Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Potluck Pandemonium - Part II

Mr EA's entry in his company chili cook-off was one of our favorites from the Sterns' Chili Nation , American Chop Suey Chili. This is an unorthodox chili - the general ingredients are hamburger, celery, onion, macaroni and various seasonings - among other things. It is served with cheddar shreds and chow mein noodles (!). It is strange, but delicious.
It's not a spicy-hot chili, but there is a complex mix of seasonings. He picked this one because he wanted to have something a little different from the usual chilis.

He was supposed to cook it himself, so he really did all of it. I made a move to pick up the spoon one time, and he stopped me! "Don't touch that! I'm supposed to cook it myself!" I just walked away. :)

As you can see, it looks pretty good. And it tastes even better than it looks. I will let him tell how it went over:


Our chili seemed well received and was good tasting. The flavors kinda vanished overnight so I pumped it with some tobasco before the tasting. The office broke at lunch and spent about an hour goofing around and eating. Then we voted. The chilis were not so hot (except one) and they were all good. We did not win, alas, but the winners were pretty good. About a third of it came home with me and made a great supper. I'm already looking forward to next year's cookoff.....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Potluck Pandemonium - Part I

Mr EA and I had a lot of cooking to do tonight! Both our places of work are having potlucks tomorrow, and we had to get ready. Mr EA's work is having a chili cookoff, and mine is having just a plain Halloween potluck. We'll post Mr EA's part tomorrow, since the competition is supposed to be anonymous. Here is my part:

The Devil's Eggs!

12 eggs
2 tsp. Jack Daniel's Smoky Mustard
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 c. mayonnaise
12 olives

Hard boil eggs. Cool eggs quickly in cold water. When eggs are chilled, peel them. Halve the eggs, putting the whites on a plate and separating yolks into a bowl.

Mash up the yolks until they are the down to crumb-size bits. Mix the mustard, vinegar and mayonnaise into the mashed yolks. Blend until fully mixed. Spoon or pipe mixture back into the egg whites. That is where you would stop for nice, normal devilled eggs. However, these are special Halloween eggs. For Halloween, you would take the olives and insert them into the eggs, like this...

Creepy eye eggs!
In past years, I have made even weirder eggs. Like this...

You can make them look pretty creepy by just soaking the whites in water with food coloring in it :) However, I think that's a little much for the crowd I work in, so we'll go with regular eyeballs.


The devilled eggs went over pretty well! They were gone pretty quickly, and everyone seemed to like them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Candy Girl - FAIL

I have always liked Turkish Delight aka Locum, although it is somewhat hard to find. Since I am now trying out candy-making, it seemed like a natural thing to experiment with. There isn't a recipe in my shiny new Jane Sharrock book, so again, in the face of all logic and sense, I chose to sail the perilous seas of internet recipes. Today's experiment was based on the recipe at . I have a bottle of rosewater from a recent trip to either New Sagaya or the International Market in Eagle River, so I am ready to roll. Things started out sedately enough with me stirring lava-hot sugar water, while the auxiliary ingredients waited next to me.

Then I get to the inevitable stage where I think it's never going to end. I'm stirring, I'm stirring. The temperature is staying the same, it's never going to get to 240 (soft ball stage). OMG! So I turn up the heat one notch. Then a weird thing happens. The burner is glowing red, the proto-candy is blooping away even more energetically, and actually starting to brown in spots. And the temperature is going down! As you read this, say it in the same voice you would say "The calls are coming from inside the house!", because that's kind of how I was feeling about the situation. So I turned the heat up one more notch. And the temperature went up about a degree, and then went down again! Well, this is monkey-paw level freaky. So I turned off the burner, dumped the mix in the prepared pan, and walked away. I didn't know if suddenly an anomoly in the space-time continuum had formed in our kitchen, reversing the laws of physics; or that unbeknownst to me, hot sugar water forms a mysterious 6th state of matter, or what. I just knew I was done with it, at least for the moment. This was several hours ago. So I just came back to the kitchen to see if anything could be salvaged of my Turkish delight.

