Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And The Winner Is....

Well, I have to apologize for being remiss in posting my decision for this month's Paper Chef (#37). Chalk it up to being at the end of a big work project and needing some time away from the computer. This being a holiday weekend added to the delay. But, here it is, at long last.

Seems a lot of people have issues with the idea of cheese and liver. I didn't expect that - there are so many varieties of cheese to choose from. Well, parmesan definitely wins out. It looks like those of us who did participate immediately though of salty Parmesan as a perfect complement to the liver. I think any grating cheese would work - asiago, romano, etc. I used mascarpone as well, and I'd think any mild cheese would also be a possibility (like putting ricotta in the raviolis). So I didn't think this would be that difficult. Oh, well.

OK, on to the judging. First, the Roundup:
I'll start with my entry:
sautéed liver on creamy, cheesy polenta topped off with a mix of lightly fried shallots, apple, chopped chestnuts, and bacon, served with an herb salad and garnished with whole chestnuts, parmesan, and apple slices. Of course, I can't vote for myself, and it wasn't popular, but I promise it was really good. I'd make it again if Mr. Picky would eat liver. I probably will make it with chicken instead, because everything else was so good.
Next is Mikey's:
Ravioli, stuffed with liver, chestnut & parmesan, and a oregano butter sauce. He had a bit of a time getting the ingredients and made me really happy I live in a warmer climate. This sounded very, very tasty to me.
Ilva's entry
was calf's liver with chestnuts and capers braised in balsamic vinegar served with parmesan and oregano biscuits. I loved the idea of the capers, but I'm not so sure I'd like them with balsamic. The biscuits sound wonderful though.
And finally, Magnus offered us
chicken paté on salad of almonds, orgegano, bacon, spring onion topped of with a savory tuile. I loved the idea of the tuile. Unfortunately, he didn't find chestnuts, and had to substitute almonds. I'd liked to have seen the oregano used in the paté instead of thyme, but it still sounded like a very tasty dish.

So, you can probably see where I'm going with this. I'm going with Spikey Mikey's ravioli. I thought it was simple but inspired. Congratulations, Mikey!

As for the People's Choice, this month was a tie between Mikey and Ilva, so congrats to you both!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Paper Chef #37 - Liver Challenge!

I just finished making and styling my entry for this month. I didn't find it at all difficult, but then I had a bit of an idea of a way to tie the ingredients together when I selected them. My idea: creamy, cheesy, polenta. Add to that being inspired by Jamie Lauren's lovely herby parsley salad at Absinthe over the weekend, and an idea was born.

I always think of liver as just another opportunity to consume bacon, so of course, I had to have some in this dish. I started with bacon, apples, and shallots, all in fine dice. Sauteed the bacon, drained, then sauteed the apples and shallots in the drippings. I also chopped some packaged steamed chestnuts, chives, and Greek oregano from my pot garden.

For the herb salad, I used fresh parsley leaves, chives cut in to 1" pieces, and some of the smaller oregano leaves. Made an herby vinaigrette from apple cider vinegar, EVOO, chives, oregano, salt, and freshly grated black pepper. I also sliced some apple thinly and chopped a chestnut for garnish.

Next, I made a creamy polenta with chicken stock, and stirred in 2 oz. freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano, 2 big tablespoonsful of mascarpone, and 1/4 cup of heavy cream and seasoned with salt and white pepper.

Finally, the liver. I had two pieces, one large and one quite small. I dredged in flour, and added some oil to the saute pan with the bacon drippings, and sauteed lightly to brown. Took out the liver, and deglazed with apple juice, then added chives, oregano, salt, and white pepper, and put the liver back in to simmer and finish cooking. When the liver was just done (still slightly pink-the key to keeping it moist), I strained the liquid, added 2 tbsp. dry sherry, and reduced and seasoned. When it was reduced to about 1/2 cup, I stirred the bacon, apple, shallot, and chestnut dice in and seasoned.

I have to say this turned out really good. The only caveat is that I should have de-veined the larger piece of liver. The apple, parmesan, and oregano tied everything together nicely, and I'm sitting her right now licking up the last bits of bacon-apple-shallot-chestnut goodness. The herb salad added a nice brightness to what would have been a pretty rich meal, so thanks Jamie!

Now I definitely need to go work out.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cooking Light(er)

When I recently topped my highest-ever weight, I sort of freaked out, so I've been trying to cook a bit lighter and have been staying away from ice cream for the most part. I also bought a Pilates reformer, which is a wondrous thing. I've always like weight work, but now that I don't go "out" to work, I rarely get to the gym. I have a fairly high-end treadmill, and I used to have a Bow-Flex, but it was unstable and difficult to use, so I rarely used it. The reformer, on the other hand, is smooth and steady, and my poor blown knees love that I'm not adding stress to them. So, I'm down six pounds this month, and hoping for another 10 or so. Probably wishful thinking, but at least I'm getting more toned.

