Monday, January 26, 2009

Movie Night Date Night

The other night Valerie and I decided to have some alone time. In other words we laid low and enjoyed each other’s company quietly. We did some reading and then cooked a little meal for the two of us before settling down to watch a film. One of my favorite things is to go the farmer’s market or gourmet grocer and just wing it when creating a menu. I enjoy taking in all the ingredients and thinking what would go together or what I feel like eating.Valerie loves duck and the gourmet grocer near my apartment only carries it once in a blue moon. Duck is one of the wunderkind meats of the volaille or fowl world though I rarely cook it at home. They happened to have it at the butcher so I threw a domestic Muscovy duck breast into the cart with a few fruits and vegetables before hitting the stove. 

There are few pleasures in life as unrefined as pinching the hot sides of a potato until the fluffy white flesh volcanoes out into a starchy mess. The steamy potato just begs for fatty indulgence and it is such a joy to lather the tuber in butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, and scallions. Needless to say this baked potato formula can get a little out of hand. To lighten things up I took a cup of nonfat Greek yogurt and kicked it up with paprika, black pepper, olive oil, sliced scallions, chives, and parsley before filling the cavity of each potato. This is a delicious low cal alternative to the butter, sour cream, and green onion mess people pile on their baked spuds. I also roasted some cippolini onions to serve alongside the duck breast. Just lightly coat the peeled whole onions with olive oil and salt before roasting them in a 350-degree oven until browned and tender throughout (30 min). I seared the duck breast in a very hot cast iron skin side down to render some of the thick fat and roasted it in the oven next to the onions for about 12 minutes until medium rare. People in the US cook the hell out of duck leaving it chewy, bland, and an ugly grayish color. When cooked rare duck remains wonderfully moist and tender with a gamey flavor running throughout coupled with a beautiful rust color. The duck, baked potatoes, and roasted onions came together perfectly; a filling meal for the two of us.

Of course no dinner with Valerie is complete without a fresh baked pie as she continues to perfect her crust and experiment with fillings. This evening’s pie was apricot-blueberry with a slightly salty though delicate crust. She puts very little sugar in her pie fillings and only uses butter, flour, and salt in her crust. The filling consisted of fresh blueberries, unfortunately imported from Chile, and canned organic apricots in pear juice which added a juicy element to the pie thickened with a tablespoon of tapioca. The pie was one of the best yet and we had leftovers for days. Overall it was a perfectly quiet evening at home. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Friendly Get Together

This week I have unfortunately not had very much time to cook. I have been busy with work and also profiting from the winter installment of New York Restaurant Week. During this weeklong gastronomic bonanza over two hundred New York area restaurants feature three course lunches and dinners priced at $28 and $35 respectively. It is a wonderful chance to eat at some of the better restaurants in the City on an average budget. Last week my good friend Nick was in town and as I have mentioned we love to cook together and discuss all things food. After reminiscing about the holidays we decided to cook a mostly vegetarian meal in order to detox from the rich foods we had been eating. We invited our mutual friend Jessica to the party and sat down to a tasty meal driven mainly by fresh vegetables. Nick prepared a savory French mayonnaise-less potato salad that is one of my favorite recipes borrowed from Nick’s mother. The warm potato salad is made with boiled Russian banana potato’s that have been cut in half and soaked in a bit of chicken stock and white wine. Nick added a bit of crispy sautéed pancetta cubes, scallions, and a ton of freshly chopped parsley and tarragon to the hot potatoes. He tossed all the ingredients with a generous amount of vinaigrette made with Dijon, champagne vinegar, and olive oil. This is one of my favorite potato dishes period and is a perfect accompaniment for fish, meat, game, and even sandwiches or cold finger foods. 

I prepared one of my favorite dishes that I cook fairly often for myself when I feel like eating something fresh and healthy with little effort. I roughly chopped some fresh kale and sautéed it in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil. After the kale had begun to wilt I added a splash of water to create some steam, some red chili flakes, and about a half a cup of reconstituted golden raisins. I plated the mixture and topped it with freshly grated black pepper and pecorino. The spicy fibrous greens pair so well with any nutty cheese and the sweetness of the plump raisins compliments the slight bitterness of the kale nicely. We finished the meal with a large green salad of Boston lettuce and radicchio before I launched into the dessert. 

