Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Pescada a la Vinagreta with Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

(Loosely followed Bay Area Bites' recipe)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dinner at L'Ourcine

On our last night in Paris, Mihai and I had dinner at L'Ourcine. We were fortunate to discover L'Ourcine almost by accident last time we were in Paris a few years ago - we were there for only 1.5 days and didn't have dinner reservations for one of the two evenings because we were originally supposed to go to a different (much fancier) dinner. After another restaurant turned us away because they were completely booked, we were able to squeeze into L'Ourcine by showing up much earlier than most Parisian diners. That dinner turned out to be the best one of that whole trip, and so was the dinner during our repeat visit last week.

We began with pre-dinner drinks:

Mihai had a beer, and I was surprised to hear that L'Ourcine didn't serve kirs, my pre-dinner drink of choice for that week. However, the waiter said they offered something else similar that was very good, so I trusted his recommendation. I am still not sure what it was I was drinking, but it tasted like a really well-made, slightly bubbly, kir. And, of course, any place that serves something like salami as a pre-dinner snack (instead of the more usual olives) is a winner in my book.

Our amuse-bouche was a light and creamy mushroom mousse with crunchy mini-croutons:

And for appetizers, I went with a beef consommé (with radishes and foie gras morcels):

and Mihai had a special of "open ravioli" (which turned out to be basically pappardelle) with morels:

Both dishes were wonderful, though I have to say I slightly preferred Mihai's mushroomy ravioli. Almost every restaurant we had dinner at that week offered special dishes with morels (and asparagus - the French take their seasonal ingredients very seriously), but I thought this one was really the best morel dish we'd tried all week. It's possible that had my soup not had all the red pepper flakes in it, I may have preferred my dish for its singularity (and difficulty in getting something similar stateside) after all (so if you are not averse to spicy-ness the way I am, you may love it wholeheartedly).

We both had very meaty main courses (I don't think we saw a vegetarian main course on a menu all week):

Mine (in the front) was a very large beef filet from a Blonde d'Aquitaine cow, served with roasted ratte potatoes (not pictured), and Mihai had pork with the most delicious and creamy polenta I've ever tasted (just visible in the upper right of the picture). He was very nice and let me have easily a third of his polenta, since I kept raving about how amazing it was (and even went as far as to ask how they made it so good). Just like I returned from our last trip determined to recreate the life-changing granola at home, I am now determined to figure out how to make polenta taste this delicious (it's funny, I didn't even like polenta at all until a couple of years ago).

For dessert, I had the poached pear in caramel sauce:

and Mihai had a chocolate bouchon with crème anglaise:

The desserts were tasty, but I'd say the "real food" part of the meal was definitely my favorite. All in all, I cannot recommend L'Ourcine highly enough if you are looking for a blow-your-socks-off and yet casual meal in Paris. It's not a huge restaurant, the little wooden tables are tablecloth-less, and the napkins are in the style of dish towels, which means that dressing up is not required (though certainly not forbidden). It's not dirt-cheap, but for the quality of the food you are getting, it's a fantastic deal - the three-course menu (plus the extra salami snack and amuse-bouches) would have been 34 euros each if we hadn't ordered the specials (Mihai's "open ravioli" with morels and my special beef filet). Since it's not a large restaurant and, more importantly, since when you come to a French restaurant, it's as though you are coming to a person's home, I'd recommend making reservations before going (though you probably don't need to do it very far in advance for most days).

92 Rue Broca
75013 Paris, France (map)
+33 (0)1 47 07 13 65

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Paris

Breakfast "at home"

Creative (and (shell)fish-y) amuse-bouches and appetizer at Les Fables de la Fontaine

Café au lait at Verlet

Savoyarde and Cancalaise galettes with lait ribot at Breizh Café

Friday, March 19, 2010

Mixed Citrus Salad with Mint and Feta

I know that I am a bit late in posting this, since this is more of a cold February dish than a warm March dish, but, even though it's 60 degrees outside, the supermarkets around here aren't yet carrying spring produce, so there is still time to take advantage of the winter citrus that's stocked in the produce section.

This is really a delightful, juicy, and refreshing salad. The one thing I would do differently is to use less grapefruit next time - that said, I like grapefruit in moderation only, so if you are a bigger fan of it than I am, feel free to use these proportions.

