Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce – French Roots Cookbook

seabass cabernet sauceLately, I’ve been biting off a lot more than I can chew in the kitchen. I’ll see a tasty recipe and glance over it to see what I need and gauge whether or not I’ll like eating it. At that point, I should also consider skill-level and cooking time, but for this recipe I did not to my discomfort.

Do not let French Roots fool you with its one-page recipes. Do not think that because the ingredients are non-speciality items that this is something easy to make. DO get ready for one of the more delightful, succulent, and exquisite fish dishes that you can enjoy at home!

bassEach element of Pan-Fried Bass is simple to execute, but there are many of these elements. Fortunately, French Roots presents the recipe in the most logical method I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. The ingredient list is sequential. It doesn’t matter to me that ingredients are not grouped in some way or another. All ingredients in sequence made life a breeze in the kitchen! I didn’t have to back-track or wonder or divide portions, I just went through the list and added elements together.

bass 2

The sauce was very time-consuming, as is customary for many traditional French sauces. Vegetables are cooked in olive oil in a large Dutch oven, adding red wine (oops, used a whole bottle instead of half by mistake) and fish bones (we used frozen stock made from the fish department at Whole Foods) after 6 minutes, and then brought to a boil, then simmered. The vegetables and fish create a lovely stock. Then a shallot reduction is made alongside the fish and vegetables, eventually incorporated and made into a sauce. We had to reduce the sauce forever, but then again, it might have had something to do with using a whole bottle of wine! Meanwhile, leeks are gently cooked, fish is sautéed, butter is whisked into the sauce, and a beautiful dish comes to life. Despite some bumps in the road, some improv, and some mistakes, this was easily one of the most interesting French meals we’ve ever made at home. We are so excited to continue cooking through French Roots.

p.s. You may notice in the pictures above, a strangely bound object. We had a bit of fun with the elements of the bouquet garni and bound them up in celery stocks…in the end we put it all in a muslin bag…never forget to have fun in the kitchen!

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce

-V&J

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce – French Roots Cookbook

Almost-Refried Black Beans

black beansRecently, I’ve grown tired of ordering takeouts for weekday dinners, so I’ve made an effort to cook more simple meals at home. Ideally, I’d want these meals to also serve as lunch for the next day.

I’ve always enjoyed the refried black beans at Rosa Mexicano, and love that their flavor is smokier and more complex than pinto refried beans. I set out to make refried black beans just like those as a side dish for dinner, and to have the remainder for lunch the next day. I found a lot of recipes for refried black beans online, using various methods of soaking dried beans, prepping, and cooking.

black beansBefore finding the right recipe, I went grocery shopping and mistakenly bought an uncured slab of bacon, assuming it was a crucial ingredient. Turns out that isn’t quite true, and I had to do a bit of digging to find a refried black beans recipe that included bacon. I found a great one in the end—a recipe that is thankfully easy, that doesn’t require soaking dried beans overnight, and that isn’t very time-consuming.

black beans 2

I used the “Refried Black Beans” recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen, and made some adjustments. Instead of chopping slices of bacon, I cubed the uncured slab of bacon. I sautéed the onions, garlic, celery, and jalapeños along with the bacon, added the chicken broth, beans, and salt, and brought them to a boil. Then I simmered them all for 3 hours, adding some more chicken broth midway through. But then I stopped at step 4. I didn’t purée the mixture in a food processor, and I didn’t refry the beans in vegetable oil. Instead, I tried the cooked beans and bacon before I was going to blend them, and they were already delicious. Why purée and fry something that’s already great?

Heartier than a refried bean, they were spicy, smokey, bacon-heavy, and perfect. I served them as a side dish at dinner, and then ate them with rice the next day. Highly recommended indeed.

-V

Almost-Refried Black Beans

AK Cookies – Lucky Peach Winter 2014

ak cookiesPeter Meehan mentions a recipe for his favorite cookies in New York magazine’s Grub Street Diet. Grub Street Diet interviews are fascinating to me because sometimes I discover great restaurants through them. I also like that I don’t have to feel nosey when finding out what other people are eating through the week. Don’t know why it’s so compelling, but it is.

