June 30, 2006
TGIF: Peach Vodka & Tonic

peachVandT.jpgIt's Friday. I have a couple of interesting recipes to post, but as Justin points out, I've been working quite hard lately on Too Many Chefs. (No word yet on the arrival - or non arrival - of Barrett's bed in MD, by the way.) So I had a choice tonight when I sat at the computer: I could tell you about the lovely salade niçoise I made this week or pour myself a Peach Vodka & Tonic. As I sat watching Germany finally triumph over Argentina in Berlin, my decision was clear: the V&T won out.

If you'd like to celebrate the German victory (or drown your Argentinian sorrows) with a lovely summer drink with a very hearty punch, here is the recipe: fill a short glass with ice. Pour vodka to about the one third point. (Yes, I know, but the ice is taking up room too - it'll be about a quarter vodka. No really.) Add a splash - about a tablespoon and a half - of crème de pêche (peach liqueur). Pour tonic over the ice and garnish with juicy ripe chunks of peach. You can add a sprig of mint too, though I forgot it for the photo. It goes well with peaches, adding a sweet refreshing touch. A lemon zest also livens the peach flavour (though in that case, drop the mint). However you make it, the drink is potent and summery and full of the tastes of summer.

As you may have guessed, I like peach drinks.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)
June 29, 2006
Cilantro Carrots with Cumin

cumin_carrots_jf.jpg Wow. With Barrett moving house and me on extended vacation, Meg has been busy posting all kinds of good stuff. Well, I'm back and hope to alleviate some of the "publish or perish" feeling that Meg might have.

Here's a side dish I've made a bunch of times in the past few months. Although the flavors are strong, it goes well with a wide range of main dishes (roasted meats in the winter, picnics in the summer). The recipe is pulled shamelessly from the epicurious.com database (my only edit is the orange juice 'stead of water). It's great because you can make it well ahead of time and serve at room temperature. And everybody seems to rave about this dish when I whip these up. I like them and all, but they get a far better reception at dinner parties than even I think they are worth. And I think they're very good.

Also, one day I hope to visit the world's largest carrot statue and check out all the festivities at the Carrot Carnival -Carrotnival?- in Ohakune, New Zealand.

Cilantro Carrots with Cumin

2 pounds carrots, each cut into 2-inch-long pieces, then quartered lengthwise
6 tablespoons water [or orange juice]
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Combine carrots and 6 tablespoons water/juice in large saucepan. Season with salt. Cover and boil until carrots are crisp-tender, about 7 minutes. Drain off any excess water. Transfer carrots to large shallow bowl. Mix in lemon juice, oil, cumin and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cool. Add cilantro. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at cool room temperature.)

Posted by Justin at 8:01 AM | Comments (1)
June 27, 2006
Sheesh kebab, fish kebab

fishkebabs.jpgAccording to various sources (including, if memory serves, a Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout, but I've checked it elsewhere since) Shish or Sheesh or Seekh means skewered and kebab means roasted meat. So, logically, I should be calling these sheesh fish (or "sheesh feesh" for those with Dr. Seuss tendencies). But Fish Kebab kind of rolls of the tongue better. And you all know what it means. Skewers of roasted fish.

To make a kebab out of fish, you need a special fish. As I mentioned not long ago, tuna responds well to grilling, its dense flesh holding together in spite of the magnetic pull of the barbecue grill. (Yes, I know what Alton Brown says about the grill needing to be hot enough in order for the food not to stick. I can have those bars hot enough to burn the food to a crisp and sometimes it still sticks. Go figure.) So what works even better than tuna on a grill? Monkfish, my friend, the "poor man's lobster". Monkfish really does have the chewy meatiness of, well, meat. And like meat, it tastes wonderful with a sprig of rosemary. And like nearly everything savoury in the world, it also tastes better with a bit of bacon. The bacon keeps the fish from drying out and also adds a wonderful smoky flavour to the kebab. It's one of my favourite summer dishes: simple, (relatively) healthy and delicious.

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But wait - that's not all! In this post you'll not only learn about the amazing monkfish/bacon/rosemary combination, but you also have the non-meat-eater's option: monkfish with lime and lemon thyme. Yes, I ran out of bacon, but I didn't run out of ideas. And the lime and lemon basil combination was pretty tasty too.

And the recipes? Well, sometimes the ingredients and process are so simple they hardly feel like a recipe:

Monkfish, rosemary and bacon fish-kebabs

Take some monkfish and cut it in cubes about 3 cm or a little over an inch on each side. Place a rosemary needle on each fish cube and wrap them in American (streaky, for the Brits in the crowd) bacon. Thread them on a skewer, alternating with plump fresh cherry tomatoes and halved spring onions. Cook on a hot grill, turning every few minutes, until the bacon is crisp, the fish cooked through and the tomatoes slightly charred and soft. You don't even need a sauce; devour them as they are.

Monkfish and lemon thyme fish-kebabs

Take some monkfish and cut it in cubes about 3 cm or a little over an inch on each side. Brush them with a little olive oil and sprinkle them with lemon thyme, a sprig or so per cube. Slice a lime in paper thin disks and alternate them with the fish skewers. Cook until the fish is cooked through. Give them a good grinding of fresh black pepper before serving with fresh lime wedges.

I love my Weber grill.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:52 AM | Comments (1)
June 26, 2006
Spam, spam, spam and more darn spam...

techdif.jpgWe apologise for the inconvenience, but we have been forced once again to temporarily disable the comments function on Too Many Chefs. Those lovely little dears, the Evil Spammers, have managed to bring down our servers no fewer than three times in the last seven days.

Unfortunately, Barrett (the techie one) is currently in a world so luxurious that he hopes soon to be sleeping in a bed again and not on the floor. This has limited his ability to exercise his techie genius and foil the bad guys.

So keep your fingers crossed that his furniture arrives safely in MD and with it his computer. And that the high speed ADSL connection can be established pronto. And that he finds the time in between unpacking boxes to devote to this little problem.

In the meantime, I will continue to update and to hope that even though you are silenced you are all still out there, reading...

