samedi 17 janvier 2009

Breakfast places in NYC

We went to New York City! Did I mention that? We did! Like actual grown up adult people, some friends and I planned and executed a stay in Manhattan over Christmas and New Year. And, true to form, I meticulously researched every damn restaurant I might have been interested in on the entire island of manhattan. Let me tell you, we went to some super wonderful places. Let me tell you about the notable breakfasts first.

This photo gives you some idea of the damage of which we are capable. Abraco is a tiny little coffee bar on the lower east side and we descended mightily upon it, ordering mostly mochas and pain perdu (delicious cold french toast with honey and ricotta in the middle...god it was amazing). The coffee was so good that even I, she who refuses to try to "get into" coffee, enjoyed it very much. What you can see there is the remains of Aditi's olive oil cake. I helped her finish it. I am such a good friend.

We also went to Balthazar's, which was the most european place I found in NYC. For that reason it didn't hold quite as much appeal to me, but my eggs florentine with artichokes and spinach was really excellent. I was a little annoyed that it didn't come with bread, but a side of toast was very inexpensive (how very refreshingly non-european!). Other dishes did not come so bereft of carbohydrates and I think everyone enjoyed this breakfast.

As for bagels, we tried both Barney Greengrass and H&H. Barney Greengrass was much more about the authentic NYC diner atmosphere than the food, which was fine, but by contrast, the bagels at H&H are super fabulous. I had blueberry, and another day I had "everything" (sesame seeds , poppy seeds, onion...other stuff) and I tried pumpernickel too. I'm not 100% sure pumpernickel is supposed to be made into bagels but it's yummy anyway. Go for the everything if you aren't sure what to get. It's awesome.

We also trekked over to City Bakery one morning. I had a honey raisin scone because it had just come out of the oven. God damn, it was outstanding. We tried the hot chocolate here, which was highly reccomended by the NYT. Though the texture was nice, the flavour was pretty one-note and disappointed me after my dedicated weeks of european hot chocolate drinking.

One final note: we tried to go to the Clinton Street Baking Company for breakfast. We tried TWICE. But those people need a basic lesson in economics, and soon. If you're telling people who showed up five minutes after you open that there's an hour wait for a table, either your restaurant is too small or you are not charging enough.

vendredi 16 janvier 2009

Hot Clear Vegetarian Borscht

I know! I know I have a soup problem, okay! I admit that I did make borscht. An entire pot full of delicious borscht. Wilfully, with full knowledge of the consequences and, as Lord Melchett so damningly said, with beastliness of forethought.


I used this recipe for clear, vegetarian borscht. I made a few modifications: I didn't have beet greens, which didn't seem to matter. I also didn't add sugar (I can almost never bring myself to add sugar to savoury dishes.) This soup is simple but beware underseasoning - beets love salt and pepper and they need a lot of both to shine in this soup.

I was nervous about it, but it turned out just like the version made by our polish family friends for christmas eve! Which is the ultimate benchmark, let me tell you. The polish christmas eve is traditionally vegetarian (though I'm even MORE vegetarian because apparently the polish consider fish a vegetable.) This borscht, to me, should always be served very hot with some kind of dumpling or pasta in it. I love uzka, the polish pig-ear-shaped mushroom dumplings, and so I had mine with some fresh mushroom ravioli from the market at Dupleix.

I served mine with some of the cut up beets still in it, to make it a more substantial meal and to get some of the nutrition and fibre left in the beets. I did not put any sour cream in it. It doesn't need it! Stop complicating your simple and delicious borscht with your sour cream ways. That's not how we roll on polish christmas eve, and that, as you know now, is the ultimate benchmark.

jeudi 15 janvier 2009

Marry Me, Michele Chaudun

Paris is making me reckless. The other day I jaywalked in front of a police car. Then I went home and ate like seven of Michel Chaudun's amazing chocolates. I'm not sure which was more reckless - after all, jaywalking is like the french national sport (along with striking and cutting in front of others at the bakery). And these chocolates were outstandingly delicious.

