Monday, May 31, 2010

A little bit of Paris in Yountville.

On our first afternoon in Napa, my mom and I paid a visit to an old favorite: Bistro Jeanty. Bistro Jeanty sits on Washington Street in Yountville, one of a few restaurants that make up what is quite possible the best couple of blocks for food in the entire world: The French Laundry, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery, Bistro Jeanty and Ad Hoc. They're all right there; you could, theoretically, spend the entire day just eating, never walking more than a couple hundred feet between meals. (Someone's probably done it; if not, get on it, people with stomachs of steel!)

Bistro Jeanty opened in 1998, and has been packed to the gills for pretty much every meal ever since then. It's a bistro in the classic French style, serving perfect versions of all the dishes you've ever loved from that genre, including vol-au-vent made with sweetbreads and braised rabbit, cassoulet and daube de boeuf. On our visit, I decided to go for two smaller dishes, starting with one of my favorite things: frisée aux lardons salad.

Bistro Jeanty's version is served as a perfect poached egg perched atop a tangle of frisée and teeny, just-this-side-of-crunchy pieces of bacon. The vinaigrette itself is deliciously smoky; I wouldn't be at all surprised if this were due to a pinch or two of bacon fat in the dressing. In fact, I hope it is, because I plan to copy it.

Next up, one of the day's specials: pieds de cochon. When I ordered this as my main, the waiter cautioned me that it was an appetizer; was I sure I wanted such a small portion for my lunch? I assured him it would be fine, and was soon vindicated by the arrival of a dish accompanied by mashed potatoes. Anything that comes with mashed potatoes simply is not an appetizer!

Regardless of how you classify it, this was a delicious dish. Pieds de cochon does, in fact, mean pig's feet, and consists of the random bits of meat from the trotters, bound together in a kind of charcuterie not too different from headcheese. It's not unusual to see it served lightly breaded and fried, as this version was. It was very rich, and seasoned with tiny bits of black truffle. In face, I don't think I could have handled a bigger portion; it was perfect as it was.

For dessert, Mom and split what has to be one of springtime's great treats: fresh strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar. The tangy cream, the sweet berries and the molasses flavored sugar all combine into a little piece of heaven. If you've never had a chance to enjoy this combination, do it now - especially since strawberry season, at least on the East Coast, is at its height.

Bistro Jeanty
6510 Washington Street
Yountville, California

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My bo has been ssämed.

I've written about the Bo Ssäm dinner at Momofuku Ssäm many, many times, so I'm not going to bore you all with yet another recap. If you're interested in details, you can check out my past reports here (2009) and here (2007).

What was notable about my most recent trip, though, was that was finally able to get decent photos of the goings-on. Finally! So enjoy the food porn, and I hope you have porkified dreams.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Queenie's Treasury

It's a long weekend here in the States (Memorial Day is Monday.), and I am psyched to enjoy three full days of cooking with strawberries, rhubarb and snap peas. (I also have to clean the apartment, but let's not talk about that, mmmkay?) Before the cooking fest can begin, I simply must share some cool things from my week's wanderings.

First of all, this. What's this, you ask? This is my perfect kitchen. Rustic yet modern. Lots of workspace, but also a big old farmhouse table where people can gather to talk, read, whatever. This. This is what I want. This, this, this. (It is, as usual, courtesy of one of Design*Sponge's amazing sneak peeks.)

The wedding I went to last weekend had the most adorable arrangements on the tables, little groupings of peonies in milk-glass and hobnail vases. When I got home, I promptly starting combing Etsy for sources so I could imitate the cuteness, and found the amazing Jadite Kate, a store specializing in vintage glassware. You can now rest assured that my perfectly modern/rustic kitchen will be fully decked out in a collection of everything Kate has on offer.

One thing I haven't been willing to consider for my rental is wallpaper. But man, I do love it. I'm imagining various entryways papered in Abigail Borg's incredible designs, and digging it. Her designs are luscious and luxurious, and have price tags to match. But, since this is just a fantasy - for now, at least - I'm cool with that.

Since this is a long weekend, I thought a little extra Treasury action would be good for us all. And since we're marking the unofficial start of summer, I thought Mélangerie's State-by-Food tote bag - perfect for carrying your farmer's market purchases to and fro - was the perfect pick. I absolutely love this bag, with its whimsical drawings of foods native to or representative of each of the 50 states. My home state of Connecticut rocks its hamburger, while my adopted home of New York is identified by the bagel.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Best. Chicken. Ever.

On the Thursday night I spent in San Francisco, Mom, Faith and I paid a visit - a pilgrimage, really - to the legendary Zuni Café on Market Street. Zuni opened in 1979, and Judy Rodgers became the chef there in in 1987. She's the one who installed the brick oven that sits in the heart of the space, and she's the one who created what turned out to be the best roast chicken I have ever eaten.


This chicken was insane. Moist, rich, full of flavor, and served with a warm bread salad that put every single helping of stuffing I've ever enjoyed into an entirely subpar category.

