Monday, September 28, 2009

Missing Le Pain Quotidien

Translated,  Le Pain Quotidien means "daily bread". Anyway, now that I have happily settled into the Second City, I am sorely missing my treks into the isle of Manhattan for my weekly fix of what I think is some great everyday awesome food at Le Pain Quotidien. (pronounced: luh paN koh-ti-dyaN)

Just a little history for those of you out there who haven't yet had the pleasure of a breakfast or lunch at LP.  "Simple, wholesome, nourishing and delicious".... is how they describe their fare and I wholeheartedly agree! They stick to organic products and produce as much as is possible, the presentation is artful and the flavors are so very, very fresh. But possibly the most interesting thing that they have introduced to our continent is the idea of "communal dining". This is so great for those of us who find ourselves dining solo every once in awhile. So easy and not intimidating, if you know what I mean!

"Friends and strangers alike come together around our communal table to break bread and linger for a while. Like all of our furniture, the communal table is made from reclaimed wood, which means no trees were sacrificed for us to sit and unwind. Take a seat next to a neighbor, share the Brunette and be reminded that, even in the big city, we are a community."

I can't help but respect and appreciate the philosophy behind that statement.  I also appreciate that they are using reclaimed wood for the tables and furniture and are very much active in a sustaining approach to the environment.

Being the creature of habit that I am just realizing that I am, I most often order a tartine (n. A French open-faced sandwich, especially one with a rich or fancy spread), the Roasted Turkey with diced tomatoes, scallions & herb dressing, to be exact. This is presented on a rectangular flat plate with garnishes of sliced radish, small black olives and cornichon.  Oh, and did I mention that they have spelt bread? And it's so good too.  In fact, on a recent trip back to New York, I met my sister-in-law, my Mom and my two adorable nephews at their new location in New Canaan, Connecticut and what did I order?  Of course, my favorite: Roasted Turkey Tartine.  Mom went crazy over their brownie, so chocoholics beware!  It packs a deep chocolate punch.  My sister-in-law opted for one of their fresh amazing salads.  She absolutely loved it!

Photo of Alain Coumont from Food and Wine, July 2009

Food and Wine Magazine did an article on Le Pain Quotidien, which you can find here.  Alain Coumont, the 48-year-old founder, began Le Pain Quotidien in 1990 as an artisanal bakery in his native Belgium.  At the time, Coumont was the chef at a restaurant in Brussels called Le Café du Dôme.  He was frustrated with the city’s breads, so he decided to make his own on the side.  Over the past two decades, Coumont has opened more than 100 Le Pain Quotidien cafés in over 15 countries.

Please do yourself a favor and the next time you are in  New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., or Connecticut stop in and have a tartine, salad or any of the many other delicious offerings they are serving up daily.  If you find yourself in France, Belgium, the United Kingdom or 10 or so other countries they are now in, track them down. You will be happy you did!

Sadly they have no plans to come to Chicago....I sent an email and asked if they would!  Oh well, more reason for me to come back East more often!!!  But I will hold out the hope that they will someday come to the Windy City!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dinner for One: Craving Quesadillas

que·sa·dil·la |ˌkāsəˈdēyə| noun, a tortilla filled with cheese and heated. ORIGIN, Spanish.

Here is a super easy and deliciously light meal to make when you are on your own. Even the dictionary defines it simply so you really can't go wrong (see above). I made chicken quesadillas with sauteed zucchini, yellow squash and shallots. I added some slices of a soft sheep's milk cheese, put in between two tortillas (I used Rudi's Bakery spelt tortillas), heated it just to melt the cheese in a cast iron skillet (turning once to get both sides, and presto! Dinner in under 30 minutes. I am also a big fan of salsa on my quesadilla but you don't necessarily have to use it. They are good either way.

This is a great way to use up any "leftovers" you may have in the fridge. What I like to do a lot is get a couple of bone-in chicken breasts, roast them at 375°F, with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and thyme for about 40-45 minutes and I have chicken to use over several days of meals. Quesadillas are one thing to do with the chicken , but you can also make any kind of chicken salad, chicken enchiladas, chicken wraps....the list is endless.

By the way, Rudi's Bakery makes spelt bread, spelt english muffins and spelt tortillas which seem to work for some folks who are wheat sensitive like myself. I know you can find them at Whole Foods and other Natural Food Stores throughout the country. Spelt has a nuttier flavor than wheat, it's actually a "cousin" to wheat but with a wider "spectrum of nutrients compared to many of its more inbred cousins in the wheat family. It can be used in many of the same ways as wheat." (this according to an article at a website devoted to healthier living called The World's Healthiest Foods ).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's all about the Butta

Well, I finally got to see Julie and Julia this past weekend. Funny how when you are a foodie people keep asking you, "Have you seen Julie and Julia yet??"

