Thursday, August 30, 2007

raise your sippy cup and say "cheers" with Carl, the future foodie!

My nephew Carl, age 19 months, talks about food constantly--in French, no less! Swing by Bringing up Baby Bilingual and see how he can sweet-talk me into giving him grapes or clinking crackers.


Friday, August 24, 2007

goat-cheese cheesecake with gingersnap-hazelnut crust and blood-orange caramel

I hardly ever follow recipes to the letter anymore. Which, when I'm making dinner, generally works out fine because I know enough techniques and flavor combos to throw something decent together. But I don't really have the pastry skills to make that work with dessert. So I'll improvise in a sort of modular way, using made-up elements and components of various recipes. The goat-cheese cheesecake recipe I used was crustless and baked in six ramekins, but I like cookie crusts with my cheesecakes and I wanted to use my springform pan. So I made up a gingersnap-and-hazelnut crust (delish!), made extra filling (good call) and sort of guessed on the baking time. I think I overdid it by about 10 minutes -- it was a bit too much on the cakey side, rather than the creamy/silky side. Live and learn. But even when cheesecake isn't technically flawless, it's still cheesecake. You can't truly screw it up.

I also used the blood-orange caramel called for in the original recipe. But I tweaked that too: I added a good fat pinch of sea salt, and instead of taking it off the heat after adding the orange juice, I let it reduce for a few minutes (mine was inexplicably runny), and I finished it with a bit of butter - maybe a tablespoon or so - which deepened the flavor. Perfect. It plays off the tanginess of the cheesecake. I will be using this caramel recipe to accompany many desserts in the future. In fact, I made a double batch and we had some this morning, accompanying peaches as a crepe filling. (Hooray, dessert-as-breakfast!) And that hazelnut brittle in the original recipe? I will trying that in the future too.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

desperately seeking sushi

So I've been craving sushi lately. I don't think it's a pregnancy thing--more of a "98-degree summer in Colorado where cool, light meals are perfect" thing. We've got good sushi restaurants in the Boulder-Denver area--even one right here in little Lafayette--but of course they present a dilemma: I'm not allowed to eat raw fish. So far, I've been satisfying my craving with the occasional California roll or unagi (the eel that tastes barbecued). Do any of you with more sushi expertise than me have suggestions of other cooked fish sushi rolls I can indulge in? (I had a vegetarian one the other day, which disappointed me because there were too many crunchy bits.)

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Lafayette garden report: squash gone wild

Why do they sell packets of dozens of squash seeds when any normal family would be satisfied with just two or three squash plants per summer? I couldn't bear not to plant at least a handful after purchasing the packets. Even though wise people warned me that a whole row of squash could be dangerous, I planted two anyway: one of yellow zucchini, one of butternut. I thought that since the butternut (or as Mr. Tart trepidaciously called them, "those big, funky, strange-shaped squash things"), a winter squash, wouldn't mature until much later, it would stay out of the way. (It didn't.) As for the yellow zucchini--one of which turns out to be green, a pleasant surprise--even after I mercilessly yanked out several of the half-grown plants in July, it's still trying to take over the yard. Not just the garden, but the whole yard. I have to trim it back to keep it from spilling onto the flagstone walkway. And now these long green tentacles with leaves bigger than my head stretch out over the rock almost to the fence--but that's fine since they're not in the way. One vine attacked a basil plant minding its own business a foot away and a foot above on a different level of our terraced garden.

Yes! Our terraced vegetable garden! After several summers of trying to garden on a slope, and watching every afternoon rainstorm and every winter snowmelt send valuable topsoil whooshing down into the rock, providing a fertile home for all sorts of noxious weeds, while our tomatoes struggled to survive mere inches away, Mr. Tart decided to save our garden! He hauled in bricks and new bags of topsoil and built up the bottom part of the sloping hill to level it with the rest of the garden.

Maybe that's why the squash has spent the whole summer partying.

But as you can see, the vegetable garden is an overcrowded, verdant explosion producing more herbs that we will ever use (thyme, sage, chives, tarragon, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, several mints, and lemon balm, with the latter two in "time-out" planters after their previous attempts to overtake the vegetables),

the aforementioned zucchini and butternuts (bringing with them, fortunately, their stuffable blossoms),

adorable baby cantaloupe which aren't sure if they're ever going to finish growing and ripen into edibility,

our favorite green beans ever, the thin, sexy, French haricots verts,

new-to-the-garden-this-summer edamame beans (still too little to pick, but oh-so-fuzzy),

plenty of feathery carrot tops,

and a few tomato plants that are still deciding whether or not they want to produce anything. Oh, and a volunteer tomatillo plant--growing in the rocks--which is bigger and healthier than any of the tomato plants eeking by in fertilized soil, go figure.

