28 April 2009

Sticky Sweet: Gariguettin' Off

During our few days off from cooking last week, I still couldn't help but bring home a new toy to play with.

We went to see F. (drug dealers' names should never be disclosed) at our favorite Parisian crackhouse, E. Dehillerin. A mecca for foodie tourists, wannabe chefs and – believe it or not – real chefs, it's another one of those awesome local places that Alannah somehow gets preferential treatment.

I don't know how she does it, but if it gets us a new plaything, I don't care.

It's a passoir à grosseilles, which literally means "currant strainer," but going by F.'s disapproving look when I told him I wanted to liquefy some cooked vegetables through it, and his nod and smile when I said, "I mean, coulis!", purists (like F.) think it's only intended for processing fruit.

Somewhere between a chinois and a food mill, the passoir à grosseilles uses a shiny blade and rolls on a wooden bearing to push and squeeze food through a fine sieve. I couldn't wait to make my first coulis.

Unfortunately, this took days. Alannah rolled her eyes every time I went up to a complete stranger to sniff her berries. Touching the merchandise isn't always acceptable behavior by French standards, so it was a challenge going around and sniffing for ripe berries in early spring. We finally happened upon the ideal berry: The gariguette.

The gariguette is a uniquely French phenomenon, a rare springtime strawberry with intense scent and flavor that unfortunately a) has a very short season and b) costs more than most designer drugs. Legend has it that they only grow in the South of France and usually are sold to overpriced restaurants, Michelin-type chefs, and rip-off specialty markets. In reality, you can buy them at most decent Parisian marchés, but they're few and very expensive. Not being made of money, I just happened to spot a good deal at a heretofore undisclosed location (sorry local readers!) who apparently don't know what they're selling, because they cost less than the hideously bland, gigantic Spanish strawberries that are common at this time of year.

By the time we got home, I was gagging for it. A weird new toy, a basket of legendary strawberries... We simply had to make something – something incorporating fresh strawberries and a sauce, but that won't outshine the fruit.

And voila! Rice pudding with gariguette coulis and the self-same strawberries on top.

The rice pudding is plain old, humble vanilla rice pudding (sans egg). The strawberries on top? Delicious as expected. The real star here, sandwiched in the middle, is the coulis.

We'd read that gariguettes have intense flavor, but this is bordering on ridiculous. Sweet, sticky, and mindblowingly perfect.

The strawberries were cooked in a little bit of water and sugar, then pressed through the passoir, which secreted a clear, red viscous liquid. That was then further reduced in a saucepan until it was a bright red syrup - no coloring, no gelatin. If we were to feed it to you, you'd think it was from a bottle of concentrated strawberry syrup, and you wouldn't believe it was anything more than real strawberry and sugar. Even the dull-colored pulp left in the passoir - looking like strawberries that had been chewed up and snowballed out - tasted like the most intense strawberry jam. We just licked that off a spoon before assembling dessert.

In the afterglow of a perfect gariguette sauce, we're left wanting more, wondering what else we can make from these amazing little strawberries. We only have a handful of weeks left to find out!

27 April 2009

Sensory Overload: Karaage Katsu Curry

The Japanese gang bang continued this week, as the other night we made a giant batch of Omid's World Famous™ Japanese Curry.

Now any person with kitchen competence and access to S&B (or similar) curry mix can make a decent Japanese curry. The beauty of it is that, like Lady Gaga, it's a tasty no-brainer that goes down easy. What sets mine apart? Years and years of perfection - that, and I can make a perfect base from scratch. This is actually a wholly unnecessary, time-intensive skill - even the chefs at most curry houses in Japan will use blocks of packaged curry base - but it's important if you like to cook without unpronounceable chemicals, or need to feed some vegan friends who won't eat something with traces of beef stock in it. (Last I checked, a jar of Knorr's didn't moo, hippie.)

