Sunday, April 5, 2015

Passover 2015 - Mostly Sephardic Seder

Last year I totally revamped the menu for our family Seder, moving from traditional Askenazi dishes to Sephardic ones from a variety of countries. The new orientation was interesting and most of the dishes were successful. Planning for this year’s Seder, I confronted the question of which dishes to keep and which to change, and elected to stick with last year’s for the majority. My goal is eventually to arrive at a suite of dishes that everyone is excited to see again, year after year; continuity is, after all, what Passover is all about.

Thus I made artichoke tapenade and burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds, as well lemon scented veal meatballs. I suppressed last year’s unsuccessful dried fava bean hummus and substituted pickled mushrooms from the renowned Bar Tartine. The fifth appetizer was gefilte fish from nearby Citarella, cut into bite-size morsels and served with my mother-in-law’s wonderful sinus-clearing horseradish.

Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds on endive leaves
Artichoke tapenade
Gefilte fish with homemade prepared horseradish
The Seder plate contains two prepared elements that I love: horseradish (made by my mother-in-law) and haroset (the one I made -- Joan Nathan's haroset from Bordeaux -- consists of dates, figs and nuts only – ironically, no wine).

For the dinner, I gave up the watercress and chickpea soup I made in 2014 and prevailed on my sister-in-law to make her great matzoh ball soup (not Separdic but why let purity deprive us of something great?). I made Syrian lemon and olive chicken (D'jah 'Limoneh) again and my cousin contributed a Moroccan lamb tagine with figs, ginger, carrots  and Moroccan spices for which I provided the recipe. For last year’s Turkish zucchini pie I substituted grilled asparagus with lemon zest and ricotta sprinkled on top. I repeated the divine Persian rice that was what inspired my “conversion” to Sephardism, with dill and edamame salad that makes an interesting accompaniment.

Persian rice with edamame and dill
Syrian lemon and olive chicken
Lamb tagine with ginger, carrots and Moroccan spices
Grilled asparagus with ricotta and lemon zest
I made a lot of changes for dessert, mostly for the worse I fear. Instead of last year’s wonderful flourless orange cake I made a perfectly good but not sensational nut-free fresh ginger and molasses cake and for last year’s --- I substituted a French style apple tart, the only real flop of the meal: matzoh flour just doesn’t make a good tart dough. My cousin contributed her excellent lemon squares, chocolate covered matzohs and chocolate chip cookies, as well as some store bought items. I jettisoned the sesame halva that I made in 2014: despite numerous attempts I never got the texture right.

Fresh ginger and molasses cake
French apple tart before it fell apart
Now for next year . . . . There would be a mutiny if I didn't make the meatballs, and the burnt eggplant is pretty compelling as I present it. Citarella’s gefilte fish is another definite keeper. But I will not repeat the artichoke tapenade or the picked mushrooms, and will be seeking worthy successors.

The haroset and horseradish are fine; no change needed. Similarly, the matzo ball soup. The Persian rice will stay, although I plan to accompany it with something other than the edamame dill salad. The Syrian chicken will appear again, but not so sure about the lamb tagine. J loved The grilled asparagus so I may repeat the dish but I think I can do better and remain on the hunt for a new vegetable dish.

Desserts will change, but I am not sure to what. A project for the next year.

Here are the sources for the dishes that made up the meal.
  • Artichoke tapenade: David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen.
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.Pickled mushrooms: Nicholas Balla and Courtney Burns: Bar Tartine.
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs: Mario Batali,
  • Heidi's matzoh ball soup: family reicpe
  • Bordeaux style haroset: Joan Nathan, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
  • Chicken with lemon and olives (Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh): Jennifer Abadi, A Fistful of Lentils.
  • Lamb Tagine: cooking lesson at Ateliers des Chefs, Paris.
  • Persian rice with edamame and dill: cooking lesson with Jennifer Ababi, Institute for Culinary education, for rice; Louisa Shafia, The New Persian Kitchen for edamame and dill (substituting edamame for favas).
  • Grilled asparagus with ricotta: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.
  • Fresh ginger cake, David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert.
  • French style apple tart: America's Test Kitchen, TV Show Cookbook 2001-15.
Happy Passover!

Bobby Jay

Friday, April 3, 2015

Alain Passard's Amazing (and Simple) Vinaigrette Aigre-Doux

A few months ago, I wrote about the legendary chef, Alain Passard, whose three star Arpège is almost entirely vegetable focused. I have been viewing the videos referred to in my post of January 1, 2015, and one really got my attention: on vinaigrette aigre-doux, which means sweet and sour vinaigrette.

