Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cassoulet - Duck, Pork, Lamb, and Beans

This year for Christmas Eve we had a great Cassoulet dinner with family and close friends - about 16 of us. I made the cassoulet from scratch and it turned out really good. It involved butchering 2 ducks, rendering the fat, making the legs and thighs into confit. Used the body and wings for duck stock. I made the breasts into a boudin blanc sausage that was cut up and seared before going into the finished dish. I used the duck livers in a very nice Grand Marnier Duck Mousse that we served on New Years day. A bought, seasoned and cured a pork belly as pancetta for a few weeks and then cut that up and seared it also. I bought a boneless leg of lamb, cleaned it, cubed it and braised it in port. The lamb was used in the cassoulet and the liquid in the seasoned liquid the cassoulet is cooked in. Made a Great Northern bean soup with the duck stock, sausage, and pork belly. Use the meat in the cassoulet and the liquid along with the lamb liquid as the cassoulet liquid. I made a loaf of sourdough bread and Cuisinarted it into crumbs along with parsley, sage, thyme and duck fat as the topping. the above steps required several days (or weeks in the case of the pork) each to develop flavors properly. On the day of the event the meats where all shredded and mixed together. The Beans were cooked and then laid out to dry and develop flavor. The liquid is heated and highly seasoned with vinegar, salt, pepper. In a large Le Creuset I layered layers of beans, meat, beans and then completely added liquid to the rim. then the breadcrumb mixture was pressed over the whole thing and the cassoulet was heated for a couple of hours in a hot oven to meld the flavors.

The cassoluet is VERY RICH so was served in small portions with a simple salad and bread. We then enjoyed a great set of desserts made by Miranda ( a chocolate rulade) and Cindy (a cherry pie). All washed down with some nice French Red Wines.

Even Better Scrambled Eggs

I moved Miranda's Blog on her perfect scrambled eggs forward because I was reading Patrica Wells Paris cookbook the other day and saw a couple of techniques for perfect scrambled eggs that immediately brought Miranda's recipe to my mind. I have enjoyed Miranda's eggs and they are GREAT. However, as soon as I read Patrica Wells recipe I knew there were some wonderful technique options worth passing along. First, Patrica suggests passing the raw eggs after beating through a fine mesh sieve to create an incredible smooth and silky egg. If you have read my blog on "tools of refinement" the Tamis or fine mesh sieve you will know why I knew this was an elevating and easy improvement. The second option that Patrica suggests is cooking the eggs very slowly over medium low heat for about 10 minutes over a water bath while stirring Ala Miranda. This technique which is used for many delicate items allows for infinite control of the doneness of the egg (or custard, chocolate or whatever you are cooking) that prevents the very easy mistake of overheating or overcooking the delicate ingredient. So if you had trouble with Miranda's recipe because of problems of overcooking try this technique and you will become an instant better cook. this technique also allow for incorporation of some truffle oil or creme fraiche (sacrilege per Miranda) if you want to adulterate the whole recipe Miranda is proposing.

From Miranda's Kitchen: Best Scrambled Eggs Ever

Soft Scrambled Eggs in the French Style

serves 2

Note: this recipe is for soft curd "wet" eggs, not firm, dry curd eggs. It is important to not be tempted to add cheese to these eggs. It is also important not to substitute the butter for something else. The key to these eggs is low heat and constant gentle stirring. I highly recommend use of a non-stick pan.

4 large eggs - eggs that are farm fresh (preferably local), organic, and from cage-free hens are superior in taste with their bright orange (very nutrient-rich) yolks.
1 tablespoon organic, salted butter
1/8 tsp garlic powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and melt the pat of butter.

In a bowl, crack the eggs and whisk them thoroughly with the salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Be sure to incorporate the yolks and whites fully. The more you whisk them the lighter and fluffier they will be.

Add the eggs to the skillet and stir gently but thoroughly with a soft spatula to incorporate the eggs and melted butter. Continue to gently stir the eggs to prevent a crust from forming on the bottom of the pan and encourage the egg mixture to heat slowly and evenly. Frequent stirring (but *gentle*) is essential in the first few moments of cooking.

Continue to stir the eggs (at this point, if you like a very soft, pillowy scramble you should continue constant stirring; if you want your soft eggs to have more pronounced curds, stir gently and then let the eggs rest for 30 seconds or so, then repeat). When finished (about 5-7 minutes), the eggs should still be creamy (they will not look "dry" but are fully cooked). Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How to Cook A Rabbit - Cafe Juanita

Cafe Juanita offers the most refined Northern Italian Cooking in the Seattle in my opinion. We have blogged about the restaurant a few times in the last few months as we love it so well. Miranda has done a good job of describing our post Christmas visit. I will just say that I have had great Rabbit many places and Cafe Juanita is by far the best - and most consistent. The Sweetbreads, another favorite of mine that I always order when they are on any menu, were outstanding as well. If you love these two items or if you have never tried them I would really recommend you go to Cafe Juanita and try them.
As to Miranda's question on patrons asking restaurants to change menu items I am of two minds - I pretty violently object to asking for changes in menu items because you think you "don't like" some ingredient - however on this occasion This is not at all how the situation was handled. Our server was so knowledgeable and thoughtful in telling us, as folks very interested in cooking, how each dish was done. Miranda casually inquired if it would be a bad thing to leave out the truffle oil (a VERY STRONG tasting ingredient that is almost always overdone - not here by the way as it turned out) and she volunteered that that was absolutely no problem. The conversation also turned at some point to Amy's not coming because she is nursing a baby who is allergic to dairy. The waitress basically said the kitchen will definitely work around any allergy. Knowing the quality of the kitchen at Cafe Juanita I suspect there would be a different, but still very good dish produced without dairy - but yes, I agree it would not be the dish on the menu that the chef envisioned. Like Miranda I hate to mess with a great kitchens vision. I also think people are too closed minded about what they do and don't like - go out to eat as an adventure. But, I think it's awesome that Cafe Juanita is capable and willing to cook off the menu for legitimate reasons.

Thoughtful Northern Italian in Kirkland: Cafe Juanita

Restaurant Name: Cafe Juanita
Location: 9702 NE 120th Place, Kirkland, WA

Helmed by recent James Beard Best Chef Northwest winner Holly Smith, Cafe Juanita offers up lovingly prepared, artful food. Neither too small nor too big, too pretentious nor too laid-back, the restaurant setting is warm and inviting (yet still elegant) with an open kitchen through which you can watch the magic happen at a comfortable distance.

I've had the good fortune to eat at Cafe Juanita several times over the last few years, with a visit a few nights ago being the most recent of these trips. There were four of us dining (all writers on this blog) and so we had the opportunity to sample widely across the menu. This opportunity, however, was not seized - too many of us lusted after the braised rabbit (one of Cafe Juanita's house specialties).

The food here is excellent and beautifully prepared and presented and we did manage to at least try several starters, including the Rabbit Livers and Kidneys with caramelized onion, toasted anchovy, and currants, the Veal Sweetbreads with Fried Capers and Parsley, and the Carne Cruda of Wagyu Beef. Of these, the Carne Cruda really shone. It was prepared very simply with high quality olive oil, lemon, sea salt, a mince of chives and raw shallot, and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. It was topped with a poached quail's egg and arrived looking ever-so-slightly unappetizing (minced and in a mound on the plate) next to thin slivers of crostini. But, one bite dissolved any squeamishness the presentation might have inspired. The sweetbreads were also great - crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside - and abundant. Indeed, all the portion sizes at Cafe Juanita are big (maybe a hair on the side of too big?).

For our entree course (as I mentioned above), most of us went for the Rabbit Braised in Arneis. This dish is rich, hearty, and delicious. I had one of the specials, which was a seared skate wing served with brown butter sauce and olives. It was...just okay. The skate wing was a little mushy and not so very flavorful on its own. It was served with an avocado puree that paired very well with the fish and ultimately saved the dish. For dessert we all indulged in a flourless chocolate cake (described very aptly by our server as being like "the inside of a truffle") topped with a malted chocolate ice cream. It was very good, but not transcendent. For wine we moved through several bottles of Barbera d'Alba.