I went on a tear through the refrigerator and pantry before assembling a ragtag group of ingredients that I hoped to throw together into some sort of sweet treat. I found a ball of pie dough that Valerie had left from her pie baking extravaganza, some vanilla ice cream, and a small jar of cranberry sauce leftover from Christmas. I baked a tray of small circular cookies from the dough and topped each with a different condiment to make three types; raspberry, butter-maple, and hazelnut. I placed three cookies on each plate with a scoopful of ice cream and a drizzle of orange-cranberry reduction for dramatic effect. Everyone was impressed that I threw together such a seemingly complex dessert and were delighted to end the meal on a sweet note. Nick and I always throw together delicious meals and this was no exception. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Late Night Friend Time

My very good friend Roth came to town on Thursday on his way back home to Ithaca from Los Angeles. He periodically comes to the city and one of our mutual passions as I have mentioned in previous posts is cooking. The fun part is that when we have not seen each other for a while we talk first and foremost about food. Roth and I dialogue back and forth in a sort of culinary ramble or claim jumping session; recounting recent meals cooked or encountered dining out. This inevitably results in us brainstorming a menu, cooking, and then enjoying the spoils of our labor. His flight got in late and I cooked a few things to eat late night upon his arrival. We sat down at about 10:45 and did not finish the meal until midnight. I felt like a Spaniard eating dinner late in the day after a long siesta.

I cooked a tasty mostly vegetarian meal we ate over a couple of beers and a glass of dry white wine. The first course was a green salad of Boston lettuce and mache, one of my favorite fresh greens, with raspberry vinaigrette. I love fruit based vinaigrettes because they instill a bright summery flavor into winter dinners and they are delicious. Whisk together a teaspoon of both raspberry jam and whole grain mustard emulsified with balsamic and olive oil. The second course was a large bowl of what I called “creamed onions.” Roth and I have oft mused about where a green onion ends and a leek begins so I thought it would be clever to make a dish by sautéing them together. I added some cream and a bit of butter to the pan before serving and topped the green mixture with chives. The three oniony vegetables obviously worked well together and each mouthful had a different degree of intensity some with more bite than others.

The third course was white truffle risotto. My father gave me a beautiful small burlap sack of white crystals peppered with small black slivers front for Christmas. Italian Truffle Salt! He also gave me a small aluminum tube of White Truffle Paste which is basically the essence of Italian truffles to be added to pan sauces, pastas, butter, etc. Needless to say I was thrilled and this risotto was my first usage of both gifts. I sautéed onions and garlic with some truffle salt before toasting the Carneloni (or Arborio) rice and deglazing with a cup of white wine. I gradually added hot chicken stock ladle by ladle to thicken and cook the rice before squeezing in a generous tablespoon of truffle paste, a bit of cream, and grated pecorino. The risotto was deeply flavored and had a gorgeous light beige color. The only thing the creamy risotto lacked lacked was a generous showering of white truffle slices but alas these are poor economic times! I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dinner Party Redux

This week I held not one but two formal dinner parties for friends and family. After the fun of Monday’s feast I was ready to double down and cook again for my cousin who also lives in New York City and her boyfriend. The four of us convened at around eight and I started cooking from ingredients that I had bought the day before at the green market. I had some fresh produce left over and went to the fishmonger and butcher to supplement my menu. It is such a blast for me to cook for people so I welcomed the opportunity to host back to back evenings for some of my favorite people. The first course was a beet and escarole salad with yogurt dressing. I used the leftover beets pickled in balsamic vinegar the day before and chevre served over escarole and arugula tossed with yogurt dressing. The dressing was made with Greek yogurt that I thinned with balsamic and olive oil to give it a savory kick. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was the group’s favorite dish of the night, maybe tied with the pie.

The second course was sambal grilled shrimp with dashi. A dashi is an Asian broth made with simmered soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, and water spiced with anything on hand like ginger, lime, chili, etc. I made a small pot of dashi with tons of fresh cilantro, lime zest, ginger, and jalapenos to match the spiciness of the shrimp, which I marinated in sesame oil and sambal or red chili paste. The dashi was way too salty which is a problem that I have dealt with for months. The trick is to get the broth flavorful enough without the overpowering saltiness of the soy sauce coming through. I encouraged my cousin and her boyfriend to peel, dip, and eat the shrimp with their fingers before sipping the small serving of hot broth. The shrimp were epic, spicy and charred from a tour in the grill pan, and the broth was pungent though dismally salty.

