Thursday, January 28, 2010

2009 without a whisk, part II

Church&State - Los Angeles

Approaching this modern French bistro deep in Downtown Los Angeles, I felt like I was discovering a diamond in the rough. I had parked right at that corner 4 years prior, and at that time, it was absolutely a safety concern for a young girl by herself in the darkness of night, purse clutched and discreetly looking left, right, behind, and repeat. This time, I hardly recognized the intersection of Industrial and Mateo with the strung bulbs at Church & State illuminating it like a beacon and drawing me in like a moth to a flame.

I was meeting my sister again (funny how she shows up at so many memorable meals, isn't it?) who had just been picked from LAX by our friend, James, and our most avid dining partner-in-crime, Christina. It had been a week of instant messaging exchanges deliberating the menu and linking to food porn shots from various bloggers' visits, oohing, ahhing, and ogling until, finally, it was our time.

We wasted no time ordering up a storm and soon the bone marrow, salt cod fritters, French onion soup, and escargot crowded the table, followed by the hamachi, duck confit, steak frites, braised short rib, and Epoisse mac 'n cheese. Among my favorites were the bread pork trotter fritter on vinegary lentils with frisée and a poached egg, and the pig's ears. I could eat anything dipped in their Béarnaise, but the oreilles were particularly comforting -- like fries with the condiment of my dreams. Pigs' ears prepared in the Taiwanese way have never appealed to me, but I think about them deep fried and dipped in Béarnaise weekly.

The succulent escargot were baked individually with puff pastry hats, so buttery that I can't imagine having more than one, but what a good one it was!

The tarte flambée was another favorite and though a somewhat different breed than pizza, I would probably routinely choose the union of the sweet caramelized onion, savory lardons, Gruyère, and flatbread over its Italian brethren.

We savored dish after dish of well-executed French classics (along with some inspired creations) and lingered over the modern soundtrack and snapshot-of-Paris ambiance, mostly because we were too full to move. We were envious no more.

Egg - Brooklyn

Brunch is arguably my favorite meal of the day. I mean, I love them all, but there's something about getting together with people in the daytime, sometimes over mimosas or Bloody Marys, and sharing plates of eggs, pancakes, or salty pork products that brings a smile to my face and a glimmer to my eye. After over an hour long wait on a particularly warm April day, we were finally seated on the small patio out front at Egg. Naturally, we had been analyzing the menu during our entire wait and I immediately ordered the biscuit with Colonel Bill Newsom's ham, fig jam and Grafton cheddar along with Anson mills grits and an additional side of fennel sausage. The cheddar and lardons grits at Square One in Los Angeles were my introduction to how sinfully delicious doctored up grits could be, and Anson Mills at Egg cemented how simply delicious unadorned grits are. Ana and Lynn, both ex-Angelenos that had moved eastward ordered Eggs Rothko with bacon and candied bacon, respectively, to round out or four food groups of swine and an ideal brunch was born. My dish wasn't quite as fulfilling during my second trip out to New York in November and the wait was horrendous [they're sticklers about having the entire party present before seating (even if you're just walking up the street) and won't hesitate to skip your party over, so remember to stay put], but the food was so soul satisfying in April that I am more than wiling to give it a third, fourth, and fifth attempt at redeeming itself. It was just that good.

Piccolo - Venice, CA

Over the year, Piccolo has become the neighborhood restaurant that is neither in my neighborhood, nor in my budget to make a regular indulgence, but as soon as I step inside, I feel like I'm coming home. The establishment (pre-expansion) is small enough that the heads of the entire staff turn whenever someone walks in door. Pietro, the sommelier, is usually the first to greet me due to his proximity to the door, followed by a warm exchange with Vittorio, the owner, and finally, cheek kisses with Roberto in the kitchen.

My eldest sister, Kat, visited right before her birthday this year and because it has such a lovely setting for a party of two, I decided to take her to Piccolo, where everyone knows your name (after a few visits). I couldn't help but feel like I was living within a vignette of Italy when presented with a plate of seared scallops sitting atop parmesan fondue or one of their reliably satisfying fish specials.

