March 31, 2005
Petit Salé Anglais

petit sale.jpgPetit Salé is a hearty peasant dish that is claimed by many regions of France. I've seen Burgundy, Auvergne and Picardy claim to have the authentic version. The basic ingredients are the same in all, though: lentils and some kind of pork or cured meat. Like all peasant fare, it can vary between "heavy-greasy-gristle-laden" and "elegant-savoury-hearty". When it's the latter, it's delicious, a wonderful filling winter dinner. Personally, I love lentils. In college, I used to make an amazing lentil soup that miraculously turned solid overnight. (Little did I know I was essentially making a French dish called petit salé.) My dear Critic, however, is not a huge fan of lentils and so in order to make them palatable to him, I recently paired them with English sausages (which he loves). It was a success, making a hearty end-of-winter healthy meal.

Petit Salé Anglais

Salé means salty, so the name of this dish comes from the salt pork or other salt-cured meat you serve with the lentils. Lentils can be a bit bland, so it's as well to remember the origin of the name: you need something with a bit of flavour to jazz up the beans.

1 cup dried lentils
1 carrot
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
celery salt
2 cups chicken broth
1 Tbs mustard
2-3 Tbs balsamic vinegar
6-8 sausages
butter
salt, pepper, dried sage

Chop the onion and garlic and sauté in a bit of butter. When they are limp and soft, add the lentils and the stock. Bring to a boil and in the meantime dice the carrot and add to the mix. Once the lentils have cooked (about 20 minutes) taste for seasoning and be generous with the salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the mustard and vinegar.

While the lentils are cooking, grill the sausages under the broiler or grill element on your oven. I place a cake cooling grill over a deep pan to catch the fat as it runs off. Turn them frequently to brown on all sides.

By the time the sausages are browned on all sides and cooked through your lentils will be finished. Serve the lentils in shallow bowls with the sausages perched on top. You could cut them in pieces for your diners, but the sausages would cool off that way and it would take away from the rustic simplicity of the dish. Don't you love how the phrase "rustic simplicity" allows infinite laziness?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:52 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
March 29, 2005
Dandelion Salad with Daikon "Scallops"


This salad owes its genesis to two factors - it was served with scallops, and the dandelion greens at Whole Paycheck looked really good last week.

Let me explain. I'm a fan of bitter greens when mixed with the right complimentary ingredients. Bitter is one of the major flavors we taste on our tongue, and stimulating those tastebuds can add as much to a dish as stimulating the sweet, sour, salty, or umami tastebuds. Dandelions are quite bitter and the ones on sale at Whole Foods (Paycheck) looked like spring incarnate.

The scallops explain the daikon. I wanted a salad to go with a recipe involving miso glazed scallops. Just below the dandelions were some nice daikon radishes. I looked at the long white radish batons and pictured them cut up into 1" cross sections. They might look an awful lot like scallops and tie the salad into the scallop dish.

So here's the result. I encourage you to go buy some dandelion greens and make a salad with a bitter bite. Balance the bitter with some other flavors as I've done here and you won't be disappointed.

Dandelion Salad with Daikon "Scallops"
1 8" long daikon radish, peeled
olive oil, salt and pepper

1 big bunch of dandelion greens cleaned well (I recommend soaking in a big bowl of cold water)
1 green granny smith apple, cut into 16 wedges, core removed.
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel the diakon and cut it into 3/4" rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet, sprinkle olive oil on and season with a bit of salt and a lot of fresh ground pepper. Bake in a 350 F oven for 30-40 minutes until radish is a little firmer than fork tender. Remove from oven and set aside.

When you cut the apple, you may want to immerse the slices in water that has a bit of lemon in it to prevent the apple from turning brown.

Cut the dandelion greens into manageable pieces - maybe cut in half or thirds. Add apples and toss.

Combine lemon juice and olive oil, whisking vigorously. Taste and add salt and pepper to your preference.

Toss salad with dressing and place daikon "scallops" on top. Serve as a starter with a scallop dish or as a faux scallop dish of it's own.

The savory, salty daikon, bitter dandelions, and sweetly tart green apples work together with the simple dressing to hit all the major tastebuds in your mouth. I think there's even a bit of umami flavor in the daikon.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Four star restauranteur foie gras SMACK-DOWN!

Bling-master TrotterMad Dog Rick TramontoSo yo, check it out - The Trib today has an article by Mark Caro on the front page about foie gras - Why Mark Caro and not Bill Daley I don't know - Mark Caro is all good and stuff but he's the entertainment reporter and he's all up in food guy Bill Daley's hood with this story - you know what I'm sayin', dog? But I digress.

Anyway, world famous his-onions-don't-stink Charlie Trotter comes out and he's all "I ain't serving foie gras 'cause it's all cruel and stuff," and Rick Tramonto from Tru says "You better be serving foie gras bizzitch," and Charlie Trotter's all like "Sez who?" and Rick Tramonto gets up in Charlie Trotter's buisness and says "Oh you are such a ho, you're just doing this to get more bling." and Charlie Trotter's all like "No way." and Rick Tramonto is like "Yeah way." and Charlie Trotter says, "If I was a ho I'd have shouted this out three years ago, and maybe we should serve some of your liver up as a snack since you so damn fat!" and Rick Tramonto's like "I know you didn't just go there!" and Charlie Trotter's like "Mmm-Hmm" and Rick Tramonto's like "Well you're in my prayers," but you know he was thinking that "You're in my prayers" was Rick Tramonto code for "You better not be starting your own car for a while, biatch."

Top flight foodies bicker and it ends up on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. The de-Vanilla-Iced version of the article appears here, and includes input from Alinea's Grant Achatz, food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, Le Francais's Roland Liccioni, and the Prarie Grass cafe's Sarah Stegner along with a guest appearance by California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Word.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:50 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
March 28, 2005
Goma-ae (or Goma-easy, if you ask me)

Goma-Ae I spy:
Green, bright and quite delicious
Sesame and soy

Goma-ae is a common appetizer in American Japanese restaurants where it is done up with a peanutty sauce that is too thick and that obliterates the spinach and sesame flavors. I suspected the heavy hand of American retauranteering on the dish and I think I was right.

I found several versions of goma-ae on the web and synthesized those into this simple version. The bright green color of the spinach is retained and the sweet sake and sesame flavors filter through the dominant spinach. It takes about three minutes to make, so give it a whirl as an appetizer or first course next time you serve Asian food.

Goma-ae
16 ounces fresh spinach, bundled
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake or plum wine
1/2 teaspoon lemon (optional) or rice wine vinegar (also optional)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

You can use untoasted or toasted sesame seeds and oil for this dish as you prefer.

Put a large pot of water on the boil. Wash your spinach very well, keeping it tied together in a bundle. I usually soak the spinach in a big bowl of cold water, changing the water a couple of times.

When the water in the pot is boiling, remove the spinach from the cold water bowl, dump out th edirty water, and clean the bowl, then fill the bowl with very cold tap or ice water.

Lower the spinach bundle into the boiling water. Keep it in there for about 30-45 seconds. Remove the spinach when its turned a beautiful bright green and plunge it into the ice water bath. This should stop the spinach from cooking and let it retain its bright green coloring.

In a mortar, grind the sesame seeds into a paste-like consistency. Whick together in a small bowl the sesame oil, soy sauce, sake, and optional lemon/rice wine vinegar. Add the mortar crushed seeds to the sauce and stir more.

Remove the spinach from the ice water and drain it. Remove the bundling tie and chop the spinach finely, then mix with the sauce.

Form the goma-ae into small stacks in the middle of a plate and serve or put in small ramekins to form into low cylindars in the refrigerator.

I don't recommend frozen spinach for this dish. Fresh is required. Other than that, the recipe isn't very fussy and can take a bit more or less of any of the ingredients to suit your tastes. This version serves four very minimalist appetizers. Double or half proportionally to serve more people, or go crazy and double up the portions.

Serve cold.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
March 26, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Read for me these posts of three 'ere the other side you'll see. What is your name? What is your quest? What is the perfect recipe for Easter?

The answers come this week from three diverse blogs:

A. Start with breakfast and Jimmy's Shortbread Waffles from Orangette. Ingredients - butter, sugar, sugar, butter, eggs, sugar, flour, butter, lemon juice, butter, sugar, and maple syrup. Wow.

1. A midday snack can be had if you follow a recipe from Delicious! Delicious! for bierocks, a bun filled with meat and cabbage I had never heard of before. Surprising, since I found a description of bierocks as "A characteristic and portable food of the Volga Germans on the American plains..." My Lutheran ancestors ate these and didn't tell me about it? Of course, I'm not sure Minnesota counts as the plains. More tundra-like, really.

I. Forget ham, forget lamb, forget spam and quince jam. Instead try some stinging nettle frittata from spicetart. A plant that cause welts that then fills you up and makes your tummy happy? Maybe next week we'll work on that poison ivy ice cream, but for now-

Ta ta.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:50 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
March 25, 2005
O'Leary Family Egg Casserole

On Palm Sunday we invited a few friends over for brunch. I knew I wanted an excuse to make muffins for the April edition of Is My Blog Burning? and it seems like we don't see our friends as often as we'd like since the Critic started a new job with marathon hours. So we sent out invitations and I started scouring recipe books for good muffin recipes and defrosting sausages. I didn't have to do any research to come up with an egg dish, because I have a fantastic recipe which came to me from my sister's in-laws: the O'Leary Family Christmas Egg Casserole.

Christmas? Well, the reason I know and love this dish is that it's a tradition in the O'Leary family to make it for Christmas breakfast. When I spend Christmas in the Chicago area, we usually have breakfast with my sister's family before going on to the main party. Not only is it delicious, but it's ideal for Christmas morning, in that you prepare it the night before and put it directly in a hot oven from the refrigerator: minimal work for a very busy morning!

Of course you could always have them for EASTER too...Happy Easter everyone!

O'Leary Family Egg Casserole

12 eggs
6 slices of white bread
4 cups milk
2 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp salt
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 lbs cooked sausage meat (preferably spicy)

You can crumble the sausage meat as you cook it, or - as I usually do - just cook the sausages and zap them in a food processor until they ressemble rough breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs well, add the milk, mustard powder and salt. Shred the bred in small pieces and add it with the cheese and drained sausage meat. Mix well and pour into a large greased casserole and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. Bake for an hour at 350f/180c. Let it rest a few minutes before serving.

This is the classic version and it's delicious. You really do need to let it rest, as it allows the egg to properly soak into the bread and give it a substantial texture. If you skip the resting period, the eggs become rubbery and the bread isn't integrated in the dish. The eggs are so good this way that I know of two egg-haters who nevertheless love the dish!

