April 29, 2004
Strange New Tastes

Normally I can read a recipe and imagine the taste of the finished dish. The New York Times' feature on avant-garde cuisine, however, left me totally mystified. Smoked mashed potatoes? Dehydrated bell peppers pulverized and dusted across a steak? Martini jello shots? Beef stock foam?

José Andrés practices this cutting edge cuisine in my hometown of Washington at Minibar. If I can get a reservation for one of the six seats at this tiny restaurant inside Andrés' popular Café Atlántico, I could taste this food from the kitchen of a master. If not, then I need to find a dehydrator and an aerosol whipper and try some of these techniques at home.

Also posted at A Frolic of My Own.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 10:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Have You Booked?

Today! Today is the Annual Dine Out For Life in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, East Bay Area, Hampton Roads, Honolulu, Hudson Valley, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tacoma. I thought briefly about jetting to Honolulu for a light snack, but ended up making reservations at Chicago's own Angelina Ristorante at 3561 N Broadway.

I lived a block from this place for a year a loooooong time ago and never went. I'll let you know how the food was and just how much the 30% of the bill going to charities in the area turned out to be.

Make a reservation now if you haven't done it yet and help fight AIDS.

UPDATE: Angelina's was great. Two big takeaways from the night - Polenta! We had it fried ina loaf like consistency with a creamy mushroom sauce on top and herbs baked in, and as a mush with the consistency of mashed potatoes and the taste of a savory egg custard. Who knew such a humble dish could be so tasty? Second lesson - Bread pudding. Dark chocolate/white chocolate bread pudding, with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream to be exact. Wow. Try out Angelina's.

With a bottle of wine, a single appetizer, two entrees (garlic shrimp and skate wing), two desserts, a glass of milk, and a coffee and tip, the total was $120. Dining for Life gets $40 of that. We also picked up envelopes to send an additional donation in and have a chance to win a day as assistant chef at Charlie Trotter's, $500 gift certificate from Marshall Field's or something else worth $500 which I'd remember if my wife had had more of the wine.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:16 AM | TrackBack
April 28, 2004

Steve Almond is a freak. A Candy Freak to be more specific. Via the excellent bookslut, we discover USA Today is profiling Almond's latest book - Candyfreak:a Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America.

The excerpt on the Candyfreak site is quite amusing:

1. The author has eaten a piece of candy every single day of his entire life.

I want you to look at this sentence and think about it briefly and, if you're so inclined, perhaps say a little prayer on behalf of my molars. This would not be unwarranted, and for supporting evidence, I refer you to Elizabeth Gulevitch, a highly competent doctor of dental surgery who spent most of the early Seventies numbing my jaw. I doubt Dr. Gulevitch is the sort to have established a hall of fame in her waiting room (she was more the Ansel Adams type) but I would like to believe that my run of seven cavities during the infamous campaign of 1973 stands as some kind of record. It goes on.

I'm shocked there aren't any "Almond Joy" puns in the Amazon reviews.

The Candyfreak site has a nice page of links to candy-related web destinations. Brush well after surfing.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:55 PM | TrackBack
Meet Jamie Oliver

Love him or hate him, you have to admit this sounds like a good prize: a trip for two from anywhere in the world to London, where you will dine for free at Jamie's restaurant Fifteen, stay in a luxury hotel and meet the man and his staff personally. The catch? You have to donate £5 to his charity, Cheeky Chops. Oh, and you have to convince Jamie that your most memorable meal is the Most Memorable Ever. Once you have made your donation, a box will pop up asking you to submit your story. Send him an amusing episode and you may well be on your way to London to dine in style!

To enter, visit the Jamie Oliver site here. The competition closes on April 30th, so get your entries in quick!

For a quick summary of the Cheeky Chops mission, continue reading...

Here is what the Cheeky Chops site has to say about itself:

Jamie Oliver had long been thinking about helping unemployed young people by offering them a leg-up into the world of catering. 'Having not been the brightest banana in the bunch myself, I realised that my biggest weapon in life was the determination, enthusiasm, hands-on and "actions speak louder than words" approach my father taught me, and I wanted to get this across to others, especially those interested in food.'

Cheeky Chops Ltd aims to provide unique opportunities for unemployed young people to learn about the hospitality and catering industry through training and practical experience. College learning is supplemented by real-world experience in top restaurants such as The Ivy and the River Café and finally, of course in Jamie’s restaurant, Fifteen. All profits from the Fifteen restaurant will go back to the charity towards training for the current and future intakes of students. It is hoped that these young chefs will be fully equipped with high-class employable skills, self-confidence and, of course, a passion for food, so that they may move forward and carve out their own futures.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:15 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Can't Cook, Won't Cook

avacado.jpg There are days when it is a pleasure not to cook. A strange statement for a site about cooking, but I am sure that most of you out there will understand what I mean. Yesterday, the Critic and I played some snooker after work (there is a tournament on Sunday, must practise!) and came home to a spotlessly clean apartment. Our new cleaner had come. I don't think the kitchen has been this clean since the day it was installed. I'm not the world's messiest person, but it's rare that everything in the kitchen - floor, counters, walls, cabinets, dishes - is clean all at one time. I could hardly bear to walk in there and spoil the effect. So for dinner I ate: cold leftover lamb (from the tupperware), half an avacado (from the skin) and one scoop of rhubarb sorbet with a drizzle of strawberry sauce. Heaven.

(And only a spoon, knife, fork, tupperware and parfait glass to mar the perfection of my clean kitchen...)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:20 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
April 27, 2004
Braised Flowering Chives with Ginger

This is the other recipe I made this weekend from Vegetarian Asian: The Essential Kitchen by Lynelle Scott Aitken, a skinny little cookbook I highly recommend.

I think this might have been the best thing I've cooked in a long time. The hard part is finding the flowering chives. They are also known as flowering Chinese leek, flowering Chinese chives, bông he or kau choy fah.

Try Asian markets for these sorts of vegetables. I found mine at the Mien Hoa market on Argyle in Chicago. Turns out they're related to garlic, which explains the incredible flavor and aroma.

The recipe is simple and fast and the results are delicious

Braised Flowering chives with ginger:

1 big bunch or 2 small bunches flowering chives
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 small green bell pepper, julienned (cut into thin long strips)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon corn starch diluted in 3 tablespoons of water.

Trim the base of the chives by 1 inch.
Warm the vegetable oil over medium high heat in a skillet or wok.
Add the garlic, ginger and bell pepper and stir fry for 1 minute until they start to color. Add the flowering chives and toss for 1 minute more (maybe 2 minutes if you like them less stiff).

Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the sauce is thick and clear - about 2 minutes.

Serve immediately by itself or with rice.

There were no flowering chives left by the time dinner was finished. Everything else had leftovers but these were long disappeared into the bellies of the assembled host.

You can learn a little more about Asian Vegetables at this site, from where I stole the flowering chives picture.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:25 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Culinary Politics

Can you know the measure of a man by the kind of cheese he eats? In a Washington Post study of conservative Red America, Britton Stein fulfills every East Coast liberal's nightmare of middle America: "His truck is a Chevy. His beer is Bud Light. His savior is Jesus Christ."

The long, condescending profile of Stein substitutes a list of consumer products for any actual analysis. I was struck, though, by how important the writer considers Stein's culinary proclivities. Stein loves hamburgers, cooks with a gas grill, and doesn't grind his own coffee. These details, the writer implies, tell us as much about Red America as Stein's church attendance and views on gay marriage. Right wing ideology, it appears, results from bad taste.

It's a silly position, since I bet Stein could make something tasty in his "jumbo smoker" and the Wall Street millionaires who support New York's gourmet establishments probably didn't vote for Gore. When a lazy journalist can offer up a lack of culinary sophistication as a judgment on the culture of half the country, it does show how deeply an interest in gourmet cuisine has penetrated America.

Twenty years ago, would any writer at any paper in the United States even have noticed that someone put American cheese on their hamburger and got their coffee from a can?

Also posted at A Frolic of My Own.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 9:24 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
April 26, 2004
Claypot Vegetables

The key to a great vegetable dish is great vegetables. I discovered a new source for vegetables used in Asian cuisine. The bodega-like Mien Hoa Market at 1108 W. Argyle is a find and a half. Not only does this family-run store have fresh vegetables that are hard to find elsewhere, but they are dirt cheap and near other markets where you can find the odd item Mien Hoa might not have.

This weekend, I shopped at Mien Hoa to prepare for cooking at a friend's apartment. Two out of three dishes worked very well. The third I messed up because I was impatient to get food on the table. We'll dispense with that one and concentrate on the winners which both derive from recipes found in Vegetarian Asian: The Essential Kitchen by Lynelle Scott Aitken, a skinny little cookbook I highly recommend.

The leafy green you see a picture of here is Shanghai bok-choy, a smaller and greener vegetable than regular bok choy, which usually has white stems. The specimen pictured is about the length of a large hand (fingertip to heel of hand)

Shanghai bok-choy is the star of the dish we'll do today:

Claypot-cooked vegetables with shiitake and Chinese five-spice

The first thing we'll dispense with is the claypot. We used good a good old-fashioned Corningware casserole and this worked well. If you want to use a traditional Chinese claypot, soak the vessel for an hour before using it.

Soak 12 dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Cut into bite-sized pieces or just halve the tops.

Add the mushrooms to the casserole dish with:
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (our addition)
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into half-moons (or wedges if you prefer)
2 teaspoons of Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons of brown sugar (you know it tastes so good)
1 cup clear vegetable stock (or cheat like we did and use regular veg stock)
2 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (this is our change to the recipe. The original calls for vegetarian oyster (mushroom) sauce which was unlocatable. Fish sauce tastes great here and is cheap and readily available in most Southeast Asian markets.)
1 bunch bok choy or choy sum, quartered lengthwise
4 cups mixed fresh vegetables such as pumpkin, cauliflower, carrot, eggplant, baby corn, cut into 1 inch cubes. Find the baby corn. Even canned baby corn makes the dish.
steamed rice for serving

And now the incredibly difficult prep instructions:

Put everything but the rice in the casserole dish, cover, bake at 400 F for one hour. Eat.

The Shanghai bok choy displayed a remarkable property. If there is sauce on your plate with the bok choy, the bok choy will slowly but surely slurp up the sauce. I'm sure some brilliant biologist or physicist can tell me why a cooked vegetable would do that, but it was amusing. And delicious.

