Friday, May 4, 2012

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Not About St. Patrick's Day

It is spring and small green leaves are beginning to peak out of the sea of brown that was winter in Denver. Green is the color this week not just because of spring but because of St. Patrick's Day, a holiday I dread most for a variety of reasons- I have no trace of Irish in my family, I loathe the commercialized green beer aspect of it, and well, it is the day my father passed away so there is nothing to celebrate for me. Frankly, I just pretend it doesn't happen every year and do my best not to be annoyed with the chaos. This year, I caved. And I caved for three reasons: a good cause, an insistent friend, and a recipe I wanted to share.

The cause: a fundraiser benefitting the St. Baldrick Foundation March 16 at Fado's Irish Pub.
This, I hear, is the largest volunteer-driven fundraising event for childhood cancer research. [ let me mention that my father died of cancer.] At this event, thousands of volunteers shave their heads in solidarity of children with cancer while requesting donations of support from friends and family. The goal this year is $225,000 and Fadó Irish Pub will donate 20 percent of all food sales during the event. You can get more information here.

The insistent friend: Sarah Gore. If you need a social media wiz, she is your girl. If you need marketing advice, call her. If you want to improve your customer service, she's on it. In the process of being all wiz-like and on it, she provided me with a couple of friendly reminders about this event. So for her and for the worthy cause-- I say go to Fado's this Friday starting at 11 am and all through the day until 6:30 pm.

The recipe: braised cabbage. I tried to find my inner Irish and all I could find was my inner Romanian. But it turns out the two are not as far from one another as I thought they were. This very simple preparation for cabbage is a classic Romanian dish but also appears to resemble a few traditional Irish ones.

Romanian Braised Cabbage

Ingredients: 4 oz bacon, cubed small; 1 medium head of green cabbage, cut into thin strips; 10-15 whole black peppercorns, salt to taste.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, render the bacon fat over medium heat until the meaty part of the bacon starts to crisp. Adjust your heat as needed to allow the fat to melt or the meat to crisp. Remove the crispy meaty bits and reserve.

Add the cabbage and increase the heat to medium-high stirring the cabbage around to coat it with the melted bacon fat. Stir every few minutes to prevent it from sticking to the bottom but do allow it to caramelize. About 25-30 minutes in, it should look like this.

Serve it with your favorite corned beef recipe or with a hearty stew.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Simple: Women, Hazelnut Meringue

Dearly beloved: we are gathered here today to explain that most things in life are simple, including women (and sometimes even baking).

You probably have seen a version of this picture somewhere. Or you have heard a saying or rhyme or joke that boils down to the same thing. Women are so complicated. The thing is, save a few exceptions (you know who you are), women are not complicated. Actually, women are quite simple. We make it easy when we want something to work. Very easy. Too easy. Forget the nuances and intricacies you thought to be true true. Forget all the imaginary complicated buttons. Forget the on and off button. No- there is ONE button. Only one. You don't need to push it up and down. You don't need to press it in and out. It is easier than that. A touch screen. A sensitive one. Gently tap. Blow on it and it will work. Breathe on its general direction, it is so easy.

Every time I get to spend some time with my friend (let's call her) Bonnie, I get this one familiar feeling. I nod my head constantly, I reiterate her feelings, I relive the frustration that most women go through at least in the early part of a relationship. Bonnie has been dating Clyde for a little while. She loves him. For now, Bonnie and Clyde are doing the long distance thing and, regardless of how one feels about that, she wants the relationship to work. He appears to want the same thing. Bonnie has one button, the easy button, but somehow Clyde fails to push it. He tries all kinds of other tricks, other non-functioning buttons, other distracting decorative buttons although she points the only one button that needs a push. Please Clyde, for the love of God, push the button.

I found a baking button even I can push -- an easy flourless one with no yeast, no baking powder, baking soda, gelatin, and other evil distractions. I found my easy baking button and I shall push in over and over. I found it among the other distractions, among trying too hard, among wanting to complicate uncomplicated things. My easy baking button is these Hazelnut Meringues - I am in love and our relationship is great.

Hazelnut Meringue Cookies

Ingredients: 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted; 4 large egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 teaspoon fine salt; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Chop the hazelnuts really well, but not as fine as a food processor would. Combine with half of the sugar.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add other half of the sugar and combine until stiff again in the mixer. Fold the nut and sugar mixture into the egg batter. Add the vanilla and gently mix it in.

