This year, fresh figs seem to be bountiful—deep purple ones and fat yellow ones. If you are just used to eating the dried ones, please, please move on to fresh. They are perfect as an appetizer, in a salad, with cheese, in jams and conserves, or for dessert. My favorite way to eat them is warm off the grill with some soft cheese and a drizzle of honey. This year we had fresh figs from our friend’s aunt’s backyard, some Explorateur from Murray’s cheese, and Greek honey brought to us by traveling neighbors. It is a dessert to please the gods!
Archive for December, 2009
We finally did it ! Got to Au Pied de Cochon. Not of our own doing, either. The very same Doug who is building my mammoth grill, managed to organize a trip to Montreal to celebrate his wife’s birthday. Lynn, his lovely wife, made Steve and I part of the present so that all four of us could pig out—literally, that is. In case you are not familiar with PDC, as it is lovingly known, it is a restaurant built upon the dream of a wildly crazy and equally inventive chef named Martin Picard who thinks that no meal is complete without foie gras and pork.
We had discovered the PDC cookbook at Kitchen Arts and Letters (New York’s premier cookbook store). It had been self-published in Canada and we were drawn to its originality and sense of purpose. It remains one of our favorite books and it was a combination of the design, humor, commitment to local products, and over-the-top recipes that made us want to experience it first-hand. When we shared it with Doug and Lynn, they, too felt compelled to make the pilgrimage. But, unlike Steve and me, when they decide to take a trip, they do so while we dawdle.
I don’t know exactly what I expected but I didn’t expect the restaurant to be one of the most well-run restaurants that I have ever experienced. Because the book is so filled with chaos I guess I expected the restaurant to be that, also. It is raucous, but this is only because everyone is having such a good time. The food is not put on the plate to be photographed and admired, it is put on the plate to be consumed with gusto. And everyone does just that.
Here is what we had:
Poutine (French-Canadian comfort food—French fries topped with cheese curds and smothered with a cream gravy)—but this poutine is unlike any other—the cheese curds freshly made, the potatoes fried in duck fat, and gravy made with foie gras and a big chunk of foie gras on top. The plate was spotless when we finished!
Fried zucchini blossoms with homemade mayonnaise
Pickled venison tongue with homemade mustard and thin, crusty slightly charred toasts
Doug: Foie Gras Stuffed Pig’s Foot
Lynn: PDC Foie Gras Pizza
Steve: PDC Pork Chop (a giant of a thing on a huge bone which was sent home to Lena-Mae, Doug’s “bird” dog)
Judie: Lamb Shank on Lentils
For dessert, we shared a beautiful pot de crème and a pudding Chomeur, a PDC specialty that is about as sweet and rich as any dessert has a right to be. Of course, we had a few bottles of wine to help digest the repast and we cleaned our plates with wonderful hearth-baked bread and salty butter. I was only sorry that I did not, as I had thought about, call my buddy David Burke—an equally wild and inventive chef—to hop on a plane and join us. He would have been the icing on the cake!
Before the snows come, I have to share a photo of our “in the process” grill. I have always wanted a grill large enough to roast a side of beef—why, I don’t know, but I just have. With ingenuity and skill, our friend (and, by the way, our doctor), Doug, has begun to build my dream grill on the very top of his farm property. Another friend, Aris, contributed a railroad cattle crossing—a 12 foot long and 12 inch wide woven iron plank. Steve and Doug cut it in half so we would have two 6 feet long pieces. Doug scooped out some earth, laid rocks across the bottom, cinder blocks around the sides, and began building the grill onward and upward. To give it a test, we grilled a small pork shoulder which Doug marinated and mopped with white vinegar and a lot of salt and pepper. In our excitement, we didn’t allow time to brine the meat or to give it enough slow cooking time on the grill but, the end result was pretty tasty. Here’s a couple of photos. It quickly gets pretty cold up top so I don’t know if we will finish the project this year but I can guarantee we will be back at it as soon as the spring thaw comes. And, I will certainly keep you posted on our progress. Half a cow, maybe. A lamb or a piggy, for sure.
Every fall we head to the outer Cape—specifically to Provincetown, the last town on the tip of Cape Cod. Friends very graciously loan us their house, a charming 2 story within easy walking distance (through the cemetery short cut) from busy Commercial Street in the heart of “P-town.” We are joined by our very close friends, Lynn and Doug, who are as enthusiastic as we are for what has become the annual seafood run. We usually load the car with vittles so we don’t have to shop much, other than our daily run to Mac’s Seafood (www.macsseafood.com) in Truro Center. Dinners are over the top and lunches are usually created from the remains of last night’s dinner and all of them are centered on seafood.
Every dinner begins with oysters—at least 6 per person. Sometimes I’ll make a gravlax or seviche as an extra appetizer to accompany the oysters and champagne, prosecco, or some new white that Doug and my husband, Steve, have picked up at the wine shop conveniently located around the bend in the road.