We had a fantastic time on this summer's evening and didn't have a care in the world in those couple of hours, having rich risotto for one course, and a light tortelli in broth for another. Truffles adorn many dishes here and though I wasn't allowed to touch them during my first visit of the year, at this meal I was given the privilege of shaving my own atop my risotto -- and you can believe I took advantage of this opportunity. The monkfish over black rice was a perfect secondi and so good as a break between the creamy risotto and dessert, and then they were even kind enough to plate the pistachio-lemon curd cake that I had made for my sister and again top off our glasses with prosecco. The meal began with one of my favorite dishes and ended with something I created out of love just for that occasion which would have made the meal enjoyable enough, but the warmth of the staff made our night feel like a catch-up session with old friends. It doesn't even feel right to describe their manner and interaction as "service".

L'as du Fallafel - Paris

I had bookmarked this place long before I had actually booked a ticket to Paris after reading about it from David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan. How could so many people be wrong? Lenny Kravitz loves it! My first experience with falafel was not too long ago and probably mediocre, but I really liked it and though I still have never tried Arax in Los Angeles, visiting L'as du Fallafel was an absolute necessity. There would be enough sit-down meals on this trip, and flavorful ethnic food for cheap was right up my alley. By my luck, I had happened upon the storefront in my first 2 hours in Paris, it being right down the street from the apartment I was staying at in Le Marais. I decided to wait until my travel companions flew in before I joined the crowds in line for perfectly fried balls of chickpeas not knowing that Liberty doesn't like falafel, but at first bite, she was converted. "Okay, maybe I do."

We joined the rest of the crowd on the cobblestone lane not waiting a minute to dig into our piccante falafel and shawarma with cabbage, eggplant, and tzatziki. It wasn't the cleanest snack that we shamelessly passed around with sauce dripping down our fingers , but we knew we'd be back before we left Paris -- and we were.

Elite - Monterey Park

Right next to Yi Mei on the same stretch of Atlantic Boulevard is Elite Restaurant. I had gone for dim sum a few years ago and was quite pleased with the quality of their check-to-order dim sum, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I returned (although there seemed to be far more servers peddling their dishes from trays than before). The zha liang - rice noodle wrapped around a Chinese doughnut and drizzled with soy sauce and sesame seeds - was so fresh that the doughnut was still crispy at first bite, a rarity when it comes to this seldom seen dish. The doughnut was also filled with shrimp cake, which I had never encountered but made for the most delicious iteration I've ever had. Their pu shi dan ta - egg custard baked in a flaky, buttery, tart shell with a burnished, caramelized top - was also among the best I've had stateside. Normally I'm not a fan of the Macau-style tarts as they typically come with shortcrust pastry, but this two-bite wonder, the custard still warm and coconut scented, contained within a crust so flaky -- I forgot it was Macau-style at all. It had all the merits of a Portuguese nata with its brulee'd top and deep, yolky color, cradled in the crust I love most.

A couple weeks later when my sisters, Katherine and Jessica, were in town, I decided I had to drag them here to at least try these two dishes. We started the morning off volunteering at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and were famished by the time we sorted the last kiwi. After a satisfying meal at Mo-chica at Mercado la Paloma, I made the executive decision to detour to Monterey Park so as to pick up Cousin Alb's "many" flank steak shao bing, and to have them try the two dim sum dishes I had relished so much.

Having had a full lunch already and with a crowd still waiting for tables outside Elite, we ordered the zha liang and dan ta for takeout and as soon as it was ready, we laid claim to a couple spots on the bench outside, tore open the plastic bag and dug into the goods. This really isn't a sight you see too often -- at least not for dim sum. You either enjoy the food at your table, or maybe bring it home, although I think that's pretty unusual as well. The elders were probably frowning upon our devouring of the vittles like heathens, but I have to believe we sold a few orders of each dish to the parties still waiting for tables to open up with the enthusiasm with which we consumed the greasy goodness. People would only come to dim sum and order takeout, digging into it right then and there if it were fantastic -- and it was. We made friends on their own food marathon between mouthfuls, so in these mere fifteen minutes, it became clear that food absolutely unites us all.

