Foreign Food: Fennel, Potato and Lemoned Goat Cheese Tart

My quest to broaden my culinary horizons continues. This week's foreign food: fennel.
 I know very little about fennel. I've eaten it once or twice and I can identify it in the grocery store- that's about it. When it came to choosing my next foreign food, this dish was mainly inspired by a delicious lemony goat cheese I'd had, not the fennel itself. Shame on me! Now that I've tried my hand at preparing fennel, it's coming close to knocking leeks out of the number one vegetable spot.

Fennel consists of a pearly bulb topped with fluffy green fronds and has a shocking anise, or black licorice, flavor that mellows as it cooks. It can be eaten raw, sauteed, braised, fried... even in ice cream. Even if you think you don't like the flavor of licorice, you should try this vegetable- it will surprise you.

The foundation of this recipe came from one I found published in the New York Times about five years ago. From there, I had an idea of how much of each ingredient I would need and how to get the goat cheese lovely, smooth, and into the pastry crust.
I warn you, there do seem to be a lot of steps in this recipe but the result is delicious and elegant! Remembering to preheat your oven will save you some time, too... oops!

To get started, begin thawing your puff pastry dough and slice up all of your veggies. Because the fennel bulb has so many layers, it can be kinda tricky to slice. I recommend using a mandolin if you have  one! If not, start by cutting the bulb in half, make your thin slices and then cut those slices in half. Much easier than quartering it first!
Isn't it pretty??

Next, the vegetables get cooked. After sauteing the fennel in olive oil, it becomes soft and the anise flavor is no longer bright and bold but warm and mellow. You could just stop here and have a delicious side dish!
The potatoes are first boiled until tender then they are browned on both sides to add to both their texture and flavor. I did try one tart without browning the potatoes- it really is worth it!

While the vegetable are cooking, the pastry gets rolled out and prepared to become a tart. The edges are folded in to create a rim, holes are poked on the bottom to prevent it from rising, and it's given an egg wash. I love store-bought puff pastry- so easy!
To make the luscious goat cheese filling, the cheese gets beaten with some eggs and lemon zest. The eggs with help the filling set up when it's baked. This is a great place to play around with different cheeses and flavorings!

After the pastry crusts get baked to golden brown, the goat cheese mixture is poured into the crusts and back into the oven it goes.
Once the filling is set up, the tart gets topped with the yummy vegetables. First, a layer of potatoes, then the tender fennel and for a little extra something- a sprinkling of pine nuts and crumbled goat cheese. Back into the oven to warm everything through!
After the tart is warm, you'll notice it is a little monochromatic. Grab those fennel stalks and top the tarts with the wispy fennel fronds for a pop of color and flavor.
Isn't that gorgeous?
Serve this tart along side a fresh salad (using the leftover lemons for dressing) for a light meal or serve it as an elegant appetizer. It's also very good cold out of the fridge...

Want some other ideas for what to do with this vegetable? Check these out:
What are your favorite fennel recipes? Please share!

Fennel, Potato and Lemoned Goat Cheese Tart
Serves 8-10 people

1 fennel bulb
3-4 medium yellow potatoes
8oz goat cheese, 2 oz reserved
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
Puff pastry, one sheet

1. Preheat oven at 400 degrees. Thaw pastry dough per package instructions.
2. Slice off top and bottom of fennel, reserving fronds. Slice thinly into quaters.
3. Wash potatoes and slice into 1/8" rounds. Put in pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil and simmer 4-5 minutes until tender. Drain and place on towel to dry. Be careful not to break rounds.
4. Melt 1-2 tbs butter into 1-2 tbs olive oil over medium heat. Saute fennel until soft but not browned, about 6 minutes. Remove from pan.
5. Melt 1-2 tbs butter in pan and turn heat to high. Cook potatoes in small batches until browned, approximately 2-3 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towel.
6. Roll out pastry to 10"x14" and slice in half lengthwise.
7. Beat egg to use as wash. Apply wash to outer edges and fold in pastry dough to form 1/4" border. Prick bottom of pastry with fork and apply egg wash to entire pasty. Bake 10 minutes until pale brown.
8. Combine 8oz cheese, lemon zest, 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper with electric mixer.
9. When pastry is cooked, pour cheese mixture into each pastry shell and bake 4 minutes until set.
10. Layer potato slices on top of filling, top with fennel, crumbled goat cheese, and pine nuts.
11. Return to oven and broil on low 2-3 minutes until it's warmed through.
12. Top with fennel fronds and serve immediately.


