Posts Tagged ‘French’

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Don’t quote me. (THE CHELSEA MARKET COOKBOOK)

October 14, 2013

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A while back MG and I contributed some recipes to a secret project. Now the official Chelsea Market Cookbook is here! Let the world be exposed to Metalbelly‘s Texas Chili and my own golden garlic butter, that mysteriously tastes just like movie popcorn, as well as great stuff from people way more famous than us… lots of them! Check it out at Amazon.

One of my recipes, originally titled ‘Market Fish Stew’, was retitled Provençal Fish Stew and likened to a bouillabaisse in its description. While the use of leeks, fennel and pastis are typical of Provence, I have to admit my dish is way too simple (and adaptable) to hold court in the tradition of bouillabaisse. If the recipe I developed for the Chelsea Market Cookbook is a speedboat, the bouillabaisse I ate many years ago, at a tiny port restaurant in Marseille, was a French naval ship.

That first time, I didn’t really know what I was in for while hunting for the historic soup, but my goal was to find the perfect place to eat it. It should be noted, this was before personal opinions could be publicly accessed with ease. I couldn’t look at scores of reviews, there was no googling to be done. These were my early days of culinary exploration and because there were fewer resources, I was honing the skill of spotting a real deal restaurant by wits alone. With each new travel, in seas of tourist traps and among hordes of menus and foreign words, finding the local gem just by scanning the immediate details became my superpower.

The day I went shopping for bouillabaisse, I was on a solo mission with no one to translate or steer. As I wound through the streets of the port I scanned for a place with just the right light, a healthy level of sound, happy relaxed guests and staff, good smells. My ideal was smallish in size and maybe a bit off the path. Scan the menu, is it traditional and also unique? Is there variety, is there a clear specialty? This is the first glance.

I found my spot and ordered a bouillabaisse. Soon after, the waiter presented me with a plate of raw Mediterranean fish and various sea animals. However confused, I signed off with a nod. He disappeared leaving me to devour a whole basket of bread and rouille, a garlic and saffron ailoi, named for its color (rust). Rouille is a mandatory part of a bouillabaisse, meant to be sunk in the bottom of the soup, making the broth thicker and richer –not eaten as an appetizer. The waiter came back with a huge bowl brimming with the seafood in an incredible broth, thick with fishy shrapnel and a little gritty with seasonings. As I worked my way through that bowl of perfectly cooked fish, my guy refilled broth from a tureen and bread/rouille as needed. It was impossible to stop eating this bottomless bowl, and I probably took down enough for four people.

Sorry to report that I don’t know the restaurant name or the street it was on. I didn’t write notes on food then or take pictures of my meals with the enormous Nikkormat I was probably carrying. Since this momentous meal, I have researched and discussed many more details of regional French cooking, learning that there is much debate about what an authentic bouillabaisse really is; seasoning, type of fish, order of plating, etc. In my food-obsessed travels I realize that eating any dish in the place of its origin is such a unique sensory experience that it is hard to describe the final criteria when looking for the best local spot. One might say that you have to give yourself over to the place you are visiting, and its customs, in order to be admitted passage to an authentic experience. If you search for a restaurant with ketchup bottles on the table wherever you go, it is sure you will be denied this.

I walked Marseille top to bottom, letting it take me where it would. On a desolate road that ran alongside the sea, there were signs indicating boats in transit to/from Corsica, Italy and Algeria. I remember reading the exotic port names and feeling small and far away, isolated from the rest of the world (remember, no cellphones). I accepted that no one on the continent knew where I was at that moment and I could be anywhere according to the rest of the world. I continued into the ‘the pannier’ or old town which was a tight maze of narrow corridors. It must have been during a particularly quiet siesta because what was described to me as the must-see, crazy, condensed part of town was silent. The strange, lonely feeling deepened but didn’t last long. The noise level rose as the streets pointed back toward port and I turned a corner just in time to see an outdoor beer garden full of people (travelers) just like me. I hung with them for a bit before the desire to continue my loner journey resumed.