All vitriol for air-headed pop tarts and irrational animal-worshippers aside, making your own Japanese curry base isn't that important. What is important is handling the ingredients before they're ever stewed, and then having the patience to let it all slowly simmer and reduce for hours on end. Part of my approach is to season the vegetables (and meat, of course) while it's in the sautée phase - adding garam masala, ginger, garlic, and chili while it's all browning. This ensures that all the chicken/beef/carrots/potatoes/mushrooms/whatever are nicely infused with flavor. Then there's the simmering... Not only do the hours on the stove reduce and thicken the curry, but the starches from the potatoes are released into the mixture, further thickening the stew.

Alannah's gotten a firm handle on my long-and-slow approach and can now tantalize the tongue with the best of them. So it was time to step up the game. To bring OWF™JC to another level. And that level, ladies and gentlemen, is the addition not of a regular old katsu (schnitzel) on top, but a karaage chicken katsu.

Karaage (or kara-age if you need your double-vowels separated for you) is Japanese style fried chicken – though the name pays homage to the Chinese style of frying. The key isn't so much how it's fried, but the fact that the poultry has been marinated in soy, ginger, and garlic. And of course, the not-so-secret ingredient approved by binge drinkers who swear it won't give you a hangover: Sake. I prefer hon-mirin, fortified sake, but any sweet booze will do. 'Cept maybe Schnapps.

The other key to karaage is to fry it coated in a starch (potato, to be exact... but corn is fine in a pinch), but we opted for the more katsu-like egg and panko breadcrumbs to give it a more traditional look and feel. The crunchy panko nooks and crannies perfectly hold microscopic little bits of curry, ready to explode in your mouth with flavor.

The combination of these two ridiculously awesome examples of co-opted Japanese food may seem like a bit much. Overkill, you might say. And it's all the better for it. These are the two most more-ish Japanese dishes there are.

You will keep eating karaage chicken even when you're full. The stuff is often served up in heaps along with beer, and by the time you notice your stomach's distended to the point of rupture, it's too late... and you order another plate.

The curry makes karaage seem like a mere gateway drug, its addictive properties (not quite scientifically) proven to be greater than that of crack, heroin, or reality TV. I have been seen (and probably photographed) licking the last bits of Japanese curry off of plates, hunched over like The Hedgehog going to town on a teenage runaway.

This combination is the speedball of Japanese food.

Which got me thinking... Say we work these two into a new dish involving okonomiyaki... It could be the three-way of a lifetime.

Of course, when this happens, I'll tone down the spice. I reached for a red jar off the spice rack when doing the initial sautée of the curry ingredients. But instead of the usual pissweak French "chili" powder I've grown accustomed to (and using in massive quantities), Alannah went and got the real stuff from an Indian market. Oops. Let's just say I haven't felt this kind of burning since Spring Break was still legal in Palm Springs.

25 April 2009

A Whole Lotta Wiener

Sometimes you just need some wiener.

And it's really hard to say no when it's only 1€80 a 10-pack at the local convenience store.

The humble hot dog sees a lot of abuse. It gets slathered in ketchup. It gets served with cheap canned chili. In Paris, it gets baked into the bun forming some sort of disgusting 4-day old bagel dog sold alongside pre-made crêpes near tourist traps.

We have nothing against cheap convenience foods. And this week, with both of us having had a lot of work, going to the butcher or fishmonger or green market wasn't an option.

Cheap and Trashy
One thing you really appreciate after leaving the US is good ol' WT food. Especially on a hot day (by local standards, to which we've become acclimated, anyway) where you just want to grill some hot dogs or factory-produced burger patties and have a tub of potato salad from Safeway or Costco or some other place a foodie would look down his nose.

Of course, living in a 300+ year-old building with no back yard means no barbecue. (The French don't take kindly to having their historical neighborhoods burnt down by Americans longing for a good ol' cookout.) So Alannah improvised with our ridiculously effective broiler, roasting some wieners that I could swear tasted like they came off a Weber kettle. Look, she even made grill marks!