Two pieces of good news awaited me. 1) No extradimensional creatures were hanging around the kitchen, having burst through the freakish temperature wormhole, and 2) the Turkish delight tastes fine - just sweet enough, with a lovely rose perfume. The bad news is that it is really way too soft. But I cut it up and shook it around with some powdered sugar and cornstarch anyway, because why not.
Then I decided to see if a more mundane explanation might be the cause of the problem. I took the same pan I had used for the candy (now shiny clean through the good offices of Mr EA) and the same thermometer. I clipped the thermometer on the pan, which I then filled with cold water. Heated the water to boiling, and hey presto - the thermometer is off! (We are at sea-level, rendering temperature readings extremely easy.) Although I feel a little silly about the fact that this was not my immediate assumption in this circumstance, well, I figured it out eventually. And I guess that counts for something. So, a new candy thermometer is on the shopping list, and as soon as I have it, I'll be giving this recipe another go. So that's something to look forward to!

Cookbook Corner - Cooking Alaska

When I first arrived here in Anchorage, Mr EA (who had moved up here a few weeks before me) greeted me at the airport with this book. This may not sound like a thoughtful gift, but it was. He did this because I collect cookbooks, so he figured it would be a nice way to welcome me to our new home. Also, we had been hearing tales of whale blubber and woe from some of our East Coast loved ones, and this was a subtle way of telling me "See, there's real food to eat here - although, yes, some of it is moose-based!"
Cooking Alaskan (By Alaskans) is a wonderful book, which I cannot recommend strongly enough for the curious. Put together from a wide variety of sources, it is probably the most complete snapshot of how Alaskans of all stripes cook and eat. There are native recipes for hunted and gathered subsistence fare, recipes featuring packaged food used alone or in combination with native foods, recipes left over from Russia's tenure as landlord, and recipes attempting to cuisine-up native foods. A fair amount of this cookbook is written for people who have just come into possession of a moose ( a whole moose) or a boatload of fish. Because they or their spouse just went out and got it. It starts at that assumption and tells you what to do from there. However, there are also recipes for folks who went to Fred Myer's and bought a frozen fish filet. In short, there's something for everyone!
Along with recipes, there are tips and stories, all in the original voice of the authors - many of which are well worth the price of admission by themselves. As I read this, I find myself thinking of a coworker who was born and raised here, the daughter of two government employees, who grew up in Homer and has lived all over the state. She was here during the '64 quake - was downtown shopping for a prom dress, as a matter of fact. She has a lot of really interesting stories, a fair number of which are about food. She once told me that she had never had beef-steak until she was in her late teens, and she still hates the smell of it, though she has gotten used to the flavor over the years. Although I am not (and probably will never be) an Alaskan to that level, there is a lot in this cookbook even for me. I have used it several times when confronted with unusual ingredients, and I plan to try out more whenever possible.
If you visit Alaska (or live here), you will not have to work hard to find a copy. Despite being roughly the same size and shape as the Anchorage phone book, it is prominently positioned for sale at most of the major tourist shops and the airport as well as in local bookshops and grocery stores. If you are curious about what real Alaskans eat, outside the range of what everyone in America eats, then this book is a good place to start.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sahara - Guess the ethnicity!