I usually avoid sweet vinaigrettes, as well as honey mustards: for me the honey overpowers the salty and acid aspects of the experience. BUT. This is ALAIN PASSARD, who is so excited over this dressing that I had to give it a try. It helps that it takes about four minutes to assemble and contains just three ingredients: lime juice, honey and olive oil.

Here's the recipe (which I halved with perfect success):
  • Mix 70 grams of lime juice with 140 grams of honey (I used chesnut)
  • Slowly add 200 grams of olive oil with an immersion blender until you have a nice emulsion
That's it.

Here's how to use it, under a salad of cut up beets and turnips, covered with a sprinkling of mesclun and herbs.

Turnips and beets with mesclun over Alain Passard's vinaigrette aigre-doux
A slightly different version, substituting lemon juice for lime, is perfect over triangles of pineapple (topped with paper thin apple slices and lime zest). It was also perfect over blackberries, but less good on watermelon triangles. The lesson is that it is a better counterpoint for salty or sour than for sweet.

Impress your friends (and yourself) with no effort!

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 23, 2015

The RG Sandwich -- Homemade Rye, Smoked Ricotta, etc.

Recently I gave my neighbor RG, who was house-bound after an operation, a container of Salvatore's smoked ricotta, a wonderful product that I have written about before, and a loaf of natural levain country rye bread that I made, courtesy of Chad Robertson's iconic Tartine Bread.

An RG sandwich: homemade country rye, smoked ricotta, smoked salmon, etc.
Starting with these ingredients, RG created a beautiful open-faced sandwich, which I have more or less duplicated myself:

1. Spread a generous amount of smoked ricotta on a slice of homemade country rye bread (RG uses Rubschlager Rye-Ola Black Rye if, as is usually the case, homemade rye bread is not available).

2. Add a generous amount of best quality olive oil (RG uses Castellina in Chianti, I used Sicilian that I buy at Eataly).

3. Add a few thin slices of Bermuda onion (I used red onion).
4. Add a slice of smoked Scottish salmon. (I added a grind of black pepper to finish.)

5. Voilà!

This is one fine sandwich: creative use of great ingredients. Thanks, RG.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tom Kerridge's Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Pommes Boulangères

Recently I made slow-roasted lamb shoulder with pommes boulangères for the second time. This dish, courtesy of Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food TV show, is extremely easy to prepare and really delivers amazing lamb flavor. Mr. Kerridge is the owner chef of the world's only pub to be awarded two Michelin stars and, as he says, he is all about simplicity and great ingredients.

Slow-roasted leg of lamb with pommes boulangères and green beans
While Mr. Kerridge advises you to leave this alone for the full five hours (or so) of cooking time, I removed a fair amount of liquid every so often starting after three hours so that the potatoes would crisp better. So a bit less simple than written but not much. And a pretty spectacular result.

I preceded the lamb with a radish, mushroom and arugula salad with pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette, sprouts, pumpkin seeds and parmesan shavings, inspired by Grüner in Portland.

Radish, mushroom and arugula salad with pumpkin seed vinaigrette
 We finished with a rosemary polenta olive oil cake, served with Cowgirl Creamery crème fraîche and rosemary syrup, a dessert designed to take advantage of the shipment of amazingly fragrant rosemary delivered by our friend S from Galveston.

If you like lamb, try this recipe.

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 16, 2015

Asia Week Macaro(o)ns

It's Asia Week in New York, which means that J is having a magnificent show of contemporary and modern Japanese ceramics. To keep her many clients satiated, I typically make macarons, those finicky but heavenly French meringue cookies with cream or ganache fillings. This year I made matcha (Japanese green tea) macarons filled with white chocolate ganache, one of J's and her clients' favorites. I employed a new (for me) technique this time, using Italian meringue, which involves adding hot sugar syrup to mounted egg whites, rather than French meringue, which includes only powdered sugar. While the Italian meringue is more difficult to create, it is easier to work with and bakes more predictably than the more brittle French meringue.

Matcha macarons with white chocolate ganache
When the macaron supply became exhausted, I baked a batch of matcha and coconut macarOOns, simple confections made of coconut, sugar, a little flour (not all recipes have this, which is why people serve them for Passover), and egg whites. Here I added a bit of matcha powder to half the batter to achieve the two-part effect. (Thanks to Stephanie Le's excellent iamafoodblog for the concept.)

Matcha and coconut macaroons
While not as elegant as macarons, macaroons are easy to make and fun to eat.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Paris - Organic Chocolate Mousse

I like chocolate mousse, but J does not. I'm not sure how that's possible, but there it is. As a result, I never make it, despite having many many recipes in French cookbooks, magazine cuttings and internet posts.

