February 28, 2005
Vegetarian Mexi-Maki

We had a couple friends over for dinner two Fridays ago and I made a Mexican themed meal. I knew I'd make the Mexican Black Bean Tart With Cornmeal Crust that people seem to love, and I figured a Cream of Poblano soup (which I'll post later this week) would be a nice soup course, and I went off theme for dessert - Neapolitan Strawberries - but I needed something unusual to start things off.

That's when I remembered that I had sheets of sushi nori I'd purchased for the day I got brave enough to make my own maki rolls. We had one true and two pseudo vegetarians in attendence so fish was out (phew), and the maki would be assorted Vegetarian Mexi-Maki.

Vegetarian Mexi-Maki

Equipment: Small Maki rolling mat. Available in most cooking stores now.

Several sheets of nori, a dried seaweed used for maki.

Assorted vegetables, sliced into long thin strips like rajas.
Mexican zucchini (looks like a common zucchini, but slightly more pear shaped with a speckled skin)
red bell peppers
roasted red peppers
trimmed green onions sliced lengthwise
strips of nopales (cactus)
hot peppers of your choice (but be nice to your guests)

8 oz. package of seitan, sliced long and thin and marinated in the Marinade from our Meatless Fajitas:
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup light oil
3 cups water
&frac13 cup tequila
½ cup chopped cilantro
½ cup chopped parsley
1 jalapeno, seeded, white membrane removed, sliced*
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
2-3 thinly sliced scallions.
2 tablespoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Shredded Chihuahua cheese - as much as desired

1 1/2 cup short grained rice - I like Nishiki
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle in adobo.

A few hours beforehand, combine the rice with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for 20 minutes on a low simmer. Remove from heat and leave covered for 10 minutes. Remove the rice into a bowl and toss with rice wine vinegar. Put bowl in refrigerator.

Marinade the seitan at least for an hour before using in maki. If you wish you can fry it before using, but it tastes fine post marinade without any additional treatment.

Lay a sheet of nori on the rolling mat. Wet your hands with water so you can handle the rice without it sticking. Spread a 1/2" tall and wide block of vinegared rice completely across the furthest end of the current sheet of nori. Pile an assortment of vegetables on top of the rice or just toward you from the rice. When you have "enough" on the sheet of nori (and you'll be way under or way over on the first roll) roll it up:

Using the mat to guide you, tightly roll the far end of the roll over the filling toward you. You'll need to roll the mat back when you get to the bottom of the roll so it doesn't get rolled up in the maki, but continue to use the rest of the mat as an aid and a guide to keeping the roll tight.

When you get to the near end or have a good 1/4"-1/2" overlap, trim any excess nori and using water, wet the nori about to become the end of the sheet. Roll up tight and the water should keep the nori sticking to itself and keep the roll closed.

You'll now have a long roll. Trim the ends for neatest presentation (cook's share!), and cut the roll into approximately equal 1 1/2" segments.

Try using the chichuahua cheese in place of one of the vegetables. Use the marinated seitan as you would use tuna or salmon or yellowtail in the rolls. Mix it up! All you need is nori, rice, and "other" to make a credible roll. I stongly suggest having plenty of nopales and scallions on hand.

Soy and wasabi is the usual maki dip in this country, but that won't do for Mexi-maki. Instead, mix soy sauce and adobo sauce together and serve in small dipping dishes as a Mexican flavored alternative.

If you're feeling adventurous and want an analog to the marvelous fish egg sushi you can get in most Japanese restaurants in the U.S, cook some quinoa with a pinch of salt. Drain through paper towels on top of a strainer (otherwise the grains will go right through the strainer). Mix the cooked quinoa with more adobo sauce so it takes on slightly red/orange color.

Roll up a 3" wide sheet of nori with a plug of rice in the middle and slice into two maki style pieces, leaving an empty space at each end. Set the pieces on the filled ends and fill the tops with the quinoa "fish eggs". Alternately, use pomegranite seeds to fill the empty tops.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:04 AM | TrackBack
February 27, 2005
And MORE music in the kitchen

Stuck as well. I got hit with the musical meme a while ago by Debbie at Words to Eat By. In fact it's been two weeks. Yow. I'm very Sorry, Debbie - I'm slow to respond, plus we were apartment hunting (successfully as it turns out). So as Meg has posted her stick, I am shamed into FINALLY posting my answers.

What is the total amount of music files on your computer?
19Gb, 6200 files, mostly in Ogg. I wish I'd gone FLAC so I could transcode, but there you are.

What was the last CD you bought?
Jack Johnson, On and On

What was the last song you listened to before receiving this message?
(Drawing) Rings Around the World - Super Furry Animals. If you like big fat postmodern Beach Boys - this is the song for you. I just got back from the gym and it's on my treadmill mix.

Name 5 songs that mean a lot to you and explain why
1.) My Baby Just Cares for Me - Nina Simone - This was the first song I put on a mix CD for my now wife when we first met. It became "our song" and was the first song played (but much too quickly) at our wedding. Sappy, sure, but I guess I'm allowed to love my wife.

2.) Dirty Old Town - The Pogues - I was and am a big Pogues fan. Way back when, I introduced my then girlfriend to the band. A few weeks later, we were listening to the album (you know, flat black thing, hole in the center, spins around at 33 1/3 rpm?) and she said, "You know, that song. I don't know if you realize, but he says bad things about the 'Dirty Old Town', but really he loves the place." Really. Duh. That's only COMPLETELY OBVIOUS! That's when I knew she thought I was an idiot. I only stuck around for three or four more years...

3.) Everybody Knows - Leonard Cohen. Pretty much this explains politics in America.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

It doesn't mean you don't stop fighting, but you should understand the opposition.

4.) Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer - Jack Johnson. OK, weird choice. But for most of the song it's the old familiar lyrics you're used to that we all grew up with. Rudolph's shunned, big snow comes, Santa asks for his help, Rudolph saves the day. When Johnson gets to the end, where all of the other reindeer love him and invite him to play in their reindeer games, he adds:
Well Rudolph he didn't go for that
he said "I see through your silly games"
How could you look me in the face
when only yesterday you called me names?"

I love that Rudolph stand up for himself after decades of just taking it from those snotty other reindeer.

Well all of the other reindeers man,
well they sure did feel ashamed,
"Rudolph you know we're sorry,
we're truly gonna try to change"

A positive change in the formerly persecutorial reindorks is effected by Rudolph's strength of character and refusal to be taken advantage of. How cool is that? Really?

5.) There Ain't Nobody Here but us Chickens - Louis Jordan. It's fun. I can't defend it but to say that sometimes you just plain have to enjoy a tune for it's own sake.

Which 3 people are you going to pass this stick to and why?
I'm only passing it to one because most of the people I would stick it to have been stuck. And Meg grabbed the few remaining. So, Todd in New Orleans of this very blog - who I know will give us very interesting answers - you're stuck.

Now off to the Ani DiFranco show at the Vic tonight...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:06 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Music in My Kitchen

I was recently tapped in this musical game by Pascale of C'est Moi Qui l'Ai Fait. My kitchen is a very musical place and the little iPod in the corner is usually the first thing I turn on when I enter the kitchen, whether to do dishes or cook dishes. I love my iPod. Gone are the days of stacks of CD covers cascading into the sink or onto the floor or getting covered with tomato sauce or unidentifiable flying food. Ever since the Critic bought himself a new iPod and handed me down his, I've been a happy singing cook. Since he generously also donated the little travel speakers I have my own little mini-stereo and not a CD or CD case in sight.

What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

2302, but some of them I inherited with the computer when my dear husband upgraded his iBook and gave me the this one.

What was the last CD you bought?

The Very Best of Jim Croce. His song "You don't mess around with Jim" is being used these days for a car ad on TV and it reminded me how much I like his songs.

What was the last song you listened to before receiving this message?

"Loves me like a rock" by Paul Simon, which I like to sing to my son. (Somewhat disturbingly, he seems to prefer "50 ways to leave your lover"!)

Name 5 songs that mean a lot to you and explain why

1) "God's Song" by Randy Newman. It's sad and funny and has a sweet kind of talking blues feel to it.

2) "You've got a friend" by Carol King. I've been listening to Carol King since I was about five and I'll never get tired of her. I love the fairy-tale quality of this song.

3) "A Couple of Kooks" by David Bowie. His playful song for his son was one of my favourites even before I had a son to sing it to. "Will you stay in our lover's story/ If you stay you won't be sorry/ 'cause we believe in you..." is a great thing to tell your child every day.

4) "Les Sabots d'Hélène" by Georges Brassens. Again, a tender sad song about finding beauty in unlikely places, a classic Brassens song.

5) "She Fucking Hates Me" by Puddle of Mud. We first heard this song driving around Tennessee after Barrett's wedding last year and the refrain was so unexpected I nearly split myself laughing. It seems so apt for a certain kind of relationship (that I've seen from the outside and the inside) that makes you wonder afterwards if there is any other explanation for why it went ballistic.

Which 3 people are you going to pass this stick to and why?

That's difficult as most of my favourite people seem to have already participated. However, Seattle Bon Vivant doesn't seem to have participated (and if I'm wrong, sorry!) and I love the blog and the descriptions of Seattle and of my beloved city from an outsider's point of view. Foodgoat and Ladygoat are always a good read and deserve an award for the touching frank posts we read after the last US election. And lastly, I'll nominate Meathenge simply because I'm curious to know what kind of music he listens to! (Meatloaf?!?)

So thanks for your indulgence on this silly Sunday post!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:50 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
February 26, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week - Waiting at the prison gates for Martha like Elwood for Jake, but with THE most tasteful flower arrangement. Each week we pick three posts from the infinitely expanding blog-o-sphere (tm) and bring them to you!

1. Kate the The Accidental Hedonist toils in relative obscurity. (Never mind she gets something like ten times the traffic we do on an average day. We don't. Really. Sniff.) Well, in any case, you have to check out the Fig and Pine Nut Tart she made this week. To quote from her post on the eventual disposition of the tart - "Mu ha ha ha ha!! This tart is mine, mine all MINE I tells ya'!!" Mu ha ha ha indeed.

I. I'm a bit irked at I've been thinking for a while about investigating Indian cooking and Barbara Fisher of Tigers & Strawberries heads me off at the pass and makes a vary authentic looking channa masala. It looks even better than the channa masala I had from Chicago's Hema's on Friday.

A. Some foodie types are good at inventing recipes from whole cloth. Others of us, like Alice from My Adventures in a Breadbox, usually stick to selecting and making recipes from magazines and cookbooks. Alice ventured outside her comfort zone this week and invented a dish she calls Tuxedo Clams. Snappy name, looks tasty - I think its a winner. I love it when a plan clam comes together.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
The Concise Larousse Gastronomique, my new Best Friend (sorry, Barrett)

larousse2.jpgMany years ago in the Dark Ages before the Internet existed, I worked in the Art Department of Encyclopaedia Britannica. In those Internet-deprived days, Encyclopaedia Britannica staff had access to the greatest and most interesting time-waster of the day: each cubicle had it's own up to date complete set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I blush in shame when I think of the hours I spent browsing through the volumes when I should have been working. I would start off legitimately looking up one item for something work related and in passing another entry would catch my eye. Reading that would make me wonder about some other related topic...and so on and on.

Well, I have just found the foodie's equivalent.

My new Concise Larousse Gastronomique has the same draw I remember from those Encyclopaedia Britannica days. Each entry leads me to another question that I must have answered NOW. Did you know that every pressed duck made at the Tour d'Argent in Paris has been numbered and they have now exceeded 600,000 of them? Fact. Charlie Chaplin ate duck #253,652. If you are interested in the subtleties of French vocabulary in cooking, this book can tell you the difference between effiler (snap the ends off green beans or slice almonds and pistachio nuts in thin strips lengthwise) and effilocher (which is similar but is particularly used to describe cutting leeks into fine threads). In addition to the titbits of information and history, basic recipes on all the great French classics are included, from Hare with Chocolate to Sauce Robert. The cheese entry tells you how many calories your favorite fatty cheeses have and when to buy each one. It's a truly fun book.

The cover of the Concise Larousse Gastronomique has the subtitle "The World's Greatest Cookery Encyclopedia" and a quote from Anthony Bourdain: "The absolutely indispensable bible of cooking." I have to agree with both statements. This is undoubtedly the world's greatest cookery encyclopedia and it's fair enough to describe it as a bible. However, that is not necessarily the compliment you might think.

I think this is probably the best cookery encyclopedia because there aren't that any others out there that are so complete. It's miles more comprehensive than my Barron's Food Companion. BUT (and it's a big but) it's oh so very French. It has a nod in the direction of other mainly European cuisines: Italian and Spanish and even English. But you won't find nachos or sloppy joes in this book. It has Mexican tortillas, but not enchiladas or burritos. This brings me to the second accolade mentioned above: it's the bible of cooking. And what is the bible? Set in stone, conservative. The Larousse has entries on all the great DEAD chefs of Europe. If it has any live ones, I haven't seen them yet.

So it's a classic. Don't turn to it to find out how to cook Australian yabbies. But as a bible of classic European food, with a couple of forays into "exotic" foods, it is supreme. I don't regret a single cent of the monumental 47.50 euros I paid in W.H. Smith's (with a gift certificate) for this book. It's a hoot. Go buy one yourself (or get a friend to buy it for you)!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:34 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
February 25, 2005
Food Digest

With the Oscars just days away, even the food sections have caught Hollywood fever. As you might guess, plenty of articles look at Sideways' impact on the wine industry. Food writers also give tips for planning the perfect Oscars party. There's lots of other tasty information this week, so follow us on our weekly stroll through the food news that was.