I can't wait to recreate this one myself; I'll be following Smitten Kitchen's slightly simplified version of Rodgers' recipe. Join me, won't you?

Zuni Café
1658 Market Street (Between Franklin and Gough)

Photo courtesy of Ann&Ming on Flickr.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And the winner is...

Hey, kids! It's that time! Time to announce the winner of the Recipe for Love giveaway. (As you remember, our prize is a gift of an apron, a set of spatulas and a signed, hardcover copy of the latest book in the series, On the Steamy Side.

Well, good news, did win! Email me at megblocker (at) gmail (dot) com with your address in order to claim your prize!

Flour, water and a pinch of alchemy.

On the Sunday night I spent in San Francisco, Faith, her friend Chrysanthe and I headed over to the Mission to pay a visit to one of the hottest restaurants in town, Flour and Water. Seriously. This place was hopping. We called early in the week to try for a reservation, but no luck. We lined up at 5:15 with about twenty other people, and the place was full from opening till, I assume, closing time at midnight. (Which is pretty late for San Francisco.)

Once we'd eaten our dinner, though, it was easy to see why everyone else wanted to eat there, too. It was one of the best meals I've had in a while, and I cannot wait to make a return trip. We started off with a pizza to share. Flour and Water is Italian, mostly, and heavily focused on pizza and pasta (hence the name). Faith had been the week before and couldn't stop thinking about the ramp and black trumpet pizza, so, naturally, we couldn't help but order it.

It was awesome. The crust was chewy, slightly crispy perfection. The pizza was topped with a pecorino, black trumpet mushrooms, chopped ramps (green and white parts) and a bright green ramp pesto. It was suitably stinky, the cheese was gooey, and the whole thing made me very, very happy.

We then moved on to appetizers. Faith ordered a side dish instead of a salad: roasted carrots with lemon, capers and very finely chopped chives. These were carrots taken to another level. They were roasted in butter, and were sweet without being cloying, tender but not mushy. The capers added a salty, briny note, and the chives freshened things up. All in all, a major hit.

My starter was a "salad" - Flour and Water likes to use the term loosely - of crispy lamb sweetbreads, arugula and artichokes. Artichokes aren't normally my favorite thing, but these were perfect with the sweetbreads. Lamb sweetbreads tend to be a bit creamier than their veal counterparts, and these were no exception. The bitterness of the arugula paired with the astringent flavor of the artichokes helped cut through the fat. Fantastic.

Next up, our pastas. The pastas were all made in-house, and were incredibly fresh. Mine was a tagliolini (a lighter fettucine, essentially) with chopped parsley rolled into the pasta itself. Tossed with the noodles (and with a copious amount of butter) were razor thin slices of asparagus and hand-pulled pieces of braised hen. I loved this. The pasta was impossibly light and delicate, but the sauce, despite its springy flavors, was rich and hearty. Rich flavors, light texture, pure deliciousness.

Faith ordered pici in a brothy pork ragu, which was also delicious. It was one of the lightest ragus I've tasted, free of cream or milk, and swimming in its own juices. Little bits of carrot and onion floated in the sauce, too, and meat itself was tender and deeply porky.

Finally, dessert. Oh, dessert. First up was a rhubarb tart, served with crème fraiche ice cream and fresh strawberries. It was fantastic, right down to the swirl of grassy olive oil on the plate. The pastry was rich with butter, and shattered a bit when cut with a fork. It paired beautifully with the tart rhubarb and sweet berries; rhubarb season has ended in California now, I think - it was great to be there while it was still on every menu.

Last, we had a chocolate budino, which is an Italian-style pudding. It was topped with coffee-flavored cream and a crucial, generous sprinkling of crunchy sea salt. I don't always go for the chocolate dessert, but I couldn't get enough of this one. The salt and coffee made it interesting - and it was pretty good with some of the crème fraiche ice cream from the tart plate. Yum.

Guys, I can't speak highly enough of this restaurant. It was a delicious meal. The service was great - attentive but not fawning, and very, very friendly. The room is warm and welcoming, with just the right amount of buzz. If you can get in, go. If you can't, go early and wait, like we did. It's worth it.

Flour and Water
2401 Harrison Street (at 20th Street)
San Francisco, California

Monday, May 24, 2010

Just visiting.

When I planned my trip to California, I had to make sure to leave time to spend a full day with my amazing friend Faith. She's one of the coolest people I know, and so I'd never confessed to her my burning desire to visit Alcatraz Island, a.k.a The Rock, a.k.a. the most touristy destination in all of San Francisco. Imagine my surprise, then, when Faith herself suggested we take the ferry out to Alcatraz on Monday afternoon! Turns out she'd never been, either, and we decided it was just the thing to do.

We booked on Sunday night (though, if you're going during the summer or on a weekend, I recommend booking at least a couple of weeks in advance) and boarded the 1:10 ferry on Monday afternoon. It was a gray, drizzly day - very atmospheric, and very bad for the hair.

