Sunday, August 30, 2009

Biscotti (Attempt #4)

After posting my "Biscotti (Attempt #3) entry", my friend e-mailed me to say her (directly-off-the-boat-Italian) mother had a fantastic quaresimali recipe that she could give to me if I wanted to try it out. Well, of course I did! How could I not! The recipe looked very promising, and I was super excited about it because it included CLOVES! Cloves are one of my favorite spices, they remind me of Christmas and German mulled wine. I can tell that Mike's Pastry biscotti have some cloves in them so this recipe looked like it could be the one that came closest to the ever elusive North End secret.

I followed the recipe ingredients exactly, adding not one, not two, not three, but four cups of chopped toasted almonds! Thank God Trader Joe's has good prices on nuts! I added the cloves (I ground them myself) and the dough already tasted delicious. I did veer from the recipe a bit when it came to forming the rolls of dough. Instead of 4 rolls, I made 2 rolls that were probably longer and wider than the recipe intended but I didn't think this would change the cook time since I kept the height of the rolls the same. I baked them and then cut them and then baked them again. We barely could wait for them to cool before we tried them out. They were delicious. I very much want to share the recipe with everyone but I want to get permission first since it's a family recipe.

These biscotti/quaresimali tasted and looked the most like Mike's that I've made so far. There are delicious and the recipe really needs no changes to it but since I am now officially obsessed with exactly replicating the Mike's biscotti I am going to try three changes.

One-I am going to substitute one regular cup of flour with a cup of almond meal.
Two-Instead of 4 cups of almonds I'm going to use 3.
Three- I'm going to add a bit of ginger.

I think these changes may bring me as close to Mike's as I can get. Once/if I get permission, I will post the recipe because, like I said, it's incredibly delicious and everyone who tried them (including my 90 yr old Polish grandmother) loved them. Rumor has it that Bob (the baker of the Reine de Saba cake) is attempting to make them for his office on Monday!

....And I got permission....


Lightly toast the almonds. While they are toasting, mix the rest of the ingredients in mixing bowl. When ingredients are mixed well, add the almonds. It will seem like a lot of almonds, but the dough will rise and encompass the almonds. Shape the dough into 4 rolls. Flatten the rolls slightly (into about 3/4" high). Put them on a floured baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg yolk. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 375 degrees. If you want more crunchy cookies, cut them into biscotti, lay them on their side and lightly toast them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bon Appétit! — Dinner with Julia

For a long time, we had wanted to host a dinner party where we served only Julia Child recipes. August 15th (Julia's birthday) was already booked up so we chose the next available date to throw our soirée and try to end the summer on an up-beat note after these past months of horrible weather.

We ended up hosting two separate events since Jeffrey was leaving us for a year in Europe, and we had to make certain he was there! For the first one, Bryan did the cooking and made hors d'œuvre :pâté de foie de volaille, entrée: potage Parmentier, plat principal: coq au vin, and dessert: mousseline de chocolat.

For the second, larger event, we thought it would be more fun to assign everyone attending his very own JC recipe. We would provide the main course, accoutrements, and the French wine—and our friends would get to learn a bit about French cooking, too. The invite went out (, and the replies came in. Including ourselves their would be seven people in attendance which, of course, would equal seven delicious French dishes.

You would think with over 500+ recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking finding seven recipes would be pretty easy. It was not. After deciding on the main course, Bœuf à la Bourguignonne, we had to pick out recipes that not only complemented the main dish but also didn't max out our friends' comfort-level too too much. After a few back-and-fourth phone calls and meetings, we decided on the following menu:
Everything was absolutely delicious. No joke.

Peter made the French bread (his second attempt) and this time he used Julia's hot brick method. The hot brick method replicates a baker's oven by creating a steam bath for the bread. We didn't have a brick so we used part of our panini press pan that we were able to heat up to a scorching hot temperature and then gingerly toss into the already prepped pan of cold water. A huge sizzle and burst of steam bellowed out of the oven and what followed was a perfectly browned and delicious loaf of French bread. The only problem Peter had was in the cutting of the top of the loaves. Julia says it takes a lot of practice and she's right. It does (and you can't use a normal knife!).

Mike D. made the stuffed mushrooms which at first, he thought would be a quick simple task. He later informed us that they weren't too difficult to make but the recipe was time consuming. We reminded everyone that, if anything, Julia was precise. She didn't like to leave any information out. That's why when cooking from her book, it's good to read every recipe at least twice before beginning. The champignons farcis really stole the show. Peter doesn't even like mushrooms and he was searching around for seconds. If you are looking for a great side dish for dinner or for a buffet, choose these, they will blow your guests away.

