The Poached Egg : Anatomy of a Disaster

The Poached Egg : Anatomy of a Disaster

I always tell you about the creations I’m happy with, so I thought I would share a bit of incompetence for a change. I cannot, for the life of me, poach an egg.

I have read that you should use super fresh eggs, and I have read that week-old eggs worked better. I have read that you should add vinegar to the water, and I have read that no vinegar was necessary. I have read that the water should be salted, and I have read that salt would ruin it. I have read the water should be barely simmering, and I have read you should bring it to a rolling boil. I have read you should just dump the egg into the water, and I have read that you should gently pour it out from a small cup.

I have tried any and all combinations of these factors, but all my efforts have gotten me were sorry-looking eggs, the white completely separated from the yolk in gorgon-like filaments, reeking of vinegar and/or oversalted, and just generally unappetizing and inedible.

Far far from the perfect, plump, oval, soft egg pillows I was trying to create.

Any advice?

Le Campanier, a Lucky Bag of Produce

Le Campanier, a Lucky Bag of Produce

Campanier is a porte-manteau pun on “campagne” (countryside), and “panier” (basket). It is also the name of a cool service in which you get a weekly basket of seasonal organic produce. The little Pousse-Pousse boutique at which I recently bought my sprouting gear happens to be a pickup point, and we decided to go for the four-week test subscription.

I went to pick up the first assortment this past Tuesday, and the vegetable basket contained :
– a head of red batavia lettuce,
– a bunch of parsley,
– a small head of cauliflower,
– two avocados,
– two panais (parsnips).

I was really happy to get parsnips : they belong to what is sometimes referred to as “les légumes oubliés” (forgotten vegetables), those vegetables we used to eat a lot in the past, but which have been more or less abandonned : panais, rutabagas, salsifis, pâtissons, crosnes… I have read that most of these were what people had to live on during the second world war, so they were promptly pushed aside after the war, because of the bad memories they brought back. Nowadays these vegetables aren’t very widely cultivated and can seldom be found at produce stands. Of course, I find the idea of forgetting a vegetable heart-breaking and cruel and terrible and saddening, it makes me want to save the vegetable and bring it back home and give it love and affection and decorate a little room for it with a little bed it can sleep in. Ahem. Anyway, I was glad to welcome those parsnips into my vegetable drawer.

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Pierre Hermé’s Aztec Entremets

Pierre Hermé's Aztec Entremets

As many of you guessed, the dessert for our dinner party last Saturday was ever so kindly contributed by pâtisserie expert and enthusiast Ulrich, he-who-works-with-Pierre-Hermé. You see, Pierre Hermé is a perfectionist and it really shows in the simple beauty of his creations. Extreme and skillful care is taken in the preparation, but once in a while of course, something goes wrong. In that case the product cannot possibly be sold as is, and whoever in the staff is interested (and the quickest, I guess) can have it.

And this is how Ulrich was able to bring a large Aztec cake (more precisely, Pierre Hermé’s cakes are called “entremets”). I will describe the Aztec cake for you, but before I do so, I feel I have to warn you to please take any action you deem appropriate to protect your keyboard from accidental saliva spillage. Ready? Here we go. The Aztec cake starts with a bottom layer of muesli biscuit, crunchy and tender at the same time, with teeny tiny bits of dried fruits and nuts. Then come several intermixed layers of flourless chocolate cake, dense and moist ; orange compote with balsamic vinegar, zesty and aromatic ; and chocolate mousse with specks of fleur de sel, mellow and soft with the subtle shadow of salt. These layers are topped by a final thin layer of macaron-like almond meringue. All of this is wrapped in a shawl of glossy frosting, of a deep dark chocolate color, luscious and velvety. The final touch of beauty on this cake is a disk of caramel, delicate and thin, brushed with a smooth and shiny sugar coating, the color of copper with specks of gold, deposited on four small dice of ganache, and seemingly floating just a few millimeters above the cake, like a nimbus.

