February 27, 2004
Cruel to Be Kind

Slate continues its Food Friendly Friday by featuring Laurie Snyder's article on how your meat and eggs make it to market. It's a little gross, but she also includes information on how to make sure you're getting better quality meat that came from happier livestock.

Among her findings - "cage-free" isn't always all that great, and "organic" often isn't. Your best bet as always is to buy close to the source and to ask about how your hamburger or eggs benedict came to be.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
A Salad for the Fuhrer

Whenever besieged omnivores or activist anti-vegetarians want to discredit vegetarianism, they ask, "Wasn't Hitler a vegetarian?" Turns out the answer is - "Sorta, but not really."

At least, that's what vegetarian activist Rynn Berry is trying to prove. His new book Hitler: Neither Vegetarian nor Animal Lover asserts that the Fuhrer may not have cared much for meat, but he didn't care much for vegetables, either. Slate examines why Berry is so concerned with the dietary habits of the greatest villain of the Twentieth Century.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
February 26, 2004
Manx kippers

Unlike their feline counterparts, Manx kippers do in fact have tails. We'll clear that one up right away. Now you will ask why I am writing about Manx kippers? Well, I will tell you: they are delicious.

Like many Americans, I believe I was introduced to the concept of smoked-fish-for-breakfast by the BBC show Fawlty Towers (Episode: the Kipper and the Corpse). Not the most encouraging of introductions, either. The idea of smoked fish for breakfast was mildly nauseating and the episode revolves around the idea of a hotel guest dying from eating one. So we all had a jolly good laugh and thought "those quaint Brits and their strange eating habits..." and moved on.

Many years later I found myself on the Isle of Man with my Man for a holiday. The Critic had visited the island many times in his childhood so we were have a real nostalgia trip. For years, he had been telling me "Isle of Man kippers are the best in the world" (uh...yeah...). But as I've been living with this Brit I have become strangely more...well, almost British. And the years of tea drinking (milk added first please!) had gotten to me. So the fish almost sounded appealing. We asked the B&B keeper if we could have kippers one morning for breakfast. She tried to put us off with veiled hints ("they do make the entire house smell for days...") but it was written on the breakfast menu in front of us: we are pleased to serve kippers for breakfast; please request them 24 hours in advance.

The next morning, the breakfast room did indeed smell of kippers, but this may have been due to the fact that the other guests had overheard our conversation and also asked for kippers. It smelled great. They were great. I don't know why smoked fish is now my favourite breakfast but there it is. It's the only food that involves "work" that the Critic likes. (He's normally a no-bones-in-my-chicken, no-peeling-shrimp kind of a guy.) In fact it becomes a dedicated satisfying activity to try and extract every delicious morsel of herring from its bones for transport to your mouth.

It's making me hungry just thinking about it.

Now the bad news, for you North Americans, is that these Manx fish are only delivered to the UK and mainland Europe. (That's the good news for me, by the way.) But if you do live in Europe or just would like more information on the process of catching, curing, eating and cooking herring, you can do no better than to go to the George Devereau Kipper Curers web site. There are also recipes that look very good, but somehow I can never convince myself to chance wasting one. They also have fascinating information on how nutritious kippers are.

For the North Americans who are already kipper-lovers or willing to give it a shot, a quick search of the web came up with one supplier of kippers in Maryland: Mackenzie Limited.

And in answer to the assertion that the best kippers in the world come from the Isle of Man, I can only say that the (admittedly small) sample I have tested from other parts of the world did fail to live up to the Manx ones. I look forward to hearing from anyone else out there who has an opinion on this, especially if you try the supplier in Maryland!

To prepare and serve kippers:
Take bags of kippers (we never get filets: the Critic says they are less tasty and I say they are less fun).
Place in a deep pan of water and boil for ten minutes or so.
In the meantime, butter a slice or two of brown bread per person.
Brew some very strong tea (PG tips for preference).
If you are feeling fancy, slice a ripe tomato in two and sprinkle with salt and pepper, one per person.
Remove the kippers from the stove, use scissors to open the bags and tongs to extract the fish. Before serving, put a small pat of butter on each of the fish.

Serve and eat immediately.

Lastly, put the kipper juice, bags and carcases in a plastic bag, seal it and take out to the garbage. It doesn't smell that bad!

One last wonderful fact about kippers: you can freeze them for up to 18 months. That's why we buy in bulk.


Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:42 AM | Comments (3)
February 25, 2004
Chicago Roasters

Americans drink bad coffee, but we're starting to drink better coffee. That's the message behind the Tribune's feature on coffee and Chicago area roasters.

You don't have to be chained to a cup of Folger's if you happen to live in the U.S. and the article gives you some good places to start.

From the article:

Here is a partial list of the area's coffee roasters.

Caffe Italia, 2625 N. Harlem Ave., 773-889-0455

Casteel Coffee, 2924 Central St., Evanston, 847-733-1187, casteelcoffee.com

Coffeemaria.com, Addison, 630-768-2043 (mail-order only)

Freedom Coffee Roasters, 2950 W. Carroll Ave., 773-826-3472 and freedomcoffee.com. Sold by mail-order and at Whole Foods Markets and Atomix Cafe, 1957 W. Chicago Ave., 312-666-2649.

Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters, 3123 N. Broadway, 773-348-8058; 53 W. Jackson St., 312-253-0594; intelligentsiacoffee.com

Metropolis Coffee Co., 1039 W. Granville Ave., 773-764-0400

Newport Coffee House, 1121 Half Day Rd., Bannockburn, 847-940-7134

PapaNicholas Coffee, 1211 Lyon Rd., Batavia, 630-406-1100, papanicholas.com. Sold by mail-order, available in many area supermarkets.

Stewarts Private Blend Coffee, 4110 W. Wrightwood Ave., 773-489-2500 and stewarts.com and sold in many area supermarkets.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February 24, 2004
Sichuan peppercorns

I have a recipe maybe I'll post sometime for a pseudo-Sichuan chicken with all the wrong (ie available at your local grocery) ingredients. It's actually not bad as a placeholder for some real Sichuan, but lately I've been wanting something a bit more [and I hate to use this word] authentic. Problem is, to make real Sichuan you need Sichuan ingredients.

The logical place to start seems to be Sichuan peppercorns. Unfotunately, there's some question about their status: eg according to this article, they're banned in the US thanks to a citrus parasite (it turns out Sichuan peppercorns have more genes in common with oranges than peppercorns). Per the article, I tried eBay, but no luck. And then the good folks at Penzey's told me this morning the things have recently been unbanned, but I can't find anything about this on the internet, and in any case Penzey's doesn't stock them. If anybody can enlighten me...

Tomorrow, Chinatown. I expect they'll have them there — although I'm not sure that will shed any light on whether they're legal or not...

