Thursday, July 30, 2015

Food52 Genius Recipes -- Interesting, Foolproof, Simple

Recently I gave a rave review to Kristen Miglore's Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes that Will Change the Way You Cook. (See my post of May 10, 2015.)

I have been cooking from this wonderful book and, as expected, the recipes have proved virtually infallible and simple. Since my post, I have made the following eight dishes -- three of them twice -- with the results described.

Rose Levy Baranbaum's Fresh Blueberry Pie (although I made a tart using my favorite crust from Clotilde Dusoulier). The secret of this recipe is cooking a quarter of the blueberries and adding the rest uncooked. This results in a wonderfully fresh tasting pie or tart with a perfect texture: holding together but barely. I made this twice, mixing some strawberries in the second time.

Fresh blueberry tart
Fresh blueberry and strawberry tart
José Pizarro's Salt-Crusted Fingerling Potatoes with Cilantro Mojo. While it is very salty on the exterior,  once you penetrate the skin, the interior is wonderfully creamy, resulting in a texture and taste bomb. Opinions were split on this between those who loved it and those who found it to be too salty. I liked it.

Roger Vergé's Fried Eggs with Wine Vinegar. I made this twice. The first time, with snazzy Banyuls vinegar, tasted too sweet, but it was great when I made it again with ordinary red wine vinegar.

Canal House's Chicken Thighs with Lemon Sauce. A simple method for incredibly crispy skin and perfectly cooked interior, with a nice sauce enhanced by salty, briny preserved lemons. This may become my go-to thigh recipe.

Richard Olney's Fresh Fig and Mint Salad. A seemingly bizarre recipe for very cold fresh fig, prosciutto, lemony sweet cream and mint. An absolutely compelling mix of tastes, easy to prepare and elegant on the plate.

Frexh fig and mint salad
Cory Schreiber's Salt-Baked Herbed Salmon with Red Onion Caper Vinaigrette. It's the tail end of wild salmon season, and I got a great piece of intensely red wild sockeye salmon, to great effect. This is not real salt-baked salmon in which the whole fish is encased in salt; here you just build a salt bed on which to cook the fish with just the right insulation from the heat of the roasting pan. Simplicity itself.

Salt-baked herbed sockeye salmon
Eric Ripert's Crispy-Skinned Fish Filets, with striped bass and with sea bass. This is quick but still a bit tricky. The first time I made it, with striped bass, it come out perfectly, with a magnificent crispy skin. The second time, with wild sea bass, was less successful; I think I sauteed the fish at a slightly too low temperature, and the skin was flabby (I used a brulé torch to crisp it up a bit). I am not deterred and will definitely use this method again.

Dan Barber's Cauliflower Steaks. A brilliant dish that highlights the various tastes that are inherent in this seemingly mild and boring vegetable. And a stunning sight on the plate.

Cauliflower steak on a bed of pureed cauliflower
In my earlier post I said that I plan to cook a majority of the recipes in the book, and I am making pretty good progress: I've already made 16 of the 100 recipes.

If you are going to buy one cookbook this year, this is the one!

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Paris - Bastille Day Dinner Chez Nous

We had dear friends for dinner on Bastille Day. It started as a simple meal before a ball on Île Saint-Louis, but we decided to skip the ball so I amped up the meal.

For hors d'oeuvres, I served a spread made of brocciu (Corsican fresh sheep cheese), finely diced sun-dried tomato, lemon zest, a little olive oil and salt and pepper; roasted almonds with smoked paprika and cayenne; and slices of Bellota Bellota lomo (Spanish cured pork tenderloin) that I found at the great butcher, Gardil.

For the appetizer, I made tartes tatin aux tomates cerises (upside-down cherry tomato tarts) with basil sauce, a dish I learned at a cooking lesson at Atelier des Chefs. I had tried making this a few days earlier in a large format with terrible results. This time, with individual tarts, the recipe worked perfectly, and I was proud of the result.

Tarte tatin aux tomates cerises
Bellota Bellota lomo
 For the main course, veal scalloppini from the same butcher, with caper and lemon sauce. Then salad with great cheeses from our wonderful local fromagerie and, finally, a blueberry, whipped cream and strawberry French flag for dessert.

Veal scalloppini with caper sauce
Berry and whipped cream French flag
No fireworks but a nice evening with old friends.

Bobby Jay

Paris - Ambroisie: Simply Perfection

We recently went to Ambroisie, the three-Michelin starred restaurant in Paris' magnificent Place des Vosges, and had one of the best meals I can remember. Perfect food and elegant but friendly service in one of the restaurant's three lovely, intimate rooms.

The meal began with the most amusing amuse-bouche of all time: a perfect soft-boiled egg in its shell with a generous spoonful of caviar on the side. Not original, but a fantastic way to start the experience.

For starters, I had the signature feuillantines de langoustines aux graines de sésame, sauce curry, with just enough curry to give the dish character without changing its essentially French nature. Others had a tuna pastilla which also employed non-French elements -- North African in this case -- in a triumph of French cuisine.

