Sunday, November 9, 2014

Baking

Well, the cold weather's here and it's time to get back to baking. In truth, I bake in most months, but desserts in summer are most often fruit with ice cream (especially homemade lemon verbena or ginger) or yogurt (homemade and flavored with shredded coconut or cardamom, vanilla and sugar) or luxurious crème fraîche.

Over the years I have made hundreds of apple tarts and am always working on ways to improve them. I recently invented the killer apple tart: apples over ginger caramel and minced candied ginger with ginger caramel sauce.

Apple tart with ginger caramel and candied ginger
For the crust, I use Clotilde Dusoulier's pâte sablée (short pastry), which, being a hand-shaped crust, solves the problem of dealing with brittle rolled sweet dough, as well as the need for pie weights when blind baking. Then I made a ginger caramel from a recipe that I found in Maximum Flavor, by Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot, who run the amazing Ideas in Food blog. I slice the apples thin and heat them for 2-3 minutes in the microwave in 1/2 apple clumps of slices, to get rid of the excess liquid that can kill a crust.

I blind-baked the crust, then when cooled painted it with a thin coat of caramel. On this I placed a layer of minced candied ginger, the dry, spicy kind, and then the apples. Baked at 400 until ready, about 35 minutes, and voilà, a wonderful tart ready for eating, dressed with more ginger caramel or not.

What makes this tart special is the ginger, with an assist from the ginger caramel. I love ginger in all its forms and it really worked here. My only residual question is whether to add some ginger powder to the crust, for an apple ginger three-ways tart.

While on the subject of baking, I recently got Dorie Greenspan's brand new book, Baking Chez Moi, hoping that it would be as good as her Around My French Table. Too soon to tell, but first signs are good: the same excellent organization (including metric measurement!), logical recipes and lush photos. Most important, the recipes are extremely inviting and not intimidating. I made the very first one in the book: "Brown-Butter-and-Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake": a simple cake that's a perfect vehicle for ice cream, fruit or compote, among other things.

Brown-Butter-and-Vanilla-Bean Weekend Cake
Happy Baking!

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

SOS Chefs - Amazing Spices and Other Food Products for Professionals

We had a catered party a couple of weeks ago and the chef was a Tunisian named Sami. We talked a lot about food, and about great products and where to find them. He told me to go to SOS Chefs, in the East Village, and tell the lady that Sami the Tunisian chef sent me. 

So I finally made the journey to Avenue B between 6th and 7th Streets today, and it is quite a place! As Sami said, the range and quality of the spices is amazing, but please note that they charge for it. I was helped by a lovely young woman who kept bringing me spices to try, and of course I ended up buying a number of them. When I introduced myself to the owner, who it turns out is also Tunisian, I was treated to a tour of the mushroom room in the back, where a huge variety of mushrooms are stored pending orders by New York's chefs. Also nuts and other perishable items: I drooled over the Sicilian pistachios, but was able to resist them due to the $100 per pound price tag.

Timut Peppercorns
Sicilian Pistachios
Spices and Black Garlic from SOS Chefs
I did indulge in some Nepalese Timut pepper, of which I tasted a single grain and enjoyed a tingling tongue for 20 minutes, rather like a cross between Szechuan and black pepper. I'm really looking forward to using it, and it is already loaded into a grinder. The other spice I bought were ones that I needed or bought in order to upgrade my existing pantry, like incredibly fragrant Aleppo pepper that blows the stuff I had away. And I was talked into a head of pungent black garlic, which I must figure out how to use.

SOS Chefs also has a great selection of grains, oils, pastas, beans and other items that I am forgetting. A long way to go from the Upper West Side, but a fun visit.

Bobby Jay

Great Pork Doth Not a Great Banh Mi Make

I was in the neighborhood so I went to Porchetta, maker of stupendous porchetta (roasted pork loin wrapped in pork belly), for a sandwich. I planned to get their wonderful porchetta sandwich, but, seeing a sign for banh mi, decided to go for it as part of my quest for a great banh mi.