Spoon the batter on the parchment-paper lined sheets in rows about two inches apart. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, rotating the pans half way through the process. Let it cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet. Enjoy and keep it simple.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Love Potion and Me

I was putting make-up on in Montreal two days ago in front of one of those fancy close-up lit-up mirrors that make you see each pore of your skin when I realized something about myself and about love. How I act in front of the mirror is entirely unrelated to how loved I feel and how beautiful my loved ones make me believe I am.

What I do every single day in front of the mirror is me, who I am, what pleases me, what makes me feel good - not beautiful, just good and normal, like my daily ritual is complete, like my routine has been fulfilled and I can move on to the next activity. It is not a trick to make me feel more beautiful or to make someone see me that way- far from it, actually.

That process is just me: I put make up on every morning in the same way: I line the lower part of my eye right at the root of my eyelashes with black eyeliner, gently touch up my upper eyelid with some version of a sheer eye shadow and finish with mascara, a fancy one I bought with my best friend on a trip to California. I love every second of this process and I love what it does to my eyes. I put perfume on- for me- because I love it. And I make sure my nails are clean and freshly painted - because I love to see them that way.

Do I need to do all that? Who’s asking? I think I need to. For me. As for those who love me...I hope not. I hope love means that I look good without any make up on, sweaty and with ragged nails. I hope it means I look stunning in my sweat pants, bleary eyed after a night of not sleeping enough, with my hair in a scrappy pony tail after a yoga class. But for me, yes I need it. No matter how beautiful those who love me make me feel, I still want my makeup, my perfume, my nail polish, and sometimes my high heels - that is me, and I love it that way.

Whether you love me or not, with my make up on or not, I know you’ll love this recipe. I made it with love and much thought for Valentine’s day. The only way to get what I wanted from it was to make it up myself, ingredient by ingredient, step by step, defying commercial Valentine’s day clichees that make my head hurt - no hearts, no chocolate, no overly sweet things- just a stunning combination of all the things that can mean love: kumquats for their perfection, rosewater for its perfume, vanilla, for the beauty of simple things, cardamom because it may make your pants fall off, honey for the sweetness in life, and bubbly for celebrating finding love.

Kumquat Compote, a Love Potion

Ingredients: 2 cups kumquats, sliced; 2 tablespoons rose water; 1 + 1/2 cups prosecco; 1 cup honey; 1 vanilla bean, split; 10 cardamom pods, crushed.

Combine the prosecco, honey, split vanilla bean, and crushed cardamon pods in a small pot and bring to a boil on medium-high. Lower the heat to medium and reduce the liquid by about one third. This will allow some of the alcohol to evaporate too.

Remove the cardamom pod shells but don't worry about the little seeds- they add outstanding texture and flavor. Add the sliced kumquats and the rose water and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes or until it reaches the desires thickness.

Serve however your heart desires. I can just eat it with a spoon.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Terrible Twos, an Anniversary

The blog is two today. In some ways my second born, this rascal became part of who I am, growing outside of me but from within, pushing me and making me question myself - what I am and what I want to be. It is responsible for parts of my anxiety, quitting my legal job, and repeatedly banging my head against the wall while trying to break into a completely new industry - writing.

French Press Memos, a name I detest at times, has been through nearly 120 posts that widely ranged from total fun to complete sadness, but always tied in a recipe. The site is still waiting for a facelift (sounds premature on a young baby, but hey) and the post-writing is not as frequent as I would like it to be (my fault, of course), but it gave me the platform I needed to practice my writing and search for my voice.

Enter the terrible two - a time when an otherwise cooperative rascal will surprise with a whole new set of behaviors: assertiveness, often saying no, doing exactly what it is not supposed to do or throw itself on the floor in a temper tantrum; making demands that are alternatively frustrating and amusing; asking at times for something it doesn't even want just to see if it can get it - testing limits over and over.

My writing follows the stereotype. The desire for independence was there - me do it- even when there is no skill (hello technology hell). Assertiveness manifested in slinging writing ideas, pitches, engagements and commitments, some that produced more busy work than anything else. Some of these I did not want or need- it was simply about testing limits. With new projects came anxiety, fear of the unknown, and growing pains. I am now experimenting with surrendering to the growth.

