Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An Extraordinary Cooking Adventure

When I was living in NYC with Jordan, she got a job at a restaurant called Market Cafe.  It's a little neighborhood gem in the  Hell's Kitchen area that had amazing, gourmet yet down to earth food.  This is the place where I really started to get into simple, but delicious and thoughtfully prepared food.  On my limited City budget, this place was affordable, it was one of those places where you could spend a lot if you ordered certain things but could also walk out there completely satisfied for under 15 Bucks, and having an "in" allowed me to get some free food from time to time too.

When Jordan moved to France, it became a meeting place for mutual friends to stay connected without her.  Every Wednesday night, for several months we'd dine at Market Cafe and catch up.  I looked forward to this camaraderie over dinner every week.  I also looked forward to the food.  If you ever travel to NYC, make sure you have dinner at Market Cafe, you will not be disappointed. 

My most favorite dish at Market Cafe still remains the scallops.  My mouth still waters just thinking about them.  Next time I visit NYC I will surely stop by for the scallops.  It is the kind of treat that my mom still reminisces about, because I took her there a couple of times when she visited.  They were  swimming in brown butter  served on on a bed of potato puree, and greens.

Jordan and I recreated the scallops dish and several others on Monday in her tiny cottage kitchen.  It was a massive culinary undertaking, I mean, we taught ourselves to sear scallops, baked two cakes, and made two varieties of bread!!

les cuisinières audacieuses

les cuisinières audacieuses

I missed the cultural experience of going to le poisonnerie, because it was closed that morning for a holiday... so we bought our fresh scallops at the supermarket, who had a special person dedicated to the seafood section.  The scallops were around 1 Euro a piece.  We bought 10, one for our trial run of searing, and 3 per person at the table (her partner, J, was a very fortunate beneficiary of our cooking adventure).

raw scallops

We looked up how to sear sea scallops on the internet and voila, it wasn't that difficult, though, they were delicate little things that could have been overcooked very easily... so not difficult, just required attention.

here I am trimming off the "feet" of the scallops, which is actually its muscle

our trial run scallop!

During this cooking adventure, we made tons of brown butter.  It really added a depth of flavor and richness to the dishes.  We used it for the scallops and one of the cakes.  :)


voila: the nutty, brown butter

I will let the photos describe the rest of our adventure, but first, here is the menu: and some links to the recipes.  Bon appetit!!

Jordan & Allison's Triumphant Recreation of Market Cafe

first course: sea scallops on q bed of mashed potatoes with brown butter and mache
second: green salad with oatmeal pumpkin bread and pumpkin hummus
third: baked flatbread "pizza" with potato puree, rosemary and green olives (i didn't get pictures of this as the excitement in the kitchen was at a maximum while it was being prepared, the photography fell by the wayside.)
desert:  brown butter banana cake (adapted from this recipe) AND amazing chocolate cake

mixing up a cake with this cool springy whisk we picked up at the le marché the other day (best impulse purchase ever)

batter for the brown butter banana cake
Can you tell how excited I am?!
This meal was a great way to reminisce about our days of life in the big city, while we bonded over our mutual love, as adult women, of cooking for friends and family.  Life doesn't get much better than this.  As I said as we finished our small pieces of cake...  Nous avons une belle vie!

We have a beautiful life!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Au Marché des Saveurs & Couleurs

A Market of Flavors and Colors 

Here I am in the South of France and my belly is full of the wonderful regional products that my sister and I purchased in the morning at the Saturday market in Sommières.  (here is a video that shows the market aka le marché) in action.  In America, local, artisinal, organic, from-scratch and DIY are buzzwords reflective of the style of food that is coming back in fashion (thankfully) and often used as marketing and a reason to jack up the prices (boo); but here local, organic and DIY is normal and often less expensive than the supermarket.  The market sells everything from cheeses and spices to baskets and mattresses. 

I bought one of these awesome market baskets, you will see me toting it around DSM when I get back.

