Friday, July 31, 2009

Bistro Classics: Coq Au Vin

The other day the guardien of the house alerted us to the fact that one of the two roosters had recently been terrorizing the other which became an increasingly dangerous affair as the two vied for control of the flock of hens. I use the past tense because the problem was resolved and the aggressor was put to rest resulting in a fresh coq or rooster primed for cooking. Rooster is seldom used due to its extreme toughness and wealth of connective tissue; the male birds are far more active than their female counterparts. They have tons of flavor which is slightly gamier than chicken and their toughness lends itself to a richer broth when cooked. There are a variety of ways to cook a coq though virtually all involve marinating in some form of alcohol to tenderize the meat and lengthy low and slow cooking. One of the oldest French recipes that is served to this day is the archetypal dish and paragon of old school haute cuisine; coq au vin or rooster cooked in wine. It dates back to the 16th century when monarchs like Henry IV enjoyed the rust colored stew, though some say that even the ancient Gauls and their nemesis Julius Caesar dined on the dish.

Jean-Claude and I tried to make a traditional coq au vin last year, relying on a Google search to peruse recipes and ultimately decided on a hodge podge improvisation. We did not cook it long enough the meat ended up dry and very difficult to eat let alone cut with a knife. This year he and my father took another crack at it using Paul Bocuse’s recipe. Bocuse is widely held as an ambassador of modern French Cuisine and is easily one of the most prominent chefs of the 20th century credited as the founding father of French nouvelle cuisine. The dish is a complicated one indeed involving a lengthy bath in a mixture of red wine, carrots, onions, and plenty of fresh herbs after which the coq is dried for a day and then braised. Another round of vegetables including mushrooms is sautéed with lardons before the meat is added and stewed for hours and hours over low heat with more wine, in this case a bottle of Saumur from the Loire. Characteristic of French cooking, terroir plays an important role and affects the taste of each individual coq au vin. Each region has a variant using local wine such as coq au vin jaune in the Jura or coq au Riesling in Alsace though the most extravagant is coq au Chambertin though that runs a little expensive these days and with which it is kind of a shame to cook. The dish came out a lovely golden-red color with a thick, rich broth and tender meat that went excellently with the bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône we were drinking. We served the coq with some steamed potatoes from the garden which helped sop up all of the tasty sauce and was a perfect summer one pot meal.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I never make desserts and I flat out dislike the concept of baking though I respect the art which is way beyond me. Sugar and flour are simply to hard to work with and every time I bake, it turns out virtually inedible. It is curious however that I often make sweet treats in La Touche, leaving the savory cooking for the older guys who clearly know what they are doing. I prefer to be the young apprentice watching from the shadows or occasionally chopping vegetables or making runs to the garden to collect herbs. In short, I experiment with desserts in La Touche because there is little else for me to contribute and we generally lack a patissier or dessert-maker. There is a fancy ice cream maker that I love to toy with and one of my favorite activities is to convert whatever fruit from the garden or local markets my father brings back into frozen treats. For tonight’s dinner I poached a bunch of tiny pears from the single tree we have in the garden. I poached them in some vin du paille or hay wine which is a regional specialty to impart a boozy flavor with some cloves, cinnamon, honey, and lemon. The second sweet treat was donut peach sorbet with fresh strawberries and a strawberry-thyme coulis. Tasty tasty indeed and I think the older dudes were impressed with my dessert duo that was a refreshing treat after a rather rich old school meal. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dejeuner Du Dimanche

I mentioned in a recent post that we eat a lot of salads at La Touche, my father’s country house in the Loire which he shares with a couple of long time friends. Lunch typically consists of several salads, a panier of bread, and a substantial wedge of cheese. It is a meal large enough to satiate an afternoon hunger but is not overly filling because there is rarely meat served unless it is reheated from the night before. A main reason for the plethora of salads is the summer surplus of garden produce including the aforementioned courgettes de nice, tomatoes, potatoes, and haricots verts. I wanted to do something creative with courgettes, the amazing little light green zucchinis, so I decided to make a carpaccio. Our kitchen is equipped with tons of culinary gadgets and the professional mandolin is one such toy perfect for cutting long translucent slices of zucchini. I arranged the slices on a large platter and dressed them a half hour before sitting down to lunch with lemon juice, olive oil, and sea salt. The brief marinating time gives the acidity in the sauce enough time to slightly breakdown the fibrous cells of the vegetable. I topped the zucchini with some shredded basil, a crack of black pepper, and a white impatient to dress up the presentation before we tucked in.