Feullantines de langoustines with curry at Amboisie
Tuna pastilla at Ambroisie
My main was a perfectly roasted pigeon sauce Montmorency (cherries), while J and R shared volaille de Bresse rôtie au beurre d’estragon, pommes Darphin, the best chicken in the world roasted to juicy perfection.

For dessert, we had the boring-looking tarte fine sablée au cacao, glace à la vanille Bourbon, Amboisie's signature dessert, which our waiter insisted that we try. And despite how it looks, it is a triumph All of us gasped "air" after the first bite, for the sensation of the dessert is bitter chocolate air: light does not begin to describe the texture.

Chocolate tart at Ambroisie: deceptively unique
Fraises des bois (tiny wild strawberries)were on the menu, and J asked whether she could substitute them for the vanilla ice cream in the dessert. Request denied because our waiter said the vanilla ice cream was an absolutely essential part of the dish. However, he said he would bring J some fraises des bois. In the end, he brought each of us a plate of delicate fraises des bois with a fraise (not des bois) sorbet. A wonderful treat, and emblematic of the attentive and gracious service we received during the whole meal.

We rarely go to three-star restaurants, but we were celebrating our friends' finding an apartment in Paris so threw caution (and a lot of money) to the wind. But the meal was truly an unforgettable experience, a demonstration of French gastronomy at its best.

Ambroisie, 9, place des Vosges, Paris 4ème (Métro St-Paul).

Bobby Jay

Monday, July 13, 2015

Périgord - Grilled Veal Rack

One of the great cooking pleasures that I am denied as an urban dweller is grilling. Our friends in Périgord have a lovely gas grill, set up overlooking a beautiful valley, which was calling me from the moment we arrived.

I had recently come across twin recipes in Bon Appétit for grilled rack of veal and grilled rack of pork, both of which called for rubbing the meat, searing it on the grill, then roasting it slowly on the grill, then removing  the loan from the bones and finally separating the bones and grilling them at high heat for a few minutes. The loin is great and the bones even better. I determined to give it a try with wonderful French veal from the nearby Limousin, rubbed with a porcini powder, sugar, salt and pepper melange.

The first order of business, and perhaps the most fun, was a trip to the local butcher to get the veal rack. My friend said I needed to get Jean-Louis to wait on me, but a younger butcher asked to serve me and I didn't want to be rude. When I described what I wanted -- a four-bone rack of veal trimmed but not Frenched, with the chine bone removed -- he said I needed to wait for Jean-Louis. When J-L heard what I needed, he brought out a side of veal and we jointly decided on the perfect cut. He was rightly extremely proud of his veal, which he emphasized is raised complete "sous la mere" (under its mother) (this is the most humane way to raise veal and, not surprisingly, results in the tastiest meat). When I described what I planned to do, he was pleased, and since our roast was too big for four I joked that he should come for dinner. What vegetable are you making? he replied. As I have described in other posts, I just love going to the butcher in France.

The second problem was the rub. After searching in vain (as expected) for porcini powder, I finally found dried porcini (cèpes in French) at a supermarket, which I ground into powder in our friends' excellent blender. The rub itself was simple and all that waited was the grilling.

Here is the beautiful roast being seared on the grill . . .

Rack of veal on the grill
and here it is in the kitchen after it was fully roasted.

Roasted rack of veal
And then there's the proud me, getting ready to cut the roast off the bones prior to grilling them.

A boy (me) and his veal rack
I was too busy having fun at this point to remember to get a picture of the grilling or grilled bones, which were truly spectacular. So I and my hosts will have to settle for the memory and you will have to use your imagination.

The next day I returned to the butcher and loudly told Jean-Louis how well the meal had come out and how much I appreciated his meat. He was beaming and one of the many ladies on line in the shop said my visit was well-timed, producing a perfect commercial for Jean-Louis and his excellent butcher shop.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Périgord - La Tour des Vents

Our hosts in Périgord took us to La Tour des Vents, a one-Michelin-star restaurant near Bergerac, with a lovely view of the Dordogne valley.

The excellent food, and eating on the terrace in the lovely evening air while enjoying the interminable French summer sunset, made for a memorable experience.

Most of us started with foie gras, a pretty sure bet in Périgord. And here the presentation was lovely.

Foie gras de canard at La Tour des Vents
For main courses, J had pork chops, our hosts had duck breast and I had perfectly prepared (but as usual not very photgenic) sweetbreads - crispy on the outside, meltingly tender inside.

Pork chop at La Tour des Vents
Magret de canard at La Tour des Vents
Ris de veau (sweetbreads) at La Tour des Vents
Desserts were fine, too, and this strawberry tart, which took full advantage of the season, was especially lovely,

Tarte aux fraises at La Tour des Vents
. . .  as was this duo of chocolate ice cream and a creamy pastry.

Dessert at La Tour des Vents
One-star dining in the French countryside seldom disappoints, and the pricing is often amazingly fair. Here the four-course menu was just 60 euros.

Bobby Jay