Of the few I tried my favourite was that praline rocher. I am never eating a ferrero rocher again. Just the memory of eating them fills my heart with pain when this little praline rocher has been in existence all the time. I also really, really loved the caramel and the caramel mousse chocolates. Oh and the honey ganache thing was amazing. And the pave, which is a little square of truffle filling, is heavenly. I also appreciated how moist and dense the chocolate with the pistachio almond centre was, since they tend to be too dry. Although one of the reasons I wanted to go to Chaudun was to try the peanut chocolate, I have to say the peanut filling underwhelmed me - it was too light. I wanted a really dense nutty paste, but this had some kind of buttery substance mixed with it.

Still, in general the offerings were outstandingly delicious. Expensive, sure, but oh so extremely worth it.

mercredi 14 janvier 2009

Mildred's, Ping Pong and Food for Thought in London

has great vegetarian food, which I discovered while staying with some family friends in England. I went to several restaurants I'd highly recommend. The first is Mildred's, which is a stripped-down and modern vegetarian restaurant. I'm not normally one for anything very trendy (just ask my friends in the Neville Longbottom Fanclub on Facebook) but when I went to their site I saw they served gyoza. I love gyoza with an almost indecent passion. But as it's usually made with pork, I give it a miss. The vegetarian gyoza at Mildred's was fabulous and well worth the slightly inflated prices that you expect of trendy restaurants.

Equally trendy was Ping Pong, a dim sum place whose catchphrase is "Little Steamed Parcels of Deliciousness". And indeed, they are. I went here with my grandmother on our last night in London, and we had all manner of little dishes - bamboo shoot salad, whole baby bok choi in garlic sauce, vegetable puffs, tofu dumplings, and sticky rice packets. For dessert we had sweet beetroot puffs and they were outstandingly fabulous. The decor here is so cool - we sat downstairs which is definitely where it's at. My grandma kept making hilarious comments about how other women were dressed. It was a lot of fun (but not for the other women in the room).

But my favourite place to eat in London is Food for Thought, a tiny, fairly ramshackled place so crowded that a friend and I opted to have our food to go. I got a container with a lot of different salads, and a bowl of sweet potato and eggplant laska. We ended up eating them sitting on the pavement in the middle of a roundabout (don't even start with me) and it was the best lunch ever. The laksa had huge chunks of tofu and eggplant in the smooth sweet potato broth, and the salads were equally delicious. This is definitely top of the list for when I get back to London.

mardi 13 janvier 2009

Learning to like Eclaires (what a hardship)

I didn't like eclaires until I had one from Fauchon. Now I spend much of my time thinking up ways to justify purchasing more eclaires. But only from Fauchon. The few eclaires I have had before have had cream in them, which is disgusting and wrong. This chocolate eclaire is like chocolate mousse wrapped in a thin layer of choux pastry with a layer of chocolate and crunchy chocolate rocks on top. It is awe inspiring.

I also tried their chausson aux pommes, a golden flaky pastry with a thick apple puree inside. This was the best apple based pastry I have had in a long time, and the pastry itself was magnificent. I don't know what the bakers at Fauchon are doing to get their pastry so delicious and buttery that it almost has caramel notes to it. Indeed, I don't care how they are doing it. I am 100% on board with it.

I took my eclaire and chausson aux pommes and ate them in the Jardin des Tuileries. Paris at the moment is a strangely lovely sodden grey during the day, which becomes horrible at night. I don't mind it, except on the nights I have to drag myself out of my apartment for taekwondo class, and then I dream fondly of Melbourne.

Attempts at Zucchini Fritters

Since last sunday I have had zucchini fritters on my mind and I couldn't stop thinking about them. I even bought corn starch so I could make them (buying an ingredient for one recipe is positively decadent on a student budget - then again a lot of asian sauces use it too so I rationalised that it was acceptable). In my quest for fritters, I have attempted twice now to make the Chez Panisse zucchini fritters. The first time I adapted them by adding mint and feta and omitting the lemon zest and chives. They were good; very moist and fresh and fragrant, but a little too soft. The grated zucchini just gives off way too much moisture even after you salt and squeeze it.