These little green strings look like haricots verts at first glance but they are far from their terrestrial cousins. These are in fact salicorns or samphire in English, an aquatic succulent that is very tasty whether raw or cooked. They are basically string beans of the sea which are a delicacy in France though they are beginning to be eaten with increasing frequency in England. In an interesting historical and linguistic note the term samphire is believed to be a British corruption, or bastardization depending on whom you ask, of the French name for the plant, herbe de Saint-Pierre. I have always eaten them steamed or boiled and coated in sweet butter or olive oil as a scrumptious accompaniment to seafood. Because salicorns are cultivated mainly in salt marshes they have a very high salt content and must be cooked without salt in plenty of water. It looks a lot like seaweed when cooked but does not really taste like the sea besides being salty. In fact the flavor is more akin to baby spinach, green beans, or asparagus. These are a very tasty vegetable indeed, one of the rare foods that I eat solely when I come to France highlighting the richness and variety of French cuisine that I find so intriguing.

The third dish we had for our Sunday lunch on the patio along with a delicious piece of Comte and a creamy wedge of Roquefort was sliced melon served au nature without any preparation. The French love a good melon and even though these French table melons look like cantaloupe, they are most certainly not. They actually taste nothing like cantaloupe, often served with ham, prosciutto, or with aged port poured into the cavity of a halved melon. Originally cantaloupe referred only to lightly ribbed gray-green European melons like these though it has gradually come to connote any orange-fleshed melon. They are a bit smaller than American cantaloupes and are eaten as a savory rather than sweet treat even though they are sweeter than their US counterparts. Anyway you slice it however a melon is a melon and these are incredibly popular in France and are particularly delicious in the summertime. I like mine with a generous crack of black pepper which creates an interesting dynamic between sweet and spice, a very tasty and refreshing lunch item to enjoy when dining outside in the sunshine. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Birthday Celebration Au Lion d'Or

I turned twenty four last Saturday and my father surprised me with an invitation to the local one star restaurant in the town adjacent to La Touche. Romorantin is a commune in the Loir-et-Cher department of central France known for its rugby team, small but charming chateau, and elite luxury hotel. The principal draw of the town however is the Grand Hotel du Lion d’Or or hotel of the golden lion. It is on the list of Relais-Chateau’s finest hotels and its restaurant is truly top notch. I have been celebrating my birthday at the Lion d’Or off and on since I was ten years old and it is consistently one of the gastronomic highlights of the year. I had the fixed menu, a five course affair with little treats along the way and a “surprise dessert”. We sat outside in the 18th century courtyard that provided an ideal setting for dinner though unfortunately did not facilitate photography. As a result I could only capture the first half of the meal so a textual description of the latter will have to suffice. The chef offered us a few small plates to whet our appetites consisting of, clockwise from top-left, a foie gras emulsion, sardine rillettes, and mackerel mousse with tomato coulis.

The first course was actually split into three dishes making the five course dinner seem more like seven or eight. It was a trio of chanterelle mushrooms or girolles in French, a veritable feast for the eyes and palate. The first was an overly rich eggy concoction that blew me away; oeuf mousseux aux girolles et sauce poulette or egg mousse with chanterelles and Poulette sauce. The dish was simply a buttery egg sauce paired with lightly browned chanterelles but the pairing of egg and mushrooms worked extremely well. Thankfully it was served in a small portion because otherwise I would have filled up before the subsequent four courses arrived. This is one of those things that seems easy enough to make but actually requires a ton of technical skill, experience, quality ingredients, and timing that amounts to what I imagine to be a very difficult dish to pull off at home.

