Wednesday, October 27, 2010

one potato, two potato

A crowd-pleasing recipe is always something good to have in your back pocket. When catering large buffet parties I always like to include a dish that will knock everybody's socks off. I look to classic comfort foods for this, something that will resonate with most guests and ensure that people feel pampered and spoiled.
It is hard to go wrong with the fresh potatoes coming into the farm stands these days.

French chef and cookbook writer Madeleine Kamman's potato gratin suits the bill completely. This recipe is uncomplicated to make and deeply satisfying to eat. I always include it in my annual family Christmas dinner. It a great compliment for large spreads and goes especially well with roasts and braises of any kind.
These two well thumbed copies of her books have served me well. I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class with Ms. Kamman several years ago and my copy of her The New Making of a Cook is signed!

Last weekend I made this gratin for a party I catered for 30 guests. There was a lot of peeling, I went through ten pounds of potatoes and more than 1 quart of cream, but the beauty of the recipe is that it can easily be scaled up or down. The potatoes can be peeled and sliced the day before cooking and stored in the fridge completely covered in water. Once baked it can be kept warm in an oven for an hour or two before serving. Very forgiving, this recipe won't fail you. It is rich and decadent and perfect for a dinner party.
Potato Gratin
-based on a recipe by Madeleine Kamman
1 garlic clove
2 Tbs. butter
4 large potatoes, thinly sliced
pinch of ground nutmeg
s &p to taste
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Rub garlic onto the bottom amd sides of an oven proof cassarole dish. I use a paper towl to hold the garlic and really crush it down as I rub. Discard the remains of the garlic and rub the dish with the butter. Layer the potato slices in  the dish, adding salt and pepper and nutmeg to each layer as you go. Pour the cream into the pan and shake a bit to distribute around the potatoes. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, using a spatula every now and then during baking to push the potatoes down and allow the cream to rise up. There will be a golden brown crust when the dish is finished baking.
Will keep for at least two hours in a warm oven before serving if needed.

serves four.

MMMMMM. How can this recipe not be delicious? As this would be a side dish, and not a main meal, you would pair a wine with the main course. However, the simplicity of this dish, and the "basic" flavor profile of really allows it to be quite wine-friendly.

I have a few thoughts in mind regarding wine choice. For a white, you could go in one of two directions - complement, or contrast. Both these schools of thought work quite well when it comes to pairing wine with food. A rich, buttery Chardonnay would be a great match if you are looking to "complement" the potatoes. The similar qualities in the wine and food are perfect together. If you are looking for a contrast, I would look towards something with crisp acidity to "cut through" the rich, buttery flavors of the potatoes, perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc. A "contrasting" wine will help cleanse the palate as well. Why not choose one of each and see for yourself?

For reds - though many would work, I am thinking specifically of Beaujolais. How could I not? Fall and the holiday season makes this delightful red a real treat.  Most of you are probably familiar with Beaujolais Nouveau, and Beaujolais Villages. What I'm thinking of are the Cru Beaujolais - these are site specific, made from the top Villages. The wine takes the name of the village from which it came. There are 10 different "crus", all producing wines with different characteristics. The wines are food friendly, and are a must-have at Thanksgiving. And, even the Cru Beaujolais are not too expensive. Most can be found for between $10 and $20.

The grape used for the production of Beaujolais is Gamay. For Deb's Gratin, I would choose a Beaujolais that is a little fuller bodied. A Morgon would be nice, with its earthy undertones.  A Moulin-a-Vent also would work well. A little oak aging gives this wine nice structure and roundness, perfect for standing up to the richness of Deb's dish. Sometimes, you might see the words "futs de chene" (oak casks) on the label which will indicate the wine has seen some oak.  These wines will typically be the more full-bodied of the Beaujolais. These reds have great depth, and are very fruit-forward. If you are not familiar with these wines, definitely check them out! For consistenly good wines, look for Georges Duboeuf. 

The store wine store I work for just got in several different DuBoeuf Cru Beaujolais at the shop. If you are interested in reading more about them, please check out Carlo Russo's Wine and Spirit World on line.

Friday, October 22, 2010

picture perfect


"...that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm." 
-Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Traipsing through the Louvre last week I was stunned to discover that you are free to photograph ANYTHING you want in the museum! No flash allowed, but that rule was ignored by the masses clustered around the Mona Lisa. Indignant art history major, I worried about the future of these gorgeous masterpieces, and wanted to enforce the rule myself, but thought better of it as I was seriously out-numbered.
If you can't beat them, at least follow the law of the land. I took a few flash-free snaps of some of my favorite images like this one:
How could I resist this charming Dutch lass?
Paintings of food never fail to grab me. I have a future fantasy life of being a vegetable portrait artist. 
When I came across this magnificent cauliflower at a local produce store this week I felt compelled to bring it home and at the very least, take it's pic. And then eat it.
Doesn't it look like a sexy lady with her dress falling off? Well, I think so:)

My recent sojourn in Paris  failed to turn up much in the way of many interesting vegetable recipes. In fact, I believe the French are not all that different from Americans in their vegetable eating habits. Most French meals are based around a prominent meat offering with vegetables as serious second fiddlers. Admittedly, The French know their way around a salad and I bow to their vinaigrettes.

