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!


The Faux Gourmet

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    Saturday, August 16, 2008

    Heaven in a Pint

    Quick Tip: I think I'm about to acquire a new addiction. I have been hooked on caramel with fleur de sel, salty caramel, for the past year, raving about it in the form of chocolate pots with melty caramel center at a chocolaterie in Montreal, my Auntie R's caramels sprinkled with fleur de sel, and a fleur de sel caramel sauce at 750 ML.

    Now my craving comes in a handy pint sized container:

    That's right. Fleur de Sel Caramel Ice Cream. So very excited. All I can say is it would be a very good idea to include this in any attempt to impress me.

    This delight is part of Haagen Dazs's reserve line, ice cream so pretentious, I mean, so serious about quality, it includes food and wine pairings and flavor notes:
    Fleur de Sel caramels covered in a chocolaty coating blended into caramel ice cream with caramel ribbons and French sea salt accents. Crisp, salty nuances harmonize with rich, creamy caramel for the ultimate combination of sweet and salty.
    Gee, I was expecting notes of raspberry and persimmon. (They've come a long way from their roots as the brainchild of Polish immigrants in the Bronx . . . yeah, bet you didn't know they weren't really a fancy German company.)

    But who cares? Haagen Dazs is always good and I have no doubt this flavor is going to be magical. I wonder what I have to do to be designated the official food blog of Fleur de Sel Caramel Ice Cream? All I ask is my own personal supply . . .

    Friday, August 15, 2008

    Getting my kicks on I-90

    If you ever plan to motor west,
    travel my way, take the highway that's really the best.

    Images courtesy

    Taste & See: Should you one day find yourself coasting along I-90, the interstate that winds from the Emerald City of Seattle through the wide western states, lake country, and all the way over to Boston, I highly recommend pulling off on Exit 61, in dusty old Wallace, Idaho. Just after the farmlands of Eastern Washington give way to the first forested slopes of the Rockies, you'll find "the best huckleberry shake" on I-90, and maybe anywhere, at Red Light Garage.

    Huckleberries are, after all, the state fruit of Idaho and Wallace is home to the annual Huckleberry Festival.

    Image courtesy The Shepherd's Inn, which makes delicious huckleberry crepes.

    The tiny purple berries are a pain to pick but a joy to eat, tossed in pancakes, cereal, salad, flavoring ice cream, syrup, dressings, honey. Apparently they have quite the linguistic history as well. According to the people's source for information (Wikipedia, obviously):
    The tiny size of the berries led to their frequent use as a way of referring to something small, often in an affectionate way. The phrase "a huckleberry over my persimmon" was used to mean "a bit beyond my abilities". "I'm your huckleberry" is a way of saying that one is just the right person for a given job, which was used by the character Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone. The Huckleberry Railroad is a heritage train located in Flint, Michigan. It ran so slowly that it was said a person could jump off the train, pick huckleberries and jump back on the train with minimum effort.
    Idaho gets a bad rap, the scruffy kid brother of the beautiful Pacific Northwest states to the west and known more for potatoes than fine dining, antiques and art. But funky little Wallace, Idaho is kind of a gem. Or rather, a silver dollar: Wallace is the "silver capital of the world". It is also home to the last stoplight to be bypassed by the mighty transcontinental I-90. Residents added Wallace to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 so the freeway would NOT pass through town.

    The streets are lined with stately brick buildings housing coffee shops and rusty antiques. On the edge of the 'downtown' is the Stardust Motel with a sign like an oversized Hollywood prop for a 50s period piece.

    While a huckleberry shake with sweet little berries grown locally is a clear winner, the nearby Red Light Garage is more than just a spot for great shakes:

    Red Light Garage also serves sandwiches like the New Orleans style "Muffuletta," $2 beer or wine and cheap Mexican food (two tacos for $3!). Apparently, a lot of people have opted for beer:

    Definitely wins the award for best artistic use of bottle caps. In fact, the entire interior displayed the same panache, using ordinary materials to make charming decor. Who wouldn't want a bath tub love seat?

    Old ties as trimming?

    Barbara, behind the counter, not only makes very good coffee, she was also kind enough to lend me a copy of a magazine she saw me eyeing, trusting a complete stranger to bring it back on the way back through a week later.

    Thanks Barbara, and thanks Idaho. That's just how we do out here.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Correction + French Chicken in a Pot, Redux

    An anonymous tip alerted me my description of 750 ML as organizing wine by adjective in an earlier post, Throwdown: Puck v. 750 ML, might be inaccurate. The comment correctly noted 750 ML's menu does not organize wines by adjective. It suggested I may have been thinking of the nearby Wine Styles, which does. I've never been to Wine Styles, however. I was actually referring to the introduction given on 750 ML's own web page. I assume it refers to an adjacent wine bar where wines are organized by adjective but I might be wrong. I emailed 750 ML to find out and when I hear from them I will post the answer here.

