Utensibility: the quality of combining sensibility and utility in a delicate perfect balance. Sam of Becks and Posh invented this term and I think it's rather clever. If you want to know the story behind the word, you can read it in her words here. To sum up for our purposes, she has asked the Food Blogging Community to write about their favourite appliances/utensils/tools.
When I first read about this event, I thought it was a great idea. I have so many great tools in my kitchen that I love and I love proselytising . But that is in fact the problem: I have SO many great tools and I love them so much. Like Sam, I love the Salter electronic scales my husband gave me for Christmas this year. Functional, stylish and oh-so-useful (it converts between Imperial and metric measures, liquid and weight, at the touch of a button) it was a serious contender. And what about the new (old) Peugeot coffee grinder I bought the Critic for his birthday?
But in the end, I knew there was only one item I really could nominate: my Braun immersion blender with all the bells and whistles and attachments. I use it several times a week - making baby food out of fresh vegetables, liqueifying soups, whipping cream, chopping herbs and making small quantities of sauce...the list goes on and on. I had always wanted one of these babies but put it off for ages because some of its applications were already covered by other appliances in my kitchen (the beater, the food processor). But last year I succombed to the temptation. I didn't even wait until Christmas or my birthday and get someone to buy one for me. I just went out and bought one. I knew I was pregnant and figured that with good luck I'd have a use for the small purée cup for making baby food. I was right: and it does a great job. Not only that, but it has made my soup-making a dream. I just stick the wand in the soup, whish it around on high speed for a minute or two and hey-presto I have a smooth lovely soup. And the best part is the cleaning: the wand pops off the motor and I can rinse it immediately under running water, no dried-on-vegetable-gook failing to be cleaned by my crappy dishwasher. Every time I use it, I hum happily.
And for my one cheap item? The cheapest of items in my kitchen and one I also seem to use weekly at least: a plain old wooden reamer. It does a better job than any other lemon squeezer I've ever used and is dead easy to clean. And I figure that if it dries out or gets damaged by the dishwasher it'll be cheap to replace. But in fact, it has lasted for years now and still works as well as the day I bought it.
To see Sam's choices and her summary of the other tools of choice in the blogging community, check out her post here. And now I'm off to update my Amazon wish list...
Addendum: I have just noticed that the Amazon price for my primary choice is under the $25 limit for the cheap item. So both my choices are under $25. Well, call me the Frugal Gourmet...
Tonight the Critic was off at another boring official function and so I was left to my own devices culinarily speaking. When this happens I often eat junk food for dinner or nibble on bits of cheese and odd leftovers from the fridge. But every once in a while I take advantage of his absence to make something creative that I know he wouldn't like. Tonight, the ingredient of choice was couscous.
I don't know why my beloved husband has taken against couscous. To me it seems such an innocuous grain. A little nutty, a little nubbly, as inoffensive as white rice. Also, it's typically a vehicle for extremely spicy Moroccan stews and my man LOVES spicy food. Whatever the reason, he hates the stuff.
I love it. And I especially love it in the summer time because it's light on the stomach, requires only a bit of boiling water to prepare and makes a healthy salad. Perfect for the hot summer days we've been enjoying (well, suffering really - this country is sadly lacking in air conditioning).
The nice thing about this salad is how well the timing worked. All the elements pieced together well and it took about 15 minutes start to finish to assemble the whole thing. I know that salads are traditionally 5-10 minute meals in terms of assembly, but this one involved three cooked items. So 15 minutes is pretty good I think!
Grilled Chicken and Couscous Salad
2 chicken breasts
2 Tbs spicy dry rub (a combination of paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, cumin but you can create your own - make it fairly spicy!)
1/2 head of broccoli
8 cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup almond slivers
3/4 cup uncooked medium grain couscous
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs and shallot (I used the mélange pour salade available in Picard stores in France, which includes chives, parsley, basil, thyme, shallots and chervil)
juice and zest of half a lemon
1/3 cup good quality olive oil (I used Rowallan Olives from Australia)
a generous pinch of salt
Pour 3/4 cup boiling water over the couscous grains in a large bowl and cover with a plate. Cut the broccoli in small florets and set them to steam. Rub the chicken breasts with the spices and put them on a hot grill. (Okay, I admit that the 15 minute estimate relies on your having a gas grill, which heats immediately. If not, use a grill pan.) Cut the tomatoes in halves or quarters, depending on how large they are. When the broccoli florets are tenders, remove them from the flame and quickly run cold water over them to stop them cooking. Turn over the chicken breasts. Use a fork to fluff the couscous. Toss the couscous with the tomatoes, broccoli, almond slivers, herbs, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Once the chicken breasts are cooked through, cut them in bite-sized slivers and add them to the salad. Taste for salt: couscous can be a bit bland without it.
Serves two generously for dinner or three smaller salads.
I took a photo of this dish, but it didn't turn out nearly as appetising looking as it was in reality. I should have taken the photograph before I tossed it, when the vegetables were colorful and pretty: once you toss them with couscous everything is covered with grains and less pretty. So you'll just have to imagine it. It shouldn't be too difficult!
As you'll know if you have been following TMC for a while I love mixing zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. Oddly enough, I'm not a huge fan of ratatouille (too slimy) but I do love its components. Another thing I like doing is preparing double the amount I need when we have dinner guests. That way you can genuinely be sure no one goes away hungry and the odds are you'll have a great lunch the next day.
Today, the nanny and I had Grilled summer vegetable salad for lunch and it was even better than it tasted last night!
It was my friend Alisa (of the great photographs) who opened my eyes to the possibilities in marinating vegetables when she brought some to our barbecue. I think her mix had wine and garlic in it; for myself, I decided to take advantage of the fresh thyme on our terrace as well as sacrificing one of my home-grown lemons. (It's a little one that seems to have given up on ripening any further.) The result was delicious, much more flavorful than my usual technique of just brushing the vegetables with olive oil. I'm also pleased with the cheese I chose. Originally, I was going to use a feta but in the end a soft grey cendré goat cheese caught my eye and I'm glad it did. Creamy and tangy, it was the perfect compliment to the roasted vegetables.
Grilled Summer Salad with Goat Cheese serves 4 as a side dish with leftovers for lunch
2 medium eggplants
2 small zucchini
10 cherry tomatoes
1 sweet red pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/4 cup fresh thyme
1 clove crushed garlic
pinch of salt
1/2 cup goat cheese
Slice the eggplants and zucchini in thick wedges and put them in a plastic bag with the olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, garlic and salt. Seal the bag and toss well to coat. Turn the bag a few times over the next hour or several hours, depending on how much time you have.
Turn on the grill and place the zucchini and eggplant on it. Cover. In the meantime, wash, halve and seed the pepper. Turn over the vegetbales on the grill. As they finish, remove them and add the rest of the zucchini and eggplant (if they didn't all fit on the grill at once) and the peppers. Cook the peppers until the skin is blackened and the flesh is tender. Place them in a closed plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Assembling the salad: cut the cooked vegetables in bite-sized pieces and toss them with the tomatoes. Sprinkle the goat cheese, cut in small chunks, over the salad. Toss once more and taste for seasoning. You may want to add a little more olive oil: it depends on how much the vegetables have absorbed. Our weather is so hot that the goat cheese immediately started melting slightly, which gave a wet touch to the salad and I didn't really feel it needed anything else!
One of the items in my urban garden is a gorgeous tall coriander plant. Until now, I've never had much luck with coriander. I have bought many healthy looking plants only to see them wither away and die before I had a chance to use any of their leaves. When they start failing 24 hours after you buy them, you don't want to make matters worse by taking away healthy leaves. But this year, miraculously, the coriander seeds sprouted and the plant has thrived. (So far - fingers are still firmly crossed!) This and the advent of the tomato season means I can indulge in one of my favourite snacks: tortilla chips with tomato salsa.
It's not much of a recipe really: take a few tomatoes, an onion or two shallots, a clove of garlic and a handful of coriander, chop them all finely and add a splash of olive oil and a little lemon juice. You can add some chopped jalepeno peppers too, if you feel that way. But the secret ingredient is my hot pepper oil. This is what gives the salsa a bite and a purpose in life.
I first discovered this oil eating in the pizzerias of Paris. Unlike the US, pizzerias here have hot oil instead of hot pepper flakes on every table for those who want to spice up their dish. I never liked the pepper flakes because I always felt like they added too much spice to individual bites but not an even spiciness to everything. Also, they were murder when they got lodged between your teeth. But hot oil gives an even heat to the whole dish. And it's dead easy to make.
Take one empty wine or liquor bottle, preferably an interesting looking one. Wash it well and rinse it with boiling water. Put about an inch and a half of dried small red peppers in the bottom of the bottle. (Do not use fresh ones as I did the first time: they become fuzzy and really scary looking after a week or so.) Pour olive oil over the peppers. You can add a bay leaf too if you like, but I don't find it adds much taste. Let it stew for a couple of weeks before using the oil, to give the peppers time to release their flavour. (Alternatively, you can do what my friend Daniel does and fry the peppers lightly in the oil before putting them in the bottle. This speeds up the process.) Put a cork with a spout on the top and you are done.
