Vegan Dinner a three-time pleaser

Hello again from the Tenant. I tried the Bistro’s “3 for 30” Vegan Prix Fixe Dinner last Wednesday and if you did, too, you know what I’m about to say. If not, definitely read on!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not vegan, but I have found that when I eat Bistro 185’s vegan concoctions, I enjoy them so much that I truly do not miss the meat. And if you’re a dedicated vegan, you can’t help but appreciate not only the care Chefs Jakub and Ruth take toward ensuring the 100% vegan content of every dish, but the gourmet flair they bring to each one. This dinner was certainly no exception!

The starter course was Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Vidalia Onions. I don’t think I have words to describe how delicious and satisfying it was. All I know is, I feel as if I could have eaten several more bowlsful. The flavor was so rich—a combination of sweetness and fiery spice—and the texture thick and substantial. It arrived streaked with a garnish of almond milk and sprigged with thyme, and it was an amazing winter soup that drained any feeling of chill from the cold weather outside right out of my body.

Next in line was the entree, Eggplant Parmigiana with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and Slow-Cooked Marinara. This dish was also a winner—its sauce full of fresh tomatoes and the eggplant slices tender, light, and un-greasy, ever so gently breaded and fried, laid atop fantastic whole-wheat pasta. Even the pully texture of the vegan mozzarella was perfect, just as natural as the real thing. I’m told vegan cheese is made from almond milk. Don’t ask me how—all I know is, this was great. It was accompanied by a savory piece of garlic toast for soaking up extra sauce.

The finishing touch was as tasty a dessert as I’ve ever had, the Vegan Apple Pie—or, to be more precise, a Vegan Apple Turnover. It arrived hot and flaky, full of juicy, saucy apple slices in delightfully light pastry, accompanied by a little scoop of cinnamon almond-milk ice cream, a dollop of almond-milk “whipped cream,” and a fresh raspberry and blackberry garnish, dusted all over with powdered sugar. The “ice cream” was a terrific variation on the regular-milk variety and the “whipped cream” just as yummy. The perfect conclusion to an excellent meal!

To summarize: if you eat vegan, you owe it to yourself to try eating vegan-style at Bistro 185 whenever you have the opportunity (info about next month’s offerings will go up when ready). And even if you don’t normally eat vegan, trying a vegan dish, or even a full meal, at the Bistro is a terrific introduction, because you’ll be both surprised and impressed by the high quality of everything you taste. The flavor and texture will be so much the same as what you’d find in a traditional meal that you may even mistake what you’re eating for a non-vegan dish! Keep your eyes on the blog for information about upcoming vegan features. You’ll be impressed—and very well fed!

Doing the Julie thing: Apple Turnovers

Hi! This post is a little different from what you’re used to seeing here. It’s actually not from Ruth and Marc but from one of their tenants. If you’ve been to the Bistro within the past year, you may have met me, because I do go there quite a bit. Make that a lot.

What I’m going to do today, with Ruth and Marc’s consent, is provide a little bit of the “Julie” portion of the equation by posting here about my experience trying to make the Apple Turnover recipe from the News-Herald article. After all, part of the purpose of this blog is to serve as inspiration to their patrons. So, let’s see if I can get inspired!

The first thing you should know is that I admit it: I am not a chef like Ruth or Todd. The closest I’ve been to France is five years of studying the language and a trip to Québec City in 1994. I do most of my cooking with convenience food. Every once in a while I get a little deeper into things and cook up a batch of my mother’s (originally my grandfather’s) spaghetti sauce with meatballs, or try something from a cookbook (I figured out how to bake some pretty good bread lately, without a bread machine), but I don’t know anything near as much about food as Ruth and Marc do, which is probably why I don’t run a restaurant. But, thanks to them, I do have a great big kitchen to cook in now, and it seems a shame sometimes that I don’t use it better. So I’m going to try today.

A chronicling of my “Julie” end of the Julia Project follows…

Around noon: I remove my two boxes of frozen puff pastry from the fridge, where they’ve been thawing since this morning, really, not overnight like the recipe says. Which is just as well, because I forgot that you need to UNROLL them and let them thaw out flat. I really don’t want the sheets to break, and right now they’re looking kind of creaky around the two folds on each one. Without sufficient room to lay them all out separately in the fridge, I decide to stack them with sheets of wax paper between.

