nasty--but once we tried them, we all were hooked!

And Katie was kind enough to give each couple their own jar of tomato preserves, suggesting that we use it as a glaze on meat as well as on top of desserts. I'm thinking it might also go well with a quiche (my mom always serves a sweet raspberry salsa with hers). We'd welcome other suggestions from loyal Three Tarts readers!

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Monday, September 11, 2006

the best fish tacos?

As Tara pointed out earlier this summer, it's easy to screw up a fish taco. My parents learned this at a recent dinner party with friends who served fish tacos. As you might imagine, they don't get a lot of fish tacos in Green Bay, Wisconsin; these were in fact Mom and Dad's first ones ever. Dad put it succinctly, "I didn't like them, and that surprised me." He went on to reveal that they were served with lots of raw onions and that the fish was cold. So I told him about the good ones I've had here in Colorado and how I've tried to replicate them at home, and he asked for the recipe. I thought I'd start by describing what I do and then ask the rest of y'all to chime in with your opinions of what makes a dad-worthy homemade fish taco!

Take corn tortillas, preferably tender ones that you buy fresh from a Mexican restaurant (I like Los Tarascos in Fort Collins), and keep them warm. Pan-fry or grill a mild white fish (I usually use tilapia) after briefly marinating it in spices (such as garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin) and a little lime juice, break it into chunks, and keep it warm. Wrap some of the fish in one or two tortillas and top it with some or all of the following: finely chopped cabbage, grated Mexican quesadilla cheese (I think the kind we like here is "Queso Campesino" brand--it melts like a dream!), chunks of avocado, and a tomato-based salsa or chopped tomatoes. Squirt some fresh lime juice over the top before you dig in!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

plum frangipane tart

When I'm feeling stressed out, baking always seems to make me feel better. So today, when I was especially about to hit the panic button, only a multi-step dessert, one with room for creative improvisation, would do. It's like I need to create something complicated to remind myself that I am a capable adult. Hence, this plum frangipane tart.

I used Alice Waters' recipes (from "Chez Panisse Fruit") for pate sucree tart dough and frangipane pastry cream as starting points and I improvised from there. I went with plums for the filling because I found some especially good ones, and I made a reduction of port and fig preserves and used that as a glaze. I think this might be the best tart I've ever made. The flavors go really well together, and the crust is a bit like a sugar cookie. (In fact, I think I might try using this recipe as such.)

I should have put just a little more filling in, though. I have a tendency to get a bit overexuberant when I'm assembling a tart (I have the same problem with pizzas) and wind up with either mushy, overloaded crust or a burnt, drippy mess in the oven. This time I overcorrected. I thought the plums would have given off more liquid.

Still, though, not bad. And I feel much calmer now.

Monday, September 04, 2006

book recommendation: the Omnivore's Dillema

If you want a food-related read that's also socially-conscious, I highly recommend Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dillema. I wanted to read this book when it first came out, but I decided to be frugal, which meant I had a long, long wait on the library hold list. And when I finally had the book in my hands, I wished I had bought it. I probably will at some point.

Pollan considers the question "what should I eat?" by looking into the natural history of four meals: McDonald's drive-thru; a meal made from a local, organic farm; a meal mad from "industrialized organic," i.e. Whole Foods; a meal made from food Pollan hunted, gathered, or grew. Pollan's writing is engaging and thorough and by thinking so deeply about his own meals, Pollan encourages you to think about your own.

What I particularly like about Pollan is that he is a true omnivore; by digging into the implications of how we produce and consume food, he is not trying to encourage me to become a vegetarian or to dramatically change my eating habits. He just wants me to think about how I can be more ethical in my eating habits. And he absolutely got me thinking. While Pollan addresses many issues, what most compelled me was the necessity to eat locally. I am lucky that I read the book in the summer when my meals primarily consist of fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market or my dad's garden. I had a moment of severe fretting when I went to the grocery store and wondered how I'm going to eat locally and ethically in the winter. I'll just have to think about things more, I suppose. Reading Pollan's book also encouraged a semi-fanatical dedication to canning (but more about that later).

After reading the book, I was talking to an environmentally-conscious friend about how I'd realized that the best way I can help the environment is to eat locally. He replied that it was hard to eat locally. I agreed that with the short growing season it is somewhat of a challenge, but he was talking about the problem of variety. "Think about what grows here: potatoes, squash, tomatoes. It's hard to eat that all the time." I can completely understand squash fatigue, but he is wrong about the variety. When was the last time you saw this in your grocery store?

Maybe my eating is currently dominated by tomatoes, but who cares when you get unbelievably gorgeous heirloom tomatoes like this?

A couple of blogs I like that focus on eating locally and ethically:
I Heart Farms

Sunday, September 03, 2006

bon appetit, mon

Thanks to suggestions from loyal Three Tart readers (and maybe a little nostalgia for our St. Lucia honeymoon), Mr. Tart and I hosted a very fun Carribean-themed Labor Day party this weekend. We bought tiki torches for the backyard, set up three tables outside and decorated them with pirate flags and cutlasses, and stashed clues in wine bottles around the yard as a buried treasure hunt for the little kids (with chocolate coins as the prizes). Yarrr!

The menu:

Shrimp and crab legs with a salsa-inspired cocktail sauce
Mango-avocado salsa (recipe below) and chips
Chile pepper jelly over cream cheese with crackers
Macadamia nuts

Main dish:
Jamaican turkey burgers (recipe below) with orange-chipotle mayo and avocado

Side dishes:
Black bean salad with lime juice, red onion, cilantro, and red pepper
Spicy cantaloupe balls with pineapple mint
Grilled pineapple with cardamom-lime-rum sauce (recipe below)

Mixed berry pie
Island spice cake with ice cream and cinnamon

And to drink:
Slushy watermelon mojitos (recipe here)

(Thanks to our guests for bringing appetizers and desserts to share!)

Mango-Avocado Salsa

1 sliced avocado
1 sliced mango
handful of chopped cilantro
1 bunch chopped green onions
4 tsp fresh lime juice
salt to taste

Combine and serve with sturdy chips.

Jamaican Turkey Burgers

1 lb ground turkey
half-bunch of scallions, chopped (including some of the green)
1 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp paprika
red pepper flakes, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Jerk sauce:
1 bunch green onions
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 medium jalapenos, seeded and chopped (leave seeds in to make spicier)
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
scant 1/2 c. vegetable oil
scant 1/2 c. soy sauce
1 tsp ground allspice

Finely chop first 4 ingredients in food processor, then add the next 4. Process till smooth.

Combine burger ingredients into four patties and marinate them for 30 minutes in 1/2 cup jerk sauce, turning occasionally. Grill over hot coals, 3 inches from heat, for about 5 minutes per side. Baste occasionally with more jerk sauce.

Serve with sliced avocado, sliced tomato, and orange-chipotle mayonnaise (1 c. mayo, 3 Tbsp orange juice, 1 Tbsp minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce, whisked together).

(recipe adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)

Grilled pineapple

2 fresh pineapples, trimmed and cut into "steaks," juice reserved
rind of half of a lime, peeled as thinly as possible
1 c. boiling water
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
2 Tbsp rum
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water

Grill pineapple steaks over medium heat until grill marks appear but while pineapple is still firm. Pour 1 c. boiling water over lime rind. Heat sugar and 1/2 c. water to boiling. Add any juice left over from cutting the pineapple, cardamom, and lime rind. Reduce heat and stir till mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat and add rum. (Or add rum while sauce reduces on the stove if you prefer to avoid the alcohol.) Pour sauce over pineapple and marinate in the fridge until ready to eat.

(recipe adapted from Cooking Light magazine)