The second of the chanterelle trio was girolles en gelee a l’estragon et sorbet de petits pois or chanterelles with tarragon jelly and pea sorbet. The sorbet was a vibrant green with an amazingly fresh pea flavor that must have had a hell of a lot of cream in it to enrichen the vegetal flavor. The sautéed chanterelles came surrounded by a deeply flavorful jelly and a crisp slice of prosciutto that virtually melted in your mouth, bringing a much-needed saltiness to the dish.

The last of the opening course was a jalousie de girolles et de pommes de terre persillees or chanterelles with potatoes and parsley. This was the most classic dish of the trio and by extension the most boring but the flavors were there and it was a nice end to an amazing round of appetizers. It was a little crazy and not to mention excessive to have chanterelles, one of my very favorite mushrooms, served three ways but man was it good.

The second course was langoustine avec mousse d’agrumes et pickles au vinaigre de sureau or langoustines with citrus mousse and elderberry vinegar-pickled vegetables. Langoustines or Norway lobsters are a slim, orange-pink lobster fished in the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean and North Sea as far north as Iceland. They taste like a cross between lobster and shrimp with an incredibly sweet and hardly fishy taste that is absolutely amazing whether steamed, grilled, sautéed, boiled, or eaten raw. They are one of my very favorite foods and I am so pissed that they are not available in the States. The citrus mousse had a very bright flavor reminiscent of Meyer lemons with notes of tropical fruit that contrasted perfectly with the lightly steamed langoustine and elderberry pickles. The little dish to the side was a langoustine tartare with “curry sauce”, basically a cream sauce with lots of curry powder, kaffir lime, and ginger. This dish was pristine and damn good, far and away my favorite course of the night. By the end of it night had fallen which unfortunately marked the end of the photography.

The third course was foie gras chaud avec lait d’amandes et cerises or sautéed foie gras with almond milk mousse and cherries, a very heavy dish that I could have done without. The third was sole et tourteau au menthe et corinadre avec un rouleau de printemps or sole with crab, mint, cilantro, and a fresh spring roll. Sole is a rather boring fish that signals fine dining and traditional French haute cusine but the dish as a whole lacked inventiveness. The final dish before we moved on to dessert was carre d’agneau au cumin et citron avec travers confits or lamb chop and ribs with cumin and preserved lemon. This was the second highlight of the meal consisting of two perfectly cooked pieces of lamb on a bed of minced eggplant with a robust sauce of cumin and preserved lemon. The surprise dessert in fact was two small treats. The first was a fantastic white peach soufflé with gooseberry coulis and lemon verbena ice cream, the third highlight of the meal. The second dessert was much less interesting; strawberry “jam” with lemon cake and milk ice cream. The meal was good as a whole but not nearly as scrumptious as I remember from previous visits. There were three or four truly remarkable things that I will try to replicate at home but others like the sole were just not that memorable. All in all it was a great night as we ate the remainder of the meal by candlelight which made for an elegant atmosphere and very special birthday. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lunch On The Veranda

The three of us spent the morning by the pool before huddling around the television to watch an exciting mountain stage of the Tour de France. My first lunch at La Touche for the summer took place at my favorite spot, a little iron table on the brick veranda at the back of the house with a view of the donkeys. Per usual I left the serious cooking to the professionals, my father and Jean-Claude, as I often do because they have years of age and experience on me. I do cook in small spurts however like my cauliflower appetizer though strangely I experiment mainly with desserts. I never make dessert at home but since the savory cooking is mostly handled and I want to take advantage of the pedagogic element of observation in the La Touche kitchen I tend to lean towards sweets. For lunch however I made a savory salad to impress my hosts, a beet salad with shallots, yogurt-curry dressing, and cilantro. For lunch we had a few salads, a tasty terrine, and the ubiquitous cheese plate accompanied by a bottle of white Burgundy.

