Thursday, October 23, 2008

Moving Into Fall At Papa Byrd's

School has begun, the tourist season is about over, but the great food at Papa Byrd's just gets better. Business has certainly slowed and our tanking economy hasn't helped much, but innovative Tracy has us serving half portions again during the day, and college has taken away many of our employees, so we continue on.

We slid gracefully into Fall with a lovely, artistic belly-dancing performance by Tracy's friend, Erika. Having only seen belly-dancers who danced for the tips lavished upon them, Erika's presentation was a pleasant departure into something that emphasized grace, artistry, balance, and form. The customers were very pleased and even the employees had to stop their work and become absorbed into the show. At the end, Erika did a beautiful dance while skillfully balancing a series of candles on a tray on her head. Beautiful!

Several weeks ago Josh's dad, Terry Sherven, played guitar and sang at the restaurant, along with local musicians Gary Lawrence (bass and singing) and Wayne Rau on mandolin. The customers really enjoyed the music. I had to agree with many of them that it sounded like Willie Nelson was in the restaurant. Great night!

We've had several perfect restaurant weekends because Josh and Tracy have been serving and the evening's flow has been everything a restaurant could wish for. We have an excellent core group of people that just cannot be beat. That's our dynamic duo: Tracy and Josh!

And our customers seems to be happy. We've had people from Seattle to Tasmania to Coeur d'Alene rave about the food. We even had a customer write about us at TripAdvisor.

Besides our regular menu which includes Mark's signature lasagna, Mark also creates the most delicious specials from Vodka Sauce on Papparadelle with Freshly Grated Parmesan to a Wild Mushroom Duxelles Sauce on Mushroom Ravioli topped off with a Balsamic Reduction to Orange-glazed Game Hens served with Wild and Brown Rice with Middle Eastern Herbs and Roasted, Locally Grown Apples and the list goes on.

I've created some new desserts, a favorite being my version of the Velouté au Citron (Lemon Velvet Cake), in which I use two biscuit layers in the center and two almond meringue layers for the top and bottom, thus creating a multi-layered cake. Last weekend I created a cake I called "Evita" because it had flavors reminding me of Argentina: chocolate genoise layers made with
Dagoba Xocolatl Hot Chocolate Mix, three layers of mocha buttercream, topped with a chocolate ganache, and then I trimmed the sides to show off the layers. Yummy! And last night I made a Caramel-Pecan Chocolate Ganache Tart. After "quality control," the kitchen came to a standstill.

Arriving home after work, I found the movie "Chocolat" just beginning on TV and was compelled to watch the entire movie for yet another time. It just captures me and dessert-making....

Well, off to work....

Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer At Papa Byrd's

It has been a busy summer. I've been working six nights a week and as much as I love working it doesn't leave much time for other favorite endeavors, like blogging. I did, however, manage to get in a few words at my other blog since my son, Julian, was one of two pages from Idaho at the Democratic National Convention. He was also the youngest member of the Idaho delegation, and as the mom with subsequent bragging rights, I had to write about the convention.

But back to the kitchen, which these days seems to be Papa Byrd's kitchen instead of Linda's.... Maybe not, after all I do work there.... The summer has been interesting with live music, a belly dancer, and all sorts of delicious specials created by Mark. I've had a hand with several different desserts. I captured some of the specials and desserts on film so photos to follow! We've had some incredibly busy days and also some slower ones but in a restaurant's first year it seems no predictions can be made. Summer has been good because we're located adjacent to the city parking lot and just a few doors down from the Visitor Center. For those of you who have never heard of Bonners Ferry before, we are a gateway to both Montana and Canada and we have more than 30,000 tourists who pass through our county (pop. 10,000) every summer.

We only have ten tables at the restaurant plus four 2-tops outside. Tracy, one of the owners, can handle the entire place easily but some of the local help has more trouble. On the positive side, many people know all the local help so patience comes in full supply. All in all we have a very good crew although the college students will be sorely missed.

