May 14, 2013
Unless you are one of those blessed people with an outdoor space and a vegetable garden and the opportunity to grow your own sprightly things, chances are you only ever see heads of garlic in dried form, their ivory cloves enclosed in a papery husk.
But I'm here to tell you that, as dried things usually go, those heads of garlic were once full of life and moisture, only freshly dug out from the ground in which they sprouted and grew.
In France, where we have a knack for naming things in a clever way, we call this ail frais (fresh garlic) or ail nouveau (new garlic), and it is a prized feature of springtime stalls, going for around 2€ a head (a little more if organic) in my neighborhood*.
This is not a particularly cheap price to pay for a single head of garlic (dried and therefore shelf-stable garlic is less costly for distributors to handle) but the flavor of fresh garlic cloves is subtle and vibrant, and a perfect match to the new crop of vegetables that typify the season -- think asparagus, green peas, and thumb-sized potatoes.
Although the girth of these fresh heads of garlic is comparable to that of dried, they are in fact immature -- if left to dry, they would shrink to a much smaller size -- and the cloves themselves are pretty small, so the trick to getting your garlic money's worth is to use the whole thing, à la nose-to-tail.
Here's what I do.
May 7, 2013
Longtime readers may remember the post I wrote about sustainable seafood a few years ago. The issue is still very much at the forefront of my mind, I carry around the pocket seafood guide issued in French by the WWF (check this list for your local equivalent), and I generally eat little fish -- meaning both "not a lot of it" and "not very big ones".
I'm not perfect, and although my conscience tells me I should give it up, we still go out for sushi (we like Enishi in the 18th) once in a blue moon -- versus every week or two, as we used to in our oblivious days.
But when I buy fresh fish at the greenmarket, maybe once a month on average, it is usually one of two green-checkmark choices in the WWF guide*: either sardines, provided the poissonnier has filleted them, opening them up flat like tiny prayer books with tails, or mackerel.
The mackerel I buy whole, and take up the fish guy's offer to gut it for me. ("Gratté vidé ?" is the standard question you'll be asked in a similar situation; "Oui, s'il vous plaît !" you'll respond.). He also gives the option of keeping the heads on or having them cut off, Louis XVI-style, but to me a whole fish is a whole fish, and I've never been squeamish about my dinner looking me in the eye.
My go-to cooking method for mackerel is to roast it in the oven, which is the simplest and most foolproof way to cook whole fish.
Sometimes I'll merely place the fish in a dish with a drizzle of olive oil and a glug of white wine, but my preference for mackerel goes to rubbing it with strong mustard, which heightens its flavor, and roasting it on a bed of vegetables.
The trick is to pick vegetables that will be ready in about the same time as the mackerel, and an excellent choice for that is fennel, sliced into shavings with a mandoline: as it cooks in the fish juices, it becomes tender and moist but still retains a little bit of snap. Fennel is a winning pairing for any fish, but its subtle aniseed notes work particularly well to round out the mackerel's assertive flavor.
What's your favorite way to prepare and cook mackerel?
* Provided they come from the northeast Atlantic; sardines from the Mediterranean are in the "not recommended" category. There is, however, new concern about the stocks of mackerel due to a dispute over fishing quotas between the EU and Iceland. Conservationists are now leaning toward an "eat occasionally" recommendation.
May 2, 2013
A few of my favorite finds and reads for April:
~ How to cook perfect Japanese rice.
~ About family-owned food businesses: Mark Russ Federman on his Russ & Daughters book.
~ Female chefs weigh in on what it's like to always get asked about being a woman.
~ Avert your eyes if foul language bothers you. Otherwise, enjoy.
~ MRIs of fruits and vegetables.
~ Taking hot cross buns to new heights.
~ How to create a style guide for your blog.
~ Haiku detection in the New York Times.
~ 100 rules of dinner.
~ Julie Lee's gorgeous food collages.
~ Making flatbread in Lebanon.
~ Foolproof poached eggs.
~ Scrollable baklava.
~ Thirteen things you can do in 2013.
~ Five years of hand-drawn sandwich bags.
~ Park Slope-style food coop comes to Paris.
April 30, 2013
Dispatches from my favorite Paris restaurants for April.
My top pick this month! Bones is a bare-bones (ha!) bistro that operates half as a wine bar, with many natural wine choices by the glass and lots of sharable nibbles, and half as a gastronomic restaurant, showcasing Aussie chef James Henry's inspired cuisine.
The single tasting menu is composed of four courses for 40€ (add 8€ for the cheese course) with a bonus four amuse-bouche, making this an incredibly good deal.
I especially like that the butter, bread, and charcuterie are all homemade (and very good), which shows a rare commitment, and I fell in love with the Dutch ceramics that they use.
