Fruit Caponata

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A while back I wrote a post on a young man who is a spice expert. His name is Lior Lev Sercarz, and he opened a spice store called La Boîte in New York City in 2007. I titled the blog post The Spice Companion, because that is the name of his first book, published in 2016. It’s a fascinating and hefty encyclopedia of spices.

La Boîte, the store, sells spices, but also has classes, dinners, and wonderful gift offerings.

If you can’t get to New York City, La Boîte has a beautiful website where one can purchase unique spices and spice blends. It’s like Penzey’s on crack.

Read my blog post if you want to be impressed by a young man on a world-wide mission to study spices. His journey from a kibbutz in Israel to New York City via France, working with notable chefs, is a great read.

I receive the monthly La Boîte newsletter, and it was in a recent issue where I discovered this fruit caponata recipe, created by Christian Leue.

In the newsletter, Mr. Leue describes his fondness of Sicily, and how in the town of Rosolini he was once served a caponata made of fruit, alongside a grilled veal ribeye. Traditional caponata is not made with fruit, but is instead a savory Sicilian eggplant dish.

Based on his dining experience, he created his own version of fruit caponata. From the newsletter: “It’s a supremely versatile condiment, bright and freshly acidic, with a deep but forgiving sweetness.”

He served his caponata with “a simply seared salmon and fluffy basmati rice topped with toasted almonds.” A sprinkle of Izak N37, a La Boîte spice blend, ties all the flavors together.” This is a photo of that meal from the newsletter.

Here is the spice blend Izak N37. It contains sweet chilies, garlic, cumin, salt, and spices.

Previously on the blog I’ve made a fruit compote As well as roasted fruit in parchment, and chutney, but this recipe is like none of those. See what you think.

Fruit Caponata
printable recipe below

1 cup whole red cherries, stems removed if you like (you can also leave them on as a reminder not to eat the pits)
2 firm nectarines, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, 1-inch dice
2 cups mixed whole grapes
2-3 Tbsp wine vinegar (either white or red is fine, amount will depend on acidity, some wine vinegars are above the standard 5%)
1 Tbsp olive oil
sweetener, to taste (I prefer chestnut honey)
salt, to taste

For the caponata, combine all ingredients except salt and sweetener in a sauce pot with a lid and cook, covered, over medium heat until everything has softened, about 25 minutes.

Adjust to taste with salt and sweetener of your choice, and additional vinegar, if desired. Instead of honey, I used maple syrup.

Leaving the fruit whole or in large chunks keeps it from getting mushy, and you’ll get a lovely red color from the cherry skins.

Depending on the season you can also try adding/substituting: strawberries, small plums, quince, figs, apple, or pear.

The only way I veered from the original recipe was to somewhat reduce the liquid remaining in the pot after cooking the caponata.

According to Mr. Leue, “The caponata goes really well with most anything you want to throw at it. Try it with brined pork chops, pan fried and served with spätzle. Or alongside farro pilaf and braised chicken thighs. I followed his suggestion and gently seared a salmon filet, but didn’t make rice.

And I used Izak N37 on the salmon.

This fruit caponata is definitely unique. If I have to compare it to a condiment, I guess it would mostly closely mimic a chutney, because of the sweet and savory components.


The caponata is pretty because the fruit isn’t chopped, but I found it more challenging to eat. But all in all it was an interesting and delicious condiment to prepare, and so many different fruit options are possible, much like a chutney.

And the Izak N37? Fabulous!

The 2nd book already published by Serarz is The Art of Blending: Stories and Recipes from La Boîte’s Spice Journey. His third book is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

 

 

 

 

Tomato Salad with a Twist

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I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never seen a tomato and watermelon salad on blogs. Cause I have. I just hadn’t eaten one until I was in New York City recently visiting my daughter.

She took us to Governor’s Island for a beautiful walk, followed by lunch at Island Oyster. The view of the Manhattan skyline was spectacular.

It was there I had my first lobster roll, for which the restaurant is popular. We shared the tomato watermelon salad.


Well, the lobster roll was exquisite, but so was the salad. Once home, I decided to make my own tomato and watermelon salad, but with a twist.

When I received some fresh peaches a few weeks ago, I stuck a few slices in a jar of apple cider vinegar, along with a couple chile peppers. This is the photo I posted on Instagram.

For the vinaigrette, I used this fruity-zingy vinegar whisked together with good olive oil and a bit of salt. It’s always interesting that fruit pales when stored in vinegar or vodka over time.

I first chopped my garden-ripe cherry and grape tomatoes in half and added them to a paper towel-lined bowl to rest for about 30 minutes and release unnecessary liquid .

Discard the paper towel, then chop the watermelon and add them to the tomatoes, along with a small, finely-chopped shallot. Season with salt and pepper.

Add peach vinaigrette to taste to the tomato and watermelon salad and stir gently.

Season with more salt and pepper if desired.

As delicious as this salad is, I decided on a little more zing so I diced a jalapeno and added it.

I preferred the salad this way, but of course the jalapeño is optional. And if you don’t like biting into bits of chile pepper, you can always include a few squirts of Tabasco in your vinaigrette.

I’d originally thought I’d use the peachy vinegar on some butter lettuce, maybe with avocado, but with this salad, it adds a different sweetness from the watermelon, plus a zing from the chile peppers.

All this salad needs is some good olive oil and perhaps a white balsamic, however. The peach vinegar is not a requirement!

Roasted Fruit Packages

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The sub header of my creatively named blog, the Chef Mimi blog, is “so much food, so little time”. I could have easily made it, “so many restaurants, so little time.”

