March 31, 2004
Kosher Easter Eggs?

For years now, I have been wanting to introduce my step-daughter to the joys of dyeing Easter eggs and somehow we just never get it together in time before she visits. Either we go away for Easter or we don't see her or...most common...I cannot find white eggs ANYWHERE in the city of Paris. Since Marianne is going to spend Easter with us again this year (she's ten now, going to have to move fast before she thinks it's too childish) I have been canvassing my French and expat friends to no end: where can I buy white eggs? Yes, eggs that are not BROWN.

I had all but given up hope, when I found in the kosher section of the Galeries Gourmandes a nice big flat of white eggs. And then I thought "Kosher Easter Eggs?" Now I know we are not talking about using the Catholic communion wafers for a bread crumb coating on your Passover gefilte fish but somehow it seemed a

And this set me wondering: what exactly makes a chicken egg kosher?

Well, it turns out that really most chicken eggs are kosher. According to the Jewish Outreach Institute, all that is required is that the egg be from a kosher bird (capon, chicken, dove, duck, geese, pigeon, and turkey) and contain no blood spots. A couple of other sites went into queasy detail about the fertilized/unfertilized state of the eggs or whether the chicken was alive when the egg was removed, but we'll assume you can work it out with common sense. 99% of the eggs you can buy in a non-kosher supermarket would appear to be kosher. (If there are any Jewish readers or experts in this area out there, please feel free to correct me or elaborate!)

As for me, I am still keeping my eyes peeled for another source of white eggs. Let me know if you have any tips!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
March 30, 2004
Saveur the Cheapness

Cooking with Amy has a link to a site that will take you to a site where you can subscribe to Saveur for under $5 ($4.69 to be exact)

Amy describes Saveur:

Saveur is like the National Geographics of food and cooking. Not only are there recipes, but stories on origins of different kinds foods, drinks, ingredients and culinary traditions. Their emphasis is on authenticity but it's not at all snooty. It's here you will discover unusual ingredients and little known places to shop and dine.

I'm a fan of the magazine, and we get no cut of the action. You will have to pay via PayPal or credit card to take advantage of the offer.

I'd link the post, but Cooking With Amy doesn't have any perma-links I could find. If you'd like to find it, March 29th, 2004, 5:40pm is the date/time of the post

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:06 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Open Griping

A link from points me to the ChefMoz site. ChefMoz is part of the open directory project.

The idea behind this Open Directory is that everyone can add reviews of restaurants, link to reviews published elsewhere, and generally share good information about the restaurants you might choose for the evening. There are thousands of restaurants listed. Look for your favorite.

Full Disclosure: I've just volunteered to help edit for Chicago for the site, but haven't received a reply yet. I've also submitted links to our reviews at the site so you may see them pop up in the next few weeks.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:39 PM | TrackBack
Cheesy Vegetables

Last night I was abandoned by the Critic (important business dinner, boo-hoo...) and so I decided to experiment a bit and set myself some conditions. The mission: to make something original using only the food in the apartment, that would not be TOO fattening and would involve vegetables. Sadly, condition number two nearly always goes out the door when I start experimenting and I'm afraid it was the case again last night. I decided to try mixing cheeses and vegetables.

Despite my recent postings about spring vegetables, my vegetable bin was still full of the same old winter vegetables so I chose potatoes and zucchini for my dinner. I quickly scrubbed the potatoes and ran a metal skewer through them and put them in a hot oven to bake. In the meantime, I sliced one medium zucchini in strips about 1 cm deep and 4-5 cm long. I brushed the slices with olive oil and set them aside as I knew they would take less time to bake than potatoes.

I turned to the cheese drawer to choose my cheesy comestibles. For the potatoes, I opted for a blue cheese called Fourme d'Ambert. I had been reading Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food on the metro home and he mentioned that Fourme d'Ambert was heavenly with potatoes. I decided to see if he was right. For the zucchini, I decided to try a departure from my usual choice of parmesan and pulled out the Beaufort that was leftover from a fondue some time ago.

Then I went to watch the Simpsons because it was obvious the potatoes were going to take a while. I like this kind of cooking.

Simpsons over (i.e. one half hour into the baking of the potatoes), I slid the tray of zucchini slices into the oven. My old kitchen only had ONE rack and I am so happy now that I can fit more than one dish in the oven at a time! I prepared the Fourme d'Ambert by crumbling about 1/2 cup of it. I grated enough Beaufort to cover the zucchini (about 3/4 cup grated) and then tossed the grated cheese with about a 1/4 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg, a dash of salt and some freshly ground pepper. By now, the zucchini slices were nearly done and the potatoes felt soft, so I removed the zucchini tray, sprinkled the Beaufort mixture on the slices and put it back in the oven. While the cheese was melting, I removed the potatoes, split them open, buttered them (um, yes, low-cal...) and tossed the crumbled blue cheese over them. I gave them a good grinding of pepper as well. When the cheese had started to brown on the zucchini I plated them with the potatoes and a little salad. It wasn't very pretty, but it was very very tasty!

A note about the cheeses:

Beaufort is a hard, flavourful cheese made from the milk of the Beaufort cows, called the Tarines or Tarentaises. The younger cheeses have a mild slightly fruity taste, but I like it better when the Beaufort has aged a bit and takes on some nuttiness. Beaufort is an essential element in a good fondue, and the more you add the more flavour your fondue will have. It was because I was familiar with how well it melts for fondue that I chose it for my zucchini.

According to the site, Fourme d'Ambert is one of the oldest cheeses in France, dating back to Roman times. It is made with Pasteurized cow milk and is produced the Tours region of France (in the Loire valley). It's a very creamy blue cheese, sliced in large thick rounds. Unfortunately, I was eating it Out Of Season but hopefully the cheese police won't catch me.

Although I am normally opposed to doing anything to oysters (other than devouring them raw, that is) this recipe on the site for Steamed Oysters with Fourme d'Ambert sounds delicious (scroll and click on link to get recipe). Maybe I can convince the Critic that he does like oysters...providing I hide them under spinach and cheese!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
March 29, 2004
Russian Tea Time

Russian food is not the first type I think of when I think of a good place to find a vegetarian dinner. Maybe it should be, based on my experience this weekend at Russian Tea Time restaurant in Chicago.

The name implies that only Russian fare can be found here, but the chef and owner Klara Muchnik is originally from Uzbekistan. Uzbek, Ukranian, Russian, and even Lithuanian fare is here and delicious.

Daniel Barenboim and other members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are rumored patrons of this dark lush restaurant at the high-culture edge of the Loop.

Paul Goyette (of this site and locussolus) and I dined with our respective enamoratas (enamoratae?). Three of the four of us were vegetarian to some degree. We settled on two of the vegetarian plates for two. Paul added on a cup of borscht and I had a thick cup of vegetarian mushroom barley. Paul has had some experience with borscht and he praised this borscht unreservedly. My mushroom soup was rich robust and complex without relying too much on salt. It was also very filling for just a cup of soup. I began to see I was headed for trouble.

The vegetarian platter is delivered to the table in two courses. The first was a plate with potato dumplings, stuffed mushrooms, carrot salad, diced beets, beet caviar, hummus, and a tabouleh and vinaigrette salad.

The potato dumpling and stuffed mushroom were perfectly adequate. I'm not sure how you make something like that really special without going away from traditional recipes. The hummus was also well done. It went very well as a spread on the impossibly black bread that came with our meal.

The rest however, was beyond good tending towards fantastic. Opinions were split on the tabouleh salad, but I think that was more of a rejection of type than of the specific execution of the tabouleh, which I found light and refreshing. The carrot salad was sweet and just a little sour, with a nice vinegar touch not overwhelming the natural moisture and freshness of the shredded carrots. The diced beets were sweet, tender, and a wonderful deep red.

The best of all the dishes from the first course, however, was a beet caviar. I'm not sure exactly what was in the beet caviar beyond the minced beets, but there's some smooth, silky ingredient (perhaps a thick cream?) that makes the beet caviar a transcendental dish. Russian Tea Time refers to it on their menu as Legendary Beet Caviar, and it deserves the name.

The second course was good and filling, but didn't approach the excellence of the first course. The first course had focused on intense sweet flavors. The second moved to the earthy with stuffed eggplant, stuffed bell pepper, vegetable layered stew, mung bean stew, chickpea and onion stew, rice pilaf and kasha.

My wife scarfed up the chickpeas, leaving the eggplant and stuffed pepper to me. We both picked through the stews to pull the beets from them. It's hard to believe that I disliked beets so much until a few years ago. The school lunch programs should be sued for serving those floppy canned red disks they called beets.

We left a good portion of the platter for the dogs back of the RTT's kitchen (or wherever unfinshed food goes) and soldiered on to desert. Rebecca and I picked through the assortment of miniature pastries and Paul and his fiance tackled an impressive looking napoleon with raspberry sauce. We did wonder for a second if it were raspberry sauce or some inventive new beet sauce. We didn't enquire too closely about how the napoleon was because in short order both the mini-pastries and the napoleon were buried in the Kremlin Wall of our bellies.

The name of the restaurant is Russian Tea Time, and the tea I had with desert was excellent. A lump of brown sugar and a squeeze of lemon was perfect with the low-tannin tea.

The price was reasonable (about $95/couple with drinks and tip if I remember right), the food delicious. It was nice to find a restaurant that still caters to meat eaters while not relegating vegetarians to a large sald or a grain burger. Service was attentive, but not overbearing, and we even got a bonus cherry vodka shot (or two shots in one glass, really) at the end.

If you're down near the Art Institute, give Russian Tea Time a try.