Over time, the oil will get hotter and hotter as the peppers release their oil and the amount of oil they are releasing into decreases. It will become something of a macho dare to use it. But if you make it once you'll find yourself becoming addicted to it. Not only is it great on pizzas but you can find 101 uses in other dishes. I use some of the oil to soften the onions when I'm making a chili. I drizzle a little into a bowl of gaspacho, where it makes a pretty and tasty accent. And I put it in my salsa and serve it with chips.
When the oil runs out, pull out the cork and shake out as many of the peppers as you can and throw it in the recycle bin. I don't know about you but we have an endless supply of empty wine bottles and having re-used the bottle once I'm ready to recycle it and start with a new one.
Right. So I'm going to preface this recipe by saying this is pub food so it's pretty horrid in some ways, but that's OK - it's a very good approximation of a tasty dish that is inherently somewhat horrid.
When I heard the theme Elise has chosen for this event was eggs, I thought to myself, "What dish will no one else try to recreate. What dish would be unique? So strange and perhaps - nasty? - that no one else would want to make it?"
And then I remembered my trip to England a few years ago. I was staying in a hotel near the slaughterhouses where later in the week they'd discover mad cow. I'd already started down the vegetarian path, but I wasn't completely there yet.
I was there to help convert an office of a sister company into an office of ours, which meant replacing all the servers and changing over the workstations. As is usual, almost all the real work has to be done over a long weekend.
After staggering home late one night/early one morning I found a convenience store that was still open. As it didn't look like I was going to come across any other nourishment, I picked up a couple candy bars, a wedge of cheese and a strange ovoid object called a Scotch egg.
I got back to my room, opened the plastic capsule in which my Scotch egg was encased and took a bite. Oh my. This was something different. It wasn't exactly good, but it was tasty in that greasy way that a White Castle hamburger or a mess of potatoes and onions is after a long bender out with the boys.
Unfortunately, I didn't realize that Scotch eggs - a hardboiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated with breadcrumb, then deep fried and allowed to cool completely - are apparently posessed of natural opioids that keep you coming back. I consumed many Scotch eggs between that night and the day we returned home, often in conjunction with warm bitter beer.
Then - disaster. It is almost impossible to find a Scotch egg in Chicago. I experienced withdrawal symptoms akin to those suffered by Ewan McGregor's character in Trainspotting, though not as bad as the pain Ewan McGregor's character endured when hearing Hayden Christenson speak in Star Wars III.
When the IMBB? theme was announced, I knew what egg dish needed to be reintroduced to my life.
But how? I've now become a full-fledged meat eschewer (fish and veggies only, please). The answer lay in a packet of soy crumbles:
Yes, soy would emulate the sausage coffin to bury my egg in.
I opened the pack of Smart Ground and crumbled it up. Very dry. No sticking together power at all, and not that flavorful. Should really only be used when desperate or out of kitty litter.
I was desperate. In went some olive oil, in went some spices, and eventually, in went a beaten egg to hold the mess together.
I coated and dipped and rolled my Scotch egg and instead of deep frying, decided to bake the egg in the oven.
The result is not bad at all.
Veggie Scotch Egg
12 oz. fake ground beef (Smart Ground or other) (or just use pork sausage)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 raw eggs divided, both beaten
4 eggs, hard boiled, peeled
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 big pinch salt or to taste
1 big pinch pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried sage or 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh sage
1 cup fine bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Peel your hardboiled eggs under running cold water and make sure all the shell is removed. Pat eggs dry.
Mix the oil and one beaten egg into the fake ground beef along with all the seasonings. Mix very well.
With your hands, pat a fairly thick full coating of "meat" around a hardboiled egg. Dip meated egg into a wash of the other beaten egg and coat. Transfer egg int bowl of breadcrumbs and coat with crumbs. Shake excess bread crumbs off lightly and place egg on a nonstick or well oiled cookie sheet.
Repeat with other hardboiled eggs.
Place cookie sheet in oven and bake for 20 minutes until eggs are golden brown and "meat" is cooked through. Let cool completley before eating, preferably after imbibing too much bitter ale.
Is this authentic? Hell no. It's not quite the Scotch egg that is now forbidden to me (the egg dish that Dare Not Speak Its Name?), but it'll do, soy pig; it'll do.
Bonus dish - Egg and Scotch! Boil an egg and have a sip of the true single malt.
I've been dabbling in container gardening for a few years now. Until now it has resulted in the odd piece of fruit or vegetable, never enough for a whole meal or even a shared dish. A couple of strawberries, maybe a zucchini, a handful of tomatoes, never all at once. Well, earlier this week I finally achieved my goal: I actually had enough greens and tomatoes for a salad. Admittedly, only one of the elements was grown from seed but even so I felt it was an achievement. And so here you see it: roquette (arugula), lettuce and cherry tomatoes, all from our terrace garden.
The only flowers on our garden are those that have the potential to turn into fruit or vegetables.
Here you can see my first so far successful foray into roquette and sunflowers. I don't know why I decided they belonged in the same planter, but they seem to be doing okay that way. The rosemary plant is replacing the one I've had for the last couple of years. The old one is starting to turn a bit yellow; they always do after two years and I don't know if it's just a natural life span or something I'm doing wrong. I put the old one in a corner of the big planter with the lilacs to see if a little more room for the roots might save it. I bought my first rosemary plant because I thought it was pretty and smelled nice. Since then I have become addicted to its flavour and use it with almost any grilled meat or autumn vegetable, with ham and fish. You can also see my hearty tomato plants here (they are finally starting to flower!) and a thyme plant. Like rosemary, thyme thrives for about two years on my balcony and then suddenly goes yellow and wimpy. When it flowers, like the rosemary, it's a joy to behold.
Last year I bought NINE strawberry plants. I was proud of them and told everyone. NINE. But I was pregnant and never really got into the gardening thing last year (enough fertility going on in my body perhaps so that I didn't need to nurture outdoors). Seven of the strawberry plants died but the two hardiest are here. We've had a few plump red berries already and I'm regretting my laziness that resulted in the loss of the other seven. You can also see some lovely lettuce I bought at Truffaut when we got the barbecue a couple of weeks ago. I've tried raising lettuce from seed and never gotten past a few spindly sickly leaves. These were the basis (with the roquette) of my salad. You know when you pick up a little box of a dozen plants they look so tiny and it never occurs to you how difficult it will be to find enough planters and dirt for them!
On the left you can see our pumpkin and zucchini garden. As of this evening, I have one little proto-pumpkin about twice the size of my thumb and a beginning of a zucchini about half the size of my pinkie. I've tried growing zucchini before but they always suddenly stopped growing at about six to eight inches because I didn't have containers large enough for the amount of soil they need. I'm hoping that this year will be the year I crack the problem with these great containers. My friend Charles gave them to me and I'm eternally grateful.
On the right, you can see all the wimpy tomato and zucchini plants that I didn't have the heart to throw away but didn't have the space to put in containers in the sun. They are actually doing better than their supposedly well-treated brothers!
And here you have my pride and joy: the lemon tree. I bought it a year and a half ago on the Ile St. Louis in Paris, where there is a flower market. I was coming out of my meeting with the préfecture to get my carte de séjour and I saw this at one of the stalls. It was covered with literally hundreds of white flowers and the seller warned me that they would all fall off leaving me - if I was lucky - with one small lemon. She was right and last year I had a small lemon. This year, after 18 months in the sunniest corner of the apartment, it has produced a bumper crop of lemons and I'm all in a dither to decide what to do with them. It has to involve the skin, though, as for once I know I have unwaxed organic fruit!
So there you have a rundown of the more exciting elements of my garden. I also have some coriander, a nice sage plant and a purple basil that is just barely surviving. Oh, and ditto a mint. I love picking things off my little garden and luckily my husband is content to let me monopolize the kitchen side of the terrace.
The salad in the first photo was delicious and I can't wait to report back on the rest of our organic produce. For those who are interested in such things, I use coir blocks for the soil and worm casts from my Can-0-Worms for fertilizer. That way I don't have to feel guilty about throwing away rotten vegetables and fruit!
One of the recent food magazines had a recipe for corn soup with a swirl of adobo sauce. I was convinced I was going to make that dish tonight, but I couldn't find the magazine I'd read the recipe in and couldn't remember all the ingredients or any of the proportions. Thus does "recipe" become "inspiration".
What attracted me to the original recipe was the combination of sweet corn with milk and spicy chipotle chiles in adobo sauce.
Chipotles are smoked jalapenos. They can be found dried, but they are best purchased canned in a spicy vinegary adobo sauce. Chipotles tast to me like the physical incarnation of smoldering. The fire from the pepper itself is somewhat smothered by the deep smoky flavor. For this recipe you won't need much, so buy a small can.
