Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Salt and Vinegar Potatoes and Green Beans

I can take exactly no credit for this recipe or idea. How I never thought of it myself...I don't know, because I love salt and vinegar chips. This one comes from Sweet Amandine. It's so simple, and delicious. I used Maldon sea salt, as she suggested, and I used haricots verts instead of regular green beans. I also used white wine vinegar instead of red, because I realized too late that's all I had. I cut this recipe in half - the measurements here serve 6 people.

2 pounds of baby red potatoes
1½ pounds of green beans
2-3 Tbsps. olive oil
5 Tbsps. red wine vinegar
A copious amount of coarsely ground sea salt
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Wash and trim the beans, and set aside. Scrub the potatoes, dry them, cut them into small pieces, and toss them with the olive oil in a large bowl. Season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Start with 3-4 generous pinches of salt and add more later on.

Dump the oiled potatoes onto a baking sheet and arrange them cut side up. I use a rimmed baking sheet so that the oil doesn’t slide off, and I line it with parchment paper for easy cleanup. Roast the potatoes for 20-25 minutes, until fork-tender. Hold onto that oily bowl. You’ll need it later.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Also, prepare your ice bath. You’ll want to use a bowl big enough to hold plenty of water and ice so that the temperature in there remains quite cold, even after you’ve dunked the hot beans. Add the beans to the boiling water and blanch for 1½-2 minutes. Immediately remove the pot from the heat, drain the beans into a colander, transfer them into the ice bath, and keep them there until you’re ready to toss them with the potatoes.

When the potatoes are brown, blistered, and cooked through, transfer them back into their original bowl. Be sure to scrape all of the oil that’s pooled around the potatoes into the bowl, too. Then, toss with the vinegar. Start with 5 tablespoons, and feel free to add more to taste. Taste, and add more salt, as needed. Dry the blanched and shocked beans, add them to the potatoes, mix, and serve immediately.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chocolate Pudding Pie

It's been almost 2 months...but I'm still here! Still cooking...though not cooking new, fun things as often...hence the disappearance. This whole job thing really gets in the way, ya know? It takes a recipe that's really worth it to get me into the kitchen for a couple hours, and taking photos - and this one was really worth it. Better late than never, right?

That is a slice of heaven - chocolate pudding pie. I've always called it chocolate pudding pie, because it's pie crust, pudding, and whipped cream. But the recipe I used called it chocolate cream pie. I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter. What does matter is how good this pie was. You should probably make one. Right now. You can thank me later.

One warning - this pie has to set up in the fridge for 8 hours, so plan accordingly.

Recipe adapted from Flour cookbook (thanks Bub!)

1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (62 to 70%), chopped
3/4 cup half and half
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter. Mix with graham cracker crumbs until evenly distributed. Press into a 9-inch pie dish. If you have a second pie dish, press it on top of the crumbs to flatten them out. If not, use your hands to evenly spread the crumbs and press them down. Bake for about 8 minutes.

Sprinkle 1 ounce of the chocolate on the crust and bake for another minute. Brush the melted chocolate over the crust. (The recipe says this will protect it from becoming soggy when you pour the pie filling in...but she used a regular pie crust so I don't think it's as necessary with a graham cracker crust. It does make a nice little hard chocolate layer in the pie, though.)

In a medium saucepan, combine the half and half and 1 cup of the cream and scald over medium-high heat (bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan, but the liquid is not boiling). Meanwhile, place the remaining 5 ounces of the bittersweet chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Place over (not touching) barely simmering water and heat, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and smooth. Remove from the heat. Pour the hot cream over the melted chocolate and whisk until thoroughly combined.

**Note: no picture here...because I was worried I was messing it up. I couldn't get the chocolate to completely melt into the cream, it looked like cream with lots of tiny chocolate flecks in it. I put the mixture back over the simmering water and it still wasn't uniform. But it turned out fine, so don't worry if it doesn't look perfect.

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl, and slowly whisk in the sugar. Slowly pour the hot cream-chocolate mixture into the egg-sugar mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly. When all of the cream-chocolate mixture has been incorporated, return the contents to the saucepan, and return the saucepan to medium-low heat. Cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon and making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan often to prevent scorching, for 6 to 7 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon thickly. To test, draw your finger along the back of the spoon; the custard should hold the trail for a couple of seconds before it fills. (First, the mixture will be liquid and loose, and then it will start to get a little thicker at the bottom of the pan. As it continues to thicken, it will start to let off a little steam. When you see wisps of steam steadily rising from the pan, you know the filling is almost done.)