If you guessed Middle Eastern, you're right!
Anyway, we have driven past this restaurant (on C street in midtown) quite a few times, but just never got around to it until this evening. Which is odd, because we really like middle eastern food in general.
Anyway. Although Sahara doesn't look like much from the outside, inside it is quite nice, with a tasteful smattering of hoke accented by an enormous TV on the wall playing Arabic TV (MBC ?), which we could not understand but which we found mesmerizing anyway. If you are familiar with middle eastern food, the menu will not hold much that is startling for you - and that's a good thing. If you are not familiar, all the menu items are well described, and vegetarian options are clearly marked.
While we perused our menus, our waitress brought us spicy, fried pita chips and a savory tomato-based dip - it was delicious and we devoured it in minutes flat. Mr EA and I decided on a Shish Kebab Combo for 2 and also a small pot of Arabic coffee. First out was a big plate of salad, which was a nice mix of greens, herbs, and a very light vinaigrette-like dressing. Next was a big plate of hummus, accented with a decorative pattern of parsley, paprika and olive oil and an accompanying basket of warm pitas. I had the hummus to myself, as Mr EA flatly refuses to try it. But that was OK - it was great! It has a very smooth texture, a rich taste with just a hint of bitterness.... Mmmmmm! Hummus!
Then came the main course - a platter of kebabed meat and a big platter of rice. The meat included chicken, lamb, and kafta (which has a semi-unfortunate appearance, but tastes great). The chicken was lightly coated with a yogurt and paprika sauce and grilled to juicy perfection. The lamb is lightly spiced as well and nicely grilled - just done enough. The kafta had a good mix of meat, onions, and herbs and also was crispy but not dry. The rice was a treat as well, cooked to a soft texture but not mushy and lightly spiced with cinnamon and/or cardamom. (How can I not say for sure? There was a lot going on in that meal.) The coffee was perfect as well - black as midnight on a moonless night (that's pretty dark....), and very lightly sweetened with a caramelized, burnt- sugar taste. Although at this point we were afraid to eat even a wafer-thin portion of anything, we split an order of baklava. It too was perfect. Flaky, crisp filo, a good layer of nuts, and just enough syrup throughout to sweeten it, but not enough to make it soggy and limp.
So all in all, if you like middle eastern food, or you are feeling adventurous enough to try it out, check out Sahara. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crow's Nest

Tuesday evening, Mr EA and I celebrated our 14th anniversary downtown at the Crow's Nest located on the top floor of the Hotel Captain Cook. The Crow's Nest is one of Anchorage's finer dining establishments, in a class with Simon and Seaforts, Club Paris, and a few others. We very seldom eat at such a level, but it is an occasion, so we decided to splurge.

The Hotel Captain Cook appears to be quite a nice hotel, at least as far as can be told by the public spaces. At the restaurant itself, at the top of tower 3, we were greeted by the pleasant and efficient hostess, whose name I did not catch. Like the rest of the hotel, the Crow's Nest is nicely appointed and has a luxurious atmosphere. You feel like you're in a nice place, which sometimes is half of the effect. I was a little disappointed at our table, which was overlooking the city, but was not even right next to the window. If it had been busy, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but we were there at 6 pm, and there was a bank of empty tables right next to the windows. By the time I was discontented enough to think about asking for a different table, we had drinks and amuse bouches, and it would have felt like too much of a hassle. So I just settled for passive-aggressively calling our table "steerage" and let it drop (more or less). Also, when it got dark and the city lights came up, it was a much prettier view than it was when we got there. Now, I concede that this is a wildly trivial complaint. I also fully realize there are starving people all over the world and so forth. But still, it was kind of baffling. (Mr. EA: We were hoping for a view of the Inlet but apparently that's reserved for the bar!?!?)
Anyway. The food!
As we got settled, a waiter (Mr EA: Wayne, who did a great job) came by with little servings of roasted beets with bits of crisp bacon and creme fraiche. This was a complex, deeply flavorful appetizer that was a great little treat. Then we were each given a warm roll (choice of olive bread, Parmesan bread, or french bread), which we ate with the cute little butter balls that were already in their own little bowl on the table. The bread was good - warm, with a good crust and a great crumb. In addition to the regular menu, the restaurant was offering a tasting menu (with or without paired wines), and also a prix fixe menu with two options for each of the three courses. Mr EA and I decided to go for the prix fixe menu and try all the options between us.
Mr EA got the Thai yellow curry coconut and crab soup appetizer, Thai Curry Scallops, and creme brulee. I got the Crisp Pear and Feta Salad, the Filet Mignon and Foie Gras, and a chocolate trio dessert. Mr EA's soup was a mildly spicy, light sweet soup with plentiful crab. The richness was perfectly offset by the vegetables. His scallops were very tender with a good sear. The barley with it was deeply curry flavored and intriguing in its own right, which barley often isn't. His creme brulee was a tender, flavorful custard with a good crisp topping and some perfect berries. My salad was an interesting blend of flavors and textures. Lightly bitter spinach, sweet pear crisps, salty feta. My filet mignon was probably among the top 3 pieces of beef I have ever eaten. It was perfectly cooked with a richly beefy flavor and a meltingly tender texture. The little bit of foie gras (about the size of a walnut) was interesting to me because I have been reading about this substance for years but had never had any. It was light and tasty and unctuous. I wouldn't go out of my way to have any more, but I also wouldn't pass up any that happened to land on my plate, either. The potatoes and greens that came with it were also intriguing and delicious. My dessert was a little bit of chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce, a little bit of brownie with mango sauce, and a bit of chocolate ganache with chocolate sauce.
So overall, the Crow's Nest is a great place to go for upscale dining. It does not come cheap, but the food is incredible, the service is outstanding, and the atmosphere is wonderful as well. Just make sure you ask for a table that is not in steerage class. :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Greek Corner - Opa!