Interview aside, this particular Grub Street Diet steered me towards the Lucky Peach website, where the AK cookies recipe lives.

These cookies are the gold standard in Meehan’s home. If a man that writes well about great food for a living wants to share his favorite cookie recipe, there’s no reason not to make it.

These AK cookies (named as such after a friend from Alaska who first made them) are basically souped-up chocolate chip cookies. A lot of extra ingredients go into the making of this cookie, but they all make sense together. You’ll need to procure oats, shredded coconut, and chopped pecans in addition to the regular components of chocolate chip cookies. They were simple-simple to make (2 steps), and are easily freezable.

I scooped all of the batter into little ice cream scoops, baked half of them, and froze the other half. The fresh batch took around 14 minutes to bake while the frozen batch, baked a couple days later, took around 17 minutes. AK cookies

These aren’t cookies to impress a baking wizard, but these are extraordinary everyday cookies that are a pleasure to eat as an afternoon snack. They are not beautiful, and they will not show off your baking craftsmanship, but they will satisfy your cravings for sweet things and then some.AK cookies 2-V

AK Cookies – Lucky Peach Winter 2014

Spicy Charred Octopus – Bon Appétit January 2015

spicy charred octopusIt’s worthwhile to read the “RSVP – readers sound off” inquiries in the beginning pages of Bon Appétit. There are often unexpected recipes requested from notable restaurants around the U.S., and wonderful cooking inspiration. In the January 2015 issue, someone asked how to make octopus at home. I’d personally never considered making octopus a feasible endeavor, but the recipe looked fairly straightforward and the ingredients sounded perfectly balanced and intriguing.

Jeffrey will take on any frightening cooking that’s presented to him, and this octopus dish was a great example of that.

With the ingredients list in hand, we headed to Chinatown to check out their aquatic offerings. The recipe called for a 5 to 6 pound octopus, but these are very difficult to come by it turns out, so we went with 5 pounds of baby octopus instead. They were half-frozen, but we learned from the magazine that that’s actually a good thing, and that it helps tenderize the sometimes tough and chewy flesh. I didn’t involve myself with this project besides being there for the shopping, so we will continue with Jeffrey’s thoughts on the preparation of this dish:

Most people who have any business in the kitchen or have high culinary aspirations or know a thing or two about food will immediately think of Jiro’s poor assistants from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. There’s a tiny moment in the documentary during which it is explained that the lowest assistant on the totem pole is tasked with “massaging” the day’s octopus…for hours! It’s explained that this is the key to tender octopus. So, thinking of Jiro’s lowest assistant, I hiked up my sleeves and massaged the babies for no more than 15 minutes. As V mentioned, the octopi were half-frozen…15 minutes in, I lost feeling in my fingers. There was no discernible difference in tenderness, so I’d go with the magazine’s opinion that frozen octopus is more tender than fresh octopus. It’s easier to find anyway.

octopus 1
We were not drunk in the making of this dish, so why is there a cork floating in the sauce? This was another tip from the magazine. Apparently, this aids in the tenderizing of octopus as well. But who knows why or how this works? It’s easy enough to throw the cork in and no one loses.octopus 2
It’s fun to think about how people are people in the kitchen and will come up with all sorts of tips and tricks to pull off the perfect dish. It’s a primal desire to want to eat and prepare tasty things, so it makes sense that our illogical and superstitious impulses remain strong in the kitchen as they are lost in our other daily activities.

octopus 3

For the recipe, visit Bon Appétit: Spicy Charred Octopus

– J & V

Spicy Charred Octopus – Bon Appétit January 2015

3 Water Bottles to Consider

I try to have water with me wherever I go so that I drink my daily quota. The winters are very drying in New York, and the summers are sweaty, so keeping hydrated is important to me. I’ve tried a lot of water bottles over the years, but I have three definite favorites: the Lifefactory polka-dot silicone and glass, the small bkr with silicone and glass, and the less-loved BPA-free plastic Camelbak Eddy. Read below for my thoughts.