So the second time I made it as the recipe says, but added some flour until the batter was a little firmer. It improved it a bit, but the softness remained. The fritters are actually very tasty. The issue is not so much with the recipe, but with the craving I had and the idea I got fixed on - I definitely want a chewier, almost tougher fritter. I don't think a fritter based on grated zucchini is going to do the trick.

The only other thing I can think to do is sauté chunks of zucchini first and put them with a doughier batter. But I don’t want to stray into texas fair food unintentionally (straying there intentionally is a whole different story). I guess the file on this has to stay open for now.

vendredi 28 novembre 2008

Cheating Noodle Soup

I know I make a lot of soup, but it's winter, so cut me some slack. I make this soup whenever I eat too much afternoon tea. This is often. Sometimes I go to Sadaharu Aoki for a lemon tart and then they're offering free tastings of chocolate coated macaroons, so I taste the three flavours, and then I get curious about the other flavours, and they're so reasonably priced, and then suddenly dinner seems pretty much unjustafiable.

And yet there is no protein in those macarons, and vitamins are thin on the ground. So a delicious, light, extremely healthy dinner is sometimes the only course of action.

This soup is so damn easy I hesitate to call it a recipe. I am of the Bittman school of soup recipes, which believes that soup is basically water and vegetables. All you do is boil up some vegetable stock with a few dashes of soy sauce, then throw in chopped carrots. After a few minutes add some buckwheat soba noodles and any other medium-cooking-time vegetable (this time I added the second-to-last serving I am likely to get out of my beloved butternut). When the noodles are almost done, throw in a big helping of broccoli florets. When they're cooked, the soup is ready. The carrots and broccoli are a must because they turn the boring stock base into a really rich broth, and this is a great way to eat these vegetables without chucking the water down the sink (and with it all the vitamins and half the flavour).

I like to top it with a boiled egg just so that it looks like some kind of effort went into preparing the soup. I'm not sure why I continue with this obvious charade, since I am the only witness to my culinary cheating, but frankly it makes me feel better about the whole thing.

mardi 25 novembre 2008

The Fabled Ispahan

So I finally got around to trying the fabled ispahan - the combination of rose, lychee and raspberries that made Pierre Herme a demi-god. Credit where it's due, of course, and this little individual treat is beautiful and delicious.

I think it's definitely a much more refined dessert than I usually go for. (My personal preference is to faceplant in a bowl of melted chocolate wherever possible.) But the combination is light and sweet and pretty complex, so if you like food for thought, go for it.

samedi 22 novembre 2008

Rollet Pradier in Paris, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Snooty Servers

Rollet Pradier sure think a lot of themselves. I don't think I've ever been so snootily served, but it was a very inoffensive snootiness. They weren't rude or mean. I just got the strong impression that all of the people working there truly believe their pastry shop is the highest achievement of western civilisation.

And you know, it's not too far off. First though, I have to say, don't bother with the bread. It's nothing special. But the macarons are fabulous. SO fabulous. I mean these are the third-best macarons in all of paris (Pierre Herme and Gregory Renard come in 1 and 2). I asked the snooty server what she recommended and ended up with a pistachio and poppy macaron. The pistachio was great, but the poppy macaron is completely divine. I would like them to make me a poppy macaron drip and hook me up to it when I get stressed.

I also tried their delicious croquant royale, which is a chocolate and caramel mousse thingy. This was actually the perfect density, not too agressive but not too frothy. It was amazing. Although, as you can see, it didn't look so pretty after I carried it across Paris back to my apartment. (On foot of course - the more I walk, the more poppy macarons I can stuff into my mouth.)

vendredi 21 novembre 2008

Eat your goddamn vegetables (in a pie)

Vegetables. Damn, I love them. I feel so smug when I read nutritionists advising people to eat more vegetables. It wouldn't be physically possible for me to eat more vegetables. I'm like some kind of voluntary foie gras duck when it comes to vegetables. I apologise for that cruel and unusual visual.