Around 3 p.m.: I start cutting up, peeling and coring apples. The apples I’ve chosen aren’t local, I admit. They’re a fairly new variety called Cripps Pink, from western Australia, developed as a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Lady Williams. I was attracted to them in the supermarket because of their unique yellow-and-rosy-pink skins. Checking the Internet later, I discover that they’re supposed to be good cooking apples, with a sweet and tangy taste, so they would seem to be ideal for this project. Some of these apples are sold under the trademark “Pink Lady.” I wonder whether Jeff ever got his own apple. (And if you got that reference, you watched way too much bad TV in the early ’80s.) Then again, maybe these apples are more like the girls from Grease? Well, they may not be greasy, but they do get slippery after a while of cutting and peeling. Too bad I don’t have my own automatic apple corer and peeler. I also don’t have a lemon zester, which means I can’t really get much peel off my lemon, but I’m using the juice and the lemon is optional anyway so I figure that won’t matter so much to the flavor. The lemon I use is a bit old without being rotten, which means it’s easier to get juice from. I drop all the apple slices into the lemon juice-sugar-cinnamon mix as soon as they’re cut, and swirl them around to get them well covered in lemon juice and prevent them from turning brown.

It takes me about an hour to get Sandy, Frenchie, Rizzo, Marty and Jan cut up, peeled, cored and sliced and into their sugary bath. Now I’ll let them steep for a while.

4:30: Time to make the turnovers. I lay parchment paper down on my big cookie sheet, remove the first sheet of puff pastry from the fridge, dust it floury, slice it in half, and transfer the slices to the sheet. As I suspected, they’re even weaker at the folded joints and it’s hard to keep them from collapsing. I paint the edges with water, pile in apple filling, sprinkle on more sugar, spoon on some melted butter, and flop the top half over to close. I press and seal and crimp with the fork, making fairly nice little squares. I’m going to think of these as giant apple raviolis, I decide, because that’s what they look like. When I draw the top flap of dough over the bottom half to seal, if they weaken from the strain of the apple stuffing, it’s at that crease. Obviously the crease at the bottom may prove problematic as well, but I hope the puffing and expansion of the pastry as it bakes will help. Even so, I try to seal the creases and make a mental note that this only means cutting the steam holes in them before they go in the oven will be all the more important. With big enough holes elsewhere, they may be less inclined to split along the seams.

It becomes pretty clear to me as I go along that even my big baking sheet is going to accommodate only six of these babies. Luckily, I have a pizza pan that should be able to handle the other two. I place parchment paper on the pizza pan and manage to finish the last two turnovers on it. Altogether, this step too takes about an hour.

After some shuffling around of things in the fridge to make space, both the baking sheet and the pizza pan go inside. I’m in no hurry and if these will bake up better with some time to sit around in the chill, that’s fine with me. I’m just hoping maybe I’ll have a nice dessert to eat after dinner while watching the season opener of Mad Men.

Of course, it made sense to place only as much apple mixture in each turnover as I thought it could reasonably hold, rather than trying to get rid of the whole bowlful in eight turnovers, and as a result, I have a LOT of apple mixture left over. If you use smaller apples, this may not be the case for you, but Pink Ladies are pretty big, and it turns out I could probably have done fine with just Frenchie, Rizzo and maybe Sandy, without bringing Marty and Jan into it. I also had a lot of melted butter left over, as I nuked a whole stick just to be sure I had enough. I poured the leftover butter over the leftover apples, transferred them to a sealed container and popped them in the fridge, for now. I can think of worse things in life than having an oversupply of apple slices marinated in lemon juice, melted butter, sugar and cinnamon. Might be able to throw them into one of those easy pie crusts in my Amish cookbook and make a sort of pie out of them. If all else fails, they’ll make a great topping for vanilla ice cream, right?

Looking back, I wish I’d separated the frozen pastry sheets with parchment paper in the fridge, because sometimes, when I tried to peel them off the waxed paper, they stuck like the devil. I made it through this step, though, so that’s good.

8:45 p.m.: After dinner, I take the turnovers out of the fridge, cut the steam holes and paint on the egg-wash glaze. The holes aren’t particuarly pretty but I’m just cutting them with a knife; a small round tube might make a better cutter. At 9 p.m., with the oven hot and ready, in the first tray of 6 goes.

9:20 p.m.: Mmm, the turnovers are puffing up nicely and they smell great. They’re not browning too quickly, so I leave them as they are to get a little darker near the bottoms. The edges look as if they may have leaked a tiny bit, but not so much that all the sugary syrupy goodness has seeped out. Boy, I’m going to be ticked now that I didn’t think to buy ice cream or whipped cream. Drat! Oh well, there is such a thing as reheating tomorrow.