I started writing more outside the blog- first a column on the Gabby Gourmet website, then a legal article, then a section of a guide book, then an article in a magazine and then a couple of more. Now, I write articles twice on a local food site and will soon launch a weekly spirit column on another site. It has been a trip - much soul-searching, balancing, dealing with rejection, creating my own path.

I don't know what is ahead. I don't know the road. I don't know how to steer, where to turn, and when to break. I can just try to find my way around it, do what feels right, work harder, always keep open to trying new things, be nice to myself, and respect my limitations.

French Press Memos will remain my home for sharing thoughts and recipes. Today I chose an easy sauce: a garlic cream that complements most meat well. I picked it for simplicity, flavor, and for the playfulness- things I like to believe this blog is about. I love it with braised lamb but I dipped some chicken in it one night and good things happened.

Come back often and tell me what to do better. Like any two year old, I may not listen but I will sure try.

Garlic Cream, a recipe inspired by Au Pied du Cochon

Ingredients: 1 garlic head, 1/2 cup heavy cream, a pinch of salt.

Peel the garlic and add to the cream in a small heavy bottomed pot over low heat with a pinch of salt.

Simmer for 25-30 minutes. Puree in a blender and strain. Allow it to cool down- it will harden significantly as it gets colder. Serve cold over your favorite cut of braised meat or favorite veggie in need of some garlic goodness.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

12 in 2012, including Sous Vide!

I am not a fan of resolutions. I find it highly unrealistic to make sudden drastic changes, so I won't 'resolve.' I did, however, make a list of goals- one that I can look at on my vanity mirror every day to remind myself of the path I am hoping to walk on in 2012. And I wanted to share them with you.

Ditch the Jesus complex.

There is a weird trend in my head that urges me to perpetually try to save and change people. I can’t, I know that. But somehow I still try under the pretense that I need to know that I did all I could. No mas. I may love you and support you unconditionally, but I cannot save you- not this year.

Practice saying no more.

Compulsive volunteering, giving, accepting has been a lifestyle choice for me for as long as I can remember. Under the umbrella of Ask and you shall receive I always said yes whenever a helping hand was desired. 2012 is the time I tone that down to allow myself a new lifestyle, one where saying no is not a rare occurrence but just a rational decision.

Honor my priorities: my family.

It is easy to take the things you have for granted, to treat them like obligations, chores, things you have committed to and now must do. At the end of it all, the most important thing for me is my family and I know I have failed to treat my family with the joy and excitement it deserves. I want to be present, engaged, happy to have them in my life- even when I am down, hormonal, exhausted, or anything in between.

Publish more.

Last year, Dining Out Magazine, the Denver County Fair Cookbook, and the Gabby Gourmet replaced my previous writing life in the Colorado Lawyer and citable judicial opinions. In 2012, I am ready to face the pitch game again and submit my ideas with more focus, more intensity, without floundering around throwing stuff against the wall in hopes it sticks. I will pitch with intent and purpose after extensive research. Fingers crossed!

Allow myself to fail.

Whatever I do, I do 100% and until and unless I am ready to give it 120% I just don’t try. Unless I know I’ll make it, I won’t risk failure. So, this is the year in which I will pursue those projects that I have built in my head - the granola, some teaching, the new blog. And if they fail, I will be ok.

Take the leap to learn.

Nothing freaks me out more than new stuff, especially if it has buttons or any technology involved. The conundrum is that there is a good load of new stuff I’d like to know- SEO, photography, all the bells and whistles that I want on my website and blog. I need to plunge - take the leap and do it- learn it no matter how much my older-stuck-in-my-ways mind tries to hold me back.

Have a better relationship with my mother.

You know that typical let’s talk about your mother question? I thought that question was a joke until I thought about it myself and realized that there are issues, breaks, problems that I avoided for a while in that relationship. This year, I will make them better. Love you mama!

Read more.

If you asked me what is the one thing I wish I could do more of, I’d say read. It gives me the biggest joy. It is mine- just mine and I read just for me. Nothing is like it, but physical time and lack of energy keep me from it. I declare 2012 the year of 12 books to read. I know I can and I know I will love it. I just have to commit to it.

