Quiche me, you fool

Recently, Mama Squirrel and I have been on quite the quiche kick. It started with the fantastic, dense and eggy quiche at La Tourelle‘s thirtieth birthday celebration. Martha Hayes, owner of La Tourelle, called the meal a throwback meal because it duplicated their original menu. The quiche was a throwback dish, hearkening back to days when French-inspired cuisine was simple and intense.

Our next quiche came as a quick snack during a Slow Food Memphis meeting at Otherlands Coffee Bar. We didn’t have time to make dinner at home before we headed to the meeting. We did have plans to make dinner that night, so we didn’t want to eat heavy. I don’t remember what we made for dinner, but I definitely remember that quiche. It was light and full of flavor. The crust was crisp and flaky. I just may have to head back to Otherlands even before the next Slow Food Memphis meeting.

Our next quiche was the only disappointing dish we have ever had at Buns on the Run. The crust looked promising like all the baked goods at Buns on the Run. We also know that they do magic with eggs beyond anything you might expect from a homey little place. Sadly, their quiche only got one bite because it was overwhelmed by American cheese. Quiche has cheese in it. American cheese is not cheese. Hopefully they were just low on cheddar the day they made that. I’ll have to ask next time I go.

Our final quiche encounter was at Burke’s Bookstore. No, it wasn’t at one of their excellent author events. It was in their food books section where we picked up a copy of The Book Lover’s Cookbook. How could we pass up a book that promises “nearly two hundred recipes that were cooked up, served, or mentioned in your favorite novels and works of nonfiction”?

One of the recipes is “A Real Man’s Quiche”, inspired by Bruce Feirstein’s book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. I was fifteen when the book came out. Honestly, I’ve never looked inside the book. I could never get beyond the title. Quiche. Quiche is at its heart scrambled egg pie. Men love scrambled eggs. Men love pie. So what the heck is wrong with scrambled egg pie other than what I took to be the author’s absurd xenophobia at the name quiche.

I suppose I could give Feirstein’s book a perusal, but I just can’t seem to make myself care. I do love the recipe for “A Real Man’s Quiche” though. The recipe calls for a package of refrigerated crescent rolls. You are supposed to line a pie with the dough, pinching up the seams to make a crust. I can respect a man who at least tries to approximate quiche, even if he doesn’t set store by technique or good pastry.

La Tourelle
2146 Monroe Ave
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 726-5771

Otherlands Coffee Bar
641 S Cooper St
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 278-4994

Buns on the Run
2150 Elzey Ave
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 278-2867

Burke’s Bookstore
936 S Cooper St
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 278-7484

Southern Belly

Mamacita approves!

Mamacita approves of John T.’s new book.

Friday we had the pleasure of traveling to Oxford to see John T. Edge read from and sign his newly released, revised book Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South at Off Square Books. John T. is the soul of Southern charm and wit. Even more than that though, he is filled with a remarkable passion. His passion goes far beyond just the food we all love to eat. John T. longs to bring us the stories of the people who bring us the food. He succeeds beautifully.

I would say that this latest excellent book from John T. will have a proud place on our shelves, but that’s not what he would want. John T. specifically says he hopes people will throw the book in the glove compartment of their cars. That’s excellent advice. Whenever you find yourself in a new area, or if you want to know the story behind that great place just down the street, this is the book you need.

Southern Belly isn’t exactly a book you read though. It’s not a long-form narrative. It is a collection of bursts of John T. charm and wit as he shares stories of people and places and pleasures. I dare anyone to pick up the book, open it to a random page, and not be immediately excited about a road trip. The book is just that delightful. All the places it will take you will be delightful too.

