Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Like I said last week, it’s cherry season! For the past two weeks, the farmer’s market has been a veritable carpet of deep red and black sweet cherries. The farmers have been very vocal in their encouragement that we buy up their stock, particularly one woman who has pretty much be braying how much she detests strawberries but loves cherries on a continuous loop. Kind of weird, but she did compliment my blue nail polish, so all was forgiven.

Anyway, I spent an excellent week mainlining cherries, then decided it was time to do something with them, specifically, make a clafoutis. Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert made with lots of cherries in a little batter. The batter is egg-heavy, with just a little sugar and flour, but it contains more cherry than cake--a great way to feature cherries in season.

First, macerate about a pound and a half of cherries in a few ounces of kirsch. Hoookay, first problem--who keeps kirsch around the house, honestly? It's a clear cherry brandy from Germany, and used in fondue and cakes when not drunk straight. But, it being Sunday, I had no way of getting any kirsch at short notice. So I substituted maraschino instead.

What's maraschino? Why it's an Italian cherry liqueur (as opposed to a German brandy). The main differences, as I understand it by tasting them both in days gone by, is that maraschino has a richer and sweeter flavor, whereas kirsch is stronger and dryer. I figured that in a cake, the difference wouldn't matter so much (in a cocktail the difference would make or break it), and since my cocktail geek husband had a nice bottle of maraschino in the liquor cabinet, it would serve.

So! The cherries macerate in the liqueur for an hour, releasing their juices and taking on that tasty liqueur flavor.

When the cherries are done, beat six eggs...

Then add some sugar, flour, and vanilla.

The batter will be liquidy... almost like pancake batter. Fold the cherries in, and pour into a buttered and sugared pan, then shove it in the oven at 450 degrees for 40 minutes.

Or... so I thought.

After about 20 minutes in the oven, the clafoutis had completely puffed out of its pan, and was starting to burn. OH MY GOD!!! I freaked, thinking it would lead to horrible burned-on-the-outside, raw-on-the-inside bad times. I even TURNED DOWN THE HEAT IN MY OVEN (wow such a bad baking idea) to try to fix the issue. When the thing came out after 40 minutes, it was looking a little grim...

But a knife stuck in the middle came out dry, so I decided to slice things up. I served with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

And guys, it was really good! Even the burned bits were nice--turned out, the batter puffed so much that only a thin layer was burned, but most of the batter was a creamy, eggy deliciousness. The cherries, soaked in their maraschino, were completely delicious. In fact, it was even better the next day over a cup of milky coffee.

I absolutely loved this dessert and will make it again as soon as possible... maybe with some oven tweaks.

Lessons learned: Maraschino is an ok sub for kirsch in baking (not cocktails); maybe it is time to recalibrate my oven (how do you even do that with an ancient gas oven?)

Next week: Not sure... I might do a non-Les Halles post.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Celery Remoulade and Mayonnaise RAAAAGE

Ohhhh my god you guys. Guys. Guys. So, yeah, it has been a little while, hasn't it? I wish I could say that I was committed, or in rehab, or something but noooo, just lazy. I mean, I had gotten pretty lax about posting there, and then just dropped of the planet. And I feel kind of bad because it's like every post on this blog starts with an apology for how long it has been since posting. So yeah, this blog is sporadic, DEAL WITH IT.

I have been in a bit of writing malaise, and cooking malaise, where like nothing I seem to do turns out proper. But, I managed to complete another recipe just last week, so I'm here to talk about it now, and hey, that's what is important, right? No matter how sporadic I am, I have not, and will not, give up on this project because GOD DAMN IT I AM A KITCHEN VIKING.

So. Celery remoulade.

This is an easy recipe, one of the easiest in the book. It involves no cooking, only a little chopping and stirring, and locating the correct ingredients. So, fool that I am, I decide this needs a little complicating--by way of making my own mayonnaise to mix into the dressing.