The third dish was pork tenderloin with creamed leeks and Brussels sprouts with cherry butter and shallot puree. I often borrow inspiration, or in this case recipes, from restaurants around town that wowed me. Back Forty in the Lower East Side is one such place and the daily specials are not to be believed, particularly the Brussels sprouts side dish. The inherent bitterness of steamed Brussels is juxtaposed well with the sweetness of unsalted cherry butter and pureed caramelized shallots. After my first bite I knew I was going to have to try to recreate the side dish at home. Pork tenderloin is always a hit and it is terribly easy to make. Just marinate a pork loin or simply season with salt and pepper, sear it in a hot cast iron or oven-safe pan until well browned, and finish in a 375 oven for about 10 or 15 minutes depending on your choice of doneness. Creamed anything is delicious and leeks are no exception just sauté sliced leeks in olive oil or butter until they begin to shed their water and add a touch of cream until slightly thickened. Tasty time.

Valerie continued with her pie making endeavors and presented the table with a freshly baked plum pie that had literally left the oven two minutes prior. We knew full well that plums were not in season but sometimes you have to sacrifice locality for yearning and we wanted a plum pie damnit. She is slowly perfecting the piecrust and this one was attractive, delicious, and slightly salty which matched well with the sourness of the plums. A little vanilla ice cream completed the experience and the meal much to our delight. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

First Dinner Party of 2009!

Besides the new clothes and various knick-knacks, I brought back a newfound enthusiasm for cooking from my trip to France. Valerie has two friends visiting from California and one of the things on their list, much to my flattered delight, was a dinner chez moi! I invited them over last Monday after a trip to the Union Square green market where walked around together looking over the produce and other culinary treasures. The first course was a Hubbard squash soup served plainly in my favorite little white cups. Hubbard squash are grayish green with odd shapes and ugly warts peppered about their skins. They have a mild sweet flavor better suited to pies or pasta dishes which I spiced up with a bit of curry powder and smoked paprika; a light seasonal soup that warmed us through and stirred our appetites.

The second course was a roasted beet and micro green salad with shallot vinaigrette. One of the few things in season virtually everywhere you turn is beets, surprisingly versatile and easily combined with myriad flavors and ingredients. I love these gem-like nuggets that emanate a deep earthy aroma and beautiful color. I roasted the small purple beets and served them atop a bed of fresh micro greens both originating from local farm stands at the green market. The salad featured a handful of the escarole/arugula/frisee mix, a few quartered beets which I marinated in aged balsamic after roasting, and a few small lumps of chevre. After assembling the salads, I topped them with a healthy drizzle of shallot vinaigrette made with minced shallots, balsamic, olive oil, and a touch of whole grain mustard. Chevre and beets are a winning combination and the peppery greens and bite of the shallot complimented their earthy flavors.

The third and final savory dish was a black cod fillet with braised greens. Whether wrapped around a piece of tuna or John Dory, rendered into a hot pan, or sliced thinly into a pan sauce or accompanying side dish, bacon and seafood share a mutual affection. I sautéed the fish in a cast iron with a couple of tablespoons of sweet butter and olive oil before finishing them quickly in a hot oven. I like my fish firm but very tender and just warmed through in the center. The greens, a mix of kale and collards from the farmer’s market, were braised in bacon fat (reserving the crispy bits), red wine vinegar, and a splash of water. The bacon adds a nice salty pork flavor while the vinegar adds acidity and liquid to create enough steam to cook the fibrous leaves through. I finished the braised greens with red chili flakes before placing a generous pile on each plate topped with a crispy piece of black cod and some chopped chives. This was my favorite dish of the three though I undercooked the fish slightly.

