Winter Fruit

Boulougne Persimmon

 The American persimmon tree ”has received more criticism, both adverse and favorable, than almost any known species. “
W.F. Fletcher, Agriculture Department Farmers’ Bulletin, 1915

 

 

Conventional Wisdom, that crotchety old soul, tells me that nothing gets done between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If CW refers to legislation or finishing a knitted garment, I’d have to agree.

The month of December, quite apart from its holidays, is long and dark and yet, people continue to go to work and school and the day care center and probably accomplish quite a bit. Once the turkey leftovers are disposed of, which generally takes less than a week, many of us are back to making nightly meals. And given the season, these do not include ripe peaches, fresh tomatoes, gazpacho, or any of the summer delicacies we’ve just had our fill of through November.

Given those memories, it’s no wonder that a pre-solstice slump might occur. As much as we try, the prospect of beef stew, lentil soup, chili and fogged-up windows is not romantic. Come February, yes, but for now, is there a bridge to take us to the land of hearty foods with happy anticipation?

There is. Winter fruit.

Rumbling throughout the fall, more and more varieties of apples and pears show up at the grocery stores and these are at their very best in December. Following quickly are clementines and grapefruits. All the citrus fruits are now cheaper and more plentiful. The cheerful avocado is now always around thanks to modern science and various trade agreements. Ditto for pineapples. And wait! Who are these strange birds flapping in now? Persimmons.

Cooking with winter fruit is a good segue to the more dignified and elegant wintery meals of January. And the foods produced from these fruits can be lighter, a little exotic, even a temporary nod back to summer. As lovely and cozy as fruit desserts can be, savory dishes with fruits are equally satisfying. This is the time to eat salads composed of pears, walnuts and Roquefort or sliced grapefruit with avocado. Try a quickly made pork tenderloin with black beans and an orange and red onion salad. Here’s one: chicken with curried apples and frisée or other bitter salad green. These dishes are satisfying, straightforward, and inexpensive.

Let’s go back to the persimmon. ‘W.F. Fletcher’ quoted above happened to be my husband’s grandfather who worked for the Department of Agriculture in the early part of the 20th century and wrote a pamphlet, entitled The Native Persimmon* about American persimmon trees. Some of William Franklin Fletcher’s descendants still wonder why their grandfather threw his weight behind the persimmon. True, he was no Henry Ford but on the other hand, his pamphlet still exists and is easily available after 100 years.

However, the lingering reputation of the persimmon is not positive.

“If it is not ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment.”

The explorer Captain John Smith, wrote these words in the 17th century which Fletcher quoted adding,

“…he so well characterizes the puckering, astringent effect of the tannin contained in the immature fruit that no further comment is necessary.”

The point is this: don’t eat unripe persimmons. Lee Reich, author, gardener and researcher, who quoted Fletcher in his article on the persimmon**, has a fascinating book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden***. From the Juneberry to the Maypop, Reich shows exactly how to grow, care for and harvest unusual fruits. Eating a thoroughly ripened persimmon, he says, is as pleasurable a gustatory experience as eating an unripe one is horrible.

The varieties that we buy now are the Fuyu or the Hachiya which are varieties of the Oriental persimmon or kaki. The American persimmon has not been bred to the extent of the kaki – although it has been eaten as a wild fruit for centuries by humans and animals.*

When ripe, persimmons, which look a lot like tomatoes, can be so soft, they can be eaten with a spoon. Some varieties are firmer but if your persimmon is quite firm, it is not ripe. Leave it a few days and it should ripen. You can also place it in a plastic bag with an apple to hasten the process.

Now here are some recipes, many of which you simply put together without too much fuss. So you’ll have time to eat a relatively leisurely dinner and remember that soon the days will be getting longer.

All recipes make about 4 servings, except the Sillsalad which is for 6.

1 hors d’oeuvre:

Vikki’s Persimmon with Ham on a Cracker

3 salads:

Persimmon salad with bitter lettuce & walnuts

Avocado and grapefruit salad

Sillsalad: Apples, Beets and Potatoes

3 risottos:

Risotto with Clementines

Citrus Risotto

Risotto with Persimmons

4 desserts:

Oranges and Pineapple in Orange flower water

Grapefruit Compote with dried Cherries

Monna’s Apple Crumble

Applesauce

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Hors d’oeuvre: Vikki’s Persimmon with Ham on a Cracker

I mentioned to my friend Vikki Wetle that I wanted to know more about persimmons. “Come over and have one of mine”, she suggested. Her Hachiya tree produces persimmons that are wonderfully sweet but firm enough to make small slices. These she put on a very tasty seeded cracker and topped with a small slice of Buzhenina, a Russian garlic ham, which she purchases at the Privet European Food and Bakery in Salem, Oregon. Very nice with a glass of sparkling wine.

Salads:

Persimmons are in the markets right about now and won’t last too long. If you want to try them, look for ripe ones: they will be very soft (like a ripe tomato). One book I read suggested slicing off the leafy ends and eating them with a spoon. Now that requires a ripe piece of fruit.

Persimmon Salad With Bitter Lettuce And Walnuts

In this salad, the bitter lettuce offsets the sweet fruit. The nuts add – as my chef Susan Lindeborg always said- that all important crunch!

2 ripe persimmons, washed

1 bunch of escarole or frisée or a combination

½ cup walnuts, toasted*

Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon sherry or wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Peel and slice the persimmons into quarters. Make the vinaigrette by slowly stirring the olive oil into the vinegar. Add salt and pepper. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette and arrange on plates. Top with the persimmon quarters and sprinkle the walnuts on top.

*Heating or toasting nuts brings out their flavor. It’s a quick step but an important one. To toast nuts in the microwave, spread the nuts on a plate and microwave on high checking every 10 seconds. They burn very easily.

You can also toast nuts in a skillet with a little oil which you first heat up and then add the nuts, tossing and stirring. Again, they will burn very easily so don’t leave the stove and remove them just as they become a bit darker. Drain on a paper towel and add salt, if desired.

Avocado And Grapefruit Salad

This is a great combination. Add some green salad to make a larger mixed salad or a bed for the avocado and grapefruit if you wish.

2 avocados

2 grapefruit

¼ Cup toasted pecans (optional)

1 tablespoon vinegar (a mixture of red wine and balsamic is good)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Peel and slice the avocados into fattish strips. Peel and section the grapefruit. Divide among 4 plates or on a platter alternating the grapefruit and avocado. Prepare the vinaigrette as above and drizzle over the salads.

Farmor’s Sillsalad

This is a recipe from my grandmother that uses apples, potatoes, and herring – I changed the measures a bit to make it readable but I had to leave some of her language as is, because it’s funny. I have made it without the herring (in which case, it is not a sillsallad) but still delicious – very pink. I like it at Christmas.

For 6 portions

5 beets, boiled

1 salted herring – or a small jar of pickled herring

2 apples

4 potatoes

1 tablespoon onion, finely minced

4 teaspoons vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

2/3 cup of whipping (thick) cream

Garnish: 1 hardboiled egg

 

The day before serving, you may boil the beets and potatoes, unpeeled, until tender. Let cool and refrigerate.

Freshen the salted herring in cold water and then cut in very small squares.

Peel the beets and potatoes and cut into a small dice. The apples give the salad a fresh taste but the squares of the apples must not be noticed (i.e. chop them in a finer dice than the potatoes.) All the ingredients must be kept covered and only mixed together immediately before serving.

They are mixed on a big plate with two forks and the squares must not be crushed. Season the salad and taste it carefully. The thick cream is whipped until it is like a thick sauce (but must not be like foam or it will easily break when mixed with the salad) and is the last thing to be stirred into the salad which is then piled high on a plate and garnished with a hardboiled, minced egg in yellow and white stripes.

 

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A Word about Risotto: You must use short grain Italian rice for risotto. Arborio and canaroli are 2 varieties. Long grain or other types simply will not work.

Risotto with Clementines

Clementines, easily available at supermarkets, provide a tangy and colorful counterpoint to the risotto. The lime and lemon zests boost the fresh citrus flavor. Follow this up with roast chicken and sautéed spinach or you might also serve this risotto as a main dish with a green salad. And just a word on cooking risotto: when I first cooked this wonderful rice, I didn’t leave its side or stop stirring for a minute. Now I’ve learned it’s a lot more forgiving than I thought. I start the cooking process, stirring and adding the broth until it’s nearly done and then cut off the heat, finishing it up 10 minutes or so before I’m ready to serve.

4 clementines

Zest of 1 lemon*

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small shallot, chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

¼ cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock, approximately

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

 

Grate the zest of 2 of the clementines and set aside with the lime and lemon zests. Peel the clementines and separate the sections removing strings and pith. Set aside. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a 2-quart saucepan. In a 12-inch heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over moderately high heat and sauté the shallot a few minutes until softened but not browned. Add the rice and stir a few minutes until all the grains are well coated with olive oil and opaque. Add the wine, stirring constantly until it is completely absorbed. At this point, begin adding the stock about ½ cup at a time, stirring and letting each addition absorb before adding more. As the rice begins to swell and after about half of the stock has been added, taste for doneness. The rice should be al dente. Continue to add stock as necessary. After the last addition, add half of the clementine sections and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl and the zests. Add the Parmesan and the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, garnishing each plate with the remaining clementine sections.

*To remove the ‘zest’ means to grate the outermost peel of a citrus fruit without getting too much of the white pith underneath. The white pith is bitter whereas the zest is aromatic and contains a bit of oil; this is the flavor you want. To zest a fruit, you can use the smallest holes of a grater or a zesting tool sold at many kitchen stores. It may take a bit of practice at first. A microplane is another grating and zesting tool that has become very popular – also available at kitchen stores – and it is quite easy to use.

Blood Orange Risotto

This one is very similar but with a blood orange which (if you’ve never opened one up) is astonishingly red inside! The garlic and parsley make this risotto heartier than the clementine version.

2 blood oranges

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

Zest of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime, finely grated

1 cup Arborio rice

¼ cup white wine

4 cups simmering chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup grated parmesan

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

 

Finely grate zest of the blood oranges and set aside. Carefully section the oranges using a bowl to catch juices. Combine the sections and the juice and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, add onion, garlic and shallot and cook until softened. Add rice, stirring and cook a few minutes until rice is opaque. Add wine, stirring until evaporated. Begin adding stock a small ladle at a time, letting each addition evaporate.

Taste for doneness (rice should have a bit of crunch). Add the zests. After the last addition of stock, add the orange sections and juices. When absorbed, off heat, stir in butter, parmesan and parsley. Season w. salt and pepper and serve.

Risotto with Persimmons

Prepare the risotto in the same manner as the clementine and blood orange risottos but without the citrus zests. If your persimmon is very soft, you won’t have a neat little dice but it doesn’t matter. Just cut it in smallish pieces and add it to the risotto at the end of cooking.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

¼ cup white wine

4 cups simmering chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup grated parmesan

1 or 2 ripe persimmons, peeled and cut into a dice

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, add onion, garlic and shallot and cook until softened. Add rice, stirring and cook a few minutes until rice is opaque. Add wine, stirring until evaporated. Begin adding stock a small ladle at a time, letting each addition evaporate.

When the rice is done – which is to say, it will be soft but at the same time have a bit of chewiness – stir in the persimmons. Serve the Parmesan separately.

Desserts

It’s nice to have a dessert that’s a little lighter in calories but still a bit sweet. Orange flower water may taste a bit strange if you’ve never had it: almost like a perfume. It’s used very commonly in Morocco or other North African and Middle Eastern countries. It’s even used to flavor couscous. You can find it in many specialty shops, often in small blue bottles called “Fleurs d’oranger”. A little goes a long way.

Oranges and Pineapple in Orange Flower Water

5 oranges (may need more depending on size)

½ pineapple

1/3 cup mint leaves (optional)

3 tablespoons sugar (or less depending on the sweetness of the fruit)

2 teaspoons orange flower water

1 cinnamon stick, broken in 2

4 cloves

Cut the pineapple into smallish chunks. Peel and section the oranges so there is no pith or rind. Cut as many oranges needed to equal the amount of pineapple. Cut the mint leaves if they are very large.

In a glass bowl, combine all ingredients. Let macerate at least 6 hours.

Grapefruit Compote with Dried Cherries

For the marinated cherries:

1/4 cup dark rum

2 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoons cinnamon

Pinch cloves

Pinch allspice

½ cup dried cherries

For the grapefruit:

4 grapefruit, pink, peeled and sectioned

 

Combine rum and 1/4 cup water and the spices and cook covered over low heat until sugar has dissolved. Uncover, bring to boil. Remove from heat, let stand in a bowl for 5 minutes; stir in cherries, set aside.

Before serving: Arrange the grapefruit sections in a bowl or on a plate. Pour the cherry mixture over the fruit and let stand 5 minutes.

 

Apple Crumble Monna

My dear friend Monna Besse made wonderful English desserts. Crumble and crisp recipes are plentiful but I love the buttery simplicity of this one, which is pretty much the way she described it. Blackberries and raspberries freeze well and I usually do have a quantity stashed away in my freezer. Store-bought frozen berries are also good if they do not have added sugar.

6 Granny Smiths and 1 cup of good blackberries, if available

Make a pâte sablé (pastry) with 1 cup flour, 2/3 cups butter, 1/3 cup sugar.

Add no water and leave it in crumbs.

Peel, core and slice thinly the apples. Butter a gratin dish (baking dish), add a layer of apples, sprinkle with vanilla sugar*, and add small bits of butter.

If there are blackberries, sprinkle those on too.

Finally over the top, add the crumbled pâte sablé, more or less of ½” thickness.

Cook in a fairly hot oven (375) about 30-40 minutes.

Serve tepid.

Should be lovely and golden on top.

Serve with crème fraîche

Note:

*Vanilla sugar – is just sugar stored in a jar with a vanilla bean. Use regular sugar if you don’t have vanilla sugar.

Especially for Children..

but quite tasty for grown ups too!

Applesauce

If you’ve never made applesauce, you’re in for a surprise and a treat. It’s so easy if you have a food mill. A good strong sieve or strainer will also work but it’s a little more work.

Apples. As many as you want and different varieties are fine.

Wash and cut into quarters. Place in a large saucepan with about ½ cup of water.

Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook until soft.

Put through a food mill. Taste and add sugar if desired and some spices (nutmeg, cinnamon). I never add anything.

That’s it! No peeling! No coring!

This applesauce freezes well – for a quick dessert.

Sources

*W. F. Fletcher, The Native Persimmon, Farmers’ Bulletin # 685, U.S. Department of Agriculture, revised edition: May 1942

** Lee Reich, Cuttings; Upstart American Persimmons Add to Fall Colors, New York Times, September 28, 1997

***Lee Reich, Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Timber Press, 2008

http://www.leereich.com/books/uncommon-fruits-for-every-garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love a Duck

“Singing songs like ‘The Man I Love’ or ‘Porgy’ is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck.” Billie Holiday

The main dining room 1 Photo M. Plunger kopiera (4)

Operakällaren, photograph courtesy of the restaurant

A horrible ragged breathing emanated from inside the chimney. Followed by scratching. Something was stuck and it was alive. “It sounds like an old man,” I thought. My husband and I were renting a mill house near Andrews Lake in Delaware. Built in 1749, the house was the local subject of ghost stories which I had always ignored (until that moment). Peering up the chimney, the racket grew louder but we could see nothing. We shouted. Banged on some pots and pans. Nothing. Finally, we lit a piece of newspaper and suddenly, with a thud, a duck fell into the fireplace and on fire, flapped his way around the living room. We managed to steer him outside where the poor thing promptly expired. That day, I took the duck to the grocery in the nearby town of Frederica. “What kind of duck is this? I wanted to know. “Can I eat it?” It was a wild Muscovy duck and “No, you can’t eat this. Are you kidding? Where did you find this thing?” asked the butcher, adding, “But I’ll sell you a nice fat duck.” That dead duck was a kind of personal phoenix: a beginning of my curiosity about and love of duck and goose. Lucky for me, in the 1970s, it was very easy to buy duck and to find recipes.  In Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first published in 1961, Julia Child had recipes for braising, roasting, and baking whole ducks. She had preparations as varied as duck with cherries, also turnips, orange sauce, chestnuts, and sauerkraut. Leftovers? You could try her mousse or paté in a pastry crust. The list of goose recipes is nearly as impressive.

A big fat duck

A nice fat duck

Today, sit yourself down at a restaurant in France, and you will likely see magret de canard on the menu. This large duck breast, cooked like a steak with a rosy interior, is now a staple in most European cities and very popular in the US as well. But at the time of my Burning Duck, I had never heard of it. Equally popular? Confit de canard which has been around since antiquity as a method of preserving ducks and geese. The birds, in pieces, are entirely covered with their rendered fat, slowly cooked, then packed into jars or crocks where they last several months. A year was not uncommon in the old days. Today, confit, a regional specialty of Gascony, is found in supermarkets all over France canned, vacuum-packaged, or frozen. In the States, it’s more of a luxury item but available in many gourmet shops. Duck magret is very easy to cook but commercial confit is even simpler: you just heat it up. What rarely appears on dinner tables and in restaurants is roasted whole duck or duckling. It’s sold in supermarkets but there is not much demand. So let’s see. Plenty of magret and confit and what else?

Foie gras. A delicate subject.

When did the cooking of whole ducks and ducklings take a back seat to their hefty relatives? In the 1960s and early 1970s. Why? Increased production of and demand for foie gras. The ducks and geese with enlarged livers also had large breasts, which we call magret de canard. Andre Daguin, distinguished chef of the Hotel de France in Auch in the Gers region of Gascony, was said to have ‘invented’ magret de canard. The word magret is a combination of lo magret, a Gascon word, and le ‘maigret’, a French word which loosely means a lean piece of meat. Recipes calling for the ‘filet’ of duck have always been around but Daguin’s magret was larger and thicker than ordinary duck breast due to the fattening or engraissement of the ducks for their livers. Chef Daguin had been serving his duck breast since 1959 but his recipe for magret, cooked as a steak with a green peppercorn sauce took off in the mid-1960s. Gavage or the forced feeding of ducks and geese is either miraculous or torture depending on your point of view. From a historical perspective, it is one of the most ancient practices and even depicted in frescoes from Egyptian tombs at Saqqara. Today, the consumption of foie gras has never been greater. Indeed, a vendor at La Valette Foie Gras, a chain of boutiques in France, described foie gras as somewhat banalisé or commonplace rather than the luxurious treat it once was. As to the ethics of foie gras, there has been much written pro and con on the subject and the state of California has banned its production. I tend toward the opinion of William Bernet, owner of the Restaurant Severo (who serves beef not foie gras)

On devrait dépenser son énergie sur les problèmes de la faim dans le monde plutôt que sur la polémique autour du foie gras. 

(It would be better to expend energy on world hunger rather than the polemics surrounding foie gras.)

My young molecular biologist friend Kim steered me to a 93-page report specifying the European guidelines for production entitled: Welfare Aspects of the Production of Foie Gras in Ducks and Geese*. She points out that the report is old but appears to still be in use.

Drake by Robin Paine

Drake by Robin Paine

Anatomy Lesson

Kim explained a few more things about ducks and foie gras. Ducks don’t chew because they have no teeth: they open their throats and down it goes. No gagging. The way that ducks and many birds ingest, digest, and even breathe is unlike humans. Ducks breathe through their tongues, I learned from J. Kenji López-Alt in his excellent discussion in a posting in Serious Eats. ** Migratory birds eat before flight, which is to say, enormously. Gorging themselves is essential behavior. Crossing a migratory duck with a domestic duck produces a hybrid best suited for foie gras production. J. Kenji López-Alt describes the hybridization of the ducks: When you cross a male Muscovy with a female Pekin, you get a Moulard, a hybrid that combines the more desirable behavioral features of the two species. First off, it’s larger and more robust than either a Muscovy or Pekin, much in the way that a mule is bigger and stronger than either the horse or donkey it was bred from (Moulards are also sterile, like mules, and are often referred to as “mule ducks”). Like Pekins, they don’t fly and are relatively gregarious, making group living and containment quite simple for farmers, and non-stressful and safe for the ducks. Their most important feature, however—and this is important—is that like Muscovies, they don’t have the urge to migrate, but like Pekins, they retain all of the interior anatomy necessary for the gorging that migration requires.”  

The Triumph of Magret

In effect, magret, the fortunate offshoot of foie gras production, has cooled off the desire to cook whole ducks and geese. I would say that’s a pity until I heard a convincing case from Hank Shaw, author of Duck Duck Goose (Ten Speed Press, October 2013). P1020778 “In many ways the emergence of magret is a good thing: It is very difficult to properly roast a whole duck *if* you want the breast meat cooked medium or medium-rare and the legs and wings fully cooked. I honestly think people get too hung up on roasting whole ducks or geese. Yes, you can do it, but to do it right you will invariably overcook the breast meat, which will then take on a livery, almost chalky flavor and texture. If you do this, you’d better have a damn good gravy to drown it in. When I am presented with birds cooked this way, I reach for the leg — it will be the best part of the duck or goose, by far.” But hold on, Hank! Billy Holiday had it right: there’s nothing like a Chinese roast duck, known commonly as Peking duck. The combination of the mandarin pancake, Hoisin sauce, duck, and crispy duck skin must be tried to be believed. This is a dish that is best made at home and served at once. A purchased Peking duck is like buying rotisserie chicken: it can be good but it can also be cold, overcooked, and worst of all, not crispy. It is true that the breast meat on a whole duck will not be rare when you roast it. However, there are compensations. The ‘damn good gravy’, for example. Also, the price which is often not much more than for a chicken and much less that magret or confit. One way to get around the breast issue is to treat it like a coq au vin or other braised dish. My friend Carlo Albasio served us a splendid duck with cabbage dish that he called La Cassoeula, something like French cassoulet. The duck and cabbage cooked quite a long time and he served it with polenta.

 

The Whole Experience

A duck to remember? Every morsel perfect? Go to Stockholm in October. Make a reservation at the glorious Operakällaren restaurant and order the duck menu.*** You will dine on a whole duck in select sections: the foie, the magret, the leg confit, and the sauce of pressed duck. The chef, Stefano Catenacci, so our waiter told us, unearthed a duck press that is identical to those used at the famed Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris. Stored for decades, he resurrected it and now, comes to your table with this marvelous contraption, presses what’s left of the duck into a saucepan, and creates a sauce that I, for one, have never before experienced. Advance warning: this is an expensive evening, even for Sweden.

What About Goose?

In Germany, Saint Martin’s day (November 11th) is the kick-off for goose consumption. This is the time of year that the geese are fattened and readied for holidays but more mythically, it commemorates  St. Martin, a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. He was such a good and kind man, the church decided to make him a bishop. He didn’t want that! So, he hid in a barnyard where a gaggle of geese gave him away with their cackling. There are many versions of this story, none of which are particularly satisfying. The more practical explanation is that Martinmas is simply an agricultural marker for the end of harvest. In Berlin, the restaurant Leibniz-Klause is known and appreciated for its traditional German cuisine. Starting in November around St. Martin’s day, a goose dinner is served. It must be ordered in advance for no less than 4 people and for a feast of this size is very reasonably priced. The goose is carved at the table and accompanied by potato dumplings, kale, red cabbage and bread with goose fat. And dessert (a plum knodel with vanilla poppy sauce.) You won’t leave hungry. The best geese I’ve found are domestic, quite fat, and come from farms in the mid-west. It is no more difficult to cook a goose than it is a turkey and it makes for a very festive holiday meal or simply a terrific winter feast. Be sure to save the fat! Cooking potatoes in duck or goose fat is a treat.

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In closing, I’d like to say farewell to Susan Derecsky, who included me in the adventure of Michel Richard’s book and recipe testing which I’ve described below in the Duck with Orange Sauce recipe.  She died this fall after a lengthy illness. She was a dear friend, a great cook, a treasure trove of all things culinary, and a terrific editor.  Above all, I remember her generosity.

Susan Derecsky

It was such a privilege to know her.

And now some RECIPES for magret, foie gras, hachis parmentier, whole duck with figs, duck breast with orange sauce, confit, Peking duck and roast goose.

SIMPLE MAGRET DE CANARD (DUCK BREAST)

Serves 2

  • 1 magret de canard
  • Salt and Pepper

With a sharp knife, score the fat of the magret.

P1020772

Score!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put the magret fat side down in a dry frying pan and cook it slowly for 10 minutes. The fat will melt and accumulate in the pan. Drain off the fat and cook the other side of the duck for 5 minutes if you like it rare or 8 minutes, for medium. Be aware that these times are relative: if the magret is very thick, it will take longer.

Season the duck with salt and pepper and let it sit for 5 minutes covered with foil. P1020779

Slice thinly and serve.

JEANETTE’S SISTER-IN-LAW’S FOIE GRAS

My friend Jeanette passed this recipe along to me with this comment:

“Personally, I don’t care for the strong flavor that Cognac or Armagnac gives to the liver. I prefer a sweet wine like the Muscat or just a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Softening it in water is a good step. Then, you gently pry apart the two lobes and with the point of a small paring knife, remove the nerves which are very tiny little red veins. Do this step until you are satisfied but it won’t affect the flavor of the foie gras at all if some are left.”

If you have never cooked duck liver, imagine what it’s like to cook a pound of butter without it melting. Essentially that is what foie gras is: all fat. It needs to be cooked very carefully. Ingredients:

  • 1 duck liver of about 500 grams (1 lb)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons Muscat (or 1 of Port or 1 of sherry + 2 of Armagnac)

Soak the liver for an hour in warm water (98.6 F or 37°C) to soften. Remove from the water and de-vein carefully. In a zip lock bag, season liver with salt, pepper, and Muscat. At this point you can add fig jam if you would like to flavor it with fig. Let liver marinate refrigerated for 24 hours turning it twice. The next day, press the liver to fit firmly in a terrine or Pyrex loaf pan.Heat the oven to 70°C (158 F) Place the terrine in a larger pan with warm (not hot) water and then in the oven and cook without covering for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Keeps for 15 days in the fridge.

Note: Francoise Meunier, a cooking teacher in Paris, taught me a useful trick with foie gras to determine cooking time. When you think it’s nearly done, plunge your finger through the center. It should go through easily with no resistance. Remember if you overcook foie gras, it will melt completely!

HACHIS PARMENTIER AU CANARD

This is a soothing wintery dish that is like Shepherd’s Pie. Usually it’s made with ground beef or leftover roast. With duck, it’s a little grander and makes a wonderful buffet dish for a party.  Serves 4

  • 2 duck legs*
  • 1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme, parsley tied with a string)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into rounds
  • 1 onion, peeled but left whole
  • 2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½- ¾ cup grated Swiss or Gruyère cheese
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

Place the duck legs, bouquet garni, carrot, and onion in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes. Once cooked, discard the bouquet garni and the onion but reserve the broth and the carrots. Remove the skin from duck legs and discard. Shred or cut the meat into small pieces. Boil the potatoes under soft and drain. Mash them, adding a ladle of the broth. Mix well and add the egg and cream. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. In a baking dish, spread a layer of potatoes (half of the mixture), the carrots, and finally the duck. Add a bit of bouillon (about 2 tablespoons) and then, the rest of the potatoes. Season with pepper and dot with the butter and the grated cheese. Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes or until the dish is bubbling and lightly browned. *for a much speedier preparation, you may use 2 duck legs that are confit. As they are already cooked, you can eliminate the first step. Use a little chicken broth to moisten the potatoes and forget about the carrots. Be very sparing with salt, as the confit tends to be quite salty.

