Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

2011 is ending with a bang here in Eggyland. Somehow I’ve reached an all-time high of 798 page views so far today. The vast majority were for this post about the blogger bash last New Year’s Eve hosted by dear friend Anonymous Boxer, where we raised a substantial sum for our respective local charities. If you're hungry in the morning, you are welcome to a reprise of the virtual New Year's brunch I offered up as my contribution to the festivities. I rewatched Boxer’s recap video last night and teared up again at how much this merry band of bloggers means to me.

Boxer’s soiree sure got 2011 off on a good foot, and the good blogging karma has continued. In the past year I’ve made some wonderful new friends and met some amazing chefs, food vendors, and local bloggers in person. I continue to be inspired by the awesome folks in my blogging community, near and far, who are talented in so many ways, and whose generosity of spirit is a treasure.

Thank you all from the bottom of my eggy heart, and wishing you a great 2012!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Tribute and a Recipe

I’m back from my holiday weekend with family, which was filled with food, food, and more food, as well as family traditions (old and new), inside jokes, and fun surprises. Roast beef and apple pie were part of our Christmas menu, and they got my sister and me talking about Grandma R., whose birthday is today.

Long before my blogging days, I had a tendency to come up with made-by-me holiday gifts, often of the verbal variety. For Christmas 2002, I made a recipe calendar and dedicated it to my Grandma R., who would have turned 105 today. She didn’t make 105, but she did make it to 96. As iron-fisted as she could be, she knew how to enjoy herself and wasn’t about to let her birthday be overshadowed by that big December holiday that always fell two days earlier.

I pulled out my copy of that calendar earlier this month and reread what I wrote about both my grandmothers nine years ago. I think stands up over time, and it was the first time I wrote about “Intuitive Eggplant,” which later became my screen name.

One of the most evocative memories from my childhood is the intertwined aromas of roast beef and apple pie in my grandparents’ house in Nebraska City. Grandma R. insisted on buying her beef at Goody’s butcher shop, and the fall harvest of Nebraska City apples is renowned (at least among Nebraskans).

I’ve never learned to make roast beef or apple pie quite like Grandma R.’s. But one thing we have in common is that we aren’t given to cooking from recipes. The dishes we cook best we cook from experience, and from the heart.

That was brought home to me recently. After she moved to Tennessee, I inherited Grandma R.’s recipe box. I remember it always being in her kitchen, but don’t recollect her ever referring to the recipes inside. I was honored to receive it, and hoped the special cedar box would yield her culinary secrets. What I found were mostly recipes from other people, not the ones I remember her cooking. Then again, perhaps that was because whenever she asked me for meal requests, I always wanted her roast beef and either apple pie or her special chocolate cake.

Like Grandma R., I ask for other people’s recipes. I also turn to my collection of cookbooks and magazines, the Internet and TV. Long before there was “Emeril Live” or a cable channel devoted to food, I watched Julia Child with Grandma W. I feverishly took notes as Julia whipped up a tomato and zucchini gratin. Then Grandma W. and I prepared our version of it, with freshly picked vegetables from her garden.

Whatever the source, these days I use recipes more for inspiration than as prescription. I love to experiment, to mix and match, to tweak a recipe, or to recreate something I’ve tasted elsewhere.

My cooking style might be described as “Intuitive Eggplant,” as housemates at Oberlin College dubbed one of the dishes I love to make. I can’t tell you how to make my eggplant parmesan, but I learned the basics in Colorado by watching my buddy Derf (who learned from Italian mamas in New York). For many dishes, from marinara sauce to chocolate cake, there is no substitute for learning at someone’s elbow.

Grandma’s Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

Melt over medium heat:
2 squares chocolate
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar

Combine in mixing bowl, then add melted chocolate mixture:
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. sugar

Add 2 eggs.

Sift dry ingredients together:
2 c. cake flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda

Combine following wet ingredients and add to mixing bowl alternately with the dry ingredients:
1 c. buttermilk
1 t. vanilla

Mix and bake at 350 degrees 20-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool at least half an hour before icing.

The Boiled Chocolate Icing

4 T. shortening
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. milk
2 T. cocoa

Melt and combine above ingredients in a small, heavy-bottom saucepan. Increase heat and boil exactly one minute. Remove saucepan from heat and place in sink filled with cold water, being careful that water does not touch icing. When icing is cool, beat until thick. Do not rush this process. If you stir the icing while it is too hot, it will sugar (this was a tip I got from Grandma only after I thought I had finally learned how to make “her” icing).