Alongside it, a gigantic mound of potato salad. Here's where we went back to our usual selves... I've never really cared much for mayonnaise. Unless it's homemade or Kewpie brand mayo from Japan. In this case, we went for making our own Japanese-style mayo. It's a bit lighter and sweeter than regular mayo, and unlike French mayo, isn't infused with mustard. It's pretty simple - egg yolks + rice vinegar + cider vinegar + salad oil + a pinch of sugar. Then work it like crazy with a whisk, 'til you've got a gooey, creamy sauce ready to be slathered over potatoes.

Japanese Wieners
Not letting anything go to waste, we once again leaned on the hot dog crutch the next night, this time to make Japanese food. This isn't out of the ordinary - when we had relatives visiting from Japan last fall, they taught us a bunch of their favorite dishes. My aunt kept adding at the end of each dish, "Oh, and it's really good with hot dogs!" Being an old divorcée with adult kids who've long left home, I suppose she was all about finding new ways to enjoy wieners.

In that spirit, we put together a hot dog donburi. A donburi is a big bowl of rice topped with meat, often with a softly scrambled egg surrounding it. For instance, you often see it with tonkatsu, which is a fried and breaded pork loin. We substituted a hot dog.

Unfortunately, beaten egg and panko bread crumbs don't really stick to the slick, smooth surface of hot dogs too well, so there was a gloppy mess of wiener to be dealt with. But in the end, it worked out... and was surprisingly tasty.

And Some Balls, Too...
When our Japanese contingent was visiting, they'd brought us a takoyaki pan - a cast iron pan with golf ball-sized wells to make the eponymous Osaka snack. The batter is similar to okonomiyaki, based on the slimy, white, viscous nagaimo (or yamaimo if you can dig some up), only without the cabbage. This time around, I'd made some tenkasu (little fritters of tempura batter) to bolster the dough, lest you want the takoyaki balls to come out flaccid and not hold their shape.

Naturally, instead of cubes of boiled octopus, I loaded up each ball with a piece of hot dog.

Sadly, cast iron takoyaki pans and typical French vitroceramic electric ranges are not a marriage made in heaven, so a half dozen of our balls were essentially culinary abortions. The other ten, however, came out perfectly spherical, brown, and delectable.

I put them into pyramids topped with the customary aonori, katsuoboshi, mayo, and a sweet soy/vinegar sauce. A little yakisoba on the side (with sliced hot dog, of course), and some potato salad, and this was almost an authentic Japanese meal.

Next time, we'll preheat the takoyaki pan in the oven and perhaps put it over the ninja stove (sadly our only way to cook over gas) and see if we can get a full set of balls to bite down on.

20 April 2009

A Little Bit Zen

We were both feeling a little worn out today... After a full day of work and a bit of umami hangover from the previous night's orgy of ingredients, it was time for something a little more simple... Cleansing... Redeeming?

A small cup of green tea, a stripped down bowl of miso soup, and one small bowl of rice's worth of onigiri for each of us - the prescription made for a gentle return to the work week.

Of course, simplicity doesn't mean blandness. There are as many types of onigiri as there are perverts wanking it to demon schoolgirl hentai anime in Japan... So we went with three: A small furikake ball (toasted sesame seeds, nori, and seasonings), flanked by one filled and topped with komochi konbu (kelp with kazunoko herring roe)...

And another sprinkled with yukari, a combination of dried shiso leaf mixed with bits of the puckery, salty umeboshi sour plum...

Internal Shots
Of course, much of the pleasure of onigiri comes not only from its fun shape lending itself to finger play, but also what's inside. Cutting into the komochi konbu one reveals even more of the brackish kelp and the pops-in-your-mouth kazunoko.

And tearing into the other little mound reveals a small but powerful infusion of pickled umeboshi mixed with okaka - itself a mixture of katsuobushi bonito flakes and soy sauce.

The best part is that it's also easy. And if you do it with a big batch of rice, the little rice balls keep quite well. Just store them loosely covered at room temperature, and they're perfect for a quick lunch or on-the-crazy-fast-train snack the next day. Don't live somewhere with fast trains? Sucks to be you...