Valerie has been on a pie kick recently and I am thrilled to have a baker in my life. She has been making progress and of course we are all profiting from the wealth of fruit pies accumulating in my apartment. For our dinner party Monday Valerie made a traditional apple pie following my mother’s recipe. The piecrust is a simple one, mostly adapted from the Joy of Cooking, and the filling is a breeze. Peel and slice any firm apple variety of your choosing into a large bowl, add the juice of a half lemon, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and a tablespoon of tapioca. The lemon prevents the apples from browning and the tapioca thickens the juices that escape from the pie, giving the filling a wonderful viscous texture. The pie was a big hit, despite being a little sour due in fact to too much lemon juice for which I take full responsibility, and the evening was as well. So far so good for the first dinner party of 2009 and I hope this is the start of a successful slew of them. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Last Supper In Paris

Alas it was time for my vacation in France to end with the new year in full bloom and my duties back in New York City calling. I had a farewell dinner with my father at a little bistro run by a very young chef. My father is a voracious reader of all the Parisian publications and came upon a review of the burgeoning restaurant Jadis. Various newspapers have lauded it as the best of its kind in the fifteenth and possibly the city. The meal was very good in a classic bistro fare sort of way though I feel it is a stretch to call it one of the best in Paris let alone the very best. The food offered was mostly updated classics and reinvented French conventions. The cuisine could be called new wave French I suppose, archetypal though innovative.

The food was mostly game oriented and incorporated every part of the animal from kidneys and entrails, to feet and brain. My father ended up being the bolder of the two of us, ordering two dishes that I loved tasting but would rarely order myself. He began with the pied d’agneau or lamb trotter. The round white bowl that appeared contained a strange looking soupy ragout with chunks of lamb foot meat, snails, button mushrooms, and sliced cardoons. It sounds more like a bizarre sorcerer’s potion but those were in fact the ingredients and they worked surprisingly well. The lamb trotter tasted like fatty pieces of roast leg of lamb and the saltiness of the sautéed snails matched well with the texture of the mushrooms. My father was overjoyed with the dish; naturally a big fan of organ meats given his French heritage. I tried two or three bites and would have gladly accepted my own serving. For my appetizer I had the veloute au huitres or oyster soup. The flavor of the oyster was definitely there in the smooth pale yellow soup though the presentation was revolting, bringing the whole dish down a peg. I believe the chef simmered oyster liquid, cream or milk, and fish stock before pureeing the soup with whole oysters or perhaps passing them through a sieve. Why on earth you would ruin the natural flavor and beauty of the dish with steamed broccoli spears and thick slices of Cantal cheese is totally beyond me.

Our main courses eased my suspicion of my ordering choice after fearing that horrible phenomenon of ordering badly at an otherwise excellent restaurant left to sit there begrudgingly while your company indulges. My father had a crazy jet-black plate of gibier or wild game consisting of sliced fowl breasts, its respective crispy thigh, and a thick dark sauce of melted foie gras and blood. Like I said he loves game and organ meats so he enjoyed every bite of his main. I had the agneau de lait or milk-fed lamb served in an old copper pot with olives, white beans, and sun dried tomatoes. The presentation was excellent and I enjoyed serving myself little portions of the piping hot and saucy lamb. I consider my first course a major fumble but the chef recovered nicely. We finished our meal and nice bottle of Saint Joseph before casually making our way back to apartment where my suitcase waited patiently. It was a lovely end to my fantastic two weeks in France and I hope to return very soon. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Thursday Night At The Bini

I know it sounds blasphemous but one of my favorite restaurants in Paris is an Italian joint. Casa Bini lies just south of the Boulevard Montparnasse in a two-story building housing the family of Mrs. Anna Bini. The food is traditional Puglian with a large menu of classics and house favorites that never change. The principal allure of the place is the leaflet of daily specials. I have rarely encountered the same dish twice and the specials always impress so much so that my family, and most people I know in Paris, list Casa Bini as one of their favorites. I had dinner there a few days ago with a couple of my cousins and the food was delicious as always. The nice thing about a place like Casa Bini is that you always know what to expect; friendly staff, dusty pictures of the Italian countryside, and dimly lit dining rooms. It is the culinary delights coming out of the bustling kitchen that are novel. My cousins and I arrived at about 8 to the warm welcome of the eldest Bini son, a small round man with a baldhead and thickly Italian accent. As was expected we all ordered from the daily offerings boasting tons of fresh seafood and other seasonal ingredients from the best Parisian markets. I apologize for the lousy photography. The dimly lit dining hall, however romantic, did not facilitate photography.

