Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chef's Table -- A Feast for the Eyes and the Brain

I have just watched the six episodes of Netflix's Chef's Table, a new series of six documentaries on some of the best, and most interesting, chefs in the world. Produced by David Gelb, who produced and directed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the films explore the cuisine produced by the selected chefs but, more interestingly, they focus on the roots of and motivation for the extraordinary creativity of the chefs. Along the way, the viewer is treated to a myriad of images of magnificent, mind-blowing food.

The fantastic chefs who are the subjects of the series are:
  • Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana, Modena
  • Dan Barber, Blue Hill, New York City
  • Francis Mallman, Buenos Aires
  • Niki Nakayam, N/Naka, Los Angeles
  • Ben Shewry, Attica, Melbourne
  • Magnus Nilsson, Faviken, Jarpen (Sweden)
Obviously, they are all brilliant and accomplished, but it is their connections to the earth, the farm and, most important, to other people, that provide the fuel for their spectacular creativity. All struggled early in their careers but persevered and ultimately succeeded through the power of their creativity and passionate sense of mission. Their stories are compelling, well-filmed and, as noted above, accompanied by spectacular pictures of their food, a few of which are set out below.

Magnus Nilsson's signature scallops grilled over juniper
Ad for Chef's Table
Niki Nakayama
Massimo Bottura
Dan Barber
Massimo Bottura
Nikki Nakayama
Perhaps because it is first, I liked the episode on Massimo Bottura the most, but reactions will no doubt vary based on viewers' food preferences and life and travel experiences. But no matter which episodes resonate most for you:  Chef's Table is a must for foodies (and you are one if you are reading this). If you have somehow resisted subscribing to Netflix (and thereby missed  the wonderful House of Cards, among other things), this should get you over the top.

Bobby Jay

Monday, May 11, 2015

Paris - Non-French Omelet for Dinner

The other day I was not very hungry for dinner so I decided to use up a couple of the beautiful eggs (bright orange yolks!) I had bought, together with some leftover brie and herbs.

I recalled seeing a video in which some chef (a friend of Jamie Oliver's, I think) made an unconventional omelet by beating the eggs until they were almost the texture of pancake batter, rather than going for the thin, elegant but tricky to prepare French-style omelet best shown in Julia Childs' classic TV episode.  I looked for the new video on line but couldn't find it, so I just . . .

. . . beat the hell out of the eggs,

Eggs beaten to thickness of pancake batter
cooked them in a little butter until they began to separate from the pan (and have little steam holes like a pancake (look closely at the photo),

Omelet nearly ready to stuff and fold
sprinkled little bits of brie atop, with chopped chives and dill (sorry, forgot to take a picture of this step), then folded and served with more chives and dill and toasted slices of French baguette.

Voila! Non-French omelet in Paris
Tasted pretty great!

Bobby Jay

Paris - Le Petit Célestin

Le Petit Célestin
 Last week I went to Le Petit Célestin, a tiny bistro on the Quai des Célestins, opposite the Île Saint-Louis, for a second visit, with my friends E and F. We had an excellent meal consisting of classic French cuisine, which is the focus at this unpretentious restaurant.

E started with oeufs en cocotte, F with langoustines mayonnaise épicé (crayfish with homemade spicy mayonnaise and I with remoulade de chair de tourteaux aux pommes vertes (crabmeat mayonnaise with diced apples.) The eggs were excellent, as were the langoustines, which were served with a small green salad. My crabmeat was good but not great: too mayonnaise-y for my taste.

For mains, we all took the day's special, aile de raie (skate wing). A huge portion of perfectly cooked skate, with classic butter and caper sauce, served over a bed of roughly mashed potatoes. The best rendition of skate that I have ever experienced. For dessert, we continued with the classics, an île flottante and a lemon meringue tart, both  fine examples of these ancient dishes, which are not so easy to find these day. Our third dessert was a chocolate cake that was good but sounded better than it turned out to be. 