Serves four. Beware the heat. It can creep up on you all unexpected-like. Have a beer or a glass of milk nearby.
Chipotle Corn Chowder
4 cups frozen corn kernels
1/2 white onion, diced (or 1/4 of a BIG white onion)
2 small shallots, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
thumb0sized piece of ginger, diced finely
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper or to taste
4-6 fresh sage leaves, minced
2 diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
4 teaspoons adobo sauce from can of chipotles in adobo
3 cups skim milk
Heat oil and butter in a soup stock pot until butter foams. Add onions and shallots and salt. Sautee until onions are tender and just starting to go translucent. You don't want color on the onions.
Add ginger, corn, and milk and stir well. Heat through until all in the pot is hot. Don't let milk boil.
Add chopped chipotles and sage and stir. Add black and red pepper (if using). Stir and taste. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
Blend soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender and serve with a one teaspoon swirl of adobo sauce from the chipotle chile can on top of each bowl. Serves 4.
The tents are going up for Taste of Chicago in Grant Park as I speak. Taste of Chicago starts June 23rd and runs through July 4th.
Every year, Chicago surrenders Grant Park to throngs of hungry locals and tourists and local restauranteurs who ply their usually deep fried wares.
Look, I used to love this event but as I've grown older, I'm less and less enamored of fighting a couple hundred thousand of my closest friends so I can get a salty fried dough ball ON A STICK! I also think that most years the Taste of Chicago festival gives people a warped idea of just how great the food in Chicago is in favor of a fast food version of the culinary diversity of this city.
However, this year, I will say the list of vendors is intriguing. As the city changes, the Taste seems to be trying to broaden its ethnic appeal and to add a few healthy vendors. But when I say few, I'm not kidding. Most of what you're going to get is classic heavy summer festival food.
Yes, I'll go, but I will try to be more selective than in the past, and not just buy a slice of pizza from the first booth I see because I'm hungry. I'm holding out for the more unusual food this year.
A selection of the participants I think are worth checking out this year after the jump:
Ann Sather Ann Sather's cinnamon rolls are legendary. Their pecan rolls are tastier and both will be at the Taste booth. If you like duck with sauerkraut and lingonberries instead, you're still in luck.
Arya Bhavan will be serving "Samosa (crisp patties with potatoes, peas, coriander and spices); Matar paneer with nan (lightly fried cream cheese cooked with peas in onion and tomato sauce with bread); Chana masala with nan (chickpeas made with traditional North Indian spices and bread); and Gulab jamun (dumplings in sugar syrup)" according to the Sun-Times. I may be wrong but this may be the first South Asian restaurant to show up at the Taste. It's the first I've taken note of in any case.
Billy Goat Tavern & Grill? Chee'burger, Chee'burger, Chee'burger, no fries - chips.
B.J.'s Market & Bakery is dishing up mustard fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, and peach cobbler. Your belly may hate you afterwards, but your tongue will tell it to shut the hell up.
Cousin's Turkish Dining brings a bit of the Near East to the Taste:
"Borek (spinach and feta cheese pie); Tavuk adana (spicy ground chicken, greens and cucumber yogurt sauce in pita); Falafel sandwich; Chocolate baklava."
Dominick's is a supermarket and not a restaurant but they will have some of the only fresh healthy refreshing food in the park. Stop here for Bing cherries, seedless grapes, watermelon, and the best corn on the cob at the Taste, even if it isn't ON A STICK!
Is it wrong of me to say I don't like Eli's Cheesecake? What was once a nice local thing has been turned into mass market blandness.
Gold Coast Dogs/Vienna Beef - get your hot dogs here and avoid American Dog near the fountain. You can also get a pickle ON A STICK! here.
Grizzly's Lodge has interesting foods for the carnivore in your life. I got sick on the alligator ON A STICK! one year but they have it again along with alligator "wings", fried catfish nuggets and wild boar sausage.
Harold's Chicken #13 - Near and dear to my heart. I lived on this stuff in college, but now they have nuggets and fried okra as well as chicken wings. Maybe its better if you go to one of the real locations of Harold's and get yourself a white half hot with salt and pepper (no barbecue/mild sauce).
Harry Caray's serves Fried dough and Potato chips. Ho-ly crap. Ugh.
Helen's Kitchen is where you can get your own giant barbecued turkey leg this year and key lime pie - ON A STICK! These people know the Taste crowd.
Hey Sushi! will be at the Taste, but they're chickening out on serving raw fish in the 90 degree heat and will serve ice cream (red bean or green tea flavored) and tempuras instead. I guess they didn't want to be known as Hey, Salmonella!
Cool off with Mazzone's Italian Ice. They're in Western Springs now, but a lot of the old Taylor Street Italians moved west when the University of Illinois tore up the old neighborhood. Italian ice is better than ice cream in the hot sun, if you ask me.
For us vegetarian-ish types, A Natural Harvest will have what I call a McRibless (Veggie riblet with sauce on a whole wheat bun) as well as double cheese nachos with black beans and peppers and Grilled veggie dog on a whole wheat bun,or plain old Fries (actually Cajun or plain). See? Vegetarian doesn't have to mean healthy!
Corn on the cob is the reason I go to the Taste, and O'Brien's Restaurant & Bar is claiming they have Celtic corn on the cob. Celtic. So... a leprechaun passes out on it or something? Probably fine but go to the Dominick's booth instead.
Penang Malaysian Cuisine is your typical Malaysian restaurant. Wait. I don't think I've ever been to a Malaysian restaurant except once in DC so I have no idea what typicl Malaysian might be. The Sun-Times says you can expect "Roti canai (Indian style pancake with curry chicken and potato dipping sauce): Satay chicken and beef; Fried banana with honey; Fresh coconut pudding"
Mowimy po polsku? Me either. But the Polka Sausage & Deli might just have you dancing the night away with their assortment of encased meat products and pierogi.
I don't get the attraction Popcorn Chicago has to so many people. It's just popcorn, people.
I rode my bike through the area from where Sabor Latino hails during the Puerto Rican Day parade last weekend and it was crazy fun. Visit their booth for "Arroz con gandules y bistec encebollado (steak and onions with Spanish rice); Puerto Rican steak and onion sandwich on Criollo bread; and Tostones con ajo (plantain chips with garlic sauce)" according to the Sun-Times. Mmmm.. Tostones.
Every year, someone dishes the turtle soup and this year it's a place best known for its meatloaf. Stanley's Kitchen & Tap serves up BInyon's turtle soup, a couple of Mac and cheese dishes and some sweet potato pie. No meatloaf, though.
Near North lunch favorite Star of Siam is serving "Shrimp pot stickers; Pad Thai; Grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce and salad; Goong n' pak tod (fried shrimp and vegetables)" according to the Sun-Times. You have to have a good Thai place at these things and this is one of the better Thai restaurant's in town. You could also go to Tiparos's booth if Star of Siam doesn't satisfy your hankering for a hunk'a Thai.
I'm not familiar with Taqueria Los Comales, but they're from the right neighborhood (3141 W. 26th) to dish up some mean Mexican
Visit Tuscany's booth instead of Buona Beef's booth for a really good Taylor Street Italian beef, Italian sausage or beef/sausage combo sandwich. Almost makes me want to become a carnivore again...
Vee-Vee's African Cuisine is the best place to get goat and plantain at the Taste. In fact, I think it's the only place to get goat and plantains at the Taste. Or avoid the goat and just have the plaintains in garlic sauce.
Lots of rib places and pizza place will be at the Taste as well. I used to prefer the Fireplace Inn's ribs over Robinson's or Sweet Baby Ray's, but it's a matter of (heh) Taste. Best sample them all.
For pizza, I favor Lou Malnati's over Home Run Inn, Suparossa, Bacino's, Connie's, and Father and Son's (though Father and Son do have shrimp ON A STICK!)
Musical acts this year include Donna Summer Steve Winwood and Doctor John, Santana, Morris Day & the Time, a July 4th concert featuring Moby, The North Mississippi All-Stars, and John Hiatt (sponsored by WXRT - who would guess they'd sponsor John Hiatt? Huh.) There'll be fireworks and a selection of John Philip Sousa's works and Tchiakovsky's 1812 Overture July 3rd.
Expect to spend too much, drink too little (dang those beers are expensive), and to end up with a vague sense of intestinal forboding. Tickets are $7 for a strip of 11 at the event or $5.50 in advance at Dominick's. Get two or three strips per person.
Go on Chicago - stuff yourself silly with fried foods and cheese in the hot summer sun! It's the Taste.