Our five-spice powder is misnamed. The ingredients listed are: Cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, ginger, licorice, szechwan peppercorns, and white pepper. It was also $1.65 at J.Toguri, a local gem at that specializes in Japanese goods including dry food goods.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Meat and Potatoes

meat and potatoes.jpg
This weekend I was really in the mood for a Sunday roast. As I often do, I thought "Wouldn't it be nice if we had a roast every Sunday for dinner as they used to do in the Good Old Days?" (You may think these never existed, but they did. My grandfather had home-made soup and roast and at least three vegetables every day of his marriage, over fifty years.) Unfortunately, I'm incurably lazy. Instead of mopping the floor, cooking a roast or finishing the tiling project in the guest toilet, the Critic and I went out and played snooker and grabbed some sushi on the way home.

But the impulse remained, and so tonight I made one of those dishes that approximates a roast without actually obliging you to slave over a hot stove for hours.

The first part of the meal came from an old favourite of Nigel Slater's recipes: Roast potatoes with thyme, sea salt and lemon juice. Here is the recipe:

1) Wash a bag of baby potatoes and dry them.

2) Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over them

3) Sprinkle with fresh thyme and sea salt. (Actually, I use this salt, which costs about a euro here in Paris and a staggering seven dollars in Chicago. I should get in the import/export business!)

4) Place in a hot convection oven at 200c/400f for about half an hour, or until they are brown and soft. (It depends on the size of the potatoes, obviously!)

Here is a picture of them before going into the oven. (For the after picture, see above.)

The next dish involved lamb. I used to think I disliked lamb, mainly because I was being fed mutton and told it was lamb. At least, that is my theory. Now I love lamb and can't make it often enough. (Literally: the Critic is convinced he doesn't like lamb because he, too, grew up being told the mutton he was eating was lamb. When I make it he likes it, but he will never admit he would like me to make lamb.) I didn't follow a specific Nigel recipe for this one, but as you will see I was inspired by him.

Lamb Cutlets à la Nigel Slater

2 big lamb cutlets (I get the ones without bones as one of us is fussy)
1 big fat clove of garlic, sliced
3/4 cup red wine
2 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

for the gravy
1 Tbs flour
3-4 Tbs water (as needed)
more salt and pepper
1 rounded tsp Caesar salad dressing, home-made

Marinate the lamb cutlets in the rest of the ingredients while you are starting the potatoes. When the potatoes are about 15-20 minutes from being done, put 1 Tbs olive oil and a little pat of butter in a frying pan and turn the heat up fairly high. When they start to froth, swish the pan to mix and slap the lamb cutlets into the pan. Turn up the heat to sear the meat. (Don't worry about the brown bits that will form on the bottom of the pan - they will improve the gravy.) When the first side is brown, flip over. Cook until the inside is pink inside, but not red (about fifteen minutes for cutlets about an inch/2.5 cm thick).

Remove to a platter and cover with foil. (This is the first time I have done this - usually I would just put in the oven uncovered to stay warm. But if a roast can rest why can't a steak? I don't know if it was the resting period or not, but the meat stayed moist and tender.)

Sprinkle the flour in the bottom of the frying pan and brown a few minutes. Add the marinade from the lamb and stir like crazy, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. Add water as necessary to keep a good consistency. And then came my stroke of genius (if I may say so): remembering Nigel's recipe for lamb which called for putting anchovies in the gravy, and lamenting the fact that I was out of anchovies...I thought of the Caesar salad dressing in the fridge. Is there anything in the dressing I don't like? Answer: no. Is there anything that would taste bad with lamb? Answer: no. I tasted the gravy and before and after adding the dressing and I can tell you it was miles better afterwards, heavenly. It's a shame that a picture of meat with gravy never ever looks as good as it smells. Maybe I should have sprinkled some parsley on top to convince you.

Serve the above two items with fat slices of ripe tomatoes that you have sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and parsley. (I always try to have a nod towards healthy food somewhere in the meal.)

And there you have it: Sunday Roast Dinner on Monday and made in a little over half an hour.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Playing with your Food

A distraction: Burger King put up a site with a subservient chicken (or more accurately a guy in a chicken suit) that will do what you tell it to do. The site is here.

Try "play baseball", or "cartwheel", or "do jumping jacks". Think up your own commands. It's a great little site if you like the absurd.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:06 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
April 24, 2004
Sunshine in a Glass

Today the sun is shining and the flowers are all flourishing and Paris is as beautiful as can be. In celebration of this fact, I went to the store and bought some Tavel rosé wine, to make the quintissential summer cocktail. (Yes, I know it's April, but that first really warm day makes you want to start early, doesn't it?) It's a very simple concotion and very tasty, with only three ingredients. 1) Good rosé wine. 2) Lemon zest. 3) Peach liqueur. My friend Grant introduced me to this variation on the kir, and he says it's a speciality of the Loire valley. The peach sweetness balances out the tartness of the zest and the wine and when it's nicely chilled it's my favourite summer drink. A perfect way to salute a beautiful sunny day!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:33 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
April 23, 2004
Chicken and Grilled Vegetables Salad (with Caesar's dressing)

Caesar salad is one of those dishes I cannot stop myself from ordering in restaurants even though I know that nine times out of ten I'm going to be severely disappointed. This is especially true, for some reason, in the UK. They know that it should have romaine lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and a sort of a creamy dressing...and there is the problem. "Sort of a creamy dressing" is what you usually get, instead of a sharp lively mixture of anchovy, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, freshly ground pepper and parmesan.

And yes, I know, a Chicken Caesar's Salad is irreverant, unethical and almost downright un-American, certainly not traditional. So sue me. I love Caesar's salad dressing on just about ANYTHING.

By most accounts, the original Caesar's salad was first made by one Caesar Cardini of Tijuana. Mr. Cardini used a mixture of garlic, heart of romaine leaves, fresh ground pepper, a dash of salt, imported olive oil, fresh lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce (where the anchovy flavor came from), homemade croutons and Parmesan cheese. If you are interested in reviews of restaurant and bottled dressings, you can check out the unofficial Caesar Salad site.

My dressing differs somewhat from the above, but I find it absolutely delicious. I don't know where I picked up the idea of putting mustard in there, but I must have gotten it somewhere. Probably from a Brit...

Meg & Caesar's Salad Dressing

In the 2-cup attachment to your Braun immersion blender, put the following ingredients:

one small can of anchovies, minus the chef's due and a couple for garnish
a lump of young parmesan about the size of your thumb, maybe a little bigger
1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
juice from 1/2 a medium lemon
several good grindings of fresh pepper
1 tsp mustard

Whiz with the immersion blender until all is creamy and delicious. At this point you may want to add just a tiny bit of water as it will be fairly thick. However, if you are going to toss the salad (as opposed to drizzling over the lettuce) I wouldn't bother.

I'm not sure where the obsession with raw eggs and Caesar salad originally came from (surely not somewhere as hot as Tijuana?!?) but I've never felt it was absolutely necessary. And, despite my stance on stuffing poultry, I avoid food risks where I can.

The dressing combined wonderfully with the salad I made last night of Things Grilled on My Cast-Iron Grill Pan:
- eggplant slices
- peppers (jalepeno and bell)
- zucchini
- chicken
I brushed the vegetables with olive oil in which a crushed garlic clove was soaking (and later used same oil and garlic in the dressing). The chicken was marinated in white wine, garlic, basil and parsley. They all went together beautifully and it was difficult to resist eating the extra I had intentionally prepared for my lunch today.

Some tips on salad that I have learned over the years:

1. If your lettuce is tired and somewhat wilted, put it in a bowl full of water with a couple of ice cubes for at least half an hour. When you spin it, you'll find that it's become nice and crispy again. (This was my Austrian grandmother's trick!)

2. The best way to store fresh lettuce is in the salad spinner in the fridge. Yes, this is one I found out all by myself by being too lazy to put the lettuce in a bag. If you empty out the water that was extracted in the spinning and put the spinner in the fridge, the lettuce will keep very well for several days longer than in a bag.

3. If you have dinner guests and want to prepare the salad in advance, mix the vinaigrette in the bottom of the salad bowl and put the lettuce in the bowl without mixing. The small amount of salad that is touching the dressing may get a little soggy, but it's unnoticeable in the bowl of nicely dressed salad that you'll have when you mix it at the table. (Mme Hollard, the mother of a friend of mine, showed me that trick.)

And I did eat my salad for lunch and it was very good. It would have been better with a few tomatoes, but alas, we were out when I made the salad and I was too tired to go out again to the store. Such is life.

(One last note on the photo: this was my lunch version, which did not include any chicken. The chicken was too good to save for the next day!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 22, 2004
Going into Counciling - I

Almost every food item you can think of has a professional council or association dedicated to lobbying for and protecting the interests of its growers. These councils often have websites with recipes and tips on how to best prepare the item they are known for.

I did a little research and found these council/association sites that are well worth the click, if only for the creative recipes.

The California King Salmon Council has recipes for dishes like Ranchero Grilled Salmon Steak, California Margarita Salmon With Chipotle Crema and Mango Avocado Salsa, and if you drop them an e-mail request at info@calkingsalmon.org, they'll send you a brochure with more recipes.

The Florida Department of Citrus* has a long page of Citrus recipes. It's heavy on beverages like the Orange Tango and the Mai Tai, but there are other dishes like the Key West Coffee Cake, a simple Grapefruit Granita, and the long-named delicious lookingCitrus Ceviche in Empanada Crust with Banana Sauce and Tonkasu Mayonnaise (I always thought it was "tonkatsu"?). This recipe from recipezaar has a recipe for tonkatsu sauce included in case you can't find a bottled brand where you live.

The California Avocado Commission has so many recipes you have to go through a pulldown menu function to find them. Favorites I found were the Pesto California Avocado Torta, Avocado Caviar (which combines avocados with mango, balsamic vinegar, honey and other great ingredients), and not 1 but 39 different guacamole recipes.

If it's lamb you like, the New Zealand Beef & Lamb Marketing Board is all over it. Their recipe section is beautiful and looks like a Nigella Lawson cookbook. I think they're pushing it a bit when they suggest kids and toddlers will just love the Lambs Liver and Vegetables mush. More popular with the adults will be the Thai-Dressed Lamb Cutlets.