19 April 2009

Enny-Teen You Want!

Would you swallow this?

It's nagaimo (Japanese for "long potato," though nothing like a potato), the farmed substitute for yamaimo ("mountain potato," sometimes referred to in English as "Chinese mountain yam"). It is, in fact, nothing like potato or yam. Maybe a bit more like taro root in its starchiness, but that's about where the similarity ends. As soon as you put naga- or yama-imo to a grater, it turns into a slimy, viscous white goo.

Why would anyone want to produce such a substance? It's seminal in the production of okonomiyaki.

The above example is our first attempt from scratch at this classic Kansai-region specialty. Japanese stores worldwide sell special (expensive) mixes to make your own okonomiyaki batter, but if you can find the basic parts, it's just as easy - and tastier - to make it from scratch.

Naturally, you need about a half cup of the slimed nagaimo - as you're more likely to score with Monica Bellucci than find yamaimo in any western country. (I shall keep trying both... Guess which one is in France?) And you'll need a cup of dashi (bonito broth with kombu). Both widely available at Asian supermarkets. If that's too out of reach, you can always try grating actual taro or yam, and using fish broth, but, umm, good luck...

Into that, you mix lots of julienned cabbage, green onions or leek, and chopped pickled ginger (the bright red beni shoga if you can get it, but the pink/yellow sushi stuff can work if sliced into slivers and salted). Then, in what may seem a bit backward, add a beaten egg, and then flour - little by little - until it thickens into something a little more viscous than pancake dough.

Get a skillet all hot and greasy (preferably one that retains heat in the walls, like cast iron) and spread a large ladle of the cabbage-batter to form the size of a pancake, but careful not to reach the sides - you'll want room to flip this badboy.

As one side is cooking, you can add your choice of meat and lightly press it into the top side of the mixture. In Osaka it's usually sliced pork belly - like unsmoked bacon. To not go bankrupt in Paris (where a small amount of Asian-style pork belly costs more than just going out and buying dinner), we used lardon nature for the same taste in a different shape. Other good choices are squid, octopus, or small shrimp.

The name okonomiyaki literally means "cooked anything you like" - as you can throw in whatever meat (or non-meat, like mochi) as a topping. At my aunt's okonomiyaki-house in the Osaka suburbs, you can even get things as un-Japanese as cheese or pepperoni in it.

Back to the cooking, drip a little bit of the white stuff over your meat (er... a drizzle of batter) to act as an anti-stick agent, then flip over your okonomiyaki. This may require two spatulas or incredibly quick hands based on how heavy you've loaded the top side. Let it cook at least a few minutes, then flip it back over to look at it and ensure it all looks evenly crisped (but not completely browned).

Lay it into a plate, top with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) if you have it, criss-cross with mayonnaise (Kewpie brand if you have it), your choice of Japanese brown sauce (Kagome, Bulldog, you name it...), and again, if you have it, aonori (crumbled green seaweed). You can even use ketchup if you're so inclined.

It really isn't a lot of work. And the amounts we used are good for three full-size okonomiyaki. We had one Osaka-style each to start with... but the problem with this dish is it always leaves you wanting more. We decided to go a second round, making one more okonomiyaki to split.

This time we went Hiroshima style:

The main difference (besides the egg) is that there's a layer of fried yakisoba noodles on top. This makes it a moda-n ("modern") yaki. The fact that it's furthermore pressed thinner and then topped with egg is what makes it Hiroshima-style.

Of course, liking to work without a script, we tweaked it a bit. Instead of the usual egg crêpe on top, I did a simple fried egg. Having just bought a load of über-fresh eggs at the local marché today, there was no way an egg would be prepared in this house without a runny, drippy, gooey yolk. Also, I changed from the large flakes of katsuobushi to the smaller, finer ones to let more of the yakisoba texture through. Finally, there's the garnish of fresh green onions, which goes with the noodles' Worcestershire-y taste. (Because if you want to make a wicked quick yakisoba, fry some ramen noodles in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.)