    French Chicken in a Pot, Redux: I dug up an old recipe (culled from C
    ooks Illustrated, so you know it will be right on) for French Chicken in a Pot today. You may have missed it, as it is located here, at the bottom of the review of Mercer Kitchen's Winter 2008 Restaurant Menu, a post that greatly increased in popularity as Summer Restaurant Week approached. If you haven't already tried it for yourself, I highly recommend going back & picking it up for a cheap and easy summer supper.

    I followed the recipe as posted and the result was an almost buttery, silky meat, utterly tender and juicy. It only takes about 10 minutes of actual work before the whole bird goes in the oven. Add a couple sides--perhaps a simple salad mix dressed with the jus of the chicken, a fresh loaf of bread, some grilled zucchini dredged in chunky salt and olive oil, pesto pasta--and the raw ingredients should cost only $10-15 for a meal than can feed 4-6 people.

    I ate the chicken with a fun chardonnay from a winery that just moved into town. Milbrandt Vineyards gets its grapes from the Wahluke Slope, prime grape-growing land in Central Eastern Washington, but the tasting room is in my hometown, an upcoming hub of the Washington wine world. (My old neighbor is their winemaker!) I paid a visit the other day and the mistress of the tasting room, Rachel, did an excellent job talking me through their tangy chardonnays (think pineapple and banana), a surprisingly clean riesling, a springy chenin blanc, and luscious reds like merlot and syrah. The Traditions Chardonnay, the cheapest in the line and the complement to our chicken, was the unanimous favorite among the chardonnays.

    Saturday, August 9, 2008

    Bloody Good

    Auntie R shows a seasoned bartender
    her spin on the perfect Bloody Mary

    Taste & See: A way up in the Rockies, a couple miles from the stunningly gorgeous Glacier Park and light years from Manhattan, a guy owns the pool table all morning long; a single chef churns out "the best burgers you'll ever eat" to the Sunday brunch crowd; and bikers pile in for cheap shots, slot machines, and camaraderie in Coram, Montana's friendly neighborhood dive bar.

    Packer's Roost, with its full lineup of acts like "OUT on Bail" and the USA Biker Tour, and its beer garden that conveniently doubles as a camping ground, is quite the local hot spot.

    That funny red thing you see atop the roof depicts a Jammer, one of the famous red tour buses that ferry visitors up the steep S-curves of Glacier Park's thoroughfare, Going to the Sun Road, to the summit at Logan Pass.

    The 50 mile drive passes through the continental divide and up to glaciers, mountain peaks, waterfalls, hiking trails, and glacial meadows and lakes. It isn't uncommon to see a mountain goat trotting along the side.

    It is truly one of the more spectacular stretches of road I have ever been on.

    Back at Packer's Roost, Sunday morning is Bloody Mary day and the place is full. The food comes out staggered, so that my little sister is just diving into her Grande Nachos when my cousin has finished downing his toast and eggs. We want to play pool but the current champ knocks in all but two balls on his first go, so our challenge game is over before it begins. The guy sits back down to his beer, ready for the next pretender.

    Meanwhile, Auntie R steps behind the bar to show one hard working bartender a couple things about making a Bloody Mary.

    Background: A Bloody Mary is a meal in a glass, basically just tomato juice & vodka, give or take a little for the imagination of the bartender. It is usually made spicy, with V8 or Bloody Mary mix for a pre-fab salty kick, and often served with a garnish of celery or green olive. I kind of think of it as the official drink of New York Sunday Morning Get Over the Hangover Brunch, based on my observational research.

    There's a little controversy over the origins of the name. Some say it comes from Queen Mary I, who shed a lot of Protestant blood during her reign. A more pedestrian account claims a patron of Harry's New York Bar in Paris suggested a tomato juice & vodka drink made by bartender Fernand Petiot be christened after the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, and a pretty girl there name Mary. Either way, Petiot brought the drink back to the St. Regis Hotel in New York, spiced it up, and made it an American classic.

    Do it Yourself: Today it can be made in many different ways. For a variety of recipes, check out this blog dedicated to the drink. Auntie R's methodology isn't exactly conventional, but I can vouch for the taste: bloody good.

    Step one, salt frosted glasses and add ice.

    Step two, douse with worchestershire sauce & tabasco sauce.

    Step three, add a healthy shot of tequila. That's right, Auntie R insists. None of that wussie vodka stuff for a Montana biker bar Bloody Mary.

    Step four, toss in a shake or two of pepper.

    Congratulations, you have now completed the base. Take a long appreciative look at your beautiful salt-capped glass before adding the bright red heart of a Bloody Mary.