Here’s hoping you enjoy, experiment, and taste something new this year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Eggy and Scout

I’m off traveling to be with family for a few days, but if all goes as planned, it should be safe by the time this post pops up to share with you the Christmas gift I made for my dad. Yep, I tried my hand at making a blog book. I guess you can take the Eggy out of the publishing world, but you can never quite take the publishing world out of the Eggy.

If you’ve ever been tempted to turn your blog (or a portion of it) into a real, live, hold-in-your-hands book, Blog2Print aka Shared Book is pretty easy to work with and offers lots of ways to customize what you want to put into print. (Some work better than others.)

My dad has always been a big supporter of my blogging efforts, and it was the cross-country trip he led our family on in 1970 that made me want to go back and explore more of South Dakota last summer. So for the book I’ve dedicated to him, I selected just my posts from my 2011 vacation to S.D. And because I received so many wonderful comments from my bloggy friends about the trip, I chose to include comments to those posts as well. I don’t think my photos in the book look as good as they did online. But, hey, I did have a boatload of them :)

This link should take you to the flip-book version, in case you’re interested.

Happy holidays to all. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindnesses, inspiration, and friendship during the past year. 2011 has been a year of unexpected good blogging karma from all corners. The universe works in mysterious ways, but I’m not discounting that Scout found his way back home after his walk-about/disappearance in part because so many of you were rooting for us to be reunited. Now, if Scout had recorded his journey, that would be a real scoop :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Coming in January: The Good Dog! And a Streetpops Update

After the first of the year Lunch on Main will relaunch with a new name and a new concept – gourmet hot dogs. Lunch on Main chef/owner Adam Easterling tried out a few last summer (which I wrote about here) and told me he thinks the new incarnation will do more to set his restaurant apart. After two years at 633 Main Street, I’m guessing Adam is also ready to unleash more culinary creativity – which was deliciously evidenced by those trial-run dogs. Here’s my personal favorite: the Bob Cobb, with a splendidly fresh Cobb salad and homemade bleu cheese dressing atop a kicky 100% beef dog from local favorite Avril-Bleh.
The Good Dog promises more than a dozen gourmet dogs – including vegan dogs –
along with soups, sides, and salads, at an affordable price point. (Lunch on Main’s hefty hot dogs were an across-the-board $5.) I’m looking forward to tasting what The Good Dog comes up with.

Meanwhile, I ran into Sara Bornick of Streetpops (who launched her business last summer in Lunch on Main’s kitchen) at Cincinnati Magazine’s Best of the City party (thanks, Toya and Randy, for letting me ride shotgun). Streetpops, which won a Best of the City award, has moved into the Over-the-Rhine space formerly occupied by much-missed Fork Heart Knife, which Sara plans to operate as a retail space/restaurant, not just a commissary. She and her team have been making changes to the space, and she is looking to offer soups and breads from it later this winter.

As I scramble to finish my holiday preparations and hit the road to spend Christmas with my family, best wishes to all the talented cooks, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and friends of all ilks I have had the pleasure to meet – or get to know better – this year. It has been an amazing year of good blogging karma, and my eggy heart is filled with gratitude for your friendship and inspiration!

xoxo, eggy

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Slow Food Cincinnati Happy Hour This Thursday at The Palm Court Featuring Red Wattle Pork from Orchids Chef Todd Kelly

This sounds like an event too good to pass up.

Slow Food Cincinnati’s facebook page says: "Sorry for the late notice, but we have decided to have a happy hour this Thursday at the Hilton downtown. Chef Kelly has agreed to have some Red Wattle Pork offerings on the happy hour bar menu, and Slow Food Cincinnati will provide a few of those for you to try. The Bar at Palm Court will also have other wonderful half-price appetizers and drink specials until 7:00pm! Click on the event for more details!"

The Red Wattle Pork is no doubt from Dean Family Farms.

More details here. Who’s joining me?

This will be in the more casual (and affordable) bar area at the Palm Court in the Netherland Hilton, but if you haven't experienced Chef Kelly's food or visited this magnificent space lately, this is a great opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dinner and Demos at Lexington’s Azur Restaurant and Patio

My holiday gift to myself Thanksgiving weekend was a Wednesday night trip to Lexington, where I attended the first Chef Series Cooking Class at Azur Restaurant and Bar, and what a treat it was!