Posted by Paul at 6:49 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
February 23, 2004
The Old Mill's Irish Lentils and Leeks In Cream Sauce

Rebecca and I had just gotten engaged in Dublin a day or so before we visited The Old Mill, a second-floor restuarant in Dublin's Temple Bar district. I don't remember what I ordered, but Rebecca ordered a dish of lentils and leeks that we both agreed was out of this world.

We both wondered if we could figure out what was in the dish, but couldn't figure out what one flavor in the sauce was. I suggested that she ask the waiter if the chef would share the recipe. She was skeptical we'd have any luck, but her red headed charm works wonders and we left with a handwritten "recipe" for the dish with the chef's blessing.

I put "recipe" in quotes because there were no quantities indicated. The only hard numbers were that we should bake the dish for 15 minutes. At what temperature was anyone's guess.

Because of the vagueness, I put off trying to recreate the dish over the next year as we planned our wedding. Last night, I finally had the itch to recreate that delicious dining experience from 16 months ago and dug out the recipe. The end result was satisfying and nearly as good as the masterpiece we'd experienced in Ireland.

So here's my version of The Mill's Leek and Lentil gratin:

1 cup French green lentils de puy
3 leeks, trimmed and rinsed
4 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
1/3 cup shredded or ground parmesan

For sauce:
1/2 stick of butter (1/8 cup, 4 tablespoons)
tablespoon of flour
1/2 cup clam juice
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup cream or half and half

Wash the lentils and pick over for any stones. Put lentils in a medium saucepot and cover with 3 cups cold water. Boil, then cover and reduce to simmer until liquid is mostly absorbed and lentils are soft, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, cut the leek into 1" bands. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large fry pan. Add chopped garlic, sautee for a minute or two. Add leeks and reduce heat to medium. Add salt and pepper to taste, and sautee until leeks are limp.

If lentils are not done, take fry pan off heat and set aside. When lentils are done, drain lentils, return fry pan with leeks and garlic to heat, add drained lentils, and toss until lentils and leeks are mixed well.

Prepare sauce: In a small saucepan, melt 1/2 stick of butter. When liquid, add the flour and stir together continuously with a wooden spoon to form a roux. Cook the roux a minute or two until it just starts taking on a little color.

Add wine, cream, and clam juice. Reduce heat and simmer to reduce and thicken sauce. When sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon, take off the heat.

Pour lentil, leek mixture into a small casserole or baking dish. Pour sauce over mix. Level mixture out and make sure sauce coats the top of the mixture. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of the mixture and put it back in for 8 more minutes.

Let cool at least five minutes before serving. It'll be blistering hot when it first comes out.

The original uses the sauce from a mussels dish instead of the clam juice. The essential thing is to get the ocean taste into the dish. I presume oyster liquor would be even better than the clam juice for this dish, but I haven't seen it sold as such.

Here's the original recipe if you'd like to take your own stab at it:

toss the leek in pan
with a spoon of butter
ADD A poached lentil
SALT + pepper
put in baking plate
ADD the "creamy sauce" which is
a paste of butter + flour
+ the sauce of (poached mussels in
cream and white wine)
bake for 15 min in the Middle
of the cooking sprinkle some
parmesan cheese. And enjoy it.

The Old Mill
14 Temple Bar,
Dublin 2, Ireland
(01) 671 9262 - 679 6602
Chief Proprietor: Lachen Iouani

Try it, you'll like it.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:52 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
And the winner is...

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we held an experiment last night to discover the ideal bread for dipping in cheese fondue. The three contenders were:

- a normal baguette
- a really nice old-fashioned chewy baguette
- a whole wheat round loaf

A normal baguette is what we have always used, partly because we didn't know that good old fashioned chewy baguettes were out there. Also, I have to admit that I thought the chewy bread would just go rock hard rather than attaining the perfect state of "stale enough to stay on your fork and fresh enough to be chewed". The round loaf never occurred to me because I assumed that the bits with no crust (inevitable given its shape) would be too soft to stay on the fork. But the woman in the bakery assured me it would be fine, so we decided to give it a go.

Altogether there were six judges in the competition and they were very dedicated in their testing (four of them were hungry college students). Initially, the judges opined that the cheese was so overwhelming to the bread that it wouldn't matter which bread was used. And then they started experimenting with the other breads. (For the first few minutes, everyone dug in from the bread basket that happened to be closest.) And lo and behold a clear winner emerged: it was the chewy old-fashioned baguette from the Alsatian bakery down the street. Hands down. Second place, surprisingly, went to the wheat loaf. And last place, as is fitting, went to the inferior quality baguette.

Still, it was a surprise to this cook, as all the French people tell you a classic baguette (nicely stale) is the best bread for fondue. But the chewy bread stayed chewy, which gave a nice texture to the meal. And the wheat bread went extremely well with the cheese. The soft interior of the loaf was fine on the fork once it had dried out a bit.

So now we know: the better the bread quality, the more you enjoy your fondue. It was never bad before (except once when the guests showed up over two hours late and the cheese came apart and went all stringy and strangely enough we are still speaking to said guests) but now it is definitely better. Below is my recipe with various suggestions. As usual, it's not so much a recipe as a set of guidelines.

TooManyChefs Fondue

The first and most important thing in making fondue is to get good quality cheese. It's obvious, I know, but it has to be mentioned. If your local purveyor of cheesy comestibles does not carry the right cheeses (yes, that's plural) you can order them on-line at an exorbitant price from the Fromages.com people.

Cheeses you must include:
Gruyère/Swiss cheese
Beaufort

Cheeses that make it even better:
Appenzel
Tomme
Lagioule
any nice flavorful hard cheese you have lying about. I put one in last night and I don't even remember what it was.

Other ingredients:
1 clove garlic (optional)
a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg (recommended)
3/4 a bottle of white Chablis wine
3 tablespoons of flour
salt and pepper to taste

The wine is a controversial item. Everyone puts it in fondue but I only know one other person who uses a nice Chablis and he's a real character. Nevertheless, I always get rave reviews for my fondue and I think the Chablis goes great with the cheese. If you want to be boring and traditional, get a sweet Swiss wine. And add some cherry liqueur (yech).

Quantities of cheese: you may have noticed I left them out. You probably want about half the cheese to be gruyère, a quarter beaufort and a mix of the others to fill up the rest. (Taste them to see which ones appeal to you and mix accordingly.) You should count on about a pound for four to six (or 200 grams per person).

