Thursday, September 30, 2010

Balthazar's Salade Lyonnaise

Like bees to honey, New Yorkers swarm to Balthazar. It's one of my favourite NYC restaurants, and we were fortunate to have been there for lunch on Tuesday. It's never easy to get in, but once you're at your table, the charms of Balthazar take over. Opened by Keith McNally in 1997, it's reminiscent of a classic fin de siècle french brasserie, complete with red banquettes, aged world-weary mirrors and waiters sporting long white aprons. Magnifique!

Like the decor, the menu reflects the french classics. Gruyere topped onion soup, steak frites or Le Grand Plateaux de Fruits de Mer — 3 icy tiers of crab, shrimp, oysters, clams and lobster. Balthazar is animated from early in the morning to late at night. The food is simply prepared and delicious, prepared by chefs de cuisine Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson. Even the bread is wonderful, baked in the adjacent Balthazar BakeryThe ambiance is loud and bustling; the service polite and attentive. In a word, it has 'pazzazz'.

I ordered the Frisée Aux Lardons, which is also known as Salade Lyonnaise — a classic, almost archetypal French bistro salad, named after it's origin city Lyon. Basically bacon and eggs on salad! I'd always wanted to try it, so here was my opportunity. The dressing is easy to make with few ingredients, and with the runny egg, blends to create a lovely creamy sauce. The lardons, or strips of bacon, offer a crunchy texture and salty smoky flavour to the salad. The frisée has a slightly bitter taste but holds up well to the rich dressing. This Frisée Aux Lardons recipe, adapted from the beautiful Balthazar Cookbook, is easy to make and delicious. Of course, if you're ever in New York...

  • Salade Lyonnaise (Frisée aux Lardons)

  • 6 slices of stale brioche
  • 4 heads of frisee, cored, rinsed, spun dry, and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 pound slab bacon (rind removed), cut into 1/2-inch lardons
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fine herbs (parsley, chervil, chives, and tarragon finally chopped together)
  • 6 large eggs
  • Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Trim the crusts from the bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place on a sheet tray and bake in the oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Shake the pan halfway through to toast evenly. Combine the croutons in a large bowl with the clean frisee.

Prepare the pan for poaching the eggs: Fill a wide-straight-sided saute pan with water (about two-third fulls) and add the tablespoon of vinegar. Over a medium high flame, bring to a gentle simmer, and adjust the heat to maintain it.

In a dry skillet or saute pan over medium heat, brown the lardons well on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add the minced shallots and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, to soften and lightly brown them. Without pouring off the fat, add the 1/2 cup of vinegar to the pan. Bring to a boil, using a wooden spoon to scrape any delicious bits that have caramelized on the surface of the pan. When the vinegar has reduced by half, about 3 minutes, turn off the flame. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, and stir well to combine. Pour this warm vinaigrette with bacon into the bowl of frisee, along with the croutons and fine herbes. Toss well to combine. Divide the salad almong 6 serving plates, piled into small heaps.

Crack the eggs, one at a time, into a small saucer and then slide them into the simmering water. Poach for 4 minutes, resulting in a set white and a cooked but runny yolk. With a slotted spoon, scoop out the poached eggs, one at a time, drain, and position on top of each pile of frisee. Sprinkle with crunchy sea salt and a few turns of a peppermill. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Evening at The Carlyle in NYC

I've been to New York City a number of times and always seem to gravitate to my old favourites: The Met, The Frick and MOMA —  but it's exhausting. There's always too much to see and never enough time to fit it all in. By the late afternoon you need a little break. Perhaps even a cocktail. We just returned from NYC and friend's had told us that we should go to Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle. On Manhattan's upper east side, it's just steps from the Frick, so the timing was perfect. And what a special place it is. 

