Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Way To A Man's Heart

Some might say, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I think not just man's heart, woman's too. I have a French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney given by my friend L. I love this book. The way he wrote about food is very sensual. If he invited me to his place for dinner, I would go in a heart beat.

Richard Olney didn't invite me to his place for dinner obviously. He passed away in 1999 in his Provencal home. But S did. He wanted to take a stab at making a rack of lamb. At the end, I didn't go that night. I didn't know the fate of the rack of lamb. Perhaps he ate it all. But our fate didn't change because I didn't show up that night. Roughly 1 year after no show on the dinner invitation, we were dating. At the end, him and I together, was a perfect recipe for a disaster.

Towards the end of a relationship, it's always take one last struggle. When you know that it is definitely dieing, then you have to decide how do you want it to die. For me, I wanted to give it a beautiful death. That night, I purposely put on a slinky tang top and a mini skirt, (casual looking, just to make it I wasn't trying too hard) and made roasted rack of lamb. S said, "You just want to make it difficult for me, dress like this, made me such a nice meal...." Yes. I wanted to make it as difficult for you as possible. I wanted to remind you one more thing you would be missing besides me in my slinky outfit. There was also my rack of lamb! The slinky outfit was my armour, and rack of lamb was my sword. I wanted to get into your heart through your stomach, and tattooed my name on it with my sword, and watched it bled. When the next woman got there, she would know I was there, and my name will always be there.

At the time, the whole night tasted so bitter. But when we have our memories marinating in the brain, or simply left in the freezer unnoticed over the years, the memories taste differently than when they were fresh. I don't know if he still remembers my rack of lamb, but it was my attempt at the time to get into his heart through his stomach, not for love, for hatred I guess. Love and hate, they are very similar emotions. When I think of that night now, it is not bitter anymore. It is more bitter sweet. After all, he was someone who wasn't worth it. I moved on.

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Thyme, Dijon Mustard, and Honey Glazed

Serves 2

1 rack of lamb (8 ribs), trimmed of fat, French trimmed
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3/4 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (or rosemary)
3/4 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp honey
ground black pepper
3/4 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat oven 425F

2. Mix garlic, thyme leaves, Dijon mustard, honey, ground black pepper and olive oil in a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. Coat mixture onto the meat of the rack of lamb. Let it marinate for 15 - 30 minutes

3. Put the rack in a shallow roasting pan, and roast for 25 minutes for medium rare or 35 minutes for medium. (meat thermometer inserted into the meaty part should reach 135F to 140F for medium rare to medium).

4. Slice lamb ribs between the bones into chops. Garnish with fresh thyme or rosemary.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Meals on 2 wheels

A few years ago, I was enjoying my life as a single gal. When I said single, I meant it the way it means when you fill out a form; not married, no husband and all these responsibilities. I wined and dined with friends, dancing, hopping around, and just having fun. All of a sudden, I'll never forget, it was the year of 2004 and I got a bunch of wedding invitations. I couldn't help but to have this mental picture; all of us were in the battle field together, standing back to back, and holding big guns. "Bang", one went down, "Bang", another was down, and "Bang", one more. There was just me, standing in the battle field by myself, holding a gun. So I started to hang out with people younger and y ounger, but slowly, one by one, they too went down. Then I found R in the battle field.

After people are out of the battle field, they either drive a mini van or some sort of station wagon. Women push strollers everywhere and run you over with their pride of motherhood. For me, someone who is still sort of in the battle field, I enjoy driving a 2 seater car with a powerful rumble and my new red Vespa. R and I are still living like teenagers, and each night we have a discussion about, "your place or mine?"

R is pretty busy working in his studio at home these days, so, I have been delivering dinner on my little Vespa to his place. It sounds pretty cute and elegant, some might say romantic, like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday riding a Vespa...To be honest, I look more like a bag lady with all this food for dinner and breakfast for the next morning. But at least I'm a fancy bag lady, who happens to be quite well read (mostly cookbooks though). I have been reading the "Bouchon" cookbook (thanks to M) and have gotten inspired by bistro style cooking so... Tonight, on Chez Carmen's meals on 2 wheels menu, I have:

Carrots a la Grecque
Roasted Beet Salad
Baby Broccoli Goat Cheese Quiche


Carrots a la Grecque

1 bunch of small carrots, peeled, discard leaves
1 cup of water
1 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 bouquet garni
juice of one lemon

1. Mix water, white wine, olive oil, shallot, and lemon juice in a pot, bring to a slow boil. Add carrots and bouquet garni. Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes. Carrots should be soft, but still have a little bit of a bite. Store carrots in poaching liquid in the fridge.