There are Plenty More Councils, Boards, Cooperatives, and Associations out there with web sites with interesting recipes, and I'll look at more in the weeks ahead.. If you've got an ingredient you don't have a plan for, see what their professional association suggests.

*Full Disclosure - my employer does public relations work for the Florida Department of Citrus, which made me think of them. Including their site was not directly influenced by the FDOC or by my employer. I just like oranges.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:17 PM | TrackBack
Smoothie Operator

I started the morning with a smoothie today. Smoothies are a great way to have dessert for breakfast and not feel too guilty about the calories. Done with the right fruit, smoothies are loaded with anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals like calcium.

I've seen a lot of smoothie recipes that call for sugar, honey, or other sweeteners, but I don't think you need all that. Most of those professional smoothie places like Jamba Juice or Smoothie King charge an arm and a leg for a drink that often contains ice cream or frozen yogurt which has too much sugar and too many calories for my taste.

Here's the kind of smoothie I like - simple, delicious, and a lot cheaper than the $5 you'll pay at a smoothie bar. I call it the "Blueberry and" smoothie because the blueberries take over the drink once blended.

"Blueberry and" Smoothie
2 cups plain yogurt
1.5 cups orange juice
1.5 cup skim milk
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen peaches

Put everything in the mixer. Blend. Drink. Serves 4 or so.

A pinch of salt will help bring out more flavor, but I usually avoid it. If you think the drink is still too sour (and it will have a bit of a tang to it) you can add honey or even sugar, but you really shouldn't need to.

Using frozen fruit means you don't have to use ice which waters down the drink. I suppose the more decadent could save this for the evening and add a bit of rum. Hmmmm - I do have some left in our fridge for tonight...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:57 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
April 21, 2004
Veggie pie

Swirly vegetables

Do you ever get one of those cravings for vegetables that just overwhelms you? Well, earlier this week I succumbed to one and the result was a veggie pie. I make these fairly often and the composition changes frequently. They all try to mimic the Tarte Provençale I used to buy at a bakery called Yamazaki, when I worked in the 16th arrondisement. I never quite succeed, but this is mostly because I get ambitious and start adding more and more vegetables until it only has the haziests of similarities to the original. (For your information, the original is a dainty little tart with a flaky crust and a combination of goat's cheese, tomato slices, courgette slices and thyme.) This time, however, I decided to make an extra special effort in the presentation of the vegetables so that it would look all pretty for you, our readers. The above photo is how it looked at its best; things went downhill visually albeit uphill taste-wise as time went on.

To make this delicious and vegetable-ridden dish, start with a puff pastry from your local grocery store. Some day I will learn to make one on my own, but it will have to be when I'm on a nice long vacation or retired. Take it out of the fridge before you start slicing vegetables, as it will need to warm up slightly in order to roll out cleanly. Start the oven preheating to about 210C/425F. Then slice your vegetables. My pies nearly always include: thinly sliced rounds of eggplant and zucchini, onions (either sliced or chopped), thin slices of tomato, cheese and thyme. This time around, I departed from my usual mozzarella or goat's cheese and tried feta for the cheese. I also decided to put sliced jalapenos on the Critic's side of the pizza and mushrooms on mine. I usually brush a bit of olive oil on the crust before starting to lay down the vegetables, too. Another departure this time was in the construction of the pie: I started in the middle and layered eggplant, tomato and zucchini slices in a spiral, which looked pretty nifty when I was done. However, by the time I added the thyme, chopped onions, jalapenos, the cheese and the mushrooms, it was all less pretty.

It was very tasty, though. Unlike mozzarella (and to a lesser extent, goat cheese) the feta did not leave one side of the pie in a somewhat sodden mess, as is usually the case. It also went VERY nicely with the thyme. I used dried thyme and it actually worked a bit better than my usual fresh thyme, probably largely because it takes less patience to shake a large quantity of dried than to pick and chop fresh!

So it isn't really a recipe, but more of a suggestion if you are in the mood for a really good vegetarian pizza but don't want all the calories!

For the original, try

6 chaussée de la Muette
75016 PARIS
01 40 50 19 19

Their salads and sandwiches are also extremely good. I used to think they had the best pastries in the world too, but TWICE they dropped a favourite pastry from the menu just as I had become completely addicted to it. They aren't catching me again - I avoid the pastries now!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:16 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
April 20, 2004
Gourmet Chips Fail the Taste Test

Ben Wasserstein in Slate today compares "Gourmet" potato chips and finds they aren't all they're fried up to be. The best score any of them receive from the ten-member panel of twenty-somethings is a 6.35 out of 10. The article is worth reading if just for Nina Frenkel's disturbing illustration of an anthropomorphic chip standing in a puddle of grease.

I don't dislike the gourmet chips, but I have to admit a weakness for the artificial taste of Ruffles. I abstain from them entirely because I know that once they have me in their salty starchy power, no sour cream is safe from being made into french onion dip and consumed. I feel the change coming over me. Fetch the powdered onion soup mix! Hurry!

Is a pound and a half of sodium a day too much?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Continuing the Japanese Feast: Salmon Teriyaki

dressing.jpg The miso soup I wrote about yesterday was actually only part of a larger Japanese-themed evening on Saturday. We started out with a Japanese liqueur our friend Tony contributed, called Shochu. Some time ago, Tony brought some of the same liqueur over and when I told him I had a cold, he said, "Ah, but this is a well known Japanese cure for colds and flu." Now I'm not saying he made it up, but I have to say it did NOT improve my cold to consume several glasses of Shochu.

According to the Japan-Guide.Com site, "Shochu is a distilled spirit with a high alcohol content. Rice, sweet potatoes, wheat and sugar cane are some of the most common bases for shochu."

It was very nice over ice, and despite the above quote it didn't feel like it had a very high alcohol content to me; it was more like a dry sherry in taste and effect.

The main dish I prepared for our Japanese feast was Salmon Teriyaki. I know that it's probably one of the most common non-sushi japanese dishes outside Japan, but a girl has to start somewhere and I like to go safe initially. I confirmed with Stacey that it was, indeed, a bona-fide Japanese dish before deciding. Incidentally, when I asked her how to make it, she said, "Um, you buy some Teriyaki sauce..."! But having spent so much money on all those intriguing base ingredients, I wasn't going to settle for a store-bought sauce. I hit the web. The following recipe is a combination of several I found on the web and it really was easy to make and extremely good.

Salmon Teriyaki (I did it MYYYYY way...)

1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh gingerroot
4 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 Tbs corn starch
3 medium salmon steaks

Mix all of the above except the cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Rince the salmon and place in the marinade, turning a few times to cover. Put the bowl in the fridge for half an hour, taking it out to turn the salmon after the first fifteen minutes. Set a ridged cast-iron griddle pan on the stove and get it really hot, so hot that you don't want to place your hand too close to the cooking surface. I didn't think to brush the pan with a bit of oil before starting, but it probably would have helped if I had. Slap the fish on the pan, and pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Add the cornstarch and cook until thick and glossy. Turn over the fish once it has browned nicely and formed a crust. (If you are lucky this will work. My fish was getting over-cooked when I wanted to turn it over, which is why it did not turn out photogenic and you are not looking at it. Maybe I shouldn't have bothered turning it.)

I served this with rice and a nice crisp salad of grated carrots and soy bean sprouts, dressed with a delicious sesame dressing I bought at the Japanese store (photo at the beginning of this post - it was prettier than the fish).

We accompanied the meal with some hot sake, which I had to serve out of a gravy boat because the set of sake cups my mother gave me a couple of years ago did not include a carafe. Ah well, necessity is the mother of invention and the gravy boat with a tea cozy on top did a good enough job of keeping our liquor warm. And it, in turn, kept us nice and warm.

I have to say that this meal was such a success that - far from encouraging me to new Japanese horizons - I'm afraid to depart from such an obviously good menu. The only thing I would change next time around would be 1) not burning the rice (oops) and 2) doubling or even tripling the amount of sauce. We ran out of sauce long before the fish....

Chronology of preparation for all the different dishes:

1) Set the konbu to soak for the miso soup.

2) Prepare fish marinade and put fish and marinade in fridge.

3) Grate carrots, mix with a handful of soy bean sprouts and put in fridge.

4) Prepare other miso ingredients. Make miso soup up to (but not including) the point where miso paste is added.

5) While waiting for miso soup to finish cooking, start rice.

6) Start ridged griddle pan heating.

7) Cook fish and start heating the sauce with cornstarch.

8) Add the miso paste to the soup, put the fish in the oven (covered) to keep warm, turn down the heat on the sauce and the rice and serve the first course.

9) Dress the carrot salad, bring out with the rest of the dishes and serve.

10) Suddenly remember the sake: put it in the microwave, heat and serve!

All of this goes best, of course, if halfway through the process someone hands you a glass of Shochu. It may not cure the common cold, but it certainly is inspiring!

WeightWatchers Note: As this recipe is written, the salmon teriyaki is 3.5 points per portion. However, as I found that it needed a bit more sauce, I have also calculated the points using the same amount of sauce but only two portions of salmon: 4 points. This is of course not counting the rice. A medium portion of rice (150g cooked) is 3 points.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:13 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Morsels from Chicago Magazine

Chicago Magazine has long been one of the best resources for reviews and news about the restaurant scene in the City by the Lake. They now have a new online feature called "Morsels", written by Penny Pollack & Jeff Ruby that serves as a sort of "Kup's Column" of the Chicago restaurant community.

If you'd like to skip having to bookmark the site, you can have the column spammed - er, delivered to you by e-mail by sending a message to chimagmorsels-sub@email.trb.com.

It also makes for a great excuse to post a picture of my hometown.

The new Chicago Magazine Best Restaurants issue hits stands early next week. Best Chef, Best Restaurant, and Dish of the Year awards among others are on the line. Will Charlie Trotter challenge Rick Tromonto to an iron chef-style cook-off using only froths? Will Rick Bayless edge past Grant Achatz's chocolate sea bass (no, really) with cuitlacoche quesadillas? Will Alpana Singh take back the sommelier of the year award?