Of course my favorite working crew belongs in the kitchen and on Saturday nights three of us have a great time no matter how busy it gets. So meet Anita, Mark and myself, Linda:

I caught some of the desserts on camera, but please, I'm no photographer. One night I made a Chocolate-Dipped Financier Cake, served with sweet whipped cream and fresh raspberries:

On another I went for my Chocolate Mousse Cake (because of the lighting the filling looks to be different colors but it comes out solid chocolate):

A favorite is Tiramisu, made with real zabagloine, macarpone and whipped cream. Most people here have only experienced the American custard (or vanilla pudding at some places) mixed with cream cheese, but we have the real thing and it is appreciated:

And when berries were in season, we just served the zabaglione with fresh fruit:

The desserts are only a final compliment to Mark's excellent and delicious "specials." On the following occasion he created a roasted fennel and red pepper shrimp, served on top of a Gorgonzola potato galette and accompanied with garlic roasted fresh red and golden beets on top of their own garlic fried greens. It was so good that the staff as well as the customers demand it frequently! The food just keeps on coming! Unfortunately my camera has not caught all of our delicious specials, which leave staff and customers satiated! But I'm working on it because I want everyone to know why Papa Byrd's is THE hottest restaurant in Boundary County, Idaho!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Slow Food In Bonners Ferry

It was, indeed, a rather slow night for the restaurant, but our slowly made Bolognese Sauce was well worth the wait! I fell in love with Mark's version of it (he used Italian sausage) and could have eaten at least a pound of sauce and pappardelle. But I restrained myself and saved it for customers....

The entree included our caprese salad, so I shot a quick pic of the caprese salads and of our house salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, gorgonzola, and a balsamic vinaigrette) right before the waitress scooped it up to serve.

I took several more photos but didn't like some of them including the photo of Mark and myself (better luck next time). However, since I mentioned waitresses, we had two of our college students, Meadow and Betsy (left to right) with one of our dishwashers, Tony, who's always eager to pose between two beautiful girls.

More to come after I get used to taking photos while working....

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's About Time I Brought My Camera To Work....

We've been creating some very tasty and beautiful dishes this summer and I keep leaving my camera at home.... Every time I read some of my favorite food blogs I just cringe at my own negligence. I guess it's about time to bring that camera to work.

This morning I made a carrot/ginger soup. Pretty typical these days but it did contain lots of flavor. I think it was the nutmeg and cardamom that pushed it over the top. I also did a watermelon gazpacho, from a recipe supplied to me by my chef, Mark. It had a lot of flavors in it, including watermelon, cucumber, peppers, mint and several others, and when all those flavors finally married, it was really sensational! And perfect for a 90+ degree day.

Before leaving for the day, owner, Tracy, wanted a variation on her favorite Alfredo style sauce, "something with spinach," she said. I left her with a spinach cream sauce, made with the simple basics of spinach, white onion, salt, nutmeg, and cream, all blended in the food processor, and then mixed in a bit of Parmesan. I loved the flavor and in our "quality control" test, in which we finished it off with freshly ground pepper, we both decided the chicken raviolis were a terrific match.

Yum, another day of cooking all day. I just love it!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Papa Byrd's Bistro

The days all tumble into one on-going love affair with food. The people just keep coming and even when we're hit all at once, with almost every order having a special request, I still love it! From the desire to please to the desire to create, I feel I'm on top of the world, and I have only Papa Byrd's Bistro to thank. Well, and Mark and Tracy, owners, as well as to the great staff that also works there. Our grand opening isn't until June 28th, but the summer tide has already begun and I expect we'll be putting in lots of long hours through next fall.

Our menu is starting to really form, although it's more in our heads at the moment. Of course we'll be keeping all the pizzas but we're adding different salads and sandwiches, and Mark keeps creating the most delectable and delicious dinner specials. I still haven't gotten over the amazing Moroccan spiced ribs, served with couscous and tzatziki. Wow! I think that special should be available once a week all summer long! People also seem to crave different pasta dishes, so that will be fun. I've made a number of different desserts but the Tres Leches coconut cake and the Decadent Chocolate Cake seem to be keepers, at least for the summer. Homemade ice cream also offers both a great dessert complement as well as being delicious on its own. And soon we'll be adding Creme Brulee. Oh, the yummy quotient just keeps growing!

