Saturday, August 14, 2010

Happy 30th A-man

Happy birthday young man! I'm thrilled to spend another birthday with you. I hope your 30th year is magical and full of so much laughter. As we said, you're still a young duck, but now you've got an old waddle...whatever that means. Nevertheless, I'm excited to continue watching you grow in wisdom. You are an awesome guy!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Trader Joe's Pain au Chocolat

Pain au Chocolat: the ultimate French pastry. Have you tried Trader Joe's magic overnight pain au chocolat? $3.50ish for 4, you have no excuse not to. 

Just set them out before bed, and voila!, in the morning your tiny frozen pain au chocolat have grown into a beautiful plump pain au chocolate. Crazy, huh!

And when you wake up, you bake them. Simple and effective. Out come flakey, golden, buttery, delectable "homemade" pain au chocolat. Your house smells like a french bakery and your day is off on the right foot. No need to tell anyone you didn't make these by hand. I mean you could make them by hand if you really wanted, so who's to say... right? You're secret's safe here.

Now I'm not going to lie, these aren't exactly the best pain au chocolat I've ever had. And the fact that I'm eating it at home kind of kills the French Cafe vibe. Nonetheless, these are are worth a try—I will probably buy them again—and if nothing else, you can bake them to make your house smell delicious next time you have people over.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

French Onion Soup, Grilled Veg Quinoa Salad + Dan and Carrie

Dan and Carrie are great, no they're wonderful friends. Carrie has great style and loves food—we're kindred soles. But most of all, she loves the Lord and is an amazing listener. Don't you admire people that can hold themselves back from bursting out every thought? I'm definitely not one of those types.

I made them French Onion Soup and a Grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad that bursted with flavor. My family has always had a tradition of eating french onion soup on or around Christmas...usually with king crab legs, mmm. I've never made it on my own, let alone during summer, so it was sensory overload to have my apartment smell of Christmas near August. A delight to say the least.

I haven't had a Le Creuset (or any French/Dutch oven for that matter) until very recently. I have never had such a wonderful onion cooking experience, no burning, no sticking, no nothing bad. Just moist, slow cooking, drool-inducing onions. Onions on the stove are one of the best things in the universe. I take that back—Onions cooking in a stick of butter on the stove are one of the best things in the universe. I'm pretty sure I could have left these onions for an hour without them burning. Get a dutch oven, it's so worth it!

Note: To give you a visual landmark, the onions cooked for about another 10 minutes after the second onion photo above. They should be near falling apart, goopy and stringy. 

An important part of french onion soup is the crusty bread. Shame on the person with no bread for their french onion soup. 

Crusty, Cheesy Crostini:
Slice a baguette (preferably a day old, but no biggie if not) in 1/4"–1/2" slices. Drizzle or baste with olive oil. Salt and pepper (pep is my secret trick to awesome toasts) the top of the toasts. Put under the broiler until golden and crispy. Turn the toasts over, salt and pep again and top with the cheese you are using for your soup (we usually use Gruyere and Swiss). Broil again until bubbly and crisp. Set aside until dinner is ready.  

Don't you love the way Carrie tied her belt? I do. 

Frankie also came for dinner. Mia wasn't excited about her arrival, but retreated to the bedroom for some solace. 

Dessert was Chocolate Pots de Creme. These are so easy to make and so perfect to make ahead for a dinner party, so long as you have space in your refrigerator (no baking required). They were somewhat of a cross between a chocolate mousse and a chocolate pudding—closer to the pudding side.  I topped them with a spoonful of fresh-made whipped cream. There are so many flavor possibilities with this dessert! A fantastic night it was!

Special Tools: Crockpot, French/Dutch oven, Small ramekins (Pots de Creme), Oven with broiler, Blender

Grilled Vegetable and Basil Quinoa Salad:
The Grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad was wonderful and will certainly be on my dinner rotation list for life. You could replace the quinoa with lettuce, cous cous or even pasta. I used red quinoa, which is available at Trader Joes, I just love the color.

Check out the inspiration recipe here. For my salad, I used cherry tomatoes, marinated artichoke hearts, thin asparagus, crimini mushrooms, jarred roasted red peppers, and bocconcini mozzarella (added at the very end when assembling the salad. Don't cook this!). The simple dressing and the addition of basil to the quinoa is phenomenal!

I presented the salad with all the grilled veg on top and we tossed it at the table.

Note: I used 2 cups dry quinoa to feed 4 people well.

French Onion Soup:
This happens to be the recipe my family has always used. I highly recommend using Vermouth instead of Cognac. Vermouth is really inexpensive—about $5 at a liquor store.

I used a 50/50 mixture of sweet onions and red onions. I only used the red onions because I have a bag of them on hand. I would recommend using all sweet onions, but it honestly doesn't make too much of a flavor difference. I've read in the past that red onions make your soup murky. I didn't notice it doing so, but maybe if that's all that I used. Who knows..

Note: I double this recipe to feed 4 people with enough left for dinner for two the next day. Because of this, I increase the cooking time to 4-5 hours in the crockpot.

Chocolate Pots de Creme:
Recipe from my Aug/Sep 09 issue of Food Network Magazine, found online here. It says it feeds 6–8, but I would say 4–6 is a better portion. The image above is a 4-serving portion size.