Eye Candy – Spring color teasers: Beets at the farmers market

Beet rainbow

Early Spring is such a tease.

I know we’re still technically in Winter, but with my crocuses popping up and the tulips starting to break ground, not to mention the leaves on the Aspens starting to burst, it’s official. I’m totally over Winter and I’m more than ready for Spring.

We haven’t had a lot of snow here in the Denver area this Winter.  I’m totally okay with this.  I’m not a big fan of snow.  They’ve had a lot in the mountains and that’s great for the ski freaks around here, of which I am not.  Since things aren’t very white around here with a covering of snow, there’s an overwhelming brown all over from the brown, crispy lawns and fields of dried up weeds and flowers from last year.

Spring and its colors just can’t come soon enough.

So here’s a hint of things to come: when the grass turns green, the flowers return and the wonderful local produce starts showing up at the farmers market again.

The Boulder Farmers Market starts up their 2011 season on April 2nd.  That’s only three weeks away.  I can’t wait.

PS – Best way to use those beets?  Remove the greens (save them for adding to pastas or saute for a side dish) and place the beets in a small foil packet with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Seal up the packet tight and place in a small shallow roasting pan (just in case the foil packet leaks).  Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until beets are knife tender. The time will depend on the size of your beets.  Roast longer, obviously, if they’re pretty large.  Remove and let cool.  Peel the skins off and slice on top of salads of green tender lettuce with some crumbled chevre and a light vinagrette.  They’ll keep nicely in a covered container in the fridge for 2-3 days.

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Eye Candy – Cherry lattice pie

It came from the bottom of the freezer

Okay, okay.  I’ve uploaded a ton of old stuff.  So it’s only fair I upload something new.

(Well, new to BlogWorld.  I made this pie last year.  But still.)

One morning, while digging around the bottom of our big freezer, I found a 6 pound container of frozen pitted sour cherries.  I had totally forgotten about them.  We bought them at the Boulder Farmers Market during the hieght of Colorado cherry season.  And, as often happens, other things get put in the freezer on top of it.  Bread. Chicken.  Large Costco-sized bags of corn.  Until surprisingly, it’s uncovered and suddenly, your mouth starts to water and you start craving pie.

So I pulled out the Tenderflake (that’s Canadian lard, which I had gotten a few pounds of during my last trip up north).  Sure, I like to make pie with butter and shortening, but there’s still nothing better than lard.  Screw you, food police.  Lard does make a flakier and tastier crust.

It was really good.  Bad cherry pie is…well…horrible.  But a good cherry pie will have you dreaming of running through the cool, green grass in your bare feet on a hot Summer day.  And trust me, during the Winter, that’s a nice dream.

 

Kitchen Tip – How to avoid mushy potatoes in stews and soups

I love potatoes.  It must be the Dutchman in me.

However, I hate mushy potatoes.  I can understand mushy potatoes in something like a Potato and Leek soup.  Mushy, as in pureed.  It still had better have some good, toothy chunks of potatoes in it though, just to add a little substance to it.  Bacon too, but I digress.

Want to put a stew or soup on the stove or in the oven, but don’t want to worry about what time you need to put in the potatoes to get them all cooked in?  And don’t want to throw them all in when you put everything in the pot and probably end up with mushy, mealy potatoes?

Here’s what you do.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wskrz/5469205063/

Cut up your potatoes as you normally would, peeling them if you’d like.  I use Yukon Golds, because I love their flavor and how well they keep after a few hours of steaming.  If you’d like, add a little dash of salt to them. Wrap them up in a foil packet, sealing them tight and place on top of your soup or stew, then cover and simmer your stew for however many hours you’d like, or place in the oven for a few hours. Not only will your dinner cook, but so will your potatoes.

When you’re ready to serve, carefully unwrap the packet and pour your nicely steamed chunks of potatoes into your stew and stir them in.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wskrz/5469205033/in/photostream/

An extra bonus – this works with Crock Pots and slow cookers too.  Do the same thing: wrap up your potatoes in a foil packet, place on top of your food, cover and let cook.  Since they’re happily steaming away in their own little environment, they’ll be just fine.

Bon appetit!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wskrz/5469204993/in/photostream/

(PS – if you want to add frozen peas to your soup or stew though, like I did, don’t put them in the pot before you cook everything together.  They won’t be green when you’re done.  Just stir them, still frozen, into your soup or stew about the same time you put in the potatoes, or about five or ten minutes before serving.  The residual heat from the stew and the pot will cook them and keep them green)

Presentation is everything

Here.  This should make you drool a little.
Pastry offerings at Eric Kayser in the 5th arrondisement, Paris

How often has this happened to you?