Mr EA and I recently got to visit another old-new eatery here in Anchorage. The Greek Corner, a fairly well-established restaurant in midtown recently moved to a new location on Northern Lights Blvd. Despite hearing good things about it, we hadn't gotten around to going to the old location, so we tried out the new!
The decor and atmosphere were discretely Attic, just enough to satisfy my fondness for hoke, but not so overdone as to merge into satire. It is done up in white and a sort of limpid mediterranean blue, accented with a tasteful smattering of Greek art and vases and so on. I smiled when we walked in the door and heard Greek folk music on the sound system. We were seated, had the specials explained to us, and examined our menus. I noted with interest that they note vegetarian recipes on the menu - they have a pretty good selection of them. The song ended. Then it began again. The same song. We looked at each other, then shrugged. We made our selections. The song ended. Then it began again. The waitress came, we ordered, she left. The song ended. Then it began again. We started giggling, and couldn't stop until the song really truly did, possibly 30-45 minutes into our visit.
I was voting to share the sampler for 2, but Mr EA declined in favor of a gyro platter. I got an order of moussaka instead. We each started with a cup of avgolemono (egg and lemon) soup. This was delicious - tart from the lemon, rich with egg and chicken, and just right as an appetizer. Mr. EA's gyro was somewhat different from other gyros we have had - served flat instead of rolled, with pitas above and below the filling - more like a sandwich. The meat was delicious, as was the tzatziki sauce. There was a little less vegetation than you normally see on a gyro as well, which was fine with Mr EA. My moussaka was good - the meat and tomato layers did not overwhelm the eggplant, and the light sauce was a good foil for the rich meat and bitter eggplant. Really tasty food!
Less impressive was the service. Our waitress was very nice and willing to answer any questions. However, I ordered but never received a cup of greek coffee (which from her description I was really excited to try), and Mr EA ordered and was charged for a gyro dinner, but actually received a gyro lunch (several sides were missing from his plate). Not a huge problem, especially with such delicious food and such a charming place. So go there - if you like Greek food, you'll be glad you did!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Honey. Ah, sugar sugar

I am the candy girl!

As I may have mentioned recently, I have been on something of a candy-making kick. No idea why, just that I've never made any before and wondered if it was something I was going to be good at. I'm good at certain types of cooking, and need improvement on other kinds. For example, regular cooking - good. Baking, not so much. I think the reason is that I'm not what you would call a precision-oriented person. Generalities are my comfort zone. So, since candy-making is one of those fields of cooking that falls into the precision category, I was pretty sure I would be terrible. To my surprise, I'm actually doing OK. Not stunningly wonderful, but OK.

My initial guide into this endeavor was my old Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, which is, sadly, not the most accurate cookbook in places. From this book I attempted caramel. It turned out fine. Then I used an internet recipe to try homemade marshmallows. They got pretty good, but I decided I don't really ingest marshmallows enough to make them worth my while. Finally, I got Jane Sharrock's Who Wants Candy , which I suspect will make life much easier on the candy-making front.

So today's experiment was peanut brittle. I'm not going to post the recipe, because it is hers. I will, however, give you the thoughts of a novice candy-maker during the brittling process, along with some visuals.

