Hello, Blog

5 01 2011

Long time no see.  I’ve missed you, and I hope these loooong work days will become fewer and further between.  I’ve got some exciting news, though – you and your baby sister are both featured in the “Sites We Like” section of the new Pizza Quest website, headlined by none other than Peter Reinhart, the bread guru.

I’ve also got a picture for you.  It isn’t much, just what we had for dinner last night.  I’m thinking of making it a little feature called “One Meal, One Photo, One Sentence” for days (or weeks) when writing a whole post isn’t in the cards, but I’m still eating delicious things that I want to share with you.  It’s inspired in part by this post that Jenni recently wrote on Pastry Methods and Techniques, in particular this sentence:

We even decided that reading one of those ridiculously long-named menu items is often enough of a recipe, or at least a guideline so we can make a reasonable facsimile at home.

So here’s a picture, and a short description, just in case you want to make your own version.

Thai fish

Fillets of lieu noir (maybe pollock, at any rate a firm, flavorful white fish) with Thai flavors (tamarind, ginger, scallion, lime, fish sauce) baked in a banana leaf.  I served them with green curry rice, broccoli in a spicy peanut sauce, and a fabulous Australian-French white.

Happy New Year, and may 2011 be filled with good food and good friends!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Les Flots – La Rochelle

27 05 2010

What's that guy on the left doing?

Last weekend was the last of the May holidays in France.  (Usually, there are four long weekends in May.  This year, we got the short end of the stick, with two of those holidays falling on Saturdays.  Still, France in May is a sweet place to be.)  Nick and I took advantage of the long weekend to visit La Rochelle, a port city on the western coast of France, just south of Brittany and just north of Bordeaux.  We spent Saturday evening on the nearby Ile de Ré, eating crêpes and mussels and watching the soccer match with some friends.  Alec Lobrano describes the Ile de Ré as a French Nantucket, and while I’ve never been to Nantucket, the comparison seems apt.  Sunday we took a drive into the surrounding countryside, stopping at an archeological site and an abbey before lunching in Cognac.  Afterward, we took an interesting tour of the Otard distillery, housed in the castle where François 1er was born.  Sadly, the cognac tasting at the end of the tour was a bit of a let-down.  Fortunately, we had the anticipation of dinner at Les Flots, back in La Rochelle, to boost our sagging spirits (pun intended).

Oooh, shiny.

Les Flots (meaning: the deep, or the sea) is helmed by Grégory Coutanceau, a chef whose father and brother run La Rochelle’s most highly-regarded seafood restaurants, the eponymously named Coutanceau.  He’s got the restaurant business in his blood, and it shows.  After taking a leisurely apéritif on the lively rue de la Chaîne, Nick and I made our way to the restaurant to meet with two friends for dinner.

beautiful seeded bread

I was immediately impressed by the casual elegance of the dining area, including the outdoor patio, where we were seated.  With the medieval Tour de la Chaîne in the background, I admired the modern silvery-edged chargers and beachy hurricane lanterns on the table.  Even the bread was artfully presented in its basket, and the butter was served at spreading temperature.  (There are few things that irk me more than ice-cold, rock-hard butter in a restaurant, because there’s really no excuse.  If I were a Michelin reviewer, any place that served cold butter would lose a star immediately.)

Savory cake, herbed crème fraîche

In addition to the bread, a small plate with four tiny slices of sun-dried tomato-anchovy bread and a cup of herbed crème fraîche was placed on the table for us to nibble while making our menu and wine list decisions.  Which took a while, because that wine list is a tome.  We decided on the 39 euro Menu du Marché, and I chose a bottle of white Burgundy, which turned out to be astoundingly good for the price – only 32 euros!
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Regional French Cuisine: Provence: Bouillabaisse

28 08 2009

The people have spoken.  (Well, a couple dozen of them, anyway.)  Thank you to all who voted in my poll; I dedicate this bouillabaisse to you.

Ugly buggers, aren't they?