Lexington is a city I’ve passed countless times traveling between Cincinnati and Knoxville without having a clue what is going on there culinarily or otherwise. Fortunately, that is changing. When I went to the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show there in October, I ate at a couple of area restaurants, sampled the wares of some local food purveyors, and was especially intrigued by one demo at the food show, by Azur Chef Jeremy Ashby. I knew right away I wanted to taste his food, and an excellent opportunity presented itself when I read on Azur’s facebook page that he would be doing a cooking class and five-course tasting menu rolled into one for $60.

Among the things at the Incredible Food Show that impressed me about this Kentucky native (he attended Johnson + Wales in Charleston, SC, after UK and worked with Norman Van Aken in Miami prior to returning to the Bluegrass State) are Chef Ashby’s commitment to high-quality, often (although not exclusively) locally sourced ingredients and his inventive preparations. He also has a casual demeanor about him and wants his food to be accessible and fun, which I sensed at the Food Show and saw even more in evidence that Wednesday night. Many long-time friends of the restaurant were in attendance for this inaugural cooking class. But the chef and his staff made me feel welcome and comfortable as a newcomer too. So comfortable, in fact, that – with no disrespect, Chef – I’m going to refer to you as Jeremy in the rest of this post :)

Before the evening’s proceedings got underway, I asked Jeremy if he’d be cool with me taking pictures, explaining up front that I’m a food blogger. He assured me I was welcome to, and even brought some of his demo plates to my table so I could photograph them.

I’m always fascinated to hear how chefs come up with their dishes. Once hooked up to his mike, Jeremy said he would talk a little about plating and mentioned that he tends to write menus as a series of ingredients. The first course: “octopus, shrimp and ahi tuna with Stuarto’s cilantro and roasted onion olive oil, honey ginger balsamic vinegar, baby beets, sweet corn ice cream and chile verde infused sea salt.” That may sound like a lot of ingredients for a salad course, but the clean, well-balanced flavors had me at first bite.

You can see the demo plate at the top of this post, on a slab of Himalayan sea salt. Here’s my diner's plate.
A thin raw slice of bright red ahi tuna forms the base of each plate. The white curvilinear pieces are octopus cooked in court bouillon (which Jeremy said is good for 2-3 uses). The tail-on shrimp were cooked in the same court bouillon, then halved lengthwise. Late-season baby candy-striped beets, sitting upright, were cooked sous-vide. The salad was dressed with a carefully selected, and light, combination of infused olive oils, vinegars, and salts from local Lexington Stuarto’s Olive Oil Company (owner Stuart Utgaard and his products would be featured later in the evening as well). And for temperature and texture contrast, the yellow bit in the middle is sweet corn ice cream, not only whimsical but utterly delicious!

Jeremy had promised a meal that would not resemble Thanksgiving, although he was definitely playing with fall flavors. For his second course, he took inspiration not only from autumn but also from a dish that once failed spectacularly on Top Chef, Butterscotch Scallops.* The menu described Jeremy’s version as “wild mushroom and scallop wellington, fuji apple, butterscotch, rosemary smoke, country ham.”

Demo-ing the dish before us, Jeremy seasoned a day-boat scallop with Stuarto’s Spanish smoked rosemary salt and seared it over high heat. Then he pan-roasted an oyster mushroom whole, which he chopped into duxelles and placed in the bottom of a puff pastry pouch and topped with the scallop to create the Wellington, which would be baked in the oven.

Next Jeremy caramelized the fuji apples with some country ham (from much-lauded Benton’s in Tennessee). For the “butterscotch” (which is just butter and brown sugar, he reminded), he added some butter to the pan drippings (which froths when added to oil and helps deglaze the savory browned ham bits), a smidge of brown sugar, and a touch of chicken stock to create a light apple pan sauce that reminded me more of the woods than of dessert.
To bring full circle the autumn inspiration and the smoked rosemary salt he seasoned the scallop with, each plate featured a quickly torched sprig of fresh rosemary. Not to worry – the mini fires extinguished themselves almost immediately. But they gave off into the room just enough smoky rosemary aroma to add another fun, and complementary, element to experiencing the savory flavors in this dish.