Our new neighborhood, in the part of the Marais just north of the Seine (aka the "bas Marais"), has a number of small bistros, and we are slowly getting to know them. Just three minutes from our apartment, Le Petit Célestin is a keeper.

This place is small but popular. If you plan to go, make a reservation. Le Petit Célestin, 12 Quai des Célestins (Métro Sully-Morland).

Bobby Jay

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Paris in May - The Start of Produce Season

I am making a brief trip to Paris to attend the meeting of coproprietors of our building. We are new in the building, and the neighbors encouraged me to attend, so I did. Quite different from our New York coop's meetings, this one involved a lot of discussion rather than just votes on matters mostly decided by the board.

But today is Thursday and that means that the huge Bastille market is open. Although the Thursday market is a shadow of its Sunday self, it was still great to see beautiful produce from the beginning of the French growing season. Some nice peonies at the florist . . .

Peonies at the Bastille market
. . . and gorgeous fresh garlic everywhere (I am still not sure how to use it, but it's mellower than the dried that we always see).
Fresh garlic at the Bastille market
I bought some asparagus and strawberries from a great Picardy producer, and produced a vegetarian lunch for myself, including a slice of rhubarb tart from an excellent boulangerie/pâtisserie. Steamed the asparagus and then sauteed them butter (this is France, after all!), and topped the strawberries with yogurt (more virtuous here) and saffron syrup.

Early asparagus from the Bastille market - before
Early asparagus from the Bastille market - steamed and sauteed in butter

Strawberries from the Bastille market - before
Strawberries - with yogurt and saffron syrup
Rhubarb tart from Maison Hilaire
Appetite suitably whetted for our longer stay in June-July.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Passover 2015 - Mostly Sephardic Seder

Last year I totally revamped the menu for our family Seder, moving from traditional Askenazi dishes to Sephardic ones from a variety of countries. The new orientation was interesting and most of the dishes were successful. Planning for this year’s Seder, I confronted the question of which dishes to keep and which to change, and elected to stick with last year’s for the majority. My goal is eventually to arrive at a suite of dishes that everyone is excited to see again, year after year; continuity is, after all, what Passover is all about.

Thus I made artichoke tapenade and burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds, as well lemon scented veal meatballs. I suppressed last year’s unsuccessful dried fava bean hummus and substituted pickled mushrooms from the renowned Bar Tartine. The fifth appetizer was gefilte fish from nearby Citarella, cut into bite-size morsels and served with my mother-in-law’s wonderful sinus-clearing horseradish.

Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds on endive leaves
Artichoke tapenade
Gefilte fish with homemade prepared horseradish
The Seder plate contains two prepared elements that I love: horseradish (made by my mother-in-law) and haroset (the one I made -- Joan Nathan's haroset from Bordeaux -- consists of dates, figs and nuts only – ironically, no wine).

For the dinner, I gave up the watercress and chickpea soup I made in 2014 and prevailed on my sister-in-law to make her great matzoh ball soup (not Separdic but why let purity deprive us of something great?). I made Syrian lemon and olive chicken (D'jah 'Limoneh) again and my cousin contributed a Moroccan lamb tagine with figs, ginger, carrots  and Moroccan spices for which I provided the recipe. For last year’s Turkish zucchini pie I substituted grilled asparagus with lemon zest and ricotta sprinkled on top. I repeated the divine Persian rice that was what inspired my “conversion” to Sephardism, with dill and edamame salad that makes an interesting accompaniment.

Persian rice with edamame and dill
Syrian lemon and olive chicken
Lamb tagine with ginger, carrots and Moroccan spices
Grilled asparagus with ricotta and lemon zest
I made a lot of changes for dessert, mostly for the worse I fear. Instead of last year’s wonderful flourless orange cake I made a perfectly good but not sensational nut-free fresh ginger and molasses cake and for last year’s --- I substituted a French style apple tart, the only real flop of the meal: matzoh flour just doesn’t make a good tart dough. My cousin contributed her excellent lemon squares, chocolate covered matzohs and chocolate chip cookies, as well as some store bought items. I jettisoned the sesame halva that I made in 2014: despite numerous attempts I never got the texture right.