Very few of the buildings on the island have been fully restored, which gives the place a crumbling, slowly-returning-to-nature feel. Lots of rust, crumbling masonry and creeping, misty greenery gives it a slightly abandoned air. The island has been continuously occupied since the mid-nineteenth century, first as a fort, then as a military prison, and finally as the infamous federal penitentiary, home to Robert Stroud and Al Capone, among others.

Everyone I talked to about Alcatraz had the same recommendation: take the audio tour. They were absolutely right. While audio tours can sometimes be a cheesy undertaking, Alcatraz's is narrated by a group of former guards and inmates, and is seriously interesting. In fact, it's almost too academic - I was kind of hoping for ghost stories and general creepiness, but got mostly hard-boiled narrations. It was like Raymond Chandler wrote the script himself.

One of my favorite bits of trivia came at the end of the audio tour, in the dining hall. The knives were hung on a board painted with their silhouettes, which reminded me of Julia Child's iconic pegboard. Of course, in this case, the utility of the silhouette was a bit different; ease of access wasn't the issue. Being able to quickly spot a missing knife - potentially stolen by an inmate - was.

The most unexpected thing about Alcatraz, for me, was the beauty of the island itself. I absolutely loved the different textures and states of decay to be found all over the place, and couldn't get enough of the succulent gardens (originally planted by the families of the guards who lived on-island in the 1950s and 1960s). (To see all of my photos from the day, click on over to my Flickr account.)

The weather was a bit spotty, but we were lucky enough to have a few fog-free moments to view the beautiful San Francisco skyline through the mist. If there's a city that does more to marry architecture with its unique geography, I've yet to visit it.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Queenie's Treasury

Happy weekend, kiddos! I'm back from California and ready to enjoy a New York summer. I know, I know - I'm jumping the gun a bit there, but it's so gorgeous right now that I can't help but think of barbecues and lazy afternoons in the park. Sigh. In the meantime, how about some seriously cool treasury picks?

First up, this Catskills home from the New York Times. I'm not in love with all of it, but I'll be damned if this great room isn't a thing of beauty. The owner has dealt with knotty pine in the only acceptable manner: paint that stuff white. And the results are spectacular.

Next, a seriously amazing shop full of more painted wood - this time, though, we're talking gilt paint, and I'm in love (with a store named cabin 7). I'm trying really, really hard to be a good girl and not buy any more, well, stuff - but these MERCI alphabet blocks are calling my name. You can hear it too, right?
Finally, via the sharply witty and full-of-perfect-taste blog Design Blahg, we have custom Sigg bottles. You choose a design and add your custom text, they put it on a bottle, and you give one of the coolest gifts ever. I'm currently pondering what my bottle will say. Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

240 boxes full of pudding.

OK, not really. In fact, no boxes of pudding were harmed in the making of this particular dessert. But every time I think of pudding, I'm reminded of that so-funny-it-hurts sketch from The State, where Barry and Levon got, um, familiar with a serious amount of pudding. Watch it, if you like, then read on.

So, back to the pudding. The chocolate pudding you see above is a leftover cook's treat type of deal. I made this (delicious) chocolate cream pie to bring to dinner at my brother and sister-in-law's place a couple of Sundays ago, and there was just enough pudding left over to make a nice dessert for me on Monday night.

The pudding is intensely chocolatey. It bears little to no resemblance to a Jell-O pudding cup, and that's a damn good thing. You melt and blend both bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate into a homemade pudding, then add a touch of vanilla to round things out, and some butter to make them nice and smooth. It's so chocolatey, in fact, that you really do need the sweetened whipped cream to cut through the richness.

Not like I've ever needed an excuse to eat plenty of sweetened whipped cream.

Dark Chocolate Pudding
Adapted from Gourmet

5 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 tsp. salt
6 large egg yolks
4 1/2 cups milk
3 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into bits and softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Add the chocolates to the top of a double boiler (or just a metal bowl set over simmering water). Melt chocolates together, stirring, until smooth. Remove the bowl from heat and set aside on a trivet or pile of dishtowels to cool.

Next, in a heavy saucepan (about 3 quarts) whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, and egg yolks until combined well and add milk in a stream, whisking. Cook mixture slowly over moderate heat, whisking constantly.

The custard will thicken gradually, and eventually will begin to boil (You'll see bubbles pop on the surface.). Continue to whisk, keeping the mixture smooth as it thickens to a near pudding-like texture. This can take several minutes; be patient. Don't turn the heat up too high, as the custard can scald.

Once your custard is pudding-like, remove it from the heat and force it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Whisk in the cooled chocolate, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Cover surface of the pudding with plastic wrap and cool completely in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve, spoon the pudding into small bowls and top - generously - with whipped cream.

Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quality time with Queenie: Lorna Yee.

Today we're spending time with the inimitable Lorna Yee, cookbook author and food writer. I first met Lorna through eGullet, where I spent quite a bit of time drooling over her incredible pastry creations. Since those early days, she's co-written a cookbook (The Newlywed Kitchen) and works as a food writer for Seattle Magazine. (She also has a fantastic blog, entitled The Cookbook Chronicles.) Lorna's passion for food is unmatched, except perhaps by that of her husband, Henry. But even Henry can't match her prize-winning pie.

