I Made the Ratatouille from Ratatouille for My Students

Rémy's ratatouille!
Another semester has come and gone. At the end of each one, regardless what happens during the term, I am always overcome with wanting to hug each of my students and send them out into the world with a macaron. Maybe two.

This class was no exception. Despite a rough and rocky start, I finally learned to relax around them after Spring Break. The change was very welcome. I started spending less time freaking out planning my lessons and more time enjoying talking about some of the topics that interest me the most: history and process, food and memory, taste and identity, sustainability and individual responsibility,  inspiration and experimentation.

The first time that I taught a class on French food, it was the summer that the movie Ratatouille came out. I saw the movie by myself before accompanying two separate groups of students to the theater. Maybe it was the summer heat, or maybe my brain was addled from having seen the movie three times in a row, but I remember standing on the subway platform and cooing at a big, fat rat. “Oooooooh!!!” I squealed, “Look at the cutie pie! He’s got a . . . Subway sandwich!!!! Awwwwwww!!!”

Is it surprising to hear that people moved away from me?

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Ratatouille is a marvel of a movie, a treasure trove of tidbits that you can use to teach French food and culture. Want to explain a brigade by showing a kitchen hierarchy? Want to show the importance of technique and apprentissage? Want to begin a discussion about whether or not cuisine is an art form? Want to perfectly represent archetypal figures of French gastronomy like the stubborn chef, the restaurant critic, or the gastronome? Want to kick off a conversation about Proust? Want it in French and English?

Ratatouille is the movie for you!

As some of you might know, Thomas Keller was the consulting chef for the film. His reinterpretation of the classic ratatouille was also a re-imagining of a popular Turkish dish called İmam bayıldı, which literally means “the imam fainted (because it was so darn good).” Keller’s ratatouille was first published in The French Laundry Cookbook as an accompaniment to guinea fowl. This “crêpinette de byaldi” subsequently morphed into the confit byaldi featured in the film.

Unlike the traditional ratatouille for which all the vegetables are either stewed together or layered in the same pot and simmered until soft, Keller’s version has you make a simple pipérade over which you artfully layer very thin slices of eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, and tomato. It takes a little bit more work, but the result is something much more elegant.

I deviated from the original recipe in order to keep the dish’s preparation more in line with the one seen in the movie. The recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook has you cover the confit with aluminum foil and tightly crimp it around the dish. However, I didn’t want a watery ratatouille, so I cut parchment paper to fit and laid it on top of the confit —  just like Rémy.

This single dish probably has the greatest carbon-footprint out of any that I have made this year. None of the vegetables are in season. All of them were grown in Peru, with the exception of the tomatoes which came from Holland. However, I wanted to serve my students something that they have been seeing and talking about all semester.

Unfortunately, they polished it off before I could even get a taste of the finished product. I assume it was good, but I have also seen students eat all kinds of weird stuff! In any case, I look forward to revisiting this recipe later in the summer when local eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and squash are around.

Ingredients:

For the pipérade

Olive oil

1 large white onion, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 orange bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

1 herb sachet made from a sprig of fresh parsley, a sprig of fresh thyme, a sprig of rosemary, and a bay leaf tied up in a cheesecloth bundle.

Salt and freshly-ground white pepper

To assemble the final dish

4 Roma tomatoes, thinly-sliced

1 small eggplant, thinly-sliced

1 yellow squash, thinly-sliced into rounds

1 zucchini, thinly-sliced into rounds

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, minced

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground white pepper

How to prepare:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 325°.

2. To prepare the pipérade, heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions. Sauté them until they just begin to soften. Add the diced yellow bell peppers and the herb sachet. Continue to cook the vegetables until they are soft, but not browned. Remove and discard the sachet. Adjust the seasoning.

3. Spread the pipérade in an even layer in the bottom of an oven-proof baking dish. Begin arranging the sliced vegetables over it. You can either do this in rows like I did, or you can create a circular pattern by starting at the edges of the dish and moving towards the center. In any case, you want to alternate and overlap the vegetable slices so that they create a pleasing design.

4. Mix together the garlic, thyme, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a small dish. sprinkle this mixture over the vegetables.

5. Cut a piece of parchment paper to lay on top of the confit. Press it down gently to adhere. Roast the confit until the vegetables have cooked through (the eggplant will take the longest). This should take between 45 minutes to an hour. It might even take over an hour. In all honesty, I can’t really remember since I was a couple of beers in by then. Just start checking it around the 45 minute mark!