LudoBites - Los Angeles

My office moved from Melrose to West Third Street in April and upon hearing the news that LudoBites would be setting up shop across the street at Breadbar for their second incarnation and having missed a meal at the original, I resolved I would be having at least three meals there during their stay. It wasn't really an active goal to achieve -- more like a passing thought in the excitement of knowing some amazing dishes would be turned out nightly just across the way and only for a limited time -- but by the end of their engagement, that forecast had been realized. With an ever-changing menu posted daily on their website, it only took a skim of the new offerings for insane people like myself to decide, "Yeah, okay. Why not?!" I had no intention of missing out any work of true genius.

Seared duck breast with carrot cake coulis? You had me at carrot cake.

Foie gras croque monsieur on squid ink bread? I'll be there.

Chocolate cupcake with foie gras chantilly and candied bacon-almonds? I'll have two. (And I did over the course of a few visits.)
And so it happened again this past December. LudoBites re-emerged at Royal/T, a Japanese cosplay gallery and cafe in Culver City, and again, all rational thought went out the window as I paid them a few visits. With the Twitterverse up in arms over how transcendental the new version of the fried chicken was, how could I not go back having missed it on my previous visit??

LudoBites (being the blood, sweat, and tears of Chef Ludovic Lefebvre and his gracious wife, Krissy) was responsible for countless moments of bliss for me this year, and it was the product of all the elements that, for me, make up an evening for the books. At the first taste of the chorizo-cantaloupe soup with cornichon granita on my inaugural visit, I was hooked. From a blank face, not knowing what to expect, I felt the corners of my mouth slowly upturn into a smile in disbelief of how well its individual components worked together, but completely sated by the result. It's what whimsical food does - peaks curiosity, encourages risk, boggles the mind - and when it works, you feel like you did when you realized that you do like sushi -- a lot!!

The caliber of the food has been well-documented on the internet, and I probably can't dissect any dish more than what's already been said, but it's the entire experience of LudoBites that has resonated with me enough to return more times than would be normal. Sitting on the patio of Breadbar on a mild August evening, three and a half hours passed in the blink of an eye savoring veal tartare, cantal polenta with oxtail and truffle, and crème fraîche panna cotta between sips of wine, fits of laughter, and then maybe another order of pork belly??

There were bloggers aplenty running around between table and chef, the air electrified, it being the last night of 2.0. Conversation flowed among my dining companions (some of my best friends) as well as with neighboring tables and before I knew it, it was midnight. I don't know if it was the inspired food, the outdoor setting, the effortlessly warm service, the charmingly French chef, or a combination thereof, but as I've described to friends before, it was as if time stood still. After the meal, it was back to reality -- only now with the recollection of an incomparably good time.

And there we have it, my most beloved meals of 2009. Perhaps I romanticize an experience more often than I should, but I can't and don't want to help it. The light gleams through a window just so, or I hear a crescendo in a Radiohead song just as the waitstaff comes purposefully toward our table with our entrees, and in that moment I am utterly contented. And to be completely content in any moment -- well, I think I'll just collect as many of those as I can, and know that 2010 offers many, many more.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2009 without a whisk, part I

2009 has been an epic dining year, and I have the additional pounds on the scale to prove it. As much as I try to balance decadent meals out with lentil soups and raw kale salads (that I actually love, I do!), the food I've enjoyed this year has emerged the victor, but starting the year off in Asia, and with Europe and a few trips to San Francisco in the mix, the damage was inevitable - and pretty worth it.

I've been a lucky girl to have had so many pleasurable bites that I can't even recount them all, but the meals in which the stars and the moon and the planets aligned to create an all-around amazing dining experience are the ones that I will remember for years to come. Whether they've been savored at white tablecloth establishments or standing in a doorway, with friends, family, or strangers, these outings share the common thread of having delicious food with great company in a lovely setting. In no particular order, my favorite dining experiences of the year...

Spring - Paris

I know it defies logic to go to a restaurant by an American chef in Paris for some, but after reading so many solid reviews and hearing about his weekend lobster roll and duck fat fries fry-ups, it became a spot I was willing to fend off traditionalists to try. And having scored a few seats in the dining room of 16, it just seemed like fate. We trekked up to the restaurant from the Poissoniere Metro stop with the rays of the setting sun creating a path to Spring's front window as if it were lighting the way to Mecca. Once seated, we were given a generous block of butter flecked with dark specks. As soon as we tasted the rich spread, further investigation was necessary and the chef revealed that it was in fact Bordier beurre aux algues which is more than he pays for his foie gras.