The second salad that I had the foresight to photograph before devouring was a lunch staple that I eat pretty much once a week while I am in the French countryside: tomato salad with eggs and black olives dressed with olive oil and house made vinegar. This tasty summer salad is a lunch favorite incorporating house ingredients like eggs, garden tomatoes, and the Nicois olives brought north lovingly once a year by Jean-Claude when he visits his family. In addition to the annual deposit of olives he also brings our major supply of cold pressed olive oil which his Aunt is responsible for. In addition to the farm goods and peppery Nicois olive oil making up the salad, the house vinegar really seals the deal. About four years ago we started to produce our own vinegars after realizing how much we had been wasting on wine that had gone passé or bad. Instead of dumping bad or old wine we began to seal it in terracotta basins with huge corks and tiny spouts to sit in the cellar and develop acidity and character.

The main course of the meal deviating from the salad routine was a terrine de cerf or deer terrine. It is basically a luxurious cold meatloaf with tons of spices and jellified fat. A terrine is a glazed earthenware terracotta dish with vertical sides and a tightly fitting lid that is rectangular or oval. The term also refers to food served in a terrine whether ground game or venison, offal and pâtés, or fois gras. The first step is to marinate your chosen meat in a mix of wine, armagnac, and a wealth of herbs and spices overnight. The meat, in this case deer given to us by a hunter neighbor, is then ground with ham hock to supply fat and flavor. Thick slices of bacon are placed on the bottom of the earthenware dish, topped with ground meat, another layer of bacon, a layer of herbs and spices, and finally gêlée or meat jelly. It is not a very appetizing sounding thing but meat jelly is an important aspect of the French art of pâté, fois gras, and terrine making. You can make your own with heavily reduced stock and bones that serve as a natural thickener but in this case my father bought gêlée from the local butcher which he heated to liquid form and poured over the terrine. The whole thing is then pressed and cooked in a hot water bath or bain marie for two hours, then refrigerated for three days to settle and collect itself before being sliced and enjoyed. It is a rather lengthy and difficult process for some and I totally understand that but it is truly unique, delicious, and extremely French dish. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Pomander Saveur Is In France...Again!

I arrived in France last week and my father treated to me to a three day blitz of fine dining Parisian style. Little can be said about French cooking and the superb quality of life to be had in the city of lights that has not been said by others so it will suffice to say that I am thrilled to be here. Thursday morning we drove to our country house in the Loire to enjoy a relaxing weekend and of course cook up a storm. Our house La Touche is an unbelievable place and I relish the opportunity to cook mostly from the local ingredients characteristic of the region as well as the bounty of foods we produce. In addition to the chanterelles that run wild around the woods surrounding the house we grow a number of fruits and vegetables as well as raising chickens and ducks. The Sologne region in the Loire is mainly dense woodland, a popular destination for hunters and fishermen. We are often given large cuts of wild boar, deer, and fresh water fish by our friends and neighbors which allow us to keep the freezer packed. The Loire is also Chateau country that draws countless tourists a year, particularly to the massive royal residences of Chambord and Cheverny, two gems of the ancien regime. La Touche is an ideal place for me to celebrate and deepen my love for cuisine, French culture, and wine, three pre-requisites of the bonne vivant.

My father and I arrived in the late afternoon after a two hour drive from the capital rife with traffic due to fellow summer vacationers and settled down to a glass of Chablis with my father’s best friend and housemate Jean-Claude. After catching up over an aperatif the three of us started to casually prepare a dinner of vegetables and steamed fish. I was excited to show off some of the recent inspiration garnered by my three days of eating and drinking in Paris so I made a cold appetizer to wet the palate. Cauliflower is one of the many vegetables that gets shafted in the produce section, a lesser cousin of broccoli that does not get the respect it deserves. The florets were steamed and tossed lightly with sesame oil before I sprinkled shaved raw florets blended with green tea on top as a garnish. It sounds crazy but the Asian touch and contrasting cooking techniques complimented each other nicely. It was strange, unique, and tasty all at once which is exactly what I was going for, kicking off an excellent first meal in La Touche.

One of the highlights of my first meal at La Touche was steamed zucchini dressed simply with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh basil. The zucchini came from the garden and was no ordinary variety. Courgette de nice hail from the south of France and have a sweet taste and buttery texture that puts ordinary zucchini to shame. The light green color and spotted skin look lovely on the plate and should be cooked, dressed, and eaten as minimally as possible to really savor its unique flavor. Jean-Claude was born and raised in Nice and as a result is a firm believer that these particular zucchini are the best species. I tend to agree especially after eating them all weekend in a variety of different ways showcasing their delicate flavor. The main course, which we ate along with assorted vegetables including the delicious courgettes before passing onto cheese was steamed carrelet with ponzu.

