Food Writing & Food Photography from a self-proclaimed Foodie

Archive for December, 2010

Bûche de Noël

OK, so….if you have read in my previous post, I am trying to decide on a fabulous menu for Christmas Eve…our first in this house and with the in-laws coming to town.  It is looking like traditional fare is going to be on deck, rather than me getting adventurous with our meal.  So, I have decided that if I am going to go the traditional route, then I would like to get adventurous at least with ONE dessert.  I want to make my first Bûche de Noël, aka “Yule Log.”

What I know about this dessert is that it is a traditional Christmas sweet, primarily in France and Belgium and across Europe.  It is typically made like an overgrown Swiss Roll (like the kind from Little Debbie), with sponge cake made thin and rolled up, with a cream frosting of some kind on the inside.  I know that the outer frosting is supposed to be brown, to make it look like a tree log, and you can take a fork and run it along the outer frosting to make it look like bark.  But I need a good recipe for this dessert:  chocolate cake or spiced cake?  Buttercream frosting or cream cheese frosting or ganache?

What works for you?  What doesn’t when making this dessert?

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Christmas Eve Conundrum

OK all of you fabulous foodies out there….I need help.  Guidance.  Inspiration.

We are approaching our first Christmas Eve in our new home.  The in-laws are coming to stay.  The kids will be home.  Their dad will be here, too.  We’re going to have PEOPLE here…sleeping everywhere, and I gotta feed them.  I want to make something fabulous and dazzling for our guests, to make it a Christmas to remember – but WHAT am I going to make???

We typically have Christmas Eve dinner at the in-laws home out of town, and it is always pot roast with potatoes, carrots, etc. – very traditional.  I am not the best at making pot roast (for some reason I can never seem to get it just “right”), so I decided that since we will be here for Christmas that we would be having something different.  I want to get creative, but all of my suggestions are met with, “my dad probably wouldn’t eat that” or “I don’t think they would like that.”  Thus my conundrum.

I want to do full Tex-Mex:  two kinds of enchiladas, homemade salsa and guacamole, chips, tamales, queso, and some fabulously carbed up desserts.  Or perhaps full-on Cajun:  homemade chicken, steak, & sausage gumbo, boudain, and perhaps homemade beignets with powdered sugar.  Or even an Italian feast:  lasagna, chicken parmigiana, bruschetta, tomato & fresh mozzarella salad, and some scrumptious Italian sugar-filled desserts.

But those ideas have been nixed.

So this is where I need your help.  If I must make a “traditional” holiday meal, then I need ideas to bedazzle it up somewhat.  It’s got to be memorable…remember?  Send me ideas…please!!  If you have recipes, or links to blogs and recipes, then send them my way so that my Christmas Eve meal won’t be boring.  I need ideas for:  turkey (not fried), ham, sides, and desserts.  I’m determined that this Christmas will be a spectacular culinary experience for each of our guests….and for us!

Learn How to Cook….for fun!

I have recently become intrigued more and more by all of the cooking classes available to the average Joe, like you and I, at reasonable fees….it’s just a matter of finding them, signing up for them, paying the fee, and attending!  Many people that I know often say that they wish that they knew how to cook some of the stuff that I do, or that they had time to cook.  Well, here you go – take two hours out of your life, grab your best friend, husband/wife, sister, group of friends (you get the point) and just go do it!  There are many markets around town – and around the country for that matter – that offer fun, inexpensive cooking classes by real chefs, so why not take advantage of it?  I started doing research of some of the markets around Dallas that offer classes and found a plethora of availability, just in December alone.  Once I did that, making myself a list of the market and the classes they offer, I thought how cool it would be to audit some of these classes in order to write various pieces on how they go, as well as take some kickin’ food pics at the end of the class to show the end results.

So this week, while shopping at Whole Foods, I decided to see if the main Chef-in-Charge was there and available, and introduced myself.  He was super friendly (Chef Jason Campbell), and more than happy to let me come to any of the classes that I want to do some write-ups on them and take photos.  He said that the classes are typically small, but that it makes for a fun & relaxed atmosphere…especially when they serve wine!  He then went a step further for me and ran to the back to print out a schedule of his remaining classes for the month of December.  All I have to do is send him an email and let him know which ones that I want to attend – easy peasy!  Here is a list of the remaining classes, prices, and how to sign up:

  • Friday, December 10th – Couples Cooking Class ($25 per person).  “Great date night for couples!”  Couples will cook Sweet Potato Soup w/Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Steak w/Piquet Italian Salsa Verde, Chicken w/Le Gruyere, Sage, and a Pan Sauce.  Also to include a seasonal dessert, and wine pairing samples with each entrée.
  • Monday, December 13th – Singles Cooking Class ($25 per person).  “Join Chef Jason for a great way to learn to cook for one and possibly meet a like-minded person.”  Attendees will prepare an easy appetizer, Peruvian Style Roasted Chicken, and Beef Stroganoff.  Also to include a seasonal dessert, and wine pairing samples with each entrée.
  • Tuesday, December 14th – Holiday Pastry Class ($15 per person).  “Finally, a pastry class!  Come join Chef Kate from the bakery as she instructs on breakfast pastry.”
  • Friday, December 17th – New Year’s Eve Cocktail Party Starters ($20 per person).  “Get ready to throw a party that will knock your friends’ socks off!”  Attendees will prepare appetizers, champagne cocktails, and mini desserts.
  • Saturday, December 18th – Kid’s Holiday Cookie Class ($5 per person).  “We will be cutting out cookies in our favorite shapes, baking, and decorating them.”  Times available for THIS CLASS ONLY:  1 PM, 2 PM, 3 PM, 4 PM, and 5 PM.

