Monday, July 28, 2008

Supper Club: French Bistro Night, Lemon Cheesecake

D. and I are lousy members of our supper club. After our first meeting, we proceeded to miss the next two monthly meetings. To ensure we wouldn't miss another one, we wanted to host the fourth meeting. There was German night and Mexican night, so we decided to stick with the cultural theme and have French night. One of the reasons we picked it was that we enjoyed the dishes from D.'s birthday party and wanted to make them again.

Instead of the ratatouille, D. picked the glazed vegetable dish from
Bouchon. I enjoyed this dish, but I think the glaze is a bit too mild to alleviate the tubers' earthiness. Root vegetables are best for this recipe, so we went with carrots (both orange and golden), rutabagas, turnips, and beets. The result was a visually arresting dish.

Glazed Vegetables
(adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller)

Various root vegetables (carrots, turnips, rutabagas, beets, etc.)
Sugar (1 tbsp. per 2 cups vegetables)
Butter (1 tbsp. per 2 cups vegetables)
Thyme (1 sprig per 2 cups vegetables)
Rosemary (1 sprig per 2 cups vegetables)
Bay leaf (1 per 2 cups vegetables)
Chives, diced and trimmed to 2 inch "batons"

Place the vegetables in a single layer in a sauce pan or skillet. (Note: Keller advises cooking each vegetable separately for even cooking, but I was short on time and mixed them with no adverse effects.) Add enough cold water just to cover the vegetables. Heat on high until water boils. While heating, add sugar, butter, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Once water boils, lower heat to medium-high and cook vegetables at a hard simmer/soft boil. Cook until all of the liquid is reduced to glaze and toss vegetables to glaze. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle chives over.

If vegetables begin to turn mushy, remove from liquid and continue to reduce. Return vegetables to pan when liquid has been reduced to a sticky glaze.

Much to my chagrin, I'm now a fan of beets. However, I wouldn't do beets and rutabagas in the same dish, because they taste quite similarly and it's a little too much of a good thing. Pretty colors, though.

D. made fries again, which turned out beautifully. Fries at home are worth the trouble if one has patience for the heating times and the mess. The oil takes a long time to heat and cools rapidly when the fries are added. Mandolines make slicing infinitely easier and faster.

For dessert, D.D. and D.B. gave me lemons from their tree, so I made lemon cheesecake. This recipe was one that I made over and over again during '06-'07, then stopped because I tired of it. Still as good as I remember. It's a Paula Deen recipe, but she used Splenda and fat-free cream cheese, sour cream, and egg substitute. Although D. is diabetic, he's not a fan of Splenda-based desserts. For him, it's better to have a small portion made with sugar than a typical portion made with Splenda. (Disclaimer: This works for him and I realize all diabetics handle their regimens differently, so please understand that this is not to be applied to all diabetics.) When he saw this recipe, he shrugged and asked if I could substitute real sugar back into it. It worked really well. I also use real eggs, but I like to use light cream cheese and light sour cream.

Lemon Cheesecake
(adapted from Paula Deen's Joanne's Almost Fat-free Lemon Cheesecake)

1 3/4 cup crumbs made from Trader Joe's Butter Almond Thins (just about any butter-based cookie or wafer works, but I like the Butter Almond Thins)
1/4 cup butter, melted

3 x 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
6 tablespoons of lemon juice (I accidentally added 6 tablespoons once, which was meant for the lemon curd, and I found it works really well... for a lighter lemon flavor, use anywhere from 2 to 6 tablespoons)

Lemon curd:
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits
(Note: I find that store-bought curd tastes just as good as homemade, so it can be substituted in a pinch)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Crush Butter Almond Thins in a food processor. Measure out the crumbs, then mix with melted butter. Press into a greased springform pan, using the bottom of a drinking glass to even out the mixture. Bake for about 10 minutes or until edges have darkened and crust is set. After baking the crust, wrap aluminum foil around the bottom and sides of the springform pan, creating a barrier to prevent water from soaking the pan/crust.