The service is bearded, sweet and attentive, the atmosphere vibrates with voices and music in an exhilarating way, and we had an excellent, excellent time.
Bones, 43 rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 75011 Paris, M° Voltaire, 09 80 75 32 08.
April 23, 2013
Tamami Haga, photographed by Andy Andrews.
Tamami Haga is a Japanese Londoner and passionate baker who sells her handmade chocolates and pastries from a stall at Broadway Market in Hackney, East London. She also writes the lovely blog Coco & Me, which I've been following for years and years, and mixes her experiences as a stall-keepers with inspiring -- and precisely written -- recipes. I love her Luxury Brownies in particular. She is currently working on her own cookbook.
Tamami is the mother of two children, and I am very happy to have her as a guest for the Parents Who Cook interview series. Please welcome Tamami!
Can you tell us a few words about your children? Ages, names, temperaments?
My son Issei is nine and my daughter Sakura is four. Issei is a kind, sensitive kid who might tut if there's rubbish on the pavement and would pick it up, then put it in the bin nearby. He is also very clever.
Sakura is a very funny girl and loves to come up with her own lyrics to famous tunes. She is very skillful with her drawing. And being Japanese, she says "Aww, cu~te!" and "Kawaii~!" rather a lot.
Did having children change the way you cook?
Yes, it's totally changed! When I was single I couldn't care less about the "five veggies/fruits a day" stuff. I never bothered with eating breakfast for example. Imagine a twenty-something, going for a pint or three in a pub after work... that was me!
But now, it can't be "eat anything at anytime," obviously. I try all the time to notch up square meals for the family. But you know, I don't find it tiresome or a bore to cook anyway -- I keep it interesting for me by trying new ingredients, new skills and new recipes. Just last weekend, I cooked ox cheeks for the first time! I slow-cooked them for two hours and the result was meltingly soft.
The food might turn out wrong at times though, and the children may turn up their noses. But they critique it with me and will always tell me, "Well done mummy for trying." And with that, I think, "Well, at least I tried" and at least they see that I like a challenge. Hopefully that approach to challenging things and also to keep on trying will rub off on them.
Tamami's 4-year-old daughter, Sakura (with homemade bear cub doughtnut)
April 16, 2013
If pastry chef and baking expert extraordinaire David Lebovitz were to release a Greatest Hits collection, this Fresh Ginger Cake would no doubt make the cut. Come to think of it, he has and it did: the collection is a book called Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, and it is a must-own for every baking enthusiast.
I have been friends with David for a good eight years, and I have known about this amazing ginger cake of his for about as long -- it is one of his most requested, most celebrated recipes -- but for some reason that's the time it took for me to actually try it myself.
What is it that drives us to make a certain recipe at a certain time? Has anyone ever studied that?
At any given moment, it feels like I have dozens of recipes floating in my brain with a "to try" tag on them -- recipes I've read about online, or in books and magazines, or ideas I've collected during restaurant meals or chef events. Some pop back out in a matter of days, last-in-first-out style, but others linger around for months and often years, bobbing in and out of my consciousness until the urge strikes, presumably when the right alignment of appetite, mood, and ingredient availability is reached.
Is that something you've experienced also? Do you let chance and spontaneity rule your cooking and baking projects, or do you have a system?
I'm wondering because, really: all I did was waste eight years of my life depriving myself of this wondrous cake.
It is called Fresh Ginger Cake, which certainly gives you a hint on the main flavor, but in truth it could be called Fresh Ginger and Molasses Cake, as half of the sweetening power is handed over to this tar-like and notoriously tricky ingredient, which can easily execute a coup d'état on your cake if you're heavy-handed, but helps build complex layers of flavor when used properly.
In fact, David calls for mild molasses, and because there aren't a million different types of molasses available in France -- you usually have a choice of, oh, about one -- I was worried mine was too strong. So I took an executive decision and used half molasses, half unrefined cane syrup from Louisiana, the same one I use for gâteau sirop.
And the resulting cake was nothing short of perfect: not too sweet (I did reduce the sugar a little bit) with a hefty ginger kick that warms the back of your throat, and a remarkably fluffy and moist texture. It's a cake that keeps well, too, so it's a good one to make for a household of two (I'm not counting the baby, who nibbles on three crumbs): for the next week, sliver after sliver, we kept marvelling at how moist it remained.
I served it to my mother-in-law, who had come to babysit Milan while we went to the movies for the first time in forever -- I haven't been so excited about going to the cinema since age twelve -- and although she needs no bait to come and watch her grandson, she was so enthusiastic about it I hope we can do this again -- the cake and the movie -- very soon.
PPS: We went to see The Place Beyond The Pines and L.O.V.E.D. it. Did you?