Cooking and eating

For some people, to live is to eat. I am one of those people. I live a "food centered life". So, I have written down my Cookbook reviews and a few menus from past meals. And, I have written down a few creations . First, a quote from Roger Vergé:

"To cook well, one need only be a gourmand, a hungry appreciator of flavors. Rather, I should probably say, one must be a gourmand to be a good cook. A recipe is like written music. One can follow it very exactly and yet achieve an unintelligent, mechanical, or mediocre result... The recipe is only music on the page it is you who will make it sing. To cook is to create, to marry ingredients as poets marry words, to play chords with flavors, to invent new and subtle harmonies." Roger Vergé, translated from "Ma Cuisine du Soleil" (c) 1978.

Pictures of feasts

Menus

This was cooked at the end of January, 1999 while fluffy snow was falling outside.

The wine was a California sparkler, not too bad.

This is a meal I cooked in early June of 1999 (before it really got hot):

Wines were a Babcock Sauvignon Blanc and Sean Thackery's Pleaides VI

Here's a meal from the Union Square Cookbook (I recommend it without hesitation and enthusiastically). Here is the menu:

Wines were a Ridge Zin meritage and a Belvedere dessert wine.

For Thanksgiving 1995, we had:

Wines were: Pol Roger (N.V.) champagne, Foxen 1992 Chardonnary and Ridge Zinfadel.

New Year's, 1997 (served 28 December) All dishes from Charlie Palmer (Aureole)

The Ides of March, 1998 All recipes from "Cuisine of Venice and surrounding Northern regions"

Recipes

Turkey Lasagne

The following recipe was designed to use up left over Thanksgiving Turkey. It follows in a great northern Italian tradition of using a white sauce (the famous Bechamel in French, Salsa Besciamella in Italian) as the binder.

The preparation proceeds as follows: first, you need left over turkey, removed from the bone white or dark doesn't matter. Then prepare the Balsamella:

Put the milk in a saucepan and heat almost to boiling (not quite!!); meanwhile heat the oil/butter... When it is melted, add the flour stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook about 2 minutes (this is necessary to eliminate the flour taste... but don't let burn). Remove from the heat. Then add the hot milk, SLOWLY at first (say 2 T at a time) and stir stir stir. When you have added 1/2 c then you can be a bit more cavalier about it. Now add the salt and cook until it is the thickness of cream.

In the meantime, you can also cook the lasagne noodles. So, you have sauce, turkey and noodles. I also cook some onions in oil which I season with thyme and oregano.

Then, choosing a nice pan, put a layer of sauce on the bottom, then noodles, sauce, onions, turkey (in that order). Repeat until you run out of time, ingredients or pan. If you want, you can put grated parmesan on top. Bake at 400 for about 10-15 minutes; let rest for 5-10 minutes after removing from the oven.

Swiss Chard Risotto

Start by heating the broth (5 cups); you'll also need some parmesan and romano cheese. Before starting the soffrito, separate the ribs from the leaves. Then saute the onion in oil and a little butter; then add the chopped ribs. Continue sauteing them until they turn soft, about 4-5 minutes (test them with a fork). Then, add 1.5 cups arborio rice and begin adding the broth in the usual fashion. At the very end, add the leaves and the cheese. The leaves will melt and so will the cheese. Finito.

Turkey Shepherd's pie

The concept here is simple enough: take the leftover turkey and the leftover mashed spud and put them together. Here's what you need to do: first, butter a large pan. Then prepare the sauce. I used a generic tomato sauce: onions, thyme, tomatoes, pepper and a bit of red wine. After simmering "until the oil separates" (as Marcella would say), then add the turkey (off the bone of course). Layer it in the bottom of the pan. Then layer the mashed sputs on top. Use a trowel to even it out. Bake at 375 until done. Done is when the sauce is boiling and the top is lightly toasted.

Banana Soufflé

Tired of making banana bread with black bananas? Why not turn them into a soufflé? You can use any soufflé basis. I used Lenotre's which involves the construction of a roux and then the eggs and finally the addition of milk. The only caution I have is to not add the sugar called for; the black bananas have more than enough. Then stir in the mashed bananas and fold in the whites. I suggest serving with a chocolate sauce.

Scallops with a yellow tomato coulis

Prepare a schiffonade of basil; start some butter and olive oil in a small pot, then add sliced tomatoes (I used yellow because they have a nice color and are sweet like cherry tomatoes; ambitious cooks would remove the skins, I didn't). The tomatoes will cook down. When you are satisfied with the texture, add the basil. Then add about a half pound of scallops (either kind, your choice). Cook until the scallops are done to your taste.