Without further ado, here's Lorna!

How and from whom did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook Chinese food and bake from watching my mom--an incredible woman who was making her own butter puff pastry back in the 80s, without the aid of step-by-step food blogs, or the Food Network. From a young age, I watched my mom prepare elaborate Cantonese meals at home. She would save up her vacation time and take three days off work before family birthdays, just so she could shop and prepare more than ten, banquet-style dishes for our extended family.

Though my mom cooked fantastic meals for us every night, she gradually cut back on the baking. (Hard to keep up with three kids and a full-time job!) I've always loved sweets, and missed having her scrumptious coffee cakes and muffins around the kitchen. When I was about 10 years old, I took her dog-eared copy of The Five Roses Cookbook and asked if I could start baking from it. My mom kept a watchful eye over me the first few times. But even then, I had already picked up on many of the techniques she unknowingly demonstrated on evenings when I'd stand on a stool and watch her fold egg whites with a delicate flick of the wrist. I remember making a personal goal of trying a new recipe out of that cookbook every week, and I did. That's how I made my first cheese soufflé, coffee chiffon cake, and peanut butter cookies.

Do you consider yourself a baker, a cook, or a hybrid? Why?

I consider myself both a home cook and a baker. I've always had a particular fondness for baking, and the cooking bug bit a little later on--I would say perhaps around 13 or 14, after taking Home Ec. classes at school. Around this time, we also started getting Food Network up in Canada, which meant more exposure to cuisines outside of the Cantonese food we ate at home. I was motivated to learn how to cook so I could taste the food of other countries, though I was often overly ambitious. There was a particular episode of Emeril Live that featured Mario Batali making these incredible goat cheese and radicchio ravioli that I craved for days after seeing that show. I had never made pasta before, and growing up in a Chinese household, we didn't have a pasta maker. I figured I could make my own pasta and roll the dough out with a rolling pin. Four hours later, I was exhausted, covered in flour, but I had done it--a perfectly respectable bowl of ravioli, filled with tangy, creamy goat cheese, the richness counteracted by the bitter bite of radicchio.

If you could prepare any meal in the world, what would the menu be, and who would you invite to join you?

"If I could prepare any meal in the world" is an interesting question, because I'd have to consider whether I would want to cook something I'd have the most fun preparing, or what I consider my best dish--considering there are guests in attendance. I think I would create a menu featuring one signature dish from each region of China. I have never experienced a meal like that. I guess if you think about it, Cantonese dim sum could work as what we think of as "pre-dinner bites"--all those tiny parcels of steamed and fried items! Taro puffs filled with savory minced duck, or chive and shrimp dumplings would be ideal finger food. The bolder, more fiery dishes of Szechuan, like red oil poached fish with preserved mustard greens, and a hearty dish of claypot braised lamb from Lanzhou would work nicely as a main. Hand-pulled noodles with a garlicky pork sauce from northern China would be ideal as your starch component, and I'd end the meal with wafer-thin, crispy fried Shanghainese red bean pancakes.

Is there something you love to eat that you never make at home?

I adore sashimi and many other Japanese dishes, but I never prepare it at home because I don't think the quality of the fish I can get from even a reputable seafood shop is as good as that served in the best Japanese restaurants in town. There is too much I don't know about the art of cutting the fish, or preparing the sushi rice correctly. That's a meal best left to a master Japanese sushi chef with years of experience.

Pick your poison.

I love barman Andrew Bohrer's smoked Old-Fashioned at Mistral Kitchen, and he makes a great whiskey sour, too. Although the first cocktail that really blew me away was The Last Word, revived right here in Seattle by Murray Stenson of Zig Zag. I also love single malt scotches, and big reds.

Describe the best meal you've ever eaten. Where were you? Who prepared it? And what made it so special?

As a food writer at Seattle Magazine, I'm incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to eat extremely well in this city. The greatest dining experience I've ever had, though, was at Alinea in Chicago just this past summer. I was with my husband, and we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary. We sprung for the tour menu and consumed twenty-five courses over the span of a good four hours, at least! Part of what made the meal so memorable was that up until that point, I'd partaken in a few molecular gastronomy meals at well-regarded restaurants, and had been incredibly disappointed. Alinea re-opened my eyes: The meal was entertainment, it was art, but most importantly, the vast majority of what we ate just tasted good.

What's for dinner tonight chez toi?