Despite the few criticisms included above in my description of the food, I want to clearly convey that I really love this restaurant. The dishes are always inventive and fresh and inspiring. On previous visits I've had some of the most transportingly-good risottos I've ever tasted and a salad described simply as D'Anjou Pear with Pine Nuts, Parmigiano, and White Truffle Oil that was anything but simple or dull in its flavor. Cafe Juanita also offers a cocktail course where they pair a variety of lovely, fizzy drinks with a bit of cheese, nuts, or fried morsels (in the tradition of the Italian Aperitivi).

The service here is always great, too. Our server on this particular visit was very gracious and full of information about the wine, the individual components of the different dishes, and so on. She also said something that has stuck with me and made me ponder. When my brother-in-law mentioned that my sister was on a no dairy, no soy diet (because of her allergic baby) and had thus decided against joining us for dinner, our server said the following: every dish here is literally made to order. We can accommodate any food allergy or food dislike our diners have. Though a dish may be served off the menu with cream or butter or truffle oil, these elements can be left out of those dishes if a diner wishes it.

Now, on the one hand, this seems the epitome of the fine dining experience. Each plate is attentively and carefully prepared and the whims of the diner are catered to; nothing in the kitchen or at the pass escapes the notice of the chef. But, on the other hand, this seems at odds with the notion that we might seek out a dish that is authentically the cuisine of a particular chef. When each dish can be modified by leaving out some element (some perhaps providing some last minute essence of flavor, such as truffle oil, and others contributing body and richness, such as fats like butter and cream) then the dish is inevitably altered and diminished from how the chef intended it to be served. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Surely it is nice to know that my sister need not miss out on great dining experiences because her baby can't digest dairy. But it also makes me wonder about the integrity of the dish (which has no doubt been carefully conceived and prepped). I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this issue.

Indeed, perhaps this is best pondered over a steaming plate of braised rabbit at Cafe Juanita.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lee's Asian on a cold West Seattle night

Restaurant Name: Lee's Asian
Location: 4510 California Avenue SW (West Seattle)

Lee's Asian is good Chinese food (not mind-blowing or spectacular, but good). If I were to pick out one flaw of this West Seattle spot, it would be the fact that every dish seems to be sweet. (Most are also fried, but I don't really consider this a flaw). As my husband pointed out, sometimes sweet and meat is not so sweet (did that make sense?).

But, in general, the food here is fresh and super-flavorful. The place is no-frills - an unassuming storefront on California Ave with your standard Americanized-Chinese restaurant decor. But the smells that hit you as soon as you open the door are a harbinger of good things to come.

The food comes out hot, steaming, (often fried) and (as I mentioned) sweet.

On our last visit we had the honey glazed walnut prawns (a dish that is basically fried prawns coated in a sweet mayo sauce and sprinkled with candied walnuts). This may sound and even look really gross, but I swear to you that its awesomely different and delicious. We also tried the fried 7-flavor beef (which I remembered from a previous visit as 9-flavor beef that had not been fried) which is a true symphony of spices (but would have been better had it not been fried). The General Tso's chicken is just what you'd expect (nothing special here). A standout dish, though, was the garlic sauce green beans (crisp, fat beans in a gooey garlic-y sauce).

If you like the sweeter flavors of Asian cooking and don't want to break the bank....Lee's Asian is a good bet.

Lee's Asian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brooklyn Supper Club

Last Saturday night we got together with our friends Lisa and Aaron and Joanne and Frank at the latters' Brooklyn apartment for a night of culinary and oenological excesses. The theme for the evening was tapas, so everyone brought the makings for a dish or two to cook and share over the course of the evening...along with a fabulous sangria (courtesy of Aaron and Lisa) and plenty of great Spanish wine. Poor Floyd, Joanne and Frank's dog, could only look on in envy.

All told, we had a fabulous time and every morsel we ate was delicious. Since the evening was such a success, I thought I'd share some of our recipes with you.

Frank prepared his tortilla espanola and perfect Spanish crostini crisped with olive oil and garlic and topped with spicy medallions of chorizo and thick shavings of Manchego. Joanne turned out fabulous bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds (recipe below) and stuffed mushrooms. Aaron made transcendently good lobster bruschetta (recipe below). I offered up my spicy artichoke dip (recipe provided under the post "Great Fall Appetizers on this blog) and crab cakes (recipe below), and Lisa topped it all off with rich, decadent chocolate fondue.

We hope you enjoy the recipes to follow!

Joanne's Bacon-Wrapped Dates

serves 6

40 pitted dates (Joanne recommends big juicy medjool dates)
40 slices of bacon
40 roasted, salted almonds

Stuff one almond inside each date and wrap the date with a slice of bacon. Secure the bacon with a toothpick. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and sear the bacon-wrapped dates, turning as needed until the bacon is crispy on all sides. Drain briefly on paper towels and serve warm.
Note: Joanne also suggests adding nuggets of blue cheese to the stuffing.

Aaron's Lobster Bruschetta

serves 6

3 1 1/2lb live lobsters
1 Italian baguette (for 12 slices)
15-18 small vine tomatoes (or half that number of larger ones)
10 large leaves of fresh basil
6 oz extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs butter
1/2 of a white onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs freshly ground pepper
2 lemons
1 avocado
1 bunch of cilantro sprigs
Fresh parsley, chopped
12 lobster chelipeds (small legs for garnish)
6 lobster antennas (for garnish)
9 small rubber bands

One day ahead: steam the lobsters for approximately 27 minutes. Remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes and then remove all the of meat (keep the meat portions (claw, tail, etc. intact). Cut the tails in half lengthwise and remove the innards. Save the chelipeds (small legs) and antenna for a garnish (to prepare: center 2 antennas between 4 chelipeds and crosstie with rubber bands). Refrigerate garnishes and lobster meat overnight.

To prepare for serving: chop the tomatoes, removing as much of the seeds and juice as possible (discard seeds and juice). Finely dice the onion, garlic, and basil. Combine tomato, onion, basil, and garlic with the salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and toast the baguette slices on a baking sheet until golden (approximately 10 minutes).

Place a large skillet over low heat and melt the butter. Warm the lobster meat in the butter (turning to coat and warm both sides) for 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and slice the claws and tail meat into pieces.

Using three serving plates, place 4 slices of toasted baguette around one lobster cheliped and antenna centerpiece. Add cilantro sprigs to the garnish.
Place a layer of the tomato mixture on top of each bruschetta slice, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, top with a cilantro sprig and add a reconstructed section of sliced lobster meat to finish.

Place sliced lemon wedges among the bruschetta and sprinkle the serving dish with parsley. The bruschetta can be served with dollops of guacamole (use the avocado called for in the ingredient list) or with tomalley.

Miranda's Crab Cakes
serves six

1 lb fresh jumbo lump crab meat (picked over to remove shells)
6 green onions thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
1/2 large red pepper, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup mayo
1 Tbs smoked Spanish paprika (or to taste)
1 tsp powdered garlic
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup freshly ground breadcumbs from high quality bread
1 Tbs minced fresh chives
Canola oil or olive oil for frying

Rinse and drain the crab and pick over the meat to make sure there are no shells mixed in. Place the crab in a medium-sized mixing bowl and set aside.

Mince the green onions, red pepper, and celery. Heat 1 Tbs olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skilled. Saute the vegetable mixture until softened (approximately 5 minutes). Season with salt to taste. Let cool slightly and then add to the crab.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the mayo, lemon juice, 1 tsp olive oil, paprika (be sure to use smoked, spicy Spanish paprika), and garlic powder. Mix well and taste. Adjust seasonings as desired - including adding salt to taste. The aioli should be spicy, smoky, and slightly tangy. It should have a strong flavor and not taste like mayo. Add more spices if needed.

Tear up chunks of fresh, good quality bread and grind into breadcrumbs in a food processor. Add 3/4 cup of the aioli, 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs, and the minced chives to the crab mixture and stir well to combine. The mixture should bind together and should be relatively easy to form into small cakes. If the mixture seems too dry, add more aioli. If it seems too wet, add more breadcrumbs.

Heat oil in a large skillet (oil should be about 1/4 inch deep). Shape crab mixture into cakes (these can be little appetizer-sized cakes or larger dinner-sized cakes). Fry in the hot oil (oil should sizzle and bubble up around the cakes) until dark golden brown. Don't undercook the cakes - you want them to be crispy on the outside. Carefully turn cakes with a spatula (be very gentle or they will break apart) and brown them on the other side. Remove from oil and drain briefly on paper towels. Serve cakes hot with a dollop of the remaining aioli on top (you can also sprinkle the aioli with more paprika or with diced chives or fleur de sel as a garnish).

