Presenting The Faux Gourmet!

The Faux Gourmet has been on hiatus for a while. I began this blog as a creative outlet during law school. After law school, I started other blogs on other topics and no longer needed this as a creative outlet, not to mention my diminishing free time.

But I kept cooking, kept taking food pictures and garden pictures, kept wanting to share the little tidbits of what I'd made. I occasionally did this on my personal blog (to which, I'm sure, people yawned and wondered when I'd post another cat picture). But I started to miss this space. Of all the blogs I have, this format, culled over several dedicated years and incorporating that adorable illustration by Sam Wedelich (see info the left) is by far my favorite.

So I'm back!

Expect short and sweet posts. Less food porn, more recipes and tips. If you want food porn you can look at any of the 5000 million existing food blogs. I don't have good lighting in my apartment and don't have time to style plates. I just want to make something yummy and eat it. If that sounds ok with you, stick around.

Looking forward to being back in touch!

xx

The Faux Gourmet

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    Saturday, May 31, 2008

    Thrice All American

    "I wanna tell you about my home city,
    a dusty old jewel in the South Puget Sound . . . "

    Image from about.com

    So begins Thrice All American, the affectionate, melancholy ode by Neko Case to Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma has never been my home town, but through friends and family who've lived there I've come to view it with affection as well. As my little brother & future sister-in-law graduate from their Tacoma college and moves to a new job, new apartment, new life in the big-sister city Seattle up north, I want to give Tacoma a little ode of my own.

    Tacoma, "where rails meet sails," is home of both ship yards and the Western Terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, not to mention stunning views of nearby Mount Rainier.

    Image by Lyn Topinka/USGS

    It had a bad rap as gang-infested and crime-ridden in the 80s and 90s, but now it is coming into its own as a hip, artsy, community-coffee shop filled city with a neighborhood feel.

    I have found many a thrift-store gem at the funky urbanXchange, while sipping on a soy latte from a local chain, Cutters Point Coffee, next door.

    Image from urbanXchange website

    A friend shows paintings (created in her studio space at an artists collective where she has a share) at another cool coffee shop, Kickstand Cafe, conveniently next door to the independent Grand Cinema where I saw the delightfully fashion-backward Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day--before it had come out at my local theater back home in NYC.

    Image from Tacomamenus.com

    Image from Things to Do in Tacoma blog

    The Tacoma Art Museum is one of the more entertaining art experiences I've ever had, utterly unpretentious. I saw an exhibit on French art, accompanied by a pronunciation guide to the artists' names. Other little touches include free sketch paper & pencils in each room and a free guide guests can access via cell phone guide for information about pieces on display. Exhibits are matched with do-it-yourself arts and crafts projects in the Open Art Studio upstairs, suitable for kids "age 3-93." See my faux glass creation?


    The real glass master is Dale Chihuly, whose dramatic works form part of the none-too-shabby permanent collection complemented by a variety of ever-rotating borrowed exhibits. Learn all you'll ever want to know about glass, and watch it being made before your very eyes, at the nearby Museum of Glass.

    Image from Museum of Glass website

    Tacoma also abounds with free art, from the glorious pieces of glass hung about Union Station to blue sticks rising like hard rock candy above the freeway.


    Image from unionstationrotunda.org and Museum of Glass, respectively

    Another great spot for art is the swanky new Hotel Murano, a "Sleepover Art Museum" with an enormous ladle sculpture outside and displays on each floor celebrating different modern-day artists.

    Image of ladle just prior to the official unveiling from Kevin.Freitas.net

    The hotel is part of a renovated downtown that has had public wifi access since the 90s. With a gleaming convention center just across from the museums, restaurants galore, and beautifully laid out public space, Tacoma is poised to be the next big thing. (Or the next big best kept secret, as some of my Tacoma friends may prefer).


    Image from this flickr site

    Taste & See: Most important for our purposes, I have eaten extremely well at Tacoma over the years. Should you be so lucky as to have a few days for grazing in Tacoma, I recommend:


    Coffee at the entirely unique Satellite Coffee Co., where they take their brews quite seriously. You can try some unconventional dairy substitutes (hemp milk, anyone?) but even the least-crunchy folks will appreciate the care they give an ordinary cup of joe.

    Image from Satellite Coffee Co. myspace page

    Brunch at C. I. Shenanigans: all I can say is, fast the entire day before. But if you disregard my instructions, at least you can kill time enjoying the beautiful view over the water before making your way back for a refill of oysters on the half shell.