More diners filled the few tables while the kitchen staff calmly prepped just a glance away, and as the day turned into night, we were treated to potato dumplings with langoustine, chard, radish, in a bouillabaisse scented with cilantro, Thai basil, and kaffir lime. The dumplings were perfectly yielding and not at all gummy sitting alongside chunks of tender langoustine, but the star of the dish was the broth. Its flavors were rich and clean and then we realized there was something familiar about it -- like the phở of our youth that our dads would take us for in Oakland's Chinatown, only much more refined and no oil slick in sight. We were also given a suprême de pintade(guinea fowl)on carrot-ginger purée with fresh almonds and arugula. It was our first experience with fresh almonds (though not our last on this trip) with a round flavor that went well with all the other components of the dish. One of our desserts was an olive oil ganache with Lucques olives (that are now, hands down, my favorite olives ever) and crunchy croccante pieces. I could have licked the plate clean of that ganache, but, being in Paris, I thought maybe I should employ some self-control.

The food was a fantastic start to the trip, but the company and setting made it all the more memorable. My sister, Katherine, and cousin, Liberty, joined me in this jaunt around Western Europe and they always bring a good time, without fail. Their plane had landed that morning and I had arrived two days earlier and hadn't felt the need to spoil myself with sit-down meals, so this was also my first Parisian meal. We were giddy with anticipation of the sights, sounds, and eats we'd encounter the next two weeks, and also completely content in these few hours, enjoying wine, butter, and the company of a few other American couples at our table. There was one pair from Chicago with a daughter actually attending the same high school that Chef Daniel Rose graduated from and also sharing mutual acquaintances with the chef, and they were a delight to share our well-worn communal table with. Talking about food and culture and travel with other food enthusiasts over deceptively simple dishes on a Parisian summer's night -- how could I not fall in love with this meal?

Le Chateaubriand - Paris

Another hard-to-book table that we miraculously scored in Paris was at Le Chateaubriand. We were famished from running around the City of Lights all day, but this meal was an opportunity that we weren't about to pass up. They switched out our server for an English-speaking one that was handsome, effortlessly charming, and had a way of speaking about the dishes that made us hang on every word. From my understanding, he was also a chef, but why he wasn't in the kitchen, I don't know -- too many cooks stirring the pot? Like Spring and many other restaurants in Paris, they offered a prix fixe menu, and it started with salted raw cod with fresh almonds, cucumber, and mint. The fish was a most appropriate start to the meal, as fresh as any I've ever had and paired with elements that only enhanced the flavor of the fish. It was completely refreshing, unlike anything you'd normally associate with French cuisine, but of course, this is Le Chateaubriand where traditional fare is taken apart and put back together in a way that you may not even recognize, but with eye-opening results.

The cod was followed by seared tuna with white lardo, pomme de terre, gingered onions, and dill and then rare veal with golden beets, red beet puree, turnips, purple basil, and spring onions. After our Spring and Le Chateaubriand meals, the unassuming spring onion, unadulterated save for a sprinkle sea salt and oil, became our vegetal obsession.

The atmosphere was distinctly French, with the vast majority of diners speaking the native tongue, but the cuisine was anything but. Combined with the most gracious of servers, it became the Parisian dining experience at which the bar is now set.

Comerç 24 - Barcelona

I realize this is another European meal, and maybe it has to do with the relaxation of being on vacation, seizing the opportunity to indulge in a city's best food, and the feeling of not having a care in the immediate future, but I assure you, we had bites that have no business being in this post, and other great meals will end up being excluded too. Not having the foresight to attempt a reservation at elBulli as soon as it was possible, we decided on a worthy substitute - Comerç 24 from Carles Abellan, formerly of elBulli.