One of my guilty pleasures in Paris, especially when I'm here alone, is the organic dark chocolate mousse that can be found at Monoprix and at bio (health food) stores. The amazing thing, for a store-bought product, is the list of ingredients: chocolate (42%), eggs, butter. That's it, no preservative, thickener, gelling agent, stabilizer. Well, perhaps the most amazing things are really the taste and texture, which are excellent and quite adult. (The mousse is so thick that it's actually hard to clean your spoon, either with your mouth or in the sink.) Or maybe I just become a child again when I eat them.

Ready-made chocolate mousses, left from bio store, right from Monoprix
When in Paris, go to a supermarket and buy one to keep in your mini-fridge in case of emergency.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Paris - Cooking for One

Thursday I went to the Salon de l'Agriculture and bought too much food (see my post of yesterday).

Last night I got to use some of it and enjoyed an evening at home and a simple meal that I cooked for myself. I started with an enormous French artichoke, so big that it took 35 minutes in a pressure cooker before it was ready. Half of that, with some great olive oil, made a fine appetizer.

Next, smoked morteau sausage from Alsace, boiled for 45 minutes, with choucroute from the same stand at the Salon d'Ag, and some flageolets (lima beans) that I had left over from a prior meal. For dessert, a slice of pain d'épices that I had also bought at the Salon d'Ag. A rather nice meal.

Saucisse morteau, choucroute, flageolets
With so many great pre- or partially cooked items available at Paris' markets, cooking for one can be quick, interesting and delicious.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Le Servan: An Excellent Bistro

I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Paris bistros. I have been disappointed too many times by the "in" places "discovered" by The New York Times or Bon Appetit to trust them, and even some of my trusted French bloggers have from time to time let me down.

However . . . I recently went with a former colleague to new but and well-publicized Le Servan, a totally simple but attractive, and now very chic, bistro in the 11éme arrondissement and had a really delightful meal, exactly what you want in this type of place. A small but well-conceived menu and a wine list to match. And reasonable prices, too. The place is run by two young sisters, one of whom is the companion of the chef of Septime, one of the really great bistros in Paris. While this probably helped to jump start the restaurant, it has its own identity and flair.

We shared an order of cockles in a light spicy bouillon that was a perfect pre-starter. Then I had a hot foie gras lacqué and my friend had perfectly cooked baby artichokes with lemon sauce. I continued with a marvelous duck breast, while A had a perfectly roasted chicken with cabbage. Our desserts, a blood orange tart and a Paris-Brest, were both excellent. The food is not gorgeous and not presented in an exciting way, so no photos. But so what? This is good food, at a reasonable price, and you should go. Just call in advance because it's usually full.

Le Servan, 32 rue Saint-Maur, Paris 11ème (Métro Voltaire, St-Amboise or Saint-Maur), 01 55 28 51 82.

Bobby Jay

Friday, February 27, 2015

Paris - 2015 Salon d'Agriculture

One of the highlights of my year is a visit to the Salon de l'Agriculture, held in Paris at this time each year. A spectacular array of animals that are brought by proud breeders and traditional foods from all over France and its foreign territories and colonies, which may be eaten at the fair or taken home. (There are foods from other countries, but I generally pass on them in favor of France; after all . . .)

This year I went with two Japanese artist friends who have lived in France for many years, speak the language and appreciate the culinary tradition. One had never been to the Salon d'Ag and she could not get enough of it. When two of us left after 5 1/2 hours, she stayed on to see some of the things we had passed up.

We ate fairly little under the circumstances, starting with a fantastic sausage, potato and cheese from Picardy,

Crispy sausage, potatoes and cheese
and continuing with a hot foie gras sandwich, cooked before our eyes.

Waiting while our foie gras is sauteed.
We also partook of the many samples of sausage, cheese and sweets (nougat, cakes, sheep milk ice cream) on offer, and the best freshly pressed apple juice I have ever had.

Figatelli from Corsica
Fuseau from Lorraine
Looks nice, Auvergnates, but we passed
And we bought a few things to take home: pain d'epices, banana conserve, turmeric syrup, morteau sausage, chicken liver pâté, Valençay cheese and figatelli (see above).

Banana preserves from Guadaloupe - 85% banana, 15% sugar
Curcuma (turmeric) syrup from Martinique
Prune confiture and pain d'épice
 Then off to see the animals. First, horses, with splendid samples of dozens of breeds.

Horses doing what they do best - eating - and in competition
Next, the food animals: sheep, pigs and cows.

