Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Way Beyond PBJ: Gourmet Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Bobby Jay's Peanut Butter, Mango Pickle Relish and Banana Sandwich

Who doesn't like peanut butter? If it's you, or if you have a peanut allergy, stop reading (well, not so fast; sesame butter (tahini) is an interesting and worthy substitute). But if, like me, you love the stuff, read on for some ways to use it that you may not have considered.

Although I love peanut butter, I have never been a fan of peanut butter and jelly. Even as a child, I found the sweetness of the jelly (classically Smucker's grape) to clash with the savory goodness of the peanut butter. So over the years I have sought other accompaniments.

I am not going to devote much space to the selection of peanut butter. Everyone has his or her favorite already. Mine are Cream-Nut and Trader Joe's organic made with 100% Valencia peanuts. I like the freshly ground kind that you find at health food stores, but find it turns hard and grainy in the fridge and is tough to use for sandwiches (although a few seconds in the microwave can give you a spreadable texture). Generally I use creamy unless I am doing a pretty plain version with nothing but spices added, in which case I prefer chunky.

Similarly, I am not going to make bread recommendations. Anything you like is fine, although for me it has to be toasted. So here are some of my favorites:

  • PB with toasted (untoasted work, too, but less well I think) sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • PB with sliced banana PB with mango chutney (I prefer hot but mild is OK)
  • PB with jalapeño jam (any jam or jelly will do, but make sure it's great)
  • PB with smoked paprika (again, I prefer hot but sweet is OK)
  • PB with Cajun spice blend
  • PB with za'atar (a thyme and sesame seed-based Middle Eastern blend)
  • PB with Branston Pickle (this is pretty weird stuff, even for me)

Garlic powder makes a great addition to the simpler ones, especially sliced banana. Just put it on a little before eating so it blooms. Fleur de sel is great, too, especially if you're using unsalted PB. But my current signature PB sandwiches are Indian-inspired;

  • PB with lime-chili pickle and sliced banana
  • PB with hot mango pickle relish and sliced banana (pictured above)

The banana cuts the salty spiciness of Indian condiments in a way that produces a savory balanced flavor and perfect texture. I plan to try ginger pickle relish soon, and am sure it will be great, too. These are very idiosyncratic flavors and I am sure they will not be to everyone's liking, but that's what's exciting about food, isn't it?

But why stop there? In the future I will be trying some Chinese products, like Sichuan chile paste, and perhaps other Southeast Asian products (think Satay).

I'm sure some readers will have their own combinations, and would love hearing them. As well as feedback on any of the ideas noted above. Please share.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paris - Flavored Syrups at Goumanyat

The best spice store in Paris is Goumanyat et Son Royaume, near the Place de la République. This is the retail outlet for Thiercelin, a seventh-generation family-owned spice merchant and producer that has been in business since the time of Napoleon. In addition to the highest quality spices - especially saffron and peppers from all around the world - Thiercelin produces flavored oils and syrups based on proprietary blends.

Thiercelin syrups at Goumanyat
This trip I bought two of their flavored syrups: Sarawak pepper and Saffron. Both are marvelous, and I have only started figuring out how to use them. The simplest way is to add a few drops to still or sparkling water; the aroma is amazing, and the taste subtle and enticing. Just as simple is to pour a little on vanilla ice cream. The saffron, in particular, produces a fascinating mélange of flavors.

These syrups could also work miracles in the hands of a serious mixologist (which I am not).

I tasted samples of other wonderful Thiercelin syrups, but one must have limits. Among others were a white Sarawak pepper, somewhat milder than the one I bought, a Tasmanian pepper, still milder, and a Sichuan pepper, with an altogether different, but still interesting, flavor profile.

Goumanyat et Son Royaume, 3 rue Charles-François Dupuis, Paris 3ème (Métro République).

Bobby Jay

Monday, March 12, 2012

Paris - Best Sweetbreads Ever at My Favorite Restaurant

I love sweetbreads but try not to eat them more than twice a year. I used a portion of my annual allotment at Restaurant Jean (see my earlier posts of December 28, 2010 and December 24, 2011) the other night, and definitely made the right decision.

Jean's sweetbreads were tightly packed into a sausage-like shape, and a branc of laurel was stuck through the middle, with the leaves left outside the meat. Then they were perfectly pan fried, and served with a jus made from the pan drippings. The regular shape allowed for a deep crust with a creamy inside, lightly infused by the laurel branch. Accompanied by a gorgonzola raviolo and a little ham and cheese pastry. Heaven!

Sweetbreads at Jean
My appetizer was almost equally excellent: a deconstructed home-smoked salmon "maki" made with goat cheese and served with the nori separately and a little mound of beet ice cream. Really a wonderful mélange of tastes and a lovely presentation.

Smoked Salmon "Maki" at Jean
My dinner companion had the wonderful pigeon and started with a tartare and carpaccio of scallops, beautifully presented with a briny emulsion of green apple and algae.

Tartare and Ceviche of Scallops at Jean
This is now my favorite restaurant in Paris!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Paris - Cooking Lessons Encore

When in Paris, I like to take cooking lessons at Atelier des Chefs, and this week I took three. I have written about this cooking school in an earlier post, but I thought an update might be of interest.

