Tag Archives: French cooking

Root Down

10 Nov

When I’m stressed out, I buy books.

And so, on the day before my surgery, I found myself in the cookbook section of the Strand.

I was looking for a copy of Nigel Slater’s Appetite to give as a going away present to an aspiring home cook, but what I was finding was a mountain of books I wanted.  There was I Know How to Cook, Momofuku and Ad Hoc at Home; Jim Lahey‘s new bread book, Judith Jones‘ treatise on the pleasures of cooking for one, the surreal world of Heston Blumenthal and no Nigel.

So, I grabbed a classic Jamie Oliver tome for my co-worker, and, just for good measure, The Veselka Cookbook (complete with a recipe for my beloved Christmas borscht!) and for absolutely no reason (other than I’m a sucker for puffy book covers), Stephane Reynaud’s French Feasts for me.

On Friday, Isaac made us a beautiful pureed cauliflower soup while I lazed on the couch, trying to purge the anesthesia from my body as quickly as possible.  By Saturday morning, I was ready to get up and go again (I think they give you something when you have surgery to make you feel energetic and happy the day after), so we wandered down to the Tucker Square greenmarket.

The plan was to roast the last of the wee tiny beets and bitty little carrots from the garden, but we needed to supplement them with something.  So I grabbed a butternut squash, an acorn squash, a bouquet of sage, rosemary and thyme and a smoked duck breast.

Here’s where I divulge to you an embarrassing secret:

Want to know what it is? Head below the fold.

Cooking With Wood

22 Oct

Our electric oven caught on fire.

I didn’t even know this was possible.  But there I was, standing in the kitchen staring at a giant fireball in our oven which was emitting noises I have only ever heard in a sci-fi film.

I was preheating the oven so I could roast the half-dozen free oysters my fishmonger had given me (free oysters!) and then I was going to make clam chowder.  I quickly shut it off and watched the coil cool from white to blue to yellow to orange to red and then back to black.  It was obvious to me that we would not be using that stove to make dinner.  I looked around at all the perishable seafood sitting on the counter: Oysters, clams, scallops and a brick of frozen flounder.  I called to Isaac and we came to one conclusion; we still had to cook. So Isaac started a fire in the wood-burning stove and I pulled out my gorgeous, fire-engine red Emile Henry dutch oven.

With a small hesitation I set the pot down on the stove and added a few shards of bacon.  And then we waited.  Ever so faintly we heard a soft, sibilant sizzle, and then it turned into a roar.  It was working!  The bacon cooked!  Then I added leeks and garlic and potatoes and carrots and herbs, and it cooked, too! And then the clams opened and the stock came up to a boil! And then I added the frozen flounder and, well, yeah, things ground to a halt.

Head below the jump for faux Pot au Feu, how to roast oysters on the oven and more.

Ten Miles, Two Soups

18 Jan

Did you notice that I only posted once last week?

Bedford Avenue & Avenue Y

And only once the week before that, and the week before that, and the week before that? And that the posts really haven’t been about food?

Our friend Jack did.

Bedford Avenue Window

On Friday nights we like to stop by the bar that used to be our neighborhood local when we lived in the Lower East Side. We go to catch-up with friends, drink beer and laugh, you know, the usual things people do at bars. My job keeps me late on Fridays, so Isaac gets time to play pool and chat and gossip before I get there. Last Friday, Jack turned to Isaac and said, “So, what have you guys been eating? Annie hasn’t been posting…”

The Night Watchmen

I laughed and laughed when he told me this the next morning. It’s true. I had gone into a bit of a cooking slump right before Christmas. But boy, I was out of the gate fast and with gusto in the new year. The kitchen has been in heavy use and some truly spectacular stuff has been flowing out at a steady clip, but I seem to have lost all time management skills.

A Truly Decorative Cabbage

Case in point? This post. It’s at least a week late. But, it was held up for good reason. What’s the reason? Cartography.

Bedford Victorian

A few weekends ago, Isaac and I went on an epic walk. We walked Bedford Avenue from start to finish (give or take a block or two). Bedford is considered by many to be the longest street entirely contained within the County of Kings, a fact gleaned from Barry Lewis on Thanksgiving. Once we learned that, we knew we had to walk its 10 miles.

