Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pinch Me, seriously, I'm Dreaming

The Nancy Drew COOKBOOK!!!!!!!!!

I still have, in my ownership, every hardcover original Nancy Drew book ever written. Obsessed with these novels would be a gross understatement of about four years of my childhood. In my mind, I was her. She was me. We were one.

The complete convergence of two worlds couldn't get any sweeter.

Note to Krissy Wall and Joanna Calo, this does not offer any consolation to the fact that Veronica Mars (the modern day TV version of Nancy Drew and the best show on television) was recently cancelled.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Slightly Obsessed: Bleu Cheese & Tarragon, Take I

So, I’m sort of a tarragon junkie. And the source of this bad good habit is pretty embarrassing: Starbucks. I spent last summer doing a graduate program at NYU in the Barclay building downtown in Manhattan; Starbucks was the drug provider of choice right next door. So it happened that one lunch break, on a whim, I bought the Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich. It was one of the best days of my life. It was so surprisingly delicious I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I bought another on my way home as an appetizer for dinner. I sort of hated myself for buying not one, but two sandwiches at, of all places, Starbucks, in one day. But I was way too smitten with my discovery to care. My love affair with tarragon had begun; the challenge to integrate this sweet little herb into as many different dishes was officially on. When I moved back to L.A., I began working a second job at the Edendale Grill. They had, to my sheer delight, Blue Cheese Tarragon French Fries on the bar menu. After working there nearly a year, and munching on these delicious bits during each shift without fail, I’m still not sick of the combo. So, as I’m now living with my parents, 500 miles from the Edendale, I’ve had to take matters into my own hands. I’ve decided to see how many different variations on the Blue Cheese/Tarragon/Potato theme I can manage before my parents refuse to allow me to cook for them anymore. What else is a stir-crazy girl gonna do on a Friday night when she moves back to the oh-so-quiet-suburbia that is Los Altos? First up was the Twice Baked Potato version. F-ing Fantastic.

Twice Baked Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Tarragon

6 Russett Potatoes, scrubbed
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ C. Half & Half
¼ C. Low-Fat Milk
6 oz blue cheese, crumbled
2 oz blue cheese, reserved
4 Tablespoons roughly chopped fresh tarragon
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Give the potatoes a fairly generous coat of olive oil. Using a fork, gently poke holes in the uncooked potatoes. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet. You can also place them directly on the rack. Bake until tender, about 35-45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Cover hand with a dishtowel to handle the potatoes, and, using a serrated knife, slice potatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the baked potato into a large mixing bowl, being careful not to tear the skins. Repeat for remaining potatoes. Mash potatoes well, until smooth. With the exception of the reserved blue cheese, add in remaining ingredients, and mix well, adding salt and pepper to taste. Scoop mixture back into skins, and top with a bit of the crumbled bleu cheese. Pop back into the oven at 375 until warmed through. I like to put them under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes, or until the cheese is gooey and browning, before serving.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Re-Introducing: The Artichoke

Circa 1961: Julia Child breaks down the boiled artichoke for the American cooking public "Hot or cold boiled artichokes are served as a separate course, either at the beginning of the meal or in place of a salad."

But really, when was the last time you ate a cold boiled artichoke in place of a salad?

Circa 2007: My mom craves the now-retro dish as the salad for a small dinner gathering the other night. And she commissioned my help for the "stuffing." Which was cold little shrimp tossed in a simple herbed vinagraitte. At this point, I couldn't help but wonder: "Does anyone ever serve cold boiled artichokes anymore?" As I stuffed the chokes with the marinated mini cocktail shrimp, I couldn't help but imagine this was more the type of dish a downtrodden smiling housewife circa 1965 would whip up when her hubby's boss came to dinner. For a second, I wondered if we should be serving a nice pot roast instead of organic roasted chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese, but as I finished up with the chokes, I became more intrigued with the concept. I arranged them on a platter, and they actually looked great. As we sat down, with the chicken, a light, Mediterranean-style pasta and the artichoke salad, it actually fit quite nicely. And I have to say, they were delicious. Strange, but delicious.

Cold Artichoke Salad with Shrimp Stuffing:

4 large artichokes
1 lb cooked, chilled baby cocktail shrimp

Herbed Dressing:
1 C. Olive Oil
1/3 C. champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped Thyme
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the artichokes until tender. Strain and let cool. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing. Reserving 3 Tablespoons, generously coat the shrimp with the dressing, and allow to marinate while the artichokes cool. When the chokes are cool, slice them in half lengthwise, and scoop out the hearts, creating a small hollow in the center of the choke. Firmly stuff about 2 Tablespoons of shrimp into the hollow. Drizzle the resrved dressing over the chokes, and serve. These can also be prepared ahead, and chilled until ready to serve.