Monday, April 25, 2016

Passover 2016 -- Another Sephardic Seder

A few years ago, I "converted" to Sephardism because I am much more excited by Sephardic/Mediterranean cuisine than by Ashenazic/Eastern European food. Ever since, I have been cooking dishes from all around the Mediterranean for our family Seder, with a major exception for  my sister-in-law's superb matzoh ball soup. This year she couldn't come, and I did not try to duplicate her wonderful soup; instead, I made a Watercress and Spinach Soup with carrot and chickpea "croutons" (see image below).

I recently read Engin Akin's excellent Essential Turkish Cuisine, and made her Fava Bean Purée with dill and red onions instead of a more conventional hummus or tapenade.

Fava bean purée with dill and red onions
Then I served Mario Batali's Lemon-scented Veal Meatballs, using matzoh flour instead of bread for the binding panade.

Lemon-scented veal meatballs
I also served my go-to Burnt Eggplant with Tahini, from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty,

Burnt Eggplant with tahini, pomegranate seeds on endive leaves
and my newest favorite, Socca (chickpea crepes), a favorite from Nice, from David Lebovitz' blog and his book The Sweet Life in Paris. (Too crazed to take photo.)

The fifth appetizer was my only concession to the Eastern European tradition: bites of gefilte fish procured from Citarella and served with homemade, head-exploding horseradish (recipe from America's Test Kitchen's d.i.y. cookbook).

Gefilte fish bites with homemade horseradish
For the dinner, I made the aforesaid Watercress and Spinach Soup, from Ottolenghi's Jerusalem.

Watercress and spinach soup with carrot and chickpea "croutons"
followed by Claudia Roden's Berber Couscous with Seven Vegetables, although I served it on crusty Persian rice rather than with couscous, which is not permissible during Passover, and Butternut Squash with Nigella Seeds, a deceptively simple vegetarian main from Ottolenghi's Plenty More. (I was too busy to remember to photograph the mains.)

One of the highlights of the Seder, for me at least, is haroset, a fruit and nut spread that is symbolic of the mortar used by the Jews in Egypt to make bricks for Pharaoh, eaten as the famous "Hillel Sandwich" with bitter horseradish on matzoh and thereafter just eaten on matzoh because it tastes so good. This year I made two varieties: first, Joan Nathan's Bordeaux Style Haroset from Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cuisine in France, which I have used for several years. Second, Syrian Haroset from an on-line recipe by Jennifer Abadi, a wonderful confection of tart Turkish dried apricots, lemon juice, orange flower water and chopped pistachios.

Bordeaux-style haroset
Syrian style haroset
For dessert, my go-to Blueberry (and raspberry) Pie from Food52 Genius Recipes, with alterations. I used Clotilde Dusoulier's pâte sablée made with gluten-free (and hence wheat-free) flour (Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free 1:1 Baking Flour) and I used potato starch in lieu of cornstarch (not Kosher for Passover) for the filling. A success, although the crust was not quite as crispy as the conventional wheat-based variety. Still, I now know how to make a gluten-free tart for my friends who can't or just don't eat wheat.

Blueberry (and raspberry) tart
Finally, for my ginger-loving mother, Fresh Ginger Cake from David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert, adopted for Passover by using matzoh flour, served with crème fraîche.

Fresh ginger cake
Whew! At least I have a whole year to get ready to do this again.

Happy Passover!

Bobby Jay

For convenience, here is a list of the sources for the dishes that made up the meal.
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.
  • Fava bean purée: Engin Akin, Essential Turkish Cuisine.
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs: Mario Batali, Food Network. Caution: the recipe calls for 4 lemons; 2 are more than enough.
  • Socca (chickpea flour crepes): Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris and
  • Bordeaux style haroset: Joan Nathan, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
  • Syrian style haroset: Jennifer Abadi, blog Too Good to Passover.
  • Berber couscous with seven vegetables, Claudia Roden, Middle Eastern Food.
  • Persian rice: cooking lesson with Jennifer Ababi, Institute for Culinary education.
  • Squash with nigella seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty More.
  • Fresh ginger cake, David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert.
  • Blueberry tart: Kristen Miglore, Food52 Genius Recipes.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Paris -- Lebanese Meal Chez Tania

Last month I was invited to dinner by my friend Tania, a wonderful Lebanese cook, caterer and food stylist. As always, it was a sophisticated, beautiful and delicious meal. Here are some visual highlights.

Hummus with fava beans, pomegranate seeds
Peppers, radishes, scallions, pomegranate
Cucumbers, yogurt, basil, za'atar 
Pudding and rose petal jam on khadaif
There are said to be more than 600 Lebanese restaurants in Paris, admittedly including some simple sandwich shops. But I bet that none is as good as Chez Tania.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Paris -- Tout Seul

I am often in Paris by myself, because Joan is either in Japan or unable to get away from her always busy gallery. I don't mind spending some time by myself as it gives me an opportunity to experiment in the kitchen with some of the wonderful ingredients you can find in Paris at any time of year.

I arrived today and headed straight to the open air market near the Place de la Bastille, one of Paris' biggest and most successful markets. There I was confronted by the products of the season: white asparagus, fresh morille mushrooms, and gariguette strawberries. So I bought a bunch of morilles, some wonderful mixed salad greens, shallots, white asparagus, cheese and bread to make a meal (I also bought half a rotisserie chicken for lunch). I passed on the gariguettes, which I find too mild and boring: I prefer to wait for the sweet "real" ones in June and July.

Dinner was a simple affair:

White asparagus peeled and steamed, served simply with olive oil, fleur de sel and coarsely ground pepper.

White asparagus, oil, fleur de sel and coarsely ground pepper
The main course was a puffy omelet with morilles and tarragon, with a side salad of mixed greens and a simple vinaigrette.

Puffy morille omelet with mixed green salad
Dessert was a little slice of langres, a pungent and creamy washed-rind cheese from Burgundy, with baguette slices.

Et voilà, a simple but satisfying meal made by taking advantage of what nature (and some very able farmers) give us.

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 7, 2016

South Africa -- Winelands

After Cape Town we spent two days in South Africa's magnificent winelands, beautiful old vineyards and towns set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains.

Delaire Graff vineyards near Stellenbosch
Vergelegen vineyards and winery
Vergelegen main house
Vergelegen 1000 year old trees
Vergelegen main house
Franchhoek church
We stopped for lunch at Babylonstoren, an organic farm with a very lovely restaurant and several villas for those who wish to stay. We did not stay but instead went on to a great hotel in nearby Franchhoek, La Residence.

 La Residence is a splendid, luxurious hotel with spectacular rooms and an amazing setting facing vines and mountains. And we were lucky enough to see some gorgeous sunsets.

 For dinner we went to the much-touted Tasting Room, where we saw how gorgeous and interesting food can go bad. The menu there is a series of "surprises": you only get the written menus -- which are different for each person  -- after the completion of the meal. With sharing, that makes for dozens of dishes, covering an immense number of sophisticate techniques and amazing presentations. The only problem was that the many items on each of many plates seemed to have little to do with each other, and taste came in a very distant third after technique and presentation (and pretension).

That being said, here are some of the visual highlights:

Bobby Jay

South Africa -- Cape Town Continued

We spent four days altogether in Cape Town, and we continued to eat very well indeed, although our subsequent experiences did not rise to the level of The Test Kitchen.

Founded and given its creative spin by Luke Dale-Roberts, of The Test Kitchen, which is in the same complex, this is a much more informal spot with a chic young crowd and excellent, interesting food.

I didn't keep a menu so cannot describe the dishes, so pictures of a few of  the things we ate will have to suffice.

Various dishes at the Pot Luck Club
Our final dinner in Cape Town was a La Colombe, situated atop a large hill (or small mountain) overlooking some spectacular scenery, which we missed by arriving late. The food is interesting and, like many restaurants in the area, makes good use of local produce, seafood and meats. It is also beautifully presented.

The pre-starter was "Tuna La Colombe," a tuna tartare whimsically served in a proprietary tuna can:

"Tuna La Colombe"
The first course was a choice of smoked ox tongue or prawn salad; we tried both.

Oxtail starter at La Colombe
Prawn salad at La Colombe
The fish course featured a choice of filet of linefish with caramelized cauliflower, chicken tortellini, etc. or a miso seared scallop with Asian style pork belly. Once again, we sampled both, and they were excellent.

Grilled fish filet, caramelized cauliflower, etc.
Miso seared scallop, pork belly, kimchi, corn velouté
For the meat course, Joan elected seared loin of springbok with caramelized onion, various vegetables and foie gras jus, while I opted for the fillet of beef with vegetables and truffle cafe au lait. Perfectly cooked.

Springbok loin at La Colombe
Beef fillet at La Colombe
Desserts were fine but did not quite live up to what went before. I had "3 Ages of Boerenkaas," local cheese served at ages six months, one year and four years, served with pickled onions and figs and candied walnuts. High marks for creativity but South African cheeses don't rival French (or in this case Dutch) ones. Joan had a perfectly nice, but not extraordinary, chocolate crémeux with cherry stracciatella, kirsch and tonka bean and almond.

Two more excellent Cape Town dining experiences!

Bobby Jay