Zinfandel and Petitie Sirah, two grape varietals that seem to thrive only in California, both have their fans, according to the Napa News.

The Oregonian, getting an early jump on the Oscars, hands out their own awards for the best food scenes in movies this year.

The whole world loves pasta, even the Rio Grande region, where the dish is called fideo. Lynn Brezosky of the AP has the whole story and several tasty recipes.

The New York Times reports that Americans are eating more chicken but cooking it less. No surprise when you can find great roast chickens sold at grocery stores and food marts. Eric Asimov looks at the response to Sideways in the Napa region. Southern France challenges the pizza supremacy of Italy. Next thing you know, the French will be making better boiled beef than the British. The French are also on the march in America, with the first ever Michelin guide to New York will soon be published. The former president of the Red Lobster chain has been named the new head of the James Beard Foundation. Is this a good thing? Angry British chef Gordon Ramsay performs for the press and hawks his new Fox television show. In one of his final acts, music legend Ray Charles endowed a chair of African-American Culinary Studies at Dillard University in New Orleans.

The L.A. Times discovers the joys of winter wild mushrooms. They also think that people throwing Oscar parties should create a theme menu that reflects their favorite film. Sure, I'll get my personal assistant right on that. On a more serious note, a hot group of young chefs is shaking up the kitchens of Mexico City. Columnist David Shaw thinks animal rights activities are going too far when they threaten people.

The Washington Post finds truffles in North Carolina, of all places.

The Chicago Tribune defends merlot from Miles' snide comments in Sideways. The paper also offers some simple tips on how to open oysters.

When the French get their hands on sauerkraut, the humble hot dog codiment becomes a luscious choucroute. San Fracisco get its first taste of dining in bed. I sure hope this trend of restaurants with beds doesn't spread. For Marlena Spieler, nothing says New York like a good pickle.

According to the Denver Post, restaurant in the Mile High City don't follow national trends. Waiters tell the paper that diners should treat them a little better.

The U.S. is fast becoming one of the top wine consumers in the world, according to the Miami Herald. The growing quality of affordable Latin American wines might be one factor for this rise.

At the Village Voice, Nina Lalli steps bravely into the "pizza wars" and tries Pizza Hut's Dippin' Strips. It's because of that kind of bravery that the big city reporters get paid the big bucks.

Last week I complained about a lack of interesting food news. This week, we had a bounty. Maybe the editors were holding back some stories. We're always looking for interesting food sections, so let us know if we're not covering your favorite.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 5:22 PM
Cottage Pie (or Another Way to Heat the Flat)

cottage pieNigel Slater recently lauded the wonders of his new Aga stove in his column for the UK Observer newspaper. Like an old Franklin stove, an Aga originally had the dual purpose of heating the home and cooking food. It is at its best with food that needs a long slow cook. Given how cold our flat has been lately, I wish we had one in our kitchen. And if we did, cottage pie is the kind of old fashioned country cooking that would work perfectly in it.

As it is, I had to make do with a normal oven. That said, my Critic (who is, after all, English) said "It's the best cottage pie you have ever made, possibly the best I have ever eaten." Praise indeed! When I reminded him that he usually says my pie isn't very authentic, he replied "I didn't say it was authentic. I said it was good." So here you have it: my dubiously authentice but undoubtedly good cottage pie.

Once again, the success of this recipe depended not on finding a good recipe, but in rummaging through my kitchen for appropriate ingredients. I didn't want to drag the baby out into the cold and so relied on ingredients I had to hand. I didn't have any tinned tomatoes or tomato paste, so I found a container of roasted tomato sauce I made last fall in the freezer. I also used the leftover stuffing from my stuffed green pepper. The recipe below does not include the rice that was in that stuffing because a) as I added more meat it only made up a small part of the dish and b) by the time the dish came out of the oven you couldn't find the rice if you tried.

Cottage Pie

For the filling:
400 grams ground beef or beef steaks (I ground half the meat myself in the food processor)
1 cup chopped onions and/or shallots
1 tomato, chopped
1 tsp fresh or frozen basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 anchovies
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 cup roasted tomato sauce (or your favourite tomato sauce)
3-4 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (it's hard to measure)
1/2 cup red wine
4 Tbs ketchup
1 tsp beef Better than Boullion paste
1 Tbs flour
2 Tbs butter
dash of Lawry's salt

For the topping:
400 grams potatoes
1/4 cup milk
4-5 Tbs butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and set them to boil in salted water. In the meantime, soften the onions or shallots in a deep frying pan with the garlic and the olive oil. Add the ground beef and turn up the heat under the pan to cook more quickly. Depending on the fat content of the beef, you may want to drain the meat and onions after this step. Then gradually add the rest of the filling ingredients, saving the flour for last. Let the whole mixture simmer for fifteen minutes or so to allow it to thicken.

In the meantime, (providing they are done) drain the potatoes and mash them with the milk and butter. Taste for salt and pepper and be generous with both.

Pour the filling into a deep oven safe dish. If you want, you could make the dish in advance up to this point and just refrigerate the filling and the potatoes separately. In fact, it does make it a little easier, as the cold filling can support the potatoes better. In any case, when your oven is hot (200c/375f) carefully spoon the potatoes over the top and use the back of a spoon to spread it neatly over the whole. Bake for about 35 minutes at 200c or a couple of hours in a slow oven if you are lucky enough to have an Aga!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
February 24, 2005
Everyday Italian dishware

One of our most popular posts is the one I wrote many moon ago about Giada De Laurentiis. I'm sure most of the popularity of the post has to do with her attractive appearance (In fact, I imagine if I somehow wrote a post that talked about a recipe she and Jamie Oliver worked on and put "Giada de Laurentiis" and "Naked Chef" in close proximity, I might see our traffic increase tenfold. But of course I won't stoop to that). But some people are not interested in this elfin Italian chef. These people are wild for her ceramics.

The bowls and plates Giada uses on "Everyday Italian" are rustic looking in that "Wow, I bet that simple peasant china is really, really expensive" way. They photograph very well. We had a couple of questions and some answers to the comments in that original Giada post about her ceramics. I decided to go straight to the hors d'oeuvres mouth to get the skinny.

Via e-mail, I asked the Everyday Italian producers about the china she uses on the show, and after about three weeks, I got a response back from Food Network Viewer Services. According to the e-mail I received, the dishes used on the show are all from Vietri.

Food Network's terse reply in toto was:

Cucina Fresca Dinnerware, Canisters and Baking Dishes (all the cream, sage, yellow color ceramic ware… the little tasting dishes, oval gratin dishes with the handles, coffee pot, creamer, butter dish, espresso cups, ceramic strainer)
Cioccolata Dinnerware (chocolate colored dishes)
Paesano Dinnerware and Mugs (yellow platters and mugs with design)
Chiaroscuro Dinnerware and Baking Dishes (black and gray baking dishes)

(800) 277-5933

Nice stuff. So nice that a large dinner plate is $34.95 and that individual pasta bowl that shows up so much on the show is $24.95 at replacements.com. Ouch. Not completely insane, like Limoges, but pricy stuff for everyday dinnerware.

Of course buying a full set for your kitchen will make you just like Giada. And really, how can you put a price on that?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:30 PM | Comments (501) | TrackBack
Ginger glazed roast carrots

carrots and onions.jpgThe weather in Paris has been - by Paris standards - incredibly cold. By Chicago standards, it's been, eh, normal. But I've been living here for ten years and we are not used to getting snow more than once every couple of years and it generally melts the next day. Well, not this year. Here we are in the middle of a cold snap, with snow on the ground for the last three days, in a large apartment full of windows. Double glazed, yes, but not sufficient to keep in all of the lukewarm heat our Parisian radiators emit. And so what does a clever mother of a two month baby do? Laundry and lots of it, because the dryer vents directly into the kitchen. And she comes up with something to put in the oven every night. Yes, we are back in the days of the Franklin stove heating up the house.

Normally, I only roast carrots when I'm doing a pork roast and want to fill in the space around the meat. Carrots are not my favorite vegetable and so I tend to see them as more of a filler than an exciting ingredient on their own. I always have a lot of carrots in the fridge, though, because I know the Critic loves them, cooked and raw. So this recipe is the result of necessity (that happy mother of invention) in two ways: I wanted to fire up the oven and I wanted to be able to use ingredients I already had in the apartment, and thus avoid taking the young one out in the cold.

And Necessity gave birth to a gorgeous new dish, one that is definitely going to be made again. Roasting carrots keeps them firm and delightful to bite. The shallots and carrots naturally become sweeter with the roasting, but when a hint of sugar and ginger are added all four combine to make a complex sweet and spicy mixture of flavors. I served them with a cottage pie, but they would be even better next to a roast. Or maybe a nice mushroom risotto for our vegetarian friends?

Ginger glazed roast carrots

5-6 large carrots, cleaned and cut in large chunks
10-12 shallots, outer skins removed and topped and tailed
2 Tbs sunflower oil
1 tsp sugar or brown sugar (I used what they call sucre roux, which is brown crystal sugar)
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp salt

Toss all the ingredients in a roasting pan and mix well. Place in a hot oven (200c/375f) for about an hour. Stir the ingredients every 15 minutes or so to make sure they are browning on more than one side.

The useful thing about roasting your vegetables is that they can remain in the hot oven almost indefinitely, while you wait for the rest of the dinner to finish or (more likely in this household) for your spouse to get home from work. They can also heat your chilly apartment and fill it with delectable sweet ginger scents!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:20 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
February 23, 2005
A Little Bit of India in Paris

BRADY.JPGYou smell it some fifty paces before you get there. Surrounded by run down 19th century Parisian façades, nevertheless an exotic combination of garlic, onion, cardamom and turmeric wafts over your nostrils and you know you are getting close. Passage Brady, the Mecca of lovers of Indian food in Paris.

Paris is full of little passageways running between its main boulevards. Traditionally, they have housed workshops for the artisans. In the area around Bastille, most of the original furniture restorers (vernisseurs, ébenistes, doreurs, etc.) have given way to chic loft apartments. Here in the 10th arrondisement, the Passage Brady is home to the highest concentration of Indian restaurants and costume shops in the city. I don't know why the costume shops ended up next to the Indian food, but there are four of them nestling among the 10 Indian restaurants in this short corridor between the boulevard St. Martin and the boulevard du Faubourg St. Denis

You won't find Passage Brady mentioned in any guide book to Paris. This is logical, as very few tourists come to Paris for its Indian food. It's well known to the teeming expatriate community here: Brits (of course), Americans, Australians and even the Indians themselves! First, of course, are the restaurants. More importantly from my point of view, it has a really good little supermarket with everything you need to make Indian food,

As I sat watching Saturday Morning Kitchen on the BBC this weekend (theme: Indian food) it suddenly occurred to me that it has been a while since I stocked up on Indian food. I also reflected on the fact that most of the spices I use were purchased some seven years ago when I first met the Critic. (In a fit of enthusiasm, he insisted we buy one kilo bags of everything. In some cases, TWO one kilo bags.) I think they may have lost some of their potency.

Accordingly, I took off on Sunday afternoon with a folding canvas grocery trolley and ventured into the 10th arrondisement of Paris. What did I buy? Man oh man, what DIDN'T I buy??

I bought nearly 19 kilos of foodstuff, to wit:

two kinds of Tikka Masala paste
a jar of Vindaloo paste
a jar of Tandoori paste
three kinds of lime pickle
a jar of hot mango chutney
a jar of aubergine chutney
four little boxes of coconut milk
a box of creamed coconut (in powder form)
one kilo of Gram (chickpea) flour
a large can of mango pulp
three kinds of papadams
a bottle of orange water
a bottle of rose syrup
mung dhal (split yellow lentils)
Dosai mix (Indian pancakes)

moving to the spices...

dalchini Indian cinnamon
cumin powder
black cardamoms
green cardamoms
coriander seeds
cumin seeds
fennel seeds
black mustard seeds

alimentation.jpgand a few fresh items...

curry leaves
tiny red onions
a handful of hot peppers
fresh ginger

And seeing as I was spending some 69 euros in his shop, the fellow threw in a packet of "aperitif Indien" for free, a dry mix of chick peas, cumin, salt, curry leaves, pepper and fennel!

So it was a very successful shopping trip. I am looking forward to using all these exotic ingredients. If you red this blog frequently, you'll notice a sudden increase in the number of Indian recipes. I hope you enjoy them as much as we will!

(Drat. And I've just realized I forgot to get rice!)

Velan (SARL)
83, passage Brady
75010 Paris
Tel: 01 42 46 06 06
Metro: Château d'eau or Stasbourg St. Denis

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:21 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
February 22, 2005
2005 Independent Food Festival and Awards

indies.jpgA few months ago, I was honored to be approached by the folks at TasteEverything to ask if I would be willing to participate in a new kind of food award. Their idea for the 2005 Independent Food Festival and Awards was that the jury (comprised of a selection of individuals like yours truly) would select a quirky original category and nominate a winner in that category. Instead of the usual "Best cheese producer in Britain" or "Best Fish Restaurant in Paris", they wanted us to seek out small categories, the kind of producers who don't usually get an award.

For more information on the event, you can read their much more eloquent press release here.