I was super successful at making mayo in that one post I did, 'memba that? And I was all bragging and swaggering about how easy it is to make one's own mayonnaise? I TAKE IT BACK. I tried so hard, with my food processor, my blender, my electric whisk, and all it got me was a bunch of broken bowls when they slid through my egg coated hands off the counter and onto the floor. And tears, lots of them, like I was starring in "Julie and Julia" except without the whole sequel where I get divorced (yeah Husband J stood by me through my mayonnaise rage, no idea why).

So I decided that homemade mayonnaise can go fuck itself, it's time to make out with a bottle of Whole Foods mayo.


So, you get your bottle of mayo (after a nice makeout session) and squeeze a good amount into a bowl. Add some Dijon mustard. Now, this is a magic combination people, a good enough sauce to stand on its own (or with a little horseradish) for the purposes of dipping steamed artichoke leaves into its creamy goodness. But we will be fancifying this up. Add some walnut oil! OOH FANCY, it comes in those pretty skinny bottles from Whole Foods and costs like $20 a pop, so you know it's quality eating.

Mmmm... creamy goop.

Now, put that whole mess in the fridge. Tony tells us to chop the celeriac first, then mix the sauce, but this is a FILTHY LIE. Make the sauce first THEN chop the celeriac, so it doesn't brown. It takes a while. Because celeriac looks like this:

Oh yeah, that looks nothing like celery does it? Yeah. Celery remoulade does not use celery. It uses celeriac, which is the root of the celery plant. To be quite honest, I'd never eaten a celeriac before this dish, and wouldn't have known what those things were unless they had a big sign on 'em at the farmer's market last week. They are a sort of solid-yet-a-little-spongy root that has a celery-ish flavor. Like if you made a potato or turnip out of celery.

Anyway, all you need is one celery root and a mandoline, but then you have to take out your chef's knife and julienne the slices. Keep a lemon by your side and squeeze some juice over each batch of celeriac slices as you put them in the bowl so they don't go brown.

Once the whole root has been julienned, dump it into your dressing and toss to coat. Then, toss in some chopped walnuts, salt, pepper and... that's your salad. Seriously.

And it's good, too! It is a great mix of creamy dressing coating slices of slightly starchy celery flavored goodness. Both Husband J and I enjoyed the hell out of this salad. I'd definitely make it again, since it's so easy and enjoyable. But with my new boyfriend, Whole Foods mayo. I'll never cheat on you again, bb.

Lessons learned: Mayonnaise is, literally, the devil.

Next week: Ugh, guys, I don't even know. Should I make a promise I can't keep? All I know is, it's cherry season and I have an unreasonable craving for clafoutis, so...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Coq Au Vin

Finally, my heavy work assignment has come to an end, and I’m back in the kitchen, kittens! To celebrate, I decided to take a few days off, and cook something grand on one of those days. Because I had a spare chicken in the freezer (I love that), I settled on the grand and delicious sounding coq au vin.

Coq au vin is, basically, chicken (usually an older, tougher chicken) stewed in wine until it is tender and flavorful. The addition of bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions only added to the allure of the dish, and I thought it was a perfect way to get back into the swing of cooking my way through this lovely book. A quick trip to the Whole Foods for the aromatics and some wine, and we were set to go.

First things first--marinate the chicken. Easy enough--I chopped up the aromatics (onion, carrot, celery) and bundled up the herbs and spices, plopping them all into my biggest kitchen bowl with the chicken, and then poured a bottle of cheap French red over the top. This is where I ran into my first problem, however. Tony calls for the wine to fully cover the chicken which... it didn’t. The legs of the chicken are rising above the red pool. After scouring the kitchen for any more bowls, I realized that anything else I had was either too small to fit the chicken, or too big to let the wine come up more than halfway around the damn thing, so the bowl would have to do. I chucked it into the fridge to marinate with a hope that it would be enough.

A few hours later, the chicken was kind of a ghastly red color which, I figured, meant it had soaked in enough wine. I separated the liquid marinade from the solid veggies and herbs, then patted the chicken dry and set about browning it in my dutch oven.