Carrelet is a delicate white fish resembling cod or haddock fished in the Atlantic that has a rather bland flavor demanding a bold finishing sauce or aggressive seasoning. My father steamed the fish in a wild Asian mixture of soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, five spice, cilantro, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, and garlic. It was a powerful cooking liquid that flavored the otherwise dull white fish nicely. He then dressed the plated fillets with ground Sumac, a North American spice used primarily in Middle-Eastern cuisine that often replaces lemon in seafood dishes because of its peppery taste, decorative yellow color, and slight acidity. In addition to Sumac, my father garnished the fish with chopped cilantro and ponzu sauce, a Japanese finishing sauce traditionally accompanying sashimi that is both tart and sweet. The fish was very good and had a deep, complex series of Asian flavors running throughout making the dinner a sort of east meets west experience. The fresh garden vegetables and salad served in typical Mediterranean French fashion contrasted culturally with the Asian inspired fish and my cauliflower concoction. It was a tasty meal that welcomed me to La Touche and I am sure glad to be here able to share my experiences both in and out of the kitchen. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pasta Alla Checca

There is a little Italian joint in West Hollywood that my parents would take me to weekly called Angeli that serves rudimentary staples like pizza, pasta, and salad at affordable prices and outstanding quality. There are three specialties that I remember fondly; pizza Quattro stagione with four toppings on an individual pie, Insalata Forte named for its garlicky dressing, and spaghetti alla checca. Checca is a sauce made of raw tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil minced finely tossed with warm pasta that effectively cooks the ingredients, rendering the dish pleasantly aromatic. Angeli was my first introduction to checca, mainly prepared in the summer time when tomatoes are at their peak, though I have made it many times since. It is a very good, fresh tasting sauce that takes about 3 minutes to make if one has a food processor or about 15 if wielding a chef’s knife. I threw one tomato into my food processor along with two cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh basil, and about a 1/4 cup of olive oil. After it was coarsely pureed into a salsa-like consistency, I tossed the sauce with some Gigli noodles (again not to be confused with the terrible 2003 film) and had myself a mean little Sunday lunch. I recommend this super simple and delicious sauce which is perfect for a quick summer meal as August approaches and heirloom tomato season hits. You can also double checca as a sauce for chicken or delicate white fish. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

A Tale Of Two Parties

My good friend and fellow foodie Jessica who I have spoken of many times in the past celebrated her twenty fourth birthday recently and decided to have two parties. The first was held the night before her actual day of birth at our favorite local bar Nita Nita in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with plenty of Jameson shots and blueberry lemonades. The second birthday event I am honored to say was held at my apartment; a soiree of sorts with Jessica and my other good friend Matt. I wanted to cook something elegant without going overboard and unfortunately that is exactly what I did, planning a menu that was a little over my head. The three courses that I visualized and drew up ahead of time sounded easy enough but I got caught up in the details. The first course was a creamy pasta dish with creminis and peas. I used Gigli noodles, a sort of amphibious looking pasta not to be confused with the J-Lo and Ben fiasco, dressed with lots of fresh thyme, cream, and the aforementioned veggies. It was really quite tasty and my guests, birthday girl included, enjoyed the food as well as the laugh we all shared at Gigli’s expense.