And so I spent a long time trying to come up with a fitting award. It was difficult as there are so very many good food producers in Paris. Having lived in Paris for over ten years and being very opinionated to boot, I of course know the "best" for everything - source for American foods, for English tea, for freshly shucked oysters, where the staff is most annoying and how to get into the Louvre without queuing up. (Okay, those last two aren't food related, but they are very useful!)

I'm drawing out the suspense here. To find out who finally won and why, read on!

sunflower honey.jpgIn the end, I decided I could do no better than to honor the fine producer of my favorite honey in all of Paris, France and the world. So the award for Best Sunflower Honey in Paris (and believe me, I've tried them all!) goes to M. Guy Allart of the Ruchers du Bel Air in St. Maur des Fossées. The honey is creamy and nutty and very thick. Its wonderful flavor comest through best on a simple piece of buttered toast, but it also stands up well to a herb vinaigrette or a gravy for duck. It's the only honey I'll use when making corn bread. I've offered jars of his honey to friends and family for years and they in turn have asked for more jars to give to their friends. Congratulations, M. Allart: you are conquering the world one jar at a time with your wonderful honey!

If you are interested in sampling M. Allart's sunflower honey, you can find him every other weekend at the outdoor market in front of the Michel-Ange Auteuil metro in Paris. For more information on the stand and the other fine products he sells, you can consult my earlier post about him.

And now that you know who I've nominated, check out the rest of the winners at TasteEverything!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:00 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
February 20, 2005
Avocados, Chile, and Lime

One of the all-time great quickie appetizers, and a hit and run post for the day.

Get a good green Haas avocado. Make sure it's ripe. Slice it in half. Remove the pit. While the avocado is still in the skin, slice each half's contents lengthwise into 6 or 8 long thin slices.

Use a spoon to scoop out the slices. If you're careful, they should come out intact.

Sprinkle lime juice (a teaspoon or so) and chili powder (a 1/2 teaspoon or so) over the mix. Serve as is with a fork or transfer onto corn chips for easier eating.

If you're a salt addict you can sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt over the whole plate, too.

The lime should prevent browning, and the chili gives it a nice little kick. Yum.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:08 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
February 19, 2005
Stuffed Green Peppers

stuffed green.jpgI had initially planned on using my ever-patient spouse as a guinea pig for this edition of Is My Blog Burning? (You are what you don't eat), hosted by My Latest Supper. Unfortunately, he proved less than patient at the idea of being forced to try something he doesn't like eating. In fact, he was quite peevish. "Why don't you make something YOU don't like?" he queried. "Like what?" I answered smugly, assured in my open-mindedness over exotic foods. "Well, what about those stuffed green peppers you're always going on about?"

Oh dear. He's right: there is one food I hate and have resolutely refused to eat for the last thirty years. Stuffed green peppers. Sigh.

My poor mother. Apparently I went all through babyhood and toddler years perfectly willing to eat stuffed green peppers. And then somewhere around the age of five or six, I decided I hated green peppers. Everything about them: the slime, the smell, the taste, the fact that my mother was insisting I liked them (probably). And so my poor working mother who had gone to the trouble to make something tasty for dinner was saddled with a stubborn little girl who would not eat her dinner. "Just eat the stuffing," she pleaded. "It's just added flavor to it." (Did she think it was something other than the flavor I didn't like?)

And so for years I avoided green peppers like the plague. In early adulthood someone convinced me to try cooked red peppers and I grudgingly admitted they were all right. I even eventually came to love them. And I could almost see that raw green peppers might be satisfying and crunchy to some. But the cooked green pepper taboo remained. Not me, not ever. Not on MY pizza, thank you very much.

I tried to call my mother tonight for the recipe for her stuffed green peppers, but unfortunately she was out. So I turned to the old standard of my childhood, the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Sure enough, there was a recipe. I don't think it was quite the same as my mom's (which I'm pretty sure involved some kind of tomato sauce). But it would do. It still involved cooked green peppers.

Stuffed Green Peppers

I based this recipe on the Fanny Farmer one, with a few minor modifications. I used shallots instead of onions as I was out of the latter. I added some garlic and used Lawry's salt for seasoning.

4-5 shallots, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
3/4 cup cooked rice
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 Tbs chopped frozen basil
green peppers

This recipe made enough stuffing for at least four peppers, or six if they are not very large. I had one large green pepper and one medium red. I have leftover stuffing.

Preheat the oven to 375F/180C. Sauté the shallots and the pressed garlic cloves in the olive oil until they are soft. Add the ground beef and turn up the heat to cook the beef quickly. When it is just about done, turn off the heat and drain the meat of any fat that may have collected in the bottom of the pan. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Take the top off the peppers and knock out any seeds that may have fallen into them. If the ridges on the interior are white, slice them off too. Stuff the peppers with the meat and rice mixture. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until the peppers are tender but not soggy.

stuffed peppers.jpgAs mentioned, in addition to the green pepper I had a red pepper. This was insurance in case the green one was as disgusting as I remembered; I figured the red one would at least be edible. In fact, I added one more touch to the red pepper by layering anchovies into the stuffing. I thought that with the garlic and the peppers and the beef a little anchovy would go down well.

And the result? Astonishingly edible is all I can say. It's not a dish I'm going to add to our favorites, but I did eat both peppers. And I liked them. The green pepper flavor wasn't as strong as I remembered and so I wonder if it isn't one of those things that has a stronger smell than taste? Or did I just luck out and get a particularly sweet green pepper? Whatever the reason, I wasn't put off by the flavor. Also, unlike the green peppers of my memory, this one wasn't slimy at all. It still had a bit of bite in it, enough to hold the whole dish together in fact. So I ate my first stuffed green pepper in at least 30 years. And then I ate the red one. (I was right about the anchovies, by the way - very tasty!)

And so, for this edition of Is My Blog Burning? I have conquered a food phobia. I suppose I'll be thankful for being forced to confront this old enemy at some point; at the moment I'm slightly bemused and confused...
uncooked green.jpg

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:52 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack
Food Digest
Maybe we weren't hungry while reading the papers, but our nation's food sections seemed a little thin this week. Could it be the new government health guidelines that caused the loss of content? There were several stories about French women not getting fat, but we figured you had heard enough about that topic.

R.W. Apple, Jr., globe trotting reporter and, reputedly, the only staff member at the New York Times to have an unlimited expense account, explores the culinary contradictions of Puerto Rico. Frank Bruni tries the burger at Peter Lugar, the famed Brooklyn steak house, and decides that they use good meat but can't cook it correctly. Bittman cooks with frozen vegetables and finds that good things can come from the freezer case.

Russ Parsons at the Los Angeles Times shows he's secure with his masculinity and declares that quiche is cool again. Personally, I've always loved quiche, but I never claimed to be a real man. The paper also feels that the best vegetable soups are the simpliest.

Some cooks gain their skills from eGullet's online classes, according to the Chicago Tribune. Next week, I predict that their food section will discover blogs.

In Maine, it's the season for tiny sweet shrimp, reports the Boston Globe. I wonder if Texas if raising tiny cows these days.

The Miami Herald travels south of the border to eat superior junk food in Mexico. Fred Tasker defends the wine geek after a column in USA Today attacked people who share his passion for vino. Come on Fred, no one reads USA Today, do they?

Is the French Laundry dirty? The world famous restaurant refused to show the Napa News their latest health inspection, as required by law.

Let's hope for extra food news next week. We're always looking for new food sections to read. If you know of a good one, leave us a comment.
Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 3:35 PM | Comments (2)
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the week has never, ever been invited the White House Briefing room. Each week we pick three posts from the infinitely expanding blog-o-sphere (tm) and bring them to you!

This week in no particular order:

A. Call the cops! The problem of roving gangs of celebrity chefs pinching sweets from innocent bystanders is getting out of hand. While at innovative chef Homaro Cantu's Moto in Chicago, deepfry of Yum! had her cookie stolen by none other than Homaro Cantu himself! All that was left behind was a 10 course extravaganza of food-as-science-fair-project that Cantu is becoming famous for.

1. So a monkey and Lassie and a Limey walk into a bar and... I mean, actually that the Kitchen Monkey upon learning that he's headed to France makes up a Lassi drink with lime and coconut and uses it to toast to his own departure. Coconut Lime Lassi sounds like a pretty good way to toast to a trip. I'm thinking Captain Morgan might want to tag along for the ride...

I. In general, I am an anti-corn syrupist. The stuff is too sweet and gets processed by your body differently from other sugars to the detriment of your waist line and body chemistry. However, The Accidental Hedonist this week used dark corn syrup to great effect, formulating, at the same time, Kate's Law of Walnut Pie Goodness, which states, in toto "Dark Corn Syrup is your friend."

Well my friend is the guy at the produce department at the local market, and I'm off to see him now. See you next week.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:47 AM | TrackBack
February 18, 2005
WEIRD Biblical food site

I'm not particularly religious, but I do respect those who are.

However, I'm not sure what to make of this site that uses cooking to teach Bible stories to children. In fact, I'm convinced this site is the work of that sinister (as in left-handed) deacon of delicacies, Ned Flanders. Imagine his voice when you read the recipes.

There's a note on a recipe for cookies made to simulate (shudder) candy corn - "I use these candy corn cookies in relation to the parable in Matthew 13:1-8 The sower and the seed." Really? Candy corn style cookies? Matthew? I would have thought it was more at home in Exodus with the Plagues of Egypt.

Jesus Walks on Water sounds kind of cute, if disturbing. ("Now, Timmy, bite off Jesus's head!");
Unleavened Bread and Tuna was probably inevitable for the miracle of the loaves and fishes;
Resurrection Cake is just freaky and more like a magic trick than a dessert;
And the Moses Parts the Red Sea Snack involving blue jello and Goldfish crackers slays me (I must be part of Pharoh's army).

I can't even talk about the Baby Jesus Haystacks recipe which ends, " Add a marshmallow to represent baby Jesus."

Oddly, there's no "Land of Milk and Honey" recipe or anything involving one of the most important foods in the Bible - wine. Where's your marsala now, myah?

The strangest entry goes to the "OBEY" donuts. I quote:

The donut represents the letter "O" in obey. Let them know every time they have a donut, they are reminded to OBEY!

Insert cops and donuts joke here...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 4:19 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Duck Soup

ducksoup.jpgRoast duck is a dish that I will never ever toy with. I don't do it à l'orange, I won't toss in exotic spices such as star anise or Chinese five spice powder. The most exotic I will ever get with my roast duck is to pop an apple and maybe an onion in its belly. It's a shame, but I just can't. This is because the only reason I ever roast a duck is in order to have a duck carcass for making duck soup.

My Austrian grandmother made the best soups I have ever tasted. And of these soups, her best was cream of mushroom soup made with a duck base. It was sublime. Something about the duck broth brought out the delicate flavour of mushrooms like no other liquid. Salty and creamy and savory and delicious. You can judge how delicious the soup was by the fact that even as a child, I recognized this was pure genius.

And so when I roast a duck it's because I intend to try my best to reproduce my grandmother's best dish. Exotic spices might carry over to the broth and so they are off the menu.

It's a roundabout way to make a soup but it's the best way. I've seen a lot of cookbooks (my beloved Fanny Farmer, for one) and many cooking programs counsel boiling a raw bird with a load of vegetables in order to make a bouillon. Well, if you want watery, bland broth and a lot of soggy meat, please do. I did. Once. And then I remembered my grandmother saving the bones from roast birds and realized that the thrifty way to make chicken or duck broth is also the tasty way. Why don't any cookbooks tell you this?? Is it for fear that no one will ever make soup because it sounds like too much work? Who knows. All I know is that it's worthwhile roasting a duck (which is a nice dish on its own, too) in order to get duck broth.

So, first buy your duck. Rinse it and pat it dry. Cut up an apple and an onion in large chunks and toss them in the cavity of the bird. Sprinkle a little Lawry's salt on the outside of the bird. Prick the skin all over so that the fat will run off more easily. (There will be a lot.) Toss a glass of white wine or sherry over the bird and put it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes (Around 220C/450f). Reduce the heat and continue to roast until a meat thermometer tells you it's done. For a small bird, this will be about an hour and a half, the same as a chicken.

The duck will be fragrant and juicy from all the fat, albeit a pain to carve because of the same. I am always surprised how little meat there is on one bird; it's really only enough for two.

When you are done with the duck, toss all the bones, bits of fat and skin and juices in a large pot and cover with water. If you like, you can add a couple of potatoes and carrots and onions too. I usually do if I have any that are getting towards the end of their shelf life. I don't bother with celery. (Another mystery in my life is why most traditional cookbooks in the US tell you to add celery to soup broth.) Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn down to a slow bubble. Let it simmer for several hours, stirring it and breaking up the bones with a wooden spoon every half hour or so. When the broth has gone nice and brown and nutty and it smells delicious, pour the mixture into a colander or strainer held over a large bowl. Put the strained broth in the refrigerator for several hours, preferably overnight. Once the broth has cooled completely, the fat will rise to the top and you can skim it off with a large spoon.

You can do anything with this nectar, but my favourite thing is to combine it with cream and mushrooms. One bird will probably give you enough broth for four to six bowls of soup. So take about two pounds of mushrooms (either plain white ones or a mix of exotic ones) and sauté them in a knob of butter with a finely chopped onion or six chopped shallots. When they are soft and tasty, add the duck broth. Add a couple of generous spoonfuls of crème fraîche or, if you are in the US, a mixture of cream and sour cream. You want the tang from the sour cream or crème fraîche as it compliments the duck deliciously. Taste for salt and pepper; it will be the better for a generous helping of each.

