Victorian Square, Sparks

23 09 2010

Is it gilding the lily to prolong a vacation that was already a month long?  One that has now been over for almost three weeks?  Maybe so, but I’m doing it anyway.  I still have vacation food photos to share, and they’re of some of my favorite places and foods in the world.  This one leans more toward favorite places, but you know the food is good, too, or they wouldn’t be my favorite places.

Some of my favorite eating and drinking establishments
1. The Nugget 2. Blind Onion Pizza 3. O’Ski’s Pub 4. Great Basin Brewing Co.

Sparks, Nevada (the middle “a” sounds like the one in “hat,” not “blah”) has been a sort of home-away-from-home for me for a long time.  (Except for the half-year I lived there, right after moving back to the US from France for the first time.  You can imagine the culture shock.)  Victorian Square, aka B Street, was the epicenter of my life there.  I spent many a happy hour at the Nugget Casino’s Orozko bar, drinking half-price drinks and eating tapas, and a few late nights at their blackjack and roulette tables.  I worked at the Great Basin Brewing Company, and I go back for a few pints and meals every time I’m in town.

Black and Blue burger at Great Basin Brewing Co.

I always have a hard time deciding between the signature Black and Blue burger and the fish and chips.  On this particular occasion, I went with the former – a juicy burger seasoned with Cajun blackening spices and topped with blue cheese.  It was every bit as flavorful as I remembered it.  Since this was our second lunch there in a week, and I’d had a chance to chat with the head chef, Nick got a special experimental sandwich he was working on.

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Green Pizza

26 03 2009

This is one of those posts written in desperation – the kind of desperation that comes when something is on its way out of season.  In this case, broccoli.  And while sage is pretty good year-round, its flavor is indelibly tied to the colder months.

The dish was invented in a different kind of desperation – the kind when you’re wandering around the grocery store looking for something to cook for dinner.  Preferably something easy, quick and healthy.  It was St. Patrick’s Day, but the sky was too blue and the air too almost-warm to consider cooking one of the more traditional celebratory dishes.  I still wanted to make something to commemorate the day.  I caught a glimpse of some deep green broccoli and thought that it was both nutritious and dressed for the occasion.  Into my basket it went, next to the Guinness, and I wondered how to make a meal out of a head of broccoli.  Well, I had pizza dough in the freezer, and some goat cheese and sage in the fridge… sweet!  Done shopping!

Pizza dough spread with sage pesto

Somewhere along the way I realized that I had all the necessary ingredients (pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano) for pesto just sitting there in the kitchen.  And the pizza came together.  Pesto and broccoli first, then a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, a drizzle of olive oil, and a handful of crumbled goat cheese. 

St Paddy's Day Pizza

Luck must have been with me, because this pizza was everything I wanted: fast, healthy, and holiday-appropriate.  Because I know that some of you out there like recipes, here’s how I made the sage pesto.  You should be able to figure out the rest of the pizza yourself.  (Those of you who don’t like recipes, well, I’m sure you’ll wing it anyway.)

Sage Pesto

 

In retrospect, just the pesto spread on the pizza dough and baked would make some fantastic breadsticks.  The recipe makes just the right amount for a two-person pizza, but it would also be great on pasta or spread on a turkey sandwich.

 

1 bunch sage, leaves picked, washed, and chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. pine nuts, chopped

2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated

Squeeze of lemon juice

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  The texture will be chunky and “rustic,” but you could easily put the mixture into a food processor or blender if you want a smoother end result.

 

Makes about 1/3 cup (85 ml).

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cuisine: Alsace: Flammekueche

6 02 2009

I bet you’ve all been wondering when I was going to announce the featured region for February, right?  Well, here we are, at the end of the first week, and I give you: Alsace.

Alsace is a small (the smallest in metropolitan France, which is akin to the lower 48, if you know what that means) region in northeastern France, bordering Germany and Switzerland.  The region has bobbled back and forth between France and Germany for most of its history, but has rested with France since 1945.  These days, most Alsatians (people, not dogs) speak French, but the German influence remains prominent in the cuisine of the region.  Pork and charcuterie are a cornerstone of the traditional dishes, and the Germanic history is evident in the wine varietals used and in the high concentration of regional breweries.

Choucroute and flammekueche are the beacons of Alsatian cuisine, and since I’ve already written about choucroute for this blog, I thought I’d try my hand at a flammekueche.  Comprising a thin bread dough spread with crème fraîcheand topped with bacon and onions, flammekueche was traditionally baked among the expiring coals of the day’s bread-baking, giving it a characteristic char on the edges.  Not being fortunate enough to own my own wood-fired oven (someday…), I made do with my stand-by pizza dough, and turning my little oven up as high as it goes.  I also substituted leeks for the onions, since we had just received another lovely batch in the CSA panier.  Simply sweating them in rendered bacon fat before plopping it all onto a round of dough smeared thickly with crème fraîche and topping it with a smattering of grated comté cheese rewarded us with a scrumptious flatbread tart.

Flammekueche, fresh from the oven

I served it with a mâche salad (also from the panier) with a quick vinaigrette.  Looks like those French-Germans know what they’re doing when it comes to hearty winter meals.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Endive Right In

23 01 2009

So Nick and I have finally managed to sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, for you non-hippies out there) in Paris! I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, for most of the fall, but it seems to have become very popular and the company/co-op that runs it had to stop taking new subscribers until they got more farms involved.  I checked their website daily and as soon as it became available, I signed up.  Now I stop by an office about a block from my apartment on Wednesday afternoons and pick up a large paper bag filled with organic fruits and vegetables.  It’s awesome.  The first one may have been the best because I had no idea what to expect, but I had planned on making a pizza with whatever was inside – excitement!