I bought some cheap cigarettes in an alleyway. I happened upon a gallery opening in a cavernous garage-like space with minimalist paintings and loads of wine. Way earlier that day I trekked around the moon rocks of the Calanques peering down at the very place the delicious bouillabaisse fish come from. Traveling with my stunning vintage Laguiole (like a good Frenchman), I sliced saucisson and broke bread under the immense statues of the Palais Longchamp before wandering the fine arts museum inside. At night I sketched the illuminated windows of St. Vincent de Paul and pretended I spoke only Bulgarian to maintain my solitude when approached by curious passers by.

I fell in love with Marseille and its briny breeze. Was intrigued by the local accent and its choppy Italian inflection, the cultural mash-up, the crossroads and that overall, “hey! we’ve got a port so we can go anywhere, but we stay right here” kind of feeling. And after taking all that in, I’m pretty sure I had a spot on bouillabaisse that day.

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KALE COOKS UNITE! (THE KALE PROJECT)

December 19, 2012

I recently contributed to The Kale Project, a website from Paris that supports one girl’s mission to bring kale to la France. And you thought they had it all! Me too!

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Apparently kale is completely out of style over there and needs a little bit of coaxing in the marketplace. Kristen is so very dedicated she is finding farmers who will raise up the kale seeds and then recruits merchants willing to sell it. Santé!

Here is an interview on her site in which I pledge my undying love for kale.

And the accompanying recipe.

It reminds me (but not really) of the story of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813). In his time potatoes were considered animal feed or low down dirty peasant food in France. But Parmentier was like, ‘no way! They’re healthy and cheap… you guys are loco!’ But it was really hard to break the stereotype and get people on the potato boat. So, it is said that he planted them in gardens that were heavily guarded to make them seem mysterious and desirable. The guards were instructed to turn a blind eye on anyone trying to pilfer the potatoes and to freely except bribes to get into the garden and steal. Soon the potato craze was on and Mr. P got a dish named after himself. Good old rib hugging French shepherd’s pie: hachis parmentier.

Let’s put some electric fences around those kale patches! Here is a flic of a dish mentioned in the interview, creamed kale. I think it would be a hit in France.

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This would probably go great with roasted potatoes too. Thx everyone…Kristen, Antoine, the peoples of France, etc.

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YOU GOT VERJUICE NOW, MAN. (VERJUS)

April 13, 2012
Used Grapes. Gouache and pencil on paper bag
(This is a reprinted article I wrote a while back (6/16/08) for a site called cookingdistrict.com, formerly gigachef.com. I edited a bit of the blahblah but it’s still good stuff.)
    Verjuice is the slightly sweet, slightly tart juice of unripened wine grapes. It is bottled like vinegar or wine but it is neither fermented nor does it have an alcoholic content. The word verjuice or verjus is derived from the French word pairing ‘vert jus’ translated ‘green juice’ meaning the liquid pressed from unripened wine grapes. It will last for several years unopened, deepening in fruitiness and color while it ages. Once uncorked, it has only a few months to last in the refrigerator since it is an unfermented product and does not have the same stability as a fermented one. Its applications are wide and open to creativity.
    When used to deglaze the pan after roasting or sauteing meat or vegetables, the natural sugars in the young grapes help caramelize the leftover bits beautifully. In salad dressings, verjuice will not compete with wine being served, unlike vinegar or lemon which infamously sour the palate. The touch of acidity brightens soups, sauces and in my recipe-tweaking opinion,  goes swimmingly well with seafood. Dishes that normally call for white wine benefit from verjuice’s fruity, roundness without having to ‘cook out’ any of the alcoholic essence. Seemingly it shines in pared down recipes where the goal is to use just a few ingredients that are unique and/or possess some special quality that takes a simple dish to the next level.
    I like to splash some into the pan when wilting greens or as a part of a marinade. Not only a real winner* for savory courses, it can be used to poach or macerate fresh fruit or make a mean glaze when buddied up with some sugar.
    Verjuice is not a new ingredient. Its appearance in cooking dates back to the 1300’s. Now it is making a comeback for its merits of playing nicely with wine as well as the many above-mentioned uses. Though historically it appears in European and Middle Eastern cooking, an Australian chef, Maggie Beer, is credited with bringing it back to modern kitchens. She bottles and sells verjuice from her country’s Barossa Valley but most wine producing regions have their versions too: California, France, Italy (where it is called agresto), South Africa and locally here in New York on Long Island (Wolffer Estate), my personal favorite. Like everything, verjuice can be purchased online but also look out for it in wine shops and gourmet groceries.
Oh, and sometimes it is used for drinking straight up… or maybe on the rocks.
* I vaguely remember enjoying heavy use of the phrase ‘a real winner’ back in ’08.