We showed up a day early for our reservation unknowingly, but they were able to seat us in direct view of the kitchen anyway. It started with a tasting of olive oils, each more intense than the previous, followed by an eight course meal that was really more like twenty. We had monkfish with chinese garlic, sesame, and seaweed, the marinated sardines with wasabi root, toasted breadcrumbs and pistachios, spherical black truffle, parmesan, and quail egg in consomme, and the kinder egg (poached chicken egg with truffle and mashed potato) - all of which were outstanding.

The sirloin with strawberries, cherries, and sheep's milk cheese was fantastic, but the best dish of the night for me may have been the duck rice with foie gras ice cream and crushed, toasted corn. The rice, incredibly infused with the flavor of duck with a not-quite-risotto mouthfeel, combined with the rich foie gras cream to create a salty and smooth bite, and the toasted corn provided another welcome dimension to the dish. Olive oil continued to be a showstopper for dessert as chocolate ganache floated in a shallow pool of it alongside bread then dusted with sea salt.

With prime view of the kitchen at work, it felt like we were in dinner theater. Everyone was focused on the task at hand, furiously working, and completely in sync with each other, while we added all the commentary in the balcony. The dining room wasn't the warmest of environments, but nearly every dish was a gastronomical delight.

Fu Hang Dou Jiang Dian - Taipei

I frequently dream of Chinese breakfast fare, but rarely allow myself the have it. On the rare occasions that I throw caution to the wind, stateside (specifically in the greater Los Angeles area) Yi-Mei in Monterey Park is where it's at for Chinese crullers, egg and green onion omelettes wrapped in tortilla-like skins, and sliced beef with preserved vegetable filled shao bing (Cousin Alb even had me bring these when I visited New York last. How many? "Many."), but the first place my siblings and I go to eat after touching down on Taiwanese soil is Fu Hang Dou Jiang Dian (Fu Hang Soy Milk Shop). Hidden on the second floor of a dingy building that doesn't appear to have been renovated since World War II(except maybe for the addition of an elevator), this traditional Chinese breakfast spot is filled with students as well as long-time patrons itching to get their fix of naan-like shao bing.

Taipei-bound flights from the West Coast nearly always arrive at the crack of dawn so by the time we arrive within the city limits, our stomachs are screaming to be sated, and our dad is always willing to accompany us for breakfast. We grew up eating these flaky, baked, rectangular breads, filled with either sliced, marinated flank steak and cilantro, or the long doughnuts, but this place is one of the few shops that still make their bread the traditional way and you can watch the entire process perched on a luxurious plastic stool, elbows gingerly avoiding any sticky spots still remaining on the yellowing table. What makes their method so interesting is that they create an oven from an oil drum, much like an Indian tandoor, and reach in the barrel to stick wet pieces of sugar-sprinkled dough on the walls to bake. The dough crisps up on the exterior with a slight sweetness to the crust and has a tender, pillowy, green onion-flecked interior. Even without the convenience of being street-level like most other Chinese breakfast joints, motorists literally wheeling up to the storefront for their eats and revving off, this place has survived for decades. And they've not merely survived -- long lines still form in the morning hours.
My sisters got to Taipei a couple days before I did, so they had already had their customary Fu Hang Dou Jiang Dian visit before I arrived. It was just me and my dad on this trip, which reminded me of mornings growing up in the Bay Area when I would be the only other person awake early enough to keep him company on shopping trips to Oakland's Chinatown for our family's restaurant.

These days, our parents reside in Taipei with long visits back to the Bay Area every now and again. Quality time spent one-on-one with my dad is a rare event, but splitting a steaming bowl of savory soy milk, slightly curdled from vinegar, well-done doughnut bits bobbing on the surface among globules of orange tinged chili oil and of course the Chinese crullers embraced by their thick, signature shao bing, I almost thought I was fourteen again.

Borough Market - London

Doing the necessary dining research for London, it became clear that we would have to pay a visit to Borough Market for its food stalls. I love California farmers' markets more for its bounty of fresh produce than the omelettes, tamales, and vegan Korean banchan stalls, but with this marketplace just past the south bank of the Thames, its food offerings were not to be missed. It started off innocently enough with raclette from Kappacasein - oozy raclette cheese scraped over boiled potatoes, baby gherkins, and onions. I specifically sought this plate out after only learning about it from my Borough Market investigation, and with the crowd around the stall as well as the whiff of cheese I picked up, it wasn't too difficult to find. It looked like a mess on styrofoam, but the melted cheese and potatoes with the salty addition of gherkins created a snack we had to force ourselves to put down in order to save room for everything else the market had to offer. I picked up a twice-baked banana cake from Flour Power City Bakery before we made our way inside to navigate the maze of even more stalls.

