Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spanish Night

As noted in my post of May 20, we recently spent a weekend in Madison, Wisconsin with friends, and did some cooking and relaxing together.

I made Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za'Atar and Lemon using their wonderful paella pan. I immediately developed a case of pan envy, and upon returning to New York, ordered my very own, a genuine classic carbon steel one from a maker in Valencia, the home of paella. By the way, "paella pan" is technically redundant, since paella refers to the pan as well as the dish, but I'll go with paella pan to avoid confusion.

Last night I broke it in, and served a completely Spanish meal for some good friends who are willing to share my experiments in the kitchen.

So here's my virgin pan, with four tablespoons of olive oil, just waiting to get to work.

Paella pan waiting to fulfill its destiny
I chose to do a classic chicken paella, following the recipe that accompanied the pan, except that I added a little (1/4 lb) chopped fresh chorizo to the grated onions and tomatoes that formed the soffrito, the flavor base for any paella and many other Spanish dishes. First the chicken.

Browning chicken for paella
After that's done, I sauteed slices of fresh artichoke hearts and a red bell pepper, then put them aside while I made the aforementioned soffrito. Finally the rice is added, together with chicken broth that was flavored with some excellent precious saffron that I bought over the Internet, first toasted and then infused in a bit of broth. The chicken and vegetables are placed on top, arrayed as attractively as possible. For about eight minutes, the rice is cooked at a fast boil, until the broth is reduced to the level of the rice.

Boiling the rice
Then the dish is brought to a low simmer for the final cooking.

Simmering the rice, nearly done
The finished paella (photo courtesy of Miyako Yoshinaga)
To stay on the evening's theme, I started with a platter of great Spanish products: Serrano ham, Manchego cheese and Marcona almonds, accompanied by some lightly cured (but not Spanish) green olives.

Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, Marcona almonds
Next, a simple salad of orange slices atop a bed of spinach with seasoned hazelnut oil and chopped hazelnuts.

Orange slices and spinach with hazelnut oil and hazelnuts
Finally, after the paella, a walnut cake with Spanish brandy, using the recipe from Claudia Roden's excellent The Food of Spain. A really interesting torte, with complex walnut notes beautifully offset by the brandy. A wet, dense cake -- it doesn't rise because no leavening is used, not even whipped egg whites -- so I served it with a dollop of crème fraîche on top.

Walnut cake with Spanish brandy
Inspired by the humble paella pan, this was a pretty authentic and really fun dinner. Viva España!

Bobby Jay

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cherries and Berries with GINGER!!!

I love, love, love ginger, and I like to use lots of it with fruit. So I grabbed a beautiful bunch of early but sweet and firm cherries from Washington and some Florida-grown blueberries, and concocted dessert.

Cherries and blueberries with ginger five ways
I pitted the cherries and cooked them in a small amount of Monin Ginger Syrup, with a dusting of powdered sugar and a nice pinch of powdered ginger. When the cherries were soft but maintaining their shape, I folded in blueberries and diced organic (spicy) candied ginger. Then served it with ginger ice cream that I made with fresh ginger into which I also folded diced candied ginger. So there you have it: ginger syrup and powder, candied ginger, and ginger ice cream (containing fresh and candied ginger). Four or five forms of ginger, depending on how you count.

(Other enhancements I have tried include chopped toasted almonds, almond syrup or kirsch liqueur instead of ginger and ground Amaretti di Saronno or other cookies, but the technique lends itself to endless variations depending on your taste and what's in your pantry.)

Need I say the dish was excellent, bursting as it was with cherry, berry and ginger tastes? How could it not be if you're a ginger lover?

Bobby Jay

Friday, May 20, 2016

Still Cooking

I haven't been posting lately, but I have been cooking, although not for any extravaganza.

We had a friend for a simple Sunday meal, and I made the Roasted Chicken Provençal from The New York Times, which has become a go-to one-hour meal for me and, apprarently, thousands of others (this is one of the Times' most popular dishes of 2015). I stick pretty closely to the recipe but add halved fingerling or baby Yukon gold potatoes to the pan while roasting. Why not get the starch course done at the same time?

Roasted Chicken Provençal
We stayed with friends in Madison, Wisconsin, and I contributed two dishes to our wonderful meal:

First, Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za'Atar and Lemon, from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, the breakthrough book that got me excited about Middle Eastern food. This doesn't look like much from the photo, but trust me, that's the photographer's (my) fault and not the cook's (mine). This and all of Ottolenghi's books are worth the space on your shelves.

Chicken with Sumac, Za'atar and Lemon
Also, Clotilde Dussoulier's easy and always-fabulous Flourless Orange and Ginger Cake, made by boiling oranges, mandarins or clementines for a couple of hours and then pureeing the whole fruits in a food processor to serve as cake filling. (Perfect for your gluten-free friends.)

Orange and Ginger Cake
More recently, confronted with magnificent local asparagus at my nearby farmers' market, I made Dorie Greenspan's Cheesy Rice with Asparagus, a risotto-like celebration of this seasonal marvel.

Cheesy Rice with asparagus
Speaking of seasonal asparagus, it is the beginning of that wonderful 6-month period where the local markets furnish us with great and inspiring ingredients, starting with ramps last month and running through asparagus, greens, corn, tomatoes, berries, melons and stone fruit. Time to cook and savor simple things that showcase the natural flavors that our soil give us. I will spend a month of that time in France, where they'll see us and raise us one.

Bobby Jay

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