Phase I - laying out your essentials. I have learned, through hard experience, that when you are doing time-sensitive stuff, it really is better to have everything all ready to go. I don't necessarily go to the extent of having premeasured amounts out in separate bowls (except for stir fry, but that is another story), but at least I get everything out on the counter.

Phase II - this is kind of fun. I'm making candy!

Phase II - Paying attention. Things happen kind of fast in this phase, so you have to focus. I can do it for a little while, but it's tough to maintain for any length of time. Here is the butter going in, the last step before...

Phase III - OMG! Will I still be alive when this candy is done?! The temperature is only at 250 F - it has to get to 280 F. Sigh. OK. Patience. I'm stirring, I'm stirring... It's still at 250 - when will it end? When!

Phase IV (Seemingly 2 hours later, but really about 10 minutes later) - Final stage. Things are happening quickly again. There is some micromanaging of the heat to be done, peanuts to stir in, then some baking soda - both of which have to be evenly distributed. Then the mixture needs to be spread onto two baking pans to cool. You would think it would just sort of spread out, but that is not the case. You need to spread it around. It attempts to clump up. That would probably be fine, but I try to get it even-ish anyway.

Phase V - waiting to try the brittle! And you really do have to wait. It is roughly as hot as the sun's molten surface. Really - and sticky as well. I'm waiting, I'm waiting...

Phase VI - enjoying your peanut brittle! It is crunchy and buttery and delicious. It is not overly sweet, has a little saltiness and bitterness going for it. Yes, not bad for a first try. I give the recipe most of the credit, of course.

The candy chronicles will continue!

Unless I lose interest and move on to something else. :)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Birch, birch, birch

We were recently introduced to birch syrup, one of the few truly Alaskan specialties that is also commercially available. (You try finding whale blubber.) Although we had been vaguely aware of its existence for a little while, we just kept getting distracted and forgetting to try it. However, we finally tried some at the Alaska State Fair, and quickly became devotees.
Based on my extensive research, which consisted of talking to the lady staffing the birch booth at the fair and roughly 10 minutes of web searching, I can tell you that birch syrup is pretty rare, is produced by very few manufacturers, and takes twice as much raw sap to make as maple syrup. I can also tell you that is very tasty!
Birch syrup is darker and stonger than maple, and also somewhat bittersweet. If I needed to compare it another sweetener, I would say it is like if maple and molasses had a baby...
It is delicious as a sweetner, but that's only a start. As with maple syrup, birch can be added to mustard and other similar substances, and also be turned into various candies.

One of our favorites is birch caramel, which is available for order here.

This has quickly become a favorite treat for our loved ones elsewhere in the country as well. We have standing orders from family members for these caramels - and we like to keep them around our house, as well.
In honor of being Alaskans, we adapted one of Mr EA's favorite recipes, Black Diamond Steak, to include birch syrup. We call it Black Dimond - did we mis-spell? No. Click the link for the story of Anthony J. Dimond. There's a lot of stuff named for him around here. And here's one more thing!
Anyway, without further ado...
Black Dimond Steak
For the marinade:
2 Tbsp. corn oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup birch syrup
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. ginger-root, fresh, minced
1 pinch garlic powder
1 lb. New York strip steak
Mix together marinade ingredients. Immerse steak in the mixture, making sure to keep it covered. Marinade at least 6 hours, but overnight is better. Grill to desired doneness.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fresh & End of the Line