The second course is really where the meal took a turn for the worst and I barely pulled it off let alone served something edible. The dish I was going for, inspired by the short-lived midtown eatery The Lever House, was black cod with roasted potatoes and scallion cream. The main problem was my execution of the fish which is a protein that I really need to learn how to cook effectively. I can sear or roast thin fillets or sashimi grade cuts of Ahi and Salmon well enough but it’s the delicate, thicker pieces that totally escape me even with a recent upgrade to a fish spatula. The fish was underdone, overly moist, and did not have a single shred of crust, the three things that you should avoid most when cooking fish. It was sort of a catastrophe which thankfully do not occur often, but when they do, they tend to be pretty bad when I am running the kitchen. The side dish and accompanying sauce were both fantastic however and I will certainly be using both in the near future. The sauce made by pureeing sautéed scallions simmered with heavy cream had a robust oniony flavor that managed to make the fish edible and paired well with the potatoes. The spuds were steamed and then roasted with caramelized sweet onion and crispy bacon crumbs, a trio of flavors that worked exceptionally well together. I was so flustered by the end of the meal that I neglected to prepare the dessert of roasted peaches with ricotta and honey that I had planned. Jessica, Matt, and I agreed to see a movie instead which made me happy as a clam; 500 Days of Summer, great film and perfect for a post-dinner birthday night. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Guest Chef: It's Jackson

It sort of defeats the purpose of the whole guest chef idea if I include myself but I figure that since I am visiting, I am just as qualified to fit the label as anyone. Since sleeping at someone else’s house dubs you a houseguest, the label should extend to guest chef when cooking in someone else’s kitchen. My brother and his lady have been hoping that I would cook for them for quite a while after getting a taste of it in Connecticut about a month ago. I spent Friday night with some old friends and we had ourselves a pretty raucous time involving Patron and cucumber martinis, a shocking combo I know. Needless to say Saturday was a little rough so I spent it by the pool after sleeping in. The three of us decided to stay in for an early dinner before hitting the new Woody Allen movie so I ransacked the fridge and took it from there. The first course, more like a tiny salad amuse, was degorged cucumber with Dijon vinaigrette. Degorging is essentially the process of removing water from vegetables like zucchini or cucumber using salt and dry kitchen towels. After I had drained them of their liquid I tossed thin slices of cucumber with a vinaigrette spiked with basil oil and fresh basil chiffonade.

Pilar, my brother’s lady, is very pregnant and therefore must eat a ton of protein whether dairy products or animal protein so I wanted to cook something that would fill her dinnertime quota. I thought a frittata would be the perfect thing since it is made almost entirely of eggs. They had some lovely purple asparagus spears in the fridge so I went with an asparagus frittata. A frittata is an omelet of sorts that you do not have to flip; one side is fried in a skillet before being transferred to a hot oven which crisps the top half. I used about eight eggs and a tablespoon of cream for richness along with about ten asparagus spears, fibrous stems peeled and chopped. This is a really fantastic and easy dish to make because it only takes about fifteen minutes and everybody enjoys a good egg dish every now and then. Pilar enjoyed the departure from her habitual egg sandwich, cheese wedge and glass of milk, or bowl of ricotta which made the whole venture worth it.

The third dish was about as banal and simple as it gets; a green salad with sliced cherry tomatoes. The vinaigrette however was an interesting thing however, derived from a recipe I learned from my sister about a decade ago. She developed an Asian inspired vinaigrette which is nice because it is so radically different from most salad dressings, especially the French standard mustard vinaigrette. The dressing is made with pressed garlic, soy sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and olive oil whisked together. It is so unique and jazzes up even the dullest salad greens like iceberg and romaine. I loved visiting Los Angeles and spending time with my friends and family, going about eating and drinking in my hometown. I grew up and spent the first eighteen years of my life in LA which will always hold a place in my heart and I welcomed the opportunity to catch up, as well as cook, in the city I know and love. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Guest Chef: Sausage And Peppers

The third day of my awesome weekend in Los Angeles was mostly spent by the pool at my brother and my friend Nick’s respective homes. I have known Nick since preschool and he is one of my best friends who I always look forwarding to visiting. His mother Sara has long been like a surrogate mom; chaperoning play dates when we were kids and catching me sleeping on the couch after late nights as adults. She is a mean cook effectively preparing simple but scrumptious food. You can tell that Sara gets a kick of out cooking which I feel is an important aspect of food. Nick and I were lounging by the pool when she poked her out and asked me what to do with a bag of leftover sausages. I suggested sausage and peppers and she was thrilled by the proposition even though she had little experience with the Italian standard. The two of us sat back drinking seven and sevens on the veranda overlooking the city while Sara threw together a delicious dinner, cementing her as the second guest chef of the trip. Her spaghetti with sausage and peppers was truly tasty with a nice blend of pork and chicken sausages alongside multicolored peppers and sweet tomato sauce. We had dinner on the veranda as the sun was setting and relished the opportunity to spend time together as they welcomed me back to Los Angeles after a long time away. It is so nice to have people cook for me for a change, especially old friends in my hometown. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Guest Chef: Egg McMuff

