Chez Madeleine

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I couldn't have said it better myself

If you were to saddle up next to me at a dive bar, lean in close and say "what's your sign?" I would repond with "Gemini". If you were really cute-tall, and dark-I might tell you that that means that half of the time I'm a true homebody. Robe. slippers. head band. TV. or my Julia Child cooking DVDs. Stacks of Gourmet to pour through. French press coffee. Just me and Madeleine. But I would also have to disclose that the other half of the time, I stalk the food pages of newspapers for new chefs, restaurants, dishes, fads, and decors. That I'm saving Bacchanalia partly because I can't afford it, but party because I've never had an occasion big enough to justify the incredible nature of the food. That I review for Zagat. That I love new restaurants.

Soon, you'll be introduced to my restaurant-half. I'm going to be reviewing something with my fellow foodie, Emily, in the next few weeks.

But for now, only because I couldn't have said it better myself, I'm referring you to Amy Sedaris-and her recent NYC quote. "I really don't like going out," Ms. Sedaris said one afternoon last week. "I don't like restaurants because I don't like the idea of someone, a waitress, being responsible for my evening. I like seconds, and more, and lots of conversation, and I've always hated the idea that in a restaurant an evening just ends. I find that incredibly depressing."

Today, Amy, and readers, I couldn't agree more. Today, I'm longing for a night that never ends-a goat cheese salad, an open faced croque monsieur, a salad perfectly dressed, and profiteroles for dessert.

Monday, June 26, 2006


pizette with squash blossoms, originally uploaded by sarahlpearse.

Pilgrims trek to famous cathedrals. Muslims to Mecca. I pursue culinary icons and the restaurants they create. Recently, I had the opportunity to dine at Cafe Chez Panisse, the little sister of world-renowned Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' indellible mark on the restaurant world. For those who don't worship at the alter of food, Alice Waters birthed California Cuisine-the concept of season, fresh, simple food. Inspired by time spent in France (remind you of anyone you know?) and passionate about local produce, farms, and products, she introduced an entire state, and entire country really to the kind of cuisine that makes you wonder what you ever ate before you tried it. The beet and cucumber salad below was dressed with a rough pesto of marjoram and mint.

beet salad

Eating at Cafe Chez Panisse in Berkeley last week was one of the highlights of my eating career. The simplicity and synergy of ingredients and flavors is still fresh on my mind. Her squash blossom pizzette, pictured here, was the inspiration for my party last Friday, and I have found myself scrolling through my photos of her food like a girl reading a trashy novel. The colors, the simplicity, and the radiant glow of freshness have me inspired.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

who needs love? all you need is homemade pizza

stuffed mushrooms

I've searched long and hard for the best way to throw an authentic dinner party. Not the kind where your placecard is at the door, and you spend the evening sitting next to and across from the same people. The boisterous kind. The kind of dinner party that actually feels like a party.

Last night, after many a morning spent making dough. After the yeast was back in the cupboard. After the torte (feeling much like a bride trying on wedding dresses) had been placed upon its pedestal. After the Mise. After the herbs had been plucked from their stems. There was a party.

I battled with the dough. It flanked right. I flanked left. It tore, and I patched. It stretched--its gluten relaxed from kneading--and I tried to stop it from stretching down to the floor. I held it with my knuckles, and it covered them and formed over them. Eventually, it yielded to my force and collapsed upon the pan in shape of island nations. Madagascar (sans Seyshells as Marietta noted). Iceland. Japan. Jay Leno (not a country-but a distinct shape). They were island nations ready to be populated.

jay leno pizza

Caramel-colored onions. Baby spinach flecked with garlic. Mushrooms-glistening with butter and thyme. Coins of zucchini. Crispy salty smokey pancetta. Creamy, gluttonous goat cheese. crumbled blue-veined Stilton. paper thin sliced pears. oily pesto. chapters and volumes of mozzarella.

As the pizzas emerged from the oven, they brought people together. Two people reaching for a slice at the same time. revealing how the stilton, pears and walnuts felt in their mouth. pouring a glass. sharing a story and a slice.

divine dessert

Friday, June 23, 2006

My little foot of earth

window herbs, originally uploaded by sarahlpearse.

Being a converted urbanite, I enjoy living within my concrete walls. I love seeing the street outside of my window. I'm used to hearing sirens, car alarms, and passers-by throughout the night. Madeleine even likes to watch the characters throughout the day.

But sometimes, a girl needs some earth to call her own. My square of earth is my herb garden. My herb garden is one of the best gifts I've ever received from anyone. My boss gave it to me--planted it, created it for me-as a housewarming gift, and its totally changed my life. The tallest stalks are the basil--they scream in Italian "pick me, pick me, so I can grow back even higher and more leafy". On the left, are parsley and thyme. They live side by side in harmony-sometimes conversing about who is better. Thyme knows that it must be stripped from its stem in order to be used. Parsley delights in the fact that its edible just "as is". My parsley is just happy to be off of the garnish line at the local steakhouse. It doesn't get picked very often but it knows it has a crucial spot in the herb world. Behind that, is lavender. The lavender dreams of being ice cream some day. It will be mixed gently with honey and scooped onto the lovliest dishes one day next spring. And last, my sage. The sage is the wisest herb of all-choosing to align itslf with earthy pastas and browned butter. And the last dweller in my garden is my gnome. He was the product of a birthday treasure hunt. He protects the herbs from the often-famished Madeleine, and brings general goodwill to their growing.

gnome herb-dweller

My square of earth makes the world make sense sometimes.

cream: get on top

cream, originally uploaded by sarahlpearse.