For the third course, Jeremy went old school with pasta carbonara, a dish he introduced as so often being made badly in restaurants that he wanted us to taste an authentic version. I’m not sure I’ve ever had it at a restaurant, although this “bacon and eggs with pasta and pepper” dish is one I’ve made many times at home, doing what I thought was a reasonable job of following Marcella Hazan’s recipe. I now know better.

The demo for this course spotlighted another of Jeremy’s local culinary friends, Lesme of Lexington Pasta Company, who made fresh tagliatelle. This two-year-old company supplies restaurants throughout Kentucky and has a retail spot that offers pasta-making classes where one can also sample wine and local cheeses.

Interspersed with Lesme’s demo, Jeremy rendered some guanciale (a bacon of sorts made from pig’s cheek, which he said is even more savory than pork belly) and added some razor-thin slices of garlic. The fresh pasta tossed with the pork, garlic, a bit of eggs, and some parmesan produced a dish that was one of the most eye-opening of the evening. As delicious as the guanciale was, the star by far was the fresh tagliatelle. Tasting it was a lightbulb moment when I felt like I finally “got” why people make a fuss about fresh pasta. A trip to Italy may not be in my near future, but a pasta-making class at Lexington Pasta Co. definitely is on my list for a future field trip to the Bluegrass State.
As if this dish wasn’t magnificent enough in its own right, if we chose, we could add a bit of truffle salt to cap off the dish. Stuart of Stuarto’s came around to each table with a sample, and how could I resist? The truffle taste sent the dish over the top, although there was already enough salt in this particular dish that the truffle salt made it almost too salty even for my palate. (Note to self: use these delicious salts sparingly.) Before I left that evening, I bought one of the infused olive oils Stuart brought with him, and after tasting Stuarto's espresso-infused balsamic and salt, which Jeremy was kind enough to share samples of with me (I used them in my Thanksgiving dinner here), I definitely want to check out the Stuarto’s shop in person.

Next up: Course 4, “horseradish crusted beef short rib, lemongrass braised endive, celery root, house-made ricotta, and pea shoots.”
Jeremy is a proponent of cooking sous-vide, and my takeaway from the evening is that he uses it because he genuinely likes the results achieved by this technique rather for any kind of novelty factor. (If you’re not familiar with the term, sous-vide – literally, “under vacuum” – means ingredients are sealed in a plastic bag and cooked at a constant low and well-controlled temperature in a water bath, usually in an immersion circulator, although Jeremy pointed out one could use a readily available and fairly inexpensive food-saver vacuum-bag sealer, a pot of water, and a thermometer to achieve the same results.)

An advantage of cooking vegetables like the baby candy-striped beets prepared sous-vide for the first course, he said, is that the vacuum seals in the vegetable’s innate flavors, as opposed to boiling, where flavor and nutrients dissipate in the water. (I’m still not sure the taste is superior to the flavor concentration you can get by roasting vegetables . . . but then sous-vide may work better for cooking veggies whole as he did with the beets, rather than sliced as I usually do when roasting. And it wouldn’t set off the smoke alarms in my house.)

For this course, Jeremy prepared the short ribs sous-vide, emphasizing that it allows even edge-to-edge cooking and that the fat in the short ribs would be evenly distributed in the meat as a result. Although I enjoyed the dish as a whole, maybe I’m just accustomed to a little more fatty gusto when I indulge in short ribs. My note-taking kind of fell off in the midst of the fun and as I was into my fourth taste of the accompanying wine pairings ($35 for 5 pours – all excellent and well matched to the evening’s dishes), but I think the endive (it looks kind of like a tongue in my photo of the demo plate below) was prepared sous-vide as well. Although the bitter taste of fresh endive definitely mellowed during its sous-vide bath, it was a little hard to cut.
One of my favorite components of the short rib dish was the house-made ricotta Jeremy demo’d for this course (you can see it more clearly perched atop the short rib in the pic of my diner's plate farther up). Ricotta is one of the simplest and quickest cheeses to make from scratch (as I learned from an unfortunately short-lived cheese-making group I once joined). Diners were invited to come up to the demonstration table for this one, and I was glad to see I wasn't the only curious onlooker.

