Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year from Paris!

I am lucky to spend year-ends in Paris, and one of my favorite things to do is to window shop or, as the French say more colorfully, faire du lèche-vitrines, literally to go lick the windows). Especially for edible (or drinkable) items.

Here are some of the nicer ones I found since my last post.

For a stroll . . .

Passage de la Madeleine
for  something to drink . . .

Aux Vergers de la Madeleine
or for something to eat.

Dalloyau, my old favorite
Pierre Hermé
Arnaud Delmontel
Or you can just come to our place, for some of my annual homemade foie gras.

Foie gras chez nous
In any event, Happy New Year from Paris, and good eating in 2014!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Paris - New French Olive Oil Specialist - Première Pression Provence

New olive oil at Première Pression Provence
Walking around my excellent nearby market street, the Rue de Lévis, I came upon Première Pression Provence, a specialist in olive oils produced by small producers in Provence. This store has been there for a couple of years, but the unprepossessing windows had never enticed me to enter. That was a mistake.

Upon entering, I was greeted by shelves full of different oils, which can be (and were) sampled. I tried an amazing black olive oil, which, the proprietor explained, is very difficult to make and is made only by a few growers in Crete and Provence. I bought a can and can hardly wait to try it when I get home. Indeed, I bought a packet of three different oils, which were great at sampling, and the one pictured above,  which was the first to arrive of the 2013 pressings.

This one is for Paris, and I have already begun to use it, first for salad dressing and this morning on ricotta with salt and pepper, one of my go-to breakfasts. Spectacular!

As I told the proprietor, I am hooked on Italian (especially Sicilian) olive oil, but that may be because small-producer French oils rarely reach the US. This experience has led me to reexamine my exclusive us of Italian oil; I will definitely be adding French oil to the mix. 

Première Pression Provence 37 Rue de Lévis 75007 (Métro Villiers).

Bobby Jay

Paris - Old Favorite: Jean

The other night, J and I went to our favorite Paris restaurant, Jean, located at 8 rue St-Lazare, in the 9th arrondissement (Métro Notre Dame de Lorette). I have already written about this restaurant several times (see posts of December 28, 2010, December 24, 2011 and March 12, 2012), and had not intended to do so again, but our meal was so excellent that I can't help myself.

We took the four-course 75-euro menu, and this time also added the complementary wine service for 25 euros.

After some excellent amuse-bouches, the meal started with a foie gras that was poached, then grilled under a salamander and served with a bouillon of root vegetables that is perfumed with undetectable amounts of mint and chocolate: superb.

Foie gras in bouillon at Jean
The appetizer was followed by a crispy sea bass served atop vegetables with a light chicken broth. (Sounds like too many broths? It's not.)

Sea bass atop vegetable and chicken broth at Jean
For the meat course, suckling pork chops, with truffle sauce, served with an arrangement of interesting and beautifully prepared vegetables: mushrooms, squash (that's not an egg yolk), a chestnut and a couple of items I can no longer identify. Tender and perfectly balanced.

Suckling pork chops at Jean
Finally, dessert, a "moelleux" of chocolate served with an excellent lime sorbet and almond milk "spaghetti." This was only okay. The chocolate cake was not a "moelleux," which should be molten, and the "spaghetti," made with agar-agar, was an unsuccessful and gratuitous venture into molecular cuisine. We found out from out server that the pastry chef was a new member of the team, which explained the significant decline in this area since our last visit.

"Moelleux" au chocolat at Jean
The wine service was not a throwaway. We had a very nice Chassagne Montrachet, a good Medoc from a vineyard related to Haut-Brion and a Corsican Muscat (which pleased me but not J). A great deal at 25 euros per person, equivalent to sharing a 50-euro bottle of wine but much better quality than you would get for that price and infinitely more interesting.

Overall, the dinner was excellent, the rapport qualité-prix fantastic as always and the ambiance relaxed but charming. A very good time was had by us.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Paris 2013 - Holidays = Luxury Foods

The weather being clear and relatively mild, I took my dog Sylvie for a walk to the Madeleine, one of the centers of luxury French gastronomy. While I felt this was not the best year for Christmas displays, there were some interesting things in the windows.