Every day I mean to bring in my camera, but who knows if I can find time to take a photo. I must try however, because Mark does such a beautiful plating, and the food looks as good as it tastes. Well, I'm off to work.... and work has never been so much fun!

Monday, May 26, 2008

How Do I Love Cooking....Let Me Count The Ways....

Ah yes, it has been a while, but now the semester has finished, and I have another job, for summer and beyond. Before the end of the school year, I did manage to make it to Emery's for several more lunches. These included a delicious Thai curry dish and on another day, some succulent roast pork; unfortunately my last meal there left me hungry.... My husband had a huge, scrumptious crab and shrimp salad. The lady next to me had a huge bowl of some kind of pasta. The guy to my left had a large, fat-dripping andouille sausage. I was served five little bay scallops and eight miniature gnocchi with tomato sauce. It all tasted good, but the forced diet-sized portion left me so hungry that I had to eat more at my favorite Coeur d'Alene latte stop, Bella Rose. Oh well, next semester my teaching will be in Sandpoint, ID, so I'll have an opportunity to find more interesting eateries and food hangouts.

Since I'm only a part-time instructor, I began thinking about a second or even summer job to keep me busy and supplement my income. Luck came my way right here in my little home town and I jumped at a local opportunity to work as a "chef." Recently returning to his hometown after many years' absence, my new "boss" took over a local pizza place and preceded to turn it into a delicious and cozy local bistro (keeping the pizza, of course). Several soups, a small variety of sandwiches, and specials dependent on seasonal foods make up the menu. He is also a self-trained chef and I think his food is wonderful. Together we try to cook food that will make the customers says "wow!" And I am having way too much fun. I have to pinch myself to make sure it's real.

I just love spending hours in the kitchen: prepping, cooking, creating new recipes. And my boss, Mark, is a delight: creative, humorous, genial, gracious, and just a dear person. He owns the place with his niece, Tracy, who is the front room person that everyone falls in love with. Indeed, the entire staff is great, but I think that's because Mark and Tracy set the tone to make this a hard-working but friendly place to be. And the food is excellent!

Although quite small, the location is town center. Originally they thought it would just be a family affair, but through local word-of-mouth people have flocked to the restaurant and its popularity has spurred quick growth. Besides meaning a necessity to hire more employees (lucky me!), this has also prompted the necessity for the menu to expand. Bringing my pastry skills to work, I have been allowed to present as well as create some of my European style desserts and I love doing it! From chocolate mousse cake to lemon gelato filled tuile cups to a coconut-inspired Tres Leches cake to an all chocolate-no flour cake served on raspberry coulis with a dollop of whipped cream, I am in dessert heaven. I also prep for lunch, am given free allowance to create soups of the day, and help with the specials. I never thought I would love the work this much. And when we have a really busy lunch or dinner, it just makes it all that much better.

So, if you ever make it up to the crown jewel of north Idaho, Bonners Ferry, visit us at Papa Byrd's Bistro (at the city parking lot, near the Visitor's Center), 11-8, Mon.-Sat. You'll eat well, appreciate views that include mountains, trees, rivers and blue skies, and then you can shop Main Street downtown for all sorts of great items, from used and rare books to dishes to clothes to crafts to art to stationery. We're a friendly bunch in this town and as the U.S. gateway to the Canadian Rockies we always welcome our visitors.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Loving What Is Rare....

I took a quick trip to Seattle last week. One of the best things about Seattle is that I can buy items that are just NEVER available where I live in north Idaho. Veal is one. Now the local supermarkets in Seattle (QFC) always have some sort of veal. And of course, Pike's Place Market always has big, luscious cuts of veal. But where I live, where people actually raise beef, nobody slaughters a calf! That is a waste to people around here. So, I have to buy my veal in Seattle....

I used to buy my veal just across the border in British Columbia, but now, because of mad cow disease, I cannot bring any beef, or veal, across the border. Pork is okay. Wild boar is okay. Even bird is now okay, but no beef. No venison or buffalo or lamb either. It's a hoof thing...