Variations on a theme
Of course this casserole is an ideal platform for creative tinkering. For my Palm Sunday brunch, I divided the eggs into two batches in order to make a vegetarian version. Instead of sausage, the second version had a cup of steamed spinach and a half cup of roast red pepper sauce drizzled over the top. As you can see in the photo, it was much prettier. It was also delicious!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
March 24, 2005
My Little Muffin(s): Is My Blog Burning? 13th edition

coconut banana muffin.jpgLiving in Paris, muffins are not something I have the opportunity to eat very often. In fact, over the last decade "muffin" has come be synonymous in my little brain with what I used to call "English muffin". (In a reciprocal way I now find myself specifying "sweet corn" where I once would have just said "corn". It's all my husband's fault!) Anyway, the topic of this month's Is My Blog Burning? gave me the chance to re-acquaint myself with my old friend the muffin. I had forgotten how good they can be, and how easy to whip together: this was a friendship that should never have died. So thank you to Makiko at i was just really very hungry for hosting and coming up with a great theme!

The only real problem was narrowing down the choices. In the end I opted for a banana coconut one because I had a banana that needed to be used before my trip to Chicago and an apple spiced one because it's my favorite kind of muffin. The banana one turned out very well and was an unusual combination. But the apple one was the clear favorite. I served them at a brunch over the weekend and at the end there were three banana muffins left, but no apples.

However, don't let the statistics fool you - this is a seriously good muffin. It had a perfect texture, a little dense but not too heavy. The coconut and banana complimented each other perfectly. It was also the prettiest, as you can see in the photos!

Coconut Banana Muffins (makes 6-8 muffins)

3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 very ripe bananas, mashed (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/ cup creamed coconut

Mash the banana with the sugar until smooth. Add the egg, the creamed coconut and the vanilla and mix well. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just mixed. Pour into lined or greased cupcake molds, two-thirds of the way, and bake in a medium oven (350f/180c) until brown and firm (about 25 minutes). Serve warm with a nice cup of tea!


The apple muffins are truly the apple of my eye however. They had a light crumbly top and a dense moist apple body, truly satisfying. The only change I would make from the ones pictured here would be to use the cupcake liners. The banana coconut muffin would have survived without the liners better; with the apple ones, I was worried about losing precious crumbs in the bottom of the muffin tims. Still, the taste and texture were fabulous.

Apple Crumble Muffins

For the muffins:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted plus 1 Tbs butter
2 apples
1/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts (3 1/2 oz), coarsely chopped

For the topping:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Core, peel and chop the apples in small pieces. Fry them in the tablespoon of butter for a few minutes, then add the apple juice. Let simmer until the apples are tender and the apple juice has been absorbed. Set aside to cool. Cream the remaining butter and the sugar until smooth. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Add the apple mixture and stir. Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the wet ingredients. Stir until just barely mixed and pour into cupcake liners.

Mix together the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the unbaked muffins. Place in a medium oven (350f/180c) and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when you test it. The apples will keep the muffins moist, so don't worry too much about overbaking. This muffin was more of a coffee muffin to my mind, but actually it would be good with anything, even a tall glass of cold milk!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
March 23, 2005
Grilled Tuna with Roast Pepper Sauce and Garlicky Beans

tuna and beans.jpgI have to be honest. Although I thought this combination was fantastic, full of flavour and pizzazz, my Critic wasn't wild about it. Too French, he said. Next time I'll sprinkle some hot pepper flakes on his portion and I'll bet he raves about it. But for those of you who do not observe the ABF (Anything But French) rule, it's a great combination.

Smoky red peppers keep the tuna from being too dry. The garlicky, mustard-y beans are serious comfort food and compliment the flavors perfectly. It's just the kind of meal to make you think of sunny Provence and the sunshine that is finally starting to clear our minds of winter cobwebs.

Grilled Tuna with Roast Red Pepper Sauce and Garlicky Beans

2 tuna steaks

1 large red pepper
1 clove garlic
1 Tbs fresh or frozen chopped basil
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs olive oil
12 (one tin) anchovies

2 cups cooked white beans (I used a jar for convenience and they were great)
1 Tbs chopped garlic (1-2 cloves)
1 heaping tablespoon sharp mustard
3 tablespoons of your best olive oil (I used the oil from my friend Sam's groves in Australia, Rowallan Olive Oil)
1/2 cup roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
juice of half a lemon

Cut the red pepper in half and remove the seeds and the white bits from the inside. Place them skin side up on a cookie sheet and slide under the broiler or grill element on your oven. (Alternatively, you can hold them over a flame on the stovetop, but it will mean you can't just leave them to cook on their own while you do other things!) When the skin has burned black and the flesh is tender (about 15 minutes) remove the halves to a plastic bag. Tie the bag tightly and put it in the refrigerator to cool for a few minutes. When you can handle the pepper halves, remove them from the bag and carefully peel away the skin. Some of the unblackened bits may not want to come away; just leave them as they'll get processed anyway. Put the pepper, garlic and basil in a blender or the small container of your immersion blender and whizz until you have a smooth paste. Chop half the anchovies and mix into the sauce, reserving the remainder for garnishing. You might want to add a little olive oil if you like your sauce thinner.

While the peppers are cooling, start your beans. Rinse the beans if they are the store-bought variety and cover them barely with water. Add the garlic and bring to a boil. They will start smelling garlicky and tempting. Turn down the heat to a simmer until you are nearly ready to serve them. Just before serving, drain the beans and stir in the mustard,olive oil, lemon juice and parsley. The parsley will wilt with the heat of the beans, a bit like spinach. Taste for seasoning; depending on your beans it may need a generous dose of salt.

To prepare the tuna steaks, heat a grill pan until it is nearly smoking. Brush them with olive oil and cook them until they are just barely done. I know it's fashionable to serve tuna seared on the outside and raw on the inside, but personally I prefer keeping my sushi and cooked tuna in separate dishes. I like it just barely pink in the middle, so that the fish is still nice and juicy and tender but the texture is consistent throughout the steak.

Drizzle the sauce over the steaks and lay a few anchovies on top. Dish up the beans on the side and enjoy an extremely tasty mediterranean meal. (Sorry, but I don't agree with my Critic on this one!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 22, 2005
Cheesy Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Spinach and artichoke dip is almost cliche these days, ready to be relegated to the land of popular badly made foods along with bloomin' onions, buffalo wings, and popplers (ok, the last one's fictitious, but you get the point). This is not your classic spinach artihoke dip with loads of mayonnaise, ranch dressing, and canned water chestnuts. In fact, you can use this dip in many ways. So far, I've made a lovely soup out of it, the recipe for which is unfortunately too small to fit in the margins. Kidding. I'll post the soup recipe such as it is in a day or so.

The backbone of this dip is the cheese and the sour cream. The muscle is the spinach, and the heart is of course the artichoke. I think the garlic probably makes up the naughty bits, but that's neither here nor there.

This is a large batch of dip, but if you make it and have leftovers I'll help you with those over the next week.

You can use marinated canned artichoke hearts or fresh, but unless it's artichoke season fresh will be very expensive, and I find an unpleasant taste to the canned hearts.

Cheesy Spinach Dip
3 10 oz. packages of frozen chopped spinach
2 10 oz. packages of frozen artichoke hearts.
3 cups shredded sharp white cheddar
16 oz. light sour cream
1 cup shredded Romano
1 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 bar (4 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3 big cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Defrost and squeeze all the water you can out of the spinach and artichokes. Chop artichokes finely and drain again.

In a very large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir/mash together until well mixed. If mix seems too dense, add more sour cream or plain yogurt until you get desired consistency.

Spoon the resulting mix into a large casserole and bake covered at 375 F for 50 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 10 minutes more.

Serve with pita wedges, garlic toasts, bagel chips, or corn chips. You can also fill a bread bowl with the dip, but it's a little dense to use soft breads to dip into it.

The density comes from all the cheese ingredients that make it great.

This makes a HECK of a lot of dip. Best for parties or to create useful leftovers.

Sorry no pic today - My power went out just as I was about to load the picture to the net. I'll update the post later so you can see the dip in its spinachy glory.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:05 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
March 20, 2005
Cheese and Onions

cheese and onion cooked.jpgI have always thought
In the back of my mind, Cheese and Onions
I have always thought
That the world was unkind, Cheese and Onions
Do I have to spell it out?
C-H-E-E-S-E-A-N-D-O-N-I-O-N-S-Oh no
My machine
Keep yourself clean
I'll be a has-been...

- The Rutles

Is there a more perfect combination than cheese and onions? I don't think so. Pickled onions and sharp cheddar cheese. Brie and soft buttery onions. One of the first recipes I posted to this site was Nigel Slater's Brie and Onion Tart and Barrett followed up a while later with a couple of twists, making the crust himself and adding balsamic vinegar (nice one Barrett!). I've been trying to clean out the fridge prior to a trip to Chicago and experimented with another cheese and onion combination: Beaufort, Blue and Onion Tart.

Beaufort, Blue and Onion Tart (Variation #3 on a Cheese and Onion Tart)

5 small onions
3 shallots
1 1/2 cups grated Beaufort cheeese
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort blue cheese
1 puff pastry
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs dried thyme

Slice the onions in thick wedges and the shallots in quarters length-wise and sauté them for 10-15 minutes in the butter. Add the thyme and continue cooking until the onions and shallots are soft and starting to color slightly. Remove from the fire. Unroll the puff pastry and trace a faint line in the dough about an inch from the edge. Spread the onions on the dough up to the line and sprinkle with the two cheeses. Bake in a hot oven (200c/425f) for 30 minutes or so, until the dough is crsipy and brown and the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing and serving.

I was amazed how good this tart was. I really didn't think I could find a better partner for my onions than the Brie, but the Beaufort and Blue combination may have done it. The Beaufort has more body to it and the blue cheese is salty and a perfect partner. So that's three French cheeses down and only 362 (give or take a few) to go...I'm going to have to try them all to determine which is best. It's amazing the lengths we will go to here at Too Many Chefs to find the perfect Cheese and Onion combination for our readers!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:58 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
Eating out in Paris - Part II

View from our living roomI received another request recently from a fellow blogger for restaurant recommendations for an upcoming visit to Paris. When I came to look at the list I posted last month, I realised that I had inexplicably left off some very good restaurants. On the premise that you can never recommend too many good restaurants, I thought I'd better write another post on some more of our favourites.

Whereas last time I wrote about restaurants I plundered my own memory and my personal address book, this time I consulted one of my favourite restaurant guides for Paris: The Guide Routard: Restos & Bistros de Paris. If you can read a bit of French, I highly recommend this series of guidebooks. They are written for the 20- and 30-somethings who are looking for good cheap eats and a straight-dope attitude to the restaurants. The writing style is relaxed and informal and the only down side to the guide books is that once a restaurant finds its way into their list it is no longer the best kept secret in Paris.