Fauchon always has nice windows, and this year took the prize (notice the rare, gorgeous sky reflected in the window - it almost looks like it's done on purpose but the fact is I couldn't avoid it).

Hédiard makes the best pâtes de fruit and here is a nice arrangement.

Maison de la Truffe's window had some naked white truffles (a bargain this year at only $3107 per pound) as well as masses of foie gras incorporating their signature black truffles.

Caviar Kaspia featured an arrangement of, guess what?

Speaking of caviar, Prunier's display highlighted their caviar macarons, which I am now kicking myself for not trying (okay, I was a little put off by the $11 price tag for a single one, but still . . .)

 For chocolates, Patrick Roger featured Christmas tree sculptures . . .

. . . while Marquise de Sévigné took a more elegant, conservative approach.

Mariage Frères, the great tea purveyor, featured a seasonal "Christmas Pudding" blend

but also a tribute to Martin Luther King - "Thé I Have a Dream," in a rainbow-colored package.

Of course, the celebration also includes oysters, game, foie gras, vacherin de Mont d'Or and all manner of wonderful products of the land and sea from around the world. But that's another post.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Paris - Cooking Lesson in Classic French Pastries

I took a cooking lesson at the Atelier des Chefs (Péclet branch in the 15th) on classics of French pastry. We made financiers with lemon and lemon zest, mango tartes tatins and, the pièce de résistance, a Gâteau Opéra.

The Opéra was created in 1955 by Dalloyau, one of the leading pâtisseries in Paris (and the world) since 1682. It has been a hit ever since and now all the good pâtisseries have their own versions. So I thought it would be fun to see how they are made, and indeed it was. And so very simple: all you need is a really well-equipped kitchen (with a stand mixer, a myriad of bowls and whisks, silicone baking sheet and square cake "ring"), time, patience and five techniques. Then just make biscuit joconde, ganache, sirop café, crème au beurre café and chocolate glaçage, assemble when everything is at just the right temperature, et voilà!

Pretty nice, n'est-ce pas?

Or, you can go to Dalloyau and buy a perfect one.

A really enjoyable class, but as for the famous Gâteau Opéra, my advice is: do not try this at home.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Haute Cuisine -- Excellent New Food Movie

I just watched Haute Cuisine, an excellent French food movie that is based on the story of Danièle Mazet-Delpeuche, who spend two years as François Mitterand's private chef at the Élysée Palace while he was President of France. (The French title is better: Les Saveurs du Palais, which includes a double-entendre, since palais means both palace and palate.)

An established chef from Périgord, Hortense Laborie is engaged to prepare for Mitterand the cuisine de grand-mère, literally. He wants dishes that recall the ones his own grandmother made, in his words "the best of France," and Hortense obliges with magnificent traditional creations. She is fought at every turn by the all-male 24-chef brigade that prepares the official food of the Palace, a somewhat over the top bunch of macho fools, and later by Mitterand's doctors and some petty accountants who call into question her produce orders.

Highlights of the film, for me, were the many spectacular food and cooking scenes and also some beautiful quotes from Edouard Nignon's Éloge de la Cuisine Française (In Praise of French Food), which according the film was Mitterand's favorite cookbook (apparently he loved reading them as a child).

From the start of Nignon's recipe for Caneton de Rouen Surprise: "Du pays de Pierre Corneille . . ." ("From the land of Pierre Corneille . . .").

And Nignon's recipe for saddle of veal: “Order from the land of lush pastures, from Normandy, where the highest quality cows and calves are rampant, a saddle of young veal, whose flesh must be as white as the finest poultry. Gird it, wrap it around four times with string. Cook in blond butter in a shallow braising dish until golden.”

As Mitterand notes, they just don't write like that anymore.

Hortense (Danièle) is brilliantly played by Catherine Frot. The aging Mitterand is played by Jean d'Ormesson, the brilliant author and member of the Académie Française who is making his film debut at age 92. He is charming but not especially convincing; still, it's a bit of a thrill to see him.

Foodies will love this film.

Bobby Jay

Ten for Dinner

It is often said that the secret to good cooking is mise en place, the French phrase that signifies having everything prepared - measured, washed, chopped, grated, sliced, minced, etc. and placed in appropriate vessels in waiting for use. This is true.