6. Remove from the oven and let it cool. The confit can be served hot, warm, or cold.

♥ Happy Valentine’s Day ♥: Grilled Beef Heart with Celeriac Slaw

I Heart You!
The first time that I ever had beef heart was at St. John’s Bread and Wine in London. It was two summers ago and I was wandering around Spitalfields on a single-origin chocolate bar search. Suddenly, the skies opened up and down came the deluge. Soaked and woefully unprepared, I ducked into the empty restaurant right in the middle of the family meal.

Although I’m sure that the last thing the staff wanted to deal with was another guest, they were extraordinarily gracious as they served me a late-afternoon snack of oysters, Sauternes, grilled beef heart and celeriac slaw.

Sauternes and oysters, you say? Yes, the server was intrigued as well. I had ordered them together because I had just read an article about how the original pairing for oysters was Sauternes, not Champagne.

In any case, I assure you that the combination is divine.

So was the beef heart. Flavorful and surprising tender, it had a robust beefiness and was the perfect antidote to the grey, oily weather outside. As I enjoyed the last dregs of my wine, I remembered that I had a copy of Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking collecting dust at home.

When my CSA (shares are still available, by the way) began offering beef heart, I decided that I was going to bite the bullet and try to recreate that terrific snack.

The recipe is such that no actual measurements are necessary. Follow your instinct and taste as you go along. You will be fine.

(and a very belated thank you to the staff at St. John’s for making sure that I didn’t go back out in the storm without a large umbrella)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ingredients:

1 beef or calf’s heart

Coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

Balsamic Vinegar

Olive oil

Thyme sprigs

1 celery root

Crème fraîche

Dijon mustard

How to prepare:

1. The first thing you will need to do is trim the heart. You basically want to remove all the fat, the membranes, and any and all vessels including the aorta. It may be a little disheartening (no pun intended) to have to discard all those trimmings, but you really only want the tasty bits. For this, you will need a very sharp knife.

When you finish, you should be left with a pile of very lean beef slices that no longer resemble a heart at all. For an instructional video, I refer you to Michael Ruhlman here.

2. In a dish large enough to fit all the beef slices comfortably, drizzle them with olive oil. Add a healthy slug of balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle it generously with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Toss, cover, and let marinate in the fridge for 8-24 hours.

3. Before grilling the beef heart slices, set up the celeriac slaw. The first thing you will need to do is trim the root. You could use a vegetable peeler . . . if you want to have an accident! Or you could use a very sharp knife and be safer. You will have a lot of trimmings to discard as well, but trust me: you don’t want these trimmings either. If you must, you can put them in a bag and toss them in your freezer to use for stock.

First, slice off the top of the root and level off its bottom. This will ensure that it won’t rock around while you are trimming it. Holding your knife perpendicular to the root, shave or slice off the outer gnarled surface. You should be left with a clean, peeled root.

For another helpful video, I refer you to Gourmet Magazine.

Now you need to julienne the celery root. This can be accomplished most effectively by using a mandoline. If you don’t have one, or do have one but are too lazy to look for it like me, you can use a sharp knife again for the job. To julienne the celery root, cut very thin slices of it, stack the slices up and cut them into matchsticks.

Melissa Clark demos this here.

For the dressing, gently stir together 4 tablespoons of crème fraîche for every one tablespoon of Dijon mustard. That’s the ratio that I used, but you can increase the amount of mustard if you want your dressing to have more of a kick. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Using your hands, toss the julienned slices of celery root with the dressing.

5. Prepare the grill. Brush it with oil and get it nice and hot. Cook the beef heart slices until they are medium. Henderson says about 3 minutes per side, but mine cooked faster than that. I would say to just watch them and pull them off the grill when they are ready.

To serve, plate a few slices with a nice mound of celery root slaw.

Mission Chinese Food New York


I have to admit to having something of a double standard when it comes to snapping pics of restaurant food and posting them on my blog.

On vacation, I will happily — nay, gleefully — take pictures of food. I will obnoxiously angle for the perfect shot, shoo away the anxious fingers of my dining companions, and blatantly ignore the wide-eyed stares of other patrons. The staff is generally stoic about my behavior. I find that they tolerate it even though I wonder if, when they talk among themselves, they wish that I wouldn’t do it.

I don’t care. I’m on vacation, gosh darn it!