I was in Los Angeles this past weekend and had an absolute blast visiting with friends and family. The weather was gorgeous as always staying a dry 85 or 90 during the day and crisp low 60’s at night, ideal for dining out and bar hopping. I stayed with my brother and his lovely lady who is very pregnant during my stay at their beautiful house in Hollywood. My first morning in town I came to the realization that I probably would not be doing very much cooking, opting instead to eat out as much as possible and have others host. After Pilar, my brother’s lady, and I went for a long hike in the hills she cooked us up a mean breakfast that she dubbed the egg McMuff. It was essentially a breakfast sandwich with egg, ham, and cheddar on a sprouted wheat English muffin inspired in name only by McDonalds. Pilar is a great cook and big time foodie who because of her preggers status has to eat excessive amounts of protein. After she cooked our tasty egg McMuff breakfast I decided that it would be cool to publish posts featuring guest chefs and the meals they served. I had a wealth of delicious food during my trip, Pilar’s tasty egg sandwich included, and hope to share some of the highlights. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Dinner Of Salads

I apologize in advance for the sloppy photography of this post which is probably the saddest example to date. The food was delicious however even though you have to take my word for it given the poor visual aesthetic. I cooked last night for three very important women in my life that make up a solid portion of my kinship network; Melissa, Emma, and Dorothy. You could say it was a dinner of salads because that is basically all I served accompanied by a wedge of cheese and bread. The meal was rustic to say the least, made with ingredients cultivated by my mother on her farm upstate. I know farm to table dining is really hot right now and it should be because it is the best way to make your food shine. The first of the three dishes I made was a basic green salad with Dijon vinaigrette that showcased my mom’s exceptional micro greens. There were all sorts of baby lettuces, shoots, and herbs thrown in making a fantastic salad because the organic farm produce makes a world of difference.

Sorry to bring the pessimistic self-critical angle back into play but this kale salad was way tastier than the photo conveys. Believe it or not those ominous dark green shreds are thinly sliced pieces of kale, my attempt at Emma’s favorite salad. She loves Italian food and I tried to make her a special treat which we order all the time around the corner at Gennaro. The salad consists of kale, reconstituted dried fruit, and a generous grating of nutty cheese whether pecorino, parmesan, or ricotta salata. For my attempt I braised thin strips of kale and tossed it with raisins, parmesan, and quality olive oil. The real mystery differentiating the delicate, barely cooked yet tender strips of heavily goodness in Gennaro’s salad lies in the cooking of the greens themselves. I have tried baking, parboiling, sautéing, and braising the kale to no avail leaving it rubbery or waterlogged. My only conclusion is that hey do some sort of black magic in the kitchen back there.

The third dish I served to some of my favorite women was my preferred and most photogenic plate of the evening. I love lentils and have been eating them since childhood, which granted is a weird thing for a kid to be into. They are full of protein, cheap, tasty, and flexible enough to be cooked in a variety of ways. My father often makes a warm lentil salad in the summer time which was the inspiration for this dish. He uses French lentils and stews them with onions, garlic, bay leaves, homemade stock, and a ham hock to infuse them with bacony flavor. My father uniformly dresses his lentil salad with strong mustard vinaigrette so I decided to go a different route. You could say I Italianified the dish with the roasted red peppers, basil, and olive oil. The sweetness of the roasted peppers paired nicely with the almost dirt-like earthiness of the lentils and the shredded basil added a fresh top note. I always enjoy cooking for people I love and last night’s dinner was a real treat indeed, allowing me to spend time with people that rarely get the chance to eat, drink, and chat with one another. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Appetizer Showdown: Cold Vs. Hot