The bouillabaisse adventure started with me poring over various bouillabaisse recipes, notably Robuchon’s, and making a list of the fish I would need to acquire.  I continue to be baffled by fish nomenclature.  It’s notoriously unclear even from region to region in the States – imagine trying to identify fish that come from different seas in a second language!  But that’s part of the reason I bought Robuchon’s book to begin with: with French recipes, designed for French kitchens, I should be able to find the right kinds of fish or meat for any given recipe, rather than attempting to guess at a substitution.  I dutifully wrote down the names of all twelve varieties of seafood called for in the recipe, categorized them by cooking time, and then looked them up individually in the index, to see if they had alternate names, or if they were anything I might recognize.  List in hand, Nick and I went down to the market in search of a fishmonger.  It turns out that les vacancestake a toll on the market, too.  Where we would ordinarily have had half a dozen fish stalls to choose from, this time there was one.  Fortunately, they had three of the fish on my list: rascasse (pictured above), grondin (pictured below), and congre, which was mercifully sold in slices.

Grondins, about to lose their heads

We had the rascasse cleaned, but neglected to ask for the same service on the little grondins.  Oops.  Between us, Nick and I managed to butcher the fish, and I mean that in all senses of the word.  Nevertheless, we ended up with a bowlful of fish meat and a bunch of heads, spines, and tails with which to make the fumet.

The brothy base of the bouillabaisse.
1. Fish Heads, Fish Heads…, 2. Stirring the Fumet, 3. Straining

Fumet, of course, is a fancy word for fish stock, particularly one where the fish and aromatics (including onion, fennel, tomato, bay leaf, and saffron, among others) are first sweated in oil, then covered with a mixture of white wine and water.  Instead of wine in this one, I used a couple good glugs of pastis, on Ann’ssuggestion.  After the requisite 45 minutes of simmering, Robuchon says to take out the fish bits and bouquet garni, and then pass the rest through a food mill before straining it.  That didn’t happen in my kitchen.  Everything had pretty much disintegrated by then, so I just mashed it all with a potato masher and strained it twice: first through a colander, then through a fine-mesh strainer.  This is perfectly acceptable practice when making a classic soupe de poissons,  so I figured I was safe.

Every recipe I came across for bouillabaisse (including the one I remember making in culinary school) insisted that it be served with rouille.

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Must Be Scallop Season

5 12 2008

I love seeing the piles of whole in-shell scallops in the market.  Partly because scallops in this form are very difficult to find in the States, so my experience with them is extremely limited, and I do appreciate a challenge.  And partly because I love scallops so much.

Three whole scallops

Also, I know that when I buy them alive (as these were right up to the point where I cut their writhing adductors from their shells), they haven’t been frozen or treated with that stuff to make them retain water and weigh more.  These are scallops as nature intended. 

Now, I don’t need much prompting to order scallops in a restaurant, but cooking them at home is another matter.  I want that golden-seared crunch on the ends while the center is rare as rare can be, without being cold.  I’m happy to say that I’ve never had a total scallop disaster in my kitchen (In fact, my first-ever attempt at scallop cookery in culinary school was praised by a very-tough-to-please chef instructor), but I’m always slightly trepidatious that I’m going to ruin such a delectable, expensive ingredient.  But when I saw this post with glazed diver scallops and fried prosciutto, I had to run out and get some scallops of my own.  By the way, I couldn’t agree more with Peter’s statement that “nothing goes better with scallops than some fried pork.”

Look at all those juicy goods!

Except possibly vanilla.  In my first (maybe only) true VIP dining experience, one of the off-the-menu courses served was seared scallops on wilted spinach with vanilla butter sauce.  It still sticks in my mind, five years later, as a standout dish in an all-around incredible meal (in which we also ate a bowl of steamed cockles, a whole roasted branzini, and a rack of lamb). 