However, I do care when it is in my own backyard. Taking photos of food in NYC turns shameless vacation-me into sheepish, overly apologetic local-me. When I take pictures of what I eat in New York, I always cringe a little inside.

Oh the hypocrisy!

Maybe the double standard comes from the fact that I will probably return to these restaurants. Or that wait staff seem to appear at one restaurant, and then they magically pop up at other ones, so that you end up seeing the same faces again and again. Or maybe it is because New York City is a mecca for photo-snapping foodies and like every other snooty local, I don’t want to be associated with a bunch of Yelpers.

What is it that they say about not peeing in the pool you swim in? Or not pooping where you eat? Something like that feeling.

However, I do make two exceptions. Like when friends are in town. “Take a picture!!!!” I will squeal. “I’ll take one for you!!!!! Let’s get the server to take a picture of us!!!!!!”

I just get so excited about their visit that I want to immortalize the moment in digital form, food included.

And sometimes, I just can’t resist taking pictures of what I eat when the food is exceptional. Really, truly exceptional.

Like it was at the newly opened Mission Chinese Food New York. This eagerly anticipated restaurant took over the cursed space left by Bia Garden, Michael “Bao” Huyn’s ill-conceived Vietnamese beer garden (note to prospective restaurant investors: don’t open a beer garden dedicated to a country that has no craft beer).

Mission Chinese New York is the first branch of Danny Bowien‘s famed and acclaimed San Francisco food destination Mission Chinese Food.

He was also in the house the day that I had lunch with my friend Kelly.

That lunch? Phenomenal. Just wow. Wow. It was . . . oh, man. It was good. Really, really good.

It was so good that I broke my no-photos-in-NYC rule.

In the words of the Mouse over at the blog, Live2EatEat2Live, the socks came off 😉

And for Mike over at testerfoodblog, this post is for you!

What we ate:

Szechuan pepper corn Micheladas

Fresh tofu poached in soy milk with broad bean paste, soy beans and sesame leaves

Thrice-cooked bacon with Shanghainese rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon and chili oil

Kung-Pao pastrami with peanuts, celery, potato and explosive chili

Wild pepper leaves with pressed tofu and pumpkin in salted chili broth

Where we ate:

Mission Chinese Food New York, 154 Orchard Street (between Rivington and Stanton), New York, NY 10002

* Mission Chinese Food also donates $0.75 of every main course to the Food Bank of New York City. So not only is Mission Chinese super good for getting your om noms on, but it’s good for the community too!

** Just a quick note to my dear readers, the dissertation has been a little overwhelming lately, so I might not be posting or commenting as frequently! Many apologies!

How Food Bloggers Eat Lunch: Susan Eats London Eats New York With Me!


I was so happy to be able meet Susan from Susan Eats London for lunch while she was in town. Although we only had a couple of hours to spend before her flight back, we definitely made them count.

Because what’s better than lunch in New York City?

TWO LUNCHES IN NEW YORK CITY!

Back-to-back, baby. That’s how we food bloggers roll 🙂

Lunch #1:
Tacombi at Fonda Nolita, 267 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012, (917)727-0179

Lunch #2:
Café Habana, 17 Prince Street, New York, NY 10012, (212)625-2001

Orecchiette Carbonara with Freshly-Shelled Peas


On a hot and sticky mid-August night several years ago, I boarded an overnight train from Paris to Milan. The cabin was filled with two sets of bunk-beds that were meant to accommodate four people. Instead, we were five because the couple sharing the cabin with us had a toddler.

The family asked if they could have the bottom bunks, which was fine by me because I wanted to bunk closest to the itty bitty window that cracked open at a woefully insufficient angle.

Insufficient because the father had removed his shoes and the smell was horrific.

It was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. I was finally forced to look in my Italian phrasebook and scan the pages by moonlight for something appropriate to say that would make the man put his darn shoes back on!

Unfortunately, my phrase book had nothing related to shoes, or putting on shoes or telling people that the smell of their feet was intolerable. However, I did manage this:

“Per fevore, signore. I vostri piedi, è violazione dei miei diritti umani!”

Which worked out roughly to mean, “Excuse me, sir. Your feet, this is a violation of my human rights!”

No response. So I tried these other phrases:

I vostri piedi, sto svenendo . . . Non riesco a respirare . . . !”

Which means: “Your feet, I’m passing out . . . I cannot breathe . . . !”