I'm not much of a believer in dieting; whenever I gain weight it's always because I've gone into slug mode and stopped exercising. But I am trying to save the higher calorie meals for weekends and for eating out. Since I've had quite a few nice meals out this month, my cooking at home has been pretty subdued, which explains the dearth of posting here.

I'm still not giving up on the ice cream machine, but for now I'm trying to do more sorbet than ice cream. I had four Meyer lemons left on my tree, and picked up eight more at Trader Joe's, and made a nice slightly tart sorbet on Saturday that I'll have if I get a craving for frozen dessert during the week.

Yesterday I went to Farmer's Market for the first time in a month, and there were wondrous things to be had. Blood oranges, spring garlic, lovely brassicas, tiny baby turnips, and baby carrots, to name a few. I was planning to make an oxtail soup anyway, so I was inspired to make it with some of these lovelies. It was well worth the time and effort - after four hours of simmering and stirring, I had a robust winter soup of thick oxtail broth, baby turnips, carrots, and potatoes, laced with some medium-dry sherry (Amontillado, to be precise).

As always, I bought WAY too many veggies for two people to use in a week, so I'm going to have to do more cooking this week than I'd intended. I have a perfectly gorgeous head of cauliflower and two wondrous cabbages to use. The cabbages will be easy - I have a corned beef brisket in the freezer that keeps calling to me (which was supposed to be for a traditional New Year's Day dinner that never happened). Not sure what to do with the cauliflower at this point.

Well, anyway, I wanted to eat dinner at a reasonable hour last night, and the soup wasn't going to be done until after 8, so I tore up some butter lettuce and made a nice white balsamic/herb vinaigrette, and then pan sauteed some nice fresh snapper fillets (dredged in seasoned flour) with whole baby carrots, which were finished with a light squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of lemon-thyme and chives. Yes, I'm guilty of using butter to saute, but as I said, I don't really DIET. It was still what I'd consider a "light" dinner, for me at least. It was pretty tasty, and I left room to have a tiny scoop of coffee ice cream.

Tonight I'm doing my Paper Chef entry and can't wait to tackle the lovely calves' liver I picked up at Lunardi's Market. I also got some nice bacon, which is definitely going into the recipe. I haven't decided on which of the several cheeses I'm considering, so you'll have to wait for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Birthday Treat

Yesterday was my birthday (please don't ask which-sigh). We are season subscribers to SF Ballet, and had tix to the mixed repertory performance, so I wanted to eat somewhere in the Van Ness area. Now, I'm a huge fan of cooking shows, and have been watching Top Chef religiously the last couple of seasons. I really loved some of the things Jamie Lauren was doing on the show, and so I made a reservation at Absinthe, where she's Exec. chef. I made the reservation through OpenTable, and put in a note that I'd like to meet her if she was there, but didn't really expect that to come to anything.

John and I take BART to the city, and as usual on a Friday night, the train was late, so I called to let the restaurant know. They were very gracious and agreed to hold the table. When we got there, the bar was packed and it was quite noisy, but we were seated promptly and were able to converse easily despite being fairly near the bar.

For my appetizer, I ordered the roasted marrow bone "shared plate", and John decided on the French onion soup. Of course, I ordered the scallops for my entree, thinking of Top Chef's Fabio's comment about Jamie's scallops, "It's Top Chef, not Top Scallops!" John ordered the stuffed chicken. We talked and munched on the good bread and waited and after a rather long wait the maitre d' informed us that Jamie had looked at my marrow bones and decided that they were not good ones, and was doing them over. So, she actually WAS there! And he said she'd be out later to meet me. I was really excited! Then she sent out two appetizers so we'd have something while we waited - the spiced fried chickpeas and the pommes frites. They were both tasty, and the chickpeas were addictive, but we restrained ourselves from downing all the frites in anticipation of our orders.

When they did come out, both appetizers were wonderful. My marrow bones were perfect, with a sprinkling of sea salt, a head of roasted garlic, buttered toast, and a really lovely herb salad (mostly parsley and chives - very nice and not bitter like many herb salads). John could barely talk he was so busy with his soup; it's not often that he relishes food so much, what with his picky tastes. The entrees were also really good - yes, those scallops were perfectly seared, and I really loved the sunchoke puree. John, as usual, didn't eat much other than the chicken, saying he was too full to eat more. His Brussels sprouts looked amazing though, so I'm sure they were really good.

And yes, Jamie did come out to meet us and she was really gracious and sweet. I was just thrilled. She and the staff wished me a happy birthday, and when my dessert, the lemon panna cotta, came out it had Happy Birthday on the plate in chocolate with a candle to blow out. The panna cotta was perfect - light and creamy under a light lemon gelatin, with a nice dollop of huckleberry compote on top and a lemon thyme tuile. Mmmmm.

