Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aspen Moon Farm Dinner

It is no secret that the Squeaky Bean in our neighborhood has a brilliant chef and a fun atmosphere to boot.  They don't exactly boast, but they have quite a following.  So much so, that when they announced a Monday night farm dinner at Aspen Moon Farm in Longmont, CO, they were able to pack a coach bus full of patrons in no time.

Now, we Roses are not characteristically on time for anything.  But Squeaky Bean says the bus departs from 33rd and Tejon at 5 p.m., and we were there by 4:50 p.m.  It was perfect timing to get a Colorado Peach Bellini down our gullets before getting on the bus.
Aspen Moon Farms is a lovely, young, family farm that produces all the produce they serve at the Squeaky Bean.  Venue Bistro, Colt & Gray, Duo Restaurant, and the Masterpiece Delicatessen were also representing.
When we arrived, everything was perfect.  The sun was making its way to the horizon.  The tables were set.  Beverages were chilling.
With cocktails in hand, we took to the fields for a tour of the farm.
The Aspen Moon farmers were not reticent to share everything they could about what they had learned about organic farming.  They raised everything from zinnias to zucchini...
... and snap peas to purple beans.
Despite the excellent agricultural education, we were all hungry, and focused on the greater task at hand.
We sat down with fellow diners at a long table, and soaked up the beautiful setting while an accordianist entertained us with her enchanting voice, accompanied by her trusty squeezebox.
Then the festivities really began when the amuse bouche came out.  An egg custard with finely diced new potatoes and figs.  Does anyone recognize the plating from a certain MasterChef Top 24 finalist?  I cannot tell you how vindicating it was to have this served to me and 50+ other dinner guests who'd paid good money for dinner that night.
Next came the first course, by Venue Bistro.  It was a salad of heirloom tomatoes with fine herbs vinaigrette, Haystack Mountain Snowdrop, and a focaccia tuille, paired with Infinite Monkey Theorem Chardonnay from 2009.
The second course was by Colt & Gray.  Pork rillettes with grilled bread, peach compote and Aspen Moon greens, paired with Infinite Monkey Theorem Riesling.  Now I'm not one for rieslings, but this was the perfect wine for the porky goodness of the second course.
The third course was a luscious chilled corn soup with basil creme fraiche by Duo Restuarant, paired with Infinite Monkey Theorem sauvignon blanc.  Also a big hit.
That's when it started to get dark.  Then came the fourth course, the Squeaky Bean's kale-wrapped chicken sous-vide with ratatouille terrine and squash blossom stuffed with a tomato cream foam, paired with Infinite Monkey Theorem cabernet franc.  I'm not ordinarily a big fan of ratatouille, but this was the tastiest thing on the plate and I would eat it any day of the week.  It was divine.
And finally, just as it was starting to get chilly in the Colorado late-summer night, the Masterpiece Delicatessen rolled out its whiskey baba with peaches and creme anglais, paired with Stranahan's Whiskey.  Just what we needed to keep us warm.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the Highlands.  Reluctantly, we and our dining companions pushed back from the table, took one last nostalgic look at the candlelit setting, and stepped aboard the same bus that brought us to this magical place, Aspen Moon Farm.
With a little bit of diligence, we'll get ourselves on the guest list just one more time before the farm closes up for the winter.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Baked eggs in lean times

We had this brilliant plan that would save money and allow us to eat healthfully: we would subsist entirely on what was in the fridge, pantry, and garden for two weeks.  No dining out, no new groceries, no wasted food.  The only problem with that was that, after eating all the leftover duck and a bit of steak I had in the freezer, there was little in the way of protein to go around.  It only took a week for me to start to feel faint.  I longed for the days of plenty, specifically, the day I stood before Gordon Ramsay and a forklift pallet with 20,000 eggs.  I broke down and sent Mr. Rose out for eggs.
The baked egg is my new favorite preparation of egg.  It embodies all of my favorite qualities in eggs.  They're simple and delicious.  The yolk is still runny, and the egg overall is rich and creamy, a perfect sauce for a wedge of toast.  The egg can carry its own flavor while simultaneously complimented by whatever seasoning you dream of putting on it.  But unlike, say, a wine-poached egg, this egg sits snugly in the ramekin I cooked it in, allowing it to stay warm for several minutes while I get the rest of my disorganized morning together.

So this is how it works.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  I put a scant bit of heavy cream in the bottom of the ramekin, then crack an egg into it.
An even scanter bit of extra virgin olive oil goes over the top of the egg, along with some herbs, like maybe some thyme.
And some salt.  Maybe something special for my first protein in a week, like alaea volcanic sea salt.
For pepper, I went with something special as well.  Not pepper at all, but chili.  So a dash of achiote chili.