Mike W. made the Gratin Savoyard which are scalloped potatoes bathed in a beef broth. Mike was afraid he didn't cook them enough but when he arrived, they smelt and looked delicious and were thoroughly cooked. He adjusted the cook-time a bit since he claims his oven was off but I think it had more to do with not using the correct-sized container. But again, another delicious dish, worth making again.

When we assigned Adam his dish he was disappointed. It was a zucchini dish but it didn't light him up. He wanted a personal challenge he said. He had wanted to make hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise sauce is difficult to make by hand. It consists primarily of egg yolks, lemon juice and butter. Scratch that...I meant to say A LOT of butter. One must slowly (by the tablespoon) incorporate the butter into the yolks and lemon juice while whisking furiously so that the butter does not separate from the yolks and juice as it melts. Adam practiced three before he made the final product. The first time, he made it no problem (beginner's luck?). The second attempt, he failed, although I think it could have been saved. The third attempt, the butter separated and just when we thought all was lost, who do you think saved the day? Julia Child. In the recipe she states that by adding a bit more of the lemon juice and whisking the sauce a tablespoon at a time you will ALWAYS be able to bring it back to the proper form. What certainty! And you know what? She was right. We followed what she says ALWAYS works, and it did. The elusive hollandaise sauce was reborn. Adam said that when he made it for the dinner, the whole process went off without a hitch. Buttery, lemony, and warm, it tasted great on top of roasted asparagus and even sopped up with the bread. I guess you can't go wrong with hollandaise.

Unfortunately, one of our friends, had a last minute change of plans (or heart...did his fear of cooking get the better of him?!) and the haricots verts à la provençale were never made. I assume they would have been delicious.

The Bœuf Bourguignon was very good. It's actually quite an easy dish to prepare, but it does have a few steps and is, therefore, slightly time-consuming—BUT, Julia is there to lead you through it the whole way! She discusses exactly which cuts of beef are best to buy (you want it to be nicely fatty) and takes you step-by-step through cutting the beef into 2"x2" cubes and browning them in rendered bacon fat before creating a slight 'crust' by mixing in a few tablespoons of flour and popping it into at hot oven. Once you've gotten the beef cubes prefectly browned, it's so easy. Pour in your wine and beef stock, season, and simmer in a slow oven for a few hours. It comes out cut-with-a-spoon tender and full of flavor. The initial steps are so wonderfully worth it. We served extra-wide egg noodles alongside (or under!) the bœuf.

With this course, we were lucky to have a few delicious wines—among them, a 2003 Côtes-du-Rhône, a 2004 Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, and a 2003 St.-Emillion Grand Cru. MMMMM.

For the cheese course, we had Morbier, Camembert, Great Hills blue, a swiss-type cheese whose name escapes me, and a goat's cheese covered in herbs, peppercorns, and juniper berries called a pavé sauvage. These were served with croûtes of rustic bread. 

We had two desserts. Bob was in charge of making the Reine de Saba (the chocolate cake) and Matt was in charge of the Tart Tatin (apple tart).

Bob's cake came out delicious. We were excited that Bob was expanding his baking skills. He loves to bake but heavily relies on boxed mixes. He's precise with numbers though so I knew he would be a good baker if he just gave it a try. This was my third time tasting the Reine de Saba and each time I try it I am always pleasantly surprised that such a simple cake can taste so rich and so much better than most chocolate cakes you get at a restaurant (and ALL cakes that you make from a box). Bob was extra excited—despite having never seen Julia make the cake until we aired the episode at the dinner that night—that he ended up decorating the cake almost identically to how Julia did on The French Chef. It's the little things in life...

Matt was nervous about his tart Tatin (an upside down apple tart). He had assumed the tart Tatin was like one of those fancy french tarts where all the apples appear perfectly arranged and are perfectly glistening in the perfect Parisian moonlight.... What he didn't realize is that a tart Tatin is a much more organic, rustic looking tart and not nearly as neat. However, upon seeing his tart, Bryan exclaimed it was by far one of the best looking homemade tart Tatins he'd ever seen. To convince him that what he did was correct, we showed him the episode of The French Chef in which Julia attempts a tart Tatin. I say "attempts" because she never really executes it correctly in the episode. She flips the tart, and it flops all over the place undercooked and looking more like apple sauce than anything else.The other tart she has on reserve looks equally as appetizing with a grayish tint to the whole thing. Matt had beat out Julia with her own recipe! His trick? He cooked it for a lot longer than she suggested so when it was time to flip the tart it didn't go all over the place.

At the end of the meal, we all were stuffed and toasting to Julia, French cooking, and ourselves. Perhaps we'll make this an annual event and cook our way through the whole darn book? Or maybe even dive into volume two? Either way, it was a successful delicious meal and one we hope to do again!

Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Biscotti (Attempt #3)

I. Found. It. (I think). Finally, I figured out why I couldn't replicate the same flavors as the biscotti from Mike's Pastry that my family loves. It's because it's a special biscotti with a special name. Two weeks ago, when I went to Mike's Pastry, I was smart enough to actually read the labels underneath the biscotti and saw that the type of biscotti I was trying to replicate was called: Quaresimali, AKA:Almond Lenten Biscotti.

With my new found knowledge, I looked up a few recipes online and found out they were all pretty much the same so I picked the one that had pictures and started to try it out. Now, stupidly, I didn't follow the recipe exactly. It calls for whole almonds that you toast and pulverize 1/4 of them and chop the rest. I didn't have a whole pound of almonds but I did have almond meal so I used that for the pulverized almonds but I forgot to toast them. For the chopped almonds, I used almond slices because that's all I had. I also altered the size in which you make the dough rectangles from three 15x4 logs to only two 15x4 logs, I thought three logs would stretch the dough too thin and make the biscotti too flat. Now, if you follow the original recipe, this may not be the case so I'll have to make another batch to check that out.

My Biscotti came out tasting wonderfully and extremely close to the Mike's Pastry ones. The color was finally that nice brown color and not the pasty yellow that the other recipes produced. B says that he still thinks they add some ginger so maybe I will try that. I plan to do a second batch, only this time I'll follow the recipe exactly that way I can see if all the baking times etc are correct. Once I do that I will post the recipe for everyone with any modifications needed. In the meantime, below are my first attempt at the recipe. Notice, the biscotti are a bit thin and almonds not very chunky. Can't wait to try this again and do it the right way! Ha!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pain Poilâne

The other day, one of my coworkers asked if I had ever heard of a bread from France that when made, didn't need much yeast because the bakery was so old it had yeast in the air and walls to help with the rising. I had not, but the thought intrigued me so, of course, I went searching. I discovered my coworker was referring to bread made at the Poilâne Bakery in Paris. Started in 1932, the Poilâne bakery was made famous by (the son of founder Pierre) Lionel Poilâne. The bakery uses stone-ground flour, natural fermentation and a wood-fired oven. The bakery is most famous for it's sourdough country bread which is known simply as pain Poilâne.

After reading about the pain Poilâne I was dying to try some. I quickly went to their website and found out that you could have the bread shipped to you. Perfect! Except....while the bread itself ran a bit high in price, the shipping was ridiculous since the bakery flies each loaf overnight to make sure it's fresh. A loaf, bought by an individual would end up costing around 50 bucks. I wrote the bakery and asked if they had any retailers in Boston. As luck would have it, they do! A place in Wellesley and the Formmagio Kitchen in Cambridge. I called up my friend in Cambridge and made plans to pick up a loaf to try.

I was sent a text message on Thursday from my friend, telling me the bread had made its way through customs and some had been reserved for us! B and I headed over the Charles after work and were greeted warmly by our friends and shown into the kitchen were two quarter sourdough loafs of pain Poilâne were sitting patiently on the counter waiting to be devoured. Since the loafs are so big, the store cuts them up into quarter loaves (sufficient for 6 people) and sells them that way. The only disappointing thing about doing it this way was that we couldn't see the whole signature "P" carved into the bread.

To go with the pain Poilâne there was single-source acacia honey from France. As our friend explained to us, this means the bees used for this type of honey were kept in a specific area so the flavor of the honey would be distinctive of the acacia plant. The honey was delicious and had strong floral notes in it (I would later discover that honey + bread +butter + a dab of French sea salt make for a most remarkable combination).

As if the local French honey wasn't enough, our friend also purchased French butter. Now, I've had good butter and I've had good home-made butter, but this butter was just over-the-top delicious. Like, grab-me-a-spoon-cause-I'm-digging-in delicious. I finally understand Julia Child's life-long obsession with butter and wish to join her in that obsession. The butter (which you can buy at Formaggio) is called La Baratte des Gourmets (a demi-sel croquant de l'Ile de Re). Make sure to serve it at room temperature for optimum tasting. Onto the bread...

The pain Poilâne was delicious. Dense, moist, and full of flavor, it was excellent sourdough. The loaves themselves are just beautiful to look at and the taste matches its appearance. The bread alone is delicious, the bread with butter or honey is to-die-for. Since all sourdough is started off with a "mother sponge" (a piece of dough made from a previous loaf of uncooked sourdough) and each bakery starts off with their very own "mother sponge" each bakery produces a unique tasting sourdough. The pain we tasted was similar to San Francisco sourdoughs but at the same time, completely different. The sourdough's I've had in the past are usually filled with holes and not very dense. The pain Poilâne is more dense and darker in color but still has that tangy or sour taste that gives the dough it's name.