Adult supervision note: Considering that this is a entry about John T. Edge, you would understandably expect photos of Mr. Edge. However, whenever Papa Squirrel finds himself in Mr. Edge’s company, he also typically finds himself in possession of a considerable serving of bourbon. Hence, Papa Squirrel’s photos were, to say the least, not up to the standards we here at the blog attempt to uphold. Unfortunately, Papa Squirrel has a rather selfish attitude when it comes to a choice between his bourbon and photos for his readers. Where was Mama Squirrel you might ask. Well, there was the matter of the pimento cheese…

Hello, Minnesota!

Through careful scientific analysis, we have determined that the population of Minnesota is 3,780. Or, at the very least, that the population of slightly off-center folks at buzz.mn is 3,780.

Today, we got comments on our piece on fried chicken pizza. We get comments, but that piece was written a while back, so we thought it a bit odd. Then our friend and personal wine guru Benito wrote to let us know that we had been mentioned on buzz.mn.

We were mentioned by James Lileks, author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food. I have never expected Ruth Reichl to put our blog in Gourmet, but I had hoped to at least avoid being called regrettable. (I get enough of that from Mama Squirrel.)

It turns out that July 6, 2007 is National Fried Chicken Day. We were mentioned because James Lileks thinks fried chicken pizza is a good idea. And not only were we mentioned, but we were recognized as the official inventors of fried chicken pizza. Patent office here we come!

And in the mean time, hello, Minnesota! You’re welcome back anytime. We’ll keep the cast iron seasoned just in case anyone wants to drop in for a pizza.

La Tourelle adieu

(If you are reading this on an RSS feed, click through to see the slideshow.)
This week, The Squad had the great pleasure of attending the chef’s meal commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of La Tourelle.

I love La Tourelle for its iconic tower, but looking at the the evening’s incredible menu and the stellar lineup of chefs makes it apparent why La Tourelle is perhaps Memphis’s greatest culinary landmark. Over the past thirty years, owners Glenn and Martha Hayes have brought on board some of the finest chefs in Memphis.

Sadly, in today’s Commercial Appeal, Fredric Koeppel confirmed news that Martha Hayes hinted at during the “throwback” anniversary dinner. La Tourelle will close its doors after the July 14 and 15 Bastille Day dinners.

Koeppel reports that the space will reopen in early August as Tuscany, “a casual place serving Italian food”. Mike Northern, La Tourelle’s current chef, will be the chef of Tuscany. Cafe 1912, Glenn and Martha Hayes’s other restaurant and another of our favorites, will remain open.

If at all possible, go for one last dinner at La Tourelle. Just look at the menu for the chef’s meal. It’s hard to overstate the importance of La Tourelle in the history and the future of cuisine in Memphis.

Chef’s meal commemorating
the thirtieth anniversary of La Tourelle

Spinach, bacon, and mushroom quiche
with warm balsamic reduction
amuse bouche

Chilled melon soup with crab meat
Sparkling wine with orange and Campari
Jackson Kramer, Chef of Interim

Wild mushroom risotto
with fresh chanterelles and trumpet mushrooms
Château St. Jean, Chardonnay, Sonoma 2003
Mike Northern, Chef de Cuisine, La Tourelle

Hoja santa wrapped salmon
on charred corn Vidalia onion relish
and ancho chile jelly
Verget, Chablis, 2004
Jeff Dunham, Chef/Owner, The Grove Grill

Lamb two ways
Lamb loin with lamb jus
Canneloni of lamb and spinach
St. Francis, Merlot, Sonoma 2001
Chris Dollar, Executive Chef, Galler Wholesale

Chocolate marzipan torte
with strawberry balsamic ice cream
Hugel, Gewürztraminer, Alsace 2003
Erling Jensen, Chef/Owner, Erling Jensen: The Restaurant

La Tourelle
2146 Monroe Ave
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 726-5771

Ratatouille from Pixar

We saw Ratatouille today, and it was delicious.

These days, humor seems to rely primarily on stupidity. Animated films depend on derivativeness. Ratatouille is an astounding break from this sad trend.