18 April 2009

Sweet Little Bunny

Eating rabbit can be problematic for people. To many, it's an adorable woodland creature deified in Disney movies and Looney Toons cartoons, and very often kept as a (copiously poop producing) pet. To others, it's a rodent, and as such probably carries disease and shouldn't be touched, let alone eaten.

My problem with rabbit... is that it's insanely hard to bone. Or is that de-bone? (And you would've thought boning is the least difficult thing for us...) Granted, it was my first time, so it was messy, bloody, and a bit frustrating. But I eventually got my half-rabbit into nice, boneless chunks, leaving the legs intact, because really, without a visual identifier to know that your dinner is rabbit, you might think it was veal or turkey.

Which brings us to the choice of cooking style. As our first bunny, figuring out what the hell to do with it was half the battle. Roasting or braising it seemed so missionary... so vanilla. With the weather having turned from the "Paris in the Springtime" of musical fame to nearly bone-chilling wind and rain, a blanquette seemed in order. No, that's not a pun. A blanquette is a stew in a creamy white sauce, generally made with veal, and excellent for warming up when something nasty blows in from the North Atlantic.

Not actually being big on blanquette - for something that looks so rich, it's often very bland - we opted for a little sweetness, in the form of vanilla. (Just when we were trying to avoid "vanilla...") It may sound odd, but after having a Tahitian-inspired shark steak in vanilla sauce recently, it seemed like a brilliant idea.

And boy, was it. After stewing with onions and sand carrots on top of the stove and then in the oven in cast iron, the rabbit meat and legs were tender and moist... The vanilla blanquette sauce (made with butter, milk, and egg yolk) was poured in the pot and mixed in about 10 minutes before serving. Regretfully, the sauce curdled a tiny bit during the few minutes of broiling (to brown the legs), but it didn't affect the finger-lickin'-goodness of the taste.

Going with the sweet theme, we had cardoon 'n prune salad on the side. Sliced cardoon blanched in saltwater and lemon juice was mixed with an orange vinaigrette, basil, and slivers of prune. Served chilled and topped with a bit of orange zest. The whole looks-like-celery-but-tastes-like-artichoke trick of the cardoon went hand-in-lucky-severed-paw with the mindfuck of vanilla flavored rabbit.

It was like a Miracle Fruit party, without the Miracle Fruit.

16 April 2009

Creamy... But Where's the Meat?

We took a couple of days off to appreciate some professionals in action, celebrating Alannah's first Franciversary with a rare Michelin-starred bistro lunch. Needless to say, we were too damn filled to the hilt by Alain Ducasse (or whomever his stunt cook is) to make dinner... Then we shifted gears and went to the best damn crêperie in Paris for dinner last night.

After hitting up an event at a wine bar near the Latin Quarter, I was hoping to have tonight off, too, being that a new, California-authentic sushi bar (which is to say about 500x more Japanese than a standard Parisian sushi joint) just opened in our neighborhood. I was exhausted, starving, and in dire need of something raw and fleshy. Unfortunately, the little prickteases apparently close at 7PM, which is about 2.5 hours shy of peak dinner time in Paris.

This left us to improvise at home. Alannah offered to do most of the cooking while I did some prep... She cobbled together some spaghetti, a gorgeous garlic Emmenthal cream sauce, and the last of our delectable market mushrooms into an amazingly rich but none too overbearing dish.

Not to be outdone, I hit up some of our other artisan food fair ingredients and whipped together an acacia honey and walnut oil vinaigrette, to top a salad of mâche, walnuts, and crumbles of soft, ripe brebis cheese from a family farm that deals exclusively in sheep's milk.

Note to self: When crumbling ripe brebis in the future, wear gloves or use a fork. My fingertips still smell like those of a man who got some "extra mileage" at the Spearmint Rhino.

