Sunday, August 26, 2018

Paris -- Summer Fruit

Paris in August can be pretty dull, although it's still Paris and beautiful no matter where you look.

Although the outdoor markets, until today, have been half-empty, you can still find great fruit of all kinds -- melons, peaches white and yellow and (from Spain) flat, watermelon, grapes, figs and my favorites, Reine-Claudes and Mirabelles. I have been gorging on melon and these wonderful plums.

Starting next week, all is open and there is still great fruit. But alas, I will be returning to New York. But the fruit, corn and tomatoes available in New York are pretty terrific, too, this time of year.

Bobby Jay

France -- Traditional Artisanal Products

One of the things I love about France is that you can still find regional items that have been made in the same artisanal way for many decades, if not longer. Walking down the Rue des Archives, I came across Praslines Mazet, which has been making pralines (grilled and caramelized almonds) and chocolates in Montargis (in the Loire Valley) since 1903. Indeed the "veritables praslines"are made daily according to a recipe from 1636 and the company claims the praline is the oldest bonbon in France.
Mazet salted caramel pralines
Although you can buy their chocolates in department stores, there is only one, very appealing Mazet shop in Paris and one in Montargis, and I have become good friends with the shopkeeper, having bought pralines three times this week for people who have been kind enough to invite me to dinner. The pralines come in several flavors: traditional, honey, salted caramel and orange flower. I have tried the traditional and the caramel and they are pretty great. And a good gift because they are not for sale everywhere.
Mazet, 37 rue des Archives
The chocolates are not bad, either, but there are many better ones. Still, gorgeous packaging:
Chocolate bars from Mazet
Bobby Jay

Friday, July 27, 2018

Cooking Again - 2

Spanish style shrimp with toasted pasta
Fairly close on the heals of the meal described in my last post, we had our new friends Marianna and Nigel for dinner.

I was a little time constrained, so I recycled the hummus tahini from earlier in the week (actually I made new chickpeas and added the refrigerated tahini sauce). See my previous post for photo, which is close enough.

Accompanying that was my home-developed ricotta, sun-dried tomato and lemon zest spread.

Bobby Jay's ricotta, sun-dried tomato and lemon zest spread
For dinner, we started with my own corn soup, served with crushed hazelnuts and a few drops of hazelnut oil,

Bobby Jay's corn soup
and continued with Spanish style shrimp with toasted pasta, a great recipe from America's Test Kitchen that I have made often. See the picture at the top.

Dessert was an apricot galette. Here I used Gordon Hamersley's recipe for peach galette (from Bisto Cooking at Home), but substituted pistachios for cornmeal in the dough, substituted apricots for peaches to take advantage of the former's short season, and topped the fruit with coarsely chopped pistachios. Despite being a bit crumbly, the apricot/pistachio mix was a success.

Apricot galette with lots of pistachios
A good time was had by all, and a leisurely at-home meal provided ample time for bonding with our new friends. In the end, this is a major reason for cooking at home.

Bobby Jay

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cooking Again - 1

Due to a rotator cuff injury and subsequent surgery, my cooking has been pretty simple of late. However, physical therapy and exercise have resulted in much less pain and much better range of motion, so I have recently undertaken two dinner parties for friends.

Our first party, for our friends John and Peter, commenced with three hors d'oeuvres: smoked duck that I buy from a farm at the farmers market on the Upper West Side on baguette toasts with hot mango chutney,
Smoked duck breast with chutney
Israeli style super creamy hummus tahini from Zahav, a great cookbook by Michael Solomonov,

Israeli style hummus
and my new favorite thing: toasted halloumi cheese served with olive oil mixed with copious amounts of za'atar (sorry, no photo).

For a starter, I made a salad of unripe peaches soaked in a little salt and sugar, with mint, black pepper and olive oil, from Food52 Genius Recipes, a simple but delicious go-to recipe.

Minted peach salad
The main course was a chicken tagine with two lemons -- regular and preserved -- from Elizabeth Bard's charming Lunch in Paris (this is a recipe from her husband's Tunisian brother-in-law),

Tagine of chicken with two types of lemon
accompanied by whole wheat couscous with dried cranberries and toasted slivered almonds.