The plot has many of the typical devices, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. There are the unlikely buddies who find their friendship tested. There is the young man’s, well rat’s, struggle to be independent from his family without completely breaking those ties. And, of course, there is the bad guy out to cheat the hero of his birthright.

Writer/director Brad Bird, who is also responsible for The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, treats his subject with wit, charm, and, above all, intelligence. I wouldn’t begin to try to give examples. For one thing, I couldn’t capture the beauty of the film. For another, you wouldn’t want me giving anything away, now would you?

There is one small scene I’d like to talk about though. At one point, during the movie, Remy leaves his family to rush to the aid of Linguini. Remy’s father cries out, “but why?” Remy answers, “because I’m a cook!” The rat had honor and drive. The rat was a cook, not a chef. At that moment, I couldn’t help wondering what Anthony Bourdain would have to say about the movie given his disdain for chefs and support of cooks. I wasn’t surprised to see a special thank you to Bourdain as the credits rolled.

Bird made the sublime choice of hiring Thomas Keller as a consultant on the film. In the food world, Keller’s name carries tremendous weight, but many other chefs might have been chosen. To me, there was no better choice than Keller, because Keller himself is not a trained chef. Of course the education Keller has received in food has been a bit more orthodox than that of a rat living in the walls of a French country home and watching cooking shows, but Keller, like Remy, is self-made. What better choice?

For the folks out there with kids, you have to go see this movie. After all, what child doesn’t love to see an animated rat triumph. For the foodies out there, you have to see it too. The attention to detail is magnificent, from the mixer that you can identify as nearly matching your own to the Mauviel copper pots to the La Cornue stoves that most of us will never be able to afford. Go. Spring for a movie ticket and live life in a Paris kitchen if only for a while.

Summer cooking classes

Summer is here at last. The wide variety of cooking classes that are available around the city makes that abundantly clear.

The Viking Cooking School offers kids and teen classes ranging from one-day culinary basics classes to week-long camps exploring different meals. Squirrelly, Jr., did a camp two summers ago at the downtown location and he loved it. In addition to the kids and teens, the old folks are included too with classes like sushi making and food and wine pairing. We attended a demo in the new Viking space and loved it.

The Young Chefs Academy in Cordova focuses strictly on the younger set. This July three-day mini camps will explore the western U.S. The YCA also hosts birthday parties.

Williams Sonoma in Germantown is offering Thursday night classes throughout July to help you prepare or all your summer meals. Call the store for details on local events.

The classes I am really excited about will be at Crave Catering. Every week at the farmers market, we get excellent bread from Crave. We missed a recent class on tapas, but we hope to be there for the next session. The website and Summer schedule are still being developed. I’ll be sure to report when they are available.

Viking Cooking School
1215 Ridgeway Road, Suite 101
Memphis, TN 38119
(901) 763-3747

Young Chefs Academy
1799 Germantown Parkway
Cordova, TN 38018
(901) 309-2857

7615 W Farmington Blvd
Germantown, TN 38138
(901) 737-9990

Crave Catering and Events
317 Madison Ave
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 526-1899

La Tourelle’s thirtieth anniversary

This is a festive time at La Tourelle. Midtown’s culinary landmark has reached its thirtieth anniversary, and the celebration is going on for a month.

Recently, the Squad attended the first event, a dinner that featured the original menu from the restaurant’s opening on June 15, 1977. Given how classic French techniques have been taken to such extremes lately, it was nice to have a return to what, these days, is old style comfort food.

Quiche Lorraine

Beef Bourguignon

Chocolate eclairs

(Queen Mother chocolate almond cake with cassis ice cream
was also available.)

The celebration continues Sunday, July 1, with a chefs meal that will reunite several chefs from La Tourelle’s past. The chefs will be Jeffrey Dunham, Erling Jensen, Chris Dollar, Jackson Kramer, and Mike Northern.

The party wraps up on July 14, La Fête Nationale de France, Bastille Day. There will be a special limited choice menu.