The typical foods of the region are plentiful.  Being so close to the Mediterranean, there are plenty of olives (les olives), one of my personal favorite snacks.  From my first trip to France, I fondly remember eating the olives from a gentleman who had several giant barrels of olives cured in different ways.  He was very kind (he did not disappoint this time either) and I was charmed by one barrel of olives in particular that was labeled "my father's recipe".  They were slightly spicy with peppers and pimentos. 

Me & The Olive Guy

We also picked up some sausage (le saucisson) prepared in the charcuterie fashion, all different preparations hanging around, literally, in the open air. And oh, the cheese stands.  Heaven!!  Knowing there is no shortage of cheese around to be eaten meal after meal, snack after snack we decided to take it easy and only get two kinds.  A nice soft goat cheese (le chèvre) a specialty of the Cevennes Mountains nearby and a sheep's milk cheese called beaufort des montagnes.

Platter of regional delights from the Languedoc-Roussillon: the sheep's milk cheese; saucisson, bread bien sur!!, the chèvre and the olives.  Bon Appetit!!

I probably don't need to tell you that everything was delicious.  But, yes, it was. 

I continue to eat too much and enjoy every bite. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Allison Says: Au Revoir, Kitchen Table!

There will be no weekly menu for the next few weeks.  I'm setting up an auto-post about the roasted chicken but I might not be writing a lot in the coming weeks because I am leaving for France on Tuesday night!!  I will be spending a week in the Languedoc-Roussillon region near Montpelier in the South of France then taking the high speed train North to Paris to spend time in the city as well as in Normandy.

I hope to blog about some of my French culinary adventures while I am gone. Some will be about eating and some about cooking.  I have plans to do a lot of both while I'm there. I also have some plans that I am just so excited about I can't even describe them accurately... yet!

Stay tuned.

Au revoir mes amis! Bon appetit!!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Blueberry Almond Scones

I just got back home to Boston from my wonderful week in Iowa. I baked these scones at Allison's house on Wednesday morning. I did the baking, but it was a team effort as Allison passed me all of her baking supplies from the pantry cupboard while I mixed up the dough.

Found this photo and thought I'd share the recipe in case you feel like baking up some weekend goodies yourself. These scones are full of fresh blueberries. Lots of fruit means they're a little crumbly when eating, but sometimes messy is good!

Blueberry Almond Scones

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat over to 400F. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Slice the butter into pieces and drop it into the flour mixture. Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or two knives, tossing butter in the flour as you work, until mixture is crumbly and butter pieces are no larger than the size of a pea.

Toast the sliced almonds in a hot pan on the stove, until they just begin to brown. Let cool for a few minutes, then toss the sliced almonds with the flour mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg and vanilla, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in the blueberries. 

Using your hands, gather the dough into a sticky ball and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat the ball into a circle about 8-inches around, and slice into 8 wedges with a pizza cutter. Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, at least 1-inch apart. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until tops are golden. For best results serve warm, fresh out of the oven!

Allison, hope you're having a great weekend. Happy packing and I can't wait to hear of your food adventures in France coming up next week already! Safe travels, thanks for always welcoming me in your kitchen. xoxo Cara

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kitchen Table Friends: Cooking Together

Cooking Together

Cooking and food has been a large part of our friendship for many years.  We are delighted to share this sentimental blog post that epitomizes the feeling of and the reason for Kitchen Table Friends.

When Cara and I graduated college and started living on our own, we would visit one another wherever we happened to be living at the time and we'd always find ourselves cooking together.  In the early days of our twenties cooking meant browning ground beef and adding it to a jar of spaghetti sauce. A process, that in a tiny kitchen, involved multiple pans and heating things up on the stove. We were learning how to be grown ups and but in the kitchen we pretty much stuck to the familiar.  Since then, we have evolved, to extensive  kitchen repertoires that reflect not just what we know how to make but who we are and what we want to learn.  Now we roast vegetables, experiment with flavors from around the world, we zest citrus, toast and grind whole spices but no matter what we make we have fun together.