While preparing the filling, heat water for a water bath. It just needs to be hot enough so the bath doesn't take too long to reach oven temperature. Do not allow the water to boil.

Combine cream cheese and sour cream and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy. For stand mixers, the paddle attachment works best. Add sugar gradually and continue beating until mixture is smooth. Lower mixer speed and add eggs one at a time. Beat only to incorporate. Gently beat in juice and zest. Pour into crust.

Set the springform pan into another pan (roasting pans work well) with high walls. Place pan in oven. Very carefully, add enough hot, not boiling, water to reach the middle of the springform pan. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hr. 15 min. or until filling is set and slightly jiggly. The water bath is essential for prevention of cracked fillings.

When cheesecake is done, be very careful while lifting the springform pan out of the water bath. Turn off oven and leave water bath inside to cool. Cool cheesecake completely and transfer to refrigerator.

In a double boiler, combine every ingredient for the lemon curd, except for the butter. Whisk until hot and frothy. Add butter gradually and continue whisking until mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from heat and cool. Curd should be jelly-like after it cools. Spread curd over cheesecake, then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Our next supper club meeting: brunch!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Cobbling with Henry VIII

It looks like TWD will be linked to Henry VIII for now, as we make our way through The Tudors. This Tuesday's recipe is Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler (page 415), hosted by Amanda of Like Sprinkles on a Cupcake. However, I'm not a fan of baked cherries or rhubarb, not to mention I had a lot of leftover fruit. Without further ado, let me present a Nectarine/White Peach/Blueberry Cobbler:

Dorie's recipe uses a basic dough to form little "biscuits" and the biscuits ride on top of a puddle of delicious goo made from mascerated fruit and a smidge of cornstarch. It's not a cobbler for me without oats, hence the sprinkling of oats.

Serve with vanilla ice cream and enjoy. Optional, as always, are the rants of England's whiniest (and most libidinous) king.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden

I write a lot of restaurant reviews on AoaAF and my take on reviewing is to keep it honest and as positive as possible. If it's good, praise it, and if it's bad... well, I try not to be too mean. Sometimes, though, there's an experience that really tests my profanity vocabulary (which is not small... and yes, it stays in my head) and I want to be diplomatic, but still convey my dissatisfaction with the experience.

Stone Brewing's World Bistro & Garden, I'm sad to say, was one of those experiences. I'll start with the positives:

The beer- Good beer and a huge selection.

The setting- The garden is lovely and there are wooden patio sets scattered throughout. We were lucky to find an empty one, but could only enjoy it for 10 minutes before they paged us for our reservation.

I'll pause here to say that if we had simply ordered beers and brought them out to the garden, it would have been fantastic. Idyllic, beautiful, and temperate. I'd have nothing to complain about.

The negatives:

The food- The menu touts their commitment to sustainable, organic, and local eating. That's great. I applaud any establishment that commits to serving whatever grows around here. I will happily pay the oft-higher prices that comes with artisanal and/or organic food from small businesses.

However, I must say that, no matter where ingredients are sourced from, they must be prepared properly. By properly, I mean the dishes should be edible. Let's start with the onion rings.

They're beer-battered in Arrogant Bastard Ale and described as "tempura-style". For one thing, panko crumbs make tempura flaky and tender, which these rings weren't. The other thing is that there is a difference between crispy and hard. These were fried for so long that they were indestructible. It's a shame, because the batter was tasty and the Stone Smoked Porter BBQ sauce was decent.

Burgers came overdone and dried out, but the chicken schnitzel was the evening's winner. The schnitzel was well-prepared and delicious. Another friend ordered the spicy beef and broccoli stir-fry, which was all spice and no flavor.

Last, we come to my mac 'n beer cheese. It was a very flavorful dish and I loved the sausage, the sun-dried tomatoes, and the crusty bread crumbs on top. They didn't divulge the cheeses used, but whatever it was, it separated into fat and curds. Fontina, perhaps? My dish looks great in the picture, but what wasn't captured was the centimeter-deep puddle of oil at the bottom.