Lesson 1 - Discovery of Spices
-Shrimp In Star Anise Flavored Nage over Sauteed Vegetables
-Mangoes Caramelized with Cardomom with Caramel/Coconut Milk Whipped Cream, with White Chocalate Saffron Sauce
-Duck Breast with Peppered Mangoes with Gingered Sweet Potato Purée
Lesson 2 - Things to Do with Pastry Dough
-Thin Green and Red Pepper Tart with Sauteed Calamari and Oussau-Iraty Cheese
-Morel Mushroom Tourte in Puff Pastry on a Crisp Potato Base
-Almond Praline Tart on Sugared Pastry with Raspberry Coulis
Lesson 3 - Spring Produce - Asparagus, Girolles and Raspberries
-Green and White Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce (made in painstakingly classic fashion and absolutely wonderful)
-Cream of Girolle Mushroom Soup with Quick-Sauteed Foie Gras
-Verrine of Fava Beans, Red Peppers and Chorizo topped with a Parmesan Tuile
-Nage of Fresh Strawberries and Raspberries Infused with Cardomom

I enjoy learning some wonderful recipes, but what I really like is interacting with the chefs and learning tricks (trucs) or tips (astuces) that make me a better cook.

Here's the recipe (in French) for the wonderful mango dessert. I think it would be just as good without the white chocolate sauce.

Mangue caramélisée à la cardamome, chantilly caramel-coco et sauce chocolat blanc au safran
(Brunoise de mangue caramélisée et aromatisée à la poudre de cardamome, servie avec une chantilly de caramel-coco ainsi qu'une sauce chocolat blanc au safran)

Les ingrédients
Quantités pour 6 personne(s)

Pour l'étape 1
• Mangue(s) : 3 pc(s)
• Sucre semoule : 100 g
• Poudre de Cardamome verte : 3 g
Pour l'étape 2
• Sucre semoule : 180 g
• Lait de coco non sucré : 30 cl
• Crème liquide entière : 10 cl
Pour la sauce
• Chocolat blanc : 300 g
• Safran en poudre : 3 g
Pour les tuiles
• Farine de blé : 35 g
• Amande(s) hachée(s) : 50 g
• Jus d'orange : 5 cl
• Beurre doux : 35 g
• Sucre glace : 140 g

Description de la recette

Pour la mangue
Éplucher la mangue et la tailler en petits dés (1 cm).
Verser le sucre dans une poêle et le laisser caraméliser. Lorsque le caramel a une belle couleur rousse homogène, ajouter les dés de mangue et la poudre de cardamome et laisser cuire à feu vif pendant 3 min.
Débarrasser et laisser refroidir.

Pour le siphon caramel lait de coco
Faire fondre le sucre dans une poêle jusqu'à obtention d'un caramel. Mélanger, puis ajouter ¼ de crème liquide. Faire ensuite refroidir.
Verser le reste de crème et le lait de coco sur le caramel froid, puis mettre la préparation dans la cuve du siphon. Refermer et ajouter la cartouche de gaz.

Pour l'appareil à tuiles
Préchauffer le four à 200 °C (th. 6-7).

Réaliser les tuiles : mélanger tous les ingrédients dans un bol, puis déposer des petits tas sur une plaque de cuisson (sur du papier sulfurisé ou sur une toile de cuisson).
Enfourner les tuiles pendant 5 min, puis les sortir et les laisser tiédir. Les mouler ensuite sur un rouleau à pâtisserie.
Démouler les tuiles lorsqu'elles sont froides.

Pour la sauce chocolat blanc
Faire fondre le chocolat au bain-marie, puis ajouter la poudre de safran.

Dans chaque assiette, déposer une tuile avec la brunoise de mangue caramélisée. Verser ensuite l'émulsion caramel sur la mangue, puis la sauce chocolat blanc-safran.

Really fun and highly recommended, subject to the caveat that the lessons are in French and will be hard to follow if you are not at least competent in the language. A decent repertoire of food terms is very helpful.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paris - Thanksgiving?

Wandering in the Marais, on rue St-Paul, I happened upon Thanksgiving, a combination Louisiana style restaurant and American grocery. The idea of Cajun food in Paris was not too upsetting, but when I saw the grocery window, all I could think was "Why?". I guess I'm a bit of a snob, but American mustard and mayonnaise and Smucker's Grape Jelly? In France?

Bobby Jay

Paris - Chef for a Day

For my 60th birthday, I took over a part of New York's Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) and, with about eight friends, cooked an elaborate meal for about sixty friends. It was a great success and is described at length in my posts of September 17, 18 and 23, 2010 ("My Big Night").

Now anyone can easily put together a party like this, at least if you happen to be in Paris. A new establishment there, "Un jour, un chef," maintains a 50-seat restaurant and lets people take over as chef of the day. The chef of the day works with the restaurant's professional chefs to create a menu which will be served for lunch and dinner on that chef's day. The restaurant is open to all, not just the chef's friends.

Un jour, un chef exterior
In addition to the daily chef's menu, there is a menu prepared by the restaurant's staff chefs, so guests can eat dishes prepared by the daily amateur chef and/or the professionals. The three-course menu is 20 euros at lunch, 30 euros at dinner (consisting of slightly larger portions). Amazingly, the chef for the day pays nothing for the privilege of using the (relatively simple) facilities, the procurement of all the food and the assistance of the professional chefs, who will do as much or as little as desired. Here is the menu for March 7:

Un jour,  un chef ardoise
I asked Olivier, one of the proprietors, whether one can take over the whole place and throw a party of one's friends, like what I did at ICE, and he said yes. (I have the impression that it has not happened so far, but the place is new and they are open to interesting ways to utilize their place and staff.) You would just have to pay the 30-euro price for the requisite number of guests plus drinks. (Of course, if you are using more expensive products - foie gras, truffles, etc. - there would be a premium.) This is a screaming bargain.

The ultimate pop-up. Would it play in New York?

Bobby Jay