Note: you can expand this recipe to serve 30 guests. Follow the same method, but use these quantities and bake in a large roasting pan or gratin dish:

  • 15 duck legs (I would strongly suggest using confit for such a quantity)
  • 8 pounds potatoes
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups cheese

DUCK WITH FIGS 

I got this recipe from food historian, Segolene Lefebvre, whose blog, Boire et Manger: Quelle Histoire! I admire. I changed it a bit (and put it in English.) She serves it with a fantastic potato puree made with olives and olive oil. For 4 people:

  • 1 duck
  • 8 ounces dried figs or 1 pound fresh figs (about 10 figs)
  • 1 thick slice ham, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 good-sized onion, sliced
  • 1 head garlic, separated into cloves but unpeeled
  • 1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme, parsley tied with a string)
  • 1 cup rancio sec or Banyuls (Substitute with Port or Madeira if desired)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Soak the figs several hours in the wine. Cut the duck in two (with poultry shears, it’s fairly easy) Brown the duck in a large pot in olive oil. Add the vegetables, garlic, ham, and the bouquet garni. Add the figs and the wine, salt and pepper, cover and let simmer 45 minutes. (In fact, the longer it cooks, the better it is) Serve with these:

Mashed Potatoes

  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled
  • 2 ounces black olives, pitted
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 or 3 sprigs thyme
  • ½ clove garlic
  • Salt and pepper

In a large pot, cook the potatoes covered in water with the thyme and bay leaves. When they are cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes, drain them and remove the thyme and bay leaves. Put in a large bowl and smash with a fork. Chop up the garlic and olives and mix them with the olive oil. Incorporate this mixture with the potatoes. Check seasoning. Cut the duck into serving pieces and pour the figs, juices, and vegetables over the top.

MICHAEL RICHARD’S CANARD A L’ORANGE (DUCK WITH ORANGE SAUCE)

In January of 2000, Susan Derecsky, good friend and cookbook editor extraordinaire, asked if I’d like to test recipes in my home for a book that she was working on with Michel Richard, the celebrated chef of Citronelle in Washington, DC. Would I? I was bowled over with delight. As it turned out, that book project did not result in a publication but some years later, Michel wrote, Happy in the Kitchen, (Artisan, 2006) a delightful book which reflects his generous nature and immense talent. The recipes that I tested were fun and unusual. Two involved duck. Here’s what he had to say: “In my restaurant, we don’t waste anything. When we have ducks, we butcher them ourselves. We separate the legs from the carcass, remove the back and all the loose fat, and keep the breasts, legs, backs, and fat separate. We sauté the breasts on the bone so they don’t shrink-then bake them at a low temperature until rare. We make confit from the legs, throw the backs into the stockpot, and render the fat. We use Muscovy duck, which has a thick breast and not too much fat, instead of the more commonly available Long Island or Pekin duckling. For the sauce, I add kumquats to give it a strong orange flavor, but you can omit them if they are hard to find or out of season.” This recipe has a ‘restaurant feel’ to it since it only serves two. I think you could easily double or triple it with good results. Serves 2

  • 1 female duck, legs, back, and loose fat removed*
  • ¼ teaspoon ground anise
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil, for sautéing

Rub the duck breasts with the anise, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 2 hours. Make the orange sauce during this time. Preheat the oven to 275ºF. Heat the olive oil until very hot and sauté the duck, skin side down with a weight on top until it loses all the fat. Transfer to the oven and roast until the blood coagulates, 20 to 25 minutes. * My note: you may wish to use a large magret of duck or 2 small ones (about 1 ½ pounds) instead of the bone-on duck breast but check the cooking after 10 minutes. The boneless breasts will cook faster. Remove the breasts from the bone and slice them. Fan out on a hot plate, cover with sauce, garnish with the carrots [see instruction below], and serve.

Orange Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 kumquats, thinly sliced (optional)
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons [1 oz] grated ginger
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier Kosher
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the sugar, the kumquats, and a few drops of orange juice in a small pan. Let caramelize until starting to brown. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar, the remaining orange juice, and the stock. Reduce by two thirds. Add the ginger. Set aside. Cook the onion in the butter over low heat until soft. Add the orange stock and thicken with the dissolved cornstarch. Add the Grand Marnier and cook to evaporate the alcohol, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish 8 baby carrots, peeled, trimmed, and greens cut to ¾ inch and wrapped in aluminum foil. Steam the carrots until tender-crunchy. Remove the foil.

MICHAEL RICHARD’S CONFIT DE CANARD

If the duck with orange sauce seems a little daunting, try this one: it’s not difficult and has terrific flavor. The challenge is finding the duck fat. It is carried in some supermarkets and shops in the US and you can order it from D’Artagnan in New York (http://www.dartagnan.com/) which also sells foie gras, duck and other gourmet items. Interestingly, D’Artagno was started over 25 years ago by Ariane Daguin, whose father, Andre Daguin, is credited with much of the popularity of magret of duck.

  • 6 large Moulard duck legs
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 1/2 head garlic, cloves peeled and halved
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 orange peel
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 1/2 pounds duck fat

1. Combine duck, pepper, garlic, thyme, peel, and salt in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. 2. Remove duck from salt, rinse and dry. 3. Place legs in a single layer in a roasting pan or large frying pan. 4. Add duck fat or lard and simmer medium-low heat, turning from time to time. Until duck is tender – about 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. 5. Place duck in an earthenware crock (or big bowl), strain the fat over top to cover. Let cool completely. Refrigerate for at least 4 days and up to 2 months.

PEKING DUCK 

The truth: this dish takes time. But it is worth it and that is also the truth. Finding a spot to suspend the duck might take a little imagination. I once suspended it from a pipe in the basement. Another time from a floor lamp. Tying the string to the handle of an open cupboard door also works. Put a bowl or bucket underneath to catch any drips. If you have a cat, hang your duck high enough that the cat can’t get at it or isolate it (cat or duck). Serves 4-6 (Usually served with other dishes. Each guest should have 2 or 3 pancakes)

  • Mandarin Pancakes (see recipe below)
  • Scallion Brushes
  • 5 pound duck
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 4 slices ginger
  • 2 scallions cut in 2” lengths
  • Sauce
  • 1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Prepare the Mandarin pancakes (see recipe below) while the duck is cooking or the day before.

Making scallion brushes

Making scallion brushes

P1020769

The end result

Make Scallion Brushes by first trimming the dark green end and the tip of the root end so the total length is about 5” or a little less. Cut four intersecting cuts in each end about 1 1/2 inches along the length. Soak in ice water and refrigerate. (The ends curl up!) Wash duck under cold water. Pat dry inside and out with towels. Tie one end of a long stout string around neck skin. Suspend bird in a cool airy place for 3 hours. In a large wok, combine water, honey, ginger, and scallions and bring to a boil. Turn the duck in the liquid to moisten all sides and hang again for about 2 or 3 hours. Make the sauce by combining Hoisin, water, oil and sugar and stirring until sugar dissolves. Cool and reserve. Preheat oven to 375 F. Untie duck and cut off loose neck skin. Place duck breast up on rack and set in pan just large enough to hold bird. Pour 1” water in pan and roast duck for 1 hour. Lower heat to 300, turn duck on its breast, and roast 30 minutes longer. Return to original position and roast a final 30 minutes at 375. Take care while turning not to tear the skin. With a sharp small knife, remove skin. Cut into 2” pieces and place on a platter. Cut meat into fairly small pieces and arrange on a platter. To Serve: Place platters, pancakes, sauce, and scallion brushes on your table. Give each diner a small plate. To eat: Brush sauce on a pancake with a scallion brush, place a bit of skin and meat and the brush on the pancake and roll it up into a package. Heaven!

MANDARIN PANCAKES

  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • ¾ cup boiling water.
  • Sesame oil

Measure accurately. Mix the flour and water together. Knead 3 minutes (rinse hands in cold water if the mixture is too hot.) Cover the dough with a damp cloth for 30 minutes. With your hands, roll the dough into a long cylinder (12 inches). Cut into 1 inch segments. Flatten each segment with your palms. Brush the tops with a little sesame oil. Put two pieces with their oiled surfaces touching together. Repeat with the other pieces. You will have 6 flattened pieces. On a floured board, roll out very gingerly but firmly, making sure that the edges are together. Place one at a time in a heated dry frying pan over low heat. Turn when air bubbles appear. The pancakes should not brown except for a spot or two. Remove from the heat and separate each into 2 pancakes. Yield: 12 pancakes

ROAST GOOSE 

The secret to perfect roast goose is simply low heat, water, and time. Do not stuff a goose: they are simply too fatty. Remove the giblets and wing tips and reserve for stock. Prick the goose on the breast and thighs and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer in the meaty thigh. Add hot water to the bottom of the pan. Roast at 180 degrees for 5 hours, basting with water occasionally (i.e. every 30-45 minutes). I use a spray bottle. After 5 hours, increase the temperature to 300 and continue to roast until the internal temperature is 190. All told, the goose takes about 6 – 7 hours, depending on the size.

LILLY’S CRANBERRY RELISH

My friend Lilly Rubin often makes goose at Christmastime and serves it with this relish.

  • 1 pound cranberries (annoyingly, most cranberries come in 10 ounce packages!)
  • 2 Cups (or less) sugar
  • Water to barely cover.

Cook cranberries until cooked. Do not overcook. Place in a separate pan:

  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 2 apples, peeled and chopped
  • Blanched orange and lemon peel, 1 each
  • 1/4 to 1/2 C orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Boil these ingredients 5 to 10 minutes until onion loses its sharpness. Now combine the two mixtures and let cool. Add:

  • ½ to 1 cup chopped walnuts

Keeps well refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.

********************************************************************

*European guidelines for foie gras production. http://foodfancy.net/docs/out17_en.pdf Understanding Foie Gras an article by Wayne Nish explains in detail the preparation of foie gras with some good illustrations.  http://www.finecooking.com/pdf/051006037.pdf

** J. Kenji López-Alt’s article on the ethics of foie gras production http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/12/the-physiology-of-foie-why-foie-gras-is-not-u.html

*** Menu from the Operakällaren restaurant in Stockholm:

Menu Caneton

Confit de cuisse de canard et foie gras de canard poêle

Stekt confit av anklår och halstrad anklever

serveras med sallad av säsongens grönsaker och äppelvinagrette

CONFIT OF DUCK AND SEARED FOIE GRAS

WITH SALLAD AND APPLE VINAIGRETTE

Canard a la presse, sauce madère

Anka från pressen: Knaperstekt bröst, sky på Pressad anka och madeira,

rostad spetskål och karamelliserad lök

DUCK FROM THE PRESS: CRISP FRIED BREAST, SAUCE OF PRESSED DUCK AND MADEIRA

Glace tiramisu, truffe au café et prunes flambées

Tiramisuglass med kaffetryffel och flamberade plommon

TIRAMISU ICE CREAM WITH COFFEE TRUFFLE AND FLAMBÉED PLUMS

925,-

Minimum 2 pers

Vendu en nombre pair

Endast till jämna antal .

ONLY EVEN NUMBERS

Sveriges Nationalkrog

Bon Appétit

Stefano Catenacci, Hovtraktöret son chef de cuisine Viktor Lejon

MENU FROM THE RESTAURANT LEBNIZ-KLAUSE IN BERLIN

Leibniz Klause menu 001

Radish Greens, Foraging and the Frequency Illusion

“A lot o’ people don’t realize what’s really going on. They view life as a bunch o’ unconnected incidents ‘n things. They don’t realize that there’s this, like, lattice o’ coincidence that lays on top o’ everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, “plate,” or “shrimp,” or “plate o’ shrimp” out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

Repo Man

“… Frequency Illusion: once you’ve noticed a phenomenon, you think it happens a whole lot, even “all the time.”   Your estimates of frequency are likely to be skewed by your noticing nearly every occurrence that comes past you….”

Arnold Zwicky, Language Log, August 7, 2005

Radish greens make a great soup. Well, I think so and so do plenty of others as it turns out. In Paris, radishes are plentiful come April and sport a mass of leaves filled with sand and pebbles. My frugal French neighbors (the old ladies) would never throw out the leaves. Bon sang! These femmes débrouillardes make a tasty little soup or just cook the leaves ‘à l’étuvée’ (which means with a dab of butter and half a wine glass of water in a covered saucepan.)

I’m not French but I qualify as pretty frugal and am definitely ‘getting on’ age-wise so washing those radish greens has become a springtime ritual. Radishes were already planted in my head after my granddaughter and I did some digging in the rain to sow some French breakfast radish seeds.

Imagine my surprise when I received a notice from prolific cookbook writer and writing teacher Diane Morgan about her new book Roots.  She included Radish Top Soup as the sneak peek recipe.

At dinner a few days earlier, my friend Odile served radishes as an hors d’oeuvre each with a sprig of green attached. That’s what I always do! I thought to myself and then remembered that another friend, Annabelle, had been the one to tell me that eating radishes with a green leaf attached makes them far more digestible.

Was I succumbing to frequency illusion? I looked in my recipe stash and discovered an Italian recipe for radish green soup I had filed away at least five years ago. And by the way, not only Odile but thousands of other folks munch away on radishes with their apéritif at this time of year. No illusion, just fact.

Still, it’s dispiriting to think you’ve come up with a dandy idea to write about only to discover the subject has been dealt with brilliantly in the New Yorker magazine. That ‘plate ‘o shrimp’ is not part of the cosmic unconsciousness after all and when it comes to eating, what hasn’t been hashed over?  My mother, aged 97, is not helpful. “Stop writing about food. It’s old hat.” Instead, she suggests that I write her book, Waiting to Die. When I mentioned it sounded a little grim, she retorted,“Nonsense! It’ll be a blockbuster.”

But hold on there, Mama! You might think you’ve heard it all before but isn’t that what we humans do? Repeat ourselves? Savour, reflect, and define? Relish, digest, and thrash out? Death and the weather probably do top the list but as Marcel Boulestin* put it around 1923, “Food which is worth eating is worth discussing.” 

What do you think? I asked my discriminating and knowledgeable friend Paola. “Are people saturated with all this food writing and talk? She looked shocked. “Not at all. It’s so normal to discuss these things. As we put it in Italian, ‘Prendere per la gola’ which sounds like ‘grab them by the throat’ but means, ‘seduce them with food.'”

Eat the greens!

So back to frequency illusion: how our brains always search for patterns. Arnold Zwicky, who is quoted at the beginning of this piece, coined the term and it refers to ‘selective perception’. We think we hear or see something constantly but in fact, our brains are doing a lot of sifting and sorting to give us that (very subjective) perception. The radish and its leaves float to the top of the old brain pan, in my case, thanks to Diane, Odile, Paris in April, the color green, sand, pebbles, butter and salt. You get the picture. To home in on radish green soup, note that many recipes contain potato and other root vegetables which give a little heft and texture and sweeten up the greens. I like a thinner soup of greens and broth because the color is so intense. See what you think.