Russian Tea Time
77 East Adams Street, (between Michigan Avenue and Wabash Avenue)
Chicago, Illinois 60603

Sunday and Monday: 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. - midnight

Phone: 312-360-0000
Fax: 312-360-0575

Reviews on Centerstage are very positive especially regarding the vegetarian dishes.
ePinions users rate it highly as well.
Reviewers on MetroMix give Russian Tea Time four stars.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:35 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Serendipitous Sunday Dinner

Doesn't this look healthy?
Main Entry: serˇenˇdipˇiˇty
Pronunciation: -'di-p&-tE
Function: noun
Etymology: from its possession by the heroes of the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Don't you love it when you get a taste for a particular dish and - against all odds - discover you actually have all the ingredients you need in your kitchen? I am the sort of person who usually buys feta cheese because my husband likes it and then promptly forgets about it until it has long passed its shelf life. So it was quite a happy surprise to me when I discovered that I had all the ingredients (or at least all the ingredients we like best) for a Greek Salad in our fridge on Sunday evening. As you can see in the image here, we like the following elements in our salad: lettuce, tomatoes, slices of red pepper, spring onions, feta cheese and a drizzle of our best olive oil. ("You spent HOW much on that oil?" "Umm...about thirty euros..." "Thirty euros???" Long silence. "It's really good...")

One departure this time: I also had a fresh fennel bulb in the bottom of the vegetable drawer, so I sliced some v-shaped chunks of fennel and added them to the mix. This elicited a yelp from the Critic: what is THIS? Followed by a grudging: well, actually, it's not too bad, kind of grows on you...

So there you have it: a perfect Sunday dinner for a couple who brunched with friends to excess on Sunday afternoon.

A final note: there is just enough Feta left for me to make another helping of the Egg, Feta and Sage sandwich that Barrett wrote about. I tried it for the first time this weekend and it's absolutely delicious!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:02 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
March 26, 2004
Foul for the Fool

I know that Barrett recently published a recipe for Foul muddamas. I tend to be somewhat of a purist where Foul is concered.

My father was a missionary in Beirut in the 50's when it was still beautiful and safe! He brought back many yummy middle eastern dishes. One of our favorites is this version of foul. Incidentally, when I was living in Egypt, I ate a similar version.

One can of foul beans with their liquid
Juice of 1/2 - 1 lemon (to taste)
minced or crushed garlic (I use 2-3 cloves)
olive oil to taste (approx 1 tablespoon)
Zhater (a mid east melange of spices including sesame seeds, basil, cumin and others) to taste

Dump everything into a pot, heat on the stove until boiling. Serve either in a bowl like soup with toasted pita on the side, or in a pita like a sandwich (this is how you get it from the street vendors in Giza)


Posted by Dr. Meg at 9:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
March 25, 2004
The Naked Chef Tours America

Irrepressible Jamie
I have just noticed (too late to inform my friends in Chicago) that the UK chef Jamie Oliver is doing a whirlwind tour of the states. You can read his impressions of Chicago on his site, as well as a review of Café Atlantico. Actually, he's a lot less explicit about the food there than our friend Barrett in his review.

So why do so many people love Jamie Oliver? He is so darn inarticulate that you sometimes think a village somewhere must be missing its idiot. But then he adds a personal touch or says something to the point and you realize there is an intelligence of some sort hiding behind the patter. And you remember his recipes, which range from the classics (with many good tips) to the truly original. I also like the way he gives credit where it is due: one of my favourite recipes in the Naked Chef, Chickpea and Leek Soup, is credited to a friend of his who found the recipe in an old cookbook. And lastly, there is that bubbling irrepressible charm and good humour: you just can't help smiling at his enthusiasm. You want to hate him for having it all (gorgeous wife and kids, great career, loads of money) but he makes it difficult, because he just radiates sincere good will. His restaurant, Fifteen, is connected to a charity he founded called Cheeky Chops, where unemployed young people who are interested in the food industry are given jobs and education.

So although his star is on the wane a bit in the UK (shame about those Sainsbury's adverts, Jamie) let us give a big cheer for Jamie who makes cooking original, healthy food look like a barrel of laughs!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:46 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
March 24, 2004
Spring stir-fry

spring in a wok
Wandering through a gourmet supermarket in the 17th recently, I succumbed to a craving for fresh bright vegetables. Usually, I try to keep to vegetables that are actually in season, but when we get to the very end of the winter blues I am so tired of starch. I went wild at the vegetable section: snap peas, shitake mushrooms, soy sprouts, baby spinach, a leek and carrots. With some fresh ginger and a couple of chicken breasts, I was ready for a nice light spring stir fry.

I have to be honest that this recipe was based on my vague recollection of a recipe from Epicurious that I tried some time ago for Velvet Chicken. I (along with most of the other reviewers) had a problem with the original recipe, in that it needlessly called for coating the chicken with egg white and cornstarch batter, which immediately formed a thick slimy crust at the bottom of the wok. So this time, I added a few veggies and marinated the chicken in a soy sauce, lemon, ginger and garlic sauce instead.

Spring Stir Fry (serves two generously with leftovers)

1 leek, trimmed and sliced in thin separated rounds
2 carrots, peeled and cut in thin rounds
1 cup/150 grams snap peas
1/2 cup/about 100 grams shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
2 chicken breast cut in thin strips
a knob of ginger about the size of an average thumb, peeled and cut in thin strips
2 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup soy sauce
the juice of one lemon
a dash of sesame oil
oil for frying in the wok (sunflower in my case)
2 tsp red pepper flakes
a dozen fresh basil leaves, minced

2/3 cup rice

As always when using a wok, the essential thing is to get all of your ingredients ready in advance. Cut up the chicken first so that you can set it to marinate in about half of the soy sauce, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, basil and pepper flakes. It means having to wash your knife thoroughly before you cut the vegetables (or two knives) but the meat will have a chance to marinate a bit. Mix the rest of the soy sauce, lemon juice, ginger, garlic and pepper flakes (but not the remaining basil) in a bowl and spoon a small amount over each of the rest of the vegetables as you finish preparing them. See the veggies.

Before you start adding ingredients to the wok, start the rice cooking in a pan of boiling water. Then light the fire under the wok and let it get really hot. You can tell it's hot enough if, when you add the oil, it immediately starts to smoke. (I use sunflower oil with a dash of sesame oil.) Throw the chicken in immediately with its marinade. Once the chicken has nearly finished cooking, start adding the vegetables in the following order: carrots, leeks, mushrooms, spinach and snap peas. You may need to fry in batches so that everything cooks quickly enough. Speed is of the essence! As soon as you add the last two vegetables, drain the rice (hopefully it will be done!) and throw it on top of the vegetables, turn off the fire and put a lid on the wok. This will cook the spinach and snap peas to perfection if you just wait a couple of minutes. Before serving, add any of the marinade left over from the vegetables, along with the remaining basil. Give the vegetables and rice a good stir and taste to see if it needs any more soy sauce.

Grab a large bowl and a fork and dig in!

The Critic's judgement: very good but way too many mushrooms. Actually, the next time around I think I won't put any of the marinade in with the 'shrooms as they did get a little slimy. But tasty!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:32 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
March 23, 2004
Barrett's Egg, Feta, and Sage Sandwich

This is so fast and simple I hesitate to call it a recipe. It's one of my favorite breakfasts. My wife was hooked by this recipe the first time I made it and I give it partial credit for our marriage.

For flavor, the butter is essential, even with a non-stick pan. It's just not right with margarine or a cooking spray.

The sage used in this recipe can be the powdery ground sage, but for best results, I like the dried sage leaves, crumbled between your fingers into the bowl. The texture and the newly released oils make the sage much more prominent.

serves 2-3
2 English muffins, split
2 tablespoons of butter
5 eggs
1 tablespoon sage
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, beat eggs, sage, feta together. Add very little salt (the feta is pretty salty) and enough pepper to taste.

Toast English muffins.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Pour egg mix into pan and stir to scramble, distributing cheese. You aren't trying to melt the feta, just warm it through. Some may melt - that's fine - but it's not the goal. When the eggs are still just a little loose, turn off heat.

Butter English muffins, dish egg mix on top of each side of muffins.

Remember if the eggs are done in the pan you've overcooked them since they will continue to firm up from carryover heat. The sage and salt from the feta give you the illusion that there is sausage of some sort in the mix. I'm sure the fat from the butter doesn't hurt either.

Serve with juice, skim milk, coffee and the Sunday paper.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:28 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
March 22, 2004
Too Much Art

Art seen around the web that seems relevant to our site:

Children interpret the phrase "Too Many Chefs Spoil the Broth".

Howard William Steer imagines a strange world of WAY Too Many Chefs.

The movie Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? was also known as Too Many Chefs (site contains saucy pic of Jacqueline Bisset in the soup).

On Unreal Pictures, too many chefs are unhappy with the Ally McBeal Dancing Baby.

And finally, on a fan site of the Irish band, we find U2 Many Chefs.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:52 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Gourmet Dishes on the Net

The April edition of Gourmet Magazine picks the finest food blogs on the Internet. Too Many Chefs was - Well, we don't REALLY believe in competition between sites and if we'd won we would have sent Sacheen Cruz Littlefeather up to reject the award but.. OK, we're green with envy, but we're VERY happy for the sites mentioned, all of which are excellent.

The very deserving sites featured in the article are:

The Food Section
The Radical Chef
Chocolate & Zucchini
Bourrez Visage

We've admired many of these sites for the last year, and have added the others to our list of links (over there)===> so we can enjoy them easily from now on.

We do reject the award of the word "flogs" used in the article as a name for food blogs.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:52 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
March 21, 2004
Italian Sweet(ie)s

Have you seen Giada De Laurentiis on the Food TV's Everyday Italian? She just kills me. She's so UP all the time like an espresso chihuahua.

I think I discovered why - on her recent show "Italian Dessert Party", Giada (who reminds me of an even smaller Susan Lucci) whipped up a Chocolate Amaretti cake. Sugar, caffeine, it all makes sense! And the recipe looked so simple. I had to try it to get my OWN Italian chocolate buzz on.

I rewound the Tivo, wrote down the ingredients and the procedures, and gave it a whirl. What I produced tastes like heaven, but looks a bit more like the Martian terrain.

Listen to me when I tell you this: Butter the hell out of your springform before proceding and let the cake cool for two solid hours before you attempt to separate the cake from the pan. Cocoa dusting can only cover up so much damage. And I still am not sure where the two big bubbles that look like impact craters under the cake came from.

