Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sabbatical Chef Dinner 2015

Since returning from my 2008 sabbatical in France (and becoming the Sabbatical Chef), I have offered a dinner for four as part of the annual auction at my school, Durham Academy.  I enjoy this tremendously.  I usually attend the auction although the Ex-Ex does not go with me.  Not his thing and I understand this about him the second time around.  But I have trouble passing up a party with good food and wine.  I always sit with other faculty members and we have some fun.  This year, the theme had to do with Emerald City and The Land of Oz.  I bought a new dress.

Went to see Tom, the best manicurist in Durham, for red nails (instead of my usual almost natural color).

I bought some red lipstick since I had none (I do have many shades of pale pink, however).  Estée Lauder's Scarlet Siren Lasting Creme. Oh là là.

The evening of the auction, I donned my dress, painted my lips, and pulled on my red cowboy boots.  The theme was Dorothy after all and my boots are my only red shoes.  My friend and colleague Ms. Cuteness, made her own glittery shoes from a pair she found at a thrift shop.  Of course she did.

We had fun.  I sat with these gals.  JL, our librarian was with us, too, but she took the photo.  Should have thought to have the one husband at the table take the photo of all of us...  Next time.

There is a silent auction, as well as a live auction at this event.  Then music and dancing.  The live auction is at the end of dinner.  Tickets to the upcoming Taylor Swift concert were up for grabs.  Our upper school director helped with the bidding and decided to get his Taylor on.

 At the last minute, I decided to buy into the raffle for a trip.  The Ex-Ex did tell me to spend some money if I wanted to as I was on my way out the door.  When the winner was announced, I wasn't even listening to the auctioneer.  I was going on and on about something to Librarian.  She is the one who punched me in the arm to let me know that my name had been called.  Oui, I actually won.  (Tom says that red is the color of good luck in his native Vietnam and he says it is my nails that did it.)

I have chosen New York City and we will celebrate our second 6th anniversary and my birthday in La Grosse Pomme in July.  More about that later.  (Have I ever mentioned the fact that I consider myself a very lucky girl?)

After the silent auction was over, I was thrilled to learn that a woman I am very fond of bought my dinner.  She has offered up her home and kitchen for the dinner in the past, but this time she was to be the hostess.  I have known JB for a while, having taught her son, and I am always completely at ease with her.  We discussed the menu and settled upon the following:

Dinner with The Sabbatical Chef
Chez Jean
Friday, June 12, 2015

photo:  Fanny, Pujaut, France 2015
Terrine de Chevreuil
Rillettes au Foie de Canard Gras


Salade de chèvre chaud

Gigot d’agneau
Gratin dauphinois
Haricots verts à l’ail
Tomates provençales

Fromages assortis

Mousse au chocolat à la Fanny

Bon appétit!

My sous-chef, The BFF, was unavailable so I had to carry on without her.  Hélas. I did most of the cooking at home, saving only a few details for Chez Jean.  The ladies arrived right on time and the evening began.

One of the gals brought a lovely bottle of rosé champagne to start the festivities.  It was délicieux. (Oui, the Sabbatical Chef always gets to sample, too!)

I didn't photograph everything, but here's what I did capture.

David Lebovitz' Pissaladière (recipe follows)-- It is a Provençal speciality, caramelized onions, anchovies, and black olives.

Salade de chèvre chaud-- my favorite salad when in France.  Rosé Venus de Pinchinat accompanied the pissaladière and salade.  

Leg of lamb stuffed with garlic slivers and anchovies-- the rosemary is from my little herb garden. So proud.  The lamb came from Whole Foods and was perfect.  

With the lamb, we had two different red wines.   DC, bringer of the champagne and a wine aficionado, brought a Vacqueyras red (but silly me, I did not take a picture of it-- help, DC?) and I supplied a bottle of Mas de Libian Côtes du Rhône 2013.  It is a biodynamic wine of 65% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 15% Mouvèdre, truly the perfect blend, in my humble opinion.  My buddies at Wine Authorities never steer me wrong.

Fanny's Mousse au chocolat was a huge hit, as you can see.  I served it with raspberries on top.

Craig, the owner of Wine Authorities, suggested a wine to accompany the mousse.

And Craig, comme d'habitude, you hit the nail on the head with this one.  The ladies loved it and there was nary a drop left.  It is a 2011 Grenache-Carignan blend from Roussillon.