Porchetta Banh Mi
While the porchetta was divine -- moist pulled pork of two kinds with little crackling rewards -- the banh mi was not successful. First, the pork is seasoned with Italianish spices. Second, there were no other meats, like pâté and ham. Third, they added thinly slice red onions, which seemed only to reinforce the Westernness of the thing.  Fourth, they added too much mayonnaise, although it was the real Kewpie that is used widely in the Far East. Fifth, the hot sauce was normal hot sauce, not sriratcha. And finally, there were no jalapeños or cucumbers. Also, the sandwich is a bit sloppy, as can be seen above, although this is less apparent when it is closed and ready to be eaten and ultimately a minor quibble.

The bottom line: an excellent pork sandwich but missing the wonderful melange of Vietnamese tastes that is the essence of an authentic banh mi.

The quest continues.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, October 26, 2014

She Wolf Miche: Spectacular Bread

On my weekly pilgrimage to the Upper West Side greenmarket behind the Museum of Natural History, I noticed a new stand: She Wolf Bakery. They had a case full of miches, a brown sourdough (levain) bread similar to the famous Pain Poilâne made in Paris and marketed throughout the world. I bought a quarter loaf and couldn't wait to try it at home (the piece below is substantially carved down from the quarter miche). It is intensely sour but gives full reign to the flavors of the white, whole wheat and rye flours of which it is made. In short, a revelation, better in my opinion than the renowned Parisian loaf. The crust is crispy and the crumb delightfully moist, a triumph of the baker's art, as you can see below.

Based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, She Wolf makes other breads, but I didn't see any of them today. The bakery has a stand at the Union Square Market on Mondays, so I will have to check it out. They are also at the Greenpoint market for those who live in or near that neighborhood.

Miche from She Wolf Bakery
She Wolf Bakery's stand at Upper West Side greenmarket
(Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, I am reading Michael Pollan's new book: Cooking: A Natural History of Transformation, nearly a quarter of which is devoted to bread, more specifically a natural levain bread from Chad Robertson that is the subject of his brilliant Tartine Bread. I plan to write more about Pollan's book in an upcoming post.)

Get this bread if you can!

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Making Banh Mi

My favorite bánh mì place, Baoguette, is no more, so I have been on the hunt for a good replacement. So far I have not found it. (By the way, banh mi has added to The Oxford English Dictionary a couple of years ago, without accents, so hereafter I have dropped the accents.)

Coincidentally, I found out about a book by Andrea Nguyen, The Banh Mi Handbook, which tells you everything you want to know about banh mi, including recipes for each element -- bread, pickles, cold cuts, mayonnaise, meat and sauce. Armed with this book, I set out to make a great banh mi, and the results were pretty great, even though I only made some of the elements and bought the others.

Classic banh mi
This banh mi consists (in order) of (i) a baguette from Epicerie Boulud, (ii) mayo, (iii) Maggi sauce (yes, the Vietnamese use it all the time), (iv) pork liver pâté, (v) mortadella, (vi) Nguyen's excellent poached garlic pepper pork tenderloin, (vii) her daikon and carrot pickles, (viii) cucumber slices, (ix) jalapeno slices and (x) a little sriratcha. The blending of hot, salty, sweet (the rub for the pork), sour and umami (Maggi sauce) is what Vietnamese food is all about.

As is often the case, I did my experimenting while J was out of town, and so waited for her return to amp my banh mi up to the next level, substituting Nguyen's crispy roasted pork belly for the poached garlic pepper pork tenderloin. This is made with similar spices (five-spice, pepper, brown sugar, salt, soy sauce) but the richness of the pork belly, which is dried in the fridge for a couple of days before roasting and broiling, elevates the banh mi considerably.

Crispy roasted pork belly
Nguyen's book contains recipes for banh mi with chicken and fish for those who don't like pork or just want a lighter version. I plan to get to some of these, as well as her banh mi rolls, in due course.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coconut Yogurt

A couple of weeks ago, I was buying Ronnybrook milk at the farmer's market behind the Museum of Natural History, when the person in front of me asked for coconut yogurt, exclaiming "I love this stuff, it's amazing!" So I said that I'd have what she was having, and had a great surprise: it really is wonderful. The taste and texture of the coconut flakes are subtle but combine with the sourness of the yogurt to produce an almost-dessert product that's great by itself or to elevate fresh fruit.


