Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Paris -- Shopping for Our Lebanese Feast with Tania

I described yesterday a wonderful Lebanese feast that friends and I made with their (and now my) friend Tania. One of the revelations was our trip to the amazing Lebanese supermarket, Les Délices d'Orient, a Lebanese supermarket in a part of Paris's 15th arrondissement that is populated by many Lebanese, Iranians and other people from the Middle East.

I was only able to take a few pictures before I was stopped by the manager, who explained that, apart from panoramas of the whole market, photography was prohibited. So here's what I got.

You will have to take my word for the interesting things we found in the vegetable department: real baby lamb's lettuce (not mâche), jujubes (tiny grape-size fruits that taste like apples) and fresh pistachio nuts. A first for me: to eat the nuts you must remove a thin red membrane, and then take the fresh and moist nut out of its shell in the normal manner. Excellent.

Next we went across the street to the butcher owned by the same people as Les Délices. Tania did not make herself popular there by insisting that every scrap of fat be removed from the lamb before double grinding it into a wonderfully smooth texture. Here's what it looked like the next day, before we transformed it into kabab keraz and araïss.

Double ground lamb and other ingredients for araïss
 While at the butcher, we happened on this oddly named product:

Here's a link to learn more about this
If you are like me and enjoy seeing markets full of (for us) exotic products, Les Délices d'Orient is a must. 52 Avenue Émile Zola, 75015 Paris (Métro Charles Michels).

Bobby Jay

Monday, September 7, 2015

Paris -- Lebanese Cooking with Tania

Our Lebanese Feast
I spent two memorable days last week with my friends Mimi and JoJo and their friend Tania, a Lebanese woman who is a passionate expert on Middle Eastern food and a talented Lebanese chef.

The day before the meal, we made a couple of dishes and then shopped for the next day. We started with mehallabiyeh, a pudding perfumed with the divine scents of rose water and orange flower water.

The wonderful Tania making mehallabiyeh
Then we prepared hummus, like many other versions but with a trick: Tania adds a few ice cubes to the blender with the chickpeas and tahini for an extra smooth spread. I love getting this type of astuce, a small thing that can make a big difference.

Next, we had coffee with some great loukoums (what we call Turkish delight) from Turkey . . .

Loukoums and coffee
. . . and started on our shopping expedition. More on that in a separate post.

The following day, we continued preparing for the feast, at which we were joined by Mimi and JoJo's great friend Miki and Nissan, the latter of whom grew up in what is now Israel before it was Israel, and as a child spoke Arabic and ate exactly the kind of food we prepared with Tania. Soul food for him!

In addition to the mehallabiyeh and hummus we made the day before, we added a bunch of exquisite dishes, an elaborate meal fit for royalty.

Moutabbal, also known as baba ghanouj, similar to Turkish but a little different.

Making moutabbal
Moutabbal -- the final product
Cucumber and yogurt salad, like raita but a little different.

Cucumber and yogurt salad with spices, mint, etc.
Tomato marinated in arak (anise flavored liquor similar to pastis) and served with shankish, a strong crumbly cheese.

Arak-marinated tomato with shankish
Kabab keraz, little lamb meatballs in a sour cherry sauce.

Making kabab keraz
Kabab keraz -- the final product
Meat pies (sorry, I don't have the Lebanese name) atop pancakes that closely resemble blinis, along with beef triangles that Tania had made earlier.

Meat pies
And my personal favorite, lamb araïss, pitas stuffed with a layer of spiced ground lamb and then grilled like panini (indeed, we used a panini maker).

Lamb araïss
As you can see, Lebanese food resembles that of other Middle Eastern countries, and, like them, traces its roots back to Turkey. But each cuisine is slightly different, and a lot of the fun lies in discovering the nuances.

Tania's food is pure and her presentations are magnificent. What a wonderful feast for the stomach, the eyes and the soul!

Bobby Jay

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Paris -- Cooking Lesson: Le Siphon

I had a fun cooking lesson the other day, which focused on using the syphon, a device like a selzer maker that uses nitrogen dioxide instead of carbon dioxide to make foams and whipped creams.
We made three things:

First, a cream of foie gras (not made in the syphon) with a spicy whipped cream on top and little apple bâtons for decoration and a hint of sweetness.

Foie gras cream with seasoned whipped cream and apple bâtons
Next, a good-tasting baby clam (cockle) risotto with a pretty unattractive cuttlefish ink emulsion.