Bon Appetit!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Intimate Italian: Dell'anima in Greenwich Village

Restaurant Name: Dell'anima
Location: 38 8th Avenue, NYC

To celebrate our first six months of married life, my husband and I made a reservation at Dell'anima restaurant last Sunday night. After wandering contentedly through the "Second Lives" exhibit at the Museum of Art & Design (which we recommend!) and whisking along among the lighted trees lining the city's winter streets we had worked up a good appetite. Dell'anima satisfied our cravings and then some.

Like every restaurant we've eaten at lately (Casa Mono and Boqueria), Dell'anima (which means "of the soul") is an itty-bitty little place. The atmosphere is one of pleasant noise and clatter (the music and many conversations blending in and out of the sounds of pans ringing on the fiery burners of the stove in the open kitchen and the hiss and sizzle of many wonderful foods being prepared). If you like a hushed place where you whisper sweet nothings to each other, this might not be your spot. Even on a Sunday night, Dell'anima hops.

When we arrived our coats were whisked away and we were promptly seated at a narrow table in view of the open kitchen. (Eating at places where the table has to be pulled out so you can get to your seat also seems to be a theme in our restaurant adventures lately!). We were then left for a pleasant interlude to peruse the menu and eavesdrop on neighboring diners' conversations.

Having heard good things about the bruschetta spreads here, we opted for three spreads to start - the fresh ricotta with sea salt (pure, creamy, irresistible goodness), the chickpeas with preserved lemon (tart and addictive), and the rapini pesto with walnuts (perfectly spicy and olive-oily). These spreads were served as a trio with thick, crusty, crostini that was hot and just salty enough to be delicious with no spreads at all.

After another pleasant pause (during which were happy to be mesmerized by the frenetic action in the open kitchen) our main courses arrived. We had the Risotta alla Pilota (a lovely, light risotto flecked with small chunks of house-made sausage and salumi bound together with a flavorful stock enhanced with pecorino romano) and the Agnolotti (fresh tubes of pasta filled with sweet puree of delicata squash and swimming in a salty brown butter sauce with sage and hazelnuts). These were just fabulous; the pasta is all made in-house and it's very tender. The only complaint I could possibly muster would be that the butter sauce served with the Agnolotti was ever-so-slightly too salty (and I am an avowed salt fiend). But, otherwise everything was pretty perfect.

Though we were absolutely stuffed we felt obligated to try a dessert (after all, how could we write a good review if we hadn't at least tried one of every course! See the sacrifices we make for you, our readers?). Dell'anima is not a dessert-focused place. There were only two offerings - a flourless chocolate cake and an espresso-almond cake. Both were pre-prepared (though surely made on-site). We went for the chocolate cake. It was moist and flavorful but frankly was just good and not great. In the end, we decided to view this as good news: instead of wasting room on mediocre desserts, next time we can have more wine or try one of the great appetizers on offer.

In sum: yum! For three bruschetta spreads, two main courses, one dessert, and two glasses of wine we forked over $115 (including tip). Not at all bad for such great fare. Dell'anima is well worth a visit. Given how crowded the place was early on Sunday night, though, I'd suggest a reservation!

Bon Appetit!

Dell'Anima on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Simple Goodness at Boqueria

Restaurant Name: Boqueria
Location: 53 W. 19th Street, NYC

We popped into Boqueria for what we hoped would be a cheering lunch after a cold, brutal Saturday morning fighting crowds at Herald Square. Things, unfortunately, did not get off to a good start. Even though there were tables open, the hostess asked us to wait while the staff "sorted things out." She gave us a menu and promptly disappeared. As we stood there in the entryway, feeling a little befuddled, we perused Boqueria's offerings. The menu was uninspiring at first glance, almost boring. My husband pulled out his iphone and started searching for another place to try.

The hostess must have sensed the imminent nature of our departure plans because she soon swooped in and took our coats and whisked us to a table. We perched at the raised tables (stools and elevated banquettes serve as seating) and waited for our waitress. She arrived, seeming put-out. But, we were there and we were, we gave it a try...and boy were we glad we did!

The food was wonderful - simple, incredibly flavorful, and cleverly constructed. The white bean soup sounded flavorless and boring on the specials board but was extremely slurpable once it arrived all salty and delectable in a glistening pork stock. A dish labeled and described only as "Choripan" turned out to be a delightful sandwich composed of fat coins of spicy chorizo slathered with raisin puree and nestled in a perfect baguette - the salty and sweet offset each other most fabulously. The patatas bravas were crispy (twice fried) home-fry style potatoes tossed with smoked Spanish paprika and drizzled with garlic aioli.

We also tried one of Boqueria's cheese plate offerings - the La Serena, which was a creamy, every-so-slightly bitter soft sheep's milk cheese served with quince paste and a sweet nut and fruit bread. All of this was rounded out with a tall glass of house-made, super-tart (super-good) lemonade for me and a generous pour of Javier Sanz Villa Narcissa Verdejo. This Spanish varietal was new to us - its like a Sauvignon Blanc but with a fuller body. When we asked the waitress more about it, she kindly wrote down not only the varietal and producer but also two shops where we could find it.

In the end, our bill came to about $60 for two (including the tip). The service hiccups at the beginning and the seemingly dull menu initially obscured what turned out to be a great little restaurant and a wonderful meal.

Boqueria also has another location in SoHo.

Boqueria on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bouchon - French Bistro in the Napa Valley

Bouchon Bistro has locations in Yountville and Las Vegas. We have eaten at both locations several times with mixed - from awesome to just OK - results. Bouchon is definitely the least consistent of Thomas Keller's restaurants - and I believe I understand why. Unlike all of Keller's other peerless restaurants Bouchon has an a la carte menu and suffers from too much success. I have found that to get a great, and I do mean great, meal here you need to arrive very near the start of service. At the height of service the place is too busy, noisy, and rushed to enjoy yourself or for the kitchen to keep up with. Late in service they are out of things and basically things kind of fall apart. But on its stride this is truly great Bistro food.

If you are a reasonably good home chef Get Thomas Keller's Great bistro food cookbook Bouchon and make the perfect recipes for yourself. follow his great technique descriptions, follow the recipes exactly, and you will have a dinner as good or better than the restaurant.

Bouchon on Urbanspoon

Ad Hoc - Can Thomas Keller Do Family Meals?

Yes, he definitely can. Thomas Keller does everything Food better than anyone else and his family meals restaurant ad hoc is another proof of this. The basic format, like it's fine dining siblings, is a prix fixe, single multi-course offering. ad hoc, however, is a $48 comfort food menu. The menu is based around several outstanding meals that vary by day of the week. The ad hoc fried chicken is already a cult favorite of home chefs and I will share the secret (brining the chicken in a very intense brine) and recipe with you:

Ingredients for Brine:
1 gallon cold water divided
1 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
8 large or 12 small bay leaves
1 head of garlic, smashed but not peeled
2 tablespoons black peppercorns not ground
3 large rosemary sprigs
1 small bunch of thyme
1 small bunch of parsley
Finely grated zest and juice of 2-3 lemons
1 brining bag, stockpot, or doubled plastic trashcan liners to be used for brining. Needs to hold bird(s) as well as allow fully submerging in one gallon brining liquid.

Combine 1 cup of water and all other ingredients including lemon rinds in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to combine all ingredients.

Remove from heat to cool and discard lemon rinds. To brining container add the birds (2 chickens cut into pieces, the 3 quarts of cold water, and then now cooled (can be fairly warm) contents of the saucepan. Make sure chicken is completely submerged. Refrigerate overnight - up to 18 hours.

After brining time is up drain and discard all liquid, wash off birds, get rid of any herbs, etc sticking to bird. Use paper towels to dry and then keep refrigerated for up to 8 hours till ready to Fry.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
2 cups buttermilk

In a large bowl, combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne and the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt. Put the buttermilk in a large, shallow bowl. Working with a few pieces at a time, dip the chicken in the buttermilk, then dredge in the flour mixture, pressing so it adheres all over. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet lined with wax paper or use a wire rack. Let sit for 20 minutes and then redredge the chicken in buttermilk and flour before frying.

In a very large pot or dutch oven, heat oil to 360°. Use enough oil to deep fry the chicken. Fry the chicken in 2 or 3 batches until golden and crunchy and the internal temperature is 160°F/60°C (about 20 minutes).