Dessert was mini blueberry pistachio galettes made with dough containing pistachio nuts, and with pistachios added on top (recipe from Stephanie Le at, which I served with homemade lemon verbena ice cream.

Mini blueberry and pistachio galettes
All went according to plan: I'm back!

Bobby Jay

Monday, July 23, 2018

Paris -- Restaurant Jean is No More

I have written several times about Restaurant Jean in Paris, one of our reliable favorites. I'm sorry to report that, after numerous personnel changes in recent years, and loss of its Michelin star,  Jean has closed.

Bobby Jay

Friday, June 22, 2018

Light, Middle Eastern Inspired Lunch

I was looking for a light lunch to make with ingredients at hand, and found the opportunity to put my recent Middle Eastern cookbook reading to use. What came to me was an open sandwich on flatbread topped with labneh, za'atar and avocado (not so Middle Eastern but a perfect match).

Labneh, za'atar, avocado and sprouts on toasted lavash
First, I toasted a slice of lavash bread over a gas burner, the same way you do with soft tacos. Then I mixed a few tablespoons of labneh with some salt, about half of small clove of garlic grated on a microplane, and a generous amount of za'atar. I topped it with avocado slices and wonderful spicy radish sprouts that I got at the Sunday farmers market on Columbus between 77th and 81st streets. Since my za'atar has no sumac in it (the Syrian style does), I sprinkled some on for looks and for a little citrus tang.

You could use any flatbread for this, although I like lavash because it's on the thin side. If you don't have labneh, Greek yogurt will work. If you don't have za'atar you could take this in another direction entirely, using Herbes de Provence or whatever fresh or dried herbs you like (dill and tarragon come to mind).

A nice, healthful lunch.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My New Favorite Chocolate Bar: Scharffen Berger Extra Dark 82%

Like almost everyone, I love chocolate, and always have. I used to eat Hershey milk chocolate bars as a child, and while my taste may have become more sophisticated, those early memories persist.

In the last 15 years or so, I have spent a lot of time in Paris and experienced some of the world's best chocolates, but I still love eating it in bar form. Although it is neither the fanciest nor the most expensive, I am partial to Lindt, from Switzerland, and particularly their Excellence series, which combines dark chocolate with various elements: sesame seeds, mint, caramel, fleur de sel, orange, chili peppers, etc.

Nowadays, many chocolates proclaim the percentage of cacao contained within. In general I find that bars above 72% lack the creaminess that I like. I use Ghirardelli 60% or Callebaut bittersweet for baking and various 70-72% choices for eating.
As to brands, I have not found one that is perfect across the range of strengths and flavors. Of course Valhrona, Cluizel and Bonnat, but I have to say they don't beat my go-to Lindt. I have never been overly enamored with American brands, except, as noted for Ghiradelli for baking applications. In partiular I never loved Sharffen Berger, until now.

David Lebovitz, in his The Great Book of Chocolate,

writes a lot about Scharffen Berger, the first American bean-to-bar gourmet chocolate (now there are others, such as Mast Brothers), so I thought I'd try it again. I went for the Extra Dark 82% and had a revelation: all the complexity found in a well-made bitter bar with a great mouth feel that lasts and lasts and lasts.

(Available at gourmet stores and through the Scharffen Berger web site.)

Go for it!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Is it Worth Making Ice Cream at Home?


I have been making ice cream and, to a much lesser extent, sorbet at home for years. It's easy to do and permits you to tailor your ice cream to your own taste and to take advantage of the wonderful produce you can find at your nearest greenmarket for much of the year. Although there are many books that tell you how to do it, the best I have found is The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, which has just appeared in a revised an updated version. (Lebovitz, who now lives in Paris, is the author of numerous excellent cookbooks and of the justly popular blog,

There are two basic approaches to ice cream: French-style, which is custard based, and Philadelphia-style, which is made with cream, sugar and milk but no eggs. Most of Lebovitz's recipes are for the richer, smoother French-style, but I nearly always use the Philadelphia-style since (i) it is a lot easier and (ii) does not heap egg-based cholesterol atop the already fatty cream and milk. Generally the French-style recipes are easily converted to Philadelphia-style.