Door

We awoke two Saturdays ago to a glorious, warm January day. It was time. And so with coffee and bialys in hand, we rode the Q out to Sheepshead Bay, camera in tow. I got a little lost trying to get us from the subway station to Voorhies Avenue, the actual head of Bedford, so we started our trek at Avenue Y instead.

Light, Erasmus Hall High Shool

I know you’re all thinking, “Right, so you guys went on a walk, what do maps have to do with this?” Well… I made you one! Right here. Complete with pictures and captions. I think it puts the trek into a better context. And I did it because I love maps.

Lefferts Roof

We have an entire hallway lined with them in the apartment, right outside the bathroom. They’re those antique reproduction posters of cities like Paris, London, Venice and New York that you can buy in any art store. I love to study them while I’m brushing my teeth. And since I have a penchant for reading slightly trashy historical novels, they often provide insight as to where the characters are living. And, since we’re going to Florence in two months, I’ve been studying that one especially hard.

Studebaker Building

But, enough about maps, back to the walk.

Grant's Horse

We stopped for a “light” lunch somewhere around the midpoint of the walk. The plan was to snack in the middle and to end our trek in Greenpoint with a great, steaming bowl of white borscht like Brooklynguy suggested. Alas. Balboa was too much for us. The curry chicken, oxtail and mac & cheese (Oh the mac & cheese! How have I never thought of eating my mac & cheese with curry sauce until that day?) were delicious and filling enough to carry us through. We wanted to stop for borscht, but it just wasn’t prudent.

Mment

But what we did discover is that the trip to Greenpoint is actually quite easy from Bay Ridge, so we’ll be going back Brooklynguy! Don’t you worry! And soon. I need to have a borscht-off of some sort this year, since I failed so miserably at the Great De-Beet 2008.

Water Tank

We were achy and sore when we got home, because no matter how many times you go to the gym, a ten mile walk is still a ten mile walk, especially when it’s ten miles on hard city sidewalks. So dinner was a modest affair. Pasta in a thrown together tomato sauce. But the next night? Oh delicious soup!

The End, Greenpoint

I’m beginning to think there’s such a thing as blogronicity. Two days before New Year’s Eve, as Isaac was in the kitchen cooking up his pot of cauliflower soup, I surfed over to Clumsy‘s blog and found she had just made a cauliflower & leek soup. Monday morning as I was desperately trying to catch up on my interweb surfing, there she was again, with French onion soup, the meal I’d cooked the night before. I find it amusing how two people on two different coasts experiencing vastly different winters can crave the same thing. Funny.

French Onion Soup

So, in celebration of my new discovery, blogronicity, I’ll leave you with our recipes for the two soups, even though I know you’re just really here for the map.

Head below the jump for Isaac’s Cauliflower Soup and Annie’s French Onion Soup.

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Mmm… Bière

7 Nov

Oh friends, have I got a treat to share with you.

Autumn in Prospect Park

I discovered a recipe this weekend that is so delicious, so sexy, so perfect, and yet so simple and rustic that it simply begs to be served at your very next dinner party, or for Christmas dinner, or for Saturday dinner. This is the kind of dish you can serve to your mother-in-law with absolutely no fear. You are guaranteed oohs and aahs, and that your guests will make happy little oinking noises while they’re sopping up the delicious sauce.

Have I piqued your interest? Are you just dying for me to tell you what this most perfect dish might be? Not just yet…

Autumn in Prospect Park

The Boy and I were doing some Western Orthodox Christmas shopping on Saturday at our favorite non-used bookstore when I spotted this gigantic, gorgeous volume, of rustic French cooking. We were having a glorious fall day. The weather was crisp and I was wearing my favorite scarf (the one that makes me feel like I’ve just gotten back from an assignment for National Geographic to Marrakesh to write the definitive work on camel’s milk cheese), NoLita wasn’t overrun by giddy European tourists taking advantage of their currency being worth two-times as much as the dollar, and we were planning to go out for an anniversary dinner that night, so there was no pressure to think about cooking.