I guess an ugly cake has one advantage - more for me. And it does taste outrageously good. If you have a springform pan and a source for amaretti cookies, try making this cake.

This is not my recipe so I direct you to Food Network for the details.

This brings us to the burning question - Giada or Susan?

I'm thinking Giada. Definitely Giada. Lucci may have her Emmy, but De Laurentiis has an Oster. (Get it? Get it?)

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:45 PM | Comments (128) | TrackBack
March 19, 2004
I'm awake, I'm awake!

My good friend Sam has just pointed out to me an article about IT workers and caffeine from the Network World Fusion site, where they mention caffeine soap. Apparently, there are people (mostly IT workers by the sound of it) so desperate for their morning jolt that they want it in the shower before the coffee is even brewed. According to the marketers, your skin can absorb a certain amount of caffeine from the soap. How does it get from there to your bloodstream? I don't know, but the guy interviewed in the article claims it gets the job done.

Sam thoughtfully included another link to the ThinkGeek site, where they have a whole section on caffeine (38 items, including the soap). Did you know Jolt makes chewing gum? You can also get Timmy's Torrid Tonic - Caffeinated Hot Sauce, surely a killer combination for the strong-hearted.

Personally, I will stick to good old-fashioned coffee and tea. Now I just need a nice warm milk and a dark room to calm down in...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
March 18, 2004
St. Patrick's Day Soup?

green soup.jpg

In the Expat-flat we celebrated St. Patrick's Day quietly with an old friend and a new movie (Lost in Translation). In honor of the day, I made one of my favourite soups, which happens to be green. Sadly, it was only after the fact that I realized that a green soup made with English cheese was perhaps not the most tactful of tributes. Never mind, we'll pretend I used Cashel Blue instead of Stilton. (As an aside, did you know there are NO cheese shops in Stilton, England? How disappointing is that for a food pilgrim?)

Broccoli and Stilton Soup (serves 4-6)

3-4 medium broccoli heads
2 onions
4 cups chicken broth
6-8 sage leaves
2-3 cups cheese (Stilton, Cashel Blue, you can also add some cheddar and it's very nice)
1/2 cup milk
3 Tbs/50g butter
A little grated Parmesan as garnish

Roughly chop the onions and set them to soften on a medium heat with the butter in a large saucepan. While the onions are cooking, wash the broccoli heads and cut off the florets. Peel the thich stem by cutting into the end of the stalk and pulling down. I cut off the irritating smaller branches rather than peeling them too, but it depends on how conscientious you want to be. (It helps if you have a wormery like me - what isn't food for us is food for the little wriggling ones.) Chop the peeled stems and add them, with the florets to the saucepan. Add the broth, turn up the heat and cover. (You can substitute the water from cooking other vegetables or wine or even just plain water for the broth if you like. Last night, I used half broth and half water from boiling potatoes.)

Once the broccoli has turned bright green and is soft, remove the pan from the heat. At this point you can either use an immersion blender to blend the soup or remove it to a food processor for blending. The former will probably leave a few chunks in your soup but is less hassle to clean afterwards.

Return the filled saucepan to the heat. While it is reheating, break the Stilton or Cashel Blue in small pieces and chop the sage leaves. Add them gradually to the soup, stirring as you go to melt them. Add the milk and taste for salt and pepper.

It's a really lovely soup, full of flavour. It reminds me of the broccoli-with-cheese that was so popular when I was younger, except that the cheese is integrated with the broccoli and thus doesn't fall off onto your plate. This is a much more elegant way to pair the two!

We also had a roast beef and potatoes (very Irish) and to finish it off, a glass of Irish Whiskey (in a Waterford glass of course!).

A note on the photo: after reading Clotilde's recipe for Mimolette and Broccoli soup, I decided to follow her lead and include the leaves in my soup as well as the florets and stem. I saved a few of the leaves from the blender to make a prettier presentation!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:46 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
March 17, 2004
No Snakes Here

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all! I'd thought of featuring boxty or colcannon today, but I had a hankering for spinach pie last night and you can see from the previous entry where that led. Instead I'd like to present you with a bunch of links to good info on food and drink this St. Patrick's day.

We start close to (my) home. Kiplog has a nice staggering tour of Chicago's north side Irish bars. There's even a map. I'm a fan of the Galway Arms and the Abbey, myself.

We previously featured a leek and lentil dish from The Old Mill in Dublin. And of course I got ribbed for my bit on Shamrock Shakes. (Which coincidentally is the name of the condition you get after too much green beer.)

You might enjoy baking Irish Soda Bread tonight, or if you're brave and like fruitcake-like items a loaf of Barmbrack.

The king of St. Patrick's Day food, in the U.S. at least, is Corned Beef. What the heck is corned beef, anyway? If I had a spare two weeks, how would I corn beef at home? The DIY network chimes in with an article that covers the whole shillelagh, including recipes.

Although she's increasing her high-tech manufacturing and distribution, Ireland is a rural country at heart, as can be seen by the prominence of livestock and game on her pre-Euro coins. Pigs, rabbits, salmon, and a big black bull appear on various coins. A cattle raid (Tain Bo Cuailnge) is at the heart of the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology.

Finally, wash it all down with a pint of Guiness Facts and Lore. While you're drinking it, see if you notice the bubbles sinking.

Erin Go Bragh, and kick an Englishman in the shin for Ireland today. ;)

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:55 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
March 16, 2004
Spinach and Mushroom Pie

This is a variant of one of my never fail crowd pleasing fallback dishes. Ricotta-spinach pie was one of the first things I learned how to make when I started cooking for myself. I first dilligently followed the recipe that I found on the web. Since then, I've modified it several times, adding feta and other ingredients.

Tonight, I thought some mushrooms might bring a bit more flavor to the dish, so I added them in and I think the final dish is just lovely. The in-house vegetarian expert also agrees and thought the final dish was "lighter than quiche". I attribute that to the lowfat ricotta, but maybe it was the love I put into it.

OK, fine, it's the lowfat ricotta. Here's how to make it:


10 oz. spinach, either frozen or fresh, washed and stems removed
8 oz. sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (I use low fat, you can use whatever you want)
1 cup grated Parmesan divided into 2 1/4 cup and 1 1/2 cup portions
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 eggs
1/2 stick softened unsalted butter
1 tblsp olive oil
salt, pepper
1 tablespoon dried basil
1/3 cup feta
1/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
pinch of nutmeg

Mix the softened butter, 1/4 cup of parmesan and breadcrumbs together. Press into the bottom of a 9" pie pan, smoothing and evening mix out. Put pie pan in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes.

Sautee spinach in a pan with 1/2 cup water until wilted (or thawed and warm if you used frozen). Drain. Sautee mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Drain, mix with spinach. set aside.

Combine eggs, ricotta, sour cream, 1/2 cup Parmesan, feta, dried basil, and nutmeg together and stir until smooth and well mixed. Salt and pepper to taste. Add spinach/mushroom mix. Pour whole mess into pie pan previously prepared. Sprinkle last 1/4 cup Parmesan on top.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Let cool one hour before slicing. Serve warm or cold.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:38 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Observing food

I used to complain because my favourite UK newspaper, the Observer, would put huge banners on the front page once a month saying "THIS WEEK THE OBSERVER FOOD MONTHLY" in screaming letters while they were too cheap to deliver the magazine to France. Now we have a "European" edition where the Review, Sports and Travel sections have been condensed to one small section, but at least they have taken away that taunting banner. Still, I can't help but feel that they missed the point, which is that I want my Observer Food Monthly.

For the moment, I am obliged to browse it on-line. It's better than nothing, but I don't get any of the photos. I found a few interesting items in this Sunday's selection:

Nigel Slater gets my undying appreciation for (inter alia) saving me from the horror of EVER attempting to clean and cook an octopus and making me laugh with his account of such activities. It made me think of the chapter in Julian Barnes' Pedant in the Kitchen entitled No, I Won't Do That!

The Observer wine critic, Tim Atkins, gives us his Top 25 Wine Truths. Number 9: Never trust a person who collects wine labels. Why?

And lastly, the Observer's Dr. John Briffa gives Ten Tips for Combatting Asthma through nutrition. I found particularly interesting the fact that number one suggestion is consuming foods with magnesium. My husband, who is asthmatic, was diagnosed as having a magnesium deficiency a few years ago. Looks like I should continue to push the fish, leafy green vegetables and nuts.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
March 15, 2004
Chicken pot pie, hold the pot

For years, my mother owned one of the scariest microwave ovens
in the world. One of her brothers passed it on to her around 1978 when he upgraded to a newer model. It looked like something that belonged on a space ship, big and silver and scientific. As I recall, it transformed our lives. Scrambled eggs in the microwave (no pan to clean!), frozen macaroni and cheese...and my favourite: chicken pot pie. The ultimate comfort food.

How carefully I would eat the crust, trying desperately to make it last so as to have a tiny bit with each bite. Every time, I burned the roof of my mouth on the hot chicken gravy.

So tonight, I took the last of that roast chicken (you are probably tired of hearing about that chicken, I imagine) and made my modern version of Chicken Pot Pie (Without the Pot).

Why no pot? For a long time I didn't have any bowls that were oven safe. Then there was the fact that I always felt pot pies don't have quite enough crust. So instead, I make a kind of a meat pasty with pate feuilleté. It's pretty to look at, satisfyingly crusty and keeps the chicken hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth.

