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Archive for February, 2011

Michelin Guide

I just finished reading Au Revoir To All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France by Michael Steinberger.  It was absolutely a great read!  It stirred a lot of emotions for me because I could relate to what he was saying.  As the name implies things are changing in France and not necessarily for the better.  While reading this book, I became fascinated with the Michelin Guide to the point of going on-line and researching its history.  When I decided to write about Michelin I was very excited at first, and as I did my research I became enthralled.  I was of course familiar with the guide but, the combination of their history and the present controversy was really turning out to be a story onto itself.

Did you know that the Michelin guide started as a promotional giveaway?  First published in 1900, the Michelin guide was conceived by brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin.  The guide was distributed free from 1900 to 1920.  The Michelin brothers began charging for the guides to establish more credibility after a pile of them were found propping up a garage workbench.  The cover of the guide was originally blue, but since 1931 has been red.

Michelin for the first time has published a guide to Chicago 2011.  I purchased it last week and spent quite a bit of time going over it. While I agree with a lot of their choices, there are a few that frankly I found surprising; several restaurants mentioned in the Chicago 2011 issue are mediocre at best.  I’ve always thought of the Michelin Guide as the crème de la crème of travel guides. While I understand their need to sell the product, I am, well, old school when it comes to anything French.  I wish that they had stuck to their old rules of one or two lines per restaurant, and not gotten involved with listing every mediocre restaurant that all the other guides list, it somehow cheapens it for me.

Michelin operates on the principle that only anonymous, professionally trained experts can be trusted to make accurate, impartial assessments of a restaurant’s food and service and has gone to extraordinary lengths to preserve the anonymity of its inspectors. But that is being challenged by some very prominent people, chefs and journalist alike.  In the last few years, there has been a good deal of controversy about how stars are given out, as well as accusations of bias and of just being unfair.  In spite of all this, it appears that Michelin is going strong.  They recently signed a two-year contract with Air France and KLM to fit 425 aircraft operated by the Air France-KLM Group and other airlines for which Air France and KLM provide maintenance.  So, while they’re not hurting. it will be interesting to see how the guide book fairs in the long haul.

It’s a fascinating company with a rich and interesting history that’s dealing with some real challenges in this new age of the internet and mass self publishing and the ability of anyone (including me!) to go on line and voice opinions.  I’ll be keeping my eye on them.

Michelin

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Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

I’m a huge lover of coffee from Ethiopia.  I can honestly say that since I discovered it I don’t want to drink anything else.  I like very strong coffee, which this is.  For the past few years I had been drinking Starbucks’ Ethiopian Sidamo.  When  they discontinued it last year, frankly, I was beside myself.  When I inquired as to a replacement coffee from Ethiopia I was told to  try the Ethiopia Limu; it proved not to  be up to my standards. It wasn’t as dark as the Sidamo, and although it was classified as bold, it was more medium brown than chocolate brown.  The flavor just didn’t stand up to what I had come to expect from Ethiopian coffee.  I then tried the Kenya also considered bold.  It was okay, but it wasn’t Ethiopian coffee.   But it became my coffee of choice because it was as close as I could get to what I wanted.  On my last visit to Starbucks before I left for France, I inquired again about the possibility of Ethiopian Sidamo, or anything from Ethiopia beside the Limu.  The young man I spoke to told me that you can get it only in Europe now.  Well, that’s where I was headed in a few weeks, so I went on-line and printed out the addresses of all the Starbucks in the 14th arrondissement.

During my stay in Paris I never found myself near any of the Starbucks I had listed (and was carrying in my purse), so I started planning on getting up early one morning and taking the metro to the closest one because I had to have a fix. Matthew and I had planned to go to the Louvre Museum while we were there, and we did on our second day. As we were leaving, guess what we walked by in the basement of the Louvre–yep, Starbucks!  I ran into the store as if someone were chasing me as Matthew looked on in disbelief (he was not into my Starbucks run at all ).  They didn’t have the Sidamo but they did have the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe in half-pound bags.  I bought two and I would have bought more but my husband was looking at me like I was a mad woman.

This week I opened and ground half a bag and I’m in caffeine heaven!  The beans were nice and chocolate brown and the flavor, rich, velvety, smokey, chocolatey and buttery at the same time.  God I love this stuff! It smells as good as it tastes while it’s brewing, like you could eat it!  I can just sit with my noise in the bag, inhale, and get high on this stuff.

