Archive for the ‘French’ Category

This just in from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

restaurant (n.) 1821, from French restaurant “a restaurant,” originally “food that restores,” noun use of present participle of restaurer “to restore or refresh,” from Old French restorer (see restore).

In 1765 a man by the name of Boulanger, also known as “Champ d’Oiseaux” or “Chantoiseau,” opened a shop near the Louvre (on either the rue des Poulies or the rue Bailleul, depending on which authority one chooses to believe). There he sold what he called restaurants or bouillons restaurants–that is, meat-based consommés intended to “restore” a person’s strength. Ever since the Middle Ages the word restaurant had been used to describe any of a variety of rich bouillons made with chicken, beef, roots of one sort or another, onions, herbs, and, according to some recipes, spices, crystallized sugar, toasted bread, barley, butter, and even exotic ingredients such as dried rose petals, Damascus grapes, and amber. In order to entice customers into his shop, Boulanger had inscribed on his window a line from the Gospels: “Venite ad me omnes qui stomacho laboratis et ego vos restaurabo.” He was not content simply to serve bouillon, however. He also served leg of lamb in white sauce, thereby infringing the monopoly of the caterers’ guild. The guild filed suit, which to everyone’s astonishment ended in a judgment in favor of Boulanger. [Jean-Robert Pitte, “The Rise of the Restaurant,” in “Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present,” English editor Albert Sonnenfeld, transl. Clarissa Botsford, 1999, Columbia University Press]


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Due to not spending enough time in the car, which is where I get my radio, I managed to miss the fact that it’s All You Can Eat Week on WHYY’s Fresh Air, with Terry Gross.

I’m not crazy about the feeling of being a couple of beats behind. Like when I’m navigating with the help of my iPhone’s GPS, and the little blue dot on the map is just far enough behind where I actually am on the road that by the time the dot gets to the place where I’m supposed to turn, I’ve already past it. Or several beats: like when my daughter, as a sassy teen, in response to my cliched “Do you think I was born yesterday?” replied (without missing a beat) “No, I think you were born a long time ago.”

I love food because it’s timeless; it doesn’t matter when we were born. Timing does matter with cooking, and one can get anxious about getting that right, but for those of us blessed with food security, a cooking disaster is often hilarious and never the end of the world. On this, The Week After AYCE Week, we still have food and we can still talk about it.

Moreover, with Fresh Air, one can go back and capture the airwaves online and I urge you to listen to some of these, as they’re utterly fascinating and informative. You will learn, for example, why New York Times food writer Mark Bittman leaves steak uncovered in the refrigerator for days, so by the time he’s ready to grill it, it looks disgustingly dried out and crusty — but turns out delicious. (I have a pair of strip steaks getting old in the frig right now.) Also, in Kitchen Science: The Dinner is in the Details, Russ Parsons will tell you why onions make us cry:

In the water in the onion there are these little vacuoles — they’re little pockets of different chemicals. When you cut an onion, all those vacuoles are disrupted, the chemicals empty out, and they begin to combine with each other. You get these chemical reactions. … After the fifth or sixth generation of combining and recombining, the result is a kind of a sulfur gas, and, actually, it’s not clear at this point whether the sulfuric gas goes up your nose or goes directly to the eye. But either way, it irritates you and it makes your eyes tear as a result of that. And the great thing is that the chemical name for those chemicals are lacrimators from the Latin word for tear, lacrima.

So: just a few beats behind AYCE Week and in the spirit of overindulgence, this post is a piled-high buffet of some of my favorite food-related things, including a couple of the Fresh Air interviews, as well as blogs I follow and books I’m reading.

For an appetizer, there’s Sex, Death & Oysters, by Robb Walsh, “a half-shell lover’s world tour.” If the title itself isn’t enough to lure you in, let me just say (though I’m not sure what this means) that Walsh has been called “the Indiana Jones of food writers.” The book records a five-year, worldwide gastronomic exploration of the most beloved and feared of all seafoods.

Two juicy blogs will also serve as apps insofar as food porn gets one going. TasteSpotting is a “community driven visual potluck,” “a photo collection of recipes, cooking, baking, kitchen adventures, food industry and media news” and “the largest online dinner party you’ll ever see.” Similarly, foodgawker is “a photo gallery that allows you to visually search and discover new recipes, techniques and ingredients to inspire your culinary adventures.”

From TasteSpotting, via The Well-Seasoned Cook: Corn, White Bean & Squash Blossom Chowder – An end-of-summer transitional soup infused with musky herbs.

