Thursday, December 31, 2009


I was in Paris about seven years back and spent a really terrific day with Paule Caillat and her Promenades Gourmandes cooking class and walking tour (there's a really cool video of her class at -- but do note Paule is completely fluent in English). We met up early in the morning to shop the local markets: A couple of newlywed Americans, an Asian woman and a quasi-aristocratic type from Budapest who carefully explained that there's Buda and Pest, two cities united, and that one (which one? Buda? can't remember) is more socially significant than the other. Needless to say, she hailed from the correct side of the river. Not sure how that all came up. She actually cut out a little early, probably had pressing obligations to attend to at the embassy or something...

I can't recommend Paule's class highly enough. She's spirited, enthusiastic, a natural teacher and intuitive cook. She keeps up with the current Parisian trends, and introduced us to the then newly in vogue tonka bean (more about that another time). After marketing and preparing a wonderful lunch in her loft-style apartment, she leads a walking tour around Paris, stoping in at the most marvelous establishments, including the famed Dehillerin cookware shop, where she's well-known and obviously well-loved. And I'll never forget being invited down into the cozy, warm basement below the Poilane bakery, where this Mr. Clean-type guy in white short shorts, slip-on keds and one of those Frenchy blue striped bateaux-collared shirts baked those iconic round, hard crusted loaves. He never stopped smiling and the ancient room and equipment were astonishingly immaculate. Fun times.

Paule came to New York this December to host a Christmas in Paris cooking class. Madeleines aux Truffes (presented here). Chicken stuffed with truffles and foie gras. Gratin of winter vegetables with more black truffles. Freshly sliced black truffles dipped in olive oil for light snacking. And Paule's magnificent Caramel au Chocolat tarte which I'm going to post soon.

I made these in St. Louis this Christmas and they were very well received.

Madeleines aux Truffes
Madeleines with Black Truffles
6 T. powdered sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
3 eggs
1/2 c. whole milk
1/4 t. salt
1 (4 oz.) stick of butter
3 T. black truffle oil
2 buck-eye sized black truffles, fresh is best but jarred will work well too
Any truffle juice accumulated in the jar

Beat eggs well until very frothy, and then beat in the milk.

Mix together the powdered sugar, flour, baking soda and salt and gradually add to egg mixture while beating. You want the batter to be very smooth.

Melt the butter on low power in the microwave -- ideally you want it barely melted, just really really soft with only part of it liquid. Not hot.

Slowly beat in the butter and the truffle oil (and juice if you have it).

Shave the truffles whisper thin on a truffle slicer (even the formidable OXO mandoline can't slice as thinly as true truffle slicer). Julienne the slices into thin thin strips. Collect up every little precious scrap and stir these into the batter.

Refrigerate the batter until it's very stiff. Three hours recommended -- though you can do an express chill in the freezer, just make sure to stir every five minutes or so, so it chills evenly. Paule says the chilled batter will expand better due to "thermic shock." I also have a theory that this additional time the truffles spend in the batter before baking allows the flavor to further permeate the batter. Another benefit is that the stiff batter is much easier to work with, at room temp it's pretty sticky stuff.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Butter your madeleine trays -- regular size or minis. Fill each mold about 3/4 full. Bake the mini molds 10-12 minutes -- til they're puffed and golden brown around the edges. The larger size molds should take 12-15 minutes tops. Not too brown!

They should slide right out of the pan onto a rack. Best while still hot from the oven, though you can also prepare ahead and gently reheat before serving. They are pretty resiliant.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oysters Rockefeller and Clams Casino

"Rockefeller" and "Casino" in the names of these two classics, I was going to go with a cutesy title for this post like Millionaires on the Half Shell, but that was a bit too twee, even for me. And these time honored classics really don't need any further gussying up. Oysters Rockefeller or Clams Casino served on their own are worthwhile endeavors.  But unite them on the same plate, piping hot and just the littlest bit crispy on top and you're well into Spectacularly Delicious territory.

Even though you can get fresh oysters year round (since there's been a relaxation of that "only in R months" rule) cold water oysters still taste best.  So O.R. is a seasonal recipe for me. On the other hand, our friend the sturdy clam is always at the ready to lend its briney goodness to chowders, pastas, the seduction of the deep fryer and of course C.C., so you can use this recipe anytime you'd like. 

There are many recipes for Oysters Rockefeller out there -- disregard any that call for cheese. And a complete reliance on spinach is disappointingly bland. Fennel bulb is the key to success here, wise advice first dispensed to me by the good ladies of the The Silver Palate cook books. The clam topping is relatively straight forward. You want the bread crumbs loose, buttery and toasty, not packed tightly as you would for a stuffed clam.  This is not the time to cheat and steam the clams open first -- it's essential to use freshly shucked clams so they are just barely cooked after their ride under the broiler.  Another important thing to note is you need a clam knife for the clams and an oyster knife for the oysters.  Beware anything billed as a combo oyster/clam opening knife -- these tools work equally poorly on both, if at all.