Spent most of Monday night at the Local Food Festival of earlier post fame. The movies showing that night were, as advertised in the title of this post, Fresh and End of the Line. I have to admit, I had kind of expected them to be wildly slanted and partisan and using more emotional than intellectual appeal. Welcome to Low Expectation Theater! However, they were both thoughtfully done, and presented a reasonably balanced perspective on the issues they examined. Each film had a slant, make no mistake, but they each made a reasonable attempt to be balanced. I was very pleasantly surprised, and thoroughly enjoyed both films.
Fresh looks at Factory vs. Sustainable farming. Guess which side wins! No, seriously. The case is made thoughtfully, and no one is presented as a bad person - even people who participate in factory farming. However, farmers, economists, ecologists, and a bevy of other representative folks all make their cases pretty convincingly. The questions I had concerned the practicality of this type of agriculture sustaining the global population. Again, the case that it can work is pretty convincing - watch the movie to see why. It probably helps my perspective that I basically agree with most of the filmmakers' points. The biggest one for me is humanely raising animals. Non-cannibalistic food, water, some grass to run around on and some fresh air to breathe are all cows and pigs and poultry ask of us. It seems entirely reasonable to me, and I can't see why they can't have it. Maybe that's bleeding heart-y of me, but that's what I think. The film also addresses industrial plant farming as well, so that's something to look forward to. If you are on the fence about this issue or need more information, I recommend Fresh. If you disagree with this perspective, the movie might give you some things to think about. Or else it will make you really mad. Your choice!
End of the Line is about how we are fishing the oceans empty. Again, it is the big industrial fishermen who are wrecking everything for everyone else. Regular small catch and/or indigenous fisherfolk are not hurting anything (except when they are stupid, but that is a whole other issue). I really eat very little fish, so I was starting to feel pretty smug, when they got to the blue fin tuna part. Hmmm. I like tuna = now I'm part of the problem. Well, I reasoned to myself, surely my little bit of fish... Nope, that's exactly the kind of reasoning leads us down a slippery slope. Then I thought, Ah! I'll just buy farmed fish. Nope, the filmmakers knew we would think that. Farmed fish is no better. Watch the film to find out why. One bright ray of hope, however, Alaska fish resource management was cited as an excellent example to sustainably maintain a resource while still allowing fishing. Go us!
So I came home determined to immediately cease and desist all meat eatery until I can find sources who raise their animals right. Mr. EA was not thrilled to hear this, until I told him it would be as easy as following this link the Alaska state Dept. of Ag ...and then taking it from there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Magazine Closing Down!

Full details here

While Gourmet was certainly not the most practical magazine to cook from, it was one of the most informative. I sure hope Saveur keep publishing! Even though most of us are mainly interested in the daily tasks of getting food on the table, the food world will be poorer if there is no forum for thoughtful food writing as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eating Alaska - the movie!

Mr EA and I just got back from the Bear Tooth, where we watched the Anchorage showing of Eating Alaska! This film, locally created and produced by film maker Ellen Frankenstein, was presented as part of the Eating Local Film Festival of earlier post fame.
Told from a personal perspective, this movie is an intelligent, down-to-earth view of eating sustainably and locally here in Alaska. The film maker, formerly a vegetarian, asks pertinent questions about how we get what we eat here. She asks everyone, from Native school kids to a vegetarian group in the Mat-Su valley, penetrating questions about why they eat what they do, and how they get it. Another hard question she examines is that of toxins - a very real concern when you are looking at subsistence hunting and living.
Many of the points she makes while discussing agriculture here are points I have wondered about (and written about) as well. We don't have a lot of local agriculture - there aren't a lot of farms and there is a very abbreviated growing season. This presents some real challenges on the local eating front. Hunting and fishing are a reasonable and locally popular way to get your protein - Mr EA and I work office jobs here in the city of Anchorage, and we both work with a LOT of people who fish and hunt for part of their food.
On a personal level, there is a moment early in the film where Ellen is at a farmer's market elsewhere, and she is discussing the point of the film she is right then making with another woman. The woman asks if we grow vegetables here, and then makes a remark about how we can just eat whale blubber. Very similar statements to us from loved ones back in the lower 48 where what inspired me to start writing this blog. So I am not the only one who reacts strongly to blubber remarks!
The film presents a balanced, good-natured view of the issues discussed, and raises questions and sparks discussion without presenting a dictatorial set of answers. There was also a reasonable humor level, which is refreshing in a documentary. I can honestly say it was a wonderful movie, and I enjoyed it immensely. If you are at all interested in the issues of sustainable local eating, I cannot urge you strongly enough to see the film.

Sacks Cafe and a bonus recipe!