Chicken should be at room temperature when you’re ready to cook.

This fried chicken is great hot, cold or room temperature.

Food and Wine Magazine has a good explanation of the above recipe and technique - also at their web site. search on Thomas Keller Lemon Brined Fried Chicken.

Ad Hoc on Urbanspoon

La Foret - Classic country French above San Jose

La Foret on Urbanspoon In the forested hills (La Foret) above San Jose sits an old world french country restaurant that is the top Zagat rated restaurant in San Jose - and justly so. This little spot offers either prix fixe or ala carte fine dining offering many outstanding classic French treatments of top quality ingredients. They are especially know for their game specials and their beef. Do not forget the Grand Marnier Souffle for Dessert. It's a charming creekside location and a nice drive as well.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pearl Restaurant, Not Shiny Yet

Visited on 12/10/08
Location: Seattle - Eastside

There are precious few restaurant gems on the Eastside. So when I saw that Pearl had replaced the old Trader Vic's in Bellevue I was ready to find a new one. Fortunately for me, my wonderful wife was gracious enough to take care of our four and a half month old daughter so I could go out with a co-worker for some Christmas shopping and dinner.

As you walk into Pearl you are greeted with a bustling bar area and a very "happening" decor. Unfortunately, once seated we immediately noticed that it was nearly impossible to hear the waiter, or each other - perhaps a result of the arched bamboo ceiling that appears to be the last vestige of the previous tenant.

For appetizers, the foie gras was good, with a tayberry (blackberry and raspberry fruit hybrid) sauce, but I was not a fan of the croutons it was served with, as it ruined the whole flavor and texture for me. We also tried the calamari, which was also good. The accompanying sauce had a nice bite to it, but was not overpowering.

We had finished the foie gras and were halfway through the calamari when our main dishes suddenly showed up. That was a bit jarring, but OK. Why couldn't they have timed things a bit better? I had sablefish and it was terrific - cooked perfectly. The honey-miso marinade was a great accompaniment and it was ringed with mushroom caps and crab dumplings. My co-worker tried the Wagyu sirloin steak, which was good but a bit chewy. The beef came with a large mound of smashed potatoes that were bigger than the steak itself, and a generous portion of veggies. The entrees were so huge however, it makes ordering appetizers totally unnecessary. We did try one side of the truffle fries. However they were served in a lowball glass with too much truffle oil yielding terribly soggy fries as all the fries at the bottom of the glass suffered.

Don't bother with dessert either. We tried the white chocolate banana cream dessert which was fine. However, the triple chocolate dessert was a total mess. It was described as essentially a warm chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream. The ice cream was fine, but the cake... oh my! I tried to use my spoon to eat some and couldn't even get through the outside. I could barely crack the outside with a fork. The inside was totally dry, very hard, not warm, and basically inedible. I have to say it's the worst dessert I have ever been served as it seemed overcooked and at least a day old. I have had better McDonald's apple pies and the prepackaged desserts at the cafe at work that were better. I couldn't eat a bite of the cake it was so bad.

Overall Pearl has some good things going for it. The main dishes showed promise, the decor is very well done, wine list substantial and Northwest, but in general Pearl seems to be just another average American restaurant trying to masquerade as fine dining by offering the same foods. It has some glaring problems, including the noise, too large entrees, slightly overpriced dishes, and the dessert situation. Currently the only way to eat here is to order entrees only, you will get generally well prepared food and plenty of it. Unfortunately that formula is all to common among many popular American restaurants causing Pearl to lose some polish.

Pearl Bar & Dining on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 8, 2008

From Miranda's Kitchen: Roasted Salmon with Corn & Avocado Salsa

Roasted Salmon with Corn & Avocado Salsa

Serves 3


1 lb wild-caught salmon fillet
1 whole avocado, ripe but not too mushy
1 fresh jalapeno
1 tsp minced fresh cilantro
2 ears of corn (or 1 cup frozen sweet organic corn)
1 vine-ripened tomato
1 large lime
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt & Pepper


For the salsa:
If using fresh corn, blanch the corn for approximately 3 minutes in rapidly boiling, salted water. Drain the corn and cut the kernels from the cob. If using frozen corn, gently thaw the corn in water in the microwave. Do not overheat the corn.

Dice the tomato and jalapeno and toss them in bowl with the corn (for a spicier salsa leave the jalapeno seeds in the dice, for a less spicy salsa, remove the pith and seeds before dicing the jalapeno). Add the cilantro. Cut the avocado into 1/4" pieces and add to the corn mixture. Add 1 Tbs olive oil and all of the juice from the lemon. Toss the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rub olive oil into the flesh side of the salmon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Once oven reaches preset temperature, heat an oven-safe large skillet on the stove top. Add 1 Tbs of olive oil. Add the salmon fillet (it is best to cook the fillet whole) to the skillet, skin-side down. Sear for 3 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast the salmon for approximately 15 minutes.

When the salmon is done, remove it from the oven (carefully, with a pot holder - the skillet handle will be HOT). Cut the salmon into portions and plate each portion. Pile a generous scoop or two of the salsa on top of each piece of salmon. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, if desired.

Bon Appetit!

Brunch At Spring Hill - Best Brunch Seattle Restaurants 2008

On Saturday Cindy and I met Jeff, Amy, and Lyla to try out Spring Hill Restaurants new Brunch service. To say the least, it was AWESOME! Newly opening on Saturday and Sundays from 10 AM to 2 PM we were the first ones in the door. The menu features the same fresh, local, in-house made products, and incredibly delicate cooking techniques you experience at Dinner Service here.
We sampled a lot of the menu items. We started with a couple of orders of the apple beignets with cold creme anglaise - WOW! Everything was good but this was the best. Fresh squeezed juices, presse coffee, tea - and for Lyla a nice bottle of breast milk ( not normally on the menu). Lyla was a happy little angel by the way.
We then moved on to the wonderful array of small plates (not so small of course). Duck ’ s eggs benedict with artisanal ham, dahlia bakery english muffin, herbed hollandaise; baked eggs with chanterelles, grilled scallion, grilled bread, house made apple smoked bacon; wood grilled hangar steak ( s trawberry mtn., or. ) with scrambled eggs with teleme(best main menu item); house made spicy sausage; Beecher ’ s cheddar bread pudding; and finally, awesome hashed brown potatoes.
We, of course could not finish everything but we tried hard.
They also make a Proper Quiche (Thomas Keller Bouchon 2" thick 2-3 days prep time version) which you almost can't find in the USA (where we think a quiche is a soggy egg tart). they also offer their incredible Burger, a yummy looking Waffle, or Saiman.
If you are impressed with high end treatment of breakfast - this is the place. It instantly became my winner of Best Seattle Brunch for 2008.

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tapas at Casa Mono

Restaurant Name: Casa Mono
Location: 52 Irving Place, (near Union Square) NYC

My husband and I tumbled into the tiny warm cave that is Casa Mono around 6:45pm on a chilly Saturday night. Lacking a reservation we were expecting a wait, even for a seat at the bar, but the early hour and the fact that it was Thanksgiving weekend (and everyone in New York was shopping above 34th street) turned events in our favor. Moments later we were tucked away in a little corner inches from the open kitchen.

Everything at Casa Mono is small. The restaurant is small, perhaps only 10 tables (as well as seats along two bars - one of which is in front of the open kitchen in which four chefs dance precisely around each other at top speed). The tables are small - they even have a lower "shelf" to hold the water glasses! The food is also small; everything is done in the Spanish tapas style of small plates, each a work of edible art. In a nation that prides itself on "bigger is better", Casa Mono perfectly shows up the foolhardiness of that sentiment. Why would you want a plate heaping with a single entree when you could sample your way through six or seven different dishes and leave equally full?

And, indeed, we tried seven small plates. Six were amazing and one was just okay.

Our favorites included a revelatory Bone Marrow with Pickled Radishes (we actually contemplated ordering a second round of this), Confit Goat with Saffron Honey (this was really interesting, served with a goat cheese sauce, caramelized red onion, and swiss chard), Piquillo Peppers with Oxtails (a sizzling stew topped with glistening, red peppers), Housemade Cured Ham (which was served with crispy crostini infused with lots of olive oil and the most wonderful pickled salad of fennel, onions, radishes, and golden beets), and Patatas Bravas (crispy roasted fingerling potatoes tossed with soffrito, garlic aoili, green onions, and a healthy dose of smoked Spanish paprika). The Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Croquettas were just okay - crisp, sweet, and tangy and served with fried sage. For dessert we thought we'd go "light" and we ordered the Tangerine Sorbetto y Moscatel 9. It came as two perfect scoops sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and nestled in a pool of sweet wine jelly.