While radish greens may enjoy a popularity du jour, face it: they are mostly thrown out. Radishes in the supermarket appear in bags without leaves and where do they go? In the trash. This thought leads to Washington, DC circa 1955 and my husband’s pet rabbit Wilbur. Wilbur was entirely fed from the greens and scraps that the Paul and his siblings gleaned from the produce manager at the back door of the Minnesota Avenue Safeway.

The little gleaners now take my mind to foraging and my own experiences which started in Avalon, New Jersey one summer around 1960. The Meerson family was visiting from Bougival, France and we spent a day at the beach. I associated the beach with swimming. Not so the Meersons. They associated it with fruits de mer. Clams, in this case. I had no clue that the little bubbles and holes at the shoreline were dead giveaways for serious clammers. Madame Meerson and her three little children dropped to their knees and began digging. In a short while, they had a big bucket of cherrystones and were already thinking about lunch. I loved this family!

Despite this introduction to creatures beneath our feet, I wasn’t always on the lookout.  I spent several summers at a pond near the Great Point end of Nantucket Island crunching over sharp points en route to the water (I thought it was seaweed) before I actually looked down. Mussels. Thousands and thousands of them. At low tide, you could gather a bushel in minutes. Removing the beards was the time-consuming part but pleasant enough if done outdoors. These blue mussels are more commonly found clinging to rocks but according to Terry O’Neill of the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries they can be found in salt marsh ponds. I’m being specific here because there is another kind of mussel: the ribbed mussel which is brownish in color and while not inedible exactly, “You wouldn’t want to eat it” says Terry.  They are important, however, as they do a great job of holding down all the grasses. As a caveat, it’s a good idea to check with the local shellfish warden to see what the regulations are in your area and what shellfish you will encounter.

Another island catch was conch which we could pick up at low tide off sand bars. Conch is not as easy to deal with as mussels but makes good chowder. These conchs are more properly known as whelks and smaller than those found in the Caribbean. Conchs around Nantucket Sound were plentiful and used to be considered a shellfish predator, therefore a nuisance and thrown out or used as bait. Nowadays, conch is big business and few are available for local consumption. Unless you gather them yourself.

Moving to Delaware in the mid-1970s, my foraging involved volunteer asparagus. ‘Volunteer’ was not a word I associated with asparagus or indeed any growing thing. But that just showed my ignorance.  “You’ll find volunteer asparagus growing behind the Ford agency.”  my elderly neighbor told me one day. Indeed I did; the wild remnants from someone’s garden or as the botanists say, open pollinated plants. If you find volunteer asparagus, it probably will have thin stalks and be somewhat fibrous. In commercial operations, volunteer asparagus is considered a weed but in Sicily, sparacelli is a delicacy to be found along roadsides, in fields and most conveniently, in street markets sold in big bundles. I found an article **suggesting that sparacelli is best eaten with a sharp cheese in a frittata. Good advice.

Sparacelli: Wild Sicilian Asparagus ©2004 Best of Sicily (bestofsicily.com). Used by permission.

For sheer confidence: meet a mushroom hunter. For a brief period in Washington, DC, I attended meetings of the Mycological Society. Members report on their finds, show slides, and in one case, displayed homemade jewelry with a mushroom theme. Slides shows prompted fierce debates over fungal identification. While these meetings had a certain Benny Hill quality to them, there was no doubt the members were genuine, enthusiastic, and seriously scientific. Their website http://msafungi.org/ is packed with articles, news, and even job offerings (in such places at Kew Gardens, the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and US public lands in Wyoming.) Foraging for mushrooms makes me a little nervous and I wish we were as lucky as French and Italian hunters who can take their stash to the local pharmacy for identification. I have two French friends who gather mushrooms every year with the nonchalance of picking up acorns.

My son-in-law JB’s mother Goldie Anderson is a morel whisperer from what I can tell. Here’s what JB says,

Where does she find them? Mostly in the woods around Logan (Ohio). She had numerous, favorite spots. She also had secret theories about what type of trees, slopes ,and elevations held the best habitat. Really, she is just good at seeing them. I could walk over them and she would come along and practically find them in my footsteps.”

Sometimes a friend will do the foraging for you.
David Lucas made good use of a toilet paper roll.

If you’re lucky enough to know someone like Goldie, tag along.

And then there is urban foraging. Despite a miniscule back yard in Philadelphia, my father planted two peach trees which produced a bumper crop of beautiful peaches. A few days before peak ripeness, however, some squirrels arrived with their own plans to forage. Not only did they eat all the peaches, they actually threw the pits at my parent. He was sad about the loss of his fruit but, as he dodged the pits, he admired the plump little squirrels and decided to take action. As a young man, he had a small ranch in Nevada where he raised rabbits. Squirrels aren’t that different, bodily, and he set about trapping and eventually eating the Philly squirrels. “Nothing to it! I used to skin 60 rabbits in an hour. It’s like taking off an overcoat.” I’ll spare further details but have provided a squirrel recipe below.

When I think of foraging, I think free stuff! And generally speaking, foraging often refers to plants and wild edibles. In Sicily, we were told that everyone has the right to forage for wild asparagus which  includes access to private property. This concept of the ‘right to forage’ has a long tradition in many countries. In Sweden, it’s known as Allemansrätten***, every man’s right to share the land. But it has its darker side as in soldiers (starving) foraging for food. Or simply hungry folks gleaning, hunting, and gathering.

Many foragers are secretive about ‘their’ spots but it’s interesting to remember that during bad times, desperate humans are open to sharing secrets. An example is the hobo sign codes of the 1930s, where out of work travelers would leave marks to indicate ‘food for work’, ‘housewife feeds for chores’, ‘talk religion get food’ or best of all: ‘sit down feed’.

Sit down feed
Photo by Paul Allman

Have you seen The Gleaners and I (Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse)? With her handheld camera, the great documentary filmmaker Agnes Varda joins men, women and children who find sustenance and possibility from scraps and discards.

The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet

That initial thrill of discovery is the hook of foraging. Once you’ve found that cache, you will hope to go back year after year. The keys to foraging are these:

Act like the Meerson family. Imagine the possibilities and then, pounce.

Learn from the example of Goldie Anderson. Observe and remember.

Feel and sense in the manner of Agnes Varda. Recognize that foraging has deep roots in the past and right now.

***********************

*Marcel Boulestin (1878-1943) was a restaurateur in London who wrote many cookbooks including Simple French Cooking for English Homes. Elizabeth David loved this man (professionally speaking) and they both were ferocious about not adding meat broth – only water! – to soups. Boulestin believed that “The fresh pleasant taste is lost owing to the addition of meat stock, and the value of the soup from an economical point of view is also lost.”

3+ Radish Soup Recipes

The following soups do contain stock and should Boulestin and David be with us today, they’d undoubtedly be distainful. Frankly, commercial ‘vegetable’ stock is pretty bad – mostly salt. So suit yourself: water would work well.

Radish Green Soup with Leeks and Potatoes

3 words about adding pepper to soups: not too much. I think it sticks in the throat. Those who love pepper will add more at the table.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup leeks, chopped (white and tender green parts)
  • 3 medium potatoes, chopped
  • 2 bunches of radish greens (about 8 cups)
  • 5 cups weak vegetable stock or water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Garnish: finely chopped radishes

In a large saucepan, sauté the leeks in the olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes. Add a tablespoon or so of water and cook for 4-5 more minutes, until the leeks are tender. Stir in the potatoes. Add the stock or water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Check to be sure the potatoes are soft. Add the radish greens and simmer for 10 minutes.

Purée the soup in a food processor, blender, or food mill. Don’t overdo the puréeing: the soup is best with some texture. Return to the saucepan and heat, add salt and pepper to taste and swirl in the butter.

Garnish with the chopped radishes, if desired.

Serves 4.

Variation:

Crema di Foglie di Ravanelli

An Italian version of this soup uses onion rather than leeks. The soup is garnished with crostini and sprinkled with Parmesan or Grana cheese.

Hardcore Radish Green Soup

Just the greens, ma’am! 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 bunches of radish greens, well washed (about 8 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • A few pinches sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish: finely chopped radishes

In a large saucepan, sauté the shallot in the olive oil until tender. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the radish greens and simmer for 5 minutes or until the greens are soft and wilted.

Purée the soup in a food processor, blender, immersion wand, or food mill. Return to the saucepan and heat, add salt and pepper to taste. If the soup tastes bitter, add a bit of sugar.

Garnish with the chopped radishes, if desired.

Serves 2 – 3.

Radish Green and Cauliflower Soup

This was an accidental discovery, thanks to a cauliflower in the fridge. The cauliflower provided just the right amount of sweetness to the greens. In other words, it did the job that the potato does (in the first recipe) but the results were much more interesting. 

To the above recipe (Hardcore), include the following ingredients:

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, in flowerets, cooked in boiling water until just barely done
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 2 – 3 tablespoon chopped mixed herbs: mint, chives and cilantro
  • 4 or 5 slivered or julienned radishes

Prepare the radish green soup as above adding the cooked cauliflower at the pureeing step. Stir in the crème fraîche just before serving or put a dollop on each serving.

Garnish with the chopped herbs and radishes.

Serves 4.

Foraging Favorites

Mirabel Avenue Jam

The Mill Valley, California street where our daughter lived was loaded with plums. Not Mirabels funny enough, but Santa Rosas. Here’s what we made:

  • 4 quarts Santa Rosa plums, washed, cut in half and pitted
  • 8 cups sugar

Clean and pit enough plums to halfway fill an 8-quart pot.

Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil.

Cook over medium heat just until plum begin to break down (soften).

Add the sugar.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then keeping it at a slow boil, cook until thickened.

Check for thickness by placing a teaspoonful on a flat cold plate. When done, the jam will keep its shape (not spread.)

Ladle into clean jars. Seal with lids while still hot. Can be frozen.

Yield: 6 pints

Wild Asparagus Frittata

Roberta Gangi suggests that Caciocavallo cheese, made from cow’s or sheep’s milk, is typical in a wild asparagus frittata. Caciocavallo is made much in the same way as mozzarella, comes in round balls, and is fairly mild and salty. Stronger sheep’s cheese such as Pecorino or Etorki would also be good.

  • 1 pound wild asparagus
  • 6 eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup sheep’s milk cheese, cut up
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and discard. Cut the spears into 2 inch lengths and put in a frying pan (that can go in the oven) with one tablespoon of olive oil and water to barely cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and cook until the asparagus is tender (about 5 – 8 minutes).

Remove the asparagus to a bowl and wipe out the frying pan. Preheat the broiler in your oven.

Add the remaining olive oil and heat. Combine the eggs, cheese, and asparagus, pour the mixture into the frying pan and cook slowly until just set. Place the pan under the hot broiler to puff and slightly brown the top of the frittata. Do not overcook! Transfer to a warm platter or cut into wedges.

Serves 4 modestly.

Lew’s Squirrel Soup

‘Foraging Favorite’ is an exaggeration here. I asked my good friend Miriam  who knew my father well if she’d ever had it. Her response: “Thank God, no.” But she certainly remembered it!

  • 1 whole squirrel, cleaned
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cooked rice

Place the squirrel in a soup pot and add all the ingredients, except the rice. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered for about 1 ½ hours. Remove the squirrel and discard the bones. Shred the meat.

Bring the broth to a boil and reduce it for about 5 minutes. Add the meat and check the seasoning. Add the  cooked rice and serve.

To make this a little more exciting, I would add something green: a half cup of spinach, maybe.

Resources and References:

** Roberta Gangi’s article Wild Sicilian Asparagus http://www.bestofsicily.com/mag/art344.htm

*** Joy Hui Lin’s article on foraging in Sweden http://www.saveur.com/article/Travels/Swedens-Every-Mans-Right-is-a-Foragers-Dream

Rebecca Busselle’s article in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine confirmed my memories of cooking conch and I also used the Joy of Cooking to figure out how to deal with these creatures.  http://www.mvmagazine.com/article.php?32866=

Check out Diane Morgan’s new book Roots as well as other publications at her website:  http://dianemorgancooks.com/

Party Manners

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.  Emily Post, 1922

Does etiquette exist? The idea seems as quaint as the calling card. And yet, we all face situations where we wonder, “What’s the right thing to do?” Or put another way, we find ourselves in situations where we are uncomfortable and wonder, “Am I being weirdly sensitive? Behind the times?” I count myself in the latter category when I am at the dinner table with a texter. Or an e-mail checker.

I agree with Emily Post’s definition of manners. To be civilized is to be sensitive to others. One person does not make a conversation or a party.

As a host or a guest at a party, what are the rules? Opening up your home to guests, your mission is to provide a welcoming atmosphere. A guest’s task is to enjoy themselves and show appreciation for the host’s efforts and generosity.

In concrete terms? Here are some basic tips for parties.

Invitations

Invite your guests by telephone, e-mail, a written invitation, or a shout over the back fence. Give them a little time to respond. People rarely respond instantly and unfortunately, many never respond. So be prepared to follow up your invitation with a phone call to confirm. Don’t be embarrassed to do this.

Guests! Don’t assume your host will somehow know you’re coming. Be courteous and direct: say yes or no as soon as you can reasonably do so. Also, unless your host is a very good friend or your mother, don’t ask if you can bring your kids or your dog. If they are to be included, your host  will make that clear.

Naturally,  there are exceptions. If you have houseguests, for example, ask your host if it’s okay to bring them – and if it’s a big party, the answer is sure to be yes. As a host, you may not plan on having kids at your cocktail party but if you’d like to include the parents of a new baby, it is considerate to ask them to bring the baby because they may not be able to come otherwise.

Introductions

Greet your guests. If it’s a large gathering, let them know what to expect. For example, you might say, “Put your coats in the bedroom. The bar is in the living room. Help yourself, please!” Try to introduce each guest to at least one person or tell them if someone they know is already at the party.

As a guest at a large party, try not to monopolize your host who is trying to welcome everyone. It’s especially nice for a host to see guests talking and introducing themselves to new acquaintances.

What about a ‘hostess gift’? Not necessary. An act of generosity is admirable but bring a gift if you want to, not because it’s expected.

