Monday, March 22, 2010

Mc-Macarons: The end of good taste

As you may or may not know, I'm obsessed with macarons. My whole wedding was planned around Laduree. Our French friends have, on more than one occasion, smuggled in French Laduree macarons for my eating enjoyment (Ms. Quiche on Weddingbee even tried to get them for me when she was in Paris).

I actually made them as favors for my wedding--which is a ridiculous feat, since a) I don't bake and b) the pastries are extremely delicate and finicky and thereby very difficult to execute (but I did it--obsessions are inspiring, non?). When I use to mention the tasty little delights to people, they'd say, "Oh, I love macaroons--those Girl Scout cookies are great!" Um, no. That was a couple years ago. But like many memes, the idea spread. And they've grown into some notoriety.

In the past two weeks, friends and family members have emailed and clipped newspaper articles on the confection. Headlines in lifestyle and food sections of major newspapers announcing the new "it" dessert. LAME. I hope these don't become trendy and down-marketed like cupcakes. Don't get me wrong, I love cupcakes, but like a lot of Mc-trends where the masses get on the trendwagon, the object loses its appeal, especially when not-so-great versions start to saturate the marketplace. Starbuck's (talk about contrived) is offering them. And in some French McDonald's they're serving up Mc-Macarons (in their McCafe)--it makes as much sense, I suppose.  Many find them a pale, ersatz comparison. I'm a little cynical because I am experiencing that childish want to be the special snowflake. And I also believe these cookies should not be democratized.  They should exist in that rarefied air of artisan creation.

To Julie Jargon, who wrote the Wall Street Journal article, "Mon Dieu! Will Newfound Popularity Spoil the Dainty Macaron?" I say, yes.
 {G brought home this article from the WSJ the other week}

To Elinor Klivans who wrote the recipe piece in the Washington Post called "The French cookie trend du jour comes out of the oven with elan" I totes gag.
{My mother-in-law saved me this article}

There is a silver lining to the popularization of theses delicacies...that people will stop.calling.them.'macaroons'.

Here's the recipe for my wedding macarons.


2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 1/4 cup almond flour

1/2 cup aged** egg whites (KEY STEP: Aging the eggs)

Pinch of salt 1/3 cup granulated sugar

Directions To make the macarons: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, blend the confectioner's sugar and almond flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites with salt on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar.

Continue to whip until stiff glossy peaks form.

With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the confectioners' sugar mixture until completely incorporated. It should be the consistency of lava, and peaks should melt away at this point.

Add six drops of whatever food coloring you want. (I added red drops for light pink and green drops for pistachio green).

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Trace one-inch circles two inches apart from one another. Be sure to flip the parchment over so you don't bake the pen ink or pencil carbon into the macaron!!!

Fit a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch #4 round tip, and fill with batter. Pipe 1-inch disks onto prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between cookies. The batter will spread a little.

Tap the sheet against the counter to get the air bubbles out. One or two taps will do.

THIS IS KEY: Let stand at room temperature until dry, and a soft skin forms on the tops of the macarons and the shiny surface turns dull, about 30 minutes.

Bake, with the door of the oven slightly ajar (I put a wooden spoon between the door and the oven to keep it the tiniest bit open--THIS IS ANOTHER KEY STEP). Bake for about 12 minutes.

The macarons should have "feet" those little bubbly-edged things at the bottom. Remove baking sheet to a wire rack and let the macarons cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently peel off the parchment. Their tops are easily crushed, so take care when removing the macaroons from the parchment. Use immediately or store in an airtight container, refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Fill with anything you like. I use lemon curd, jams, or Nutella in a pinch.

But alas, there are weightier concerns to the healthcare bill: Are you happy or sad that it passed?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hipsters on Food Stamps

They're young, they're broke, and they pay for organic salmon with government subsidies. Got a problem with that?

Read about it here.

What are your thoughts?

Green Hour!

I'd like to preface by saying I'm neither hippy nor dippy (okay maybe just a little of the latter). But on the heels of my humane meats revelation and sustainable farming, I think this is a good idea. So come!! There's art to boot? How can you beat this?

