27 January 2012

Lightening up a Bloody Mary

I do not believe I am the only one who thinks the classic Bloody Mary is excessive; who can commit to a pint glass full of tomato juice without gakking?  Like a Bloody Mary but less like a heavy meal, this drink satisfies my occasional longing for the lazy drunkenness of the Big Easy without having to skip eating for the next 24 hours.

Cajun Martini

Serves 1

2 oz. lemon vodka (make your own--it's better)
1 tablespoon dry vermouth
1.5 oz. V-8 spicy vegetable juice
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Spicy pickled okra or blanched asparagus spear for garnish

Combine all ingredients, except garnish, in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice; shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with pickled okra or asparagus.

20 January 2012

French Apple Galette, step-by-step

A galette is the French version of an apple pie--simple, free form crust hugging barely-sweetened fresh fruit.  It is light, simple, and incredibly easy if you use pre-made pie crusts (though  Jacques Pepin would cry if he heard that).

Quick Apple Galette

Serves 6-8

1 refrigerated pie crust, warmed on the counter top
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup golden rum
4 apples, peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place the raisins and rum in a microwave safe bowl and heat at 40% power for two minutes.  Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set both aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie crust gently with a rolling pin until it measures about 14 inches in diameter.

 Arrange the apple slices in slightly overlapping concentric circles working from the center outward, leaving a one-inch border all around.

Drizzle the honey evenly over the apples, then sprinkle the sugar-cinnamon mixture evenly over the apples, drain the raisins and scatter them on top (save the rum--it will taste like brandy!), and dot the apple layers with he pieces of butter.

Fold the edge of the crust up over the apples to create a one-inch border

and bake the galette about 1 hour or until apples become golden brown on top.  Allow to cool at least 20 minute before cutting.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

14 January 2012

Le Craperie Fort Collins

This cost me $12.

OK, it is juvenile to call a "creperie" a "craperie"--I apologize for that.  But really, this place kind of sucks.

You may know of my penchant for French goodies from reading my reviews of Le Central, one of my favorite restaurants in Denver, and Cafe Panache, one of the few edible restaurants in Greeley.  The way I see it (and I'm not in the food industry, just picky), great French food is about the ingredients.  It's also about technique if you're dealing with haute Parisian cuisine, but here in Northern Colorado, we just seem to keep getting the same southern French, down-home food.  Fine by me--it means I can get a good egg dish wherever I happen to be.  But all I'm saying is that, when it comes to crepes, omelets, and the occasional plate of mussels and fries, the best dishes are a product of terrific ingredients and minimal alteration by cooking.  The seasoning is not particularly exotic or complicated, either, so you can't hide if you use canned crap (though you should take some care in seasoning, too).

Having said this, I'm pretty sure La Creperie and Bakery of Fort Collins is using some canned crap, or old crap, or something not up to par.  When you look at the menu, it sounds exciting, doesn't it?  And there is no one else satisfying these tastes in Fort Collins right now, so I really wanted to like the place.  Despite the fact that they charge a whole lot more than the fabulous Le Central, I went in with an open mind.  At $12 for a crepe, I wasn't going to become a regular customer, but I would certainly tell you about it if it was tasty.

The galettes are made with the traditional buckwheat flour, and they are lovely--thin, spongy in the middle, crispy on the edges, and quite salty.  The filling is the problem.  The scrambled eggs are inoffensive, but get a bite by itself and you find there is little seasoning added.  Likewise, the spinach was unsalted and not properly drained, creating a big wet ball of slime here and there.  These are cheap and simple ingredients (and a staple of southern French cuisine), but they deserve respect.  Make them delicious--it's not difficult!

Smoked salmon features heavily on the menu, but it was quite fishy the day I visited.  I realize that we are not exactly living near a supply of fresh coho, but other restaurants manage to offer well-balanced fish, and at these prices, La Creperie can do it, too.  Or if not, then they need to cut the salmon from the menu.  It was incredibly unpleasant.  Likewise, the brie is thrown in unevenly in thick hunks, so one bite might be a nice balance of egg, caper, and cheese, but the next mouthful is nothing but a block of chalky, oozing brie and fishy salmon.  Doesn't sound too pretty, does it?

La Creperie also boasts its own bakery, and the croissants are quite nice--fluffy, buttery, and rather salty.  So are the baguettes, though I detected a slight burned flavor to the crust which was a little off-putting.  The coffee is also pleasant--medium-bodied with a pleasant nuttiness--but at $2.25 for a mere cup of the unadorned stuff, it's a pretty expensive way to enjoy a cup of coffee and a pastry in the morning.

Finally, the service is unapologetically slow, and they make no effort to bring meals out together.  They even say in their menu, "They are  made fresh to order and served immediately– hot and delicious – Perhaps not all at  once but don’t worry you won’t have to fend off your tablemates for long."   And then they direct you to eat your galette right away, even if everyone else at your table is still waiting for their food.  I don't understand this--do they only have one crepe maker?  Perhaps they could use some of that $15 I spent on lunch the other day and start saving up to order another one.  

Obviously, I don't have much to say that is positive about this place.  I would like for there to be a charming, delicious French bakery/creperie in Fort Collins, and I would even be willing to pay a little more once in a while to keep a great creperie going.  But La Creperie of Fort Collins is collecting  high fees for a low-quality product, and I can't wrap my brain around the notion of rewarding such behavior.  Perhaps, like Cafe Panache in Greeley, they need to create a smaller menu that they can consistently recreate every day.  But for the time being, I'd put my money on some nice Indian food down the street instead.

06 January 2012

It's tasty and good for your colon, too!

After visiting the Southeast a couple of years back, where all of my meals were tan (French fries, fried catfish, hush puppies..and that was just one meal), my guts were unhappy.  I’m not going to get too graphic, but I was looking for some fiber and some vegetables to make things right, and that is how this recipe was born.  Now I make this filling, comforting dish all the time, but particularly after the month-long party that was December.  As a bonus, you can freeze portions and reheat them for lunch for months to come.  And a small portion will do--have a little bit of this at noon and there will be no need to snack the afternoon away.

The beer is a digestive.

Coconut Barley Smack Down

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 heaping tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced (remove seeds for less spice)
2 cups barley
1 ½ cups vegetable broth
1-15 oz. can light coconut milk
1 small red bell pepper, diced
½ cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen, shelled edamame
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro, parsley, or mint
2 scallions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium and sauté onion.  When it’s starting to soften up, add the ginger, jalapeno, and garlic until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the dry barley and about a teaspoon of salt and toast cook another minute, stirring constantly.  Add the coconut milk and vegetable broth, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook until liquid is mostly absorbed and barley is mostly cooked, but still a little bit too chewy.  This should take about 45 minutes.  Toss in the chopped red bell pepper, corn, and edamame, stir and cover, and continue to cook another 10 minutes.  When everything seems cooked, remove from heat and stir in the cilantro and scallions.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.