Zombie chicken?

Here is where I ran into some problems. According to Tony, you’re supposed to brown the entire chicken--whole. My dutch oven fit the thing fine, but where I was struggling was turning the darn thing over so it could brown evenly on all sides. Now, in my admittedly beloved Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, Thomas Keller warns against using tongs, since they cut and tear at the food you’re trying to move. I scoffed (YES I SCOFFED AT THOMAS KELLER) because who the hell was he to tell me not to use my beloved tongs, aka “bacon nippers” as that is what they are generally used for at my house. Well, I repent, Mr. Keller. The tongs I was using tore into the chicken’s skin as I struggled mightily to turn the damn thing over in the pot. Admittedly, my large kitchen spoons and spatula did pretty much the same thing, so really, not much improvement. Anyway, by the time the thing was browned, it was also torn and kind of gross looking. Oh well, I figured, it’ll taste good anyway.

Ew but yum (??).

Next I browned the carrot, celery and onion that I'd used in the marinade. This took a little while, as they were still a bit damp from the wine.

At least these look appetizing...

Once browned, I sprinkled them with flour, then added the chicken and the marinade liquid, and set it to cook over low heat for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Okay, second problem. Low heat barely touched this pot-o-gunk. After the first few minutes I took a look at the pot, then cautiously stuck a finger in. Despite the flame at the bottom, the stuff at the top was ice cold! Not a good cooking technique, especially for chicken. I raised the heat in order to get things going, which seemed to work all right.

Then I cubed up the bacon and crisped it in the pan, set the bacon aside and fried mushroom tops in the grease. This smelled divine, and it was all I could do to keep from munching on bacon bits and mushroom tops and calling it dinner.

Okay, last part of the recipe! Time to cook the pearl onions and--wait, what? I'm supposed to fill a pot with enough water and butter to cook the onions, boil it down under a parchment lid, then once the liquid is gone, brown the onions in the leftover butter? When I saw this I facepalmed, because if you're cooking the onions at a simmer, not a boil, this is going to take ages.

Parchment lid = this takes for freaking ever.

And hey, I was right. The chicken finished cooking long before the onions even halfway boiled down, but I just clapped the lid on the dutch oven to keep it all warm, and kept the onions going. Finally, the water receded, and the onions began to brown a little in the butter. Then? They fell apart. Completely. Like, all that was left in the pot was this weird onion mush. Only thing was, the mush tasted buttery, sweet and AMAZING, like ambrosia onion mush.

Mmmmm delicious mush.

There was no fond in the pot to speak of, but I reduced some of the wine anyway, and made the sauce with the marinade as specified (though I had to use a little corn starch to fake the thickening after Husband J began to complain about how hungry he was). I was so demoralized by that time that after I got the whole freaking thing plated, I couldn't be bothered to take a picture of the ripped up chicken with onion mush in a too thin sauce.

But you know what?

It actually tasted pretty good--and even better the next day after I shredded the remaining chicken meat and served it, and the sauce, over some buttery linguine. Just goes to show that you shouldn't write off a dish just because of some initial failure.

Still, it got me thinking that maybe I shouldn't dive in to these difficult recipes so soon... maybe try something a bit simpler and try to get more in the swing of things.

Lessons Learned: Read the whole freaking recipe before you start, so you can figure out what part of it will take for freaking ever. Even disastrous recipes can taste pretty good, especially when they've been left to meld for a while.

Next week: Tartiflette

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Great Mayonnaise Rescue

With all the hoopla going on about salmonella in eggs, I think now is a good time to take a stand. I'm very careful about food safety in my kitchen. I wash my hands after touching raw meat, I use a plastic cutting board for meat so that I don't contaminate the wood board I use for veggies, and I use a thermometer to ensure I'm cooking my meats to the proper temperature. But there is one thing I refuse to stop doing, and that is eating raw eggs. I love undercooked and raw eggs--their creamy texture, their rich flavor--and I love what they do to foods made with them. I will not, absolutely will never stop eating raw eggs no matter what food scares occur.