At our recent barbecue pot-luck, our good friend Margaret brought along two varieties of meat balls for grilling. Everyone loved these little hamburgers and as proof of how good they were I have to say I only got to taste the crumbs of one variety: the rest disappeared down our guests gullets within minutes of coming off the grill. The next day my dear Critic was still raving about them and so I wrote to Margaret to ask for the recipes. Unfortunately, she hasn't had the time to answer me and so last night I tried to improvise the coriander and onion one.
I'm pretty sure I did not get her recipe exactly right, but what I came up with was inspired by Margaret's recipe. The Critic judged that although my recipe was slightly less flavourful it worked better as a hamburger as a result. (Margaret's were served on their own and so the extra flavour could be better appreciated!)
One of these days I'll have to chase her up for the second variety (can't remember for the life of me what it contained but it was apparently delicious) but for now here is my take on the coriander one.
Margaret's Coriander Hamburgers
1 kg ground beef
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
2 plump cloves of garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt, pepper to taste
1 Tbs hot pepper flakes
Carefully crumble the beef in a large bowl with your hands and gently toss it with the rest of the ingredients. It's best to wash your hands thoroughly before (and after) and work it with your fingers rather than use a spoon. Turn on the grill and when it is nice and hot gently squeeze a large handful of the meat into a patty slightly larger than the size of your bun. It's important not to work the meat too much if you want to keep it tender and juicy. When the patty is cooked on one side, flip it over and put the bun on the grill to toast. Serve the hamburger patty on the toasted bun with fresh tomato, a slice of onion and a little sharp mustard.
What sad times are these when DePaul students can no longer grab a hot dog and fries while listening to light pop tunes from a has-been band?
This weekend time ran out out for Peter Shivarelli's Demon Dogs under Chicago's Fullerton Red/Brown Line el stop. After much back and forth with the CTA, which leased the space to Shivarelli, the hot dog stand has been booted.
For over two decades, the thick scent of hot dogs and french fries greeted Fullerton El train riders from directly below the El platform. For $1.88, patrons of the stand could enjoy a hot dog and fries with a subset of the classic Chicago hot dog toppings (peppers, onion, mustard, relish), but the low price of the food came with a horrible psychic price.
Shivarelli, who owned the stand, also managed the band Chicago. The walls were covered with gold records from the brass-heavy pop band that devolved from credible songs like "Saturday in the Park" and "25 or 6 to 4" to insipid ballads like "If You Leave Me Now" and "Hard to Say I'm Sorry", and patrons were forced to listen to a never-ending soundtrack of Chicago's biggest hits. Is a cheap hot dog worth that kind of pain? Well, they were pretty darn good hot dogs.
No word yet on whether this successful combination of bad pop and encased meats will reopen anywhere else. It's doubtful the CTA, which took the property back for the upcoming Brown Line reconstruction project, will lease space in the new station to Shivarelli. He and the CTA were in frequent conflict, most recently and notably about who was responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid utility bills.
Hot dog lovers in Chicago still have plenty of good joints to pick from, from Fluky's to Gold Coast Dogs to The Weiner's Circle (as seen on Dave Attel's Insomniac) to SuperDawg, to the famous Hot Doug's - Chicago's self-proclaimed Sausage Superstore and Encased Meats Emporium.
For those of you unfortunate enough not to not have access to this string of dog shacks, Vienna Beef (which IS the Chicago hot dog) has a guide to making a Chicago dog at home. When I ate hot dogs, I preferred many more hot peppers and couldn't stand relish but the rest of the instructions seem right to me.
Oh, and if you put ketchup on a hot dog, you're sick. Very, very, very sick.
Dog costume available at Tails By the Lake (note the URL says tailsbythebay)
My friend Sam (of the Rowallan olive oil fame) recently sent me a message to let me know that one of my foodie heros, Nigel Slater, was to feature on the BBC radio's program(me) Desert Island Disks. Unfortunately, I had an extremely busy weekend and wasn't able to tune in live. However, thanks to the wonders of the Internet World, I was able to find the program(me) on the web this morning. As you may recall, a meme on Music in My Kitchen was making the rounds of the food blogs not so long ago. Perhaps someone tapped Nigel for us? I wish I had thought of it!
From the wildly famous to the slightly obscure, old friends and new, here are this week's TMC posts of the week:
1) First up is our old friend Adam, the Amateur Gourmet. Adam had fun this week with his photo-editing equipment and created photographic proof that Russell Crowe is sorry about that phone-throwing incident. Thank you Adam!
A. Next is a new blog to me, TheCooksCottage cooking up Lychee tart with cardamom. Not only did I find the recipe exciting (I've never known what to do with lychees other than eat them raw) but the following quote delighted me:
The decision to bake it quickly was partly because we had limited illumination (candles) due to interminable local power cuts, and the kitchen must have been a good 40C. It was like being in a medieval sauna and cooking by candlelight is quite different from the romance of eating by candlelight.
How can you not love such dedication?
I. And lastly, a new find - both as a blog and as a friend - is David Lebovitz, author of many cookbooks and now on the automatic invite list for the Expat Flat. He recently posted the no-recipe for his cherry jam and I am delighted. When he arrived at our place last Saturday he had a big container of delicious cherry almond ice cream. The recipe is a secret for the moment but I know that one of the ingredients was preserved cherries. So now I have part of the secret...I will get me to my secret laboratory and find the rest...bwah, hah, hah...
In the meantime, I'll just keep inviting him over for potluck dinners so that I get to taste his desserts before they hit the bookshelves!
That's it for this week, folks. If you have any candidates in the next week just send them to me. Barrett will be off lounging on a houseboat in Kentucky next weekend methinks. (Jealous, ME?!??? Well, yes, actually.)
Many years ago when I lived in Munich we spent long summer evenings in the beer gardens of the Englischer Garten and of the major breweries. These were lovely places to enjoy a maß of beer: cool, leafy green, full of happy families. And one of the nicest things to put in your stomach to cushion all that beer was a delicacy known as steckerlfisch. Steckerl is a Bavarian derivative meaning "little stick" and fisch means, well fish. Fish on a stick.
So the tenuous link between the Munich beer garden snack and this dish is two-fold: fish and stick. Fish and sticks are good together. Fish cooks extremely quickly on the grill and if you do it right it retains a lovely moist flaky texture. Unlike the mackerel used for the Munich variety, I chose salmon for my fish-on-a-stick. Since I was cooking a fillet without the skin, I decided I needed something to protect my fish and hold it together. (In the Munich beer gardens, the mackerels are barbecued whole which makes it easier to keep together.)
Whatever Mr. Alton-know-it-all Brown says about barbecuing fish even if you do it right fish has a tendency to stick to grill. And fall apart in pieces that fall down irretrievably leaving you with a few fish flakes and the smell of burnt fish. And so I thought of Dr. Biggles, who suggested in a recent comment that a little pork does not go amiss when grilling. Well, actually, I happen to agree.
So for those of you who can't kick back in a Bavarian beer garden, sucking down Edelstoff (literally, Noble Stuff, great name for a beer, don't you think?) here is another fish on a stick. It's healthy, it's tasty and it's quick to make - what more can you ask for on a sunny evening after work?
Fish on a Stick, Paris style
2 salmon steaks
1 small zucchini/courgette
3-4 cherry tomatoes
5-6 slices of Italian or French country ham (prosciutto for example, or something cheaper in the same vein)
2-4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1/2 a lemon
Peel the shallots and set them in a small saucepan of water and simmer them. As they will take longer to cook than the rest of the ingredients, you'll want to take the edge off them so everything finishes at once. In the meantime, cut your fish in big chunks, your courgettes in small ones. Remove the shallots from the fire after five minutes and turn on the grill. Thread a vegetable on a skewer and pick up a piece of salmon. Place a couple of needles of rosemary on it and wrap it in ham. Thread it on the skewer. Continue, alternating fish-with-rosemary-and-ham and vegetables until all your skewers are filled. Squeeze the lemon juice over the kabobs and if there is any rosemary left chop it up and spinkle it on them too.
That is actually the longest part of the recipe: if you are having guest over for dinner prepare the skewers, cover them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. I wish I had thought of it for my barbecue last weekend. (Guests, come back: I have a BETTER idea!!)
Cook for five minutes on each side, until the ham and salmon have started to brown a bit and the zucchini is tender. Serve with some asparagus spears you also grilled. They take slightly less time than the fish sticks, but if you are lucky your husband bought a swish new grill that has a little grill-shelf for keeping fully-cooked bits warm while the rest finishes (note also the nifty basket for baking potatoes!):
Despite the cool changeable weather here in Paris lately (or maybe because of it?) I've been dreaming of sunny Spain and longing for the great food we found in Catalonia last autumn. And so I finally pulled out the slim touristy cookbook I bought down south (well, it was the only one on regional cuisine I could find in English) and leafed through it.
The cool wet spring we've had means fresh produce is not at the peak it should be right now, which made a lot of the Catalonian dishes problematic bordering on impossible. And then I saw the recipe for romesco sauce, which miraculously called for dried sweet peppers (though fresh ones could be substituted). Hurrah, I had picked up some of those peppers at the market for just such an occasion!
