Thursday, June 26, 2008

Shallot-y Goodness

The other week, I was picking up some groceries at my friendly neighborhood Trader Joe’s. I had to get some milk and, I think, some ingredients for a recipe. Whatever the reason was, I picked up a bag of shallots. I’d used them before—actually, I’ve loved them ever since I roasted sliced shallots with green beans for a brunch a few summers ago—but I hadn’t purchased any in a long while. It was a whim. While I was waiting to pay for my food, an old man behind me in line looked at my purchases and then at me and said, “Looks like you’re a fine cook, my lady. You have shallots, butter—all the necessities.” I smiled, thanked him, and thought to myself, yes, I must have all the necessities.

And ever since then, I’ve been using shallots in everything.

I put them into my homemade salad dressing of a few posts ago; I sautéed them with a pepper a week or so ago. Last night, I sautéed them in olive oil with yellow summer squash and salt and pepper. I find sautéing squash a little challenging (and yet I continue to do it!), but this time, I just stuck a lid on the pan and let the heat and the moisture from the squash and oil do the trick. The squash was nice and tender and sweet. The shallots, on the other either browned and crisped up nicely—there’s nothing like a caramelized shallot—or got translucent and almost creamy. They were both delicious. I’ve gone so far with my obsession with shallots that I even toyed with the idea of replacing the halved onion in Marcella Hazan’s onion and butter tomato sauce with a few halved shallots. I didn’t—I had a guest for dinner that night—but I’m still curious on how it would turn out…

Shallots are a member of the onion, or allium, family. There are several different kinds of shallots, but the kinds I most often see are round or high round French shallots. They are sweeter and milder than onions, but more nutritious! See for these facts and more, including storage tips and recipes. I do urge you to try shallots, if you never have—they’re delicious. And they’re such elegant onions—they make almost any meal seem fancy!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Breaking News: Venezuela derails France

So, French Month got a little derailed. Which is okay, because I wasn’t too interested in it anyway. I think French is just not my thing. That being said, I do believe that I will be making French onion soup this week, because I love it and I’m going through a major soup phase right now. All I want to do is eat cans and cans of soup.

Thankfully, for you, dear readers, I have resisted this impulse and have been enjoying the bounty that Philadelphia has to offer. In the last week, I’ve tried several new restaurants (Café Apamate, Honey’s Sit n’ Eat, and Rx in West Philly) and finally made it to Reading Terminal Market (where I found cherries for $2. And mint fudge brownies. And organic meat. And other delicious things). But I can’t really shove all of that into one post—those restaurants will have to wait for a later post, or for me to make another visit.

I really love this city. It’s dirty. It smells funny a lot of the time. There’s a lot of crime. There is a LOT of good food. And I love it. I even love the silly liquor laws that abound in this state, because that means that there are an abundance of BYOBs, like Café Apamate. And thus, to Café Apamate did the dear GF and I go last Thursday for date night.

Café Apamate’s chef Ormaechea has brought a blend of Venezuelan and Spanish food to Philadelphia, in the form of mini tapas called “Pinxtos” as well as large plates. The tapas are literally about 2 to 4 bites; just enough to love what you just put into your mouth and little enough that you pay attention to savor the tastes. And everything—I swear, everything—is delicious. We ordered an array of tiny plates, a charcuteria plate and another appetizer to share, as well as sangria that was mixed at the restaurant with the bottle of Spanish red that we brought with us.

The GF and I shared some things and not others. She really wanted to sea scallops with an herb reduction; I rarely eat any kind of seafood. I really wanted to try the shot (!) of gazpacho (remember that soup obsession?)—she thinks that gazpacho is glorified salsa. The gazpacho was actually tremendously amazing, with Jersey heirloom tomatoes in the starring role. We shared a warmed goat cheese mound with a red bush tea and pistachio reduction. I had to restrain myself from licking the plate. We also shared the charcuterie board, with chorizo, Serrano ham, and lomo embuchado—all amazing meats. Paired with them was a nevat goat cheese—semi-aged, almost like my beloved Pata Cabra from Tria Café—drizzled with lavender honey, manchego with slivers of quince paste, and Cabrales blue cheese (which neither of us really liked at the time). This was followed by a mini plate of flank steak with a Cabrales reduction. It literally melted in our mouths. I have never had a more delicious or tender piece of steak in my life, and the Cabrales took on a completely different persona. It went from being a mild, though still too strong for me, blue cheese, to being a mellow, warm, delightful counterpart to the richness of the steak. After this, deciding that we were still hungry, we ordered a plate of béchamel and Serrano ham croquettes—think hush puppies dressed up for the prom—unthinkably delicious. To round out this lovely meal, we had handmade churros stuffed with dulce de leche.

