"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Good Tidings

Holiday eating season has gotten off to an excellent start, with no end in sight.

Hanukkah kicked off with our annual tradition of forgoing gifts one night in favor of bringing in a big tray of doughnuts (not homemade sufganiyot, but maybe someday I'll work up to it) and allowing them to be eaten before dinner. I also received a very thoughtful gift from my mother-in-law of a glittery menorah with a good-size sample bag of fancy tea for each night.

Friends hosted a lovely holiday cocktail party on Saturday night. While I avoided the bottle of bubble gum-flavored vodka that was sitting on the sideboard like the plague it surely is, I did drink my share of Bourbon Maple Sours, made even more aromatic and seasonal with a sprig of rosemary. They put out a lovely spread of cheeses, cured meats, smoked salmon, and vegetables with dip, and made hosting an elegant and festive party look incredibly easy.

The holiday baking resumed with the making of stained glass cookies (pictured above). Here is a pro tip: when living in a damp climate, such as, for example, Vancouver, do not crush the Life Savers and then leave them in bowls overnight on the counter. The candy will do its damnedest to re-form and you will have to chop away at it with sharp implements and a wooden spoon while worrying that the glass bowls are going to shatter in your hands. You're welcome.

Last night Mr. Gateau and I were treated to a spectacular dinner by his father and stepmother in honor of the tremendous work all three of them have been doing on their software startup. I was very fortunate to be able to go along for the ride.

We ate at La Quercia, a tiny, cozy restaurant a few blocks from our house that has gotten tremendous reviews, and for good reason. It's an Italian restaurant that uses very carefully chosen ingredients and follows slow-cooking traditions, and every single thing we tasted was spectacular. The restaurant does not have printed menus, because the offerings change so frequently, and they offer either a la carte options or the chance to try a tasting menu of 7, 9, or 11 courses created for the table's specific preferences. With half of our table pescatarians, we were all happy to go with vegetable and fish dishes. At the suggestion of the host, we decided to opt for 7 courses, but when I insist that Mr. Gateau take me back for our anniversary, I think we'll try 9 or 11 and add in some of the meat dishes -- there was a roast lamb that looked out of this world.

We started with cocktails (a perfect Negroni for me) and a first course of meltingly soft burrata on buttered toast with a scattering of sundried tomatoes, pickled shaved baby artichoke hearts, and pickled chanterelles. I fully enjoyed trying each mouthful with a different topping.

Second course was a warm egg custard surrounded with a layer of the thinnest eggplant and served with marinated roasted red peppers and croutons. The warm custard, soft eggplant, and the cool sharpness of the peppers played brilliantly together.

For our third course, we were served the Insalate Con Bagna Cauda, which was shaved fennel and endive, wedges of carrot and roasted beets, all coated in a garlic and anchovy dressing. It was pungent and crunchy.

Next came a risotto simply prepared with an Italian blue cheese and topped with a red wine reduction. It looked so simple but the flavors were rich and sharp. I could have gobbled a huge plate of it, so it's probably just as well we were sharing.

Our pasta course was a delicious linguine dressed in tomato and chili with chunks of branzino. Very satisfying and flavorful.

For the main plate, we were presented with grilled steelhead salmon, served with a warm salad of paper-thin zucchini and strips of roasted pepper over a bed of lentils. Grilled lemons were arranged on the plate. It was a great dish -- meaty fish, bright flavors, and I don't think I've ever enjoyed zucchini this much.

Dessert was a platter of three items -- almond tart with almond ice cream, chocolate panna cotta with apricots, and chocolate chestnut cake with Creme Chantilly. The almond tart had good flavor, but a somewhat mealy texture. The chocolate panna cotta tasted like the skin on chocolate pudding in the best possible way, and the chocolate chestnut cake was so good that Mr. Gateau is hoping to replicate it for Christmas with our stash of chestnut flour.

The wine flowed and the atmosphere was great, as was the company. Can't wait to return.

Stay tuned for the Christmas Eve extravaganza to come. We are hosting Mr. Gateau's family, and expect 21 people for a traditional sit-down dinner. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sugar Overload

My 8 year old was invited to a Christmas party yesterday. Had it been me, I would have just brought a bottle of wine and gone happily on my way, but an 8 year old doesn't really have that option. So we decided to make gingerbread cookies, a joy to behold.

I always use the Gourmet Gingerbread Snowflakes recipe, which has you bring the sugars and spices to a boil, then adding baking soda to make a froth, before adding butter, egg, and finally the flour. The resulting dough is very pliable and completely unsticky, which is not something I can say about most gingerbread doughs I've worked with.

An astute reader will notice the Vulcan hands and the Starfleet badges, courtesy of the Trekkie in our house. The rest of the shapes were more traditional, but we really went to town with the frosting and application of every type of sprinkle we had in the house.

We've all seen any number of Pinterest pages of meticulously decorated cookies that display impressive art and craft, but honestly, I like these better.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dinner Plans

After my frustrated post about the slog of figuring out what the put on the dinner table every day, I poked around the intertubes looking for family meal planners. I'd been thinking that I might benefit from a little more structure, at least so I could avoid the daily panic and trips to the grocery store (it's been cold). I've done meal planning before, and I had a hard time sustaining it because it was hard to adapt on the fly to (a) changing plans and (b) picky eaters. Also, I don't like the pressure of feeling I've failed if I have to make a lot of substitutions or skip a few days.

I decided to try something about as minimal as you can get in terms of a planner, and that would allow me to use my own variety of recipes. I took five index cards and labeled each as follows:


They now reside on the refrigerator, and my plan is to cycle through them each week, so that at least I have a broad category to guide me. On the back, I'm writing down each successful meal so that I have a resource of things that have worked in the past if I am really out of ideas.

So far we have had:

SOUP: Cauliflower Soup with Red Curry and Homemade Pita Bread (half a thumb up on the Lucas Scale)

PASTA/RICE: Stir-Fried Noodles with Fresh and Baked Tofu, a Deborah Madison recipe that to my surprise got a two thumbs up rating from the judging panel. I left out the hot chili, carrots, and red peppers and just made it with plenty of snow peas, broccoli, and mushrooms. Lucas was able to pick out any suspect vegetables, but ate lots of tofu.

CHICKEN/TURKEY: Chicken Thighs and Legs with Maple-Mustard Glaze, Potatoes, and Carrots (see photo), which I based on a Martha Stewart recipe. I love these dishes I can roast in one pan, which makes clean-up a lot more pleasant, and root vegetables cooked underneath chicken automatically taste good. This got only one thumb up (maximum two) because the chicken "had seeds on it."

I'm going to do FISH tomorrow, I think, because my mom arrives late tomorrow night and as she's not a giant fish fan, I will spare her.