To accompany the food we had a delicious French wine called, "You are so nice". At first, our friend was a bit skeptical in buying a French wine with an English name but the recommendation from the Formaggio employee finally won out over his healthy New England skepticism. B discusses:

The wine was surprising and delicious. The nose was wonderful and bright, and I couldn't wait to taste it. To me, the attaque was fruity, the flavor full and somewhat peppery with a bit of a mineral finish. It was great. It was a French wine, but the label did not give us any hints as to where it was from or what the grapes were. Nevertheless, I'd definitely drink it again.

Overall, the evening was a success. The bread, honey, butter, wine, cheeses (I forgot to mention cheeses!) were all delicious. Bread over-nighted from Paris...what a wonderful treat!

Formaggio Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 10, 2009

Grumpy's of East Dennis

As I'm sure I've mentioned elsewhere, I've been coming to the Cape with my family for many years even though I'm originally from Illinois. Not surprisingly we very much plan our days around our favorite restaurants but also like to try new places that have popped up. For a hearty breakfast Grumpy's in East Dennis is most definitely a standard stop, sometimes more than once a trip ;-) On weekend mornings count on there being a line out the door, but the place is so fast-paced and quick-on-its-feet that even a large party of say 8 won't have to wait more than 20 minutes to get a seat. They have a fairly extensive breakfast and lunch menu, and eat day on the wall appears a huge list of all the daily specials from various stuffed French toasts to a lobster omelet. You can also get a number of their delicious muffins and other baked goods to-go.
Since I had already had a light breakfast a couple of hours before we all managed to get out of the house, I thought I'd have something light to eat (hah!) - the Corned Beef Hash Benedict - homemade corned-beef hash replacing the Canadian bacon and of course smothered in always-wonderful Hollandaise. Given the choice of hash browns or home fries, I was in the mood for Hash browns, which they actually serve in patty form a la McDonalds. In no time the dish was clean as a whistle.
The rest of my family all chose omelets - we're not ones for sweet (and typically unsatisfying) breakfasts. My father went with steak and cheese, my sister an interesting combination of chicken, feta, and pesto (at least interesting for an omelet), and the other two a sausage, pepper, and cheese combo. Per usual the meal left us very satisfied, both food and service-wise. Can't wait til the next time I'm on the Cape and fixin' for a good, hearty breakfast!

Grumpy's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Montréal 2009

We love to go to Montréal during the summer, and we recently got back from our latest trip. As usual, there were fun festivals going on, and we had a wonderful time. But of course, we also sought out some good food and found some yummy treats.

Having arrived rather late due to traffic issues, we took a nice stroll down Ste. Catherine and found some late-night beers and poutine, which was just what we needed. (You know how much I love poutine.) Durimg the summers in the Village, they close down Ste. Catherine to vehicle traffic and the restaurants and bars create huge street-side terrasses; so, we popped into one of the places still serving food. Unfortunately, we didn't take photos, but we had a lovely time sitting out on the terrasse people-watching.

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The next morning, we got an early start and had breakfast at Eggspectation, a place we knew we enjoyed having been there a few times before. As you probably assumed from the name, they offer eggs, eggs, and more eggs. It's great.

I usually get the "Tout Américain," which is the basic American breakfast one might find at any good diner, but this time I got the "Eggquoi?" which was eggs with corned beef hash. It was good—although a bit salty. P got the "Cabane à sucre," which is also like a full American breakfast but with the fun addition of crêpes with local maple syrup and also a side of baked beans.

(The badge below says it is in Chinatown, but that is not really the case. It is at Place des Arts.)
Eggspectation (Complexe Desjardins) on Urbanspoon

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That evening, we got a tip that Le Bourlingueur in the Vieux Port was not to be missed, so we headed that way to check it out. They bill themselves as a "French-Alsatian" restaurant and their menu changes daily with meals served 'table d'hôte' style (similar to a prix fixe menu and very common in the area). The table d'hôte comes with soup or salad, your choice of main dish, and dessert and coffee. The prices are excellent as was our food. I got the salmon quenelles which came with rice and parsnips, and P got the roasted pork which came with potatoes and parsnips. We definitely recommend Le Bourlingueur.
Bourlingueur (Le) on Urbanspoon
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The next day for lunch, we decided to take a walk up to the plateau to Schwartz's to have one of those big sandwiches we've heard so much about (see Jeff's post). When we got there, though, the line stretched further than our stomachs were willing to wait, so we went elsewhere. Maybe we'll try again next time...

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