Went downtown to do the First Friday Art Walk with some friends - had a great time, looked at some neat art in the galleries. For those of you in the Anchorage area, it's well worth the effort to get out and see some of what downtown has to offer! Anyway, the snacks on offer at the galleries were not quite doing the trick, so we started talking about all the great places downtown has to eat. My friends had both been to Sacks Cafe, and insisted we try it. The place was packed with other art walkers, and we almost didn't get a seat. We finally wheedled our way in by promising we would clear off in an hour, the point at which the table was reserved.
The entrees were pricey, although the descriptions in the menu made them sound incredible. In the end though, we decided on getting a bunch of appetisers and sharing. We got the olive sampler, the Alaskan scallops, baked Brie en croute, and the cheese plate. After placing our order, we enjoyed the ambiance (sophisticated cafe) and the art (varied and pretty good). After a short wait, we got out food. We looked at our plates, looked at each other, and just started laughing. There were these tiny little islands of food on these vast white china planes... the table was covered, but it was with dishware more than anything else. At this point, we were somewhat disillusioned - the surly guy at the front counter, the tiny portions... But then we started eating, and all that was forgotten.
The olives were delicious - warm and unctuous and rich. The cheese plate had a rich hard cheese and a strong goat cheese, along with a complex gastrique, slices of bright strawberries and some glazed nuts. All together it was a well-chosen collection for tasting the cheeses at their best. The baked brie was also wonderful. It is pretty hard to screw up Brie, and this plate enhanced it artfully. The cheese itself was delicious, warm and buttery with its crisp flaky crust. The olive tapenade provided a wonderfully salty and sharp counter point. Roasted garlic provided an earthy base to the light cheese. And apricots and strawberries were bright and sweet next to the cheese. Altogether another hit.
Then we got to the scallops. I don't like seafood in general, and have never eaten a scallop. However, my friends double-dog-dared me, so I tried one. It was very good! So I have no basis as to whether this particular scallop was superior in any way to other scallops. I just know that one was pretty good. They were served with a mango curry puree, which was also delicious, and a mini-salad served in a little Parmesan-crisp bowl. The salad was also delicious, and the bitterness of the cheese crisp was a neat addition to the fresh greens.
About midway through our meal, we realized that there was indeed plenty on our plates, it was just that the dishes were so terrifyingly huge that it made the appetizers look so tiny and forlorn. The three of us just barely managed to finish, and we were wishing we hadn't gotten so much - although there wasn't one thing we had regretted eating!
Then one of my friends ordered a desert - her favorite, which she has only ever gotten here. It was Russian Cream. Out came a creamy orange desert - custardy in texture, served cold - with a fruit sauce over it. We puzzled over what was in it, and my friend challenged me to figure it out. After I got home, I did just that. I have to confess, I cheated a little - I found a recipe that was close, and changed it up some to get it closer still. It's still not exact, but the flavor is right, and the texture is darn close. Just in case you want to try it, here's the recipe...

Russian Cream with Tangy Fruit Salsa

3/4 cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp cold water
1 orange
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups vanilla yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 can pineapple chunks
1/4 tsp. salt

  1. Start by grating the peel off the orange. This is going in the cream part of the desert. Reserve the rest of the orange for the fruit salsa.
  2. Soften the gelatin in a small bowl with the tbsp of cold water - use a little more water if necessary.
  3. Mix the sugar, the half cup of water and the orange peel in a pan and heat just until boiling, stirring steadily.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the gelatin - stir steadily to make sure the gelatin is even mixed in. There shouldn't be any gelatin lumps when you stop stirring.
  5. Mix in the cream and the yogurt. Again, whisk until it is completely mixed together and all is incorporated.
  6. Finally, add the vanilla, making sure to blend thoroughly.
  7. Divide the cream mixture into molds or bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

The original recipe said this made 6 servings. That was not the case in our house! Maybe for tiny eaters.

Once the cream in gelling in the fridge, start the fruit salsa. Dice up the pineapple chunks very small, but do not crush them. You want to leave some texture in the fruit. Then the orange. For me, this was the most tedious part of the operation. Peel the orange, then section it, removing the membrane from around each section. Then break up each section into smallish parts but again, trying to maintain the texture. Mix the fruit chunks in a bowl, and very very lightly salt it. Taste for flavor - you may want to add a little of the pineapple juice to the mix.

When the cream has gelled, top with the salsa and enjoy!