The first “Green hour” event is happening this Thursday and next (March 18 and 25) at The Phillips from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (This is part of a bigger sustainable foods initiative--learn more about it here.)

The Phillips
1600 21th St, NW
Washington D.C., 20009

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Olive Oil Cake

I made  olive oil cake this weekend. We had a bunch of fresh pineapple from my mom, and it had to be eaten.  I pureed it and made a sauce and baked* the cake as a delivery system for the pineapple. It turned out dense with a slight crust, more like a scone or torte than a cake. It wasn't too sweet, and went really well with the pineapple.

The cake recipe called for  3/4 cup of good olive oil--that's a lot of oil (good or bad)! And while the recipe required baking in special ramekins and the use of lemon zest, I improvised with a tart and cake pan and grapefruit.

*As you may know, I do NOT bake (save for macarons).

This recipe was easy enough that a caveman I could do it.

{Click recipe to print}

For the pineapple sauce...

Puree three cups of fresh pineapple, adding 1/4 cup of orange juice in blender. Put puree mixture in a sauce pan with 1/3 cup of water and 1/2 a cup of brown sugar and brought the whole thing to a boil. The cake is reminiscent of a scone, so the moisture and sweetness of the sauce really adds to it!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Humane Meat - lots of it

At Tim's dinner party, we met several new people, including Cynthia, who is a photographer and foodie. She's trying to combine her two passions into a documentary piece of work on humane meat harvesting. I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but my curiosity was piqued enough to join her at a wine dinner showcasing her photography and Eco-Friendly Foods at our most favorite of wine-bar restaurants in DC: Sonoma.

Cynthia and Chef Nicholas Sharpe

It turned out to be a presentation and tasting of the specially-harvested meats. And there was a lot of it. Eco-Friendly Foods' proprietor Bev Eggleston, along with his wife, Jenelle, provide pasture-raised, "beyond organic" meats to consumers at farmers markets and to restaurants. All of their animals are raised (and harvested) humanely on small family farms throughout the Shenandoah Valley, VA. They're really into, and have worked very hard, to champion the benefits of returning to healthy farming and provide products crafted from these methods. Working for family farmers, they've invested large amounts of time lobbying for national and local legislation to open a venue for farmers who utilize a “holistic” approach to raise, harvest and market their products.

Bev talking; Bev and Chef (and his ink)

This might sound like a real mouth-full and hippy-dippy, and many people don't care as long as the meat tastes good. I guess I am/was one of those people. But listen, I don't want to be eating a piece of pork fed on M&Ms and corn and then tortured before it's slaughtered. The taste of pasture-raised meat is qualitatively different than big mass-produced corporate products. Remember the AMAZING pork I had in Charleston? It's from Fudge Farms, and they do the natural, pasture-raising technique. The quality of the meat is obvious. I cannot, absolutely cannot, tell you enough how different it is. But when I was eating the Fudge Farms pork back in Charleston, I had no idea that the reason for its flavor was because of the way it was farmed.

And now it's clear: How an animal is raised and harvested effects its flavor. SUBSTANTIALLY.

Back to the dinner. So for $90 a person, we dined on five courses of meat and listened to Bev describe the product and the paradigm of "beyond organic". It means, not only are the animals fed natural, unprocessed, foods, they are allowed to freely graze on the green pastures of the farm. The green-ness, a freshness, if you will, is what you taste in the meat. Also, they aren't frightened and abused, which can cause them to release weird, nasty-tasting hormones. Especially the veal. It's important that the still-suckling calves aren't torn from their mother to be "processed".
We started with grilled bread and ham "salad" with sweet house-pickled vegetables, which included beech mushrooms, peppers and haricot verts. (So, it wasn't *all* meat.)

Fried chicken with apple puree and sorrel salad. As you know, we don't eat chicken, but I had to try it. The texture was good, and the crispy, crunchy skin packed the flavor, as did the apple puree with applejack jus gras. We chose our own bottle of wine, instead of the wine pairing offered. The 2008 Klee Pinot was nice.