One of the reasons I'm able to take a stand, of course, is that I don't buy eggs from the grocery store, ever. I buy them from Farmer Tom at the farmer's market. Farmer Tom is an awesome farmer who sells the best, most delicious medium and large free-range pastured brown eggs. And if you're a little kid or pretty girl, he does magic tricks with a rubber band while you buy your eggs from his stand. (Also, when I told him that his eggs were the most delicious, he said "I'll tell the chickens!" which is adorable.)

So since I have too much to do today to make a full dish, I decided to make a favorite sandwich--BLTs--and do it with homemade mayonnaise to make up for the aoli fail that occurred a few months ago. People make mayonnaise all the time, so it can't be that hard, right? I just had an off day with the aoli. I decided to try the mayonnaise recipe from Ad Hoc at Home, to see if the recipe would make any difference.

So, I gathered my mise--four egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and 2 cups canola oil (I added some peanut to the oil, as I didn't have enough canola).

I put the yolks into the blender (to see if it worked better than the food processor) and mixed them.

Next, with the blender running, I began to trickle oil, very slowly, into the top of the blender.

With mayonnaise, and all the other "aise" sauces (hollandaise, bernaise, aoli..aise...) the most important thing is to add the oil slowly, almost drop by drop, to allow it to emulsify with the egg and prevent it from separation. Too much oil at once, and the sauce will separate into the runny failure.

For a while, things looked good. The mayonnaise was thick and creamy, and I kept adding the oil s-l-o-w-l-y while stopping to scrape the sides of the blender.

But once half the oil was in, the noise in the blender changed and liquid started spurting up out of the hole in the lid--oh no...

Blech. Nasty, runny, separated mess.

I stomped around the kitchen for a while but then remembered that there is, actually, a way to save separated mayonnaise--and now was the time to try it. I abandoned the blender in favor of a hand beater and a bowl. I beat another egg yolk:

Then, little by little, I added the separated mess to the yolk, beating all the while. This, finally, did the trick, and the mayonnaise came together, even when I added the remaining oil, the lemon, and the salt. The finished product was eggy, lemony, salty... perfect.

I spread it over fresh toasted bread, and added tomatoes and lettuce from the market, and some crisped bacon.

The result was delicious (though the bacon plus mayo was a bit salty without very thick slices of tomato to balance it out). A delicious lunch, and I'm slowly but surely feeling better about cooking again.

Oh, and by the way, we didn't out those egg whites to waste. Husband J made us Ace Cocktails, a concoction of gin, cream, egg white and maraschino. A little sweeter than I usually like, but I do love that egg froth mouthfeel. Delicious.

Lessons Learned: Nico's new rules of mayonnaise: 1) Raw egg is delicious. Buy your eggs from farmers, and don't be afraid of them. 2) Pour the oil in as slowly as you can. 3) If it separates, don't freak! Just pour the separated sauce into a new egg yolk and it will solidify much better.

I'll try the aoli again using these rules, and this time I have confidence that I will succeed!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Another hellish week, but this time I am trying not to let that stop me from cooking this weekend. So I picked a very simple dessert--chocolate mousse. I've made mousse a few times, and it has the benefit of being relatively quick and easy to make. The real question is whether the Les Halles mousse is somehow better or more exciting than other types of mousses.

At first glance, this is the only mousse I've made that has Grand Marnier, which is exciting.

I started out by setting up my mise... some unsweetened chocolate, cointreau (since I didn't have Grand Marnier), four eggs (separated) and butter.

I melted the chocolate over a double boiler. I usually play fast and loose with my chocolate and sort of hover over the gas flame instead of bothering with a double boiler, but decided to be safe this time.

Next, I poured the cointreau into the melted chocolate and...?? The chocolate seized up weirdly. For a bit I thought I'd burned it, which was a problem, since I didn't have any more cooking chocolate left. I decided to try to continue on with the recipe since the chocolate didn't taste burnt, but was not hoping for the best.

