Sunday, September 29, 2013

Around Dorie Greenspan's French Table - A Great Place to Be

I have just finished reading Dorie Greenspan's masterpiece, Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Published in 2010, this book gave rise to numerous blogs and web sites devoted to discussions of the recipes, and the experiences of the various writers in making them. The most notable of these is Fridays with Dorie, which recounts a four-year project to make all the recipes in the book.

Having read most of the major French cookbooks, including more than ten by my idol Jacques Pépin and five by Patricia Wells in addition to the Julia Child books that started it all, I believe that Dorie's is the best. It is thoughtful, comprehensive (although not encyclopedic), authentic, well-written and beautifully illustrated. It is full of great insights, tips and interesting gastronomic history in addition to a cornucopia of carefully selected and well-edited recipes.

While I do not aspire to make all 300+ recipes, I have made several already and plan to make many, many more. For example, her Mustard Batons, puff pastry sticks filled with Dijon mustard, have already become my go-to hors d'oeuvre. See my recent post on Celebrating the New Year for illustrations of the bâtons and the salmon rillettes mentioned below.

Dorie's Salmon Rillettes are a classic rendition of the dish, less butter than the version I learned at cooking school but still satisfying. (I had less success with her Cheez-it-ish Crackers, which came out nice and cheesy but too crumbly, although they were perfect the next day when sprinkled over the soup next mentioned.) Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream is an elegant homage to the vegetable. Sour Cherry Clafoutis is a classic version of this wonderful way to take advantage of the too-short season for this amazing fruit. Finally, M Jacques Armagnac Chicken is an amazingly simple, but, as promised, complex braised dish that Dorie picked up from Jacques Drouot of the famous Dôme brasserie.

There are lots more chicken dishes, and I plan to try them all. Also dozens of appealing appetizers, soups, vegetables, meat, fish, quiches and other egg dishes and a large array of classic desserts. Where the recipes presented are classics, Dorie sets forth imaginative variations in her bonnes idées set out in the margins. Where she deviates from the classic, which is most of the time, she often uses an accompanying bonne idée to tell the reader how to make the classic.

Here's an example, and one of the recipes I plan to try soon: a mustard tart with carrots and leeks, with the recipe for the more classic tomato mustard tart featured as a bonne idée.

"Gérard's Mustard Tart," from Around My French Table
While I am not going to join the cook-the-whole-book cult, I will definitely be using many recipes from this book. If you have room for only one book on French cooking -- and that would be a shame -- this is the one to get.

Bobby Jay

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tarte Tatin Revisited

I'm still not jaded when it comes to Tarte Tatin. Although it's not my favorite dessert, it's great for company because (i) everyone loves it, (ii) it's really impressive and (iii) it can be made ahead.

So I recently made one with what I thought was the official recipe, sanctioned by the Confrérie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin, a French society that is devoted to this delicacy (only in France: consider the AAAAA - Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique).

Here's the result, which was very lovely but a little watery: slightly under-caramelized.

I posted this on Facebook and had a surprising number of comments and questions. One asked for the recipe so I embarked on a search to make sure what I had used was in fact "official." It turned out that it was not, but rather a (very significantly simplified) adaptation published in the New York Times. That led me on a hunt for the real original, which in turn took me to French web sites. The Confrérie's web site does not have the official version, but I found a site that gives a recipe that purports to be the vraie chose.  Adventurous French-speakers can find this at Sabine . . . En Quête de Cuisine.

My quest was not over, however, as Sabine's recipe was in French and had a couple of steps too many. So I hunted until I found a reliable version from Dorie Greenspan that was published in Fine Cooking in 2010. Dorie's recipe is very similar, though in more detail, to the one I used, which is set forth below.

(Adapted from the Confrerie des Lichonneux de Tarte Tatin, via New York Times)



·       8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

·       1 cup sugar

·       6 medium Gala or Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into quarters

·       1 thin ( 1/8-inch) sheet puff pastry, cut into a circle 12 inches in diameter (I use regular pâte brisée).

1.     Spread butter evenly in a 10-inch tarte Tatin mold or heavy 10-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet. Spread sugar as evenly as possible on sides and bottom of pan. Beginning at edge of pan, arrange apples peeled side down in concentric circles, fitting apples closely together.