This bake is a good way to eat lots of different vegetables. And it's healthy because though it has mozarella in it, it also has five different types of vegetables plus kidney beans. And that's pretty much it, so I guess it's also extremely easy. This is my recipe (it evolved from an ancient recipe for a brown lentil and cauliflower bake) which I always do slightly differently every time I make it, so don't bother following it too closely. You could use almost any vegetables - sweet potato, parsnip, carrots and swedes are some I've used successfully in the past. I almost always use broccoli though because it is so delicious with mozarella.

Ingredients (amounts as given make 3 medium servings)

1 medium tin of red kidney beans or equivalent dried
1.5 cups chopped cauliflower
1.5 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 a cup potato cut into cubes
1/2 a cup of butternut cut into cubes
About 3/4 cup of buffallo mozarella
3-4 tablespoons of plain or greek yoghurt
dried coriander to taste
dried cumin to taste
chopped fresh parsley to taste (at least half a cup, come on, it's so delicious)
salt, pepper to taste

1. Put the beans in a saucepan with coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. Let simmer gently while you do the rest of the recipe. If you used dried and soaked beans you need to do this for at least an hour, as I am sure you know.
2. In a large pot of water, add the potato, then the butternut. When they're about half done, add the cauliflower and broccoli. Let cook until they're soft but not falling apart.
3. Drain the vegetables and then partially mash them roughly with a fork, adding the yoghurt and half or 2/3 of the mozarella (cubed or torn as you like). Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the parsley. I added at least a cup because I love parsley.
4. In a pie dish or what have you, put down about an inch thick layer of the thick vegetable mash. Then drain the beans of excess water and put down a layer of beans. Then top with the rest of the vegetable mash.
5. Take the rest of the mozarella, torn up into little bits, and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the vegetables.
6. Bake in the oven or in your sad student-flat microwave with the grill on until the top gets brown. I dont have an oven, so I can't give you an actual temperature. I use aforementioned sad microwave and I use the highest setting on the feeble imitation of a grill element. It doesn't really matter since everything is cooked already, you're just getting all the flavours to mix into each other and making the cheesy top all golden and delicious.

mercredi 19 novembre 2008

My friends the red aduki beans

Red beans, or Aduki beans, are unusually high in protein and low in fat even as beans go. They're also very high in calories, but nobody cares, because they are delicious. My experience of these beans is mostly in the form of sweet red bean paste, which I have eaten in buns, in motchi balls, and on matcha ice cream. They are also used in savoury dishes, but I'm not really interested in that because they're so outstandingly delicious in a sweet paste that I can't move on from it.

I made a sweet chunky red bean paste as my first foray into cooking these myself, and it was very easy. You just soak the beans overnight, then boil them until they're very soft, and then mash them up, and then add sugar to taste. I used brown sugar even though I am sure most recipes call for white.

I was going to make red bean crepes, but the morning was too crushed for time. I decided to have oatmeal instead, and so I discovered that stirring in two or three spoonfulls of the red bean paste to oats porridge just before it is finished cooking is amazingly delicious. It also sweetens the porridge so you don't need to put extra sugar or honey on it, so you can convince yourself that you're being somewhat healthy. Maybe.

mardi 18 novembre 2008

LeNotre in Paris

LeNotre is really my kind of place. Their dedication to chocolate is complete and unswerving. When I trotted up there last week (carrying the butternut of previous note on my back) they had so many different chocolate desserts that I tuned out about halfway through having them explained to me. I was in a sort of pre-emptive chocolate trance. If you've never had that experience I urge you to hang around in more chocolate shops.

This time I went with the nougatine, a chocolate tart that has a really extreme attitude problem. Eating this tart is a serious matter that should not be undertaken by the faint of heart. If you have ever had the thought "Wow, that was too much chocolate," then this is not for you. The tart doesnt have a crust - it only looks like it does. What that actually is is a hard caramel shell with a matte dark chocolate coating. The nougatine sheet is supported by a chocolate truffle, and the actual chocolate tart filling is so dark and intense that it must have been at least 70% cacao.