1 dozen freshly shucked cherry stone clams on the half shell
2 T. chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves minced
2 T. butter
2 T. best olive oil
pinch of salt, grind of pepper
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
juice of 1 lemon
1 c. seasoned bread crumbs
3 strips thick bacon

Saute garlic and red pepper in the butter and oil for two minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs, salt and pepper and saute one minute more.  Take off the heat and stir in the parsley and lemon juice.  Cut each bacon strip into four equal pieces.

(this topping recipe makes enough for 3 dozen oysters, so make more than the 1 dozen indicated or refrigerate extra for another night)

1 dozen freshly shucked oysters on the half shell
1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped
6 oz. fresh spinach, washed
4 scallions, chopped
1 T. whole grain French mustard
1 t. Tabasco
juice of 1 lemon
1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/2 t. dry yellow mustard
2 T. butter
1/2 c. seasoned bread crumbs

Boil the chopped fennel for eight minutes, adding the spinach for the last 30 seconds. Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking and set the color.  In a food processor chop the fennel, spinach, scallions, butter, salt, pepper, wet and dry mustards, Tobasco, until it's a wet crumble. Add the bread crumbs and lemon juice, mix well.  You'll end up with a thick green paste.

On a pan large enough to hold all the shellfish lay out the clams and the oysters.  Top the clams with their breadcrumb mixture and lay a piece of bacon over each.  Spoon a good tablespoon of the fennel paste on top of each oyster -- you want the oyster peeking through under the topping.

Put the pan under a hot pre-heated broiler and broil until the oyster topping is starting to brown and the bacon is crisped. It takes about 10 minutes but you will want to keep an eye on things.

Serve hot out of the broiler with lemon wedges and extra Tabasco if desired. (I desire.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The long-running
tradition of fruitcake-bashing seems to have abated somewhat of late.  Probably because the joke was beyond tired, it exhausted itself to death.  Throughout these dark years of ridicule, fruitcakes carried on, making their annual appearance and enjoying the appreciation of loyalists.  And yet, like so many other holiday treats, fruitcakes have become a commercial commodity.  I don't have any data to back this up (does anyone?) but I"ll guess the majority of fruitcakes you'll encounter this Christmas will be store-bought.

Which is a shame.

Mrs. Merino, a good friend of Steve's mom, has perfected her fruitcake recipe over many years.  This one stands out by the perfect balance of warmly spiced, moist cake studded liberally with, but not overwhelmed by, brightly colored candied fruit.  Commercial versions can err in either direction. Some bakeries, in ill-advised attempts to up the cachet (and price) of their product, will deliver a super abundance of fruit, so a slice resembles a stained glass window -- too sweet, too sticky.  At the other end of the spectrum you have the cut-corners version of dry cake with tiny freckles of fruit, lacking the required bit of chewiness and usually any flavor.

So a couple of Steve's notes before you dive into the recipe.  First, for good, juicy, flavorful candied fruit skip the wan, way over priced offerings found in most grocery stores and buy in bulk from an online resource. Steve has had great luck with  And don't be seduced by the promised convenience of cardboard bake-and-serve loaf pans.  They don't hold their shape well, so the sides kind of bow out, the "festive" decorations printed on the sides present an unappealing, pre-fab look, and the cake sticks to the sides of the cardboard pan.  No one's going to appreciate a fruitcake you have to dig out of a cardboard pan that looks suspciously like an end-aisle offering from Walgreens.  Use a conventioal metal loaf pan or mini-pan, run a knife around the edges to release the cakes from the pans and you'll have a perfectly shaped, ready to serve cake.


1 lb. seedless raisins
1 c. currants
2 c. mixed candied fruit (red and green cherries, citron, lemon peel, orange peel), chopped
1 c. brandy

Mix all this together and let stand overnight

Next day, sift together:
5 1/2 c. flour
2 T. cinnamon
1 T. nutmeg
1 T. ground cloves
1/2 T. salt
1/2 T. baking powder

Add 2 c. pecans

Cream together:

1 1/2 c. butter
2 1/2 c. sugar

Add 6 eggs, one at a time

Add 1/2 c. molasses and beat well

Mix 1/2 c. flour to the soaked fruit and then mix that into the butter mixture.

Add this to the flour mix, alternating with 1/2 c. strong coffee

Grease 3 loaf pans or 8 mini-loaf pans, add batter, and bake 1 hr. in a preheated 275 degree oven. Then reduce heat to 250 and continue to bake another hour and 45 minutes for the full sized loaves, about one hour fifteen minutes for the mini-pans.

