about bliss

Sunday, February 26, 2006

just a cheese sandwich?

The other day I read a short article in one of my cooking magazines that was bemoaning the “cheese sandwich” blog in which the writer merely chronicles each meal. So I’ve been a bit concerned that my own blog veers awfully near this abyss of boredom...then again, as I’m always telling my students, what matters is having your APPM clear, and then the rest falls into place. (A:udience; P:urpose; P:ersona; M:essage). So at the risk of being a cheese sandwich blog in the eyes of the sophisticated gourmands in the magazine world, I’ll carry on, as I think my approach reaches my desired APPM:).

Last night I made cookies--I was craving little bits of sweetness. I tried a new recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies, with a few inevitable subsitutions; I swapped dried cranberries for the raisins and added chopped toasted pecans. The cookies are wee, crispy, crunchy gems of caramelly yumminess. I think I’ll freeze some to take backpacking with me...

My other food project is to concoct a parm-reg pasta dish that can be prepared with minimal fuss in the backcountry. I’m excited to try something new, rather than the standard Kraft or Lipton packaged dishes. I hope my hiking companions don’t think I’m too terribly high-maintenance (though who am I kidding? I do tend to be rather HM about some things. I used to be “the worst kind,” according to Harry Burns, of *When Harry Met Sally,* by insisting on believing myself low maintenance when really I’m high maintenance. I take my open admission of “I just want it the way I want it” to be a sign of maturity). Anyway, my HM tendencies seem to revolve around food. I already have a lovely stockpile of chocolates (Vosges Barcelona bars, and the lust-worthy Michel Cluizel single origin Concepcion bar that I keep sneaking a square from...) ready to fill my pack.

And I have my iPod loaded with some new favorites for the plane ride. Recently, I’ve discovered the indie band Death Cab for Cutie, which features reflective lyrics and mellow melodies that are very popular with college-aged hipsters. And I’ve been listening to James Blunt, who I love, and feel compelled to admit listening to before he exploded on the pop music landscape. “Tears and Rain” is an achingly gorgeous song. And there’s other fun “bippy” stuff like KT Tunstall, whose “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” amazes me because every rich, distinct musical sound is created by one woman (I heard a story about her on NPR a few weeks ago). And, a lovely gulf coast relief song by Michael Stipe (REM) and Chris Martin (Coldplay), called “Into the Sun.” A good reminder that the tragedy continues and kindness must continue to flourish. And Ben Folds, who I have such a crush on, and who I’m going to see in concert in a few months (hoorah!). I like him in both his mellow, sweet, sad moods “Late,” “The Luckiest” (a song I would have at my wedding if I were to marry now), or the infectious, fun, messed up songs like “Zak and Sara” (best line: “visions of pills that put you in a loving trance/that make it possible for all white boys to dance.”)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

cold, cocktails, and conversation

After a string of teasing, temperate days, winter has returned with biting wind and low, low temps--this morning the thermometer read -1, and the wind chill assuredly hovers somewhere around -10 or so...

Last night, my friend S- and I decided to brave the cold and head out to a supposedly hip new restaurant in the downtown area. I’ve read reviews that claim that once inside, diners will forget the relatively provincial locale and be tricked into thinking they’re in Chicago...we were in search of innovative cocktails and small plates, as well as an urban social scene.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was empty--due to the influx of diners on Valentine’s day, our bartender B- told us. But, the restaurant is gorgeous--a warm, sensual setting, with long linen drapes, cherry-colored furniture, sleek wood floors, and behind the bar, a wall of one inch tile, all in warm red and orange tones. The lighting was dim yet cozy, and we settled into the high chairs at the bar and listened to B- list the diversely delicious cocktails he could create. We both decided on a Champagne sorbet “martini,” composed of a variety of orange flavored liqueurs, grenadine, and a scoop of the eponymous champagne sorbet. Yumm! As B- promised, the flavor of the drink would change as the sorbet melted.

As the liqueur traveled straight to my head, I suggested we order a small plate of the warm goat cheese, served with marinara and crostini. Usually, I find goat cheese too pungent and earthy for my palate, but I’ve been trying to accustom myself to its flavor profile. Plus, the menu, while innovative and reasonably priced for upscale dining, has nary a vegetarian option, so goat cheese was THE choice.

