Friday, July 18, 2014

Macaron How-To With Chef Alon Balshan

Walking through the entryway of Alon's Bakery and Market in Dunwoody, the aroma of freshly baked bread and cookies fills the air. It is as though you have entered a French marketplace. There is a bar and seating area to one side and various counters selling a wide selection of artisanal goods: cheeses, baked goods, sandwiches; even wine.

The evening started as members of the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Society gathered for a glass of wine and a few appetizers: pear and radicchio bruschetta topped with gorgonzola, wild mushroom bruschetta and a three-cheese flatbread. A bowl of house-made pimento cheese added to the selection of freshly made treats made daily on site.

Chef Alon Balshan joined the group and led us into the kitchen. We followed in a row like baby ducks headed to the pond. In the large commercial kitchen, he began explaining the difference between a macaroon and a macaron (there is none) and describing what makes a great macaron (crispy outside and soft inside) and then the lesson began.

It soon became evident why few cooks (even expert bakers) attempt these cookies at home. There are many nuances to making the meringue shells and the ganache filling: the egg whites should be room temperature, simple syrup must be heated precisely, meringues must rest before being baked, the chocolate must be properly tempered and the cookies must “age” before being sold.

By the end of the night, we had made two dozen black currant macarons from scratch. We tasted the freshly made treats and compared them to those that had rested the prescribed length of time. The fresh macarons were a bit chewier and the filling oozed more readily. And, the “aged” macarons, well they were simply decadent - a study in contrasts: crunchy and chewy; hard and soft; and, sweet and tart perfectly balanced.

It should come as no surprise that Chef Alon and his crew make more than 3,000 macarons per week in a variety of flavors like pistachio, caramel, raspberry, passion fruit, lemon, and chocolate.

As we walked back through the market on our way out into the warm night air, the amazing smells wafted behind us, inviting us to come back another day to sample more of the hand crafted treats created by Chef Alon and his team. Believe us, we will be going back if only for those macarons!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Terrific Tabbouleh Salad

We have been making a concentrated effort to eat healthier foods and more beneficial grains. Bulgur wheat often gets a bad rap as being tasteless and gravelly, but when properly hydrated and dressed, it can be spectacular. We absolutely adore this salad especially when the garden is exploding with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs. We like to use scallions instead of onions for their milder flavor. Tabbouleh makes a wonderful addition to traditional Middle Eastern grilled lamb with tzatziki sauce and warm naan.

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup scallions, chopped
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups cucumbers, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Place the bulgur wheat in a large mixing bowl. Bring the water to a boil, add salt and stir to dissolve. Pour the salt water over the bulgur and let it sit for 30 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed. The wheat kernels will double in size and get lighter.

While the bulgur is soaking, mix lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl and add the garlic and whisk together. Pour the dressing over the bulgur and stir to fully coat. Add in the scallions, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and mint. Stir until fully combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste and refrigerate to chill until ready to serve. The tabbouleh salad will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Patriotic Zucchini Slaw

While it may not be red, white or blue, it is hard to imagine a 4th of July cookout without potato salad or slaw. This year we have a serious overabundance of zucchini, so instead of cabbage, we are using the courgettes. I use two different dressings here because I find that some people prefer a vinegar-based dressing (Dom), others like mayonnaise (me).

So whether you like your slaw tart and sweet or rich and creamy, we have you covered. We like the appearance of precisely julienned zucchini for our slaw, yet you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you just toss the squash in the food processor with the grating attachment; it tastes exactly the same.

4 medium zucchini (and/or summer squash), unpeeled, cut into 2-inch julienne
1/4 cup fresh herbs, finely chopped
Large pinch of poppy seeds (optional)

Tangy Dressing:
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and poppy seeds, if using, in a jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake the jar until the sugar dissolves. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

Creamy Dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

To dress your slaw, combine the zucchini, herbs (any combination of herbs that you like can be used: parsley, basil, thyme, etc.), and poppy seeds (which I really like) in a large bowl. Drizzle the slaw with your preferred dressing and toss to fully mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate a little while to chill it. Serve with in a few hours to prevent excess weeping and sogginess.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Meatless Monday Meal at Murphy's

Every Monday Murphy’s offers up a meatless menu titillating enough to tempt even the most voracious of carnivores and bring joy to any vegetarian. When asked about the impetus for Murphy’s “Meatless Monday” effort, Chef Winslade explained that cutting meat from your diet, even if it’s just once a week, can dramatically decrease your risk of heart disease. “Meat is hard for your body to digest; giving your body a break each week allows time for it to catch up and heal.It also reduces your carbon footprint and saves natural resources needed to produce, package and transport meat products from the source.” He enjoys experimenting with healthy grains such as farro and bulgur, and uses chickpea flour in lieu of less healthy, processed wheat flours in addition to using seasonal produce whenever possible.

We started the evening at the wine bar located in Murphy’s wine shop where Wine Consultant, Michael Kunz served glasses of a subtle Prosecco; Cuvee Beatrice and gave us a quick tutorial on the proper way to open a bottle of champagne. As we headed to our table, Mike followed with a dazzling Villa M Moscato that was a perfect match with the cucumber gazpacho of pureed cucumber, sweet onions, and mint topped with a goat cheese foam. Chef Winslade slipped in and out of the kitchen to tell us about each dish and answer our questions.

Our entrée for the evening was an amazing assortment of fresh seasonal ingredients including squash blossoms picked just that morning from our own garden (yes, the Romeo home garden) that I had taken to the chef just after they were collected. They were stuffed with chopped zucchini, olives and local sheep’s milk cheese then fried in a tempera batter and served like a precious gift on top of hand-rolled goat cheese gnocchi with wild mushrooms, field peas in a heirloom tomato fondue and plated with arugula oil. The dish was so complex that two different wines were paired with it; one a ruby red Renato Ratti Ochetti Nebbiolo 2012 and the other a crisp St. Innocent Freedom Hill Chardonnay 2012 both were excellent accompaniments.

Rather than one dessert to finish, an array of sweet delights arrived at the table including Murphy’s dessert trios of mini bonzo cake, mini tollhouse pies, vanilla bean panna cottas; their signature carrot cake; strawberry pistachio sponge cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream; and, Meyer lemon crème brûlée with beautiful coconut tuiles and fresh strawberries. As we nibbled and shared our desserts, everyone marveled at how truly satisfying our dinner was; feeling full and satiated even with no meat on the menu. This may be the beginning of a new practice for us all.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Refreshing Zucchini Soup

The zucchini surplus has begun! This mild and refreshing soup is a cool way to rejuvenate at lunch. It also makes a nice opener for a light summer supper. Garnished with a dollop of sour cream and an herb sprig and it could definitely pass for haute cuisine.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cup vegetable or chicken stock

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over low heat until softened, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes. Keep the heat low enough that the garlic doesn't brown; you want everything to sweat. Add the stock and ginger, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft, another 10 minutes or so.

Working in 2 batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor until the soup is silky-smooth. Taste and season salt and pepper to your desired flavor.. Like most soups, this is significantly better after a night in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld. Serve it hot or chilled for an uplifting dish.