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A Moveable Feast

August 31, 2011
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Barrio Bread Baguettes

Composed Salad with Tarragon Aioli

Buckwheat Crepes

Picnic Table

French Food Cookbooks

Thank you to everyone who attended the “Parisian Picnic”.  It’s a leap of faith to agree to a picnic in August in Tucson Arizona.  We had to get creative to foster a picnic feel without getting too far from a climate controlled environment.  Luckily we had a lovely location.  It was a sold-out event and our picnickers were a great group that created a fun environment and ultimately were the most important ingredient of the entire meal.  With the lovely French tunes of Tucson’s own Parisian Musician, Naim Amor it was easy to imagine lunching on the Seine.  Our wheels are already spinning with plans for the next event.  Keep checking in to see what we are cooking up next.

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Parisian Picnic

August 20, 2011
by

Georges Seurat "Sunday Afternoon Grand Jatte"

Our picnic is an hommage aux oeufs!   We have been testing crepes, pate a choux, aioli and meringues all featuring the wonderful egg.  We emulsified them, whipped them into a batter and cooked them into the classic French pastry.  We spent more hours than usual digging through cookbooks to find picnic worthy recipes that work with our available produce and weather.  After subjecting willing lunch participants to rigorous tasting and critique sessions we are excited by our menu and know you will be too. We are also excited to have Tucson’s own Parisian Musician, Naim Amor playing authentic French music for us. If this has you digging out your beret and signing choruses of “Frere Jacques” reserve your spot now by clicking on the “Contact” button to  Répondez S’il Vous Plaît!  

Menu:

Savory Stuffed Crepes (chicken or vegetarian)
Composed Salad of seasonal vegetables with Herbed Aioli
Barrio Bread Baguette with assortment of spreads
Assortment of French Desserts and Fresh Fruit
Lavender Ice Tea and/or BYOB

Lemon Oeuf Meringue.


Pate Choux for a Parisian Picnic

August 7, 2011
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Last Sunday Lori and I sat down to discuss our next party and came to a surprisingly quick agreement over the theme ‘Parisian Picnic’.  For some reason I can’t get my mind off of tarts (both sweet and savory), and she had just finished ‘A Sweet Life in Paris’ by the pastry chef David Leibovitz.  So, we were both excited to start researching more French recipes and planning a menu of French picnic fare.  I have had my nose buried in cookbooks all week and I have to say I am getting a little worried about our butter budget!  I also know that we are going to have a really hard time sifting through recipes and making the final cut for our menu.  How do you choose from so much chocolaty, buttery and almond-y goodness?  It will be hard.  Anyway, I had thought this weekend, visiting my family, would be a great time to revisit some of my favorite French pastry techniques.  I know my family appreciates dessert and a family party seemed like a great excuse to practice making eclairs, made with a paté choux, which is a really easy but rewarding recipe.  I guess I didn’t take into account that my family contains two relatively recent arrivals and even a simple recipe might not be so easy to finish.  With one child glued to my hip I struggled to get all the components of my eclairs together.  Babe in arms, I measured and stirred, beat and piped the choux pastry and managed to get it in the oven.  What would have normally taken about 20 minutes took over an hour and I still had to prepare the basic custard for the filling and a chocolate ganache to drizzle over the top.  The choux pastry puffed beautifully (which it always miraculously does) and I got  them out of the oven in time to avoid burning them.  The custard and the ganache were a different story, though.  We left the house with warm, not quite set custard and nothing but a bag of chocolate chips and the fading hopes that I would be able to make a ganache topping.  In the end the eclairs were a hit even if the custard wasn’t quite set and I had to resign myself to using plain old melted chocolate chips instead of ganache for the topping.  In fact, they were such a hit that I could barely snap a photo before they disappeared.  So, sorry about my less than perfect picture of my less than perfect eclairs!  I figure it is a great opportunity, though, to encourage those of you who have never attempted to make a paté choux to give it a try.  It is easy and adaptable.  But if you are a parent you might want to fore go the custard and ganache in favor of store bought ice cream and Hersheys’s syrup the way my mom did when I was growing up.