Once I finished making the sauce, I realized there was a lot of it. I used a few tablespoons as an unusual dressing for chicken breast burgers (very tasty) but I still had a good 3/4 cup of the stuff. And so I decided to get creative and came up with this Catalonian-influenced cold salad. I thought the flavours mixed together beautifully, the sweet pepper flavour complimented by the occasional sharp tang of lemon. And texturally, too, it made a lovely marriage: meaty chickpeas and the slightly gritty, nutty sauce. On a bed of sharp roquette (arugula) it was perfect: filling but healthy and fresh.
The following may seem like a lot of work for a simple salad, but actually the romesco sauce is extremely versatile and you'll still have some left over. Try it on your hamburgers and chicken burgers, in a light vegetable soup, spread on a bit of toasted bread that has been brushed with fresh garlic (a Spanish bruschetta). It should last a week in the fridge or you can freeze it in small quantities and defrost it as you need it.
2 dried sweet peppers (or you can substitute 2 fresh red peppers, grilled and the skin and seeds removed)
1 dried hot pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1 slice of bread, torn in pieces
1/2 -3/4 cup olive oil depending on how thick you want to make the sauce
The original recipe I consulted called for frying the sweet peppers in olive oil to start. Now this was very entertaining in that they popped up like balloons, but I found that they became a bit tough and it was hard too soften them all over. The second time I made the sauce, I boiled them in a small pot of water until soft and reserved the water to use to thin the sauce as I went along. The taste was just as good, but the overall oil used was less and I preferred it for this reason. You can follow your instincts about tradition vs. healthy eating. So fry on all sides or cover with boiling water and simmer for ten minutes.
In the meantime, in a small frying pan put a little olive oil and the nuts. Fry them until golden on all sides, being very careful to watch that they do not burn. (They will do so in a second if you turn your back - watch them carefully!). Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the oil and add the bread, torn in pieces. Again, brown them carefully watching to make sure they do not burn.
Toss the nuts, fried bread, peppers torn in pieces, garlic and olive oil from the frying in a blender or small immersion blender containter and zap them. Slowly add a little olive oil and/or pepper water to thin as you go, to achieve the consistency you want. It's better to leave the initial sauce more of a paste consistency and then thin it down as you use it. (If nothing else, it's easier to add liquid than to take it away!)
So now you have the Romesco sauce.
For the chickpea salad you'll need:
3-4 Tbs Romesco sauce
2 cups cooked chickpeas
4-5 preserved lemons, cut in eighths
1 ripe red tomato, chopped
2-3 anchovies (optional)
2 large handfuls of arugula
2-3 Tbs olive oil
2-3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Toss everything but the arugula until well mixed and the chickpeas are coated with sauce. Serve on a bed of arugula at room temperature.
When I made this for our weekend potluck barbecue, I forgot to buy the arugula and had to serve it without. And then some bright spark pointed out the fresh arugula growing in a box on the terrace. Duh....didn't think of that...
Yes at times I am an absent-minded chef. D'oh!
The Electronic Freedom Foundation has published a legal guide for bloggers that anyone who sees fit to publish their own delusional rants on the web should be familiar with.
Because of the nature of the topics covered, much of the guide is focused on political bloggers, but many of the issues covered apply to just about anyone writing on the web. That includes us foodie types.
The guide is written for U.S. laws, but the priciples should be useful for writers from just about any liberal Western democracy. Those of you in Saudi Arabia or North Korea - you're on your own.
This model shown wearing a chocolate frock is not participating in "America's Next Top Morsel" or trying out for the Cirque du Toffee, but is shown at Beijing's Salon du Chocolat. 20 actual top chocolate makers participated in this event, creating edible garments for models to wear and presumably take home and eat later.
Lord knows they could use a sandwich or something.
Normally, this event is held in Paris, but China is becoming a huge market for well, everything, but chocolate especially.
More photos of this sweet show are available at Yahoo.
Discovered via Boing Boing.
The Critic and I eat a lot of chicken breasts. It's his favorite meat, and I like the fact that it's reasonably healthy. I buy the free-range organic ones in our local supermarket at least once a week. Chicken breasts are pretty versatile and I have a lot of ways of preparing them, with varying degrees of healthiness: mustard chicken breasts, wrapped in bacon and cheese, chopped up in soups and pies, stir fried...the list seems endless sometimes.
But in actual fact, the list is not endless and so every once in a while I'm thoroughly tired of the usual preparations and look around for something new and exciting. This Sunday I wanted to use the new flash Weber grill the Critic bought over the weekend and I wanted something summery and fresh. Fresh herbs and a grill: why not?
For the first time in my life I have actually succeeded in growing a coriander plant. I'm so pleased because it's one of my favorite herbs and unfortunately it's one that doesn't keep well in the refrigerator. Basil and parsley can be counted on to stay relatively fresh wrapped in damp paper towels for a few days but the delicate coriander leaves seem to wilt within hours of purchasing them.
So, as I say, I'm rather proud of my little plant. (I do feel a bit mean picking leaves from it though...it seems so cruel to keep a plant alive just to systematically and carefully pick the best leaves it has managed to grow...)
Grilled Green Chicken
2 boneless skinned chicken breasts if you have a grill with a cover that will cook them quickly and keep them moist (otherwise, I would recommend bone-in and with skin)
1 small handful of coriander leaves (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup frozen or fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
1 jalepeno pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1 medium lemon
2 small ripe tomatoes, chopped
pinch of salt, grinding of pepper
1 tsp grain mustard
Place the herbs, garlic and pepper in a small blender or use an immersion blender in a small cup. Zap them with a drizzle of olive oil and continue adding oil and lemon juice until you have a thinnish sauce.
Take your breasts and make a few diagonal slits in them with a sharp knife. Slather half the herb sauce on the two breasts (i.e., one quarter each) making sure that you push some into the slits. Salt and pepper the breasts and place them on a hot grill or grill pan.
In the meantime, chop the tomatoes and toss them with the reserved sauce and the mustard. When the chicken is grilled on both sides and done in the middle (the slits will help you determine!) serve them over a helping of the herbed mustard tomatoes.
Although dark meat is generally a better candidate for the grill (it doesn't dry out as easily as white meat) on this recipe I think white meat is really essential. Not only do the fresh herbs go well with the less gamey meat but it also makes the dish very light and healthy. Serve with freezing cold white wine or light dry rosé on the terrace and toast the summer days to come!
Last Thursday found me standing in front of the UK Embassy in Paris with a small crowd of interested onlookers watching the diplomatic cars arrive and spew out their diplomatic contents. The sun was shining and the whining of a Scottish bagpipe drifted out over the Paris air.
A French business man approached me and inquired politely whether I knew what the deal was. As it turns out, I did, for I was invited myself. I explained to him that each year the embassy holds a party in honour of the Queen's birthday and that I myself was waiting for my husband to arrive with our invitation. "Oh?" he said with interest, "And how does one obtain such an invitation?"
Well, that is the rub as old William S. would put it. You need an invitation and they are not all that easy to come by.
When I told Barrett about the party I said I was hesitant to review a function that very few of our readers would ever be able to attend. He thought it would make an interesting story, which is why I'm writing this. But if you think it's pointless to read about things you can't just go and experience yourself you'll have to go read our archives instead. We have some good stuff there, really.
The Queen's Birthday Party (QBP) is always held in the garden of the embassy and on a nice summer day (as it was this year) you can see why it's our favourite social event of the year. As you arrive, you are offered your choice of champagne, wine, G&T, whisky by a nice man in a white coat. As you start to wander down the well-tended carpet of grass you see the first of culinary treats: the strawberry table. You can pretend you are at Wimbledon and treat yourself to a little cup of fresh strawberries with a dollop of the richest cream and cute little plastic forks for spearing the berries. Yum.
Further on, you see the line for the cheese tent. It's long; it's always long. But that is because it's good. For the last few years, the cheese has been brought over by the people at Neal's Yard, a wonderful selection including cheddar and Stilton but also a lot of lesser-known cheeses. This year, I was on the wrong side of the lane when the parade started and so I didn't get any of the special cheeses. (The perfect time to get food is while everyone else is lining up to watch the parade).
I was, however, on the right side of the parade to try the barbecue. There was a crowd around the table as I approached and though I could see a plate of sausages in front of a group of people no one seemed to be moving anywhere. I started directly towards the sausages, and, catching the hairy eye-ball from a small group of middle-aged people further down the table, I asked them if they were at the end of the queue. "Yes," answered the male of the group in a fake let's-all-be-jolly-while-we-instruct-the-heathen kind of voice, "We are English, you see. We queue."