I absolutely loved it! Especially Julia Child's life in Paris. I was mesmerized with the detail with which the talented people at Columbia Pictures re-created Paris and Europe in the 50's in the cooking world. One scene I loved was when Julia and Simca (a.k.a. Simone Beck) were in the little kitchen store and Julia was loading up her cute basket with copper pots! Maybe they were more affordable then?? And I loved how similar the two women really were, though generations apart. Ahh life, it's funny that way!

I think it was highly entertaining and it makes me want to cook everything in butter. After all, Julia lived to a ripe old age of 92 and she ate why not? I feel a souffle coming on........

PS...I sold a lot of those cute "egg whisks" on the book cover at my kitchen store.......

Everyone should be this happy making an omelet!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cuckoo for Coconuts

I must have been sleeping while this new trend has been cropping up! I mean is it me or has anyone else noticed that the coconut is taking over?? There are quite a few companies that are making sports drinks and non-dairy frozen desserts with coconut milk, to name a few. One of the claims is that coconut water is an excellent hydrator. O.N.E (short for "One Natural Experience") says, "O.N.E.™ Coconut Water is 100% natural, and has five essential electrolytes (calcium, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and sodium), more potassium than a banana (15 times the amount of potassium as most sports drinks, without the artificial chemicals found in sports drinks.), no added sugars, no fat, no cholesterol, and no preservatives. Additionally, O.N.E.™ Coconut Water is a naturally sweet, low calorie, hydrating beverage."

Vita Coco says that their sports drink has more than 15 times the electrolytes found in sports drinks and is as natural as natural gets ( just like sticking a straw in a coconut). I have not yet tried this or any of the others that are now filling the beverage shelves at the supermarket, but I have tried the coconut ice cream Purely Decadent by Turtle Mountain.

Their website explains the benefits of coconut by stating that, "Although coconut contains saturated fat, a closer examination shows that not all saturated fats pose a health problem." They also say, "Coconut represents a vegetarian-sourced saturated fat consisting of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). Scientists have long recognized MCFAs such as lauric and capric acid for their anti-viral and anti-microbial properties. The body utilizes MCFAs as energy instead of storing them as fat."
Bottom line, is that it actually tastes great! No weird after taste like some frozen desserts have (in particular rice and soy ice creams). It was light and the chocolate chips were just the right amount. I would definitely buy it again. I sampled the one in the picture above, Mint Chip.

I am going to try the coconut water sports drinks and see what they are all about and give you my review. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Seeing Red

I love this time of year when all the vegetables are at their peak and the first of the fall fruits are being harvested. You will see lots of new varieties of apples this year too.

But the best tomatoes are available now and now's the time to really enjoy them. And if you are looking for some new ideas of what to do with them I have got a suggestion for you!

Two words. Tomato Confit. Or perhaps the more modern title, Oven Roasted Tomatoes. Either way you speak it, this is perhaps the best way to draw out the natural sweetness that tomatoes possess. The variety that works best is the Roma.

Here is what to do but have patience because when we say "low and slow" we mean low and slow! (low oven temp and 3 hours roasting time)

Tomato Confit

1.5-2 lbs of Roma tomatoes
1 tsp fennel seeds
6 sprigs of fresh thyme ( I used lemon thyme)
1 tbsp coarse salt

2 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
1 head of garlic, all cloves peeled and halved

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 280
°F. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise. Scatter the fennel, thyme, salt and pepper over the base of an oven proof baking dish, large enough for the tomatoes to fit snuggly in a single layer. Arrange the tomatoes over the seasonings, tuck the garlic in and pour the olive oil over the whole thing. Roast for 3 hours, basting every 40 minutes or so with the oil and juices from the tomatoes, being careful not to disturb tomatoes too much.

This is what they will look like when done. So worth it!

You can serve the tomatoes as they are, straight from the dish, with some crusty bread, or you can do what I did which was serve them over pasta, with some feta cheese, and parsley. they will keep for 4-5 days covered in the fridge too if they last that long.

Here is what I made with mine. It was so good!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wine for One

As promised, I want to let those of you who might like to have a glass of wine with your Dinner for One, just how to save that wine in the bottle you are not going to drink!

The Vacu-Vin wine saver pump removes the air (and the oxygen that spoils wine) from opened bottles. Place it over the reusable stopper and pump out the air. It's that easy.

It really helps to have several of the reusable stoppers on hand just in case you are in the mood for a wine tasting and don't want to waste any of the wine that is left over. You can find this indispensible wine gadget at kitchen stores and also at fine wine shops in your area.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dinner for One

Okay don't go getting all sad that one has to eat alone! But these days it seems that there are a lot of us out there that do just that. I mean, not just single people, but there are folks who's spouses and/or partners travel for work, or some people have the night shift, different schedules, anyway, you get my drift. But there is no need to take a "pass" on cooking for yourself! Heck, not only should you do this with joy, but go on and have a glass of wine with the meal too! I will show you a clever way around making sure you don't have to waste any of that bottle you open for yourself. (don't worry- I am not going to say drink it all!) See tomorrow's post for this great tip!