Apamate is small, cash only, and doesn’t take reservations, but staffed by friendly people and beautiful it sit in. The verdict: Excellent. I would go back again and again

Thursday, June 12, 2008

French Month #2: Overdressed

The French certainly do understand salads.

It’s been brutally hot recently in Philadelphia. We had an early June heat wave that saw temperatures topping the high 90s and with humidity, the heat index was certainly above 100 degrees. Needless to say, I didn’t want to make—much less even eat—such hearty (and traditional) French dishes such as coq au vin, soufflé, or even French onion soup!

Instead, I made a salad.

I know, I know, I seem to write an awful lot about salads. But this one was simple, I promise! Organic greens, cherry tomatoes, and raw green beans were the only ingredients. Oh, and the crumbles of herb and garlic chevre. And the homemade dressing—mustn’t forget that!

The French do know their way around a salad dressing. Again using a recipe from trusty old Julia, this was one of the quickest and easiest dressings to whip up. And to think, until recent years, I never even considered the idea of making my own dressing! Comprised of red wine vinegar, brown mustard, olive oil, salt, peppers, minced shallots, and dried basil, this dressing was certainly a hit. I really like the vinegar and oil and salt—it’s always been a favorite combination. The dear GF liked the mustardness of the dressing, and we both greatly enjoyed the shallots (I always enjoy shallots).

It was simple, it was clean, it was delicious. I think this is my first favorite French food ever!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

French Month #1: No French Kissing with this Recipe

June is French cuisine month in the Nest (my new name for my eensy-weensy apartment). I’m exploring the tastes and techniques and really, just seeing how I like it. This week, I tackled something relatively simple and slightly familiar: aigo buido.

Aigo Buido is a garlic soup out of Provence; I got the recipe from—who else?—Julia Child. I don’t own the Art of French Cooking (but I certainly covet it whenever I see it), but I do have the collected recipes from her PBS cooking show, The French Chef. She is such a wonderful lady. I really adore her. My sister (who, by the way, does own the Art of French Cooking) made this soup for me a couple of years ago, in honor of Julia and the date of her death. It was good—followed up, in a minor clash of cuisine, by the only eggplant parmesan I’ve ever liked.

Aigo Buido is made by simmering two heads worth of unpeeled garlic cloves, savory herbs, and saffron in water, then straining everything out. Squeeze the juices out of the garlic, and you have a clear garlic infused broth. In the meantime, beat a quarter cup of olive oil and three egg yolks into a thick, mayonnaise-like sauce. Let me tell you, my arm still hurts from all that work! Once the two components are ready, beat the sauce while adding a cup of soup a little at a time. Then mix in the rest of the broth. The trick is not to let the hot broth cook the eggs in the sauce. My sister reported that she messes up this soup every couple of times; sometimes it’s excellent, sometimes it’s a gray cloud with egg bits floating unappetizingly around. I am proud to report that I did not cook the egg; regardless, I’m still having mixed feelings about the resultant soup.

The soup was not overwhelmingly garlicky, though you’d expect that from two heads of garlic. It was a satisfying texture, very smooth and almost creamy. I think it would have benefited from cloves, which I discovered I do not own. The olive oil I used was also a little bit strong. The soup wasn’t bad; it was just lackluster. My dear GF agreed (she also gave me a quote, but I forgot what it was). I liked some spoonfuls, I didn’t like others. The worst thing is that we collectively spelled like garlic for hours after consumption.

So, my first foray into French cooking has been, I must admit, a little off-putting. While the soup as simple, a pretty large amount of effort went into making it—all that egg whisking. The soup was okay—not amazing. We’ll see how things turn out as the month progresses—I’m thinking coq au vin is on the way, maybe French onion soup, an exploration of salad dressings. If I’m feeling really adventurous, there will be soufflé, croissants, and crème brulee!