The wine list at Casa Mono is, as one might expect, almost exclusively Spanish. And its looong...and a little overwhelming, too. The sommelier was very helpful though. Not really knowing what we wanted, we gave her a vague "how about a medium-bodied red wine, more earthy than fruity"? She picked a perfect Reibera Sacra from producer Themera on offer for $65. It was very drinkable and paired wonderfully with all the rich, meaty dishes we'd ordered.

Perhaps our overall experience here would have been a little different if we'd come on a regular weekend and encountered the crowds that are rumored to make for a long wait (making a reservation seems advisable). But nothing could have diminished the pleasure of the food - complex, interesting, and challenging. Also, I should mention, delicious.

This foray into decadence wasn't the cheapest meal we've had - our total bill was around $200 (for 2 people, including wine and tip) - but as we wandered back out into the cold night we both agreed it was well worth the splurge.

Casa Mono on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cookbook Review: The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young & Alan Richardson

The Breath of a Wok is an excellent cookbook for a beginning to moderately-skilled home cook who is looking to make an initial foray into the world of wok cooking.

This well-made, hardcover book is essentially broken into two sections. The first contains what the authors refer to rather loftily as "lore" about wok cooking, but which is really a history of the wok and description about how to select and season a wok. There is also a section on how to use the wok to achieved the elusive flavor of "Wok Hay" (the unique, concentrated flavor of food rapidly cooked at high heat, which the authors translate as breath of the wok). While the discussion of Wok Hay is somewhat instructive and certainly poetic, it is the information on how to chose and season your wok that is the most useful. For those who've never made such a purchase, or used such an item, this information is vital. From my cheat sheet: get rid of the fancy, expensive non-stick wok you got off your wedding registry. This is not a wok. Go spend $10 in a Chinese market on a carbon steel flat-bottomed wok. Be willing to not scrub it clean each time you use it, rub it lovingly with peanut oil, and in a few weeks you'll be cooking wonderful dishes in no time.

The second section of the book is, of course, the recipes. You'll find all the basics here, but none of the icky Americanized Chinese food you get at so many restaurants. This is simple, quite authentic-tasting food with minimal ingredients, and all of them *fresh* ingredients. Most of the things that the recipes call for are easy to find. The recipe sections are broken down by technique (Stir-Frying, Smoking, Pan-Frying, Braising, Boiling & Poaching, Steaming, and Deep-Frying). There are recipes for chicken, pork, beef, vegetables, and seafood (lots of great shrimp dishes). Some are things you might expect, such as Kung Pao Chicken, but many are new to the American home cook, and are wonderful (think Braised Beef Short Ribs with Scallion, Singapore-Style Squid, and delicate Scallops with Asparagus).

The book is dotted liberally with beautiful photography, the recipes are well-explained, and a glossary provides information on potentially unfamiliar ingredients.

If you know someone who has been contemplating getting into Chinese cooking, get them this cookbook ($23 on along with a good, cheap wok (I've had plenty of luck with my Joyce Chen wok) and a wooden stir-fry paddle. They'll be set for a great new culinary adventure!

Bon Appetit!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas Gift Ideas for the Cook - Sieve

Thomas Keller calls the fine mesh Tamis, Chinois, Sieve as "Tools of Refinement". These items will raise your sauces, purees, and soups to a whole new level of smooth and beautiful. Basically what you do is pass semi liquids thru the mesh to remove all pulp, seeds, skins, fibers, lumps of starch, or whatever and produce a velvet, clean, beautiful product.

The fine sieve is a tool most chefs don't have and they are frankly very hard to find. I own the set above $30 for the sieve's and $6 for the scraper. You don't need all 3 sieves but they come as a set. Both of the items above are listed as baking items. They are very useful there as well for Sieving dry ingredients and counter scraping and dough turning.

Really, you will be amazed what these simple items will do for you cooking.

The two images above are a set of Sieves and a scraper from Amazon - see link.

Christmas Ideas for the Cook - Thermometers

Using a cooking thermometer will improve the consistency of your cooking greatly. It will also teach you the look and touch method of determining doneness as you can use those techniques along with a thermometer to know at exactly what temperature a certain look or touch is achieved.

The items pictured are a waterproof instant read, and a remote oven or BBQ thermometer.

The instant read needs to be waterproof (most are not, so look for this feature) as one of the things you need to measure is liquids and for stupid reasons I really don't get most of the instant reads on the market are not sealed properly and thus are ruined within a few uses if used in measuring liquids or if you wash them. The instant read is helpful mostly for uses outside the oven or BBQ and is fast, accurate, easy to carry in your pocket or apron and generally all around useful. I use it for measuring the temperature of rising bread dough, or water for yeast where temperature is the difference between success and failure. I also use it to check internal temperature of meats on the stovetop, simmering water, you name it. Knowing the temperature of items you are processing is essential to good cooking.

The remote thermometer is useful in the oven or BBQ because you stick it in and can close the door or lid over the wire without compromising the seal. You can then monitor the temperature of the cooking item at it's thickest part without opening the door. Every time you open the door or lid of a hot oven or BBQ you are totally screwing up the air heat by up to 100 degrees which is a disaster. I don't cook by time I cook by internal temperature. Bread, for instance is ready when it hits an internal temp of above 200 degrees (depends on what kind of bread between 200 and 210). Custards like quiche are done at 165 degrees. Meats depend upon the item - figure it out based on what it is and how rare you like it. Note that most dense items will continue to heat up after the item is removed from heat so if you want to serve a roast with an internal maximum temp of 140 degrees you need to take it off heat at around 130 degrees.

It is very educational to watch the speed of temperature rise increase as food nears its "done" point. It will impress you with how easy it is to overcook or undercook an item and convince you to use a thermometer instead of the "time" in the recipe. Note that where you place the probe is critical to getting a proper level of doneness. Bread near the surface of at the edges will be 30 degrees hotter than at the center - that is the nature of oven cooking. So, you must place the probe in the "coldest", usually the dead center of the thickest part, part of the item to be measured. Not a bad idea to check in several places before you conclude you have things right. My Thanksgiving Turkey was not adequately done in some parts (had to go back in oven) even though the temp in what I thought was the right part said 165. It was really only 145 n some spots.

The variance in temperature in various parts of the item being cooked also explains why you MUST allow items to "rest" after coming off heat. What happens is that physics of heat causes an evening out of temperature through out the item to get an even doneness. In meats it allows juices that have rushed to the cooler inner parts of the meat to evenly distribute throughout. In baked items it allows evening out of internal steam. If you don't allow items to rest before cutting them open you are really ruining the item.

Christmas Ideas for the Cook - Knives

Sharp, good knives are absolutely essential to good cooking. Get rid of the old dull, worthless cooking knives and get the 3 essential knives every chef needs. You can seriously get by with these three knives.

First is the 8 to 10 inch chef's knife in the top left picture. Yes, it is big but it can be used for mincing garlic as well as for cutting through a duck leg bone. You will notice the handle is much higher than the blade and that the blade is quite curved. The blade also is quite thick at the handle end and very delicate at the point end. This shape is essential to safe and efficient cutting as it allows essentially rolling the blade back and forth to mince or do the other fine cuts you need with your hands out of the way. the thick handle end is for cleaver like cutting as in the duck bone. You really do not need all those other chef knife sizes and if you only use and maintain one good knife for chef knife purposes you become more proficient at handing it.

The middle knife above is somewhat incorrectly referred to as a bread knife. This is really a slicing knife and is essential to that task. It has large scalloped "serrations" and is a big, but thin and light blade. If you have ever tried slicing a ripe tomato with any other kind of knife you will understand why this type of knife is essential. It can cut trough delicate items like bread and soft fruits in very thin slices without crushing or damaging the edges of the food. It is also great for thin slicing of meat or really any item.