Chicago Magazine does not put the results online, so you'll just have to find a website that covers food that happens to have writers in Chicago who can get ahold of an issue. I think I can suggest one.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:41 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
April 19, 2004
My Miso Soup

My Miso Soup
One of the reasons I really wanted to consult my friend Stacey about Japanese food is that I have been wanting for years to try my hand at miso soup. I have a recipe book on Japanese cuisine, but although it has many soup recipes none are that basic standard of every Japanese restaurant I have ever visited: miso soup. When in Chicago, I regularly stock up on the powdered version available in my favourite health food store (Sherwyn's) and I have even gone so far as to buy a packet of the miso paste...but then I am stopped dead in my tracks. What next?!?

So I told Stacey about my goal when we visited the Japanese grocery store and she made sure I got all the right ingredients. Whew.

It turns out that Miso soup is not only incredibly delicious, but incredibly easy to make. On Stacey's advice (combined with the cryptic instructions on the box of miso paste) here is the recipe.

My Miso Soup (home-made - yippee!!)

2 strips of konbu (dried seaweed, cut in big pieces)
1/2 cup katso-bushi (or at least this is what I assume it is from the recipes I have read; the smell and look are consistent with dried tuna flakes - I just bought what Stacey told me to get!)
5 cups water
a small bunch of enoki mushrooms
2 small bunches of certified organic Alaria dried seaweed, purchased at Sherwyn's some time ago in the vague hope I would some day learn about miso soup
silky tofu (to taste - didn't put in too much as the Critic doesn't like it)
4 green onions/scallions

Soak the konbu in the water for at least half an hour to bring out the maximum amount of flavour. Bring to the point of nearly boiling and remove from heat. Remove konbu from broth. (The Epicurious recipe I looked at afterwards said "reserve (it) for another use" - no idea what would that be?) Add the fish flakes and bring back to the boil; cook for a few minutes. Strain the broth and return to the heat. Add the alaria seaweed (cut in bite-sized morsels), the tofu (ditto), the onions (chopped finely) and the mushrooms (ditto). Cook for 15-20 minutes, to allow the seaweed to expand and the flavours to mix. Just before serving, add 1 heaping Tbs (55g) of miso paste.

Some more information on the ingredients:

The konbu is cut in long, thickish strips and looks fairly tough. I'm not sure what else you would use it in, but now that I know you CAN, I'll try tasting a bit the next time I use it.

The fish flakes are weird and smelly. The sell-by date on them is 04.12.16. (!)

The alaria has a variety of uses, according to the back: you can soak it over night and use it in a salad, add it to soups, blanch it, roast it or fry small pieces as a snack. I was pretty happy with it in the soup. It claims on the back to be "an excellent substitute for Japanese Wakame" and it really was very nice.

The enoki mushrooms were a bit hit. The Critic even admitted that they were very nice (although he hastened to add that I shouldn't put in more next time as it was just fine as is). Stacey tells me that mushrooms are always cooked in Japan. The idea of putting raw sliced mushrooms on a salad is an alien concept.

Miso paste comes in many different varieties. The ones with yellow labels tend to be sweeter and the ones with red labels more savoury. In fact a lot of the comments Stacey made about foods seemed to come from the color of the food or label involved. When we were in the pickled foods section, her comments ran along the lines of "well, the red ones are okay, but we didn't like the yellow ones and these orange ones - they are daikon - are pretty good..." I don't know if this tendency to recognize food by color is Japanese or expat-confronted-with-Japanese or (most likely) both.

Tofu also comes in many guises and fried tofu is also used in miso soup. However, Stacey recommended the silky variety (which is what you get in most restaurants) and I thought it was great. It has a lovely texture to go with soup.

So there you have it: My Miso Soup. It was so good I might even make it again tonight; it's certainly much better than those little envelopes of freeze-dried soup. I have a huge tub of miso to finish up in the next few weeks - I'll have to ask Stacey if it freezes well!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:18 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
April 18, 2004
Is My Blog Burning? Thompson's Cake

Is my cake burning?
When I first heard the subject of this edition of Is My Blog Burning, I immediately knew what my task would be. I needed to reproduce, as faithfully as possible, the cake that my Grandma Liebezeit would buy each of us every year for our birthday. Or maybe it's only my imagination that we all had the same cake: my sister was born in December and my brother in February and the cake calls for fresh strawberries. No matter, in my mind, this remains the One Perfect Cake. Despite the fact that (obviously) chocolate cake is better than white...I always asked for this cake on my birthday.

Thompson's was my grandmother's favourite store in Park Ridge, IL. I don't think it's around any more, but it really was an institution in its day. It was a very large supermarket with very good produce, not part of a chain, made amazing rotisserie chickens and of course...the Cake.

I wrote my brother and sister last week to ask for their memories of the cake, to help me reproduce it. They didn't write back. So we are relying on my childhood dreams here. As I remember, the cake was layered - probably three layers. Between each of the layers was a filling of whipped cream and sliced fresh strawberries. The frosting on top of the cake was rich, thick butter cream. It was so rich it made your teeth ache. But the genius of the cake lay in the whipped cream and strawberry filling: I don't remember it being sweet at all (aside from the natural sweetness of the strawberries) and this is what saved the cake from being cloying.

Having been failed by my siblings (did I mention that?) I turned to a more reliable source for the Cake, my Fanny Farmer Cookbook. My sister recently mentioned that she got a copy of my mother's 1950's edition on ebay. So now there are only two of us in the running for my mother's copy...

Anyway, I have my 1980s edition, which is good (it includes tacos and other "exotic" foods) but not as good as my mother's (no chocolate oatmeal cookies recipe). I chose the recipe for Velvet Cake as the base for my Thompson's cake. The book says "This simple cake with its fine flavor and smooth, velvet texture is an old classic. It would be a good simple cake to fill and frost for a child's birthday." Just what the doctor ordered.

Velvet Cake (departures from original in parentheses)

1/4 lb (115g) butter
1 c (200g) sugar
4 eggs, separated
1.5 c (210 g) cake flour (as usual, I forgot and had to use normal unbleached)
1/2 c (1 dl - whatever this is) cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder (1 sachet levure chimique)

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter and lightly flour two 8" round cake pans. (I had to use roughly equivalent square ones.) Cream butter and slowly add the sugar, beating until light. Beat in the egg yolks and 1/2 cup cold water. (AUGHHH! FF did not mention this in the ingredients...panic as I wonder if I'm following two different recipes? No, all is well...) Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder and add to the first mixture. (Too many dirty bowls are going to be involved in this project - dump the dry ingredients in with the butter/sugar/egg mix and stir well instead.) Beat egg whites separately until stiff, but not dry. Gently stir a third of the whites into the first mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Spread the batter in the pans and bake for about 25 minutes, until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for five minutes before turning out onto racks.

The Filling

1 cup cream (I used crème fleurette, which did not beat as well as I hoped)
1.5 cups sliced fresh strawberries.

Beat the cream until nice and thick, or until your patience runs out. Spread half over the flat side of one of the cakes. Cover with strawberries. Spread the rest of the cream over the strawberries, and top with the second cake layer, flat side down.

The Frosting

1/4 lb (115g) soft butter
2 cups (one full container) confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup milk
a handful of ripe strawberries for coloring the piping

Mix the first three ingredients with a mixer and use most of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. This is an engineering feat that I did not appreciate when I was a little tot. The cream and strawberries want to ooze out from between the layers, and butter cream frosting doesn't stick to either of them. Never mind, it's made with love and if it were perfect, no one would know you made it at home, right? I used mashed strawberries to color the remaining frosting, mainly because the red food coloring has inexplicably gone missing from my kitchen.

And the verdict? It was very, very good, if I say so myself. It wasn't QUITE as good as Thompson's, but it was in the right vein. I think next time I'll divide the batter in three layers and spread the same amount of filling between the cakes. This would certainly make the frosting less difficult to apply.

Here is a picture of the inside of the cake and here is a picture of a slice of the cake. Mmmm...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:30 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack
Is My Blog Burning? Turtle Cake

Here we are at the third Is My Blog Burning? This time out - a cake walk - hosted by shiokadelicious.

Now I'm new to cooking, and certainly, I'm no expert on cakes. So I turned to a woman who's raised three children and run Girl Scout Troops for years and years - my mother-in-law, Rosalind McFall.

She of course, dug deep in her recipe box and gave me... someone else's recipe. I think she should be able to claim it as her own after 21 years, but she's pretty scrupulous about giving credit.

My original plan was to make this cake two different ways. The first is the original method, as copied down from the yellowing recipe card she'd written it on back in 1983.

This is the Turtle Cake recipe from "Ann Tharp - Xmas '83" as recorded and modifed by Rosalind McFall:

Turtle Cake
1 box German Chocolate Cake Mix - mix as directed
Melt 3/4 cup butter & 1/2 cup Eagle Brand Milk, add to cake mix
pour 1/2 of mix into a greased and floured 9x13 pan - Bake 20 min at 350 degrees.
While baking, melt 1 package caramels and remaining 1/2 Eagle milk in double boiler.
Cook cake - spread mix evenly over baked cake
spread rest of batter over caramels and bake 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Finish top with sifter powdered sugar. You may add 1/3 cup nuts to the top in desired.

Rosalind's comments - the nuts make the top of the cake look more interesting than just an unbroken sheet of white. A bag of caramels is about a pound - similar to the bags of caramels you see around Halloween. We couldn't find a one pound bag, so I bought two 9.5 oz. bags and snacked on the rest.

I tried this recipe, starting with a startling number of brand-name ingredients:

I have some ideas on how to personalize the recipe. I don't usually like recipes that rely on pre-processed goods like the box of cake mix, since you never know when they're going to change the recipe or how the final cake will be different if you can't find the exact brand of mix.

Also, when I think of "turtles", I think of those gooey pecan/caramel/chocolate clusters that Fannie May and Fannie Farmer used to sell before they thoughtlessly closed all their stores (editorial comment ends here).

I may give a from scratch version a whirl before the day is out, but I don't think I'm going to have time. I'll post the from scratch recipe and result later on. For now enjoy the original.

Sometimes people ask - why do you bother with trying from scratch recipes? Why do you bake? Why not just buy the finished goods at the store?

To those people I can only offer this explanation:

It's all about licking the mixing bowls clean, baby!

The cake as made was a big hit. I did something to it that was apparently unthinkable, but that yielded very nice results - once it's cooled completely, refrigerate the cake. The gooey caramel will firm up a bit and the sweetness will be cut just a bit by the cold. It's a delicious cake anyway you slice it.