In the spirit of the Independent Food Festival and Awards, I have chosen somewhat quirky titles for these restaurants:

Best wine list in town

Les Bouchons de François Clerc
12 rue Hotel Colbert
75005 Paris

François Clerc has several restaurants in Paris, all called "Les Bouchons" but this one in the fifth is the most charming. It's right near the river in the Latin Quarter. The food is very good - elegant, traditional French - but the wine list is superb. He makes a point of selling the wine at very little above cost, which means you are basically paying what you would in a supermarket (i.e. about a third of what most restaurants charge). When my husband and I had New Year's Eve dinner at his restaurant in the 16th it was 100 euros for a six course meal with at least a glass of wine per course. It wasn't cheap, but it was delicious and it was a very good deal!

A great place to have a glass of wine while exploring the area between Bastille and Républic

Le Clown Bar
114 rue Amelot
75011 Paris
metro Filles du Calvaire

This place has really rustic peasant food at a reasonable price. Actually, it's just a great place to stop for a glass of wine and a snack. The decor is fantastic, all ceramic tiles of clowns and posters. It's right next door to the winter circus which is a fantastic structure, a remarkable 19th century building which looks like a big permanent Big Tent. If you visit Paris between November and March, definitely try to catch a show. It's almost worth it just to get a glimpse of the inside of the building, but the circus is always very good too. The Critic and I have been going every year for four years now!

Best place to get a steak and sample food from Auvergne

La Galoche D'Aurillac
41, rue de Lappe
75011 Paris
metro Bastille

The Auvergne region is known for its beef and its delicious cheeses and if you want to sample them this is the place. Do not take a vegetarian here as the owners will be offended (as will the vegetarian). Back in the pre-veggie days of Barrett I took him and our friend Tom here and ten years later they are still raving about the 900g steak. Due to the amount of wine we all consumed our memories are a bit hazy but we remember the size of the steak and how delicious it all was. It has loads of atmosphere too, with wooden shoes hanging from the ceiling and artisan musical instruments hanging from the walls. It's not cheap (38 euros for the menu, including wine) but it's really good and very authentic Auvegnat cuisine. Try some of the charcuterie with your wine (dried sausages and hams) and if they have aligot (mashed potatoes mixed with cream and aligot cheese - it's heavenly!) make sure to order it with your steak.

If you want to see a charming corner of Paris afterwards (or before) check out the passage de l'Homme at 26 rue de Charonne around the corner. It's where my friend Alain Hollard has his ateliers (he's a vernisseur, antiques restorer) and it's a beautiful courtyard paved with big stones and dripping with grape vines. The neighborhood traditionally housed woodworkers, gilders, varnishers and other artisans connected to the furniture trade though these days they have mostly been squeezed out by the young and trendy.

A most romantic Polish restaurant

Le Ravaillac
10, rue Roi de Sicile
75004 Paris
metro St. Paul

I have been going there for nearly ten years now. It's a Polish restaurant with really good pierogi and goulashes and wiener schnitzel and sausages (of course). When you enter it looks like a bar, but there are stairs to the dining room upstairs. I love this place - it's cheap and very good and a very romantic place with candles only providing the lighting upstairs.

A great place to have a glass of wine in Montmartre

Le Sancerre
35, rue des Abesses
75018 Paris
tel. 01 42 58 47 05
metro Abesses

This lively café has great snack food and great wines and in sunny weather you can sit outside on the sidewalk and watch the world go by. It's a great meeting place for friends and from there you can head up the hill to Sacré Coeur or just wander the streets looking at all the kooky stuff. There is a little shop devoted to angels as you walk along rue Yvonne le Tac/rue Tardieu towards the funicular which is very cute. A great alternative to the place du Tertre, which is pretty but touristy and recommended by all the guide books!

Restaurant with the most historical interest

Le Procope
13, rue de l'Ancienne Comédie
75006 Paris
tel. 01 40 46 79 00
metro Odéon

This is the oldest restaurant in Paris. According to my Routard, it was opened in 1686 by a certain Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, who brought with him from his native Italy a strange new drink known as coffee. In the 18th century philosophers gathered there by the bushel-load and according to legend it's where Diderot and Alembert came up with the idea of writing an encyclopaedia. In any case, many many famous people have sipped coffee and dined there in the last three hundred and some years and many of them have left their mark (literally) on the walls. And the food? It's good standard French fare. You probably won't leave feeling you've been rooked, but neither will you think it was the best meal of your trip. On the other hand, the decor and the atmosphere and the very fact that it still exists make it worth a trip!

Best place to impress an eleven-year-old girl

Altitude 95
Champ de Mars
75007 Paris
tel. 01 45 55 20 04
metro Champ de Mars

The Eiffel Tower - where else? Actually, the Critic and I were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food here when we took his daughter last summer. We found the recommendation in a guide book to Paris for kids and it was a complete success. You'll need to telephone in advance to reserve; ask for a table by the window when you do. We had one looking out over the Palais de Chaillot at sunset and the view was stunning. My stepdaughter was enchanted and declared it "The best meal I ever had" (no compliment to me or her mum!). The cost was about 35 euros per person for starters and main dishes and drinks, but you also have to count on the ticket to the first level of the Eiffel tower. You can bypass the usual lines for tickets, though, by going to the ticket office marked "Altitude 95".

So there you have it: another selection of Paris destinations and just in time for the beautiful weather and the tourist season!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:37 AM | Comments (49) | TrackBack
March 19, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

You pick three Posts of the Week and what do you get? Another day older and more crap from your younger friends. I'm looking at YOU, Bryan.

Yes, yesterday was my birthday and I turned 29. For the 10th time. Ouch. Sorry, that thud you just heard was my transmission dropping. The food blogosphere sent me three lovely presents this week and here they are:

I. Deepfry over at Yum! stumbles across a grilled doughnut. That sounds disgusting! That sounds gross! And fatty! And sugary! And I think I need a dozen!!

A. The incomparable Elise at Simply Recipes shares a childhood trauma; the incessant arguing between her parents about - you guessed it - about how to make the best hash browns. Her dad is right, of course, as men usually are about matters of the breakfast potato. (Can't wait to see the reaction we get on THAT comment...)

1. And because it was my birthday yesterday (yes, for real real; not for play play), I'm abandoning my usual restraint and awarding the first ever Post of the Week for our own site to Meg in Paris's Bailey's Irish Cream Cake because what's a birthday without cake? We've been getting a lot of links to that recipe and I can certainly see why.

Come back next week when we examine if a 39 year old with fading eyesight is more or less likely to take off a pinkie while chopping onions.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
March 18, 2005
Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake


Click for bigger picture

My wife is a runner, as is Paul from Locussolus and this site. They run about the same pace, and last night they ran together to help my wife get in shape for the upcoming Shamrock Shuffle.

I knew they'd want something carb-friendly when they returned so I put together a vegetable laden cheesy pasta bake that was light and delicious. I was certain I'd made way too much of the stuff, but between the three of us, 80% of the dish disappeared, leaving a lunch friendly 20% for leftovers.

The celery may seem skimpy for so much food, but it adds a nice subtle flavor to the dish. I recommend baking this in a shallow large lasagna pan for best results.

Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake

8 oz. penne pasta
handful of salt

2 stalks of broccoli, florets from both, long stem from one
1 yellow onion, diced
4 plum tomatoes
1 8 oz. package of button mushrooms
1 1/2 stalks celery

2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablesppon marjoram

8 oz. mozarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese.

Cut up broccoli into 1" bite sized florets and thin 1/4" wide chunks of broccoli stem. Reserve the stem from the second stalk of broccoli for another use. It's important to get the stems thin so they cook in the same time as the florets.

Quarter the mushrooms and cut the tomatoes into 12 pieces by cutting them into quarters lengthwise then into thirds across.

Slice the celery VERY thinly. We want it to give up most of its moisture in the sautee and be more of a spice than a star ingredient.

Put on a big pot of water to boil. Toss in a small handful of salt so the water approaches the saltiness of the sea. Bring to a boil and put the penne in for 10-12 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta and set aside. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Heat the oil in a big sautee pan on high heat. Add onions and let sweat for two minutes. Add the broccoli and celery and continue sauteeing for three more minutes.

Add mushrooms, marjoram, vinegar, and butter and stir together. The mushrooms will suck up most of the moisture. Sautee for 3 more minutes.

Add tomatoes, stir and sautee for about two minutes more. In a large bowl, mix the pasta and vegetables together. Salt and pepper to taste, though the pasta should add enough salt to the dish by itself.

Spoon the mix into the casserole/lasagna dish. Cover the top of the mix with mozarella, then sprinkle the parmesan over the top of that evenly.

Put the mix in the oven and bake for 17-20 minutes until the top is golden brown and a little crunchy.

Remove from the oven and let sit for a minute or two before serving. It will be hot inside so be careful and don't burn yourself.

Goes well with a simple salad and a Spanish red wine (well, that's how we ate it, anyway).

I'll be walking the 5K while Rebecca runs the 8K, so maybe we'll both need another helping of this dish come April 3rd.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:20 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
March 17, 2005
Food Digest

Happy St. Patrick's Day and welcome back to our digest of the food news across America. I know we've been missing in action for the last two weeks. We weren't on vacation, unfortunately, just working too hard. On the with the news.

The Napa Valley Register champions rosé wine. No need to be embarrassed anymore.

Out in Oregon, they've discovered something called a "food blog." My goodness, what kind of crazy thing will pop up next on the internets.

Pinot Noir was the darling of last year, but the Reno Gazette says that Rhone varietals will be the stars of 2005.

The Toledo Blade demystifies herbes de Provence. For readers who don't have time for the article, it's a, um, basic spice mixture.

The New York Times reports on St. Joseph's Day, an Italian holiday when food dominates the celebration. Matt and Ted Lee bring the Low Country's outdoor oyster grilling to the inside of a New York apartment. Mark Bittman makes tough meat tender. And the new film Modovino has polarized the French wine world, according to Eric Asimov.

My pal Sara Roahen tells the story of a New Orleans St. Joseph altar in the Gambit Weekly.

In the Los Angeles Times, Russ Parsons reports on the search for the perfect strawberry. L.A.'s top culinary talent is crafting their own versions of lollipops and goldfish crackers. In what borders on heresy, Regina Schrambling calls lardons better than bacon. David Shaw provides more information about the Mondovino controversy. Finally, some innovative dishes are so good that other restaurants can't help but copy them.

The Washington Post unlocks the secrets of the tandoor. Robert L. Wolke gives us the skinny on trans fats.

Chicago knows about beef, and the Chicago Tribune knows about flatiron steak.

Speaking of beef, S.F. Gate discovers flap meat, the butcher's secret.

The Boston Globe wonders if you can get a good bagel in Bean Town.

Newsday eats a few dozen doughnuts, that other bread with a hole in the middle. Your Shwarma might be a wad of factory processed meat, they also warn.