(sound of crickets chirping, a sigh from yours truly)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:03 AM | Comments (0)
June 23, 2006
And more chocolate: Jean-Charles Rochoux

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[Photo courtesy of Taina Lance, who is a much better photographer than I am.]

As soon as we arrived at Jean-Charles Rochoux's establishment and began our usual mouth-watering examination of the shop window, it became very clear that we had come across a different approach to chocolate than in the first two. Whimsical is one word which comes to mind. Little Anne Geddes-like babies, tumbling over footballs or grinning up from cabbage leaves. (In France, the mythical origin of babies is not the stork, but the cabbage patch.) A placid cow and a big green frog. Paris landmarks and chubby teddy bears. At times, the cute factor seems to stray into kitsch it must be admitted. But as we learned in our visit, it takes a lot of talent and hard work to turn out such delicate perfect little chocolates.

Rochoux_lab.jpgIn his shop just off the rue de Rennes in the 6th arrondisement, Jean-Charles Rochoux produces the chocolates from his basement laboratory. The molds he uses for the great variety of chocolate whimsies are of his own creation and are beautifully crafted. We had the great privilege to be allowed into his laboratory and question him on the machines, the method, the chocolate.

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Here is the industrial mixer that M. Rochoux uses to concoct his chocolate and ganaches. Mixer speed is extremely important in the making of chocolates, he explained to us. Too fast, and you will mix air into the chocolate, creating tiny bubbles in the finished product. So slow and steady for a long period is better than hurrying things along.

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Once the ganache is mixed, it is spread out on the marble counter. Long wooden blocks hold the ganache in place while it cools. (In this photo, they have already been removed.) M. Rochoux explained that his filled chocolates take a full three days to make. The first day, the ganache is made and takes 24 hours to cool and set. The second day, he spreads a thin layer of chocolate over the ganache and allows it to set 24 hours. And on the third day, he cuts the chocolates and puts them through the chocolate enrobing machine.

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Here you see M. Rochoux cutting a slab of ganache in two, before sliding it onto a tray to put in a refrigerator. Next, he slid out a tray with ganache prepared the day before, to show us the next step in action.

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The chocolate, once mixed, is kept in a warm oven at exactly the right temperature to keep it glossy and liquid. Don't you just want to dive into the bowl?

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M. Rochoux spread the melted chocolate over the ganache so quickly that it was hard to do justice to the process. I took half a dozen photos without capturing what I wanted to show: the glossiness of the chocolate as he applied it to the matte ganache. It cooled so quickly that the process seemed magical. Luckily for me, my friend Taina was quicker and more successful than I in capturing the moment whent the melted chocolate was still glossy against the ganache.

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One of the more interesting items M. Rochoux showed us was a failed experiment. He created a cast of his own arm for an exhibit which was meant to show a chocolate hand caressing a body. However, as you can see in this photo, the end result was a bit macabre to say the least. We all agreed it would be a fantastic prop for a Halloween display.

rochoux_choc.jpgWhen you see the sheer variety and detail of sculpted chocolates that M. Rochoux produces, you might be tempted to think that he pays more attention to the visual effect than the taste of his chocolates. And you would be wrong. With all due respect to the other two chocolate shops I've reviewed, the first box of chocolates to be finished was the box of truffles that M. Rochoux generously offered us at the end of the visit. In fact, the Critic and I had to bring our weekend guest to the shop the next Saturday, so that he could pick up a couple of boxes for his daughters back in England. The truffles were absolutely exquisite little chocolate bombs, thick and rich with a light dusting of bitter cocoa. The box comes with a tiny carved toothpick for picking up each truffle; so rich are they that they would melt in your fingers on the way to your mouth.

Chocolats Rochoux
16 r Assas 75006 PARIS
01 42 84 29 45

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:58 PM | Comments (5)
June 22, 2006
Tuna Steaks with Tomato and Anchovy Salsa

tunatoms.jpgWe've been barbecuing a lot lately. The early summer produce is coming into the markets, we've had wonderful hot sunny days and my terrace garden makes me so happy. So far, the only produce to come out of the garden is a handful of intensely flavoured strawberries and some herbs. But I'm happy with that. Already it's a far cry from my sad attempts to find fresh herbs or anything like a tasty vegetable in April.

In addition to getting the urge to barbecue in hot weather, I also get an urge for light, healthy food. These two usually go together, unless I specifically want fish, which typically falls apart easily on the grill. This is why tuna is one of my favourite fishes to barbecue: it keeps together beautifully on a hot grill. And because it can be a bit dry (I'm not in the medium-rare school of tuna cooking: I like my fish raw or cooked, but not both) it's a great partner for a sauce of juicy tomatoes, basil and anchovies.

It's hardly a recipe, this one. But it's tasty and it might inspire some to pick up a couple of tuna steaks for dinner and do their own variation. You could add coriander (cilantro) instead of the basil, for example, and a dash of lime juice instead of the anchovies. You could spice it up with a little spicy oil. The possibilities, as they say, are limitless. Tuna has a strong flavour that responds well to this rough treatment.

Tuna Steaks with Tomato and Anchovy Salsa

2 tuna steaks
2 juicy ripe tomatoes
4-6 anchovies
10-12 basil leaves
1-2 Tbs olive oil

Brush the tuna steaks with olive oil and slap them on a hot grill. While they are cooking, chop the tomatoes (preferably at room temperature - it brings out the flavour so well). Chop the anchovies and basil leaves and stir into the tomatoes. Give it a good grinding of pepper and let it sit for a few minutes before tasting. Turn over the steaks and cook until done to the point where you like your tuna.

I was slightly tempted by a splash of lemon or a bit of spring onion in the salsa, but decided that the tomatoes were acidic enough to make it interesting. The pepper was essential.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:35 PM | Comments (0)
June 20, 2006
Oops, we did it again: Beet and Greens Salad

beetsalad2.jpgWhen I went to upload the photo for this post, I was surprised to see a message telling me that the photo beetsalad.jpg already existed on the system and did I want to overwrite it? And so I went back to the site and did a quick search and - lo, and behold - discovered that Barrett beat me to this idea in December of 2004. (I was rather busy that month, getting ready for and recovering from the birth of a wonder-child.)

