Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Croquembouche for Nine Years

Today the husband and I celebrate another year of wedded bliss. I made a little surprise for him for our special day.

Happy anniversary, Hubby! Love you!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Deep Breath and a Potato Gratin Variation


A deep, cleansing sigh of relief. Now that Seared to Perfection has been out for a couple of weeks, I can tell you—I haven't exhaled since 2006, when I first came up with the idea. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I ever believed it would really happen until I finally held the finished book in my hands.

Dreaming up one hundred recipe ideas and then developing and testing them, writing the manuscript—that was the easy part. Finding an agent to represent me and then selling the book was tough. But the really hard part was turning everything over to the publisher and waiting. And waiting and waiting. And feeling like I had given up control. Of course I knew in my head that I was handing my work over to talented professionals who had my best interests at heart and who were obviously working very hard to make the book the best it could be, but still…

I was a nervous wreck when I received the initial revisions—I had to give myself at least twenty-four hours before opening email attachments, lest I take the changes personally. It didn't help that I never got to meet the editors in person and put faces with their names, or shake their hands. They're only three time zones away, but they seemed so distant they might as well have been on the moon. Email correspondence with only an occasional phone call can do that. I must admit that to this day, I'm still confused by all the different people with "Editor" after their name.

It was a rollercoaster ride. The deadline was reeled in, meaning I had to deliver the manuscript a few months early. A decision was made to include photographs. The book was to be released in the fall of 2009. The release was pushed back a year, the idea of photographs was scrapped. I told myself that an affordable book released after the economy recovered would be a good thing.

Then after a long hiatus another editor made contact, and the rounds of proofs began. I would lock myself in my office, red pen in hand, with only my computer to keep me company. Frenzied proofreading followed by periods of more waiting. I would get word of editors flip-flopping, changing "Give it a rest" to "Why does food need to rest?" and then back again (for the record, I still relish the win on that one). I would be consulted on recipe order or cover photos or book design and wonder if I was driving everyone crazy with my suggestions, requests, and nitpicking. "The bottom of the title page looked like a cayenne red in the PDF and it looks more like a maroon on the hard copy," I would complain.

By this time I was generally convinced that I was working with good people who could be reasoned with. They always respected my opinion, and the design surpassed my expectations. But a new fear gripped me—soon this thing I had labored over for the last four years of my life would be out there, for all the world to see and to criticize. My first look at the finished book was accompanied by excitement and also a bout of nausea.

Why did I get myself into this?

As it turns out, there was no need to panic. The first reader reviews on Amazon are exceedingly positive, and my searing cooking class at Clark College sold out. Helpful friends have taken it upon themselves to rearrange bookstore shelves to bring Seared to Perfection to eye level. And the book is even getting a bit of attention in the media! featured the recipe for Chicken Breasts with Mushroom, Paprika, and Sour Cream Gravy, and here's the interview with yours truly in The Oregonian's FoodDay. My appearance on The Faith Middleton Show was a total love-fest and catapulted the book up to number six on Amazon's list of Bestsellers in Culinary Arts & Techniques. (For a while it even reached number ninety-four on Bestsellers in Cooking, Food & Wine and 1,324 in all books—I'm such a proud momma!) I'll be on KOIN Studio 6 between 4PM and 5PM on Friday, December 17th demonstrating a recipe from the book.

Would I do it all over again? Hell yes. Without a doubt. I'd jump at the chance. In fact, I have an idea for the perfect follow-up to Seared to Perfection. Let's hope my publisher goes for it.

Now that I've gotten all that off my chest, I really need some comfort food. So here's a seasonal variation of the Potato Gratin recipe in the book.

Butternut Squash & Potato Gratin
Printable Recipe

Unsalted butter, for greasing the baking dish
4 large (about 2 pounds) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 1 ½-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced 1/8-inch thick
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch nutmeg
1 clove garlic, grated
1 ¾ cups heavy cream
1 cup shredded Gruyère

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Generously butter a 12-inch oval baking dish. Season the potato and butternut squash slices to taste with salt and pepper. Layer them into the dish, arranging them in neat, overlapping circles and alternating layers of potato and squash. Stir the nutmeg and garlic into the cream and slowly pour over the potatoes and squash. Sprinkle evenly with the Gruyère. Bake for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until the top is golden brown and the potatoes and squash are tender. Cover with foil to keep warm and allow to rest 20 to 25 minutes before serving.

