I’m Not Stalking David Lebovitz…

29 08 2008

…But I did have the pleasure of meeting him last Friday at Grom, an awesome Italian gelateria which has just opened its doors in Paris.  He was very kind and let me jump into his conversation with Guido, the guy running the show.  Guido was extremely enthusiastic about his ingredients and products, which is great to see and even better to experience.  (It doesn’t hurt that he’s an attractive Italian man.)  He gave us tastes of several different gelati, including his amazing gianduja made with dark chocolate and crunchy bits of hazelnut – fresh out of the ice cream machine!  Just about everything I tried there was fantastic, from the cornmeal cookies that go into their very unique “cookies and cream” gelato, to the nearly sorbet-like coffee gelato made with Italian roast coffee (sorry, France, sometimes your coffee isn’t up to snuff).  If there’s a Grom in your town, I highly recommend it.

Rhubarb and Reine Claude plums

Anyway, the reason I feel compelled to insist that I’m not a stalker is because I’ve been making a lot of David Lebovitz’ recipes lately.  First there was the individual chocolate cakes.  Then, on his recommendation, I bought some Reine Claude plums.  Following that, on a weekend trip to Orléans, I had a delicious jam made from rhubarb and Reine Claudes.  I wanted to try to recreate it at home, but I have no idea how to make jam.  So who do I turn to?  David Lebovitz, of course!  Following his guidelines, I produced a ridiculous amount of jam.  (I think I mentioned the jam when I was making it, and busy writing about Bulgaria.)

Future Jam

Leaving me with the challenge of finding something to do with all that tasty homemade jam.  Luckily, I had been eyeing a recipe for a jam tart with a cornmeal crust, written by you-know-who.

The finished jam tart

Mine didn’t come out as pretty as his did, but the flavor was excellent.  The slight crunch of the cornmeal in the crust makes for a nice contrast with the gooey jam.  Thanks, David!  I must also admit that his recent posts on hamburgers have given me the craving, too.  So today I made brioche buns, Nick’s making potato salad, and we’re having good, old-fashioned burgers.  And onion dip.

Happy Labor Day weekend!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.



26 08 2008

So here is my other contender for entry into the Royal Foodie Joust at The Leftover Queen.

Coulebiac with Quinoa and Ginger

Coulibiac is the French name for the Russian dish Kulebiaka.  Traditionally, it consists of fish (usually salmon), baked in a brioche crust with rice, egg, and mushrooms, seasoned with lemon and dill.  It’s one of those seriously old-school recipes that would be right at home on a table laid by Carême.  Or it would be if you made it with an entire fish, and then shaped the brioche crust to look like a fish complete with glistening egg-washed scales and maybe an olive for the eye.

By comparison, my recipe is simple, though it looks like a monster undertaking.  (Writing it all down was no walk in the park, I’ll tell you that.)  But if you’re organized, you really can do all the prep while you’re waiting for the brioche to rise.  I made a few changes to the traditional dish, swapping out the rice in favor of quinoa and adding a hint of ginger.  I replaced the dill with fresh chives, because I thought they would be a better complement to the ginger.  I also omitted the egg, as it seemed extraneous.  And I threw some whole wheat flour into the brioche dough to increase the whole-grain factor.

Mushrooms sautéed with ginger and chives

After setting the brioche dough aside to rest, I started with the mushrooms.  Sautéed in butter and seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh ginger, then finished with white wine and fresh chives, I could have eaten these on their own.  But they were destined for bigger things, so I set them aside to keep the brioche company.  While they were cooking, I simmered the quinoa in water seasoned with salt and ginger.  I undercooked it slightly in hopes that it would come out of the final dish perfectly cooked.  Lemon zest and more chives brightened up the flavor and then that, too, had to wait.

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Weekend Bonus Post: The Mosaic Meme

24 08 2008

My mosaic of answers

1. Camille Pissarro 2. Quick Dinner Preparation 3. Posing for a Portrait 4. Secret #30 The End 5. More Johnny Depp… 6. Cascade Hops 7. Early Dusk 8. S’mores from Doughmonkey 9. Tools of the Trade 10. spreading the love 11. Call of the Raven 12. From above

The Rules:

  • Type your answer to the questions into flickr search
  • Using only the first page, pick an image
  • Copy and paste each of the urls in the Mosaic Maker

The Questions:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. What is your favorite drink?
7. What is your dream vacation?
8. What is your favorite dessert?
9. What do you want to do when you grow up?
10. Who/ what do you love most in life?
11. Choose one word that describes you?
12. What is your Flickr name?