I just returned home (in Seattle) from a ten-day visit up in Vancouver, BC to see my family. After so many days of eating extravagantly, I am happy to get back in the kitchen and cook something a little lighter for dinner tonight. I'm just grilling some leeks with romesco sauce, and throwing together an easy pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, feta, and arugula. Both recipes are in the cookbook I co-authored, The Newlywed Kitchen. For dessert--I'm going to be honest and tell you I'm just taking a couple balls of homemade oatmeal cookie dough out of the freezer, and baking them off. I frequently make a batch of cookie dough, roll the dough into golfball-sized spheres, space them out on a lined sheet tray, and freeze them. Once frozen, you can put the dough balls into a Ziploc bag and they'll keep for several weeks in the freezer. Whenever you want cookies, just space out the dough on a tray, and bake in a preheated oven. I believe that one should never be more than 350 degrees and 12-13 minutes away from fresh, hot cookies!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Quality time with Queenie: Erin Ferretti Slattery

Erin Ferretti Slattery (that's her on the right up there) grew up in California and Colorado, and has lived in France, Scotland, Israel, and the Czech Republic. She has worked in PR, book publicity, and international publishing, and has written a cookbook, The Ghost in the Pantry: Culinary Travels through Four Generations. She and her husband, Jakub, live in the food paradise of Astoria, Queens, where she is freelancing as a translator and perpetually starting a novel.

Erin and I first met online over at eGullet many, many moons ago - she helped me plan the Prague leg of the journey Louisa and I took in 2006 - and we finally met in real life last year at a fabulous Jauntsetter party in Williamsburg (Brooklyn, not historical).

How and from whom did you learn to cook?
My mother is the biggest influence, and I learned most of what I cook by instinct these days as a result of watching and helping her from childhood onward--like nearly everyone, I imagine. In the constellation of other inspiring people, there are also friends who can throw together a four-course dinner on an hour's notice, a French host mother with a sturdy yogurt-cake recipe, a British host mother who taught me not to fear lard for the Sunday roast, friends who parted with their grandmothers' cake and goulash recipes, and friends whose individual talents and flair for entertaining are things I try to mimic.

Ultimately, I would say I learned from all the women in my life I've been fortunate to call friends, including my mother, who compiled and printed a book of tried-and-true recipes from friends and family as a wedding gift for me.
And I'm also grateful to my dad for initiating me into Zen and the Art of the Weber grill. (My dad has been known to happily do steaks on the Weber in three feet of snow, which is Buddhism of a sort I'll never achieve.)

Do you consider yourself a baker, a cook, or a hybrid? Why?

Cooking at high altitude (in Denver, where I spent part of my childhood) scarred me as a baker for life; I always either forgot to read the high-altitude directions, or measured by instinct and was off by a lot. I turned out a lot of bricks and dry muffins. If anything, it taught me to leave any precise measuring to someone else. That said, I have my one standby cake (Marian Burros's versatile Plum Torte recipe) and I like experimenting, but I invariably forget an ingredient or use too big a pinch of something, and the cake is born a mutant. My oven in New York has never been leveled, either--it's so bad that skillets occasionally start sliding to the back--and though I've tried to correct it, all baked goods emerge looking like a raised eyebrow.

The savory baked-good recipe that has yet to fail me (knock on wood) is Delia Smith's
Savory Muffins with Two Flavorings . But if it's a family recipe from my side (Irish and Italian) or my husband's side (all Czech), I'll usually keep at it until I get it right; there's something fascinating to me about tasting something that someone long before you (but connected to you) loved, and/or loved to make. What is it about that cake--or that person--that was extraordinary? What sort of crazy line of deliciousness do you participate in by recreating that? (When I wrote a cookbook last summer, I tried to get at that question but mainly wound up buying and consuming staggering quantities of butter.)

If you could prepare any meal in the world, what would the menu be, and who would you invite to join you?
Oh, Lord.

Guest list: Virginia Woolf, Groucho Marx, Shakespeare (I'm sure he's not free, though), Jane Austen, S.J. Perelman, George Gershwin, Madame de Stael, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Wordsworth, Dorothy Parker, and Joan of Arc. (Note to self: seat the latter two apart from each other.)

Menu: Club sandwiches.

No, really, I've never been any good at that kind of
thing; for one, I have serious entertaining-induced anxiety (ironically so, since I love having people over) and turn into a basket case, worrying about insane things like botulism and e-coli and the federally mandated internal cooking temperature for pork tenderloin and, oh God, will they like it?, so I'm pretty sure I'd die well before my Imaginary Dinner Party showed up. (Sorry to be so darned literal.)

In all honesty, give me a giant plate of antipasto, a few good baguettes, chilled wine, and fresh fruit, good chocolate, and nuts, and I'm happy. I run out of imaginary steam when it comes to the actual food, I guess.

Is there something you love to eat that you never make at home?
This may be cheating, but we go out so often to eat two cuisines--sushi and New Delhi Indian--I rarely attempt at home that I feel like flipping the question around a bit.

You can't typically find Nakládaný hermelín in a restaurant in the U.S., but we occasionally make it at home. It's Czech camembert marinated in vegetable oil and a heady mix of spices along with sliced bell peppers, garlic, and onions; Czech pubs feature giant, keg-sized jars of it looming at the end of the bar. I made a giant batch of it last summer when I was writing a cookbook, and it brought back memories of warm nights around outdoor tables at a Prague pub, drinking a beer with friends and slathering this cheese on dark brown bread.