Cockle risotto with cuttlefish ink emulsion
Finally, a vanilla poached pear with pear chantilly, salted caramel sauce and toasted brioche, delicious and attractive, I think.

Vanilla poached pear with caramel sauce, pear chantilly and brioche toast
Using a syphon is fun and something you can easily do at home. Just know that the contents must contain fat (cream, egg whites) or a gelling agent (gelatin or agar agar). I have had a syphon for several years and rarely use it, but hope to use it more often, at least for super light flavored whipped creams that have about double the volume of ones made in the traditional way.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paris -- Bastille Market as Reality Show

Especially when cooking for one, a visit to one of Paris' great open-air markets is like a reality show: you have to choose ingredients that look great and leave to later the task of figuring out what to do with them. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Paris.

Today I went to the Bastille (Richard Lenoir) market near our apartment, and bought the following:

Half cooked crab
Turkey breast roast and chicken sausage
Mankoush - Lebanese flatbread with za'atar
Mirabelles and reine-claudes
Together with items that I already had at home, I made lunch and dinner from these ingredients, in addition to munching some slices of scamorzza and wolfing down a bunch of tiny mirabelles (my favorite fruit) and reine-claudes (my second favorite).

Lunch consisted of oeufs sur le plat with white vinegar sauce, accompanied by the cèpe, which I dry-sauteed and then added a smidgen of butter, salt, pepper and thyme. (Followed with a piece of soft nougat from a Vietnamese traiteur.)

Oeufs sur le plat with sautéed cèpe

Soft Vietnamese nougat
For dinner, I reheated the chicken sausage and roast turkey breast and the chicken sauce, and boiled and then sautéed ratte potatoes, followed by a piece of camembert that I had left out all day and a square of Lindt chocolate (yes, I love Lindt chocolate even if it is not the most artisanal or exotic).

I am left with the mankoush, which I'll toast for breakfast, and the crab, which will serve nicely as tomorrow's lunch.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Paris -- Cinq-Mars: Bistro Near the Orsay

Last night I had a very good meal at Cinq-Mars, a simple but stylish bistro in the seventh arrondissement, near the Musée d'Orsay. I never would have found this place, which gets one cocotte from Le Lebey des Bistrots and a mention in Pudlo, if I had not read Chris Kimball's most recent "Letter from Vermont" on line just before leaving for Paris. Kimball is the owner of America's Test Kitchen and publisher of Cook's Illustrated and many other cooking publications, and this is his and his wife's favorite place in Paris.

While Kimball is not a food critic, I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised. Cinq-Mars is an attractive restaurant with about 36 seats, most of which were filled, that are serviced by a pair of capable young servers, one male and one female, who do everything in the front.

The food is classic, but very well prepared with excellent ingredients the provenance of which is often noted on the menu. I had a classic but delicious oeuf mayonnaise, a specialty, and a truly superb veal chop. The veal was amazingly tender and sported a gorgeous and tasty deep crust. It was served with classic peas and carrots, with a few (too few) spring onions and a couple of (undercooked) slices of potato. The menu was loaded with fish and meat dishes that I would have liked to try: unfortunately, dining alone provides no sharing opportunities.

Oeufs mayonnaise at Cinq-Mars
Côte de veau at Cinq-Mars
Desserts are very classic: île flottante, mousse au chocolat, mont-blanc, etc. I was feeling a bit full for any of these, so I went with the sorbets, an excellent mara des bois strawberry and a really dense chocolate which, while very good, should not cause the folks at Berthillon to lose any sleep.

All in all, a lovely meal at a reasonable price (about 60 euros, including wine; there is a 21.5 euro two-course lunch menu). I look forward to returning with J.

Cinq-Mars, 51 rue de Verneuil, 75007 Paris (Métro Solférino or Rue du Bac).

Bobby Jay

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Eleven Madison Park -- Food for the Brain

I was lucky enough to be taken by my wife J to Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm's famed gastronomic palace, for my birthday on Friday. I don't review New York restaurants on the theory that there is ample, if not excessive, information available to those who care, and this is not a review. However, the experience was noteworthy and worth discussing, I think.

We had heard that the experience could be over the top and self-referential, but we found this not to be true at all. The staff was knowledgeable, gracious and efficient, and greatly enhanced the evening, which elapsed over more than four hours.