LifefactoryLifefactory: In 2007, two people came together to make eco-friendly glass and silicone baby bottles that didn’t contain any harmful-chemicals. Lifefactory expanded from there to create one of the best water bottles that I own. They are dishwasher safe (both removable silicone sheath and glass bottle), and microwave safe. Their handle makes them very easy to carry, and they are easily washable, unlike some other water bottles I’ve used. I’ve dropped mine a few times, and the silicone protector has kept it safe from breaking! The

diveonly downside to these Lifefactory water bottles is their wide-brimmed mouth, which sometimes makes spilling easy when taking a sip.

bkr: the bkr water bottle is my second favorite. I love that it’s compact so it can fit in my bag, and that it has a small opening so my drink doesn’t spills all over my face. The silicone sleeve is a little difficult to remove, so I mostly end up leaving it on in the dishwasher. The cap also has a handle so it’s easy to carry. I’ve had two shatter, though, because they’re difficult to dry (unless you can prop them up securely, they fall over easily because of their small mouths).

The bkrs are popular with the celebrity/fashion set: maybe it’s because they’re attractive as far as water bottles go, but maybe it’s just because they have a great marketing team.

camelbak EDDYCamelbak EDDY: I used this water bottle for a while. I liked it because there was no spillage whatsoever because of the nipple. But the nipple is also a little embarrassing to be sucking on in public. And, not to be gross, but the inside of the nipple tends to mold, and the only way to really get it clean is with a cotton bud soaked in alcohol. So that isn’t ideal. But it’s useful if you’re very active, I guess, and are otherwise too busy to bother with a bottle cap.

-V

3 Water Bottles to Consider

Farmer’s Markets in the Winter

The longer I live on the East Coast, the more I have to learn how to deal with the seasons. Growing up in California, the weather is consistently pleasant, and fruits and vegetables are beautiful year-round. In Manhattan, the farmer’s market dramatically changes in the winter.

J and I visited the Union Square Greenmarket over the weekend on a very cold (feels like 9F) Saturday. I imagined that produce would be limited, but I didn’t really know what to expect to find in January. The first thing I noticed was the dramatic decrease in vendors: maybe a quarter of the number than in Spring and Summer. The next thing I realized was that the only fruit on offer were apples. Admittedly, there were a huge variety of apples. But apples were the only fruit for sale this Saturday in January. There are only so many things to make with apples: I’ve already made apple sauce, pork with apples, and apple pie. I don’t want to bite into an apple when it’s snowing outside, either. Apples are pretty useless to me.

The vegetables were all of the grown-underground variety. Carrots were rare, and looking worse for wear. Potatoes held up well. And then there were a handful of root vegetables that I have no idea what to make with: celeriac, rutabaga, and kohlrabi. I can’t say these are the most exciting vegetables for me, but maybe I need to learn how to make them into something tasty before I discount them completely.

The changing of the seasons and the harsh winters in New York have made me learn not only how to dress for the weather, but have also forced me to expand my cooking abilities. Maybe this is a better way of cooking: along with the seasons, but I can only take eating root vegetable after root vegetable for so long. For now, I dream of the ramps coming in Spring.Winter Vegetable poster available on Etsy.

-V

Farmer’s Markets in the Winter

French Roots (Cookbook Discussion)

French-rootsThe summer after graduating from college, my roommate and I thought it would be fun to take a cooking course in France. After some careful research, we chose Two Bordelais, which is a week-long session taught by former Chez Panisse chef Jean-Pierre Moullé and his wine-expert wife, Denise Lurton Moullé. Lodging and meals being included in the course made it all the more enticing.