Timing

Inevitably, there will be guests who will be late but as a host, be on time. That means, be dressed and relatively calm when people arrive. If you are rushing around with beads of sweat on your upper lip, wearing a grease stained apron, your guests will get nervous. They won’t think ‘Party!‘, they’ll think ‘Work’. So just stop whatever it is you’re doing about thirty minutes before people arrive, get dressed, and be ready to greet.

You’ve been invited to a party at 7:00. Don’t be early. It’s not great to be late either but it really puts a strain on your host if you show up when the shower’s still running.

What’s For Dinner?

When you’re planning the food for a party, especially a large one, it is considerate to have one or two non-meat choices. If you’re serving alcohol, be sure to have some water and juice as well. Be prepared to point out any dishes that might pose a problem to guests with specific food issues but do not feel you must ask every guest what they can and can not eat.

As a guest, take responsibility for what you eat at a party. Ask your host to tell you if there are foods you must not eat but do not expect your host to provide you with a separate meal. If children are included at the party and they are beyond infancy, do not bring special food for them. Assume your host will be feeding everyone. If your children only eat certain foods, feed them in advance.

What about hanging out in the kitchen? Everyone seems to do this and often, it’s just fine, even helpful. Sometimes, guests are in the way. Be sensitive to what will make your host most comfortable.

A Lamb Chop for a Lamb Chop

My grandmother’s expression. She believed that if you accept an invitation you have duty to return it. I see her point but with time, I have realized I don’t agree. Some of the best guests hate to give parties. And many hosts would much rather throw a party than go to one. You’d have to be crazy to exclude interesting people just because you haven’t been invited to their house.

Having a Good Time

As a host, you’ll know that a party is a success by the noise and the laughter. With some advance planning, good food and drink, and a compatible group, you can count on a successful party.  You will have made your guests welcome and comfortable and after that, a good party has a life of its own.

Say, guest, did you had a good time? Acknowledge it! Telephone, e-mail or even write a thank-you note within a few days of the party. You need to let your host know you enjoyed yourself.

 Recently, Kate Welch of KBOO, a radio station in Portland, Oregon spoke to me about this subject of manners and etiquette and asked a thoughtful question. “Right now, times are tough for many people. Do you think parties serve a purpose?” I felt she was asking whether there is a frivolous quality to party-giving in a solemn climate. Well, I think the times offer all the more reason to get together. Comfort and enlightenment come from social interaction.

A few years back, I was at a dinner party with about 10 guests. At a certain point, the whole group became involved in a serious conversation. There were several differing opinions and the talk, while not bitter, was earnest. This went on for some time without much resolution. Suddenly, one of the guests told a joke. A very good joke.

This was followed by another joke and then another. Soon, we were all laughing, wheezing, dabbing at our eyes, and holding our sides. To me, this proved just how important parties are: all of us at that table needed to talk about serious matters, even if we felt divided. And after that, we need to laugh to bring ourselves back together.

We live in a multi-cultural world that embraces flexibility. Traditions have changed but polite social behavior (perhaps a better term than etiquette) is enduring. Parties continue to be a great way to interact socially. So don’t worry about which fork to use and concentrate on the essence of good manners:  putting each other at ease.

Please your guests, thank your hosts, and consider your time well spent in the company of others. 

Cooking for a Crowd: The Jim Haynes Sunday Night Dinners

“I love humans, men, and women alike, no matter their age, profession, or nationality. For me each person is a country, a fellow earthling, and I hope to explore and to begin to know everyone out there on this crazy planet of ours.” Jim Haynes
 

Jim's atelier, photo by Annabelle Adie

 

I have been asked how exactly I go about cooking a meal for 100 people.

First, the back-story. About 10 years ago, my husband and I had moved to Paris for what we thought was one year. Within a few weeks of our arrival, our friend, Philippe Gérardin, told us about an American who for over thirty years has given dinners at his atelier in Montparnasse on Sunday nights. Guests make a reservation and pay a donation toward expenses. Oh, and the cooks are volunteers.

Go to one of Jim’s dinners. You’ll meet all kinds of interesting people,” he promised and gave us Jim’s phone number. We were intrigued.

Jim Haynes here.” A brisk voice answered my call. “Do you want to come to next Sunday’s dinner? Where are you coming from?” He rattled off his address, metro stop, and the door code. He asked for our names and said, “You’re on the list. Show up at 8:00.” That was it.

Every Sunday night in Paris, except during the month of August, Jim Haynes opens his doors to a throng of folks some of whom he has met and many he has never laid eyes on.

How many guests? Rarely less than 70 and in good weather, topping 100.

Behind the facade of many Paris apartment buildings, there exist rows of ateliers where artists and craftsmen have lived and worked for generations. Jim’s atelier, overlooking a garden path, is one of these. The party was in full swing when we arrived with guests standing in the garden and pouring out the doors. We made our way inside to find a tall, genial American seated on a stool with clipboard in hand. “Mary, Paul! Welcome! Meet Stephan and Natalie and Lisa!” We were checked off the list, pointed to the bar (outside in the garden) and introduced to at least ten other guests of various nationalities. One of Jim’s best-known characteristics is his ability to remember names. If he’s met you, he remembers you.

Jim at his party, photo by Paul Allman

 We were handed a bowl of soup and instructed to line up for the next course when we were ready. Some guests were already digging into plates of stew with rice and salad.

That first dinner was a blur of faces, names, and a three-course meal eaten standing up. We came away slightly dazed but feeling we had participated in an international happening that was purely positive. Throughout, Jim’s voice introducing people and exhorting them to Talk!” was funny and contagious. We met several people that very evening who became friends.

We also got to know Jim. The short version of his incredible life is that he arrived in Europe from Louisiana with the Air Force in the late 1950s and never went back. Between then and now, he has done remarkable things, including founding the Traverse Theater in Edinburgh, writing a lot of books, and a thirty year stint as a university professor in Paris. He hasn’t missed a Frankfurt Book Fair for 50 years and is a beloved fixture at various film and book festivals worldwide. However, he has become best known for having the longest running dinner party ever.

How the dinners started is essentially a tale of a good party that kept getting bigger. Back in 1978, Catherine Monnet, a young ballet dancer from Los Angeles, needed a place to stay and through a friend, found her way to Jim Haynes. To repay his hospitality, Catherine offered to cook dinners for his friends. At first, the dinners were small but over time, they grew so large that guests began to contribute toward the food costs. Catherine eventually found a place of her own but continued to cook at Jim’s from time to time and does so to this day.

News of the dinners travels by word of mouth and they are famous for the start of friendships, love affairs, and marriages. People have found places to stay, new jobs, and opportunities for travel by participating in a Sunday dinner. Today, Americans and Parisians represent about half the crowd and an international mix make up the rest. Sometimes, you can hear six languages spoken at once.

What I’ve noticed over the past ten years is that the makeup of dinners goes through periods of change. If there has been a recent article or a You Tube video about Jim, there is often an influx of travelers and students, particularly Americans. People book by e-mail rather than the telephone. For the ‘regulars’, Parisians for whom Sunday night means going to Jim’s, this can be disconcerting. But most are philosophical and are glad that the dinners continue to grow and remain vibrant. 

After our dining experience, I was curious about the cooking. I found out that the volunteer cooks at Jim’s are visitors, houseguests, and occasionally, chefs and cooking students. Jim was enthusiastic when I offered to cook and I was delighted to find no shortage of helpers when I took on the task.

Shopping in such quantity is a challenge especially without a car. Jim, who has never owned a car, thinks nothing of taking the metro to Frères Tang, a giant Chinese grocery, and returning with 35 pounds of chicken in his shopping cart. Grateful to their loyal customer, Eric and Alice, who run the neighborhood vegetable stand, make sure the thirty avocados or fifty melons are perfectly ripe come Sunday evening. Shopping with Jim, I became familiar with the local merchants who offered discounts and deliveries. Through Catherine Monnet, I discovered the North African and Indian markets of Paris where bargains such as whole trays of baked pastries and 20-pound bags of rice can be bought for a song.

Different parts of Paris were opened up for me. I loved finding out about the markets, the butchers, and the neighborhoods. I was hooked.

I now cook at Jim’s about 8 or 10 times a year.

 So, here’s my approach:

The Menu

On Wednesday or Thursday, I write up a menu and a shopping list and e-mail it to Jim. I plan for either 80 servings or 100 servings depending on the weather. If it’s dry and not too cold, the guest list is long because guests congregate outside in the garden area. On a rainy February evening with everyone squeezed inside, Jim keeps the list to about 65 or 70 people although he has a terrible time saying no.

For a crowd mostly standing up, the food has to be eaten easily with only a fork and/or a spoon. For the first course, soups (hot or cold), composed salads, a slice of quiche, a turnover, an empanada, or bruscetta works well. For the main course during winter months, we serve stews of all varieties and baked pasta dishes. Indian foods, which can be served room temperature, are excellent in any season. Thai curries and salads are also much appreciated and especially good in warm months. For dessert, it can be as simple as ice cream with chocolate or caramel sauce and a cookie. We make a lot of crumbles and crisps with fall fruits. Cakes and pies are more ambitious and time-consuming but definitely a crowd pleaser.

For vegetarians, there is always an alternative to meat.

Examples of menus:

A spring menu

Indian Ginger Pea Soup
Blanquette De Veau (Veal Stew)
New Potatoes
Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar
Pine Nut Cookies

A summer menu

Green Mango Salad
Chicken in Thai Green Curry with Rice
Pineapple Ice Cream Sundae with Caramel Sauce

A fall menu

Tomato and Fennel Soup
Le Puy Lentils and Sausages
With Onions and Peppers
Apple Brown Betty

A winter menu

Blue Cheese, Endive, and Walnut Salad
Beef Bourguignon with noodles
Spinach
Cherry Chocolate Brownies

Chile dinners with cornbread and guacamole are very popular. Also, cozy foods like potato salad, meat loaf, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, and mashed potatoes. These things make the old ex-pats nostalgic and the newcomers a little homesick. And it all adds to the conversation.

I’ve had some fun surprises. One weekend, I mentioned to my friend Trish Nickell that I was planning a Tex-Mex meal and wondered what to have for dessert. “In Dallas, if we go out to eat, we always finish up with a praline.” Oh really, I thought.

Seeking to be authentic, I decided I’d just ask one of those Dallas restaurants for their recipe. I called El Fenix, explaining I needed to make about 200 pralines for next week’s Sunday dinner in Paris. “We can’t give you the recipe,” the manager explained, “But we’ll send them to you.”

And that’s exactly what happened. A couple of days later, a big box of wrapped pralines arrived. At no charge. The crowd went wild.

Quantities

Figuring out how much to buy takes a little practice and having done some catering helped me. My method is both micro and macro. First, I think about an individual serving. Meat and fish will probably be the costliest part of the menu. A 5-ounce portion is not lavish and I usually add a few pounds for good measure. I like to picture what the plate will look like with the vegetables and potatoes (or rice or pasta).This helps me to balance the meal and control the costs by not over ordering.

Here’s a little table:

                                    25 servings               100 servings
Soup:
(1 cup/serving)   7 qts                           25 qts
Main course
(5 oz/serving)     8 lbs                           32 lbs
Vegetables:
3 oz/serving)      6 lbs                           22 lbs
Salad greens
(2 oz/serving)     3 lbs                           13 lbs

(This may not seems like much but remember lettuce is light in weight but long in volume.)

When you have a party for less than ten people, you need to cook more than enough in order to make the platter or the salad bowl look plentiful and appetizing. If your guests are sitting around the dinner table, eating leisurely, having seconds or even thirds should be expected. For a huge crowd, you can be a bit more calculating. Put another way, a handful of guests may only eat a small plate of salad but counting out the exact number of cupfuls might make for a miserable and stingy looking bowl of salad. Having leftovers from a small party is great. But enormous quantities of leftover food are not only wasteful and expensive but a lot more work to prepare and store.

Another way I figure out quantities is by a simple head count. For example, if I’m serving fresh cantaloupe, I calculate the serving size. A quarter each? I’ll order 25 melons for 100 servings, usually adding a couple of extras to be safe. For Puffy Baked Potatoes (see recipe below), I count on ½ baking potato/person. From experience, I know that there are about 4 servings of asparagus in a pound, that a 4-pound cabbage makes a hell of a lot of slaw (at least 4 quarts.)

Oh, and don’t try to make freshly cooked spinach for 100 people unless you have a convenient warehouse next door. Use frozen, please.

Ordering

For Jim’s dinner, I telephone or visit Eric and Alice with the vegetable order on Wednesday or Thursday. We talk about what is in season and if I’ve chosen something that’s too hard to get, too expensive or out of season, Eric always lets me know and makes suggestions. At the local Boucherie Chevy, a small chain butcher shop, Monsieur Dominique is as meticulous as Eric is. After touching elbows (M. Dominique doesn’t shake hands on the job), we usually talk about the menu and he suggests how best to prepare the meat. Twelve kilos (about 25 pounds) is the usual quantity. For some stews, he will cut the meat in cubes. Beef to be ground is not prepared more than an hour before purchasing. Roasts are beautifully tied, chickens are boned and often, he throws in bones andles abats’ for making stock.

On Friday, Jim or one of his houseguests picks up the items from Franprix, the local grocery store: cheese, milk, butter, and eggs as well as rice or pasta, canned goods and so on. Eric delivers the vegetables on Saturday morning. He will also deliver on Sunday morning as well which is a huge convenience when it comes to storage.

We also use Picard: a store entirely devoted to frozen foods of excellent quality. For fish, Picard is a good economical choice, given the large quantity purchased.

How can this translate to a large party at your house? Buying a lot of food means you have to store it somehow. Any approach you can take to delay the arrival of food helps. You might do exactly as I’ve described above: go to your local supermarket, small grocer, farmer’s market or wherever you shop and ‘order’. Tell them what you need and when you need it. You may not have delivery service but you can arrange to pick it up close to when you need to deal with it. If you’ve ever tried navigating your way through a kitchen full of pineapples or a refrigerator bursting with lettuce, you’ll see the wisdom of letting others stash your produce.

There is a case to be made for shopping, storing, and cooking in advance. And if you have lots of refrigerator and freezer space and like to string out a project over time, I can see the benefits. But personally? I like the freshness of produce and also, the immediacy – well, let’s call it the pressure – of cooking it all and serving it all in the same weekend. It’s like a sporting event: you’re on and then it’s over.