That's it for this week. We promise to bring you another exciting installment in more or less seven days. If you know a good food section we're not covering, drop us a note in the comments.

Posted by Todd in New Orleans at 9:22 PM | Comments (2)
Bailey's Irish Cream Cake

Irish cake.jpgMany years ago when I was just a lass, I loved Bailey's Irish cream. Coming from an Irish-American family in the Chicago area, it was ubiquitous at family gatherings and in the days before I discovered the delights of good wine and single malt whisky, it seemed like heaven in a glass. Sickly sweet with a little punch, yum. I had all but forgotten my obsession after a few years away from the family bosom until my aunt proudly brought out a bottle a while back at a party my mother was throwing. "Look, I brought your favorite!" Well, we all make mistakes when we are young, and this was hardly the worst of mine.

Actually, I still have a lingering liking for it and generally buy a bottle at Christmas out of nostalgia. And I thought of that bottle I bought at Christmas as St. Patrick's day approached and resolved to use it in a cake, a proper St. Patrick's day cake.

Unfortunately, I am not the Domestic Goddess. (Does anyone remember the fantastic frosting job she did on her entry for the Cake Walk edition of Is My Blog Burning? It looked seriously professional.) Despite my best efforts, my cakes always end up with that obviously-home-made look. Perhaps some day I'll take the time to take lessons; in the meantime, I concentrate on the flavor.

This one is a seriously good one flavor-wise. Rich, creamy, chocoloate-y and full of that indefinable Bailey's taste. It has a little Bailey's in the frosting, but not enough to make the kids drunk. But then again, why share when you have a good excuse not to?

Bailey's Irish Cream Cake

For the cake:
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
6 Tbs Bailey's Irish Cream
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C and butter and lightly flour two nine inch cake pans. Put the chocolate to melt over a low heat with the Bailey's and the brown sugar. Stir often to blend to a smooth mixture. In the meantime, cream the butter with the sugar. Add the eggs one by one. Sift the dry ingredients over a piece of waxed paper or another bowl. Add the milk and the dry ingredients gradually to the egg/sugar/butter mixture, alternating wet and dry. Once they are completely incorporated, add the chocolate mixture. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 35 minutes, allow to cool ten minutes in the pans and then turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling.

For the filling:
90 cl (3/4 cup) whipping cream
3 Tbs Bailey's Irish Cream
2 Tbs powdered sugar

Whip the cream until it forms lovely peaks. Fold in the powdered sugar and the Baileys. When the cakes are cool, place one flat side up on a cake plate and heap the cream in the center, reserving about half a cup for the frosting. Place the second cake, flat side down on the cream.

For the frosting:
1/3 cup (90g) butter
about 2 cups powdered sugar
1 heaping Tbs cocoa powder
reserved cream from above

Beat the butter with the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder and cream. If it seems a little dry, add a tablespoon of milk. If it seems a little wet, add a little more sugar. Frost the cake.

Garnish with grated bittersweet chocolate and try (lamely) to use a cookie cutter to put a powdered sugar shamrock on the top. I'm not sure I would serve this with Bailey's as you might pass out from the cream and sugar overload. Strong black coffee and maybe a wee Irish whisky would be more appropriate!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:07 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Greek Stir Fry


It's St. Patrick's day, so naturally we're featuring a Greek-like recipe. It's not that I object to St. Patrick's day, but as a partially Irish-American (my grandmother was Hannah Gallagher) I do think it's silly to reduce Irish culture and contributions to the world to Guinness, corrupt policemen, green rivers and beer, and drunken brawls. Not that I mind Guinness at all.

This non-Irish recipe was born as a quick and easy improv around pantry items. I like to keep a block of feta and a couple of packages of frozen spinach around so I consider them pantry items. Now, technically, this isn't a real stir fry. You could call it a sautee or a melange or really just a bunch of tasty junk in a pan.

We enjoyed the final product on top of a seeded lengthwise sliced baguettes with a side of roasted potatoes (wash and cut up some potatoes, put them in a pan, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and olive oil and bake until golden brown - about 30 minutes).

Greek Stir-fry
1 10 oz. package chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
1 medium white or yellow onion, sliced into thin half-moons
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 oz. feta, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained.
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablesoons olive oil
3 chopped garlic cloves
1 cup vegetable stock

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sweat until onions begin to go translucent.

Add the bell pepper and spinach and mix well. Add the stock and beans and stir lightly to distribute ingredients. Don't be too vigorous or you'll mash the beans.

Sautee until stock is absorbed/evaporated. Mix in feta and vinegar and sautee for 2 minutes more. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on garlic bread made from baguettes or torpedo rolls sliced lengthwise and baked with garlic and butter.

Not so Irish a dish for St. Patty's, but hey, at least the spinach is green.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 16, 2005
An Elegant Breakfast for One

OMELETTE.JPGAs a rule, I don't really cook for myself. When the Critic is away, I subsist on leftovers and comfort food. Since my maternity leave began this means the occasional bowl of cereal and whatever was left from yesterday's dinner. Sometimes, though, last night's leftover ingredients inspire me to make a proper meal. And so this morning, looking at the leftover grilled zucchini (used in a substantial confit de canard salad) I had an inspiration: eggs + grilled zucchini + a nice slice of ham + a leftover sliver of grilled red pepper = a delicious omelette.

I don't make omelettes very often for the very simple reason that the Critic isn't overly fond of eggs. When I do make eggs, they are usually simply scrambled, perhaps with a little cheese and ham. I can't remember the last time I made an omelette. Then again, I can't remember the last time I made a ten-minute breakfast that was so tasty and filling. The zucchini, brushed with olive oil and grilled on my cast-iron grill, had a nice smoky flavour that went perfectly with the tender ham. The slice of red pepper added a little sweetness. All in all it was a great combination and has made me realise how heavy the cheese I usually add can make an omelette!

Grilled Zucchini and Pepper Omelette

half a small zucchini
1/4 red pepper
1 slice of ham, cut in matchstick pieces
3 eggs
pinch of salt
generous grinding of pepper
2 Tbs milk
olive oil

I had the zucchini and pepper left from the evening before. If you don't have such commodities left over, it will add some ten to fifteen minutes to prepare them, but it's worth it. Turn on the grill or broiler in your oven and expose the skin side of the pepper to the heat source. (I usually cut my peppers in half, remove the seeds and put the halves on the cookie sheet.) When the skin is blackened and the pepper tender, put it in a closed plastic bag in the fridge. To prepare the zucchini, slice them in slabs just under 1 cm (1/4") thick and brush them with olive oil. Place them on a very hot grill pan and press into the pan to get nice black marks. Turn them a few times, putting them down at different angles to get nice diamond shaped marks. When they are tender, remove to a plate and slice in thin sticks. Remove the pepper from the fridge and carefully peel off the skin. If a few bits stick, don't worry too much. You just want to get off most of the burnt part. Slice in thin pieces.

Beat the eggs in a bowl with the salt and pepper and milk. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in the bottom of an omelette pan (any low-sided frying pan will do - nonstick will make your job easier). When the butter begins to froth pour the eggs into the pan. You'll want the heat to be fairly high to cook the omelette quickly. Once you have a firm layer of eggs, you can tilt the pan while lifting up the bottom end of the eggs to let the runny eggs slip underneath. When they are nearly as done as you like your eggs, sprinkle the zucchini, pepper and ham over the eggs and let cook for another minute.

Take a large spatula and carefullly lift one third of the omelette up and fold into the middle. Remove the pan from the fire and hold it over the plate. Carefully jiggle the pan so that the uncovered third of the omelette slides onto the plate. Flip the pan so that the remainder of the egg folds over the third on the plate. (Does that make any sense? If I had a professional photographer in the kitchen like Jamie Oliver and Kieth Floyd I could show you.) Garnish with a nice ripe red tomato and devour immediately.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:40 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
March 15, 2005
Cubs - The Other White Meat - Updated

My friend Tom came up with the phrase I used to name this post a few years back and it sent me into that kind of laughter where you end up laughing at yourself for laughing so hard at something so dumb. I spent the weekend watching my beloved Chicago Cubs get trounced in Spring Training games in Mesa, Arizona. I also spent most of the weekend with a vaguely blechk feeling that came from the food in Mesa.

Now is it fair to pick on a small place in the desert like Mesa? Yes, it is. Good food can be cheap, and there's no reason even the smallest town can't have grub worth sampling (and Mesa is adjacent to Phoenix so it's not even THAT small). With few exceptions, which I'll ouline below, the food you'll get if you venture out to see the Cubs or Sox or Angels or Giants or the other Cactus League teams will be fast food dropped in a deep fryer, or dry interpretations of the original.

Has it always been this way? There are legends of diners in the middle of nowhere that somehow have perfected Apple Pie or fried chicken or the grilled cheese, but I think most of those places have gone the way of the dodo.

I'll pick on one chain location and its neighbor then give you a great place to go. Avoid the Waffle House across from the Ramada in Mesa. I have enjoyed a Waffle House in the past (in Louisville, and a Waffle Steak in indianapolis), but this one had horrible chalky wheat bread with little texture, inattentive service, and the eggs I ordered "over medium" came out with the whites barely set. It was unpleasant in the extreme. The omelette place just down from the WH, which I won't name since its a family place, wasn't much better. The omelette I ordered there came out with the egg portion wrung dry of any possible moisture. The "filling" for the omelette was pretty good and the ingredients pretty high quality. Eventually, I tired of chewing twenty times before I swallowed the egg portion and ransacked the center of the pouch for the avocado, mushroom, and jack cheese filling.

Enough negative. I found two local Mexican restaurants to be very good, though I neglected to write down either's name. Shame on me, but when we return to Mesa next year, I'll get the names and publish them on this site. [UPDATE: Luckily I have good friends who also enjoyed the restaurants and the power of Google to help me. The first place we went to was apparently called Villa Del Sol next to the Ramada on Country Club - about 1400 South. I can't find it in the phone books but that name jibes with info I've received from two friends who were there with me. The atmosphere was a bit shabby, the staff extremely pleasant and willing to banter in both English and Spanish and the green corn tamales were outstanding (as was the horchata). The second place was a tiny tiny taqueria called Alviertos where I had a West Coast fish taco with rice and bean sides for about $5 that I'd be happy with anywhere. A very small condiment bar with hot pickled carrots and jalapenos was the cherry on the proverbial cake for me.)

However, the best experience we had was not Mexican but the Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe. We found the Four Peaks online before our trip and if we hadn't researched it beforehand, we never would have stumbled on this great brewpub.

As we approached the bar, we passed a car carrier truck painted with "Desi, the Designated Driver" who promised to take you and your car home if you got too buzzed. With Four Peaks best beers clocking in at 5-6% alcohol, I'm sure Desi makes out like a bandit.