The ingredients can vary somewhat, but tonight the recipe went as follows:

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cooked chicken meat
2 chicken breasts (if you can scrape together a cup and a half of cooked meat, skip this - it's much better with leftover roasted chicken meat)
margarine (the cat got at the butter last night - bad kitty!)
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 small potato
1 medium carrot
4 mushrooms
1/2 cup peas
1/4 cup capers
1 tsp tarragon (frozen)
2 heaping tsp of mustard
2 heaping Tbs of crčme fraiche
1/4 cup wine
1/4 cup chicken broth (in this case from the roasted bird)
1 tsp flour
2 pastry rounds

There is a certain amount of prep work for this recipe, but it is worth it in the end. Chop the garlic finely and start it cooking in a little of the butter (if you have any) or margarine (sigh). Roughly chop the onion and add to the pan. While the onions are cooking, cut the raw chicken breast in small pieces. If you have enough cooked meat and can skip the raw chicken breasts the prep is much quicker. Remove the onions and garlic from the frying pan and add the chicken along with a little more butter or margarine. Turn the heat up fairly high so that you can brown the chicken and cook it quickly. Once the chicken is browned on all sides, add the wine to deglaze the pan. When the wine has reduced to about half, turn down the heat and add the rest of the ingredients (vegetables duly sliced, cubed or chopped as appropriate). Taste the sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the flour over the sauce and give it a quick stir.

Assembly: roll out the first pastry and cut it straight down the center. Pile as much filling as you think the pie can hold on opposite sides of each of the pastry halves. View image

Fold the tops over the filling and gently pinch together the edges of the pastry. You want to seal it pretty well or else you'll have sauce leaking out of the pastry onto your oven floor and burning there. Repeat with the second pastry. Bake them in a hot oven (200c/400f) for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown on the outside and bubbling inside.

The critic was very impressed. And yes, I did burn the roof of my mouth. Some things never change.

chicken pie.jpg

It's my second favourite way to use up roast poultry leftovers. The best way is a sandwich with just meat and lots and lots of mayo. Mmmmm....

This recipe, however, goes a lot further! Serve it as a light lunch or with a substantial salad for dinner.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
March 13, 2004
A Frugal Gourmet

Soup to be

Does anybody remember the Frugal Gourmet? Jeff Smith was so popular in the eighties in the US, the darling of PBS. And then there was that scandal about the young boys. If you search the PBS site, you will not find his name there any more.

Still, that doesn't take away from the chef, his philosophy or his recipes. And I loved the philosphy behind his frugality: not being stingy but making sure you use everything. It reminds me of one of my favourite recipes in the Fanny Farmer cookbook, Floating Island. There are only four ingredients, but they all fit together like a puzzle: you separate the eggs and beat the whites, cooking the whites in a saucepan of milk. You then use the same milk and the egg yolks to make a custard, on which you float the egg-white meringues. (The other two ingredients are sugar and vanilla, if you are interested.)

Oddly enough, this same philosphy was bred in me by my Austrian grandmother. Having lived through the Depression, you might have thought that she would be frugal in the sense of not spending money on good food, but you would be wrong. She always bought the best possible cuts of meat, the freshest vegetables. However, like the Frug she was careful to waste nothing. The chicken or duck carcass was turned into a soup stock. The water from boiling potatoes was added to the simmering carcass, as were all vegetable peelings. If she didn't have a use for the vitamin-laden water immediately, she put it in the freezer for the next time.

And so I do the same. The photo above is the lovely rich stock I made from last week's chicken. I tried a new trick (read about it in one of the Frug's recipes actually) of adding the onions with the skins to give it more color. I didn't have many old vegetables in the bottom of the fridge to add, but I think it will still make a tasty soup. For the moment, it glows at me in a friendly way every time I open the fridge.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:24 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
March 12, 2004
Onion Johnnies

(photo courtesy of

In England, the typical image of a Frenchman is a mustachio-ed gentlemen (well, actually, peasant) on a bicycle with strings of onions hanging from the handlebars and a striped shirt and beret. Why a bicycle, you might ask? Why the onions?

In fact, it is all down to one farmer from Brittany named Henri Ollivier, who in 1828 decided to stow his bike and his surplus onions in a boat and cross the channel to sell his onions in England. He was so successful that other farmers from his hometown of Roscoff followed. For the next 150 years the tradition continued, with thousands of Bretons flooding into England in the winter months, selling Roscoff pink onions door to door.

And thus a stereotype was born. The number of "Johnnies" (or Petitjeans in their own language) has dwindled in the last twenty years, but apparently there are still a few of them around. As recently as October of 2002, the 65 year old André Quemener was still making the crossing to sell onions in Scotland.

Traditionally, Bretons see themselves as closely linked with their Celtic friends across the channel. They take seriously the fact that they live in Bretagne (the real Britain) and across the water is the Grand Bretagne of their relatives. So this cross-cultural exchange has existed ever since the first Bretons migrated to the land of the Angles and Saxons. The Johnnies have been seen as real friends by their English clients over the years and I find this whole story quite charming: food serving as a basis for cultural exchanges and understanding. Of course, this is really an exchange between the Bretons and the Brits, leaving the French sadly out of it!

Luckily for me, living in France I don't have to rely on a sadly declining tradition to get my Roscoff onions; last week I bought some at the local supermarket.


Aren't they lovely? I have to admit I bought them for the fact that they were braided rather than any foreknowledge of the species. (I'm a sucker for good marketing and long for the day when I can have a proper larder with onions and garlic and maybe even sausages hanging from the ceiling...)

However, as soon as I sliced one open, I noticed they were out of the ordinary. First, there is the fact that they are, indeed, pink:

cut roscoff.jpg

Secondly, they did not make me cry. I hate it when onions make me cry and as I cook a lot with onions it's quite a cross to bear. Roscoff onions although they have plenty of flavour are much sweeter than your standard white or yellow onions. This is especially important when you are making something like French Onion Soup, which calls for a lot of onions.

So last night I decided to sacrifice the remaining Roscoff onions in one big bang of a hot winter soup:

Tearless French Onion Soup (4 bowls)

5-6 Roscoff onions
1 clove garlic
4 cups beef stock
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
4 handfuls of grated gruyčre cheese (any hard French cheese will do)
4 slices of toasted bread (something fairly dense that will stand up to soaking)
salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbs/60-70 grams butter
1/4 cup dry sherry or white wine

Melt the butter in a frying pan and use a garlic press to add the garlic. While the garlic is starting to cook, slice the onions in thin half-circles. Add them to the butter and garlic and turn up the heat a bit. While the onions are starting to cook, collect and chop the herbs finely. (At this point, if you are not alone in the house you will most likely hear someone call from the other room "Smells good - what are you cooking?") Add the herbs and continue cooking until the onions are soft and limp and even a bit brown and glazed in places. In the meantime, heat your beef stock in a small saucepan. Add the sherry to the onions and cook until the liquid is mostly gone. Add the onion mixture to the beef stock and turn out the flame under the frying pan: it's day is done.

While the beef and onion flavours are gently mingling in your simmering soup, toast your bread. Make enough for two bowls initially - you can always add more later. Grate your cheese. Taste the soup and decide whether it needs salt (probably not unless you are using home-made stock) or pepper. When you can't wait any longer, set the oven to heat. If you have an electric oven, you can set just the top element heating to "grill" the soup.

In each bowl, ladle soup to about 1 inch (2.54 cm) from the top of the bowl. Float your bread on top of the soup and cover generously with cheese. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and put in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and just starting to brown.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of this soup last night but it was lovely. We have just enough for two more bowls left over from this recipe, so perhaps tonight I'll remember...if I don't get carried away by the smell of those lovely Roscoff onions!

And here's the photo - it was even better the second day!

onion johnnies soup


The story on Johnnies from a Breton website (in English)

The story of André Quemener in the Scotsman Heritage site

And a book about Onion Johnnies

An interesting article from the Telegraph on the current (well, 2000) Johnnies

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:37 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
March 11, 2004
Best Thing You've Ever Eaten?

I've eaten at a lot of fine restaurants. I've had foams, froths, and brulee's and I've drunk Dom Perignon, 100 year old port, and 40 year old scotch.

But the best thing I've ever had was from a street cart vendor in New York City. It was one of the first times I'd been in the city on my own (I think it was the Saturday after a week of work there). I hadn't really seen New York, so I walked half the length of the island and back on Broadway, taking in the atmosphere. It was Spring, the day was sunny, and by the time I hit Houston street, I was ravenous.

I bought a souvlaki from an elaborate cart run by a slight Middle-Eastern man who had very little hair and a goatee. I was a little concerned by the appearance of the cart, and wondered just how sanitary it was to cook all day outside on a city street.

The scent from the skewers were amazing, and my hunger quickly overcame my better judgment. I'm glad it did, because when I bit into the spiced smoky meat I was in heaven. I tried another one the next day from another vendor, but it just wasn't the same. Cervantes was right when he said "Hunger is the best sauce."

So what's the best single thing you've ever eaten and what were the circumstances? Tell us in the Comments.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:47 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
March 10, 2004
Food court

The US House of Representatives has gone and banned fast food lawsuits, even after the revelation that obesity will likely overtake tobacco as the biggest (!) preventable killer in the US by 2005.

It may seem like common sense that people should be responsible for their own behavior, and it's not exactly a new scientific discovery that eating too much junk food can cause you problems down the road. But taking away all liability on the part of fast food companies removes the only incentive they have to change their ways. Those incentives are working now, to some extent, at least.

[cross-posted at locussolus]

Posted by Paul at 6:35 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Two fun links: first, my sister discovers a new kind of cheese with her boyfriend at the WalMart of Italy. Yes, this is nepotism at its finest... but her writing definitely makes it worthwhile.

And second, a new blog (written by yet another Meg) wholly devoted to mapping the experience of a French pastry school (via Gapers' Block). For some reason we haven't written a whole lot about desserts here yet. Maybe we're still working our way through the main courses, but it always seems to me that it takes a different kind of person to do desserts well. Discuss.

Posted by Paul at 6:20 PM | TrackBack
Chicago Chow for all Brows

This is Food TV's list of the "Foodie Top Ten Reasons to Visit Chicago"

1. The Chicago hot dog
2. Deep-dish pizza
3. Greektown food
4. Pierogies
5. Little Italy
6. Taste of Chicago Festival
7. Ribs
8. Steak and potatoes
9. Italian sausages
10. Blues brunches

Yeah, never mind Gail Gand's deserts and Rick Tramanto's food at Tru. Never mind Charlie Trotter - sorry, that should be "Charlie FREAKING Trotter" and the restaurant he runs that was once named the best restaurant in the world. Forget about James Beard Award winning chef Arun Sampanthavivat and the way he's reinvented Thai food at Arun's. Don't give a thought to experiencing upscale Mexican food and insane smoky blood orange margaritas at Frontera/Topolobampo with Rick Bayless.