I started out with the duo de langoustines, an intricate dish of roasted langoustines, poached scallops, and a sun dried tomato and squash ragout with micro greens. The langoustines were delicious of course; a tasty delight however prepared that is in my top ten favorite ingredients of all time. Honestly. The scallops were excellently cooked as well and paired nicely with the warm squash salad brightened by aged balsamic. My cousin Nick who sat to my left in photo range had the courgettes farci or stuffed zucchini. The small hollowed out zucchini beds were filled with sweet pork sausage spiced with fennel and chili flakes accompanied by a simple fennel and arugula salad.

The fresh pastas are made every morning at Casa Bini and I usually take a pasta course as my main or secondi instead of roast meat or poultry. About once a month I dream about the linguini with langoustines and cherry tomatoes but alas it was not on the menu that night much to my chagrin. I chose instead the linguini alla tonno or linguini with fresh tuna. The pasta was tossed in a light tomato sauce with fresh tuna, olives, and capers. Delicious and rustic as good Italian always is meant to highlight the ingredients themselves rather than the extent of their cooking process. Nick had the asparagus risotto smelling of nutty Parmesan with little green spears poking out here and there. It was good though I doubted the seasonality and would have suggested something a little more exotic but to each his own. It was a wonderful meal all around and I highly recommend Casa Bini regardless of the fact that it is an Italian restaurant in the city of lights. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

L'Astrance: Trois Etoile

One of my Christmas presents this year was a lunch at L’Astrance, a modern and naturalistic space in the sixteenth near Trocadero. Pascal Barbot is one of the youngest chefs in France boasting three Michelin stars and holds the rare honor of jumping from one star to three. The décor at L’Astrance is mostly black stone and blond woods with organic hints everywhere. Each table held a beautiful mini-bouquet of orchids in small volcanic rock vases and small enclaves were cut into the black walls housing ornate flower arrangements. It is hard to pin down Barbot’s cuisine; a fusion of traditional French technique with nuances of Asian and tropical ingredients garnered from his voyages abroad. The food was both minimalist and complex with almost maniacal attention to detail in all areas. There are three possible menus to choose from listed simply as lunch menu, winter menu, and L’Astrance menu. Menu in the French linguistic context refers to a tasting menu of set courses decided by the chef. My father and I choose the menu d’hiver or winter menu and sat down to our amuse bouche or preliminary little snack offered compliments of Mr. Barbot: a shot glass of pumpkin soup with cardamom-saffron mousse and mustard seed velouté. The silky roast pumpkin soup combined with the pale yellow mousse bursting with saffron flavor was out of this world and it took me a few bites to realize
the mustard seed affecting my sinuses.

The first course was a “galette” of raw foie gras marinated in verjus with white mushrooms or the poetically phrased champignon de Paris. The galette or multi-layered “pastry” was composed of micro-thin layers of raw mushroom sheltering slices of marinated foie drizzled lightly with chestnut oil. This is one of Barbot’s signature dishes and alone warrants the praise he has received at L’Astrance. The soft woodsy flavor of the mushrooms and the tangy flavor of verjus, a vinegary medieval condiment made from semi-ripe and unfermented wine grapes, complimented the foie gras perfectly.

The second course was Barbot’s version of a seafood platter consisting of a variety of sea foods surrounding a pool of dark purple algae butter. Each and every element was wonderful on its own while taking part in a progression as you ate from warm to hot and subtle to assertive. Here were the elements: two sea scallops with grated Meyer lemon zest and preserved lemon, Marenne oyster with some strange green leaf and pink caviar, roasted yellow beet with sturgeon caviar, a slice of orneaux which unfortunately does not exist in the states but resembles an octopus, and a razor clam and mussel dashi broth served in a small clay bowl to cleanse the palate. Little can be said to attest to the gustatory pleasure of eating this dish though I found the plating a little too minimalist bordering on boring.

The third course and second seafood dish was a fillet of halibut with a Thai carrot-peanut salad and a mango-papaya tartar. The sweetness of the fish, perfectly cooked through, was accentuated by the crunchy carrot salad featuring two types of julienned carrots, roasted peanuts, Thai basil, and red chili. A small quenelle of tiny minced papaya and mango was served alongside pairing excellently with the halibut. The knife work alone needed for the preparation of this dish is noteworthy enough though the flavors were right on par.