The past couple of days as we spent time together, we talked about why cooking was so meaningful to our friendship.  Cara remarked about what it meant to know where things were in a friends' kitchen, to know the little quirks about being in someone else's space.  Knowing and moving freely in the space of a close friend, is a mark of familiarity and of comfort. Living so far apart, this familiarity means a lot to the both of us. We compared the days when were friends in high school, and would hang out in each other's bedrooms, eating handfuls of M&Ms and telling all our secrets... to the time we spend together now.  We hang out in our kitchens, snacking and talking about what we're making as the conversation drifts in and out of other conversations about everything and nothing. As Cara would say, it's bliss.  

This is what we made:

mixed grain salad with roasted beets and cumin lime vinaigrette

1 C mixed grains (we used 1/2 pearl barley, 1/2 bulgur)
3 C water
1-2  beets, cubed
2 C spinach, washed
1 green onion, minced
salt and pepper
olive oil
a handful of pepitas

toss beet with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 425 for approximately 30 minutes, test with fork for doneness.

I recommend donning an apron when chopping beets so you don't stain your cardigan.

rinse the grains with sieve, add to pot with water and bring to a boil. reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. you may want to add a drop of olive oil to the grains to prevent sticking.

set grains and beets aside until ready to assemble salad.

for the lime-cumin vinaigrette (adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone Deborah Madison):

1 clove garlic
zest of 2 limes
2-3 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 Tablespoon green onions, minded
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/3 C olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro

mince garlic and make into a paste with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt.

zest and juice the limes.
add garlic and lime zest and juice to bowl with scallion and jalapeno. 

toast the spices in a small dry skillet over medium until fragrant (this doesn't take long) and immediately remove them to a plate to cool. 

grind them to a powder (if you do not have whole, just use the powders, toasted as you would the seeds). add to the bowl.

whisk in the olive oil. 

let stand for 15 minutes.

top with fresh cilantro, just before using.


slowly combine your grains with the vinaigrette and salt and pepper to taste. 
arrange spinach in a bowl and top with the grain mixture.  top with beets, pepitas, cilantro and green onions.  serve at room temperature and share with a friend. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kitchen Table Friends Together!

It's always a pleasure when friends come in to town, but it's more than a pleasure when your best friend and blogging partner can spend a few days in your city.  Cara is visiting Des Moines!  We've been catching up over breakfast and coffee, kitties, and now lunch. 

Here we are!

Kitchen Table Friends!  Allison & Cara
Lunch: leftover pasta from last night & avocado veggie wrap

So I borrowed a juicer...

Sometimes I crave carrot, apple and ginger juice.  I got hooked on it when living in NYC where juice bars and carts were pretty easy to find.  I love how fresh and sweet carrot juice is and that extra kick of ginger makes it so refreshing.  What I don't love is the price.  It can cost around $5 for a 12 oz. juice from a fresh juice bar.  That gets to be a pretty expensive craving.  I can buy an entire BAG of carrots for less than that.  However, recently, my Mom asked if I wanted her juicer. Not ready to commit to the free juicer, I said I'd borrow it.  It's a cheap, small, easy to use juicer that works well enough for my carrot,apple and ginger juice cravings.  The only downside is that it can take a while to clean up. If you want to experiment with fresh juices but don't want to pay the high prices for either a top of the line juicer or fresh juice at your local juice bar, you might want to buy or borrow a cheaper model until you figure out what your needs are.

Here are some refreshing juices I made over the past couple of weeks.  So far I can't tear myself away from my carrot juice, but I did veer off the path a little.  I don't see myself investing in a fancy juicer anytime soon, so for now, the one I've got is working just fine.  I probably made juice about 3-4 times per week. 

yellow beet, ginger, carrot and apple

As you can see, all of this produce doesn't yield a lot of juice, but it's an easy way to get a serving or more of veggies since your body can absorb the vitamins from the fruits and vegetables right away. 

carrot, ginger, mango

apple, carrot, ginger and celery!