The pub itself is housed in a stone building (a former railway depot, I believe) that houses 60 barrel and 40 barrel fermenters. The inner space is dominated by the fermenters and the high ceiling, but if it's light out, you'll want to sit outside and enjoy the sun and the attractive waitstaff.

Three of us ordered two appetizers and three entrees all together, which was a mistake. The appetizers are huge as are the entrees. I found the spinach artichoke dip to be a little thick, but it was delicious. The Thai-spice hummus was very much like a red pepper hummus with harissa stirred in. Both went well with pita wedges and multicolored corn chips.

My entree was a vegetarian portabella beer bread that appeared at first to be a sliced burrito, but which had a taste and texture different from a burrito and satisfying. There was maybe too much cheese or oil used to sautee the vegetables, but it was the best thing I had over four days in the Mesa area. Though I wanted to, I couldn't come close to finishing it after the appetizers and the magnificent beers.

The big attraction at a brewpub is local beer. We all ordered the beer sampler and got a tray each of beers in highball-sized glasses. You can read about each of the beers here. I was not a fan of the Arizona Peach, but I thought the Kiltlifter, Oatmeal Stout, Eighth Street Ale, and HopKnot IPA were top notch. The Raj IPA reminded me of Boston's Harpoon ale, which I like a lot at first and then have to put down for about a year. We didn't get to try the Hefewiezen, but I'm eager to find it now. Of all the beers, the Kiltlifter, a Scottish-Style ale, was my favorite and I forced down a pint of it on top of the sampler before we left.

They're making great beer in Arizona and for the hop-o-phile, Four Peaks should be on your list.

Four Peaks
1340 East 8th Street #104
Tempe, Arizona 85281
(480) 303-9967

Alivertos Mexican Food
263 W University Dr Mesa, AZ
(480) 834-2259

Villa Del Sol
?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:09 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
March 14, 2005
Deborah Madison's Angel Hair Pasta and Cheese Soufflé

SOUFFLE.JPGBarrett and I made this recipe together for the first time a couple of years ago when I was staying with him and his wife Rebecca. I was intrigued by the recipe from the start with its mixture of pasta (usually heavy) and whipped eggs (light). When I was at university my friend Tom and I used to make a kind of spaghetti frittata and this looked like a lighter and more elegant version of it. The first attempt with Barrett turned out well but I still thought it was a little flat and a little bland. So earlier this week when I accidentally made the wrong kind of pasta (strange, yes, but I had it in my head to make rigatoni and somehow blanked out and put angel hair pasta in the water) I thought of Madison's recipe and decided to give it another go.

I didn't change the recipe enough to claim it as my own, but I think I made a couple of crucial changes that improved the end result. It turned out light and fluffy and full of flavour, but still with that satisfying pasta base that turned it into comfort food.

Deborah Madison's Pasta and Cheese Soufflé (Serves four as a starter, two as a main dish or one extremely greedy cook as a dinner and then a midnight snack; I'll never lose those last two kilos...)

Béchamel sauce made with 2 cups milk, 5 Tbs butter and 5 Tbs flour, generous salt and a quarter of a nutmeg, grated
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup grated Gruyère (I substituted about little over a cup of grated Beaufort for this and the following)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
8 ounces capellini (about 3 cups cooked spaghettini in my case)
salt and pepper
1 large bag of spinach

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain and rinse under cold water. Wash the spinach and cook, covered, in a shallow pan on a low heat. The water clinging to the leaves should be enough to wilt it. Whisk the béchamel sauce with the egg yolks and one cup of the cheese. Drain the spinach, roughly chop it and add it to the béchamel mix. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Now this is where I deviate from the instructions. The instructions call for mixing the béchamel mixture with the pasta and then folding in the egg whites. I find this counter-intuitive as anything as it's almost impossible to mix as strands of pasta with egg whites without losing all the air you've carefully put into the whites. So instead, this time around I folded the whites into the béchamel without the pasta. I then put a layer of pasta in the bottom of my buttered soufflé dish and added a third of the egg mixutre, another layer of pasta and so on, making sure to finish with a very thin layer of egg mixture on the top. I then grated a little more cheese on top of the soufflé and baked it in a very hot (450f/210c) oven for about 25 minutes.

The egg mixture sank into the pasta but remained light and fluffy. It doesn't look that high in the photo, but you have to allow for the fact that I did not have a professional photographer in the kitchen and had to run and find the camera, losing precious seconds (and millimeters). (It was even less photogenic after serving.) Nevertheless, it was a delicious indulgent meal. Make sure you are generous with the salt, pepper and nutmeg and use a flavourful cheese and you'll end up with something that is simultaneously light and filling. It's a paradox, but it works. It's like a grown-up macaroni and cheese!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
March 12, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

This is my first shot at finding the Posts of the Week and I have to say it's a very pleasurable way to justify a couple of hours browsing foodie blogs. It seems like there's a new one out there every day and there's so much quality it's very difficult to winnow down the choices. (As an aside, if any of our readers see something particularly deserving out there in blogland we'd love to hear from you. Write to Meg in Paris or Barrett at the addresses listed in "The Chefs".) So in no particular order, as is the custom, here is my selection for this week's Posts of the Week:

1. Everybody loves Pim. Even my favourite restaurant reviewer at the Observer, Jay Rayner, loves her, as I discovered recently. (I had suspicions when he mentioned in one review that he had dinner with his friend Pim, who is a fantastic writer!) Well, this week we can add professional chef Michel Porto to the list, as he described her dish of scallops with curry sauce and rice with leeks thusly: "This is perfect, respected textures, plenty of color and taste, not cream.  It is not at all impossible that I might rework it for my menu next year...I've truly fallen in love." Well, we have fallen in love too and are naming her recipe for our humble award too. Congragulations, Pim!

A. Next up is another recipe, an intriguing mix of ingredients from Words to Eat By: Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Figs, and Mint. I can sympathise with her attempt to get her husband to like cauliflower - and congratulate her on the success! Obviously it's a great recipe!

I. I liked this post from Kitchen Monkey because it deals directly with an issue that is often dodged: eating cute animals. The recipe for Tunisian lamb stew is great too, but I liked the post for the frank approach to eating lamb (and the Donner party reference)!

So that's it for this week. Hope you enjoy the posts as much as I did!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
March 10, 2005
Floyd's India

floyds_india.jpgFloyd's India, Keith Floyd, Harpers Collins Press, 192 pages, £15.99.

Keith Floyd was the first celebrity chef I ever admired. He was charming, he was witty, he drank too much and he had the funkiest introductory music on his shows. Floyd on Fish, Floyd on France, through the eighties and into the nineties, I followed him glass by glass as he sloshed his way around the world. His was never the kind of show that gave you precise measurements or summed up at the end so that you could dutifully write down each of the ingredients and the instructions. His shows were half travelogue, half cooking, half (yes that's three) ode to the joys of drinking and eating. It's no wonder I half fell in love with him!

And so, last year when his new series Floyd's India appeared on the television the Critic came up with the perfect gift: the cookbook to the series, which would allow me to try out all the nifty recipes and HIM to taste them!

This book is pure Floyd. If you already like Floyd, you will probably love it. If you love eating and drinking and reading the experiences of someone else who loves eating and drinking you will probably also love it. If you are Julian Barnes, you will hate it. (Julian Barnes' Pedant in the Kitchen is a book-long rant against imprecise over-casual recipe writers.) So, like Floyd's TV series, the book spends a lot of time (for a cookbook) on the background, some 50 pages on the various regions of India he visited and a page or so before each of the sections to explain the following recipes. The recipes are grouped by main ingredient - Masala, Rice, Thali (oops that's a kind of dish), Chicken, etc. So there are two parts to the book, the stories and the recipes.

The stories are lovely, Floyd at his best. In the Tandoori section he unashamedly vents his spite against British Airways: "In July 2001 I purchased for about 70 pence a tandoor oven that stood 3 feet hight. Unfortunately British Airways wanted, in my opinion, an absolutely outrageous sum of money per kilo to fly it back to the UK and it would have cost about £600 in excess baggage so sadly it stayed put in India. Afer this experience, the film crew and I changed our airline to Emirates, who were pleased to have our business and our filming equipment." His story of the carry leaves that had to be purchase some 20 times because the seller kept looking at the camera ("A cardinal sin in a director's eyes!") made me laugh out loud. Reading the first fifty pages, and especially gazing at the gorgeous photos, you can't believe you have wasted some 37 years of your life without getting to India.

And the recipes are also, in good and bad ways, pure Floyd. They are mouthwatering, they are instructive, they make you want to explore new vistas. They are also, unfortuantely, somewhat vague. Often the quantities are simply "cover with water" and he expects you to know your exotic spices well enough that you know yourself how much you want to add. I had never cooked with curry leaves before and so was a bit concerned about deciding how much a "pinch" would be. (Why couldn't he just say 3-4 or 6-8 or whatever he meant?!?) That said, I've tried several of the recipes so far and none have let me down. In fact, the Jodhpuri Pulau (recipe below) is so good that it has received the ultimate cookbook compliment in my kitchen: the page is covered with grease and the book opens naturally to the recipe.

So all in all, the book is every bit as good as the series was. However, I did find there was a little something missing from Mr. Floyd this time around, a certain lack of spark. This might be due to the fact that he was unfamiliar with Indian food prior to the series. In his own words: 'Then, one fine day, he gets a fax, "Go and do a series on India," it says. "I don't know anything about India," he replies. "Don't worry," they say. "We will send you all the information. All you have to do is pop on to a plane and get cooking." And so they did.' So maybe that is what is why he is missing his usual assurance. Or maybe it's the fact that Indian food does not give scope for the "one glass for the pot, one glass for the chef" method of cooking?

Nevertheless it has been a fun read. It doesn't include every classic recipe you'd like to see (e.g. no samosas, only one bread recipe) but then it has a lot of dishes that you'll never see in your British or American Indian restaurant. And so if you enjoy exploring new regions in photos and recipes with a master raconteur this is the book for you. If you are looking for a textbook on Indian cuisine with precise measurements, look elsewhere.

Floyd's Jodhpuri Pulau (serves 6-8)

I chose this recipe for two reasons: I was dying to use the lovely yellow lentils (dal) that I bought at the Indian market, and the photo looked mouthwatering, with bits of spice and caramelised onions perched on top. Despite the fact that my rice was too sticky both times I tried it (obviously I didn't rinse it as much as Floyd advised) I absolutely loved it. My comments and departures from the recipe are in parentheses.

50 g/2 oz split yellow or rend lentils, washed
600 g/1 lb 6 oz. basmati rice, washed under running water for at lest 15 minutes and strained (the greenie in me can't bear running water for 15 minutes just for rice)
1 onion
vegetable oil
100 g/4 oz. ghee
1 tsp. cumin seeds
3 cloves
2 pieces of cinnamon stick
4-5 cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
salt

1. Soak the washed lentils in fresh water for three hours and the washed rice for one hour. (Ahem. I threw them all in the same bowl and just soaked them for an hour or so.)