(The BFF and I got to be in Wine Authorities advertisement.  The photo is also on the back of the Enomatic wine card.  So proud to be a frequent drinker of the amazing wines from this shop.)

It was a great evening.  Merci, Jean!  

At the end of this school year, in honor of my 35 years of service (How did that happen?), the Parents Association gave me a book.  It took me about 3 seconds to choose which book I wanted.  I gave a copy to a dear friend for Christmas and have lusted after it since.  Now I have my very own.

(I also have a new Hermès scarf, given to me by an 8th grader.  I sure hope that his grandmom, mom or sister don't come hunting me down looking for their scarf.  Way too generous, but I will wear it proudly.  C'est promis!  I have two others-- one given to me by a dear, dear friend and my mentor and one that I found at a local consignment store... for $5.  I was shocked and snapped it up really fast. Lucky girl?  Oh yes, most definitely.)

Pissaladière – Provençale Onion Tart
from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

¾ cup (180ml) tepid water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

4 tablespoons (60ml) olive oil, plus more if needed
3 pounds (1.25kg) onions, peeled and thinly sliced
10 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
30 Niçoise olives or 20 larger olives, pitted or unpitted
16 good-quality oil-packed anchovy fillets

To make the crust, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (or in a large bowl, by hand), combine the water, yeast, and ½ cup (70g) of the flour.  Let stand 15 minutes, until little bubbles appear on the surface.

Stir in the remaining 1 ½ cups (210g) of flour, the olive oil, and the salt.  Knead on medium speed for 5 minutes, until the dough is a smooth ball.  Oil a bowl, drop in the dough, and turn it so the oiled side is up.  Drape a kitchen towel over the top, and let the dough rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in volume.

Meanwhile, make the topping by heating 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onions, thyme, garlic, salt, and sugar.  Cook, stirring infrequently during the first half hour, then, as the onions cook down, stir more often, until the onions are deep golden-brown, about 1 hour. (If they start to burn on the bottom, add more olive oil.)  Stir in a few grinds of pepper and remove from the heat.  Once cool, pluck out the thyme.

To assemble and bake the pissaladière, preheat the oven to 400˚F (200˚C) and line a 13 x 18-inch/33 x 45cm) baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and stretch the dough with your hands into an oval about 12 inches (30cm) long.  Let rest for 15 minutes.

Transfer the dough to the baking sheet.  Pat the dough with your hands until it reaches the sides of the pan.  Spread the caramelized onions over the dough, leaving a very narrow rim around the edges. Dot with the olives, lay the anchovies over the top either haphazardly or in a decorative crisscross pattern, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Bake for 20 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and slide the tart off the baking sheet and parchment paper onto a cooling rack.  Brush a little olive oil over the crust and cut into squares or rectangles.  Serve warm or at room temperature with glasses of iced rosé, of course.

Bon appétit, auction gals, dinner ladies, and merci beaucoup to Chef Érick Vedel for taking me on and teaching me so much about eating and cooking.  I am forever indebted to you, mon cher.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The best of San Antonio-- according to moi

A couple of years ago, the Ex-Ex hit upon the idea of taking a little short trip as soon as possible after the last day of school.  We had some extra cash because I won the Hershey Award (an award given to a teacher each year at my school that comes with a cash prize) and we decided to spend some of it and go to New York City.  It was only my second time there and the Ex-Ex's first.  A great adventure. This year, we decided to go to San Antonio.  My first trip and the Ex-Ex's second.  He went there for a job interview a few years ago but didn't see anything other than the airport and the school.  We didn't rent a car, our hotel, The Crockett, overlooked the back of the Alamo, and we walked everywhere.  No set plans, just a few to-do's on our list.  To-do's, to-eat's and to-drink's.  Texas in June can be hot and humid, but so can North Carolina. It turned out that it was cooler in San Antonio than in Durham.  Go figure.

Here's my list of favorites.

  • Best Historical Monument:  The Alamo, of course.

I seriously never thought I would see this place when I was growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.  Awe-inspiring.  And, yes, I will remember it always.

  • Best Church: The Cathedral of San Fernando:  The remains of Travis, Crockett and Bowie (the heroes of the Alamo) are here. And on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights, there is a sound and light show depicting the history of San Antonio.  It was created last year by Xavier de Richemont, a Frenchie who has put together several of these amazing shows.

