Entries from May 19th, 2010

May 19, 2010

macaron taste test | natasha’s mulberry & mott | leawood, kansas

Sometime during the past month, I developed a new obsession: macarons. I don’t know if I was drawn to them because of their petite size, vibrant colors or Parisian sophistication (or maybe because macarons are supposedly the new cupcakes?), but I just knew that I wanted to try these little French treats.

A macaron (pronounced mack-ah-rohn—oh how one less “o” makes a big difference) is a traditional French sandwich-like pastry made of egg whites, almond powder, icing sugar and sugar. It’s filled with cream or ganache and comes in several flavors and colors. Macarons’ claim to fame came at the beginning of the 20th  century, when Pierre Desfontaines, second cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée of Paris’ famed Ladurée, had the idea to join two meringues and fill them with ganache.

Sometimes the simplest ideas turn into the most brilliant creations.

laduree macarons

{Macarons to covet: the magnificent Ladurée macarons, a Paris original. Photo By Louis Beche/Courtesy Flickr.}

Without any experience with macarons (I’ve never been to France!), it took a little research to understand what I should look for and taste with my first macaron adventure. One of my favorite foodie blogs, Serious Eats, was one of my first sources for macaronducation.

right and wrong macarons

{The perfect amount of filling and a light, crisp shell make the perfect macaron. Photo Courtesy Serious Eats.}

I knew that I was supposed to look for a smooth, thin, light crust that has a bit of a crunch to it, revealing a soft, moist filling. Easy enough. But where could I find macarons in the Midwest?

Because Lawrence lacks many restaurants and bakeries with French influence, I began searching for Kansas City-area bakeries to begin my pastry hunt. Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott caught my eye.

Owned by mother-daughter team Vicki and Natasha Goellner, Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott (named after the parallel streets in New York City) is a beautiful bakery in Leawood’s new, luxurious Mission Farms development. Natasha received her pastry arts education at the French Culinary Institute in New York City and, to my benefit, brought her love for baked goods to my backyard. While I would have preferred to see Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott in a less suburban area (Westport? Plaza?), its pricey pastries fit the area clientele—and I would easily drive back to Mission Farms for more of Natasha’s amazing, well-worth-the-price macarons.

natasha's macarons

{Colorful macarons line the display at Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott in Leawood, Kansas. Photo Courtesy Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott.}

The atmosphere at Natasha’s was warm, cozy and deliciously perfumed with the sweet scent of sugar. I scooped up a baker’s dozen of strawberry macarons at $1.95 a pop (gotta be able to test those babies all weekend, right?), and was only charged for 12 (great incentive to keep buying them by the baker’s dozen!).  The clerk boxed up my goodies in a baby-pink box and advised me on how to care for my new best friends: keep them cool and move them to an airtight container so the filling doesn’t dry out; consume them within two days for freshest taste (like that was difficult!).

I tried the bonus macaron at Natasha’s, and it was just as Serious Eats told me it should be—light, airy shell with a creamy, semi-sweet filling. Until I go to Ladurée, all macarons I try will have to live up to Natasha’s standard—and she set the bar high.

I brought home the dozen macarons for my mom for mother’s day (we had a French-themed celebration) and got her opinion on the sandwich cookies; she loved how light and dainty they were, and they reminded her of the French dinner dates she had with my father in Saigon when they were courting more than 30 years ago. It’s amazing how the taste of a sweet little treat can bring back such beloved memories.

I hope to keep making memories with macarons. Natasha has an amazing flavor lineup, and I have a whole summer to make weekend trips to Kansas City-area bakeries to perform scientific macaron taste tests with my girlfriends. :)

Where in Kansas City should I go next?

May 18, 2010

petit bistro | french mediterranean restaurant & lounge | bentonville, arkansas

When someone mentions Bentonville, Arkansas, the first word that comes to mind is “Wal-Mart.” After eating at Petit Bistro in Bentonville last week, though, now the first thing I think of when someone talks about Wal-Mart country is “that delicious pâté and terrine plate.”

Bentonville isn’t exactly known for fine French food, so I was a little skeptical after finding Petit Bistro on Google; as I drove down North Walton, my mother and I were greeted with this adorable little cobblestone building. We chose patio seating, and I was impressed by the lovely woods area in the back; our waitress told us that deer regularly come by, and my mother and I spotted cardinals and blue jays in the trees.

Mom and I started dinner with the delicious Pâté & Terrine Plate ($12). It was a beautiful presentation accompanied by apricot chutney, cornichons (these resemble pickled cucumbers) and dijon mustard.  The foie gras (in the middle…obviously the smallest serving!) was so rich and buttery—amazing stuff.