To start with, you need to either rub the inside of your pot with garlic or slice it very finely and put it in a heavy-bottomed pot with about half the wine. Heat up the wine until it is almost boiling on the stovetop. This is important - you need to be able to control the heat so you can make sure the cheese melts properly. In the meantime (or maybe before you do the garlic depending on how fast you are with a knife and how much help you have) chop the softer cheeses into small chunks and grate the harder cheeses, preferably with a food processor because it's so much quicker. Toss the cheeses with the flour and nutmeg. Gradually add the cheese to the hot wine, stirring as you go to get the sauce as smooth as possible. Add more wine as the mixture gets thick. (You might have to wait a few moments before adding some more cheese if your wine is cold.) As soon as all the cheese has melted and the sauce is nice and glossy, grab a piece of bread and dip it in the cheese. Add salt, pepper, more nutmeg and/or more wine as you feel is necessary.

Transfer to your table-top heating element and serve immediately.

A few notes:

1) You should cut up your bread pieces several hours before dinner so that they can dry out a bit. If you can't (or forget), you can dry them out by spreading them on a sheet and putting them in a warm oven. But you will get breadcrumbs EVERYWHERE. Trust me on this one as I'm experienced in procrastination.

2) Once you get down to the last bit of cheese (and providing you still have the appetite), it's traditional to throw an egg or two into the bottom of the pot and stir it around until you have extremely cheesy scrambled eggs. You can either distribute spoons to eat it or just scoop out the egg with bits of bread.

3) If your guests are over two hours late, you will end up with a rubbery tasty mess and spend the rest of the evening apologizing to guests who probably were happy enough with the result (especially given the fact that they were drinking on empty stomachs for two hours).

4) Never make this for more than six people, unless you want to make two pots. It's not that your pot won't be big enough to hold cheese for eight; it's just difficult to fit eight people around one little pot and so eating is very awkward.

5) A nice crisp salad with very sharp vinaigrette and a finely chopped shallot goes well with this.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 22, 2004
Best little bakery in Paris

It is with extreme shame that I have to admit that my husband has gone and done it again. He's made an extraordinary find in the food shopping department, despite the fact that he does less than one percent of the shopping or cooking in our apartment. (Last year, he embarrassed me by finding an amazing cheese shop that - miraculously - sells very good Stilton. And it's ten minutes walk from our door.)

This time it's a bakery.

A really good bakery.

The Boulangerie Alsatienne at 158, boulevard Berthier in the 17th arrondisement of Paris is the best bakery I have found in Paris. A little research (starting with the web site of the flour suppliers on the paper bag that came with the bread, Minoteries Viron) has shown that I'm not alone in this. The bakery won the prestigious Lauréat du grand prix de la Baguette de Paris in 2000 and 2002. The winner of this prize has the honor of supplying bread to the Elysées Palace where the president of the republic lives. So Jaques Chirac loves the same bread as me. Lucky him.

The whole bread issue is, as you can imagine, a very very emotional one for Parisians. More and more bakeries are starting to cut corners in their production, and you can see and taste the difference. These days many bakeries either buy their dough frozen or - even weirder - have it delivered by pipeline. I'm not joking: I've seen it being delivered to a bakery in the 16th. A big white truck that is the shape of a gas truck parks next to the bakery, they attach a big tube to a spigot in the wall of the bakery and start pumping. It's heresy. And what's more, it's not good bread.

It's fairly easy to pick out these inferior bakeries. There are three good signs: 1) a sticker on the door that proudly announces the bakery buys "Baguépi" brand dough 2) the bread can be cracked open (as opposed to tearing) 3) no line.

A real baguette like my Alsatian friends produce is chewy and soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. It should feel buttery even if no butter was used in the production. It should beg you to go home right now and get out the soft unsalted butter. Below are photos of the real stuff and the inferior standard baguette. I've been cutting them up in preparation for a fondue tonight.

Good bread

bag2.jpg

Bad bread
bag1.jpg


In addition to the city's best baguette, the bakery has already won a prize in 2004 for the best Galette des Rois (an almond cake that is traditionally eaten in January). It also had a appealing little sesame seed loaf that I'll be trying next time. And since it's an Alsatian establishment, they also have some very tasty looking pretzels hanging about. I think this matter needs more research and you deserve the best information possible!

Also in the breaking news: tonight (as mentioned) we are melting our cheese in the French fashion. We visited three bakeries and bought different kinds of bread. Tonight we shall test which is really the best bread for fondue: a really good baguette, a typical dry tasteless one or a round loaf? Local wisdom actually opts for number two there - cheap stale bread is least likely to fall off your fork and anyway it's just a cheese vehicle. However, I think the other two options also have merit. Tonight we will put it to six impartial judges and let you know the results.

It's a tough job but luckily we are here to do it.

For an article by the Telegraph about this bakery and the Parisian bread industry, follow this link. You might need to register.

Boulangerie Alsatienne Raoul Maeder
158 BOULEVARD BERTHIER 75017 PARIS
+33 1 46 22 50 73
Nearest metro: Periere

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February 21, 2004
I Wouldn't Eat It: Marmite

This is the first in an occasional series of articles you'll see here where one of the Too Many Chefs picks a food item that is beloved by some, but more generally reviled by the many and attempt to describe the experience of ingesting it. First off - I try Marmite.

Consulting the web, the most important thing to know about Marmite is apparently that it is NOT Vegemite. So what is it? Basically, it's beer yeast crap. Or more precisely, salty beer yeast crap.

To quote the site IloveMarmite.co.uk: "We are reliably informed that Marmite is made by adding salt to the waste-product produced by the yeast in the brewing process. The salt messes with the yeast cells and causes a reaction, resulting in the brown gloop called marmite."

So the yeast, um... leaves waste... in a big vat. The brewer adds salt and a couple other ingredients, and bottles the resulting brown sludge into a jar to sell to happy Brits and Kiwis and insane Americans who write for food web sites.

There are coffee beans that have to pass through certain animals to achieve their maximum flavor, so I guess selling waste as food is not unique, but it does make one pause before dipping the knife in the jar.

What makes it different from Vegemite made famous in Men At Work's "Land Down Under"? Vegemite is supposedly bland salty yeast crap. No half measures here, though, so I'm going to try the original full strength muck.

Maybe I should survey opinion around the web first. Here's a selection of quotes from the I Hate Marmite website:

"We tried Marmite at school, we tried it on bagels. It was gross!!! How people eat that is beyond me. They all crazy!!!" - Brad

"Marmite is completely evil. I have to work in an office of marmite-lovers and it is sheer torture. I need help. I need solidarity. And I agree with the congealed baby poo comparison - very apt. Except if I have a baby that pooed marmite I would give it up for adoption rather than face the smell of its nappies. Urrrggghh." - Liz

Hmmm.

It's not all bad, though. There are some people who actually like the stuff. They'd have to, I suppose, or BestFoods wouldn't keep making the tar. And they are proud of it.

