Sunday, April 20, 2014

Passover 2014 - Sephardic Seder

Our family's Seder was last night, a few days late to accommodate family from the DC and Boston areas. Last year I became interested in Sephardic cooking and decided to make a Sephardic Seder for Passover 2014. This tradition is quite different from the Eastern European Ashenizi for many reasons, but the most salient is that rice and lentils and other legumes are permitted during Passover.

Based on the comments of the family, it was a success. I was particularly proud of the Persian rice, one of the world's best dishes, which I nailed: a thick dark crust on the bottom with fluffy basmati rice on top.

Some of the prettiest dishes are pictured below.

Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds
Persian rice - one of my favorite foods - with edamame and dill
I started planning soon after last year's Seder and eventually arrived at the following menu, based on searches through books on Jewish, Turkish, Persian, Syrian and Moroccan food, as well as relevant web sites:

2014 Passover Menu


Charred eggplant (Ottolenghi Plenty)
Artichoke tapenade (David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen)
Dried fava bean hummus (adapted from Roden, The Book of Jewish food)
Lemon scented meatballs (Batali,
Gefilte fish bites from Citarella with Ina’s homemade horseradish


Bordeaux style haroset (Joan Nathan, My Search for Jewish Food in France)
Watercress and chickpea soup (Ottolenghi, Jerusalem)
Turkish shredded zucchini pie (Abadi,
Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh (Chicken with Lemon and Olives) (Abadi, Fistful of Lentils)
Persian Rice (Abadi, cooking lesson) with edamame and dill (Shafia, The New Persian Kitchen)
Lamb tagine (Atelier des Chefs cooking lesson)


Flourless orange cake (Clotilde,
Cardamom rice pudding (Ottolenghi, Jerusalem)
Sesame halvah (Dweck, Aromas of Aleppo)
Cousin Vicki’s assorted cookies and bars
Artichoke tapenade with basil oil
Lamb tagine and chicken with lemon and olives
Shredded zucchini pie and Persian rice with edamame and dill
The Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in 1492, settled around the Mediterranean Sea, largely in Turkey and Greece, and throughout the Middle East (via Morocco). Countries represented in our Seder menu included Syria (chicken and halvah), Turkey (zucchini pie), Morocco (lamb tagine, fava bean hummus), Persia (rice and edamame and dill), France (haroset, artichoke tapenade), Italy (veal meatballs), Spain and the Middle East generally (charred eggplant, watercress and chickpea soup, rice pudding).

There is some controversy about the flourless orange cake, which does use baking powder. Perhaps surprisingly, the bulk of rabbinical opinion seems to be that baking powder can be Kosher for Passover if it is made with potato starch rather than forbidden corn starch. Since we were going Sephardic, where corn is permitted, I used the ordinary stuff, but this is a matter of choice.

There is a downside to an all-Sephardic Seder, which is that certain classics are excluded, the most significant of which is matzoh ball soup. My sister-in-law's is the best (both the broth and the balls) so next year, while we will probably stay Sephardic, we will be making an exception for her soup. After all, what good are rules if they deprive you of great food?

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vietnamese Cooking Lesson

I had a lovely Vietnamese cooking lesson today at New York's Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). We made eight dishes, the ones pictured below plus a wonderful bánh mì sandwich and shrimp and pork summer rolls.

Here are pictures of the final dishes:

Asparagus and crab soup - Sup Man Tay Cua
Cucumber and shrimp salad - Goi Dua Chuot
Catfish simmered in caramel sauce - Ca Kho
Chicken stir-fried with lemongrass and chile - Ga Xao Xa Ot
Shrimp simmered in caramel salt - Tom Kho
Banana, tapioca pearl and coconut sweet soup - Che Chuoi
All of the dishes were really good! They really captured the elegance and balance of well-prepared Vietnamese cuisine. I worked with a partner on the bánh mì and the catfish in caramel sauce.

Highly recommended.

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 17, 2014

Food in Black & White

As part of Asia Week New York, J is having a fabulous exhibition at her gallery, entitled "Japan in Black & White."

So I made some black and white food items for the opening party and to have around for customers coming to the gallery to enjoy the exhibition.