    Image from this flickr site

    Sweets & Tapas at Masa. Masa isn't really Mexican food, per se, but it doesn't try to be. It bills itself as redefining American Mexican cuisine, and that it does very well indeed. Enjoy the empanadas and chili relleno but do yourself a favor and save room for the Mexican Sugar Flatbread ans Churro Sundae.



    Lunch at Galanga Thai Cuisine. I know Thai food, and this is very good Thai food. Literally everything is great, and I would know because at this point I think I've tasted almost everything on the menu. In addition to the standards, they get props for doing a variety of dishes I rarely see outside Thailand.

    Seafood at Johnny's Dock. Definitely not cheap, but a fun and tasty place to do what you do in the Pacific Northwest: feast on scallops, prawns, salmon, halibut, oysters, squid & more. A great place for a celebration.

    Date Night at Marzano, in nearby Parkland. Marzano serves up the kind of Italian food that's worth going out for. Fabulous atmosphere--romantic, intimate--and the staff remembered us on our second visit a year after the first one). Heaping bread plate, lovely wine list, and as with Galanga, nothing I've had has disappointed me.


    Images from Marzano webpage

    Happy hour at The Melting Pot. It may be a chain, but its cheap happy hour versions of cheese and dessert fondue are an excellent local attraction (7 days a week from 4:30-6:30 pm and 9 pm-1 am).

    Gelato at Indochine. Ok, the pan-Asian-fusion food at Indochine is PDG too, though you might want to start with gelato in case you don't have room. The presentation is gorgeous; this inventive Ahi salad (you know how I feel about tuna) was one of my favorites.

    Image from Indochine webpage

    While their "medium" spicy leaves the mouth numb, the intricate combinations of flavors will leave you braving the heat for one more bite of joy. On second thought, maybe the heat calls for another serving of gelato . . .

    Drinks at the Ram Restaurant & Brewery. Also a chain, but the lively pub gets a local feel from the canoe decked with flags of area schools overhead. The perfect place to have a riotous good time watching sports on a bunch of different big screens at once. The house-made beers have sassy names and come in an unreasonably cheap sampler palette that lets you try small shots of all of them.

    People may laugh when they hear you're from Tacoma, as Neko Case jokes in Thrice All American, but let them laugh; maybe we who know will get to keep Tacoma for ourselves. Her tribute ends:

    "God bless California,
    make way for the Wal-Mart,
    I hope they don't find you, Tacoma."

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    Summer Love

    Nothing says summer
    like strawberries and tomatoes.

    Kids may still be in school, and the sky may yet be teasing us with overcast days and highs of 70s, but when you find yourself using adjectives like plump and bursting, and dreaming of red juices drizzling down your chin, you know summer's finally here.

    The intense bright red of both fruits is the perfect foil for other summertime delights, from vibrant fresh pesto and salad greens to creamy cheeses.



    And, as it turns out, both add just the right dot of flavor to liven up an inadvertently large batch of plain polenta I would up with recently. With a little creativity, however, the entire pan of bland, rubbery polenta was transformed into a crispy base ideal for highlighting the stand-out flavors piled on top.

    Do It Yourself:

    Polenta: You can make polenta, a form of corn meal, fairly easily from scratch by following the directions on the box, or these simple instructions. This is a case of do as I say, not as I do: I added only olive oil and a bit too much water; next time I'll sprinkle some salt in the polenta to give it a bit more flavor and use a little less water than called for to keep it from being so dense.

    Alternately, you can buy it pre-made, ready to slice into rounds for toasting up as you need them.

    For each of the recipes below, I grilled my polenta in a saucepan for 2-3 minutes on each side as I prepared the remaining ingredients. I tried the oven, but didn't get the crispy crust for which I was aiming. I also tried to grill it dry on a hot pan, but ended up filling my apartment with smoke for several hours. The best method ended up being using a moderate amount of oil, either olive oil or leftover fat from cooking meat in the same pan, and pressing down a bit on each side with a flat metal flipper.

    Polenta keeps in the fridge for about a week. In addition to the recipes below, try:

    Grilled Polenta with Blood Orange & Basil Relish
    Fried Polenta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
    Quick & Easy Polenta


    Faux Strawberry Shortcake:

    - Strawberries, approx 3 per person
    - Chevre (goat cheese); I used a honey chevre
    - Balsamic vinegar (or Rosemary Balsamic Reduction, see below)
    - Polenta, cut into triangles

    1. While polenta is frying, slice a few strawberries.
    2. Remove polenta from pan and place on plates.
    3. Spread chevre over polenta and add strawberries.
    4. Drizzle with balsamic.