Our recipes were similar but not exactly the same, so I'm posting mine anyway. The recipe I used as a point of departure on www.epicurious.com, like Barrett's, called for blue cheese. I instead opted for a soft goat cheese (not pictured, tossed it on at the last minute after the photo was taken). The epicurious recipe called for mixed baby greens, but I decided instead to use the beautiful crimson-stained leaves of the beets themselves as a base.

I found that the beet leaves were a bit tougher than I expected and so in the future, I would actually recommend a mixture of lettuces, including some - no more than a third - beet greens. Aside from that small criticism, the salad was lovely. I'm in love with mustard seeds lately and found that they gave a great sharp bite to the salad, in addition to the wonderful nubby texture. And the goat's cheese was/is in season, organic and locally produced, creamy and just slightly salty and sharp. A taste of spring.

Beet and Beet Greens Salad with Mustard Seeds

2-3 beets, with the top leaves intact and still reasonably fresh
5-6 hearts of palm
2-3 handfuls of mixed salad greens
1 Tbs mustard seeds
100 grams fresh goat cheese

For the dressing:

1 heaping teaspoon of Dijon mustard
1 Tbs sherry vinegar
3 Tbs olive oil
pinch of salt

Cut the greens from the beets and reserve. Drop the beets in boiling water and cook until tender, about half an hour. Drain the beets and cool them under running water. Slip off the rough outer skin and chop them in 1-2 cm cubes. Wash and slice the beet leaves in thin strips. Mix the beet leaves with the other mixed greens and toss the beets, tomatoes, hearts of palm and goat cheese.

Make the vinaigrette: mix the vinegar and and mustard and salt together very well. Whisking, slowly add the olive oil so that it makes a smooth creamy emulsion. It doesn't have to be smooth, but it's prettier and fairly easy to achieve if you add the oil slowly enough.

Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and then toss the mustard seeds over the whole. They will stick to the glistening dressed leaves and look very pretty.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:59 PM | Comments (3)
June 19, 2006
Chocolate: Michel Richart and his babies

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[Here we see master chocolatier Michel Richart with the charming cookbook author and man-about-the-town, David Lebovitz.]

Michel Richart and Patrick Roger are opposite ends of the street, both geographically and metaphorically. Roger's shop on the boulevard St. Germain is near the Latin Quarter, student end of the boulevard. Richart is in the upscale end near the Eiffel Tower. Roger has two shops and a third planned; Richart has two in his natal city of Lyon and others scattered through Europe, Asia and North America. As you can see in the photo, M. Richart has the air of a genial family father and indeed he repeatedly referred to the chocolates as his bébés. But despite this family feeling towards his product, his shop has the air of an exclusive spa or vendor of beauty products, with clean lines, gleaming white and neat boxes on every wall. These are chocolates which are well treated and command respect.

Like a fashion designer, M. Richart brings out a new collection of chocolates twice yearly. He told us he spends "not long, only two or three weeks" developping each of his new babies. For each collection there is a theme and this year it is based on the Mediterranean region, Itinéraire des Beaux Jours: olives, thyme, figs and clementine oranges all figure in his chocolates. One of the biggest treats we had on any of our visits was the opportunity to try three from his upcoming collection. The nigella/saffron combination had my mouth watering and my fingers itching until he finally came to pass that one around to us all. What is interesting to me about some of these chocolates - the saffron/nigella here and the lemongrass one in the previous visit - is how they open up the possibility of serving chocolate after so many exotic dinners where you wouldn't normally do so. After a rich Indian meal, what could be nicer than to have a tasty little chocolate - nothing heavy on the belly - in the same flavour family as the meal?

In addition to the season's collection, his shops also sell several other lines of chocolates. There are the seven flavour families, each with seven different varieties of chocolate (Balsamics, Toasted, Fruity, Tonic, Herbal, Floral and Spiced). We tasted several of these over the course of the visit and I can't remember them all. I do remember, however, the first one I tasted, which had the most intense rose flavour I've ever encountered. If you had asked me in advance I would have assumed I would hate it, and yet (this is a theme running through all the visits) in fact it was very tasty. The rose did not have that chemical taste that flower extracts often suffer from and its effect on the chocolate was subtle and complex. The taste of both the chocolate and the rose stayed in your mouth for a long while (or until the next chocolate in my case).

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Another collection, and a project dear to M. Richart's heart, has to do with real, not metaphorical, children. The Chocolats ludiques are the result of a yearly contest for children, held in Richart's shops around the world, for the right to have one's design reproduced on a chocolate. Ludique is a term you hear frequently in France about anything to do with children. I've always taken it to mean "fun/surprising/childlike/amusing", but when I looked it up in the dictionary for the first time today I found the translation to be "relating to a game". If anyone else has a better translation for this term, I'd love to know it. In any case, the chocolates are adorable and this fond mother had to think several times before - regretfully - deciding not to purchase a big box. This is the 14th year that M. Richart has run the contest and 3000 children around the world participated for a chance to have his or her drawing on one of the 14 final chocolates.

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M. Richart seemed to twinkle with good will throughout our visit, enthusiastically expounding the virtues of small chocolates ("just a very little, if the flavour is intense, is enough, no more") and the importance of promoting artistic ambitions in the young. However, the excitement and sense of glee moved to a new level when he brought out his masterpiece contribution to the world of chocolate. A chocolate armoire, the chocolate equivalent of a humidor, with temperature and humidity shown on the door. Great service to chocolate, but also it is a demonstration of this man's marketing genius. The shelves in the beautifully glossy case are built to the size of M. Richart's small white boxes, which can be slid into place and carefully preserved. (To me this genius is apparent throughout his shop, in the darling children's drawings, the Seven Families which is a popular children's game, and also in the presentation of beautiful white boxes of colorful chocolates.)