Then I repeated, “I vostri piedi,” pointed to his feet, crossed my eyes and pretended to die.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

He must have understood me because he refused to acknowledge my existence. I tried not to take it personally, even though I hated him more and more as we crawled south to Italy. Maybe, I thought, he was trying to incapacitate his over-active son. Or maybe he was angry at his wife and was trying to suffocate her with the smell of his feet.

Seriously. If that smell could be weaponized, the war on terror would be over.

So what does this have to do with carbonara, that amazing Italian dish that uses the residual heat of freshly boiled pasta to transform bacon, beaten eggs and Parmesan into a creamy sauce?

In that very same Italian phrase book was a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara, a recipe that I still rely on to this day.

The idea to use orecchiette and peas actually comes from Suzanne Goin‘s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Her description of how orecchiette are perfectly shaped to cup small bits of bacon and peas was irresistible to me, but I prefer to stick with my old phrasebook’s way of making carbonara because it only uses one pan — and who doesn’t prefer that?

These proportions will make enough for two, but can easily be adjusted for more. For something richer, you could add about a 1/3 of a cup of caramelized chopped onions to the mix. This recipe was also a great way to start using the wonderful shell peas that are at the market right now, as well as the bacon and pullet eggs from my CSA.

Pullet eggs are small eggs from young hens that have just started laying. They say that two pullet eggs are the equivalent of one regular chicken egg, but I find that it’s really more like 3 pullet eggs = 2 regular chicken eggs. Pullet eggs are wonderfully rich in both flavor and mouthfeel, just perfect for carbonara if you can get a hold of some.

I also used up the last of my CSA bacon ends to make my bacon bits, but you can use crumbled cooked bacon strips in this if bacon ends are not handy.

Ingredients:

1/3 pound of dried orecchiette

1/3 cup of bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon

1/3 cup of freshly shucked green peas or frozen peas

5 pullet eggs or three regular eggs

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Freshly grated black pepper

Olive oil

How to prepare:

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, set up the other ingredients. This recipe moves quickly near the end, so it is a good idea to have everything ready to go.

2. Combine the Parmesan and eggs in a small bowl with freshly ground black pepper.

3. When the pasta is not quite al dente, add the peas to the boiling water. Let the pasta and peas finish cooking together. Drain and pour the pasta and peas back into the saucepan. Add the bacon along with a quick drizzle of olive oil. Pour the beaten egg mixture over the pasta and begin stirring everything together quickly. When you add the eggs, the pasta should be warm enough to barely cook them. You want the sauce to be just thick enough to coat the pasta with a glossy sheen. If the sauce seems soupy instead of creamy, put the pan over a very low flame and continue to stir and toss the pasta quickly until the sauce turns smooth and creamy.

Don’t worry if you accidentally overcook the eggs and they scramble a little bit. It will still be delicious.

Fried Egg with Sautéed Ramps and Garlic-Rubbed Toast


Ramps. Just the thought of them at the Greenmarket makes me really excited. Ramps taste like the essence of spring given that they are the first greens to come up after a long winter of tubers and root vegetables.

I’m not the only one with ramp-mania either. Unfortunately, the dramatic rise in their popularity over the past few years has been raising concerns that foragers are over-harvesting to meet demand.

Ramps are notoriously difficult to cultivate. For the most part, they are a foraged food that is found and plucked in the wild. To ensure that the plant keeps growing requires foragers to leave their bulbs intact — problematic since most ramps are sold with their bulbs and roots attached.

So what do you do if you love them like I do? Should you stop eating them all together?

You don’t have to give up ramps as long as you stay committed to being a responsible consumer. If you forage for them, take no more than you can reasonably eat. If you can, just take the leaves and leave the bulbs in the ground. If you buy them, try to buy them from a farmer you trust. Talk to your farmer and make sure that their ramps are coming to you in a sensible and sustainable way. The Greenmarket NYC closely monitors and regulates foraged food to ensure that things like ramps will continue to be around in the future.

Celebrate their scarcity because that is what makes them special!

Once you get your hands on some sensibly-foraged ramps, this is a great way to prepare them for lunch or for a light supper. I hesitate to even call this a recipe since it is such a simple way to prepare them, but simple preparations are oftentimes the best way to showcase especially great ingredients.

Ingredients:

Thickly-sliced bread, as many pieces per person as you like

1 garlic clove

4 ramps per person, cleaned and bulbs split in half if they are on the large side

1 egg per person

Olive oil

Butter

Salt and black pepper

How to prepare:

1. Generously brush both sides of your bread with olive oil. Broil the pieces until they are golden brown. Rub a garlic clove on both sides of the bread, including the edges.