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More simple pleasures. (STRAWBERRIES AND WINE)

June 29, 2010

Because of extreme good luck, this spring I was in Paris. The weather was still in it’s ‘ghastly’ phase and days were partly cold and gray. That did not stop me from having a spectacular time. Each rough morning on rue de la Roquette was met with a different delightful breakfast that especially the French know how to throw down. A bag of warm croissants and pastries, super thin ham and to-die-for butter on baguette, soft, soft, soft-boiled eggs, pain perdue (a.k.a French toast) or this little number, strawberries macerated in red wine, that deserves honorable mention for its deliciousness, its ingenuity and most of all its simplicity.

If my foggy morning memory serves me correctly, it is the recipe of my friend’s dad who lives on the island of Corse (Corsica). Though I have never been there, as a lover of food, I know it is an incredible place. I have been present in Paris when contraband care packages of jurassic Corsican cheeses, pink garlic, honey, olive oil and endless night-sticks of saucisson were cracked open and devoured.

Another great export, the sweet/tart combo of strawberries and wine has a great balance and richness to it. The slight amount of pectin in the berries and the bit of sugar help to thicken the liquid and create a very complimentary sauce, not overtly wine-y at all. A perfect morning dish, gets everyone off on the right foot, as well as an excellent desert served with cream or over cake or all by itself.

STRAWBERRIES IN WINE

1 pint of strawberries, hulled and quartered lengthwise

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup red wine

  • Place sliced strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Toss to combine.
  • Add wine and stir well.
  • Let sit for 15-20 minutes. Stir again and adjust sugar for desired sweetness.
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High lights. (FOOD ABROAD)

December 7, 2009

After embarking on a trip to Europe, recounting stories of all the good friends, good news and good times will take too damn long. Instead, here are a handful of delicious highlights (in pictures).

PARIS:

A villainous cheese plate:

The cheese that looks like a flower is some incredible stuff called tête de moine. It is cut horizontally with a special apparatus that shaves a thin layer  from the top of the cheese. As it is sliced in a circular direction, the cheese curls around itself. Then it melts in your mouth.

An adventurous charcuterie:

The light pinkish sausage at the top is French andouille… that lovely pattern is created by pig intestines and stomach. A little goes a long way.

BELGIUM:

Beeeeeeeeer!:

I guess I ate some stuff during the days in Belgian, but the beer! The beer is special. In this photo is a golden, delicious Tongerlo. Also among my favorites were the Westmalle beers and the rare and fantastic Wechelse Tripel. Locals say not to drink more than three. Decent advice, I guess.

AMSTERDAM:

Applecake:

Never again will I accept the expression ‘as American as apple pie’. We need to simply give up and let the Dutch have this one. Here is a photo of Dutch apple pie from a cute little eatery called Winkel that specializes in the stuff. This inexplicable pie will have me chasing the dragon until I get to try it again. (Noordermarkt 43)

Sorry France, sorry Belgium:

And here we have the little corner shop where I innocently bought some fries. I thought I would walk around and eat them but they were so so so good, I had to sit down on the nearest bench to believe what was going on in that little paper cone. When I looked up, everyone around me was eating them, all in devout silence. I got spicy mayo as my saus but i heard that peanut sauce is also a popular choice. Later still, I discovered the real people’s choice is a mix of mayo AND peanut sauce. Must immerse in local culture. Must. (Voetboogstraat 31)

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Still life with radishes. (PAINTING)

October 4, 2009

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Radis Beurre. Acrylic on wood. 18 x 18 inches. ©ocosentino

The simplest of crunchy snacks: dip tiny fresh radishes into (preferably French) butter and some really expensive salt. Enjoy.