The armoire brought our discussion to the question of how to store and serve chocolates. If you really want to impress the chocolate afficionados in your neighborhood, do tell them that your good friend M. Richart recommends 12 degrees Celsius for storage and a gentle rise to a room temperature of 22 degrees before serving. We asked if - in the absence of his wonderful cabinet - it would be advisable to store his chocolates in the refrigerator? "Ideally, no," was the answer. The odors of other foods in the refrigerator would tend to invade the chocolate and ruin their delicate flavours. Also, of course, a refrigerator is usually colder than 12 degrees Celsius. However, given the recent heat wave in Paris, he told us we could and should put our chocolates in the refrigerator. If we wanted to keep them "pure", though, it would be a good idea to put them in an airtight container first. (Note: the remains of mine are still in the box, no airtight containter, in our fridge and so far I haven't noticed any deterioration. Obviously, I do not have M. Richart's fine palate!)

The reason I still have any chocolates left is that when we left M. Richart generously presented each of us with a box of 36 chocolates, all of them the three new chocolates from his collection to be released in November of this year. (Mr. Slugworth, are you reading this? Meet me behind the old oak at midnight...and bring cash...)

M. Richart is a lovely man and we really enjoyed our talk with him. He's very charming and articulate and though he speaks glowingly of the Art of Chocolate-making and other such lofty matters, he does not appear pompous or snobbish. He speaks English extremely well, so if you are ever in his shop in Lyon or catch sight of him here in Paris (now that you know what he looks like) do say hello and ask if he'd like to discuss chocolate. I'm sure he'll be happy to do so.

Michel Richart Paris
258 bd St Germain
75007 PARIS
Tel 01 45 55 66 00
Metro : Solférino

For other locations or to order online, see www.chocolats-richart.ccom

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Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:12 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
June 18, 2006
Cherry addiction (Part II)

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I have a thing about cherries. So how could I not absolutely love our friend Steve, who brought us these gorgeous babies from the Loire valley where he'd been staying. He picked them off the tree himself before hopping in the car to see us. It's the next best thing to having your own orchard. (Which I intend to do some day, I swear!)

I'm off now for a picnic in the park with fried chicken, tomato salad and cold vichyssoise soup, a football, a boy and a dad. And cherries.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY EVERYONE!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 12:59 PM | Comments (6)
June 15, 2006
Ginger Lemonade (with or without Rum)

Last summer, I used to walk to a Whole Foods that was a mile away from my apartment. I quickly learned that schlepping beverages was a bad idea. Juice in a glass bottle was just too heavy. I looked at the bottle of lemonade on my second visit and saw that ingredients were only water, lemon juice, and sugar. I picked up a bottle of lemon juice and went home to experiment. It didn't take me long to have a very reasonable simulacrum using tap water. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I found myself at the Trader Joe's again buying a ginger lemonade. Brought it home and thought: I can do this! And so I did. After a couple of trials, here's the best way to make your own.

Ginger Lemonade

1 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3-4 thumbs of ginger

Peel the ginger and cut it into slices. Put the ginger, water, and sugar over heat to dissolve the sugar (and make yourself a gingery simple syrup). Pour lemon juice into a 64 oz container. Pour syrup in. Make sure all those ginger bits get inside too. You need those to keep steeping. Fill the rest of the bottle with water. Put in the fridge to cool. Too make it as gingery as the Trader Joe's stuff, you'll want to put a few pieces of ginger in a garlic press and really mash them up to get some more juice out.

Serve over ice. And if you're of legal drinking age, I consider it obligatory to add some rum (yes, even if it's 9 am). After some necessary experimentation, I found that vanilla rum works great.

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Posted by Justin at 8:48 AM | Comments (9)
June 14, 2006
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate

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Last week, I had the great good luck to be offered a visit with three of the best chocolatiers of Paris. I can't tell you who I was with or why I was there (in the words of my friend Jonathan, would-be International Man of Mystery, "If I did, I'd have to kill you."). But I can tell you what I saw and who I met and - more importantly what I tasted. Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.

The day started at in the morning at the St. Michel fountain and finished as evening rush hour was beginning, with time out for lunch. In that time, I took hundreds of photos, posed hundreds of questions and tasted the most interesting variety of chocolates this conservative girl has ever seen. Over the next few days I'm going to write up each of the shops individually, starting today with the first of the day, Monsieur Patrick Roger. Next, it will be Michel Richart's turn and after that hopefully you'll still be in the mood for chocolate, with the talented Jean-Charles Rochoux.

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Patrick Roger arrived at the shop which bears his name as we were admiring the window display, roaring up on a motorcycle. Unshaven, unkempt, he gives the impression of being the bad-boy of the chocolate world. And yet. Do you notice the little bleu, blanc et rouge collar on his immaculate white tunic? That collar is the coveted sign of one of the meilleurs ouvriers de France. This award is presented every three years to three artisans who are judged by their peers to be the best in the industry. It does not come easily. M. Roger told us that the award is not nearly as well-regarded in France as it is in the US. I suspect this comment has more to do with cultural prejudices and attitudes than fact; the French tend to be embarrassed by ostentatious awards or anything smacking of self-promotion. Those are American traits.

But M. Roger has worked hard for to reach this point in his career, with a shop on the very chic (and expensive) Boulevard St. Germain and one in the suburb of Sceaux, where the chocolates are made. In September he's planning on opening another shop in the equally expensive and elegant place Victor Hugo in the 16th arrondisement. At 37 years of age, he has been in the business now for 21 years. Yes, that's right, he started at 16 as an apprentice in a bakery and patisserie shop. This is actually not unusual in France even today. Most people know at that age more or less the path that stands before them, whether it's an apprenticeship in a trade or a university career in a specific subject. So he worked hard and he learned all the tricks of his trade.

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What's more, he started to innovate. The first chocolate we tried was his signature one, the green ones pictured above. He advised us to pop the whole thing in our mouths at once as they have liquid centers. We did and chomped down on them. An explosion of citrus is how I would describe the experience. The green shell did not lie: these were vibrant, exciting chocolates. I'm not a fan of citrus (usually orange, isn't it?) with chocolate but these were exceptional, the chocolate just bitter enough to offset the sharp sour lime flavour. It was a fantastic opening to our day of tasting chocolates and we eyed the trays looking for more treasures.