Fresh ginger and molasses cake
French apple tart before it fell apart
Now for next year . . . . There would be a mutiny if I didn't make the meatballs, and the burnt eggplant is pretty compelling as I present it. Citarella’s gefilte fish is another definite keeper. But I will not repeat the artichoke tapenade or the picked mushrooms, and will be seeking worthy successors.

The haroset and horseradish are fine; no change needed. Similarly, the matzo ball soup. The Persian rice will stay, although I plan to accompany it with something other than the edamame dill salad. The Syrian chicken will appear again, but not so sure about the lamb tagine. J loved The grilled asparagus so I may repeat the dish but I think I can do better and remain on the hunt for a new vegetable dish.

Desserts will change, but I am not sure to what. A project for the next year.

Here are the sources for the dishes that made up the meal.
  • Artichoke tapenade: David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen.
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.Pickled mushrooms: Nicholas Balla and Courtney Burns: Bar Tartine.
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs: Mario Batali,
  • Heidi's matzoh ball soup: family reicpe
  • Bordeaux style haroset: Joan Nathan, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
  • Chicken with lemon and olives (Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh): Jennifer Abadi, A Fistful of Lentils.
  • Lamb Tagine: cooking lesson at Ateliers des Chefs, Paris.
  • Persian rice with edamame and dill: cooking lesson with Jennifer Ababi, Institute for Culinary education, for rice; Louisa Shafia, The New Persian Kitchen for edamame and dill (substituting edamame for favas).
  • Grilled asparagus with ricotta: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.
  • Fresh ginger cake, David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert.
  • French style apple tart: America's Test Kitchen, TV Show Cookbook 2001-15.
Happy Passover!

Bobby Jay

Friday, April 3, 2015

Alain Passard's Amazing (and Simple) Vinaigrette Aigre-Doux

A few months ago, I wrote about the legendary chef, Alain Passard, whose three star Arpège is almost entirely vegetable focused. I have been viewing the videos referred to in my post of January 1, 2015, and one really got my attention: on vinaigrette aigre-doux, which means sweet and sour vinaigrette.

I usually avoid sweet vinaigrettes, as well as honey mustards: for me the honey overpowers the salty and acid aspects of the experience. BUT. This is ALAIN PASSARD, who is so excited over this dressing that I had to give it a try. It helps that it takes about four minutes to assemble and contains just three ingredients: lime juice, honey and olive oil.

Here's the recipe (which I halved with perfect success):
  • Mix 70 grams of lime juice with 140 grams of honey (I used chesnut)
  • Slowly add 200 grams of olive oil with an immersion blender until you have a nice emulsion
That's it.

Here's how to use it, under a salad of cut up beets and turnips, covered with a sprinkling of mesclun and herbs.

Turnips and beets with mesclun over Alain Passard's vinaigrette aigre-doux
A slightly different version, substituting lemon juice for lime, is perfect over triangles of pineapple (topped with paper thin apple slices and lime zest). It was also perfect over blackberries, but less good on watermelon triangles. The lesson is that it is a better counterpoint for salty or sour than for sweet.

Impress your friends (and yourself) with no effort!

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 23, 2015

The RG Sandwich -- Homemade Rye, Smoked Ricotta, etc.

Recently I gave my neighbor RG, who was house-bound after an operation, a container of Salvatore's smoked ricotta, a wonderful product that I have written about before, and a loaf of natural levain country rye bread that I made, courtesy of Chad Robertson's iconic Tartine Bread.

An RG sandwich: homemade country rye, smoked ricotta, smoked salmon, etc.
Starting with these ingredients, RG created a beautiful open-faced sandwich, which I have more or less duplicated myself:

1. Spread a generous amount of smoked ricotta on a slice of homemade country rye bread (RG uses Rubschlager Rye-Ola Black Rye if, as is usually the case, homemade rye bread is not available).