Call for reservations. You don’t want to have to wait for the sixtieth anniversary.

La Tourelle
2146 Monroe Ave
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 726-5771


I have to start his post by admitting that our kitchen is still about half plywood and studs. This is also the time of year that I get my annual bonus. In the two years that we have lived in our house, my bonus has helped us take nice leaps toward our vision of the perfect house with our perfect kitchen.

This year, however, something caught our eye. Something that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Looking at the Slow Food Nation fundraiser auction, this jumped out at us.

Behind the Scenes at the French Laundry

Enjoy a tour of the French Laundry’s gardens, led by the French Laundry gardener and farmer Peter Jacobsen whose neighboring orchards provides 120 varieties of fruit sold exclusively to the French Laundry. Your stroll in the gardens will be followed by dinner for two at the legendary French Laundry. Reservations will be arranged in advanced with every effort made to ensure that Chef Thomas Keller will be in town to greet the lucky winners.

On our first family trip to the Bay Area, we were daunted by the prospect of dining at The French Laundry. There was, of course, the expense in the middle of a week of other fabulous meals. There was also the prospect of getting reservations. Reservations open two months in advance and are practically impossible to get. Chez Panisse reservations were bad enough.

Now, we had the chance to support Slow Food USA and have our French Laundry dinner. Even better, we have an opportunity to meet Peter Jacobsen, the farmer who makes so much of it possible. And Thomas Keller, the man himself, may be there. We placed our bid, and, remarkably enough, we won the auction. We’ll post more as we know more.

While we were looking at the auction, we also picked up a good deal and a great bargain. We got an autographed copy of Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini’s new book, Slow Food Nation. For a price that makes us feel almost guilty, we got tickets to Wine over Water, an annual wine festival on a pedestrian bridge over the Tennessee River in Chattanooga.

With wine in Chattanooga and a dream dinner in Napa, our travel calendar is getting pretty full. Our kitchen isn’t getting any closer to being full of cabinets, but we’ll have the kitchen for a lifetime. Just like these memories in the making.

Rocking neighbors with opening act JP

The backyard of our house was neglected for years before we bought it. We have lots of positive evidence in the excellent soil that has been created by years of unraked leaves composting in layer after layer all over the yard. Unfortunately, we also have thickets of privet, sumac threaded all across the yard, and poison oak thick as my arm climbing our biggest trees.

For the first two years we were here, we focused on keeping the center of the yard and the parts next to the house under control. For the most part, I have just run the mower over the weaker bits, trying to keep them in check. I have also cut down a few small weed trees that were the muscle protecting the weaker weeds.

In part, it was a craving for farm-fresh eggs that started it all. Mama and I decided that we could clear out a corner of the yard and have our own chickens. A while ago, Mama Squirrel and I were in the backyard working on the run for our chickens. Our neighbor from two doors down, JP, saw us out and asked us if we would like some tomato cages.

We figured that we could clear out a small area for a few tomato plants. No problem and fresh summer tomatoes would be good. Except that the small area tuned into a ten by ten plot. Six tomato cages led to tomatoes and about a dozen varieties of other plants. There are more seed varieties in waiting than I can count. There are plans to quadruple the size of the original plot. We have to lay out paths leading to the chicken coop and the compost bin. We have to drag (even more) tons of small limbs to the street. We have to cut up larger limbs (and smaller trees) for firewood for the fire pit we have to build. And we still have to finish putting wire on the frame for the chicken run which our babies are going to be ready for very soon.

And all of this is thanks to the generosity of our neighbor, JP. Thanks a lot, neighbor. Thanks a lot.

Actually, we really do appreciate it. We needed the impetus to start doing something with our yard. We have gotten tremendous pleasure from watching our garden grow and our weeds disappear. We definitely plan to share our bounty to show our appreciation.

The Work of Paul and Angela Knipple