Travel Lust: Santorini, Greece

120 miles of the Greek mainland lies the beautiful volcanic island of Santorini.
  The stunning whitewashed buildings with pops of bright blue fulfill any fantasy you had about Greece. Sitting atop rugged cliffs, it's a straight plunge down to the Aegean Sea.

I don't think I would mind plunging into the Aegean.
If you're in Greece, you need to see some ancient ruins. Head to Akrotiri and see the excavations of this ancient Minoan settlement presumed to be the inspiration for Plato's Atlantis.
Buried by a volcanic eruption, ancient life was frozen in time offering us great relics of the past such as frescos and pottery.
But, of course, you can always just relax and enjoy the view.
I hope some day to visit this spectacular island and enjoy a breathtaking sunset. They must have the best sunsets in the world.

Want to know more about visiting Santorini, Greece? Visit these great links!

  • Wikitravel- get a list of Santorini villages to visit and read about how to get around and what to eat.
  • Greek Treasures- this blog gives great travel tips as well as stunning pictures.
  • Santorini Island Guide- a great travel site with details on places to eat, stay and see.
Have you been to Santorini? How was it?

References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akrotiri_%28Santorini%29
Photos from: holidays-uncovered.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk, pfong.blogspot.com, wikipedia.com, wyrdology.com, stresstips.com


Dining Out: Yokozuna

Can't think of a place for dinner this weekend? Why not enjoy delicious Pan-Asian cuisine at Yokozuna in Tulsa's Blue Dome District downtown! From sushi to Pad Thai to chicken ramen, Yokozuna has an excellent mix of everyone's favorite Asian cuisine under one roof.
Along with great food, Yokozuna's atmosphere provides the urban experience you want when visiting Tulsa's revamped downtown. I love the mix of materials in the dining area with its exposed brick  interspersed with wooden wall coverings and exposed steel beams on the ceiling. There is also a stunning cypress wood bar where you can belly up for some sake.

One thing I love about writing this blog is that it gives me a great excuse to try more things on the menu than normal- it's for the sake of my readers! So, please, do not be offended by the absurd amount of food we ordered. It was in the name of research.

For starter: steamed buns with pork and sriracha chicken.
I love the sticky texture that steamed buns have- it gives the same comforting feeling as a warm dumpling. The sriracha chicken was wonderfully crispy on the outside but succulent and juicy on the inside with a sweet heat that didn't linger too long. The pork, although a little dry, had a great sweetness to it as well.

Love steamed buns? Every Monday is Bunday with $1 buns and $5 Kirin light after 5pm! Hooray!

For our entree, we decided to go with sushi. I just love sushi- it fulfills the need I have to try everything on the menu at once. On a previous visit, I tried  their chicken chili ramen and Pad Thai- both were fresh and delicious. Don't worry, it's nothing like the ramen you had in college.
Mmmm... Geisha's Demise. The sweet and spicy dipping sauce for this seared yellowfin and crab roll really makes it stand out!
Look at those beauties. Here we have the Hot Mess, Dilly Roll, and the Red Cross Roll. Each of them were amazing in their own way!

The Hot Mess is a pile of spicy, creamy goodness topped with a crispy wonton for good measure. The Dilly Roll was out of this world- Yokozuna brings the classic combination of dill and salmon to the sushi realm and knocks it out of the park!

My favorite of the evening had to be the Red Cross Roll- and it's for a good cause! For every roll purchased, Yokozuna donates $10 to the Japanese Red Cross to aid in their disaster relief efforts. So far, they have raised $1,500 and will be continuing to sell the roll until the end of March. Fried asparagus, avocado and crab are topped with tuna tartar, spicy mayo and a scallion-ginger infused oil to bring a fresh burst of flavor to your mouth. Don't worry, the waitress assured me they have all ingredients on hand in case this roll doesn't make it to their menu later.