Thanks, K, for the fun project!

Granola: an Illustrated Recipe

22 08 2008

Or, It’s Not Just For Hippies Anymore! 

For the monthly Foodie Joust over at Leftover Queen’s, I came up with two very different ideas.  I haven’t decided which one to submit yet, so maybe my most excellent readers will help me decide?  (This means you!)  Last month’s winner chose ginger, citrus, and whole grains for this month’s challenge.  And here we go with my first shot (well, to tell the truth, I made this second, but the recipe was much easier to commit to the page):
With milk and peaches the next morning

Recipe and photos after the jump.
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Baked Chocolate Mousse

21 08 2008

Or, as the rest of the world calls it, warm flourless chocolate soufflé cake (using some, but not all, of those adjectives).  David Lebovitz wrote a post a short while back about what do do with some of the god-awful Xocopili balls from Valrhona.  He ended up using them in some little chocolate cakesthat looked mighty tasty.  I decided to make my own, without the disgusting pre-spiced chocolate.  I am generally opposed to the combination of chocolate and cinnamon – one too many bad experiences with oversweetened artificially flavored Mexican chocolates perhaps.  So for my cakes I used a combination of regular bittersweet 64% and the ends of a couple of Valrhona plantation bars.  Following Lebovitz’ recipe, I melted the chocolates with some butter, then whisked in sugar and egg yolks, followed by vanilla, but no spices.  Then I made a meringue with the egg whites and a bit more sugar.  By hand.

This is one of my favorite food pictures on this blog.

I folded the meringue by thirds into the chocolate mixture and stopped folding as soon as the streaks had disappeared.  Just like making mousse, without the whipped cream.

Lightening the batter

Then I portioned the batter into buttered and sugared ramekins.  Halfway through, I remembered that I’m a sucker for the melting center, so I put a couple of squares of Bonnat Hacienda El Rosario Venezuela in the center of each one, like this.  The little mousses puffed up beautifully in the oven, like the soufflés they were trying so hard to become.

Baked mousse = soufflé

I gave them a few minutes to cool, then inverted them onto plates and introduced them to some macerated strawberries.  They were fast friends.

Warm Chocolate Cake with Strawberries

Which is good, because they weren’t long for this world after that.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Meatballs! (and spaghetti)

20 08 2008

Upon our return from Bulgaria, we had meatballs on the brain.  (I wonder why…)  Luckily, Paris has everything I need to make some killer meatballs: fresh ground meat, breadcrumbs, etc.  A trip to the butcher was in order.  Once there, I immediately ordered a half-kilo of the fresh ground beef.  While I was waiting, I noticed a bowl full of ground pork (or was it veal?  or a mixture?) for stuffing tomatoes and the like.  Clearly, my meatballs were going to need some of that, too.  And all of a sudden I had a whole kilo of ground meat that needed to be turned into meatballs.  Oops.

But when has an overabundance of savory meatballs ever been a problem?

I set to work on a modified version of my world-famous meatloaf.  I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but here’s the gist of it.  Start your flavor base by sautéeing onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs (oregano and thyme) in olive oil.  Throw in some tomato paste and cook until it gets nice and roasty.  Splash in a little red wine, rosemary vinegar, and/or balsamic vinegar.  Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and let it cool a bit.  Dump the ground meat or meats into a large bowl.  Season pretty liberally with salt and pepper.  A couple dashes each of worcestershire and tabasco are almost always welcome.  Then scrape in the flavor base and crack an egg on top of it all.  Get in there with your hands and start mixing.

Who doesn't love the feel of ground beef between their fingers?

At this point, it’s really nice if you have someone in the house with you who has clean hands, so they can sprinkle in the bread crumbs while you keep mixing.  Be careful not to overmix the meat, just make sure everything is evenly incorporated.  And then start forming the meatballs.  Mine were probably an ounce or so – I didn’t measure them, it was just what fit easily in my palm so I could make two at once.  (A kilo makes a lot of meatballs.)  As they are formed, you can drop them right into a hot pan to begin browning.

Just getting started...