The eggs went into the oven while I hopped in the shower.  Twelve minutes later, the eggs came out of the oven and sat while I got dressed and put on makeup (yes, Mom, I do wear makeup). 

I popped some thinly sliced multi-grain bread under the broiler because, toasted, multi-grain bread is the perfect vehicle for this yummy baked egg.
Okay, eggs, plural.  I made four.  But I did share them with Mr. Rose, who texted me later to say that "THOSE EGGS WERE SEVERELY DELICIOUS."
Yes they were.  So did you get that?  Here's my recipe, approximately.

Baked Eggs
4 eggs
6 tsp heavy cream
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp coarse salt (I used alaea volcanic sea salt)
1/2 tsp powdered achiote chili
2 small sprigs thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Set a rack about 8-10 inches from the top burner of the oven.  Pour 1 1/2 tsp of heavy cream into the bottom of each of 4 ramekins.  Crack an egg into each ramekin.  Add 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil to the top of each egg.  Then add 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp chili powder, and a few thyme leaves to each.  Place all four ramekins on a baking sheet and put the sheet in the oven.  Bake until the eggs quiver ever so slightly when you shake the ramekins, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let set for 10 minutes.  Serve with toast, preferably some kind of multi-grain.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Orange Supper Club Lucky Duck Aftermath

Once a month, we convene with foodie friends who live (or used to live) within walking distance of us to do a themed dinner.  We call ourselves WRAPSC: Walkable Rotating Assigned Potluck Supper Club.  We're no longer all within walking distance, so the W has taken on a more a-propos meaning: Wine-loving.  Each month, we take turns hosting.  The host provides the main course and decides on the theme.  Everyone else brings an appetizer, side, or dessert.  And wine to pair, of course.  We've covered several themes since WRAPSC's inception.  Sometimes they revolve around regional cuisines.  South Asian/Indian (curries, samosas, biryani, chai bread pudding).  Italian (ravioli, figs with gorgonzola dolce, tiramisu).  Thai (not sure what was on the menu -- I was out of town filming for MasterChef at the time).  Other times, the themes are a little zany, like Cowboy theme (hearty chili, jalapeno cheddar corn bread in a skillet, tortillas) and White Trash Picnic (Popeye's chicken, deviled eggs, mac 'n cheese, coke cake).  This month, we hosted and the theme was Orange.

J&M brought a roasted carrot and fennel dish, with fresh marjoram and a bit of parmesan.  Loren came without V, but brought cantaloupe gazpacho with poblano creme fraiche as well as a salmon mousse.  M&J brought a cheese cake, with a peach compote through the center.  And finally, Nick showed up with an orange, fennel and cured olive salad.  Everyone set their dishes down on the table, and drinks -- including wines from the Orange region of France, were poured around.  All of these lovely things perfectly complimented the duck a l'orange and butternut squash ravioli with a sage browned butter sauce I made.
The duck a l'orange came from a recipe out of Mastering the Art of French cooking.  It was a long process, but it wasn't that difficult.  (There was one mishap when I dropped a cup of the duck fat I had been collecting off the roasting pan.  It made me think of Julie and Julia -- ah, the trials and tribulations of foodies and their food blogs.)
In the end, it was a perfect fete.  As usual.  Everyone drank double-fisted, with a glass of wine in one hand, and a glass of champagne in the other.  We polished off several bottles of libations and had spirited conversation.  Somewhere in there, we even started a think tank.  Mr. Rose did the dishes while the rest of us concluded that the meal was finally over, and reluctantly pushed away from the table.

There was little in the way of leftovers.  I had approximately 1/2 of a duck leftover (I had made two).  And the following afternoon, as I was starting to get hungry, I contemplated what to do with orange duck.  This is what I came up with.
I plucked kale and an heirloom tomato out of the garden.  I chopped up the kale and wilted it in duck fat (I'd only dropped one cup... there's still plenty left!), then seasoned it lightly with salt and freshly squeezed orange juice.  There was also some ravioli filling left over.  It was comprised of butternut squash, ricotta, and sage.  Duck fat, emulsified with red wine and orange juice can be put together with some minced thyme and parsley to make a rich dressing.  Everything was arranged and finished with finely ground pepper and oak-smoked chardonnay infused sea salt.
Moral of the story: She who eat good things for dinner ends up with some pretty amazing leftovers.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Squash Blossom Saturday