Rose veal. A young cow, a little older than typical veal, is pinkish in color and, while still suckling is raised on mother's milk and grass before taken to harvest, where it's brought with its mother. (Typically veal calves are torn from their mothers, which is stressful and causes them to produce a bad-tasting fear hormone.) If you really think about it, you don't want to eat meat. But if you do enjoy it, you don't want to torture animals for your pleasure. And you certainly want a good piece of meat for  all the trouble and sacrifice, right?  Small consolation, but we don't eat much veal. This was delicious, nonetheless, served with grits.


DELICIOUS pork sausage. Earthy, salty, goodness with sweet potato gnocchi, red onion compote. The sweetness, of course, always pairs well with pork.
TAKING A BREAK. Throughout the meal, Bev talked about the process and the particular meat. It was a lot. You can't help but think about the effort and time that goes into raising these animals, treating them humanely, and preparing the meat well. One thing that I learned is how they are slaughtered. Usually (prepare *yourself*) it's a bullet to the head. In fast commercial processing, they don't even bother to check that the animal is actually dead before butchering it. But with humane farming, they go to the efforts of checking their eyes to make sure. Sorry, had to share.

Moving on. At this point, I was getting full. Really full. But there was goat atop chickpea polenta. Delicious. I've only had goat at Jamaican restaurants. This was topped with stewed peppers and smoked lamb jus. Very, very tasty.

Next up was the grilled NY strip with a side of braised short rib, served with roasted beets, parsnip puree and brasato sauce. The steak was VERY notable in its difference in taste. It tasted a little greener or game-y (which I definitely like). It had much, much more flavor than regular beef, which only tastes good when there's a lot of fat. With this style, it is very lean and the tenderness comes with dry aging. Very nice. The braised short rib was absolutely divine. 

Finally, a respite: brown butter cake with apple jam and smoked vanilla ice cream.

Chef Nicholas Sharpe did a wonderful job preparing the meal. Bravo, Chef!

Sonoma is one of many restaurants in DC and NYC that sources from Eco-Friendly Foods. Check them out here 

You can also purchase their goods at some local farmer's markets. Again, EcoFriendly Foods is a bridge for the marketing and distribution of meat products for farmers who are embracing the successful model of humane and ethical standards for grass-based farming. Bev is testifying today before Congress on the matter.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Our favorite three-legged stool: Art, food and wine

Tim, art collector, oenophile and foodie extraordinaire hosted (the weekend before last--I've been behind in my posting) a little dinner party to celebrate Gesche W├╝rfel and her show at Civilian Arts Project. It was also an opportunity to introduce G and artist, Barbara Liotta , to discuss Chinese art (and her upcoming trip to Beijing). But generally, it was just a random reason to bring together a bunch of people who love the three-legged stool.

We started with a very nice onion tart that Bob made. It tasted great with the lightly sweet and crisp Reisling and Soave. Maureen made a yummy tapenade of olives, figs, garlic and rosemary.

 Tim always rearranges his art collection, so I'm always seeing things anew:

{Yes, the beer cans in the basket is a sculpture; similarly, the red canvas is a painting; Sarah is a photography curator at the National Gallery of Art; the doll--a sculpture.}

Everyone was instructed to bring a Volnay and we all did the taste test. It was beyond me (and many of the other guests) to figure out the differences and guess which was which. The one thing for sure was that the 2006 we brought, stood out as greener or younger tasting than the other three 1999's. (Thanks for forgetting to tell us that vintage detail, Tim!)

 Cynthia was the keeper of the key. She drew the decanters to remember which wine was in which.

For the main course, Tim made chicken paprikash. We don't eat chicken, but I was starving and the sauce was really tasty. Maureen brought a delicious mashed potato-topped mushroom ragu. And there were some lovely steamed green beans.

There was a nice cheese course that Cynthia and Sarah brought. Dessert included a lovely carrot cake by Maureen and handmade chocolates from Biagio in Adams Morgan (brought by Gesche and Rosanz). We always walk by that shop, which is right next door to a consignment shop that I frequent, and never go in. I had the Jasmine dark chocolate heart. Oh.My.Goodness. It was HEAVEN. I love the delicate, perfuminess of jasmine, and with intense dark chocolate as its counterpoint, it was perfection

Another fun evening, thanks, Tim!
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