This was at the beginning of the process.  The last batch looked like this:

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One Last Bulgaria Post

19 08 2008

On our last night in Sofia, Nick and I had two restaurants picked out, in case of summer closures or difficulty with reservations.  One was a traditional Bulgarian place, the other was what I would call “New Bulgarian,” (like New American, but with a different set of traditions to build on and different local foodstuffs to choose from).  To be honest, I was leaning toward the latter.  Since we weren’t about to attempt a phone call in Bulgarian (a phrasebook only gets you so far), we brought our list down to the lobby of our hotel and asked the woman at the desk if she could make reservations for us, which she was more than happy to do.  When she saw the first place on the list (Pod Lipite – the traditional Bulgarian one), her face lit up.  “This is a Bulgarian place!” She exclaimed, excited and a little surprised.  We took that as a good sign, so when she was able to get us reservations, we eagerly accepted.

Pod Lipite, it turns out, is something of an institution in Sofia.  Founded in the 1920’s, it used to be a haunt for the city’s journalists and writers.  These days it plays host to Bulgarians young and old, usually when they have something to celebrate.

(A short aside – as I write this, I’ve got a batch of rhubarb-Reine Claude jam going, so I’ve been getting up every couple of minutes to stir it and check the temperature.  Now it’s done, but I find those jars of jam cooling on the counter very distracting.  My mouth is watering just imagining how good it’s going to be on buttered pain de céréales in the morning, baked into a jam tart, stirred into yogurt, or, hell, spooned over ice cream.  Of course we don’t have any ice cream at the moment, and there’s no room in the freezer anyway, or you know what I’d be eating right now.  But back to Bulgaria…)

Bulgarian Rosé at Pod Lipite

That helps.  We started out by ordering a bottle of Bulgarian rosé, which we definitely preferred to the red.  The table was set with an array of spices, we assumed for both bread-dipping and seasoning purposes.

Salt and pepper are for wimps.

But unlike Manastirska Magernitsa, the bread wasn’t brought out immediately.  We ordered two servings of bread, and out this came:

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The Omnivore’s Hundred

15 08 2008

I got tagged with this meme by a non-blogging friend, and I thought it sounded like fun.  If you read this, have a blog, and want to play (it wouldn’t suck if you wanted to mention where you saw this first…), here are the rules:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

Camille here again.  I’m also putting in links to any posts that relate to these, in case you want a backstory. 
The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare (Not on this visit, but I have tried it here.)
5. Crocodile (does Alligator count?)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush (I made it myself!)
11. Calamari
12. Pho (Just last week, though not the first time.)
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (Bought it here, ate it here.)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras (Here, and here, and here, and… when am I not eating foie gras?)
24. Rice and beans (Louisiana-style, as an accompaniment to Mexican food, or even like this – I love ’em!)
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I use these a lot – cooked and raw.)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl (No bread bowl on this occasion, unfortunately.)
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut (Ok, this was homemade shortcut sauerkraut, but it still rockedTwice.)
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (Um, don’t plan on eating any cigars… and don’t think I’ve had these two together.)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly (I think he means jell-o.)
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk (I eat a ton of goat cheese, does that count?)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (Never again!)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (Well, probably – Wiki says it’s used as a food additive/pesticide)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (I think mekitzi fall into that category, too!)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho (This one wasn’t exactly traditional…)
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (Not sure what the “louche” part means, but I’ve had absinthe.)
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (And here’s my take on tom kha gai.)
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.  (Someday…)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (Inadverdently)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa (Is this different from regular harissa?)
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta (Oh, yeah, lots.)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

And my final score is: 88 out of 100!  Not bad.  So, how did you do?

Manastirska Magernitsa

14 08 2008

Upon arrival at our hotel, we immediately asked the guy at the front desk where to go for a good, traditional Bulgarian meal.  He recommended two places and showed us where they were on a map.  One of these, just down the street from the hotel, was noted as being particularly good.  He started to write the name of it and gave up about halfway through, telling us “It doesn’t matter what the name is.”  And he was kind of right, as it turned out to be the only restaurant (other than the rather characterless one attached to the Hotel Diter next door) on the block.  But mainly, I think he didn’t feel like saying or writing the name, which is the title of this post.  It’s a mouthful.  “Manastirska Magernitsa” translates to “The Monastery Kitchen,” and the place is known for its in-depth coverage of obscure Bulgarian dishes.