The neighbors asked us to watch their geriatric dog, Kramer, for the weekend and to please help ourselves to whatever zucchini, tomatoes, and onions we wanted.  Well, we're quite well-stocked in the tomato and onion category, and I'm kinda "bleh" on zucchini.  But since he's so well-behaved, we're happy to watch the old boy any time.  I went through the alley to their back yard to pick him up.
Hello.  What have we here?  Zucchini trails of squash blossoms overgrown from my neighbor's backyard into the alley!  Oh my pretties... you shall be coming home with me!
I've only ever had squash blossoms once.  I was at a farmer's market in San Diego and one stand was offering up squash blossom tacos.  The flavors and textures were so delicate -- I couldn't get them out of my mind.  I read probably a dozen to twenty recipes for them.  I vowed to grow zucchinis in our garden this year, but we Roses got our wires crossed and the seeds never went into the ground.  Thank goodness for good neighbors.  I helped myself to seven blossoms.

I picked thyme, parsley, and spicy globe basil out of my own garden and minced the herbs finely.  I minced a small clove of garlic, and mixed it with the herbs, some ricotta, parmesan, finely ground pepper, and fine sea salt.  I gingerly cut off the bottom of the blossoms and removed them with the pistil and stamen intact (don't be impressed by my knowledge of flower anatomy... I couldn't remember and had to consult Google).  Then I stuffed the blossoms with the herb cheese mixture, dipped them in egg, and dredged them in flour.
I poured about a quarter inch of olive oil into a skillet and heated as high as I could without the oil smoking.  Then the stuffed blossoms went in and cooked till they were golden.
Once done, I blotted with a paper towel, and waited till they would just barely be too hot to pick up with my fingers and popped them in my mouth.  Delicious!
They didn't last long enough to get cold.  I'm not sure, but I don't think Mr. Rose managed to get his fair share.  He barely escaped with his fingers.  Oops.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms
10 squash blossoms
1/2 c whole milk ricotta, drained
3 tbsp finely grated parmeggiano reggiano
2 small sprigs of thyme, finely minced
2 small sprigs of spicy globe basil, finely minced
2 sprigs flat leaf parsley, finely minced
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
sea salt and finely ground pepper to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c unbleached flour
enough extra virgin olive oil to put a 1/4" in a small skillet

Rinse the blossoms in cold water and gently pat dry.  Cut about 1/4" off the bottom of the blossoms and carefully remove them as well as the pistils.  It's okay to leave pollen inside the blossoms.  Set the blossoms aside.  In a small bowl, mix the herbs, garlic, and cheeses.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  With your fingers, gently stuff the blossoms with the herb-cheese mixture through the opening in the bottom.  Heat the oil in a pan on medium-high heat.  The oil should be as hot as it can get without smoking.  Dip the stuffed blossoms in egg and dredge through flour.  Gently drop the blossoms into the heated oil and fry till golden on the bottom, then rotate them so the top sides get golden as well.  Remove from oil and set on paper towels to blog the oil.  Eat while hot, but be careful not to burn yourself with the hot cheese inside!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Photo tour of my birthday crab shack

There are no recipes in this blog post.  All I have are these wonderful photos that take me back to the moment and I'm sharing them with you.

A little background.  Although I have had many excellent meals with many excellent friends in Denver, I had become a little bit nostalgic for my friends and the celebrations we'd had together in Washington D.C., including the evenings at Maryland crab shacks, in Bethesda and Annapolis.  Luckily for me, my Denver friends were open-minded enough to want to celebrate D.C. style with me.
The morning of my birthday, Mr. Rose and I went for a quick bike ride out to Golden, and when we got home, we saw that a package had arrived at our house.  A whole bushel of Maryland blue crabs, plucked straight out of the Chesapeake Bay just the day before!
Mr. Rose rented a giant propane powered boiler with a basket in it.  I got out the biggest tin of Old Bay ever.  We rolled out some butcher paper over the tables.  I shucked some corn and made some biscuits.
A dozen birthday revelers showed up with flowers and gifts and more side dishes, and quickly busied themselves with setting up the party (a big part of which included drinking pilsners and white wine).
Once the boiler got going, we got started.
In went the crabs with a couple of generous shakes of Old Bay.  We had a few drinks and nibbled on sides while saving room for the main course.
Twenty minutes later, the crabs were done!  We poured them all out over the butcher paper.

And then I gave a brief demonstration on how to get that sweet, succulent meat out of the shell.
Then everyone was on their own.  And they did wonderfully.
Even Margo Frances may have gotten a little taste.  And although we hadn't anticipated it, everyone managed to make just a smidgeon of space for the key lime pie and apple-pear tart afterward.
Not too shabby for a Rocky Mountain birthday celebration, eh?