The marketplace was brimming with patrons when we arrived as it was just about lunch hour and if I were to ever live and work in London, I'd want this adjacent to my workplace for lunch too. The options are countless and incredibly reasonable to boot. We picked up five sandwiches among the three of us - salt beef from De Gustibus (similar to what we know as corned beef in the states), a pork sausage with caramelized onions, a pork belly, and two others that I can't even remember anymore. They were all so affordable, so why not try them all?? We posted outside Monmouth Coffee which was another must-try and realized it was right around the corner from Neal's Yard Dairy. Taking a gander at the cheese selection was a given, but seeing that they made fresh Greek style yogurt -- I was as good as sold. It was thick, tangy, and made me wish I had a cow to milk every morning so I might be able to produce something even half as good.

So there we were on the corner with the spoils of our first round of the market, all of us juggling a sandwich or two in one hand and a container of yogurt or cup of coffee in the other, directly across from well-dressed businessmen drinking their pints outside of the pub. The bubbling, wide iron woks of Thai curry were intoxicating, but we were too full to order a bowl. Liberty would have to try it the next day and she proclaimed it perhaps the best she had ever had.
Even without the curry we looked like crazy gluttons, but, in that moment, the crisp London surrounding us, there was no where else I would have rather been.

Momofuku Ko - New York

I paid a visit to dear friends in New York City at the end of April and as soon as I booked the flight, I knew I would be up by 7am every morning starting a week before my trip so as to secure a reservation for David Chang's third Momofuku outpost. Diners sit at the L-shaped bar directly in front of the chefs much like at a sushi bar and watch them do their magic. Online reservations are the only way to ensure a seat and it's a race to click on the green check marks as soon as 10am Eastern time hits as they turn into red Xs within seconds. The first couple of days were a little shaky and the reservations eluded me, but at my third attempt, the gods were on my side and I had scored a late reservation for two.
It was a given that my cousin Albert would join me for dinner at Ko as a fellow food lover (who are we kidding?? - it's in our blood!) and New York resident. The meal was strong from start to finish with a melt-in-your-mouth biscuit with black pepper butter for an amuse bouche and funnel cake for dessert, with the signature frozen foie gras shaved over lychee as well as the soft poached egg with caviar filling out the menu.

The chefs prepare all the dishes before your eyes with a quiet calm that makes you nervous just to be sitting in front of them. They aren't the most engaging bunch, but neither are sushi chefs so maybe it's excusable. They're there to excite our taste buds and on this occasion, the food was flawless.
Being only 3 months my senior, Albert and I have literally grown up together. From third grade until high school, we were in all the same classes, then in college we not only shared classes, but became roommates as well. Six years later, his departure for law school in New York in the Summer of 2008 was surreal and I experienced an unsettling feeling that things would never be the same. It hasn't been a negative change -- we are, after all, adults and can't hang on to our security blankets forever, but now, it's always a relief to see him, and it was particularly special to share this highly anticipated meal at Ko, just he and I.

to be continued...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 any other name...

I am a faulted human being, but if nothing else, I try to be a woman of my word. Albeit, I have my slip-ups too, but more often than not, if I commit to something, I'll make it happen. Whether I'm having dinner with a friend but dead tired, or being dragged to an event that I have even less desire to attend than when I first reluctantly said I would, if I said, "Yes", you can trust that I'll come through.

Last week, when Teanna of Spork and Foon tweeted an apology to all the Tuesdays With Dorie bakers for this week's choice of Mrs. Vogel's Scherben, I immediately decided I would definitely participate and responded so. There it was. Written in stone.

And then I found out it required deep-frying.