I answered brightly, "That's funny. We do it in America too. And we wash ourselves every day and change the sheets at least once a month." His companions tittered while he continued to blather on about English Superior Queueing Techniques. The cream of this little exchange is that the group eventually realized that the people in front of them (French, no doubt!) were never going to move from in front of the tray of sausages and that they - the English - would have to rudely reach down and pull the tray towards themselves. Damned uncivilized non-queuing natives!
This guy would not have been so snotty, I am sure. He's the beer guy, presiding over a selection of some eight different little known beers with strange names. He flirts with me every year (probably with every female, actually) and I like him. I always have a pint of beer, and I never remember the name...
It's not food related, but I also took photos of the parade. Here you see someone official being officious and making sure that all is ship-shape and Bristol fashion and that the natives are fully behind the white lines.
Here you see people waiting for the parade to begin. A couple of years ago, the Critic and I spied Jane Birkin on the other side of the corridor as we waited for the parade.
Here you can see the marching band in the distance. You can also see two women looking past me in the opposite direction, which led me to wonder what they were looking at?
As it turns out they were watching the marching band come from the other direction. This year, they started out half on each end of the lane and met together in the middle. Verrrry innovative.
To appreciate why I'm so impressed you have to know that these marching bands are military ones that could have stepped out of the pages of a Kipling book. Most years there is at least one band member wearing an animal skin of some sort: this year it was tiger. (Amusingly, last year in honor of the centenary of the entente cordiale treaty between France and England, the band was French. Being French, they went on strike, causing a last minute tizzy in the Embassy...)
A Welshman, a Scot and and an Englishman walk into a garden party...sounds like a joke doesn't it? Our friend Iain has two glasses because he kindly held mine while I took the photo. I'm not saying he's above running two glasses at the same time - I later saw him with a pint in one hand and a half full whisky glass in his pocket - but he would never be seen with a HALF pint in his hand. Unless he was doing a favour for a lady.
And about that invitation. How do you go about getting one? Well, you suck up to people who work in the UK delegation to the OECD or the UK embassy to France as they each have a limited number of invitations to give out. Or barring that you become Important in the diplomatic world or the OECD, a film star famous in France in the 60s or have the good luck to be born a member of the British royal family. (We once saw Andrew striding by in an obvious hurry to get to the exit, followed by men in sunglasses and serious faces.) For ourselves, we invited our friend Nick from the UK delegation to every party we held for two years before we got an invitation but we are still not certain if our good luck was due to Nick's intervention or the fact that the Critic received a promotion in the OECD that year to a more high-profile position. Whatever the reason we are happy with our yearly invitation (and, by the way, with the friendship of Nick)! So all was well that ended well for us.
Posts of the Week is really, really hoping for a bitchin' Camaro for graduation!
Each week we pick three posts we like, kick them out of the nest, and expose them to the cold, cruel world. This week:
A. It's June, it's graduation, and it's cupcakes. Cupcakes have nothing to do with graduation, you say? They do when they are From the Patry's graduation cupcakes. But word of advice - don't toss the graham cracker mitreboard into the air. It's awfully hard to get the grass clippings off it when it lands.
1. I enjoyed the Delicious Life's review of a week's worth of farmer's markets and a week's worth of cooking from those markets. Southern California might have a lot going against it, but they sure are close to some great farms which leads to great farmer's markets. Now see if you can do something abut the smog, celebrity show trials, and highway shootings.
I. Socca is what the Americans call European "football". It's a game played by - Wait. I'm wrong, it appears. A socca is apparently a chickpea pancake from the south of France. I'd never heard of one until I read this recipe for a Seafood Socca with Date-Orange Salad, Spiced Honey Sauce and Crème Fraîche straight from the Traveler's Lunchbox. Now, I want to try one. Goooooooooooaaaaaaaaaalll!!!!
That's it for this week. Go, get married, graduate, go on vacation or whatever else it is you people do in June, would ya?
Cold soup. Doesn't sound very appetizing does it? If you're talking about chicken noodle or cream of broccoli, I'd agree. But when it's 90 degrees outside and 95 in the kitchen, certain cold soups that require no fire to make sound very good to me indeed.
The classic tomato based cold soup is gazpacho. Tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, spices, who wouldn't love it? Well, my wife for one. That's right, the Redhead has a distaste for a few foods and one of these is cucumbers. Of course the first thing I ever made for her was a fried fish on a bed of thinly sliced cucumbers. That was the last time she ever ate cucumbers as far as I know.
I don't understand her aversion, but I do cater to it. This soup, therefore is NOT gazpacho, but a gazpacho-like soup that takes no time at all to make and that you'll enjoy when the weather makes you feel like you're walking through the inside of a double-boiler and the thought of turning on the oven makes you melt.
10-12 plum tomatoes, topped, washed, and cut into four wedges or so
1 big white onion, cut into wedges
3-6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 red bell peppers, seeded, diced roughly
6-10 leaves of fresh basil
1/2 cup parsley, flat or curly leaves, destemmed as much as practical
1/4 cup olive oil or to taste
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt or to taste
big grind of pepper to taste
Here's the recipe - put it all in a blender and blend until uniform. Chill. Serve.
A standard blender won't hold all this stuff. I start with the onion and tomatoes, blend them up, then pour out about half the liquid into a big mixing bowl and add the pepper and parsley and basil and garlic and blend again.
Once that lot's blended up, I pour everything into the same bowl, add the salt and pepper and oil, stir well, and taste. Adjust the seasonings to your liking. If you want more garlic or basil or parsley, pour a little of the soup from the bowl into the mixer and blend the extras in then return the blended mix to the bigger bowl, stir well and taste again.
Careful with the garlic here. With the white onion and the raw garlic, this soup can taste quite spicy. Start small and work your way up.
Put soup in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.
We enjoyed this soup with some wheat rusks and taramosalata, but that's just a suggestion.
If you'd like to make this more gazpacho-like, cut the amount of onion in half and add two or three or more peeled cucumbers. You also may need to increase the salt.
The incomparable Seattle Bon Vivant is hosting IMBB? 16 and the theme is Eggs!
You can bet your bippy I'll be making something for this one. Er, if you happen to have a bippy, that is.
Better sanitation? Roads? A legal system? Wine? (Okay, well maybe this last one has some relevance...)
It's been over a year since Barrett and I started the TooManyChefs site. Initially, the joy of just writing about something I love doing was compensation enough. Then we started getting comments from Complete Strangers. Then we started having a cherished few Regular Readers. Ego-stroking stuff indeed! And last night I was reminded of another fantastic thing that blogging has done for me: it has put me in touch with lovely like-minded people here in Paris and around the world.
Last night, I dined with Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini, Pascale from C'est moi qui l'ai fait, David Lebovitz, author of many fine cookbooks and a fantastic pastry chef, Alisa-who-has-no-blog-but-is-one-of-the-best-cooks-and-photographers-as-it-turns-out that I know...and Pim of Chez Pim. Not only did I have great company, but I had the fun of participating in the creation of one of the best Thai meals I have ever eaten, prepped by all of us and cooked with great skill by Pim in Pascale's kitchen. Oh, heck, it was the best Thai meal I've ever eaten. (But don't tell the Critic, because he wasn't invited...) And best of all, I had the company of some of the great stars of the blogging world. I enjoyed it down to my toes.
The only down side? I forgot my camera. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid woman. Luckily for me, Alisa was there with her camera and she's a great photographer. As you can see in all these photos she sent me!
Garlic shoots, strange pork packets and fresh peppercorns on the vine. The garlic shoots turned deliciously mellow and savoury in a shrimp stir fry and the peppercorns were fantastic in a pork stir-fry, a little sharp but not unbearably hot. We didn't try the pork packets but apparently they can be consumed "raw" or cooked. Pim agreed that as a concept they were a little disturbing but said she had eaten them many times and was still here to tell the tale...
Pascale and Pim met up in the afternoon to purchase Thai ingredients at Frères Tang. I'm extremely sorry I did not have the courage to bring along a notebook along and take notes on all the ingredients that Pim used. My part of the prepping involved tearing coriander leaves from the stalk, ditto some lime leaves (I think?). There was also mint and another herb that was similar to mint but less minty. (Hey, I said I didn't take notes, didn't I?) And lemon grass and a bunch of other great looking herbs that I don't really know.
In addition to traditional limes...
there were some wrinkled Thai limes.
Pascale spent pretty much the entire day shopping, ferrying people around, prepping, cleaning...and through it all staying the perfect hostess full of good humour and energy!
And if you are curious about the actual meal, you can visit Clotilde's moblog for the main dishes and David's site for one of the desserts, his trademark coconut macaroons (they were heavenly - I'm SO pleased he has posted the recipe!). Pascale made a delicious no-flour hazelnut cake and Alisa brought mangos with a crème fraîche, lime zest and vanilla sauce and toasted coconut flakes (a fantastic combination I must say).
UPDATE: Pascale has posted the recipe for her delicious cake on her blog. It's in French but if you don't speak French and want the recipe send me an email and I'll oblige. It's a very simple recipe.