There are two problems with Ronnybrook's coconut yogurt. First, it is hard to find. Second, it is made with full-fat yogurt, and many people (me included) prefer low- or no-fat yogurt. So I set out to try to make my own with store-bought Face Greek-style yogurt and with my homemade 1% yogurt. I thought  it would be difficult to find just the right proportion of coconut to yogurt, and also asked myself whether to use sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes. It turns out that my first trial was a success: 90 grams of Greek yogurt, 10 grams of sweetened coconut flakes. This ratio also worked for my homemade yogurt, even though it is considerably more tart than the Greek-style. Obviously, you can use more or less coconut according to your taste.


Just to be sure, I tried using unsweetened coconut flakes, which provide the texture but not the satisfying sweetness. While adjusting with sweetener could fix this, why bother? Just stick with the readily available sweetened coconut flakes.

If you can get it, try Ronnybrook's coconut yogurt. Otherwise, make  your own.

Bobby Jay


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Mixing Food Cultures

J is a dealer in contemporary Japanese ceramics and in the course of her (and sometimes my) travels to Japan, she has found some beautiful dishes and bowls that are meant to be used, not just admired. I love using them with Western food, which can be challenging because the artists were seeking to make vessels that suit Japanese tastes in food and presentation (including size). When it works well, I like to think the artists would be pleased that their work can be used in ways that they never contemplated.

Joan was particularly taken by this presentation of chicken soup in bowls by the late Kato Yasukage.

David Waltuck's mom's chicken soup in Kato Yasukage bowl
Ottolenghi's roasted eggplant with lentil on Hoshino Gen plate

Bobby Jay

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Paris - ECLAIRS!

There is a big resurgence of eclairs in Paris, mostly due to the efforts of Christophe Adam, whose credentials include stages at an amazing array of famous pâtissiers, and who was named "Pâtissier de l'année" by the famous Pudlo guide for 2014.

A classic eclair is not a very humble thing, consisting of choux pastry stuffed with luxurious pastry cream and/or whipped cream or chibouste (pastry cream plus whipped egg whites) and generally dipped in icing or chocolate. They are pretty delicious. But the eclairs that Adam makes and sells at Éclairs de Génie, in the now fashion oriented part of the Marais, are a whole 'nother thing. Here a picture or two will tell the story better than I ever could:

ÉCLAIRS!
MORE ÉCLAIRS!
STILL MORE ÉCLAIRS!
And they taste good, too! Sophisticated flavors abound, and almost keep up with the spectacular appearance of the éclairs.

Éclairs de Genie, 13 rue Pavée, Paris 75004 (Métro St.-Paul).

Bobby Jay

Paris – Happily Recruited

I am happy to report a great find in Paris: Sergent Recruiteur. Our recent meal at this charming restaurant in the middle of Île Saint-Louis, only about a glorious six-minute walk from our new apartment in the Marais, was one of the best we’ve had in recent memory.

There is no menu because the selection varies daily according to what is available from the farm that the restaurant owns in Normandy and the carefully selected group of fishermen and butchers that they use. All of the products are first rate, to say the least. Some are even better, for example the homemade butter from their own cows in Normandy and the spectacular bread made from heirloom wheat that they grow and mill themselves. It is this level of attention to detail that makes Sergent Recruteur so special.

We opted for the six-course menu. After spectacular roasted tomato soup (their own tomatoes, of course) and crab salad amuse-bouches, we commenced with a little tomato salad (1), made with sweet and perfectly ripened heirloom tomatoes. Following this was a mélange of perhaps 20 vegetables (2), each separately prepared in a different way and all from their farm. Then an excellent filet of sole in a not authentically Japanese but delicious dashi (3), followed by a choice of meats (rabbit, pork or beef) (4). Three of us opted for the rabbit, a wonderfully tender braised saddle with the other parts grilled, and the fourth selected the pork chop, which was also excellent. Then cheeses (5): a choice of three classic cheeses – a perfect Cantal, a Camembert at its hour of perfection and an excellent St. Maure or four chèvres from a single producer in Pays Basque. Either selection was a perfect plate, accompanied by toast or more of the homemade bread.