The third knife on the right is a boning knife. It is very thin fairly straight blade and is used for filleting fish - separating the skin from the flesh easily and cleanly. It is also essential for cutting up poultry like chickens or ducks. And if you get to cleaning Foie Gras it is great for those pesky veins you have to find and remove. If you are buying poultry any other way than whole and cutting it up yourself you can pay for this knife in about a week. The cost of a whole chicken or duck compared to what you get in return (11 pieces and carcass for stock - in a duck the duck fat alone separately costs more than the whole bird) is incredible. Example, at Costco you can get two organic whole bagged chickens for about $20 at around $2 a lb. . Organic chicken breast alone cost $6-10 a lb.. I will write another post on how and why to buy whole poultry - and why to buy organic when it comes to poultry. In any event, when you get ready to do your own butchering (cutting up meat - slaughtering is the killing it part - I always have people confusing those 2 when I talk about butchering). you will need this knife.

In general spend a lot for a good knife. I prefer Wusthof brand but here are lots of brands. What is important is that they have and keep a sharp blade. A sharp knife is essential and is much SAFER than a dull blade. All CHEAP knives are worthless in a few months as they dull and will not properly sharpen. A knife steel is good to use after every use run the blade down it. It actually does not sharpen the blade as is normally supposed - what is does is smooths out any small nicks, or other imperfections created while in use. This is why you need to do it every time you use the knife - as it cannot fix big problems created over time only deals with small ones on a regular basis. Also, DO NOT put Kitchen knives in the Dishwasher as the buffeting action dulls them and weakens the handles quickly. they are designed to be quickly cleaned off by hand after use. They are hard and sharp and don't require lots of scrubbing or soaking to get rid of 100% of contaminants quickly.

Christmas Ideas for the Cook - Cookware

The Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot with a tight fitting lid comes in many sizes and shapes. If I could only have one piece of cookware it would be a Le Creuset Pot. We visited France last year and stayed with our Vashon friend Ann Donaldson in her home in Normandy. I cooked the whole week 3 meals a day most days using all the fabulous fresh French ingredients that make visiting France such a sensual pleasure. The only piece of cookware I used the whole week was a Le Creuset pot - Sauteing, frying, braising, roasting, baking bread, boiling water, literally you can use this pot for 100% of your cooking needs.

What's so great about it? 1. the heavy cast heats up and retains heat as only cast iron can. 2. The enamel finish makes clean up a breeze -I hate taking care of raw cast iron. From a cleanup point of view this stuff is as good or better than nonstick (which you really don't want to use but that is another story). 3. The pot can go from stove top to oven to table. Many ingredients reach their peak potential only by starting on the stove top and finishing in the oven - everything from grilled meats to freshly baked bread. 4. The tight fitting lid allows for low, slow braising or confit of meats and makes the perfect moist "oven" within the bone dry air of your main oven for baking the perfect loaf of bread (you heat the pot on the stove top on high with the bread in in for 2-3 minutes before sticking the whole thing in the oven - to get a hot pot for oven spring). 5. Unlike raw cast iron you can cook anything, including acid foods without having to re-season your cookware and there are no rust problems- another 2 things I hate about raw cast iron.

The Le Creuset comes in many sizes and colors and is available at Amazon, Macy's and many other places. they are expensive but last a lifetime and replace most of your old crappy cookware with one item. I prefer the large oval baker as it can handle a big cassoulet, large pot blanching, a big pot of chili,and a 2 kilo loaf of sourdough dread with ease - or cook a single fried egg.

Despite what conventional wisdom says Harold Mcgee (my personal choice of food scientist info) has proved that on the stove top cast iron including Le Creuset does not heat evenly. The part of the pot directly over the burner can be up to 100 degrees hotter than the edge of the bottom of the pan. You can either really screw up or use that to your advantage. When searing meats for a braise you want to not only not crowd the pan (common wisdom) but you also want to only use the center of the pan. When cooking bacon or sausages or things that tend to cook unevenly move the more done pieces to the edges and the less done to the center. In the oven however the cast iron pot with a lid on is PERFECT for even heat - unlike many other thinner pots.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cookbook Review: French Laundry Cookbook Thomas Keller

Miranda and I agree Thomas Keller is not only the greatest working Chef, of 2 (per se and French Laundry) of the best restaurants in the world, he also has the best cookbooks in the world for serious chefs.

His restaurants and his cookbooks are so good because he uses the best ingredients and the most exacting, most precise, best explained well thought-out techniques to each and every thing he presents.
Take advantage of his years of experience and his flawless techniques and your cooking will move to a whole new level. The techniques and sub-recipes he spells out in this book and in his Bouchon cookbook are world changing for the home chef.

In cooking classes and foodie get-togethers many folks have told me that they bought this book but never cook out of it because it is far to advanced, time consuming, and complex for them. My response is to just go back and read a few of the technique sections such as Big Pot Blanching, Tools of Refinement - the Chinois and Tamis, Salt, pepper, and Vinegar, Stocks and Sauces,and of course, The Importance of France!. What you will learn in these few pages will DRAMATICALLY improve your cooking. Then I advise reading the recipes for the TECHNIQUES he describes in detail as well as the many wonderful simple sub- recipes for everything from tempura batter to tomato tartare. The only great cooking is cooking from scratch in my opinion and knowing the simple sub recipes for things you might ordinarily buy will improve your results, save you money and help you avoid many nasty food additives that are in almost all commercial prepared ingredients and products.

I personally refer to this book by far more than any other cookbook I own. I totally recommend it. It is also beautiful and makes a great gift at around $30 from Amazon online. I also recommend his Bouchon Cookbook (see Miranda's review below).

Cookbook Review: Bouchon by Thomas Keller

As part of our ongoing Holiday Culinary Gift Guide for 2008, I am reviewing a few great, classic cookbook favorites of mine. There is no better place to start than with Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. Now available deeply discounted on ($32 down from $50) this is an excellent gift for anyone who is serious about cooking excellent food at home, improving their cooking techniques, or is in love with the food of the French bistro.

Of all the cookbooks on my shelf (and there are many) Bouchon is the most weathered. Unlike Keller's other cookbooks (The French Laundry, and now Under Pressure), Bouchon can be turned to for everyday comforts-of-home cuisine. This is not to say, however, that many (or any) of his recipes can be whipped up an hour before dinner time. In classic Keller fashion, most involve sub-recipes (for example, in a recipe for Lentil Soup there are sub-recipes for Chicken stock and Veal stock; in a recipe for Roast Chicken there are sub-recipes for Chicken jus and brine). However, for those able to work outside the confines of a recipe, these can be adapted and substituted as you like depending on your time constraints. Thomas Keller himself, though, is not a short-cut kind of guy and, indeed, the sub-recipes (included in an extensive index at the back of the book) are a real goldmine in of themselves, providing exacting and detailed instructions on everything from roux to stock and creme anglaise to garlic confit.

The book is roughly organized into sections based around small plates ("First Impressions," "Hors d'Oeuvres," and "Raw Bar"), more lunch oriented or first-course oriented fare ("Anytime," "Soups," "Salads," "Quiches," and "Sandwiches"), Entrees ("Fish & Shellfish," "Birds & Meat," and "Gnocchi") Sides ("Accompaniments") and, of course, Dessert ("Custards," Tarts & Cakes," "Ice Creams & Sorbets," and Puffs, Crepes & Fruit"). The book also includes full page and panel spreads on cooking techniques and ingredients (such as "The Importance of Salt").

Bouchon is also beautiful with lush photographs, heavy stock pages, and a durable cover and jacket (to this last I can definitely attest, having really put the book through its paces). This cookbook has had a deep and lasting impact on my cooking (and that of another blogger on this site: Steve). It is my go-to source for favorite recipes, including wonderful French Onion Soup, true quiches (deep, custardy, high-sided affairs that take several days to prepare), fabulous frites, classic seared hanger steaks with caramelized onions and butter, rich desserts such as a velvety chocolate terrine with creme anglaise and perfect ice creams. I've had the book for several years, cook out of it regularly, and still there are recipes nestled within waiting for me to try them.

For the foodie and home cook willing to devote several hours to preparing amazing food, (or to the collector of beautiful cookbooks....or even to the person looking for a little culinary inspiration in their lives) this is the *perfect* gift.

Bon Appetit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weekend in San Francisco

This last weekend I visited San Francisco for a conference. Though I was wrapped up with work much of the time, you can bet that I made every meal count!