All in all, despite BART delays and marrow bone mishaps, both dinner and the ballet were wonderful. What a great birthday it was!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Paper Chef #37 - Ingredients Up!

Having won last month's Paper Chef competition, it's my turn to select the ingredients and judge this month's entries. PRESSURE! The random list of ingredients from which to choose was really interesting. Since Spikey Mikey's choices last month were a bit perplexing (at least to me), I thought I should try keep things challenging this month, so my three random ingredients from the list are:
  • Liver (and I'm going to specify calves' liver to keep things interesting)
  • Cheese
  • Oregano

And the "secret" ingredient is (da, da, da, da!):

  • Chestnuts!
Rules and Regulations are here: http://paperchef.blogspot.com/2008/06/rules-and-regulations.html. Post your entry by Tuesday noon (where you live) to send it to paperchef AT gmail DOT com.

Let's get cooking!

Ski In, Ski Out

Our timeshare at Park City Mountain Resort is ski-in, ski-out, making eating in very attractive, even at lunch time. Ski up to the gate, hide skis behind a post, tramp up to the room, munch, tramp back to the gate, jump into skis, and hop on the lift. Pretty nifty - and well worth the cost. I always ask myself what we were thinking all those years we booked lodging on a bus route rather than at the base. DUH!

As noted in my last post, we ended up having a whole lot of mussels in marinara sauce left from dinner at Easy Street Brasserie. Hmm. John used to like mussels, but since he's become pickier by the year, they have now been taken off the (short) list of things he'll eat. Well, a couple of nights earlier I'd made some whole grain spaghetti with packaged Bertolli marinara, and had 1/2 box of pasta left. It also turned out that I'd forgotten to put the smoked salmon we'd bought into the sauce, so that pretty much solved the dilemma. I cooked the remaining pasta in the electric skillet, drained it, and added my leftovers from Easy Street and the smoked salmon (cut into chunks). I got the mussels, he got the salmon, and everyone was happy. The sauce was even better the second day. Added a salad, bread (with olive oil and balsamic for dipping), and had a terrific meal even without a stove.

The rest of our meals were pretty nondescript - salads, canned soup, etc. We're pretty boring when we ski (even more than usual, that is).

Park City Adventures

VACATION! SKIING! John and I were in Park City for our annual ski week last week, so no blogging when there's powder out there! Actually, it was a very strange week. Arrived Friday afternoon, and the snow didn't look too good. Saturday it was raining. I wanted to stay in and not waste a lift ticket on crappy skiing, but he talked me into going out. Turned out the snow at the summit wasn't too bad, but after 3 hours we were so wet we were both ready to quit. That's a good thing - we weren't sore the next morning. The weather got better and better through the week - snow showers Sunday, two feet of powder Monday, more snow showers Tuesday, and sun, sun, sun on Thursday and Friday. Only crashed a couple of times, and no injuries, so it was a great week. It was my first time skiing in a knee brace (thanks to blowing my ACL last April), and I only skied a couple of blacks, but we still had a great time.

So, you ask, what about the FOOD?
We usually go out only a couple of times on a ski trip. This year we were pretty conservative - no really pricy meals, but we did get some tasty ones. We didn't go out until Monday, as Sundance was still on when we arrived and we knew it would be crazy in town. Monday we decided to go someplace pretty casual - Easy Street Brasserie. We've been there before and enjoyed it. I had their lobster bisque, which was wonderful, but it was so rich I wasn't very hungry for the "Big Bowl of Mussels" entree I'd ordered. It was good, too, but really, how many mussels can one girl eat? Staying in a tiny condo (it was our year for the "lock-off" studio portion of our timeshare) left us with few cooking options (micro and electric skillet), but the marinara sauce on the mussels was so good we decided to take it with us and have seafood marinara pasta the next night. More on that later. John had the Hill Country Quesadilla and a Caesar salad. He was happy with both, though he complained a bit that there was a drizzle on the quesadilla (he's SO picky!). The quesadilla was stuffed with chorizo, and looked yummy.
Our other downtown dining night we went to Butcher's Chophouse. I was hungry for BEEF. I got the prime rib, and he got a filet (plain, boring). I also had the beet salad, which was WAY too much food, so that ended up being turned into a sandwich for lunch the next day. Butcher's was OK, but nothing to blog/brag about. Beef is beef, after all.
Finally, to avoid a second trip to Albertson's, we went to the little Thai place at the resort base on Thursday. Pretty good larb gai, panang curry, and tom kha goong, but nothing spectacular. Cheap enough, though, considering it's a resort.
The only disappointment was that we didn't get to go to the Blind Dog this year. It's our favorite Park City restaurant, but with Sundance going on we knew we wouldn't get in on the weekend. Oh, well, there's always next year!