For simple, insanely delicious vegetable recipes Mario Batali knows his stuff. I looked up cauliflower in his Molto Italiano cookbook and found Penne with Cauliflower which in his own words is "...a recipe so simple that it seems, well, almost pathetic."
Pretty funny, Mario!

Penne with Cauliflower-adapted from a recipe by Mario Batali

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbs. crushed chili peppers
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
salt & pepper 
1/4 cup white wine
1 lb. penne
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs- parsley or basil
1/2 cup grated parmasean

Heat oil in saute pan and add the garlic and crushed chili, cook for two minutes till garlic is golden. Add the cauliflower and salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup water and cover the pan, cooking for another 10 minutes. Add a splash of white wine and continue cooking, uncovered till the cauliflower is tender, maybe two more minutes.
Cook the pasta al dente, drain and add to the cauliflower, tossing to coat the pasta. Add the chopped herbs and the grated cheese.

ps- has anyone been to EATALY yet? Have not had a chance to get over there and battle the crowds. Maybe next week.

I have heard a lot about Eataly, but have not yet had the opportunity to make the trip. One of these days I will venture into NYC to check it out. I've heard it's a mob scene, as one might imagine. But I am sure it is well worth it!

Deb, once again, your pictures are so beautiful! Especially the one of the cauliflower - you should enter that one into a contest!

I have some cauliflower at home - so I might just make this dish for dinner! Looks great. Deb, how long does cauliflower last when kept in the fridge? I bought mine several weeks ago, and it still looks perfect. And did you use the leaves in this dish? It looks like you did in the picture. Just wondering since I never thought of using them.

I think any white wine would really work here. I would buy a decent bottle of white, and use it for the dish, and also for sipping. I would be inclined to go with a nice Pinot Gris - just keep it on the dry side. Pinot Gris is rich and has great texture, with nice acidity as well. It is extremely food-friendly. The grape is known for producing wines with flavors of peach, citrus, apple or pears. Pinot Gris from California will be rich and fruit forward, while in the cooler climates of Europe the wine tends to be more crisp with greater acidity. In Italy, this wine is known as Pinot Grigio (which would also be a great choice for this dish).

Zind Humbrecht is one of my favorite Alsace producers who makes an outstanding Pinot Gris. Not inexpensive, their regular bottling can be found for around $20. Trimbach is another terrific producer in Alsace to look for. But because there are really no "bold" flavors, seasonings, spices, sauces, etc - you can really not go wrong with your wine choice here. I would, however, stick with white.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

back from Paris

There are a million wonderful reasons to visit Paris. For me it begins here:
The first cup of coffee!
The museums, gardens, sculptures...
everywhere you look!
The cafes with cute names,
the details,
the markets,
One memorable afternoon along the banks of the charming canal St. Martin...
we had a wonderful lunch at the chic and trendy Hotel du Nord. I almost did not order this dish because it was described as a stir-fry with Pastis. How very strange?!  Pastis is an anise flavored liquor. I wasn't getting the concept, but made a leap of faith anyway. Oh la la! So so so good. There was fennel in the vegetable mix and the Pastis echoed that flavor. I then reflected that five spice seasoning, which is a stir-fry staple, has fennel seed in it so everything was starting to make sense.

Our trip was amazing and I still am on a cloud of aesthetic overload. The city is insanely beautiful in countless ways and I really think I should become a Paris blogger now. Well, in the meantime, I attempted to recreate the delicious stir-fry I enjoyed so much. I went out and bought a bottle of Pastis when I got home (I couldn't find it at the duty free).

I happened to have all the vegetables I needed from the local NY farmers market and I am happy to report that my version is close to a perfect match.
Can you see that little dish of sel de mer (sea salt) on the bottom right? This was my big shopping splurge in Paris. I got a bargain large bag of grey sel de mer for under three euros! 

Stir- fry Vegetables with Pastis
The version of this dish in Paris had asparagus in it as well, but I wanted to keep the ingredients seasonal for my version, pictured here.  I loved the radishes in the original dish, an inspired choice that I would never have thought to add to a stir-fry.
3 Tbs. Olive Oil
10 radishes cut into thin strips with a mandoline or knife
1 fennel bulb, cut into thin strips with a mandoline or knife
6 carrots, peeled and shaved into thin strips with a mandoline or vegetable peeler
1 teas. salt
3 Tbs. Pastis or Pernod

Heat oil in wok. Add the radishes and cook till barely tender for about two minutes, stirring constantly, add a pinch of salt as they cook. Remove from wok and add the fennel and another pinch of salt. Cook for two minutes and remove from wok. Add the carrots and another pinch of salt and stir fry for two minutes. Add the other vegetables back into the wok and then add the Pastis or Pernod. Let the vegetables simmer in the liquor for another minute until the liquid is absorbed. Garnish with a sprinkle of sel de mer and serve immediately.

Amanda- we drank some wonderful Côtes de Provence Rosés while in France, all fantastic and all very inexpensive! Do you think that is a good choice with this dish?