When we showed up the next evening, sans reservation, we nearly didn’t get seated.  Luckily for us, there was a last-minute cancellation and we got a great table on the patio.  The restaurant was absolutely charming, and the patio was a prime location with its candlelight and lush foliage adding to the bucolic coziness.  We were handed massive menus – seriously, these things had at least 50 pages – and almost immediately we were greeted by a server bearing a wooden stand with bread and spices.

Bread and spices

The bread was soft and airy, not unlike challah, and we dipped it in the salt-spice mixture in the top level of the stand.  The waiter explained that this was the traditional way to begin a Bulgarian meal.  Most importantly, it gave us the quick energy we needed to get through the menu.

Nick quickly found a dish he’d been looking for: a sort of Bulgarian chile relleno, if you will.

Cheese-stuffed peppers, deep fried

Chushki byurek, as they call in in those parts, consists of a roasted pepper stuffed with the ever-present sireneh cheese, battered and deep fried.  It was served with a garlicky yogurt sauce and was every bit as delicious as you might imagine.  We also got a salad, piled high with fresh vegetables, olives, and cured meats.  Yum.

When offered the wine list, we deferred to the waiter.  We explained that we wanted to try some Bulgarian wine, but that we didn’t know much about it and would really appreciate his opinion.  He suggested a couple of different red wines, and we ended up selecting a bottle of the “reserve.”  It cost a little more than we expected, but could by no means be considered expensive.

You know you are in Bulgaria when the wine has an icon on it!

The bottle came out, complete with religious icon, and I was offered a taste.  It wasn’t bad, but I guess living in France is starting to spoil me.

Choosing our main courses was a little more difficult. 

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A Traditional Bulgarian Lunch

13 08 2008

Or, to be more specific, a lunch composed of traditional Bulgarian dishes.  But let’s not get caught up in semantics.  That first morning, after ogling beers and changing money, Nick and I took a walk up Boulevard Vitosha, Sofia’s most upscale shopping street.  (I was disappointed that things weren’t ridiculously cheap, but I did get a cool pair of Diefel [sic] sunglasses, upside-down logo and all.)  We wandered through the older part of town, stopping in a couple of churches along the way.  The highlight of the morning was definitely the St. George Rotunda.

Roman ruins, Rotunda, posh hotel...

Originally built in the 4th century, this is the oldest building in Sofia.  Inside the Rotunda (which has been, over the course of history, a church, a mosque, and a museum, among other things) you can see three layers of frescoes.  The Roman ruins surrounding it date from the 2nd century.  Around this historic site sits a large, modern building housing a fancy hotel and the Presidency.  Bulgaria seems to be very industrious that way.  They manage to preserve their history while at the same time progressing with the modern world.  In the corner of this courtyard (behind the tree in the photo) there is a cozy little cafe where Nick and I spent one afternoon writing postcards.  Outside the Presidency, there are two guards who do a ritual march every hour, and across the square there’s a guy pontificating over the strains of “Ride of the Valkyries.”  All day long.  (Nick pointed out that no moderate political group has ever adopted that song as their theme.)

Moving on, andtrying to get away from the loudspeakers, we found ourselves walking through a park.  We came out in front of the National Theater.  By this time we were getting pretty hungry, so when we saw a shady patio and a sign that said “PECTOPAHT” (that’s what “restaurant” looks like in Cyrillic), we walked right in.  This was the first of several restaurants we visited that had no menu in English.  Feeling like children learning to read, we managed to decipher “water,” “beer,” and “salads,” as well as a couple of traditional dishes that were listed in our phrasebook.  And we were even successful in communicating our desires to the waitress!  (Of course, she spoke some English, which made it easier.)

Bulgarian mineral water

First we got a couple of large, unpronounceable beers and a bottle of mineral water.  Bulgaria is quite mountainous and is full of natural springs, so mineral water is as popular there as it is in France.  And it’s good, too.  Better than most French waters (except Volvic) in my opinion.  Soon our first courses arrived.  I had a bowl of TAPATOP (tarator), a chilled soup made of yogurt, cucumber, and dill.

One of the only ways I will eat cucumber.

It was very refreshing in the afternoon heat.  Like a thin tzatziki, I believe this dish is made in many countries around the Mediterranean Sea.  This one, too:

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