Oddly enough, this is the first vegetarian meal I can recall having in months. It was probably last in November – when Alannah was eating out Italy and leaving me to fend for myself – when I'd have monastic meals of rice, tofu, and a simple miso soup. For me, making a mess in the kitchen just isn't fun if there isn't someone else to feed.

13 April 2009

Little Cream Filled Pies

I'm a big fan of Alannah's pie.

Mostly because of the crust. Part lard, part butter, all decadence. Flaky but not overly so, rich but not so much it overshadows the filling. Tonight, the filling was rhubarb and custard. This has been one of Alannah's traditional go-to pies for years.

Not so traditional is the form. If you look at the picture there, it's barely much bigger than a cup of espresso. That's because she baked it in a muffin tin, filling each hole with a pint-sized sheet of dough, filling the mini-pies with rhubarb and custard, then even doing the lattice-work to make them look like real pies.

She was a little worried about overcooking and undercooking the whole time it was in the oven, and although the custard solidified a bit more than we'd like (we're into dripping, creamy fillings that you have to lick off your fingers and lips), it still came out fantastic for a first-time experiment. A bit messy, a bit awkward, but in the end, totally worth it.

We're going to do it again, and we hope it catches on. Now that the overblown cupcake fad seems to be coming to its ebb, we hope to spark a revolution of cupcake-sized pies. Pies, by virtue of having filling, are better than cakes. Or as we like to say: Less fluff, more stuff.

Richly Filled Tubes, Stuffing Young Flowers

After reading the title and thinking, "This is getting ridiculous," consider for a moment that it's really quite accurate.

How else could you possibly describe chicken roulade filled with bacon and ragout, accompanied by stuffed baby artichokes? Add to that a little bit of rice and a luscious, crisp piece of baked bacon... Along with some of the aforementioned ragout augmented with wine and cumin.

The ragout is actually the remains of the braising aromatics used in last night's osso buco, simmered down further until I could disintegrate the carrots with a whisk. It was slipped inside the heavily pounded chicken breast with some bacon partially cooked in the skillet and cut into small strips. The roulades were first wrapped in plastic and gently cooked in a hot water bath (you can call it "Wearing a Trojan in a hot tub," but food snobs call it a "bain marie"), then unwrapped and baked in a hot oven for 20 min., followed by the broiler for crisping.

The trickiest part is always the baby artichoke. Coaxing a sweet, young thing is always a bit of work - but baby artichokes are also a lot like grown-up artichokes, only smaller. Slice off the tops, pluck off the outer leaves, and cut the stalk... Then steam for 20-30 minutes... Then trim off more outer leaves 'til you get to a point where the leaves are tender enough to swallow without gagging. Cut down the middle. Take a teaspoon and scoop out the middle, and gently finger the soft inner leaves to widen the hole for stuffing. For the stuffing itself, I used basmati rice with a little parsley, topped with breadcrumbs, grated cheese, and drizzled with olive oil. They can go in the same baking dish as the chicken for the same cooking cycle. Drizzle on a bit more bread crumbs, cheese, and olive oil before starting up the broiler for extra texture.

Baby Artichokes are a BITCH, before and after steaming. And no, nothing looks sensual wrapped in polyurethane. But use it or lose it.

Li'l Puffies Drippin' with Honey

Alannah's been at it since well before she was even a teenager.

In fact, her dad told me she's been doing this little trick since she was 7 years old – and could barely reach the kitchen counter.

Her puff pancake is a weekend brunch legend, destined to be a hangover helper for years to come.

Take your favorite pancake batter recipe and remove the leavening agent. Instead, add a couple of extra eggs and beat the ever-loving hell out of it. As it sits in a hot oven for 20 minutes, you'll see it rise like a soufflé, several centimeters above the side of the pie dish it's sitting in. Seeing something gently grow like that is almost as exciting... as eating it.

Once you take it out of the oven it immediately starts to go flaccid, so you have to work quickly, cutting it into portions and plating it. It's best accompanied by your choice of breakfast meat. Ours is bacon, since its smokey flavor goes well with the warm, sticky honey/melted butter/lemon juice syrup that you drizzle over the plate. You can also pick up the crispy bacon and lick the honey syrup off for bonus points.