2. Add a generous amount of best quality olive oil (RG uses Castellina in Chianti, I used Sicilian that I buy at Eataly).

3. Add a few thin slices of Bermuda onion (I used red onion).
4. Add a slice of smoked Scottish salmon. (I added a grind of black pepper to finish.)

5. Voilà!

This is one fine sandwich: creative use of great ingredients. Thanks, RG.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tom Kerridge's Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Pommes Boulangères

Recently I made slow-roasted lamb shoulder with pommes boulangères for the second time. This dish, courtesy of Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food TV show, is extremely easy to prepare and really delivers amazing lamb flavor. Mr. Kerridge is the owner chef of the world's only pub to be awarded two Michelin stars and, as he says, he is all about simplicity and great ingredients.

Slow-roasted leg of lamb with pommes boulangères and green beans
While Mr. Kerridge advises you to leave this alone for the full five hours (or so) of cooking time, I removed a fair amount of liquid every so often starting after three hours so that the potatoes would crisp better. So a bit less simple than written but not much. And a pretty spectacular result.

I preceded the lamb with a radish, mushroom and arugula salad with pumpkin seed oil vinaigrette, sprouts, pumpkin seeds and parmesan shavings, inspired by Grüner in Portland.

Radish, mushroom and arugula salad with pumpkin seed vinaigrette
 We finished with a rosemary polenta olive oil cake, served with Cowgirl Creamery crème fraîche and rosemary syrup, a dessert designed to take advantage of the shipment of amazingly fragrant rosemary delivered by our friend S from Galveston.

If you like lamb, try this recipe.

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 16, 2015

Asia Week Macaro(o)ns

It's Asia Week in New York, which means that J is having a magnificent show of contemporary and modern Japanese ceramics. To keep her many clients satiated, I typically make macarons, those finicky but heavenly French meringue cookies with cream or ganache fillings. This year I made matcha (Japanese green tea) macarons filled with white chocolate ganache, one of J's and her clients' favorites. I employed a new (for me) technique this time, using Italian meringue, which involves adding hot sugar syrup to mounted egg whites, rather than French meringue, which includes only powdered sugar. While the Italian meringue is more difficult to create, it is easier to work with and bakes more predictably than the more brittle French meringue.

Matcha macarons with white chocolate ganache
When the macaron supply became exhausted, I baked a batch of matcha and coconut macarOOns, simple confections made of coconut, sugar, a little flour (not all recipes have this, which is why people serve them for Passover), and egg whites. Here I added a bit of matcha powder to half the batter to achieve the two-part effect. (Thanks to Stephanie Le's excellent iamafoodblog for the concept.)

Matcha and coconut macaroons
While not as elegant as macarons, macaroons are easy to make and fun to eat.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Paris - Organic Chocolate Mousse

I like chocolate mousse, but J does not. I'm not sure how that's possible, but there it is. As a result, I never make it, despite having many many recipes in French cookbooks, magazine cuttings and internet posts.

One of my guilty pleasures in Paris, especially when I'm here alone, is the organic dark chocolate mousse that can be found at Monoprix and at bio (health food) stores. The amazing thing, for a store-bought product, is the list of ingredients: chocolate (42%), eggs, butter. That's it, no preservative, thickener, gelling agent, stabilizer. Well, perhaps the most amazing things are really the taste and texture, which are excellent and quite adult. (The mousse is so thick that it's actually hard to clean your spoon, either with your mouth or in the sink.) Or maybe I just become a child again when I eat them.

Ready-made chocolate mousses, left from bio store, right from Monoprix
When in Paris, go to a supermarket and buy one to keep in your mini-fridge in case of emergency.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Paris - Cooking for One

Thursday I went to the Salon de l'Agriculture and bought too much food (see my post of yesterday).

Last night I got to use some of it and enjoyed an evening at home and a simple meal that I cooked for myself. I started with an enormous French artichoke, so big that it took 35 minutes in a pressure cooker before it was ready. Half of that, with some great olive oil, made a fine appetizer.