When the custard is ready, immediately strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof pitcher or bowl, and stir in the vanilla and salt. Pour the filling into the chocolate-lined pie shell and refrigerate, uncovered, for about 8 hours, or until set, or up to overnight.

Fit the stand mixer with the whip attachment (or use a handheld mixer) and whip together the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream, the confectioners' sugar, and cornstarch until stiff peaks form. Pile the whipped cream on top of the chocolate filling, spreading it to the edges.

The pie can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. (You can also carefully, loosely cover it with tin foil if you don't have an airtight pie container.)

The recipe says to decorate the pie with chocolate curls (shaving pieces off a slightly warm slab of milk chocolate with a vegetable peeler), but I skipped that part because the grocery store only had really big, expensive pieces of chocolate. I was a little skeptical about making whipped cream with cornstarch, but it does need it so that the whipped cream doesn't get stiff when it's refrigerated. I can't even tell you how good this pie was...it didn't last long in our household.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chard and White Bean Stew

2 feet of snow on the ground and nearly subzero temperatures definitely call for a hearty stew. The high for tomorrow is forecast to be 8 degrees. 8! That should be illegal. There's nothing I love more in a stew than cannellini beans. Some members of this household - who shall remain unnamed - can be a little wary of "just soup" for dinner. Especially when it's vegetarian soup. But all I had to do was pull up the photo from smitten kitchen of this stew with a poached egg on top. Sold!

1 pound Swiss chard (can also swap kale, spinach or another green), ribs and stems removed and cleaned
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped shallots, about 4 medium
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup pureed tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Toasted bread slices, poached eggs, chopped herbs such as tarragon, parsley or chives or grated Parmesan or Romano to serve (optional)

Bring medium pot of salted water to boil. Cook chard (or any heavier green; no need to precook baby spinach) for one minute, then drain and squeeze out as much extra water as possible. Coarsely chop chard.

Wipe out medium pot to dry it, and heat olive oil over medium. Add carrots, celery, shallots and garlic and saute for 15 minutes. Barber warns not to brown them but I didn’t mind a light golden color on them. Add wine (scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pot) and cook it until it reduced by three-fourths. Add beans, broth, tomatoes, a few pinches of salt, freshly ground black pepper, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add chard and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove thyme and bay leaf. Add more broth if you’d like a thinner stew and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as is drizzled with sherry vinegar. Or you can ladle the stew over thick piece of toasted country bread or baguette that has been rubbed lightly with half a clove of garlic, top that with a poached egg and a few drops of sherry vinegar and/or some grated cheese.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Paris - Odds and Ends

Yes, the last post was my final post about Paris restaurants. But there were so many other snacks and tastes throughout the week I just can't leave out.

My first meal of the week included a butter and sugar crepe. I could eat one of these every day and never tire of them.

There are many Paul bakeries around Paris, and there was one right around the corner from us. It was a daily - and sometimes twice a day - stop for us.

The French like to add an egg to a lot of dishes. Sandwiches, fish, pizza...fine by me.

My favorite - stinky cheese.

And yes...this seems so ordinary, but this is the food I cannot stop thinking about. Yogurt. The yogurt in France is just so much better. I do love my Greek yogurt, but this one was really amazing. So thick and just a little sweet. The pack of four actually came with a recipe for how to make it yourself, which I really need to try.

Oh Paris...I hope I see you again soon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Paris - Le Relais de L'Entrecôte

I think this is my last Paris restaurant post. Funny, since this restaurant was our first dinner of the trip. I had heard of this place from my friends Amy and Seth who went last year, and then we happened to walk by it just a couple blocks from the apartment. Well, I say we walked by "it" - there are actually 3 locations in Paris. So we walked by one of them. Le Relais de L'Entrecôte is the steak frites place. That's all they serve, so that's what you're going to eat. With a few other things, of course.

So there's no menu. The waitress just asks how you want your meat cooked. And I'm pretty sure the whole table has to agree on one amount of doneness. She then writes it down on the edge of the paper tablecloth.

They start you off with a a salad of greens, walnuts, and a very mustardy vinaigrette.

And then, the main event. They bring out a big platter of steak and a big platter of fries and prepare everything on a separate table.