For example, I adopted Lebovitz's French-style basil ice cream recipe and made Philadelphia-style rosemary ice cream,

Rosemary ice cream
just as years ago I made lemon verbena ice cream with the same method using Clotilde Dusoulier's proportions.

And that illustrates another use of Lebovitz's book. Once you master his simple method (either syle),you can adapt other people's (or your own) recipes in a flash, with a near-certainty of success.

The book also contains many recipes for sorbets, sherbets and granitas with copious mix-ins that Lebovitz suggests as pairings at the end of his recipes. Though I am not big on mix-ins, he has a great array of easy-to-prepare items, and suggests many accompaniments, that would turn an ice cream or sorbet into a complete dessert.

Of his chocolate sorbet, Lebovitz writes "This is the perfect chocolate sorbet -- it's very rich, dense and full of bittersweet chocolate flavor, and it's one of my all-time favorites." Based on this and my love for the cacao amer sorbet at Berthillon in Paris, I decided to give it a try. I used Ghirardelli's 60% bittersweet -- my go-to bittersweet chocolate for baking -- and it came out great.

Chocolate sorbet
Not quite Berthillon quality, but then, whose is? Next time I plan to go a little more bitter and will try Valrhona's 70% Guanaja. l can hardly wait to try it.

Today I found the season's first rhubarb at the farmer's market, so I made Lebovitz's strawberry-rhubarb sorbet with his recommended rhubarb compote. A lovely sweet-tart way to take advantage of this short-lived crop, although the strawberries are far from those that you find in mid-summer.

Strawberry-rhubarb sorbet with rhubarb compote
 The Perfect Scoop has so many wonderful sounding recipes that it is difficult to choose which ones to mention. But here are the ones I plan to try over the next few months:
  • Labneh ice cream with pistachio-sesame brittle
  • Tiramisù ice cream
  • Lavender-honey ice cream
  • Panforte ice cream
  • Dried apricot-pistachio ice cream
  • Prune-armagnac ice cream
  • Orange-szechwan pepper ice cream
  • Super lemon ice cream
  • Toasted coconut ice cream
  • Mocha sorbet
  • Chocolate coconut sorbet
  • Apricot sorbet
  • Cherry sorbet
  • Raspberry-rosé sorbet
  • Spritz sorbet
Not counting ginger ice cream (my absolute favorite, which I keep around most of the time), green tea ice cream, vanilla ice cream and several others that I made from the first edition of the book.

I am not a fan of granitas, except from street vendors, so may pass on all the recipes in that section, although some sound great (mojito granita). Also, I have not yet moved on to the sauces and mix-ins, but definitely do intend to try Lebovitz's lean chocolate sauce, mocha sauce, creamy caramel sauce, candied citrus peel, wet walnuts (nostalgia for my late father), fudge ripple, stracciatella and croquant. I have other recipes for most of these, but Lebovitz is unusually reliable; his recipes are well-conceived, well-written and extensively tested.

If you've ever thought about making ice cream or sorbet, do it this summer, and get The Perfect Scoop today.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, May 12, 2018

When Life Gives You Leftovers . . .

Spaghettini with Walk-Away Chicken sauce
As is my custom, I made Joan's favorite roast chicken -- based on Gordon Hamersley's Walk-Away Chicken -- the night before she left for a two-week trip to Japan.

This wonderful dish is made by slathering a whole small  (preferably D'Artagnan organic) chicken with a mixture of mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and dried thyme and rosemary (although I have recently been substituting tarragon), then roasting it on a bed of quartered potatoes and red onions. That's it: put it in a 425 oven for an hour and a quarter and walk away. A simple but deliciously savory sauce is made by deglazing the pan with lemon juice and chicken stock.

Since the two of us don't eat a whole chicken, we have copious leftovers. The other night I shredded and chopped the unused portion of the chicken, onion, potatoes and remaining sauce, reheated it all in a medium microwave and used it as a sauce for spaghettini. Sprinkled with grated parmesan and garnished with fresh tarragon leaves, this was a wonderful dish. Definitely to be repeated for Joan the day after our next roast chicken.

Cooking for two results in a lot of leftovers, which I love repurposing, generally for lunch. Creative, thrifty and generally more nutritious than what I would find elsewhere.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Passover 2018 -- Mostly Familiar Favorites

It's not that I'm lazy or unwilling to think about new things, but last year's Passover Seder was so successful that I mostly repeated it for this year.