One note - I find a number of recipes similar to the original on the Internet, some even mentioning the Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk. This is clearly a recipe that's been around for a while and that continues to be popular.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:27 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
April 17, 2004
Turning Japanese

Japanese loot
This afternoon, I finally got together with my friend Stacey for a trip to the Japanese grocery store. Stacey and her husband spent 18 months in Tokyo, only returning to Paris in January of this year. So they were ready for some Japanese food and I was eager to benefit from the fruits of their culinary experiences there.

Walking through the store with Stacey was a real lesson, and I wish I had brought a tape recorder to keep a record of all she told me. We spent some 20 minutes at the first refrigerated section alone, as she took me over the various produce available.

Some were, of course, already known to me: soy bean sprouts, lemon grass shoots (not strictly Japanese, but the store stocks other Asian specialties too), tofu. She also pointed out the daikon, a sort of Japanese radish that is as common as potatoes to a European in Japan. (I bought some pickled daikon and will report back later as to the taste!) She was also familiar with the lotus root, which to me always looks like it's from a Star Trek episode. ("Captain, it's a rare delicacy from the Haliburton galaxy, prized for it's distinctive shape...") She wasn't too enthusiastic about the taste or texture, though, so I decided to give it a miss.

Stacey also advised me on the purchase of mirin, a sweet rice wine, and some rice wine vinegar. In fact, as you can see in the photo, I went wild: all of the above, plus gyozo dumplings, sake, the dried fish (katsuo-bushi) and seaweed (konbu) and miso essential to a good miso soup, as well as these fascinating mushrooms and some decorative, edible shiso leaves.

You will certainly be hearing more about these lovely ingredients and how I use them in the next few days! For the moment, though, I am busy preparing for the Is My Blog Burning: Cake Walk Edition, and the aftermath of baking and cooking at once looked like this.

Not looking forward to cleaning the kitchen...

Address of the Japanese store:

I have no idea what the name is and cannot find it in the yellow pages on-line. If you live in Paris and want to visit, the store is in the rue Linois in the 15th, between the quai de Grenelle and the rue Robert. It's right near the Darty, across the river from the Maison Radio France. Next time I'm there, I'll ask if they have a card!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:40 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
April 16, 2004
Asian Fish Raté

Last night, I decided to try to reproduce - with a few minor departures - a dish that I always order when we go out to our favourite Chinese restaurant, in the Paris suburb of Boulogne. The restaurant is owned and operated by a very good friend of ours, Mr. Kai-Yin Cheung and it's called Chez Ming. Steve has his favourites: Potage Pékinoise (Hot and sour soup) served with the spiciest hot oil either of us has ever tasted, followed by skewers of shrimp and beef on a sizzling platter. But for me it is, and will always be, the Poisson au Gingembre that makes my evening.

So last night, I decided to try my hand at imitating Mr. Cheung's delicious dish. Usually, it comes to the table covered with thinly sliced spring onions and ginger and basking in a lovely dark mixture of soy sauce and nectar of the gods (i.e. I have no idea what else he uses). My spring onions were looking distinctly fall-ish, so I decided to try julienned leeks instead. As I don't actually have a steamer large enough to contain the fish I bought, so I decided to "steam" everything by putting wine and soy sauce into a baking pan, covering it with foil and baking in a hot oven.

First, I put about 1/3 cup dry white wine in the baking pan and added about 3 Tbs soy sauce. Then I added the sliced leeks.

The next step I would skip the next time as unnecessary: I put the pan in a hot oven (200c/400F) in order to give the leeks a little more time to cook than the fish. Next, I sliced some small mushrooms. I layered the the mushrooms and then the fish on top of the leeks. As a final touch, I dribbled a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce on the fish. I baked it for about ten minutes.

Do you notice anything missing in this? I didn't.

I had started rice cooking before preparing the fish, and steamed brocolli just after putting the fish in the oven. (It seemed like the perfect vegetable for this dish, and was.) Everything done, I plated it and it looked pretty nice, I thought:

fish cooked.jpg

And it tasted pretty good too...despite the fact that I forgot the fresh ginger. Yes, that's right, it was called "Fish with Ginger". Kind of hard to forget, you would think, no? But I am only here to make you all feel nice and smug about how much cleverer you are about cooking. How very embarrassing. Still, it wasn't bad. Just not as nice as it could have been.

So if you would like to try this at home, I would suggest doing exactly as I did with two exceptions:

- put everything in the pan at once

- don't forget to julienne a couple of inches of fresh ginger and add it with the rest...

Or better still, go have the original:

Chez Ming
4 av Gén Leclerc 92100 BOULOGNE BILLANCOURT
01 48 25 57 03

Everything we have tried there is good, though the dishes I mentioned are our favourites. Cheung is also a recurrent champion in the Paris snooker league, so you can admire his cups all over the restaurant. (Yes, that's how we met him - Steve has hopes of some day taking an actual match off of him...)


I found this photo on the CNN site - kids, don't try this at home! They look like they came out of our Easter Eggs, don't you think?

(Just in case you are worried about the poor little chicks, this is the caption that ran with the photo: Chicks in Easter-egg colors feed at Triple D Farm and Hatchery in Palmer, Alaska. The hatchery sells a few hundred for the two weeks leading up to Easter each year. Owner Anthony Schmidt says a nontoxic dye is injected into eggs before the chicks hatch, coloring their down. The birds' natural coloring returns as they grow feathers.)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 15, 2004
Host a Restaurant

We've mentioned Dining Out for Life before. Chicago's day to participate is April 29th and AIDSCARE is looking for volunteers to host a restaurant. Hosting is simple - you invite everybody you know out for dinner at one of the participating restaurants.

A portion of your dinner tab will go to help fight AIDS and help the victims of the disease. Metromix has a list of the restaurants participating this year which includes everyone from Ann Sather (mmmm... Cinnamon rolls), to the Chicago Diner (mmmm... beet loaf), to Mama Desta's Red Sea (mmmm... injera), to the Signature Room at the 95th (mmmm... uh, altitudinous food).

What if you don't live in Chicago? If you happen to be lucky enough to live in any one of the cities below, invite a batch of buddies out for a meal. Just make sure you eat at the right restaurants on the right day.

You'll have a great meal while doing something good for your community. Go on, get dessert. You deserve it.

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

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:09 AM | TrackBack
April 13, 2004
Meet the Cheese

One Mean Cheese
I never thought I would meet a cheese I didn't like. Maybe some that I like slightly less than others. But a cheese I didn't like? That would be heresy!

Well, call me a heretic and slap me with a cracker - I've found one. I bought it on Saturday at our local cheesemonger to serve with the Easter dinner. It's called a Boulette d'Avesnes and it looked colorful and intriguing on the shelf in the store. But I was sadly deceived.

According to my cheese reference book, the Guide des Fromages de France et de l'Europe (Sélection du Reader's Digest, yes, they apparently have them here too) the Boulette d'Avesnes comes from the Northeast of France and is made from raw cow milk. It was originally made with the buttermilk leftover from buttermaking. Nowadays, it is made from broken or unsuccessful Maroilles cheeses. Now this, to me, explains a lot. It has a slightly acidic taste, so you can imagine it being a descendent - even if no longer direct - of a buttermilk cheese. And then Maroilles comes close to being a cheese I don't like. When it's too ripe (fait) it can be really sharp. I mean really sharp.

So what was my Boulette like? Firstly, it was wrapped in plastic wrap, which is never a good sign in my book. It usually means slimy cheese, and the Boulette was indeed slightly slimy. Looking further, it seemed promising: the cheese is covered with paprika (which we like) and has a crumbly interior. Peppery and spicy and crumbly....but no. It has a slightly bitter peppery taste and even the texture is somehow unpleasant. It was the most popular cheese in that everyone tasted it...but everyone disliked it. (Did you try that red cheese? It's really nasty! Let me have a taste...)

So maybe I just had a bad experience. I recently added a comment to a US food blog posting about époisses where the person had obviously been sold an inferior cheese. If there is anyone out there who really likes Boulettes d'Avesnes, write and tell me where I went wrong and how to find a good one! I would hate to wreck a perfect record.

Last minute update!

According to this site, the cheese is best appreciated with a strong red wine or a small glass of gin. Isn't everything better with a small glass of gin?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:18 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
April 12, 2004
Shoot the moon

This article on another kind of tipping has been making the rounds, and it's well worth a read, even if you live in Chicago, where it doesn't seem too hard to get into even the best restaurants. I'm headed through New York next week, but unfortunately I don't have the petty cash for this kind of adventure. Maybe next time?

Posted by Paul at 11:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
The curry project

Venkat Balasubramani is hosting weekly dinner parties at his house and blogging about some of the results. Makes me wish I lived in Seattle. Today he's got recipes for apple chutney and pakora up. I do wish he'd say some more about the spices, which he has sounding quite ominous and intimidating!

Posted by Paul at 11:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Last Chick

Last chick in Paris
One of the reasons I bought some of our Easter chocolate from Chocolat Jadis et Gourmande (49, avenue Franklin Roosevelt, Paris) was that I noticed these little fellows in the window. They are supposed to be egg-cups. (How silly is that? If the eggs are hardboiled, they do not need to sit upright. If they are soft-boiled, you are eating them hot and goodbye chocolate!) But to my mind, they were obviously napkin rings. So I bought ten of them, although in the end there were only nine of us at dinner. With Marianne's help, I put colorful paper strips in the holes to protect the napkins.

After putting out the nine brothers of this fellow on the table, my stepdaughter came in the kitchen with him saying, "Angela and I decided that you should have the extra one, Meg, because you made such a nice dinner." Well, that's very nice of you, my dear. Especially as I bought them...! Still, it was a nice compliment and she has good manners.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:54 PM | TrackBack
All About Eggs

I'm a day late to hunt for eggs for Easter, but the proto-avian is always in season. Eggs are used to bind together dishes of all sort from savory to sweet, and make a pretty good meal by themselves.

Chicken eggs are our preferred type, but people also eat duck, goose, and quail eggs.

The age old question about eggs as been if they are good for you. Washington nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge takes up the issue in the Washington Post. The good news - eggs aren't necessarily bad for you. The bad news - eggs the way Americans like them - "alongside foods high in saturated fat, such as bacon, sausage and buttered toast," aren't exactly celery as far as healthy eating goes. One other interesting factoid from the article - the Japanese are the biggest egg eaters in the world - averaging 328 of the ovoids every year.