This month’s Saveur has an article about coffee that talks about how wonderful the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe is (they’re right!) and lists a source for it. I’ll have to give it a try when I run out since Starbucks on-line is out of stock indefinitely, I’m sure.  In the meantime I’m waking up to some of the most amazing coffee in the world, and loving it.

 

 

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Chef Leslie Revsin

I love fish, I mean I could eat fish everyday with no problem.  I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it, but I have only a few cookbooks on fish.  When I shop for a cookbook I spend quite a bit of time slowly going through it, imagining I’m actually preparing the meal, deciding whether the recipe makes sense (in my head anyway).  Fish cookbooks have always been a challenge.  As a result I own only three and I use only two. I don’t even remember where I bought the one I use the most, I’ve had it so long.

Last year I pulled it off the shelf looking for something different to do on the grill and realized that I actually had a really wonderful fish cookbook!  I’ve been using it as my go to ever since.  The name of the book is Great Fish, Quick by Leslie Revsin.

Leslie Revsin was a native Chicagoan, she graduated from New York Technical College (Hotel & Restaurant Program) in 1972; after finishing she landed a job at the Waldorf Astoria and worked her way up to chef.  This was in the early 70s when women were not working in fine dining. She opened her own Bistro in Greenwich Village in New York in 1977, and became a trailblazer breaking the glass ceiling for many women to follow.  She appeared on Master Chefs of New York.  She was devoted to fine French cuisine, and taught herself about cooking even before attending cooking school.

After her restaurant closed in the 80s she became chef at the Inn at Pound Ridge in Pound Ridge, New York.  After leaving the Inn at Pound Ridge in 1995, she became a consultant, TV cook, and cookbook author. She died on August 9, 2004 from ovarian cancer, she was 59.

From Great Fish, Quick:

Red Snapper Baked with Slivers of Carrot and Fennel

Four 7oz. red snapper fillets, each about 1/2 inch thick

Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

1 generous teaspoon of dried tarragon (I used sweet summer savory, dried)

1 small fennel bulb

2 tablespoons butter (or  oil)

1 cup diagonally sliced peeled carrots, about 1/8 inch thick

Scant 1/4 teaspoon of five spice powder

1/4 cup white wine or vermouth

1/4 cup of light cream (I used vegetable stock for a low fat meal)

2 tablespoons of whole cilantro leaves, washed and dried

To Prepare:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the fillets, skin side down, in a large baking pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.  Season them with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the tarragon.  Set them aside while you prepare the vegetables.

Cut the stalk off the fennel and discard it.  Cut the fennel bulb in half through the root end, and cut out, and discard the core from each half, following its natural V shape.  Separate the bulb into layers, and cut enough layers into very thin strips about 1 1/2 inch long to make a cut (I just used my mandolin on the vegetables).

Melt the butter ( or heat some olive oil ) over medium heat in a medium skillet and add the carrots and fennel.  Season with salt and pepper and cook them, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes, until they are firm tender and a little brown.  Stir in the five spice powder and the white wine, letting it boil for about a minute, or until it’s half evaporated.  Stir in the cream (or vegetable stock), adjust the seasoning, and remove from heat. The vegetable mixture can be refrigerated covered for two days, reheat before proceding with recipe.

Distribute the vegetables and juices on top of, and around the fillets, and place the pan in the oven until the fillets are just cooked through. 15-20 minutes ( a few minutes longer if the fillets are really thick ).  To check for doneness: using a paring knife at the thickest part of the fillet, gently push or cut the flesh open slightly to see if it’s white and opaque throughout.

Place the snapper and vegetables on a plate with the juices and scatter cilantro around the plate and serve right away.

Snapper with fennel and carrots

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It’s our final night in Paris and we’re having dinner with some old friends, Marc and his wife Kossua. Marc works for the French “Peoples Gas” and is a harp player and Kossua is a fabulous African dancer and just recently got her certification in Feldankreis Massage.

Marc was working in the south of France and flew into Paris and took the train to our hotel where we sat and had a bottle of wine until our reservation time. Kossua had to work late and would meet us at the restaurant around 9p.m. Marc was taking us to a really good seafood restaurant in Montparnasse.