Next I added the butter and egg yolk to the chocolate. It looked a bit grittier than it was supposed to, but at this point I was all in.

Next step, lighten the mousse. I whipped the egg whites until they reached soft peaks, and then folded them into the warm chocolate mixture.

Then I did the same with some heavy cream, and folded the entire mix together.

I dolloped the mousse into some martini glasses, and chilled it in the fridge for two hours.

The verdict--very nice. The gritty texture was there, but not as pronounced as I feared. Husband J hovered it down, praising the "cakey" texture, then promptly complained about how sick he felt after wolfing the mousse. I was more reserved and only ate about a third of mine, which ended up being just right.

So, not a bad dessert recipe, pretty easy for the end of a busy week.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Confessional Post and a Simple Fall Meal

So for the past few posts, I started most of them off apologizing for not blogging every week which was my stated goal. That's pretty boring, so I won't do that here, but I do feel the need to explain a bit why I've been so lax about posting about meals since July.

First of all, it's been a pretty intense work year for me, with most of my projects coming up essentially last-minute. This has been causing a lot of interruptions in my domestic life, particularly the project that started up at the end of July, and is continuing into November. I'm commuting to another city daily (when I'm not spending the night in hotels) combined with working extended days, and it's just exhausting. Husband J is picking up a lot of the ensuing slack around the house, and that includes packing lunches and making dinner. He's been amazing about it, but it has kept me out of the kitchen for the past month and a half.

Second, I haven't had much kitchen motivation lately, even when I have a little time to be in the kitchen. The last time I cooked something intense (Parisian style herb gnocci from the Bouchon cookbook) was a month and a half ago, and since then for some reason, flipping through cookbooks (once a favorite pastime) has left me feeling overwhelmed and depressed rather than energized and excited. I think this has a lot to do with me just being tired in general, and will pass once my schedule returns to a more reasonable level. But it's not a nice feeling when you can't get excited about something that used to give you so much inspiration.

Finally, I just have to say it... it's fall. And I hate fall. Everyone and their mom loves fall because of the crisp weather and the feeling in the air, but all I can think of is the end of warmth and sunshine, and the ensuing horrible, grey, gloomy winter. This is causing a little bit of a mood disconnect in the house, as Husband J loves fall. (In six months it will be my turn to gloat--I love spring, and Husband J hates it.) So, I'm doing my best to think about good fall things, and keep optimistic. I hope that with a little effort, I will be able to get my energy and my desire to cook back! So, even though I'm feeling pretty ill today, and even though it's a rather nasty, cloudy, rainy day, even though I spent much of yesterday crying because I missed the sun, and even though I have to be away from home all week next week, I'm going to make a very easy meal for tonight's dinner and get inspired again.

So, here we go. Roasted poussin and sautéed spinach.

First thing. I went all gaga over Tony's roasted chicken at the beginning of this experiment, and the only excuse I can give is that it was really my first ever roasted chicken. I have since seen the light. No no, it is Thomas Keller's roasted chicken that truly wins.

I 'splain. And I must admit in this blog dedicated to Tony Bourdain that Thomas Keller will always be a better chef. Of course, it is to Tony's credit that he freely admits this, and never tries to compete. So when I tried Thomas Keller's favorite roasted chicken recipe, I had no doubt it would be better than Tony's and it was. And there's just one simple secret to it: no moisture.

Yeah, Tony's recipe has all these mouthwatering ingredients like lemon and herb butter, but the thing is, all those lovely things add moisture, which is death to roast chicken's crispy, crunchy skin. So for Mr. Keller's roasted chicken (here a poussin, that is, a young chicken under 2 lbs), all we do is take the chicken, pat off all the moisture, and season the skin with salt and pepper. That's it!

Then put it in the oven at 450 for an hour and when you take it out, there's this golden brown deliciousness all over the bird. My god.