You’re sitting in a restaurant. Maybe you’re sipping the remainder of a nice glass of wine after the dishes from your main course have been cleared away. You’re quite content with the dinner you’ve had. No, you’re satisfied. You really could just go on to coffee and the bill and call it a good night out.

And then a server goes by with another tables’ dessert. It looks fabulous. Your eyes light up and your mouth drops as you take in a short, quiet gasp.

Your eyebrow lifts. Suddenly, your stomach makes room and invites your brain to say, “I’ll have the same thing.”

You’ve no doubt heard the classic phrase, “You eat with your eyes.” This is absolutely true when you’re in Paris. Walk by any storefront, especially during the holiday season, and you’ll see the most amazing displays of chocolate, pastries, breads or cheeses that would be enough to set your mouth to watering and your feet to walking through the door to make a purchase. Or at the very least, it’s enough to put you in a holiday mood, especially when you see that twinkle of joy in a child’s eyes as they peer into the window display with anticipation.

The window at La Mere de la Famille on Rue Cler

Christmas chocolate on display at La Mere de la Famille on Rue Cler, Paris

The French take food presentation very seriously. It’s art. Go to a French restaurant and chances are, your order will be beautifully displayed and you’ll pause to admire it before picking up your knife and fork to start eating it (unless you’re really hungry of course). In the kitchen, presentation is a big deal. Sure, you can make a chateaubriand that tastes great, but if it looks terrible in presentation on the plate, who would want to eat it? It would show bad on the kitchen and even worse on the chef. Slap it onto a plate with a few smears of stray sauce and throw on a few potatoes and shove it out of the kitchen, you’d be guaranteed a disappointed diner and, in these days of instant Internet reviews and pictures online of meals, you’d be sure that word would get around and the number of customers would drop.
The same thing is true in French stores.

Christmas gingerbread

Christmas gingerbreads at the Christmas Market along the Champs Elysees

Look at the window displays. It’s not just a paper sign giving their hours. It’s a literal cornucopia of their holiday offerings. If they don’t tempt you to go inside, at the very least, you’ll think about how beautiful the food looked.

Laduree's windows of macarons

Laduree’s holiday macaron window display along the Champs Elysees

One of the biggest themes I took away from seeing these beautifully arranged windows, buying the meticulously arranged and presented boxes of chocolates or candies or sitting down to a plate of amazing looking food was this – they actually care about their food. And not only do they care about the product going into the boxes or bags or plates, they respect it.

I really would have no trouble serving myself.  Really.  *ahem*

Macarons ready for the choosing at Larnicol

Think about it. When you go to a store and ask for a dozen rolls, what do you take away from the experience? If someone just throws them into a bag, twists it and shoves it to you and says, “That’ll be $2.99,” what do you walk out of the store thinking? Do you think anything of it at all? Now say you walk into a store, ask for a dozen rolls that are carefully placed into a box, sealed with a sticker giving the name and address of the bakery and it’s carefully passed to you as if live chicks were inside. That should tell you that not only does the person behind the counter respect the product that’s coming out of the back, but believes in it enough to treat it with care (and hopefully you will too as you take it home).

Another example of that awesome packaging

Box of chocolate paves from Michel Chaudun, sealed shut with ribbon and a wax seal

If there’s enough respect and care for the food as it goes out of the store, then chances are there’s a lot of respect and care going into it as it’s made. And trust me. When it comes to food, the French know when something isn’t made with care. An éclair made without real cream? Bread made from frozen dough rather than made by hand in the store? Trying to serve products like that to customers would be suicide for a store. Not only would it make you look cheap, but it would show disrespect – to the customer and to the very trade that they are practicing.

Laurent Dubois’ cheese creations at Place Maubert

It’s a lesson that we could learn in the US. Maybe if we came to appreciate the aesthetics of our food more, and even enjoy the little luxuries of a wonderful pastry or loaf of bread, properly and lovingly made, maybe there wouldn’t be a problem with obesity or overeating. Maybe if we felt satisfied with our experience in eating a fabulous piece of tart or cake, we wouldn’t feel the need to mindlessly eat a box of cookies that had never been touched by human hands as they came out of the factory.

Quite literally, we’ve lost touch with our food.

Patrick Roger chocolates

Chocolate offerings at Patrick Roger