Cooking

I start the cooking on Saturday around 1:00. I make a list of all the jobs or prep work and then divvy up the tasks. Often my friend Leslie Diamond comes over to help and usually, any houseguests staying at Jim’s will volunteer as well. More often than not, Madame Paupert, Jim’s upstairs neighbor stops by, and makes short work of any peeling job.

Madame Fauvette Paupert, photo by Philippe Gerardin

We bake on Saturday, prep for the main course or salad, and often make soup which is cooled down and refrigerated overnight. We’re generally through by about 5:00.

On Sunday, same hours: I make the vegetables and main course and then leave a list of last minute chores before going home to get cleaned up and relax a bit before the dinner.

Most of the menu can be cooked at least a few hours before serving but I’ve learned some tricks. Fresh vegetables like broccoli suffer if overheated; green beans and fresh herbs will turn a horrible olive color if allowed to sit in vinaigrette for too long. Soups, cooked beans, lentils, and grains can scorch and stick to the bottom of large heavy pans when the heat is on for a long time. So what to do?

Keep food hot using a bain marie or water bath. Be sure to heat the food first and then set the pot into a larger pot with simmering water. Keep the heat low and check the water level from time to time.

Mashed potatoes stay nice and hot in a water bath but do not cover them. They will develop an off taste. Potatoes continue to absorb liquid over time so mash the potatoes with plenty of liquid so they don’t become too stiff.

To avoid mass of wilted greens, don’t dress a salad until serving time. With a large quantity of lettuce, divide it among 2 or 3 large bowls and keep chilled.  Dress each bowl as needed.

Serving

Seamus McSwiney is a long time friend of Jim’s and a master of serving a hot meal to a hungry crowd. Over the years, he has perfected a system that is really efficient. Working on his own, he serves the three-course meal in overlapping stages. He puts out about 10 to 15 servings of the first course (usually a salad or soup), replenishing as diners line up to help themselves. For the main course, Seamus serves directly from the pots, setting out the plates whilst catering to those who want smaller portions, a vegetarian meal, or have other considerations. He arrives at Jim’s about an hour before the party to set up, makes rice if necessary, reheats the main course, and directs helpers to slice bread or toss the salad. Jim and his houseguests generally set up the bar outside in the garden and put out chairs.

Seamus slinging hash, photo by Paul Allman

How do the plates look when they’re served? Not like in a restaurant, that’s for sure. The food can be delicious but it won’t be ‘presented’. And as a cautionary note, I would add that the aim is provide a good meal that’s plentiful, tasty and the right temperature. Sprinkling garnishes, drizzling sauces, or supplying any other such niceties can really slow down the serving process. Simple is better.

I repeat dishes that work well, taste good, and seem to be popular. So I’ve got the timing down pretty well. However, there are times when I’ve found myself in the weeds and have to cook down to the wire.

New cooks to Jim’s discover quickly some pitfalls of an overly ambitious menu – but even then, it can be fun and a learning experience as you scramble around trying to finish up by 8 pm! My young cousin (and now Cordon Bleu student) Kate Atkinson once cooked a Mexican dinner with Michael Boone. We even made sopapillas from scratch! It was crazy!” Michael, who is pursuing a career as symphony conductor, is an enthusiastic Sunday night dinner cook, channeling favorite recipes from his Indiana grandmother.

I have certainly been overly ambitious. A fall menu with a beet salad, cabbage rolls with ground veal in Riesling, and an apple and quince crumble was hugely time-consuming. Thank heavens Madame Paupert was there, stuffing 200 cabbage leaves without a complaint. On another occasion, the ‘Croustillant aux Asperges’ was a nightmare for serving: involving as it did Hollandaise, puff pastry, and all that asparagus. Jim loves apple desserts and bought a gizmo that peels, cores and slices apples. But as our friend and frequent Sunday night cook Antonia points out, if you have 150 apples, it still takes time.

 I tend to use raw materials, peeling and chopping just about everything. Jim thinks this is ridiculous and points out the benefits of large bags of frozen chopped onions, garlic, and peppers. He’s right, of course: for a large crowd, using these products certainly makes sense. But, what the hell. I do it because I enjoy it. And it’s more than just the cooking. I’ve met more interesting and unusual people around his kitchen table than I ever would have imagined. Swapping stories while peeling apples is a great way to spend an afternoon. My circle of friends in Paris has widened and grown younger and I am very grateful.

It’s been a lot of fun meeting other cooks. About two years ago in Portland, Oregon, I was at a cooking class and met Jackie Thau, an enthusiastic cook (and also charge nurse in an OR). We got to talking about Jim’s dinners and she decided to sign on to cook. She ended up coming to Paris with friends and family and cooking a fabulous meal. Professional pastry chef David Gauchat of Cleveland cooks for Jim on his visits to Paris (and taught me how to make Goop.) Galena Prokhor, an émigré to Paris from Russia, is nearly a genius with her soups, stews, and cakes and somehow, makes it all look so easy. Jodi Poretto, from New Orleans, always makes red beans and rice on her trips to Paris. Two new friends of mine: Amanda Morrow and Miranda Crispin got their feet wet, so to speak, cooking chez Jim and have started an underground Paris touring company with a dinner club. One Sunday, my friend, Jorge Pagliarini, an extraordinary cook, thought nothing of making over 200 macarons for dessert. Guests nearly fainted with pleasure.

Are you game? I’ll include some recipes.

RECIPES

The following recipes are for 25 servings. Keep in mind ‘servings’ are not ‘guests’. If you are planning a party for 12 good eaters, you should make the entire recipe. Ditto for 5 teenage boys.

TOMATO AND FENNEL SOUP 

This is a tomato soup that I really love and always gets raves. The fennel flavor is boosted with the tarragon and Pernod. An immersion blender is useful for this soup. 

  • ½ cup (4 ounces) butter or olive oil
  • 1 pound onions, chopped
  • ½ pound carrots, chopped
  • 1 ½ pounds fennel, chopped
  • ¾ cup Pernod or Herbsaint or other anise liquor
  • 3 (29-ounce) cans of tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
  • 5 sprigs fresh tarragon
  • 5 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 2 cups heavy cream (substituting milk is okay)
  • Salt and pepper

Melt the butter or olive oil in a large pot and slowly sauté the chopped onions, carrots, and fennel about 10 minutes or until soft (but not browned.) Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer a few minutes. Add 3 cups of stock and the tarragon and parsley. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the herb sprigs and add Pernod.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender. Or working in batches, use a blender or food processor. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the cream. If the soup is too thick, thin it with more stock. Season with salt and pepper.

GREEN MANGO SALAD

This salad makes a delightful appetizer or side dish with a spicy curry or with grilled fish or chicken. The job of grating the mangoes can be speeded up if you have a food processor. The ingredients can be prepared in the morning and put together at serving time.

For 25 servings

  • 4 large firm mangoes
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 2 ½ pounds bean sprouts
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 2 bunches scallions
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1–2 tablespoons chile garlic sauce

Toast the coconut in a dry frying pan, taking care as it burns easily. Let cool and set aside.

Peel the mangos and grate or julienne finely. Refrigerate covered. Rinse the bean sprouts quickly in water, drain, and refrigerate.

Mix the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili sauce for the dressing and set aside.

To serve, combine the mango with the basil, scallions, bean sprouts, coconut, and the dressing, mixing gently.

JACKIE THAU’S ROASTED GRAPES

This is a great appetizer for large scale cooking: it involves very little preparation and can be eaten with the fingers. In Jackie’s words, “Hot, cold, next day – all good. I like mixing the colors and using black sea salt when they are done.”

For 25 servings

  • About 9 pounds or 5 bunches of grapes, different types (and colors)
  • Olive oil
  • 3 or 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • Salt
  • Black sea salt (optional)

Snip the grapes into small clusters and arrange on a sheet tray. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt, and strew the rosemary sprigs along with the garlic over the grapes. Roast at 350 for about 5-8 minutes until they are hot. Pull from the oven and give them a little dusting of salt and serve.

SABZ GHOST (LAMB IN COCONUT MILK)

Antonia Hoogewerf’s Indian dinners are among the most popular at Jim’s Sunday night soirées. Sabz ghost, a famous and deceptively simple Indian dish, is exotically spiced yet mild and creamy. Check the seasoning during the cooking time. Peppers will continue to get hotter the longer they cook.

For 25 servings

  • 8 pounds lamb, cubed
  • ½ cup garlic, finely minced
  • 1 (5-inch) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • ½ cup cooking oil
  • 1 ½ cups whole blanched almonds
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 green chile pepper
  • 1 dried red pepper
  • 2 cans coconut milk, unsweetened (more may be needed)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Marinate the lamb in a large bowl with the garlic and ginger for 2 hours. In a large pot, heat the oil and fry the almonds and raisins for a few minutes or until they are lightly browned. Set aside. Using the same oil, add the cardamom, cloves, and the lamb and brown, stirring, over high heat

Mix in salt, pepper, and yogurt. Lower the heat and cook until the yogurt is completely absorbed (about 30 minutes). Stir in the red and green chili peppers and half of the chopped cilantro. Add coconut milk and cook over low heat, stirring regularly, for about 40 minutes to an hour. When the lamb is tender, add the almonds and raisins. Cover the pan and simmer until the sauce is reduced.

Taste for seasoning, adding additional coconut milk if too spicy. Garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro and serve hot, with chutney, Naan bread, and rice.

PUFFY POTATOES

They don’t always puff but mostly, they do. This is a baked potato for one person or a horde: incredibly easy to prepare and tasty as is, although you can certainly pass the butter. Potatoes are best eaten once cooked so they cannot be baked too far in advance. Be sure to select baking potatoes that are not too large, keep the heat high, and do not skimp on the coarse salt.

For 25 servings

  • 14 baking potatoes, medium-sized
  • Coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Scrub the potatoes and cut in halves lengthwise. Arrange the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet. One baking sheet will fit about 25 halves.

Sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Bake for 40 minutes or until the tops are browned and puffed.

Test by plunging a knife through the center of one to determine doneness. Serve within the hour.

They may stay in a turned-off warm oven but do not cover them.

PINEAPPLE SUNDAE WITH CARAMEL SAUCE AND ICE CREAM

The caramel sauce can be the starting point for all kinds of ice cream desserts or served with cake or bread puddings. It can be made days in advance and even frozen for longer storage. Making caramel can be tricky: if one sugar crystal bounces out on the side of the pan, the whole thing can seize up and crystallize. To avoid this unhappy situation, my friend and former chef Susan Lindeborg proposes the method described below.

For 25 servings

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 pound butter
  • 1 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt*
  • 4 ripe pineapples
  • 3 quarts vanilla ice cream

Mix the sugar and water together and pour carefully into the middle of a large pot. Melt the sugar without stirring until it bubbles around the edges. Cover the pot with a tight lid as the mixture approaches a boil. When the caramel is a dark golden brown, add the butter, cut in pieces, but do not stir. When the butter starts to melt, stir gently until the mixture is a homogenous mass. Cool a few minutes and add the cream and salt. Serve warm or cold.

Peel the pineapples, remove the tough inner core, and cut into cubes. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.

To serve, top a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a spoonful of pineapple and some of the caramel sauce.

*Kosher salt, sea salt or fleur de sel are recommended.

PINE NUT COOKIES

These are elegant little cookies: crisp, buttery, and not too sweet. This recipe serves at least three average size cookies per person. Using parchment or baking paper is highly recommended, as the cookies are fragile when hot. Quickly lifting the entire sheet off the baking tray eliminates using a spatula to transfer each cookie.

For 25 servings   (7 dozen)

  • ½ pound butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon (scant) baking powder
  • 6 ounces pine nuts

Beat together the butter and sugars. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry frying pan either over medium heat or in the microwave. Watch carefully as they burn easily. Let cool. Grind half the pine nuts in a food processor or blender.

Add flour mixture and all the nuts to the butter and sugar mixture. Drop by rounded teaspoons, 2 inches apart (these cookies spread) onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in a moderately hot oven (325 F) 8 to 10 minutes or until set and brown on the edges. Carefully transfer to racks to cool completely.

This cookie dough may be made in advance and refrigerated a few days or frozen. Once baked, the cookies will keep very well in tightly sealed bags or boxes for 2 weeks.

GOOP

Nothing sticks when Cleveland pastry chef David Gauchat’s mixture is brushed on a pan.Use it for cakes, fruit desserts, baked pasta and meat dishes.  And it lasts forever.

The non-stick formula (which David lovingly calls “Goop”) is simple: one part vegetable oil, one part flour and one part Crisco all whipped up together, put in a container, and left in the cupboard. Voila!

SOME FINAL NOTES:

Jim's party, photo by Annabelle Adie

If you find yourself in Paris and want to join in the cooking or come to a Sunday dinner, it couldn’t be easier. Jim Haynes lives at 83 rue de la Tombe Issoire, atelier A-2, in Paris’ 14th arrondissement. The best way to reserve for a Sunday night dinner is through his website www.jim-haynes.com. 

There are many You Tube videos about Jim and the dinners. Here’s the After Eight mint ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MjGAJDO666g 

In 2007, with friends and co-authors Catherine Monnet and Antonia Hoogewerf, I published Throw A Great Party – Inspired by Evenings in Paris with Jim Haynes. At first we envisioned the project as being purely about Jim but as we got into it, we realized that the focus should be on the reader and how to give a party. Any recipes I’ve alluded to are in the book along with more specifics on quantities and serving. And other useful info: such as how to set up a bar.

If you want to learn more about Amanda and Miranda’s Paris Underbelly (discovery tours and supper club), go to:

 http://www.parisunderbelly.com/Discovery-Tours-and-Supper-Club/ParisUNDERbelly-DiscoveryTours-SupperClub.html

  

Vietnamese Market Day and the Beauty of Margins

Photograph by Hien Lam Duc, from the exhibition Mékong, histoires d’Hommes

 

 

 When fully ripe, the unopened jackfruit emits a strong disagreeable odor, resembling that of decayed onions, while the pulp of the opened fruit smells of pineapple and banana.