They also make the best pistachio macaron I have found yet in this city. God bless them for having a store so close to where I live.

dimanche 16 novembre 2008

Does someone want to explain this one to me?

If you don't read french, you might not appreciate what's going on in this picture. I bought this bottle of sage (sauge) at the Franprix. When I got home I noticed that the only listed ingredient is rosemary (romarin).

But it is sage. So someone at the label printing department of LACO is possibly in a lot of trouble.

samedi 15 novembre 2008

Butternut soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and sage butter

I bought a butternut at Tang Freres this week. Never having dealt with an entire butternut before - I used to have my dad do this kind of scary stuff - I was a little nervous. But I dispatched it pretty well after a few minutes of hacking and cursing. So now I had all the butternut I could want, and the next step was obvious: soup.

I decided to work off Pim's recipe for Potimarron soup with sage butter but as I don't have an oven, and as I hate washing up, I decided to see if I could do it in one pot. This is roughly how it happened and it served one (me).

Sautee about half a very little yellow onion until it has caramelized, then put it on a plate and set it aside. Then in the same saucepan, boil about a cup and a half of chopped butternut in just enough water to cover it. A little while later throw in about 3/4 of a cup of white beans (if you use canned you can just throw them in here, if you used dried you need to precook them like I do. Use dried! They're infinitely better.) Leave that to boil for about ten minutes, then mash it up and let it stand.

While it is standing, turn your attention to the sage butter. I didn't have sage leaves, so I just melted some butter with some dried sage in it in a little saucepan (thus ending the one-pot dream). This was delicious in the soup in the end, although I can't say whether it measures up to proper sage butter because I have never had it. I left the sage butter to the side and went back to the soup.

Add some milk until it is the thickness you want, then added the onion back in. Puree the whole thing with an immersion blender (or in a traditional blender if you swing that way). When it goes back on the heat, add a tablespoon of greek yoghurt or creme fraiche. Now it needs to be stirred constantly otherwise the bottom will burn. When it comes back to the boil, it's done. You can put on as much sage butter as you like, I used about a teaspoon for my single serving, as well as some toasted pumpkin seeds.

Toasted pumpkin seeds are very easy to do in a skillet or pan, since they announce when they are done by popping and cracking and generally being a nuisance. Then it's just a matter of throwing some fleur de sel or kosher salt on them and drizzling them with olive oil.

I think the caramelised onion goes so well with the butternut, and the sage butter is so much nicer than just adding sage right to the soup. This is really outstandingly delicious, and I had it with Poujauran's delicious sourdough bread.

mercredi 12 novembre 2008

Nachtmarkt in Vienna

The Nachtmarkt never seems to close down. I went there on my first morning in Vienna for breakfast – an excellent nectarine and a cold but delicious apfelstrudel. When I walked back to my hostel that night it was still going. The next day the lunch place I was looking for turned out not to exist and a woman in a nearby café directed me back to the Nachtmarkt for lunch.

There are numerous restaurants in the Nachtmarkt, with falafel stands, asian noodle bars and doner kebabs crammed right in next to the expensive wine shops, smelly cheese displays and fresh vegetables. I eventually decided on a restaurant called Indian Pavilion, because most of the other places violated one of my sacred rules : never eat anywhere with photographs of food on the menu displayed outside. I don’t do this because I’m a snob but because it’s generally a good indicator of poor quality. (L’As du felafel in Paris is the exception.) I had a vegetable masala with rice and cucumber raita – nothing transportative, but very good.

There are loads of little bakeries in the Nachtmarkt and after lunch I wandered through and picked up a spelt wheat ball – I’m not sure what was holding it together but it had a texture like marzipan and seemed like the healthy, cinnamony cousin of the chocolate rum ball. It was outstanding.