No, go get a crappy little chunk of goo on a stick at the Taste and rock on. There's plenty of merit in the items they listed, but Chicago isn't just about the three hundred ways we put together encased meat products. There is an eclectic, broadminded, sophisticated food culture here. We like our lowbrow foods, but we also know the merits of fine dining.

If you come here, by all means get a pizza at Giordano's and a hot dog at the Weiner's Circle, but stop by Tru or Charlie Trotter's, or Arun's, or Frontera, or one of the many other GREAT fine restaurants in the city and experience a meal that will change how you think about food.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:03 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Minute Waltz

I denigrated my late mother's cooking last week on this site, and while I was absolutely right (sorry, but she just didn't cook), I forgot about one dish she made that I absolutely loved as a kid - minute steak.

A minute steak is a thin piece of meat pounded flat and usually cooked in a fry pan. Usually it's a pretty tough meat, which is why it's sold thin and then pounded down further.

There's not much to a minute steak, and that's the point. They cook quickly, need little prep, and leave you feeling happy and full. On top of that, they're cheap.

I used to run the two blocks from elementary school for lunch at home and gobble a hot minute steak down while watching Bozo on a little 10" black and white TV. By the time the Grand March started, I was on my way back with a slightly logey feeling and a little gristle lodged in my teeth left from the tough chewy meat.

The Washington Post's Russell Cronkhite has rediscovered minute steaks. I only knew them as flank steak from a cow, but he covers beef, pork, veal, and lamb in his article. He uses red wine and portobello mushrooms with the beef steak. My mother took a more traditional upper Midwestern approach from the early 1970's. She used... salt. That's about it.

Reading the articles and imagining the sizzle and the aroma from the pan, I almost want to go back to eating meat just to have one.. Almost.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Dining in Dallas, Victuals in Vancouver, Washing up in Washington

Just a reminder - tomorrow is the day to Dine Out For Life in Dallas, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C. Make reservations now.

All you have to do to help Dine Out For Life is have dinner (or lunch or breakfast in some cases) at one of the many particpiating restaurants, and between 25% and 100% of your bill will be donated to find cures for AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. There's no extra cost to you for the dinner.

In Dallas, 37 restaurants are participating. In Washington, an astonishing 138 establishments are kicking in for the cure. And in Vancouver, a jaw-dropping 164 restaurants want to help by having you and your friends for dinner tomorrow.

It's a great idea and a great cause. More Dine Out days to follow for other cities.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
March 9, 2004
Sham-Crack Shakes

The straw is wide, the shake is thick, the temperature chilly, but not freezing. I pull on the straw and the bright green column rises.

Hold on. Bright green? A bright green shake? Heck yeah! It's St. Patrick's Month.

Shamrock Shakes are here. I've had an odd relationship with the Shamrock Shake. I remember thinking they were kinda gross when I was younger. Mint in a shake? And it's not exactly mint, either. There are faint hints of chocolate and vanilla, even a very slight sassafrass taste in the mix. Maybe it's part of the recipe, maybe it's because they don't clean the shake nozzle very well between flavors. I don't know.

Later, as my taste buds developed (or numbed, if you prefer), I developed an appreciation for the genius of Uncle O'Grimacey and the fruits of his labors. Now, I look forward to Darby O'Gill and the Little People and Shamrock Shakes every March.

There are tons of copycat recipes on the web that involve bananas, mint jelly, pistachio, and even alcohol, but none capture the authentic not-exactly-natural flavor of the Shamrock Shake.

After I've had my Shamrock Shake, I like to do a little dance.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
A Mini-Feast

Yesterday I was in the mood for some serious comfort food, having fallen victim to a nasty cold. (I mentioned that my Cure for the Common Cold was only 90% effective, didn't I?) So I remembered the leftover cold sausages from breakfast over the weekend and the new potatoes in my fridge and came up with the perfect answer: a roast chicken.

There are those (my sister-in-law for example) who hold that to stuff a bird is dangerous, bordering on lunatic. Others (like myself) claim that it's heaven on earth and stuffing that has not seen the inside of a bird is hardly worth the effort. If you are like me, read on...

Stuffing is a really emotional issue. When my brother found out his bride-to-be was anti-stuffing-in-the-bird, there were no loud words but you could have cut the tension in the air with a dull knife. In our apartment, we luckily agree on where the stuffing should be cooked but still have some pretty emotional differences on what should go in it. When it comes to turkey, we have a strict rule: Christmas is his way and Thanksgiving is mine. When I'm doing a small bird (like chicken) we compromise. (He likes it stodgier than I do and he's wrong, just wrong.)

Compromise Stuffing for one small bird

3 cooked sausages
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 onion
1 small can of chestnuts (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic
Poultry seasoning, fresh sage, salt and pepper to taste (more is better)
1/2 cup chicken stock

For the sausages, we usually use leftover British breakfast ones. This time they were Butcher's choice. For the breadcrumbs, I usually save up old baguettes until they get embarrassingly prominent in the kitchen (what is that in the huge bag hanging over there??) and then I zap them in the food processor. I use a colander to separate the fine bread crumbs from the bigger pieces and use the latter in my stuffing.

Sauté the chopped onion and pressed garlic clove in a few tablespoons of butter. Be generous with the butter as it will only add to the richness of the stuffing. While the onions are cooking, put the sausages in a food processor or, if you have a new nifty immersion blender with all the bells and whistles, in the small beaker and whip it with the meat grinding attachment. It will resemble rough breadcrumbs when you are done. Tip the meat into the onions, add the bread crumbs and break up the chestnuts in large-ish hunks as you add them. Add lots of spices, salt and pepper and give it a good stir. Turn up the heat, add the chicken stock and cover. Leave it for a few minutes, then remove from heat and stuff it into your bird. This makes slightly more than you can fit in a single bird, but you can bake the remaining stuffing separately in a tin-foil covered pan.

Place the bird in a hot oven (190 degrees Celsius, 375 Fahrenheit) surrounded by small potatoes that have been rolled in olive oil (and/or goose fat if you have it) and salt. My oven has a fan, so it only took about an hour to cook - on a normal oven it takes about an hour and a half. Baste from time to time with the juices in the pan.

Now comes the really amazing part: the gravy was nearly as good as my mother makes. To understand this, you need to know that my mother is a magician with gravy. She can take a lean pork roast and come out with two cups of savoury dark brown gravy. She can make turkey gravy that would make you weep. I have tried so many times to reproduce her gravy, but somehow it never quite makes it. (This is how they ensure you will always come home for the holidays, right?) But this time I came close.

Remove the bird and potatoes from the pan. Pour the grease and juices from the pan into one of those nifty gravy boats that separate juice from fat. Pour the juice back into the pan and place over a high flame (or two if you can - you want even heat under the entire pan). In the meantime, put two heaping tablespoons of flour in a jar with a lid and add 2/3 cup of water. Put the lid on and shake, shake, shake.

According to my mother, the secret to good gravy is patience: you have to let the juices nearly cook away before you add the flour and water. If you are like me, you will find that half the time you don't wait long enough and the other half it burns and sticks to the bottom of the pan. No matter, I have another 40 years or so (if I'm lucky) to work this out.

Once the juices have cooked down, add the flour and water to the pan and stir like mad, getting all the glazed bits up from the bottom of the pan. Last night, I left it on the flame while I removed the stuffing from the bird and carved, adding a bit of the water from the steamed carrots from time to time. (That's the Austrian grandmother's trick, by the way, not my mother's.)

And for once, it worked!

I hadn't planned on writing about this meal (thus no photos) but our friend Sam who came to dinner last night was so enthusiastic I felt I had to share. It really was one of my best meals, as attested by the fact that all that was left at the end was a drumstick and two wings (and a very bare carcass). Tonight I will boil up the carcass with a few vegetables and make a nice chicken stock. And one night soon we'll have some really good soup...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:05 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
March 8, 2004
Sometimes you feel like a...

Sometimes, when you're hungry, you want the finest caviar on toast points with French champagne, coq au vin, truffled potatoes, and a cherry flambee. Other times, you want a peanut butter sandwich.

I'm having a peanut butter kind of day today. It seems to come over me the day after I work out (ran a mile yesterday on the treadmill, thank you very much), and no doubt has to do with the need for a simple protein and some comfort food. A plain peanut butter sandwich with a glass of milk - can you go wrong?

I did a search for peanut butter and came across* If you ever wanted to learn how to make peanut butter at home in your blender or food processor, or were looking for new ways to use peanut butter, this is the place.

Thought the peanut is not technically a nut (it's a legume), many of their recipes should work for almonds, or hazelnuts or other oily nuts.

I wonder if the type of peanut butter you like reflects on your personality. Me? I'm a natural, oily, chunk kind of guy.

*Full Disclosure: Although I didn't know it when I first wrote this blurb, my firm does work for the Peanut Board, who put out this site (which I still view as excellent)

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:39 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
March 7, 2004
A Cook's Guide to Chicago

Marilyn Pocius has written the definitive book to aid us Chicago-area would-be-chefs in our search for ingredients, equipment, and services. Do you know where to get good fish in the city? How about where to get your knives sharpened? Are you looking for a good Korean supermarket? It's all in A Cook's Guide to Chicago.

Thanks to this book, I now have a lead on procuring the much-dreaded durian. Highly recommended. I hope she keeps the book up-to-date.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Is My Blog Burning? : Trio of Traditional Tartines

I have to thank Clotilde for hosting the Is My Blog Burning? and (especially) for choosing such a great topic. I have never actually been a fan of the trendy tartine as it often seems to promise more than it delivers, and eating is often messy: tough ham that is difficult to cut through making you squash the soft bread, while the rest of the ingredients go slithering around the plate. Maybe I have just had bad luck, but as a result I paid a lot of attention to the construction of my tartines and was extremely happy with how they turned out. It's always helpful to have a challenge! So read on for the recipes for three tartines: Herbed Hot Goat's Cheese and Tomato Tartine, Eggplant Caviar and Zucchini Tartine and Wild Mushrooms Tartine.