Paté choux is the pastry base for eclairs, cream puffs, and gougerés and is similar to the dough used in French crullers and Spanish churros.   The proportions for the ingredients are so easy that they are hard to forget.  For each one cup of flour, you use one cup of water and/or milk and one stick of butter, seasoning accordingly with salt and/or sugar.  To this you add four eggs, one at a time.  If you are making savory gougerés you can add up to a cup of grated cheese along with chopped herbs.  If you haven’t made any of these before, the process may seem a bit unusual, but it is fairly simple.  The dough starts on the stove top rather than a mixing bowl, where milk or water (they are fairly interchangeable) is brought to a boil with butter and a bit of salt and maybe sugar to taste.  The boiling mixture is removed from the heat and you dump the flour in, stirring rapidly to incorporate the flour into the liquid.  The dough comes together, forming a smooth ball, not at all unlike homemade playdough.  Left to sit and cool just slightly the dough is ready for the eggs.  As you add each egg the dough will look a bit curdled as it is incorporated, but  it will become a smooth paste in the end.  Different recipes will give different directions as far as how much to beat the eggs, whether to use water or milk, and how much to let the mixture cool before adding the eggs.  I have found the recipe to be fairly flexible.  Baking times and temperature vary from recipe to recipe as well, with some recipes directing the reader to leave the puffs in the receding heat of an over that has been turned off.  Other recipes just have you lower the temp half way through.  400 degrees the whole time seems to produce reliably good puffs.   The recipe can easily be doubled, even tripled, though don’t quadruple it because it may be too hard to beat in the eggs.  You can scoop or pipe mounds of the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet (or pipe long fingers for eclairs), leaving plenty of room for their airy expansion.  They have a tendency to burn on the bottom so you need to rotate the sheets between the top and bottom rack of your oven.  Take care not to rotate them before they are all the way expanded, though,  because they can deflate. Once they are removed from the oven and cooled they are a vehicle for almost anything you can dream of, sweet or savory.  Cut off the tops and fill them with your favorite taste combo.  These are great for parties too, because you can freeze the cooked and cooled puffs and reheat them just before serving.   For a holiday party a few years ago, Lori and I cooked up hundreds of petite puffs.  Half contained lemon curd and were topped by a dark chocolate ganache.  The others were filed with pumpkin custard and covered with a caramel pecan topping.  They all disappeared quickly.   So make these for a special party or for a family dessert, either way they will be a simple treat.

Eggstatic!

July 29, 2011
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Zen Yolk

Happy Hens

A box without hinges, key or lid

yet golden treasure inside is hid

-Tolkein

What can be enjoyed equally for breakfast, lunch and dinner?  All meals are the perfect venue for the incredible, edible egg.  It can be poached, fried, hard boiled and soft boiled.  It can stand up to scrambling and souffle-ing all while keeping it’s sunny side up.  Eggs provide the magic alchemy in our favorite baked goods.  Poached eggs were a key component in the Summer Supper Club entree.  What else is so essential to such a wide variety of foods?  From mayonnaise to ice cream and brownies to breakfast cooking would be much less exciting without the humble little egg.  We dye them, throw them and sometimes juggle them.  We hide them and then hunt them.  Some of us even wash our hair with them.  Perhaps best of all, we eat them.

Plenty of our neighbors have chickens.  In our community we enjoy the benefit of truly local eggs.  At the Tucson CSA we sell surplus eggs from our member’s backyard chickens as well as eggs from “Josh’s Foraging Fowls”.  Every time we crack one of these beauties open we marvel at its golden, perfect yolk.  It is like an iconic smiley facing staring up at us – we always smile back.  We recently took a field trip to visit Josh and check in on our favorite egg producing ladies.  Josh has been in charge of his own chicken venture for seven years, using part of his family farm to start his business.  Josh explained to us that he was drawn to the Joel Salatin model of farming.  As a young man trying to compete in a large agricultural industry it was a way to set himself apart.  The chickens roam free on a pasture that Josh has planted with a variety of grasses and other plants.  It’s a lush environment filled with the yummy bugs that the hens love, a salad bar the envy of chickens everywhere.  Before the plot is overgrazed, the birds are moved to the next plot leaving behind plenty of nutrients that will help reestablish the plant life.  Both the laying hens and the meat birds enjoy the fruits of Josh’s farm practices.  In turn these are happy  birds who provide us with the tastiest eggs in town.  Thanks to Josh and his foraging fowls.

Are Popsicles the New Cupcake?

July 24, 2011
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Cupcakes

Prickly Pops!

Monsoon Kitchen

We love cupcakes!  Each small cake an opportunity for endless flavor combinations and creative interpretation.  They are perfect, little individually wrapped dessert treats.  All of a sudden however, yummy frozen treats seem to be replacing the cupcake in our hearts and stomaches.  They are popping up everywhere.  Here in the Sonoran Desert smack dab in the middle of a sultry monsoon season, nothing could be more enticing.  Wilting under the swampy heat one afternoon at our local Farmer’s Market we started noticing happy, content and …. fuchsia smiles.  Had we finally succumbed to the heat?  Our brains were producing technicolor mirages.  It turns out that the cool, pink smiles were from consuming Prickly Pops.  The refreshing prickly pear popsicles have shown up the last couple of years courtesy of Jeau Allen and her booth of native and local foods of the desert.  Jeau produces everything from mesquite flours, prickly pear products and heritage tomato and chile plant starts.  Everything she does is with knowledge, care and love that shows in every package and every bite.  Recently she has expanded her flavor offerings.  Sara loved the Prickly Pear and Coconut Pop and Lori is still drooling over the creamy, dreamy Cajeta Pop.