We noticed at the end of the meal that we hadn't emptied the soy sauce bottle as usual. In fact, we didn't hardly use any soy at all. These rolls were that good!

At the end of our meal, I got the perfect dessert:
Gotta love their personalized fortune cookies!

Stop by Yokozuna for half priced sushi on a selection of rolls Monday-Friday 3-6pm and Friday-Saturday 10pm-12am.  Also, Red Bull vodkas are $5 Thursday-Saturday 9pm-close!

Want to learn how to make your own sushi creations? On April 3rd at 7pm, Yokozuna will be offering a sushi class for $60!

Yokozuna on Urbanspoon


Pardon My Dust!

I'm rearranging...

Maria's Mexican Grill: Taco Paradise

The other day, a coworker was telling me all about this little place that had the best fish tacos in town- he even compared them to those you would get beach-side in San Diego. These had to be good- and I needed to try them! We headed down to Maria's Mexican Grill at 61st and Garnett and easily found the restaurant nestled in a small shopping complex.
There were a lot of things on the menu that I recognized, but I must admit we Googled a few items at the table. Maria's offers your typical nachos, enchiladas, burritos, gorditas, quesadillas, chiles rellenos and tacos prepared with various options of meat. There were also some dishes I was less familiar with such as huaraches (fried masa with various toppings- a Mexican pizza if you will), sincronizadas (think quesadilla but the filling is sandwiched between two tortillas, not folded) and alambres (think shish kabob). Most dishes on the menu were only $6.50

We were there for the tacos, so we tried out a few variations- each order totaled around $6. I went with the fish tacos, of course.
Aren't they gorgeous? Everything was so fresh! On top of two corn tortillas sat a fish fillet that was light and flaky. The fish was topped with a crunchy red cabbage slaw, pico de gallo and a drizzle of crema; there was also a delicious salsa to top everything off. The dish tasted as fresh as it looks and was full of flavor- he was right these are good! Best of all- the tortillas never got soggy!
D chose from an assortment of meat tacos- chicken, steak, carnitas and chicharon (fried pork rind). Each was topped with fresh onions and cilantro and was served with another type of fresh salsa. The winner out of these four was definitely the chicharon- it was flavorful and had a great crunchy texture. Second place went to the chicken, which was again very flavorful and moist. The steak taco was good, but the meat was a little dry unfortunately and neither of us cared for the carnitas as it was very fatty- maybe we just got it on a bad day.

You can find Maria's at 6122 S. Garnett Road- it's open Monday-Saturday 7am-9pm and Sunday 7am-8pm. Breakfast burrito anyone?

This is the first time I have left a Mexican restaurant not feeling like I consumed a block of cheese. They mean it when they say it's authentic! We will be coming back to this place- many times I would guess!


Peppercorn: Boudler, Colorado

I have found my personal heaven- it lies on Pearl Street Mall in Downtown Boulder. It's called Peppercorn.
Founded in 1977, Peppercorn crams into 12,000 square feet every kitchen item you could possibly dream of and plenty you have never seen before. From hard to find and imported pantry items to kitchen gadgets and cookware- they have it all. There's even a bed and bath section as well!
Food enthusiasts beware. If you ever make it up to Boulder to visit this charming store, know that you will never be the same again. There are more gadgets and goodies than you will ever find in Williams-Sonoma and they're offered at phenomenal prices! It's a good thing I had only a small suitcase with me or I would have been in big trouble. Next time I'm bringing a U-haul!

The store was nicely laid out into departments, if you will. There was a section for foods, beverages such as coffee and tea, spices, cookware, kitchen gadgets and appliances, baking, grilling, table linens, and books with beautiful displays of table settings interspersed throughout. Upstairs, (yes- there's an upstairs!) there was an area devoted to bed and bath with lovely soaps and candles and beautiful bedding.
Amongst the food items were cookies and candies from around the world, a plethora of jams, jellies and honeys and rarer items such as treacle and Marmite. There were a lot of "ohmigosh they have xyz" moments! They also offered plenty of Colorado-made delicacies so you can bring a taste of the Rockies into your kitchen.