Autumn in Prospect Park

But ever since I had put one toe out the door, all I could think about was cooking. It was so cool and delightful, the air was crystalline blue and held the promise of a chilly evening. I wanted to cook something warm and comforting, a dish as snuggly and delicious as my favorite cashmere sweater, so I promised myself that I’d bring it up only if I happened to think of something or happened to come across something.

Autumn in Prospect Park

And so, there i was thumbing through The Country Cooking of France while the Boy was nosing about in the serious literature when it jumped out at me.

Coq a la Bière.

Autumn in Prospect Park

The recipe sang to me of warmth and simplicity. I had to make it. So I called him over and asked if he’d like to stay in this evening rather than go out for a big fancy dinner, and then I sweetened the deal by promising to make mashed potatoes. It didn’t take long for him to agree.

I briefly contemplated buying the book, but I just couldn’t part with $50. I had a purse crisis recently and ended up dropping some serious dosh on a new bag. I felt the need to scrimp and so I tried my best to memorize the recipe, promising the book I’d come back for it on a more flush day.

Autumn in Prospect Park

We popped over to the Whole Foods on Houston Street to visit their new beer room. Serious suds people! They’ve got beers from around the world and lots of American microbrews too. Sure, they sell some beers that you can get at the very finest bodegas, like the Indian ones near 6th Street or heck, even my beloved Eagle Provisions, but what is exciting is that much like the good folk at Bierkraft, they sell growlers of locally brewed hoppy delicacies. I picked out a brown ale from France and a cider from Normandy, then we headed home.

I’d forgotten that cooking with beer is awesome. Unlike cooking with wine, where you can just recork the bottle and stash it in the fridge, once you open one of those fancy corked bottles of beer, well, there’s no way to save the fizz, so, well, you’ve got to drink the beer. Bummer, right?

Autumn in Prospect Park

I measured out my cup and a half of ale and then drank my half of the leftovers while pulling together dinner. It’s the easiest thing I’ve cooked in months. You brown the chicken, chop some vegetables and then let it stew for an hour or so. At the end you stir in a pat of butter, crème fraîche and brighten it up with a shot of vinegar.

Coq a la Biere

The mashed potatoes were a happy accident. I took my eyes off the garlic for one minute, and when I turned back they were a nanosecond away from turning into tiny little lumps of char, so I threw in the lacinato kale (I never got my second salad) to stop that from happening. The resulting potatoes smelled a little like the very best of garlic bagels. The toasted garlic are delightful points of flavor amidst the silky purée made a little sour with crème fraîche.

Toasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Kale

The resulting meal is so French. It’s the food equivalent of that beautiful Parisian woman we all know, the one who can throw on a sweater, a skirt and a scarf and look more radiant and pulled together than I ever could, no matter how much time and money I had at my disposal. And, to top it all off, it’s so much simpler, and slightly more unusual, than its more famous cousin Coq au Vin. There’s no futzing about with cooking each vegetable separately, no marinating, no peeling pearl onions (does anyone enjoy that task?), and it may encourage you to go out and buy a nice bottle of gin.

My Notes

Never having been to France, I’ve never thought much about the classics of French cooking. But between this Coq a la Bière and the Sole à la Meunière and the utterly delicious cherry clafouti from over the summer, I’m beginning to think I really should go back to the beginning, start boning up on my classic French technique.

I’ve got the weekend to myself while the Boy is away celebrating Western Orthodox Christmas and Ratatouille up next in my queue. Who knows where inspiration will strike next!

And, check it out! Abby, the assistant Web editor over at OrganicGardening.com did an interview with me, and she posted it today on her blog Good N Planty! If you’ve ever wanted to learn even more about me and the Granny Cart, hop on over there, or just go over and support her NaBlaPoMo efforts! And be sure to check out all the gardening knowledge on their site, these people are experts! Thanks Abby, my mom will be so proud!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Coq a la Bière and Garlic Bagel Mashed Potatoes.

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All Sole Day

27 Sep

Tell me something…

Manhattan Bridge

Have you ever made Sole à la Meunière? You know, the über-classic French dish of sole cooked in butter and then served covered in foamy beurre noisette?