The service- After they paged us, they made us wait 15 minutes. Why? Because the runner forgot to prepare a table. Nevermind that the restaurant was almost empty and "preparing" a table meant grabbing menus and leading us to it. Another half hour passed before our server showed up. It took a long time to take orders, bring our drinks, bring the food, etc. Our server seemed harried and overworked, yet there were lots of other bussers and servers who were milling around chatting with each other. Let us reflect again that the restaurant was almost empty. The general impression we received was that we should feel lucky to be let in.


My friend asked to speak to a manager about the service and the response was, "I'm sorry you feel that way."

Well, if there's a next time, I'm going to stake out a seat in the garden, order a beer and an appetizer, and enjoy the view.

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens
1999 Citracado Parkway
Escondido, CA 92029

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Parkhouse Eatery

D.B. and D.D. very kindly took D. and me out for a celebratory birthday dinner. I'm grossly behind on the blogging, because it's been nearly a month since my birthday. Despite being very close to University Heights, we rarely venture north of Park and El Cajon Blvd. D&D thought it'd be great to introduce us to Parkhouse Eatery, which I had heard about on Chowhound.

I highly recommend eating on the patio, weather permitting. Well, given it's July in San Diego, the weather is always permitting. The food was very good and leaned towards the homey and rustic. We started with focaccia and a lovely olive/sun-dried tomato tapanade. I love tapanades.

Ok, so this is where I think I was either pegged as a food-blogger or a weirdo. D.B. went to use the facilities and heard one of the servers whisper loudly, "Oh, my God, she's taking a picture of the bread!" Plus, we ended dinner with a discussion of New York and the D.'s were asking us where we'd eat next. I was joking about Per Se (yes, I'm a fan of Thomas Keller), which makes D. sweat, because it's a $275 prie fixe menu. Had to go into a little background into who Chef Keller is, which led to a little bit of gushing, and I started getting bemused looks from our server.

Great, she's not only a weirdo who photographs her food, but some kind of pretentious nut who worships a chef?

Shit. Well, if you're out there, Mr. Server, I'm merely an enthusiast... nothing more. Pretentious, maybe, but still an enthusiast.

Anyway, the food was delightful. D.B. had the mac and cheese topped with grilled scallops. He said that the sauce was a little too rich and that mascarpone may not have been the ideal cheese for this dish, but it was good. The scallops looked fantastic.

My own dish, the old-fashioned down home beef stew, was lovely, although I like to eat my stews with plenty of carbs. The beef was tender, polenta cubes a nice touch, the veggies perfectly cooked, and the blue cheese was a nice touch. The only thing I could have done without were the green beans. Texturally and flavor-wise, they didn't work with the dish. As for the carbs, the bread was a good accompaniment, but what worked really well was taking the leftovers home, making rice, and piling the stew on it.

It's a great neighborhood restaurant. Drop by when you have a chance, and for goodness' sake, be discreet with the picture-taking.

Parkhouse Eatery
4574 Park Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92116

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not blogging much...

...because somebody likes to take over the keyboard and type with his muzzle. I was minding my own business, reading mmm-yoso!!! on Google Reader when Bear came along with his "Hey, pat me, not the computer!" act.

I tried to fix the red-eye, but he still looks possessed.

Anyway, it's been busy week and I haven't had time to blog. The backlog's becoming quite long, so I'll be posting quite a bit over the next week or so. For now, an amendment to my previous post about the Central Coast:

I can't believe I forgot to mention this, but one of our favorite stops is a strawberry stand in Santa Maria. Right off the 101, it carries huge and juicy berries for very reasonable prices. A flat cost $18 and the every berry (not just the layer on top) were plump and juicy.