When I read about the topic for IMBB?, several items already in my fridge sprang to mind - some leftover goat's cheeses that I had set to marinate a few weeks ago for a dinner party, the eggplant caviar I bought as a starter when our friend David came to dinner and the ham I had bought to use for a raclette evening we ended up turning into a fondue party. Luckily, Steve was in the mood for beans on toast (see my earlier blog on "English tartines") so I was able to experiment to my heart's content.

Herbed Hot Goat's Cheese and Tomato Tartine

I was very lucky to have some of this cheese left over from a goat cheese and salad starter I had made a couple of weeks ago. Following Nigel Slater's instructions, I layered cabécou goat's cheeses (any small goat cheese with a rind will do, but these are my absolute favourite) with juniper berries, a crushed garlic clove, a couple of small dried peppers, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and a few sprigs of thyme. You then cover the cheeses with olive oil, cover and put in a cool (but not cold - not the fridge) dark place for a week or so. View image

Place a layer of fresh spinach leaves on a slice of bread (mine had walnuts in it, a nice contrast to the sharp cheese), spread with the goat cheese and place a couple of slices of tomato on the top. Slide under the grill in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the tomato has just started to cook a little on the edges.

Serve with some rocket leaves drizzled with a little of the herbed olive oil marinade from the goat cheeses.

It was the Critic's favourite (being the only one he was willing to try).

Two tasty tartines.jpg
Top: Caviar d'Aubergine and Zucchini tartin, Bottom: Herbed Hot Goat Cheese and Tomato Tartine

Eggplant Caviar and Zucchini Tartine

Eggplant Caviar is a middle eastern spread made with cooked eggplant, tahini, olive oil and garlic. It's also sold under the name Baba Ganoush (spelling may vary). You can make it yourself, but to me the essence of a tartine is that it should be quick and easy. I bought both the Eggplant caviar and the grilled zucchini slices at a local market.

Place a thin layer of Italian style ham on your bread. (I used jambon de Bayonne.) Over it, spread a thick layer of eggplant caviar and then a layer of grilled sliced zucchini. Top with a small handful of freshly grated parmesan and a grinding of pepper. Slide under the grill and cook until the parmesan is bubbling and starting to brown a bit.

This was my favourite of the first two tartines. It was very savoury and the garlic, ham and vegetables all mixed very well together. For me, the goat's cheeses were a little too sharp.

And lastly...

Wild Mushrooms Tartine

Again, I was really glad to experiment with the tartines because in the bottom of my vegetable drawer were some really interesting mushrooms that needed to be used up: normal white champignons de Paris, brown ones and some Trompettes de la Mort (I think these may be called Black trumpets in English but any input is welcome!). View image

To prepare this tartine, I first melted some butter in a sauce pan and pressed a garlic clove into it. I then sliced a Roscoff onion (more about them in a later blog - they have quite a history) in half rings and added them to the pan. While the garlic and onions were softening, I cleaned and sliced the mushrooms in chunky pieces. I turned up the heat on the onions a bit, added some more butter and tossed the mushrooms in the pan. When the mushrooms were nearly cooked through and soft, I added a splash of sherry. Once the sherry had all but evaporated, I added salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and about two tablespoons of frozen chopped parsley.

To assemble the tartine, spread the mushroom and onion mixture over a slice of bread. In this case, I used a pain poilane - rye bread or sourdough would also work. I topped my tartine with a little grated comté cheese, but any mild slightly nutty hard cheese would do. I then warmed the tartine under the grill until the cheese melted. I served the tartine with a nice ripe pear, that went beautifully with the "fall" taste of the dish.

The result was not the most photogenic tartine (thus no photo) but it was in my opinion the tastiest. The juices from the mushrooms seeped into the bread and instead of making the bread soggy seemed to give it an inflated effect - almost as if it were steamed. My late Austrian grandmother made the best turkey stuffing I have ever tasted in a similar way: she would fry the bread cubes with herbs, then turn up the heat and pour chicken broth in the pan and cover, essentially steaming the bread. This tartine is the closest I have come to reproducing that effect, and it was delicious.

So there you have it: three traditional tartines. What's for dinner...?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
Is My Blog Burning? : English Tartine

(Or Why Beans on Toast Are Actually More Difficult Than You Might Think)

I am sure every proud cook out there has had a similar moment at some point. You spend hours planning meals and coming up with new exciting dishes. You anxiously watch your Critics as they plough in, eyes fixed on the TV. And, occasionally, when you ask them what they want for dinner, they answer with something really difficult, like...beans on toast.

My Critic wants beans on toast, he gets beans on toast. (Brain the size of a planet...) The really sad thing is that I got them wrong the first time around. Now THAT'S seriously incompetent. But I was distracted and working on some real food for the Is My Blog Burning? entry and so it goes. The next night I made them again (at his request - when you get an itch for comfort food it stays until you scratch it the right way) and all was well.

Beans on Toast

Beans on Toast for One Brit

1 can Heinz beans (Marks & Spensers are acceptable but not preferred. The US kind of pork and beans are not acceptable, even if they are made by Heinz.)

2 slices of bread (I make them brown bread in the vague hope of rendering it slightly healthy)

butter (forgot we were out of butter the first time around)

a handful of grated sharp cheddar cheese

Heat your beans over a low heat. Do not forget them while you are spreading and chopping for a completely different meal, as they will stick to the bottom of the pan and get mushy and generally look less nice. In the meantime, put your bread in the toaster. Do not burn toast. Butter the toast liberally (apparently this is essential). Spread the hot beans over the toast and top with the cheese. Do not put the dish in the oven in the mistaken idea that the cheese needs to melt more, as I once did in the early days before I was Enlightened: serve immediately.

Critic Full of Beans

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:05 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Is My Blog Burning? : Fuul's Errand

Is My Blog Burning? Well, earlier today, I almost wish it had, because I had a tartine tart-astrophe.

It's important to showcase the disasters with the successes. So I first present to you the disaster -

A Fuul's Errand

The idea was simple. Fuul Madamas with Mideastern flavors on top. How hard could it be? Fuul (or "Ful", or "Foul", or any of a dozen other spellings) is a traditional dish found across the Arab world, from Morocco to Egypt to Iraq and back. As I've experienced it, it's a delicious mix of fava beans (more about them later), garlic, olive oil, hot pepper, onion, tomato, and maybe a carrot or celery minced in. The whole thing is blended and served almost as a dip.

My first challenge was locating fava beans. You'd think that a bean made famous by a serial killer in an oscar winning movie like Silence of the Lambs ("I cooked and ate his liver with fava beans and a nice chianti (slurping noises)" would be pretty easy to find. Not in Chicago. Or at least, not in the yuppie part of Chicago where I live.

After much searching and asurances from various supermarket managers that I wanted lima beans or butter beans or even canellini, I was ready to give up. All of these are fine beans and can be used as substitutes, but I wanted authentic. Finally, I tried Fox and Obel near downtown. There will be songs written about this market. They have everything. They had dried fava beans and they were labelled as such.

Easy peasey from here out, right? Well, sure. I thought so. I jumped on the Internet and pulled down a few recipes for fuul. They differed greatly, but there were common themes. I "averaged" the recipes, boiled the beans for an hour (after soaking them overnight), and popped them out of their hard little shells one by one.

An hour later, I had semi-cooked fava beans and was ready to begin. I tossed in three tablespoons of olive oil and let it get hot. I chopped up an onion and tossed it in, letting it get soft in the hot oil. Next, I added three cloves of garlic, a chopped jalapeno that I'd seeded, and a bit of tumeric, mustard seed, coriander, salt, black pepper, tumeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Next a diced plum tomato went in. This is where I realized I'd burned the onion, which had been somewhat dried out from being half a leftover monster red that had been in the fridge for a few days. Ouch. And the mix was looking a bit dry. Lemon juice! I needed lemon juice.

I squeezed the juice of one lemon into the mix and the aroma took off. There was still a scent of sulfur from the singed onions, but the rest of the mix was pumping out good vibes. I added the shelled fava beans, a little more oil (it was all looking dry again). Maybe a little water, too (that's less dry looking, I guess) I reduced the heat to low, put the lid on, and let it sit for ten minutes.

When I opened it up, I realized I had moisture problems agin. Well, it was time to blend. We'll correct that moisture problem in the blender. More lemon juice, more water, more oil, more stirring manually when the blender wouldn't catch. Oy. Eventually, I got a paste that looked like a darker version of fuul. I tasted it.

It was just right except for the burned onion taste, which was strong enough to almost overwhelm the rest of the flavors. There was one other problem = the fuul's I have had were white and beautiful. This looked like dog food. Alpo, to be exact.

Nothing to be done for it at this point. I spread the Fuul's Errand (as I now thought of it) on some crusty French bread. What was needed were the other lighter flavors to make the tartine edible.

I sliced some roasted red peppers and laid them on top of the dog fo- of the Fuul's Errand. My wife hates olives or anything pickeled, so I put sliced black olives only on my side. On top of that, again only on my side, I put a sliced pickled beet. My wife is nearly perfect except for this aversion to all pickled or brined foods, so no beets for her.

She does like feta, so on top of both sides I put a bit of feta. If I'd had fresh mint, I might have put a sprig or two on both to crown the effort.

Here's the final product:

It was not bad except for that burned onion flavor. I encourage you to try this dish, but be very careful with the onion or purchase pre-made fuul. The overall concept is sound, just my execution was flawed.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Is My Blog Burning? : Nectarine of the Gods

I needed to rebound from the Fuul's Errand Tartine. My ego was shattered. I needed something to get the taste of burnt onions out of my mouth. I needed something to make me forget. I needed... sugar.

A desert tartine, of course! Ths one turned out great. I recommend this whenever you need a pick me up. I used nectarines, which are in good shape and cheap in the stores right now, but peaches or plums or apples would work with slightly different accompaying flavors.