No? Well, you should. Today.

Go on. I’ll wait while you skip down to the fish monger to pick up a sole fillet for each of you, a bunch of parsley and a lemon.

Tap, tap, tap. Back? Okay, good, let’s get started!

Manhattan Bridge

You’ve got a small sautée pan, right? Good, put 2 tablespoons of butter into it and heat it over a low flame. There should be a white film at the bottom and foam on the surface. When the foam dissipates (or nearly so) and the butter is clear pour it into a larger sautée pan and add a glug of olive oil. My butter went beyond pale yellow to a nutty brown and it was just fine, so don’t panic. Heat the fats in the larger sautée pan over medium heat.

Rinse your sole (heh), season with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour and place immediately in the pan. Do not crowd the pan or you’ll never be able to flip them. Turn the heat down to lowish and allow to cook for 5 minutes or so. I flipped my sole when it began to feel firmer and I could see the edges becoming opaque.

Manhattan Bridge

Now the fun part. It might help to have an extra set of hands around for this one. If you’ve got a fish spatula, use it. If not, use your biggest, yet thinnest, spatula and a fork or something to try and flip your fish. Be delicate. The fish is incredibly flaky and there’s a large quantity of very hot fat in front of you. My sole broke. I know, tragic, right? But I survived and you will too!

Allow the fish to cook on this side until it loosens from the bottom and feels firm when you poke it. Move your sole to the plates you’re going to eat off of and cover with a smattering of washed, picked parsley and if you’re feeling sassy, a few capers. Drain the cooking fats from the pan and return it to the heat. Add 2 tablespoons of your very best butter and heat slowly. Don’t take your eyes, or your nose, off it for a second.

This is the time to use the good stuff lurking in your fridge, you know, that fancy pants French beurre you paid an arm and a leg for? Yeah, this is the time. You’re making beurre noisette mon amie! The word noisette here doesn’t refer to actual hazelnuts, instead it refers to the aroma the butter will release when it is heated to a certain temperature. It will turn a light golden brown and smell of roasted filberts. I kid you not.

Manhattan Bridge

This will happen in a few minutes time. When it does, immediately turn the heat off and remove the pan from the flame and pour directly over the fish. It will hiss and pop and make all sorts of wonderful noises and release delicious aromas. Take the plates to the table, squeeze some lemon over your sole and dig in. This is seriously good stuff and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

I awoke to this adventure on Saturday morning after a late night of playing poker with friends. I was neither bright eyed and most certainly not bushy tailed when the Boy returned from the gym, much to my dismay, perky, enthusiastic and babbling on about how the fish guys have soul.

Manhattan Bridge

Now, I’ve seen these guys and they most likely do not have rhythm and probably cannot sing the blues so I had to assume that he meant sole, not soul. I was skeptical. I’m not a huge fish person (aside from clams), but he looked so excited. I agreed to play along.

I had no idea what to do with sole so I turned to The Madame. That recipe above, that I distilled for you into about 400 words, runs on for 2 1/2 pages in La Bonne Cuisine, but, as with my Sauce Périgueux, it turned out perfectly.

Sole a la Meuniere

To accompany I braised some fresh lima beans with prosciutto and dried porcini mushrooms. I’m kind of sad that this recipe played the Miranda to the sole’s Carrie, because it was so good. The mushrooms and their soaking liquid along with the cured meat add so much heft and depth and profundity to this lowly, unloved bean.

Luckily though, there were limas left over, and we had them for dinner last night, heated through and tossed with farro pasta and a little cheese. Boy was that a vavavooom dinner!

Luscious Lima Beans

So I hope this has encouraged you and heartened you to try making this bistro classic in your own home. Don’t be afraid of the smells (if your fish is fresh and you have good ventilation, no problem), or the flipping or the butter browning.

It’s all doable and will impress that pants off your hubby or wife or mother-in-law, or hell, even the Pope. But he’s German, so he’d probably hate it (you know, because it’s French).

Head below the jump for the recipes for The Madame’s Sole and Luscious Limas.

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