As luck would have it, the first vendor I saw at the market the day I went to buy scallops was a guy selling Bourbon vanilla beans.  I got five for two euros – not bad at all!  So vanilla beurre blanc was definitely going on the plate.  Since October through January is pretty much a neverending winter squashfest in our house, I ended up with a beautiful organic Butternut squash in my shopping bag, figuring I’d make a purée using crème fraîche and molasses to enrich and intensify its nutty sweetness.  Picturing the plate in my head, I knew I needed something green.  Sadly, the Parisian markets seem to be lacking in the leafy greens category.  There are tons of lettuces, but I have yet to see mustard greens or kale.  If you want to get your dark green leafy vegetable fix, you have the choice between spinach and Swiss chard.  That’s about it.  Bored of spinach and thinking that Swiss chard wasn’t quite right, I wandered through the stalls in hope of finding something different.  A large stack of bundled watercress jumped out at me, and it joined the scallops, vanilla beans, and squash in my bag.  I was about to head home when I realized I hadn’t picked up any pork products!  Enter the Spanish-Italian-Portuguese specialty stand.  I splurged on four slices of Serrano ham, and made my way home with an empty wallet and an exciting dinner just waiting to be realized.

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The Great Duo of Avocado and Shrimp

23 07 2008

It’s time again for the Leftover Queen’s Royal Foodie Joust!  This month the ingredients are Cilantro, Sesame, and Seafood.  For some reason I thought immediately of tahini, the delicious Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sesame paste.  Then I was stumped for a while, because I wasn’t quite sure how to work the cilantro in, or which seafood to choose (it’s a pretty broad category).  But one afternoon, over lunch with Hope, she mentioned that she had been playing around with gazpacho lately, and it struck me as the perfect vehicle.  Somehow avocados came up, and by the time lunch was over I had a recipe jumping around in my brain, just waiting to be made a reality.

We picked up some avocados and cilantro at the market the next day.  I had decided on seared scallops for the seafood quotient, but was unable to find any at the market.  I briefly considered going the crispy-skin seabass route, but an overly long line at the fishmonger on my lunch hour made that decision for me.  Ultimately, I settled on shrimp for their ability to pair awesomely with avocado.

When I finally cut into the avocados, I was pleased to find some of the most gorgeous, buttery-green specimens I’ve seen in France.

I have a painting very similar to this at home, painted by a friend of mine.

The gazpacho was really easy to put together:  I just threw all the ingredients (avocados, cilantro, lime juice, tahini, garlic, fish stock, salt, cayenne) in a bowl, like so:

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Fridays are for Seafood

14 03 2008

For those of you who have not had your valve permanently shut by yesterday’s post, I will share something easy and light and Lenten-Friday friendly: bivalves.  (Note: it took me about an hour to find that link.  I blame the Korean anchovy-flavored ramen I had for lunch.  I hadn’t eaten ramen in probably 5 years, and now I remember why.)

But anyway, to get back around to the point, mussels are extremely easy to cook, fairly inexpensive, and make a great appetizer or light supper.  Seriously, try this for your next dinner party.  Or lazy Sunday afternoon.

Dice some celery and onion.  I used leeks this time, because I like them and the ones at the market were gorgeous, but shallots are more traditional.  Put them in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid.  Add some thyme sprigs, bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Mussel Prep

Pour in a cup or so of dry white wine or Belgian white beer.  This time, I used Hoegaarden.  Bring this all to a simmer, and cook a few minutes to soften the vegetables a bit.  Turn the heat up to high, add the mussels (a pound or so) and cover.  Cook until steam comes out from around the lid, then grab the pot and lid (using hotpads or a dry towel, please!) and give it a good shake.  Turn the heat down to medium and cook about 2 minutes longer.  Check to see if the mussels have opened.  If not, give them another minute or two.  When most of the mussels are open, scoop them out into a bowl.  Discard any that have remained closed.  Swirl a tablespoon or two of butter into the juices in the pot and add freshly chopped parsley, if you like.  Pour the juices over the mussels in the bowl, and go to town! 


Serve with good bread and the remaining wine or beer.  I know my neighbors to the North would argue in favor of frites, but bread is easier and is better at mopping up the delicious juices.  If you have seafood forks lurking in the back of a drawer, now is the time to use them.

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