It really is my favourite soup. It's not overly pretty (cream soups rarely are) but when you smell it you'll understand why it's my favourite soup. Even my Critic, who theoretically doesn't like mushrooms, loves this soup. Quack!

(Does anyone out there have any idea why the Marx brothers called their film Duck Soup??)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:41 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack
February 17, 2005
Restaurant review - Pizza D.O.C.

"D.O.C." in Italian is Denominazione di Origine Controllata. Similar to the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée or "A.O.C.", D.O.C. certifies the region a wine is from and generally can be taken by a wine ignoramus like myself as a good indicator that the wine is a full step up from a Vin de Pays or a box of Gallo.

On West Lawrence Avenue in Chicago, Pizza D.O.C. can be taken as an indicator of a restaurant that takes the quality of its pizza and its wines seriously.

Pizza D.O.C. is located at 2251 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago near the Western Avenue Brown Line stop in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Lincoln Square is the home of young marrieds and new families, and the gaggle of families with young children at the restaurant one Friday night made that quite obvious.

The space itself is nondesript from the outside, but the owners have done a nice job of decorating the inside to get maximum table space with minimal table crowding. The bar area where we sampled good but not great Italian wines by the glass is a little small, and it does feel cramped, but I believe the space was sacificed for more tables.

On our first visit to Pizza D.O.C., we took a table near the door on a busy Friday night. Service didn't suffer, despite our tucked away location on the floor, and we were able to get prompt attention whenever it was necessary.

There are non-pizza entrees available, but why bother when the pizza here is among the best in the city. In Chicago, pizza is known as a deep multilayer pie that sits heavily on your belly. That's decidedly NOT the type of pizza they serve at Pizza D.O.C.

Rather, the owners have installed an Italian-style wood burning oven to bake authentically Italian pizzas. The ingredients are simple, the pies have a crispy thin crust, and the flavors are outstanding. I've had samples of the tuna pizza, the Neapolitan anchovy pie, and the fabulous porcini mushroom pizza and they were uniformly excellent.

When the individually sized pizza first arrives at your table, the torture begins. Your first instinct will be to dive right in, but the sauce made from authentic Italian full flavor low acid San Marzano tomatoes and the thin pasting of cheese on top are so hot from the showpiece oven that you essentially have a thin soup on a crust until the pizza cools a bit. Once that period passes, you are in for pizza unlike any you have sampled in America before.

My recommendation, once you become addicted, is to bring friends, order a bunch of pies, and share slices. You really can't go wrong no matter which pizzas you order.

In my praise for the pizza pies I don't want to short the rest of Pizza D.O.C.'s menu. We enjoyed a celery, apple, Parmesan, olive oil, and lemon juice salad on our first trip that surprised me with a light complexity of flavors. Lightly battered fried calamari is better than at most restaurants, but not quite up to the standards of the rest of the menu - though the marinara for dipping the calamari is excellent and seems to be made from the same amazing San Marzano tomatoes as the sauce for the pizza.

The desserts at Pizza D.O.C. are fully as outstanding as the pizza. I thought I'd found the best dessert on the menu when I sampled the croccantino, which I can only describe as tasting like a cross between sweetened light cold butter and vanilla ice cream with a ribbon of crisp carmel and walnuts running through it. I'm sure it requires scientific notation to poperly document the caloric content. I was floored when we went back and I sampled what I was sure to be an ordinary dessert - the tiramisu. I had appaently never had real tiramisu until I had this tiramisu. The alcohol, espresso, marscapone, and cocoa mixed perfectly with the moist lady fingers, accusing all the previous "tiramisu's" I'd had in the past as pale imposters. We also enjoyed on one trip a vanilla panna cotta that would be a star attraction at other restaurants.

Convince your group to share a bunch of desserts, but engineer it so the croccantino and the tiramisu end up next to you.

As for drinks, the wines by the glass at Pizza D.O.C. are pretty good if a bit expensive at $6-12 apiece. Instead, get a bottle from the wine menu for the best wines in the house at a reasonable price. We had a Torrefazione Rosso Conero 2002 from the Marche region of Italy for $36, a bargain when you consider we easily could have spent $9 each on vastly inferior wine by the glass.

I intend to make Pizza D.O.C. a regular stop on the restauant circuit in Chicago and encourage you to do the same. The food here has always been excellent, with the only knock on the place being the service, which in our experience seems to have improved quite a bit. Tip well and keep the good times rolling. Highly recommended.

Pizza D.O.C.
2251 W. Lawrence Avenue,
Chicago, Illinois
Tel: (773) 784-8777

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:14 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
February 16, 2005
Neapolitan Strawberries

There is nothing Italian about this dessert that I made for us on Valentine's Day. The Neapolitan in the name of the dish refers to Neapolitan ice cream. When I was young, my dad would buy half-gallons of Neapolitan ice cream. This was a brick of ice cream divided into three stripes of flavor. On the left was chocolate, on the right vanilla, and in the middle strawberry.

I never understood why this was paticularly Neapolitan. My father asserted it was because the ice cream resembled the flag of Naples. I bought it, not wondering why a region would have a brown, pink, and white flag until later when I found out the flag of Naples is half yellow, half red. I think the presence of layers are the important bit, not the actual flavors or colors. I'd still love to know the origins of the name and how Neapolitan came to embody a carton of three flavored ice cream with the chocolate all dug out (that's how it worked in my house).

In any case, here's a simple dessert that's both romantic and delicious. You can prepare a tray of these strawberries ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve them. If you keep them in plastic bags, the berries will start to leak a bit. I think this is a consequence of their exposure to heat from the chocolate.

Neapolitan Strawberries

16-20 Large strawberries

4 oz. mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons sugar (adjust to suit your sweet tooth)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon dark rum
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 bar semi-sweet chocolate (2 oz.)
1 bar bittersweet chocolate (2 oz.)

Mega-short instructions - hull the berries, stuff with a sweetened mascapone cream, then dip them in melted chocolate and cool.

The longer set of instuctions:

Remove the tops from the strawberries and with a small sharp paring knife cut out the whiter centers from the berries. Leave each strawberry with a significant v-shaped cavity, but be careful not to cut through the bottom of the strawberry.

Mix cheese, sugar, rum, and vanilla together in a bowl with a fork. Mix together with a fork until the graininess of the sugar is gone and the mix is smooth.

Using a small spoon, stuff each berry with the creamy mascapone mixture. Put berries on a sheet pan in the freezer for five minutes before next step. While waiting, place some parchment paper on another sheet pan.

In a double boiler over medium heat melt the semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate, stirring the chocolates together. If you don't have an actual double boiler, place a metal bowl over a saucepan filled with boiling water, but not so much water that the bowl touches it. The steam from the boiling water will heat the bottom of the bowl evenly so you can melt the chocolate without burning it.

Take the strawberries out of the freezer. Using tongs, dip each berry in the chocolate and roll the bottom of the berry until it is well coated. Remove to the parchment covered sheet pan and repeat with the next berry. Although you could certainly dip the stawberries using your hand, I do not recommend it. Chocolate is filled with fat and sugar, and loves to cling to things like unprotected fingers, causing bad burns.

As the reservoir of chocolate is used up, your berries may become more difficult to coat. You also may need to rinse the tongs off from time to time as they get inevitably crusted with chocolate.

When the strawberries have all been dipped, place the tray in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes to give the chocolate a chance to firm up on the berry. Serve with a port wine or a glass of champagne.

Leftover strawberries should last until someone realizes they're in there.

Leftover mascapone and chocolate can be mixed together for a quick and easy dessert.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:14 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
February 15, 2005
The Party in Paris

GIFTS.JPGOn Saturday I hosted a small party in honor of the first birthday of TMC. Barrett and Todd were invited, but strangely they did not show up. Perhaps the 2000km trip put them off, I don't know. I do know that the people who did come were disappointed not to meet these mysterious figures and I have promised that if either of them ever does make it to Paris we will be having another, grander party!

The party we did have, though select, was perfectly satisfactory and I hope everyone had a great time. I know I did! Not only was it a great chance to gossip, trade foodie tips and grill our friend Clotilde on the secrets behind the success of Chocolate and Zucchini, but I even got a couple of presents (pictured here). And I'm not sharing them!

Well, okay, I might share the delicious peppery Rowallan Olives oil from trees owned by my friend Sam. I was honored to receive one of the first bottles produced and it will feature in all my favourite dishes. The chocolates from Alisa are mine, all mine, though...

big food.jpgAs the party was in honor of a food blog, it's only right that I run through the dishes on hand. For the ones I prepared, I tried to keep to recipes posted on our site in the last year, though there was one I was certain had been mentioned but was inexplicably not found by our search engine.

However, before passing to the recipes I used, let me thank my friend Alisa for making the delicious Polenta sticks with Mexican pesto and Blue Cheese sauce (pictured in the photo above). I wasn't able to get the recipe from her in time for this post, but I'll be publishing it soon. A fantastic flavor combination, these babies went fast!

Brie and onion tartlets. Nigel Slater's brie and onion tart (as modified by me) was in the first set of recipes I posted on TooManyChefs. This is not chance: it's probably my favorite recipe. Ever. For the party, I tried something I've always meant to do. I used cutters to make tartlets, making it easier for party guests to eat them. (Use a large round cutter to create the tartlet, and then gently press a slightly smaller one in the center to trace the crust in the dough.) My advice to anyone who wants to do the same is to make sure you do not let the puff pastry dough get warm at all before cutting it, as it makes it very difficult to cut. Otherwise, it worked a treat.

Herbed Hot Goat's Cheese and Tomato Tartine. This one came from the Is My Blog Burning event hosted by Clotilde. It was the first IMBB? we participated in and I have a soft spot for the recipes.

Barrett's Mexican Black Bean Tarts. The cornmeal crust on these turned out a little crumbly on me, but it is a testament to my inability to follow directions and not the quality of the recipe. This is a truly original dish and was a big hit at the party. Again, I modified the form of the recipe in making little tartlets in tiny mince pie pans to make it easier to serve in a party. Try it!

Quail's eggs with Sesame salt. As mentioned in my Easter post, the recipe came from Epicurious. Fun and surprisingly tasty; I think the yolk-to-white ratio is perfect in these little babies and they are something new for many people. I also served them with the same variety of mushroom salt that RisaG finally received in the mail as a prize for the TooManyChefs Quiz. RisaG if you are reading this, it was very nice with eggs!

Todd's Spanish Tortilla. I became a huge fan of tortilla the first time I visited Spain (with Barrett and another friend, in fact) mainly because I found it next to impossible to remember that a Spanish tortilla is not the same thing as a Mexican tortilla. Luckily it's also really tasty and so eventually I started to order it intentionally. Todd's instructions were very clear and easy to follow and amazingly enough my tortilla tasted just like the ones I remembered from Spain. Thanks Todd!

Chicken fingers with mustard sauce. I could have sworn I mentioned this in one of my posts about grilling on the terrace last summer but couldn't find any evidence of it when I came to write this. In the end, the dish wasn't grilled anyway, so it's a new one but very, very simple. Take six free range skinless chicken breasts and poach them in a pan of boiling water to which you have added a glass of white wine, a little salt and a teaspoon of dried tarragon. After ten minutes or so, check if they are done by cutting a slit in one (no pink center, obviously!) and if so let them cool down. Once they are cool, cut them in lengths about the thickness of a finger and wrap them with a bit of Parma or other similar ham. Up to this point, you can cover them and keep them in the fridge until the party starts. For the sauce, mix two tablespoons (heaping) of crème fraîche with a heaping tablespoon of Dijon grain mustard and a heaping tablespoon of Dijon smooth mustard and a teaspoon of dried tarragon. Put the fingers under the broiler or the grill element in your oven for about seven minutes, or until the ham is crisp but not burnt. (Thank you, Clotilde, for stopping me from burning the last batch!)

smoked eel.jpgMini smoked eel salads on endive leaves. I tried smoked eel for the first time recently and posted the recipe for a delicious salad with it. In order to make it user-friendly for party guests, I adopted a trick recommended by all American cookbooks from the fifties to the eighties: take a leaf of Belgian endive and place your nibbly bits (in this case, eel, potato, tomato and sauce) on the end of it.

Purple Potato Salad. A mixture of roasted garlic, olive oil, salt and earthy potato goodness. My friend Owen exclaimed, "But I'm Irish and I've never heard of them!?!!"

And now on to the photos of the guests. Click on the images to see them enlarged.

ladies men.jpg
Two fine ladies' men: Sam and young Kieran.

admiring baby.jpg
Kieran showing his magnetic personality works even from a cot on the floor.

party people.jpg

people 2.jpg

people 3.jpg


Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:19 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Happy Anniversary to us, Happy Anniversary to us...

Yes, it was one year ago today that Meg in Paris jumped out in front of all of us and posted the first item to this collaborative cooking extravaganza. She'll have her own post about our anniversary, but I thought I'd put my two cents in first.

Since Feb 15, 2004, we've put up 435 entries, and logged almost 1300 comments that weren't ads for porn, poker, or refinancing your house. As of Feb 14th at about 3:30pm Central, we've had over 100,000 visitors to the site. That's twice the population of the town I grew up in.

Over the last year, we've endured a switch in hosting providers, faced a possible loss of our domain name, added a baby to Meg in Paris's family, redesigned the look of the site, and even tried Marmite.

