Mini Feast of Lobster & Stuffed Tomatoes à la Julia Child

Homard aux Aromatics

Homard aux Aromatics

My mission was to have a small Julia Child themed dinner party featuring recipes from her famed book Mastering the Art of French Cooking prior to the August 7th premiere of the movie Julie & Julia. I haven’t seen the movie yet so there’s no review here, but the film consists of two parallel stories, one based on Child’s autobiography My Life in France and the other on sorta food blogger Julie Powell’s book Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. Unfortunately, plans went awry and the dinner party would not happen before the movie’s premiere, so instead I decided to throw a mini party just for me.

Tomatoes a la Provencale

Tomatoes a la Provencale

Now this isn’t meant to sound in any way lonely, it’s simply how things worked out. And besides, how could I be lonely eating a delicious, home cooked meal while perusing the cookbook and reading descriptions like “shellfish debris” and “two whole heads of garlic will seem like a horrifying amount…” It was like Julia was right there with me encouraging me to have a second glass of wine.

Me and the lobster

Me and the lobster

It’s funny how the menu came about, in a way it chose me rather than the other way around. It began when I saw that live lobster was on sale at my local grocery store. Living in the Midwest, lobster is often illusive and expensive so when Treasure Island (a grocery store) puts it on sale twice a year I grab it. Due to other commitments I wasn’t able to get my lobster until Tuesday, the last day of the sale. Great, lobster for one! Tasty and affordable.

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“Takashi’s Noodles” Cookbook Is Finally Here!

Takashi's Noodles

I’m excited to announce that the new cookbook “Takashi’s Noodles,” by Takashi Yagihashi and Harris Salat, is currently in my possession! It’s a beautiful cookbook with amazing photography of incredibly delicious, well-tested (of course) recipes. There are five chapters dedicated to the various types of Asian noodles (ramen, soba, udon, etc…) plus a chapter about pasta and one on appetizers.

Trust me, this book is a must-have. And I should know – I’ve made each and every one of these recipes at least twice if not more as the recipe tester.

So go out and buy it! And no, I don’t get any royalties, I’m just proud of this cookbook and want to share it with you all.

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Challah Bread

Sliced challah

My friend Anna is a terrible influence. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about her, usually by her nickname “culinary-school-dropout.” Even though she didn’t finish the program with me, Anna still loves food and loves to cook and is usually the person accompanying me to various small, ethnic restaurants around the city. The other thing you need to know about Anna is that she’s obsessed with buying cookbooks, that’s where the bad influence comes in.

Brush with egg wash

Last week we ate lunch at TAC Quick (the most amazing tom kha soup, by the way). Afterwards Anna suggested going to Borders to look at the cookbooks. I agreed but on the condition that she didn’t allow to buy any (I have plenty, too). After an hour and a half of browsing the cooking section, I was hooked on a new book that I just HAD to have: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: the All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. This purchase was a necessity, I didn’t have any good all-around baking books, besides, Anna bought two!

There are many recipes in the book that I can’t wait to try: the blueberry buckle, herbed dumplings, whole wheat loaf, fudge drops, etc. But I decided to start with my sister’s favorite bread: challah.

Challah loaf

Although I’ve made challah before, I didn’t have a recipe I truly liked. The one we followed in culinary school bastardized this enriched bread by adding lemon and orange zest  – ugh. For me, a great challah should be soft, slightly sweet, and void of any add-ins like zest or raisins. And the few other recipes I’ve tried were a little ‘eh.

So, how did the King Arthur recipe compare? For that I’d have to refer you to my sister, the challah expert, who wrote: “It was very good. I only got a few pieces before Jeff managed to eat it all. I really like it and thought it was sweet. It has my expert seal of approval.”

On that note, here’s the recipe, which is truly much easier to make than it may seem:

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A16′s Pistachio & Almond Cake with Orange Salad

Pistachio and Almond Cake with Orange Salad

Pistachio and Almond Cake with Orange Salad**

I received the gorgeous A16 Food + Wine cookbook as thank you gift from my sister around Christmas but haven’t used it until today. I don’t know what I was waiting for as the pistachio and almond cake with orange salad that I made today was delicious.

Almonds and pistachios in food processor Ground almonds and pistachios

Butter, sugar and lemon zest Adding the nuts

The book is co-authored by A16 restaurant’s chef Nate Appleman, wine director Shelley Lindgren and Chicago-based food writer Kate Leahy. Named for the A16 highway in Italy, the first section of the book focuses on Italian wines while the second section is about the food. I know I said it before but it’s necessary to say again: this book is stunning! The photographs, many of which were taken in Italy, are rich and vivid and make my mouth water.

Adding the flour Baked pistachio and almond cake

Sliced blood orange Heated and thinned marmalade

I could only hope the cake would taste as good as it looked in its photograph. And it did, although my photo above didn’t do it justice. The cake was delicious right out of the oven – moist, aromatic and nicely textured but somewhat subtle in flavor. And it was very filling. But what made it stand out for me was how the flavors really came together with the tanginess of the yogurt and sweet acidity of the oranges (I only used blood oranges instead of mixing those with navel oranges as I accidentally ate the navel orange for a snack yesterday). As I was eating, I actually smoothed the yogurt into a thick, frosting-like layer and cut the oranges into bite-sized pieces and piled them on top of the cake to create the most perfect bites.

The perfect bite!

This is a dessert I’ll make for entertaining. It’s simple and fairly quick to prepare, can be made in advance, and the presentation is impressive. Here’s the recipe: Read more of this >>

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Review: “The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh,” plus two recipes

Mocha muffins with chocolate chips and pecans

When I buy a new cookbook, I usually sit down on the couch with it, sometimes with a cup of coffee and a snack, and I read it. Yes, I read it like a novel, then it goes back on my bookshelf where I’ll use it to reference recipes in the future. However, my latest acquisition created a bit of a challenge: “The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh” is HUGE.

With 1,100 recipes, there was no way I could sit and read it cover to cover. But I was curious about its claims of “quick dishes for everynight cooking” and  “you can create a delicious, fresh meal that takes minimal effort to prepare,” so I decided to test a few and see if the claims held true.

The first recipe I chose was a present to my sweet tooth: mocha muffins with chocolate chips and pecans (p. 538). I tried really hard to stay true to the recipe and only changed one ingredient out of necessity (subbed butter for vegetable oil), plus added a pecan garnish simply because I had some toasted ones leftover. The muffins were tasty although not quite as decadent as the heading implied. But the best part was that they were easy to make – it took just ten minutes to make the batter! I cooked them in two batches, each for 25 minutes. The muffins themselves turned out a little dry, which can probably be attributed to my last-minute substitution, but the chopped pecans and chocolate chips added some much-welcome texture variation. Read more of this >>

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