Filets of sole at Sergent Recruteur
Dessert was raspberries in various states (6): natural, in a sort of pastry cream, ice cream and sauce. The presentation looked a bit bloody but all was very intensely flavored and a nice way to finish.

Raspberry dessert at Sergent Recruteur
 Well, not quite finish. After the dessert I opted for coffee while J and our friend B opted for mint infusions. The restaurant's attention to detail continued, with an excellent mint tea concocted in this somewhat bizarre apparatus.

Mint tea at Sergent Recruteur
There are some Japanese hands in the kitchen at Sergent Recruiteur, and Japanese influences are present in many of the serving pieces, portion size and presentation. All for the best. The price tag of 100 euros is not cheap, but for this quality we all found it to be a great value.

We have been successfully recruited and plan to return often.

Sergent Recruteur, 41 rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Île, 75004 Paris (Métro Pont Marie). Tel 01 43 54 75 42. 

Bobby Jay

Friday, September 12, 2014

SPECTACULAR Peanut Butter . . . and More

Big Spoon Roasters' Cocoa Nib peanut butter
My neighbor recently gave me a jar of Cocoa Nib peanut butter from Big Spoon Roasters. This is one of the most exciting products I have tasted in years: a perfect balance of salt with a hint of sweetness furnished by wildflower honey, and the crunch (and mysterious taste, barely perceived as chocolate) the result of cocoa nibs added to the stone ground peanuts. The honey enables this peanut butter to be stored outside the refrigerator, so you don't get that hard, grainy texture that cold storage gives to otherwise delicious organic peanut butter.

I immediately went to Big Spoon Roaster's web site and placed an order (with my neighbor, who was reordering) for another jar and two others that he recommended: Almond Ginger and pure Peanut. Both pretty spectacular, although I am still a partisan of the Cocoa Nib. Eventually I will probably try all ten of the nut butters, just for the sake of my readers of course.

A variety of nut butters from Big Spoon Roasters
So you now have the perfect holiday gifts/stocking stuffers! That being said, make sure you keep some for yourself.

Bobby Jay

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Still Summer

Summer may be winding down but the farmers' markets are bursting with late summer fruit and vegetables.

For dinner the other night, I celebrated heirloom tomatoes . . .
Heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella di bufala and torn basil
and apricots.
Apricot pistachio tart
What a pleasure to cook with great fresh ingredients like these!

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream Recipe

In my post of August 6, I described a lemon verbena sorbet that I had made, with a recipe from Clotilde Dusoulier, of Chocolate & Zucchini fame. As I said, it became icy and more of a granita than a sorbet after a few hours of freezing.

Lemon verbena ice cream with strawberries
Inspired by the refreshing taste, however, I decided to try to make a lemon verbena ice cream. Using Clotilde's proportions, and David Lebovitz' (The Perfect Scoop) can't-miss method for Philadelphia style (eggless) ice cream, I came up with the following recipe, which has the same herbal quality as the sorbet but a smooth and luxurious texture:

Bobby Jay's Lemon Verbena Ice Cream
(Adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier and David Lebovitz)

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 18 grams (2/3 oz) fresh lemon verbena
  • 30 grams (c. 1 oz) limoncello (optional but helps the texture)
  • dash of salt
Procedure:
  1. Heat 1 cup of cream, the milk, the sugar, the salt and the lemon verbena until the sugar melts and the mixture is bubbling around the sides. It should be about 175 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.
  3. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a bowl containing the remaining 1 cup of cream and the limoncello. Cool the bowl in a larger bowl with ice water, then place in the refrigerator for a few hours or, preferably, overnight.
  4. Freeze using an ice cream freezer, following directions.
Simple to make, almost as refreshing as the sorbet/granita, but with a voluptuous texture that pairs perfectly with summer berries or stone fruits.