The boasts on the official Marmite site include: "MARMITE Spread is free from: Gluten, Soya and derivatives, Maize and derivatives, Milk and derivatives, Eggs and derivatives, Nuts and derivatives, Peanuts and derivatives, Flavours, Colours, Antioxidants, Added MSG, Preservatives "

Well so is my shoe, but I'm not eating it. Free of Flavours? And aren't Antioxidants supposed to be a good thing?

Further research discovered that Marmite is a good source of B Vitamins. This is significant to vegans and non-dairy eating vegetarians because it is difficult to get your RDA of B12 from vegetables (unless you'd like to literally eat 23 cups of spinach per day). B12 is in fortified products like soy milk and some cereals, but if you want a natural source, you're going to have to turn to tiny dead yeasties. And their crap.

I'm just delaying now. I know I have to try the stuff and I'm not stoked for it.

Let's examine the stuff. I open the jar. The smell that comes out is strong, not unpleasant, but not very much like a finished food. It smells something like a cross between molasses, vinegar, and bread. The undisturbed top of the goo is a slick deep brown, like wood glue. I jiggle the jar and the top remains steady, motionless. I turn the jar over and there is no sign of movement. Oh my.

Most of the lovers of Marmite I've found write about how wonderful it is on buttered toast. I'm wondering now if most of the lovers of Marmite grew up in homes with lead paint. I take two slices of Roman Meal wheat bread and toast them.

My cats, who usually are very interested in ANY sort of happening in the kitchen are nowhere to be found. Maybe they know.

I dip the knife into the Marmite and out comes a gooey mess. Long strands of glistening yeasty brown slowly extend from the knife's tip. It looks tantalizingly like Nutella, but a little less firm. I spread the Marmite thinly on my two slices of toast.

I breathe deeply, raise the toast to my mouth and bite.

That is not good. Not nice at all. It's very salty and tastes vaguely alive. It's like bad caviar blended into a paste. It tastes like the crust on a three=year old bottle of Worcestershire sauce. The butter, it does nothing. I chew on. It doesn't improve.

Halfway through slice number two, I notice the bread is crustier and sharper than it would be without the Marmite. My mouth feel raw. I cough twice. Only a half slice left. The remaining Marmite sits on top of the butter and teases me by looking like caramel. I know it lies.

Good lump of butter on that slice. I break off a small piece of the toast and offer it to my most cantankerous cat. His head pops up expectantly, sniffs the Marmite coated bread and then he delivers his verdict.

He tries to bury it.

I finish the last slice with no help whatsoever from the cat (ungrateful little wretch). I'm not nauseous, and I have the vague feeling I've done something good for me but unpleasant, like visiting the dentist to get a cavity filled.

I've looked for ways Marmite might actually fit into my life and I might have found one. It's often used to make a vegetarian "beef stock". I make a Vegetarian Pho recipe that suffers only from the fact the stock doesn't taste like the beef dish it mimics. I'll try that out next time and let you know how it goes.

There's also a recipe for tofu balls that requires Marmite. I don't know about the tofu, but I think this would be great for any recipe that calls for the taste of balls.

As for trying Marmite on its own or as a spread on toast - Maybe if I were REALLY REALLY drunk or hung over, a spot of nasty Marmite on toast would be appropriate, but I think otherwise it's going to live in the darkest corner of the fridge until I clean it out many months from now and wonder what the hell I was thinking when I bought it.

Anyone want a jar of yeast crap?

Links of interest:
The official Marmite website
The unofficial Marmite website
I Love Marmite
I Hate Marmite

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:37 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
February 20, 2004
Potato/Leek Soup

This soup makes my lovely wife Rebecca very happy when its cold out. It's filling, nutritious, and easy to make. Enjoy it on whatever cold days remain this winter, or serve it cold in the summer!

Rebecca laughed at me for taking photos of this recipe, but I think they turned out well.

Ingredients

3 large potatoes
2 large leeks (white and light green parts only)
1 quart vegetable stock
1 8 oz tub of creme fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt
salt, pepper, and green herbs to taste

The main ingredients are three large potatoes (or an equivalent weight of smaller spuds), and a couple of good-sized leeks. I used California Russets for this batch, but I've used Idahos, Yukon Golds and even small red new potatoes.

If you like a white soup for presentation, you can peel the potatoes, but I prefer to keep the skins on and just scrub the tubers clean. You keep more vitamins and I think the final soup tastes better.

Cut up your potatoes into approximately 16 chunks per (slice lenghtwise once, roll 90 degrees, slice again and make three cuts perpendicular to the first two cuts to do this quickly). Keep the chunks about equal size. The shape doesn't really matter, since we'll blend this soup, but you ensure even cooking by keeping the sizes roughly the same.

Next, trim the leeks and slice them lengthwise. Run them under cold water to rinse out any sand or dirt that might have migrated into the leek itself. Then, slice the leeks into equal sized semi-rings (about 1/5" or about a half of a centimeter wide).

Pile all this into a stock pot...

...and pour in one quart of vegetable stock. Make your own or buy good quality low sodium stuff.

Add cold water to the pot until things are just a bit loose and some of the leeks are floating.

Now, add salt, pepper and herbs to taste. I like a bit of dried taragon and Italian parsley in my soup, but just about any green herb will work. This is a lot of soup, so be generous with the herbs and pepper and judicious with the salt.

Put the pot on high until it boils, then reduce to a simmer, cover and let cook for 30-40 minutes until vegetables are meltingly soft.

If you had very starchy potatoes or not enough water and the soup is thick muck, simply add a little more water and heat through.

Time for the powertools: Use a food processor to blend the soup, or if you have an immersion blender (one of those propellers on a sitck) blend the soup in the pot. I use an immersion blender myself. Leave the soup a little chunky for a better mouth feel.

Once that's done, you get to add the creamy bit. Use a small tub (8 oz.) of either sour cream, yogurt, or best choice of all, creme fraiche. I use creme fraiche usually, but this last batch I used sour cream since the only creme fraiche at the market was $7.99 for 8 oz.

Stir together, taste for seasoning and adjust. If soup has reduced too far in temperature, reheat just until warm and serve with a parsley garnish and a slice or two of hearty wheat bread.

Makes soup for four to six hungry adults or soup for two and leftovers that freeze well and reheat in the microwave just fine.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:23 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
A Slightly Thai Soup

One of the many things I love about Nigel Slater is the fact that he does not tie himself down to strictly authentic recipes. How liberating it felt when I first realised I could make a "Thai" soup that wasn't necessarily EXACTLY like the one you get in the restaurant down the road. This may seem like a strange blind spot, but until I met Nigel (figuratively speaking only, sadly) I doggedly followed the axiom that if authentic=good, innovation=bad when it came to ethnic cuisine. So this soup, in the Nigel tradition, has vague measurements and is vaguely...Thai.