But what about the secret to cooking for a large group (for me, anything more than five)? For me, this is all about making and continually updating a very detailed schedule.

Last night, we had ten for dinner, and I made four appetizers and a four-course meal including sides, altogether twelve or thirteen separate items including the bread, which I baked. Obviously, this required planning and time: spreading the work out over five days made it possible, and having my trusty schedule helped with the final execution. The guests seemed happy and so was I.

Apple tart with bourbon caaramel sauce on bottom and top
Of course, it helps a lot to have a beautiful table and flowers, and J did her normal great job.

Table with heirloom presentation plates from J's late Aunt Sophie
Also, it helps to have help for the actual meal, so you can spend time with your guests. We had a bar tender/general helper whom we have hired before, and that made a huge difference. Not only did he help in serving, but by 11:30 the kitchen was clean and everything we had used was set out waiting to be stored: what a relief!

Finally, there is no substitute for great guests, which we had. Each invitee had substantive interaction with every other, just what you hope for in a gathering of this size.

Still reading? Here's the menu for the evening and the detailed schedule that I used.
Dinner 12.6.13

Toasts with smoked ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes
Toasts with tapenade
Bar nuts Union Square Café

Caramelized fennel soup
Slow cooked loin of pork with port cherry sauce
French beans and snow peas with hazelnut and orange
Squished Yukon gold potatoes
Artisan greens salad with shredded Trappist cheese

Caramel covered apple tart with ginger ice cream

Ordre du Jour

Days before
Make ginger ice cream

Make and freeze gougeres

Make tapenade and ricotta spread
Day before
Make soup

Make bread dough

Make tart dough and line pan

Salt and sugar rub pork roast; place in fridge in large ziploc
Complete and bake bread
Pre cook tart shell
Slice and microwave apples
Make caramel, coat bottom of tart
Assemble and bake tart
Small oven to 250
Season pork with pepper, tie together with bones and put into 250 oven
By 6:00
Make French beans

Make sauce

Prepare bar nuts

Make salad dressing

Get ice
Big oven to 425

Toast bread
Guests arrive

Serve cocktails

Assemble and serve toasts

Heat and serve gougeres
Boil potatoes
Potatoes out of water
Potatoes squished and put into oven

Heat soup
Soup served
Pork under broiler
Pork, sides and sauce served
Assemble and serve salad
Caramel onto tart, then serve tart with ice cream
Serve coffee and tea and after dinner drinks

Bobby Jay

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My New Santoku

Like many people who like to cook, especially guys, I like knives. When I was in Kyoto in October, I went to the famous Aritsugu, which has been in business since 1560, three times but bought nothing. Why not? Because I decided to buy a knife at the much less well-known Shigeharu, which has been in business far longer, since the Kamakura period (1190-1329). My decision was made easier when I found out that Aritsugu's knives are actually made by a different company in Osaka, while Shigeharu's are made in Kyoto.

Based on the recommendation of a website of the Haru Cooking School, I decided to buy a standard grade, medium-sized santoku, the most all-purpose of Japanese knives (but you still can't use it to cut even tiny bones).

Armed with this knowledge, I went to Shigeharu, a not very prepossessing shop that is not particularly convenient and where English is not spoken, thus challenging my very limited Japanese.

Shigeharu knife store
Shigeharu knife store display
When I walked in the lady in charge called for her husband. I told him I wanted a two-edged santoku, and he brought me some samples. I opted for a standard grade, medium sized knife, in carbon steel (he told me that stainless steel, while easier to care for, would never be as sharp as the carbon steel). As he was packing it, I asked the man who had made it and he pointed to himself. I then asked where he had made it, and he pointed to the back of the very store we were in, through the blue noren.

Mr. Shigeharu, nth generation knife maker
I loved that, because I am always thrilled to buy things from the artisans who have made them, particularly where the family history is measured in centuries (in this case at least seven).

So here's my knife, which I am enjoying immensely. It does nothing that I can't do with my others but when I use it I feel a connection with Mr. Shigeharu and his ancestors that I just don't get from a Wüsthof,  Henkels or Sabatier knife.

My Shigeharu santoku
Happy cutting!