The Jackfruit

I am like a jackfruit on the tree.
To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh:
the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes,
but oh, I warn you against touching –
the rich juice will gush and stain your hands

Ho Xuan Huong, 1772 – 1822,
 translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich 

 Two acts of generosity led to a delightful day.

 The St. Francis dining hall in Portland, Oregon serves dinners daily to “those in need in dignity and peace.” That turns out to be 300 meals per day. At their annual auction, it’s hard to say who is more big hearted: the donors or the recipients. As her auction contribution, Ho Mai Huong, a young accounting student, offered her services as tour guide and chef for a day of Vietnamese cooking. Margo Foeller was the winner and treated me and my friend Trish to a wonderful day.

Visiting the markets

Our first stop: the market Hong Phat where Mai identified and introduced us to a world of fantastic fruits, vegetables, herbs, fish and meats.

Fruits came first. The jackfruit (which can grow to over 80 pounds), banana flower (peel back the outer leaves and slice), four different kinds of mango, litchis, and ‘fragrant fruit’ were just a few. “In Vietnam, there are many more varieties,” explained Mai.

We moved on to a huge assortment of herbs, greens, and vegetables. Many herbs have medicinal applications such as dấp cá or fish mint, used to cure stomachaches, indigestion or, in paste form, for insect bites. The flavor and aroma are strongly fishy. Rau Dắng or bitter herb is used both cooked and fresh. When burned, the vapors are a very effective mosquito repellant.**

Spinach, mustard, and collard? Now these were familiar greens. But hold on! They are not what they seem. Mồng tơi, as an example, sometimes referred to as Ceylon or Malabar spinach, has spinach-like leaves but is a vine and cultivated on a trellis. And might lower your body temperature.

Bitter melon which looks a bit like a cucumber with a ridged dark green skin is used in soups, sautéed or stuffed. Its medicinal qualities are many, including a blood sugar lowering effect for type II diabetics. With each fruit, pod, green, root and fungus, an important therapeutic reason for its purchase was cited. 

                  Will this help my baby grow? Will this cure his cough? Can this ease my pain?

Eat your Gac (gấc)! It is the greatest source of beta-carotene (vitamin A) of any fruit or vegetable. Gac (gấc) has ten times more of the stuff than carrots or sweet potatoes. Did you know that green papaya enhances breast milk production? And, it would appear, that if you have anything wrong at all, just eat a persimmon.

 Gac  (gấc)      
Photograph by Jennifer J Maiser

Moving from vegetables to the grocery aisles, Mai discussed the cross over in cooking techniques and recipes between Asian countries and cultures and their subtle differences. Fish sauce, for dipping, is a good example. In Vietnam, chopped garlic and chilies are added to the sauce which is diluted not with water, but coconut juice, as coconuts are very plentiful in southern Vietnam. 

On that same topic, Mai explained that Vietnam is divided culturally and economically into the North, Central, and Southern parts. The North has less fruit and vegetables and the food tends to be salty. The Central part of Vietnam is the poorest. It is subject to severe weather (especially flooding) and the soil is poor. The cuisine in this area is very salty and spicy which adds flavor to the food and warms the body. The abundance of fruits and vegetables are the hallmark of the southern Vietnamese cuisine. Fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits are used in nearly every preparation in the South.

 Pho, the hugely popular beef noodle soup is believed to have originated in the North, where it is made with fresh rice stick noodles (banh pho tuoi) and flavored with star anise in an oxtail broth. Typically, it is not served with garnishes. In the South, however, the soup is served with herb and bean sprout garnishes. Suffice it say, there are many regional varieties of this soup.

 A package wrapped with a green leaf and tied with red string turned out to be cha lua or Vietnamese ham wrapped in a banana leaf.

“It’s just like spam. That’s what my mother says” a young customer offered.

Among the huge selection of meats (every possible cut of pork and beef) and fishes (including whole frozen fish and about 30 types of frozen shrimp), I was struck by the two types of chicken:

  • Walking chicken (not always tender but very flavorful) and
  • Black chicken (quite a small variety and good for fatigue, back pain and expectant mothers)

 Beautiful and mysterious dishes that Mai alluded to:

  • Coconuts stuffed with Quail
  • Baby clam meat with Jackfruit

 Slightly stomach churning:

  • Duck eggs with embryos
  • Pigs’ udders
  • Silkworm pupae (eaten fried with lime leaves)

 Our market visit ended in the household products aisle. Mai showed us two types of brooms. One of coarser fiber for the yard; the other very fine and soft for the house. The market sold all types of cooking pots, pans, including a special crepe pan that looked very like a Swedish pancake skillet. I bought a coffee drip pot for making one serving of Vietnamese coffee which is brewed with sweetened condensed milk.

Our next stop was Bui Natural Tofu. Originally, fresh tofu was the only product of this family business which was conducted from their home. Now, the busy shop makes not only a great deal of fresh tofu but also fried tofu, tofu pudding, red sticky rice (its color comes from the aforementioned gac fruit), fermented rice (a digestive after a meal), sticky rice balls with a mulberry in the center, and much more.

 Mai had ordered in advance so as we waited as all sorts of containers and packages appeared at the counter. We staggered out to the car.

Lunch at Mai’s Home

 Now came the really fun part: Mai made us lunch at her home.

Step one: she quickly put together some snacks for us to sample.

  •  Using her homemade fish sauce, we sampled the fresh tofu and the fried tofu which contained pieces of fried onion
  • The Red Sticky Rice with pieces of Vietnamese ham
  • The Tofu Pudding, served in small bowls over which she poured a sugar syrup with slivers of ginger and coconut milk
  • A spoonful each of Fermented Rice (the digestion aid)

We were happy to sit and munch but Mai was all business. The fresh spring (or salad) rolls had to be made.

She quickly gathered the ingredients together: lettuce, Thai basil, and mint from her garden, Chinese chives, and slices of the ham. She boiled the dry rice noodles and we helped peel the shrimp. Moistening the rice paper briefly, she showed us her technique for tightly rolling the cylinders with the shrimp with green Chinese chive visible through the wrapper. We each practiced the technique.

 The dipping sauce, (which Mai believes is the whole point of eating the rolls) was a fragrant and delectable mixture of flavors: hoisin, peanut butter, and coconut soda. As a final flourish, Mai added fried shallots and a bit of pickled shredded carrot to the dipping sauce. Wow! Completely different from restaurant salad rolls.

As with any unforgettable meal, the food was only a part of the pleasure. As if each morsel stirred up  an association, Mai spoke of her family, geography, gardens and poetry. In 1954, Mai’s Catholic family moved from the North to South Vietnam to avoid communism. While she has never been in North Vietnam, her parents and grandparents passed on their northern customs and habits.

“I was named for the 18th century poet Ho Xuan Huong but my parents replaced Xuan with Mai so as not to shock my grandparents…”

Known for her independence, intellect, and subtle and sexy wit, this famous poet from Hanoi was also was very irreverent. Rather than classical Chinese, she wrote in Nôm, the Vietnamese language that has nearly disappeared. While more than a thousand years of Vietnamese cultural history was written in this language, less than 100 people  can read Nôm today. The Vietnamese Nôm Preservation Foundation*** hopes to save the language.

Homegardens and Margins

Now, this got me to ruminating about the importance of the margins in culture. Home cooking, home gardens, minor languages, poetry..are these not elements of the margin not the mainstream? I don’t want to offend home cooks, gardeners, translators, and poets by using the word ‘margin’. But I’m not marginalizing anyone, simply acknowledging that certain highly important activities exist and thrive on society’s margins.  

The reason I write about home cooking is that there’s a dearth.

There are two ways to look at marginal activity.

  1. There’s strength in numbers: A custom or habit dies out when it’s not longer necessary. When an activity is marginal, it’s on its way out. (example: the shirt collar button) 
  2. We’re only as strong as our weakest link: When a custom or habit is replaced by a new behavior, the old habit might slip into the margin but will still persist. Sometimes people will attempt a rescue! (example: Nôm)

The second way of looking at this is, to my mind, the optimistic and true approach. Whenever I worry about the ‘branding’ of humanity or fear a dreary sameness leading to decline,   I inevitably come across small, disorganized, whimsical powerhouses of marginality.  

 In Dr. Virginia Nazarea’s book Heirloom Seeds and Their Keepers,**** she speaks movingly about marginality and memory with regards to heirloom  gardeners.

“If modernity is ‘forced amnesia’, then there is a need to reinforce the range of dreams and choices that triggers countermemory…Seedsavers pose a subdued but persistent challenge to what those around them take as given and help break the spell of ‘organized forgetting.’…From the margins, seedsavers deploy a message of worth rather than protest wherein the currency is joy instead of anger, the motivation hope instead of frustration.”

In her Germplasm project at the University of Georgia, Nazarea and her associates studied how Vietnamese immigrants arriving in the 1970s reproduced their native gardens with great success. Nhan Couch was a participant in the study and her homegarden below is a delightful example.  I love the entire design of the garden, especially the “BBQ pit with pokeweed growing out of it.”

Outside her kitchen door, Mai has a small but robust garden filled with herbs and greens. I asked Mai about the diagram of Nhan’s garden. “This model of garden is very common in rural areas of Vietnam” she said, adding, “I think they do a very good job of organizing their gardens.”

 
  
  
  Copyright © 2002 Introduced Germplasm From Vietnam: Documentation, Acquisition, and Propagation.  All rights reserved.
 

Trying this at home

Back at home, I was all fired up to make a Vietnamese dinner.

 With Mai’s instructions, I attempted the black chicken, so called because the skin is a deep purplish black. This fierce-looking little bird was to my surprise, very meaty. The other surprise was the flesh with its dark and light striations. Once cooked, the chicken looked a bit like bluefish and I believe, is an acquired taste.

To make this dish, I had purchased a packet of herbs, lotus nuts (which look something like dried hominy) and red dates. At Hong Mai, there was an entire shelf devoted to special herb packets each for different preparations. “Very practical!”

Black Chicken

I attempted to write down the recipe as I remembered it. Fortunately, Mai made some adjustments. Here goes:

  • Soak the lotus nuts overnight.
  • Wash the chicken, removing the head, feet, and innards.
  • Dip the chicken in a pan of boiling water and then rinse in cold water.
  • To cook the chicken:

Method #1: Put the chicken into the bowl. Put all of the herbs and lotus nuts around the chicken or stuff the chicken with the herbs, dates and lotus nuts. Personally, I prefer to put herbs and lotus nuts around the chicken. Pour 1 teaspoon of fish sauce into the chicken. And then put the bowl into a steam pot. Cook about 1 hour.

Method #2: You can use slow cooker to cook instead of steam pot. Put chicken into the cooker and spread out all of herbs and lotus nut around chicken. Pour 1 can of coconut soda and 1 teaspoon of fish sauce into the chicken. Cook slowly about 2 hours.)

  • Cut up and serve with steamed rice.

 Mai Huong’s Salad Rolls

It takes a little practice to make these rolls but once you’ve got the hang of it, it goes quickly. If you do this a few times, you will begin to arrange and offset the ingredients so that the rolls will looks very pretty with the shrimp and some greenery showing through the wrapper.

 I. For spring rolls: (about 8 to 10 rolls)

Ingredients:

  1. Round rice paper wrappers (banh trang or ‘spring rolls skin’ – Mai used a package with a large red rose on it)
  2. Rice noodle (Mai used a vacuum-packed fresh rice stick noodle -banh pho tuoi in a pink package from the Sincere Orient Food Co.) 
  3. Chinese chives 
  4. Lettuce, several leaves
  5. Mint, basil, cilantro –  small bunch of each
  6. 1/2 pound pork belly ( or thinly sliced roast pork)
  7. 12 – 15 shrimp (double if the shrimp are very small)

Boil rice noodle until it becomes al dente, drain and rinse with cold water. Boil pork belly until well done and slice thinly. Cook shrimp with salt in a dry pan until red and cooked through. Peel  the shrimp and if large, slice into halves. Wash the lettuce and herbs.

 How to wrap the spring roll:

 Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the water just to moisten. (Do not soak)

Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 3 shrimp, 2 pieces of pork, a handful of rice noodle, the lettuce and herbs, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, and then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Set aside.

Continue with remaining ingredients until all the rolls are made.

 

II. Dipping Sauce:

  1. Shallot, 2 cloves, sliced thinly
  2. 1 tablespoon cooking oil 
  3. Hoisin sauce (1/2 cup)
  4. Peanut butter (1/2 cup)
  5. Coconut milk (1/2 cup)
  6. Chicken stock or coconut soda (1/2 cup)
  7. Sugar (1 teaspoon)
  8. Chili sauce (optional if you like spicy)

Stir fry the shallots with oil about 2-3 minutes in the pan.  Set aside. Mix hoisin, peanut butter, milk and coconut soda (or any broth such as chicken soup or pork broth that we have from boiling pork) in a bowl. Pour this mixture into the pan. Stir well until everything is a caramel colored blend. Pour some sugar into the sauce. Taste. Add some chili sauce if desired. Stir in the shallots.

A promising start to the year.

My experience with Mai led me down some new paths from jackfruit to poetry to heirloom gardens to a photograph on the Luxembourg garden gates to extraordinary humans. Ho Xuan Huong, Hiên Lam Duc and Virginia Nazarea.

Thank you Mai and Margo.

Almost a year ago exactly, I saw an extraordinary exhibit of photographs of the people of Mekong river. The beautiful photograph at the beginning of this piece is from that exhibit and the photographer, Hiên Lam Duc generously permitted me to display it. (Doubleclick to enlarge the image.) To see more of his work, go to http://www.lamduchien.com/

*This description of jackfruit (word for word) is repeated on at least 50 websites. So everyone agrees.

**For information on Vietnamese culinary and medicinal herbs, go to this website: http://vietherbs.com/

*** For more information on saving the Nôm language, go to http://nomfoundation.org/vnpf_new/index.php

****Dr. Virginia Nazarea’s Heirloom seeds and Their Keepers, Marginality and Memory in the Conservation of Biological Diversity , 2005, University of Arizona Press is available through Amazon and other sources.

Paris Market

Jean Jacques, Josiane and me

   

By 9:30 on any Tuesday or Friday morning, the outdoor market in my neighborhood is abuzz with customers. At the produce stands, all the fruits and vegetables have been carefully and artfully displayed, each with a small handwritten card marked with its price and place of origin.  Jean Jacques, the cheese monger, is having a cup of espresso at the café across the street leaving his wife, Josette, to tend to the early customers. The butcher has such devoted customers that the line forms early.  Some of these clients were buying meat in the same place when his father ran the business.   