With all this information about Alisa's cooking skills and photography skills you may well wonder why she hides her light. Well, we tried to recruit her for TooManyChefs but alas she claimed to have this thing called Life that required her energy and time. Oh yeah, and a better outlet for her artistic talents in other media. It's our loss!
Photos (c) Alisa Morov-Bosc. Please write me for permission to reproduce and I will forward the request to her.
The Redhead and I went to a wedding this weekend. She was in the wedding, I was melting in the Virginia heat. All turned out well and two more people were successfully sent on their way with brand new tax advantages and albums of pictures.
I got to thinking about wedding food and wedding receptions and although I won't be able to put any of this to use personally (at least not until a still-only-theoretical daughter gets married), I've formed some strong opinions and rules on what constitutes good wedding grub. My rules:
1. Drinks are the most important thing.
You're having a party and ample beverage is important. Lots of drinks usually means lots of dancing and tomfoolery that will prove useful for blackmail when the wedding photos come back.
At our own wedding we had lots of good liquor and yellow label Veuve. Guests were handed a glass of bubbly on arrival so they had something to toast with and so there wasn't a party stopping crush at the bar.
If you go with champagne, go with good champagne for at least the first glass. You can always back off to a much less expensive bottle after the first toast, but you should have your marriage toasted with good stuff, don't you think?
I don't think you have to have tons and tons of beer (unless that's all your family drinks), but a good assortment of middle to top shelf liquors and lots and lots of mixers are important. Vodka and tonics or gin and tonics are not possible if you have no tonic. Make sure your caterer or the venue (whoever is responsible for the drinks) understands they just can't run out of Coca-Cola, orange juice, tonic, seltzer, 7-Up, cranberry juice, and any other mixer your friends and family require for drinks. Remember the kids at the wedding will be drinking what you might consider mixers.
If you serve a lot of booze, make sure you have transportation back to the hotel or home for your guests. It's not just a good idea, it's polite and smart. You don't want to hear about one of your guests getting into an accident on the way home.
One tip - if the bride is wearing white, keep her drinking clear or pale liquids all night. No rum and cokes or red wine unless you want a big stain on the dress in your photos.
On the subject of cash bar versus open bar - have an open bar. Period. You may restrict the costs by restricting drink choices or offering a subsection of the venue's usual selection for free while leaving higher priced items available for purchase, but no one likes being forced to pay for drinks at a wedding.
2. Food is the other most important thing.
There are three phases to the food service at most weddings:
First, is the passed appetizer/snack service. Success depends on a small assortment of appetizers that people will enjoy but not spill on them. Little soups would be a bad idea. Crumbly snacks are ok. Clean little bites are best. Make sure you have at least two vegetarian friendly items. Not only does it make the vegetarians happy, it makes the health-conscious happy. You should also have at least one item that's a fat bomb so the non-health-conscious don't notice the conspicuous vegetarian items. Brie works well in this role as do sausage rolls.
Second phase of the food at a good wedding in the dinner. The choice is between buffet or sit-down. I'm not a fan of the sit-down restaurant service style wedding dinner. Usually, you're given a choice between steak, fish, or chicken, and at least one and usually two of the choices are disappointing at best. Add the annoyance of having to wait for your food as it gets colder and colder as the servers work their way around to you, and I'll take the buffet every time.
Again, make sure a variety is available. Adding one very unusual item (ostrich or buffalo or alligator - something along those lines) will stimulate conversation, but not much of it may be eaten.
If you can, arrange the buffet in stations around the room where the reception is held to get people circulating. The wedding I was at this weekend added a great idea - the children's buffet which featured peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chicken fingers and other easy to handle foods that appeal to younger tastes. At the other end of the age spectrum, you should be sure to have someone assigned to take care of getting food for any less mobile elderly guests ahead of the rest of the room.
This is the phase where as the happy couple, you must have someone assigned to force you to sit down and eat. It's too easy to lose track of time while enjoying the company of the hundreds of people around you and miss the food service, which you'll regret later in the evening.
Try to ensure there's nothing too chewy on the buffet, or you will inevitably have just that item in your mouth when the glasses start clinking for a kiss.
The third phase is of course the cake. There's a whole ceremony around the cake and the first piece. After you've wiped the frosting off your nose, you'll be happiest if you've gone with a simply flavored cake. It doesn't matter what flavor it is, but if you have a complex cake, you may find the flavors are lost in the buttercream frosting used to get that "shellaqued package" look that most wedding cakes have. If you have a need to have a more complex cake, add a groom's cake to serve that purpose.
You can add other food items to the reception as amuse bouche's or as treats generally available throughout the evening. The reception meal in Virginia started with an attractive box in the shape of a flower filled with two chocolates. At our wedding, we had a tray of bourbon balls set on top of a piano in the foyer which disappeared throughout the night and which were much appreciated.
3. Coffee is not the only after dinner drink.
And even if it were, you should have caf and decaf coffee. I'd also hope to have tea and some kid-friendly drinks available to have with the cake and after dinner. Of course some Amaretto is nice, too...
4. Take care of your caterer.
Of course you should tip out the caterer and the servers generously, but you should also make sure ahead of time the caterer has all the information he or she needs and knows exactly what you're expecting. Ask questions as you get close to the day and make sure your caterer gives you responses that make you comfortable that the caterer understands your requirements. An informed caterer is a good caterer is a happy caterer who does a great job who makes the couple happy.
So what do you think? Do you have any rules I didn't cover, or any rules of mine that you disagree with?
Theoretically, Rose Bakery and the new store City Organic should not be in competition. I was really excited recently when I saw that the owners of Rose Bakery had gone into business with another couple to open a proper organic supermarket in Paris. I love Rose Bakery. In addition to imaginative salads and quiches, delicious English sweets (ooh, carrot cake! treacle pudding!) and such freshly made delights, Rose Bakery has a small section set aside for the selling of great organic foods. Specifically, Rose Bakery sells Neal's Yard organic cheeses. As everyone knows (or at least every reader of the Observer) Neal's Yard sells the best English cheeses in the world.
So, as I say, Rose Bakery should not be in competition with City Organic. They should be two perfect halves of a wonderful whole. They should.
On my birthday I made a trek to check out the new store, my brand new birthday camera in hand. First I went to Rose Bakery and bought myself this gorgeous piece of quiche and a tomato and avocado salad. I didn't bother asking for cheese because the lunch time crowd was impatient and I'm a thoughtful person. In any case, I was going to visit foodie mecca around the corner: City Organic.
A few days before I had asked Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini what she thought of the place. Her opinoin could be summed up in one word: meh. Okay, French people don't actually say "meh"; people like Barrett do. But if she was in the habit, that's what she would have said.
And she was so right. It's hard to define what's wrong, what's so unwelcoming about the store. On the outside, it definitely wins over Rose Bakery, which is difficult to find even armed with the address. (I noticed a comment on Clotilde's site a while back by a reader who had been unable to find Rose Bakery even though he was in the right street and knew the number!) But once you enter the shop it looks a little barren and ground floor section doesn't actually have much to draw you in and make you want to shop. Down some narrow stairs you see the main part of the shop but it looks more like your grandmother's larder than a grocery store. The shelves are deep and far apart and it's very difficult to see any logic in the arrangement of products. Okay, I told myself, they are a little amateurish, they are experiencing a few teething problems. I can handle that.
I made my way over to the fresh foods section, eagerly searching for the cheese manna, Neal's Yard cheeses. After a bit of searching (why did it seem everything was difficult to find in this shop?) I found some pre-packaged cheeses from another organic supplier. No Neal's Yard. Disappointed, I approached the young woman discussing product arrangement with another fellow and asked if they had le fromage de Neal's Yard? Non. Did they anticipate stocking this wonderful cheese in the future? With a wrinkled nose (perhaps I was not the first to ask this question?) she again said Non. Cheese à la coupe (cut to order) was too much trouble for a grocery store. In a place like Rose Bakery they had the leisure to serve customers to order, but not here.
And so I made my way to the till with my cheeses (by now I didn't have time to go back to Rose Bakery for the real stuff), some carrots, some organic rice cereal for the kid and paid up. When I got home, I discovered the Wensleydale cheese was nearly two weeks out of date.
Thank heavens Rose Bakery has not discontinued its small organic foods section. I may give City Organic another try in six months or so just to see how they are getting on. But I'll be buying my cheese, my organic cider, my Green and Black's Organic Hot chocolate at Rose Bakery first. I'm not going to make the same mistake twice!
46, rue des Martyrs
01 42 82 12 80
10, rue Milton
01 48 78 29 50
Yes, we are back again for your reading pleasure, winnowing through the hundreds of food blogs out there looking for a gem or two for your consumption. We do our best to digitally digest the best of the best out there and somehow it's always difficult to decide. Yes there are a few dud food blogs out in cyberland but they tend to be fly-by-night and don't stay on the radar for long. Actually, this time around I've chosen my three from old favourites of ours here at TMC. I hope you like them too.