(PS  I then melted the remaining sorbet, reduced it a bit, and saved it as a lemon verbena syrup: perfect over vanilla ice cream or fruit or mixed with sparkling water. It would probably also make a great sweetener for iced tea.)

Bobby Jay

Monday, August 11, 2014

Light and Lovely: Lunch from the Farmers' Market

J and I were headed to a big meal at Gramercy Tavern last night so I made a light lunch with wonderful seasonal produce from the local farmers' market.

We started with melon gazpacho with mint


and ended with tomato and micro-green salad with mozzarella di bufala and feta,


each served in/on ceramics made by Japanese artists that we acquired at their studios.

Bobby Jay

Friday, August 8, 2014

Surprise! Will You Still Feed Me . . . ?

The evening before my 64th birthday, I innocently arrived at Aldea, one of our favorite New York restaurants, to meet another couple for dinner. But J had a surprise in store for me: four couples of our dearest friends arrayed around a table adjacent to the restaurant's open kitchen. Sharing a wonderful eight-course tasting menu with really close friends -- well, it doesn't really get better than this.

Here's the menu, including the wine pairings that accompanied each course.

Special birthday menu
I am not yet able to drink alcohol so a special non-alcoholic beverage was paired with each course just for me. Some of these were quite sensational.

Non-alcoholic drinks
In addition to the excellent food, the hospitality we received was noteworthy. We were permitted to mingle with the chef and staff in the open kitchen, an opportunity too good to pass up.

Bobby Jay in the kitchen
Here are some highlights from the meal.

Soft egg with bacalhau, black olive, potato
Cucumber and wild strawberry salad, cucumber juice, smoked sardines, yogurt
Foie gras with port-poached and pickled cherries
Wild striped bass, bok choy, caperberries, smoked trout roe, corn nage
Duck breast, grilled wax beans, peaches, cherries
The food didn't just look good. It was carefully constructed with very subtle accents created by adding tiny amounts of interesting flavor "bombs," like house-smoked sardines and trout roe and lemon thyme. And the pickled cherries, which turned up twice, with the foie gras and the duck breast: sublime. The menu was well-balanced, with perfect portion sizes, and not too heavy; we were all sated but without feeling that we had overdone it.

Even on a normal night, Aldea is an excellent restaurant, with innovative Portuguese-inspired food served in a refined but unpretentious atmosphere. But on my birthday night it was truly special!

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Summer Freshness - Lemon Verbena Sorbet

You haven't heard from me lately because I have been recovering from an operation that I underwent six weeks ago. All went well, and I am back.

Plainly this is the best time of year for a home cook to recover from surgery because the abundance of healthful and varied local summer produce provides half the meal with no, or very little, cooking. My favorite food is sweet corn, which I serve plain or made into Bobby Jay's Corn Soup, served hot or cold. And it is hard to beat juicy and sweet heirloom tomatoes, served as a salad (salted for 30 minutes, seasoned with pepper and dried oregano, vinegar and olive oil), with or without mozzarella di bufalo or burrata. Or just sliced and made into a caprese salad with mozzarella, olive oil and torn basil.

Wonderful fresh produce can be supplemented with rotisserie chicken, by itself or in a main course salad shredded with cabbage, lettuce, carrots, nuts and the dressing of your choice (I use a Chinese inspired dressing with peanuts).

Lemon verbena, washed and laid out to dry
In summer, we eat fruit for dessert almost every night, with a little homemade ice cream (ginger being my and J's preferred flavor) or, if we are being really virtuous, low-fat yogurt mixed with some cardamom powder and vanilla. An easy way to extend the life of fragile fruits, like sour cherries, is to cook them for five minutes or so with something sweet: a little sugar, honey or maple or agave syrup. I use a spoonful each of ginger and almond syrup, and serve the resulting lightly stewed berries over ice cream or yogurt.