This was my main deviation from the carrot, apple ginger path.  I went green with cucumber, kiwi and granny smith apple.

this is the bright green fresh cucumber juice. it did not taste as good on its own as I imagined. next time I'll try a nice organic cucumber from my garden instead of the everyday supermarket cucumber.

I strained the juice because of the intense cucumber pulp

the kiwi made it really tart and sweet 

back to the classic but with pear

Monday, May 14, 2012

Weekly Menu: May 14-18

Hello Kitchen Table Friends!

I made it through my 3rd semester of graduate school!!!

This week's menu is a little short... but that's because Tuesday and Wednesday's meals are yet to be determined, because they will be a collaboration between Cara and I! I hope we will be able to report jointly about what we made while she's visiting Iowa.

I anticipate there is going to be  a lot of collaborative, and excited blogging in the next couple of weeks... I am heading to France in a little over a week to see two of my favorite girlfriends.  Stay tuned for my aventures de la cuisine Francais. 

Here's what I do have planned...

new recipe: creamy lemon pasta with spinach and tomatoes

I decided I was going to teach myself how to roast a chicken... and there was a recipe in the May issue of Bon Appetit which sounded like a good one to start with.  Roast Chicken with Rosemary, Lemon & Honey
'll accompany it with some roast yukon golds.

I'm hoping we can eat that roast chicken for a couple of days at least so am planning to make some sandwiches too. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Grown Up Brunch

Do you ever have those moments when you realize, "I'm a grown up."  I had one of those over the weekend when I hosted a baby shower for a coworker of mine.  I made most of the food and cleaned my house and many people came over to enjoy a nice brunch. I was excited to provide most of the food. It was the weekend before finals began so you might be thinking, are you crazy offering to do all that cooking? Yes. And no. I made it easy for myself by prepping two dishes in about an hour and planned it so that they'd be baked the morning of the shower. 

Here's what I made...
overnight baked french toast


1 loaf French bread
6-8 eggs
1/2 C milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. fresh nutmeg

slice bread into 1-1.5 inch wide slices.  i cut off the smaller end pieces and saved them for something else.  Ryan ate them with jam. 

next, whisk the eggs, milk and spices in a big bowl.

grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 glass baking dish with butter.  just take the stick of butter and rub it on the pan!

using tongs, dunk each piece of bread in the egg mixture and place it in the pan.  see my photo above of how i layered them so there was enough room.  pour any remaining egg mixture evenly on top of the bread.

cover with foil and let soak in the fridge over night!

the next morning, heat oven to 375 and take the dish out of fridge to let it warm up a little before hitting that hot oven.  i put a dab of butter on each piece of bread before it went into the oven. put the foil back on.

bake for 45-60 minutes.
top with maple syrup, walnuts and raisins!

I also made this...  because, as my good friend Nichole has taught me, it isn't brunch without an egg dish AND a sweet dish.  

baked eggs with veggies
10-12 eggs
1/2 C milk
zucchini, sliced in thin matchsticks
1/2 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2-3 green onions, diced
salt and pepper

*add whatever ingredients you want to this egg dish.  the vegetables that made it into mine are what I had on hand at the moment.  the possibilities are endless!

chop veggies.
whisk eggs and milk, salt and pepper.
lightly spray a 9x13 glass baking dish with oil
add eggs, add veggies.
cover with foil and store in fridge until time to bake (if you do this, remember to give it a little time to warm up from that cold night in the fridge). or cover with foil and bake right away!
bake at 375 for 45 minutes until eggs are set.

The food at this baby shower brunch didn't stop there.  Catherine contributed a fruit salad and Aimee made pumpkin waffles. That happened to be vegan.  Oh, did I mention that she trekked 1-2 miles to my house on her bike?  Toting waffle batter and her industrial strength Belgian waffle maker?  Oh yes she did.  Read about her adventure here.  Aimee is a devoted cyclist.  What will she tote on her two wheels next? 

If you have to host a brunch soon, say for Mother's day?  Or you just want to treat yourself and a loved one to a nice breakfast without a lot of hassle, make one or both of these overnight/make-ahead dishes.  You will be happy you did, come the next morning.