Indeed, far from being self-referential, the restaurant is totally devoted to its customers, showing great flexibility in responding to food allergies or aversions. We were a party of four and aversions included fish, shellfish, anything raw, eggs, beef and lobster. They seamlessly and elegantly worked around these issues so that everyone's 14-course meal reflected the philosophy and trajectory of the experience. For example, extruded cheese noodles were substituted for squid for one of our party, keeping the dish aesthetically consistent with the "normal" one while bringing a different, but legitimate, taste and texture, and truffles were substituted for caviar in one of great early courses.

The food was not over the top either, just consistently at the top. It is extremely market driven, and shows a nearly miraculous attention to detail and ability to extract the essence of flavor from the ingredients. As an example, a tomato that was not a tomato but a reconstruction of a tomato that was pureed and artfully reassembled and served over the water extracted from the tomato (the seeds are recovered and used atop the dish to further the illusion). More intense tomato flavor than even a perfect summer tomato. Similarly, a poached apricot was the most apricot-y piece of food that I have ever eaten. This accompanied a slice of spice crusted duck breast, along with two morsels of super-concentrated fennel made by vacuum compressing vegetable overnight before cooking it the next day.

Tomato salad with basil and red onion
Duck breast roasted with lavender, honey, apricots and fennel
The restaurant tries not to take itself too seriously and introduces notes of whimsy. J arranged for us to eat a course in the kitchen, which was a palate-cleansing shaved ice made on an antique ice shaver that was found at an antiques store in the Bronx.

Peach, ginger and lemon thyme snow cone
And one of the courses -- fish boil with corn and peppers -- was thrown onto a piece of thick paper with the diners being encouraged to eat with their hands.

Fish boil with corn and peppers
The final whimsical element was the fourth dessert, called "Name That Milk," which consisted of four different chocolate bars specially made for Eleven Madison by the Mast Brothers. We were supposed to match each bar with the type of milk used in its confection: cow, buffalo, sheep or goat (we did not do well).

So, you are asking if you have gotten this far, what about the food? I found that the dishes varied greatly, from sublime (caviar Benedict with egg, corn and ham, among others) to nearly unpleasant (a sunflower heart prepared like that of an artichoke). A lot of dishes (a few too many for my taste) featured pickled items, and there was a predominance of sourness or tartness. The first dessert was a delicious but very tart homemade farmer's cheese served with honey and interesting toppings, including an amazing sorrel sauce. It was followed by a dish composed of buttermilk sorbet made from the extremely sour whey of the aforementioned cheese, very tart yogurt and a trace of sweet milk solids. Next was a deconstructed cheesecake, also on the tart side. I would have preferred more sweetness for the dessert.

Sorbet with caramelized whey and yogurt
Cheesecake with white currant sorbet and raspberry vinegar
But the point is not that I found a little too much sour and tart among the many things we ate. Rather it is that all of these items provoked discussion and disagreement among our party of four. One of us  was ecstatic about the sequence of tart desserts, but then she is not a chocolate lover (there are those!). While the everyday world does not disappear from your conscientiousness, for a few hours the world of food, and thoughts about how it is prepared and where it comes from (and when) dominate, and that is a fine thing, for which I am indebted to Mr. Humm (and to J, who arranged the whole thing).

Bobby Jay

Monday, August 3, 2015

Artisanal Horseradish -- A Greenmarket Find

One of the pleasures of greenmarkets is the discovery of new products and ingredients. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Holy Schmitt's homemade horseradish at New York's Union Square greenmarket (Schmitt's is there on Mondays and Fridays).

I tasted the regular and found it excellent. Not as hot as my mother-in-law's freshly grated, but nearly. The beet horseradish had the same defect as I find in the store-bought: the beet juice diluted the horseradish to the point of insipidness. But there are those who prefer it. Finally, I tried the cranberry horseradish and this was a surprise: the tang of the cranberries complemented, but did not dilute, the bite of the horseradish. A must for next year's Seder.

Holy Schmitt's Homemade Horseradish
I went to the Schmitt's website and bought a few jars, for personal consumption and as gifts for my neighbor, who loves horseradish and is obsessed by this this type of product. (It is shipped in a cold pack since it needs to be refrigerated.) Among these was one that I had not seen at the greenmarket, hot pepper horseradish, which is made a good bit hotter than the regular through the addition of visible chunks of pickled green (serrano?) hot peppers. This one may match my mother-in-law's for its ability to go right up your nose in a pleasant rush.