So, I did bring home a lovely "blade steak," which seems to be just a thin "blade roast." It's big enough for my husband and myself, however. I browned and then de-glazed it with Madiera, , browned up some mirepoix, added a bit of flour, some homemade veal stock, threw the veal back in and braised for an hour or so. Oh, and I added some dried (I dried them) morel mushrooms with the water from dehydrating them, some salt, pepper, thyme, and, I think, a bay leaf (from the bay tree that grows indoors in my sunroom, now almost five feet tall). I served it with mashed potatoes and parsnips and fresh chives (from my garden). For extra vegetable, I chunked up some of my friend, Marsha's, just dug carrots. And then I used my barely sprouting parsley as a garnish for the veal. It was soooo good.

First I put up a small plate to photo, and then, having forgotten the fresh parsley (my husband just wanted to eat....forget the photos), I ignored the guy almost passing out from lack of food and piled him up a big plate, with parsley, and then, made him wait for one more photo. I think it was all worth it....

Accompanied by a Trader Joe special red wine, we began the meal with a "Bon Appetit!" and ended with "Ich bin sat" (I am satiated). Life is good.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

More Dining at Emery's

No, I haven't been around much lately - two hours to work and two hours return, three days a week, has seriously cut into my blogging time. But I do love teaching!

I've also had the opportunity to experience several more meals at Emery's, the restaurant of the North Idaho College Culinary Program. For my third visit to Emery's, I began with a "chicken with veggies" soup. It was okay. It seems to be a staple of the repertoire. For the main course, I settled on chicken marinated with sun-dried tomatoes and peppers, I was delighted to find it moist and flavorful, albeit having but a few diced peppers. Unfortunately it was accompanied by "rosemary, garlic roasted potatoes" which tasted like, yuk!, water. Either they had been over-boiled (my guess) or had spent several days in a steamer drawer.

On this visit the dessert was a chocolate cake with a chocolate buttercream frosting. I know I should have tasted it, but I was just too full (having eaten a croissant from the Pine Street Bakery in Sandpoint, one of the best croissants this side of Paris). The cake looked good, and although I'm not a big dessert eater, I love to make European style pastry (you know, all those yummy, multi-layered kuchen and torte (cakes) that you see in the window of a German or Austrian bakery, or the French cakes, which usually have a more sleek and uncomplicated appearance but still with a flavor to die for). And given how critical I am about buttercreams (I prefer a flavor that is not just butter) I should have tried the cake. Oh well, next time....

On my fifth visit, a friend joined me for lunch. We both had the sauteed shrimp, scallops and cod with a garlic butter sauce, served with rice. It arrived beautifully arranged on a square plate, rice perfectly mounded in the middle with the sauce and fish artfully arranged around the rice and several thinner-than-a-match strips of red and green pepper in two diagonal, off-corner places. It looked beautiful and tasted wonderful! Neither the butter nor the garlic overwhelmed and the fish flavor came through with perfect balance. I could have licked the plate clean.....shamelessly.

The dessert that day, yes, another round eclair, but this one tasted divine. Filled with a chocolate pastry cream that was light and not overly chocolate, it was served on a several lines of chocolate icing and topped with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar. I left wondering if the food was going to be that great from now on since the end of the program was drawing nearer.

And the following week, well, they were closed that week, but last week, I was not disappointed. The roasted garlic and winter squash soup had potential, but was too bland from lack of salt and the roasted garlic overwhelmed a bit. Still, it had promise. The main course, roast pork with mashed potatoes and broccoli was delicious! The pork was moist and had a flavorful herbed crust, mostly cumin, coriander and garlic. The potatoes were mashed with butter and chives and roasted garlic and were so moist that just a bit of the pork pan gravy served as additional, complementary flavor. The broccoli was cooked "al dente" but not too hard. I think I received them at just the right moment from hard to soft. The dessert was a Napoleon, but the crust was too soft, not enough pastry cream filling, and I wasn't crazy about the icing. Oh well, I only tried two bites, but it didn't tempt me further.