It helps to put a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven to keep the air moist.

Let cool a little, run a knife around the sides of the loaves and then invert to release from the baking pans.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I met my friend Sherry Akbar at Good Housekeeping.  For the twice-annual High Point furniture markets, she, the decorating editor, and I, advertising/marketer, would be the two man delegation representing this 4.6 million circulation title as we toured all the show rooms, meeting up with teams of six, eight, 10 or more from other magazines (including my current employer, House Beautiful).  It worked out really well - two can maneuver much more quickly than a horde. She'd scout out her story ideas while I made the advertising contacts and then whoosh, on to the next.  

High Point is very spread out and for some unknown reason we always ended up staying in remote locations, reliably inconvenient and consistently dreary. So lots of driving time to chat, not even counting the times we got lost since we then had to focus on finding our way.

Sherry's family is from Iran and I was fascinated and charmed by her background.  Naturally we talked food, and in sharing my enthusiasm for canning, she mentioned her mother made a mean pink grapefruit marmalade.  I couldn't get enough of her ravishing descriptions of this silky blend of not too sweet, not too bitter marmalade she'd been brought up on.  Nothing else ever quite like it.  I had to have the recipe.

As could be predicted, her mom, Homa, kept it in her head.  The only way Sherry was going to get it was to visit mom down in D.C. and take notes, which are transcribed word for word below.

If you've ever made jams and jellies, you know how important precise measurements and timings are, and the heartbreak of a poorly set batch.   Full disclosure -- most of my fruit "syrups" or "conserves" (a great word covering any degree of liquid to almost-but-not-quite jelly or jam) were originally intended to be more solid. So I approached this recipe with trepidation, especially since it doesn't include the reassurance of commercial gelling agents like Certo or Sure-Jel.

Well this is just one of those miracle recipes.  Feel your way through it and you wind up with the most marvelous, luscious, jewel-toned marmalade.  I guess the pectin in the rinds is all that's needed for a reliable set. It's worked like a charm for me, even when I double it.  (Sterlized jars and lids plus a five minute boiling water bath if you're putting it up.)


2 large pink grapefruit
At least 3 cups sugar

- Take the skin and bring to a boil in water and boil for 5 minutes. (Do this three times to get rid of bitter taste)
- Chop the skin and place in a Cuisnart and chop again into fine little pieces also into mush
- Remove pulp from grapefruits and cover in the sugar in a large bowl for several minutes
- Combine with pulsed skin
- Pour mixture into pot and bring to boil and then simmer until thick -- this took us about 20 minutes, but may vary
- It becomes a thick sweet marmalade.

Monday, December 7, 2009


We started making this soup -- well really two soups -- years ago.  It's pretty dramatic in its own right, though kids are especially impressed with the bright red and green soups sitting side by side in the same bowl.  Neither soup is especially difficult, what you want to keep in mind is making both soups the same thickness.  Thick soup works best and actually tastes best too.  Christmas is no time for watery soup!

Serving is easy.  Have both soup pots within easy reach, and use two equal sized measuring cups.  I've found graduated measuring cups with handles work well. I'm sure you'll easily find what works for you in your kitchen.

A festive crouton garnish is key. Plain white sandwich bread cut in small decorative shapes, sauted golden in butter are a snap. Not just pretty, the crips buttery croutons are a perfect topper.

2 T. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
salt and pepper
1/4 t. thyme
1 1 lb. bag frozen baby peas
pinch of cayenne
pinch of nutmeg
3 c. chicken broth
5 or so mint leaves
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup cream

In a medium size pot, saute the onions in the butter 'til translucent, taking care to let them brown.  Salt and pepper well, add the peas, thyme, cayenne and nutmeg, three cups of the chicken stock and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Let cool a bit then liquify the soup in a food processor with the mint leaves and the lemon juice. Return to the soup pot.  Bring the heat back up 'til nice and hot.  You're going to stir in the cream right before you're ready to serve.  You don't want to boil the cream.

2 T. butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 12 oz. jars roasted red peppers (the plain ones, not marinated)
3 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. cream

In a medium soup pot, sautes the onion, carrot and celery til the unions are tranluscent and the carrot and celery are softened.  Drain the roasted peppers, chop them up a bit, add to the pot with the chicken broth and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Let cool a bit, then liquify in a food processor. Return to the pot, bring the heat back up.  Again, don't add the cream until just before you're ready to serve.

Make the decorative croutons of bread sauted in butter.