I found a Poultry Fact Sheet from the University of California, Davis that describes some of the ways egg producers are trying to make their products more attractive to consumers. Many people are increasingly concerned about not only egg nutrition, but with the BSE scare, consumers are becoming interested in how all their food is produced.

Regular eggs are laid by chickens in cages inside factory farms. Many of these chickens have their beaks clipped to keep them from attacking their neighbors. The industry claims this is not a big deal- akin to clipping a dog's claws - but this is one of the hot buttons for anti-cruelty and animal rights activists. Generally, these chickens do not have access to the outside. A picture of a particularly crowded site with other problems can be found here. Caution - the pictures from the site that picture comes from are not pleasant in the least.

Eggs from caged chickens account for the majority of domestic egg production and generally have the lowest price. Many of the types below can go for two or three times the price of standard factory farmed eggs.

Cage-Free eggs are laid by chickens that are not confined. They may or may not have more space than their caged counterparts, and they may or may not have access to an outside pen. Pictures from a cage-free farm can be seen here.

Organic eggs are eggs from chickens who, according to the American Egg Board were "fed rations having ingredients that were grown without pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers. No commercial laying hen rations ever contain hormones." Nothing is implied about the conditions the chickens are raised in by the "organic" label.

Free-Range Eggs are those produced by chickens that have access to the outdoors. Weather often prevents the hens from accessing the outside however, and some indoor ground nest operations are mistakenly referred to as free-range. Free-range as a label makes no promise about the feed of the hens or organic nature of the eggs.

Producers are supplementing the nutrition in eggs with Vitamin E or Omega 3. The supplementing is done by adding foods rich in Omega 3 or Vitamin E to the hens' diets. The excess is included in the egg, and passed on to the human consumer. Flax is usally added for Omega 3 egg production, and Vitamin E is added directly to the feed to increase Vitamin E output.

Some consumers are more concerned with avoiding salmonella, which has made a comeback in the egg industry after being nearly eliminated during the 1970's. Previously salmonella contamination was due to external dirt and fecal matter. New sanitation procedures for cleaning eggs took care of that source, but in the late 1980's-early 1990's salmonella started to infect the ovaries of chickens directly, leading to the current outbreak.

Although salmonella contamination in eggs is still a low risk, a salmonella infection can be devastating for very young, very old, or immunocompromised individuals. Cooking eggs to the temperature needed to eliminate any chance of infection (as the Center for Disease Control recommends) will turn your eggs into something closer to silly putty than over easy. If you are concerned or are cooking for a high risk individual, the egg industry has come up with Pasteurized eggs.

Pasteurized eggs are briefly exposed to high temperatures long enough to kill any salmonella in the egg without cooking the egg. Really that should read "without cooking the egg that much". Pasteurized eggs have slightly cloudy whites, and must be beaten a bit longer than regular eggs to make peaks or meringue. They taste just about the same.

Finally, there are "vegetarian eggs". There are no standards for calling your eggs vegetarian eggs, but the one provider I've seen promises they are cage-free, vegetarian-fed, non-factory farmed, Omega-3 enhanced, with brown shells.

The brown shell, by the way, implies nothing about the birds being free-range or organic. The eggs don't taste different or special in any way. They just happen to come from a different breed of chicken than the ones that produce white eggs.

If you want more information about eggs, the American Egg Board site is full of facts, especially in their "Eggscyclopedia". You can expect the site to be industry positive (of course).

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:51 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Easter in Paris

decorated eggs.jpg

This is just going to be a short summary of our Easter day, one of the busiest and most exhausting this chef has had in a while. We started off the day with our version of an egg-less full English breakfast: sausages, beans, crumpets, cheese, fried onions and apple slices. Then while the Critic played with his Precious (the Apple Powerbook) Marianne and I decorated Easter eggs. I had forgotten how the little dye tablets froth in the vinegar. Marianne was delighted.

I did in fact buy some kosher eggs, but unfortunately, stupidly, broke half of them on the way home in the bus. On the advice of my Romanian colleague (apparently they dye eggs in Romania too) we bought some brown eggs and experimented with the effects of dye on the two. We found that brown eggs work much better with the warmer colours like orange and red. (No surprise there!) The Paas egg decorating kits haven't changed much since I was Marianne's age, except for the nifty egg wrappers they included. You slip the egg into a decorated plastic ring and slide it into boiling water. The plastic clings to the side of the egg and then you can dye the egg afterwards.

Once the eggs were done, the cleaning and cooking began. On our menu were some very tasty recipes which, for the most part, I did not alter at all from the source:

Smoked Salmon Rillettes with Tortilla Wafers (from Epicurious). This was delicious but surprisingly unpopular, except with my Irish friend Owen.

Quail's Eggs with Sesame Salt (also from Epicurious). Not really a complicated recipe (boil eggs and whiz toasted sesame seeds with salt in the food processor), but this was really delicious. Following Clotilde's blog on goose eggs, I was inspired to branch out in the egg department myself and am really happy I did. Quail's eggs give you the exact proper proportion of white to yolk in a bite-sized morsel. A great improvement on hen eggs in my opinion!

Goat cheese spread. This wasn't so much a recipe as an inspired use of some marinated cheese that had gotten a bit too strong for comfort. (Coming from me, this is saying a lot - they had been marinating with fresh garlic and spices for about a month now.) I mixed four goat's cheeses with about 6 oz. of "carré frais" (which is a bit like cream cheese). Absolutely delicious on Ritz crackers. The cheeses had been marinating in olive oil with two garlic cloves, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, a bay leaf, some peppercorns and a few dried hot peppers.

Baked Ham. This took some explaining when I ordered it from the butcher and then I had to call home to ask my mother about the hard pink exterior (cut it off? yes. drat, more work). I trimmed the hard outer layer (skin?), scored it in diamond shapes, inserted cloves and basted it with a glaze of 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup orange juice, a dollop of Marsala and a big spoonful of lavendar honey. Baked for about an hour and a half, basting frequently. I stuck a few pineapple rings on it about half an hour before it finished, using toothpicks to hold them in place. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment I forgot to photograph it before carving. It was very pretty, though.

Mashed Potatoes, Carrots, Peas

And I forgot the roasted onions, which are still in the oven as I type.

For dessert, I tried my hand at winging a white chocolate mousse with partial success. What I did (and I don't recommend trying it at home!) was beat two egg whites until they were stiff, whipped some cream until I gave up on it EVER getting soft peaks, melted four bars of white chocoloate with a little water and folded them all together. I refrigerated for 24 hours and the result was something that was a bit mousse-like on top, but very much custard/pudding-like on the bottom. It tasted good and it looked good, but the consistency was a bit strange. To serve, I put a few sliced fresh strawberries in the bottom of each glass, covered them with the "mousse", and topped with a drizzle of strawberry liqueur that Steve brought me back from New Zealand last autumn. Unfortunately, I neglected to take a photo as they looked pretty in the martini glasses and parfait glasses I used!

(Any tips on successfully melting white chocolate would be appreciated. It melted but stayed incredibly thick until I added a tiny amount of water and then it suddenly got way too thin. Panic!)

Here is a photo of most of us just before sitting down!

Afterwards, we played Pictionary, Charades and Escalado. If you want a quiet evening, do not invite six British, Irish and Australian friends over for an evening of betting on horse races. It got somewhat loud and if any of my neighbours are reading this, I APOLOGIZE.

As they say, a Good Time Was Had By All. And the chocolates from Chocolat Jadis et Gourmandewere delicious.

Happy Easter!

Chocolat Jadis et Gourmande
49Bis av Franklin D Roosevelt 75008 Paris
01 42 25 06 04

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
April 10, 2004
Critic's choice: Hot cross buns

one a penny, two a penny...
Hot Cross Buns, like turkey stuffing, would appear to be one of those emotional issues where compromise is rare. The ones I grew up with are the best, and there is no question about it. You may think you are making the authentic ones, but you are wrong.

For years, the Critic has been telling me that he makes the best Hot Cross Buns in the world. So this year, I put him to the test: put your money where your mouth is, I told him.

There are similarities between the English Hot Cross Bun and the midwestern USA ones I grew up with: fruit, spices, bread-like buns. But the Critic's version is nevertheless a departure from what my Irish-American grandmother used to bake. Ours used a basic bread dough, sweetened with a bit of vanilla, a cross made in the dough with scissors after the last proofing, and sugar glaze frosting drooled in the cross after baking. Read on for the "authentic" (Ye Olde Englande) version. It has some merit! (Though of course is nowhere near as good as my grandmother used to make...)

Just joking.

So the Critic and his daughter decided to make me some Hot Cross Buns.

Hot Cross Buns

15g fresh yeast
300 ml/1 cup warm milk (do not microwave)
450 g strong white flour (in the US probably called bread flour - it has higher gluten levels) plus extra for kneading
5ml/1 tsp salt
5ml/1 tsp allspice
15ml/3 tsp ground cinnamon
2.5 ml/.5 tsp grated nutmeg
50g/2 oz. caster sugar
75g/3 oz. butter
75g/3 oz. currants (we used raisins)
25g/1 oz. chopped mixed peel (we used chopped dried mango as mixed peel isn't found in French stores)
1 egg, beaten
50g/5 oz. plain flour

For the glaze:
60ml/4 Tbs fresh milk and water, mixed
45ml/3 Tbs caster sugar

1. Dissolve the fresh yeast in the milk. Leave in a warm place for 15 minutes.

2. Put the strong flour, salt, spices and sugar in a bowl. Rub in 50g (2 oz.) of the butter, then stir in the currants and peel (or raisins and dried mango). Make a well in the centre and stir in the egg and yeast mixture and beat together to a soft dough.

3. Turn on to a lightly floured survace and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky. Put into a clean bowl, clover with a clean tea-towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about one hour. It should double in size.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and shabe into 13 round buns.

5. Place the buns on a greased baking sheet, cover and leave in a warm place for about 30 minutes, until doubled in size.

6. In the meantime, make the pastry for the crosses. (American ed. note: this is the weird part.) Put the plain flour in a bowl and rub in the remaning butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Sir in enough water to bind the mixture together. Knead lightly.

7. Roll out the pastry thinly on a floured surface and cut into thin strips about 9cm/3.5 inches long. Dampen the pastry strips and lay tow on each bun to make crosses.