Award-winning cul noir pig
Happy sheep
1,650 kilo Charolais steer. HUGE!
The fair was packed, the most crowded I have ever seen it. This is great, because it enables the urban population (especially children) to connect with the agriculture from which their food comes, an especially worthy practice in an era where the shrink-wrapped products that are available in supermarkets bear no relationship to the actual animals from whence they come. I can't prove it but I believe that this connection helps the French to maintain respect for the farms, farmers and animals that nourish them so well.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Another Great Artisanal Butter

I reported a year ago (to this day) on Beurre Bordier, an artisan butter that has taken France by storm, and it really is great stuff.

But recently I heard from Dorie Greenspan, the wonderful cookbook author, that she has been favoring Beurre Beillevaire, made in the Loire Atlantique in wooden barattes. Interestingly, neither Bordier nor Beillevaire is made in Normandy, the traditional home of French butter and other milk products (think Camembert, Pont l'Eveque, etc.); perhaps that gives them more freedom to innovate which, in this context, means going back to old methods with wooden barrels and paddles.

Coincidentally, there is a Bielleville store on rue Saint Antoine, a few minutes from our apartment, where their products are available. I decided to try the demi-sel croquant (crunchy).

Beillevaire store in Paris
Rushing home, I slathered some of it on a toasted slice of Pain Poilâne, probably France's most famous bread: heaven. I wished I could give a taste to the many people who ask me why I love Paris so much! Even cold, the butter is spreadable and the salt, which is not very crunchy in the end, is a great counterpoint for the sweetness of the butter.

Not only is the butter wonderful to eat, it is even pretty to look at. A cute cow is embossed on the butter, which quickly disappears as the butter is consumed.

Beurre Beillevaire
Beurre Beillevaire embossed cow
Bordier or Bielleville: what a nice dilemma!

Bobby Jay

Monday, February 9, 2015

Fantastic Japanese Leaf Plates

J gave me a set of great leaf plates by the Japanese ceramic artist Tsujimura Yui as an early Valentine's Day gift. I was inspired to use them at a small dinner party to present an earthy salad of arugula, pumpkin seeds, sliced radishes, sprouts and parmesan shavings with pumpkin seed oil and sherry vinegar dressing. I learned this salad at Grüner in Portland, Oregon, where shaved mushrooms are also added to great effect (I was already using a lot of mushrooms in the meal so went without).

Tsujimura Yui plat with arugula, pumpkin seed, radish, sprouts and parmesan
Tsujimura Yui leaf plates with salad
The salad was good, but I think the plates really enhanced the experience.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, January 29, 2015

More Tartine Bread

Emboldened by my success making levain rustic loaves from Chad Robertson's Tartine, I decided to try some variations that he provides in the book. I made his standard two-loaf recipe, then divided it into two loaves early in the "bulk fermentation" process rather than at the end, and added the extra ingredients: chopped olives and walnuts in one, toasted sesame seeds in the other.

Spectacular success, particularly the olive walnut loaf, which was moist, light and earthy and certainly one of the best things I have ever made. Both had inviting dark crusts.

Tartine olive walnut levain loaf
Tartine olive walnut levain loaf - interior
The sesame loaf was excellent, too, but did not rise to the heights of the olive walnut loaf. But some of the best toast ever.

Tartine sesame seed levain loaf
It is pretty crazy to make this bread, given the time and timing commitments, but the results are pretty fantastic!

Bobby Jay

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tartine Bread

Inspired by Michael Pollan's excellent Cooked, in which the author spends many pages describing his efforts to make Chad Robertson's levain bread, as chronicled in detail in Robertson's Tartine Bread, I decided to try again to follow Robertson's 50 pages of instructions on making basic country bread. The secret of Robertson's bread, and the reason it is so difficult, is that you must first make a levain starter, for this bread is made without yeast, apart from that which appears by serendipity in the starter. Levain is like sourdough but -- guess what! -- less sour.

A couple of years ago I spent months trying to use levain starter in conjunction with Jim Lahey's brilliant, easy and foolproof no-knead bread, which I have discussed before. I never could get the oven spring that I wanted (i.e., the loaves were too flat) without adding just a smidgeon (1/8 tsp) of yeast, but that was cheating. When I went for the full Tartine bread, I still did not achieve the oven spring I wanted.

As noted above, I tried again, but this time I could not get the starter to start. A disgusting mess, which is fine, but without the bubbles, which is not. In frustration, I got the (pretty brilliant) idea of buying sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour, which I fed a few times according to their directions and then transformed into levain starter by feeding it as Robertson suggests. This worked and in a couple of days I had a very vibrant starter ready to go.