9:32 p.m.: The big sheet of 6 is ready to come out of the oven, to be replaced by the pizza pan with the last 2. As I pry them loose from the parchment paper, there’s a mini-casualty: one of the corner turnovers refuses to come up. Ultimately I can pull it away, but most of the bottom remains stubbornly behind. Too much leakage? Overpainted? Heating differences amongst oven spots? I don’t know. All I know is, it still looks good, as do the rest of them: golden-brown, flaky and fabulous. And they smell divine. I lack a baking rack, so I slide them lightly onto plates and put them in a cupboard while the others bake.

9:57 p.m.: The others look ready, so I take them out. Bad news: they don’t want to surrender their bottoms either. I do manage to get most of them up and off the paper (after considerable struggling, and holding the paper doesn’t help much; it just flakes away) and onto plates and into the cupboard. Next time, I think, either be more patient or don’t be so generous with the egg wash, which seems to be dripping over the sides and gluing them to the paper.

10:15 p.m.: Ate two of the turnovers: one with a bottom and one without much of one. Both tasted fine. The pastry is nice and flaky (no thanks to me, of course) and the apples are very thin and very rich with flavor. They did turn out to be good apples for this purpose. Altogether, not a bad outcome to this little experiment. And I’ll be eating turnovers for a while to come, with plenty to share.

So, there you have it. Even I, with a little help, could cook like Julia and blog like Julie. Try it!…the cooking part, anyway.

Veal Marengo: behind the dish

How did a traditional French dish get the name of a city in Italy?

Food lore tells us that the first “Marengo” dish in history comes to us courtesy of Napoleon’s own chef. Following Napoleon’s defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in northwest Italy, Chef Dunand needed to create a dish for the troops from the food he was able to forage in the surrounding area. He combined a scrawny chicken, some crayfish, eggs, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic into a sauce, and thus Chicken Marengo was born. Napoleon associated the dish with his army’s good luck and forever after insisted that it be served following each battle. He also insisted it be made with the same ingredients each time, so as not to jinx his success. (No surprise, then, that there’s no such thing as Chicken Waterloo.)

The term “Marengo” has come to be applied to any sauce for meat or fish that includes tomatoes and, often, mushrooms and onions (although Napoleon would surely have frowned on these variations). Julia Child’s recipe for Veal Marengo from MtAoFC also leaves out the crayfish and eggs, all apologies to the Emperor.

One great thing about Veal Marengo is that it’s one of Julia’s dishes that’s not all that hard to make at home. Many cooks first tackling a Julia recipe try this one among their initial efforts. For our version, we core, blanch, seed and dice our own rooftop tomatoes to give it that extra-special fresh local tomato flavor, and if you have ripe garden tomatoes as well, this is a great way to use them. But if you don’t, it’s easy enough to make it with diced canned tomatoes instead.

What’s the easiest thing you can do to make your stews taste better (aside from using better cuts of meat)? Caramelize the meat chunks properly by making sure you dry them thoroughly before browning them in oil. It makes all the difference in the world between getting pieces of steamed cooked meat and pieces of caramelized cooked meat — which means more flavor.

After we’re done caramelizing our veal, we remove it from the pan, add our onions and caramelize them, then return the veal and add mushrooms, the diced tomatoes and fresh Genovese basil from the rooftop garden, along with the other sauce ingredients. After it all simmers a good long while, it’s a hearty and satisfying dish, cozied up next to a bed of mashed potatoes.

Tonight we’re also bringing back a dessert favorite from last week, the Apple Turnovers for which we provide the recipe in today’s News-Herald. Sounds good? It tastes even better!

Read all about it…

Don’t miss Janet Podolak’s wonderful feature story in today’s News-Herald, “Inspired By a Child,” about our Julia Project. Learn about Ruth’s approach to cooking, the time she met Julia Child herself, and the Bistro’s take on the dishes in the Project — and get the recipe for our Julia-inspired Apple Turnover.

For a great local tribute to Julia Child’s legacy to the American kitchen, read Joe Crea’s piece today in The Plain Dealer. His piece points out that PBS is currently featuring video from Julia’s classic cooking shows on the video portal of its Web site. Go here to start watching her in action, and find other treats like an interview with Meryl Streep about playing her on film.

Tonight we’ll be serving up Saute de Veau Marengo from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 — veal stew with tomatoes and mushrooms on a generous bed of our homemade mashed potatoes. We hope to see you here to enjoy this fabulous dish.

On the schedule for tonight: Sautéed Veal Scallops

We hope you are enjoying following along with our Julia Child cooking journey so far. If you haven’t had the opportunity to taste any of these dishes yet for yourself, or even if you have, we hope you’ll be able to come to the bistro tonight for Escalopes de Veau a L’Estragon – Sautéed Veal Scallops with Brown Tarragon Butter, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.