The lighting is quite low so we had to be shown to our table. The Maîtres D' showed us to our seat which was along a wonderfully comfortable chocolate leather banquette with a direct view of the piano. That night Chris Gillespie was playing 5:30pm to 8:30pm. It was only 5:00pm so we had time to order a drink and take in the ambiance. The walls of the glamorous art deco bar were hand painted with large scale murals by Ludwig Bemelman, creator of the popular Madeline children's books. Bemelman transformed the bar with whimsical scenes of Central Park including scenes with rabbits in waistcoats and fanciful scenes from MadelineInstead of being paid for the art, Bemelmans exchanged his work for a year and a half of accommodations at The Carlyle for himself and his family.

In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines,
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines...
They left the house at half past nine, in rain or shine,
The smallest one was Madeline. 

I ordered a Manhattan and much to my surprise, when it arrived was accompanied with another half portion on ice! Note to self: Only order one drink. Not two. That's another story. 

At 5:30pm on the dot, Chris Gillespie arrived and taking his seat at the piano, gazed around the room and smiling, nodded to each member of his small audience. He then began to play a wonderful selection of American Songbook jazz favourites, from Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin to Billie Holiday. 
Chris asked what we'd like to hear and my husband suggested Cole Porter, and so that's what he played, for almost an hour. The bar began to fill up by 5:45pm, but 

ensconced in our cozy banquette, cocktails in hand, we felt as if we were part of The Carlyle's timeless elegance that has drawn socialites, politicians and movie stars for over 50 years — "oh, wait, wasn't that Ashely Olson who just walked in?" Yes it was.

2 oz rye whiskey
1 oz sweet vermouth
Dash of Angostura's bitters
Cherry garnish

Pour liquid ingredients over ice and stir. Strain into cocktail glass, and serve straight up or on ice. Garnish with a cherry.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Goodbye Yorkshire Pudding. Hello Popover!

Whenever we serve a Prime Rib of Beef for a family dinner or Sunday lunch, I always make my version of a Yorkshire pudding, because what is a roast without all the trimmings? A classic Yorkshire pudding is a sight to behold, puffing up like a chef's hat, only to collapse in the middle after you remove it from the oven. The problem is, I've never been able to master the traditional 'pud'. I find it rather bland anyway. My challenge was to find a recipe that would be as spectacular, would taste better, and wouldn't collapse. Meet my Chive Popover.

The name 'popover' comes from the fact that the batter swells or 'pops' over the top of the muffin tin while baking. The recipe isn't so terribly difficult (eggs, milk, salt and flour) which forms an egg batter similar to that of a Yorkshire pudding — but it tastes better. I've made these popovers on countless occasions, and they have worked every time. Fresh from the oven, they're a wonderful golden brown with a crisp exterior and soft middle, and I love they way they rise from the muffin tin in a topsy turvy manner. They even glisten. I normally bake the popovers while the roast is resting, so they're ready to serve lovely and hot straight from the oven. I do add chives to my batter, which I feel enhances the flavour and makes them look festive and inviting. In fact, they are so inviting, allow for at least one or maybe two popovers per guest.

Chive Popovers

Makes 12

1-1/2 tbsp butter, softened for pans
1-1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups milk
3 large eggs
chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 425°. Mix flour, salt, milk, eggs and chopped chives and whisk until it forms a pancake-like batter. This can be done ahead of time, covering and refrigerating the batter until ready. Grease muffin tins generously with softened butter (note: the larger the muffin tin; the larger the popover). Place tins in oven for 2 minutes to melt butter and heat pan. Remove hot muffin tin from oven, and fill each muffin cup 3/4 full. Bake 30 minutes but don't peak! Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Corn and Clam Fritter Appetizers

We all have our own treasured appetizer recipes. The best are the ones that you know can be done quickly and can be prepped ahead of time. And if they also get consistent rave reviews from guests, you know you have a 'winner'. My Corn and Clam Fritters are one of my 'keepers'. I have served them to adults and even children. An eight year old once stalked me during an outdoor party I hosted as I served these fritters. Each time I turned around, there she was smiling, with a look of great expectation. When she told me — "they are quite delicious", I had to laugh. An eight year old!