Ingredients

1 medium leek
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
chopped fresh ginger, amount depending on how spicy you like it
3 Tbs dried lemongrass (couldn't find fresh - if you can, it's better)
2 dried hot peppers chopped into flakes (I can't remember the name, but they were somewhere in the 400 range where 1000 is the hottest possible pepper)
two chicken breasts
soy sauce (to taste)
the juice from half a lemon
fresh or frozen basil and coriander
snap peas (a handful)
6-7 mushrooms
a little sunflower seed oil mixed with sesame oil
3 cups of chicken broth (home-made if you have it, otherwise I recommend Better than Bouillon paste)


Cut the chicken in bite-sized pieces and marinate in a bowl with one third of the the garlic and ginger each, the lemon juice, the pepper and a few splashes of soy sauce. Slice the white to light green part of the leek in thin rings. In the bottom of a soup saucepan, sauté the leek with the rest of the garlic and ginger in the oils until soft. Add the bouillon and bring to a boil. Put the dried lemongrass in a bag or some cheesecloth (I have these nifty little cheesecloth bags with a drawstring) and steep in the broth. When the soup is boiling, slide the chicken and its marinade into the saucepan. Once it comes back to the boil, add the snap peas (cut in half for easier eating) and sliced mushrooms. Just before serving, add about a tablespoon each of cilantro and basil (if using frozen spices - a small handful of each if fresh). Taste for spices and add a bit of ground pepper and/or some more lemon juice if needed.

I had originally planned on putting some coconut milk in this but didn't realize I was out. Oops. I actually thought it was nicer than my usual soup with the milk. It's also one of my favourites for when my husband has a cold (as he does this week): it's spicy enough that he can taste it, the ginger and garlic are good at combatting germs, and it sweats the cold out. Oh and it's healthy, relatively fat free and only takes about a half an hour to make from start to finish!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February 19, 2004
Moderation in all things

I've long criticized the atkins diet for being a kind of Faustian bargain, where you lose some weight but end up giving yourself heart trouble on the way. So I was glad to see Mr. Atkins himself discredited last week. But this development - Americans generally thinking twice about consuming mass quantities of carbs - has to be a good thing. The basic Atkins premise about a skewed food triangle has some truth to it, and if we all had to convert for a couple months to see that, well, Amen.

Posted by Paul at 7:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
The Pedant in the Kitchen

I recently picked up a copy of Julian Barnes' newest book, The Pedant in the Kitchen. With a few reservations, I enjoy Barnes' writings and the the book was marked with a "signed by the author" sticker, almost justifying the ridiculously high price tag of 20 euros (about $25). We are talking about a pretty small book here: 14x19 cm and 135 pages. But the title was intriguing and I'm always curious when two of my areas of interest intersect: reading and cooking.

This is a seriously funny book. Even if you are nothing like Mr. Barnes (as is the case for me) you have to sympathize with his plight. Starting his cooking rather late in life, he is perplexed by so much the rest of us take for granted: what exactly are "two medium onions"? How much is a handful? What if his hands are not the same size as the author's?

On the other hand, he also deals with a lot of issues that even practised amateur chefs will recognize. The chapter entitled No, I Won't Do That left me in tears of laughter. Not A Dinner Party also struck a note: how much nicer to say you have invited friends over for food rather than claim a Dinner Party.

I'm still not sure that a book you can read in 40 minutes is ever worth over $20 dollars (including the signature) but it's worth borrowing this book from some other poor sucker who did. It's definitely worth a laugh!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Cellaring Beer

Jeff Boda in the Chicago Tribune writes about treating beer like wine by cellaring it. (registration required)

A good full-bodied beer develops as it ages, just like a good wine. I can personally attest to this phenomenon.

Before it shut down earlier this year due to a fire, the Prodigal Son on Halsted in Chicago served up a Fantome Winter 98 brew that I swear had elements of stinky French cheese flavors in it. The yeast had developed to the point where it smelled like a combination of beer and brie. Sounds strange, and it was, but it was delicious.

Not all beers cellar well. Fantome as well as Chimay, Capital Brewery, J.W. Lee, Ommegang, and Unibroue are mentioned as brewers who produce some cellarable beer.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Review: Soprano's in Chicago

Last night, my wife and I decided to try Soprano's at 2901 North Sheffield in Chicago, near the corner of George and Sheffield. The restaurant was formerly Carlucci's.

My first impression of Soprano's was very positive. The dark wood trim frames a pleasant airy space that is well illuminated with small white lights year round. Red and white checkered tablecloths, a serious looking bar, and leather booths tell you you're in an well thought out space run by serious restaurant people, promising a good meal.

It was late on a Wednesday night and our waiter was clearly not happy to be there. Aside from a large party who left shortly after we arrived and a group of women who stopped in for coffee and dessert, we were the only customers in the place. The waiter was polite and efficient, but carried a sad, tired expression like he would have rather been asleep or in Hawaii, i'm not sure which.

My wife ordered lobster tortellini in a tomato cream sauce, which she found tasty. However, she also felt the ravioli pasta itself was either overcooked, or had been inadequately robust for the ravioli to begin with. She was happy with the lobster and shrimp in the sauce.

I ordered linguini with calamari in garlic and oil. The dish, like the surroundings, looked beautiful. The calamari, however was overcooked. The herbs (italian parsley and mint, I believe) were in good proportion, bringing an interesting flavor to the dish, but the oil and garlic sauce could better be described as oil and garlic in water. The linguini itself was perhaps a little undercooked - a taste of raw flour remained - and the pasta itself was not as high quality as the surroundings led me to expect.

We each had a glass of the only Sangiovese on the menu. It was OK, but perhaps not as good as the $6.75 asking price.

One high note was a cup of cream of potato soup my wife and I shared as an appetizer. The soup was excellent, with the right mix of blended potato and potato chunks. I'm not sure this qualified as an Italian dish, but it qualified as the best thing we had that night.

To be fair to Soprano's, the menu is meat-heavy and my wife and I are ovo-lacto-pesce-vegetarians. We were probably not ordering from the "A-list" items on the menu. However, that's how we and others like us (or those just not in the mood for veal or steak) will experience Soprano's.

We didn't have dessert, but the tiramisu looked very well done, as did the other desserts they brought for the table next to us.

If you're looking for soup, a steak, and dessert Soprano's may be worth visiting. I don't think I'll be going back, though. There are just too many other good places to eat in this city.

Other reviews of Soprano's - Raves on Planet 99. No reviews, but a description on MetroMix. Middle of the road reviews in the Reader (6.4 food, 5.8 service, 5.6 ambience).

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February 18, 2004
Soul Pork

Afi Odelia E. Scruggs has a piece in today's Cleveland's Plain Dealer about the changing role of pork in African-American cuisine.