So I thought I would start a weekly post of an easy recipe that you can throw together fairly quickly and if you do find yourself with a dinner guest, you can double or triple depending how many people you will have.

One of my go to dinners for years has been Salmon and Leeks Baked in Parchment. The recipe is actually from The Best of Martha Stewart Living, What to Have for Dinner (Time Publishing Ventures Inc, 1996). This book is a compilation of recipes taken from her magazine over the years. An oldie now but a goodie.

So here is what you do:

Get yourself a roll of parchment paper at a kitchen shop or even supermarkets stock this now.

1 sheet of parchment
1 salmon fillet, 6 to 8 ounce
1/2 a leek, washed well and thinly sliced
3-4 cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
dry white wine

olive oil

salt and pepper
2-3 sprigs of fresh herbs, like parsley, chopped (I used basil here)
melted butter

1.Preheat the oven to 350°. Fold a large sheet of parchment paper in half and cut out a "heart" shape about 3-4 inches larger that the fish fillet. Place the fish near the fold and place the leeks next to it. (see photo above)
2. Drizzle fish with a little wine and olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsley.
3. Brush the edges of the parchment paper with the melted butter, fold paper to enclose the fish, and make small overlapping folds to seal the edges, starting at the curve of the heart. ( see photo below, although mine looks more like a calzone shape than a heart! but you get the idea). Be sure it is well sealed and there are no gaps. Brush the outside of the package with melted butter and place on a baking sheet.

4. Bake until paper is puffed and brown, about 10-15 minutes.
5. Carefully, open package (steam will escape and be very hot!) and Voilà! A lovely little low fat, nutritious meal for one! Serve with a salad if you like or a side of couscous or rice is great too!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Food Truck Madness!

On a recent trip back to the Motherland (that's Brooklyn N.Y. for those of you who don't know from where I originate!), I had a close encounter with the new craze that seems to be sweeping the boroughs (and the nation, I might add). Fast food on wheels. Yes that's right folks, what will our creative New Yorkers think of next? And I don't mean the sort of fast food that has no purpose but to fill a hunger need. These guys and gals are seriously committed to flavorful, healthy and wholesome ingredients!

For instance, take the creamy yellow truck pictured here, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. The truck alone was enough to get me interested! It was created by a young man, Ben Van Leeuwen, his wife and brother. The ice cream is made with top notch ingredients including hormone free milk and cream from New York State cows that graze in pastures at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains. They use pure cane sugar and egg yolks in their ice creams leaving you with a wonderful creamy and dense product. Their vanilla gets it's rich flavor from the organic bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans grown in Papua New Guinea (and these beans have been aged in vodka in oak barrels for 4 months intensifying the flavor) and are then ground into a paste and used in the ice cream. Wow! And that's just what goes into one of their flavors! Their choice in the chocolate ice cream is Michel Cluizel chocolate, which they feel is far superior to many that they had tasted. My sister and I however, decided on sharing the Peppermint Chip and I don't think we could have chosen better...I have always been a big fan of mint and chocolate and this was the ticket! We chose the bowl over the cone, and we soon realized that the spoon and cup were not your ordinary plastic take out types. No, their cups and napkins I found out, are made from Bagasse, a fiber made from sugar cane husk. Their spoons and straws are made from corn husks. So, my friends, good for the environment and good for you! No nasty petrochemicals in those goods!
So next time you are in the mood for some good ice cream, and you happen to be in Park Slope, Brooklyn look for the distinctive yellow truck and treat yourself and maybe even treat someone else too! You can also follow them on Twitter to find out where else in the boroughs they will be!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

For the love of figs

I think that figs don't get the attention they so truly deserve! I mean, don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of fig bars (as in Fig Newtons) but there is so much more to this exotic fruit than meets the eye! For example, there's fig jam, fig balsamic vinegar, fig and Gorgonzola pizza, stuffed figs and well you get the idea now. They are in season from late summer to early winter. Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber.

So, when I saw the huge display of beautiful figs at the market last week, I decided that it was the perfect time to make some fig jam. Maybe the fall weather that is rolling into Chicago inspired me.....could be. Nothing compares to homemade jam! So here is my attempt at jam-making. At first I was a little rusty- I haven't done this for years, but as I watched the figs just contentedly bubbling away and smelled the aroma of the figs, sugar and cinnamon wafting through the house, I knew I was doing something right and I think there's another batch happening in the near future!

Fig Jam with Ginger and Cinnamon

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

1-1/2 lbs. mission or green figs
1 3" inch strip lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick

juice of 1/2 lemon
about a 1" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into large chunks

Add water and sugar to a pan and place on a medium heat to dissolve.

Remove the stems from the figs and cut into quarters. Add to the sugar mixture along with lemon zest, cinnamon stick, ginger and lemon juice. Bring the mix to a light simmer and leave the pan uncovered. Cook for about 1 hour or until the mix thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Spoon into clean jars and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. This recipe makes 3 1/2 pint jars.

Rinse the figs and drain off any excess water

Stem and quarter the figs

Simmer for about an hour