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The next chocolate up, which was even better in my opinion, was a beautiful salt caramel covered with chocolate and accented with a few delicate crystals of guérande salt. It's amazing to me how big a difference those tiny crystals could make in the flavour, turning a nice little chocolate and caramel piece into something extraordinary. Next up, M. Roger suggested a chocolate and oatmeal combination, an idea that excited me not a little. As regular readers of our blog may have noticed, I'm something of a fan of the oatmeal and chocolate combination. Here the oatmeal flavour was more subtle. It was a nice little chocolate, but if the truth is to be told I prefer my chocolate oatmeal cookies. Over the course of the next hour we had chocolates crackling with nougat, biting with Szechuan peppercorns and tantalising us with sharp lemongrass. Each chocolate was an experience, a surprise. I asked him how long it took him, generally, to develop an idea and he responded "five minutes". Surprised, I asked him out of, for example, five new ideas how many would he keep? "Four" came the answer. However, he went on to explain that his establishment doesn't yet have the size to be continually developping new chocolates. He will bring out two or three new ones in a year, because after that initial development there is all the work in developping a way to produce mass quantities.

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When we asked M. Roger where he found his inspiration for the imaginative chocolate combinations he simply replied "le terroir". This is what nearly every master of food in France will tell you when asked that question. It can be translated as terrain, soil, land, ground or earth. But for a Frenchman it means all these things and more: it's the land he comes from, the fruit and vegetables it produces, the characteristic wind coming down from the Northeast, the smell of the people. In the case of M. Roger, the terroir is physically located in Le Poislay, which is in the Centre region. And more specifically, he said he often found it in the products of his morther's garden and her cooking. And then, a bit embarrassed, he glanced at his sister (pictured above) and corrected himself, "our mother". I asked Corinne whether she participated in the chocolate making process and she looked slightly alarmed, as though I'd asked her to take up ballet dancing or tight-rope walking. She works in the shop, promoting her brother's chocolates, making up the boxes, washing the windows and generally keeping the shop on an even keel.

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This book, on display in the shop, shows M. Roger with the most remarkable item in his window: a life-sized chocolate sculpture of a farmer with a large cocoa pod in his hands. When you see the statue, you don't realise that it IS life sized; it's seeing M. Roger crouching next to it in the photo that brings it home. Before you start drooling, though, at the concept of going cannibalistic, I have to warn you that the statue in the window was bronzed. The sculpture certainly shows M. Roger's artistic ability; if this man had not wandered into chocolate making he could have been selling his works in an art gallery.

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Here you see a more whimsical side to his artistry. Below the fish were strange sticks sticking out of the "ground". I think he said they were carrots - that terroir creeping in again! When we asked where he bought his chocolate, he was a bit coy with us, listing countries not companies. Apparently the sources of chocolate (for those chocolatiers who do not make their own) is usually a big trade secret and one they don't like to discuss.

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So there you have it, my morning with Patrick Roger. I didn't think I would want to taste chocolates that early in the morning, but they were so good that we left with having bought loads of chocolate and eager for the next stop on our chocolate day!

proger_heart.jpgPatrick Roger
108 bd St Germain 75006 Paris
+33 (1) 43 29 38 42
http://www.patrickroger.com/

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:40 AM | Comments (11)
June 13, 2006
Calling on the Experts

Hello loyal readers and those dropped here by Google looking for dirty pictures of celebrity chefs.

I need your help. No no no, that's sweet but put those checkbooks away. What I need is educated advice. Our new house has a kitchen with a major defect, in my opinion - an electric range top. When it comes to cooking in saucepans, skillets, or even just blistering peppers, I like the responsiveness of gas fire. The fact that the rangetop is attached to a desirable even temperature dry heat electrical oven is a comfort, but not enough of one to make me want to keep the unit.

So here's my question for you (especially if you've remodeled your kitchen relatively recently): Which dual-fuel range/stove combination would you install to replace the current all-electric one and why? I'm not immune to snob appeal but if a Sears model will do the job as well as a Wolf or Viking unit, I'm perfectly happy to go with the Sears product.

Restrictions - The space is 30" wide, and I'd rather not spend more on the oven/range than on my car. What would you get for under $1500? Under $2500? With no spending limit?

Specific model recommendations are especially appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:25 PM | Comments (48)
June 12, 2006
Adventures in cooking: fresh broad beans

broadbeans.jpgLast night, as we sat on the terrace after dinner the conversation turned at one point to the different conventions in food terminology that Brits and Americans use. When I first met the Critic, every time I mentioned beets to him, he would say, "You mean beetroot?" Well, yes, I guess so...is there another? (This led to a discussion of sugar beet and beetroot and the fact that they are not the same, which was news to me.) But my point is still the same: has anyone out there cooked sugar beet for dinner? Similarly, every time I would say anything about corn, the inevitable question was "Do you mean sweet corn?" As opposed to sour? Where I come from - the Midwest - no one is ever in any doubt about what corn is. You might go further and say corn on the cob if that's the case, but you don't have to say that it's sweet.

And so we come to beans. On this one I can kind of understand the obsession with precision. When I was growing up, green beans were the ones we ate 90% of the time. If they were Boston baked beans, you said so. But beans are and were...well green beans. But the English seem to have a real thing about beans. Since meeting the Critic I have become familiar with no fewer than three new (non-dried) "beans". The one that they refer to as simply beans are of course the ones you find on toast or next to your sausages at breakfast. Contrary to what I imagined when I first saw them, they are not actually the same as the ones that Heinz sells in America: not as sweet or soft and certainly no nasty bits of unidentifiable pork fat. Then there are runner beans. Thanks to my mother-in-law and her wonderful garden I now know about them. And last but not least, there are the fresh broad beans. Last week, I bought a kilo of them at the market and finally got to know them personally.

Aren't they pretty?