Check out this collection of hot sauces! Wow-wee!
I loved how many different types of an item there were to chose from- it allows you to give a interesting a personal touch to your kitchen. Just look at all of these wooden spoons! And only around $5 each!
The baking section was fantastic- there was every pan, mold, and cookie cutter you could imagine. You could even take your pick from these many different kinds of measuring cups and spoons.
The most spectacular part of Peppercorn for me was the cookbook section. I have a thing for books already, but when they're about food it goes to a whole 'nother level. When I saw this huge section devoted to cookbooks, arranged by their various topics, I literally had a physical reaction to its wonder. My palms were sweaty, I needed to roll up my sleeves suddenly... this was mostly due to the fact that I wanted to grab a copy of each book and devour their contents immediately but knew I wouldn't even be taking one book home with me. I'm still going through withdrawal. I did manage to write down a list of titles to add to my collection later!
Though I didn't come out with any books, I did get several treasures that will bring fond memories of this shop and my visit to Colorado.
I finally got a stovetop espresso maker like the one we had in our Roman apartment- so charming! I also picked up a beautiful demitasse  and saucer in which to enjoy it. I have been wanting to find a beautiful container for my coarse salt and I think this white porcelain jar with the lion detail is stunning. Last but not least- I found the digestive biscuits we always ate in Rome. These British treats are very similar to our graham crackers and are great with a bit of Nutella (or a lot). 

Peppercorn offers limited merchandise through their online store. To get the full experience of this independently-owned store, you'll just have to see it yourself.

Have you booked your plane ticket yet?


Travel Lust: Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine- the largest city in the northernmost New England state. Think lobster rolls, light houses and sea views. I hadn't really given much thought to visiting Maine until I saw photos of the state's stunning coastline and now it's a must see. I would go in the summer, of course!
Old Port is a charming warehouse district that connects to to the city's water front.
Portland Head Light, on Cape Elizabeth, is the most photographed lighthouse in North America. Can you imagine why?
Two Light state park offers stunning views of the Atlantic coastline.
I am dying to go deep sea fishing- what better place than off the coast of Maine?
And as always, I must sample the local fare... lobster roll anyone?
Have you been to Maine? Did you love it? Any suggestions?

Photos from: Sandboxworld.com, travelingboy.com, citypictures.org, maineowl.net, partyresources.blogspot.com


Kiss Me, I'm Not Irish: A St. Paddy's Day Collection

St. Patrick's Day- a day of green beer, corned beef and pinching complete strangers. What's not to love? Here is a collection of events around town, festive recipes, and drinkables to help you celebrate the Irish in you (or not).
Get Your Party On
  • Follow this link to find a list of St. Paddy's day events around town. Always a good time: McNellie's, Arnie's and Kilkenny's.
  • Leon's announced their street party Thursday and Friday at their Brookside location beginning at 10am- live music, TVs, food and of course cold beer! Visit their Facebook page!
  • This article from the Tulsa World has great maps of street closings for the festivities.
  • Check out Tasha Does Tulsa's post on some other great places to chow down and grab an Irish Car Bomb.
Cookin' in the Kitchen
Raise Your Glass
Enjoy your St. Patrick's Day and be safe!


Foreign Food: Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate and Lime

I've decided to start a new column: Foreign Food. For this column, I will be cooking a type of food that is new to me or incorporating an ingredient or technique I have never used before. Join me on my journey to gastronomic enlightenment!

For my first foreign food: the coconut macaroon. Crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. The perfect little cookie. I've added lime to the batter and drizzled the top with chocolate for good measure. Unlike your typical cookie, the macaroon has no baking soda or baking powder. Instead, this cookie is leavened by egg whites.
This treat is pretty easy to make- place all of your ingredients in the pan, turn on the heat and start stirring. All while singing "you put the lime in the coconut, drink them both up...". When the mixture is thickened, it gets spooned on to a cookie sheet and goes straight into the oven.
 After about 15 minutes, the macaroons should look golden, brown, and delicious!
While the cookies are cooling, you can melt some milk chocolate and toast some almonds to sprinkle on top.
The sweetness of the lime and the coconut are balanced perfectly by the richness of the chocolate and almonds. And there's fruit in it, so you don't have to feel guilty, right? For being such a delicate treat these macaroons are so easy to make!