Now, before I go on, I have to state that these lunches only cost between $4-8. Yes, that's right, between four and eight dollars, most around the $5 range. Usually one has a choice amongst about 6-8 different items, usually two soups (one often being a "clear" broth) and only one dessert, although if dieting, a sorbet is frequently available. So, I don't really expect homemade sausage, organic ingredients, or grass-fed beef. But these students are doing very good work overall and more than just being a bargain, Emery's offers good food, some of it exceptional. I'm enjoying every lunch....

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Emery's: the Aroma, the Taste, the View

Now that I'm working three days a week in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho (a two-hour drive from home, giving new meaning to sustainable living....), I find myself with time to listen to books on tape, the Great Lectures, and the opportunity to eat once a week at Emery's. The lectures, borrowed from a friend, have not, so far, been devoted to food. But the guy who lectures on The Concerto, Robert Greenberg from San Francisco Performances, is so interesting, that I actually look forward to the drive.

Wednesday is my longest day, ending at 9pm, but I look forward to it because of the opportunity to eat at Emery's, the restaurant of the North Idaho College Culinary Arts Program. Open only three days a week with sittings from 11:30am-12:30pm, I now make sure that I have a weekly reservation. In a small, intimate room, with a view of Coeur d'Alene lake, I have the opportunity to taste students' cuisine at an unbelievable price - usually around $6.00. And that includes soup, freshly made bread, an entree and dessert. It's not the CIA, nor does it pretend to be. Nor do all the students have the same enthusiasm, dedication, and bon vivance that The Foodist has. But this is north Idaho, which has, in case you don't know, produced some fine chefs like Kim Sturts who works for Tom Douglas in Seattle.

I've learned that after the first month of the program, the students are put into the kitchen, so, as you may expect, the cuisine can vary in its taste, preparation, and creativity. For my first lunch I went with the Coq au Vin, and learned immediately to lower my expectations a bit according to where the student was in the program. The soup, actually a "clear broth with chicken" was not clear at all but the flavor was all chicken with an accent of herbs. The Coq au Vin had too many tiny rib bones which was not at all pleasant to bite down upon, the chicken skin was rather greasy, and the mushrooms were "common," but overall the flavor was definitely leaning in the right direction. The noodles were a bit dry from standing around.... oh well. For dessert, I went for the mango/raspberry sorbet which was a great pairing of flavors albeit a flakey and inconsistent texture.

For my second lunch I went with a corned beef sandwich, mistakenly thinking that the simplicity of the sandwich would yield a delicious lunch. I think that my order was based subliminally on the cover photo of the March issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Unfortunately, the store-bought corned beef, the thin and almost non-existent layer of sauerkraut, caught between the panini grilled rye bread, just didn't do it for me. The salad lacked the same creativity and the dessert, an "eclair," was actually just a cream puff, made, I'd guess, from a pudding mix. I asked the waitress (a culinary student) if the chef knew the difference between an eclair and a cream puff and the answer came back, "the shape." I didn't have the heart to say, and yeah, you have the shapes completely wrong. But the tomato-basil cream soup that began the meal was divine. At least I now know that one part of every meal will be just about perfect....

Last week, I knew I'd have to go with something that a beginning student would think creative, but fool-proof. I longed for the roast pork loin with mashed potatoes and gravy, but having had pork the night before, went with the stuffed chicken breast with herbed butter sauce. The soup, a chicken vegetable, was fine. The fresh bread was pretty good with a chewy crust. The chicken breast, dry as you probably already imagined, was cut in half with a layer of herbed rice and feta cheese. It was served with not-quite-cooked-enough carrot chunks (too big for one bite) that were dripping in butter. The rice, herb and feta stuffing was good. The herbed butter sauce was good. I think I would have brined the chicken breast. But for the price, I'm being overly fussy ($4.50). Dessert was the same eclair as last week, so, I passed.