Going to farmers' markets can provide unexpected inspiration. One day I was browsing at the farmers' market and saw some lovely lemon verbena, which I felt compelled to buy, although I had no fixed idea of what to do with it. Returning home, I found a recipe for lemon verbena sorbet on Clotilde Dusoulier's excellent blog Chocolat & Zucchini. While the sorbet turns quite icy after the first day, I just scrape it with a fork and use it as granita atop summer berries of all kinds. It is summer on a spoon, light, herbal and a perfect complement for fruit. You can also dry lemon verbena and use it for herbal infusions (verveine).

It is a pleasure to be cooking again, especially in the summer, when preparing light and healthful meals is made easy through the efforts of our local farmers.

Bobby Jay

Friday, June 20, 2014

They're Stealing My New York Lunch Places

Two of my favorite New York lunch restaurants have recently disappeared without notice: Onya (very good freshly made Japanese udon) and Baoguette (bánh mì).

While there are other bánh mì places, none is very convenient for me and so far none has matched Baoguette. I'll have to keep trying. Or I can try to make them using one of the many recipes I have amassed, but it is most unlikely that my version of this great sandwich will turn out to be world class.

The udon situation seems worse. I am not aware of any substitutes. While ramen, which I love, is sweeping New York, the more subtle, healthier (no fat) udon has so far escaped notice.

Fortunately, Porchetta is still around. Although it is no substitute for the others, their roast pork sandwich is truly heavenly.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Great Kitchen Tool: All-Clad Dutch Oven

I sometimes find that my beloved and well-used 7-1/4-quart Le Creuset enamel cast iron round Dutch (the company calls it French) oven is a tiny bit too small, and have been considering going for a 9-quart model for those occasions where a little extra room would be helpful. But it is a monster, weighing in at 16.9 pounds, and obviously takes up more real estate than my 7-1/4 quart one.

Then I got a notice of a huge sale at Willams-Sonoma on an All-Clad stainless steel 8-quart Dutch oven, which had been extremely well reviewed by Cook's Illustrated and was said to be very nearly as good as enamel cast iron. The minus: it's not as capacious as the 9-quart Le Creuset. The plus: it weighs in at just under 7 pounds with the cover, and with its excellent handles is much easier to maneuver than my Le Creuset 7-1/4 quart. So I went for it. I can report that it is as good at gentle simmering as Le Creuset and considerably more versatile, and has become my go-to pot for soups, braises, pasta and even stock if I am not making an enormous batch.  A truly fantastic kitchen tool!


My All-Clad 8-quart Dutch oven
Bobby Jay

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Paris - A Little Italian Restaurant's Detailed Rules

I was walking down a little street in the 4th arrondissement, near the Place de la Bastille, and came upon what looks like a cute Italian restaurant. Outside was this amazing sign, with the rules of the house.

The rules of Cucina Napoletana
Translation:
Dear customers and friends, welcome to Cucina Napoletana. Our main courses are prepared to order. We therefore advise that you start with mixed appetizers (actually one for two persons). If you are a big party, we suggest that you don't multiply the number of entrees. This way you will avoid a long wait . . . (we only have 3 burners) as well as the wrath of the chef!!! Our menu varies according to what's in the market .  . and the moods of the chef. The familial spirit of our trattoria leads us to group together parties with odd numbers (for example 3/5/7=3+3=6!) [I think they're saying that two parties of 3 will share a table for 6.] Nothing like it for getting to know your neighbors!

The specials of the day are listed inside and the whole team is at your disposition to help you choose, according to your taste and what's available. Thank you for respecting the time of your reservation, and if you are late . . . . . We are sorry not to be able to accept credit cards . . . .
I was puzzled by this "welcome," but met an American couple outside who said it's very good. Worth a try, I guess, although I have generally been disappointed by Italian food in Paris. I look forward to meeting the scary chef and will do my utmost to avoid getting him angry.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Various Restaurants


Strawberry dessert at Jean
Chocolate dessert at Jean
J and I were busy moving apartments in Paris this trip, so we did not try many new restaurants but instead went to old favorites, many in our now former neighborhood in the 8th arrondissement.