2.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pan over high heat, and cook without stirring until sugar caramelizes and turns dark golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, and press gently on the apples with a wooden spoon to help fill any spaces between them. Cover the apples with puff pastry, overlapping the rim of the pan. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

3.     Remove tart from oven, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Cover pan with a large plate, and quickly invert tart; remove pan. Serve hot or warm

Try one or more recipes for this classic, or send me your own!

Bobby Jay

En passant (6) . . . Peanut Butter and Chorizo; Salvatore Smoked Ricotta; Vitamix

. . . wherein I write about things that deserve to be mentioned but are not worthy of a full post.

1. PB&C?!

Peanut butter (preferably hot) on toasted Turkish bread with chorizo. Nothing I can say can make this sound better (or worse) than the enumeration of the agreement, together with the thousand words' worth of photo below. Search "peanut butter" above to find several posts on combining this great ingredient with unexpected ingredients.

Peanut butter & chorizo on toasted Turkish bread
2. Salvatore Smoked Ricotta

Salvatore Smoked Ricotta
This spectacularly smooth ricotta with a wisp of smoke is guaranteed to make you smile. I had it recently on a piece of toasted baguette topped with kernels from an ear of grilled corn that I bought at the Columbus Avenue fair: smoke with smoke. But it's great by itself. I bought it at Saxelby's, in the Essex Market, but have also seen it at Eataly. Here's a link to Salvatore's web site.

 3. Vitamix

Vitamix 7500
I finally splurged and got one, Model 7500 -- new, lower profile; 64-oz container; not programmable like the 750, but that did not seem to be worth the extra money. So far it's pretty spectacular. I made my famous corn soup today and, for the first time, I was able to get it all into the blender in one load

Bobby Jay

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jerked Pork Chops and Smoked Potatoes

J has been after me to make smoked potatoes, which we discovered recently at a restaurant that I can't remember. Last night I made them, using the tried and true recipe that I got from Laura Calder and eight minutes in my Cameron stove-top smoker.

The potatoes spurred me to fill out the menu with Caribbean Jerk Pork Chops, rubbed with a jerk paste and, again, smoked in my stove-top stuffer. The sauce is from Big Bob Gibson, the procedure is the product of experimentation by yours truly.

It's easy to dry out pork chops, especially when smoking them, so it's important to find moist ones with some fat. The other approach - brining them - helps but does not produce the rich flavor that rendering fat produces. I made the trek to the Essex Market to find chops at Heritage Meat Shop (the retail space of Heritage Farms), and was rewarded with these gorgeous Tamworth chops.

Tamworth pork chops from Heritage Meat Market
Now it was just a matter of rubbing them with the jerk sauce, smoking them and finishing first in the oven and then under a broiler. Here's the result, with the potatoes and some sauteed zucchini; not a great picture, I'm afraid, but the tastes were there. The accompanying jerk-spiced barbecue sauce tied the plate together a bit and brought the chops to life.

Smoked potatoes, Tamworth pork chop and grated zucchini
The recipes for the pork chops and the smoke potatoes follow:

Caribbean Jerk Pork Chops
(Big Bob Gibson)


·       1 habañero chile, seeded and chopped
·       1 small onion, coarsely chopped
·       1 scallion, thinly sliced
·       1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
·       1 teaspoon ground allspice
·       3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
·       1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
·       1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
·       1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
·       Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
·       1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
·       1 cup store-bought Kansas City–style barbecue sauce
·       4 pork rib chops (12 ounces each)
·       2 ½ TBS hickory, pecan or oak chips


1.     In a mini food processor, combine the habañero, onion, scallion, garlic, allspice, thyme, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Process until finely chopped. Add the 1 tablespoon of oil and process to a smooth paste.

2.     In a small bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon of the paste with the barbecue sauce. Spread the remaining paste all over the chops and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

3.     Put wood chips into Cameron smoker. Cover and let the chips begin to smoke, about 5 minutes.

4.     Cook the chops in smoker over moderately high heat for 30 minutes.  Check temperature with a meat thermometer close to the bone. If necessary, put into 400 oven and roast for a few minutes, until they are lightly charred the temperature is about 140°. Transfer the chops to a platter and let rest a few minutes.  Then broil on one side until they get a nice color, about 3 minutes, and serve with the spiced barbecue sauce on the side.