Fresh organic endives from the Loire valley

Turns out I got endives (and potatoes, onions, apples, and Brussels sprouts).  Now, I really like endives grilled.  They make an excellent warm salad, and if you have access to a grill, I highly recommend halving some endives lengthwise, drizzling them with olive oil, and slapping them cut-side down on a hot grill for a few minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and serve with bacon vinaigrette.  I do not have access to a grill.  We often get endives at work to cook for the plat du jour.  They are boiled to within an inch of their life and left to drain on a rack over the sink.  Let me tell you, that mound of steaming, limp, grayish-green vegetables is wholly unappetizing.  Then they are combined with a cheesy sauce and served with some kind of roast meat, usually pork.  It’s not terrible, but I know endives can be so much better.

Endive pizza - before

Determined to forge ahead with my pizza plan, I hoped that oven-roasting would affect the endives in a way at least similar to grilling.  I rolled out my dough, scattered caramelized onions (what else?) over it, and then arranged halved endives, cut-side up, on top.  I sprinkled on some olive oil and popped it in the oven for 15 minutes.  As I had hoped, the endives had begun to caramelize by that time, so I topped them with a generous layer of Abondance (it just seemed appropriate) and returned the pizza to the oven to finish baking.

Endive pizza - after

The result?  Simple, delicious, and great with a glass of wine.  The best part?  Since the endives were already on the pizza, I didn’t even have to make a side salad!  I had another success later in the week, when I broiled the rest of the endives and served them (on Nick’s suggestion) napped with a creamy béchamel sauce.  Turns out I don’t need a grill to make endives taste good after all.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Magical Transformations

16 01 2009

One of the things I love most about cooking is the seemingly magical way food can be transformed.  Take an onion, for example.  Cut open a raw one and your eyes begin to water.  Taking a bite will confirm its pungency and leave you with the breath to prove it.  But take that same onion, slice it, and cook it slowly in a fair amount of fat with a pinch of salt, and you end up with something entirely different.

Yep, another photo of caramelized onions

(Do you sense my never ending fascination with caramelized onions?)

A whole potimarron

Likewise, something as sturdy as a winter squash can be diced and roasted to produce sweet, yielding bites; puréed and made into soup, main dish, side, or even dessert – the only limit is your imagination.

Diced potimarron, ready for the oven

And don’t even get me started on cheese…

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More Pizza Ideas

18 07 2008

Since I’ve decided my pizza/calzone dough recipe is a keeper, I’m finally going to share it with you.  But first, a couple more things I’ve done with it.  The first isn’t exactly revolutionary, but I was pretty proud to have made such a fine pizza from stuff I found lurking in the fridge.

Chorizo, Caramelized Onion, Tomato, and Goat Cheese Pizza

I think we can all agree that I have a slight addiction to caramelized onions.  I’ve taken to using them on my pizzas in place of tomato sauce.  Not that I have had any complaints.

This next pizza is an absolute stunner.  I breaded and fried eggplant slices and placed them on the pizza with a simple tomato sauce (courtesy of Nick), slices of fresh mozzarella, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  Voilà!  Eggplant Parmesan Pizza!

Before - Nick thought this was too pretty NOT to photograph.

After - Drool-worthy, isn't it?

It was seriously the best pizza I’ve ever made.  The eggplant was deliciously crunchy with meltingly tender insides, and the cheese and tomato sauce complemented it perfectly.  Now I want more!

Doesn’t that just get your creative juices flowing?  Then I guess it’s time to give up the recipe:

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The French Make Pizza, Too!

2 06 2008

It goes by the name “pissaladière,” and is a traditional Provençal snack.  Like any regional recipe, there is disagreement as to what goes into a “real” pissaladière, though I think that all would agree is is made with a sturdy pizza-like crust and caramelized onions.  (No floppy extra thin crust here.)  Other traditional toppings include anchovies, niçoise olives, thyme, tomato, and garlic.

The cool thing about having extra calzone dough in the freezer is that it gives you the ability to make off-the-cuff pizzas, as long as you remember to thaw the dough a few hours in advance.  (You could also put it in the fridge in the morning, if that’s better for your schedule.)  When the time comes, roll out the dough, add your toppings of choice and bake.

Being in France, and finding myself with a handful of onions that needed to be used, I decided to go the pissaladière route.  I started by caramelizing the onions in lard with a pinch of salt and some fresh thyme.  If the pan started to get dry, I just poured in a little white wine to moisten the onions and let them continue cooking to a nice, deep brown color.

Roasted tomatoes and garlic

Meanwhile, I thought that some roasted tomatoes would make a good addition, so I sliced the one rather lackluster tomato I had and placed it in a baking dish.  I sprinkled the slices with salt and pepper and drizzled them with olive oil.  Then I thought that some garlic would punch up their flavor even more, so I threw in a couple of cloves and topped it all off with a sprig of thyme.  Into the oven went the pan while the onions slowly caramelized on the stove.  The added bonus of this step was that the oven was already preheated when I was ready to bake the pissaladière.

Assembly of the dish took no time at all.  First I smeared the roasted garlic onto my rolled-out dough (pissaladière is usually rectangular in shape, which is actually easier than a round pizza, in my opinion).  Then I spread the onions evenly over the whole thing.  Next came the tomatoes and a smattering of goat cheese because, well, I had it on hand, it is delicious with all the aforementioned ingredients, and I wanted something a little heartier than a straight onion and tomato tart.  I baked it on a sheet pan lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal to prevent sticking (which probably wouldn’t have been an issue, but it never hurts to play it safe).

Pissaladière

Even easier than the calzone, and it made an excellent light (well, except for the lard) meal which we finished off with a simple green salad.  I’m sure I’ll end up doing something similar with the last ball of dough, and then making a point of keeping such dough on hand for quick dinners.








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