I'm glad you had a terrific time! The pictures are beautiful and I would love to hear more about some of the fabulous meals I am sure you enjoyed! This stir fry looks marvelous - I never would've thought about the Pernod or Pastis as an ingredient for this kind of dish.

You mentiond enjoying the Cotes de Provence Roses - I think you hit the nail on the head. There is nothing I can think of that would make a better complement. A fruit-forward Rose with a hint of spice and plenty of fruit would be simply ideal for these vegetables. The spice notes in the wine would just marry perfectly to the licorice flavor of the Pernod. (as I am sure you already know since you had the pleasure of savoring this combination on your trip).

Roses from the Cotes de Provence are typically a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. For those of you unfamiliar with Cinsault, it is a red grape (sweet and juicy) which grows on the hillsides of France.  The grapes are used for blending, and give great aromatics to the wine. (It is one of the 13 varietals allowed to be used for Chateauneuf-du-Pape, one of France's superstars).  When used in Provence Roses, it lends beautiful structure and softness to the wines, making them elegant and "feminine". The Syrah gives the wine it's spice.

The great thing about Roses from Provence is not only the quality, but the price. It is very easy to find wonderful examples in the under $15 price range. Domaine de Pourcieux makes a very fine Rose possessing beautiful ripe fruit flavors. I imagine it would show perfectly next to Deb's recipe. For $11.99, this is a true bargain. Deb - I suggest you locate a bottle and cook up your stir-fry, pull out some photos and reminisce about your trip! Though, it would probably be near impossible to re-create the original experience!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

please, eat your vegetables

The New York Times has been running articles about how we Americans don't eat enough vegetables. In fact we are eating less and less. This is a pity for all the obvious reasons. I am an admitted omnivore yet I consider vegetables to be one of the greatest joys of life. The fact that they are healthy for our diet is only part of the story. I am enamored of the way they grow, the way they look, taste, and smell. Jane E. Brody who writes a weekly science column for the Times has challenged her readers to propose ways to increase vegetable consumption in this country. Marketing schemes are already under way but certain obsticales have to be overcome. The fact is that vegetables are much harder or should I say, more confusing to cook than meat. Vegetables come in all shapes and sizes, they may have to be peeled, or cleaned of sand and grit or cored or seeded or destemmed. Some can be eaten raw, some have to be cooked. Some taste great both ways.  A lot of variables need to be considered. Storage, freshness, provenece are also considerations.
There are plenty of fresh greens in the farmers markets right now. I simply stir fry any mix of greens with some garlic, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon to finish.

Let us begin where we can by trying to eat some vegetables everyday. Salads are easy, no? A head of romaine lettuce roughly chopped with a drizzle of oil and vinegar can be part of a daily meal.

Look for cook books that have simple recipes so you can make a meal quickly.

Kylie Kwong Simple Chinese Cooking is a wonderful book to find really flavorful yet easy to prepare recipes for vegetables.
Look for vegetables in Asian markets, where they can be found in abundance and at very good prices because of the large demand.

Kylie Kwong's really simple stir fry of snow peas took no more than 10 minutes to prepare.

Heat oil in wok, stir fry snow peas and a pinch of salt for 2 minutes, add crushed garlic and a pinch of sugar, stir fry another minute, add a splash of water to get the snow peas simmering till tender for another 2 minutes. Splash on some sesame oil and serve.
The splash of sesame oil at the end of cooking seems to be Kylie's signature flourish and boy is it good!

This is a subject I will continue to revisit. As for now I am off to Paris for a week to see what the French do with their vegetables and wine!

A bientôt!

I definitely need to check out these articles in the NY Times! I have not seen them. But I have to say, I don't necessarily think that veggies are more difficult to cook - I think it's more about what we're used to. Take for example, a whole chicken. I wouldn't know the first thing about carving it or cutting it up properly. Or all of the numerous cuts of beef out there - which one to use for which preparation. Stews, roasts, steaks, stirfrys, etc. And then, what to do with them once you have them in your kitchen, as far as trimming, prepping, seasoning, and cooking. I think in general, for the mere fact that people don't eat a lot of veggies, they just seem more daunting. It's what we're used to. People are "comfortable" with meat. Not so much with veggies. I would venture to guess that the majority of people find meat easier to deal with only because that's what they eat most of the time. But I think those who normally don't eat many veggies would actually find them quite simple (relatively) to prepare (with a little education and patience, of course).

Take, for example, the recipe at hand. How could any meat dish be as simple to prepare?  Not to mention healthy. I find vegetarian cuisine so much more exciting than meat or fish dishes these days. The possibilities are endless. In my opinion, there are limitations to what you can do with meat and fish dishes. This is really what led me to adopt a more "vegetarian" lifestyle - boredom.  I am constantly reading and learning about new ways to incorporate veggies into wonderful, new dishes (thanks, Deb!), and I fall in love with each new recipe a little more than the last!

As for wine, Deb's snow peas really call for a crisp, light white. Something simple and inexpensive. I would love to sip a Gruner Veltliner, or Albarino with this delightfully light, healthy dish. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand would also be a great choice.