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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Vacherin Adventure

Ever since I read about this seasonal cheese called Vacherin Mont d'Or, in Susan Herrmann Loomis' book "On Rue Tatin" (http://www.amazon.com/On-Rue-Tatin-Living-Cooking/dp/0767904559/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335135353&sr=1-1), I have been in its pursuit.  It is a Swiss cheese that is made only in the winter months (September through April), and is mostly consumed with fruits, right out of its box, at the end of a meal.  In the USA, this cheese has to be especially ordered, yet the true Mont d'Or is not really available as it is made with raw milk.  I looked and looked for it online, and found the closest counterpart through iGourmet.com (http://www.igourmet.com/shoppe/prodview.aspx?prod=3059), but at the time, it was out of stock.  I left my email address in order to be notified when it will be available and months later I received a notification that it had finally arrived.  So naturally, I ordered it right away.  


It was to be delivered the next day, via FeDex in insulated packaging, as the cheese is highly perishable.  Just in case no one was home to receive it, I left a note on the door requesting that the package be left underneath my floor mat.  But as Murphy's Law claims that everything that could go wrong definitely will, the package arrived, and the driver utterly ignored my note.  He simply scheduled the package for re-delivery - the next day.

When I checked delivery status of my coveted cheese online and saw the red letters DELIVERY EXCEPTION, I first panicked, then I immediately contacted Fedex.  The first lady I spoke with was very understanding, and stated she would send a notification to the driver to actually re-deliver the package that same day and leave it at the doorstep, as my note requested.  Although I trusted her good intentions, I didn't trust his.  So after about an hour I called again.  Same story, with another lady.  I even called one of my neighbors to be on the lookout for said package and stuff it in her fridge until I arrived home.  But yet another hour later there were still no signs of my Vacherin.  

I called Fedex for yet a third time.  This time a gentleman, Art, actually placed me on hold several times until he was able to establish direct contact with the driver and told him that the package was perishable and needed to be delivered PRONTO.  When he came back on the phone, he assured me the driver would re-deliver no later than half past six that afternoon.  I arrived home at twenty past six.  When twenty to seven hit the clock, I called Fedex a fourth time.  The agent this time did not offer a good prognosis: the driver would stop by again, if it fit his schedule.

“What!!!!  Don't you understand it is a perishable item.  I MUST have it today!!", I screeched, my desperation alarming even myself.  The Fedex rep got noticeably annoyed at me, but I persisted.  In the end, he assured me that yes, by all means, the driver would DEFINITELY stop by momentarily.

About half an hour later, I had my Petit Sapin - alter ego to the Vacherin Mont d'Or - after a very stressful afternoon.  When I opened it, I noticed it looked pretty much like a Camembert - at least it was packaged in the same way.  But as I tried to cut into it, I noticed its creaminess and how it would not hold within its rind as a Camembert would.  This is obviously the reason why the Swiss eat it right off its wooden box, spooning it out as they go.  The cheese is also wrapped around spruce bark leaves, which give it a very earthy, yet subtle flavor, reminding us that the cheese is indeed produced in Alpine conditions.



One of the best ways to have these cheese is with a glass
of chilled white port.  Make a few slits on top of the cheese
and insert some slivers of 
garlic.  Top with some port and bake
in its box in the oven at 320F for half and hour.  Eat with a
fresh baguette.

I have found it goes very well with raspberries, which are tart, yet unobtrusive in flavor, and some sweet digestif biscuits.  Some connoisseurs use it to make fondue, or even as a fondue in itself.  To enjoy it so, just place the whole cheese in the oven for a few minutes and it will melt deliciously inside.  Bring it out, and be ready with some sliced apples, pears, peaches and, last but not least, bread, and you will have a fantastic, elegant snack to share with your friends.  Either a soft Riesling or a nice Rosé will go wonderfully with this cheese.





The first time I visited Paris, I was able to obtain the true Vacherin Mont d'Or at Lafayette Gourmet.  Although it looked very much like its American wanna-be, the French version was, not surprisingly, creamier, and eating it with piece of crusty baguette and and glass of wine made for a delightful evening in front of the television.   


     Whether you decide to get the American version or the French one (undoubtedly the best), make sure you consume your Vacherin within a week.  It shouldn't be hard.     

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Winter Garden's 12th Annual "Spring Fever" Festival

This weekend I attended the 12th Annual Spring Fever Festival in downtown Winter Garden, about a ten minute drive from my house.  I remember how this area was 10 years ago, when I moved to nearby Ocoee , and I must say I am astonishingly surprised at its progress.  Downtown Winter Garden has nothing to envy any downtowns from major metropolis, such as nearby Orlando, Miami, or even bigger ones.  The sense of community that one breathes here is so palpable, I made a mental note to own a house there, when the time comes.