Our new discovery was Brasserie Lazare, which I wrote up last week.

Our best meal was at Jean, our perennial favorite, even though the asparagus starter was less than perfect due to a strange fallen asparagus soufflé with asparagus jus. The asparagus themselves were pretty spectacular, though. We followed with what might be the best lamb dish I have ever eaten, épaule d'agneau confite et fumé (shoulder meat cooked sous-vide, then grilled, then smoked for a perfect texture and subtle taste). Our friends had a pretty great cochon de lait fermier, also notable for its tenderness within and excellent crust without. We finished (almost) with the chocolate and strawberry desserts pictured above and (really) finished with cognac provided by the proprietor, Jean himself.

Other dinners were at our favorite family style Thai place, Thabthim; Crom'exquis, the upscale bistro in our old 'hood; Metropolitain, a well reviewed bistro (three cocottes from Petit Lebey) that was extremely disappointing; Mollard, still a treat for the magnificent turn of the (20th) century mosaics where we had a really fine seafood meal; Rôtisserie du Beaujolais, part of our favorite dining experience in Paris due in large measure to the walk across Île Saint-Louis and the views of Notre Dame; Clos des Gourmets, which is also fun to get to because of the amazing views of the Eiffel tower; and Tico, on rue Jean-Mermoz, which we had enjoyed in the past and where we had a major disappointment. I also ate three times at Le Temps des Cerises, a crowded but lovely bistro a short block from our new apartment, once with J, once with Andy G, a friend and colleague from my firm, and once with an old friend who has been coming to Paris since the early '50s.

Some nice lunches, too: Chez Omar, the ancient classic Moroccan place near the Marché des Enfants Rouges: Kunitoraya, the fabulous udon specialist, which has relocated around the corner to a nicer place; Vin des Pyrénées, a little bistro near our new apartment; and la Mascotte, an excellent fruits de mer place in Montmartre, with some new French friends.

We will return to some of our old haunts; others are probably not worth the trip assuming, as I do, that we will find good ones in our new neighborhood. But the memories will be with us forever.

Bobby Jay


Friday, June 6, 2014

Paris - First Meal at Our New Apartment

We moved into our new apartment on Wednesday, amidst heavy rain. As soon as the movers left, the weather turned uncharacteristically perfect for Paris: bright sunshine, cool but not cold temperature, a slight breeze.

We are still getting to know the new neighborhood, but have already found a great cheese store (Dubois, which has three or four branches), a wonderful baker a block away, a very good vegetable seller, a good charcuterie and an excellent wine store. I have not looked for a butcher yet, but a great one is five minutes away on Île Saint-Louis. As is Berthillon, the best ice cream and sorbet producer in Paris, and another leading cheese store.

In addition, starting at the Northern end of the Place de la Bastille, on the boulevard Richard Lenoir, is one of Paris' biggest outdoor markets, held on Thursday and Sunday mornings. It is of mixed quality so the challenge will be to find the best purveyors, which I suspect won't be too difficult. I will be making a reconnoitering trip this Sunday, but not buying much because I leave on Monday. The covered Marché Aligre, one of Paris' best, is also in the neighborhood, but not that close.

Clearly, we will not starve.

Today we had our first meal in the apartment, consisting of cheeses, bread, sausage, ham, duck pâté, terrine of chicken livers, breakfast radishes with Bordier demi-sel butter and a simple white Bergerac, all obtained from the vendors described above. This simply cannot be replicated in the US, or at least not with this level of quality (especially the absolutely perfect cheeses).

Dubois cheeses: vieux compté, trèfle and a chèvre with nuts and walnut oil
Ham, sausage, chicken liver terrine and duck pâté
We are now officially chez nous at the new apartment.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Last Dinner at Our Old Apartment

We have moved in Paris from the 8th arrondissement to a bigger and much brighter apartment in the 4th, in a very non-commercial part of the Marais.

Before leaving, we had dear friends to dinner for one last meal "around my French table" (with apologies to Dorie Greenspan, author of a wonderful book with the same title; well, not apologies because she is going to get a big plug in this post).