The fourth course was a “soup” to mark the transition from seafood to meat, a halfway point in the meal. Barbot prepared a delicious bowl of decadent black truffle soup representing the winter season and one of the crown gems in French gastronomy. The black truffle soup was coupled with celeriac puree and crispy wedges of Tome d’Auvergne, a creamy cheese from the Auvergne region. The highly flavored soup tasted absolutely of the forest and dirt in the best possible sense. The creamy puree ameliorated with god only knows how much butter contrasted nicely in both visually and olfactory with the stark black soup.

The final savory dish was a duck breast with baby winter vegetables and a jus truffee. The rare pink duck was cooked to perfection; cooked far less than the chewy duck passing at fine dining restaurants in America. The baby turnips and carrots were poached in what I believe was a chicken stock infused with fresh herbs permeating through their plump little bodies. The jus or truffled duck reduction was a classic pairing with the roast meat and thin slice of black truffle accompanying the vegetables.

The desserts were delicious in their own right even though I hardly ever lavish myself with sweet things at the end of a meal. The concerto of desserts served at the end of the meal would have made a sugar connoisseur of anyone. I will simply list them as I know next to none about the ingredients or methodology used to prepare sweets though I have nothing but respect for the art of the pastry chef. Here is the list of dessert offerings: potato and fromage blanc mousse with vanilla-thyme ice cream, lemon grass and Jamaican pepper sorbet, layered sugar cup with grapefruit sorbet, green tea mousse, and caramelized pistachio sponge cake, passion fruit clafoutie with zabaione and pine nut crown, and a finally a citrus-ginger rice pudding with honey gelatin and orange-caramel sauce.

We concluded the meal with a glass of Jurancon, a dry sweet wine, and an espresso. The coffee came accompanied much to our delight by a “jasmine egg”; an empty brown eggshell full of a milky concoction infused with bright jasmine flavor. The sweet creamy drink and bitter coffee were exactly what we needed to calm our palates before hitting the cold streets of Paris. Thank you Mr. Barbot and you will certainly be seeing us again in the near future. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sunny Parisian Lunch

My recent installment deviated from my usual pattern of cooking, writing, and posting; instead I took photographs of things I was served out and about in Paris. This post, and probably many more to come, will follow this trend since I find myself eating out all the time as opposed to cooking. My father and I went out to lunch at a small fish restaurant this afternoon in the sixteenth arrondissement near the Passy metro stop. It was a very elegant space on the corner of two small avenues near rue du Passy with a classic ambiance of red velvet booths and chairs coupled with dark wooden tables. The restaurant was busy amid the lunch service and we sat at a table sandwiched between two elderly couples. Winter always heralds the tastiest seafood as oysters, sea scallops, and other aquatic delights are at their peak in the cold waters. Parisian restaurants take advantage of the season and many bistros offer fruits de mer at wooden stands immediately outside their entrances where gruff looking men in big coats shuck seafood. You can order an oyster or two as you pass by or you can go in and warm up to a glass of wine and a tasty meal. This is precisely what my father and I after walking about in the freezing though pristine weather. Paris under an inch of snow with clear skies and not a shred of wind is truly a magnificent way to view the city, highlighting the grays, blacks, and beiges of the cityscape.

My father and I shared a nice bottle of Quincy and both ordered the petites langoustine au huile de noix as an appetizer. Langoustines are a prehistoric looking crustacean tasting of a mix between lobster and shrimp with very long pincers. Langoustines are not readily available if at all in the States which is a shame because the sweet delicate flavor is out of this world. They came arranged over a bed of spicy arugula with a walnut oil dressing. My father had a traditional bouillabaisse, the rust colored fish soup from the south of France for his main course and I had a bar roti au romarin. My whole grilled sea bass came stuffed with fresh rosemary and a lovely sauce of white wine, shallots, and butter in a little pot. It was sort of difficult to debone and work my way through the grilled fish but the flavor was fantastic, just firm enough with woodsy aromas running throughout. Seafood is one of my favorite things to both eat out and cook at home and this was truly an exceptional meal. Tonight is tapas with some friends of mine that I have known since childhood and I am not thrilled about the idea of greasy mackerel and chorizo but we will see. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Snowy Parisian Lunch