In this post I review the restaurants I tried (which include Madeline's, Clift Bar, Ame, Crepe o Chocolate, Ferry Plaza Seafood, King of Thai, Cafe de la Presse, and Canteen).

San Francisco Weekend - Madeline's

Thursday, 3pm: late lunch at Madeline's
43 O'Farrell Street (between Grant and Market)

After my long flight across the country, I was ravenous (American Airlines doesn't even bother to pretend to offer you "food" for purchase...). After checking in to the Westin Market Street, I descended on Cafe Madeline (not far from the hotel) like a wild jackal and immediately pounced on one of their scrumptious looking, freshly made-to-order sandwiches (Camembert and proscuitto with aioli and field greens on an onion ciabatta roll). It was very tasty and of an ample size. But, (and I never thought I'd say such a thing), I think there was just too much proscuitto and as a result the sandwich was overly salty. I didn't try any of the delicious looking pastries.

Cafe Madeleine on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Redwood Room

Thursday, 6pm: drinks at the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel495 Geary Street
My friend Pam and her husband had stayed at the Clift Hotel on a previous visit to San Francisco and she was eager to take me to the Redwood Room, a beautiful bar in the hotel that is paneled entirely guessed it: redwood. As you might imagine, it is lustrous and fabulous in all its non-PC glory. Drinks here are expensive (about $15 each) and the staff are little high on their own horses, but its well worth it to recline on the comfy sofas or lounge at the bar.

San Francisco Weekend - Ame

Thursday, 7pm: dinner at Ame
689 Mission Street

Ame is billed as fancy-pants New American cuisine, but it has a definite Asian flavor to it (from the sashimi bar to the yuzo and sake flavoring many dishes). Pam and I wandered in here without a reservation but had no trouble getting a table at such an early hour on a Thursday. The staff were a little stiff (it *is* an elegant place with lots of high-backed chairs and heavy drapes) but welcoming enough. I think we may have been a bit of a disappointment to them, only ordering entrees and a single glass of wine (about which the waiter practically insisted that Pam order a Pinot Noir with her Black Cod. Little did he know Pam - she got what she wanted, which wasn't a Pinot).

The food here is very good, with plenty of subtle flavors and interesting ingredients. Pam had the house signature dish, the Broiled Sake Marinated Alaskan Black Cod and Shrimp Dumplings in Shiso Broth. It was very fabulous - all the flavors balanced just right. I tried the Seared Maine Diver Scallops on Cauliflower Puree with Bacon Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Truffle Sauce. The scallops were sweet, tender, and lovely - and were cooked perfectly. Other elements of the dish were more of a miss. The cauliflower puree, for example, tasted a little musty (and not in the good truffley way one might hope, but in an odd basement-smell kind of way). Also, the brussel sprouts were thin on the ground, as was the bacon.

Ame on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Crepe o Chocolate

Friday, 12:30pm: lunch at Crepe o Chocolate
75 O'Farrell Street

This tiny sidewalk cafe is awesome. Awesome, I tell you. They serve crepes (sweet only), omelettes filled all manner of goodness (think black forest ham, gruyere, fresh veggies, and so on), gorgeous sandwiches with figs, proscuitto, get the idea. They also make these wonderful foamy hot drinks that are works of art. When Pam ordered a hot chocolate, we watched in contentment as the barista ladled gloppy, freshly melted chocolate from a deep ceramic bowl into the cup. It was as good as it looked - maybe better.

Crepe O Chocolate on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - King of Thai

Friday, 6pm: dinner at King of Thai
420 Geary Street (plus other locations)

This hole-in-the wall Thai joint has several locations throughout San Francisco. It is small (probably only about 8 tables) and pretty dingy, but they serve up piping hot, heaping portions of pretty good Thai food for dirt cheap prices (our dinner at King of Thai was less than our drinks at the Redwood Room). We ordered a seemingly bottomless bowl of dumpling soup swimming with wide noodles, the Pad Thai with Shrimps (noodles flavorful and good, shrimps not great), Stir fried wide noodles, and fried spring rolls. This was a good spot for quick, hot, and flavorful food but was far from the best Thai I've had.
King of Thai on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Ferry Plaza Seafood

Saturday, 12:30pm: lunch at Ferry Plaza Seafood
Located in the Ferry Building

With a great panorama of the San Francisco Bay and simple, fresh seafood preparations, this little restaurant is worth fighting the crowds in the Ferry Building for (and, indeed, the Ferry Building itself - a formalized indoor market - is well worth a visit). Pam and I popped in here for a quick lunch. She had the oysters on the half shell (two types of Washington oysters served with three different sauces which she slurped down with a pretty happy look on her face) and the smoked salmon (several smoked preparations served with toast). I had the crab cake, which more closely resembled a timbale of fresh crab meat with a very light sear on the top. While I was more than happy to devour this, I had actually hoped for a more cake-like crab cake; this seemed in the vein of heated crab salad. But, hey, it was fresh and full of crabby sweetness.

Ferry Plaza Seafoods on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Cafe de la Presse

Saturday, 5:30pm: dinner at Cafe de la Presse
352 Grant Street

After a long day at the conference we were attending, four of us headed over to Cafe de la Presse (located just outside the Chinatown Gate) for dinner. I had made a reservation here but was a little nervous about how it would turn out because the reviews on Zagat and Yelp had been somewhat lukewarm. I need not have worried - we had a utterly satisfying meal at this charming Parisian-style bistro.

Between the four of us, we tried the escargot, the French Onion Soup, and the Steak Frites. I did not personally sample the escargot but I can attest that they looked and smelled fabulous (redolent of garlic and parsley, sizzling, beautiful) and Jane, who ordered them, dispatched them with relish and contentment. The soup, chosen by Ellen, Jane and Pam, was great - not overly bready (as so many sad French Onion Soups are) and not under-salted (another common offense). The broth was complex - both tangy and oniony-sweet. If anything could have been modified here, I think a little more cheese would have been in order. The Steak Frites was also great. The frites were perfect (a little bigger than shoestring, golden, not at all greasy and scattered with parsley). They were served with aioli. The steak was incredibly flavorful and was served with a peppercorn gravy but it was overcooked a little (I had asked for rare to medium rare and it was probably closer to medium-rare to medium). It was also an odd, unidentifiable cut. Definitely not a hanger steak. But, hey, it tasted good. With all of this we enjoyed a Sancerre - always a crowd-pleaser and a clear choice given that the wine list seemed to be composed almost entirely of wines that were either $30 or $150 (the Sancerre was one of the few in between).

Cafe de la Presse on Urbanspoon

San Francisco Weekend - Canteen

Sunday, 9am: breakfast at Canteen
817 Sutter Street

And now, as on my trip (though unwittingly), I have saved the best for last. On my final morning in San Francisco I tottered out of bed and headed out by myself for breakfast at Canteen. A brisk, early morning stroll up the hill from the hotel primed my appetite for one of the most fabulous breakfasts I have ever eaten.

Canteen, first off, is adorable. Only four booths and a long formica counter, the whole place was being serviced by one waitress and two cooks. Everything was cozy and welcoming. And the food....oh my God. Honestly, I don't think I've ever had hollandaise sauce quite like that before. It was tangy and ethereal, pillowy, cloudy (get the idea?). The Hollandaise was floating atop two perfectly poached eggs nestled on thin crisps of english muffin and thick, salty ham. This was honestly the most awesome Eggs Benedict of all time. On the side was a small congregation of perfectly cooked home fries flavored with green onions (a really great addition that I'll be trying at home soon). A foamy, bittersweet hot chocolate rounded things out. Sitting at the counter, I was able to easily ogle the other dishes. A little girl sitting next to me ordered the pancakes, which were filled with creme anglaise and apples. She looked pretty damn happy, and who can blame her?

Canteen on Urbanspoon

I waddled back down the hill wishing I had the time to try Canteen for lunch or dinner before I left. But, alas, it was not to be. The airport - and the chill of the east coast winter - awaited.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas Magazines Subscriptions - Food Porn

In addition to Miranda's great list of magazine ideas I thought I would add a couple for the Foodie on your list who has it all and is really into the food porn (that is a foodie term - not something kinky).