It's spring, so we started with white asparagus, which happens to be one of our friends' favorite food and was beautiful at the market. I used Jacques Pépin's simple way of cooking them (steaming in a covered wide skillet) and his classic mustard sauce.

Asparagus with mustard sauce
Then, a pork roast with mangoes and lychees from Dorie's Around My French Table: interesting and really successful blending of the sweet and sour of fruits exotiques with savory thyme and French aromatics. Accompanied by Dorie's heavily scented cardamom pilaf, which made an excellent counterpoint.

Roast pork with mangoes and lychees, with cardamom pilaf
There came salad and cheese, bien sûr, followed by a cherry clafoutis, a mandatory dessert in June, another recipe from Dorie's book.

Cherry clafoutis
A fond farewell to an apartment that served us very well for nearly 13 years!

Bobby Jay

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Paris - Brasserie Lazare

No, not pasta. Sauteed calamari at Brasserie Lazare
Eric Frechon, who among other things runs the spectacular three-Michelin star Restaurant Bristol, opened a classic brasserie in the Gare Saint-Lazare in 2013, which quickly became the Guide Pudlo's Brasserie de l'Année. J and I have tried to go several times, but unlike real station brasseries, this one is always booked. We finally went last night and it was a treat.

The food is almost aggressively classic. For example, Friday night's special is brandade de morue gratinée (cod and potato mash au gratin), popular throughout France (and Spain) but not something I like enough for a main course or that J likes at all. Other nightly specials are quenelles de brochet sauce nantua; saucisse de Toulouse, purée de pomme de terre; fricasée de volaille au vin jaune . . . well, you get the idea. Sounds old school, but I bet these warhorses, which are not easy to find, are very well prepared indeed.

I had an extraordinary plate of calamari, cut into noodles and sauteed with garlic, slices of a pepperoni-like sausage and Espelette pepper, followed by an excellent steak tartare (classic but with modifications, such as fairly large slices of parmesan scattered throughout). J had a good, but not memorable, salad of French green beans, artichoke hearts and hazelnuts with hazelnut vinaigrette, followed by a fine French adaptation of vitello tonnato (still, not as good as the sublime version at Saint Ambroeus in New York). We shared a boule of ice cream, salted caramel and two boules of sorbet, one bitter chocolate and the other "exotique," an extraordinary confection with a pineapple base, lots of ginger and a blend of other spices, including cardamom, one of my favorites.

Service is station-brasserie-like, i.e., fast by French standards. It is not easy to spend more than and hour and a half, and that's how they book, so this is not a place to linger over a long, leisurely dinner.

In sum, if you are nostalgic for the cuisine that got Julia cooking, or just want a good French meal, head for the Brasserie Lazare.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Happy Mother's Day from Paris

Today was Mother's Day in Paris, known as the Fête des Mères. While the holiday seems less important than the US version, it is, of course, an excuse to eat well. Here are some images of Lenôtre's windows this morning.


Bobby Jay

Monday, May 5, 2014

Spring! Ramps and Asparagus

I went to our local farmers market (on Columbus Avenue behind the Museum of Natural History) on Sunday, and was greeted by lovely local spring produce, the first of the season.

Everyone has discovered ramps by now, but I was an early adopter and have been making ramp risotto for about five years. I use the white parts in lieu of onions or shallots and finish with the leaves. The slightly garlicky notes are subtle but unmistakable.

Ramps from the farmers market
Ramp risotto
I also got some gorgeous early asparagus, grown on Long Island according to the rubber band holding them together. A perfect appetizer before the ramp risotto, a vegetarian meal to feel good about. I have nothing against Peru, but am very happy to get asparagus grown 50, rather than 3000, miles away. Better for so many reasons! I trimmed and grilled the stalks, grilled for seven minutes on a hot grill pan, and served with a mustard and green peppercorn vinaigrette that I borrowed from Bobby Flay: very concentrated asparagus taste enlivened by the acidic dressing.

First local asparagus of the season
Ah, the delights of spring!

Bobby Jay