Bobby Jay

Thanksgiving 2013 -- New (Old) Way to Make Turkey

This year I became intrigued by an article in Cooks Illustrated showing how to make a broken-down turkey the way Julia Child set forth in her excellent The Way to Cook, but with some improvements (brining) that the folks at America's Test Kitchen had added.

The method is reasonably easy to understand if a little complicated to execute. You take off the leg quarters of the bird, then debone the thighs, season the interior and tie them into little roulades. You take the breast and attached wings off the ribcage and cut away the backbone, too. Brine the breat for 6-10 hours.

To cook, take the breast out of the brine, dry it, oil it and bake it skin side down in a non-stick skillet to start browning the skin and cooking the breast. After 30 minutes place the breast skin side up on a baking sheet atop your stuffing, and add the leg/thigh quarters to the pile. (I add the neck and tusch to the pile.) Roast until done, about 60-80 minutes.

Turkey made with Julia Child's technique
Carving is a snap. Cut the wings off the breast. Remove the breast meat from the bone and carve perpendicularly. Carve the thigh meat (roulade) and leave the legs whole for those (like myself) who like them. Give the tush to the person who wants it most (J and my sister-in-law, in my case) and distribute neck pieces to those who like it. A nice presentation with wonderfully moist white meat (the holy grail of turkey cooking) and stuffing that benefits from being the flowing juices of the roasting bird.

I think this will be my go-to recipe for the foreseeable future.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thin Apple Tart (Tarte Fine aux Pommes) - My Go-to Dessert

Everybody loves an apple tart, and there are many approaches to this classic. One, which I learned nearly 35 years ago in Paris, is the tarte fine aux pommes, or thin apple tart.

There are two versions: simple and simpler.

Simple version: Roll out pâte brisée to whatever shape you want, including a tart pan, but without high sides. Array apple slices in the most attractive manner you can. Sprinkle sugar on top. Bake at 400-425 degrees until done, usually about 30-40 minutes. The apples should have beautiful color. Brush with apricot jam and let cool. Serve as is or with crème fraîche or ice cream.

Last night I brought two of these on half-sheet pans to a party given by friends in honor of a Japanese ceramic artist. They were very well received.

Tarte fine aux pommes: the simple version, made with pâte brisée
Simpler version: Exactly the same as the simple version, but use store-bought puff pastry (Dufour's all-butter is far and away the best), thawed overnight in the refrigerator. Make sure you leave a 1/2 inch border, which will rise majestically above the rest of the tart. For a slight prettier version, brush the exposed crust with an egg wash made with a yolk plus a tablespoon or so of water.

Trick for either version: I forgot where I got this trick, but it is nice to sprinkle a lot of thyme (really!) under the apples. This imparts a subtle but noticeable herbal taste/scent to the tart that is worth the few seconds it takes to do. You can see a piece or two coming through in the photo above.

For either version, you need to slice apples. If you want super-thin slices, you can use a mandolin. In this case, you need to roll the tart dough very thin so it will become crispy in the time it takes the apples to cook.

If you want slightly thicker ones, which I generally use, you can cut the apples by hand, but the most efficient way is to use an apple peeler/corer/slicer, like the one I described in my post of December 8, 2008. This device gives you perfect slices in about 10 seconds per apple, and I find that the approximately 1/8 inch thickness is fine for this type of apple tart.

No matter what you do, it is hard to screw up an apple tart, and your guests will love whatever version you make.

Bobby Jay

Monday, November 11, 2013

Japan 2013 - Eating with Ceramic Artists

As a postscript to my posts on my wife J's 2013 ceramics tour of Japan, I thought I would discuss some of the foods that the host artists served to our tour members.

In Japan, when you visit someone in his or her home or studio, it is customary (indeed obligatory) for the visitee to provide tea and/or coffee and something to eat, generally sweets. Likewise, it is nearly obligatory for the visitor to eat what is presented, no matter how much bean paste confections may not hit the spot an hour after breakfast or lunch (or ever for untrained western palates).

Still, these offerings are generally served on little plates made by the artist, and that is nice. And occasionally the artist or his wife or assistant takes the trouble to prepare a lovely little plate, such as the one below.