8. Bake at 190c/375f for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. For the glaze, heat the milk and water with the sugar. Brush the hot buns twice with the glaze. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Here is a picture of my stepdaughter, Marianne, glazing the baked buns.

And this critic's critique? They were pretty good. I liked the addition of cinnamon and allspice and (especially) nutmeg, but I missed the thick sugary glaze cross. So Vive la Différence!!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
April 8, 2004
Moules Frites

My localToday we are going to talk about Moules. MMMmmmmoules. When you see a sign like the one here, it is usually a good sign you have found a reliable place to eat your moules frites (mussels with fries, for those of you unfamiliar with the term). Moules frites is a very working class dish, but to my mind it's one of those examples of the working classes getting the better end of the deal. (Pot au feu, on the other hand, is not. Watery beef and over-cooked vegetables, not so good.)

Why is the sign a good sign? Because it's a temporary affair and only put up when the café has received a fresh consignment of mussels. If a café has mussels on the permanent menu, you can be fairly sure that they using frozen ones (unless, perhaps, if you live in Belgium or near the sea).

Another good sign, observed by me on the way to work, is a fish delivery van parked near your favourite café and a man striding towards the café with two big bags of mussels. I know where I'm lunching...!

So I toddled down to my favourite café and ordered myself some mussels. Ever conscious of my too-large waistline, I asked for salad with them, instead of the usual fries. I had to wait a little while, which was also a good sign: mussels do not take long to steam, so if you have to wait it probably means they are making them to order instead of giving you someone else's leftovers. (When you lunch at two in the afternoon, you get used to someone else's leftovers and rather tired of them too.)

When they did arrive, steaming and fragrant, they were accompanied by the ubiquitous fries. I don't know if the waiter forgot or was just feeling indulgent towards me. Poor thing, she really would prefer fries, wouldn't she? Knowing this waiter, I wouldn't be surprised. He's very kind. The fries were golden and crispy. I didn't send them back.

The first time I tried mussels in Paris was many many years ago in a restaurant called Bofinger near Bastille. A kindly elderly gentleman leaned across to the table where I sat with my friends, all of us struggling to extract mussels with small forks. Winking, he took one of the empty shells in his hand and demonstrated their pincer-like qualities. "Like thees. Much easier!" And I have never looked back. What a nice guy.

The classical way to cook mussels is Moules Marinières. This does not mean "marinated" but "sailor style". I don't know why steaming them in white wine, garlic and shallots is typical of sailors, but there you are. I just do the research, I don't make the rules. My huge bowl of mussels came accompanied by a large empty pot for the empty shells and a spoon for drinking up the juices once you have finished the mussel. And this is the best part. If you ever go to Paris and eat mussels, heed this last piece of advice: the sauce left at the bottom of the pot is the most delectable thing you will ever taste. You may need to tip the pot to get a deep layer of juice, because there will probably be sand and you want to let it sink to the bottom. Dip your fries in it, ask for more bread, or just do what I do: use the spoon and make like it's soup. But whatever you do, do not waste this delicious sauce.

Moules Marinières

3 pounds of fresh mussels, scrubbed as well as you can and beards removed
1/2 bottle of dry white wine
3-4 shallots, finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup crème fraîche

Put the wine, garlic and shallots in a deep pot and bring to a boil. Let boil for a couple of minutes to cook the shallots and garlic and then add the washed mussels. It's impossible to scrub them too much - inevitably you will get some sand in the finished product. A sad fact, but here's a tip: "washing" the cooked mussels by swirling them in the sauce at the bottom of the pot while eating will get rid of much if not all of the residue sand. I digress. Cover the pot tightly and cook for about ten or fifteen minutes. If you have a glass lid, you can see when the mussels open and leave them on the heat for a few minutes more. Put the mussels in serving bowls. Mix the crème fraîche and chopped parsley with the remaining sauce, strain it and pour it over the mussels. Serve with lots of bread and (if you are not dieting) fries.

If you prefer to have someone else do the cooking, I can still recommend Bofinger, a classic for all seafood and especially seafood platters:

Brasserie Bofinger
3 r Bastille 75004 PARIS
+33 1 42 72 87 82

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:01 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
The Spice Drawer

Some of my favourite things... I have something of a love/hate relationship with Ikea. They are so convenient and cheap for so many things and yet if you want to lose your will to live, all you need to do is visit the store north of Paris on a Saturday morning. Their stuff looks so cool and yet you have to avoid ANYTHING with moving parts as it will eventually, inevitably collapse on you. (One memorable night, the CD cabinet that we had actually taken the time to screw to the wall, as suggested in the instructions, collapsed in a glorious pile, breaking hundreds of plastic covers!)

So perhaps we were foolish to buy an Ikea kitchen, but we based our decision on these facts: 1) it was cheap and we had just bought a very expensive apartment 2) it was guaranteed for ten years 3) it was (relatively) hassle-free, in that they help you design the layout and will come and install for you.

And there was one more hidden advantage: all the little kitchen gadgets that fit perfectly in the drawers. And so we come to my hidden treasure, the joy of my life: the spice drawer. In the photo it may look like they are just lying flat, but in fact they are on a bevelled insert. Okay, the spices don't fit exactly and I have to alternate large and small jars. But nevertheless, they are convenient (under the stove top, no less) and it's SO easy to quickly pick out the spice you need. They don't go rolling around and I can almost fit all my spices in one place. Under the old arrangement, I had to empty the cupboard every time I needed a spice, looking for the one way at the back....

So we love some things about Ikea!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:11 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
April 7, 2004
Austro-Hungarian Goulash


Isn't it pretty? Our friend Avril was given this paprika by a colleague who had been in Hungary on business and she gave it to me because she doesn't like cooking. So how lucky am I? It even came with its own little pretty spoon! Of course it didn't come in this nicely sealed jar - originally it was in a plastic bag envelopped by a cloth one.

And this paprika introduced me to the fact that there is more than one kind of paprika out there - spicy and sweet. My Austrian grandmother never told me this when she showed me how to make goulash.

The Critic was stunned, amazed and thrilled the first time I made goulash with the new paprika. Myself, after consuming five glasses of water, I conceded that it was an interesting departure. It's very spicy, Avril's paprika. Since then, we have come to a compromise: I use the traditional paprika for 75% of the spice and spicy paprika for the rest. Then, just before serving (this is a secret) I sprinkle a lot more spicy paprika on the Critic's bowl. It looks pretty and satisfies his love of fiery food.

So why am I calling this Austro-Hungarian Goulash? Well, I don't want to offend Ladygoat who has posted on the Foodgoat site that garlic has no place in Chicken paprikash. I don't know if she extends this moratorium to Goulash, but I must state with-all-courtesy-and-not-willing-to-offend-anyone that garlic is a part of my grandmother's goulash. When she was born her village (Hasendorf, near Güssing in Burgenland) was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. My grandfather, born some 20k closer to what is now the Hungarian border, spoke Hungarian as a first language. So, there is my claim to authenticity, but then who knows, maybe my grandma was just a rebel.

Enough, you must be thinking. Get on with the recipe!

Austro-Hungarian Goulash

400 g very tender veal cutlets, cut in thin strips
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
2 Tbs flour
dash of Lawry's salt (my grandma used this in everything and while I don't suppose it's Austrian or Hungarian one of the main ingredients is paprika, which explains a lot I think!)
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup of sweet paprika
1 Tbs hot paprika
1 cup chicken or beef broth
around a cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
4 large mushrooms, sliced (optional)
butter and olive oil to sauté (a few tablespoons total)

First sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil and butter in a large frying pan with high sides. When the onions are soft and everything smells really good, remove from the pan, leaving as much of the oil/butter mixture as possible. Reserve in a bowl.

Toss the veal with the flour and Lawry's salt and pepper. Add a little more oil and butter to the pan (if necessary), raise the heat and toss the meat in the pan. Allow the meat to brown, even if it means bits stick to the bottom of the pan. When the meat is nice and brown, add the paprika and stir for another few minutes. At this point, it may look like the bottom of the pan is covered with flour sludge that will never come off in a million years. Worry not!

Add the onion and garlic mixture and a few tablespoons of the wine. At this point, you should be able to scrape all the dry bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Be assiduous with the spoon until you have gotten every precious browned bit off the bottom of the pan. As the liquid cooks away, add the broth. If you are adding mushrooms, do so now.

Now comes the difficult part, the part that I did not believe initially (and thus made a lot of mediocre goulash): simmer for the next two hours, stirring occasionally and adding broth or wine as the goulash dries out. When I was young and foolish, I assumed that my grandmother used inferior cuts of meat and therefore the 2-hour simmer was just to tenderize the meat. (This was especially foolish, as my grandmother changed butchers like other people change shoes - frequently. She was a terror to inferior butchers and played them off against each other!) In fact, the longer you simmer the more time the paprika has to mellow and give off its flavour. If you serve too soon, it will taste slightly floury and not at all smooth.

So kick off your shoes, check out whether there's a good episode of the Simpsons on the TV or read a book. You'll have to go back and check the goulash during commercial breaks or at the end of each chapter.

About ten minutes before the goulash is ready to serve, set water boiling for your pasta. It should be wide ribboned, ideally. If you are using sour cream, add a large spoonful of the goulash to the sour cream, mix, and then pour this mixture back into the goulash pan. If you are using crème fraîche, you can add it directly to the pan. (I don't know why, but after many years of using French crème fraîche I can only assure you that it is almost impossible to go wrong. If the liquid you add it to is furiously boiling you might find the crème separating. But I doubt it.)

Taste (yeah, like you haven't been doing so all along? It smells too good to resist) and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve over hot buttered noodles and with some good bread for mopping up the leftover sauce. Also serve with the rest of that good dry white wine!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:51 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
April 6, 2004
Am I blue?

StiltonWe were tired yesterday. We found out that one of us was not going to get a new great job. We hadn't slept enough the night before and had eaten and drunk too much over the weekend. It was raining. Leeds was winning at football. We were blue.

SO...blue cheese for dinner?

Actually, to be perfectly honest, we had a surplus of Stilton in the fridge and being that it's a difficult commodity to get in France I wanted to use it before it went bad.

I trawled Epicurious and came upon a lovely idea: Leek and Stilton Soup.