These fritters can be enjoyed as a first course topped with some coarse guacamole, or grilled shrimp & chipotle mayonnaise, or anything else that pairs nicely with corn. You can use small cocktail shrimp or chopped scallops instead of the clams. If you have any guests with a seafood allergy, just omit the seafood altogether — these fritters are so versatile, you can add just about anything you want to! I serve mine as an hors d'oeuvre with a dollop of light lemon coriander sauce and garnished with lemon zest curls. And they are "quite delicious".

Corn and Clam Fritters

Dip Sauce:
1 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
2 tsp grated lemon peel, and more for garnish
1/2 garlic clove
1/8 tsp dried crushed pepper

1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 8 oz can clams, drained
1/2 cup corn kernels, or fresh cob corn
2 green onions, minced
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk

For dip sauce: Mix all ingredients in a small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least 1 hour.

For fritters: Whisk all the dry ingredients then add the wet, buttermilk last, to form a stiff batter. Pour enough vegetable oil into a skillet to reach a depth of 1/8", topping up when necessary. Over medium heat, work in batches, dropping the batter in teaspoons into the oil. Cook until the fritters are golden brown, turning once, about 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the fritters to a rack. Serve warm with a dollop of lemon cilantro dip on top, and garnish with some lemon zest curls.

Makes 20 1-1/2"-2" fritters.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jean's Reuben Spiral Appetizers

There's an old saying — "Originality is the art of concealing your source." I don't believe that should hold true where recipes are concerned. Many of my favourite recipes have been inspired by others, and sometimes, shamelessly lifted in their entirety — but I do believe in giving credit where credit's due. Jean White makes the best appetizers. That's a bold statement of fact. At 91, she's had a few years to get it right. Her Reuben Spirals are hands down, my absolute favourite appetizer in the world. Served warm out of the oven, they smell mouth wateringly good and taste even better. As the name suggests, they borrow some of the same ingredients as a Reuben Sandwich: corned beef and swiss cheese. Being an efficient lady, Jean's recipe can be made ahead of time, frozen until needed, and then thawed, sliced and baked when you want. Wonderful. So's she. By the way, Jean is currently working on a cookbook of her own, so stay tuned!

Jean's Reuben Spirals

1/2 package of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup dijon mustard
3/4 cup shredded swiss cheese
6-8 slices of deli corned beef
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp caraway seeds, as garnish

On a floured surface, roll puff pastry to a 12"x10" rectangle. Spread 1/4 cup of dijon mustard over the pastry and top with swiss cheese, then corned beef. Cut crosswise in half, making 2 rectangles. Roll up one rectangle from the short end, jelly roll fashion into a log shape and seal seam with water. Repeat with the other rectangle. Freeze if desired by wrapping each roll in cling film. Then thaw at room temperature 30 minutes before needed. Cut each roll into 1/4"-3/8" slices, place cut side up, on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with caraway seeds. Bake at 400° for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Jean likes them served with a martini!

Makes 10-12 spirals per roll, depending how thick you cut them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Potato and Onion Soup

A perfect soup for a Sunday lunch is my husband's Potato Onion Soup. He used to make it as a bachelor, because the ingredients were relatively inexpensive, it was easy to make and tastes great. Of the winter soups — it's one of the most comforting and familiar. And thanks to the starch content, potatoes make a creamy soup all by themselves, so you don't even have to add milk or cream unless you want to! It's a heartwarming soup for in front of the fire, or if you're expecting guests, it can be 'tarted up' with a swirl of cream, some chopped chives and a dollop of sautéed leeks. It freezes well, so it can be made ahead of time, and simply reheated when needed. Of course, you can use leeks instead of onions for a Potato Leek Soup, but that would have been pretty fancy cooking for a bachelor!