2. In a large skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Add the ramps to the pan when the oil begins to shimmer. When the leaves have wilted and the bulbs have begun to turn translucent, shape the ramps into a circle and crack an egg into the center. Add a knob of butter to the pan. When the butter has melted, begin spooning the hot fat over the egg yolk as it cooks. When the whites have set, use a spatula to gently remove the egg and the ramps from the pan to a plate. Season the egg and ramps with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with the garlic-rubbed toast.

Mexican-Style Slow Cooked Pork from The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià


For years I have been both intrigued and repelled by the family meal, the meal cooked just for the restaurant staff to eat before service. Intrigued, obviously, because I have always wondered what the staff is eating without me. Repelled because, quite frankly, I have heard some awful stories about family meals being a way to unload unsaleable garbage onto servers and dishwashers. Many times it sounds like prison food without the cable TV. Or school lunches without Jamie Oliver. In a Washington Post article published a few years back, writer Matt Bonesteel reported that chef Bill Fuller used to make family meals out of “squash guts,” ostensibly the “remnants of yellow squash and zucchini that had had their yellow and green exteriors shaved off with a mandoline for vegetable spaghetti.”

“When the dishwashers stop eating it,” Fuller said, “It’s time to not serve it anymore.”

Having never worked in a restaurant myself, I can only speculate that some family meals are very nice, and some are as revolting as the ones shown on thisfamilymealsucks. True, some restaurants feed their staffs by having them order off the menu. (Now that sounds great!) However, in the case of many notable restaurants, it seems very unlikely that staff members are given free rein to have as much foie gras and caviar bubbles as they want. As put in the introduction to Ferran Adrià‘s newish book The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià, “You might assume that the staff would eat the same food as the guests, but they don’t. In fact, people are often surprised when we tell them that we eat ordinary food.”

Note that he says “ordinary food,” not garbage, as it really should be in the restaurant’s best interest to keep their workers happy by feeding them well.

Also note that “ordinary food” coming out of elBulli‘s kitchen is more than likely extraordinary food for simple, common folk like you and me.

Restaurant family meals, good or bad, all seem to share two things: they are extremely economical, and they are meant to feed a crowd. This might explain why all the recipes in The Family Meal have the ingredients listed in a conversion table that allows you to adjust the recipe for parties of 2, 6, 20, and 75.

This recipe is adapted from Adrià’s in a few ways: I added garlic (weirdly missing), adjusted the amount of achiote paste (the original calls for 6 1/4 ounces, which is just a freakishly unappealing amount of annatto), and changed the cooking time and temperature (the book calls for 2 1/2 pounds of pork shoulder to be cooked at 400° for over 4 hours — not appealing either given I wouldn’t cook a 20+ pound turkey for that long).

The pork — even with less achiote and less time in the oven at a lower temperature — still turned out full and flavorful. It fell apart in a satisfying mess while I was shredding it with two forks. A sloppy, fatty, tangy yum-yum of a mess.

As for economical? Pork shoulder is a relatively inexpensive cut. You probably have the rest of the ingredients lying around the house, except for maybe the achiote paste.

Achiote paste can sometimes be found in the “ethnic” food aisle here in the US. Mine was only $0.99 at the Mexican grocery (slightly more expensive online). You can also make your own fairly easily.

(Man, I’m starting to feel like Frugal Feeding over here with all this talk of dollars and cents!)

I served the pork with some homemade guacamole and some fresh, juicy lime wedges on the side. Neither were suggested by the original recipe, I suspect out of respect for the bottom line. I can imagine fresh limes and avocados for 75 hungry staff members to be beyond the budget at ol’ elBulli.

But that doesn’t mean that you should hold back! Creamy avocado is a terrific, nay sinful counterpoint to rich and citrusy pork.

All in all, this was a meal that was far from ordinary!

Ingredients:

1 3-pound boneless pork shoulder, tied

1 cup of orange juice

2 large pinches of oregano

2 large pinches of cumin

3.5 ounces of achiote paste

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 medium white onion, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

1 small red onion, sliced

Cilantro for garnish

24 6-inch corn tortillas

Fresh guacamole

Lime wedges

Special equipment:

A handheld immersion stick blender

How to prepare:

1. To make the marinade, combine the orange juice, the cumin, the oregano, the achiote paste, the apple cider vinegar and the garlic in a deep bowl. Using a handheld immersion blender, whizz all the ingredients together until the marinade is smooth and creamy.