I made a black bean cumin dip, to be eaten with white corn chips, and a Tuscan white bean dip, to be eaten with blue (nearly black) corn chips.

For desserts, about 150 of my favorite very dark chocolate "World Peace" cookies, invented by Dorie Greenspan . . .

. . . and white macarons with dark chocolate ganache from Pierre Hermé's recipe.

Later in the week, we had some Japanese ceramics collectors for dinner and I followed through on the theme, with some tapenade and mustard palmiers . . .

. . . and cauliflower soup (with a few drops of hazelnut oil) served in black bowls made by the talented  Hanako Nakazato.

A nice inspiration.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do try this at home: from a Paris class to my New York table

I don't often run home from Paris and cook one of the items I learned to cook at Atelier des Chefs, but I so enjoyed this dish that I did exactly that.

Mousse de chou-fleur, coeur de persil, gambas au piment d'Espelette (cauliflower mousse with parsley sauce and shrimp with Espelette pepper) has a great texture (it's really a foam dispensed from a siphon), taste and appearance, even better when I used Japanese ceramic cups rather than the cheap verrines provided at the school. The slightly bitter parsley ties together the very different tastes of the cauliflower and the shrimp, making for a nice little party in your mouth.

Mousse de chou-fleur, coeur de persil, gambas au piment d'Espelette
Bobby Jay 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Paris - Cooking Lesson: Classics

I had a fun cooking lesson at Ateliers des Chefs today where we made a three-course meal consisting of some classic French dishes.

First up: a Potage Saint-Germain (split pea soup) with sautéed foie gras, croutons and chervil. Really rich but velvety and delightful. The foie gras and the pea soup made a perfect mélange.

Potage Saint-Germain with sautéed foie gras
Next, Butter-basted roasted Saint Pierre (John Dory) with truffled Puy lentils. I love lentils but I would have preferred potatoes for this dish. The lentils were so assertive that they muddied the flavor of the fish a bit.

Butter-basted roasted Saint Pierre with Puy lentils
Finally, a traditional Grand Marnier soufflé, which was not gorgeous but had a perfect smooth texture with only a hint of the famed liqueur.

Sushi dinner tonight, fortunately; no more fat.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Paris - 2014 Salon de l'Agriculture

If it's the beginning of March, it's time for the Salon International de l'Agriculture in Paris. So I went for the third time today, with a new friend who had never been before. We both loved it!

We started by admiring the dozens of breeds of horses on display . . .

Horses (no, that's not a super giant Schnauzer) at the Salon d'Ag
. . . and then moved on to the pavilion where foods from all regions of France and its possessions are available for tasting and purchase. This year I was austere, and only had a sandwich of foie gras and Espelette pepper, half a paper cone of Bayonne ham, a coupe of Champagne and a glass of Armagnac. Of course, there were many, many foods to ogle and photograph, and we did the tour of all the principal regions.

Alsacian cheeses, conserves and sausages
I bought lightly this year, too, just 2 small jars of foie gras, a bottle of Bas Armagnac, 4 linen torchons (dish towels) and Corsican sausage.

Then downstairs to admire more horses, cows, sheep, goats and pigs of all varieties. They are perfectly kept and cared for, and there is virtually no bad odor in the massive exhibition hall. Here are some of my favorites.

Happy cows, sheep, goat and pig at the Salon de l'Agriculture
My friend, not an Easterner, observed that the Salon d'Ag is like a state fair in the US but with good food. Indeed, there was not a corn dog to be found (although there was cotton candy (barbe à papa), which French kids seem to love).

French food would not be as good as it is without the country's wonderful agriculture, which is still alive and kicking, literally.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Best Butter

Is there really a best butter? Experts in France (and who would know better?) seem to agree that it's Beurre Bordier, made by Jean-Yves Bordier in Brittany -- not Normandy (sacré bleu!) -- although the milk he uses comes from cows located in both provinces.

I tried the two pictured here, le beurre doux and le beurre au sel fumé. And yes, it is the best butter. I don't think it's cultured, which would be rare for high-quality French butter, because the sweet butter does not have the characteristic sour tang; it's like the best non-cultured butter imaginable. And the smoked salt butter was little short of divine, on toast and in tiny slices placed in the middle of a split radish.