A. First up is Butter Pig. I'm not sure what the name refers to, but I like the recipe for gyros. It sounds like a fair amount of work, but I think it would be time well invested. I love gyros but often they are a game of chance where your stomach's future happiness is at stake. (I remember one ex-boyfriend who used to beg us on painful food-poisoned mornings-after never, ever to allow him near the Latin Quarter of Paris when drunk. Unfortunately for him, he was impossible to dissuade after a certain number of drinks.) So let us promote safe gyros and prepare them at home under sanitary conditions!
I. Next, as it is the season let us celebrate asparagus with a post from the Domestic Goddess (who tells us what it does).
1. And because I REALLY love asparagus (it's true) I have another Asparagus post from Edible Tulip. I like people who discover new enjoyable tastes through (ahem) slight slip-ups. It reminds me of me.
So I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. With any luck you'll have Barrett back next week but if not I'm more than happy to digitally consume all the food that's fit to print. It's calorie-free!
Tonight, the Critic and I found ourselves in the car on the way home and hungry near dinner time. We talked over our options and in the end decided to go to a Tex-Mex restaurant not far from our apartment in the 17th arrondisement, El Rancho. We had been there once before and the Critic loved his meal and I thought mine disappointing. However it had been over a year and my memory was fuzzy on why I was dissatisfied so I agreed to give it another try.
Looking over the menu tonight I remembered why I disliked it. To me, everything on the menu was (to paraphrase the late Douglas Adams) almost, but not quite entirely, unlike Tex-Mex food. I hotly contested the label of being a food snob tonight. But I have never seen blue cheese on a tostada. Or tortillas made of spinach. Or nachos in the main dish section of a menu. And a blue Margarita is wrong, just wrong.
The Critic said it was "fusion". I didn't ask what on earth the cook had "fused" this Tex-Mex inspired food with. The thing is, it's not a high-class pretentious restaurant. I don't believe the chef intentionally strayed from the usual ingredients: he just didn't know what he was doing. My personal belief is that it's just a bad attempt on the part of a French owner to lure in homesick Americans and mildly adventuresome French diners.
That said, I have to admit that I envy the Critic his open-mindedness. The broccoli in the fajitas put me off them forever, but the Critic was actually very happy with his blue-cheese-and-tomato tostada and his fajitas-with-every-vegetable-in-the-market while I grumbled over a mediocre hamburger.
Closed-mindedness (some would say bloody-mindedness) has its price...
If you really want to go there and decide whether it's Fusion or Wrong, here is the address:
74 r Jouffroy d'Abbans
01 42 27 09 0
Last February I read a post by Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini about the writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher. At the time I thought, "Hm, name sounds familiar, must check that out some day..." and promptly forgot all about it.
Just over a week ago, my good friend Alisa called me on her way to French class, the sound of busses and traffic in the background. "Just a quick question: which MFK Fisher books have you read?" Um, none. "Okay, FORGET I ASKED THAT." Click.
I tried to forget but when my birthday came around a few days later I have to say I wasn't entirely surprised to be handed a book-shaped package by Alisa.
I've just gone back and read the comments from Clotilde's post and realized that thanks to Alisa I've stumbled into a genuinely obsessive Fan Club. Having finished "Consider the Oyster" I feel I have started paying my dues to the club and am looking forward to a continuing relationship. Her writing has the clarity of Hemingway, with a little poetry, a little candid humour...and it's all about my favourite subject: food. How could I not love her?
Let us consider the oyster. Mary Frances takes us through its many manifestations, raw, cooked, in a soup which sounds like a stew and a stew which looks like a soup. She tells us about its fascinating bisexual love life. She does it all so lovingly and so enthusiastically that it made me sad to think that it's the middle of the spawning season and not a kind time to eat oysters. It was such a good book that it prompted me to pick all my American cookbooks off the shelf and look for more recipes.
Living here in France, where there are only two recipes for oysters (a: open oyster with a sharp knife and serve with lemon, butter and bread or b: have fishmonger/restaurant open oyster with sharp knife and eat with lemon, butter and bread) it's easy to forget there are other things to be done with these delectable babies. It's a kind of an American idea to cook the oyster (or smoke it - you should see the faces of my French friends when I tell them about that idea). So I'm going to have to try some of these dishes come September. It's part of my American heritage and I ought to pay tribute to it, n'est-ce pas?
This post was brought to you through the kindness of my friend Alisa, who introduced me to a new and lovely lady. Thank you, Alisa!
Now I'm just off to update my Amazon Wishlist...
Last night, a message arrived in my email account at six-thirty from our good friend Sam to say that a mutual friend who moved south a couple of years ago was unexpectedly in Paris for the evening. Would we be interested in meeting up in the Marais for a drink? Well, of course we were interested. However these are non-mobile baby days and we can't just pop off to the center of town at the drop of a hat. Not only that but said baby's father is chronically late at work. Without much hope and in a spirit of "it never hurts to ask" I left a message on Sam's mobile to say that while we couldn't actually come out we would love to see him and Kevin if they would consider coming over to our side of the city. I didn't point out that Kevin (proud father of a gorgeous three year old boy) hadn't seen our boy Kieran yet but I hoped they'd make the connection themselves.
To my surprise, the baby magnet worked and they called back to say they'd be delighted. What can an enthusiastic host do but invite them over for dinner? And then dig furiously through the cookbooks looking for a way to stretch two chicken breasts, some Mediterranean vegetables and six sardines to dinner for four.
It was an odd mixture of ingredients, I'll admit. I have days like that sometimes, when I realize that there are several mostly incompatible elements that need to be used up in my refrigerator. I had already set the eggplant, zucchini, shallots and garlic to roast in the oven when I decided to wrap the chicken breasts in ham (with a leaf of sage each) and bake them too. Then I realized the fish definitely had to be cooked or thrown away so I rinsed them off, drizzled them with olive oil and thyme and slid the baking dish onto the lower tray of the oven.
This is where things stood when I invited our friends for dinner. I grabbed my Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan and leafed through the index to the letter S. And I found my bonheur as they say in French: a lovely Sicilian tomato sauce.
I love Marcella's recipes because they are classic italian dishes (or so I believe) and because they give me fresh ideas for my ingredients. Not surprisingly, they are well adapted to someone living in Europe with access to sardines and fennel and other ingredients that were rarely seen in my mother's kitchen. However I do have a tendency to simplify her recipes as sometimes I just don't have time to do things the "right" way. (I am also shameless about changing proportions to favour ingredients I really like, but that is true of all recipes!) So what follows is Marcella's recipe, but simplified and suited to a busy working mother who unexpectedly has the pleasure of showing off her new baby to an old friend. Also, I added garlic as I can't imagine a pasta dish without it...
Sicilian Sardine Sauce
6 whole fresh (well, mostly) sardines
1 tsp frozen thyme
3-4 Tbs olive oil
1/2 a fennel head
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1 small can of tomato paste (about 3 Tbs)
1 cup wine
1 tsp pepper flakes
1/2 tsp saffron
freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta - bucatini for preference
freshly grated Parmesan
Rinse and pat dry your sardines and place them in a baking pan into which you have drizzled a little olive oil. Pour a little olive oil over them and sprinkle them with the thyme. Bake them in a hot oven (200c/400f) for 15 minutes or until the flesh is tender but cooked through.
Begin boiling water for the pasta.
In the meantime, slice the fennel in large chunks and put them in a small pot of water and bring to a boil. Soak the raisins in a little water. Sauté the chopped onion in olive oil with the garlic cloves (thinly sliced). When the sardines are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool slightly. By now, the fennel will probably be tender. Remove from the fire and drain.
Add your pasta to the boiling water.
Chop the anchovies and add them to the onions. Add the wine and stir to dissolve the anchovies. Allow this to cook down a bit while you carefully remove the flesh of the sardines from the bones and place them in the pan with the onions. Mix the tomato paste with a half cup of water and the saffron and add to the pan. Roughly chop the fennel and add it to the pan. Drain the raisins and add them to the mix, along with the pine nuts. Stir gently so as not to break up the sardines too much. Give it a good grinding of pepper and the pepper flakes and taste for seasoning.
Drain the pasta, toss it with a little butter and then pour the sauce over it and stir quickly. Sprinkle each helping with a little freshly grated Parmesan.
The result is a truly delicious Mediterranean flavoured dish: like a bouillabaise, it has the glorious triad of fish-fennel-saffron, but the pasta gives it a substantial edge the soup lacks. I think next time I might add a splash of Ricard instead of the wine, to emphasize the point even more. But even in this incarnation it was truly delicious. And it went extremely well with the roasted vegetables!
I'm afraid I was too busy cooking and catching up with old friends to take any pictures of this one, so you'll have to use your imagination on how it looked. Then again, one tomato sauce with pasta looks very much like another, don't you think?