Mixed Citrus Salad with Mint and Feta
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 blood oranges
2 navel or cara cara oranges
2 pink grapefruits
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
Salt, to taste
3 oz feta cheese, chopped or crumbled
2 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped or cut into tiny slivers

1. Prepare your citrus fruits by beveling the stem end, cutting enough off that you reveal the pith-free flesh of the fruit. Repeat on the other end. Rest your fruit on one of its now-flat surface and begin cutting the peel and pith off in large, vertical pieces. You want to cut away all of the white pith.

2. Turn the fruit back on its side and cut it into 1/4-inch thick wheels, removing any seeds. Place the wheels and any collected juices from the cutting board in the strainer over a bowl.

3. Spread the fruit slices out on a platter. Whisk one tablespoon of the citrus juice from the strainer-bowl with red wine vinegar or lemon juice, Dijon and olive oil. Season with salt. Drizzle the dressing over the citrus, then sprinkle with feta and mint.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Potato, Watercress, and Gravlax Salad

(Loosely followed recipe here)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Magical Granola

I should start this post by saying that I never liked granola. I am not big on cold cereals in general - the only ones I liked in camp (during the summer between 6th and 7th grades) were Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Golden Grahams, and I don't eat either as a grown-up because I know that it's not really healthy to eat that much sugar for breakfast on a daily basis.

That's why I didn't even consider trying the granola at the lovely Mountain Range Boutique Lodge in Wanaka in January. Only when one of the other guests, a nice British woman, remarked that they had very good "muesli", did I try some of it from Mihai's plate. And then I was very glad that we were staying at the lodge for one more night, because I could have my own plate of their granola for breakfast the next morning. Since this is the first time I was having granola I actually liked, and since we were once again discussing how good the "muesli" was, I asked the manager of the lodge how they made it. He told us it was straightforward, and that the secret was probably the butter that they toasted the oats in (of course!). Armed with the knowledge of the secret ingredient, I made sure to inspect the granola on my plate carefully to figure out what else was in it other than oats. (Note: based on what the nice British lady was saying, I'd assumed that "muesli" is simply the British word for American "granola". As it turns out, muesli is made of non-toasted oats, so what we were eating at the lodge was most definitely granola.)

When we got back home from our travels, I tried replicating the granola that very same weekend, just guessing at the right ratios of ingredients. To my surprise (and great excitement), I got the proportions right to my taste the very first time, so I could finally have some more of the granola I've been dreaming of for the previous two weeks since we'd left Wanaka. We've now been through at least 4 more batches - it's that good, if I do say so myself.

(Helpful) note: I learned from Amanda Hesser on food52 that the easiest way to crush/chop nuts is to place them in a ziploc bag and pound with a meat pounder. Since I don't have a meat pounder, I've been using the back of my smallest skillet on the macadamias:

Magical Granola
Inspired by the one at Mountain Range Boutique Lodge

9 tablespoons butter
3 teaspoons honey
3 teaspoons raw sugar
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced and blanched almonds
¾ cup macadamia nuts, chopped or crushed (not too finely)
¾ cup raw pumpkin seeds
¾ cup dried cranberries, chopped (in half)
½ cup raisins, chopped (in half)
½ cup dried apricots, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 300°F.

2. Cut up the butter into a few pieces and place in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Place in the microwave and heat until somewhat softened. Add in the honey and raw sugar, and continue microwaving until butter is completely melted and the sugar and honey are well mixed in.

3. Mix the oats with the butter-sugar-honey mixture until they are all well-coated with the butter.

4. Spread the buttered oats on a large rimmed cookie sheet. Toast the oats in the oven for 45 minutes, mixing them up every 15 minutes.

Toasted oats:

5. Once the oats are toasted, transfer them to a large bowl. Then spread the almonds on the cookie sheet and toast for 25 minutes; transfer the toasted almonds into the bowl with the oats. Then spread the macadamias and pepitas on the cookie sheet and toast for 15 minutes; transfer the toasted nuts and pepitas into the bowl with the oats and almonds.

6. Once all the oats and nuts are toasted and the dried fruit is chopped, mix them all together.

Before mixing:

After mixing:

7. Store the granola in an airtight container and enjoy by itself or with greek yogurt.