We learned everything from how to confit a duck to how to make rillettes. We also had some lessons about the different wine regions of France, and took tours of local chocolate and cheese makers in the area. Not only was this week-long course a lesson in Bordelais food and culture, we also learned how to make classic French dishes like pissaladière (an onion and anchovy tart from Provence) and basic cooking skills like how to properly filet a fish.

Earlier this year, the Moullés released a wonderful cookbook, called French Rootswhich my mother thoughtfully sent to me. The recipes are a blend of French classics and California cuisine, with the personal touch of their life stories through food and short narratives. The most interesting parts of the cookbook describe the different ways that you can live off the land outside of your own home. If you have a garden, why not make room for a vegetable garden or chicken coop? If you live near the woods, why not learn about edible mushrooms and pick them for dinner?

The Moullés live between Bordeaux and Healsburg, California, where they take full advantage of what their local landscapes have to offer. Each recipe that they share considers the full use of every part of all ingredients. The easiest way to describe the cookbook is to read this explanation from Jean-Pierre Moullé, who says,

“My ambition is to make my own balsamic vinegar, start a barrel of hard cider made from apples grown on the property, cure the hams of the wild boar I shoot, expand my charcuterie repertoire, produce more of my own wine and olive oil, keep a cow for experiments in cheese making and plant even more fruit trees.”

In reading this cookbook, and in trying the recipes for myself, I have found that these ambitions have been sparked in me, too.

-V

French Roots (Cookbook Discussion)

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot JourneyFrequently, two people watch the same movie and have very different reactions to them. This happened when J and I watched The Hundred-Foot Journey last night. Below, my thoughts, and then J’s. Have you seen the movie? What are your thoughts about it?

V: Films about French food and restaurants are a dime a dozen, so it is refreshing to watch The Hundred-Foot Journey, a movie about a family that moves from India to a small village in France to set up a restaurant. The Kadam family buy a run-down stone building 100 feet across the road from an established Michelin-starred restaurant owned by a stereotypically uptight Frenchwoman woman, played by Hellen Mirren.

Opening an Indian restaurant in a close-minded small town in France proves challenging, made even more difficult by the staff of the restaurant across the street. Dayal Kadam, the family’s prodigal cook, quickly becomes the protagonist of the film with his brilliant gift for cooking and reimagining classic French dishes with soul and some Indian flavors thrown in for good measure.

The story is sweet, entertaining, and the food from both restaurants and the local market is beautifully filmed. Although there are some cheesy moments and predictable plot twists, the movie is definitely worth watching, if only just to be transported to a picturesque French village and to see the stunning food that its inhabitants create. Unsurprisingly, there are some major Hollywood influences behind this picture: both Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey had their hands in the memorable execution of The Hundred Foot Journey, available to rent now.

J: The Hundred-Foot Journey is a pretty film with pretty ideas and pretty moments. But in the end, for all the pretty, it’s just plain boring and conventional.

Even though it’s the kind of movie that has no surprises and doesn’t press the boundaries of any issues, not everything under the sun needs to be thoughtful or provocative.

It’s an easy movie to sit back and watch.

In some ways, the movie avoids being a complete wash because it’s meant to be a Disney film for adults:

We can just call it La Belle et La Bête. Outsider wins the heart of Caucasian French woman. Outsider has magical powers that transform him into a classical French chef, but he’s exotic because he uses Indian spices to impress the restaurant’s clientele.

Immigrant struggles, emigration, xenophobia, cultures lost in translation, miscegenation, rise to the top, and rose-hued denouement.

In writing this, I feel slighted as there wasn’t much emotion and even less spirit.

Also, why does Helen Mirren play a French woman with a fake French accent? Couldn’t they have chosen one of the countless talented French actresses to speak in English for the film?

What’s wrong with a feel-good movie though? Nothing. But that’s just it. Is it a waste of time to sit there and watch something like this when the balance is neutral.