Macaroons are a pretty flexible cookie. Don't like lime? Try orange instead. Maybe throw some almond extract in to the cookie base. And don't forget all of the drizzles and toppings you could try! Various nuts, chocolates and glazes... the possibilities are endless.

Do you know of a food you think I need to try? Leave a comment!

Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate and Lime
4 egg whites
3 c sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c flour
1 tsp lime zest
2 tsp lime juice
1 c milk chocolate chips
1/2 c almonds, chopped

1. Place egg whites, coconut, sugar, vanilla, flour and zest in heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
2. Place pan over low heat and cook 6-8 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when thickened.
3. Stir in lime juice.
4. Place spoonfuls of mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheets and bake @ 350 for 12-15 min, or until golden brown. Let cookies cool on baking sheet.
5. Melt chocolate in microwave according to package or in double boiler.
6. Chop almonds and place in dry saute pan. Toss almonds in pan over medium-high heat until fragrant.
7. Drizzle chocolate over macaroons and top with almonds.


Snow Shoeing: City Girls Take On the Mountain

On a recent trip to Colorado to visit my dearest friend from college, Emily, we decided to get a little wild. We could spend our day tooling around the cute shops in Vail, lounging around fire pits and sipping hot toddies. Instead, we decided to go out of our comfort zone and go snow shoeing.

Note: No one was harmed in the making of this blog post. 
Neither of us had ever gone snow shoeing but we were excited to try something new. I was particularly glad it did not involve flying down a mountain at uncontrollable speeds (see: me skiing). Unprepared for this adventure, we put together some hodgepodge mountain get-ups and borrowed some snow shoes and poles. Unfortunately, Uggs do not fit in snow shoes so we went to the rental center to find a pair of boots.

After procuring the proper foot equipment and purchasing a lift ticket, we were ready to hit the slopes! On our way out the door, the man behind the counter asked if we knew how to actually put the show shoes on. Did we look that obvious? He gave us a quick demonstration- we hadn't exactly thought about that part yet!
Up the lift we went to McCoy Park at Beaver Creek- reserved for snow shoeing and cross country skiing.
At 10,000 feet elevation, we strapped on our shoes, careful not to chip our freshly manicured nails, and took off through the tree-lined path. We felt a little awkward at first but quickly got into a rhythm.
The trails were marked as they are for the ski slopes: green for easy, blue for intermediate, and black for don't even think about it. We mapped out our course and took off with confidence- all green trails of course!
It was fun to go a little off the beaten track and walk though the fresh snow- it really got your legs working! Going down hill, we thought snow shoeing was a piece of cake! We decided to park it on the slope of the mountain and enjoy the lunch we packed. We could not have had a better view!
We continued trekking down the mountain until we reached a gulch and had to start going back up. This was definitely a game changer! Our pace slowed as we climbed the narrow trail up the mountain. It didn't help that I kept slipping and stepping on the backs of my shoes. It's very hard to walk when you're doubled over laughing!

We looked back and saw the path we had made in the fresh powder- the sense of accomplishment was growing.
Just as we cleared the trees on the top of the mountain, we realized that we still had a lot of uphill trail to go. Em whipped out her iphone and put some tunes on speakerphone. There's nothing like The Devil Wears Prada soundtrack to keep your motivation up!
Normally, an incline like this wouldn't look so daunting. Add in snow and high altitude and it is quite challenging. We would power through about 10 yards only to stop and rest again- what a work out!

We finally made it back to the chair lift after two hours of hiking feeling exhausted but accomplished. Without a doubt, all the hard work was worth it!
After our workout, we needed to relax so we headed to the Ritz-Carlton at Beaver Creek and snagged the last two chairs around the fire pit that had a great mountain view. With a cold one in our hand, we enjoyed some live music and great people watching. This is the life! Can I do this every weekend?
Snow shoeing is a great alternative to skiing or snowboarding- give it a thought next time you're in the mountains. It's a great all-body work out and an experience you wont forget!