Finally, dessert. Jeremy told the assembled group that Azur doesn’t have a pastry chef, so he just likes to play with flavors and textures. And play he did, creating this plate of “pomegranate panna cotta, flexible chocolate, mint emulsion, caramel powder, cinnamon granola soil, chocolate truffle.”
Jeremy demonstrated how to make a straightforward panna cotta, making it look simple enough a home cook could tackle it. At the other end of the spectrum, he turned to some chemical compounds from his “molecular gastronomy” toolbox to turn caramel into powder and crème de menthe into a creamy emulsion (alas, I wasn’t quick enough to get the chemicals’ names written down correctly). For the pièce de résistance, he applied some liquid nitrogen to take chocolate in direction I hadn’t before tasted. A colorful, fanciful course to finish the evening with. Along with the excellent 20-year-old Port that accompanied it, it was definitely enough to keep my tastebuds – and curiosity – engaged, full though I was after the previous four courses.

Chef Jeremy was kind enough to stop by my table, chat a bit, and answer my questions at several points during the evening. When I commended him on his presentation style, he thanked me and said he tries to keep things casual during his demos, but was also finding it a little hard to be out front rather than in his usual spot in the kitchen as the dishes went out. At the end of the evening, he invited his young kitchen staff into the dining room to introduce and thank them, and the diners erupted in applause for the fine meal we had treated us to.

Azur – which Jeremy quipped at the Incredible Food Show stands for come “as you are” – has a loyal following in Lexington. Like the chef himself, the restaurant has a laid-back vibe to it, even as the kitchen is putting out innovative, high-end dishes. The combination is a great recipe for accessible adventure. Although I would happily dine at Azur again at any opportunity, the tasting-menu-plus-cooking-class format (Jeremy said he plans to offer more of these either monthly or every other month) was a great introduction to not only the quality of Azur’s food but also where it’s coming from – both the carefully sourced ingredients themselves and the mind that conceives of how to make them taste good, assemble them in unique combinations on a plate, and delight his diners. Whether he’s exploring modernist techniques or harkening back to artisanal preparations, Jeremy Ashby is a chef with boundless culinary curiosity and an underlying generosity of spirit. I loved the magic carpet ride of my first evening at Azur, and I can't wait to be swept away again.

*Dale Talde’s Butterscotch Scallops got him eliminated on Season 4, although when challenged to redo the dish during the All-Stars season, Talde redeemed himself with a version that guest judge Anthony Bourdain said Talde successfully managed to “un-f--k up” the dish. Jamie Lauren in the Top Chef scallop arena, not so much.

Friday, December 2, 2011

UPDATE: Next Culinary Smackdown Announced!

The deadline isn't until January 15, 2012 January 18, 2012 (Boxer decided to change the date), but Boxer, the reigning winner in our friendly little round-robin virtual cooking competition (for her Butternut Squash Cupcakes with Walnuts and Candied Apricot) has announced the theme of the next Smackdown!

And what is this crafty vegetarian from the Pacific Northwest challenging us with? Battle Tofu! Click here for all the details straight from Boxer herself. It's been great to have some new folks join in the fun lately, and remember that ALL are welcome. Boxer is even planning a prize (handmade, I'm guessing) for whoever takes the top spot at making tofu both look and taste good.

Boxer has been a big supporter of the the Culinary Smackdown, even playing along when I revived our friendly little monthly blogging/cooking contest for Battle Eggplant, an ingredient it turns out she was allergic to. The Smackdown is all about stretching yourself to try something new, so keep January's contest in the back of your mind as you go through your busy holiday season. After the new year rolls around, a new challenge and a bit of whimsy might just be in order.

Speaking of handmade, blogger friend Chickory is hosting a Handmade Holiday at her art studio in Blue Ridge, Georgia this Sunday and I hear some of her offerings will be available online too. ETA: Here's Chicky's website.

Wherever you are, please support handmade and local this holiday season!

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Very Eggy Thanksgiving

Despite a couple of kind offers, I chose to stay home and dine solo this Thanksgiving, in the company of my favorite kitty. Freed from the responsibility of cooking for other people’s palates, my menu options were so wide open it took a while to figure out what to fix. One of the multitude of holiday cooking shows I’ve watched recently mentioned that although turkey may not have been served at the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, lobster and venison likely were. Aha! A starting point. I had a couple of lobster shells left from the recent sale at Lobsta Bakes of Maine, and I could pull a package of venison out of my freezer.