2. Cut the onion in half and slice it very finely into half moon shapes. Heat a little oil and fry the slices until they are very crispy, then drain and put to one side. (This was easier than I expected. Fry the slices in small quantities if they don't fit in your pan in an even layer and as soon as the first of the onions are nearly as cooked as you want begin removing them. By the time you get the last bits out they'll probably be slightly more cooked than you wanted and the majority will be just right.)

3. Strain the soacked lentils and the rice. Heat a little oil and the ghee (notice those vague quantities again!) in a pan or kerai, add all the whole spices and teh bay leaves and stir while they crackle.

4. Stir in the lentils, then add the rice and stir gently so that all the grains are coated with the oil. Add just enough water to cover the rice and season with salt. Bring to the boil, then lower the ehat and cook gently, stirring from time to time until the liquid is absorbed and teh rice is cooked.

5. Serve garnished with the crispy fried onions. (And warn your guests to look out for the cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks in the rice, which should not be eaten!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:59 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack
March 9, 2005
Poori Chapati of Fire

Finished Poori BreadThe final of this week's tryptich of recipes from Sunday's dinner is another from Yamuna Devi's Lord Krishna's Cuisine, the Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking.

Poori Chapati is a stovetop wheat bread that uses no oil during cooking and which puffs up beautifully. You may want the party guests in the kitchen when you make this because the inflation of the bread is fun.

I didn't really deviate from Yamuna Devi's recipe at all so I take no credit for this recipe, though I can cut it down and make it a little less wordy. The bread is a perfect accompaniment to Indian cuisine and the whole wheat even makes it vaguely healthy.

The scorch marks are normal and even desirable. That's a good thing because they're also pretty much unavoidable...

By the way, you do know where your kitchen fire extinguisher is and have a clear path to the sink from the oven, right? You should. It's possible you could make a grave mistake and set your bread or oven mitt on fire while you make this recipe and you should have a plan to cover that eventuality.

Here's my slightly rewritten instructions on making poori chapati the Yamuna Devi way.

Poori Chapati Flatbreads recipe adapted from Yamuna Devi

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour - sifted measue
3/4 cup unbleached white AP flour - sifted measure

1 tablespoon melted ghee or butter - ghee is preferred
1/2 tablespoon salt
2/3 cup warm water

pie tin or plate filled with wheat flour for dusting
melted ghee or butter for brushing flatbreads

You'll also need a medium mixing bowl and a non-painted and non-coated metal cooling rack. One about 10" x 10" would be ideal. It must be heat resistant because it'll be taking all the heat your stovetop is capable of putting out.

Sift flours and salt together.

Work ghee into dough with your fingers. Add water a bit at a time, working it in until you have a workable dough ball. Dust the work surface with wheat flour and knead the dough for about 8 minutes until you have a silky smooth pliable mass. Shape it into a ball, and place the mixing bowl over it to cover for 30 minutes.

Divide the rested dough into 12 equally sized masses and roll those into balls (the original calls for 14, but you show me how to eyeball 14 balls of dough and I'll know a new trick).

Put the balls of dough on a plate, not touching each other, and cover with a clean damp kitchen towel.

Set a skillet or griddle over medium low heat for 3-5 minutes. It would be ideal if this pan was nonstick becasue we will not be adding ghee to the bread during cooking. In fact, it may be dangerous to have oil in this pan - take this warning seriously.

Take a ball of dough. Roll it out into a disk. Dip the disk in the pie plate of flour on both sides and shake the excess off. Continue to roll the disk out and dip in flour as necessary until the disk is extremely thin and about 6"-7" in diameter. (You did knead the dough for a full eight minutes earlier so it became elastic, right?)

Poori in Skillet
Set the flattened dough into the dry skillet and let it go for one full minute. Flip the dough and let it cook for another thirty seconds. You've just firmed up the sides so the bread can take the next step - the magic step.

Put on a flameproof fire retardant oven mitt and hold the cooling rack with it. Transfer the bread from the skillet to the cooling rack. Hold the cooling rack about 2" above a full flame over a gas burner or over an electric burner on high.

After a few seconds...

Poori Flattish Poori Inflated

...the bread inflates from the steam being created inside the dough by the direct high heat acting on the water in the loaf. The time in the skillet firmed up the sides and made them less likely to leak water vapor or steam, so the only thing the heated air and steam can do is press on the sides until it inflates the loaf. I burned hole in one side that when flipped acted like a pressure release valve for the bread. Steam poured out of the hole like an old locomotive stack.

Keep the bread over the direct flame until some char marks begin to form (about 15-45 seconds), then flip and hold over the flame until the other side is nicely scorched. Don't overdo it.

Poori Flipped

Set on a plate and brush one side with melted ghee. Repeat process with the other 11 balls of dough.

Although a bit of bread may catch fire while you're inflating it, it shouldn't be a big deal to blow out any small bread conflagrations. Keep an open path to the sink just in case.

You can see why we can't really use oil in the skillet since that would encourage ignition of the bread. I also turn off the inflating flame between disks so I don't have a random open uncovered flame going inches from me while I work at the stove.

Perfect with Palak Paneer and rice.

Note: After some comments in the notes, I think I may be confused on chapati vs. poori. I don't have Yamuna Devi's book with me so I can't check to see that she labels this dish as poori and that I didn't just screw up. For now, I'm changing the name to chapati and will confirm my mistake or non-mistake this evening when I get home.

The verdict is in - I'm a moron. Poori is the recipe right after chapati in Devi's book and the functional instructions were on the opposite page so I must have let "poori" soak into my brain. Mea culpa. Of course, I probablyhave to make poori now...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:42 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack
March 8, 2005
Palak Paneer - Indian Spinach and Cheese - First Version

palak paneerLet's start with a definition. I've long been confused by the distinction between palak paneer and saag (or sag) paneer. Both appear to the uneducated Western eater (that's me) to be spinach in spices mixed with cubes of a simple cheese.

Saag paneer is apparently made with "green leaves such as spinach, mustard greens and fresh fenugreek leaves", while spinach all by itself is a palak paneer. If anyone has more insight on the proper distinction between these dishes, please leave a note in the comments.

As I noted yesterday, palak paneer is the one dish we always order when we go to an Indian restaurant. Inspired by Meg's posts from last week, I picked up a copy of Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Westerner turned Vedic disciple Yamuna Devi. The paneer cheese I posted yesterday (and which we'll use today) is based on techniques in this book, as is the palak paneer recipe for today. I haven't made much from the cookbok yet, but I've been impressed by it. This is an Ayurvedic Indian cookbook so onions and garlic are not used in any of the recipes. I love garlic and onions, but from what I've seen and tasted so far, they aren't missed.

I don't personally subscribe to the philosophy of Ayurveda, but I know good recipes when I see them. So did Julia Child and Deborah Madison whose praise for Devi's book adorns the back cover. Lord Krishna's Cuisine is not a book for the timid or complete beginner cook, and you must really read each recipe start to finish before beginning. If you can handle a knife, follow a recipe well, and have made some relatively complex recipes Devi's book is well worth picking up.

Here's a slightly modified recipe from the book for Palak Paneer. Pay close attention to the tablespoons and teaspoons as there are many fractional measures of spices.

Palak Paneer from a recipe by Yamuna Devi
Paneer (simple cheese) made from about 1/2 gallon of whole milk - recipe here, cut into 1/2" cubes.
2 10 oz. packages of frozen spinach, defrosted and moisture sqeezed out, or two and half pounds of fresh spinach, wilted, chopped and moisture squezed out.

4 tablespoons of the whey from the paneer making (See, I told you we'd use some of that whey!) Substitute water if no whey is available, but be just a little sad.
2 small green chiles (serranos or jalapenos), chopped fine
1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika
thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and diced

6 tablespoons ghee or butter. Use ghee (a clarified butter) if you can. You can make it from scratch if you'd like to better feel the connection to the food, but if you have an Indian market in your area, it's much easier just to buy ghee.

3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon garam masala, a South Asian spice mix. You can make it yourself, but again, it's easier to buy it pre-made.
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cover a dinner plate with paper towels.

Using a small blender or the blending attachment to your immersion blender, combine the chiles, ginger, whey/water, coriander, tumeric, cumin, and paprika and blend in pulses until smooth. Set aside. This is the "spice blend" we use later.

Heat the ghee in a big saucepan until it is hot but not smoking. You should smell a "thick" smell from the ghee. Add the panir cheese cheese to the ghee and fry for 5 minutes or so, turning the cubes so they get browned lightly on all sides. Remove the cheese from the ghee with a slotted spoon to the plate covered with a paper towels for blotting.

CAREFULLY add the spice blend to the hot oil. You're adding a watery compund to an oil, something you really don't want to do much so watch yourself. Slide it in from the edge of the pan and be wary of splatters. Stir the oil and spices together then add the chopped, drained spinach. Cover and lower heat. Cook for 8 minutes.

After eight minutes, add the panir, salt, garam masala, and cream and stir together. Cook another 5 minutes on low to heat everything through.

Serve with simple basmati rice and Indian wheat poori bread. I'll post the poori bread tomorrow - in taste and preparation, it's a real crowd pleaser.

If the palak is the only dish you're serving, then between this and the rice and bread you should be able to serve two VERY hungry people with some leftovers or four moderately hungry ones from this recipe.

I label this the "First Version" of Palak Paneer because I felt the final dish was a little too oily for my tastes, and while I liked the golden fried cheese on its own I felt it was inappropriate when mixed with the spinach. The recipe is delicious and you should make this version at least once, but I'm going to try to re-engineer the recipe to make it a little lighter and something more like an everyday meal rather than a special treat.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:48 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack
March 7, 2005
Too Many Chefs in the Nashville Tennessean

We're proud to be featured this week in the Nashville Tennessean. Lisa Benavides tries our Mexican Black Bean Tart, and she liked it enough to take the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Also featured in the article are Gastroblog, Cooking for Engineers, Cooking With Amy, Shiokadelicious, the ubiquitous Chocolate & Zucchini, and 101 Cookbooks.

Congrats to all on the good press, and thanks to Ms. Benavides for including us in the article on food blogs.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:48 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Curds and Whey - Indian Panir/Paneer - Easy Cheesy

The one dish we always order in Indian restaurants is sag paneer/palak paneer. This spinach and cheese dish perfumed by spices and combined with a simple South Asian cheese is a favorite of mine.

I made sag paneer Sunday, but before I could make sag paneer, I had to make the paneer itself. Paneer, also spelled panir, is a simple fresh cheese that doesn't really have a commercial equivalent that I've seen. Paneer is extremely simple to make and is a great experiment to do with the kids so they can see how liquid whole milk turns into delicious cheese.