Lobster, clams, scallops, halibut, blue fish, shrimp, and, of course, cod, fight for a place on the daily menu. Steve is allergic to fish with scales, so if we have chosen a scaly fish, shellfish or tuna is made especially for him. The Saturday farmers market fills in the veggie plate. We do nothing but wander the beaches and eat. What joy!
The scallops are always day-boat and pristine and, although they can be eaten just “as is,” (which I often do as I cook), the following recipe for seviche is one of our favorites. It is not really a defined recipe, but I can give you an idea of how to duplicate it.
For 4 to 6 people, you will need 1 pound of pristine scallops. Cut them, crosswise, into thin slices. Place the scallop slices in a nonreactive bowl—glass is great.
Cover the scallops with Moscato vinegar (this is important, no other vinegar seems to create the same slightly sweet taste that complements the delicate scallops). Grate about half of the zest of a large organic orange into the bowl. Then, to your taste, add finely diced jalapeño and chives. Stir, cover, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes, but no more than an hour. When ready to serve, fan the slices out on individual plates, drizzle the marinating liquid over the top, and sprinkle a bit of sea salt over the top.
Is there any food more associated with memory than Proust’s madeleines? None that I know of, although every one of us has an aroma, a food, or a table that instantly brings back a moment from the past that is particularly ours. A week or so ago, I was longing for that weekend in Paris and quickly was drawn deep in memory of a dinner at L’Ami Louis, the venerable Parisian brasserie. It was a rainy February night with confirmed reservations and no cabs. We arrived late, only to be gruffly told that “no reserve.” We could clearly see that the restaurant had empty tables—noticeably one set for 4 nestled against the front window. The neighborhood was deserted, we were starving since our entire day had been spent saving ourselves for the night’s blow-out, and the maitre d’ had absolutely no interest in bailing us out.
I hemmed and hawed; then, I summoned up a few tears, and humbled myself before his haughty self. Finally, when nothing else would work, I explained that one of my dinner companions was a very famous American chef from Texas (this was true, we were celebrating a momentous birthday of our friend, Dean Fearing). It was the Texas that got him, now assured that we were millionaires who could make his week. We were immediately seated.
What was unexpected from these “Texans” was the enthusiasm with which we ordered just about everything offered—leg of lamb, the famous Bresse chicken, the foie, the pommes frites, and on and on we ordered, stopping to sip our not inconsequential wine. Now, not only were we spenders but, we were eaters, too. We had a new friend. And, I don’t care that its detractors say that L’Ami Louis has lost its grandeur, the meal was without compare. Straightforward and delicious and oh, so memorable. Even the tiny bowl of succulent cherries and the one mangosteen that finished the meal are indelible in my flavor memories.
As our evening slowed, our neighboring table, asked to join us. They were Brazilian bankers who had been eavesdropping on our ribald conversation and couldn’t resist a bit of Texas in their lives. They ordered the brandy—which, of course, Louis (or whatever his given name is) told us was from his special cellar and not available to “just anyone.” We closed the place with Louis singing songs and the Brazilians giving us investment advice. I could only assume that they had some idea of our bill and thought we might need a little financial help in the future.
Anyway, isn’t this a long story to get to the point that as I longed for a chilly Paris day, my only hope was to go to the kitchen and bake up a batch of madeleines to ease my hunger.
Makes approximately 4 dozen
1½ cups unsalted butter
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Confectioners’ sugar, optional
Place the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Allow the butter to melt and then continue cooking until the foam disappears from the top and a light brown sediment forms on the bottom of the pan. The melted butter should now be a clear, golden yellow.
When clear, remove the butter from the heat. Using a spoon, carefully skim off and discard any brown crust from the top. Set aside to cool.
When cool, carefully pour the clear yellow liquid into a clean container, taking care that all of the brown sediment remains in the pan. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Generously butter the molds in madeleine pans. Set aside.
Place the eggs, granulated sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of a standing electric mixer. Place the bowl in hot water and let stand, whisking occasionally, until very warm.
When warm, place the bowl in the mixer stand fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low for a minute or so and then raise the speed to high and beat until they are light, fluffy, and tripled in volume. Add the vanilla and beat to mix.
Fold in the flour, followed by the clarified butter, taking care not to beat or the batter will fall.
Transfer the batter to a large pastry bag fitted with the large, plain round tip. Carefully pipe the batter into the prepared molds, filling about ⅔ full.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the cakes are lightly colored on the top and a hint of brown is seen around the edges.
Immediately remove from the oven and turn the pans upside down and gently tap the little cakes out onto wire racks to cool.
If necessary, again butter the molds, refill with batter, and bake and cool as above.
If desired, when the cakes are cool, lightly dust with confectioners’ sugar.