For my Autumn Seafood Stew, I made lobster stock with a chunked onion, the stalks and part of a bulb of fennel, four evacuated corn cobs, a healthy handful of fresh sage, and two lobster shells. I filled the pot with almost enough cold water to cover, then half a bottle of white wine. Trouble was, that was a lot of water and the lobster shells themselves didn’t give off much flavor. Next time I’ll try to remember to add some fish trimmings (or do what I did today to tweak the leftovers – I bought some lobster stock from Kevin at Lobsta Bakes – he has more fish trimmings and lobster shells to work with than I could ever hope to). Last night I took about a third of the stock, added clam juice, fennel seed, celery seed, and dried chipotle pepper and reduced it significantly, then added the other half bottle of wine and reduced some more, until it finally started to taste like something.

I fried a couple slices of Eckerlin’s double-smoked bacon, sautéed fennel, onion, garlic, and corn in the renderings, then quickly cooked some oysters. Part of this mélange went on my dinner plate and the rest, along with shrimp, lobster, and roasted red pepper, went into the reduced stock to which I added a bit of cream and brandy – a definite boost to my rather weak stock.

For my meat course, I went with an old favorite, venison carpaccio, which, I am thankful to say, went in a delicious new direction this time. First I thin-sliced a couple of these butterflied steaks.

I had in mind to do a little taste-testing with my carpaccio, so, using the corn as a colorful divider, on half the venison I used fleur de sel and Banyuls vinegar from Le Bon Vivant, along with some Meyer lemon and blood orange olive oils I’ve been hoarding since my trip to California last year. On the other half I tried three products from Stuarto’s Olive Oil Company I came across on my Wednesday night trip to Lexington: wild mushroom and sage infused olive oil, espresso salt, and espresso balsamic.

I will have much more to say about the magnificent dinner/cooking class I attended at Azur Wednesday night. For now I will mention that Azur chef Jeremy Ashby used Stuarto’s products in several of the evening’s dishes, and Stuarto’s owner Stuart Utgaard was on hand to talk about his products and offer some for sale. The first time I happened onto chef Ashby was at the Incredible Food Show in Lexington in October, and during his demo there he raved about one of Stuarto’s olive oils that he described as being an excellent all-purpose finishing oil. It was not available either at the food show or on Wednesday at Azur, but I had a moment to ask the chef for a recommendation. When I told him I planned to make venison carpaccio for Thanksgiving, he suggested the wild mushroom and sage oil (which I purchased), and then his eyes lit up. They weren’t among the products Stuart brought that evening, but Jeremy went into his kitchen and came back with these samples of Stuarto’s espresso salt and espresso Balsamic. Thank you, Jeremy! I would never have thought to mix espresso flavors with my tried and true carpaccio, but these were amazing, giving the dish a whole new dimension and depth!

I topped the seasoned venison with capers, sliced garlic, and, in place of my usual parmesan, shards of sheep’s milk cheese from another KY Proud company, Good Shepherd Cheese.

This dish made me so happy I didn’t think twice about not having turkey for Thanksgiving :)

It just wouldn't be right to have a holiday dinner without dessert, and I came up with one that entailed hardly any work. Last weekend at Jean-Paul's Paradiso, I picked up some house-made pumpkin sorbet.

I love chocolate with pumpkin, so I made some ganache. If you’ve never made your own ganache before, what are you waiting for? It is dead simple even if you, like me, are no pastry chef. Just chop some chocolate (Joy of Cooking says 8 oz.).

Bring some cream to a boil (Joy of Cooking says 3/4 cup).

Remove the cream from the heat and stir in the chocolate. That’s all there is to it (although I like to add a splash of Grand Marnier to mine). It keeps well in the fridge, and a few seconds in the microwave will return it to a creamy consistency. Don't let the fancy-sounding French name intimidate you – this recipe is almost impossible to mess up.

I drizzled a little ganache on the pumpkin sorbet.

Because it was a holiday, I added some toasted pecans. And then, my best idea of the evening hit me: I added a bit of that espresso salt from Stuarto's! What a magnificent match with the chocolate!

So there you have it, how I holiday cook when left to my own devices. And I enjoyed every moment of solo, stress-free self-indulgence. Of course I missed being with family and friends. But this just wasn’t the year for it. I’m still in overly protective mode since Scout returned from his 2-1/2 week walkabout and didn’t want to go off and leave him for the long weekend. But I am happy to report he has bounced back from his ordeal – so much so that today he went outside for the first time in a week. You can bring the kitty indoors, but Scout is one kitty you just can’t take the outdoors out of.