For our main course, an abundance of commentary about food, cooking and eating. That we make such a big deal out of something as basic as eating is reflective both of our civilization–our delight in creating delicious and beautiful things to eat–and the degree to which we are alienated from it. On this latter topic there’s no one better than Michael Pollan. In Defense of Food challenges the nutrient-by-nutrient approach — what Pollan calls nutritionism — and proposes an alternative:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

At a respectful distance on our table is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. Richard Wrangham’s proposes a new theory of human evolution he calls “the cooking hypothesis.” Apes began to morph into humans, and the species Homo erectus emerged some two million years ago, Wrangham argues, because we learned to tame fire and cook — which increases the amount of energy our bodies can get from food, which in turn gives our digestive tract a break from processing raw food and allows our brains to grow.

Interesting, but less fun than loading up one’s plate with Julia Child on France, Fat and Food on the Floor. In this Terry Gross interview, originally broadcast on November 14, 1989, Julia recalls being hooked on French cooking from the very first bite. She made it her life and spent the rest of her career guiding American amateurs like moi through the intricacies of French cuisine.

In the 1960s, you could eat anything you wanted, and of course, people were smoking cigarettes and all kinds of things, and there was no talk about fat and anything like that, and butter and cream were rife. Those were lovely days for gastronomy, I must say.

 Food52 is an industrial-strength blog that calls itself “a social hub for people who love food.” Creators Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubs provide scads of wonderful, searchable recipes as well as video tutorials on such things as how to make almond butter. (You put roasted almonds in the food processor, push the button and let them clatter around in the bowl until you think the motor is going to break. The nuts turn into a fine, pebbly sand–but not buttery–and you begin to wonder. Keep going and in another minute or two, like magic, the oils in the nuts will give up their resistance and the whole thing will turn into almond butter.) Food52 teasers:

We want to share our AYCE buffet with friends, of course, so let us join Last Night’s Dinner, another favorite blog though very different in tone and approach. LND is “a blog about what we’re eating. The focus is on dinners, which are mostly cooked at home.” Written by Jennifer Hess, it’s very personal and down to earth, with lovely close-up photos wrapped around stories not just about what she and her husband had for dinner last night but why she chose that meal, what happened when she went shopping for the ingredients, or grew them in her garden, and what their soon-to-be-born son will think of his first taste of spring peas. Reading LND like having a very creative, articulate next door neighbor with a lot to teach and the generosity to let you witness her young life unfolding.

Ready for dessert? Here’s my own rendering of Ancho Chili-Cinnamon Chocolate Bark, which I found one hungry afternoon on Food52. And here, from foodgawker via Verses from my Kitchen: A shortcrust pastry shell filled with custard and seasonal fruits.

Sigh. I’m ready to relax with a good book: this will be our cheese course. In Eat, Memory, Amanda Hessler (of the New York Times and Food52) has assembled the food-inspired recollections of several leading playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, poets and journalists. Tom Perrotta explains how his long list of food aversions almost landed him in an East German prison. And poet Billy Collins muses over his relationship with a fish he once ate.

What’s your story?

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Late summer, before Irene. Before we battened down the grill and turned the patio table upside down, before we had to pray that the the tomato plants, groaning under the weight of their palm-sized globes, would make it through the night. On one glorious pre-Irene evening, we found ourselves with the triple blessing of eggplant, peppers and summer squash from Shannon Chang; tomatoes from Erica Bowers Lavdanski; and a recipe from Alice Waters, brought to us by the amazing folks at Food52. Nothing for it but to make ratatouille.

If a perfect ratatouille exists, this just might be it. It is a rare dish that inspires so much indignation — so much ranting about tradition and propriety — as ratatouille, that seemingly unassuming melange of late summer produce from the Provençal countryside. And yet here I am, climbing out on a limb to tell you that Alice Waters makes a very, very good ratatouille — maybe the best. Don’t throw an eggplant at me just yet. Let me explain. — Kristen Miglore, Senior Editor, Food52

First, a note about our contributors.

Shannon Chang just sent us a delectable collection of vegetables from her organic garden in Winston-Salem NC, hand delivered by her son Michael, my daughter’s boyfriend. I’ve not yet met Shannon, but her son is an angel and the veggies sublime, so she must be pretty wonderful. Here are Alex and Michael next to a plane they learned to fly on a Living Social discount. Is this a great life or what?

Erica, from whence came the tomatoes, runs B&H Organic Produce, a small and growing market garden in Morgantown PA with her farming partner Paul Hartz. Every Wednesday, I pick up my half share of Erica’s CSA–a hefty box of whatever fresh vegetables I’ve chosen from that week’s list. And every Sunday, May through November, I pick up a few more at her stand at the east end of the West Reading Farmer’s Market. Erica’s CSA and the West Reading market are worthy of their own posts, but for now, here’s the Veggie Girl herself, sitting prettily atop her tractor.