According to Bordier's web site, the special complex buttery notes are a result of 15-25 minutes of kneading (malaxage) in a teak vessel and the artisanal barattage process, which I don't understand at all. The final bars are shaped by hand using wooden spatulas on wooden tables, by workers who must have "great dexterity and clock-like consistency." Charming if nothing else.

Apart from baking, I don't actually use much butter, but I am tempted to sample every variety of Bordier's, and there are quite a few. Here's the current list from their website:

Les classiques
  • Le beurre doux
  • Le beurre demi-sel
  • Le beurre salé
Les spécialités
  • Le beurre au sel fumé
  • Le beurre aux algues
  • Le beurre au Yuzu
  • Le beurre au Piment d’Espelette
Beurre Bordier is now available in Paris in selected cheese and other gourmet stores. I got mine at Lafayette Gourmet.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Passover 2014

I have been hosting the family's Seder for a few years now, so to some extent the guests are stuck with what I make. Last year, I announced that the 2014 Seder would be sephardic, incorporating foods from at least five Mediterranean countries. (There are many to choose from: Persia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Italy, Turkey, France, Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen, Libya, Israel (and though not Mediterranean, India). One of the main reasons for this is my love for rice and lentils, which are prohibited during Passover by Ashkenazi tradition but permitted by Sephardic tradition: a flexibility I plan to exploit to the fullest. The family seemed enthusiastic about the experiment.

Maybe I'll make this crusty Persian rice, one of the world's great dishes
So for ten months I have been thinking about this project, and have begun to try recipes. My sources for recipes and inspiration are many:
  • Claudia Roden's amazingly readable, comprehensive and scholarly The Book of Jewish Food - this is one of the best cookbooks of all time - and The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
  • Jennifer Abadi's A Fistful of Lentils, which is focused on Syrian Jewish food, and her terrific blog
  • Poopa Dweck's Aromas of Aleppo
  • Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America and My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
  • Yotam Ottolenghi's Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, Plenty and Jerusalem
  • Louise Shafia's The New Persian Kitchen 
  • Nur Ilkin and Sheila Kaufman's The Turkish Cookbook
  • Ôscan Ozan's Sultan's Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook
  • Paula Wolfert's The Food of Morocco
  • Mourad Lahlou's New Moroccan
To study Sephardic/Middle Eastern food is to go on a cultural journey as much as a gastronomic one. I have learned much about the migration of Jews to and from Spain, as well as the varied histories of the Jews in the other countries mentioned above. All interesting and many surprises.

The downside to all this, even if I cook a great Sephardic meal, is that we will not get to enjoy some old favorites, notably my sister-in-law's spectacular matzoh ball soup (great soup and balls) nor my mother's very American style but delicious haroset.

I will report back as the planning and meal unfold.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pourquoi Tarte Tatin?

I love making Tarte Tatin, not because it is the best-tasting dessert or even the best-tasting apple dessert, but because it is a challenging thing to do. Every time, you must consider a number of questions before embarking: which recipe, what type of apples (how firm are they at a given time of year), should the apples be sliced in quarters, eighths or halves, make the caramel first and add apples or put the apples on the sugar and butter and cook them all together, what pastry to use (puff pastry, pâte brisée), and finally, what pan to use (non-stick, copper, cast iron).

After that, you execute, and every time it is different. But no matter the method, there is always the moment of truth when you must turn the tart upside down over a plate and hope that it slides, perfectly intact, onto the plate with no sticky bits left in the pan. I panic about this less than I used to because I have a lot of experience repairing the ones that did not come away perfectly.

That brings me to today and the choices I made.
  • Winesap apples, which are ugly but pretty tart and usually (but not today) rock hard; only available at farmers' markets
  • Small cast iron pan
  • Dufour frozen puff pastry
  • Recipe from the legendary Jamin restaurant in Paris (via Patricia Wells' The Paris Cookbook), which uses halved apples and cooks them atop the sugar and butter for an hour before going to the oven
The choice of the Jamin recipe with halved apples was bold (but, inspired by the Olympics, I decided to go for it). I get a good result about 50% of the time when I use this method, because one half of each piece can turn into apple sauce if you don't pay a lot of attention and get lucky. So the moment of truth was unusually tense.