Thin slices of steak covered in a slightly creamy, peppery, mustardy sauce. I don't know what was in it, but it was really good.

And when you get to this point...

You do it all over again. They bring you another round of steak frites. They do have a dessert menu, and we shared profiteroles. But somehow - again - I didn't get a photo. I guess the sugar just takes hold of me when it lands on the table and all I can do is eat it. Oh well.

This restaurant was fun, boisterous, and perfect for the first dinner of our trip. We were all so excited to be there and a classic French meal was a great kick-off to the week.

Le Relais de l'Entrecôte
20 Rue Saint-Benoît, Paris 75006

Monday, January 17, 2011

Paris - Le Chateaubriand

I do believe Le Chateaubriand was the crown jewel of our dinners in Paris. Part of that is due to the enthusiasm leading up to the meal. I read so many amazing reviews of the restaurant and of chef Inaki Aizpitarte, saw both showcased on the No Reservations Paris episode last September (I think), saw that it was placed on the 50 Best Restaurants list (at #11!)...all these accolades, plus the fact that it's a casual, modest, moderately priced place and not a hoity-toity restaurant had me really excited. And the waiting, waiting...waiting...and finally a reservation secured by Amex for us was like a little bit of Christmas morning before we left for our trip.

Here is the review from the 50 Best list. Yeah, I'm taking the lazy way out here but they describe Le Chateaubriand better than I could.

Le Chateaubriand breaks the mould of top French restaurants serving haute cuisine. Its classy, wonderfully inventive food would grace the tables of the swankiest venues the world over but is served instead in a simple bistro setting, complete with zinc bar, chalk boards and hard wooden chairs. Chef-patron Iñaki Aizpitarte always maintained he wanted to create a restaurant where his friends could afford to eat. So this is fine dining at its most democratic; the prices, together with the young, cool staff and the simple, unintimidating décor, draw an eclectic clientele and the atmosphere is all the better for it. Aizpitarte’s dishes are influenced by his Basque roots but also draw on his extensive travels. He has a particular penchant for deconstructing classics and reworking them, and also a focus on pared-back simplicity. There are plenty of bold, imaginative flavour combinations but many dishes employ very little ‘cooking’ – unadulterated, raw (and usually colourful) ingredients are a significant feature of his menus. A five course prix fixe menu changes daily. You get no choice in what you eat but it’s this system that allows Aizpitarte to keep his prices so low. Affordability and creativity together in one great neighbourhood restaurant, not to mention one of the best-looking brigades in the business. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Let's get to the photos, shall we? The menu (which is just a xerox on a piece of white paper) simply says "amuses bouche" to start with. First up, some little cheese and poppy seed puffs.

Second amuse bouche: ceviche, heavy on the fish water. Really refreshing.

Third: lentil soup.

Fourth: pouce-pieds. There is no English translation for what kind of seafood this is, because as far as I can tell they don't exist here. They are found on the Atlantic coast of Europe and North Africa. It literally translates to inch-foot, which doesn't tell you much, but I'm sure it's a play on this crustacean's size. They are quite small, and also kind of look like a toe. A little dinosaur or turtle toe. Basically you tear the outer dark covering off and it's like a little clam attached to the green claw part, which you then bite off.

Fifth and final amuse bouche: veal kidney. I know! Me? Eating veal kidney?! Yes. And it was very good. Tender, salty, with almost Thanksgiving-like spices.

And now onto the second course: a soup with foie gras and mushrooms. A very soft piece of foie gras and thin slices of mushrooms were placed in a bowl, and then a really flavorful mushroom broth was poured over it.

The third course, in my opinion, was the most spectacular. Line-caught pollack with a walnut cream, endives, and ham. Would you ever think to pair fish with walnut cream? Never. But it worked. The saltiness of the sauteed fish with the cream was perfect.

Fourth course was Limousin beef with potato crisps, sesame seeds, and chives.

And now, dessert. A choice of a true dessert, or a cheese course. If I remember correctly, my dad, my sister, and Peter had the cheese. I don't remember what kinds there were, but there were 3 - hard, blue, and soft.

My mom and I had the dessert. Which was actually two desserts. The first was an icy concoction of apple, mango vinegar, coconut, and pineapple.

The second part was chocolate and celery. I don't remember the exact make-up of the dessert, but I do remember I cleaned my plate.

And the very last thing - pineapple pieces covered in fennel seeds, and candy-coated fennel seeds. Strong flavor but very interesting combination.