I want to thank everyone who has helped us get this far especially our friends and family, particularly in my case Paul Goyette who got me into blogging in the first place, Meg Hainer, and Corrie Cook for their contributions to the site, Todd Price for his continuing contributions (I'm pretty sure we'll lose him eventually to the for-pay food writing circuit), and of course Meg in Paris who will always be the best of friends, and without whom this site would consist mainly of me making jokes about Beano and asparagus.

Of course, I have to most of all thank my very patient wife Rebecca for putting up with smoky kitchens, late night typing, sinks full of dishes, strange foods in the pantry, and the occasional stink of a dish gone horribly wrong. She doesn't complain much when I mess up, and she's always appreciative when a dish somehow turns out right (though she does question the butter content). You can't ask for anything more.

Finally, thanks to everyone out there who reads our recipes and ramblings and the ever-supportive food blog community. I hope that over the last year we've given you an idea or two for a good dish to feed you friends and family, or just a link to an interesting story you wouldn't have found otherwise.

I'm retiring at 67, so this is one year down, 28 to go.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:00 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
February 14, 2005
A Romantic Dinner in Vichy: Jacques Decoret

stl01_004.jpgLast November, the Critic took me out for a very romantic dinner in the provincial town of Vichy. At the time (thinking of our loyal readers) I took note of the whole experience so that I could review it here. Well, it's been a busy couple of months, with Christmas and a new baby and I'm only now getting around to writing. In a way, though, this is appropriate, as I joked at the time that it would be one of our last chances for a romantic dinner...and so it was. (We ordered a delivery of Indian food to the apartment for our anniversary at the end of December!)

On the surface, Vichy might not strike you as the best place to find an awe-inspiring meal. Yes, it is in the center of the Auvergne region, reknowned for its wonderful cheeses and special beef. But the city itself reminds you of an aging Edwardian beauty, all faded chintz and dirty lace. Walking through the streets, you have the distinct impression that this place saw its heyday some time around the time of the Great War.

However, this is just the place to find an awe-inspiring meal.

If you read foodie magazines, you'll no doubt be familiar with the names of the best-known chefs and restaurants of the Paris area: Rostand, Taillevent, etc. However, if you arm yourself with a Michelin red guide and seek out provincial one-star restaurants you'll find yourself amazed with the result. For half the price of a Michelin starred Paris meal, you'll get something that is fresh, innovative, classy and well worth the trip. Jacques Decoret in Vichy is just such a restaurant.

Oddly enough, both the Critic and I came to the same idea of trying this restaurant by different means. Before joining him in Vichy (where he was on a training course) I looked up the town in the red Michelin at work and found that there was a one-star restaurant. I noted the address and resolved to talk the Critic into trying it. At the same time, HE wandered around the town looking for a nice restaurant to try with me and decided on the same one. It goes to show that the two best methods of finding good restaurants often turn up the same results.

From the outside, the restaurant is fairly discreet. It's on a side street near the train station, which is not usually the classiest part of a provincial town. However, once you enter you realize it's a relaxed elegant temple to food. The decor is very modern with clean lines: simple flower arrangements and large panels of art glass on the walls, immaculate white tablecloths and subdued jazz music. We reserved a table on the second night of my stay because the night I arrived they were fully booked.

In the end, the night we were there was a quiet one in terms of the number of clients. It was not quiet at our table, though, as we giggled and chatted our way through what was the most extraordinary meal of my life so far.

When the menus arrived we decided to sample the house champagne cocktail while perusing. This boded well from the start as it was a slightly nutty, not too sweet cocktail, unlike anything I had ever tasted and absolutely delicious. (We were later told what local liqueur went into the making of it but I am ashamed to say I forgot to note it down.) The menu was full of interesting sounding dishes, based on French classics and local specialities. In the end, unable to decide which sounded really truly best, we both plumped for the chef's tasting menu (Confiance du chef). The heavy responsibility of choosing just one or two dishes (and possibly finding they were not as delicious or interesting as we hoped) was too much for us. We had to try them all.

The first dish arrived on a miniature plastic TV tray. Brightly colored, silly, fun, but it left me concerned that M. Decoret would be more concerned with appearances than with substance. On the platter were chips (crisps to you Brits) of various exotic types, manioc and turnip with spices. Actually, it was pretty nice and so I mentally set aside my reservations for the moment.

Next up was a "deconstruction of gratin de courgettes", which was a lovely miniature soup of courgettes. However, the originality was more in the appearance than the taste.

The next dish introduced a combination of flavors I wouldn't have expected: foie gras with a beetroot sauce. I don't know why this isn't a more common treatment for foie gras; it's not uncommon to serve it with a sweet compote (fig, for example) and beetroot is certainly sweet. It was delicious, savoury and sweet and of course extremely colorful with the bright red sauce.

When we ordered the tasting menu, we mentioned to the waiter that the Critic had a "thing" about snails. That is to say he doesn't like eating them. So next up for him was a dish of gambas with a sangria of pink grapefruit. The sharp grapefruit added a new element to the sweet shrimp, definitely worth trying.

For myself, the snails arrived. A large shell made of breadcrumbs surrounded a small handful of the chewy little fellows in a pool of garlic butter. Again, the presentation was dramatic (not to say puzzling) and though the taste was a classic treatment it was a lot of fun. We spend the entire course discussing how on earth the thin hollow shell of breadcrumbs could have been constructed.

With the next dish, the fun really begain. We were served "21st Century Oysters", which consisted of a rubbery almost opaque ball perched on an oyster shell. Unsure how to tackle these babies, we looked to the waiter. "Put the whole thing in your mouth, pop it and pull the end out, you'll see what I mean," he said mysteriously as he glided away. What the?!? But we did see what he meant when we picked them up: they were little balloons with knotted tails underneath. Feeling extremely foolish and giggly, we popped them in our mouths and with one motion popped the balloons and pulled the balloons out by the tail. An explosion of iodine, salt and oyster made this one of the funnest and funniest dishes I've tasted. The giggles increased and the rather uptight group of seniors at nearby table started sending us glares.

Things calmed down a bit with the next two dishes, sea bass with pineapple sauce (lovely) and an emulsion of vieux cantal cheese with root vegetables. Both had interesting flavor combinations and went down nicely.

These were followed with Pigeons aux deux façons which were fashionably undercooked and savoury.

And then things got silly again with the next dish. We were each served a little wooden platter with a tiny cup of clear liquid, a straw and a linen of red powder. Yes, a line of powder, looking like red cocaine with crystals in it. We raised our eyebrows at the waiter. He smiled and advised us to take a tiny sip of the liquid (the clear juice of a fresh tomato), hold it on our tongues and use the straw to suck in some of the powder. He told us to hold the powder on our tongues to get teh full effect of the dish. We did and...pow! Do any of you out there remember Hot Rocks? The candy that exploded on your tongue? That is what the tomatoes did. Pop, pop, crackle! Hooting with laughter we finished up our lines of crack tomato. Now the table with the well-behaved children on our right was staring at these Bad Examples of how to act in a nice restaurant.

From here it was hard to get more exciting. We were served a cheese platter of formidable age, but I was sadly unable to eat any but the most boring cheeses. (I was pregnant at the time, you see.) For dessert, we were served a very respectable Ile flottante with fleur d'oranger sauce and an interesting sweet potato dish with parsley ice cream and passion fruit coulis. By then (have you counted the dishes?!?) we were past appreciating fine cuisine, especially the Critic who had ordered the tasting menu with wine included. (He told me the wines were all excellent, but in my swollen state I didn't taste them myself.)

The waiter and the female maitre d' had obviously warmed to us by now. They thought we were a little odd to be quite so loud in a Temple of Food, but as obvious foreigners all was forgiven. They asked if we would like to meet the chef and we agreed with great enthusiasm.

So we trailed back to the kitchen and shook hands with M. Decoret himself, who was a charming and (to me) shockingly young chef. Well, young to have his first Michelin star, as he looked to be around thirty. We congratulated him on his star and the fantastic meal. I asked him if he had constructed the breadcrumbs shell by covering a balloon of some sort and then pulling it out of the finished product and he looked extremely smug and said no and he wouldn't tell me how it was done. (I worked it out later - can you?) He said that he had thought of moving up to Paris but that his great friend Michel (Rostand?) counselled staying in the provinces for a bit longer to build up his reputation. Better to be a big fish in a little pond, initially. I wondered if Michel's reasons for urging him to stay put were as biased as our own: we love having the opportunity to try such innovative and delightful food at a reasonable price and Michel no doubt was happy to see the competition rest safely in the boondocks.

So there you have it: a fun food experience in Vichy. The food demonstrated a complete mastery of all the classic French dishes, but each had a little spash of originality. The service was impeccable and if the atmosphere was a little stodgy it was probably more to do with the clientèle more than anything else. If you are ever in the Auvergne region, it is well worth the trip. And when travelling through the rest of France bear in mind that the one-star Michelin in the provinces is often better value and more interesting than the two or three starred Paris restaurant. For one thing, these young chefs are still trying to prove they have something to say. And they are usually right!

Jaques Decoret
7, avenue Gramont
03200 Vichy
Tel: 04 70 97 65 06
Menu Confiance du chef: 109 euros (without wine) or 130 euors (including wine). The cost of a meal à la carte was only slightly less, but with much less excitement!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:05 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
February 13, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the week - For our children's children.

Each week we pick three posts from the vast infinitely expanding blogosphere to highlight. Here's this week's crop in no particular order:

1. That whole religion thing was big, big, big in the middle ages. With the advent of Lent (hey two seasons for one in that line), Medieval cuisine blog The Thorngrove Table lets us know just what saying goodbye to meat meant to the medieval household.

I. Evelyn at Surfeit of Lampreys demonstrates in a post on Spaetzle a procedure I use all the time. Evelyn has assembled a batch of recipes for the quintessential Swiss dish and is trying to work out just what makes a perfect spaetzle. By looking at many recipes you can work out what exactly is essential about a dish and end up either giving you blessing to an existing recipe or adding one more version to the mix.

A. Deb at Murray Hill 5 describes herself as a bi-polar baker. For weeks she'll go without wanting to even look at a recipe and then wham! - she's jumpiong into a complicated creation with both feet. This week, her complicated cretion is a beautiful black pearl ganache. I hope her feet were clean when she jumped in...

Next week - part two of the first part of the continuing saga that ran to fourteen parts on the second half of the first season of the first year of Posts of the Week.

Or maybe we'll just see you again soon.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Eating out in Paris

EIFFEL.JPGOne of our readers wrote me recently to say she would be in Paris and could I recommend any restaurants or food experiences. This is a question I commonly get asked and it's hard to know where to begin when answering it. Obviously, there are a lot of good restaurants here. That said, there are a few bad ones too and if you only have limited time here it will be especially important to avoid them.

So this is for Janet, and anyone else out there who is interested in my two bits about eating in Paris.

I could give you a list of things to look for (menu on a blackboard or made up daily) and avoid (waiters trying to entice you into the restaurant) but you could probably work them out yourself; the rules are the same in any city.

Instead below is a list of some of the restaurants we go to with visiting friends and a couple of tips on eating in Paris:

Our favorite touristy restaurant in the heart of touristy Paris

Le Navigator
63, rue Galande
metro: St. Michel
Telephone: 01 43 54 35 86

This place is in the Latin Quarter, just down the road from a slew of cheap Greek restaurants with desperate waiters trying to drag you in the door. We have been frequenting it for ten years now and the quality has ranged from good to absolutely fantastic. What hasn't changed is the series of set price menus that make the food a steal. The Critic usually gets the full menu, which last time we were there was 38 euros and included a starter (foie gras), a fish dish (sole meunière), a meat dish (saddle of lamb), a cheese platter that could walk out on its own legs and dessert. You have other choices in the menu (and cheaper menus) but that is the one he ALWAYS gets. The wine list isn't great, but the food is very good and you get cute pink decor, real tablecloths and very friendly service, all at an extremely reasonable price. And it's within a stone's throw of Notre Dame.

Our favourite fish restaurant

Vin et Marée
183 bd Murat 75016 Paris

This is actually a chain of restaurants I'm sorry to say. However, unlike your usual chain they do not have laminated menus. In fact, each one sets its menu on a blackboard, depending on the market. Do not go here if you don't like fish, though, as it's really all they do. But they do it extremely well. It's a little expensive but well worth it. Also, if you do go here you must have the baba au rhum as dessert. I cannot stress this enough. It has to be experienced to be believed. One order is enough for three to four people, so don't be put off by the price. Basically, they bring you a small, light ring shaped cake with a mountain of whipped cream and raisins adorning it. It's already floating in a sea of rum, but just in case this isn't enough for you they also plop a full bottle of rum on the table so you can top it up. It's not just the generousity over the alcohol that makes this a fantastic dessert: the cake is light and just sweet enough, the raisins plump and rum soaked and the cream rich and...sinfully good. Go there for the dessert. The fish is also really good.

A good place to sample French cheeses

Barrett reminded me that I had recommended this restaurant the last time he and his wife were in Paris. It's a good place for vegetarians, but also meat eaters (though not the lactose-intolerant). I was converted to eating andouillettte (chitterling sausages) here, when they were served with a delicious blue cheese sauce. Yummmmm...

But unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the restaurant and I can't find it in the yellow pages. It was near Madeleine and had a rustic name (Ferme or Auberge in it). SO instead I will give you the address of a good restaurant for cheese fondue or raclette:

19, rue Gustave Courbet
75016 Paris
Telephone: 01 47 27 09 84
Metro: Victor Hugo

It's a charming unpretentious little place. They don't have much variety on the menu, but what they do serve is very good. For the neighborhood, it's a reasonable price too. (If you are not familiar with raclette you might want to check out this post about it!)

A good neighborhood for exploring restaurant options

My favourite is the Marais, which is the 4th arrondisement of Paris. Stroll around the place des Vosges for posh options. On the rue du roi de Sicile have a beer in the bar Klein Holland before continuing on your restaurant search. If you are Jewish or have vegetarians with you, check out rue des Rosiers where you will find kosher restaurants galore, including the fantastic Chez Marianne at the corner of rue Hospitalières. They don't take reservations but are always packed with people hungry for middle eastern style kosher food. The menu is original, in that it's filled with many small mezze type dishes such as eggplant caviar, tarama, etc. You select three, five or eight items depending on how hungry you are. It's also a good place to bring vegetarians. Cheap and definitely cheerful.

A good idea in general when looking for restaurants

Try looking around the food markets or places that were formerly food markets. The Marché St. Germain is now, sadly, a shopping mall, but there are still great cheap restaurants surrounding it. The Marché Aligre in the 11th is also surrounded by great restaurants.

Best place to eat oysters on a Sunday afternoon

Le Baron Aligre
1, rue Théophile Roussel
75012 Paris
Telephone: 01 43 43 14 32
Metro: Ledru Rollin

It's funny how one idea sparks another. Thinking about the Marais reminded me of Chez Marianne and the marché Aligre of the Baron Rouge. It's a tiny bar around the corner from the market and on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the winter you can't miss it as it teems with people vying for the few tables. Outside on the sidewalk, the waiters are shucking oysters faster than you can believe and they are served with ice cold white wine. It's a wine bar, actually, but it's easy to lose sight of the fact in the face of all those delicious oysters. For those who don't like cold raw shellfish, they also do delicious sausage and cold cuts platters.

Trendy areas for bars

Rue Oberkampf and rue de Charonne in the 11th. The last time I was up on the outskirts of the 11th verging on the 20th it looked like it was becoming upscale with the bohemian crowd too - try walking from the metro Père Lachaise towards the Belleville metro. Once you get to Belleville you might enjoy wandering around the "alternative" Chinatown in Paris. There are great food markets and Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.

So there you have a few thoughts on eating in Paris. If you are on a budget, for lunch definitely check out the various bakeries and traiteurs, which have more substantial dishes to take away. Definitely stop and have a crêpe or two, or maybe both: a ham, cheese and egg one with a Nutella one for dessert!

Photo, courtesy of Steve Cutts (a.k.a. The Critic)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:09 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack
February 11, 2005
Food Section Digest (Too Damn Sexy Edition)

Hello baby. Are you feeling tense, feeling blue? Well it's a good thing it's Valentine's Day, baby and I'm here with you. Why don't you just slip into something a little more comfortable whle I put on a little music....

So you like the music? It's Barry White, naturally. My good friend Isaac Hayes has written a kidney-friendly cookbook in honor of Barry White. April Lisante at the Miami Herald clued me in to it.

What's that baby? You're hungry? Well I thought so. Oh, you mean you're really hungry? For food? Well, that's OK, baby. Arizona Central reprints a Raleigh News & Observer article about books that show the kitchen is replacing the bedroom as the place where seduction starts.

Have a drink while I head into the kitchen to whip us up some sensual victuals. I made this cocktail with some very sexy pink vodka. My man RJ Middleton at the Houston Chronicle let me in on the secret of Shakers Rose Flavored Vodka, perfect for Valentine's Day.

Now, baby, it's cold outside, but we can take the Chicago Sun-Times Beverley Levitt's suggestion and have a romantic indoor Valentine's picnic. I'll bring the hot sauce, you bring the sugar.

I thought we'd start with some oysters, naturally. The Chicago Tribune's Judy Hevrdejs - no, baby, I don't know how to pronounce it either - tuns us all on to the delightful varieties of oysters available even to us landlocked types this time of year and tells how to best enjoy the slick sluglike sexiness of of a Sailor Girl, a Fanny Bay, or even a Kumamoto.

Here you go baby, I made you some avocado slices with a little lime and chili powder. I've always found avocados to be sensual and I got some tips on avocados from Susan Selasky from the Free Press in the most romantic city in America - Detroit Michigan. It's like Gary, Indiana, but without all the distracting glitz and glamor. Yeah, I'll take you there someday.

What else am I cooking? I figured we'd have some pasta. What!? You don't eat pasta? What do you mean you don't eat pasta?! You don't need to watch your weight baby, I'll watch it for you. Well, I can always follow Ann Lovejoy's sugestions from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and make you some pasta sauces for non-pasta eaters. Yeah, I thought you'd like the sound of that.

So what's for dessert? In the Chicago Tribune, Wolfgang Puck says a rich dark chocolate cake is the perfect end to a romantic dinner. But I don't know, baby, we don't want to weigh ourselves down too much, do we?

That's right. I have something really special for you. The Boston Globe turned me on the the South End's Flour Bakery + Cafe where they'll print your sexy message on a cookie. I got you this one- OW! Baby, why you gotta slap me like that? It was just a suggestion. OW! All right, all right, I don't even like your sister that much.

You know my passion gets me in trouble. Just like the passion Ed Bruske from the Washington Post discovered when he followed the reactions to one man's version of pho.

I've got a special surprise for you baby. I've been working on some secrets from the East. No, its not yoga, it's wok hay, that indefinable energy of the wok that Julia Moskin of the New York Times explores this week. I am not making it up! No, I'm not seeing Julia Moskin on the side. I'm not a dog like that New York Times's Steve Friedman who cooked up three romantic dinners for three different women and then told all. I'm not like that, baby. I'm cooking only for you.

So now that we've eaten, let's - uh where are you going, lover? I thought we were going to uh.. What do you mean you've got a reservation in the best restaurant in New York with that Michael Bloomberg? That heel won't let you smoke anywhere near there, baby, you know that don't you?

I had hoped we could get up early and head out to LeJeune's Bakery in Jeanrette, Louisiana. They get up at 3am to make their delicious baked goods and you can read all about it in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Oh, I see. Well, If you change your mind...

Call me?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Pommes Vitelottes à l'Ail

tater salad 2.jpgA.k.a. Purple Potatoes with Roasted Garlic. How can you go wrong? It's colorful. It's loaded with flavour. It's a heavenly side dish.

You may have noticed the purple taters in my earlier post about stuffed pork cutlets. (Barrett did!) It was the first time I had tried these darlings and they went very well with the pork. However, it was not until the next day that I added the final touch to them that took them from being a basically interesting looking vegetable to a sublime dish. They were halfway there with the pork, but needed an extra push from a dollop of crème fraîche and a spoonful of chopped chives. Absolutely delicious and pretty to boot.

tater salad.jpgIt's so pretty I took two photos of it. That way we can make a very simple recipe look longer, right?

Take one head of garlic, as fresh as you can find. Cut the top quarter off a the head, place it on a piece of tin foil, drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and pepper and thyme on it, wrap it and place it in a hot oven (200c) for about 45 minutes to an hour. When you can smell that good roasted garlic scent, take it out and try to pierce one of the cloves with a knife point. If it's tender, it's done.

In the meantime, boil your purple potatoes until tender in salted water.

When the garlic is done, squish a few cloves into a small quantity of olive oil. (How much depends on your love of olive oil and garlic and the amount of taters you are cooking.) Add salt and pepper and use a fork to mash the garlic and stir it into the oil.

When the potatoes are done, drain them, slice them thickly and immediately toss them with the garlic and oil mixture. Taste them for salt.

Pile them on a little lettuce with some tomatoes (it looks nice) and add a dollop of crème fraîche or - even better - sour cream and a teaspoon of chopped chives. Grind fresh garlic over the whole shebang.

When you eat, make sure you dip each slice of potato in the chives and crème fraîche or sour cream. It sounds too simple to be a recipe, but it really is delightful, hot and cold, salty and garlicky, very satisfying on a cold winter night!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:12 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
February 10, 2005
Seafood Crêpes

small crepe.jpgPancake Tuesday. For many years I did not understand the concept. I knew that there was some kind of tradition of using up eggs before Lent by making pancakes, but in my American way I assumed they meant pancakes, you know the sweet thick ones that we eat in America for breakfast. It wasn't until I met my English husband that I realised that what they really mean is Crêpe Tuesday. I still don't understand the bit about using up eggs (surely they would be allowed, and even encouraged as a good source of protein over Lent?) but at least I now know you don't have to have breakfast for dinner to be culturally correct.

And every year we have crêpes on Shrove Tuesday. I suppose it's a good thing; I rarely think of making crêpes and they are easy, cheap and delicious. Each Shrove Tuesday I vow to make more of them in the coming year...and promptly forget.

Well, this year things will change! For one thing, I have another good recipe to add to the usual ham and cheese and mushroom varieties.

Actually, this recipe is a loose adaptation of one of my favourite Nigel Slater recipes, for his Fish pie. Because you don't have the potatoes to balance the heavy creaminess, I added more wine to the sauce and using crème fraîche instead of cream would also be a good idea. Unlike most recipes, the garnish on this one was essential - we both agreed that the salmon eggs on top gave it all a welcom sharp flavour. So be generous with your fish eggs.

Traditionally, savoury crêpes are made with buckwheat flour. This works okay with hearty fillings such as ham and cheese, but I prefer a plain white batter with seafood. This is also useful when cooking at home because it means you can use the same batter to whip up a couple of Nutella crêpes for dessert!

Seafood Crêpes

For the crêpe batter:
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cups flour
1 Tbs melted butter
a pinch of salt

For the filling:
12 large cooked shrimp
2-300 grams smoked haddock
1 1/2 cups milk
a heaping spoonful of crème fraîche
1 cup wine
1 Tbs flour
1 Tbs butter
2 Tbs chopped chives

chive stalks
1/2 cup salmon eggs

Whisk all the batter ingredients except the butter until all the lumps have disappeared and the mix is slightly frothy. Whisk in the melted butter and then set aside the bowl for at least an hour. Ideally, you should leave it two hours but that isn't always practical on a week night. If necessary, you could always make it up the night before and put the batter in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

To prepare the filling, put the haddock in a small sauce pan with the milk. If it doesn't quite cover the fish, add wine or water until it does. Bring almost to a boil and let it simmer for ten minutes or so until the fish is opaque. In the meantime, peel the shrimp. Take the haddock off the flame and once it is cool enough to handle, fish out the fish and remove the skin and any bones. Reserve the milk in a bowl, and rinse out the sauce pan. Melt the butter in the pan and when it begins to froth add the flour. Whisk quickly to incorporate the flour and when it turns dark yellow slowly begin adding the haddock milk. Keep whisking to keep the mixture smooth and add all the milk. Then add the flaked haddock, the shrimp cut in bite-sized pieces, a glass of wine, the chives. Stir in the crème fraîche. Give the mixture a generous grinding of pepper and taste it. It might need a squeeze of lemon or a little more wine to liven the flavours.

Once the batter has rested, heat up your crêpe pan. I don't actually have a true crêpe pan; I just use a nonstick low-sided frying pan. An omelette pan, in fact. It works well enough, with a good spatula to flip the cakes. To test if the pan is hot enough, dash a couple of drops of water onto the surface. If they dance across the pan, it's ready. Pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter onto the surface and swish the pan around to spread the batter. If you have a nifty little wooden batter spreader, use it - lightly - to spread the batter into the bare corners. (If you do have one of these items, place it in a bowl of water between uses to keep the batter from hardening on it.) If your pan is hot enough it should only take about a minute for the crêpe to cook on one side. Carefully flip it and cook the other side about 45 seconds. Flip onto a plate so that the pretty (first) side is down. Don't worry if the first one looks terrible - they always do. It takes a second attempt to get a feel for the process. Make up all the crêpes - it should make nine or ten, a generous dinner and dessert for two.

To fill the crêpes, place them on a plate, spoon about a half cup of the filling in a line down the center and fold over the two sides. If you fill them immediately with hot filling after making the crêpes, you shouldn't need to reheat them. If you have waited, you might want to throw the cakes back into the hot pan for a moment before removing each one to a plate and filling it.

Garnish with a couple of stalks of chive (optional) and a generous spoonful of salmon eggs (highly recommended).

If you and your dinner partner eat seven or eight fish crêpes, you should have a couple of crêpes left over for dessert. Put each one in a hot pan and add a generous spoonful of Nutella. As the crêpe heats, use the back of the spoon to spread the Nutella around a bit. Fold in quarters and consume immediately!

Note: in case any of you are wondering why I'm blathering about Shrove Tuesday two full days after the event, it's because we had some Internet "issues" here in the Paris TMC office...happens to all of us sometimes I guess!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:50 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
February 9, 2005
Lent and Pizza

Today is Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent is upon us. If you live in a Catholic town (like Chicago), you'll see plenty of "angels with dirty faces" on the street today.

I was raised Catholic. Actually, I was raised Lutheran, converted to Catholic when my Lutheran mother died and my Catholic father remained, then switched to whatever the heck I am now. In any case from 11 to at least 17, I was pretty much Catholic and observed Lent faithfully.

