Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankfully: Drinking, Oak at Fourteenth

Thankfully, about a week ago, Bryan Dayton decided to make my life harder. Thankfully, now it is more difficult to choose where to have dinner in Boulder. Early last week, with plenty of anticipation but not much fanfare, Bryan and his partners, Chef Steve Redzikowski (formerly of Frasca and the Little Nell) and Manager Annie Polk opened Oak at Fourteenth. I could not help myself and went to try it for myself on their first Friday. Thankfully I got this fabulous voyeur seat in front of the beautiful wood-fired oven.

Thankfully Bryan was there mixing drinks and shaking hands- the Monk Garden was a highlight. Thankfully the food was exceptional - don't miss the Fried Pickles with Green Goddess Aioli. And thankfully the service was outstanding.

In some personal thanking-sort-of news, thankfully there is salt, homemade butter, and fresh pasta. Thankfully there are manicures, perfume, short skirts, and high heels. Thankfully, there is Conscious Coffees, Cure Farm, and the Boulder Farmers Market.

Thankfully, I still allow myself to sing in the car, to laugh and cry, to be silly, sappy and vulnerable, to take risks, break rules, and love fearlessly. Thankfully, I have learned to accept blame, forgive, persist. Thankfully I still get what I need: sunshine, books, cooking gadgets. Thankfully among all the craziness around me, there is still time - for my beautiful family, my kind and accepting friends, my passion for writing. Thankfully, there is traveling, and eating, and drinking. Let me reiterate- thankfully, there is drinking.

And thankfully, Bryan shared a fabulous cocktail recipe with me. I fell in love with this drink when he was shaking it up at Frasca- a great winter citrusy treat, this is easy and likely a crowd pleaser, albeit a pink girly-looking drink. Being the gin girl that I am, I like this version best, but for the vodka crowd , Bryan will shake up the Steph for you at Oak at Fourteenth.

The Steph (vodka) or Stephania (gin)

Ingredients: 1 part gin or vodka, 1 part Aperol, 1 part St. Germain, 2 parts fresh grapefruit juice.

Mix it all in a shaker over ice and pour in chilled martini glasses. Serve and be thankful.

For more on Oak at Fourteenth, check out Stacey Brugeman's article in Denver Magazine here.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Comfort; Risotto

It is a Sunday morning and we walk into the kitchen store. Lulu shoots straight for the older gentleman by the front counter. A shy kid by nature, she acts like she owns the place. Faced with Steve by the front counter, words actually come out of her mouth. A sticker, she says. I want a sticker. She knows that Steve deals in stickers and wants some of the loot. Steve reaches into his apron, gets a sticker out, and places it on Lulu's sleeve- exactly on the spot she selects.

On a lunch break, I decide that I could not live without a terrine dish. I drive myself to the same kitchen store. Beth is there. Beth is amazing- she knows her stuff and loves it. She has a nerdy-cool haircut and dark-rimmed glasses. Maybe in her late twenties, Beth loves to eat; she loves to cook. She is straight-forward, not brass but not overly bubbly, always happy to find just the thing for you. She finds my dish, of course- a red lovely shiny Le Creuset terrine dish. It is perfect! She is just as excited about this purchase as I am.

A Tuesday night, we walk back in the kitchen store, toddler on hand. With no specific mission in mind, we stroll in to see what sort of kitchen-gadget trouble we can get into. Lulu's eyes dart around for Steve, but no dice. Mary, however, is there. She does not have stickers. She has the next best thing- Disney princes logo rubber banz bracelets- like these. One impediment, Lulu doesn't know. Mary walks up to her, shows her the loot, and tells her- I've known you since you were in your mommy's belly. She is right. One day before Lulu was born (unbeknownst to us that the arrival was that near), we were in the same store. The husband had Mary select the perfect popsicle molds for watermelon popsicles to bring to the hospital. He made the popsicles, and we went to the hospital.

That store is my happy place. It is the place I walk into to see familiar friendly faces; to touch crazy new kitchen gear; to talk about what I need to make my next overly complicated dish or the next very simple one. Everything about this store gives me comfort- it is warm, intimate, personal, peaceful. Familiar and welcoming; it always makes me feel at home.

Comfort is a beautiful thing. We are more prone to embrace it in the winter. It is order, quiet, relief, and familiarity. It soothes, heals, eases any disturbance. Comfort is sweet, and warm, and kind. It embraces you either with a pleasing scent, a soft feel, a known sound, a tastebud-tickling taste. When you crave it, you find it in that old perfume, in the warm wool sweater, in that record you loved to listen to, in the winter- comfort foods. I find my comfort at the Cherry Creek Mall at Sur La Table-- and in this risotto.

Butternut Squash Risotto, a Lucques-adapted recipe

Ingredients: 2 cups 1/2 inch diced Butternut Squash; 2 tablespoons olive oil; 1 tablespoon thyme leaves; 4 cups chicken stock; 5 tablespoons unsalted butter; 1 cup diced yellow onion; 2 cups Arborio rice; 1/4 cup dry white wine (or whatever you feel like drinking the rest of from a new bottle); 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the squash with the oil, 1 teaspoon (a third of your total quantity) of thyme, salt, and pepper. Roast it on a baking sheet for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until it is tender.