Pick your poison.
Well, after two drinks, I slide under the table, grinning like a lunatic, so I usually opt for something nonalcoholic. In Israel, you can order limonana, lemonade blended with whole handfuls of fresh mint and ice; I became addicted to those when we lived there and was delighted to find them all over Manhattan cafes.

Otherwise, I order a good white wine--my heart belongs to the Austrian Gritsch winery's Gruner Veltliners--or a Sangiovese. If I have to order a cocktail, it's a dry martini, but then I take no responsibility for the nonsense that comes out of my mouth after two of those.

Describe the best meal you've ever eaten. Where were you? Who prepared it? And what made it so special?
One of the best meals I've ever had was at a wonderful twenty-first-birthday surprise dinner that my best friend sprung on me when we were both studying in London for a semester, 13 years ago; my parents wired him money in advance and asked him to take me to dinner. Since my best friend was an aspiring man of the world, he picked Bibendum, without telling me in advance, of course. So I showed up in a floral sundress.

Even so, it was extraordinary--a flurry of courses; I remember a duck breast that tasted like what I thought gold should taste like. Aside from that, I remember shockingly little (sorry, Mom and Dad)--only that it was dazzling, sparkling, and everything was crisp and delicious. It was the best birthday ever.
But, if I'm being honest, the best meals of my life have always been long, slow, comfortable, wine-fueled things, usually at home or someone else's home, with family and friends, lots of dishes with serving spoons, and that's what I like most.

Whether it's transporting 40 mini-flans across Prague for a friend's surprise California-themed birthday party, or epic holiday dinners with family (or holiday lunches, when we're with my husband's family in Prague), the key elements for me are: well-loved recipes and conversation with people you love.

What's for dinner tonight chez toi?
You caught me on a good night; usually, unless I think about it in the morning, I look up from freelancing around 5 and start to wonder what's for dinner. We live in an amazing neighborhood (Astoria) for food, so whether you want to go out or stay in, you're spoiled. On Fridays, I take the morning off and go get ingredients for the weekend meals.

I think this is a holdover from when we lived in Israel: everything shuts down on Shabbat, Friday evening, so if you didn't grab what you needed, you were out of luck 'til Saturday evening. Now I feel hard-wired to plan weekend meals; by Thursday night, my brain is starting to run through what's in the fridge, what pantry staples there are, what's fresh, and what needs to be used up.

Since today was Friday, I hit the fish market on 30th Ave. and 31st St., which has a great selection; the United Brothers Fruit Market, just down the street from the fish place, for fresh vegetables; and bought a loaf of rustic country bread from an Italian place on our block that seems like what my grandfather's fruit-and-vegetable store would have looked like in downtown Denver in the 1930s.

We had grilled shrimp skewers (and by "grilled," I mean "broiled while fantasizing about a patio") with mango and red onion pieces, plus some sliced tomatoes and bell peppers, and a basket of fresh bread. Simple to the point of bliss. Oh--and a California Sauvignon Blanc. Dessert was a few bites of dark chocolate, although I should've splurged and brought home baklava; the baklava-trays-to-inhabitants ratio is ridiculous here. And you cannot get a bad piece of it. Crazy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guest Blogger: Ana of Rearranged Design makes banana-chocolate-coconut ice cream!

Hello all! My name is Ana and normally you can find me over at Rearranged Design. I'll be guest posting for Meg today while she's visiting my adopted home state of California.

I am going to share my recipe for homemade Banana-Chocolate-Coconut Ice cream. It's a favorite around my house and easy to make.

I use a KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker attachment. If you have your own ice cream maker I don't see why the recipe wouldn't work with that. If you have a KitchenAid mixer and don't have the attachment, get it! I love mine and once you see how few ingredients are actually in ice cream you'll wonder why you don't already own one.

So, here goes. You will need:

2 1/2 cups Half and Half
8 Egg Yolks
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups Whipping Cream
1/8 tsp Salt
4 tsp of Vanilla (I always add a glug more just to give it a real strong flavor)
1 Banana
1 cup Shredded Toasted Coconut
1 Large Chocolate Bar (This is up to you, if you like you can use chocolate chips or a King Size Bar. It's up to how much chocolate you like)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat half-and-half until very hot but not boiling, stirring often. Remove from heat; set aside.

Place egg yolks and sugar in mixer bowl. Attach wire whip to mixer. Turn to speed 2, and mix about 30 seconds, or until well blended and slightly thickened.

Continuing on speed 2, very gradually add half-and-half; mix until blended.

Return half-and-half mixture to medium saucepan; cook over medium heat until small bubbles form around edge and mixture is steamy, stirring constantly. Do not boil.

Transfer half-and-half mixture into large bowl; stir in whipping cream, vanilla, and salt. Cover and chill thoroughly, at least 8 hours (otherwise the ice cream will have ice crystals in it). Just a side note: if you’re not making your own vanilla already it’s SO easy. Add Vodka to a couple of vanilla beans and store in a dark place in a week or so you’ve got homemade vanilla!