I stayed with a mostly Sephardic Seder, which I have been doing for some years. I started with a roasted eggplant spread, an artichoke and olive tapenade, my own ricotta, sun-dried tomato and lemon zest spread, lemon scented meatballs and Union Square Cafe's iconic bar nuts.

For the religious portion of the Seder, we had the required symbolic elements for the Seder: bitter herbs (parsley and watercress), roasted lamb shank bone, hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt water, and, my favorites, moror (head-clearing homemade horseradish) and nutty, fruity charoseth (I made French and Syrian style versions as in the past).

Then, for the meal after the retelling the story of the flight of the Jews from Egypt, my sister-in-law's excellent chicken and matzo ball soup, followed by crusty Persian rice with tons of herbs -- parsley, cilantro, dill, and tarragon -- and fava beans, roasted squash with pumpkin and nigella seeds,

Roasted squash with pumpkin and nigella seeds; Persian rice with herbs
Syrian chicken with olives and lemons, and lamb tagine with figs, carrots onions and Moroccan spices, made by Cousin Vicki,

Lamb tagine with figs, onions, carrots and Moroccan spices
Of course, desserts followed: my fresh blueberry and raspberry tart, the crust made with matzo flour,

Blueberry and raspberry tart
and my mother's favorite ginger molasses cake,

Ginger molasses cake
with coconut macaroons to honor an Ashkenazi tradition of our youths.

In case that was not enough, Vicki provided her wonderful chocolate covered matzos and chocolate tahini brownies.

Bobby Jay

For convenience, here is a list of the sources for the dishes that made up the meal.
  • Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty.
  • Artichoke and olive tapenade: David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen.
  • Lemon scented veal meatballs: Mario Batali, Food Network. Caution: the recipe calls for 4 lemons; 2 are more than enough.
  • Bar Nuts: Michael Romano, The Union Square Cafe Cookbook.
  • Bordeaux style haroset: Joan Nathan, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.
  • Syrian style haroset: Jennifer Abadi, blog Too Good to Passover.
  • Dja'je zetoon b'limoneh (chicken with lemon and olives): Jennifer Abadi, A Fistful of Lentils.
  • Lamb tagine with figs: cooking lesson at Atelier des Chefs in Paris.
  • Persian rice, Cooking lesson by Jennifer Abadi,
  • Roasted butternut squash with pumpkin and nigella seeds: Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty More.
  • Fresh ginger molasses cake, David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert.
  • Blueberry tart: Kristen Miglore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes.
  • Coconut Macaroons: Kristen Migliore, ed., Food52 Genius Recipes

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paris -- Fun Chocolaterie/Confiserie

My friends Eric and Fabienne took me today to À l'Étoile d'Or, at 30 rue Pierre Fontaine in the Ninth arrondissment. This wonderful shop is a chocolaterie/confiserie, not a chocolatier/confiseur, because they don't make the things they sell. The owner, Denise Acabo, has been in business in this location near Place Pigalle for 47 years, interrupted a few years ago by a gas explosion in her building. She is a pistol, and when you know her, as my friends do, will tell amazing stories about the clients she has served over the years.

After all these years, she is bubbling over with enthusiasm for her extraordinarily fine chocolates and traditional candies, recommending all of them in succession. And she has apparently been wearing the same outfit, including the kilt, for decades: a lovely character.

Bobby Jay with Denise Acabo
A portrait of Denise with a chocolate sculpture of her
(Photos courtesy of Eric Perdrizet.)

This is a great place to go, for yourself or for gifts, much more interesting than À la Mère de Famille or La Cure Gourmande, which have become chain stores present wherever chain stores tend to be.

Bobby Jay

Friday, March 30, 2018

Paris -- Lebanese Steak Tartare

Kibbe nayeh (Lebanese steak tartare)
Last year, my  Parisian friend Tania, a wonderful Lebanese woman living in Paris, and I went to brasserie le Stella, where I had a perfect steak tartare. Knowing that I would be in Paris this week, without Joan, who can't eat beef, Tania invited me for a lesson and then meal of which the principal element was Lebanese steak tartare (kibbe nayeh). Getting there was fun, but not as much fun as the tasting portion of the evening, for this is an extraordinary dish, made with incredibly lean beef, fine bulgur wheat, onions, garlic and special spices.