    Step five, fill glass with 100% Tomato Juice. You don't need V8 when you pack in the punch yourself. There will be more than enough kick to this drink without the canned flavor.

    Step six, top it off with just a dash of brine from the green olives you should have sitting around for this very purpose.

    Step seven, make a little green olive-asparagus garnish & present your masterpiece to the world with pride. Below, our hardworking bartender & Auntie R, showing off drinks for the table.

    The only thing left to do is enjoy, preferably at a mountain biker bar.

    Saturday, August 2, 2008

    Throwdown: Puck v. 750 ML

    Two versions of one incredible dish
    + authentic French bistro fare

    Taste & See: This is not a fair competition. Wolfgang Puck, celebrity chef with dozens of restaurants, vs. a cute little French bistro/wine shop in South Pasadena (that organizes its wine by adjective: luscious, divine, bodacious)? Totally not fair.

    That said, the Sweet Corn Agnolotti I had at 750 ML the other night put up a darn good fight. The agnolotti didn't have quite the mascarpone-smoothness or summer-truffle magical fleeting flavor of WP's version but it was lovely in its own right, and a bit more in the league of the average gal than Spago. I liked the crunchy walnut bits and
    bright freshness of the leaves on top for contrasting texture and colour, though I wasn't sure what kind of leaves they were.

    What's more, if you go to 750 ML you can look forward to a spunky waiter named Kip (I think . . . I was given the name after a long night of enjoying 750 ML's thoughtful wine list) who promised we'd like the bottle he recommended (and pronounced in a perfect French accent). . . and if we didn't, he'd take it to the back and drink it himself. Way to take one for the team.

    Ask for bread; it comes only on request but those who ask are in for a treat.

    750 ML also gets props for its innovative menu. By innovative, I mean 750 ML serves old classics that are not so de rigor in modern America: bone marrow, sweet breads, etc.
    Their Sweetbreads are, I am told, quite tasty, if you like sweetbreads. Sweetbreads, in case you don't know, aren't exactly breads that are sweet. They are the pancreas &/or thymus of an animal like a calf or lamb.

    My party was trying to guess the origin of the name, and the consensus was that it must just be a humourous euphemism, a term as far from the actual food as possible. Plausible, but as it turns out, wrong. According to this etymology site, they are actually so called because 1) the thymus & pancreas are actually quite sweet and rich, and 2) 'bread' is from the Old English for flesh, as opposed to the savory muscle normally eaten.

    In any case, I didn't take advantage of the opportunity, but I appreciate that it was there. I was too busy enjoying my insanely rich Duck with Almond & Garlic Sauce. I thought the proper little deck-of-playing-cards portion would leave me hungry, but I was wrong. Each little crispy-skin & fat topped meaty bite topped was compact with quite a punch and I was full barely half way through.

    The almond-garlic sauce on which it rested was, as is so necessary with duck, a light, clean counterpoint.
    (To recreate see the recipe below.) In the waiter's words: "If there was no such thing as cholesterol we'd serve it as a soup." It really wasn't that rich . . . bring on the soup!

    On the dessert end of things, the Panna Cotta, ordered with the best of intentions, was more or less ignored by our table:

    More popular was the inventive Apricot Consomme'. Soup for dessert sounds weird and (maybe) wonderful, but at the end of the day, it is just the more elegant cousin of good old canned fruit in syrup.

    750 ML made a pretty smashing rendition of what you already know is one of my all time favs: Chocolate Melting Cake with Salty Caramel. We devoured two orders of this with nary a crumb left over. I'm tell you folks, give the salty caramel a go; you'll thank me.

    Do it yourself: Almond Garlic Sauce:

    Blend in electric blender or food processor for about 10 seconds:
    1-1/4 cups (125 g/4 oz) ground almonds
    1/2 cup (30 g/1 oz) fresh breadcrumbs
    6 cloves garlic, chopped
    Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

    Whisk juice of 1 lemon and 3.5 fl oz (a little more than 100 mL) extra virgin olive oil
    in a bowl and, with the motor running, slowly add to the almond mixture until incorporated.

    the remaining 3.5 fl oz oil, still with the motor running. The sauce should be fairly thick, even more so than hummus.

    Adjust the seasoning with approx. 1 tbsp red wine vinegar or to taste.

    Enjoy with grilled chicken, fresh cut vegetables, on sandwiches, etc.

    Quick Tip: Good food at PDX

    Should you find yourself traveling in the great Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend Pizzicato in the Portland International Airport (PDX). It manages to make an airport pit stop feel like a neighborhood bar. The staff is superfriendly, demanding I have a sample of beer before I chose my drink. And best of all, I got a shockingly big arugula, candied pecan, pear & gorgonzola salad for $4.50: