Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Paris -- Holiday Food

December in Paris is all about food. I've been here nearly a week and have done less walking than usual due to bad weather, but I'm starting to get around and check out what's new.

On the Île Saint-Louis, the famed butcher Gardil has a window full of gorgeous, well-dressed and expensive (64 euros per kilo -- $35 per pound -- for Bresse capon) birds. This is where I plan to provision myself for our annual Christmas dinner with our Japanese friends in Paris. Jews and Buddhists celebrating Christmas: why not?

Poultry at Boucherie Gardil
And there's a bakery on Rue Saint-Antoine that sells a big variety of what the French call "cakes," generally not overly sweet cakes made in loaf pans. I have to try one soon.

Cakes at bakery on rue Saint-Antoine
I did get to the Madeleine. As usual, Hediard had nice windows,

Hediard's Christmas window
And the Maison de la Truffe had about a million dollars' worth of black truffles in its display.

Giant truffles at Maison de la Truffe -- a study in noir et blanc
 Caviar Kaspia had a cute display, with fake Russian dolls,

Caviar Kaspia window
And Fauchon had a beautiful new cake this year. (They always beautiful products even though Fauchon is no longer the best that Paris has to offer.)

Gorgeous cake at Fauchon
More to come in future posts.

Bobby Jay

Paris -- Le Banh Mi Chez Moi

You'd think that with the large number of Vietnamese people living in Paris, the city would abound with great banh mi sandwiches. Wrong. I tried what was supposed to be one of the best and it was quite mediocre. So I solved the problem the way I did in New York, by making my own, following the wisdom in The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches, by Andrea Nguyen.

After all, you can get great pork, great liver pate and great ham in Paris, and a much better baguette than you can find in New York. I used made the full combo, using the aforementioned ingredients, plus mayo, sriracha, Maggi sauce, homemade carrot and daikon pickles, cucumber, hot peppers and cilantro. The only tricky ingredient was the peppers, because jalapenos are not available in Paris. The closest thing, Moroccan peppers, are often not hot enough but the ones I found in the market were just fine.

I used crispy roasted pork belly,


 put the whole thing together on a great French baguette,


and made myself very happy.

Bobby Jay

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

This year we had a bigger Thanksgiving, 14 adults, one two-year-old and a three-month-old, and that turns out to be a lot more than the 10 adults we had last year. With careful planning, and knocking off three dishes a day, I was able to get a huge amount done in advance and was looking forward to a restful Thanksgiving day.

Until the turkey! I made it the same way as I did last year - deconstructed, then breast cooked upside down in a saute pan, and finally all cooked over the stuffing. But this year I dry-brined the turkey (salt plus baking powder) for two days, instead of wet-brining the breast overnight. And this year's turkey weighed in at 18 pounds instead of 14. For whatever reason, the breast just wouldn't get done and it was so fat that it had dried out on the outside by the time it had cooked through on the inside. In addition, it took 45 extra minutes, thereby throwing off the entire schedule. Finally it got done, and looked pretty good,

Turkey breast ready to be carved
but I ended up with the Thanksgiving nemesis - dried white meat - and a disorganized meal.

That being said, everyone had fun and enjoyed the meal, which did have some real highlights.

Here's what I cooked:

Thanksgiving Dinner
 November 27, 2014

Salmon rillettes (from a class at Atelier des Chefs in Paris)
Slow poached garlic shrimp (from Tyler Florence's Ultimate TV show)
Mustard and tapenade palmiers
(from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)
Feta with sumac, black sesame seeds and olive oil (from Bon Appétit)
Bar nuts (from The Union Square Cookbook)

Turkey with cornbread and turkey sausage and dried apricot stuffing
(from Cook's Illustrated for Turkey, Food and Wine and myself for stuffing)
Cranberry mostarda (from Food and Wine)
Sweet potato gratin with sage (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
Brussels sprouts (from Food and Wine)

Bourbon caramel pumpkin tart (from Fine Cooking)
Chocolate hazelnut torte (from Gourmet)
Marie-Hélène’s apple tart
(from Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table)

And here's what some of it looked like:

Hors d'oeuvres were served in the living room, around our old art deco table.

Slow poached garlic shrimp
Feta cheese with sumac and black sesame seeds
Then to the dining room, spectacularly arranged as always by J,


for a buffet dinner:
The turkey, deconstructed and carved
Sweet potato gratin
Roasted Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions

Thanksgiving plate, fully loaded
Finally, three desserts that I whipped up earlier in the week:

Chocolate hazelnut torte
Pumpkin tart with bourbon caramel and toasted candied pumpkin seeds
Marie-Hélène's apple cake
A good time was had by all, I think, except for myself during the turkey breast crisis.

Bobby Jay

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