Actually, I just kind of assumed the Critic would like them because they seem to pop up on English TV and in English cookbooks. But it turns out he's not overly keen. After trying them myself the Marcella Hazan way, I liked them but think I can do better. Her recipe calls for cooking them with pancetta and water. I think they would have more flavour and a better texture if you use bacon (American style) and wine, removing the crisp bacon before adding the wine and sprinkling it over the finished dish.

That said, it was very tasty. The beans are soft and meaty, a great hearty spring side dish. And every recipe I consulted before trying them mentioned the fact that pork compliments broad beans well so who am I to say they were wrong??

Italian-style broad beans

1 kilo of broad beans
100 grams of pancetta, ham or streaky bacon
1 small onion
1 glass of wine or about 125 ml water or stock
2 Tbs of olive oil (optional - if you are frying the bacon you probably won't need it or will need only a touch)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Slice the onion in thin strips and set it frying lightly in the oil in a deep frying pan. (If you are using bacon, instead cook the bacon until it is crispy and gives up its grease. Reserve the bacon.) Add the ham or pancetta, cut in small pieces and cook until crispy. In the meantime, shell the broad beans. (The inside of the shells is wonderfully soft and fuzzy. I tried to take a photo but couldn't do the wonderful lining justice.) Add the broad beans to the pan and stir for a few minutes. Then add your liquid, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. If you have reserved the bacon, sprinkle it over the beans just before serving. Grind a good helping of fresh pepper over the whole.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:44 AM | Comments (7)
June 8, 2006
Chana Dal With Spinach

Preparing to move cross country focuses the mind wonderfully. This week, it's focused my mind on the fact I have an awful lot of frozen food and pantry food I should use up instead of moving.

Now I started off with the best of intentions to make a classic channa dal dish, but as I was cooking, the opportunity to get rid of half a bag of frozen spinach and add a little green vitamin goodness to dinner became irresistable. I don't claim this to be an authentic version of anything but my own recipe for chana dal and spinach.

Chana dal are a yellow pea that can be purchased dried and split in most good stores selling foods from the Indian subcontinent. You may see it also referred to as Bengal gram dal or chholar dal. They are very similar (the same species, in fact) to ciceros, aka garbanzos aka chickpeas but are a different food, contining more fiber and a lower glycemic index. Think of it as similar to the difference betwen a chihuahua and a doberman - same species, very different beasts. Still, if you are unable to find chana dal, you may use dried garbanzos for this recipe.

I accompanied the dal and spinach with chapati bread, which you may remember from a post we did in March last year.

Barrett's Chana Dal With Spinach

1 1/2 cups split dried chana dal
6 cups water
2 tablespoons tumeric
3 peeled ginger slices
1/2 tablespoon or so of salt - to taste

2 tablespoons ghee
2 minced cloves garlic
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon red chili powder

3 tablespoons lime juice
black pepper to taste
additional ghee as needed

8 oz. frozen or wilted fresh spinach

This recipe may be a little undersalted, but you can always adjust up.

Start by washing your dal and picking over it to remove any debris like stones, etc... Modern dals are packed pretty clean, but the occasional stone does slip by the packers from time to time and I have yet to figure out the right way to cook one.

Put the dal and water in a big pot with tumeric and ginger slices. I got the ginger slice trick from Madhur Jaffrey, and I'm not convinced it adds much flavor. But let's give the master the benefit of the doubt. Boil the dal until tender - if split, about 45 minutes to an hour. Depending on the dal, it may take longer, and whole dal will take much longer - an hour and a half most likely.

Once the dal is tender, reserve a half cup of any liquid remaining and drain the dal. Return it to the pot and add the spinach. Add a little of the liquid back in, and cook over a low heat while you fry the spices. If the dal/spinach starts to dry out too much add more of the liquid back in.

In a small skillet, melt the ghee and add the garlic. Sautee the garlic for about two minutes over medium heat. Add all the other spices except the black pepper and red pepper and fry for about a minute, stirring vigorously. Add the red pepper, stir quickly, then take the skillet off the heat and dump the mix into the pot of spinach and dal.

Stir well. Taste. Add the lime juice and the black pepper to taste, and if you feel it needs a bit more fat, add ghee to taste (but not TOO much). Serve with chapati bread.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:40 AM | Comments (13)
June 7, 2006
Chicken fit for a Princess

princesspoule.jpgSome time ago, my mother gave me a cookbook by Monique Jamet Hooker, called Cooking with the Seasons. It's half cookbook and half nostalgia trip into the Breton childhood of the author, with stories about her mother's dishes, tables groaning with produce and photos of her ancestors on the family farm. It's a funny fact, but most French people are strangely snobbish about the cuisine of Brittany. "They don't really have any spécialités," a French friend of mine once sniffed when I visited there the first time. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Brittany is a latecomer to the French kingdom, having only joined in the 16th century when young Anne of Brittany was left an orphan and heir of Brittany at the tender age of 11. A short war and a forced marriage later and the Bretons were nominally attached to France, though they remained independent until the death of Anne. To this day, then, the French don't think of the Bretons as "proper" French and the Bretons themselves see themselves as the cousins of the Irish, Welsh and Scots rather than their Gallic countrymen. It's a funny old world.

Time has shown me that Brittany does actually have much to offer in the world of cooking. Oysters and lobsters, for a start. Beautiful globe artichokes. Crêpes, savoury and sweet. And Monique Jamet Hooker's book introduced me to a number of new dishes and new ways to prepare known ingredients. I like the way it is organised by season as it means I can just browse the right section when I'm looking for inspiration. And the recent one - found in April, but the weather has been unseasonably cold and wet lately - was Poulet Princesse, a dish that calls for seasonal fresh spinach and asparagus and goat's cheese and tender new mushrooms.

In actual fact, I didn't have asparagus or fresh spinach in my kitchen. I did, however, have frozen spinach, which I substituted. The result was a savoury, filling dish that nevertheless felt healthy and not too rich. The goat's cheese was an interesting addition, giving a sharp salty flavour which complemented the buttery almost sweet combination of mushrooms and onions.

The Critic approved, aside from the spinach which he doesn't like anyway. But I keep trying.