2. Using the point of a small paring knife, deeply prick the meat all over so that the marinade can penetrate it. Season the pork well with salt and pepper.

3. Line a baking dish with a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the meat in the middle of it and bring up the sides to create a well. Carefully pour the marinade over the pork. Scatter the onions over the top. Fold the foil over the meat to make a tight parcel. You might need to use a second piece of aluminum foil to make sure the pork is completely covered. The most important thing is that you seal all of the edges well so that no steam can escape. Let the meat marinate for about 30-40 minutes on the countertop, or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roast the pork for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. After you remove the pork from the oven, let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before carefully opening the aluminum foil.

5. While the pork is resting, warm or toast the tortillas on both sides in a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Nestle the tortillas in between a napkin on a warmed plate while you finish the rest.

6. Remove the pork to a cutting board and remove all the strings. Use two forks to gently shred the pork. Pile the shredded pork in a large bowl or dish. Skim as much fat from the surface of the saucy cooking liquid as possible, and spoon as much of it as you want over the pork. Scatter some red onion slices over the top, along with some sprigs of cilantro.

To assemble, pile a good amount of pork onto a warm tortilla. Top it with some of the remaining red onion, a dollop of guacamole and a spritz of lime juice.

Anthony Bourdain’s Mushroom Soup from the Les Halles Cookbook


I am always puzzled when I see bloggers declaim against those who try out and post recipes from other sources. It just feels kind of snobbish to me. Most, if not all food people read recipes. Food people tend to read a lot of recipes. Food people tend to own a lot of cookbooks too. A lot of food people also watch a lot of food TV.

This is not uncommon, and it strikes me as strangely inauthentic when people deny it. Furthermore, what’s so bad about it? Trying recipes from other people is a good way to learn different cooking techniques. Blogging about your experience lets others learn from you, just like you learned from them. Don’t you like the feeling that you are joining and contributing to the larger conversation? I do.

Also, there are a lot of recipes out there. What’s wrong with bringing some of those to the attention of another audience? I mean, don’t go out and plagiarize. Don’t pass off recipes that are not yours as your own. But why look down on people who properly attribute and discuss their results?

We all blog and write because we generally want to share our knowledge and experience. I personally would be thrilled if someone made and wrote about something that I posted so long as they did it respectfully — and I think that most bloggers would be pretty darn chuffed too.

Yeah, I know. I just used a British-ism.

More importantly, if you are trying your hand at writing recipes, looking at other sources is a great way to learn how to order ingredients and write directions in a way that is clear, concise, and consistent. Recipe writing is like any other kind of writing: you get better the more you do it, and the more you read.

To those who think that their recipes are completely original, well, please excuse my bluntness, but hardly any recipes are really original nowadays unless you are some molecular gastronomist making perfectly good food into weird foamy, jellied things.

Furthermore, no one I know who cooks ever sticks to any recipe as published anyway. I’ll confess: most of the time, I don’t. I’ll breezily skim the ingredients list, and cockily cook them in the order and manner that I feel works best, passing on anything that sounds untasty to me, and adding anything that I feel was an egregious omission.

How’s that for food snobbery?

For example, I remember the first time that I read this recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook. I remember poo-pooing Anthony Bourdain‘s admonition to blend carefully. I cavalierly shrugged off his archly written, “Do I have to remind you to do this in stages, with the blender’s lid firmly held down, and with the weight of your body keeping that thing from flying off and allowing boiling hot mushroom purée to erupt all over your kitchen?

Pshaw, I remember thinking. Not quite hogwash, but I had blended tons of thick soups, all at once without incident. I certainly wasn’t going to alter my MO now.

Then I remember the blender’s lid flying off — just like TV Tony said it would — and the kitchen being sprayed with hot soup and spongy bits of mushroom.

I remember having to google, “martha stewart how to clean hot mushroom soup off the ceiling.”

After cleaning everything up, I made a mental note to always read recipes straight through before cooking, and always respect any warnings the recipe writer may give.

I learned the messy way that recipe writers do not write warnings for their benefit, but ours. If Bourdain was making a point to tell me to keep a tight lock on the blender, it’s because he very likely sprayed his kitchen with mushroom soup too, cursing the other cookbook writer who failed to mention in their recipe to keep a hold on the blender lid while blending.