Now the Epicurious recipe actually looked more like a Vichyssoise/Leek and Potato Soup that happened to have a bit of Stilton added. I like Leek and Potato Soup but I wanted something different. So I dropped the potato, changed the seasoning and added a zucchini to come up with my own, less stodgy, version of the soup:

Leek and Stilton Soup (for two)

3 medium leeks
1 zucchini (courgette)
100 g/4 oz Stilton
1 liter of chicken broth
1 tsp fresh (or frozen) tarragon
1 Tbs fresh (or frozen) parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 glass of dry white wine
3 Tbs butter
3 heaping spoonfuls of crème fraiche

Wash and slice in thin rounds the white part of the leeks. Set them to sauté in the butter for about fifteen minutes, until they are soft. Add the wine and continue cooking another five minutes or so. In the meantime, wash the zucchini and cut in small cubes. Add the zucchini to the pot along with the chicken broth and herbs and bring to a slow boil. Once the zucchini have cooked to a soft stage, remove from the heat and either put in a food processor or use an immersion blender to liquidize. Return the pot to the heat and gradually add the crumbled cheese. Lastly, add the crème fraiche and taste for salt and pepper.

What I really loved about this soup was the fact that you didn't need to add much cheese to get a lovely flavour. I am a big fan of Broccoli and Stilton soup, but this soup makes me realize how much the cheese fights with the strong broccoli flavour. Leeks and Stilton marry together much better and make a silky, savoury combination. This also allows you to taste the delicate zucchini flavour underneath. It also looked lovely, as you can see here. I had planned on keeping some of the soup for lunch the next day, but in fact we both liked the soup so much we had two bowls apiece and finished it up!

To accompany our soup, I planned a nice fresh salad. "Do you want Caesar's salad dressing or blue cheese?" I called out to the Critic. "Blue Cheese!!" was the response and so, ever obedient to his whims, Blue Cheese it was. Below is my recipe for blue cheese dressing, made up on the spot and very tasty too:

Blue Cheese Dressing (served on crispy romaine lettuce and tomatoes)

150 grams/6 oz Fourme d'Ambert cheese (any other blue would probably be fine)
1 Tbs sherry vinaigre
1 Tbs olive oil
freshly ground pepper
1 Tbs crème fraiche
1 Tbs water

Whiz two thirds of the cheese with the rest of the ingredients using an immersion blender with the two-cup chopper bowl. (Alternatively, you can mix by hand or use an electric beater.) If it's too thick, add a little more water. Crumble the remaining cheese and mix with a spoon.

This made enough for about four salads, which was fine because the two-cup chopper bowl that came with my immersion blender comes with a cover so you can just pop the leftover dressing in the fridge!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:35 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
April 2, 2004
Gather Round the Trough

This is just too goofy to pass up for a Friday afternoon link.

Congress Cooks! collected recipes from current members of Congress. The recipes range from the ridiculous (Ohio Congressman Steven C. LaTourette's Grape Dogs) to the disturbing (North Carolina Congressman Howard Coble's Favorite Breakfast "Brains and Eggs") to the just plain strange (Former Senator and current Attorney General John Ashcroft's recipe for Very Chocolate Brownies that calls for using brownie mix in "a pan two-thirds the recommended size. This will make the individual portions thicker and chewier!" )

All the politicians are very careful to make sure they use humble ingredients appropriate to their region (hence potato recipes from the Idahoans, seafood dishes from the coasts) and where appropriate, give us regional/ethnic recipes like Senator Dick Durbin's Hungarian Butterhorn Cookies, Senator Olympia Snowe's Baklava or even Senator (and possible Vice Presidential candidate) Mary Landrieux's Oven Jambalaya.

The recipe from Senator Mark Dayton from Minnesota is notable for one reason. Although Mary Landrieux's Oven Jambalaya asks for sausage, Senator Dayton's Sausage and Wild Rice Casserole is the only recipe on the site that comes right out and calls for pork.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
The Expense of Euro Dining

When the Euro was first launched as the main currency in France three years ago, nearly everyone I know complained that prices had risen with the introduction of the new money. I laughed at them as cynics and cheapskates.

It turns out that they were right and I was wrong. An interesting article on the BBC site today cites a paper which found that prices did indeed rise following the introduction of the Euro, especially in the catering and supermarket areas and especially in France and Italy.

The authors of the paper used a clever method to research restaurants: they compared 2002 and 2003 Michelins for major cities. They found that the prices rose by as much as 5.5% (in Italy) compared with static or falling prices outside the Euro zone. In fact, the authors claim that their estimates were conservative and took into account cost of living increases and failed crops where appropriate.

So do I feel foolish? Well, yes a bit. It's true that when I translate restaurant prices back into Francs I am sometime surprised by how much I am spending. However, the problem for an American living in Paris is that one tends to automatically see the euro as being "about a dollar". Sadly for you Americans, this is no longer the fact. Currently, a Euro is worth $1.21 which is quite a difference!

For those Americans willing to brave the crippling exchange rates in order to enjoy the culinary delights of Paris, I list below a few of my favourite less expensive restaurants. Bon appétit!

For a copious dinner at good value in the heart of the Latin Quarter:
Le Navigator
63 r Galande 75005 PARIS
01 43 54 35 86
Starve yourself before going and blow out on the menu "gastronomique" which includes starter, fish, meat, cheese and dessert for about 40 euros. Okay, it's not CHEAP but it's very good value!

For really good value wine (also in the Latin quarter, though he has two other locations):
Les Bouchons de François Clerc
12 r Hôtel Colbert 75005 Paris
01 43 54 15 34
The Critic and I had a New Year's Eve dinner there just over a year ago and it was a very good deal: for 100 Euros we had a six course dinner with a glass of wine with each course. It was a delicious, imaginative menu and the wine was delicious.

Cheap Middle Eastern/Jewish food (good for vegetarians):
Chez Marianne
2 r Hospitalières St Gervais 75004 PARIS
01 42 72 18 86
Choose from some 70 dishes based on the number of "elements" you want (5, 8 or 11). A popular, lively place. They don't take reservations, but you can put your name on a list and come back later when your table is ready. This restaurant is in the middle of the Jewish section of the marais, a lovely place for wandering.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Recipe - for Disaster!

The April issue of Southern Living has been recalled because of a recipe for Icebox Rolls.

Frost Street tells us that if you're smart enough to read, you ought to know that fats and water don't mix. Boiling shortening and water for five minutes is likely to leave you with a nice hot layer of grease that will get pressured from the boiling water below until the steam builds up and the whole thing sprays hot fat all over the room and any unfortunate schmo following the recipe.

Southern Living issued a warning on its website. They've worked up a replacement recipe that will be published in May.

Frost Street thinks they should leave the recipe as is and let evolution take its course. I agree only if to support the notion you should suffer for your art.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:25 AM | TrackBack
April 1, 2004
A Cold One

Hey beer!

You're facing hours slaving over a hot oven. The kitchen is broiling. It's sticky, you're thirsty. You're tired, damnit. It's been a long hard day. What are you going to reach for?

Wine? Screw that, Nigella. Tequila? Maybe later but hold on there, cowboy. Milk? Uh, no. What you want is a good cold beer.

You pop one open. You look down at the tallboy in your hand. Then you look at the beer. "I can boil brats in it, but could I really possibly cook with beer?"

Well duh. And here's some of the best places on the web for beertastic recipes for grill, oven, and skillet alike:

epicurious (the roughest riding of all the sites) starts us off with an eight pack of brewed goodness, including Mussels steamed in Spiced Beer and an Onion and Garlic Beer Soup. Just the thing to keep the vampires (and the girlfriend) away.

From there, BeerWineOnline muddles the water with some grape-lovers recipes, but comes through with some solid beer baking with their Beer Biscuits and Herbed Beer Bread.

Global Gourmet offers no recipes but some good advice on using the fruit of the hop to tenderize meats and flavor your food.

Sandy D'Amato, Milwaukee's Kitchen Technician informs us cooking with beer is an obsession with the Belgians and offers up a cake recipe - Carmelized Pear Spiced Ale cake.

The Belgian Brewery Ommegang takes it one step further using Ommegang, Duvel (mmmm... Duvel), Hennepin and Rare Vos in a variety of dishes.

The king of all beer recipes though is beer can chicken. David Snyder offers a straightforward demonstration of sticking a beer up a chicken's nether regions. For a purpose, I mean. I love the pictures, which make the chicken look somewhat cheesed off - wings on hips.

If all this hasn't satisfied your desire for beery food, head to the ultimate beer and food blog - beercook.com. If you brew it, mix it with some stuff, and apply heat, it's probably listed here already.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:32 PM | TrackBack
April's Fools

No clever practical jokes here today, but in the spirit of the day - here's a collection of recipes for Fool.

Apricot Fool
Blueberry Fool
Banana Fool
Frozen Strawberry Fool
Gooseberry Fool
Rhubarb Fool

And of course, don't forget our own recipes for Fuul (Foul) Mudamas
Fuul's Errand Tartine
Foul for a Fool

Enjoy, and don't sit on any tacks today.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:54 AM | TrackBack
Full Steam Ahead!

Last weekend's Observer Magazine had an interesting article by Dr. John Briffa on the best way to cook vegetables if you want to preserve nutrients. Surprisingly, he cites a paper in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture which reports that microwaved vegetables lose 74-97% of three major antioxidant compounds that are believed to be cancer-fighting compounds. (Steamed broccoli lost only 8-11% of the same compounds.) According to Dr. Briffa, the common assumption has always been that as microwaving does not use water to cook vegetables it must be healthier than traditional cooking methods. This report is one of the first to check that theory.

Less surprising is the study's conclusion that the less water you use to cook vegetables the more you will retain nutrients. Dr Cristina Garcia-Viguera, co-author of the study, explains these results: "Most of the bioactive compounds are water soluble; during heating they leach in a high percentage to the cooking water, reducing their nutritional benefits in the foodstuff." It follows then that the best way to retain as much goodness as possible in your veggies is to steam them. One other interesting conclusion of the study: frozen vegetables retain more vitamin C if they are placed directly in boiling water instead of being thawed first. Luckily this fits in well with my slapdash last-minute cooking style!

Oh and don't forget to save that boiled water for your soups...the nutrients aren't lost forever! (Honesty does force me to point out, however, that the broken down cancer-fighting compounds probably are...)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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