I started with 1/2 gallon of whole milk. If you have a standard large stockpot, I don't recommend you make much more at a time. You'll see why as we proceed.


For equipment you'll need a large stockpot - preferably heavy and non-stick, a wooden spoon, a good sized colander, a big bowl to put the colander in, a package of cheese cloth, a bit of kitchen twine and if possible a place to hang the cheesecloth later where the paneer inside can drain.

For the ingredients, you'll need a half gallon of whole milk and six tablespoons of lemon juice. You must use whole milk because the fat and solids in the milk are what we're trying to collect up. Skim milk just won't cut it here. This is one of the very few times you'll see whle milk in my refrigerator.

Heat the half gallon of milk to a full rolling boil. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom with the wooden spoon to keep anything from sticking.

I know what you're thinking. Recipes always warn you about overheating milk, and this maniac wants me to put it on the boil!? Well, yes. The other recipes are trying to prevent the milk from doing what we're trying to get the milk to do here - separate into the milk solids, aka the curds and the remaining liquid, aka the whey.
Once the milk expands dramatically in volume...

(Yup, that's the same amount of milk) Reduce the heat to low and stir in the lemon juice. Stir for about 15-20 seonds always in the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). Pretty soon, the curds should start separating from the whey.

Curds and Whey

It looks pretty gross, but that's cheesy GOLD in that pot. Take the pot off the heat, cover tightly, and let it sit for ten minutes.

Cover a colander with cheesecloth or muslin folded so there is plenty extra on each side to make a sack around the cheese-to-be, but also so there are 3-4 layers of cheesecloth on top of the colander. Place the colander in a larger bowl to catch the liquid to be strained. Spoon the biggest solids out of the stockpot with a slotted spoon into the cheesecloth covered colander, then slowly pour the remaining liquid whey through the colander and cheesecloth.

Let the curds cool a bit, then gather the cheesecloth together to form a sack for the curds. Tie the curds off with a short piece of kitchen twine.

Rinse the bundle in warm water once to get rid of the residual lemon juice.

If you have a good knob on a kitchen cabinet, suspend the paneer in the cheesecloth from the knob over a bowl to catch the whey that will slowly drain. You may twist the cloth tight to press some whey out, but do so gently.

After 3 hours suspended the cheese should be ready for use. Use immediately or save for a week or so in your refrigerator.

Don't toss the whey (well, not all of it). Save some for our sag paneer recipe tomorrow.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:17 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack
March 5, 2005
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week - Slowly it dawns on us that the only link between Shamrock Shakes and St. Patrick's Day is the color green and we wonder if they tried spinach or spirulina shakes first.

Each week we pick three posts from the infinitely expanding Blog-o-sphere (tm) and bring them to you!

A. Tim, of the excellent blog Fire & Knives has an excellent meditation on knives and how they should be used and cared for in the kitchen. The inspiration for this piece is a litle unusual but I can't say I haven't thought along similar lines - which means Tim is a sick, sick, man.

I. Saute Wednesday scores an interview with master French chef, cookbook author, and PBS cooking teacher Jacques Pepin that shouldn't be missed.

1. Benjamin Christie has the headline of the week with Australian Bush Tucker for Prince Charles but no Witchetty Grubs. It's a goal of mine to eventually understand and taste the foods mentioned in this article. I'm guessing witchetty grubs are like mopane worms which are like giant mealworms. I'm thinking a tamarind and soy based sauce...

Three up, three down. Next weekend I'll be enjoying my Cubs in Mesa Arizona so (unless I can convince a colleague to take on the task) we may skip a week of POTW but I shall return.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
The Apple(s) of My Eye

apple juice2.jpgEvery once in a while, you see a product and think "Now why didn't anyone think of that before?" It seems so logical, so right, so perfectly geared to the enthusiastic foodie. I had that sensation lately when I noticed a new stall in my local Monoprix supermarket: it was filled with bottles of apple juice and each one carried the name of the apple used to make it: Braeburn, Granny Smith, Gala, Golden Delicious, the list goes on and on.

I thought I had found the perfect apple juice when I used to buy it from my local market in the 16th: brown, earthy, sweet but tasting purely of apple, it had very little relation to the usual store-bought stuff. I have no idea what variety of apple was used to make it, though now I wish I had asked. I have regretted since moving the loss of a good locally produced juice. And now the Touraine Jus de Pomme cooperative has come to my rescue. Not only do the producers provide this tantalizing array of apple juice varieties, but according to their site they do so in an environmentally responsible way. The juices are made from apples grown only a few hours from Paris, they are hand-picked and washed in clear water and pasteurized without the use of any additives or preservatives. What more could a green girl want?

And so now I'm committed to buying a half dozen bottles of juice so that I can discover, one by one, each apple variety. Braeburn has a complex flavour, not too sweet but not exactly tart. Granny Smith has been a big surprise. I expected it to be the apple equivalent of grapefruit in the world of citrus juices, but in fact it's sweet and has a distinctive berry flavour coming through. I'm really looking forward to trying the Pink Lady I bought today. Pink Lady is my new favourite eating apple, crisp just a tiny bit tart and full of flavour. It's a variety created in 1973 by the Australians, now being planted here in France. I don't think it can be improved upon as a plain eating apple, but I'll be happy to find out how it fares in liquid format.

A note on the web site: Pink lady isn't included in the list of available products, so it must be one of their newer additions. Hopefully this means that business is booming faster than their web editor can keep up and I'll be able to enjoy these juices for a good long time!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:54 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
March 4, 2005
Food Digest

Just a quick and dirty food digest today at TooManyChefs. I'm pinch-hitting for Todd and Barrett, both of whom have much better noses for sniffing out the interesting stuff in the food world.

The big news today of course is the release of Martha Stewart from jail. This Chicago Tribune article notes "Within minutes of Stewart's release, a Website run by her supporters, savemartha.com, began hawking "Martha is Free at Last!" BBQ aprons for $18.95." Get yours now...

And if you are interested in what the inimitable Ms. Stewart ate in prison, you can read this article in Slate. Apparently, the Prison Diet resulted in a loss of 20 pounds over a five-month period. Drastic measures indeed!

Over in the Seattle Times, Kathy Casey gives us some innovative pizza recipes and tips on getting restaurant-quality pies at home. But can she explain why it is that Domino's in the UK is advertising new "Chicago-style" thin crust pizzas?!?? Can anyone?

Barrett has been exercising his keen food news nose for me and just sent me a link to this story in the Chicago Tribune on the Luther Burger, named after Luther Vandross and served in a Georgia restaurant named Mulligan's. What is a Luther Burger you may ask? A delightful combination of hamburger meat and...Krispy Kreme doughnuts. MMMM. The article notes "And yes, customers do order it. Maybe not in droves, but they do." One is too many, eh? And don't even ASK about the "hamdog" served in the same establishment.

And so that is it until next week when your favourite presenters will be back and in full form!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:46 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack
Star of India Carrot Cake

star cake.jpgI am indebted to Barrett for the inspiration in this cake. I wrote him last week about the "how can I use up carrots and heat the apartment" problem mentioned in an earlier post. One of my original ideas was to make a carrot cake. "Indian... carrots... I'm thinking you need to add some spices to that carrot cake. Of course, I'd suggest cardamom and star anise because I always suggest cardamom and star anise," he wrote. Intriguing. I wasn't daring enough to add cardamom to the mix (maybe next time) but I have to say that the addition of a bit of dried ginger and star anise to the usual cinnamon was pure genius. I love carrot cake anyway, but this was even more complex and spicy and a very fitting dessert after an Indian dinner. Dense, sweet and complicated with a little sour cream taste to the sugary frosting. Mmmm...think I'll go grab one of the leftover pieces before finishing this post...

I encountered two problems in creating this recipe. The first was the fact that 90% of the recipes for carrot cake call for "one cup of vegetable oil". Ick. I had always thought that carrot cake was a moderately healthy sweet, but apparently not. As I've never made a carrot cake I really wanted to find a recipe to use as a base for my version and it took me a while to find one that only called for half a cup of melted butter. (As an aside, why is it that melted butter seems so much more unhealthy than solid butter? I wouldn't turn a hair if a recipe called for half a cup of butter, but put the word "melted" in there and suddenly it seems somewhat distasteful. And of course vegetable oil - which is probably healthier than butter - seems even worse...)

Problem number two was how to incorporate the star anise without turning the finished product into an uncomfortably crunchy one. I eventually plumped for the idea of steeping the carrots in milk and star anise; if anyone out there in blogland can come up with a better idea I'd be interested to hear it.

Star of India Carrot Cake

12 ounces/1.25 cups/3 large carrots, grated
1 cup milk
4-5 pieces of star anise
1 stick of cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 cup crystal brown sugar (in France, it is called sucre roux)
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

For the frosting:
6 wedges of Laughing Cow cheese
3 cups powdered sugar

Pour the milk over the grated carrots and stir in the star anise and cinnamon stick. Allow to steep for several hours (or overnight) in the fridge. Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Mix all the dry ingredients together very well. (This is more important that usual in this recipe as once you add the grated carrot everything will become much more difficult to stir properly.) Lightly beat the eggs. Strain the carrots, reserving the milk. Add the eggs, melted butter, grated carrot, raisins (if any) and half a cup of the milk to the flour mixture, reserving the rest of the milk. Beat well and pour into two buttered and floured 22cm/9" square cake pans or one slightly larger pan (if you like your cake thicker). Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Because this is a very dense cake, I found it did not want to leave the pan easily and so I frosted it in the pan.

carrot cake.jpgOnce the cake(s) has/have cooled, make the frosting: whip the Laughing Cow cheese with 2 cups of powdered sugar and a few tablespoons of the reserved carrot milk. Keep adding powdered sugar and/or milk until you obtain a consistency you like. Decorate the frosted cake(s) with a few pieces of star anise.

The star anise is just detectable in the cake, but stands out and compliments the cake in the frosting. This is a lovely chewy cake with a bit of a tangy spicy frosting and keeps very well on the counter with a bit of aluminum foil to cover it. I didn't think of adding the raisins until it was too late, but they would be an excellent addition and add just a little more sweet chewiness!

A note on the frosting: I used Laughing Cow cheese because cream cheese is very hard to come by in Paris. If you have a favorite cream cheese frosting recipe, by all means use it. And if it includes any liquid (which it probably will), substitute the carrot milk!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:34 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
March 3, 2005
Vegetable Samosas Are Easier To Make Than You Might Think

SAMOSAS.JPGI love samosas. When I lived in Chicago in a coachhouse with Barrett and his then-girlfriend and our two cats, they were my favorite fast food. There were two great cheap Indian restaurants down the road on Belmont near the el and you could buy one or two samosas hot to go and eat them in the street, while the cold Chicago wind brought tears to your eyes. Hot, spicy and just a little greasy, they were heaven to your icy hands and empty belly in those cold Chicago days.