Pate and Terrine Plate

{Petit Bistro's Pâté & Terrine Plate was beautiful and delicious.}

I tried the Mediterranean Salad ($9) as well. Flavor-wise, it was nothing special. The presentation, however, was beautiful.  That deep purple flower made me smile.

Mediterranean Salad

{The Mediterranean Salad features Kalamata olives, feta cheese, roasted bell peppers and caper vinaigrette.}

For entrées, Mom chose Steak au Poivre ($22) and I got Mussels Basquaise ($18). While I was pretty focused on my amazing mussels, garnished with puttanesca tomatoes in a creamy saffron velouté, I tried a bite of her Kobe beef and it was incredibly tender. Solid, solid choices for a special dinner back in Wal-Mart country.

Mussels Basquaise

{I may or may not have eaten that entire bowl of mussels...}

Steak au Poivre - Kobe beef

{Mom's Kobe beef with pepper came with tasty fingerling potatoes and fresh arugula.}

Petit Bistro has only been open since April, so give them time. I read a few negative reviews regarding portion size (ahem…this is rich French food…trust me, you don’t need any bigger than this!) and indoor seating, but my overall experience was perfect. The executive chef greeted my mother and I when the waitress brought out our food, and the young waitress was extremely knowledgeable about the small, new menu. Mom gave her a few suggestions to relay back to the chef (where’s the onion soup?!), and I managed to bite my tongue about the wine list (why is there an $883 bottle of Chateaus Margaux-Bordeaux on the menu?!).

All I can hope is that when I go back to Bentonville next month (hopefully with Megan, Gina, Peyton and Laura in tow!), Petit Bistro will have introduced a pastry bar—hello, macarons!

If you’re in the Northwest Arkansas area, visit Petit Bistro and let me know what you think of it.

Petit Bistro French Mediterranean Restaurant & Lounge
2702 N. Walton Blvd.
Bentonville, AR 72712
(479)  464-9278

May 7, 2010

delicious fruit smoothie

I stopped by the Merc the other day to pick up some fresh strawberries, peaches and kiwis. Combined with pineapple juice I had on-hand, those juicy fruits made for the perfect after-work-pick-me-up.

peaches, strawberries and kiwis in blender

{Lovely layers of peaches, strawberries and kiwis decorate my gently loved blender.}

I didn’t follow any specific recipe; that’s what I love about smoothies. Just throw some ingredients into a blender and call it good! But in case you’re wondering, I used four chopped kiwis, half a tub of chopped strawberries (about 8 ounces), three chopped peaches and a cup of pineapple juice. I tossed in a couple handfuls of ice and pulsed that baby for about 45 seconds.

strawberry-kiwi-peach-pineapple smoothie

{Next time I'll try pomegranate juice.}

A big thank you to my friend and colleague Amy for sending me her gently loved, like-new blender. I’m excited to try new recipes for smoothies and shakes all summer long! Please share yours with me in the comments section.

May 3, 2010

meatless mondays in may

Some people like to joke that Twitter is a bunch of people tweeting about what they ate for lunch that day. Today, that was almost true—but it was more about what people weren’t eating.

I’m participating in the Meatless Mondays in May campaign, which challenges people to reserve the beginning of their work week for a vegetarian diet. The idea is that people will become more conscious of their health and the health of the planet by eating plant-based meals at the beginning of the week, and hopefully incorporate more fruits and veggies into the rest of the week’s meals. The Meatless Monday initiative, in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, aims to increase environmental, social and personal awareness about the effects of a meat-heavy diet.

veggie sub sandwich

{I was completely full after having a loaded-veggie sandwich for lunch today. Photo By Nathal/Courtesy Flickr}

The meat industry is responsible for almost 20 percent of manmade greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. By cutting meat from your diet (and expenses!) just one day a week, you can have just as big an effect as you would if you switched to a hybrid—without chunking down the Gs for a shiny, new, green Prius.

Meatless Monday, however, is no new “hippie,” “green” thing. It’s been an official movement, in this given capacity, since 2003—way before “green” became the cool, hip trend. The true beginning of Meatless Monday, though, stems from the World War I era, when the U.S. government urged families to adopt “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” to aid the war effort. “Food Will Win the War,” the government proclaimed, and Americans found it easier both on their bodies and on their pocketbooks to adopt this simple lifestyle change. Now, Meatless Monday is more about saving our bodies and our planet from preventable diseases and destruction.

While I don’t see myself turning vegetarian anytime beyond Mondays, I like the challenge of participating in this campaign.  I haven’t been too successful in making great, healthy, meatless choices for dinner today (beer and fries are meatless—yet probably not the best choice for dinner), but at least I can fall back on my loaded veggie sandwich lunch choice. I have four more Mondays to get it perfected. Maybe I’ll be better next week.

Now, I have to go tweet what I’m having for dessert.

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