If you love mushrooms, this soup is not only super easy, but very, very delicious. The original recipe calls for onions, but I always prefer the ultimate combo of butter, shallots, and booze — which is one of the ways I adapted his recipe. Be sure to use a good sherry, not a cooking sherry for the soup. If you have time, you can roast a couple shitake mushrooms in the oven for garnish. I accidentally left mine in the oven for too long, ending up with mushroom chips that taste (amazingly) just like bacon. No complaints here!

I also use an immersion blender now, so no more flying blender lids for me!

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of butter

2 shallots, thinly sliced

14-15 ounces of mixed mushrooms (you can even use all white button mushrooms if you want), cleaned, trimmed, and sliced

4 cups of chicken stock

2-3 sprigs of thyme

2 ounces of good quality sherry (I used a dry oloroso)

Special equipment:

A hand-held immersion blender

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, melt two tablespoons of the butter with a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and thyme. Keep track of how many sprigs of thyme you add so you know how many stems you need to remove before puréeing the soup. Sauté the shallots until they begin to turn translucent.

2. Add the mushrooms and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the mixture sweat for about 6-8 minutes. The mushrooms should begin to give up most of their liquid at this point. Be careful to not let the shallots brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock, and bring everything up to a boil. Reduce the temperature, and simmer the soup covered for about an hour.

3. After an hour, remove the stems of the thyme sprigs. Using an immersion blender, carefully purée the soup. Adjust the seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer and mix in the sherry. You want to just simmer the soup long enough enough to cook off the alcohol in the sherry. Serve immediately with some good bread.

Sliced Andouille Sausage with Boiled Fingerling Potatoes


I can’t say that I would wholeheartedly recommend Elaine Sciolino‘s recently published La Séduction: How the French Play the Game of Life. It’s not that it isn’t interesting, or that the anecdotes that she includes don’t entertain — they do. Maybe it’s the tone. Or the fact that I can’t figure out whether it is meant to be some kind of non-scientific monograph on seduction,  or some kind of memoir.

I will say that if you are in frequent contact with a bunch of French people, it can be illuminating. Had her book been around earlier, it might have given me some insight as to how to have made my graduate-student life easier by not taking things so seriously.

That being said, you can sum up the book like this:

It ain’t fun if it ain’t charming. And if it ain’t charming, it’s probably American.

Maybe that’s why I don’t like the book: the author is clearly very cultured, intelligent, well-read, and well-traveled, but still manages to come off as a frustrating rube.

She’s been living in France since 2002.

In the end, Sciolino cannot help but be charmed over and over again by the French. But each of these “you-won-me-over” moments follows the exact same cycle: Journalist doesn’t understand why the French do X. Journalist seeks the help of the French intellectual crème de la crème to help explain it to her. She still doesn’t understand, and protests using the the biggest American clichés and cultural stereotypes at her disposal. She tries it out reluctantly. It works. She is now a converted.

There was one chapter that I very much enjoyed: the story about when Guy Savoy (Guy Savoy!) invited her to take a quick trip with him to his mother’s house to have lunch with his family.

It might almost be worth the book — or at least reading it in the bookstore, and then putting it back on the shelf.

Even when Savoy is chez maman, he can’t help being in control: Where is the cream! Where is the knife! No, the one that cuts! Smell this! Try this! Where are the glasses! Champagne!

And the meal is fabulous. Full of stick-it-to-your ribs country goodness: salad, andouille, butter, potatoes, côte de boeuf, petits pois, morels, vanilla and raspberry ice cream, more cream, white sugar, meringue, hazelnut biscuits, coffee, obligatory nap.

On their way back to Paris, Savoy admits that he had never brought an outsider to his mother before. Why, Sciolino asks, did he take her?

To which Savoy replies (and this is exquisite), “I didn’t do it for you, I didn’t do it for me. I did it for France.”

But of course.

So of course after reading that, I had to have my own simple little country affair: just some excellent CSA andouille done in the oven, served with boiled local fingerling potatoes cut into coins. Melted butter and parsley.

Does that need a recipe?

Probably not, but I have found that there is a helpful order of preparation:

1. Set your oven to 350°.

2. In a large pot of salted water, boil the potatoes until you can easily pierce them with a paring knife. Drain them and set them aside to cool enough so you can handle them without burning your fingers.