Thankfully, he came back in too.

Wishing you all the best of holiday weekends, and if you’re out shopping, please shop local and handmade.

xoxo, eggy

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all of you a happy holiday filled with good food and good company! I am so thankful for the friendships, old and new, I have made via this blog and by getting out into the community and meeting some terrific folks dedicated to raising and preparing good food. This has been a year truly filled with good blogging karma.

Of course, I am especially thankful to have Scout home from his 2-1/2 week walkabout. He has regained the weight he lost, and is actually wanting to go back outdoors, although I have not yet allowed that to happen.

Not wanting to leave him for a long weekend, I'm having a quirky holiday of my own. It started Wednesday night with a quick getaway to Lexington, where I attended Azur Restaurant and Bar's first Chef Series Cooking Class, a spectacular five-course meal created by Chef Jeremy Ashby interspersed with demos by Jeremy and a couple of his local culinary cohorts. I came away with a full stomach and a lot of inspiration! Stay tuned for a full report.

And now I'm headed into the kitchen to whip up a holiday dinner with only one palate to please, taking inspiration from two ingredients I was recently reminded were likely present at the first Thanksgiving, lobster and venison. If my dishes, and photos, turn out worth a hoot, I'll be back with a little report on that as well.

With much gratitude for all your kindnesses,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Fine French Weekend Avec Mes Amis et Le Scout

These magnificent pear and apple tarts were actually served at Le Bon Vivant's October Third Friday's wine and cheese tasting, made by owner Catherine Meguire herself. When I arrived at last Friday's event, taking us to Burgundy, I was so swept up in the camaraderie that I forgot to pull out my camera until we'd reduced the magnificent cheeses to, well, this.
I was delighted to meet up with blogger friend Stephie of Small Girl Adventures again, who already has her own post up about the evening. Catherine welcomed us both with open arms, and I was happy to see a number of other delightful folks I had met on my last visit, and meet some new ones, too. It was definitely one of those evenings where being in the moment trumped taking photos for the blog.

I did not, however, come away empty-handed. This time I bought a bottle of one of the evening's five excellent Burgundian wines, a 2008 Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Chablis, which was a revelation as to what Chablis can be. I also purchased the Banyuls vinegar I'd had my eye on (a favorite of Jean-Robert, I hear). And of course, I couldn't walk away without replenishing my supply from Chocolats LaTour, which Le Bon Vivant carries.

After spending most of Saturday keeping a watchful eye over my recently returned kitty (ok, let's just say we both snoozed together a lot – I had no idea how exhausted I was from worrying about him), I had a taste for pizza. Not just any pizza, the Northern Woods pizza from Jean-Paul's Paradiso, made with a mix of wild mushrooms, a hint of rosemary, topped with goat cheese, on one of my favorite crusts, as only Belgian Jean-Paul can make it.

Jean-Paul puts his magnificent dough to use in other forms, like these tomato cheese breads.

The shop offers daily soups and much more. (Since my Thanksgiving plans turned wonky, I wish I'd learned earlier that they were offering T-Day carry-out; orders are now closed.) Do not miss their patisseries!

I bought some of Jean-Paul's pumpkin sorbet to hedge my bets for whatever I end up throwing together for Thanksgiving, and was happy they had my favorite chocolate mousse cups available, too.

As I head into Thanksgiving week, I am filled with gratitude toward all my friends and family, new and old, far and near. And especially thankful for the return of one of my very best friends, my Scout man guy, after his 2 1/2 week disappearance. He's purring again, and has finally meowed. He felt like a feather when he came back, but I am happy to report he is eating and putting weight back on. He has spent most of the weekend sleeping on or near me, something we both needed. He has eyed the front door a couple of times, but so far hasn't seriously wanted to go back out. Prayers work in mysterious ways - and cats work in mysterious-er ways. Thank you all for sending good wishes our way, and in return I wish you the best of Thanksgivings. Scout would too, if he weren't sleeping :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

He's Back!

I could hardly believe my eyes when I got home from work tonight. As I walked up to the house, a little buff-colored guy appeared at my side and nonchalantly headed indoors with me as though nothing had happened.