Serves 6. Make this gratin in the fall, when butternut squash is abundant and rich food is welcome. Yukon gold potatoes will become creamy but retain their texture after cooking. A mandoline makes easy work of slicing potatoes, but I prefer to slice the squash with a chef’s knife. Season the gratin carefully before it goes into the oven because it’s hard to add salt and pepper once it is cooked. I toss the potato and squash slices with salt and pepper in a large bowls and taste a bit of each raw to check the amount of salt—they should taste slightly salty at this point for a perfect finished gratin—and spit it out. Minced fresh thyme or sage can be added along with the salt and pepper. Letting the gratin rest before serving makes it possible to cut neat portions.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two Dinner Parties, One Dessert

Two dinner parties in one weekend and I was responsible for bringing dessert to both. We were treated to endlessly flowing wine and grilled leg of lamb with homemade pita bread one night and a Canadian Thanksgiving feast, complete with a twenty-something-pound roast turkey (which I was volunteered to carve), the next. My, what wonderful, generous friends we have!

Needless to say, dessert had to impress. A recent trip to the orchard to stock up on apples and pears—'tis the season here in the Pacific Northwest—meant I didn't have to look far for inspiration.

My Chocolate-Pear Tarts would be good enough for both parties.

This is a dessert born of leftovers—years ago, after finding myself with extra chocolate tart filling and a few too many poached pears after a multi-day baking spree, I decided to combine the two together in one dessert. Whether it was serendipity or just utilization, the results were divine, and this tart has been in my repertoire ever since.

Chocolate-Pear Tart
Printable Recipe

3 ounces heavy cream
3 ounces milk
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or scant 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 ounce egg
3 Pears Poached in Port, at room temperature
1 partially baked 9-inch Pâte Sucrée Tart Crust

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Combine the cream and milk in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a bare simmer. Place the chocolate into a medium bowl, add the hot cream mixture, and whisk until smooth. Let cool slightly. Gradually whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg.

Pat the pears dry with paper towels. Halve and core the pears and slice them thinly, keeping the slices together so each pear half stays intact. Using a spatula, transfer the sliced pear halves to the tart crust, arranging them in a radial pattern with their stem ends at the center of the crust. Press down gently on each pear half to fan out the slices slightly. Using a pitcher or batter bowl with a spout, slowly pour in the chocolate mixture, being careful not to pour it directly over the pears. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until just set. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, or until firm. Cut the tart into portions and serve immediately.

Makes 1 9-inch tart, serving 8. This tart is perfect in the fall, when Bosc pears are in season. The pears may be poached up to a day in advance and stored submerged in their cooled unreduced poaching liquid. To measure 1 ounce of egg, crack 1 egg into a bowl, lightly beat it with a fork, and weigh it out using a scale. You can tell that the tart is done when the chocolate filling jiggles like gelatin. Serve with the reduced poaching liquid sauce from the Pears Poached in Port and lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Now that Seared to Perfection: The Simple Art of Sealing in Flavor is out, it's time for me to begin *buy* shamelessly *buy* plugging *buy* my book!

So check this out: Seared to Perfection is reviewed on NorthWest Stir and featured in the charming fourth webisode of Recipe Runway (watch at the six minute mark).

Also, mark your calendars for these upcoming book events with yours truly. Please do come out and say hello—I'd love to meet you!

· Searing Pastured Meats cooking class at Salt Fire & Time Community Supported Kitchen in Portland, Oregon at 6:30PM on Wednesday, October 13. A signed copy of my cookbook is included in the price of the class.

· Seared to Perfection cooking class at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington at 6PM on Wednesday, October 20. I guarantee you'll learn to sear like a chef! The menu includes: Steak au Poivre with Red Wine Sauce, Salmon Fillets with Garlic-Dill Butter, Cauliflower with Capers and Parsley, and Pineapple with Vanilla Ice Cream & Coconut-Caramel Sauce. Only a few seats remain, so sign up soon.