3. Rub the andouille with olive oil, and pop it in the oven. It should cook for about 10-15 minutes. The andouille that I get from my CSA is pretty lean, so it might cook more quickly than yours. Check it after about 10 minutes for doneness, and leave it in the oven for longer if it needs more time.

4. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt about 4 tablespoons of butter with 1 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the butter is melted, turn off the heat and add about a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley.

5. When the sausage is done, slice it into coins, along with the fingerling potatoes. Spoon the melted butter and parsley on top of the potatoes, and serve immediately.

JGV’s Gently Cooked Salmon with Mashed Potatoes and Broken Chive Oil


People always ask me if the recipes on this blog are mine. Some of them are, but I also love trying out great recipes that I hear or read about. In all honesty, does it really matter? I mean, how original are anyone’s recipes anyway?

Enamored as I am of the New York Times‘s Dining Section, I picked up The Chefs of the Times a couple years ago. It’s a terrific cookbook. The contributing chefs are a “who’s who” in the culinary stratosphere: Romano, Vongerichten, Samuelsson, Boulud, Palmer, Portale, Keller, Richard, Trotter, et al. Each chef has a chapter devoted to them. What is great is that, as a preface to each recipe, each chef has composed a short written introduction about what they wanted to achieve and how they became satisfied with their finished product.

It is reassuring to keep in mind that for all their talent and ingenuity, chefs don’t exist in a vacuum. The concepts they are hoping to make reality on a plate are influenced by all kinds of things: nostalgia, personal experience, individual taste. I would also suspect that many of them owe a great deal more to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking than they would admit in public. Certain taste combinations? They had to taste them first somewhere. The specific smoothness of mashed potatoes, for instance, that they are seeking? They must have compared theirs to either the incomparable smoothness of someone else’s potatoes, or the chunkiness of another’s.

Regardless, these little introductions are great windows into someone else’s creative process. It is true though that if you read a lot of cookbooks, you do start to see how much everyone’s recipes resemble one another. Everyone seems to have a version of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake for example (if there was ever a recipe to which one person can lay the claim for “I was the first,” it would be this:  JGV’s extremely lucky “mistake”).

Sometimes, you just make a recipe so many times, you stop actually needing to consult a recipe anymore.

This is one of them. I don’t even remember what the original recipe was. I make it a little differently every time, but the components are the same, as is the technique. This is from The Chefs of the Times. It is a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe and a damn good one. You can look up the original, or you can just feel your way through this one and make it your own.

Ingredients:

Factor in one portion of salmon per person. You want to ask your fish monger for a center-cut fillet, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. Skin on. Ask them to kindly remove the bones if you don’t want to do it yourself.

Estimate about one Russet potato per person. This will give you enough fluffy mashed potatoes for each guest, and just enough leftovers to eat cold out of the fridge at 3 o’clock in the morning the next day.

About 2 tablespoons of butter per potato

Heavy cream or milk, or a combo of both

About a tablespoon of grapeseed oil per person

About a tablespoon of roughly chopped chives per person

Salt and white pepper (optional) to taste

Special equipment:

A hand-held blender, food processor, or blender

How to prepare:

1. There are a million ways to make mashed potatoes. Some people like really loose spuds, some people like it like Spackle. For this recipe, I like the potatoes creamy, but not too watery. Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, peel the potatoes and cut them into large dice. Boil them until you can easily crush a piece of potato against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes in the pot. Add the butter and mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add some heavy cream, milk, or a combo of the two, and continue to mash the potatoes. Keep adding as much liquid as you like, a little bit at a time, until you have achieved the consistency that you want.

2. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 250° (this is JGV’s genius idea). Lay the salmon fillets out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can put them skin-side up or down, depending on what you like better (I prefer up). You can smear them with a little grapeseed oil, but I’ve forgotten sometimes and no one has noticed. Put the salmon in the oven and set a timer for about 10 minutes. I’m serious. Just 10 minutes!

3. While the salmon is in the oven, blend or process the chives with the grapeseed oil and a little pinch of salt.

4. After 10 minutes, check the salmon. The meat should flake. It might look undercooked, but if it flakes and the skin comes off easily, it is done. If you would like it more done, just leave it in the oven for longer, checking it again every 2 minutes or so. Remove the skin. You can scrape any gray, fatty stuff or white protein off of the fillets before plating the dish.

5. Put a nice mound of mashed potatoes on a warmed plate. Top the potatoes with a piece of salmon. Drizzle the broken chive oil on top of the fillet and around the plate. Serve immediately.