Alice Waters is of course the legendary chef, author and proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA who, back when it was radical, championed cooking with the finest, freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. I learned my early chops from Julia Child, but heartily welcome the paradigm shift Alice brought to the iconic ratatouille, described like this at Food 52:

In the schools of ratatouille, at one end you’ll find the disciples of the Julia Child method: Every vegetable must be cooked separately before they “partake of a brief communal simmer.” The eggplants are cut into slim rectangles; the tomatoes are peeled, juiced and slivered; the bell peppers must be green. Then all are layered into a casserole and basted heroically. Make this one when you want to feel reverent and perfect.

Julia Child took these pains to ensure that every vegetable maintained its dignity, without melting into a muddy soup. But leave it to Alice Waters, longtime champion of vegetable TLC (Chez Panisse turns 40 this week), to show us such rigor isn’t necessary. Somewhere between Julia Child’s perfectionism and just giving up and dumping everything in the pot at once, there is a happy compromise.

Waters’ recipe only fusses where it needs to fuss–over the eggplant, which does benefit from a brief time-out under a dousing of salt to draw out its moisture and bitterness. After a pat dry and browning session all its own, the eggplant behaves itself, turning sweet and bronzed with creamy flesh. For the rest, Waters simply adds the vegetables to the pot one by one to build flavor, but because they’re cut small (1/2 inch), they don’t cook long and don’t have a chance to inherit each other’s idiosyncrasies. A few smart, modern details pull this recipe further into the realm of genius: basil is delivered in two stages, via a bouquet that swishes along in the pot the whole time, and a smattering of fresh chopped leaves at the end. A pinch of red chile flakes sharpens the focus, and a finishing swirl of fresh olive oil pulls the sauce together.

Adapted from The Art of Simple Food and moi:

  • 1 medium or 2 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice (Shannon’s eggplants were the slim Chinese and Filipino varieties, so I used three of each–about a pound.)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (not EVOO, because you’re going to heat it up)
  • 2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch of basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine + 6 basil leaves, chopped (Bunch, smunch: my basil comes from Bill’s garden.)
  • pinch of dried chile flakes
  • 2 sweet peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice (I had one, so that’s what I used.)
  • 3 ripe medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice (I had more, so I used more. Julia notwithstanding, this is a peasant dish.)
  • Salt to taste
  1. Toss the eggplant cubes with a teaspoon or so of salt. Set the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.
  3. In the same pot, pour in 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, and a bit more salt.
  4. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.
  5. Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all its flavors, and adjust the seasoning with salt.
  6. Stir in the chopped basil leaves and more extra virgin olive oil, to taste. Serve warm or cold.
Living in Japan freed me from the tyranny of thinking I had to serve everything hot. No need to sweat that in most situations, especially of a summer evening. Somewhere in the course of the day, I grilled a few thyme-studded chicken breasts, which had a chance to cool while the ratatouille was in the making. Sliced chicken, ratatouille and a tossed salad with lemon vinaigrette, served on the still-upright patio table.
Itadakimasu, my friends. Thank you Shannon, Erica, Alice, Kristen, Michael, Bill and Etsuko (who taught me that room temperature was just right).

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My son Sam tells me the masses want food porn. The next best thing being a quick post about what we had for dinner. I’m too busy, I tell him, too busy to take the care I would like with each post, to reflect on what we talk about when we talk about food–the politics, community, adventure and love. Just do it, he says.

So, having just spent a low-budget week at the Four Points Sheraton at Baltimore Washington International airport, eating chicken every single night (in the course of an otherwise fantastic training program), I am herewith rolling out a somewhat random selection of photos from our recent trip to France. It will help to erase the memory of all that chicken and get something out on Itadakimasu, yo. Food porn, minus the fancy camera; these were taken with my iPhone.

Tomatoes from the local quick shop, the Monoprix. Beautiful enough to break your heart.

My first homemade meal in Paris: radishes, bread, and sweet butter threaded with crunchy bits of sea salt.

Breakfast. I know it’s not nutritionally sound, but what the hell. Add a newspaper and insouciance, and you’re all set for the day.

Wild boar with two-celery cake, a souffle-like concoction make with what I imagine was celery and celeriac. At Mesturet.

Coq au vin, also at Mesturet.

Huitres at Brasserie Bofinger. Traditional at Christmastime, with champagne.

And for dessert, Floating Island, which is located between the heights of sophistication and the nursery.

And in case you were thinking this food looks fancy, here’s a table setting at Versailles. So glad I don’t have to polish the silver or fold the napkins.

Bon Appetit!

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