Chestnut on a plate by Ichino Masahiko
On this tour we also had several full meals at the potters' homes. The most spectacular of these, at the home of Tsujimura Shiro, was described in my post of November 5,  But we also had a lovely lunch at the home of Kohyama Yasuhisa, served in bento boxes prepared by Nakamoto Wakae, his partner and a ceramic artist in her own right . . .

Bento boxes by Nakamoto-san
Inside Awae-san's bento boxes

. . . and a marvelous dinner at the home of superstar artist Kondo Takahiro and his lovely wife, Hitomi, a dealer in wearable art by many fine young jewelry designers. Hitomi puts out a wonderful spread, but the best part for me is that she lets me help made takoyaki, balls of dough with morsels of grilled octopus inside. Takoyaki is a very popular family dish in Kyoto, although they are a bit of an acquired tasste for westerners. [Note: for a YouTube video of Hitomi and me making takoyaki, where you can see how they come together, follow this link.]
Hitomi making takoyaki

Takoyaki in takoyaki maker

These intimate encounters with ceramic artists in their homes are a special joy, and one of the added benefits of a well-designed tour.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Japan 2013 - Benesse House Museum/Hotel

We ended the tour with an overnight stay at Benesse House, on the island of Naoshima, not far from Okayama. The typhoon left the area just two hours before we boarded our small boat, proving once again the efficacy of the blessing we had received at Nikko. (See post of November 2, 2013). We arrived in time for a quick visit to the Chichu Museum (just seven works of art in a magnificent mostly underground space designed by Tadao Ando), we arrived in time for a beautiful sunset.

The view from our room at Benesse House
Benesse House is located, in part, in the Benesse Museum, which is part of the multi-site Benessse Art Site on Naoshima. It is a pretty thrilling place to stay, surrounded by first-rate 20th century (mostly Western) art in a building designed by Tadao Ando. We stayed in the oval, with its spectacular reflecting pool, reached by a tiny funicular from the main museum building.

Reflecting pool at sunset
Reflecting pool in morning

We had our end-of-tour celebration at the western-style restaurant in a different building: very nice Frenchish fusion. Breakfast was served in the museum restaurant, overlooking the water with a view of several coastline photos by Sugimoto Hiroshi (yes, they are kept outside).

View from breakfast room at Benesse Museum
The view was not all; it was a really excellent Japanese breakfast.

Japanese breakfast at Benesse House
Breakfast vegetable
Breakfast steamed mélange

Thus the tour ended, and people returned home, either directly or after spending a few more days in Kyoto or Tokyo. A wonderful experience, artistically of course but also gastronomically, as the previous posts illustrate. J and I returned to Tokyo the next day, and were a rewarded with a goodbye kiss from Japan, a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji from the train.

Mount Fuji from the train to Tokyo

Bobby Jay

Friday, November 8, 2013

Japan 2013 - Something for the Road

As one travels around Japan, one cannot help being struck by how many people are on the move, especially by train. And this mobile people needs to be fed.

Vending machines are everywhere in Japan, and they are well used. For the most part they sell teas of all types, sodas, juices and various types of coffee, hot and cold. Before the advent of convenience stores, which are far more ubiquitous than in the US, you could buy food, beer and even hard liquor in vending machines, but that is rare these days. Here is a typical selection.

Vending machines
One item caught my eye at Nasu station, north of Tokyo: hot corn soup. I shook it and tasted a can, but found the soup to be thin and devoid of corn taste or texture. Another member of the tour was enjoying his can, and urged me to shake harder; this released the sweet, starchy kernels of corn and it turned out to be . . . well, not bad.

Nasu station vending machine hot corn soup
Japan's train stations are full of takeout food stores and kiosks, and many styles of bento boxes, or ekiben, may be found, some of which can be quite elaborate. The better ones vary with the region and the season. We largely traveled by bus, and were provided bento boxes or sandwiches by our guide. Here's the best one we had, on the bus between Kyoto and Tamba, an old ceramics center about an hour away, rather precariously balanced on my lap.

Bento on the bus to Tamba

Although fast food chains have made great gains in Japan, you can still find interesting pre-prepared food all over. This adds an interesting dimension to the experience of traveling around the country.

Bobby Jay