Tania proudly displaying her handiwork
Of course, chez Tania one does not get a single dish. We had wonderful salad of olives and homemade pickled, turnips,

Marinated olives and home-pickled turnips
roasted cauliflower with tarator (tahini and lemon sauce)

Roasted cauliflower
 and a kind of mint covered hamburger made with some extra ground beef.

Mint-covered hamburger
Sophisticated Lebanese food, especially chez Tania, is really great: impeccable ingredients, pure flavors with lots of interesting spices (like Tania's own nine-spice blend) and varied textures.

And a night at Tania's is not just about the food: it's about sharing stories and food lore with this warm and intelligent lady.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sous Vide Duck Breast with Port and Plum Sauce

I was an early adopted of sous-vide cooking, which permits the cook to heat foods to a precise temperature  and keep them there (using a water bath and a vacuum sealed cooking pouch) until it's convenient to remove them. I particularly use it for meats that are very sensitive to temperature, such as ostrich (which I like at 132 degrees), turkey breast (155 degrees) and duck breasts (138 or 145, depending).

Recently we had a friend and dedicated follower of my blog, whom I will call Doctor Who, to dinner, and the centerpiece of a fairly extensive meal was duck breast with port and plum sauce, based on a recipe from Gordon Hamersley's excellent Bistro Cooking at Home, one of my go-to cookbooks, that I adapted for sous vide cooking.

I have to admit that it came out perfectly.
Sous vide duck breast with sauteed fingerling potatoes

Since J cannot eat duck meat cooked to rare (say 138 degrees), I cooked one breast at that temperature and the other at 145 degrees, which turned out to be fine for her. First, I marinated the meat for an hour in a port, shallot, soy sauce and ginger marinade, then, saving the marinade, sealed the breasts into vacuum (hence sous vide) bags. I cooked the breasts at 138 for two hours and then cooked one of them for another 40 minutes at 145. I chilled them and later sauteed them slowly to sear them and crisp up the skin. Plums were sauteed and combined with more port, chicken stock and with the reserved marinade and liquid from the sealed bags, and reduced. A rich combination of sweet and savory.
Port and plum sauce
As this was a bistro meal, we started with a very light version of céleri rémoulade that I made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise or crème fraîche, plus the obligatory mustard, served side by side with a traditional grated carrot salad (carottes rapées).
Céleri rémoulade and grated carrot salad
After the main, as a palate cleanser, I served a simple salad of tossed pea shoots and radish sprouts that I got at the wonderful Sunday green market on Columbus Avenue between 77th and 81st Streets, lightly dressed with lemon and Sicilian olive oil.
Pea shoot and radish sprout salad
For dessert I made my fresh blueberry and raspberry pie from Food52 Genius Recipes but without the crust, i.e. fresh and cooked berries with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Fresh and cooked berries with crème fraîche
In honor of Doctor Who, who is a museum curator of Asian art, the salads and dessert were served on plates made by Japanese ceramic artists, which I think went well with French bistro cooking.

A fun meal, made nearly foolproof by use of sous vide cooking. As sous vide devices have become smarter and easier to use, and can now be used with ordinary (large) pots or storage vessels, I encourage you to take the plunge (along with your food).

Bobby Jay

More on the Instant Pot

I recently wrote about my initial experiences with the Instant Pot, which were, on the whole, favorable. In particular, I praised Melissa Clark's Dinner in an Instant, which contains 75 recipes expressly designed for the Instant Pot. Since then, I have cooked her Green Persian Rice with Tahdig (crust), an authentic take on this Iranian treasure, made with copious amounts of dill, parsley, chives and cilantro.

Green Persian Rice with Tahdig
This was my second try on this recipe, and this time I followed Clark's suggestion and got a non-stick insert for my Instant Pot, which enabled me to be more bold about frying the steamed rice. I may go a couple of minutes longer next time, but this was plenty crispy, as you can see.