Next, smoked morteau sausage from Alsace, boiled for 45 minutes, with choucroute from the same stand at the Salon d'Ag, and some flageolets (lima beans) that I had left over from a prior meal. For dessert, a slice of pain d'épices that I had also bought at the Salon d'Ag. A rather nice meal.

Saucisse morteau, choucroute, flageolets
With so many great pre- or partially cooked items available at Paris' markets, cooking for one can be quick, interesting and delicious.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Le Servan: An Excellent Bistro

I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Paris bistros. I have been disappointed too many times by the "in" places "discovered" by The New York Times or Bon Appetit to trust them, and even some of my trusted French bloggers have from time to time let me down.

However . . . I recently went with a former colleague to new but and well-publicized Le Servan, a totally simple but attractive, and now very chic, bistro in the 11éme arrondissement and had a really delightful meal, exactly what you want in this type of place. A small but well-conceived menu and a wine list to match. And reasonable prices, too. The place is run by two young sisters, one of whom is the companion of the chef of Septime, one of the really great bistros in Paris. While this probably helped to jump start the restaurant, it has its own identity and flair.

We shared an order of cockles in a light spicy bouillon that was a perfect pre-starter. Then I had a hot foie gras lacqué and my friend had perfectly cooked baby artichokes with lemon sauce. I continued with a marvelous duck breast, while A had a perfectly roasted chicken with cabbage. Our desserts, a blood orange tart and a Paris-Brest, were both excellent. The food is not gorgeous and not presented in an exciting way, so no photos. But so what? This is good food, at a reasonable price, and you should go. Just call in advance because it's usually full.

Le Servan, 32 rue Saint-Maur, Paris 11ème (Métro Voltaire, St-Amboise or Saint-Maur), 01 55 28 51 82.

Bobby Jay

Friday, February 27, 2015

Paris - 2015 Salon d'Agriculture

One of the highlights of my year is a visit to the Salon de l'Agriculture, held in Paris at this time each year. A spectacular array of animals that are brought by proud breeders and traditional foods from all over France and its foreign territories and colonies, which may be eaten at the fair or taken home. (There are foods from other countries, but I generally pass on them in favor of France; after all . . .)

This year I went with two Japanese artist friends who have lived in France for many years, speak the language and appreciate the culinary tradition. One had never been to the Salon d'Ag and she could not get enough of it. When two of us left after 5 1/2 hours, she stayed on to see some of the things we had passed up.

We ate fairly little under the circumstances, starting with a fantastic sausage, potato and cheese from Picardy,

Crispy sausage, potatoes and cheese
and continuing with a hot foie gras sandwich, cooked before our eyes.

Waiting while our foie gras is sauteed.
We also partook of the many samples of sausage, cheese and sweets (nougat, cakes, sheep milk ice cream) on offer, and the best freshly pressed apple juice I have ever had.

Figatelli from Corsica
Fuseau from Lorraine
Looks nice, Auvergnates, but we passed
And we bought a few things to take home: pain d'epices, banana conserve, turmeric syrup, morteau sausage, chicken liver pâté, Valençay cheese and figatelli (see above).

Banana preserves from Guadaloupe - 85% banana, 15% sugar
Curcuma (turmeric) syrup from Martinique
Prune confiture and pain d'épice
 Then off to see the animals. First, horses, with splendid samples of dozens of breeds.

Horses doing what they do best - eating - and in competition
Next, the food animals: sheep, pigs and cows.

Award-winning cul noir pig
Happy sheep
1,650 kilo Charolais steer. HUGE!
The fair was packed, the most crowded I have ever seen it. This is great, because it enables the urban population (especially children) to connect with the agriculture from which their food comes, an especially worthy practice in an era where the shrink-wrapped products that are available in supermarkets bear no relationship to the actual animals from whence they come. I can't prove it but I believe that this connection helps the French to maintain respect for the farms, farmers and animals that nourish them so well.

Bobby Jay