12 April 2009

Stripped Down to the Bone

Back in the States, Easter dinner usually consists of ham. Baked, spiral-cut, glazed... Regardless of the kind, it either came out of a large can or, if your family's fancy, was picked up at your local Honeybaked outlet.

Fuck. That. Shit.

In much of Europe, Easter dinner is often focused on lamb. This is probably because of the large population of Jews and Muslims.

(Hang on. Wait. Let that sink in. Then groan.)

We'd planned to go the European way, but once we went to our butcher and saw the osso buco on display, we thought, "Screw it! It's not like we're religious anyway." (Though Alannah seems to cry out to god quite a bit...)

The green market had some nice (if small) fava beans on offer, and from that moment our Easter dinner was conceived.

The veal shank was floured and fried for three minutes on each side in our cast iron pot (you can use any braising pan/dutch oven), then set to braise with sautéed diced aromatics and just enough red wine and rosé to reach the top of the meat, all for about 3 hours in a medium-hot oven.

Alannah fricasseed the fava beans (pre-steamed from the long shelling process) with diced onion in a sauce of egg yolk beaten with cream and a touch of lemon juice.

This all sits on a bed of olive oil mashed potatoes... Skin-on because that's how we like it.

Topped off with chopped mint, because you need to keep your breath fresh after wolfing down meat and creamy sauce.

The result was a series of oohing and aahing unheard since... Okay, not very long ago. The veal flaked apart at the lightest touch, with any trace of fat or connective tissue disintegrating on the tongue. The fava beans showed their freshness by staying firm, a perfect accompaniment to the richness of the meat, and the creamy fricassee sauce acting like a gravy over the potatoes. The best part of a bone-in piece of meat: The marrow. Gooey, greasy, and glistening, ready to be slurped up.

Suffice it to say, every bone in this house gets sucked clean.

Taking Her Delicate Flower

Mesclun is, quite literally, a fancy French way of saying "mixed greens." But when we say "mesclun greens," you pretty much know exactly what's going to be on the plate, as opposed to "mixed greens," which could damn well be anything. Anyway, I say mesclun, you say mixed, tomato, tom-ah-to, arugula, lettuce... let's call the whole thing elitist and base a presidential election around it.

Anyway, mesclun greens get even more fancy and elitist when you add edible flowers to the mix, which our local green market was more than happy to provide. Run some red radishes through a mandolin and you're getting some über-elite salad.

A salad with this much inherent flavor deserves a light, unobtrusive vinaigrette. Mix a healthy portion of extra virgin olive oil with tiny portions fresh lemon juice, rice vinegar, and cider vinegar, add salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Drizzle it over the greens 'til it looks moist and glistening, like it's ready and waiting for you to pierce it with your fork...

Greased Up and Ready to Go

Ahh, Easter Sunday.

While normal people in France get together with their families or attend mass or something ridiculous like that, we thought we'd get outside and do our thing in the park. But such adventures require fuel, or as trendy Parisians call it on weekend: Le Brunch.

The concept is relatively new here and is having growing pains, so – as usual and like so many other things - we take matters into our own hands and do it at home.

After a quick trip to the local outdoor market (where half the lazy-ass vendors took Easter off, hmph!) we brought back a load of farm fresh eggs, medium and "gros", the latter weighing in at a minimum of 80g each. Mmm... ¡Huevos grandes!

Alannah did her best dominatrix impression and beat the eggs into submission, making a frittata with some fantastic mushrooms we'd purchased at the Paris small-producer food fair last weekend, green onions, and great big gobs of white creamy stuff. Not cheese, not sour cream... but yogurt. (Or are you freaky and spell it yoghurt?)