Potato Onion Soup

4 tbsp butter
2 large onions or 4 large leeks, peeled and chopped
6 baking potatoes, peeled, chopped
8 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup whole milk or cream, as desired
fresh chives for garnish

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until the onion is soft but not coloured.
Add potato and stock. Increase heat to high. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, partially covered, for 20-30 minutes or until potato is very soft. Uncover. Set aside to cool slightly.
Use a stick blender to blend until smooth. Alternatively, use a blender and purée until smooth transferring the soup to a clean saucepan, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in the milk or cream as desired, heating the soup through over medium-low. 

For sautéed leeks: finely shred some white leek and gently cook it in hot butter for a few minutes until it's softened but not coloured.
To finish the soup, Reheat the soup to a gentle simmer and pour into warmed bowls. Garnish with a swirl of cream over each serving and some chopped chives, then top with small pile of buttered leeks if you're using them. A grinding of white pepper and you're good to go. Serve immediately.  
Makes 10 cups.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

Marcella's Tagliatelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce

  • I do love to cook. Especially when guests are expected, I like to try out recipes that either require a little more work or time, or are by their nature, extravagant. Like making a grand Paella, or a prime rib of beef with yorkshire pudding. That kind of thing. I guess it's the festive nature of the occasions when we get together with special friends or loved ones. I was given Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking one Christmas. It's an inspiring book full of authentic Italian recipes and useful techniques that capture the essence of true italian cooking, from a woman who is passionate about Cucina Italiana.

Marcella and her husband Victor, who are now both well into their 80's, live part of their year in Venice, Italy, and the other part of the year on Longboat Key, Florida. My parents spend half their year on Longboat Key too, and the whole family just got back from Venice earlier this year, so I feel a bond with Marcella, however tenuous that might be! 

One Autumn weekend when my husband and I were invited out of the city to a friend's cottage, we decided we'd make Marcella Hazan's Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce. We arrived early Friday afternoon, hours before the hosts and other 2 guests were expected. A bit embarrassing, but it gave us an opportunity to get a head start on the Bolognese, which we would be serving that night. 

The traditional recipe is a Ragu which originated in Bologna, and uses soft ribbon-like tagliatelle — not spaghetti! It's also sweeter than the typical North American sauce we all grew up with — cooking the meat in milk before adding the wine and tomatoes, protects it from the acidic bite of the latter, the result being a mellow, gentle and comfortable flavour. Surprisingly, it only takes about 1/2 hour to prepare, just a lot of chopping. But simmering is the key. Marcella recommends a simmering time of 3 hours, but if you have the time, let the sauce simmer over low heat for 4-6 hours. Just be sure to stir it regularly with a wooden spoon so that the sauce doesn't stick. The principle is simple: the longer the sauce simmers, the richer the flavour and consistency becomes. 

Judging from the Ragu with Tagliatelle we served that Friday night, it is worth the wait. There were no left overs and it was unanimously embraced as being truly outstanding by a table full of dedicated gastronomes. And as Marcella says, 
"There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragu with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle."

  • Marcella Hazan's Tagliatelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 3/4 pound ground beef 
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • Whole nutmeg for grating
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds tagliatelle pasta
  • Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano at the table

  • Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a heavy-bottomed pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

  • Add the meat, a large pinch of salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Crumble the meat up with a fork, stir well, and cook until the meat has lost its red raw color.

  • Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it bubbles away completely. Stir in about 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg.

  • Add the wine and let it simmer away until it has evaporated, then add in the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well. When they begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours (or more—she says more is better), stirring from time to time. If the sauce begins to dry out, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary to keep it from sticking. At the end, there should be no water left, and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

  • Toss with cooked, drained tagliatelle and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Serve freshly grated parmesan cheese on the side. And if you're feeling particularly naughty, an oven baked baguette with butter and garlic wouldn't go amiss!
    Serves 6