NOTE 1: This is a very hot sauce.  Best to put less jerk mix into the BBQ sauce.

NOTE 2: Big Bob uses the jerk rub for slow-cooked pork.

Smoked Squished Baby Potatoes
(Laura Calder, Bobby Jay)


·       2 lbs baby Yukon Gold potatoes
·       Kosher salt and pepper
·       olive oil
·       2 TBS hickory, pecan or oak chips


1.     Scrub the potatoes and place them in salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, but not totally soft.

2.     Flatten the potatoes a little with a mallet, a ramekin or your hand.

3.     Put wood chips into Cameron smoker. Cover and let the chips begin to smoke, about 5 minutes.

4.     Cook the potatoes in smoker over moderately high heat for 7-8 minutes.

5.     Put the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake in 400° oven for about 35 minutes, until they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.


Bobby Jay

Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Evening with Jacques Pépin

The other night I was able to see my idol, Jacques Pépin, in action, at a demonstration at the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute), with which he is affiliated. I went with my friend Piglet, who didn't share my love for Jacques until she met and watched him: now she is a convert.

Bobby Jay and Jacques Pépin
I have seen most of Jacques' television series and have been using his books since 1979 and have always come away impressed with his extraordinary skill and his ability to convey it to viewers and readers. Also, with his incredible charm, good looks and joie de vivre.

All of this was on display at the demonstration. The ease with which he boned and stuffed a chicken, cured salmon for 15-minute gravlax, made omelets and did a variety of things with garlic, herbs and fruits, among other things, was pretty dazzling. 

Jacques boning a chicken
Jacques scrambling eggs
Jacques has been cooking professionally for more than 60  years, and French techniques are part of his DNA. While he has moved well beyond classic French cooking, his classical training continues to serve him well, and watching him is an inspiration to work on basic skills. The best way to start is with the DVD of techniques that is included at the back of his recent Essential Pépin. Also to look at the outstanding step-by-step pictures in his New Complete Techniques, a recently published one-volume version of his iconic La Technique and La Méthode with many sumptuous new photos.

Chapeau, Jacques Pépin!

Bobby Jay

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Celebrating the New Year

I have an abiding interest in French cooking, and a growing fascination with Middle Eastern culinary traditions. I am planning a Seder next spring that will consist of dishes from some or all of Morocco, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Italy, and am in the process of searching out and testing recipes for that event.

So for the Jewish New Year, I made a dinner combining these traditions and asked our invitees -- dear friends all -- to be my test panel.

Here's what I made:

For hors d'oeuvres, Mustard Batons and Salmon Rillettes on toasted baguette slices, both from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. The batons, puff pastry with Dijon mustard filling, have already become one of my standby recipes: I keep some frozen ones for spur-of-the-moment situations. (I am working my way through Dorie's book and will report in more detail when I am finished.)

Dorie Greenspan's Mustard Batons
Dorie Greenspan's Salmon Rillettes on Toast
The appetizer was Watercress and Chickpea Soup with Rose Water and Ras el Hanout, from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The soup was very green, its slight bitterness tempered by the rose water. But the carrots and chickpeas, roasted in ras el hanout and other spices and added at the end, elevated this soup to an exotic Middle Eastern dish. Another possibility for Passover. (I used Clotilde Dusoulier's simple but rich vegetable broth from her new vegetarian The French Market Cookbook.)

Ottolenghi's Watercress and Spinach Soup
Moving to Syria, the main course, from Jennifer Abadi's fine A Fistful of Lentils, was Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh (Chicken with Lemon and Olives), a simple dish that nevertheless packs a satisfying Middle Eastern taste profile due to the combination of curly parsley (really!), dried oregano, cumin and of course lots of lemon and olives. A good candidate for my Seder.

As a side, I made Burghol m'Jedrah (Bulgur Wheat with Lentils), from the same book. I totally screwed this up (burned the garlic, added bulgur before the lentils), but it came out okay nonetheless. The simple earthiness of the dish made it very satisfying, and a good vehicle for the sauce from the chicken.

Apples and honey are traditionally served at the Jewish New Year, so I made an Apple and Walnut Cream Tart, which I finished with a little honey and crème fraîche. The recipe was one I found at Bon Appétit's website.

A good time was had by all, and I made some progress toward my Sephardic Seder to come.

L'Shana Tova!

Bobby Jay