Art Culinaire $59 a year for 4 issues, and Gastronomica $48 a year for 4 issues are for the Foodie who really wants to be visually inspired on what is new, or about to be new in professional kitchens in terms of ingredients, presentation, and techniques. I currently subscribe to Art Culinaire which is an 11 by 14 inch hard cover quarterly. It usually features one trendy new ingredient and then has 8-10 high end chefs who present visually and with technique menus using that ingredient. It's cool! I have Gastronomica on my Christmas List this year.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Holiday Culinary Gift Guide: Food Magazines

This post is the first in a series of holiday gift guide reviews and suggestions for all things culinary.

I'm beginning with a review of several popular food magazines (Saveur, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and Cook's Illustrated).

Buy for: the adventurous home cook or avid reader of culinary/travel writing
The first thing to know about this magazine is that it does not come out every month. There are only 9 issues per year. An annual subscription currently costs about $20.

I have received Saveur for many years now, and in my opinion it differs greatly in terms of content from other food magazines. First of all, the recipes in this magazine seem to be much more authentic than those in other mags. For example, in an issue on the cuisine of India you are likely to find recipes that call for items like goat meat and gold foil. These recipes aren't adapted for the typical American kitchen. Often such ingredients are difficult to find and so I tend to make fewer recipes from Saveur than from other food mags. Another reason for this is that there often seem to *be* fewer recipes in the magazine than in others (and in general, the magazine is the shortest of the bunch). So, I would sum up by saying that the recipes might be more exotic and challenging than the average home cook would want to attempt and that they are not as abundant as you might find elsewhere. That being said, Saveur is great reading. The articles are typically really interesting and often look in-depth at non-Western cuisine. I'm always excited when it arrives in the mail.

Gourmet Magazine
Buy for: a home cook aspiring to become more serious about food
Gourmet offers 12 issues a year and a gift subscription is $20.

I actually canceled my subscription to Gourmet about two years ago. This wasn't because it isn't a good magazine but because I was receiving too many food mags and this one stood out the least in the crowd. I found that its recipes tended to be somewhere in between an easy adaptation for the casual home cook and a gourmet sensibility and that, as a result, they were often not home runs. The magazine does have a nice mix of articles and recipes (and plenty of the latter). Its visually very pretty, too.

Bon Appetit
Buy For: a casual home cook who is looking for inspiration
Bon Appetit comes out 12 times per year and a gift subscription guessed it, $20.

This food magazine has a special place in my heart. I think its the most populist of the fancy food mags and would probably appeal to the widest range of aspiring home cooks. I can never make it through this magazine without folding down at least 10 pages worth of recipes I'm ready to try, the photography is lovely, and they have a nice mix of everyday, easier recipes and special occasion dishes. As with any food magazine, not everything I've made from here has turned out well (and not always due to my cooking techniques...some of the recipes are simply not good). But many things do shine. The articles are the weak point of this magazine, in my opinion. They are rarely in-depth or particularly interesting. Go to Bon Appetit for the recipes. A final pet peeve: too many ads! Seriously, there are TONS of them.

Food & Wine
Buy For: the home cook/foodie who loves to impress guests and family with great food
Like Bon Appetit and Gourmet, this mag comes out 12 times a year and costs $20 for an annual subscription.

This is my favorite magazine of the bunch. First off, its got lots of great information about wine, as well as food. You get suggestions for pairings and plenty of interesting (and accessible) articles about different wine varietals. I feel like I've learned a lot about wine from reading this magazine. The recipes are also the most consistently good of any of the food magazines I've cooked from. If a recipe sounds interesting and you follow the directions, its likely to be great and impress your family or guests. The articles are also good; much more interesting/intriguing and better researched and presented than those in Bon Appetit (though probably not rivaling Saveur).

Cook's Illustrated
Buy For: the serious foodie who wants to improve their technique
This is the pricey one of the bunch - $24 for 6 issues (only 6 issues per year).

Cook's Illustrated is different from other food magazines. It is focused on technique. What is the best way to brine chicken? Which kitchen knives work best for which tasks? Who makes the best butter and which butter is best for which purpose? These are the kinds of questions addressed in this magazine. There are lots of kitchen tests reproduced in the magazine, lots of descriptions of the science of cooking, and so forth. I know my technique as a cook would improve if I subscribed to this magazine, but I think at heart I'm a lazy hedonist. I'd rather learn by trial and error and ogle food-porn pictures and recipes in other magazines. If you want to improve your understanding of how cooking alters different foods and what tools and techniques will help you achieve the best results, this is a great addition to the mailbox.

A cooking magazine is a great gift for a food lover or cook. It keeps on giving all year long and exposes the recipient to new ideas (and the giver to good meals...). Best of all, you can buy all of these subscriptions online, so its very easy too!

Happy Shopping!

Devin Tavern in Greenwich Village

A week ago I went to Devin with four friends. It was about 8pm on Friday night. There wasn't much going in the neighborhood near the place, but the place itself is very nice. It feels like a colonial time tavern redone in a modern way. There is lot's of exposed brick and soft lighting. I was expecting it to be jam packed, being a bar in the village on Friday night, but this wasn't the case at all. There was space at the tables near the bar for me to wait for my friends. (I later found out there is a large bar downstairs as well.) Once they all arrived, we got seated without a reservation immediately. That's pretty amazing for 5 people on a Friday night. The host, bartender, waitstaff and wine guy were all very polite and accommodating.

On to the food. We ordered the House Made Bacons for the table. This consisted of veal, duck, and mushroom bacons. The mushroom bacon tasted like meatloaf and was a bit of a miss for me, although others at the table liked it. The Veal and Duck bacon were awesome! Everyone at the table was clamoring for that stuff. I could have easily eaten all that they served us myself. I ordered the steak frites as an entree. The steak was well executed with a crispy exterior and a red, melt-in-your-mouth middle. It was not quite as hot as I would have liked it - maybe it sat in the kitchen for a few minutes before being served. That was a bit odd because, as I said, the place wasn't all that crowded. The frites were good, not great, but good. The wine list was extensive with many choices, both affordable and high end.

In a nutshell, if you're in the village and need a decent spot for good sized group with no reservations this is your place. Don't miss out on the duck and veal bacon. As I said in a previous post, a good restaurant needs to be able to allow you to have a good time with your friends. This place certainly does that since there is no waiting and no pretense. The food was good, but not great.
Devin Tavern on Urbanspoon

Mediocre French in SoHo

Restaurant Name: Bistro Les Amis
Location: SoHo, New York City

Having read some pretty positive reviews of Bistro Les Amis in SoHo, my husband and I chose it for our Friday night dinner out. We were hopeful, yearning for a great dining experience.

We were very disappointed.

While Bistro Les Amis is charming, cozy, and very welcoming - the place has very good service - the food is just not good.

We had an appetizer and entree each and shared a bottle of Sancerre for a final bill of $130.

We started with two of their specials - the escargot and the lobster bisque. Of the two, the bisque was the better. It had a good flavor (not complex, but with a strong lobster taste) and was nice and hot. But, the texture and consistency were pretty bad. The bisque wasn't smooth; there were tons of tiny lumps (either a problem when cooking the original roux or the need to pass the soup through a tamis).

The escargot were simply a sad failure. Usually when this happens, its because the snails themselves are no good (overcooked, etc.). In this case, the snails were fine. They were also, however, smothered in so much harsh, raw-tasting garlic that they were virtually indistinguishable from it. We couldn't even eat half of the dish between us.

For dinner, my husband had the cassoulet. This started out pretty promising (it was served at the table in a Le Creuset dish, piping hot). The duck confit was tender and moist (it was the best part of the cassoulet). The beans were strongly tomato-flavored (which was weird) and otherwise had little presence. The sausage was downright awful. Worse, none of these elements cohered (I can't imagine that this dish was actually prepared over 3 days, as is traditional).

I had the filet mignon with caramelized onions and bearnaise sauce. The filet itself was huge and cooked as I had requested (bloody). But it tasted like nothing. I realize that this cut of beef is not very flavorful, but this tasted like *nothing*. Well, I thought, at least I have caramelized onions and bearnaise sauce to spice things up! Um, not so much. The onions were good - very dark and brooding. The sauce was gloppy and actually tasted sweet. Not a happy thing.

We wisely skipped dessert and headed down the street for chocolates at Vosge (which never disappoints).

I really wanted to like this place (not only because we were dropping a large portion of spending money here, but also because it was cute and run by such friendly people). But it was just no good.

If you are looking for a great French bistro, make the effort to head over to Brooklyn Heights and eat at Le Petit Marche."

Bistro Les Amis on Urbanspoon