We arrived at the restaurant at 9 and ordered a bottle of white wine along with some small shrimp and mussels in cream sauce. Kossua called to say it would be closer to 9:30 and we should start without her, but we waited and perused the menu which was fantastic! They had a fixed price (pris fixe) menu with lobster and langoustine and Marc decided we should each have one.

Kossua arrived and Marc ordered more mussels and a bottle of rosé champagne. Boy was it good! And the color was the prettiest pink I can ever remember seeing; it made all the other rosé wines I’ve had seem pale in color and it tasted fabulous! I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of the bottle.

Dinner arrived at the table and more wine was ordered.  It was a feast for the eyes as well as the belly: lobster two ways and a langoustine salad with really large langoustines very lightly dressed so you could taste the shellfish.  It was some of the freshest and tastiest seafood I’ve had in memory.  Everything was sweet and delicate and flavorful like fish should taste. We had Armagnac at the end of the meal. It was the perfect way to end our trip—sharing good food with good friends. Tomorrow we fly home.

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Dinner with Tao

 

Dining with Tao is always fun. He’s one of Matthew’s oldest French friends in Paris. In 1984 Matthew packed a duffle bag and went to Paris. Shortly after meeting Tao, they started playing as a duo together. Tao plays several instruments and sings, speaks four languages, and is one of the most interesting people I know.

We met Tao at his apartment where we shared several bottles of wine with some charcuterie. There’s a shop near Tao where he gets this really funky charcuterie made with tripe, it smelled funky, like dirty socks, but I couldn’t stop eating it! Tao has turned into a wine guy, which is really very cool; now he and Matthew have even more to talk about. After drinking too much wine we headed over to a little bistro that Tao frequents for dinner.

The owners are two great guys! The place has pictures of American movie stars on the walls; it’s quite a popular place. They had reserved a table for us, which was good because the place only has about seven tables. We started out with- what else?–more wine! Tao and I had the bone marrow for our appetizers and Matthew had French onion soup. I’ve wanted to try the bone marrow, and for a while it was good, but, there was too much fat in it. So I’m glad I had it, but I won’t be breaking my neck to get it again the next time I see it on a menu.

For entrées we all had duck breast topped with what else? Duck liver, really very, very good–melt in your mouth good! After that we had a cheese plate. We then headed over to Benoit’s place. He’s another friend of Tao’s, who has a wine shop. We shared a marvelous bottle of red wine, hung out there for a while and chatted with Benoit about wine. We closed the place and had to take a taxi back to the hotel because the metro had stopped running. The next day I definitely slept in and gave my liver a good watering the next day!

 

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Bone Marrow                                                       Tao

 

 

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Duck breast topped with duck liver

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On my last night in Cognac as you know we had rabbit. When we bought the rabbit, Nadège started talking about the rabbit in mustard sauce Vinny made when he visited them last summer. Everyone in the family has had this delicious dish but ME! (By the way I’m not trying to confuse you guys, it’s really hard trying to blog every day! On the previous blog I meant last Tuesday when I left Cognac.) Anyway when I got back to Paris this week the first thing I did was call Vinny and let him know that he HAD to make the rabbit in mustard sauce, or there would be trouble.

Thursday night was the assigned night for this magical rabbit. We met Vinny outside the hotel and went to the boucher (butcher) to buy a fresh rabbit. I’ve only seen them frozen in the states, and I have to say, the ones in France are much larger, meatier, and have the head attached! In addition there was a giant liver (which I got to eat; it was off the hook!)

Matthew and I went to a wine shop and brought a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir for the meal, and some cheese. We arrived at Vinny’s around 6 p.m. Semira was home from work. We had Kir (cassis and white wine, Algote) and pistachio nuts while we sat and talked.

Vinny had already prepared the rabbit and it looked amazing! Well it was definitely worth the wait, and now that I’ve had it, he can count on cooking it every time he sees me! It was the best meal I had my entire trip-no kidding! It was tender and flavorful beyond belief and I of course will be trying to duplicate it. But, I don’t know. . . . I may have to start raising rabbits!

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The rabbit  and the master…

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Me and Luwam                                     Rabbit over fresh pasta

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Matthew enjoying the moment

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Louvre Museum Paris

We spent the better part of a day at the Louvre.  These pictures are from the Greek, Roman and Etruscan Antiquities collection.

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