I have done several other recipes from her book with great success and one that didn't work for me. The good ones were Garlicky Cuban Pork, Duck Confit (it's probably worth getting the pot for this and the Persian rice alone), Braised Italian Style Pork, Osso Bucco and Polenta (effortless, which is great, but a little lumpy, which required some serious whisking). My one failure -- and it was not really so bad -- was the Butternut Squash Soup, although in fairness I added too much liquid so had to reduce it for longer than normal. Together with the ones I mentioned in my previous post, that's ten recipes from the book, and I'm by no means through.

So get an Instant Pot and get Clark's book. You won't be disappointed.

Bobby Jay

Monday, February 26, 2018

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street

Christopher Kimball founded America's Test Kitchen in 1993. Among other things, he produced Cook's Illustrated, Cook's Country, a television series, and many useful books. Over the years, innumerable recipes were developed and shared, and tests conducted of pantry items and cooking equipment.

The hallmarks of the recipes that Kimball disseminated through these projects were the inclusion of detailed descriptions of how the recipes were developed. Taste and equipment tests were conducted with complete independence from advertisers and, as a result, were extremely reliable. For example, I still get Muir Glen whole peeled tomatoes, Hunt's diced tomatoes and the crushed tomatoes with fake San Marzano tomatoes on the label. You would think that one brand would be good for all forms of canned tomatoes, but not true. Similarly, I chose my food processor, standing mixer and numerous other appliances and tools based on Cook's Illustrated's test results.

In 2015, Kimball left America's Test Kitchen in the midst of a dispute and started Milk Street, which includes Milk Street Magazine, a television series, podcasts, and a store, and recently published Milk Street: The New Home Cooking.

Kimball's manifesto is simple:

Milk Street is changeing how we cook by serarcying the world for bold, simple recipes. Adapted and tested for home cooks everywhere, this is what we call the new home cooking. 

And Milk Street delivers. I have made a number of exciting recipes from the book and the magazine (there is a substantial overlap between the book and the first year of the magazine0, with excellent results. The are eclectic, from food cultures all around the world, and carefully edited and tested to conform to American cooking equipment and ingredients.

Here's what I've already made:
  • Central Mexican Guacamole (with no lime, only avocado, red onion, diced cherry tomatoes and salt)
  • Smashed Cucumber Salad based on Chinese technique
  • Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce
  • Sous Vide Red Chile Chicken
  • Turkish Meatballs (Kofte) made with ground lamb substituting for beef, with lime yogurt sauce
  • Sumac Spiced Chicken (Musakhan) from Palestine
  • Foolproof Single Crust Pie Dough
  • Acorn Squash roasted whole in the oven (a genius tip)
  • Harissa Roasted Potatoes
  • Tomato Sauce for pizza
  • Charred Brussels Sprouts (good but really messed up my skillet)
  • Caramelized Oranges
And there are tons more that I plan to make, including but not limited to
  • Whipped Cream Biscuits
  • Piedine (Italian flatbread) with various toppings
  • Pistachio-Cardamom Cake 
  • Cauliflower with Tahini
  • Chiang Mai Chicken
  • Za'Atar Chicken Cutlets
  • Vietnamese Caramel Fish
  • Rosemary-Pine Nut-Cormeal Cookies
  • Israeli Hummus
  • Pasta with Trapani Pesto
  • Spice-Crusted Tenderloin of Pork
  • Pork and Kimchi Stew
While I have versions of many of these (or similar) recipes, Milk Street's are worth a try.

This is the most exciting and useful cookbook that I've read since Food52 Genius Recipes. Between the book and the magazine, you learn a tremendous amount about food cultures and traditions in a way that relates to your ordinary life in the kitchen.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Ottolenghi's Newest Cookbook: Sweet

I have written over the years about the wonderful cookbooks of Yotam Ottolenghi, who first got me excited about Middle Eastern food. I have read and cooked from all of his books -- The Cookbook, Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem -- with one exception. The exception is Nopi, which contains recipes used in the restaurant of the same name where Ramael Scully is the chef. The recipes in Nopi look too complicated and intimidating to be of much appeal to me, although I hope someday to have a go. But I digress. Ottolenghi's newest book is Sweet, written with Helen Goh, an Australian woman who is, above all, Ottolenghi's principal dessert chef.