Assemble ice cream maker attachments. Pour mixture into freeze bowl. Continue on Stir for 15 to 20 minutes or until desired consistency.

While the ice cream is churning toast the coconut on a backing sheet until it’s golden in color. Chop the chocolate into chunks (I used 2.5 regular sized Hershey bars) and cut up the banana.

At the 20-minute mark add the coconut, banana and chocolate. At this point my ice cream is usually the consistency of soft serve. You can eat it or put it in an airtight container and freeze to desired consistency. It makes about 7 cups/1.75 quarts.

I hope you love it as much as I do! Thanks to Meg for letting me share!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quality time with Queenie and a giveaway: author Louisa Edwards on her best meal ever, and how to win a signed copy of her new novel!

Loyal Queenie readers know her simply as "Louisa." She's a respected contemporary romance novelist, an accomplished cook, and, most importantly, she's my best friend! Louisa Edwards lives in Ohio with her husband (and two ridiculously adorable dogs, with whom I am certifiably obsessed), where she writes her fabulous novels and cooks in her enviably well-equipped kitchen.

The first book in Louisa's Recipe for Love trilogy, entitled Can't Stand the Heat, debuted last fall to excellent reviews, and the second book (On the Steamy Side - my personal favorite so far) came out in March!

When she's not guest posting here or scribbling furiously away on her next novel, Louisa can be found over at her blog, her website, and her always-witty Twitter feed. (She sometimes posts pictures of Hunter and Oscar, said dogs, on Twitter, which is reason enough to follow her.)

Today, along with her interview, Louisa has a giveaway for you! Read her interview for the details, and follow her instructions to be entered to win a whole bunch of loot. (A signed, hardcover copy of On the Steamy Side, a Recipe for Love apron, and a set of spatulas!)

How and from whom did you learn to cook?

Both of my parents are fantastic, adventurous cooks so we grew up trying lots of different cuisines and ingredients in my house. I moved to NYC after college and got out of the habit of cooking for myself, what with all the fabulous restaurants around, and my kitchen being about the size of a bathtub, but once we moved to a small town in Ohio? If I want something fabulous to eat here, I have to make it myself. So I settled down to figure out how to do that, and realized I loved it!

Do you consider yourself a baker, a cook, or a hybrid? Why?

I find baking very therapeutic and comforting, but I'd be more apt to call myself a cook, since it's what I do far more frequently. Plus, I've grown to love the freedom and creativity inherent in cooking, while I'm not truly comfortable enough with the science of baking to deviate from the recipe, usually.

If you could prepare any meal in the world, what would the menu be, and who would you invite to join you?

This is a tough one! Breakfast is my favorite meal, and my favorite thing is to cook with other people, all pitching in together, so I guess I'd have to invite my favorite cooks to help me come up with a magnificent brunch: my parents, my husband (he makes a mean omelet), my best friend, Meg (some of you know her as Queenie!), and maybe Eric Ripert (for the pretty) and Anthony Bourdain (for the stories.) We'd make cornmeal bacon waffles, Ruth Reichl's buttery pancakes, skinny French omelets filled with roasted potatoes, melted leeks, and sauteed mushrooms, country ham biscuits with red-eye gravy, and a big, gorgeous minted fruit salad. And mimosas! Heavy on the bubbly.

Is there something you love to eat that you never make at home? Where do you get your fix?

I love Japanese food, specifically chirashi, that beautiful jewel-box of fragrant, sticky sushi rice dotted with perfectly fresh, silky fish. There really isn't anyplace in my town where I can satisfy that craving, but whenever I travel, it's always in the back of my head as a major food priority. Most recently, I had an amazing chirashi at Ozumo, looking out over the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

Pick your poison.

If I could get away with drinking nothing but champagne for the rest of my life, I'd be a happy girl. I'd miss bourbon and gin, but somehow, I'd struggle through.

Describe the best meal you've ever eaten. Where were you? Who prepared it? And what made it so special?

This is next to impossible, but since I'm here with Queenie, it automatically puts me in mind of two dinners we've had together. And I bet she knows exactly which ones before I even say! The first was a transcendent meal in Paris at a tiny neighborhood bistro called Camille--pichets of house red, perfectly crisped duck breast, juicy lamb chops, and the hands-down best steak tartare I've ever tasted.

The other, slightly more dear to my heart because of the aforementioned cooking-together principle, was a night last summer when Meg and I tried our hands at banh mi for the first time. We'd made Julia's terrine of pork and veal a few days earlier, as well as some chicken liver pate that we tarted up with a shot of cinnamon. Those things went into the split loaves of crusty bread, along with an amazingly savory ground pork concoction with peanuts, fish sauce, and shallots.

Other condiments included chopped lemongrass, cilantro, and mint, grated fresh ginger, thinly sliced green onions, cucumber, and jalapenos, more fish sauce (because who can ever have enough of that stuff?) and sriracha. Oh em gee, they were divine! A harmonious symphony of French and Vietnamese flavors, hot sour salty sweet goodness! We ate them on the deck behind my house in the fading summer light, and I will never forget a moment of that meal.