Take two nectarines and cut them in half. Take out the pits, and scoop out the reddish area in the centers. Further cut the nectarines pole to pole until you have eight slices per fruit.

Lay the slices on a baking pan. Take eight-ten ginger cookies (I used Anna's Ginger Thins which are extremely addictive) and mash them into crumbs in a plastic bag. Pour the crumbs evenly over the nectarines.

Take 1/3 cup or less of sugar and sprinkle over the nectarines. Use more if your nectarines are underripe.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. distribute one and a half tablespoons of butter over the nectarines. This will melt in the oven and hold the crust together.

Just before baking the sheet looked like so:

Put nectarine baking sheet in oven for 15 minutes. Less if nectarines were ripe, longer if they were underripe. Bake for 15 minutes.

Spread peach or strawberry jam ( I used strawberry) on a section of a baguette split along its length. When nectarines come out of oven, transfer the slices of fruit to the baguette slices. Let stand until cool enough to eat, and dig in. Yum.

I wish I had a photo of the final product, but um... we ate it before I remembered to take a picture. It was great.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:10 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
March 6, 2004

If ever there was a magazine that covered food and its impact on culture to the very bones (boiling them down to make a nice stock), it's Gastronomica.

I'd seen Gastronomica at a few newsstands, but it didn't look like a traditional foodie magazine. There are few if any recipes inside and the paper is thick, heavy, almost too high quality.

I caved in and bought the Winter issue. Wow. Among the articles - a discussion of how the language of food and of sex merge; a poem to Jacques Pépin: and an exploration of what might be the first technological kitchen gadget - a large antique clockwork device that turned the spit in 18th century kitchens.

You can read one of the more interesting articles on-line. How do sumo wrestlers get so big? The answer is chankonabe, a chunky meat or fish and vegetable stew that they cook for their main meal of the day. Johnathon Deutch investigates the gastro-lore and actuality of a sport that without ritual would be "two fat men hugging" in Chunky Soup: The Sumotori Diet.

The theme is picked up by Merry White in the next article, Feeding Your Face: Fan Fare and Status at a Sumo Tournament, but you'll have to hunt the magazine down to read it.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Customizing your cookbook

If you're the type who never has the right ingredients in the kitchen, maybe this Google hack is for you. Type in a couple ingredients, and Google will show you the recipes... via Unfogged.

Posted by Paul at 9:08 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
March 5, 2004
Martha Stewart Guilty

Martha Stewart, the woman who taught us to live well and encouraged us to turn out impossibly perfect dishes has been found guilty on four counts in a Manhattan Federal Court today. She will be sentenced on June 17th and could face up to 20 years in prison.

This makes me a little sad. I'm sure she's guilty, but I like Martha. I like her magazine, although she no longer has anything to do with Living. For a few years, I had a bit of a crush on the woman. I doubt she'll get the full 20 years, but it makes me wonder if they'll let her wear a jumpsuit made from one of her fabrics. I suggest something from this collection.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:59 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Curing the Common Cold

The best cure being prevention, the Critic and I have come up with a dish that has about a 90% effectiveness rate in warding off winter colds. Or maybe we are just healthy people, but this chicken and vegetable stew is so full of nutrition that it's easy to convince yourself that seconds are really the healthy option.

This is a fusion of things that both of us like, starting with a basic dish that my mother in law used to serve. So in her honour, it's Margaret's Chicken and Dumplings.

In my Fanny Farmer cookbook, chicken and dumplings calls for big pieces of chicken on the bone. Here the chicken is (not surprisingly - we are lazy) cut in managable bite-sized pieces. It also has an interesting texture with the mixture of courgette, corn and lentils. It's my step-daughter's favourite dish at our place, and a good way to get a lot of vegetables into her. It takes about an hour from start to finish, and I basically chop the vegetables as I go along.

For the stew:

2 boneless chicken breasts (preferably free range, at least 80 days old and grain fed)
50 grams/2 TBS butter
Fresh or dried sage, Lawrey's salt
3 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion or a handful of shallots
3 carrots, sliced in thin rounds
2 medium potatoes, cubed in bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup brown lentils
1 small tin sweet corn
1 medium zucchini (courgette)
10 medium mushrooms (brown ones are best)
a splash of sherry
1 liter of chicken stock
any other vegetables you may have in stock: peas, beans, snap peas, even cabbage (in moderation) make this even better.

In a large stock pot, melt the butter and add the finely sliced garlic. As it starts to cook, roughly chop the onion or shallots and add to the pot. When the garlic and onion are soft and yellow, turn up the heat a little and add the herbs and the sherry. Wait a minute or two and then add the carrots and potatoes. After a minute or two to let the root vegetables soak up a bit of the sherry/herb/butter, add the chicken stock and lentils and bring to a boil. In the meantime, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and (with another knife) cut the courgette in smal wedges, and slice the mushrooms. Add the chicken gradually to the boiling stock, so that the heat stays high and the pieces start cooking immediately. Add the rest of the vegetables and bring back to a boil. Prepare the dumplings.

2 cups flour
4 Tbs/60 grams butter cut in small pieces
a handful of fresh chopped parsley (or 1/4 cup frozen)
3 teaspoons (or one package in France) of baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Mix everything but the milk well, and then add the milk. The consistency should be gloopy, but wet through.

With a large spoon, drop lumps of dumplings about the size of golf balls on the surface of the soup. Cover the pot and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes.

Serve in deep bowls. It's serious comfort food!

Note: you may need to add more liquid before adding the dumplings, but the dish should be closer to a stew than a soup. When you serve it, the vegetables have a way of hiding under the dumplings, making it look like the whole thing is a lot more soupy than you wanted - be sure to pull them out and give it a bit of a stir once you have removed the first dumpling. It will be very hot!

If, despite your best efforts of making this soup once a week you STILL catch a cold, there is another remedy. It doesn't actually cure the cold, but it will make you feel a lot better:

Brother Kurt's Hot Toddy

juice of 1/2 a lemon
a very large shot of whisky
3 tbs honey

The idea is to get equal amounts of each of the ingredients and I think this gets it close. Put them in a mug, put the mug in the microwave on high for one minute, stir and enjoy. The honey will soothe your throat, the lemon will give you vitamin C and the whisky will help you sleep. What more do you need?

Weight Watchers Note: If you limit the butter for sautéeing the onions and garlic to 1 Tbs and then add 2 Tbs sherry when they start to get a bit dry, and poach any raw chicken in the boiling broth, one serving of the stew (minus the dumpling) is only 2.5 WW points. As for the dumplings, the number of points will depend largely on how big you make them. If you use one rounded soup spoon of dough for each one, you should have about 16 at 1.5 points each.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
March 3, 2004
Eat for the Cure

Ever notice how most fundraisers require you to go out and exercise? Sure, I want to help the needy and the sick, but run a marathon? No thanks! I'd spill grande soy latte on my tracksuit. Do you know how hard it is to clean light blue velour?

There is an alternative. The people at Food & Friends, a charity that started in Washington, D.C. are organizing Dine Out For Life in cities across the country. Here's how it works -

You go to dinner.

That's it. If you eat at one of the participating restaurants on the right day, the restaurant will donate 25-100% of your check to Food & Friends who will use it to help fight HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses, and support the victims of these diseases.

In Asheville, North Carolina 27 restaurants helped raise $25,566 to support the Western North Carolina AIDS Project. 105 restaurants in Chicago participated last year, ranging from R.J. Grunt's to the Signature Room on the 95th Floor of the John Hancock building.

The Dine Out For Life days scheduled so far this year are:

March 11th - Dallas, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.
March 13th - Indianapolis, Lebanon, Milwaukee,
March 23rd - Nashville
April 22nd - Minneapolis, South Bend,
April 29th - Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, East Bay Area, Hampton Roads, Honolulu, Hudson Valley, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tacoma

Which leads me to ask - hey New York, hey Houston, where the hell are you?

On the appropriate day, at one of the participating restaurants, go out, get blitzed, and stuff youself to the gills. You'll feel great in the morning, even if your stomach's complaining.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Spice, Spice, Baby

I don't usually comment when I add a link to the page, but I have to point out the new link to Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages. The Internet is the perfect medium to act as a reference and this is the best reference on spices I've ever seen.

Want to know what star anise is? Where did tamarind originate? What's the difference between curry powder and curry leaves? Where would I use allspice? All the answers are on his site. Truly excellent work.

I just need to get that waterproof touchscreen installed in my kitchen...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:15 PM | TrackBack

Fantastic news for those with a care for public health: McDonald's is phasing out its super sizes, bowing to public pressure and, apparently, a documentary.

Posted by Paul at 11:36 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
The San Remo, Barnes, London

Last weekend my Critic and I took the Eurostar (first class, thanks to the generosity of said Critic) to London and stayed with our good friends David and Carol. After a relaxing day at the Manchester United game (guys) and shopping (women) we met up in a pub near David and Carol's flat before going on to dinner at their favourite neighbourhood restaurant, the San Remo.

If you ever happen to be in Carol and David's neighbourhood, I highly recommend it.

The San Remo is a tiny Italian restaurant just south of the Hammersmith bridge, tucked in a lively street of pubs and shops. As soon as you enter, you can tell this is going to be a good experience: the crowded tables with lively conversations, the cheerful unpretentious decor and the smell of garlic smack you in the face. Our friends had reserved a table for us in advance, and I would recommend you do the same if you are trying it.

Once we squeezed through the maze of tables to our table in the back of the restaurant, one of the three waitresses showed up to explain the specials of the day. In addition to a fairly large menu of pasta, fish and meat dishes, there is a long list of specialties on the chalkboard. (I have to admit that this was not the first time David has taken us to this restaurant and the last time I took my main dish off the board and it was sublime: a perfectly cooked thick steak on a bed of steamed spinach with a delicious muchroom topping.) For starters, David and I chose a sauté of wild mushrooms from the specials on the chalkboard. Steve chose an interesting dish of roasted peppers which were covered with mozzarella and then baked as a small casserole. I have seen this done with eggplant frequently, but never peppers. Steve said it was fantastic and it must have been because it was gone before I could think to ask for a taste.