My heart sank. I have avoided deep-frying for as long as I have been cooking. Even if the recipe sounds like heaven realized, I will mentally drool about it and then file it away until...never. That Ad Hoc fried chicken recipe that I've dreamed of having ever since I heard about their Fried Chicken Mondays nearly two years ago -- that will never be made. Taiwanese breakfast crullers that are a crazy weakness of mine -- I'll have to keep driving to the San Gabriel Valley for them, because they're sure as hell not going to be fried up in my home! I've imagined oil sputtering all over the place, getting multiple burns, and then having to dispose that glut of oil!! Not excited.

But, like I said, it was written in stone, so I sucked up all my qualms and started making the dough. The preparation is terribly simple and uses only one bowl!! (That little detail almost made up for the deep-frying.) This morning, I heated up the canola oil as instructed and dropped in the strips of dough. Amazingly, this recipe is not only simple to assemble, but cooks so quickly as well! The strips emerged in every which shape, but that was to be expected and soon, the job was done.

The scherben were a hit in the office, but it wasn't received as such. To my Guatemalan right-hand man, they were corbatas -- a taste of his youth and the reason behind a wistful, adolescent grin. To my Armenian co-worker who spent several years of her childhood in Italy, they were chiacchiere. It brought back memories of her mother in the kitchen, warm pastry puffs at the ready week after week. Though traditionally, both confections incorporate different ingredients in their composition than these scherben, the scherben were close enough to their recollections that making them was worth even oil-disposal inconvenience.

Aside from the frying smell permeating through the kitchen and living room and uncertainty in how I would get rid of the used oil, the process was incredibly painless. I can't believe I have avoided frying for so long! I'm not in any hurry to fire up another pot of canola oil, but suddenly, those recipes that I've filed away for "never" have been re-filed for "sometime".

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Late for work.

The first and only tarte tatin I've ever had was at Balthazar in New York City some 6 or so years ago. I had the same prejudice towards other apple desserts that I did with apple pie so tarte tatin had never drew me in. I'm sure it was a fine version of caramelized apples inverted over pastry and I probably really enjoyed it at the time, but it still has not become a dessert I clamor for or get tunnel-vision for on any dessert menu.

Despite my lack of fervor for this bistro favorite, I was pretty excited about Laurie's pick for the second anniversary of Tuesday's With Dorie. She is not only the author of slush, but also the founder and moderator of TWD -- a responsibility I cannot even imagine. I have a problem keeping up with even a handful of blogs on a daily basis, let alone those of hundreds of members! My enthusiasm for tarte tatin this week was due its no-fuss composition. It completely slipped my mind yesterday that Tuesday was just around the corner, and because I had fallen off in updating so much the past couple of months, I really wanted to start the month and year off right. I've always known that tarte tatin was a simple, throw-together confection (especially if you use store-bought puff pastry), so considering I had so little time today, Laurie's choice was perfect.

I woke up at 6:40 this morning and quickly decided that a trip to the gym and a tarte tatin would be made before I left for work. I realized I didn't have any puff pastry left either (I actually prefer pie crust and this one, especially), so I threw together the Good-For-Almost-Everything pie dough (sadly, with room temperature shortening and merely cold water, but I don't think too big a difference was felt), and off to the gym I went.

As soon as I returned, it was a furious peeling, coring, and quarter of the apples and then an impatient, foot-tapping wait while the apples caramelized. I was really worried about the sugar burning so I kept the heat a little lower, but probably slowed down the whole darkening process of the caramel. Finally, it was somewhat in the ballpark of amber and off into the oven it went with its pastry lid.
I waited as long as I possibly good for the crust to cook thorough and achieve a little browning, but I may have pulled it out too early. The tarte was inverted and a nice caramelization was revealed, though it could have been darker, and I immediately swept it off to work with me.

During the resting period, the apples softened the pastry slightly more than I would have preferred while the edges of the crust kept their structure. I was pleased with the first bite, though it would have benefited from greater textural contrast with a crispier crust, but everyone still loved the end result. You can't really deny apples slowly caramelized in butter and sugar on a bed of buttery pastry even if it is as little soft.

My photos seem to have gone missing from my hard drive, but it was a not bad looking specimen. Should they turn up, I'll post them at once, but until then, I've learned my lesson -- work can wait, get that crust browned!

(And they've been found!)