Monique Jamet Hooker's Poulet Princesse (serves 2)

2 boneless chicken breasts
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped cooked spinach
1-2 small shallots, sliced in thin strips
6-8 medium mushrooms, washed and sliced thinly
1/2 a glass of white wine
2 heaping Tbs crème fraiîhe
3-4 Tbs goat cheese, crumbled

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter with the oil. Sauté the chicken breasts until they are browned on both sides. Add the shallots and continue cooking, stirring them around the onions. When they start to soften, add the mushrooms and do the same. Monique's recipe actually calls for removing the chicken and then putting it back in at a later point, but if you are only making two you can fit them AND the mushrooms and onions in the same pan without too much difficulty. The dish is finished more quickly this way.

When the chicken is firm and cooked through and the mushrooms and onions are soft and sweet-smelling, turn up the heat a bit and add the wine. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the wine bubbles away, stirring them in to make a rich brown sauce. When the wine has reduced by half, turn down the heat and stir in the crème fraiîhe. I don't usually find that crème fraiîhe separates on a low flame, but if you are nervous it might you can stir a little hot sauce into the crème fraiîhe first and then add that to the pan.

To serve, make a bed of the cooked spinach on a plate, pour half the onion and mushroom mixture on it, lay a breast on that, drizzle a little sauce on the breast and then top it with half the cheese. Repeat with the second one. Serve with the same dry white wine you used to make the sauce.

If you were making this Monique's way, you would have steamed fresh spinach and asparagus tips somewhere in there and garnished with the tips. One of the most gratifying aspects of this recipe to me (and it's mean of me) is that she actually leaves out a step: she never tells you what to do with the cooked spinach. I just assumed it was made into a bed for the dish, rather than incorporated in the sauce. But it doesn't say. That happens to me all the time on this site; people write in the comments things like "What do I do with the second half cup of cheese?" So it's nice to know that such errors can even slip through the capable hands of a writer, an assistant and an editor and make it into a printed book.

My middle name is Schadenfreude.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:16 AM | Comments (3)
June 6, 2006
The Universally Useful Herb Butter

herbbutter.jpgIn France, a common simple accompaniment to a grilled steak is a disc of butter and herbs, usually called beurre maître d'hotel. It's a lovely finishing touch to a steak, albeit a bit rich. But how can you not like melted butter and fresh herbs? Now that I have a flourishing herb garden, I decided to try my hand at my own mix of herbs and butter. Because I love strong flavours (and so do both my Critics) I decided to jazz up the usual mix of butter, parsley, lemon juice and pepper.

From my garden, I grabbed a small handful of each of the following herbs: lemon thyme, tarragon, soft oregano and a few leaves of basil. I chopped the herbs and stirred them into 40 grams of soft butter with one pressed clove of fresh garlic and a pinch of salt. It was heavenly on a steak. It was bliss on the accompanying baked potato. It was so good that I made another batch and smeared it over a Loué chicken. And then I used the remaining herb butter to fry up the liver and lungs of said bird for a tasty lunch, served with apple slices. It's garlicky, herby, buttery, rich and just the perfect finishing touch to just about any simple dish.

I think I'm in love.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:51 PM | Comments (3)
Kibble?

I've been thinking about it, and what with time being at such a premium, maybe I've got this food and cooking thing all wrong. Maybe we shouldn't spend all our time trying to find fresh ingredients and creative ways to prepare them.

Maybe, just maybe, I should be living on monkey chow.

Naaaaaaah.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)
June 5, 2006
Spring Lasagne Bolognese

lightlasag.jpgIt's been one of those eternally cold and rainy Springs here in Paris. I looked up an old recipe on this site not long ago and found a post where I was complaining about it last year. And here we are again: grateful for a day of watery sunshine and 69 degrees F.

For a cook, this poses something of a dilemma. (For a human being getting dressed in the morning it's not easy either, but this is a food blog.) You want to take advantage of all the lovely fresh produce that should be appearing in the market stalls. But it's all rather slow to appear and in any case there's a real un-Spring-like urge to turn the oven on and heat up the apartment. So I decided to make a lasagna but I tried to make it relatively light, a compromise. I love baked pasta, it's one of my guilty pleasures - whether a pasta souffle or plain old mac-a-chee. But with fresh tomatoes, loads of fresh garlic and soft herbs from the terrace garden this version did turn out a bit lighter. And yet with that fantastic crusty cheese top that makes it all worthwhile.

The Critic said, "It's not how I would have made it." Pause. "But I like it." Whew.

Spring Lasagne Bolognese Serves 3-4

5 ripe tomatoes
2 onion
2 Tbs fresh garlic, slivered (about 3-4 cloves)
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
250 grams of ground beef
1 Tbs fennel seeds
12 leaves of lasagna
2-4 Tbs olive oil
100 grams ricotta
125 grams mozzarella
1/4 cup or about 75 grams grated Parmesan

Boil a full kettle of water and while you are waiting for it to boil, begin chopping the onion. Cook the onion in the olive oil, stirring from time to time until they are soft. In the meantime, place the tomatoes in a large pot and pour the boiling water over them. This will allow you to remove the skins easily. Leave them for a minute or two and then drain them and rinse them in cold water until they are cool enough to peel. Set them aside.

Rinse out the large pot and fill it again with water. Bring the water to the boil. While you are doing the next steps, cook the pieces of pasta 2-3 at a time in the boiling water. You only need to leave them a few minutes until they soften and then slide them into a bowl of cold water. I find it is much easier to cook lasagna if you only put in a few pieces at a time as otherwise they have a tendency to stick together.

Add the ground beef to the onions and cook over a medium flame, breaking up the meat as you go. Once the meat is cooked through, check how much grease they have given up. If the meat was lean you can move on to the next step but if there is a lot of grease in the pan, drain it. Stir in the fennel seeds and cook for another moment. I like to add fennel because it gives the illusion of including Italian sausage, which is what I would normally include if such a product were easily obtainable in Paris. Peel the tomatoes and chop them. You can remove the bits with the seeds, but I usually don't bother. Add the the herbs and garlic and turn off the heat.