What's for dinner tonight chez toi?

It just so happens that I stuck a side of salmon in to cure with sugar and salt, fresh dill, and lemon zest a few days ago, so tonight we're having gravlax! I'm itching to try an Eric Ripert recipe from his book A Return to Cooking: Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur. We'll be using gravlax instead, and I don't have any lemon confit on hand, but I bet our version will still be pretty tasty.

What about you? What's on your dinner table? Answer in the comments below (Don't forget to include your email address!) for a chance to win a signed special hardcover edition of my newest Recipe for Love novel, On the Steamy Side, a Recipe for Love apron, and a set of red rubber spatulas!

Gone fishing.

Oh, you all know me too well. You're right, I'm not fishing - I'm traveling! I'll be back soon, but, in the meantime, some of my most generous friends have stepped up and agreed to guest blog for me this week. We'll have a few interviews, a giveaway, a delicious recipe for homemade ice cream...

It's going to be good times, people!

Don't forget to be super-nice to our guests, and be sure to drop me a line or a tweet if you're interested in guest posting the next time I'm off the grid.

Image courtesy of the New York Times' Joys of the Window Seat series.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The miraculous egg continues to impress.

Years ago, I read a novel in which the heroine visits one of those big, white elephant resorts in the Catskills (kinda like the one in Dirty Dancing) and is given the choice of a blintz, sweet omelet or eggs for breakfast. I didn't think much of it at the time, but the idea of a sweet omelet has stayed with me ever since.

The other night, faced with a sweet tooth and a practically empty fridge (I don't particularly like to go food shopping when I'm about to go on a trip.), the notion of a sweet omelet surfaced in my mind. I immediately set to Googling and discovered that the idea is essentially to make a cross between an omelet and a crêpe. There's flour and sugar involved, but no milk or water. The result is something richer and puffier than a crêpe, but lighter and sweeter than an omelet.

And man, is it tasty. And the added bit of flour makes it a lot easier to handle than a traditional omelet; while the latter can be tricky to fold and flip, a sweet omelet is bound by the gluten in the flour and holds up nicely to even the most awkward manipulations with a spatula. You really do need to sift the flour, as you would for a crepe; if you don't, you'll end up with little lumpy pearls of flour throughout the omelet. (Trust me; I tried it both ways.) And while I preferred the flavor of turbinado sugar, I found that plain old granulated made for a more evenly-flavored result. (The turbinado kind of sank to the bottom of the eggs.)

The best part might be that it's totally legit to eat a sweet omelet for breakfast. (I halve the recipe to make a dessert version.) I mean, if pancakes or waffles or French toast qualify as breakfast, surely this does as well. And if you add a little jam as a filling, you've even got fruit involved in the equation. Um, sort of.

Sweet Omelet

2 large eggs
2 tbs. granulated sugar
2 tbs. all-purpose flour, sifted after measuring
Tiny pinch of salt
1 tbs. unsalted butter

In a small bowl, beat the eggs together with a fork, as you would for any omelet. Beat in the sugar, flour and salt.

In a small skillet (I use my eight-incher.) set over moderate heat, melt the butter and heat until slightly foamy, swirling to coat the sides of the skillet as well as the bottom.

Add the egg mixture to the pan and cook until the mixture becomes slightly puffy and set all along the sides. (If you want to add jam or another filling, now's the time.)

Using a silicon spatula, fold the omelet over on itself, then flip it over. Cook for another minute or two, until the butter in the pan just starts to turn brown and the omelet is puffy and relatively set up all the way through.

Serves one.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Queenie's Treasury

Happy weekend, everyone! It's a rainy morning here in New York; I had to skip the Greenmarket this morning in favor of some more boring errands - but since I'm leaving for California on Tuesday morning, I wouldn't have been able to buy much in any case. I have it on good authority, however, that strawberries have been sighted!

Now, for those of you who haven't just sprung out of your seats to run down to Union Square, here's this week's Treasury!

First up this week is an apartment I've long admired: the West Village home of interior designer (and former Domino contributor) Rita Konig. Her apartment has a gloriously English feel to it, which makes sense, since Konig is, in fact, an ex-pat from London. I especially love the snug bedroom with its custom headboard and bright sunlight.

Next, we have Next! Next is the name of super-chef Grant Achatz's latest venture, a restaurant in Chicago where guests will pay for their meals ahead of time - kind of like we pay for travel, as the promotional video on the new site suggests. In addition to the restaurant, Achatz's team will also be opening a cocktail bar called Aviary. That sound you just heard? That was food and cocktail lovers the world over clapping their hands in glee.

Last, but not least, we have From Me To You, a fabulous blog by Jamie, a photographer who lives here in New York. She's also an avid cook, and her food photography is splendid. That said, I might be most in lust with the photos she just posted the other day. Yes, I'll take my bourbon with a side of gorgeous man, thankyouverymuch.
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