  • Best Outdoor Area:  The Riverwalk- restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, lush gardens, annoying ducks, miles of walking trails, great people watching spot.

  • Best Bartender:  Samuel at The Worm- Freetale, a local San Antonio beer with some kick to it, margaritas with pepper-infused tequila and chili salt around the rim instead of just old plain salt and, well, handsomeness infused with personality. We met some great people there, too, and had some great conversations. That evening we were actually going to get to bed a little early but ended up sitting on the purple stools for a while.

Samuel autographed one of The Worm's magnets for me.  Actually, two of them.

Samuel's margarita recipe (just for you Ms. Arizona)--
(the first item is jalapeño infusion- pictured above; he was trying to make the perfect margarita for Mr. Wisconsin and added the St. Germaine liqueur to his usual recipe.)

  • Second place for Best Bartender has to go to Heather at Ernie's, the bar at our hotel.  I do not have a good photo of her long blond hair, long eyelashes and awesome tan.  However, I do have a picture of a "dressed" beer.  Thank you, Heather!  And sì, I do have a lime addiction. Salt, too, I guess.  How do you "dress" a beer?  Take a wedge (an eighth of one works great) of lime, rub it on the neck of the beer bottle (we drank Dos Equis, "Stay thirsty, my friends."), sprinkle salt on the lime juice, then stick the lime wedge on top.  Easy, huh?  Really good. Lick the salt, bite into the lime, take a sip of beer. 

Heather is better at dressing a beer than making popcorn, but we didn't seem to mind popcorn a little bit burnt the night we ate it for dinner.

  • Best Dinner:  Boudro's on the Riverwalk-- guacamole made right at my table.  Hands down the best thing I ate the whole time.  The Ex-Ex is allergic to avocados (he has been known to blow up like a balloon), so I had the bowl all to little self.  Heaven.  Along with a margarita.  (The secret to a good margarita is not to make it too sweet, in my humble opinion.)

  • Best Saloon:  The Buckhorn-- it was actually like going on a safari and we visited the Texas Ranger Museum that is there, too.  A segment for local TV is filmed there everyday. Interesting place.  I have a thing for cattle drives and that sort of thing due to watching Lonesome Dove too many times to count. 

Teddy Roosevelt recruited Roughriders at this saloon.

Bonnie and Clyde's car is here.  They didn't get away this time.  There was a note written by Clyde to the car's manufacturer telling him what a fine car he thought it was even if he did use it for illegal activity.  I watched the 1967 movie about the pair more than once with my dad.

  • Best Art Exhibit:  Jamie Wyeth at The San Antonio Museum of Art-- we walked there via the Riverwalk.  I know more about Jamie's dad, Andrew, and his art and now I know something of Jamie's work.  

It was a great trip.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  Taking the GO Shuttle from the airport straight to the hotel was easy.  The Crockett is in a great location.  I booked the trip through Expedia and it couldn't have been easier.

I saw a few cowboys, but I didn't snap photos of any except these two guards at the Alamo.  We visited Paris Hatters to look at hats and boots, but we didn't buy anything.  The Ex-Ex was a cowboy when he was little, before making the move from Nebraska to North Carolina.  He has boots and his granddad's hat.  I have my lucky red boots.  We were just there to gawk.

So today's recipe, in honor of cowboys in Texas and everywhere, is included below.  I made it yesterday.  Son #2 is home so I have someone extra to make goodies for this summer.  The recipe comes from a tea towel I bought last summer at Fort Robinson, Nebraska.  I added blueberries to this one, but you can add any fruit you want or none at all.  I have used peaches, apples and cherries in the past.

Cowboy Skillet Cake

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Combine 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup white sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bow and stir a little to mix.
In a separate bowl, whisk 2 large eggs and 1 1/4 c. milk, set aside.
Melt 8 Tbsp. of butter in a 10-inch iron skillet.  When butter has cooled, add to egg mixture and stir. Add to dry ingredients and mix well.  
Now stir in 1/4 tsp. lemon extract and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract to the cake batter.  (If adding fruit, fold in now.)  
Pour into cast iron skillet.
Lastly in a small bowl combine 1/4 c. sugar, the zest of 1 small lemon and a dash of cinnamon. Sprinkle on top of cake batter and bake 25-30 minutes (I baked it for 40 minutes, until it tested done with a toothpick).

Bon appétit, y'all!  And let the good times continue!  Vive summer!