By now you are hopefully done cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. In a pan that fits three pasta slices side by side, pour a bit of the sauce in the bottom and spread it around. Lay three slices of pasta on the bottom. Spread 1/4 of the ricotta over the pasta, then add 1/4 of the sauce and 1/4 of the mozzarella, grated or sliced in thin strips. Repeat until you have used up all the pasta, sauce and cheese, finishing with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is crusty and brown and the filling is bubbling. The kitchen will also smell pretty good.

Wait 15 tantalising minutes before serving so that the cheese cools down a bit and keeps the whole thing hanging together. It's a lot lighter than the lasagna I usually make, but the fresh garlic and herbs added a whole new fresh flavour, perfect on a cold late Spring night.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:39 PM | Comments (11)
June 4, 2006
May 2006 Eat Local Challenge: Conclusions

So May has come and gone and the challenge is over. I'm afraid I wasn't as energetic as I could have been seeking out new sources of local food. And I think the people at the market think I'm seriously nutty. ("Eet's that woman who always asks where the food comes from...quick, hide!") But I feel like the challenge was worthwhile on a number of levels.

1) I will no longer blindly buy food that is marked "organic" either at the farmer's market or my local supermarket. I've discovered that many of the vendors at the former simply pick up their products at the market at Rungis and have no idea where they come from. And most of the supermarket organic produce comes from South America. I had already noticed that the quality wasn't as high as the normal stuff and this in addition means I'll no longer be buying the stuff.

2) I've really enjoyed the dialogue it has engendered. Barrett has his contrary position and Barbara of Tigers and Strawberries beautifully refuted activist Pete Singer's bizarre attack on eating local. The various arguments made me rethink my own position instead of just blindly accepting that local=good. That said, I still feel that local=better than most other options. I don't buy into the theory that we should support farms on the other side of the world by buying their produce: there are other and more effective ways to support them, including helping them find a market within their own borders. Most of the poorest countries seem to me to stay that way through bad governance rather than an inability to sell their vegetables in Europe and the US.

3) I found that I could pat myself on the back for some practices I already had in place: a) I rarely buy junk food, so there was nothing to eliminate there b) the stall I buy vegetable from at the market stocks 95% their own produce and they are located about 90 miles from Paris. (We still fall down on this and order from Domino's a couple times per month...something we should change but I don't see it happening. It's just too convenient.)

4) It pushed me to finally properly stock my terrace garden and I am delighted with it. I am going to be eating locally all summer long and loving the green gorgeous look of our city garden. I have always hesitated to buy my plants from a bog-standard plant store because the whole point of having a wormery on your terrace is that you know the food is completely organic. Thanks to the Eat Local Challenge, I've been regular in going to the market each week and so didn't miss the window of opportunity when organic vegetable plants are available.

5) I rediscovered the joy of French regions: the pride that every little departement has in its own local cheese or dish. The down side of this is that for a month I deprived myself of my favourite Auvergne cheeses and sausages. The up side is that I rediscovered rillettes du Mans and how much I love Brie. I also cheated slightly by eating many goat cheeses from the Loire valley.

At the end of the day, however, did the challenge actually change my habits long-term? Aside from the Venezualan organic vegetables, not really. I've always tried to eat food that tastes good and is in season and this means you almost automatically will be eating local food. If melons are not yet in season in the Paris area (still waiting for them with mouth watering) you know that the ones in the market must have come from the south. I may have fudged a bit in the past, but I've always been inclined to wait until the height of the season to gorge myself.

When are cherries going to finally be in season here? When?

I've started buying my flour at the farmer's market and it comes from a mill about 75 miles from Paris, so that has changed. I've been wanting to find a good bread flour and as they also sell very good bread I figured this was a good place to get it. I was right.

I've increased my dependence on the stall that only sells their own produce from the Paris region. I love the fact that they are a small producer and the woman who runs the stall is extremely nice to boot. In Paris, even at a touchy-feely organic market, this is not a given.

So a few tweaks in the shopping habits but no earthquake changes. I have always known that I'm lucky in that I have all the benefits of an urban setting (great public transportation, restaurants and museums) combined with fantastic fresh produce. Although I can see why people rail at France for its farm subsidies, I glory in the results.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:51 PM | Comments (4)
June 1, 2006
It's Getting to be Gazpacho Season

Gazpacho I'm currently on vacation in North America and it seems that summer is here after completely bypassing spring. A few weeks ago it was downright cold but in the northeast this week, temperatures have been in the upper 90s. How hot was it? Our friend Sweth ended up in the ER with dehydration and an overheated engine. I was thinking about what we could cook up that would be cold and hydrating. Clearly, gazpacho was in order. The recipe is pretty much taken from wikibooks, although we left out the bread (purists may gasp, but we couldn't wait around for bread to go stale, and besides, soggy bread makes me want to vomit, just a little bit). We put it with some sides of roquefort on toasts and various olives. Perfect. Just what the doctor ordered.

Gazpacho from wikibooks, slightly tweaked
1 lb /450 g tomatoes
1/2 lb / 225 g green peppers
1/2 cucumber
a few cilantro leaves
clove of garlic
1/2 jalapeno pepper
1/2 mild Spanish onion
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Handful of ice cubes
1/3 cup water

Garnish
2 tomatoes, skinned
1/2 green pepper
1/4 peeled cucumber
2 slices stale white bread, crusts removed

Method
Skin the tomatoes if you want [we didn't] and cut into quarters. Remove seeds and stalks from peppers. Peel the cucumber and cut into chunks. Cut up the onion.

Blend all the ingredients until roughly chopped, not too fine, because the soup should have texture and discernible vegetable bits. You may want to leave some veggies chopped finely off to the side to add into the soup after you are done with the blending, for texture. Pour into large bowl with some ice [we just put the ice in the blender], add salt and pepper. Then prepare the garnishes. Chop the other vegetables finely. Serve in separate little bowls on the table, so that guests can sprinkle on their own toppings.

Serve chilled, preferably on a hot day and within sight of the sea.

Posted by Justin at 7:45 AM | Comments (2)
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