Forgive myself. No one is harder on myself than I am. I beat myself down, cast tremendous amounts of guilt onto my actions, and dwell on every misstep with great skill. Also, no one can hold a grudge against me better that I can. I can’t promise to do a 180 on all of this but I will do my best to give myself a break this year.

Go to Montreal and the French Laundry.

Montreal has been on our radar for a long time for its urban edginess, Pied du Cochon, Joe Beef, and French culture. We have talked and talked about going and the time has come. We're booked to go in February! As for the French Laundry, after cooking nearly every dish from the book, some many times, I really just have to go and see the place for myself. Soon...

Return to the professional kitchen for more. In the late summer, I started working in a professional kitchen a couple of days a week. I did this to practice, to learn, to get a feeling of how food is made in that setting, how it feels to be on your feet for that many hours, how it feels to have to do things a certain way, in a certain time-frame, while working in a busy environment. I loved it but stopped as my schedule got busy.

I did not get enough and no matter how much motivation it takes to go back, I want to do it.

Master this.

Santa, aka the husband, decided I was ready for the immersion circulator, and not just any one but the PolyScience. I have lots of work to do. I am intimidated and excited by the process but I started already - and I can't wait to share those experiences and the learning process with you.

What's your goal or resolution?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Make a Wish, Make It Happen

Biting into what was supposed to be some of Denver's best fried chicken, I wished it away - another let-down. I wished it would have been brined. I wished the breading had some flavor, any flavor. I wished it was a tad saltier. I wished it had the guts not to have any breading at all aka Momofuku fried chicken. I wished I could close my eyes and exchange mediocrity for a mouthful of another one of David Chang's version of a dish that both breaks the rules and amazes the senses. Wishes don't always come true.

Last time I strongly wished something away and something else in return was on a trip to California. This was supposed to be relaxing. A weekend away - no kids, no husbands, no laptops- just my best friend and the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. The mandatory spa moment arrived. Instead of that blissful glance at warm fine sand, a breeze over my mostly naked body, and tan and ripped massage therapist, I found myself in a motel room with Magda, a short stockey middle-aged Polish lady, wearing too much eye shadow. Staring at old carpet, shielding my eyes from the bright neon on a massage table that rhythmically shook to the beat of the techno blaring outside, I prayed for ear plugs or temporary loss of hearing.

The Ace, a former motel all hip-ified, was buzzed to be the place to see and be-seen. And it was- for a swarm of Jersey Shore refugees who paid the small fee to get into the mister-equipped pool, where a DJ was spinning live six hours every day. Extra bonus by the pool: ping-pong tables. The alleged spa consisted of the dumpy-70's-wanna-be-cool lockers, ridiculous robes, and a waiting room the size of a closet equipped with a noisy table fan.

There I was, naked under a thin sheet, with Magda bearing down on me. No escaping for 60 long minutes. I closed my eyes and made my wish. I tuned Magda out and channeled my crush into the room: Robert Downey Junior. Slowly, the thump of the techno base seemed to ease up. As strong hands ran up my tense shoulders, I almost felt his breath, heard his whisper, smelled his skin. Eyes closed, gentle prayers that Magda keeps quiet, I let the stress melt away, smiled at myself, and made my own wish come true.

It didn't work quite the same with the fried chicken. So I made it. The first dish of the year at our house and first blog post of 2012. What's your wish? And how are you going to make it come true?

Momofuku's Dreamy Fried Chicken

Ingredients: one whole chicken; 4 cups lukewarm water; 1/2 cup salt; 1/2 cup sugar; 4 cups grapeseed or canola oil; octo vinaigrette (recipe below).

Break the chicken down into 6 pieces: 2 legs, 2 wings, 2 breast halves. Combine the water, salt, and sugar and brine the chicken in it for at least one hour and no more than six.

Set up a steamer on the stove and steam the chicken on medium heat covered nearly all the way for 40 minutes. Chill it in the refrigerator on a cooling rack for at least two hours or overnight and remove 30 minutes before frying.

Heat the oil to 375 degrees and be sure there is enough oil to submerge the chicken pieces, otherwise cook in batches. Fry it, turning it once until the skin is deep brown and crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and drain. Toss with the vinaigrette and serve hot.

Octo Vinaigrette: combine 2 tablespoons minced ginger, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, 1 tablespoon sesame oil.

Make a wish! Make it Happen!