Strawberry Stand
From 101, exit Betteravia Rd.
Head east on Betteravia
Strawberry stand is next to the Mobil station, just past the off-ramp

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Central Coast: More Wineries, Robin's, Piedras Blancas Rookery

On June 17-19, we spent a lovely weekend in the Central Coast with M.T. and M.S. It was, like my previous trip up, the epitome of the lazy weekend. We revisited many locations from the previous trip, because I wanted D. to try them. There was another Carlock's run, dinner at Thai Boat (where service was much faster), and revisits to Justin, Adelaida, and Pasolivo. Check out Adelaida's walnut grove. In March, I took a picture of the same spot:

The trees are full of leaves, but the grass is gone. Ah, how I miss spring. We visited two new-to-me wineries: Eberle and J. Lohr. I didn't taste at J. Lohr because my stomach was upset (wine + large milkshake at lunch = angry belly), but the wines at Eberle were nice. D. bought two bottles of the Sangiovese. I was still a little off-kilter, but I liked it best. We also had the opportunity to tour the wine caves, which were interesting.

We also headed to Cambria for lunch at Robin's. I've been to Robin's several times and I really enjoy two things: the fish tacos and the lemon cheesecake. This time, however, I chose one of their specials, angel hair pasta with smoked salmon and a tomato cream sauce.

It was a fine dish, but there were two things... this was clearly not angel hair and there was about 1 cup of cooked pasta, making it an absurdly tiny serving for $13. I know, it doesn't look that small, but there's no depth to the plate. The huge wedge of yummy garlic bread was some consolation, though. Not that I expect three meals out of one serving, but I should be able to feel full afterwards.

Service was very pleasant, but very slow and absentminded. Lunch took over 2 hours, which would have been annoying had we not been on vacation. After lunch, the elephant seal rookery at Piedras Blancas, north of San Simeon (aka home of Hearst Castle).

Fabulous stop. Turns out I have a 13x optical zoom that focuses really well, hence the close-ups. They're inviting you to the molting party. A shockingly low 16-ish% of these guys reach adulthood, so protecting them is something to think about. Always visit one of the knowledgeable volunteer docents for a quick update on how the population is doing.

Adelaida Cellars
5805 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446

J. Lohr Winery and Tasting Room
6169 Airport Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Robin's Restaurant
4095 Burton Drive
Cambria, CA 93428

Piedras Blancas Rookery
Highway 1
14 miles north of Cambria

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hamilton's Tavern & Cafe, Heaven Sent Desserts

I inched closer to 30.

So... I drank beer.

That's the way to ring in another year of existence. I don't feel old, but I didn't feel like making a big deal out of my birthday, either. M.T. and M.S. met us for dinner and beers at Hamilton's Tavern and Cafe. Later, J.T. joined us for dessert at Heaven Sent Desserts.

Hamilton's is a fun pub in South Park. Great selection of beers and they recently opened the cafe next door. We had brats and grilled cheese sandwiches. I enjoyed the "farmer in the dell" grilled cheese, which had manchego, chard, and onion jam. Yum.

For dessert, we headed to Heaven Sent Desserts in North Park. I heard they've had a new pastry chef for a while, so it was a good time to visit.

As always, the interior was lovely. The pastries are looking fabulous. Not in a mood for cake, I indulged in a chocolate-banana malted parfait. Chocolate pudding, bananas, malted cookie crumbs, and whipped cream layered in a tall glass. Note to Heaven Sent: a shorter, wider glass would probably work better, even though presentation might not be so impressive. I was given a longer spoon, but I was practically spelunking into the depths of the dessert.

Anyway, delicious overall and great combination of flavors. Just like the Whoppers on top, this dessert satisfies.

Hamilton's Tavern and Cafe

1521 30th St.
San Diego, CA 92102

Heaven Sent Desserts
3001 University Ave.
San Diego, CA 92104

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie: Double-Crusted Blueberry Pie and Henry VIII

I've wanted to watch The Tudors for a while. So, this past Sunday, I had a little get-together for the first two episodes of the show and Dorie Greenspan's double-crusted blueberry pie. To keep my baking muscles in shape, I joined Tuesdays With Dorie. This week's recipe from Baking: From My Home To Yours (pages 361-363) was selected by Amy of South In Your Mouth.