I had a lovely lunch with my father and my cousin Justine at a quaint bistro in the neighborhood surrounding their office in the first arrondissement. Today was my first full day back in Paris and I have been seeing people I know, going to museums, and eating like a madman. I had a nice espresso this morning at the cheap café near my father’s apartment alongside a flaky croissant that they keep in a large silver bowl by the sugar. I met the two of them at the office and we had a leisurely stroll in the snow around the corner to the bistro. The great thing about Paris is that these places are a dime a dozen and add to the cities unique charm though they are by no means interchangeable. I would go as far as to say the small neighborhood bistros that consistently serve a good meal, boast a hospitable staff, and carry a decent wine selection are few and far between. This place excels in all three categories and I have yet to be disappointed by the chef’s daily offerings. The three of us sat to lunch at about one and settled in with a nice bottle of Saint Joseph from a chateau that none of us had ever heard of. My father and I had the “nems du veau” a sort of veal roulade stuffed with carrots, leeks, bacon, and cabbage. Justine got a steaming bowl of soup de potiron or pumpkin and chestnut soup topped with an elegant arrangement of crispy prosciutto. For her main course Justine had a terrine de chapon, an interesting looking dish of capon meat enveloped in a jellied capon broth accompanied by a large green salad. My father and I had the pintade roti or roasted guinea hen. We did not know what was going to come out of the kitchen since the chef at this particular bistro is not known for his loquacity in describing dishes. The chef had a good idea going but he got a little ahead of himself in the execution of the plating resulting in an excess of complexity and slight muddying of flavors. The dish consisted of guinea hen medallions with a bit of whole grain mustard in the middle topped with a slice of black truffle served atop a bed of buttery leeks. The sauce drizzled on the sides of the medallions was deliciously infused with truffle flavor though the truffles themselves lacked their expected depth of flavor. The meat itself was wonderfully juicy and I was saddened by the rapid disappearance of my serving. We sat near the window slowly sipping our wine and watching the snow, never hurried by the staff which is one of the many traits that I admire in Parisian restaurants. The three of us had a coffee downstairs at the bar to settle our stomachs and our tab before going our separate ways for the remainder of the afternoon. It was a perfect first lunch in one of the most perfect food towns imaginable and I cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Last Supper In La Touche

For our last night in La Touche we tried to finish off every edible thing in the house before packing up. I recruited a few friends to help hunt down, peel, and chop every vegetable we could find lurking about. I sautéed the brightly colored mass of veggie goodness in olive oil until slightly softened before adding thyme, a bay leave, and a quart of homemade chicken stock. Everything made its way into the copper stewpot: turnips, carrots, red onions, shallots, garlic, celeriac, celery, and potatoes. I cooked the soup for about an hour then passed it through a mixer to create a smooth puree which I spooned into bowls and topped with chopped chives. It was the perfect dish, simultaneously warm and hearty, to serve on a cold winter night after a long afternoon walk in the woods. We walked to a majestic lake with tons of ducks flying around and sitting on the shimmering water. The landscape was absolutely stunning on a clear though frigid day in the French countryside. I began to feel a touch of guilt for eating foie gras but alas it is a delicious food that I get to enjoy rarely.

Our second course was another dish intended to do away with the excess of leftovers accumulating in the refrigerator. Jean-Claude took a large bowl of leftover spaghetti Bolognese and topped it with gruyere, parmesan, and a bit of olive oil to create a gratin of sorts. I looked at him rather quixotically as he prepared the gratin but he assured me that it would be good and more importantly that people would eat it. He was right on both accounts. While rummaging through the refrigerator I stumbled upon a large container of ginger-chocolate sauce that our friend had used in his New Years Eve dessert. I promptly thinned the ebony concoction with some cold milk and threw it in our fancy icecream maker. Thirty minutes later we had little scoops of seemingly light chocolate ice cream though I hesitate to call it that because it did not have any eggs or cream and had a mouth feel more like granita. We successfully recycled leftover foods and created new dishes from the remnants that would have otherwise been thrown away. As they say in France, c’est la crise or it’s the economic crisis! The French are eternally poetic. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Saturday Farm Lunch