I had an interesting idea this evening which has blossomed into a new element I am bringing to Pomander Saveur; the appetizer showdown. This idea is devoted to the art of the app, both cold and hot. Basically two appetizers will be prepared and judged before a winning recipe is crowned. I hope to invite guest judges and cooks to either help critique or contribute a dish to the showdown. The inaugural match-up consisted of my interpretation of two classic appetizers; the first was an insalata caprese. Tomato, mozzarella, and basil is as tried and true a combination as onions and garlic. Caprese is the penultimate summer salad and reminds me of happy times in the French countryside. Here I created a caprese mille-feuille with caper vinaigrette. I stacked layers of grape tomatoes and mozzarella dressed with vinaigrette and basil chiffonade. It was very good, especially the interplay between Italian and French culinary traditions but was it enough to bring down the hot appetizer of the night?

The second appetizer was a French bistro classic that is always exceptionally good, asparagus with oeuf mollet and shallot vinaigrette. Asparagus and egg is a very good pairing principally because the richness of the egg yolk brings a buttery quality to earthy asparagus. Oeuf mollet is a fancy French way of saying soft-boiled egg which is exactly what I placed on a bed of steamed asparagus topped with a drizzle of vinaigrette. The egg was slightly overcooked which hurt its standings but overall all it was a very nice appetizer. The acidity in the vinaigrette complimented the egg yolk that made a lovely sauce and the asparagus were perfectly cooked with a nice crisp to them. It was a heated battle and I being the sole judge had a difficult call to make. The asparagus won it. It is a perfect dish and when well executed will knock you or any diner you have over’s socks off. This is just the start of many appetizer showdowns to come and it is sure to get heated as the cold appetizer contingency seeks a big comeback. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Asparagus, Oeuf Mollet & Shallot Vinaigrette
Serves 2

20 Asparagus Spears, trimmed down to tender bits
2 Large Eggs
1 Small Shallot
1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
1/2 Tsp. Honey
1 Tsp. Sherry Vinegar
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

1. Mince the shallot finely and toss into a small bowl. Add the mustard, honey, and vinegar and whisk until emulsified, slowly incorporating the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Bring 2 separate pots of water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Steam or blanche the asparagus until just tender, 5-10 mins. Gently dip the eggs in boiling water and cook for 4:30. Drain and rinse the eggs under cold water and peel them.
3. Place 5 asparagus spears in one direction on a plate and then overlap another 5 in a different direction. Place an egg on top of each bed and drizzle a liberal amount of shallot vinaigrette over and around the egg. Season with cracked black pepper and serve immediately.

Sufferin' Succotash!

Remember the cartoons featuring Sylvester The Putty-tat, the overgrown black and white cat with a horrendous speech impediment whose trademark slogan was “Sufferin’ Succotash!” For some reason that was what came to mind as I was snacking on a bowl of sweet potato, corn, and leek succotash last night. “Succotash” dates back to the 18th century and refers to a dish of corn and lima beans cooked together. In parts of the South and Midwest any mixture of vegetables prepared with lima beans and topped with lard or butter is deemed a succotash. This method of preparing veggies became a common use for dried beans and other staple grains like corn during the Great Depression. I use “succotash” to refer to any combination of corn and seasonal vegetables dressed with any fat whether lard, butter, or cream and I make them quite often. Succotashes are an easy way to make use of the wealth of summer produce or loose vegetables one has on hand. That was the case last night when I was feeling hungry but not enough to go to the store, which led me to foraging around the pantry and refrigerator. I found a single leek, a couple of ears of corn, and a lonely sweet potato tucked away behind the bread. Upon closer inspection two strips of bacon presented themselves along with a small hunk of parmesan. I rendered the bacon fat and then sautéed the uniformly cut vegetables until they were fork tender then finished the succotash with crumbled bacon bits, a splash of heavy cream, and grated parmesan. Sufferin’ succotash was an understatement; this impromptu bowl of goodness was super tasty and actually fell within the technical definition of a succotash given the lard and corn components. Go out and experiment with succotash, at the very least it is fun to say and reminds one of cartoons. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!