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