Thankfully Scout seems uninjured, although he definitely lost weight during the week and a half two and a half weeks he disappeared. He headed straight for his food dish once he got inside, followed by a good deal of water slurping.

No doubt something happened during his feline walkabout, although I’ll never know what. He’s atypically docile this evening. He’s shown no interest in going back outdoors and just wants to sit on my lap. I am ever so happy to let him do just that.

ETA: I guess I've been in such a funk over this I lost my ability to do math. Scout was gone for 2 1/2 weeks!

A big thank you to all for sending good vibes our way, and checking back repeatedly. I am immensely relieved to have good news to report at last.

eggy and scout

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doesn’t Everybody Cook This Way?

In honor of National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, I thought I’d share this dish. Not only did it turn out to be tasty bowl of comfort food, it reminded me of one of the things I like most about cooking: Puttering with what’s on hand.

Sure, I ooh and ahh over dishes I spot on other blogs as much as the next cook. I wouldn’t want to count how many recipes I’ve clipped, or copied and pasted. I confess I’ve never actually prepared the overwhelming majority of them – although they often serve as inspiration when I’m trying to figure out what to do with a specific ingredient, or feel my well of culinary creativity has run dry.

But sometimes the best inspiration comes from simply looking inside my fridge . . . surveying my pantry . . . and pondering my typically overzealous farmers market purchases.

The concoctions I’ve come up with have been peculiar on occasion. A few so disappointing I either disposed of them immediately or let their leftovers languish until I had to throw them out, refrigerator container and all. But one of the bonuses of cooking for oneself is playing around in the kitchen unfettered. I’m not chained to recipes. I have no need to impress anyone. No one else’s palates to please, or food prejudices to work around. And I can make things as complex, or as simple, as I choose.

This time I went simple. I fried a couple slices of bacon. Threw some diced garlic and chopped fennel into its renderings. Added in some fresh sage, then – why not? – tossed some whole wheat penne and white wine into the skillet to see if I could adapt that risotto-like first stage to pasta. When the pasta began to soften, I added some water and covered with a lid. Checked back periodically to add liquid and check on the doneness of the penne. When it was close and had absorbed most of the liquid, I added more sage, a handful of mushrooms, some shreds of butternut squash cut with a vegetable peeler, (which I knew would cook in a flash), fresh clams, and more white wine.

I pulled the clams as each opened, not wanting to overcook those precious puppies. Glad to find only one would not (a sure sign to discard), I returned the rest to the skillet for a moment to rewarm. I turned out my veggie-pasta-clam mélange into a bowl, then – because it pleased my whim – topped with some torn prosciutto, cubed parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and fennel fronds.

All in all, a successful experiment. With some warm bread and a glass of wine, that pasta dish was just what I wanted to tuck into in front of some food television as I nursed a lingering cold and kept an ear cocked for anyone scratching at the door.

Sadly, Scout has not returned, nor have my efforts posting on Craigslist, calling animal shelters, etc. turned up anything. It’s hard to be optimistic, especially as days pass and with our cold, rainy, windy, dismal weather. I thank my many friends for opening your hearts to me and checking back for news. After 14 years, he may have used up all nine of his lives patrolling the neighborhood, making friends with kids and old people alike, and adventuring in his own fashion (with more dire consequences than my simple cooking experiments).

Scout came into my life, tiny and not yet weaned, when someone dropped him off at a state park where one of my best friends worked. (why people think this is a good idea, I do not know). Della took in many strays herself and was relentless in finding homes for more. I have now been missing her for the better part of a decade. In the event Scout turns up, I will hale his return loud and wide.

Meanwhile, I am doing my best to envision Scout and Della reunited somewhere they are both pain-free and enjoying themselves as the perennial teenagers they always were in their own minds. Scout, you’re on your own when Della cranks up her 80s head-banger rock :) But you’ll also find Della is a cat whisperer who will protect you like no other tiger mom who never had kids of her own.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Haiku Monday: Adventure

My thoughts are straying from food. With thanks to everyone who has asked after Scout, I am sorry to report he has not returned and at this point I am about out of hope. I dedicate this post to my buddy of 14 years. Moi at Bite the Apple is hosting Haiku Monday this week. Click on over to read a plethora of much more poetic and upbeat entries.

Uncontained Adventurer

Silence here deafens.
Strut your stuff on heavenly
walkabout, my friend.