Summer 2007 promises our most bountiful harvest yet--but we're rapidly tiring of chocolate zucchini cake.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

hamburger, ketchup

I hate big menus. They make me a little nervous, a little sweaty. How can I possibly make a choice among so many options. Not to mention that usually the bigger the menu, the worse the food. When I get a big menu, I usually try to get someone else at the table to make a decision for me. In college, my roommates and I had plans for a restaurant called "Just Spaghetti" that served well, just spaghetti. No garlic bread, no salad, no nothin. Of course, we weren't very good at keeping to our vision. Every time we ate something we really liked, we'd amend: "well, just spaghetti and cheesecake. . ."

On our recent visit to Coeur D'Alene, Will told me about Hudson's, a local joint that only sells hamburgers. No french fries. Just burgers (ok, they also have pie and you can get a ham and cheese sandwich--although in two visits I never saw anyone order this). You get a choice between regular or cheese and you can have the burger topped with pickles or onions. For dressing, there are bottles of ketchup, spicy ketchup, or spicy mustard on the counter.

This is the kind of place I like. No choices, no fretting, no disappointment. There is one cook, standing at the grill with a pan of ground beef on the left, buns layed out in front, a whole onion and pickle on the right. Shape the patties, throw them on the grill. Slice onion and pickle. Throw it all together. Things move pretty fast. The place is rather like that old SNL skit, "Hamburger, ketchup. Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, ketchup."

This is a good burger. No frills. No options. Total Satisfaction.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

baking a tartlette

I'm baking a new type of dish right now.

You loyal readers will say, "But Sarah! We all know that you're not a baker! You never post about pies or bread or cakes! What gives? What's up with the tartlette?"

Well, here's what's up: I'm pregnant! This Tart is going to have a Tartlette sometime around January 23. In the meantime, we're having all sorts of fun with the food analogies. Ed calls me la boulangerie now, and I've been telling people that since I'm a French teacher, I have a croissant (instead of a bun) in the oven. "Croissant" is perfect, even better than "tartlette" (except perhaps in our little blog community), because it's the present participle of the verb croitre, which means "to grow" in French. Yep, croissant means "growing." See? I told you it was perfect!

But now I can tell the truth about our gorgeous St. Martin trip in June: it wasn't perfect for this pregnant foodie! Can you imagine being on a tropical island and limited to no more than 12 ounces of seafood per week? There's Ed, eating his five-course lobster meal, and me with my vegetarian pasta. No tuna, no king mackerel, no swordfish, no shark allowed at all. (Well, I could have had canned tuna, but there was no way I was going to a French island and eating canned tuna imported from the US.) No wine, no champagne, no fruity alchoholic drinks in coconuts topped with little paper umbrellas. (I was, however, delighted to discover that a virgin passionfruit daiquiri is just as refreshing and drinkable as the kind with the rum.) Nothing raw, so no sushi and no lovely runny French cheeses made with raw milk. (Fortunately, the hard Dutch cheeses were plenty tasty.)

My HMO insisted that I consult with their travel clinic before the trip, and their recommendations included no street food, no tap water, and no fruits or vegetables that I didn't boil or at least wash myself in bottled water (which leaves out eating any salad on the island). In other words, no fun. But for goodness' sake, St. Martin is a highly civilized place, not a third-world country rife with disease and sewage in the streets! After checking with the American who ran our hotel, she assured me that she had eaten restaurant salads and drunk the tap water there when she was pregnant, that I had nothing to worry about.

Still, I limited myself to one salad and not many meals from the lolos. On the other hand, I did have bites of all of Ed's seafood dishes, finally having one all to myself our last day there. I even once ordered an escargot appetizer, telling myself that since they're land dwellers, snails don't count as shellfish.

And you know what? I'm so happy that we're going to have a croissant that I don't mind not being able to eat all the fish I want! But nonetheless, I'll be glad for a nice ripe brie, a glass of red wine, and some tuna sashimi come February.

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