It was a bright and colorful event...



Me at an orchid stall.
Conservation groups were keen on showcasing Lake Apopka's wildlife. 


Local students painted these magnificent portraits in chalk on the grounds of City Hall.



But the true jewel of Winter Garden is its Sweet Traditions French Bakery.  The closest I have come to a French bakery in the USA.  They bake the most wonderful croissants, baguettes, quiches and all sorts of desserts.  It's my new go-to place for the weekends.






Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!!

I remember very well how every Easter, my father would buy the precious, jewel-like chocolate eggs from Maison Lion D'Or for my mother and I.  Hers was always slightly bigger than mine, but then she was the Queen, and I was the Princess.

The famous chocolatier is still situated in Avenida Corrientes, and continues to produce these gems of chocolate.  Some eggs are up to several feet tall and worth thousands of dollars (or pesos, in this case).  They all come with surprises and even more chocolates inside.  Watch this video clip.  Even if you don't speak Spanish, the images are tantalizing by themselves.

Maison Lion D'Or, Buenos Aires, Argentina

This is our own version, which we celebrated with a nice German chocolate egg I found at our local Aldi Supermarket.  Not bad, don't you think?



Friday, April 6, 2012

Battle of the Potato-Bulge

     Since last autumn, I have been indulging on my passion for cooking and tasting, especially starches (read potatoes). It is something I have always liked; however not till recently have I been able to have a fully equipped kitchen in just the way I like it, with my glistening KitchenAid mixer in brushed copper, the Waring blender (you guessed it, also in copper), all sorts of necessary utensils like copper bowls, mandolin, etc.  

I've decided I would like as much copper in my kitchen as I can find.

     It was years since I made a roasted goose for Christmas, and last year I made it again, along with a Galette de Pommes de Terre (or potato cake) cooked in goose fat (recipe from On Rue Tatin http://www.amazon.com/On-Rue-Tatin-Living-Cooking/dp/0767904559/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333804350&sr=8-1), and a lovely Bi-colour Chocolate Terrine (recipe from http://www.utilisima.com/recetas/9139-terrine-bicolor.html). I even invited a dear friend to share in the feast with us. It had been years since I had entertained and I loved it.



     Sadly, six months later all of this has added up to my waistline, in ways that are integrally dangerous. To add insult to injury, I had a condition about two months ago that still lingers, and which gave me a totally stiff back, painful to the extreme of being unable to move, drive, sit or even lay down. The pain lasted two very long months, during which I saw my weight painfully shoot up without me being able to do anything about it. Not one zit.

     Although I am better now, I feel emotionally and physically exhausted. I want to resume my exercise routine but have found I have to do it slowly.  I have book in my library that is ideal to kick-start an exercise program after a long hiatus - "Strength training for women", by coach Joan Pagano (and which I reviewed in detail here ).  My big paradigm is how to get rid of those 6 extra pounds that make me look like a matron and not like Giada, while still enjoying my cooking – and eating, and while regaining the strength to exercise 4 days a week, 1 hour each day. So there, dear Hamlets, is the question! Does anyone have any answers?

When one is a foodie, trying to keep in shape is not easy.

     Nonetheless, I am transcribing the recipe here for La Galette de Pommes de Terre Dordogne from On Rue Tatin.  It is an excellent accompaniment for pork or goose, a bit laborious when it comes to peeling the potatoes, but so worth it.  I think of it as French tortilla - so refined, minus the eggs you would find in the Spanish version.

     Ingredients:
  • 6  garlic cloves, green germ removed
  • 1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnish (optional)
  • 5 Tbsp. goose fat
  • 3.5 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

     Preparation:
  1. Mince the garlic with the parsley and transfer it to a small bowl.  Add 3 Tsbp. of the fat and mix thoroughly to make a paste.
  2. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp. of fat in a large, nonstick skillet with sides that are about 3 inches high.  You will need to slice the potatoes paper-thin for this dish and the best way to do that is to use a European-style vegetable peeler.  "Peel" the potatoes right into the hot fat, stirring them occasionally so they don't stick and seasoning them regularly with salt and pepper as you add them to the pan.  The potatoes will cook evenly as long as you remember to stir them from time to time.  They will stick together somewhat, so gently break them apart as you stir.
  3. When all the potatoes are sliced into the pan, season them one more time with salt and pepper ans stir so they are all coated with fat.  Add the garlic and parsley mixture and stir so that it melts evenly throughout the potatoes, then cook until the potatoes are deep golden on the underside -  a generous 10 minutes.
  4. Carefully invert the potato galette onto a large plate and slide it back into the pan, golden side up and cook until the underside is deep golden, about 15 minutes.  To serve, place a serving plate on top of the pan and invert so the galette falls onto the serving plate.  Garnish with flat-leaf parsley leaves if deisred, and serve.