It has been an interesting experience so far and the students are delightful, so eager to please. If I have to eat out, I think I enjoy these inexpensive, "experiments" in eating more than very expensive, "pretty" plates. I'm not rich, I appreciate the joy of learning immensely, and I don't eat out often. In my neck of the woods the restaurant food is not created by "trained" chefs or even trained cooks. Furthermore, I prefer to live as sustainably as possible when it comes to food so I don't trust much of the food bought by restaurants. So, for now, Emery's is my treat and I look forward to every lunch I'll have there!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Mid-Winter Sunday

This is what the lower garden looked like at 7:30 this morning. So many shades of gray! And so cold...brrrr... mid-teens this morning. Just as cold yesterday morning....when my cat, Katie, began to wander into the forest because she had discovered that the snow was so frozen she could walk on top of it without falling in! She is a crazy one, a real tree-climber. She has even climbed up the post from the downstairs porch to the upper one. So far, I've managed to keep her off the roof. I think.

So what does all this have to do with food. Well, I needed something warm and comforting, so I took out some of my friend, Helen's, eggs for some soft boiled eggs on toast, with bread that I made yesterday, and for just a bit more protein, fried up some of Armandino Batali's finocchiona salami. Hmmm...delicious. And just what I needed on this cold winter day.

Actually my kitchen has been a buzz of activity since yesterday. I made some No-Knead Bread because we were completely out and it's my husband's favorite. For myself, and my Monday lunch customers, I started on the two-day bread recipe in Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery. I love her description and because of it, all the whys and hows and wherefores just came together for me. This is about the fourth time I've made the bread and I'm doing it consistently until it all becomes taken-for-granted. Then the whole process will be inside me and I can begin to innovate. I've been baking bread at least once a week for the past five years and I'm finally beginning to feel like I'm not a novice any more.

And there's more going on in my kitchen. I just love the suggestions for making a great veal stock from Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, and that's what is filling my house with a wonderful and pervasive aroma this morning, and, all day. The first time I made it, it came out perfect! Now it's the way I always make my brown veal stock, or even the "ersatz demi." Actually it's the demi I prefer. I then freeze it in ice cube trays, put the frozen cubes in a freezer zip lock, and store it in my large basement freezer. It's just the perfect "over-the-top" addition to so many great dishes.

I've learned how to cook so many great meals from Julia, and the boys.... and the girls too! I've never met any of these chefs but they have certainly been a part of my life for many years. I still have the book club edition of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that I bought as a teenager! It was formidable at the time, although I remember trying to make some fish dish for my grandma that actually came out tasting pretty good, even though I over-cooked the fish a bit....

Well, it's almost time to throw together some chocolate chip cookie dough, as well as the dough for six pizzas. Those are for my vegetarian son. I make one a day and he loves them! Then it will be time to put my bread in the oven. Given that I also have some lesson plans to write up, I guess I'd better head back to the kitchen.

Ciao, and bon appetít!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Food In The Four Fields

I haven't had access to the internet since Monday. The story is typical north Idaho. My ISP provider began to snowmobile up to the radio tower to fix some equipment, could only get so far on the snowmobile, snowshoed the rest of the way, worked on the equipment until it was too dark, then found himself being "rescued" by our local Search and Rescue guys who refused to let him spend the night there. It was four days before he could go back in and fix the equipment. I was never sure whether I should laugh or cry....

What made this so frustrating for me is that I started teaching at our local community college this week (90 miles away, giving new meaning to the term local), and needed internet access for all sorts of school related reasons. Luckily, things seem to be back to normal, so here I go again....

Interestingly, I have a student who is taking my Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology class because she is interested in cultural aspects of food and nutrition. How can I not love that? Food is a great topic for talking about anthropology because it can be approached through any and all of the four sub-fields of anthropology: physical (also called biological), archaeology, cultural, and linguistic.

Biological and physical aspects of diet, evolution, and health are prominent topics today. Food is an important part of the archaeological record, providing us with historical data about what and how people ate in a time without written record. Cultural and social aspects of food abound, from culture specific diets to the economics of shopping to social aspects of eating. And how we talk about food reveals much about our culture, ourselves, and how food is valued. Indeed, history, the environment, and economics also enter into discussions of food, while the politics of food is pervasive around the world. Given the popularity of food today, what with the food channel, trendy restaurants, sustainable eating, GMO crops, and so forth, the topic of food lends itself to a variety of questions and discussions within the four fields of anthropology and makes it easily accessible to beginning students. I could go on and on....