Chicken with baby artichokes

Start by cutting the chicken into pieces; then heat some oil in a pan. When hot, add the chicken turning and browning. Meanwhile, remove the outer leaves of the baby artichokes. Keep going until the inner leaves are exposed (note: it's hard to know when to stop pulling, only experience will tell you when). Then, cut them down the long axis into, say, 8 pieces. You could put them into acidulated water, but why bother? When the chicken is done, remove from the pan and add some garlic. When it yellows but not browns, add 1/2 c of white wine. Add some rosemary (a sprig will do) and the chicken. Now add the artichoke slices and cover. Cook until done.

Julia Child's Soupe de Poisson

This is my informal rendering of her recipe from the classic set. I have changed some timing to reflect reality.

Start a pot with some olive oil, then several onions. Fry until transparent. The add several cloves of garlic, chopped whole tomatoes (I often use canned in the winter), parsley springs, a bay leaf, thyme/basil (about 1/2 t), a large pinch of saffron, an orange peel some black pepper and a lot of water, say 8-10 cups. Add one peeled potato. Bring to a boil, and let it cook for 30 minutes at a simmer/low boil.

Remove the cooked potato. Next, add either chopped potatoes or pasta. I cube the potatoes so that the cooking time is reduced. For pasta, I prefer the smaller, orzo type. You should now add the fish, with adjustments for cooking time. The fish should be firm, I like tilapia, monkfish and scallops. Just cook the fish, do not use the times according to Julia!

Meanwhile, you can simmer some chopped red pepper together with a hot pepper. Put the cooked potato in a blender with the above. Add 4 cloves of garlic, basil and some stock and grind. You should add enough to grind it into a smooth paste. Then add olive oil until it's the right texture (resembles mayonnaise).

Serve by having toasted bread slices, coat with rouille and put the fish soup on top. Serve with a cold Sauvignon Blanc.

Cookbook reviews

Cookbooks can be great fun if the writer has a sense of humor and an unerring sense of what is required and what is not. Be that as it may, the overall quality of cookbooks varies from dreadful to superb. Here are some review of cookbooks at home:

Julia Child - The Art of French Cooking
This is truly a classic and what's more, it's surprisingly easy to cook out of. Of course, Julia's droll humor is found throughout and it comes complete with wine recommendations. I find the simple recipes to be delightful.
Jean George VanGerichten
In spite of the fact that Jo-Jo is one of my favorite chefs alive, his cookbook leaves much to be desired. The recipes can yield fabulous results and yet others are fundamentally lacking in needed instructions. If you watch him live, you will see how much he leaves out.
Michael Romano - The Union Square Cookbook
What a pleasure it is to cook from this tome. Every dish has been tested and what's more, easily yields fine results. So easy to please and yet so delicious. I recommend this book without hesitation as a way to taste what's in New York's most popular restuarant. This book is now being remaindered, so don't pay full price.
Michael Romano - The Union Square Cookbook #2
It's a hard act to follow volume one (above). And so, I regret to say the recipes here just aren't quite up to the usual Union Square quality. That doesn't say they're not good, but it's not as failsafe as the first edition.
Marcella Hazan - Classic Italian Cooking
Marcella Hazan is our doyen of Italian cooking; mind you, she is from Venezia, so her emphasis is not on red sauces but on white and other sauces. Her recipes are concise, easy to follow and produce great results. All of her cookbooks are highly recommended.
Nick Maglieri - How to Bake
An amazing book - so far every recipe just works. Easy, simple to follow and it works. He has a new chocolate book too. I'm not sure the title is accurate it's not so much how to as "do this".
The published Morrow once had a series entitles "The 3 Star Crefs of France"; these were translations from the French series published by Lafont. I own all but one. They are quirky books lacking in structure but they have many ideas. Here is a list of the titles:
The Nouvelle Cuisine of Jean and Pierre Troisgros
Surprisingly classical.
The Cuisine of Freddy Giradet
I like Giradet's cooking; he has a certain adventure that comes through. FYI: he is retired.
Michel Guèrard's Cuisine Gourmande
It's hard to believe that Gue'rard did a gourmand cookbook. But he did.
Michel Guèrard's Cuisine Minceur
I have tried a number of recipes in this book and they were terrible. Of course, maybe it's just Cuisine Minceaur. Best recipe I found was for a salad dressing.
The Three-star Recipes of Alain Senderens
Senderens is also an interesting cook with varying takes on classic recipes.
Roger Vergé's Cuisine of the South of France
Vergé had a 3* (was demoted, gasp) and this reflects him at his peak. There is a much more glossy book ... but this isn't it.

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