Fridays were the big day during Lent. Traditionally, in addition to giving up something else of their choice for the season (usually chocolate or procrastination or something else you'd never be able to give up completely), Catholics give up meat on Fridays during the Lent season. I'm a fish-eating vegetarian now, but boy was it difficult going without meat back then; no bacon for breakfast, no ham sandwiches for lunch, no minute steak or stew for dinner.

Oh the pain in having fish or peanut butter sandwiches or cheese pizza in the school cafeteria when you really just wanted a bratwurst or a salami sandwich.

Lent was like so many things at that age, a very dramatic battle with high stakes - our eternal souls. We were convinced that if we ate meat and didn't get to confession we were done for. Sure, you could confess eventually if you accidentally forgot and had a bologna sandwich for lunch, but if you got hit by a bus between school and the confessional you were doomed to burn. "Sorry, Mother Teresa, you did some good things with those starving kids in Calcutta and all, but you had a bit of lamb vindaloo on a Friday you thought was Thursday during Lent so it's off to the flame pit with you." We really worried about things like that.

Of course, also like teens throughout the ages (and especially like Catholic teens, I'd bet), I became a real lawyer with the rules. On Friday nights my dad would be asleep early. He woke up at 3:45 every morning to get to his work in the city by 5:30 so he turned in around 8:00 or 9:00 most nights, leaving me essentially unsupervised.

I would stay up late as the rule, but especially on Fridays. At about 11:50pm, most Fridays, and always when I had friends sleeping over, we'd put a frozen sausage pizza in the oven. 11 -15 minutes later, the day had passed, it was officially Saturday morning, and the pizza was ready for some god-friendly pork sausage eating action. Sometimes I just called my friend Thad on the phone (yes, at midnight - his parents were pretty sound sleepers and he also stayed up late), and we both teen-lawyed us up a sausage or pepperoni pie while talking about how cool or un-cool the new Camaros were.

I knew I was stretching the rules by putting the pizza in before Lent Friday was over, but I also figured you can't convict a man (or damn him) for violating the spirit but not the letter of the law. Thad became a successful Harvard lawyer, and I think this parsing of the rules of Lenten damnation may have set him on his eventual career path.

Even today the sight of dirty foreheads make me want to score some cardboard crusted frozen pizza late on a Friday night. Mmmm.

Pics from BBC and PETA Germany

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 11:30 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
February 8, 2005
Spinach and Pea Soup

T.S. Eliot famously wrote "April is the cruelest month." I think he was off by sixty days. February is the true long, dark, teatime of the soul (as another great writer Douglas Adams put it).

You've made it past the holidays, and if you live in the North, the snow is falling and melting and refreezing making a muck of the ground as the skies stay gray. There's the prospect of a long March and April to come before you get to sunny days, and just generally, you're starving for a bit of green to break up the brown and gray world outside.

I can't help with the outdoors (what do you think this is, Too Many Gardeners?), but I can give you nice bit of green for your dinner table. The picture of the Spinach and Pea soup above just doesn't do justice to how vibrant and verdant this soup is.

This recipe is adapted from one from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. We've talked about this book - even if you're primarily a carnivore, you should have Madison's book on your shelves.

From the original recipe, I swapped out carrots for a big parsnip, increased the onions, and changed the dairy to make it a bit more tangy and fresh tasting. You can use frozen spinach in this recipe if you wish, but I liked the taste of the fresh stuff. I did use frozen peas simply because there's no chance of finding fresh in Chicago this time of year without getting an adjustable rate mortgage to finance the purchase.

Probably the most remarkable aspect of this dish for me is that I didn't put any garlic in it. It isn't needed and would detract from the fresh flavor.

Spinach and Pea Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 big white onion, diced
6 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly
1 big parsnip (or two medium), peeled and sliced thinly
1 celery rib, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon dried marjoram or basil

1 bag of baby spinach, washed and spun dry
1 cup of peas

1/3 cup buttermilk
up to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper

Cut up all your vegetables. Heat the oil in a big soup pot. When it is hot, add the onions, scallions, parsnip, celery, marjoram/basil and stir. Add 1/2 cup of water and a pinch of salt and cover. Let stew for 5 minutes.

Add 5 cups of water and bring the mix to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let simmer for 20 minutes with the top off.

Add the spinach and peas and cook just until the spinach is bright green, about 3 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and blend the soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender (much easier) until perfectly smooth.

Stir in the buttermilk. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Add lemon juice to taste 1/2 teaspoon at a time to brighten the flavor of the soup. Serve hot.

We enjoyed the soup with some goat brie on toast. The soup is very low fat so you can afford a minor indulgence on the side.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:24 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
February 7, 2005
Next IMBB - Feb 19th

The next Is My Blog Burning? event is February 19th and the theme is a lttle different than in the past. This time out, for "Is my Blog Taboo? and "You are What You Don't Eat." hosted at My Latest Supper.

The idea is to either introduce something you eat regularly to a local culturally different friend who might find your dish distasteful, and record their reaction. Alternately, try something you find disgusting or taboo and analyze your reactions and thoughts about the food.

We've done a little of this in the past in what I had hoped to make a regular feature - I Wouldn't Eat It. Back in February, 2004 I sampled Marmite (or as I called it at the time - "salty yeast crap"), and after taking several months to recover, I tried a lovely can of Pennywort drink which, as god is my witness, tasted "humid" to me.

Now, I have a problem with this IMBB, much as I did keeping the "I Wouldn't Eat it" feature going - I'm just not that squeamish when it comes to food and my friends are wise to me. No chance I'm getting one of them to try something new I haven't already forced on them.

I don't eat meat, but I have in the past, and at one time or another, I've had brains, kidneys, liver, and since I liked hot dogs, probably lungs, face, and other tasty treats. The brains were kind of nasty because of their texture, but the rest were fine.

I once suggested to Meg that she try and write up that reputedly nasty Scottish concoction haggis for an "I Wouldn't Eat it" feature, only to find that she loves the stuff and has no problem with it whatsoever. In fact she seeks it out. That was a disappointment. (Did you have your Burns' night ration this year, Meg?)

So what the heck am I going to try? I'd rather not go back to meat just for a spectacularly nasty something. I'm pretty sure I can't get casu marzu in this country (though, man, that would be spectacularly nasty).

More thought is required. You can be sure we won't let our entry deteriorate into some "Fear Factor"-esque exercise in grossness for grossness's sake. Maybe I need to watch some more original Iron Chef episodes.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:14 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack
February 6, 2005
An Invitation

Our one year anniversary is coming up here at Too Many Chefs and we are happy to notice that the number of visitors is approaching 100,000 - hurrah! Here in Paris, I'm planning a small party to celebrate. I've already issued an invitation to the readers I know in Paris. If there are any lurkers out there (who promise not to be come stalkers!) send me a message if you'd like to participate. Good food is guaranteed! Email me at the address under the section The Chefs for more information.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:32 PM | TrackBack
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the week - We digest, you deride! Each week we pick three posts from the vast infinitely expanding blogosphere to highlight. Here's this week's crop in no particular order:

I. Nourishment lets us into a meeting of Soup Club. Of course the first rule of soup club is you don't talk about soup club, but Nourishment lets it all out and we are given six individual soup recipes in this one post, many with wine and musical accompaniment suggestions.

A. J3s has long been the heroine of those who eschew the corporate grocery chains and their overpriced lower quality goods. Her blog F*** Corporate Groceries has detailed her journey away from the Jewels and Dominick's and Whole Foods (which she calls Whole Paycheck). She is now joining a group trying to establish a supermarket co-op in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago. Worth a read and definitely worth following.

1. I'll admit to personal bias in this selection - Moira at Who Wants Seconds tackles macro photography and picks one of my favorite spices as the first subject - cardamom writ large. Wow, great photo! I don't know Moira, but I loves me some cardamom.

One extra note - We've already praised the participants in the Menu for Hope project, starting with Pim, but we'd like to make sure the translators - Pascale of C'est mois qui l'ait fait! and Melissa at Cooking Diva - also get a little loving from the foodie crowd. Head over and tell them thanks (or merci or gracias), then put a little cash in the UNICEF kitty for tsunami relief.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:02 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
February 4, 2005
Cute Pork Cutlets

A colorful dinnerAs far as I can tell, in the US "filet mignon" always refers to a cut of beef. Over here in France, it refers to the cut of the meat and not the kind. (Filet, of course, means a boneless cut of meat or fish and "mignon" just means cute or small.) So on Monday I bought a couple of pork filet mignons and they were every bit as gorgeous looking as the beef variety you find in the US: small and round with very little fat, definitely very cute. They called out for some special treatment and I spent a good while pondering what to do with them.

In the end, I came up with what I thought was a pretty original idea: stuffing them with a mince of apple, onion and thyme. It worked beautifully, especially when I added cider and French grain mustard to the mix...oh and the ubiquitous crème fraîche!

Cute Stuffed Pork Cutlets

2 thick pork filets (you could substitute pork chops, providing they are nice and thick)
1/2 an apple
1/2 an onion
1 Tbs fresh or frozen thyme
salt and pepper
1 tsp olive oil (just enough to keep them from sticking to the pan)
1/3 cup dry cider
1 heaping teaspoon of grain Dijon mustard
1 heaping tablespoon of crème fraîche or cream

Preheat the oven to 200c/375f. Finely chop the apple and onion and mix with the thyme and a little salt and pepper. You can do this with a knife, but I find that my nifty little chopper gadget does the trick even better. (See this photo for a picture of the chopper and the resulting minced apple and onion.)

Take the first pork filet or chop and place it on a flat surface. With one hand, hold the top of the filet or chop flat and with the other carefully insert the point of a sharp knife in the middle and slice a pocket. Don't worry too much if you pierce the side of the pocket, just back the knife up and re-cut the pocket in the center of the meat. Providing you don't absolutely riddle the pocket with holes, the meat will naturally fall back into place and look whole. Repeat with the second filet.

Use a small spoon to carefully insert the stuffing into each of the pockets. Depending on the size of your cutlets, apple and onion you may find you have a little stuffing left over; reserve it for the sauce. Once the pockets are bulging with stuffing, secure them with a toothpick or a small metal skewer. Here is a picture of one of the pork cutlets stuffed and one not.

Put the olive oil in the bottom of an ovenproof pan and spread it around with the meat. Bake in an oven until the apple and onion smell lovely and the pork is cooked through (about 20 minutes). Remove the cutlets from the pan and put them back in the oven on a covered plate to keep warm. (The oven should be turned off.) To make the sauce, place the pan over a medium flame and add the cider. Let it bubble away a bit as you scrape up any bits of pork that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you have any of the minced apple and onion left over, now is the time to add it. There will be a fair amount of juice in the pan from the apple and onion, so let it reduce to about half a cup. Add the mustard and the cream and taste for salt and pepper. It will probably need a generous grinding of both.

Serve with the sauce drizzled over the pork cutlets. I accompanied mine with boiled potatoes with a roast garlic and olive oil dressing and peas. You'll want something - potatoes, rice or bread - to help sop up the delicious mustard-y, creamy, cider sauce!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Food Section Digestion - We Guarawntee!

Well, it's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans so get yourself a frosty hurricane, a mess o' gumbo, and a fistful of beads and follow us on down to the Big Easy...

Where we start this week's digest of food news stories with the New Orleans Times-Picayune and a long line for Friday lunch at Galatoire's, one of New Orleans's top restaurants. Free food? No, it's not free, it's tradition, and it's the last Friday before Fat Tuesday. Judy Walker investigates the krewes of the workplace as business and pleasure mix in offices along the parade routes in New Orleans. Maybe that krewe can put together a mess of beans? Alicia Ross and Beverley Mills offer us a recipe for an Indonesian spicy bean stew I think would work for any Mardi Gras celebration. There is another event happening this week, and I think you know what I mean. Yep, Girl Scout cookies are being sold and Marcelle Bienvenu has worked up some recipes using these addictive fund-raising treats.

Oh, you thought by "another event" I meant that big football game on Sunday? Traditionally the mayors of the Superbowl contending teams bet packs of local merchandise, heavy on the food. ESPN tells us the governors got in on this one but the food bet got ki-bosh'd when Mitt Romney of Massachusetts rejected Penn. governor Ed Rendell's offer of Philly Cheesesteaks as "too fattening". Too fattening? Have you ever been to the Italian section of Boston? There's food there that makes you put on weight just walking past it in a store window! Pfft.

Howard Shapiro at the Philadelphia Inquirer tastes and rates flavored potato chips you can munch on during the game. Marilynn Marter reminds that in addition to being Fat Tuesday, the 8th is also the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and that means banquets are back.

Up in Boston, the Globe's Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven advise readers to celebrate the gladiatorial contest with the Philadelphians with Maple Glazed Chicken Wings. The Globe's wickedly insoucient scribblers also offers up a delightful bit of fluff in Rick Haggerty's guide "How to Eat Like an Eagles Fan". How positively provincial!

Eagles by 4 (Yo, Hinch!).

The Chicago Tribune devotes the front page of its Good Eats section to Robin Mather Jenkins's test of skillets, an essential tool for many of the season's best foods. Bill Daley checks in with some Roscoe Village people (who gets the Indian headdress?) who are using the Internet to shop for wine. DOC? RTFA! ROTFLMAO.

David Bernstein in the New York Times writes about Chicago chef Homaro Cantu. Don't remember seeing Bernstein's name in the Food section before? That's because he's a technology writer writing about Cantu's use of technology in cooking including ink jet sushi. Can I just get a shark steak cooked with a frickin' laser? David Karp sends food freaks into a frenzy tracking down the new varietal lemons he's discovered. Julia Moskin writes about the bitter taste you leave behind in your waiters' mouths.