When I read a cookbook, I write down or put stickies next to the recipes I really want to try. Here is my annotated copy of Sweet, where I marked 24 items in the "must try" category.

Sweet with "must try" recipes tabbed
Some examples: amaretti with honey and orange blossoms; orange and star anise shortbread ;Persian "love cakes"; tahini and halva brownies; rum and raisin cake with rum caramel icing (see below); prune cake with Armagnac and walnuts; parsnip and pecan cake with aniseed and orange; apple and olive oil cake with maple frosting; coconut, almond and blueberry cake; Helen's version of lemon and poppy seed cake; flourless coconut and chocolate cake; ricotta and hazelnut cheesecakes; chocolate tart with hazelnut, rosemary and orange; fig and pistachio frangipane tarlets; apricot and thyme galettes with polenta pastry; lemon, yogurt and juniper berry ice cream; and saffron and pistachio brittle.

You get the picture: non-conventional adaptations of classic cakes and other desserts, with unexpected spices and syrups that take them to new places.

I have only had time to make the rum and raisin cake with caramelized rum icing, and it was a delicious beauty.

Rum and raisin caske with caramelized rum glaze from Sweet
As I get through the "must try" recipes, I will probably return to this book for another post or two.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Instant Pot

Well, it was only a matter of time until I broke down and got an Instant Pot, in my case the Six-Quart Duo Plus, with nine programs. This piece of equipment has been nearly universally praised, and already there are many many cookbooks and blogs with recipes written just for the Instant Pot.

I love kitchen gadgets and already had a pressure cooker, which I use frequently, and a slow cooker, which I use rarely. The Instant Pot is above all a substitute for these space consumers, and by getting rid of them, the IP has already save me precious kitchen space. It is a good pressure cooker, not quite as fast as my trusty Fagor stovetop one, but I do appreciate the controls that an electric cooker provides. My wonderful chicken stock was just as good with my IP as with the Fagor.I haven't tested the slow cooker but I am sure that it will be competent, if not quite as good as my Crockpot 8-quart model.

What about other results? I have made yogurt and hard(ish) boiled eggs using the special functions for these applications, with mixed success. The first thing I learned is that no recipe for the IP works perfectly the first time, except for something like soup or stew, where you can just toss a lot of ingredients together and cook in one go, especially the Indian food I describe below.

Here is an egg I almost hard-boiled using the "egg" function. Very nice indeed, but you need to know your eggs and your cooker to be able to duplicate the result. For sure they are easier to peel than eggs boiled conventionally, and I have tried countless methods.

Instant Pot five minute egg
Melissa Clark has written an excellent book, Dinner in an Instant, which contains recipes for the IP, usually using the pressure function, but with alternate instructions for slow cooking. I have used her takes on yogurt, eggs, steel-cut oats and, most notably Persian rice. The rice was OK but the tahdig was not sufficiently crusty due to my own lack of courage. I will definitely try this again because I love Persian rice and cook it rarely due to the complexity.

Clark is a good food writer and her book has a number of very inviting recipes that I hope to try, including very simple duck confit, braised pork with garlic, fennel and olive; braised Roman style lamb with herbs and peas; classic polenta; saffron risotto, butternut squash soup with coriander and lemon, dulce de leche, among many others.

Switching gears, I read somewhere that Urvashi Pitre's Indian Instant Pot Cookbook was a winner and so far so good. The book is written with my exact IP in mind, and the recipes seem to be very authentic. So far I've made a wonderful and super easy coconut tomato soup, and chana dal (chickpeas in sauce), based on an onion masala that comes together very easily and, to this non-Indian at least, screams INDIA. Finally, I made Punjabi chicken curry, which was also amazingly easy and flavorful, although neither Joan nor I loved the flavor profile at first (it was totally delicious when reheated for lunch, though, so maybe I'll make it again, this time with more fresh ginger.)

Urvashi's book is short and efficient, and contains a lot of good information about Indian cooking. Her mother grew up in Punjab and her father in Maharashtra, so she is adept at two quite different cuisines, and has recipes from both cultures. This is a useful and fun book.

Based on the foregoing, I give the Instant Pot thumbs up, but don't expect miracles: it requires experience but in the long run will become an essential part of your kitchen battery.

Bobby Jay