The creativity level, and the flavors were off the charts. But maybe what impressed me the most was how attainable such wonderful food was. For a restaurant that's the best in France (at least according to the 50 Best list), you think of similarly ranked places in the U.S. - places like Per Se, or Alinea, or Daniel that yes, are unbelievable, but will also set you back a good amount. Le Chateaubriand's set menu is 50 euros. And an equally affordable wine menu (also xeroxed and stapled together). On the way there our cab driver said he's been there several times and loves it. There's definitely something refreshing about being able to experience such amazing and unique food in a relaxed, low-key setting. Bravo!

Le Chateaubriand
129 Rue Parmentier, Paris 75011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Paris - Les Fables de la Fontaine

While researching Parisian restaurants, I decided we needed to go to a seafood place one night. And if you're researching where to have a great seafood meal in Paris it's impossible to not come across Les Fables de la Fontaine. I found a great review from lebestofparis.com, and these two sentences sold me on making a reservation here:

Freshness, above everything else, is key, as seafood from the Brittany and Normandy is shipped from the early morning’s catch each day. The menu changes by the season, with daily specials, though there are standard items, such as sole munière.

I started off with croustillants with langoustine, basil, and citrus emulsion.

For my main course I had...sole meunière. It can only be ordered for two people, so my dad and I shared it.

The picture is a little dark, but I wasn't going to let that beautiful piece of fish sit there for one second longer to take any more photos. It was a little crispy, salty, and lemony. Perfection.

Peter and Bub both had scallops with a nut crust, over a French version of mac and cheese, and of course butter and truffle oil. Of course.

For dessert we shared rice pudding with a little brownie and ice cream. Yes, that is all one menu item.

It's not an inexpensive place, as you might expect from a restaurant with a Michelin star, but not too bad and the fish was really fantastic. There are only about 8 or 9 tables in the entire restaurant. A wonderful, cozy, classically French seafood dinner.

Les Fables de la Fontaine
131 Rue Saint Dominique, Paris 75007

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Paris - Fish La Boissonnerie

Fish La Boissonnerie was one of the little restaurants we came across in our neighborhood (6th arrondissement) and decided to try it out for dinner on our second night there. Although, I guess it was already on our radar because it's owned by the same people as the wine store right outside our front door (La Dernière Goutte). It's a very low-key, friendly neighborhood spot with great, simple food.

For my first course, I ordered squash soup with chestnut foam. It was SO GOOD. A little sweet from the chestnut flavor, a little peppery, creamy, awesome. I would have licked the bowl if it was appropriate.

Foie gras and some kind of meat gelatin (??) for guess who.

I had scallops with haricots coco and lardons. So, I have never seen haricots coco in the U.S., but apparently they also go by the name of borlotti beans or cranberry beans. Judging by a quick internet search it seems that they are available, but a bit scarce. Although I guess I have never even looked for them in a store so maybe they're easier to find than I think. They are similar to a cannellini bean but a little smaller. And delicious with scallops and lardons.

Peter had a spaghetti and clams dish...

And my sister had salmon with a poached egg on top. An egg on top makes everything better.

To finish off the evening, I had a lovely dessert. You didn't think I would skip dessert, did you? I did, somehow, skip the picture. I could have sworn I took one but I can't find it anywhere. It was a chocolate terrine with red currants. Mmm.

Fish La Boissonnerie
69 Rue de Seine, Paris 75006

Monday, January 10, 2011

Paris - L'As du Fallafel

I love a good falafel. Love. But this isn't just a good falafel. It's a great one. Fantastic. And it's no secret, just google "L'As du Fallafel" and you'll see all the reviews and praise.

You're walking down a cute, quiet street in the Marais and all of a sudden - BOOM! Falafel madness. You can eat inside, but it seems that most people get their orders to go and eat them standing in the street or just walking around, as we did. The deal is - there's a guy standing outside taking orders. You pay him and he gives you a ticket with your order. You get in line for the window, give them your ticket and they give you your sandwich.

There's the glorious window, with heaps of red cabbage slaw, cucumbers, and onions. They also serve the falafels with eggplant, tahini dressing and harissa.

I think I need a falafel after looking at these pictures. This place is especially good if you're looking for a late lunch because a lot of restaurants in Paris shut down at 2pm or so and don't reopen until dinner.

L'As du Fallafel
34 Rue des Rosiers, Paris 75004