Most interestingly, she tracks how pork's image has changed in the community over the years, partly for health concerns, but mostly because of the influence of the Nation of Islam.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Better pasta

Ben Glatstein and Will Baude discuss the relative merits of imported pasta. These days I usually buy the handmade imported stuff, which is unbelievably cheap ($.33/lb) at Caputo's Cheese Market in the burbs.

Posted by Paul at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Chicken with Parma Ham and Mozzarella

For some reason, my resident Critic absolutely loved this dish. I thought it was pretty nice but not worthy of raving. He raved. So let me know what you think. Basically it's my attempt to use up the ham from the back of the fridge and simultaneously find a way to solve the "melted cheese oozes out of baked chicken breasts" problem.

It's not low fat.
It's not vegetarian.

It was a no-brainer really...

Chicken Breasts Parma Mozz

2 chicken breasts, flattened with a mallet
several slices of parma ham, with the fatty bits pulled off (a token healthy gesture)
one buffala mozzarella (you won't need it all - serve the remainder with fresh tomatoes)
several leaves of fresh sage
bread crumbs to cover two breasts
a few spoonfuls of flour mixed with some grated Parmesan
pepper, freshly ground
dried sage and oregano
1 beaten egg

I may as well admit from the start that I was a bit distracted when I made this last night. I meant to mix the Parmesan with the bread crumbs and instead tossed it with the flour. Actually, this was probably better anyway as I was trying to get away from the "burned cheese on the bottom of my baking dish" syndrome.

So, first set up your bowls with flour/Parmesan, egg and bread crumbs mixed with dried sage and oregano (a dash of each) and freshly ground pepper.

Cut a thickish slice of mozzarella, place two or three leaves of sage on it and enveloppe it with ham. I wrapped it with criss-crossing pieces of ham, leaving a little space at each end so that there was room for the cheese to spread as it melted. Roll the chicken breast around the ham and cheese package.

At this point, suddenly remember to preheat the oven (200c/375f). Place the pan with some butter and olive oil in the oven (this will melt the butter).

Dredge each breast in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Take the pan out of the oven and place each of the breasts in it. It doesn't really matter which way is up, as you will flip them over halfway through.

My oven has a fan, so it probably cooked a a bit more quickly than most standard ovens would do. I turned them the first time after about 15 minutes and then back again 15 minutes later. Altogether they took about 45 minutes to cook and came out golden brown and crunchy all over.

And he loved it.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:11 AM | TrackBack
Metric vs. US Measurements

Eventually, I would like to add our own conversion tables to this site and thus avoid any misunderstanding about the quantities and temperatures. It's more complicated than you might think.

When I first bought my very own Fanny Farmer Cookbook in 1985*, I was pleased to notice that all the recipes had metric as well as US measurements. However, this proved to be less useful than I imagined. The editors of the Fanny Farmer obviously have never actually WORKED in metric - they just blindly translated from one measurement to the other.

One of the problems they ignored is that users of metric and people in the US measure quantities differently. In the US, people happily measure butter in tablespoons because sticks of butter come conveniently marked. Here in France, however, they don't and butter is measured by weight. Flour is also measured by weight, not volume. I never needed a kitchen scale until I started using some of my husband's (English) recipes.

The other problem is that the editors use terms I have never seen used in a metric country (decaliters???). The beauty of the metric system is that you can specify .752 kg if you want to be that precise. Fanny tells you to take 7.52 decaliters. (I think - I'm still not sure when I try to translate her measurements.)

On the other hand, the cookbook does have loads of useful information such as temperature conversions. I'll try to remember to type some of it up tomorrow and consult Barrett about where to put it.

* When my mother leaves this earth, her 1950s edition of the Fanny Farmer will be the only item my siblings and I will fight over...for one thing the new edition is missing the recipe for Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. For years, I called my mother every time I needed the recipe.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:42 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
February 17, 2004
Latin Chicago Dining

The New York Times has a feature on Chicago's Latin dining scene in Travel this week.

Coobah, Rumba, The Winds Cafe, La Fonda Latino, and chain meat-orium Fogo de Chão are highlighted. Personally, I'm a fan of Lettuce Entertain You's Nacional 27, which while still part of a chain has the virtue of being part of a locally owned chain, something Fogo de Chão can't claim.

Worth a read. You'll need to register to read the article, but hey, it's free!

And make sure you check out the Valentine's Menu on the Coobah link above. It may be the most suggestive menu ever written.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Lentil/Cabbage Salad

I just finished the leftovers from this dish I made on Sunday. It's twisted enough from the original that I'm claiming it as an original recipe in its own right. It's pretty low fat, high on protein and great for using up the remains of a big head of savoy cabbage.

Here's how you make the TooManyChefs Lentil and Cabbage Salad:

Ingredients for Salad:
1 entire small or 1/2 large cabbage head, shredded.
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) of lentils
1/2 onion, sliced very thinly - use mandolin if possible
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced finely
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
1 teaspoon (15g) ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste (and it could be a lot)

Ingredients for Dressing:
1 1/2 tablespoons (25 ml) dijon mustard
1 teaspoon (15ml) grated lemon zest
4-5 tablespoons (60-75 ml) red wine vinegar
up to 5 more tablespoons (75ml) olive oil
1 more clove minced garlic
pepper to taste

Wash and pick over the lentils, discarding any stones or discolored lentils. Place in a medium sauce pan and cover with water by two inches. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. If you want more flavor, use a stock instead of water to cover lentils.

Meanwhile make dressing. Combine mustard and red wine vinegar with a whisk. Grate 1/2-1 teaspoon (7-15g) of lemon zest into dressing. Drizzle olive oil in to dressing slowly while whisking to create an emulsion.

Taste dressing when you've got most of the oil in. Add minced garlic, and grind in pepper if desired. If too oily, whisk in more red wine vinegar, if too vinegary, whisk in a little drizzled olive oil.

When lentils are soft, but before they get mushy, remove pot from stove and drain. Toss lentils in a big bowl with most of dressing. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Stir the lentils and dressing every ten minutes or so to ensure proper distribution of the dressing.

Next, In a large skillet, sautee onion and garlic in two tablespoons olive oil until soft. "Hula-hoop" the onions (put the corner of your spatula in the center of an onion slice and make rapid tiny circles) so rings separate.

Once onions are softened a bit, add cumin, stir, add cabbage, fold together. Cook over medium heat until cabbage wilts.

Toss cabbage mix together with lentil/dressing mix. Add rest of dressing and toss. Salt and pepper to taste. There's a lot of unseasoned vegetable matter there, so you may have to be heavy handed on the pepper and/or the salt.

Serve at room temperature or cold.

The raw garlic in the dressing adds a contrast to the mellow browned garlic from the onion/cabbage mix. The lentils just soak up the dressing. When you're done you should have a salad that's dressed well, but not drowned.