For a side dish, I wanted something green, so since spinach was the only veggie I had in the house I decided on spinach sautéed with garlic. This is another crazytown, dead easy recipe. Warm some oil in a pan, add some chopped garlic, then a bunch of spinach leaves til they get all coated with oil and garlic and deliciousness. That's it. Then you serve.

Husband J admitted while we ate that he doesn't necessarily crave roasted chicken, and that he always hearkened back to the rotisserie chicken of his childhood--you know, that junk in the plastic clam shell from the grocery store, or the Boston Market. But this is much better, with its salty, crunchy, peppery crispiness, and makes him want to come back for more. I tell him he needs to learn how to roast the chickens, and make them for me!

So that's my simple fall dinner. I hope that will jump start some cooking in the near future, and that, at least, it makes you hungry for more. It did the trick with me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Veau Viennoise, Leeks Vinaigrette

Mmhm. Two huge back to back work projects plus a complete hard drive crash spells B-U-R-N-O-U-T. I decided to take a break from cooking and blogging for a bit just to maintain sanity. Now I'm back and it's time to play catch-up!

One of the last things I cooked before taking hiatus was Veau Viennoise--that is, fried Veal scallopine. This is the first real veal dish that I've made from this cookbook, since I'm honestly not too keen on veal. It's not a very nice process to make veal (and this is from the girl who happily laps up foie gras at every opportunity), and even if I weren't bothered by that, I just don't find the taste that great. But I decided to give this dish a try when I found some free-range veal at the farmer's market, for a limited time this spring.

Ok I know you are scratching your head at the oxymoronic term "free-range veal," but here's the thing, the veal is made by never locking the calves up, but keeping them with their mother before they are slaughtered. Which is not PETA approved, naturally, but a little better than the pro-chainy variety of veal. So, I decided to give this dish a shot.

Here's a shot of the veal. It actually looks pretty good, doesn't it?

I started out by making the garnishes for the veal. Some nice fat lemon slices, chopped up hard boiled egg, and anchovies rolled around single caper berries. This was a pretty promising start.

Next, I made some bread crumbs by toasting some bread slices, and whizzing them through the food processor. (Pretty easy and way better than those horrible blue cans!)

Then I set up the veal assembly line: beaten eggs, seasoned flour, and bread crumbs.

It is pretty easy to see what to do here. First dredge the meat in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs until they are nicely coated. The meat gets refrigerated for a few hours.

While the meat chilled I made a side dish--leeks vinaigrette with sauce gribiche.

First I sliced the leeks in half so that they could soak, removing the grit from their layers.

Then I made sauce gribiche, which consists of chopped hard boiled egg, cornichons, capers, and parsley mixed with peanut oil and vinegar.

The leeks get boiled for about ten minutes until they are tender, then dressed with the sauce gribiche.

Finally, it is time to fry up some veal! I heated peanut oil in my sauté pan, then fried the scaloppine until the crumbs were golden brown.

Once the veal was all fried, I served them topped with lemon slices, caper and anchovies, and alongside chopped onion and hard boiled egg, with leek vinaigrette.

Also, champagne.

Looks good, but how did it taste? Well, it was okay. The veal itself was not bad, and I enjoyed it with far less guilt than non free range veal. But to be honest, the whole breaded and deep fried meat thing is not my favorite thing to eat, even though this was a good specimen of the species. I did like the mixed pickle/egg flavor of the sauce gribiche on the leeks, and would definitely make that again. All in all, not a bad dinner, but not my favorite.

However, one of the benefits of this dish was that I realized that deep frying is not so scary after all. Check out what I was able to make:

Yup, I am a fearless deep fryer, and made Thomas Keller's fab fried chicken for a Fourth of July picnic! Next up... frites!

Lessons Learned: Free range veal does exist! Deep frying is not so scary, and can be fun and rewarding.

Next Week: Well... Husband J is on a trip next weekend, so I'm cooking for one. I think I'll make a favorite thing that I DON'T want to share. That would be escargots, the world's greatest excuse to eat pretty much melted butter for dinner. Whoo!