Where is this market?   

On the Square Jacques Demy in Paris, specifically in Montparnasse, the 14th arrondissement.  Until a few years ago, it was simply called “Place du Marché” but as often happens, a place name is changed to honor a distinguished neighbor. Neighbor Jacques Demy, who died in 1990, was a famous film director whose work included The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  His wife, Agnes Varda, herself a very important film maker, still lives in the neighborhood and was on hand for the dedication of the little square.  In his speech, Mayor Castagnou of the 14th suggested that given its beauty and simplicity, the little square could easily have been the setting for one of Demy’s movies.   

Surrounded by the soft yellow stone of Parisian buildings, the marketplace in this Left Bank neighborhood is a plain stretch of asphalt with a few trees. On Monday and Thursday afternoons, city workers arrive to set up all the metal supports and canopy covers necessary for each stall.  The following day at the close of the market, the workers reappear, remove all the equipment and with their hoses and trucks, set to cleaning every inch of the square.   

This market is but one of dozens of neighborhood fruit and vegetable markets all over Paris.  There are covered markets such as Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais, the oldest market in Paris started in 1615.  The Marché Beauvau, also called the Marché d’Aligre, in the 12th arrondissement is one of the cheapest and liveliest covered markets in the city.  On the left Bank, the ‘Bio’ market on Boulevard Raspail which only sells organically grown produce, is the chic and expensive place to shop.  For two weeks in September, Parisians are treated to a floating market from the southwest of  France with barges lined up at the Quai de Montebello loaded with all sort of regional delicacies such as foie gras, cassoulet, magret de canard, stuffed prunes and floc de Gascogne, an aperitif.   

While workday schedules prevent many from shopping regularly at their local markets, Parisians are nonetheless passionate about preserving the custom. They believe the food is fresher, they enjoy seeing their neighbors and they have a personal rapport with the vendors.   

Are things cheaper at the neighborhood markets? Non! Quality over quantity is the driving force for frugal French shoppers.   

Food in France is expensive compared to American prices but a typical French family does not spend a lot more than its American counterpart.  The reason is simple: the French buy and consume less food. While they pay more per item, their spending overall is within reason.  It is completely acceptable to buy small amounts at the markets and even in large grocery stores.  For example, if you only need one or two stalks of celery to make a broth, that is all you need buy.  The vendors at the produce stands have their knives ready to slice off a few ribs of celery.  In the early fall, pumpkin or melon is sold by the slice and herbs are sold by small handfuls.   

Shopping for one is quite common. An enormous number of Parisians live alone, many of them elderly and many in buildings without an elevator. It goes without saying that most of these solitary city dwellers do not own a car, do carry their purchases, and depend on nearby shops. My neighbor, a lady on a very slim income, enjoys a slice of ‘jambon à l’os’ for her dinner which she purchases from the market’s charcuterie.  This slice of ham costs her about $3.00 but it is her main meal of the day, augmented by a small salad and a few slices of baguette.   

Larousse Gastronomique 1967

   

At the butcher, the purchase of a thin sliver of ‘onglet’ (hangar steak) is treated as seriously as any other purchase.  “Pour combien de personnes?”  (How many are you serving?) is the first question the butcher asks and the appropriate (i.e. modest) portion is cut.   I was at first astonished to see small pieces cut from whole beautifully tied roasts but now I appreciate the lack of waste and respect for the customer. You will be told exactly how to cook your purchase. With a tiny oven in my apartment and little experience with its temperature gauge, this advice proved to be a godsend. I was surprised at how often the French eat meat. Daily. Not a lot, mind you, but quite regularly. Ordering a ‘bifteck’ or ‘filet’ was easy enough but I was astounded by all the other cuts and each has its own special preparation. Notice the two diagrams of French cuts of beef.  The difference between American and French cuts of beef (which Julia Childs explained so well*) is that French butchers separate the meat along the muscle and do not cut across the grain. The result is a large number of smaller nuggets of meat each with their own flavor and cooking method.   

French Shoulder Cuts

   

To make beef Bourguignon, for example, a French cook might use a mix of cuts such as from the shoulder(macreuse or paleron), the cheef (joue) or thigh (gite). This mixture, of texture and flavor, gives the stew it deserved reputation. (And the wine it’s cooked in!)   

As a part-time Paris resident for the past several years, I have begun to understand the workings of the local markets a bit better.  Some of the farmers go to only one public market a week; others, such as the butchers, travel to several a week.  The stands vary a lot in quality, price and variety. The most cherished vendors are the small producers from nearby farms.  Some work seasonally such as the lady who drives from Normandy twice a week with her oysters, bulots (sea snails), and small clams.  One farmer, Monsieur Guy, sells year ‘round but in January, his stand has mainly potatoes, onions, walnuts, a few winter fruits, and a limited number of chickens. These individual farmers have less to sell and at higher prices but customers value the quality.   

For bargains, there are large vegetable stands that have every possible fruit or vegetable from all over the world. This produce comes directly from Rungis, the big wholesale market outside of Paris.  As mandated by law, every item must identified by its country of origin.  It is up to the customer to decide whether to buy locally or pay less for an imported product.  Most do a bit of both.   

I can not go to the market without a visit to Jean Jacques, the cheese man earlier mentioned taking his morning break. His business is artisanal as he only sells cheese, butter, cream, and yogurt from very small selected producers. The man loves cheese and I have been thoroughly educated about cheese by this cultivated and voluble expert.   

He offers a typically French approach to the customer.  One Friday, my husband consulted Jean Jacques about what cheeses to serve for a dinner party we were planning. Even though there were several customers waiting, Jean Jacques immediately had a barrage of questions.  “What is the menu?”  “Are your guests French?”  How many are coming?” and so on.  None of the waiting clients were the least disturbed by the lengthy conversation carried on in both broken English and French and in fact, some left with a wave and a smile to return later.  Having guests to dine is a serious matter in which civility, hospitality, and even amour propre (self respect) are at stake.  Later that evening, when our friends exclaimed over the extraordinary selection of cheeses, we were grateful indeed.   

In the next stall, the charcuterie, which is akin to a delicatessen, is also artisanal and a traveling operation, going to various Parisian markets during the week. The selection of patés, sausages, hams, prepared salads and cooked dishes is nearly bewildering not to mention the great many items that are hard to identify. However, unlike shopping with the cheese monger, one must be ready to order.  The lines are long and the charcutier will gladly answer questions but does not feel obliged to provide an education.  I quickly discovered that the only way to figure out what all those mysterious charcuterie items were was to ask other customers.  Waiting in the line, there was time to chat with the person next to me.  This is where speaking French (or as reasonably as one can manage) has come in handy.  I used this approach:   

“Ma’am, I’m a stranger in these parts.  What do you usually buy here?” Or “What’s that long white thing next to the ears?”   

In this way, I ended up with a kind of cone of de-boned ham hock covered with crumbs. The lady explained,   

“I’m 86 and I’m buying this for my neighbor who’s 92 as a treat but I don’t need it all. Tell you what, I’ll buy half and you’ll buy the other half.”   

It was done and it was delicious.   

Buying fish was a challenge until I went shopping with my friend and culinary professional Francoise Meunier. As with the butchers, the fishmongers know their product and are prepared to do much more than weigh and wrap. Francoise advised buying whole fish (fresher!), having it filleted, and saving the bones for a broth. She recommended mackerel, especially the very small ones called lisettes. For special occasions, Parisians go to the market with their platters, have the fishmonger open oysters on the spot, and then dash home to celebrate.   

photo by Jeanne Gouvert

   

Other artisanal stands offer breads and cakes, ‘Bio’ or organic produce and a real rarity: the horse butcher.  As I scurry by, I notice her offerings of horse steaks, roasts, sausages and ground meat are not in great quantity but everything is sold. There are two flower sellers and both do a good business, creating wonderful hand-tied bouquets to order.  Plants sell well too as most city dwellers with even a small window will fill it with a box of geraniums.  Nearby, the Lebanese stand is like a heavenly take-out shop: flat breads cooked to order on a hot grill, unctuous hummus and baba ganouj, stuffed grape leaves and more.   As my market basket comes heavier, I make a final stop at the épicier.  Dried fruits, nuts, spices and various condiments are the purlieu of the épicier.   Looking for pesto? Preserved lemons? Ten kinds of olives? Orange flower water?  It’s all here waiting to be weighed out into little plastic bags and cartons.   

Some of the old stands are disappearing: the gentle honey seller retired last year as did the lively milk, chicken and egg man who always claimed his cream had resided in the mammary of his cow but six hours earlier.  In their places, there are now a few nondescript clothing stands and a mattress seller but the focus is still the food and the experience of buying it.   

By early afternoon, the vendors are packing up, folding up their cases and tables and filling up their small trucks with the remaining wares.  The two butchers still in their coveralls are enjoying an aperitif at La Comedia, a small restaurant on the square which locals call ‘the Portuguese’ in deference to the proprietor.  Soon, the square will be washed down and clean ready for the afternoon schoolchildren running, skating, and chasing the ball.  Another market day is done at the Square Jacques Demy.   

MARKET RECIPES   

Jean Jacques’s Baked Vacherin with white wine   

  • 1 whole Vacherin cheese, fairly firm
  • 1/3 Cup white wine
  • 1 shallot, peeled

Preheat the oven to 425.  In a small baking dish just large enough to hold the cheese, place the Vacherin and poke 5 or 6 holes in its surface.  Pour the white wine over the top and push the shallot into the surface.  Cover with foil and bake about 15 minutes.   

Serve with spoons and baguette.   

Francoise Meunier’s Maquereau a la Moutarde   

Serves 4   

photo by Jeanne Gouvert

   

4 small mackerel, cleaned but left whole
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (Francoise uses the Maille brand)
Several sprigs of parsley
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
Pepper   

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.   

Arrange the mackerel on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or use a piece of baking paper on the pan).   

Cut three slits along the body of each fish and daub with mustard. Stuff a sprig of parsley and thyme and a bay leaf inside the cavity of each fish. Sprinkle with pepper.   

Bake the fish for 10 to 15 minutes.   

Sautéed Onglet (Hangar Steak)   

French beef is mostly grass-fed and tends to be a bit tougher than American beef but very tasty. Typically, steaks are quickly cooked over high heat and served rare.   

Serves 2 people   

1 hangar steak, about 14 oz, cut into 2 portions
4 shallots, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar: wine or cider
Salt and pepper   

Heat one tablespoon of butter and the oil in a frying pan over high heat.  When the mixture is very hot, add the steaks and sauté for about 2 minutes.  Turn and sauté until the top of the meat glistens (about 2 more minutes).  Immediately, remove the steaks to a warm plate.  Wipe out the pan; add 1 tablespoon butter and the shallots and sauté about 5 minutes on a low flame.  Season with salt and pepper, add the vinegar and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir and pour over the steaks.   

Serve promptly.   

Monsieur Guy’s Beet and Walnut Salad   

Serves 4 people   

In Paris market, beets are sold cooked which makes the following salad a snap to make.  The vinaigrette is a fairly sharp one to offset the sweetness of the beets.   

4 beets, (about 1½ lbs), cooked*
3 Tablespoons walnuts
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ Cup olive oil
Salt and pepper   

Slice the beets into rounds and arrange on plates.
Make vinaigrette by adding olive oil slowly to the vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle over the beets.
Garnish with the walnuts and parsley.   

*To cook beets, wash them well and trim the stems.  Simmer in water to cover until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain.  When cool, the skins will peel off easily.  Wear gloves to avoid red fingers.   

Hachis Parmentier    

Serves 6 people   

The market charcuterie sells hachis Parmentier ready-made but this classic dish is easy to prepare from scratch.  ‘Parmentier’ refers to Lord Parmentier who introduced the potato to France.    Like its English cousin, Shepherd’s Pie, hachis Parmentier is a budget dish, often made with leftover roast or stew.   

2 lbs baking potatoes, peeled
2 onions, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
¾ lb ground beef or leftover roast beef chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Cups milk, heated
¼ lb shredded Gruyère or Swiss cheese
Salt and pepper   

Peel the potatoes, boil them until tender, about 30 minutes and drain.  Cook the onions slowly in a skillet for 10 minutes with one tablespoon of butter.    Add the ground beef and garlic and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 5 minutes.
Heat the oven to 450.
Mash the potatoes and add the butter and milk.  Season with salt and pepper.
Butter a baking dish and put in one half of the mashed potatoes, covered by the meat mixture and finally, the rest of the potatoes.  Sprinkle with the shredded cheese.
Heat for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling.  

 

IF YOU GO TO PARIS, here are some public market locations:   

Marché Enfants Rouges – Oldest public market and as my friend Francoise tells me, it is so named because an orphanage was located next to it and the children all wore red clothing.
39 rue de Bretagne, Paris 3
Métro: Temple
Tuesday – Saturday, 8:30 am to 1pm; 4 pm to 7:30 pm (8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
Sunday, 8:30 am to 2:00 pm.   

Marché Mouton-Duvernet
Place Jacques Demy, Paris 14
Métro: Mouton-Duvernet
Tuesday and Friday from 7:00 am to 2:30 pm   

Marché Raspail – This is a ‘bio’ or organic food market
Boulevard Raspail between rue du Cherche-Midi and rue de Rennes, Paris 6Métro: Rennes
Tuesday and Friday, 7:00 am to 2:30 pm   

March d’Aligre and Marché Beauvau –  A covered market.  Very bustling on the weekends. Also, while you’re there, check out the wine bar Le Baron Rouge.
Place d’Aligre, Paris 12
Métro: Ledru Rollin
Tuesday through Saturday, 8:30 am to 1:00 and 4:00pm to 7:30 pm;
Sunday 8:30am to 1:30 pm   

For a complete list, look up ‘Les marchés parisiens’ on the website:  http://www.paris.fr   

* see Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Chapter 7 ‘Meat’ for a discussion on American vs. French cuts of beef and how to select cuts that approximate the French ones.   

Enjoy the markets in your town!! xoxo, Mary