Our lunch this afternoon corresponded to the running motif of the last few days; gourmet meals that are simply prepared and scrumptious above all. Our Saturday lunch consisted of a big omelet made with our own farm fresh eggs, potatoes, and red onion. We are all impressed by the determination of our chickens that have been continually laying eggs despite the frigid temperatures. Normally when the temperatures drop so do the number of eggs as hens choose to reserve their body heat for themselves. The omelet came out fantastically, nice and thick with a crunchy surface and savory soft interior after being cooked in olive oil and finished in a hot oven. The size and shape resembled a tortilla espagnol, the large omelets served in cake-like wedges in Spanish tapas joints. The omelet was accompanied by a warm crusty loaf of bread, a mache and romaine salad, and some slices of the aforementioned Spanish ham brought back by my father. It was a quaint farm lunch savored by all paired with a nice bottle of Clos l’Oratoire from the Rhone valley. There is nothing more French and more perfect in my mind than a nice omelet, side salad, and glass of red wine for lunch. I think we all agreed that after the prior days of feasting a little simplicity was exactly what we needed. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Foie Gras, Take Two

The house has been getting quieter as more and more people have left to return to their respective homes. Instead of going out grocery shopping to buy new ingredients, we have been cleaning out the pantry, fridge, and cellar. There is a ton of fresh produce, leftover meats, and cheeses to make it through the remaining days before we head back to Paris. I have taken over the cooking responsibilities to grant my father and Jean-Claude some well deserved rest after spending four consecutive days and nights slaving in the kitchen.

I have been making very simple things that please a crowd like spaghetti Bolognese, vegetable soup, celeriac brandade, and tons of salads. I discovered that the refrigerator held two of the four foie gras prepared for the New Years Eve cocktail hour and promptly served them as the main protein at lunch. I have already described the process of making these delicious homemade foie, one steamed in a bain marie after being marinated in port and one “cooked” in sea salt. My mother always joked that foie tastes and looks like meat peanut butter and I have to agree with her silly observation.

The foie au sel is my favorite though I like the combination of smooth foie and yellowish fat of the cooked foie au porto which pairs wonderfully with fruit compotes and vinegary sauces. I cut the foies into thick slices served with toast, fig compote, and onion jam. Foie gras is rich, elegant, and very filling; reinforcing my philosophy that gourmet food need not be overly complicated. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Oysters, Oysters, Oysters!

It is a national tradition of sorts in France to eat oysters on the first day of the new year. I happen to love oysters so it was an exciting morning for me. Oysters are a bit tough to put down however after a long night of drinking everything from champagne to red wine, vodka to armagnac. I woke up rather late and the kitchen was already rife with movement as a small group furiously shucked the sixteen dozen oysters purchased for the occasion. We were all feeling a bit exhausted from the heavy night of eating and decided to have a “light” lunch of oysters, salad, and cheese. The French eat their oysters in a fundamentally different fashion than Americans; they serve them alive in their opaque alabaster shells. The taste is best when they are at the pinnacle of freshness and wiggle a bit when you apply a splash of lemon or vinegar. It may be an idea that is difficult to swallow for some but I find oysters alive or bien vivant absolutely delicious. It was quite a sight to see them all working with blue plastic mittens and oyster knives in hand, filling platter after platter with the small sea creatures.

Cheese is one of my favorite things in the world and I love it all from the moldiest and stinkiest to the young and creamy. Mimolette and Roquefort are currently my favorites though I am a fickle gourmet and often change the subject of my favoritism. Mimolette is a dark orange cheese from northern France that is soaked in beer then aged for six months in large wheels. The color and flavor of this hard cheese is wonderful, not too salty with tons of tanginess resembling sharp cheddar. Roquefort is pretty well known and readily available in certain gourmet cheese shops in the States though the reserve Roquefort from Mary-Anne Cantin in Paris is far and away the best. Our cheese board consisted of the two aforementioned cheeses, Comte, Appenzeller, four types of chevre, Brebis, Fourme D’Ambert, and two other cow’s milk cheeses whose names escape me. A simple no-fuss lunch of oysters and cheese is exactly what we needed after the intricacies of New Years Eve. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!