Taking the lead on preparation of this dish, as he did the Potage Parmentier, Apple Turnovers and Chicken Fricassee, will be our chef Todd Mueller. Todd frequently applies his experience in the extended program of Paris’ École Lenôtre to create traditional French dishes for our menu, and our Julia Project is really giving him and all of our talented kitchen crew an opportunity to shine. Coming up, we’ll feature an inside view from Todd into what it takes to create dishes like these on a restaurant scale — and maybe a tip or two for those who’d like to try whipping them up at home.

Boeuf Bourguignon tonight!

If you haven’t yet seen our writeup in Joe Crea’s “Restaurant Row” column in the Taste section of today’s Plain Dealer, check it out. The PD’s Food and Restaurants Editor says that “foodies like me will be curious to read more about the technical tweaks the chefs employ to streamline the classics while maintaining their integrity.” We agree that including those kinds of details in our blog is a great idea, and we plan to bring you some insight into how we are preparing these dishes — not only how we are adapting them for our restaurant, but some ideas that may help you have an easier time of it if you choose to follow in Julie Powell’s footsteps and tackle some of them yourself.

While each recipe definitely starts with a cookbook — and Ruth reads cookbooks at night before bed the way some people devour novels — our philosophy toward the dishes is to keep to the spirit of the recipes, rather than following them exactly to the letter. For example, while we said yesterday that our Boeuf Bourguignon recipe is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the basic instructions we follow come from the recipe in Julia & Jacques At Home, which Julia published with Jacques Pepin in 1999. However, our version follows the MtAoFC philosophy of including the carrots and onions in the final product, unlike the Julia & Jacques recipe, in which the carrots and onions are used only as components of the mirepoix (combination of carrots, onions and celery) that flavors the sauce and are not present in the final dish. It’s our experience that diners enjoy their Boeuf Bourguignon complete with large, flavorful chunks of carrot and browned pearl onions, along with the sautéed mushrooms. The vegetables add to the dish’s eye appeal and to the overall dining experience. So, keep in mind that if you try this recipe, you need not obey it blindly — if you love the vegetables, do as we do and include them in the finished dish.

One thing that should simplify your home cooking task a bit is the relative availability of peeled, frozen pearl onions in today’s supermarkets, which were not so easy to come by in 1961, when Julia first published MtAoFC.

We prepared a special serving of Boeuf Bourguignon this afternoon to star in next week’s News-Herald feature story about our Julia Project, along with a sample of Monday night’s apple turnover. (Our recipe for that dessert is from the 1978 paperback edition of Julia Child & Company — a book about which we have a great story to tell — but we’ll save that for later.) We think we can guarantee you will enjoy this dish if you order it tonight. Julia recommends serving it with boiled potatoes, noodles or rice; our choice is creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. See if you don’t agree that it’s a terrific complement to the rich beef-and-wine sauce.

In our next post, we’ll talk a bit more about the challenge of cooking dishes like the ones we are presenting in the Julia Project for a restaurant, contrasted to the at-home experience.

We hope to see you tonight!

Potage Parmentier is a sensation!

We are pleased to report that Bistro 185 has just served our first Julia Child Project dish: our soup of the day, Potage Parmentier. And it is delicious — thick and rich with flavor and garnished with herbs, garlic croutons and just a touch of sour cream. Julia Powell used a potato ricer in her efforts, but we blended our potatoes using a hand blender to get just the right kind of not-too-smooth, not-too-chunky consistency. If you chose this for your appetizer this evening, you enjoyed a treat indeed.

Everyone in our kitchen is excited about our project, which is why Potage Parmentier turned out not to be the only Julia Child pleasure available at the bistro tonight — the apple turnover, light, flaky and full of apples with a wonderful touch of lemon, is as delightful a dessert as any you’ll find at a sidewalk café in France.

Our Julia Child-inspired offerings, of course, share the menu with many of our guests’ perennial favorites, as well as some newer offerings that take advantage of the summer bounty that is hitting its peak of flavor right now. Our rooftop garden is full of heirloom tomatoes and wonderful herbs that you can taste in dishes like our Caprese Salad, starring our own basil and organic tomatoes; the Bruschetta Quartet, a selection of tapenades served with toasts; and Pasta in the Pink, featuring our tomatoes, basil and herbs tossed with shell pasta and baked with fresh mozzarella and cream.

On Tuesday night’s menu, our special Julia Child dish is Fricassee de Poulet à L’Ancienne — Chicken Fricassee with Wine-Flavored Cream Sauce, Onions and Mushrooms, also from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1.

But whatever you choose — whether you stop by to enjoy a classic Child masterpiece, an old favorite, or the latest produce fresh from our rooftop to your plate — as Julia would say, Bon Appétit!