 

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies (Food & Wine)

gingersnap sandwich cookies

In the December 2014 Food & Wine issue, chefs from around the nation shared their favorite holiday cookie recipes. Kir Jenson, from Portland bakery The Sugar Cube, contributed her recipe for Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies. I quickly glanced over the recipe, wrote down the ingredients I needed, and headed to the store. When I got home, I read over the recipe for the first time (rookie mistake), and then realized just how complicated these simple-looking cookies actually were.

gingersnap 1

 

The gingersnap cookies require zesting both an orange and ginger, and measuring out four different spices in addition to the other eight ingredients, but it is worth it for the depth of flavor. The gingersnap dough is fairly straight-forward, but the cream cheese and brown butter filling (neither of which are mentioned in the recipe title), is not. The filling calls for making a vanilla bean brown butter, which requires a lengthy process of melting, ice bathing, and then solidifying. I would say that the overall active time of making the cookie dough, the filling, and then assembling, took me a solid five hours.

gingersnap 2

The cookies turned out very well, but I’m not sure that I would make them again considering just how long they took to make. They are a great project for the holidays, but definitely not something I’d try to make on a weekday evening.

gingersnap 3

Reading over the comments on the Food & Wine website, it looks like other readers attempted the recipe with negative results. They found the dough to be gooey and the flour (and/or butter) measurements to be off. I didn’t find this to be true, but maybe they’ve since edited the recipe? Either way, the recipe worked for me, and I followed it closely, so it should work for you, too.

gingersnap 4

-V

Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies (Food & Wine)

Foolproof Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pieFor a handful of Thanksgivings, I’ve tried and retried to perfect the Pumpkin Roll recipe from the Land’O Lakes website. It’s essentially a pumpkin version of a ho-ho or of a bûche de Noël. Although I love the recipe because it contains equal parts pumpkin cake and cream cheese frosting, it lacked the traditional, “authentic” taste of Pumpkin pie that I crave come November. After some time in the fridge, it could also get dense and tacky, so it isn’t an ideal choice if it can’t be served straight away. I’ve mostly purchased pumpkin pies in the past; my favorite so far has been Urth Caffé‘s substantial (and pretty pricey) version. This year, I decided to try a recipe of my own on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon so that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I burned the crust or if the filling sunk or didn’t cook through in the middle.

piecrust pumpkin pie

Because it has become increasingly cold here in Manhattan, I wanted to bake a pumpkin pie that could be prepared using the ingredients already in my fridge and pantry. I opened up all of my hefty cookbooks and found multiple recipes for pumpkin pie, but I didn’t have the ingredients for any recipe from start to finish. Instead, I chose to make the crust from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that used sour cream instead of the typical vegetable shortening; and a pumpkin filling from Joy of Cooking that called for condensed milk as an option instead of heavy cream and sugar. I partially baked the Cook’s Illustrated pie crust, and filled it with the Joy of Cooking pumpkin filling (calling for the perfect balance of spices), and all turned out well and simple. I didn’t bother brushing the crust with an egg yolk, and the recipe made a lot more (maybe 2x?) pumpkin filling than fit in the crust.

It doesn’t surprise me that cobbling together two different recipes yielded more of one element than another, but it was liberating to pick and choose, rather than follow to a tee.

piecrust

All-Butter Single-Crust Pie Dough

INGREDIENTS

4 teaspoons sour cream
3-4 tablespoons ice water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used a pinch)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen for 10-15 minutes

METHOD

1. Mix sour cream and 3 tablespoons ice water in bowl until combined. Process flour, sugar, and salt together in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter butter over top and pulse mixture until butter is size of peas, about 10 pulses

2. Pour half of sour cream mixture over flour mixture and pulse until incorporated, about 3 pulses. Repeat with remaining sour cream mixture. Pinch dough with your fingers; if dough feels dry and does not hold together, sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon ice water over mixture and pulse until dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains, 3 to 5 pulses.

3. Turn dough onto sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling dough out, let it sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.

4. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle on lightly floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto a 9-inch pie plate, letting excess dough hang over edge. Ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave any dough that overhangs plate in place.

5. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Tuck overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Crimp dough evenly around edge of pie using your fingers. Wrap dough-lined plate loosely in plastic and place in freezer until dough is fully chilled and firm, about 30 minutes, before using.

6. Line chilled pie shell with double layer of aluminum foil, covering edges to prevent burning, and fill with pie weights.

7. For a partially-baked crust: bake until pie dough looks dry and is light in color, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and remove weights and foil. Crust must be warm when filling is added.

Joy of Cooking’s Pumpkin Pie Filling (edited to show options I chose)

Increase the oven temperature to 425F. In a large bowl, whisk thoroughly 2 large eggs for a firm pie with a pronounced pumpkin flavor.

Add in, and whisk thoroughly:
2 cups cooked pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg (I use a Microplane)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Warm the piecrust in the oven until it is hot to the touch, leaving the filling at room temperature. Pour the pumpkin mixture into crust and bake 35 to 45 minutes, until firm. Cool completely on a rack. The pie can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.

-V

Foolproof Pumpkin Pie

The Slanted Door’s Oxtail Stew

Oxtail Stew

J often talks about how much he loves oxtail stew; if given the opportunity, he’s quick to order it in Korean restaurants. Eventually, I got the hint that we should cook some at home. I was both glad and terrified to find a recipe for Braised Oxtail Stew in the The Slanted Door cookbook.

Not only had I never tasted oxtail before, I had never even seen it. In its uncooked state, it’s surprising to see the components of a cattle tail, and how large some of the pieces can be.

oxtail stew

At H-Mart in Koreatown, we picked up two packs of frozen oxtails, and headed home where the rest of the ingredients awaited. We cooked the oxtail just like any other cut of meat that requires braising. Browning on all sides required some balancing and leaning, but it didn’t take long. The rest of the ingredients were added: a yellow onion, a can of crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, garlic, celery, carrots, lemongrass, and star anise pods. To prep the lemongrass, J used a meat pounder to release the flavors from the stalks. The rest of the ingredients just required a simple chop and add to the pot. Three hours later, it was ready!

oxtail stew 2

This is an amazing dish to enjoy in the colder months ahead. If you’re new to cooking with oxtail, this is a relatively simple recipe and a delicious way to prepare it. There is a heartiness from the tomatoes and meat, but also a lightness from the star anise, lemongrass, and jalapeño.

There must be a trick to eating and preparing oxtails because scooping and scraping to get to the meat was tedious. Maybe it requires longer braising to really get the meat to separate from the bone?

-V

The Slanted Door’s Oxtail Stew

The Slanted Door’s Braised Ginger Chicken

IMG_6300While I’ve only visited The Slanted Door in San Francisco a few times, I became familiar with Charles Phan’s take on Vietnamese cooking through his more casual outpost, Out the Door. There, I frequently enjoyed grabbing a bowl of grilled five-spice chicken over vermicelli with imperial rolls. I have yet to find a Vietnamese restaurant in Manhattan that I like enough to keep returning to. Now, though, I can satisfy my cravings for Vietnamese dishes at home using Charles Phan’s The Slanted Door.

Braised Ginger Chicken

Unlike other Southeast Asian cookbooks that I’ve read recently, this one is not overly complicated and does not call for impossible-to-find ingredients. Instead, it is a straight-forward book of stories and recipes, filled with plenty of authentic Vietnamese ingredients, and the perfect addition to my cookbook collection.

The first meal J and I chose to make was the “Braised Ginger Chicken” because we already had a d’Artagnan whole chicken in the freezer, and we were anxious to start trying out these beautiful recipes. I left the chicken butchering to J and a large knife while I prepped the vegetables and measured out the spices. Everything was prepared using a single clay pot, gradually adding each ingredient, which included a yellow onion, garlic, fresh ginger, sake, chicken stock, fish sauce, Thai chiles, and scallions. Despite the relatively clean ingredients, the sauce had a very rich and complex flavor. This recipe was very simple to make and such a gratifying meal to eat on a cold Fall day.

-V

The Slanted Door’s Braised Ginger Chicken