But it turned out I nailed it! Beautiful color, apples totally intact, no sticking.

Tarte tatin based on recipe by Benoît Guichard, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, from Jamin
Sorry to bore you with all this technical stuff, but the joy of Tarte Tatin is in the details.

Bobby Jay

Friday, January 31, 2014

Lavender Orange Macarons

I believe the macaron is the ultimate expression of French pastry, which is saying a lot. Indeed, it's among my top five favorite things to eat. (Don't ask about the other four; they change from time to time and in any event are food for another post.)

Having learned to make them at Atelier des Chefs in Paris about ten years ago, I make macarons at least a couple of times a year. They are technically challenging, requiring numerous delicate processes and steps, and I have to admit that every time they come out well, I am thrilled beyond words for what in the end is a minor achievement (compared to say, solving global warming or peace in the Middle East). But there it is, there's something addictive about both making and eating these wondrous cookies.

Here is a plate of few my favorites, Lavender Orange Macarons with Orange Buttercream, from a recipe by the brilliant Aran Goyoaga and my tried and true Atelier method. They are currently sitting in the fridge for 24 hours getting ready for distribution and consumption tomorrow.

Lavender Orange Macarons with Orange Buttercream
I can hardly wait to try them - nineteen hours to go.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Navettes d'Anise

Navettes d'anise
A friend recently gave me a lovely book, Cuisine Niçoise, by Hillary Davis, which contains recipes from -- you guessed it -- Nice, including her favorite cookies, navettes d'anise. I resolved to make a batch.

There was no photo of these boat-shaped cookies in the book, so I searched the internet and found plenty of photos and many recipes, with surprising variety. While the ones in Cuisine Niçoise use anise seeds, anise extract and vanilla extract, many call for orange flower or rose water, either alone or in combination with anise. In any event, I followed the recipe in the book and came up with very crispy, strongly anise-flavored biscuits that are good by themselves but even better when dipped in red wine (or vin santo, I imagine).

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Homemade Chocolates

When the weather gets bad, some people make cookies, some make brownies, I make chocolate.

Using a pound and a half of Barry 72% Cacao Venezuela that I bought in France, I made an assortment today, including mendiants each covered with a slice of candied ginger, a half hazelnut and a half or whole pistachio nut, depending on size. I was hoping to make them as beautiful as the ones from La Petite Rose, our favorite Paris chocolatier (they use Valhrona). Here you can see that I did not quite succeed -- theirs is the beautiful one with candied orange peel at center left -- but mine are not bad for an amateur.

Mendiants. The perfect one from La Petite Rose is at left center.
The other items were hearts filled with little griottes (Morello cherries) that I got from a jar of preserves from the La Chambre aux Confitures, fluted flat-topped cones filled with toasted hazelnuts, and little disks and leaves of pure chocolate.

Assorted homemade chocolates
Inside of a griotte-filled heart
I tempered the chocolate using Sherry Yard's microwave method, gradually melting the chocolate in short bursts at 50% power until I reached 115 degrees, then adding unmelted chocolate, waiting until the chocolate cooled to 85 degrees and reheating to 90 degrees. For the last step I used my sous vide cooker so I could hold the chocolate at the right temperature until I was ready to use it. As you can see, this method produced shiny chocolate that (you'll have to take my word for it) snaps when bitten.

It is fun and surprisingly easy to do this, and the results are impressive.

Bobby Jay

Monday, January 13, 2014

Looks Matter

Last night I made chicken tagine with two kinds of lemon, an oft-used recipe from my friend Elizabeth Bard. I like to precede this Tunisian stew with a simple salad from the same region: some combination of oranges, radishes, spinach, olives and sheep cheese, with a nut oil and lemon vinaigrette. Although the ingredients are appealing, this doesn't sound like an exciting first course, but with a little care, it can become an appetizing opener.