Bring the 4 cups of chicken stock (mine for example was frozen- made my, froze it- always great to have on hand) and 4 cups of water to a boil then reduce to the gentlest possible simmer.

Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the butter and when it foams, add the onions, remaining 2 teaspoons of thyme, a pinch of salt, and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Sautee for 7-8 minutes until the onion is translucent.

Stir in half of the roasted squash, the rice, and 2-3 healthy pinches of salt. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly until the rice starts to get toasted and gets a white dot in the middle of each grain. Pour the wine in, and once it evaporates, add one cup of the hot stock/water and stir constantly. Drink the rest of the bottle, once cup at a time. When the liquid is completely absorbed in the rice, add one more cup, and stir continuously.

Continue adding the liquid in 1 cup batches, stirring with a vigorous circular back and forth motion, across the bottom and sides of the pan. Each cup of liquid should be completely absorbed before more liquid is added. After most of your liquid is absorbed, the rice should should still be somewhat al dente. What you are going for is neither soupy, nor dry- just a nice pile of rice grains cooked through and coated with a flavorful starchy sauce. It may need to cook longer, or you may need to add liquid- always warm the liquid before adding. And add gently and slowly, always stirring.

When done, let it rest for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the squash, half of the parmesan, and another pinch of salt. Stir it in. Serve with the rest of the cheese on top.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Must-Makes: Tarte Tatin

By 9th grade, I thought I had to read all of Balzac and all of Hugo, some Hemingway, some Dickens, some Tolstoi. I thought I had to recognize Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Beethoven's 5th, and Tchaikovski's Swan Lake. I thought I had to see Gone With the Wind, Carmen, and Hamlet. I had to go to Paris. I had to get braces for my teeth. I had to go to law school. I had to nurse my child for a full year whether she was up for it or not.

Weird little lists continued to form in my head - things I had to do, things I have to do. They don't involve classics or big goals. I have to vacuum before I leave for vacation. I have to finish laundry every Sunday night. I have to put Lulu to sleep, every night. I have to make stock - and granola - and butter. I have to go to the farmers market every week of the season.

My old lists did not all fit into my teenage years; my new ones don't always fit reality. I read Hesse about a year ago. I never finished 100 Years of Solitude. I have not seen Lawrence of Arabia and it is not on my Netflix queue. Sometimes I don't finish laundry Sunday night. Sometimes butter comes from the store. But I am surely working my way through the French classics - cooking-wise- one by one!

It was in a suburban part of Bucharest that I first tried to make this fall sweet treat- with my first boyfriend. I was 16, so was he. We spent a lot of time cooking- some things never change. We tried new things, mostly without recipes, generally not knowing what we were doing, but always having a sense of what we wanted to get. That time it was Apple Upside Down Cake. Now, I call it Tarte Tatin and give it a whole new go.

Tarte Tatin, a Must-Make French Classic, adapted from Bouchon

Pate Brisee Dough: 12 ounces all purpose flour, sifted; 1 teaspoon kosher salt; 8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cubed small; 1/4 cup cold water.
Apples: 4 lbs Golden Delicious Apples; 3/4 cup sugar; 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 6 pieces.
To serve: fresh whipped cream.

To make the dough, put 1 cup of the sifted flour in the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Run the mixer on slow and add the butter slowly a little at a time. Increase the speed to medium and add the butter until incorporated. Reduce speed to low again and add the rest of the flour. Add the water and mix until incorporated. This dough should be smooth, not sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Pat each half into a 7 to 8 inch disk and wrap in plastic wrap. The good news is that you save half of this for the freezer for next time you want to make this- wrap it in foil and freeze up to one month. The other piece must be refrigerated for at least one hour- apparently ( you remember I'm not exactly the baking connoisseur) if the dough doesn't rest it will shrink when it bakes. Roll the dough into a circle slightly larger than the pan and about 1/4 inch thick. Fold in half then in half again to form a triangle. Refrigerate.

The dish you cook the apples in is important- if you have a traditional tarte tatin dish- good for you. For the rest of us, a heavy ovenproof skillet that is about 9 inches across and no less than 2 inches deep- the caramelized sugar around the apples needs room to bubble up.

Cut the apples in slices of your desired size. You can have large chunks- nearly halves or thin slices like I did- seriously- this is one place where your texture preference can make its mark. Spread the sugar in an even layer in the pan and distribute the butter pieces over the sugar. Arrange the apple slices in a snug circle. Form another circle on top. Reserve a few slices to add when the ones in the pan cook down and shrink.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Allow the apples to cook on medium-high heat. The sugar will melt and some juices from the apples will be released. You want these to evaporate slowly, allowing the caramel to form. Shake the pan from time to time. You might need a little spatula to make sure the apples don't stick to the bottom. As the apples shrink, add a few more slices if needed. The caramel has to reduce to a deep amber color and the juices from the apples will have to evaporate. This can take up to an hour, so be patient. Adjust heat as needed so your caramel doesn't burn.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and drape over the cooked apples. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the refrigerator and let sit for only 30 minutes to cool. Invert over a serving platter.

Reheat before serving and top with fresh whipped cream. Finish up your lists, big and small!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.