The main dishes were equally good: Carol and I each chose calf's liver, mine with bacon and hers with sage butter. In retrospect, I would choose her dish as I forgot that in the UK "bacon" is not what I would call bacon. Also, the sage smelled wonderful. Still, the fault was mine and the liver was very tender and tasty. Steve tried a chicken dish and looked quite apprehensive as it arrived because (horrors!) there was a bone sticking out of one end of the chicken breast. All was well, however, as it appeared it was mainly there for show and proved quite easy to eat around. Our man does not like to work for his food. The chicken was enveloped in bread crumbs and herbs and very moist and flavourful. Lastly, David ordered for us "vegetables". I love a restaurant where you can do this - just tell them to bring a selection of vegetables and they bring you a platter with roast potatoes, buttery snap peas and a huge heap of just barely cooked spinach. There were a lot of polite "well if you are sure you don't want to finish that one, I'll have just a little more..." conversations towards the end of the meal.

Dessert. You know by this time, the guys had been drinking all day and we ladies were also pretty merry, so the only dessert I remember was mine. I chose profiteroles because they are ubiquitous and generally not very good in Italian restaurants in Paris. Here, they were slightly different from the usual Parisian version, and in a very good way. First off, I am used to profiteroles being served with very dark chocolate. Secondly, they are frequently served with ice cream instead of cream (which I understand is more traditional). Lastly, they are usually cardboard. Here, they arrived with a thick milk chocolate coating that was really like a home-made chocolate pudding. The centers were filled with soft cream and the pastry shells were so delicate I hated putting a spoon into them. Well, until I tasted them of course. They were absolutely wonderful.

Wine. We drank a fair amount of it and all I can say is that if you like red wine, ask for number 17. This is how David remembers which one he likes and it works for me. The wine list was fairly long and looked very good. But all I know is that number 17 is just fine.

One of the disadvantages of visiting a restaurant that your friends know very well is that you forget to check exactly which wine was chosen for your review. Another is that they can sneak off and pay the bill when you aren't looking and had assumed they were making a visit to the toilet. So I have to add a note here to thank Carol and David again: it was a fantastic dinner and then at the end of it we weren't even allowed to show our appreciation by paying for it! We shall have our revenge in Paris one evening.

Lastly, for those who are interested in brushing with fame, the owner of the restaurant is a huge Chelsea fan and is friends with some of the players. Carol and David have eaten in the same room as Juan Veron. So there. You too can ogle the rich and talented while you eat in Hammersmith.

The San Remo
195 Castlenau, London, SW13 9ER
Nearest Tube Stations: Hammersmith
Tel: 020 8741 5909
Cost: according the London Eating site, around Ł32 per person. I wouldn't know!


David has just written to me to say that in addition to the Chelsea players, they have seen Nigel Havers and Colin Firth, too. Um, I think we might be moving to Barnes in the near future...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:25 AM | TrackBack
March 2, 2004
Fried Chicken with a twist

I am trying to lose weight, so naturally, I am craving deep fried foods and anything with sugar in it (except marmite...) This is a marinated fried chicken with a Japanese twist.

First, I must mention my philosophy on recipes. They are merely guidelines that suggest ingredients and proportions. For the most part in my house, you will NEVER get the same exact meal twice.

You need:
Chicken (or other suitable substance that will absorb marinade and fry well)- as much as you would eat for the number of people who are having the meal. For sake of argument, I will tailor this meal suggestion for 4.

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (or...whatever) cut into bite sized pieces

1/2 c. white or rice vinegar
1/2 c. soy sauce (I prefer Kikkoman - and no they are not paying me)
4 green onions, chopped into 1 inch lengths
4 cloves garlic, minced (or to your taste)
1 inch section of ginger root, chopped (larger pieces than minced)
1 T sugar (or to taste)
1/8 t salt

Mix all ingredients (including the chicken or whatever) together in a glass or plastic container. Let stand for minimum 30 minutes - overnight is better. When you are ready to cook, heat vegetable oil (about 1 inch in the bottom of a pan) until you can just smell the oil. While this is heating, place 1/2 c. of flour in a plastic bag. scoop the chicken out of the marinade and dump it into the flour. Shake until all pieces are coated. When the oil is ready, fry about a handful at a time until they are browned - approx 2-3 minutes. Be sure to turn pieces while frying for even color. Drain on a paper towel.

Serve chicken pieces with a dipping sauce of equal parts of white or rice vinegar and soy sauce. Rice and a nice sunomono make a nice accompaniment.

Posted by Dr. Meg at 7:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Reply to Marmite

Just wanted to give a somewhat personal note on Marmite. When I was little (this is how every story I tell to my kids starts...) I was rummaging through my mother's cabinets and sampling everything in sight - I was very interested in the container that said cocoa and smelled like chocolate... (in which my brain excluded the word "unsweetened") Finally in the spice section, there was this very small jar - brown glass with a yellow lid (don't ask me why I remember that) Naturally, I opened it - and ewwww. Marmite smells terrible. I asked mom what it was - she said it was for coloring gravy. I am sure she has used it maybe twice in her life, since at a tender age, I took over the cooking - simply for self defense.

Posted by Dr. Meg at 7:30 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Bananas Foster

I've been craving Bananas Foster, and, well, here is the original recipe.

MORE: So, I think I satisfied my craving for that one... wow it was sweet. I didn't actually follow the recipe precisely since I didn't want to go out and buy the banana liqueur (I subbed water, but next time I think I'll do it with Cointreau). I think the key here may be the assembly - less of the sauce, unless you have a real sweet tooth. Also, the version I have such fond memories of (from the Sunday brunches at the Tudor Room in Bloomington IN) had sliced almonds and probably some cream.

Posted by Paul at 1:10 AM | TrackBack
March 1, 2004
Eastern Market, Washington DC 2/29/04

Apples at Washington D.C.'s Eastern MarketThe Eastern Market in Washington, D.C. is the last traditional market in the city where people come together to sell all sorts of things, from old campaign buttons, to flowers, to art, to furniture. Of course the aspect of the market that most interest the Too Many Chefs is the food market. Outside the old South Hall you can find produce vendors, selling fruit, fungus and more. Inside is where the butchers join the fruit and vegetable sellers. The place is bustling and smells great.

On Saturday, February 28th, 2004, I was able to visit the market with friends. Here are the best of the photos I took. It all starts with bacon -

Click to enlarge. I have versions of these photos 4x as large. If anyone wants them, e-mail me.

You can get bacon with skin ...or bacon with -out skin-

brussels sprouts green beans

Spinach potayto potahto

Turnips galore Fruit, fruit, the musical bean...

fruit inside the market hall Meat the sausages

veggie might apples galore

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Brie Comes From the Amazon?

Brie does indeed come from the Amazon... website, that is. Amazon is beta testing a Gourmet foods store with products from Harry and David's, Jelly Belly, igourmet, Cheese Express, and others.

Where else are you going to find Tibetan Yak Cheese, Wild Boar Ribs, or Russian Beluga 000 Caviar Malossol? Amazon is just providing the interface for several specialty foods and gourmet food merchants as they have for sellers of electronics and gardening supplies, but if it helps get Spanish chorizo to people who wouldn't otherwise be exposed, I'm all for it.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Review: Cafe Atlantico in Washington DC

The redhead and I visited a friend in Washington D.C. this weekend. Most of the weekend was spent drinking, eating, and walking around markets. I'll have some photos of the Eastern Market up tonight or tomorrow, but I wanted to talk about a Nuevo Latino restaurant we visited called Café Atlántico.

Café Atlántico near the National Archives and Ford Theatre, is one of D.C. star restauranteer José Andrés's establishments. On the weekends, they serve up a tapas style meal they call Latino Dim Sum that is expensive, but well worth the price.

Café Atlántico is a three story restaurant that uses its small floors well. From where we sat on the second floor, we had a good view of the kitchen without sacrificing the natural light from the large windows. I recommend you try to get a seat with a view into the open, bustling kitchen (if only to reassure your suddenly hungry tummy that great food is on the way).

The three of us shared about a dozen small dishes. Among the favorites were fresh asparagus with orange. The asparagus was tender and mixed well with the orange flavors. A demitasse of potato puree with vanilla and American caviar was a savory mousse - silky, sweet, and salty all at one. The Pan-American ingredients used in Atlántico's corn, quinoa, and pomegranite salad showed the chef's pride in the cuisine of this side of the ocean.

I liked the mango and anchovy ravioli. While I'd expected chunks of mango, I bit into a puree of mango with a hint of the ocean from the anchovy. The taste was more reminiscent of caviar than of the pizza fish.

There were other dishes, such as the Spinach with pumpkin seeds and raisins (and garlic, I might add), and the malanga chips with malanga dip which we found similar to a think cream of potato soup; but the performance highlight of the afternoon was the guacamole made tableside. The server brought tableside a black volcano rock mortar and pestle along with fresh avocados, diced onion and tomato, citrus juice and spices, and created the dish right in front of us.

Like all the other dishes we had, it was tasty and light.

My companions made the right call on the drinks, ordering a spicy cocktail made with jalapeno, rum, and juice. I made do with a serviceable, but not spectacular pisco sour. It was probably a very good pisco sour, but I don't think I'm a pisco kind of guy.

I haven't mentioned the salmon or the scallops, or any of the other dishes, but believe me we left there with a very positive opinion of the place. My only quibble is that we were all still a little hungry after the meal, which ran us approximately $35 with one drink apiece. We probably would have kept eating, but the kitchen closed at 3:00 and we were forced to find sustenance (in the form of big mugs of tea and a cookie) at the Teaism shop across the street.

Still, the food was great, the atmosphere modern and neat without being unfriendly, and the waitstaff was very attentive. I hope to return to Café Atlántico on my next visit to Washington.

Café Atlántico
405 8th St. NW,
Washington, DC 20004
+1 202 393-0812 (this is wrong on their business card, but I called to verify)

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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