    Rosemary Balsamic Reduction: For a more intense sweet flavor with less of a jarring sour note, use this instead any time you'd use plain balsamic vinegar.

    1. Pour balsamic (approx 3 times the amount of sauce you hope to make) into a sauce pan on low heat.
    2. Add several rosemary wands and approx 2 tbsp sugar per 1/2 cup balsamic.
    3. Stir occasionally as vinegar evaporates into a sticky, sweet syrup.
    4. Promptly remove from heat when it becomes about the consistency of maple syrup or you'll end up with a batch of sweet tar.
    5. Store in fridge and use as needed for a lovely jolt of flavor on almost anything.

    Polenta Open Faced Sandwich
    - Salami or sausage rounds; I used chorizo
    - Cheese; I used brie
    - Cherry or grape tomatoes
    - Pesto
    - Polenta squares

    1. As polenta is toasting in pan, add several slices of salami and a handful of tomatoes. The heat brings out a rich warmth to the meat and provides some additional flavor to the polenta as it cooks in the oil. The tomatoes stay intact, but pop in beautiful bursts in your mouth.


    2. After turning polenta over once, spread pesto over toasted side and top with slices of cheese.
    3. Cover and continue to cook in pan while bottom side toasts.
    4. Place polenta on plate and top with salami rounds and tomatoes.


    Serve with a sweet white wine (I am partial to Gew├╝rztraminer) and a simple salad of mache or spinach leaves topped with, what else, sliced strawberries, slivered almonds, honey chevre or pecorino, and perhaps another little drizzle of balsamic (though mache has a nice peppery flavor that needs no dressing).

    Finish with Faux Strawberry Shortcake for dessert, and perhaps a digestivo of a single sweet, perfect strawberry.

    Saturday, May 3, 2008

    Veal Rolls Stuffed with Spinach & Gruyere- Sort of

    A Faux Gourmet twist on a Gourmet recipe.



    Taste & See: You can find the original recipe from Gourmet Magazine so I won't bother to reprint it. But lest you think the fancy title implies more effort or skill than you can muster up, the technique is actually really simple and can be modified to use up whatever you have on hand.

    What you need:

    - Meat cutlets, sliced thin
    - Grated cheese
    - Spinach leaves
    - (Dry) white wine

    - Butter
    - Salt, pepper, herbs of choice
    - Skewer stick, baking pan, saute pan


    The Basic Technique:


    - Lay thin cuts of meat flat in a baking pan.
    - Sprinkle with salt and pepper
    .
    - Rub with melted butter.

    - Pile shredded cheese on top.

    - Stack spinach leaves over the cheese.

    - Roll up and pin with skewer stick.

    - Saute for two minutes on each side in butter.

    - Return to baking pan and bake approx. 5 min. more at 425 F.
    - Meanwhile, add approx 1/2 cup wine + 1 tbsp butter to sauce pan, scraping up brown bits.
    - Sprinkle in herb of choice and reduce to approx. 1/2 amount of liquid.

    Voila!


    Tips:

    - Using a skewer stick keeps the meat rolls together while cooking and makes for easy transfer without needing separate utensils.


    - Pre-washed spinach leaves save time.
    - Anytime you cook meat on the stove top, make a flavorful sauce by scraping up the crusty bits left from the meat in the saute pan with wine and a little extra butter.



    Variations:

    The original recipe calls for veal, gruyere, spinach leaves, parsley, a dry white wine and anchovy paste. I didn't have anchovy paste. Instead, I spread some leftover almond - garlic - lemon - bread crumb sauce mixed with the melted butter over the meat before adding cheese and spinach. I didn't have a dry white wine so I used a slightly sweet Viognier, which worked just fine.



    My second variation was a faux gourmet spin on a cheeseburger. I used choice beef tip sirloin steak, long flat pieces perfect for rolling up.




    I mixed some mustard and garlic with the butter for spreading over the meat, and used a vodka cheddar instead of gruyere. The only white wine I had on hand was a Gewurtzraminer, a spunky, spicy wine, and thyme for the brown sauce. I was afraid it would be too sweet, but it turned out quite nice, a bit more complex than a typical white wine brown sauce.