One of our favorite new food enterprises is Monsoon Kitchen.  The Ladies of MK provided the creativity and taste sensations for the cocktail inspired popsicles at the fundraising “Poptail” event.  “Honey-Dew you want a Margarita” and “The Shining (Bloody Mary)” named poptails got us juiced up to sample several.

Here in Tucson we are lucky enough to always have access to icy sweet treats on a stick.  Our neighborhood ice cream truck is likely to be a paleta cart.  Paletas, a Latin American popsicle usually made with fresh fruit are ubiquitous ’round these parts.  We couldn’t be happier.

While we aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the oh-so-cute cupcake trend, the summer months are the perfect time to take a vacation from the oven.  We will happily go for a summer produce quick freeze.  Hmm, maybe they will make an appearance at our next event.

On a Hot Summer Night

July 12, 2011
by

Sara and Lori

Bite-sized BLT and chips

Menlo Creamery Cheese and Local Fruit

Deconstructed Gazpacho

Anise and Prickly Pear Ice and Snow Leopard Melon

Cassoulet with Poached Egg and Crostini

Thank you to all the guests, supporters and providers for making our inaugural Supper Club Dinner a huge success!  In the process of putting this dinner together we were both struck by what an amazing community we are lucky to be part of.  We have always felt connected to our local food system, but this endeavor increased our awareness to not only the products available to us in the Sonoran Desert but also the people responsible for producing them.  We can’t wait to dig deeper and discover even more local goodness.

As each seat was reserved for this summer dinner the daunting task of showcasing all these great products to an anticipating crowd loomed large before us.  It’s not as if we don’t have experience cooking for large groups of people, we have filled thousands of hungry bellies in our years together.  But a sit down, plated, multi-course meal is a whole new menu of challenges than what we are used to.  The art of plating, in itself, was a revelation, leaving us tempted to say “bye bye buffet”.  The courses progressed from a playful ‘BLT’ amuse bouche to a serious interpertation of cassoulet, complete with a poached egg.  The test dinners emboldened us to the idea that we could actually poach 20 perfect eggs.  Did we deliver?  Absolutely.  Did we create an extraordinary amount of stress for ourselves as we tried to troubleshoot why every third egg yolk broke before slipping into it’s simmering water bath?  Again, absolutely.  The end result, however, was a successful main course and a weeks worth of scrambled eggs as a bonus.  The upshot is we are still smiling and already plotting our next food adventure.

We cooked up this hair-brained idea (years ago) and had a blast finally executing it.  We are happy to take the complements but we can’t take all the credit.  The success was due in large part to a lively and engaged group of diners as well as a generous group of friends who were easily bribed with…you guessed it!  Food.  Stay hungry and stay tuned.  In the meantime enjoy the pictures but remember, like music a menu or recipe can be read but it is the actual performance that matters most.  We hope to see you soon.

Milking Mango

July 1, 2011
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Mango

"I'm not sure I'm doing this right"

Our star artisan cheese maker and neighbor

Ripe cheese lovingly aged for the Supper Club Dinner

It is 114 degrees outside today and it hasn’t rained for two and a half months.  Our sun soaked landscape is a far cry from the grassy meadows where fat cows thrive.  Curiously goats seem to do well in our prickly environment and we are lucky to have access to some wonderful chevres.  For a cheese lover this is fantastic, but given the spectrum of cheeses available today we are left sadly wanting.  We’ve pined for the cheese cultures of Wisconsin and Vermont.  We’ve coveted the creameries of California.  Now in our own neighborhood our cheese dreams have been realized.  Our friend and artisan cheese maker creates exquisite specimens of bloomy, soft ripening goat cheese that she ages in a converted freezer set to mimic perfect cheese cellar conditions.

We spent our evening yesterday following our friend as she showed us the steps involved in producing cheese; from goat to table.  We met Mango, and her brother Kiwi, in their shaded backyard home.  Mango was patient as we each clumsily attempted milking her.  Luckily she was distracted by her seasonal treat of corn husks.  Mango has been enjoying the bumper crop of sweet corn from the CSA as much as we have.  Our goat farmer/cheese maker worked with ease as she filled a pail with warm frothy milk all the while sharing her knowledge and passion for her new found obsession.  The whole adventure was amazing but the crowning moment was the tasting.  We started with the fresh milk and worked our way up to the cheese aged for one month.  If your mouth is watering like ours, be sure to sign up for our Supper Club Dinner where we are lucky enough to share with you a sampling of this cheese.  Curious about this mystery farmer and cheese artisan?  She will be on hand during dinner and available to answer questions during the cheese course.  We are sure you will love her cheese as much as we do.  Thank you Mango!