Weight Watchers Note: if you decrease the lentils to 120 grams, use only a tablespoon of olive oil to fry the onions and a teaspoon in the dressing, this makes two generous portions at 4 points each. It's a very tasty and satisfying option for a Weight Watcher's meal and you really don't miss the extra oil!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:34 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
February 16, 2004
Barrett in Chicago

My name is Barrett and I like food.

I'm fond of oxygen and water as well, but I really like food. I also like the gear that goes with it, the process of cooking, eating and talking to friends around a table loaded with healthy homemade victuals. I also like it if that table is in a flashy restaurant and the food is haute cuisine made by a master chef, or if we're in a neighborhood joint where they make the food just like Grandmama did a hundred years ago...

I like the sight of a bowl of berries, juices straining against the colorful skins. I like the velvet smell of garlic and onions sweating in butter as it curls around my nostrils. I like the rippling feel of the gills of a Portabello mushroom and the sound of the crunching of a caramel crust on a creme brulee.

Most of all, I like the taste of good food. Recently, I started eating more different foods and paying attention to the process.

I'm recently married, and my extremely healthy wife converted me to semi-vegetarianism. We don't eat red meat, poultry or pork, but we do eat fish, eggs, and milk. You can have my Italian Beef, but you'll have to pry my brie and gouda from my cold dead hands.

As part of the conversion, I found myself forced to cook. As in beyond reheating a can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup. As I learned to prepare strange foods like tomato sauce and salmon filets, I noticed an awful lot of my friends already knew what they were doing in the kitchen. Some of them will share their knowledge and insights here.

Hopefully, we'll be able to guide you to some new tastes or new ways to make old favorites a little more interesting.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 15, 2004
Lemon tart

I just posted this over at locussolus, but since we seem to be in business now, well, here it is. I recommend adjusting the sugar to taste when you're making the filling; my experience was that cooking enhances the tartness just a bit, so keep that in mind. Also, my oven is wacky, so be judicious with the temps...

For the crust/pate sucree:
2 cups flour
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
3 egg yolks
3/2 sticks butter
cold water

For the filling/curd:
3 whole eggs
4 additional egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup confectioners sugar
5 oz lemon juice
2 tbsp lemon zest

1. With a spatula, beat together 2 eggs, 1/4 cup icing sugar, and the 3/2 sticks of butter. They should be well mixed, but it's OK if you can see pockets of butter. Most of the recipes I've seen call for the butter to be at room temperature before you begin, but if you like your crust a little flaky, use cold butter (and put your back into it).

2. Add the 2 cups flour and mix with your fingers until you get a grainy texture (some of the dough may still be a little sticky). Add maybe a tablespoon of cold water and work the dough together into a ball as delicately as possible. If the dough is too sticky to work, add a bit of flour; if it's too dry, add a bit of water. Once the dough is in a ball, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3. In a bowl (or a pitcher if you have one), Whisk together all the ingredients for the curd except the cream. When they are well combined, add the cream and whisk some more.

4. Once the dough has rested, roll it out on a flour-dusted surface. The most important point here is not to stretch the dough as you lay it in the pan, so make sure you roll it big enough. Press the dough into the corners of the pan before you cut away the excess. This recipe should be enough for at least a 10" tart pan.

5. Use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the dough. Line the crust with a piece of aluminum foil and fill with rice/dried beans. Bake for about 10 minutes at 325F. Reduce the oven temp to 275F. Remove the foil and rice or beans, and bake the crust for another 10 minutes or so.

6. Just as the first hints of brown appear, or before if you like, brush the crust with the third egg yolk to seal it. After one more minute in the oven, pour the filling mixture into the crust. This is best accomplished without removing the crust from the oven rack; either way, make sure you don't spill any of the filling over the edges of the crust (or the pan).

7. Cook at 275 for 25 minutes or so. The filling will puff up slightly toward the outside of the crust, but shouldn't change colors. You can tell when it's done by gently jiggling the pan - if the filling in the center doesn't move, take it out.

8. If you like your lemon tart warm, let it cool for 20-30 minutes and serve. If you like it cold, refrigerate first.
Serves 8

Another quick question... Britishisms aside, are we going to try to be metric-friendly here? Meg's done a pretty good job of this, but she still seems to favour the imperial measures in the end. This is fine with me, but just a question of protocol we should probably address!
Posted by Paul at 3:49 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Weekend cooking

Unless we are having friends to dinner, weekend cooking is usually a pretty relaxed affair in our place and tends to focus on "things I need to use up before they go bad". This weekend, it resulted in two of my favourite dishes: Cream of Cress soup and Brie and Onion tart.

Cream of Cress Soup

I love making soup for so many reasons: it's usually quick, full of good vitamins, makes you warm on a cold February day and is easy to bring to work for lunch. (I have really good Tupperware.) This one makes you feel particularly healthy, despite the cream...and the copious amounts of Parmesan I like to add...

Oh and best of all, I got to try out my new hand-held Braun blender which I bought at BHV this weekend - it worked like a DREAM. I might have to do a product review elsewhere.

Ingredients:

1 bag of cress
1 bag of spinach
half a small jar of crème fraîche (about a third of a cup)
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
a few dollops of dry sherry
a tablespoon of butter
parmesan
handful of mushrooms (optional)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup skim milk
lemon juice to taste

Sauté the onions and chopped garlic in the butter. Once the onions are soft and the garlic is cooked, add a splash or two of sherry and let it nearly cook away. Add the washed spinach and cress, woody stems removed. Add half the broth, cover and raise the heat to steam. After a few minutes, when they are all limp and cooked, remove from heat. Use a hand-held blender or normal blender to zap into a smooth purée. Add the rest of the broth, the crème fraîche (or sour cream) and milk. Reheat, but do not boil. At this point, I usually throw a few handfuls of sliced mushrooms into the broth, but that's just me. If you order this soup in a Paris restaurant (soupe de cresson) it will not include fungi. Also, I'm not sure that the parmesan is usually found in this soup, but personally I love it. Taste the soup before serving and add freshly ground pepper and lemon juice to taste. If you used sour cream, lemon juice may not be necessary. It sort of livens up the taste a bit.

Some notes: I'm already cheating on this site, because this is not the soup as I made it last night. In fact, I used twice the garlic and onion and came up with a soup that was just a little too onion-y. So, ever resourceful, I pulled the frozen Cress Soup base that I had in my freezer from the last time I made too much and popped it in the pot. It was kind of interesting - I think I must have put some fresh basil in the soup last time. Anyway, it did the trick and turned it back into a lovely soup.

Another note: a great trick I learned from Marcella Hazan (author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a very good book) is to save your rinds of parmesan in the freezer and throw a bit into cream soups like this. It melts away the last bit of cheese that was too hard to grate and you can throw away the last soggy bit before you serve.