Here's how I assembled the salad.

Radish, orange, olive and spinach salad, with grated Romano cheese and lemon and argan oil dressing
 A couple of minutes of effort can make a big difference.

Bobby Jay

Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year from Paris!

I am lucky to spend year-ends in Paris, and one of my favorite things to do is to window shop or, as the French say more colorfully, faire du lèche-vitrines, literally to go lick the windows). Especially for edible (or drinkable) items.

Here are some of the nicer ones I found since my last post.

For a stroll . . .

Passage de la Madeleine
for  something to drink . . .

Aux Vergers de la Madeleine
or for something to eat.

Dalloyau, my old favorite
Pierre Hermé
Arnaud Delmontel
Or you can just come to our place, for some of my annual homemade foie gras.

Foie gras chez nous
In any event, Happy New Year from Paris, and good eating in 2014!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Paris - New French Olive Oil Specialist - Première Pression Provence

New olive oil at Première Pression Provence
Walking around my excellent nearby market street, the Rue de Lévis, I came upon Première Pression Provence, a specialist in olive oils produced by small producers in Provence. This store has been there for a couple of years, but the unprepossessing windows had never enticed me to enter. That was a mistake.

Upon entering, I was greeted by shelves full of different oils, which can be (and were) sampled. I tried an amazing black olive oil, which, the proprietor explained, is very difficult to make and is made only by a few growers in Crete and Provence. I bought a can and can hardly wait to try it when I get home. Indeed, I bought a packet of three different oils, which were great at sampling, and the one pictured above,  which was the first to arrive of the 2013 pressings.

This one is for Paris, and I have already begun to use it, first for salad dressing and this morning on ricotta with salt and pepper, one of my go-to breakfasts. Spectacular!

As I told the proprietor, I am hooked on Italian (especially Sicilian) olive oil, but that may be because small-producer French oils rarely reach the US. This experience has led me to reexamine my exclusive us of Italian oil; I will definitely be adding French oil to the mix. 

Première Pression Provence 37 Rue de Lévis 75007 (Métro Villiers).

Bobby Jay

Paris - Old Favorite: Jean

The other night, J and I went to our favorite Paris restaurant, Jean, located at 8 rue St-Lazare, in the 9th arrondissement (Métro Notre Dame de Lorette). I have already written about this restaurant several times (see posts of December 28, 2010, December 24, 2011 and March 12, 2012), and had not intended to do so again, but our meal was so excellent that I can't help myself.

We took the four-course 75-euro menu, and this time also added the complementary wine service for 25 euros.

After some excellent amuse-bouches, the meal started with a foie gras that was poached, then grilled under a salamander and served with a bouillon of root vegetables that is perfumed with undetectable amounts of mint and chocolate: superb.

Foie gras in bouillon at Jean
The appetizer was followed by a crispy sea bass served atop vegetables with a light chicken broth. (Sounds like too many broths? It's not.)

Sea bass atop vegetable and chicken broth at Jean
For the meat course, suckling pork chops, with truffle sauce, served with an arrangement of interesting and beautifully prepared vegetables: mushrooms, squash (that's not an egg yolk), a chestnut and a couple of items I can no longer identify. Tender and perfectly balanced.

Suckling pork chops at Jean
Finally, dessert, a "moelleux" of chocolate served with an excellent lime sorbet and almond milk "spaghetti." This was only okay. The chocolate cake was not a "moelleux," which should be molten, and the "spaghetti," made with agar-agar, was an unsuccessful and gratuitous venture into molecular cuisine. We found out from out server that the pastry chef was a new member of the team, which explained the significant decline in this area since our last visit.

"Moelleux" au chocolat at Jean
The wine service was not a throwaway. We had a very nice Chassagne Montrachet, a good Medoc from a vineyard related to Haut-Brion and a Corsican Muscat (which pleased me but not J). A great deal at 25 euros per person, equivalent to sharing a 50-euro bottle of wine but much better quality than you would get for that price and infinitely more interesting.

Overall, the dinner was excellent, the rapport qualité-prix fantastic as always and the ambiance relaxed but charming. A very good time was had by us.

Bobby Jay