Well, in French parlance, it's fromage blanc - or "white cheese" - but to me, it's just slightly thicker yogurt. In fact, it's exactly like the yogurt any part Middle Eastern boy grows up with - or the "natural" yogurt you get at healthy food stores - and nothing like cheese. Until you cook it in eggs, apparently, where it hardens up and takes a nice ricotta-like consistency. A fan-fuckin'-tastic surprise. Dieters should keep this in mind.

Any health benefits of substituting a yogurt-like substance for cheese was magically wiped away by what we like to call steakon. If you go to a French butcher or grocery store and ask for bacon, you'll get something similar to that heathen Canadian bacon. If you want real bacon flavor, you can use lardon, or best yet, ask for some poitrine fumée, which is smoked belly meat, and about the closest thing you can get to American-style bacon. You can get it in thin slices, but we often just like to get a thick slab and grill it like a steak in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet.

Regularly eating a dish like this will likely kill you. But the occasional slab of steakon will - at worst - just have you sweating bacon fat. Think of it as natural lube.

11 April 2009

The Ugly Ones Need Some Lovin' Too: Monkfish

I'm not sure exactly what she does, but Alannah gets a lot of freebies from the guys at the markets.

Case in point: When she went to buy some cod fillet yesterday, the fishmonger threw in some monkfish.

Monkfish is like a drunk hook-up: Hideous but still satisfying. However – unless you procure some bad fish – there aren't any consequences in the morning. It may look like a bit like that beast you took home after 8 straight hours of beer pong in your fraternity days, only its flesh is firm and its liver beautifully intact.

Tonight was all about the flesh. Firm but supple. Moist and sweet.

And the fish was pretty good, too.

Roasted in the oven (15 min. at high temperature, 5 min. under the broiler), atop crisp potato pancakes, topped with a tomato-saffron coulis (with a touch of rosé), and garnished with wilted radish greens and red radish.

It made for something radically different - and more seasonal - than the usual filet de lotte served around Paris. Which is good in its own way - just that you don't need to eat stuff smothered in white cream sauce every day.

Or do you?

Naked Food: Today's Market Haul

There's nothing better than doing it outdoors on a spring day.

After sopping up our brunch and getting ourselves cleaned up, we headed out to our local markets, picking up a small bounty for the weekend.

Artichauts de Poivrade (baby artichokes), mesclun greens with edible flowers, red radishes, carottes de sable (sand carrots, a specialty of Gironde), fava beans, chicken breast fermier, poitrine fumée, and veal osso buco.

Sloppy Seconds: Biscuits n' Curry

We woke up with an undeniable morning urge: Brunch.

Too worn out to head out to the market, we decided to get down and dirty with leftovers.

Alannah had awakened me with her hot little biscuits just the other morning, having masterfully executed my family recipe for Japanese curry the night before. To tie together the down-home southern lovin' with the Asian flavor explosion, an egg was fried, lovingly restrained and kept in shape by the biscuit cutter as a mold...

Exotic and spicy, filling and comfort food-y, all at the same time. We'll have to do it again sometime.

10 April 2009

Smells Like Fish...

A little Good Friday fun...

Alannah picked up some gorgeous dos de cabillaud (cod loin) from our neighborhood fishmonger.

I baked it, covered, absolutely dripping with wine, lemon juice, olive oil and butter... Then roasted it with white asparagus from the local outdoor market, and made some Easter Egg potatoes, dyed in food coloring.

Because sometimes you can't help but play with your food.

Some Good Head: Hure de Sanglier

There's nothing quite like coming home from a long day at work, opening some wine, and relaxing with a little hure.

Hure is the head meat of certain animals: Salmon... Pork... Or in this case, boar, potted into a nice terrine by the fine folks at La Ferme de Grémonval, about 90 minutes away in Normandy.

There isn't much cooking required here. Just slice up a little bread, and start spreading. For a little extra ooey-gooey meltiness and to properly enjoy the fatty head meat, it was thrown under the broiler for a few minutes.

Perfect with a small-vintner Touraine rouge - a Loire wine based on pinot noir - purchased from Le Baron Rouge here in Paris.