Now all I had to do was spend the next 26 hours following Robertson's recipe. You feed the starter and turn it into levain overnight. Then in the morning, when it is ready (a little bit of it will float in water, but mine took an extra 2 hours), you add water and flour to make dough. After a short rest, you add salt and a bit more water and leave for 3-4 hours, the "bench rest," folding (not kneading) the dough in the prescribed manner every 1/2 hour or so. Then shape the loaves and leave for another 3-4 hours. Finally, place a loaf into a covered dutch oven at blazing high heat for 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes uncovered . . . and then you have bread.

Two loaves of Tartine levain bread
And what bread it was! Gorgeous, beautifully colored, soaring, with a perfect rustic crumb and a slightly sour, almost bitter note playing against the sweetness of the wheat (about 22% whole wheat, in case you're curious). The bread was light, but less so than Lahey's, and with a more substantial structure.

Beautiful crumb inside a Tartine bread
I was thrilled that my project had worked, and the bread was one of the best I have ever eaten. But it is a lot of work . . .  well not so much work, although some technical skill is required, as being there -- a lot. You can go out, you can delay baking by refrigeration and other techniques, but you still have to be around. Is it worth it, given the degree of difficulty and time management compared to Lahey's no-knead bread? Hard to say, but I will definitely be doing it again. But then, I am retired and projects like this are my "bread and butter."

Bobby Jay

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cooking Highlights of 2014

I have made an iPhoto book of highlights of my cooking year. To see it, click on the cover page below. Unfortunately, you won't be able to see side-by-side double pages, so some of the text may seem a bit misplaced. I am working to solve this problem, but for now . . . .

Bobby Jay

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Alain Passard, an Amazing Perfectionist

Recently Nadège, the most loyal follower of my blog, recommended that I watch some short cooking videos by Alain Passard. They are terrific, and more on them later.

Passard is the chef of the famed Arpège, in Paris, where the spectacular and spectacularly expensive food is mostly, but not exclusively, vegetarian. A number of years ago, J and I went to Arpège with our good friends H and O and had a wonderful meal, but . . . we really felt ripped off paying nearly 300 euros per person (it's more now, of course) for the meal and we also felt that the restaurant's staff made the experience about them, not us. Yet I have to admit that I can still remember the taste of his most famous creation, a dessert consisting of a tomato that is confited for the better part of a day.

I thought nothing more of this until I happened upon a bande dessiné (graphic, comic-like book), En Cuisine avec Alain Passard, written by a journalist who got to spend a lot of time with him.

Reading this book gave me a new respect for Chef Passard. He sources nearly all the vegetables he uses at one of two organic farms that he owns. One is more or less conventional, the other uses horse-drawn plows and ancient planting and harvesting techniques. He tries growing the produce at each farm and then chooses the one that give the best result for future production. And he is a workaholic, spending virtually all of his time at the restaurant, creating, sampling, creating, etc. He has decided not to expand like other chefs because he cannot imagine producing the level of cuisine that he produces at Arpège without personally supervising every step. The level of Chef Passard's attention to detail is pretty amazing.

Now I get it.

As to the videos, there are a large number accessible by searching "alain passard youtube"; the dozen or so that I have viewed so far (and I plan to see them all) are remarkable. The food is amazingly creative and beautiful. And the lessons are so well expressed that they seem doable by a mere mortal who knows how to cook. But the best part is the enthusiasm displayed by Chef Passard. The man is clearly excited by what he does, a point made clear in En Cusine, but in the videos the passion is infectious; I want to cook each thing that he illustrates, right then! Here's an example, in which Chef Passard shows how to make a roulade of autumn vegetables:

There is one problem, which you may have suspected: the lessons are in French. The language used is not difficult, and the videos are so well illustrated that they are easily followed, but the fact remains that they are in French. Still, I encourage you to give them a try if you have even a little French and love to cook (or eat). Just looking at what he produces will be an inspiration.

Will I go back to Arpège knowing what I do now? I'm seriously thinking about it.

Bobby Jay

Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year from Paris -- 2014


As always, we are spending the end of the year in Paris. Here are some nice, mostly food-oriented, images from Paris in late December.

Réligieuse at Dalloyau
Snowman at Dalloyau
Baby bûches de Noël on Île Saint-Louis
Merveilleuses de Fred
Chocolats Marquise de Sévigné
Macarons at Ladurée
Chocolats Michel Cluizel
Au Petit Versailles, a gorgeous boulangerie patisserie
Display at Edwart, a new and quite wonderful chocolatier
Shoe train in Printemps window
Bobby Jay