The cheese, mixed with an array of herbs, was floated in a pool of marinara, and served in a small cast iron skillet. The crostini were still warm, and just the right crispiness, with a slick of satisfying olive oil. And when our crostini were gone, the wait staff brought more (most generous since S- and I both inadvertently flung a toast or two on the highly polished floor).

And then the night became interesting. The 60+ year old barfly sitting next to us took the advantage of S- going to the bathroom to strike up a conversation with me. His son is ostensibly the chef (his other stories seemed rather fabricated, so I remain skeptical). By turns an interesting talker and by turns belligerent, J- continued to chat with us the rest of the night. And, since the bar was nearly deserted, so too did B-, the cute bartender, who was most attentive and flirtatious as the best bartenders are. A high point of the evening involved B-removed his vest after my confession of watching *Smallville* for the obligatory Tom Welling sans shirt moments.

Despite the quiet of the restaurant, I did feel I was in a city for those brief hours we enjoyed our cocktails and conversations, and I hope to see a crowd worthy of Chicago the next time I venture back downtown...Ahh, Chicago, the city where though the wind whips a biting chill through the streets, I’m warmed with thoughts of Rick Bayless’ Mexican cuisine and Katrina Markoff’s creative chocolate bars at Vosges, and, of course, the endless shopping at Bloomingdales....

Sunday, February 12, 2006

go for the gold

Last night I hosted an Olympic Party--each guest/couple declared a “country” identity and brought food and beverage representing their chosen nation. As the hostess (I can hardly write that word without adding “with the mostest,” a little in-joke from my college sorority days), I presented the culinary delights of Italia...

Due to a busy work week, I decided to spend more money and less time creating a memorable dish or two, and I made an Antipasti platter and Tiramisu. After work each day, I ventured to a different food store in search of the perfect ingredients...and at week’s end, I discovered that I bought ingredients at 6 different locations...I will spare you the details of my hours wandering through grocery stores, but I must say that when planning a party or a special meal, I love the thrill of gathering the most delicious, freshest, best ingredients I can find.

For my Antipasti, I made Balsamic Roasted Red Peppers, riveting in their simplicity of salt, pepper, chiffonade of basil, 10 year aged Balsamic, and the peppers;

Marinated Kalamata Olives, blended with lemon zest, basil, crushed red pepper flakes, and olive oil;

Chunks of Zingerman’s Paesano bread;

Small fresh whole milk mozzarella balls, chunks of fontina, and shards of asiago;

And a spicy Sopressata. Yumm!

My Tiramisu is an adaptation of a *Cooking Light* recipe, to which I add Starbucks coffee liqueur along with the Kahlua and coffee for ladyfinger “dunking.” I also add a thin layer of vanilla and coffee liqueur scented whipped cream. I’ve found that using the crispy imported Italian ladyfingers makes the dish a bit more interesting.

For beverages, I provided a Moscato d’ Asti, one of my new favorites, along with a Barbera d’ Asti, both wines from the Piedmont region, along with one of my favorites, San Pellagrino.

My guests’ dishes were equally thrilling:

A Spanish tortilla and white wine sangria;

Corn chowder and Southern cornbread and a California unoaked Chardonnay (*very* nice--I detest overly oaked wines);

Guacamole and blue corn chips and Corona Light;

Irish Soda Bread and Killian’s;

Cannellini bean soup, garlicky hummus and pita, and misc. olives, and even more Moscato d’ Asti....

We critiqued the figure skating pairs’ costumes, spotted the Olympic hot, hot, hotties (how do those speed skaters fit into those skin-tight suits? And have you ever seen men with such amazing quads?), and shared our own Olympic aspirations (in 1984 I was determined to be the next Mary Lou Retton, a dream fueled by reading *A Very Young Gymnast*, to be updated in 1988, when I dreamed of being an ice skater and even checked out a “learn to ice skate” book from my local public library)...ahhh. I’ll now content myself with the creation of satisfying, pleasurably meals, appropriately descriptive prose, memorable moments with my dear loved ones, as well as the more inner-directed “sports” or disciplines of running and yoga...

Cin Cin ‘til we meet again!