Instead I'll jump right into the food I made for Monday lunch this week, especially since it's one of my favorite comfort foods. I made an Italian sausage and lentil soup. I first had soup like this at a restaurant and I loved it. Of course, lentil soup was also childhood delight since it was one of my father's favorite foods although we only had it when he had time to make it. (My mother's favorite to make, and it hasn't wavered over the years, is reservations). Anyway, starting with some good Italian sausage (or ground pork with Italian seasonings like fennel, oregano, and hot pepper), I brown the meat, throw in some chopped onion, a bit of carrot and celery, garlic and salt, and before that garlic has time to do anything but yield its flavor into the fat, I add some homemade tomato sauce. Then come the lentils and the water, and I let it simmer until the lentils are edible. At the end I mix in some creme fraiche or sour cream and I just love the mix of flavors in this soup.

I found several years ago that my soups, stews and what have you always taste better when I use water instead of some canned or even worse, dried broth or bouillon. I was delighted to read last November that this is the very thing that author and blogger, Michael Ruhlman suggests. He said:

"I cannot say this strongly or loudly enough: DO NOT use canned stock/broth. Use WATER instead. I repeat. You DO NOT NEED to buy that crappy can of Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth! It will HURT your food. Use water instead. When that recipe says 1 cup of fresh chicken stock (or good quality canned broth), please know that your food, 90 percent of the time, will taste better if you use tap water instead of that "good quality" canned broth. Water is a miracle."

And he's absolutely right.

Continuing with lunch, salad consisted of celery, carrot and couscous with a lemony, dijon vinaigrette. My everyday white bread flour with wheat bran rolls took on some interesting shapes when I tried sliding them off the peel onto the preheated baking stone in my oven. I kind of liked the effect.

And dessert, well, I never go wrong when I make something out of Nick Malgieri's book Perfect Cakes, so this week I made the "Capriccio alle Nocciole" or Hazelnut Cake from Ticino. It was delicious!

Bon Appetit!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Monday Lunch

Today was Monday Lunch. I've been doing Monday lunch for about four years. Monday Lunch is lunch for friends who work in town and would just like a lunch made by me once a week. It all started with my friend, Elizabeth. Actually, the whole thing was her idea. In my small town in north Idaho, not many job opportunities exist and those that do are usually the real low pay jobs. In the restaurant industry that can be really low because this is a "Right-To-Work" state, which means waitresses and waiters, for example, might only be paid $3.15/hr. Hard to believe isn't it? Very sad but true. So, Elizabeth had this idea of delivering lunches for a business.

Well, with all the health requirements most home kitchens wouldn't pass inspection, so, she kind of gave it up. But at the time she was working at one of the local florists and requested that I make her lunch once a week. Well, the owner wanted lunch, as did the owner of the local bookstore, and my friend Julie, at the health food store, and so the business just blossomed. At one time I had too many customers, so much that I almost had to double up on everything. I cut back and now I have but a few who wait eagerly every week for lunch.

Lunch is a prix fixe deal. It's cheap, six smackeroos for an entree (usually soup, but could be risotto, panini, etc.), a side dish (usually salad, maybe a sandwich if lunch was soup, a veggie dish and so forth), homemade roll, and dessert (anything from tiramisu to dacquoise to bundt cake to creme brulee). Each business has their own decorated box (made by my friend, Diana). Their lunches come in glass containers and wax paper bags. They have to wash their dishes which I pick up later in the week. And they all get the same thing, and that's whatever I feel like making that day. I do take into consideration some serious likes and dislikes: John does not like raw onion, Alice refuses offal, and Julie doesn't do beets. But other than that, it's the cook's whim. And I love it! And I think they do too. Indeed, Diana eagerly awaits the description alone....and seems satisfied with the food....