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Which Came First Donburi

Which Came First Donburi

And this is the delicious main course that Maxence concocted for our dinner party this past Saturday! The recipe is from the same “Cooking Class Japanese” cookbook as his last cooking stint. I have taken the liberty to rename the dish though. Well, yeah, if I don’t cook, I have to at least do something!

In the book, the recipe is called “Chicken and Egg on Rice“, but the original witty Japanese name is “Oyakodon”, meaning “Mother and Child Donburi“. In case you’re not familiar with the term, “Donburi” means “bowl”, and in a typical case of metonymy, it is also the name of any dish served atop a bowl of cooked rice. This mother and child thing sounded somewhat morally disturbing, so I took matters into my own hands and decided, with no disrepect whatsoever for this traditional dish, to call it the Which Came First Donburi. Just because it amuses me. So there.

If anything (other than his talent of course), Maxence’s take on cooking a main course for eight proved this : we have two very different approaches to menu planning. Where I spend a whole week consulting, researching, thinking, leafing, jotting, striking, imagining and just generally obsessing, here’s what Maxence does : picks up the recipe book at 4pm on D-Day, two whole minutes before we are to go to the Japanese supermarket. Flicks through the recipes. Finds one that’s appealing. And… stops right there. Writes down what he needs. Closes the book. Gets up. Says “ok, let’s go!”.

I am Jack’s flabbergasted befuddlement.

And I must say, his style yields excellent results. We found everything we needed at the Japanese supermarket – a great store but pretty crowded on a Saturday afternoon – including a beautiful set of large shiny black bowls. Maxence prepared all of the ingredients ahead, and started the actual cooking after we were done with the first course.

We all enjoyed this very much : the eggs, still a little runny, have a creamy texture that complements the strips of chicken very well ; the shiitake pieces are their chewy and tasty selves ; the chives are very aromatic ; and all these elements, together with the excellent California rice, make for a very satisfying dish. With the added bonus automatically awarded to anything served in a bowl and eaten with chopsticks.

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Fig and Pear Salad with Bresaola

Salade Figue et Poire à la Bresaola

[Fig and Pear Salad with Bresaola]

While planning the menu for our Saturday night dinner party, I realized I hardly ever serve salad as a first course. I’ll often use salad to accompany the star item, like a tartlet or a bruschetta or a mousse or a slice of terrine or what-have-you, but it is rarely a salad in its own right. I’m sorry.

I guess this is because salads don’t sound like they’ll be much fun to prepare : they’re pretty easy, it’s just a lot of ingredient preparation before the final tossing-together. But this time, I reflected that they can be nicely colorful and light, a fresh and satisfying opener served with good bread. And the added value is really in the pairing ideas, so I decided to explore that route, and composed this fig and pear salad with bresaola.

The idea came from a sandwich I recently ate at Cojean, a trendy healthy fast-food place that serves deliciously fresh products. It’s one of my absolute faves for a quick lunch, and I have written a review for Bonjour Paris (Note : it is in the premium content area of the site, for which you need a subscription, but I encourage you to consider getting one : it will open the door to a wealth of interesting and witty articles — and there is a money-back guarantee if you don’t like it).

Last time I had lunch there, in addition to my delicious spelt and green bean salad with hazelnuts, I enjoyed a mini-sandwich of fresh fig, pear, bresaola, and Fourme d’Ambert, on a loaf of whole-wheat walnut bread. Bresaola is an Italian specialty of dried beef, lean and moist, cut in paper-thin slices ; Fourme d’Ambert is a blue cheese from Auvergne. It was excellent, and the idea stuck in my mind, to be transformed into this salad. I substituted mozzarella for the Fourme d’Ambert though, because I thought blue cheese was a little too sharp for the ensemble.

This salad turned out pretty and tasty, and I loved the way the different elements came together : sweetness from the fig and pear, saltiness from the bresaola strips, mellow and tender mozzarella, crunchy slightly bitter walnuts, and tangily dressed greens.

We served it with fresh baguette, or more precisely the beautiful fresh heart-shaped baguettes the Boulangépicier makes for Valentine’s Day this year!

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