Today I experienced true generosity on my little block. I was baking the dessert for tonight, a truly divine chocolate torte from epicurious. It is one of the most reviewed recipes on the site, check it out at to hear 190 at home chefs express their undying love and affection for this recipe. Aimee made this recipe for her birthday last year--gotta love a girl who bakes for her own birthday--if I were her fortune cookie I would say: "those who bake for own birthday are truly generous bed". Anyway, this dessert is quite time-consuming to create, so I had to start at 7 am this morning, and I still didn't get to work until 10:30.

After baking the first layer of the torte--a fudgy choclate cake (by the way, I used my recently purchased Scharffen Berger chocolate. Chopping it gave me a little high)---I was onto the mousse layer. Skilled in the art of french cooking, I was whipping the mousse base with a french flair, singing "Aux Champs-Elysees" to myself when I came to the realization that I didn't have one of the crucial ingredients--heavy cream. Standing in my kitchen, in my pajamas, with wet hair, whisking butter furiously over a double-burner, I realized that running to the store was going to put a serious cramp in my baking.

Then-a thought occurred. Javavito, the new "old school" coffee house across the street would surely provide cream to its patrons. And surely, if I wandered in braless and with wet hair, they would not be able to refuse me one scant cup? This was an exercise in trust. I felt as though Javavito was my neighbor, and that wandering over with a measuring cup, I could forge a bond with this new retailer. I was excited at the prospect of not having to drive to the store, and exhilarated by the fact that I wasn't sure what they would say to me or what they would charge me.

Our story ends well---a kind man sold me an iced coffee for 1.63 and an "additional item" (that's how it rung up) for $.50. I got two cups of heavy cream for $.50 and returned home, hair a bit dryer at this point, to finish the dessert.

So-cream, you're on top today. And so are you JavaVito. You made my day.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I started young...

Sarahbaking, originally uploaded by sarahlpearse.

My mother emailed me this classic shot this morning for blogging purposes. She wants you all to see that if it weren't for her forcing me into child labor in the kitchen at a young age, you might never have been privy to my culinary wisdom. Apparantly, according to this picture, I was quite the dough-girl at a young age.

Update on pizza dough: its going well. I made another batch last night, and then one again this morning. My freezer is full with the future pizzas of the world. If anyone has suggestions for killer toppings, comment liberally....

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

yeast: the newest addition to my kitchen cabinet

What is yeast? I've always wondered this. Maybe I should've done some research for this post, but I haven't had the time, and I'm hoping that some of you will fill me in on its magic chemical componants. I called my mother last night from Publix to ask her if there was any difference between the packets, and the jar, and she just said "yeast doesn't last long"--a vote for the packets. I was making pizza dough. I envisioned myself making lots of pizza dough for hungry visitors, so I bought the jar.

Friday night, I am hosting a dinner party as a goodbye for one of my dearest--and in honor of my recent trip to woodfire oven territory, I decided to recreate a "pizzette" that I had at Cafe Chez Panisse, and make a variety of pies with inspired toppings. I'm picturing crispy pancetta, sweet carmelized onions, crisp pears, soft gooey goat cheese, and big hunks of fresh tomato. I'm going to adorn liberally with garlic and home-grown herbs. I'm waiting until Friday to be inspired by the farmers market. Then I'll pick my favorite ingredients, make some winning combinations, and pray that I don't set off the fire alarm like I did last night making my practice version.

Once home, and armed with my epicurious recipe, I set the yeast free to do its magic thing. I added two teaspoons to 1 cup of "wrist temperature" water. Whatever that means. Added a pinch of sugar (sounds like the latest term of endearment to me "you're just a pinch of sugar"), and waited for the mysterious doughy-smelling mixture to bubble. Once it did, I added flour, dug in and kneaded and mixed until my arms were sore.

I left the bulbous result to rise in a bowl well-coated with olive oil. Then I let out the frustrations of the day by punching the hell out of the dough. Then I said goodnight to the dough and put it in the freezer to languish until Sunday's party. I also baked a pizzette (hence the fire alarm), and topped it with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and thyme and basil. It was crispy, but chewy. The perfect palate for the season's offerings on Friday. That dough just doesn't even know what it will be come in just a few short days. Today is the first day of the rest of its life.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

chez madeleine is born

This weekend, on a westcoast culinary adventure tour posing as a conference for work, an idea was born. I was sitting in the window seat, dreaming about my latest gastronomic finds from San Francisco (scharffen berger chocolate by the pound, delicate lavender shortbreads, and white balsamic vinegar among them), wondering what I'd missed from my favorite blogs whilst I was gone, and munching on the latest Delta snack invention---creamy havarti spread and micro-mini crostinis, when the idea came to me. A food blog. One that would give me the space to describe meals cooked and purchased, here and abroad. I've often heard that hearing me talk about food can be an orgasmic experience. I wanted to share that experience with you, dear readers, in the hopes that I will come even closer to finding my muse, and perhaps my perfect madeleine.

I'll attempt to glean inspiration from those who have come before me-most notably in my world-the Amateur Gourmet (who so kindly vacated the Atlanta food blogger market and provided the perfect cat-door for my entry) and the ever poetic and wildly inventive french mademoiselle, Clotilde of Last, before I close with today's inagural entry, I must thank my constantly hungering feline companion, Madeleine, without whom coming home at the end of the day would be dull and empty.