Every Sunday is like Iron Chef America day. I scour the fridge and pantry to see what ingredients I have. Most of these lunches are organic, by default of my preferences, and many of the entrees include ingredients grown over the summer which have been canned or frozen. It's fun figuring out what to make. For desserts, it can be based on what's available, but I've also made it a point to try every recipe in Nick Malgieri's book, Perfect Cakes. So far every recipe has come out perfect and I've tried over half of them. Sometimes I do a vegetarian lunch but usually I use some of my local beef, pork, lamb and game.

Last week I made one of my customer's favorites: a multiple cheese panini. I included ham this time but the 3+ cheese paninis are always hits. Usually I take the end of strong cheese, chop it fine and mix it with cream cheese. This is the spread. Then I add slices of at least two, sometimes more cheese. If I have several cheese ends, I'll mix all of them with the cream cheese. The layers are always put on day old homemade bread and then the bread drizzled with olive oil before going into the panini maker. Being a cheese lover, this is also one of my favorites, but in the interest of good health, it's not frequent.

Today I made a corn and turkey chowder. I threw in onions; garlic; tomatillos concassé (I love that term, learned it while reading Michael Ruhlman's The Making of A Chef. It's used with tomatoes and concassé means crushed or pounded.); chopped bell and poblano peppers; a bit of roasted tomato; turkey; reduced turkey stock frozen in cubes; oregano, cumin, salt, and my own hot pepper (Baci di Satana). It was good! Thank goodness we have enough for our own lunch tomorrow. Salad was a simple green with tomatoes and Maytag Blue Cheese with a Dijon vinaigrette. Homemade rolls were, this week, the No-Knead Bread Recipe which I made into rolls. Finally, dessert was a homemade vanilla pudding with crushed amaretti and amaretto laced whipped cream. I hope they enjoyed it!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Raft

I have been wanting to write this blog for days.....but between snow, internet access problems, a computer taken over by malware (not mine, my husband's), crazy cabin-fever cats, filling out paperwork for a new job, and all those outside obligations, I have been swamped. But I've never stopped thinking about "the raft."

For Christmas, I finally received two books by Michael Ruhlman that I had wanted but had not yet read: The Making of A Chef and The Reach of A Chef. In The Making of A Chef I read about "the raft." This is something that a cook does when turning a stock into a consomme, so that it becomes so clear, one can read the date of a dime at the bottom of the consomme. Wow! Now that's like magic, and like magic, it takes some very skillful work. But it wasn't just the idea of "the raft," it was also Ruhlman's description that just took me in:

"The idea of making goop that looked like a ground-beef milk shake and dumping it into perfectly good stock offered childish pleasure--like making mudpies or dropping very large melons from very high places or seeing how far apart you and a friend could play catch with a raw egg before it smashed in one of your hands. And yet, despite these crude pleasures--indeed, because of them--the end result was one of ultimate refinement."

And then Chef Pardus gave the scientific explanation for this "ground-beef milk shake". Despite the science, it was difficult to shake this milk shake into a broth so clear I could read the newspaper through it. It intrigued me, beguiled me, and just sucked me in. I thought about this for a long time, and I found the recipe for this raft of ground beef, mirepoix, egg whites, and tomato and I was not only intrigued but down right impressed. It was a yucky thing to dump into a stock, or rather, on which to pour a perfectly good stock. But for the clarification, I had to stop and think, was it worth it? Well, for a true consomme, of course it was worth it.

But for the home chef, trying hard to be sustainable, not apt to serve a consomme, and usually just pleased with the tasty stock, the idea of ultimately "wasting" all that perfectly good ground beef which I could use for meatballs or a risotto, all those egg whites that would make a terrific almond meringue, and using those few homegrown tomatoes that I had scavenged from the garden this year, well, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

But someday I will. Because to me "the raft" has come to symbolize all that is good about professional cooking. It requires skill, knowledge, desire, and experience to make a perfect consomme, and that kind of perfection is what cooking is all about. Someday, I'll make it.

Because, for the rest of my life, I will never forget about "the raft." So magical, so professional, and ultimately, yielding such an ethereal tasting product. Mmm, I'm almost tempted right now....