I'd say the pie, with its rustic decadence, definitely paired well with the show. Watching Henry VIII whine, pout, and whore his way through his time as king is really entertaining and worthy of an excellent dessert. On a food-related side note, Henry VIII ends up looking an awful lot like Mario Batali. I'm not sure how the producers think that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers will end up looking like MB, but whatever. He's pretty and petulant. Oh, a heads-up to those considering The Tudors: there's a lot of gratuitous boobage.

Great, my first post for the group and I'm talking about boobs.

Right, back to the pie.

The one thing I love about fruit pies is that they're easy to make. This pie took about 3 hours, including chilling the dough. Take Dorie's failproof crust and add macerated blueberries. The crust stayed flaky and crisp, even when I accidentally broke the top crust while transferring it to the pie plate. It had to be rolled back into a ball, re-chilled, and rolled out again. Despite all of the handling, it baked into a crisp and flavorful crust.

It's a fantastic dessert, with the blueberries being both rich and refreshing at the same time. Paired with French vanilla ice cream, it's a moment of indulgence.

Henry VIII would approve.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bear-Sitters' Dinner

There are very few words that properly describe my appreciation to our lovely group of Bear-sitters. Our friends volunteered to rotate through the house, keeping Bear at home and in his routine. He was happily hanging out with his aunts and uncles and we didn't worry about him staying with a stranger or in a kennel.

As a small token of thanks, we invited everyone over to try out a couple of recipes from the Penzeys One magazine. When I subscribed in-store, the cashier said I could have a copy of the current issue.

One of their ingredients of focus was honey, so D. wanted to try their pulled pork sandwiches and the Scotcheroos. I thought cornbread would pair well with the pork sandwiches, so we added corn muffins.

Honey Barbecue Sandwiches
(Sourced from Penzeys One, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2008)

6 lbs. pork (pork butt or chuck roast work well)
1 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup hot sauce (recommended: Frank's Hot Sauce)
1 cup classic Coke
1 cup honey
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. aleppo pepper (paprika is an acceptable substitute)
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Medium-sized saucepan

Place pork and water in crockpot and cook on high until meat falls off the bone, approximately 5 hours. Discard bones and juice/fat in pot. Pull meat with forks or, alternately, cut into smaller pieces and place in stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, gently stir meat pieces until they shred. Place meat back into crock pot. Combine sauce ingredients in saucepan and heat on low while stirring thoroughly. Once warm, pour sauce over meat, stir, and heat for 30 minutes. Serve on French rolls. (Note: the photo has the pork served on crusty French bread, which is a little too porous)

Cornbread recipe can be found here. Two changes: adding corn kernels to the batter and baking it in a muffin tin. Grease muffin tin liberally. Reserve two tablespoons of the 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Drain one can of whole corn kernels and mix with flour to keep them from sinking. Mix into batter, scoop into the unlined tin, and bake for about 18 minutes.

As for the Scotcheroos, they were so good that I forgot to take a picture. They're a great take on Rice Krispy treats.

(Sourced from Penzeys One, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2008)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup (it doesn't matter if it's light or dark... I used dark)
1/2 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 cups crispy rice cereal
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips

9x13 inch pan
Medium-sized saucepan

Grease pan. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and honey in saucepan. Cook over medium heat and stir frequently until mixture begins to bubble (roughly 5 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in peanut butter and vanilla, and mix well. Add cereal and combined thoroughly. Grease hands very lightly and press mixture into pan. Melt chips together in microwave, heating at 70% power in 30 second intervals. Stir between each interval until all of the chips are melted and combined. Pour over cereal mixture. Cool, then cut into pieces and serve.

With the holiday weekend coming up, these dishes are quick and require very little face-time with an oven, which is a plus if the weather is a blazing inferno. Happy 4th of July!