To serve, mix in the cream and have both pots within easy reach.  Using two measuring cups, scoop up 1/2 cup of each soup, and gently pour into the serving bowls at the same time. Pouring the soup at the same speed from either side of the bowl results in the two colors meeting in the middle.  Garnish with the crouton and serve hot.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Enchiladas Suizas

If my time in Mexico City brings back memories of Olga Breeskin first, following closely after that are the sublime Enchiladas Suizas served at the popular chain Sanborns.
Owned by Walgreens, these classic drugstores had everything we needed -- reassuringly familiar brands plus introductions to all sorts of new things, bright shiny objects, treasures and oddities never imagined. Everything clean and bright and well-lit, giving off an aura of antiseptic efficiency. Sanborns was the source of my passion for Anfora Painted Bird dinnerware.  Seemingly ubiquitous in Mexico, I hardly ever see it up here other than some random pieces on eBay.  Hmmm, might that brilliant blue have been the result of a dash or two of lead in the glaze? I'm not using those plates anymore and all these years later I seem to have come away unscathed, so no matter. [THIS JUST IN -- SEE THE COMMENTS BELOW FROM HANS KRITZLER AT SANBORNS. The plates have been lead free since '88.... though I bought mine in '82 I'm not going to dwell on that.]

There was a Sanborns right across the grand Avenida de los Insurgentes so we went often.   Luckily, early on we discovered their Enchiladas Suizas and never ordered anything else but them again.  I'm sure a big part of the appeal was encountering the tangy taste of tomatillos in the salsa verde for the first time, combined with the richness of the cheese and sour cream.

In this recipe I use gallinas, a larger, gamier cousin of the common chicken for the filling.  They are staples at my IGA and I thought the chickens had more flavor in Mexico than what I'd grown up with. If you can't get your hands on a gallina, a regular chicken works fine.

1 4-5 lb. gallina or whole chicken, cut into quarters
basics for stock: some carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, a bouillon cube
4 oz. grated parmesan cheese
1 bunch finely chopped scallions, both white and green parts
4 oz. shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
10 - 12 corn tortillas
1 c. sour cream
radishes sliced thin and shredded romaine lettuce for garnish

1 lb. tomatillos, about 10-12 depending on size
2 long hot green chiles
2 jalapeno chiles
1 large white onion, chopped
2 T. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bunch cilantro
2 T. toasted pepitas
2 T. toasted sesame seeds
1/2 c. cream

Gently poach the gallina or chicken with the stock vegetables in water to cover, 45 minutes to an hour, and let cool in the broth.  When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and shred the meat.  Mix the shredded meat with the chopped scallion and the parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.   Strain out the vegetables from the broth, skim off the fat and reserve.

Make the salsa verde:  peel off the husks of the tomatillos and place them on a baking sheet along with the chiles.  Put them under a hot broiler for 6-7 minutes until one side is well-charred, then turn everything over and char the other side too.  Remove from heat, let cool.  Rub the charred skin off the chiles, remove the stems and what seeds you can. Don't try to take the skin off the tomatillos -- just place them as they are with the chiles into a food processor and blend well.

In a skillet over medium heat brown the chopped onion in 2 T. of olive oil, this should take 10 minutes or so.  After 5 minutes toss in the smashed garlic cloves.  Salt and pepper the onions well, and when they're translucent and browned at the edges add to the tomatillo mixture in the processor.  Add the cilantro and the toasted pepitas and sesame seeds and process it all for a minute or two until everything is as smooth as it can be.  Now blend in 2 cups of the reserved stock.

Heat up a little oil in a skillet or a pan large enough to hold all the salsa, and when it's nice and hot pour in the salsa.  It will sizzle and scald, that's what you want.  Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes to blend all the flavors.   Remove from heat and stir in the 1/2 cup of cream.

Wrap the stack of corn tortillas in a dish towel and place on a rack over steaming water (not touching). Steam, covered, for one minute, then remove the pot from heat and let it sit for 15 minutes with the lid still on.

Spoon  a bit of the salsa over the bottom of the baking dish you'll be serving the enchiladas in.  Unwrap the tortillas -- the ones on the top and bottom will probably be too mushy to use so discard them if need be.  The interior ones will be soft and pliable.  Roll up each tortilla with a generous amount of the filling, and place seam side down in the dish.  Whether you make 8 or 10 kind of depends on the size of the dish, you'll figure it out.  Make them even.

Pour the remaining salsa verde over the enchiladas. (Save any salsa that might not fit in the pan, it's too delicious to waste.)  Bake for 30 minutes in hot 350 degree oven.  Take out of the oven, lay the shredded cheddar cheese in a stripe across the middle of each row of enchiladas, and return to the oven for 30 minutes more. After an hour the cheese will be melted and lightly browned, and any edges of tortilla poking up from the sauce will be browned and crisp too.

Dress the enchilladas with a stripe of sour cream over the melted cheese, garnish with a row of radish slices and shredded lettuce.  Bring to the table and serve on your most festive lead free plates.