These days, I am obliged to eat them sitting down in restaurants which is less of an adventure but I still love them. In fact, they have always fallen into the category of "I love these so much I don't want to risk making bad ones at home". But this weekend I decided to be brave and try my hand at my own home made samosas. And you know what? They were really easy. And good.

samosa 2.jpgPart of what has put me off making samosas is the only recipe I have in my cookbooks. The instructions for the pastry are clear enough, but when it comes to the filling the only indication is: "Make the stuffing with mashed potatoes, chopped green peas, chives and parsley, chopped mint, paprika, salt and a little lime juice or ground pomegranite seed." (Julian Barnes would hate this recipe!)

So although I based my recipe on the one found in Dharamjit Singh's Indian Cookery I feel perfectly justified in calling it my own. I added quite a few spices to the ones he listed, had to work out the proportions myself (which I did pretty well, aside from having twice as much filling as I needed) and I altered the pastry dough slightly too.

Meg's Delicious and Easy Vegetable Samosas (makes 12-14 samosas)

For the filling:
10 small potatoes
2/3 cup peas (I used frozen ones)
1 onion
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
5 cardamom pods
1 inch cube of ginger, finely chopped
2 small cloves of garlic
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 cup chopped mint
1-2 chopped hot green peppers, depending on how spicy you like your samosas
juice of half a lime
salt
a little vegetable oil

For the pastry:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 container of plain yogurt (about 6 Tbs)
2 Tbs melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
a little water

For the stuffing:
Set the peas and the potatoes boiling in separate pots.

Break open the cardamom pods and remove the small black seeds inside. Toss the cardamom seeds, cumin seeds and mustard seeds into a dry frying pan and toss over a medium flame until they begin to sizzle and crackle and smell good. Remove them to a mortar and pestle and grind them. Put a little vegetable oil in the frying pan and add the chopped onion, garlic and ginger. When the onions are limp and it all smells nice, add the ground spices. If the potatoes are done, continue. Otherwise turn off the heat to wait until potatoes and peas are cooked.

Remove the poatoes from the pot, reserving some of the water. Cut them in small cubes (just under a centimeter/half inch in size) and add them to the pan with the onion and garlic. Drain the peas and add them too. Add the rest of the ingredients and give a generous helping of salt. Add a little of the potato water (about half a cup) and cook down the mixture to let the flavors mingle. Taste for salt; it will need more than you expect.

Set aside to cool a bit while you make the pastry.

For the pastry:
Mix the flour and salt and drizzle the melted butter over them. Add the yogurt and mix thoroughly. If the dough remains too dry to roll out, add a little water. If it's a little too moist, add a little more flour. Knead for five minutes until it is smooth and very elastic.

To construct the samosas:
Pull a piece of dough a little larger than a golf ball from the lump. Roll it in your hands to get an even ball shape. Flatten it with your palm and lay it on a floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll it out to a circle slightly larger than a woman's hand, fingers spread out (about 20 cm/7-8"). Cut the circle in half. Dampen your finger with some water (I kept a small bowl of water handy) and trace it along the cut edge of the half circle. Fold over the dough and pinch together where you just moistened it. When you pick up the dough, you will now have a cone that you can fill with the stuffing. Be generous and try to push the stuffing into every corner. The dough is a lot more elastic than I expected and can take a certain amount of abuse. When you have filled the cone, dampen the edges of the top and pinch them together to close the dumpling. Try to squeeze out any air from the inside as you go. Repeat until you have used all the dough and stuffing.

To cook, fill a small sauce pan two thirds of the way with oil or heat up your deep fat fryer. (I gave mine away when we moved, having used it once in seven years!) If you are using oil in a sauce pan, make sure it is on a very stable burner and do not over fill; the volume of the samosa will bring up the oil level when it is added. To test if the oil is hot enough, toss a small pinch of dough in it. If bubbles form around it and it immediately starts browning, the oil is hot enough. Carefully lower the first samosa in the oil. When it has turned a nice golden brown (about 2-3 minutes) remove and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining samosas.

Serve these hot from the pan or (if you are entertaining) reheated in the oven with a variety of chutneys.

So, yes, these are time consuming to make and may not be the healthiest dish you'll ever try. But they are spicy and satisfying and well worth the time and effort. And although they take a while to make, they are fun and a lot easier than I expected. And so photogenic I had to take another picture...

more samosas.jpg

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:24 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack
March 2, 2005
Sharwood v. Patak: the Indian War of the Tastebuds

REVIEW.JPGOn my recent trip to the little India area of Paris it occurred to me that it would be fun to host a taste test and decide for once and for all which of the various Indian ready-made sauces and chutneys are the best. In the early days of knowing my husband, I used to rely rather heavily on these jars of korma, tandoori, jalfrezi, vindaloo and balti. These days I tend to make my own curries but I still use the store-bought varieties of chutney. What I buy has always been rather random, though. "Now which was the one I bought last time that was very good/not so good/really weird?" I would wonder as I stared at the selection. And so I bore this in mind when I went shopping, determined to try them all and set the record straight. Unfortunately, Paris is not the best place for this kind of a competition as it very quickly became apparent that Sharwood and Patak were the only main contenders for Parisian tastebuds. (In the Good Old Days, we Parisians also had Marks and Spensers to fulfill our curry needs.) Never mind, I bought a few jars and sent out invitations to our friends to Be The Jury.

The problem with combining business and pleasure is that a good host hates to intrude upon the Pleasure with the Business. So the notes from the Great Curry Tasting are somewhat...short and pithy. I am obliged to flesh out them out with my memory of what people said and my own impressions. We compared three different items on the day: tandoori paste, lime pickle and spicy mango pickle. Below are the results.

Mango chutney
In this category, we compared Sharwood's with Patak's variety. In appearance, the two were very dissimilar: Sharwood's was mellow looking, with smooth jam and regular sized pieces of mango. The Patak's chutney was more violent in color and appearance, with an oily rather than creamy texture. And the taste? As one juror put it, the Pataks seemed to compete with, rather than compliment, the flavor of the samosas we used to taste them. The Sharwoods was missing a bit of bite, but complimented the samosa much better.

Lime Pickle
I wasn't able to find a Sharwood lime pickle, so instead this was a comparison between the Patak's and Kings Lime pickle. The Kings pickle had a smoother texture and a sharp lime and coriander scent. Patak's was again of an oilier consistency. The jury was divided on this category. One juror thought that again the Patak's was fighting with the flavours it was meant to compliment but another noted simply "Patak Hot Lime Pickle: EXCELLENT". So for this category, it depends on your priorities: the Patak's pickle was spicier, but the Kings let the flavour of the limes come through better. My personal preference was for the Kings, but I'm happy with both.

Tandoori Chicken
I had intended to use a curry sauce for the third category but when I arrived home I found that the seal on the Patak's sauce was broken and so, sadly, had to throw away one of the jars. Luckily my local grocery store had a Tandoori paste I could compare with the one I bought at the Indian store. In both cases, I followed the instructions on the side of the jar exactly.

PATAK.JPGThe Patak's instructions were very simple: mix 4 Tbs of the paste with 1 Tbs of vegetable oil and 2 Tbs of plain yogurt. Marinate the chicken in the mixture for several hours and bake in the oven. The color of the marinade was not what I expect from a tandoori dish: almost purple, instead of the usual pink turning to orange. The result? It was still a little purple when cooked and the spices had the texture of a dry curry. It wasn't very spicy and the texture of the meat was a little mealy.

sharwoods.jpgThe Sharwood instructions did not include the oil used above, but did advice cutting slits in the meat to allow the marinade to penetrate. This paste was the expected pinky-orange color and came out of the oven a beautiful deeper version of the same. Allowing the marinade to penetrate somehow simulaneously kept the meat moist and yet did not prevent the outside from forming a crust. This was the clear winner in the tandoori category, with a full flavor and good texture to the chicken. However, again, it wasn't overly spicy.

So there you have it: the results of our first tasting test. In general, we found that Patak's products were saltier and spicier than the competition, but that sometimes this overpowered the food it was meant to compliment. However, if you like violent flavours they were the better choice. (We also all agreed that Sharwood's doesn't sound very Indian at all!)

Coming tomorrow: the easy-peasy tasty samosas that served as a base for the chutney test!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:00 AM | Comments (62) | TrackBack
March 1, 2005
Cream of Poblano Soup

Poblanos are my second favorite pepper after smoked jalapenos (chipotles). Most people encounter poblanos as the base for a chile relleno dish, but there is so much more potential to these spicy but not brutally hot peppers. I particularly like poblanos as the star ingredient in a spicy soup.

I first had Cream of Poblano soup at a restaurant in Cancun, Mexico a few months after I got married. We sat on the deck of La Distileria and enjoyed flights of matched tequilas, firm ocean whitefish in a spicy sauce, and this soup.

I searched the web for recipes that looked like they'd produce that flavor I'd enjoyed so much while relaxing in the January sun of Mexico's Carribbean cost. I think this one, which I have modified a little from the original at Soup Song (a great resource for soup lovers), captures much of the flavor and spiciness of the one I experienced at La Distileria without blowing off your eyebrows with too much spiciness.

You don't even have to roast and peel the poblanos for this simple soup, though if you wish, you may. It will intensify the flavor a bit.

Cream of Poblano Soup
from a recipe from Soup Song

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
3 diced poblano peppers, seeds and membranes removed
2 medium onions, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
4 cups low sodium vegetable stock
1 large white potato, diced
8 oz. Mexican crema fresca (substitute sour cream, yogurt, or creme fraiche if you prefer)
chopped cilantro for garnish
8 large tortilla chips
1 cup Chihuahua cheese, shredded (or you can use cheddar or monterey jack if you prefer)

In a soup pot or stock pot heat the oil and butter until the butter starts to sizzle.

Add the peppers, onions, and carrot and sautee 5 minutes, stirring to coat the vegetables with the oil and butter.

Add the potatoes and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes until potatoes and carrots are soft.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup thoroughly until uniformly smooth.

(UPDATE: And then add the crema fresca and stir)

Serve in oven-proof bowls. Place two tortilla chips on top of each bowl, sprinkle 1/4 of the cheese on top of the bowl and set under a broiler until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

If you like it spicier, don't get rid of all the seeds and membranes of the poblanos and make the soup a day or two ahead of time. It just gets spicier and more complex as it sits in the refrigerator.

One caution - my fingers were red and mildly irritated for hours after I prepped the poblanos for this recipe from the capsaicin in the peppers. You might want to wear a glove on the hand holding the pepper in place as you dice it if you have sensitive skin

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:02 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack
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