A bitter waiter might try to scam you, as our own Todd A. Price (aka Todd in New Orleans) discovered in the New Orleans Gambit Weekly when he interviewed the author of How to Burn Down
the House: The Infamous Waiter and Bartender's Scam Bible
, a book that details scams waiters and bartenders pull on their employers and customers. Maybe its the chain, but the picture of the author of the book, R. Chip DeGlinkt, makes him look a little... well, Vanilla Ice.

Walter Nicholls in the Washington Post follows Embassy Row chefs as they acquire the ingredients they cook for diplomatic receptions. Robert L. Wolke delves into the physics of "resting" meat before cutting and serving it. A body at rest tends to remain at rest, I always thought, even if it was a cow.

In San Francisco, Chronicle writer Amanda Byrne gets friends and family to come on over for a Sunday dinner revolving around - television? SF's large Asian population almost guarantees a good recipe or two for Lunar New Year and Olivia Wu obliges with rice cake.

Los Angeles Times writer Jordon Mackay reports that the third annual Madrid-Fusión conference was special not only for the usual Mr. Wizard tricks by Ferran Adrià, but for the fact it featured wine. A Spanish favorite - the blood orange - is now grown near L.A., Susan LaTempa tells us. Mmmm.. Blood Oranges. Double Mmmmm... Blood-Orange Margaritas.

Get yourself a fruity drink and enjoy the seventeen holidays about to descend upon us. February will still feel the full 136 days long, but it might be a bit more tolerable.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:37 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
February 3, 2005
Green Beans with Spiced Almonds

My earliest "cooking" memory is snapping the ends off string beans for my mother. We had one of those cutting boards that pulls out from just under the countertop and she'd place the beans on the board and I'd peek over the board and pinch, snap, or rip off the tails and stems of the beans. I enjoyed the job well enough that I didn't mind eating the vegetable when it was cooked.

I still like green beans, but they do get a little bland if you have them too frequently. I started this dish as a simple green beans with almonds, but my tinkering instinct led me to spice up the almonds which makes this a much more interesting side dish. It went well as a side with pasta in tomato sauce but I think it would go nicely with a pepper crusted steak, a savory chicken dish, or a nice piece of poached salmon.

If you don't like green beans (what?!), you can try just the almonds, but be careful, the oil on them is very hot and conducts heat very well when you first take the nuts out of the pan.

Green Beans with Spiced Almonds
1 pound fresh green beans

4 oz. slivered almonds
2 teaspoons nut oil (hazlenut, walnut, almond, but not peanut oil, which is too strong)
3/4 teaspoon tumeric
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon powdered red pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

olive oil

Snap the ends off the green beans or have a helper do it for you. This is a great cooking job for kids since no knives are needed and you're going to wash the beans afterwards anyway.
Wash the beans, then steam them for 5-10 minutes until they reach the desired softness. I like mine with a bit of crispness left in them, but mostly soft.

While steaming the green beans, place the almonds in a skillet on medium heat. Warm them thoroughly. Add the nut oil and stir.

When the almonds are coated, add the spices and salt and stir together well. Taste an almond and adjust seasonings to taste. You can add pepper if you wish, but fiddling with the tumeric, cumin, and chili powder will produce better results. Watch your heat - you don't want to burn the almonds or smoke the oil.

Once the almonds are toasted and coated, continue to heat until you start to see a whitish foam from the oil, about 45 seconds more. Take the nuts off the heat and get them out of the skillet into a large bowl so they can cool a bit and stop cooking.

When the green beans are done, add them to the bowl with the nuts and toss together. Drizzle olive oil over the beans and serve immediately.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
February 2, 2005
Menu for Hope

Make sure you check out the multi-blog Tsunami relief effort Menu for Hope today. Pim has assembled a team of bloggers to offer Southeast Asian recipes up in an effort to entice you to give to UNICEF's tsunami relief efforts in appreciation.

It's a great cause and just a little from every reader of these food blogs could make a big difference.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 2:30 PM | TrackBack
Tarte Tatin

tatin slice.jpgSing a song of long ago
When things were green
And mornings slow
And people stopped to say "hello"
(Now they say hi to you)

Would you like to come over for tea
With the missus and me?
It's a real nice way to spend a day in Dayton Ohio
On a lazy Sunday afternoon in nineteen hundred and three...

-- Randy Newman, Dayton, OH - 1903

I love having friends over on a Sunday afternoon for tea. It does seem to hearken back to an earlier age. Also, it's a good excuse to bake the kind of sweets that I rarely make for the Critic and myself. (I get enough blame as it is for any weight he puts on...) Last Saturday our friends David and Matina brought over their young son Alexandros, who at eleven weeks was sadly unable to share our tart. (And to be strictly accurate, we drank sparkling wine to celebrate the births of our sons rather than tea.) Still, it was tea-time and a good excuse to light the oven and make a nice slow dessert like tarte tatin.

Tarte Tatin is a good recipe for a lazy Sunday afternoon (in two thousand and five). The timing is fairly relaxed and you shouldn't try to make it under a short deadline. I'm sure it wouldn't work; this is such a lazy pie. If you have the time, though, it's well worth the effort. It only requires the kind of ingredients you are likely to have in your kitchen in the winter: apples, sugar, flour, butter. The recipe I adapted from an epicurious one also used crème fraîche, but, sadly, this fattening item is nearly always in our kitchen too!

Tarte Tatin
For the filling:
3-4 large Golden Delicious apples (or any good baking variety)
1/3 cup butter (about 50 grams)
1/2 cup sugar (about 65 grams)
a sprinkling of cinnamon
For the crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbs sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche or 2 Tbs sour cream (it doesn't heap so well)
flour for dusting and rolling and possibly a teaspoon of ice water

For a true tarte tatin, you'll need a pan that can be used on the stovetop as well as in the oven. I used a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a wooden handle; if you have a cast-iron one it's even better. With a thick metal bottom to your pan, you can slowly create a nice even caramel on the apples. Melt the butter in the bottom of your pan and sprinkle the sugar over it. Swish it around a bit once the sugar starts melting into the butter to make sure you have a nice thick even layer. Peel the apples and core them, but keep them in nice large pieces. Ideally, you should just halve them. (As an aside, I recently saw a Delia Smith show where she said the only reason she keeps a melon-baller in her kitchen is to remove the core from the apples neatly when making a tarte tatin. This sounded very clever to me until I reflected that no one SEES the perfectly cored centers of the apples in a tarte tatin. So still no melon baller in our kitchen and I did just fine with a knife.) Why do you want big pieces of apple? Well, aesthetically they look nicer: in restaurants the pie is made up just apple halves. And practically this makes sense as you are going to end up cooking the apples for a long time and don't want to end up with applesauce.

Place the apples rounded side down in the pan with the sugar and butter and turn up the heat under the pan until it starts to bubble up around the apple pieces. Fit the apples in as snugly as you can as they will shrink in the baking process and you want as much apple as possible on each slice of pie. Click here for a picture of my apples, and note the imperfectly-cored-but-soon-to-be-covered apple half in the center!

Leave the apples to cook slowly while you make the pie crust. Put the butter, flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and process on short bursts until the butter is chopped to the size of small peas. Add the crème fraîche or sour cream and process again until just incorporated. At this point, take the lid off the machine and test whether the dough is going to stick together. (It's hard to tell by looking, so pinch a bit with your fingers.) If necessary, add a teaspoon of cold water and mix again. Turn the dough out of the machine and press lightly together. Cover with plastic wrap or tin foil and put in the refrigerator for half an hour.

While the dough is chilling, check the apples from time to time to make sure they are not browning and that the caramel is not getting too dark. If it is, turn down the heat or remove from the heat entirely. Use a small spoon to capture a bit of the sauce bubbling between the apple pieces to taste. If you are a fidgety kind of cook (I am sometimes) give the pan the occasional shake and turn it around so that you make up for your flame being higher on one side or the other of the hob. I also sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on the apples just before they are done; I'm not sure it's strictly necessary but I find it hard to cook apples without cinnamon. It just goes against the grain!

Ten minutes before the dough has finished chilling, turn on the oven to 200c/375f.

When the dough is chilled, turn off the heat under the apples. Unwrap the dough on a floured surface and roll it out to approximately the size of your pan, maybe a little larger. It doesn't have to be perfect because when you lift the dough onto the pan you'll want to tuck the extra bits down and around the apples. If you are missing a bit in one place, tear off some of the excess from elsewhere.

Some recipes call for pricking the dough and/or glazing it with egg. I don't find either necessary really - it doesn't rise much without the pricking and I like the crumbly texture of the dough. Also, I always think glazing is as much for aesthetic reasons as taste ones and no one sees the underside of the dough, right?

Place the pie in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is golden and cooked through. What with the 40 minutes or so of stove-top stewing, the apples will already be cooked through anyway and the caramel nearly done.

To turn the pie out of the pan, place a large plate over the pan and use oven mitts to turn over pan and plate together. Do not forget (it is so easy to do!) that the handle of your pan is still hot when you have finished. I escaped with a mild singing of the digits; it could have been worse!

When you remove the pie from the oven, some recipes counsel you to wait five minutes before turning the pie out of its pan. Personally, I would not recommend it because if you do, this might happen:


The same recipes will blithely tell you to just lift any missing apple pieces out and place them back on the pie. (Hm, reconstruct the pie?) Alternatively, they tell you to fit the crust back on the pie (in exactly the same placement) and put the pan over a low heat to remelt the caramel so that it will all come loose at once. My suggestion is: don't wait five minutes but turn out the pie while it's hot and still loose.

Okay, it was my own fault for going against common sense. But the end result once I fished the apple pieces out of the pan wasn't that bad. My only regret is the amount of caramel that remained, hardened, in the bottom of the pan.

In any case, this is not a dessert that is meant to look elegant. To my mind, it speaks of farmhouses and good solid peasant cooking. And the proof being in the tasting of the pudding, it was a complete success: sweet, rich and full of apple goodness. Serve warm (but not hot) with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream or plain yogurt to counteract the heavy sweetness of the caramel.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:03 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
February 1, 2005
Scallop Crepes

Mmmmm. Scallops. What is better than scallops? How about crepes filled with scallops drenched in butter with sage, garlic, and onions?

This is not a dish you should eat every day, or even every month, but the damage it does to your waistline should be made up by the healing it does to your soul.

The tomato rice you see with in the photo with the crepes was disappointing and just tomato soup cooked with rice. It might someday develop into something interesting, but for now, ignore it.

The recipe for the actual crepe wrapper for this dish is taken from Deborah Madison's amazing Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I've rewritten the instructions to point out some traps one coudl easily fall into. If you want the no-doubt-better original version of this recipe, go get her book. Trust me, even if you're a carnivore you should have this book in your collection.

The filling is my own, based on a common sage/butter sauce. My next task is to make this recipe again, cutting the butter down significantly while retaining the flavor.

For now, however, enjoy the original in all its decadent artery-clogging glory.

Scallop Crepes

(from a recipe by Deborah Madison)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons melted butter

Combine ingredients and blend or whisk until smooth. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, and preferably overnight.

Heat a 7" crepe pan and brush it with a little butter or oil once it's hot. When it sizzles, pour in a scant 1/4 cup of the batter. Pour directly in the center of the pan and keep pouring in the same spot. Do not try to cover the surface pan with the inital pour. Instead, immediately swirl the batter in the pan to spread it thin around the whole bottom of the pan.

Cook for about 1-2 minutes until the bottom of the crepe is golden brown. You may need to adjust the heat up or down as you cook to make sure your crepes cook all the way through, but without burning. Flip with a spatula or wooden crepe flipper. Crepe flippers (my name for them) look like long flat 3" wide tools with a blunt diamond tip useful for flipping and lifting the edges of the crepes to check for doneness.

Let the crepe cook on the second side just until set, about 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your heat setting.

Take the crepe off and set it on a plate in an oven set to 100-150 F to keep warm while you finish the batch. The first crepe won't come out, most likely, but taste it to check for salt levels in the batter and adjust seasoning to taste.

Scallop Filling:

1 pound bay scallops
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper to taste.
3 tablespoons AP flour
1 onion, cut in thin half circles
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup white wine

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add olive oil to the skillet and heat over medium heat until butter foams. Add sage, onions and garlic and sweat the onions until they go translucent, but before they take on color. Add flour and stir well with a wooden spoon to thicken. Grind in a good dose of pepper and cook about 2 minutes to get rid of that raw flour taste.

Add scallops to pan and mix in. Sautee over medium heat about 45 seconds. Add white wine and stir well, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan.

When the scallops are just about done (as many as 5 minutes longer depending on size and freshness of scallops), take the pan off the heat and let sit for 45 seconds. The sauce will thicken and the scallops will finish cooking from carryover heat. Season to taste.

To serve: on a platter, lay down a crepe and fill it with 1/6-1/8 of the scallop mix (your preference). Fold over like a taco. Lay another crepe on top and repeat until crepes and scallop mix are done. If you wish, you may grate parmesan over the whole shebang.

Serve with a vegetable side.

The sauce this produces feels like a cheesy sauce, but there is no cheese in it (except what you might add on top at the end). Subtract some or all of the flour if you prefer a thinner sage butter sauce.

Wedges of lemon might also go with this dish.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:22 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
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