2. To finish, discard bouquet garni. Remove carrots from pan and set aside. Bring poaching liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until liquid is reduced to around 1/4 cup. Stir in carrots and coat them with the poaching liquid. Can be store in the fridge for 1 hour, or up to 1 day

Roasted Beets Salad:

Preheat oven 400 degree. Wash beets, trip off beet green but leave about 1/2 inch of stems attached to the beets. (For beet green, you can wash it, trip the stems, and steam it. It tastes really good) Put beets in small roasting pan with 1/4 cup of water. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 30 - 45 mins depends on the amount and the size of beets. When they are done, you should able to pierce with a knife. When beets are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Cut into wedges, squeeze a little bit a lemon juice and drizzle olive oil over them. Salt to taste. Garnish with herbs.

Baby Broccoli Goat Cheese Quiche

1 Trader Joe's Pie Crust
2/3 cup blanched and drained baby broccoli florets
3 eggs
3/4 cup half and half cream
1/2 cup milk
4 ounce goat cheese
pinch of nutmeg

1. Preheat oven 400 degree

2. Butter 9 inch rameken with butter. Fit pie crust into rameken. Store pie crust in the fridge

3. Put goat cheese in a mixing bowl. Combine egg, one at a time. Use a spatula to slowly mix in half and half cream to ensure the mixture is smooth. Pour in milk. Salt to taste. Add a pinch on nutmeg

4. Arrange broccoli florets in cooled pie crust evenly. Pour in egg and cream mixture. Bake for 35 minutes. To test doneness, use a tooth pick to pierce the centre of the pie. The tooth pick should be clean if it's done.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Last Bite

I'm always curious if other people have the "last bite" behaviour like the way I do. For me, I like to save the best for last. When I have breakfast, I strategically eat everything else first but a little bit of scramble egg, a tiny piece of sausage, and toast, pile them up, and savour the last bite in my mouth. For me, the last bite, is like a happy ending of a movie. It gives you such a satisfactory feeling (might be chessy sometimes). It feels great, but at the same time, it is sad that the movie is over. But you can always look forward to the next movie. But what if there is no next movie to go to? There is no next meal you can look forward to?

The question of the ultimate last bite comes into my mind. One time the New Yorker Magazine talked about a coffee table book, "My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals/Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes. It is a bit morbid. But I found the idea interesting. I asked around to see what my friends would eat as their last meal. M said, "a piece of grilled fish, a good plate of pasta, and a salad". I was thinking, you can eat what you want to be the last meal everyday. You must be a happy man! C said, "olives, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, feta cheese, but they have to be all separated, and put into small plates". C asked me back, what I wanted my last meal to be. It is a very difficult choice. I said, "Hm....I like foie gras...lobster...rib eye steak..truffle...I think I'm going to have a 9 course wine pairing French dinner. Then I can have a bite of everything I like." C said, "That was cheating! That will be 9 meals combined in one!!!"

If the last bite is important to me, what would I want to have if it is the ultimate last bite? What kind of flavour do I want to take with me when I leave this world? In the movie, "Ratatouille", my favourite moment was when a jaded food critic, Ego, had ratatouille cooked by Remy, a little rat who was a chef, the magical taste of the dish took him back to his old distanced memory of his mom. When he was a young kid, got all beaten up, how his mom's simple dishes such as ratatouille could comfort him. Whenever I get sick, I don't crave for foie gras, or a big piece of fancy steak with whatever red wine reduction. I want some simple food my mom made for me when I was a little kid. I guess when I leave this world, I want to have that "Ego moment" in "Ratatouille". I want to take that warm fuzzy feeling with me through the taste in my mouth. I have decided for my ultimate last bite, I want to have congee, and steam ground pork with Chinese mushroom with soy sauce and scallion, just like the way my mom would make it!

Hopefully, I will be able to decide on my ultimate last bite when the time comes. I guess that only can happen if I can decide the way I am going to leave this world. However, if I can choose the way I leave this world, I want to die like Julia Child. She passed away in her sleep in her 90s. She is my hero. I missed the way she used to say, "stir in 2 table spoons of butter before you serve"!