Go to the Union Square market for free tastes, or trust me and get it through the web. But, if you like horseradish, get it one way or the other.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Food52 Genius Recipes -- Interesting, Foolproof, Simple

Recently I gave a rave review to Kristen Miglore's Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes that Will Change the Way You Cook. (See my post of May 10, 2015.)

I have been cooking from this wonderful book and, as expected, the recipes have proved virtually infallible and simple. Since my post, I have made the following eight dishes -- three of them twice -- with the results described.

Rose Levy Baranbaum's Fresh Blueberry Pie (although I made a tart using my favorite crust from Clotilde Dusoulier). The secret of this recipe is cooking a quarter of the blueberries and adding the rest uncooked. This results in a wonderfully fresh tasting pie or tart with a perfect texture: holding together but barely. I made this twice, mixing some strawberries in the second time.

Fresh blueberry tart
Fresh blueberry and strawberry tart
José Pizarro's Salt-Crusted Fingerling Potatoes with Cilantro Mojo. While it is very salty on the exterior,  once you penetrate the skin, the interior is wonderfully creamy, resulting in a texture and taste bomb. Opinions were split on this between those who loved it and those who found it to be too salty. I liked it.

Roger Vergé's Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar. I made this twice. The first time, with snazzy Banyuls vinegar, tasted too sweet, but it was great when I made it again with ordinary red wine vinegar.

Canal House's Chicken Thighs with Lemon Sauce. A simple method for incredibly crispy skin and perfectly cooked interior, with a nice sauce enhanced by salty, briny preserved lemons. This may become my go-to thigh recipe.

Richard Olney's Fresh Fig and Mint Salad. A seemingly bizarre recipe for very cold fresh fig, prosciutto, lemony sweet cream and mint. An absolutely compelling mix of tastes, easy to prepare and elegant on the plate.

Frexh fig and mint salad
Cory Schreiber's Salt-Baked Herbed Salmon with Red Onion Caper Vinaigrette. It's the tail end of wild salmon season, and I got a great piece of intensely red wild sockeye salmon, to great effect. This is not real salt-baked salmon in which the whole fish is encased in salt; here you just build a salt bed on which to cook the fish with just the right insulation from the heat of the roasting pan. Simplicity itself.

Salt-baked herbed sockeye salmon
Eric Ripert's Crispy-Skinned Fish Filets, with striped bass and with sea bass. This is quick but still a bit tricky. The first time I made it, with striped bass, it come out perfectly, with a magnificent crispy skin. The second time, with wild sea bass, was less successful; I think I sauteed the fish at a slightly too low temperature, and the skin was flabby (I used a brulé torch to crisp it up a bit). I am not deterred and will definitely use this method again.

Dan Barber's Cauliflower Steaks. A brilliant dish that highlights the various tastes that are inherent in this seemingly mild and boring vegetable. And a stunning sight on the plate.

Cauliflower steak on a bed of pureed cauliflower
In my earlier post I said that I plan to cook a majority of the recipes in the book, and I am making pretty good progress: I've already made 16 of the 100 recipes.

If you are going to buy one cookbook this year, this is the one!

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Paris - Bastille Day Dinner Chez Nous

We had dear friends for dinner on Bastille Day. It started as a simple meal before a ball on Île Saint-Louis, but we decided to skip the ball so I amped up the meal.

For hors d'oeuvres, I served a spread made of brocciu (Corsican fresh sheep cheese), finely diced sun-dried tomato, lemon zest, a little olive oil and salt and pepper; roasted almonds with smoked paprika and cayenne; and slices of Bellota Bellota lomo (Spanish cured pork tenderloin) that I found at the great butcher, Gardil.

For the appetizer, I made tartes tatin aux tomates cerises (upside-down cherry tomato tarts) with basil sauce, a dish I learned at a cooking lesson at Atelier des Chefs. I had tried making this a few days earlier in a large format with terrible results. This time, with individual tarts, the recipe worked perfectly, and I was proud of the result.

Tarte tatin aux tomates cerises
Bellota Bellota lomo
 For the main course, veal scalloppini from the same butcher, with caper and lemon sauce. Then salad with great cheeses from our wonderful local fromagerie and, finally, a blueberry, whipped cream and strawberry French flag for dessert.

Veal scalloppini with caper sauce
Berry and whipped cream French flag
No fireworks but a nice evening with old friends.

Bobby Jay