Brie and Onion tart (as adapted from Nigel Slater's recipe)

Those of you who know me are already aware of my love affair with Nigel Slater's recipes. They are rarely fat free, nearly always indulgent and very casual good eating. He's a columnist on the Observer, which was until recently my favourite newspaper. (Until they started charging Europeans four euros for a quarter of a paper....but that is another story and a rant that can go on for days if I let it.)

Getting back to the recipe, Nigel's stuff can rarely be improved upon in terms of making them even more deliciously sinfully rich and fatty. But Steve came up with a way for this one: to the melting rich Brie cheese and buttery onions, we add...bacon. Mmmmmm.....

What you need:

Some onions, about five medium (enough so that you can spread a thick layer of sautéed onion slices on your pastry)
A puff pastry (I buy them pre-rolled - they are pretty good here and much better than I could do myself. At least I think so, having never tried.)
Butter
A handful or two of lardons/a few slices of bacon (streaky bacon in Brit-speak)
Fresh thyme or rosemary (both work)
Some brie - a triangle about 3-4 inches wide at the base.

Slice the onions in thickish wedges and sauté them in the butter until they start to go soft. Add the lardons or bacon slices cut in thin strips. Add a handful of fresh thyme or rosemary. Grind some pepper into the pan too, if you like. When it's all soft and buttery, roll out your pastry. Use a blunt knife to trace an crust half an inch or so from the edge of the pastry. Slice the brie in long thing strips and spread half of them on the pastry in a radiating circle. Tip the onion and bacon mixture onto the pastry (you can drain them first if you like) and spread it over the pastry to the edge you traced. Spread the rest of the cheese on top of the onion mixture (between the spokes of cheese under the onions, for example). Put in a hot oven (200 degrees celsius/375 fahrenheit) for 20-30 minutes or until the pastry is brown, the onions have just started to brown and the cheese is bubbling. Let it cool for a few minutes before serving. You might want to serve it with a nice leafy salad for contrast. Your arteries will probably thank you if you do.

Note: a lot of Americans remove the rind from French soft cheeses, but this is really unnecessary. In France, there are elaborate rules about how to cut the various shapes of cheese and they all revolve around the idea of making sure that everyone gets his or her fair share of the rind. It's good. So save yourself some time and trouble and please do not bother removing the rind from soft cheeses. You may remove them from some hard cheeses if you like. (Although if you get a good Tomme, you really should keep it....mmm....)

So there we have it: TWO recipes. Now Barrett will come back and tell me what I should have done.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Introducing myself...Meg in Paris

This is my first blog entry so you'll have to bear with me. For years, I've been typing stream-of-consciousness messages to my friend Barrett (hello Barrett!) a.k.a. the genius who set up this site. But that is a far cry from actually putting something out there to be read.

I love cooking.

My husband Steve (my favourite critic) and I bought an apartment this summer and the kitchen is still being tweaked into perfection, so you will undoubtedly be hearing from me on all the boring details. Steve zones out when I start telling him my plans, his eyes go glassy and all you hear is "uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah sounds good..." So the new kitchen is going to be discussed.

I also love gardening: it seems to me to go hand in hand in cooking. I plant the occasional flower, but the bulk of my gardening involves edible plants. We have a 20 square meter terrace and my friend Charles recently gave me some huge planters, so this year looks like a good one for zucchini (courgettes), eggplants (aubergines) and maybe even corn on the cob.

Which brings me to another point: I'm American, Steve is British and we are collectively, linguistically, schizophrenic. So you will see me type colour and color, meter and metre, flat and apartment, elevator and lift...it depends on my mood. Sorry, but I'm far too lazy to be consistent. If it leads to any confusion, just send me a message and I'll explain.

So that is my introduction. Next step...recipes!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 1, 2004
Meet the Chefs

The Chefs (and far Too Many of them) are:

Barrett in Chicago

Barrett Buss has been eating food all his life. Only recently has he been cooking it. Professionally, Barrett works in the computer field, so he's always up for a byte. Recently, he converted to pesco-ovo-lacto-vegetarianism, and he'll add insecto- if a bug flies in his mouth. He lives in Chicago with his red-headed wife who is very patient (obviously). Soon, very soon, they will be moving to suburban Baltimore.e-mail

Meg in Paris

Meg Cutts (Meg in Paris) has been lucky enough to live in Paris for over 15 years now, exploring the 365 French cheeses and the many varied markets. She has worked in an international organisation, a en encyclopaedia publishing house and her only professional connection with food to date was working at a Luby's in Texas back in her university days. Now she spends her days looking after and feeding two small monsters (Big Brother and Little Brother) and her beloved Critic, a French-bashing Englishman with very strong views on food. She has contributed to community cookbooks and a book on raising children in France and would love it if one of our readers offered her a job writing about anything - food, France, child-rearing or rocket science. e-mail

Alumni - retired from TMC

Justin in Bogotá

Justin has eaten food in 31 countries—and only occasionally have these meals featured durian, cheese ice cream or raw pork in a blood sauce. His culinary pursuits at home are much more modest where he and wife keep a vegetarian kitchen and were delighted to discover a word, flexitarian, that describes how they eat. e-mail

Paul

Paul Goyette (and the same one writing at locussolus) may not be a natural talent in the kitchen, but he knows his way around the dining room, and that sure helps. He's spent the past couple of years teaching himself how to cook, mostly on a meandering course that seems even at this early date to have touched just about every food group and ethnic possibility. Living more or less alone can make it hard to play on a daily basis, but the occasional over-the-top dinner party/excuse to visit Fox & Obel with his friend John helps balance things out. Paul, it shoud be noted, drinks his bourbon straight up. e-mail


Todd

Todd A. Price started cooking late in life but is working hard to make up for lost time. When confronted with a dish on a menu he can't identity, he always orders it. Todd also runs the blog A Frolic of My Own. e-mail

Corrie in Indy

Corrie eats every day and tries to cook at least as often. In addition to helping edit The Long Trip Home, a literary e-zine for travelers, and working with museums in Indiana, the chefs at a brilliant Indianapolis restaurant humor her with a part-time pantry chef position. In the gelateria of life, Corrie's goal is to taste every flavor at least once. e-mail

Dr. Meg

Dr. Meg Hainer (Dr. Meg) has only been eating food since she has been allowed to use the stove (around age 10). Prior to that she was subsisting primarily on water and plain spaghetti as her mother can't (or was it won't?) cook.
Now she maintains a busy Chicago area OB/Gyn practice and a busy household with Bryan (35), Max (6.5), and Becca (4.75(her calculation...)), plus various and sundry animals too numerous to list here. e-mail

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:49 AM | TrackBack
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