Class/Store information:

Whole Foods Market – 2201 Preston Rd., Suite C / Plano, Tx. 75093

Phone:  972.612.6729

*Class sizes are limited; reservations required

*Classes begin at 6:30 PM (unless otherwise noted), and typically last approximately 2 hours

Contact Chef Jason Campbell to enroll or with questions:  jason.campbell@wholefoods.com

Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill (Plano, Tx.)

Finally, I have a few moments to sit down and write about this amazing little spot that we discovered quite by accident the other day.  I was craving hummus, and was actually on my way to Cafe Express, only I couldn’t find a parking lot near the darn place to save my life!  So after looping around the parking lot, I found one a few doors down – and right in front of Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill.  What?  Hey!  This place is new – I’ve never seen it before!  It looked very inviting, modern, and clean; and it wasn’t overly crowded since it was at the tail-end of the lunch hours.  AND….they were sure to have hummus!  So I was in, and in I went.

The menu was fairly easy to navigate, even for those who aren’t familiar with Mediterranean cuisine.  You start off with choosing your “mama”:  pita wrap, platter, or salad.  Step 2 is to decide what you will put in, or on, it:  dips, salads, and sauces.  Step 3 is to decide if you want meat(s) in, or on, it….or a vegetarian choice.  Pretty simple…one would think.  But it’s the CHOOSING that was difficult – it all looked so good!  So my wife and I started perusing the choices, and after about ten minutes were on our way to a very enjoyable lunch.

I chose a platter – not knowing just how much food would be piled on it!  I had not realized that we got to choose THREE dips.  I went with:  hummus (of course), tzatziki, and baba ghannouj.  The hummus was not lumpy at all, but rather creamy and not overpowering at all, like some hummus can be.  The tzatziki (which is made of strained Greek yogurt, diced cucumber, garlic, olive oil, and dill seasoning) was stronger than most might expect.  Upon looking at it, one might be deceived into thinking that it is some kind of sour cream dip, and then be shocked upon tasting the unsweetened flavor of the Greek yogurt.  By itself, the tzatziki is probably a bit strong for my taste; but when combined with pita bread or meat, it is a perfect compliment.  It is actually a very light dip, which I can appreciate when eating Greek or other Mediterranean food.  The baba ghannouj was definitely a new taste and experience for me.  When I saw the description read that it was made primarily from eggplant, I thought, “Well, I’ll try this – I LOVE eggplant!”  But oh, I was incorrect.  It doesn’t taste like eggplant parmigiana, which is my recipe of choice for the particular veggie.  Baba ghannouj is an Arab dish that is made from baked or broiled eggplant that has been mashed and mixed with other seasonings.  Yeah, that didn’t do much for me.  It seemed a bit bitter, and I didn’t detect much in the way of seasonings; so perhaps if it were seasoned more (with, for example, garlic or cumin), then my experience of it would be different.  This is not to say that I wouldn’t try it again.  Some of the other choices for dips are:  carrot hummus, red beet hummus, and garlic aioli.

So after choosing my dips, I had to choose salad(s), if I wanted.  I picked a simple salad of greens & tomatoes, topped with a little feta cheese and olive oil.  There were plenty of choices, I was just concerned with having way too much food.  Some of the other choices in the salad category were:  fattouch, tabbouleh, orzo, mediterranean seasoned beans, mediterranean pickles, mama’s potatoes, pickled eggplant, and rice & lentils.

There were three sauces available, if desired:  cilantro basil (I got this one – omg WOW!  SO good!), red hot chili, and tahini sauce.

For the last of my choices, I had to pick a meat/veggie for my platter.  I was torn between chicken and steak at first, but then they gave me a sample of their kafta – lamb & beef combination that is ground with herbs & spices and then grilled.  When I tasted the kafta, I was pleased to discover that it wasn’t strong lamb-y taste that you might find on a gyro; the combination with the beef made for a very pleasant, rich meaty flavor.  So I got the kafta for my platter, and was soon dipping it in everything:  the hummus, the tzatziki, etc.  The other choices for meat/veggie are steak, falafel (which is what my wife got and LOVED – to me, it tasted like a Greek hush puppy.  I was told it is like a vegetarian hush puppy…LOL), veggie, or “just salads.”

Right before reaching the register (you go through the line, make your choices, and then pay at the end), they had some dessert choices (which I declined).  There were cookies, and what looked to be fresh, homemade baklava – goodness it looked amazing.  They offer sodas, iced tea, bottled drinks, mint lemonade, beer and wine.  There were also kid’s meals available, and I noticed signs for free Wi-Fi as well.  The staff were all also very friendly, attentive, and happy to answer any questions or give samples of anything that we wanted to try.  Just before we left, one of the managers came to our table and asked how we liked everything and if it was our first time in.  He gave us each a business card which also serves as a coupon for free chips & dips to use in the future – score!  All in all it was a very enjoyable lunch, and quite the unexpected pleasant surprise.  The pricing is moderate, and I think that it cost about $18 for two of us to each have a platter (overflowing with so much food that we both took leftovers home) and drink.  I would definitely recommend Mama Pita’s to anyone who wants something outside the everyday burger or taco…check it out!

Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill (The Shops at Legacy)    

5800 Legacy Drive, Suite #C6 / Plano, Texas – between the Dallas North Tollway & Bishop Rd.

Phone:  972.403.1609 or 972.403.1215

Fax:  972.473.2384

http://www.MamaPita.com