· Interview on WNPR's The Faith Middleton Show at 3PM EST on Thursday, October 21. Click to listen live.

· Community Feast & Book Signing at Salt Fire & Time Community Supported Kitchen in Portland, Oregon at 7PM on Friday, October 22. With a menu inspired by my cookbook.

· Interview on PDX.FM's Savor Portland webcast at 4PM PST on Tuesday, October 26. Click to listen live.

· Book signing at Einmaleins in Olympia, Washington from 5PM to 9PM on Friday, November 5. Einmaleins is a very cool independently owned cookware shop featuring modern European design, and this book signing is a part of First Friday festivities.

And more stuff is in the works, so stay tuned. A list of my upcoming cooking classes, book signings, and appearances can always be found in the sidebar on the right.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quality Time in Austin

An almost last-minute trip to Texas to visit family had me completely distracted from the kitchen all last week. No cooking but certainly plenty of eating…

The Dallas and College Station contingents of the fam arranged a 24-hour meet-up in Austin. My only agenda was to rack up some quality time, so this time all of the destinations were chosen by my little brother.

Judging by the new tattoo of a pork primal chart on his inner forearm, he could be trusted to pick out some delectable destinations.

The franks at Frank were creative, to say the least. After indulging in a basket of waffle fries topped with chorizo, green chiles, and cheese, Little Brother and I split two different dogs. The Notorious P.I.G., a housemade pork, bacon, jalapeno, and sage dog topped with macaroni and cheese and tangy barbeque sauce, underwhelmed.

But the Chili Cheese Dog was as good as they get, with a generous amount of meaty, spicy chili.

Although ordering it "porked", which in Frank's vernacular means split, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon, and fried, seemed slightly dirty and turned out to be superfluous—I couldn't even taste the bacon under all that chili. My only complaint about Frank is that if they remove items from the menu (like the much anticipated chocolate whoopie pie), it's time to do a reprint. Oh, and the wiener lady really ought to have worn baloney slices for a bra.

Between lunch and dinner, we stopped by Houndstooth Coffee, where we literally and figuratively took in the latte art, Austin Homebrew Supply for some shopping (turns out there really is such a thing as corn sugar and it's used for making beer, not sweetening all manner of processed foods, and my beer-brewing brother needed to stock up), and Breed & Co. to browse the cookware.

For dinner, Little Brother picked out the Odd Duck Farm to Trailer food cart, a place with a BYOB party atmosphere.

And local food worthy of a white-tablecloth restaurant.

Again, we made a food-sharing agreement which included the pork belly and marinated eggplant slider.

And the grilled quail with Texas rice, apple, and cheddar salad.

The plates were on the petite side, so I could've eaten it all myself, but then I wouldn't have had room for my third of a Son of a Peach donut, shared with my little brother and also his little wife, from the neighboring Gourdough's Big. Fat. Donuts. cart.

Then, just to make sure we didn't go to bed hungry, we went to some old-fashioned frozen custard place for second dessert. Little Brother and I got our cones without incident, but just as the clerk was about to hand over chocolate-dipped cones to Mom, Dad, and Sister-In-Law, some man popped out of a nearby truck and stole them! Can you believe a full-grown man with a straight face actually snatched their ice cream and sped off?! And then the clerk who unquestioningly served the thief denied my family their cones until they presented the receipt! The absurdity.

Anyway, Peter Pan Mini Golf turned out to be the perfect place to work off dinner and desserts. I'm proud to say I won second place even though I don't play golf.

The next morning, between breakfast tacos at the Counter Café and gyros at Milto's, we went for a stroll along Austin's eclectic South Congress and discovered Big Top Candy Shop.

The fun, quirky little store featured oodles of old-fashioned candy, fresh caramel corn, shakes and Italian sodas, and a soda jerk who looked like she could've used another helping of all that sugar.

All in all, more fun than going to the circus and no creepy clowns, either.

My purchase, by the way, was a pack of the flavorless Nihilist Mints, haha!

A fun and flavorful 24 hours it was. But definitely not satisfying. I can't get enough of Austin, and I never get enough quality time with the fam. Time to start planning my next visit…
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