Dining out may be my favorite thing to do. Like it’s my serious hobby. Whenever we have a travel destination, I’m researching top ten restaurants, new restaurant openings, best new chefs, and working online at open table.com for reservations.

Of course this is more challenging in major cities like New York. I’ve tried to get us in to ABC kitchen 5 times with no luck. And I start early.

One restaurant that has always been on my NYC list is Buvette – so much so that I bought the cookbook “Buvette – The Pleasure of Good Food” by Jody Williams, who is the chef and owner.

The restaurant, considered a gastrothèque, opened in 2010 and has received many accolades. Before opening Buvette, Jody Williams worked with such culinary notables as Thomas Keller and Lidia Bastianich.

When I first received the cookbook from Amazon, I bookmarked quite a few intriguing recipes, but one really called to me – Fruit in Parchment Paper.

For the recipe, Ms. Williams oven-roasts fresh and dried fruits in squares of parchment paper, much as how one would prepare fish. She serves the packages of fruit with cheese as an “unexpected alternative to the ubiquitous cluster of grapes that seem to accompany every cheese platter in the world!”

Except for serving a compote, a chutney, or aigre doux of fruit, I have never served roasted fruit as a cheese platter accompaniment. So needless to say I was excited. And being that it’s early summer, I have access to a good variety of fresh fruit.

Ms. Williams suggests mixing up the fruit to suit your taste. She suggests the combination of pumpkin, apples and dates. I’m saving that for next fall.

Fruit in Parchment Paper

2 tables of dried currants (I used dried sour cherries)
1/2 cup vin santo* (I used Sauternes)
1 apple peeled cored and thinly sliced
1 quince peeled cored and thinly sliced (I used plums)
2 tablespoons honey
A pinch of coarse salt
1/4 cup walnuts

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a large bowl soak the currants in the vin santo for at least 10 minutes. Once they’re a bit softened, add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.



Meanwhile cut out four 8″ squares of parchment paper. Evenly divide the mixture among the squares. Bring the edges of each square together and fold them over each other creating a continuous seal. ( I had parchment bags that I used.)

Place the four packages on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until the fruit smells fragrant and the paper is browned, about 15 minutes.

I almost made my smoke alarm go off roasting the fruits; so much of the syrup leaked through the bags and began smoking.

I paired the fruit with Mimolette, a smoked Raclette, and Saint-Félicien, along with some bread.


If you’ve never had Saint-Félicien, you need to get some. It’s mild, a little salty, and oh so creamy. It paired especially well with the fruit.


The fruit was also perfect for a torchon of foie gras I served that evening when friends came over (not pictured).

I understand that the parchment packages help steam-cook the fruits, but honestly they ended up being terribly messy.

In the future, I will place the fruit mixture in a large gratin pan, and roast at 375 degrees, maybe stirring once. That way, you don’t lose the syrup, and the fruit will still be cooked but also a bit more caramelized.


* Ms. Williams states that Banyuls, Port, or Sauternes can be substituted for the wine.

I’m already thinking of new fruit combinations…
Cherries apples dried apricots
Pears grapes dates
Peaches apples figs
And so forth

note: When I make this again, I will also chop the fruit. I think the smaller pieces will be easier to place on breads and crackers.

The Spice Companion

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The Spice Companion, by Lior Lev Sercarz, is a book I recently discovered and ordered from Amazon. It was published in 2016.

Because of the title, I expected some information on spices, being that the author also owns a store in New York City called La Boîte, which specializes in spices and spice mixtures. But it’s seriously an encyclopedia of spices, starting with ajowan, aleppo, allspice, and amchoor, and ending with za’atar, zedoary, and zuta.

A spice, according to Mr. Sercarz, is “any dried ingredient that elevates food or drink,” so that includes coriander seeds, basil leaves, and turmeric root.

Mr. Sercarz was born and raised on a kibbutz in Israel. The history of his exposure to spice markets, and how he eventually traveled the world seeking out spices, all while his interest in cooking grew, is a story worthy of a movie. After adventuring in Columbia to “see firsthand how cardamom was grown,” he ended up at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, France, then moved to New York City to work at Daniel Boulud’s restaurant, Daniel.

La Boite opened in 2007 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the store has a beautiful website. It was at the website that I discovered that Mr. Sercarz has a 2012-published book called The Art of Blending.

Spice mixtures are what originally intrigued the young author with spices; chefs such as Eric Ripert utilize his custom-designed spice blends at their restaurants.

But first I must tell you about the encyclopedia part, which spans 154 pages – two per spice.

Under the name and latin name of the spice is a drawing of the plant and the part(s) used for the spice.

There is a brief description of what the spice is, its flavor and aroma, its origin, harvest season, parts of the spice/plant used, plus some more details.

On the next page is a photograph of the spice as it’s used – seeds and leaves, for example – its traditional uses, recipe ideas using the spice, and recommended pairings.

Then the author offers a blend utilizing the spice, and what to use it in or on.

This is a lot of information but helpful if you’re a cook, gardener, or just want to start making spice mixtures in your kitchen!

When I was reading through the book, I stopped at Tomato Powder as a spice. Dried tomatoes ground into a spice. Why not? I use ground paprika, which is made from peppers, so why not tomato powder made from its fruit?!!

The author describes tomato powder as “a dry, richly flavored powder made from ripe, sweet tomatoes.”

When I have a glut of ripe tomatoes during the hot summer months, I slice them and dry them in my dehydrator, and save them in the refrigerator. That way, they stay fresh, and I reconstitute them in soups and stews as needed throughout the cold months.

I happened to have a bag of dried tomatoes from last summer.

So for fun, I got out my bag and blended the tomatoes in a dry blender.

One recipe suggestion from the author is to stir tomato powder into orange juice and use it as a base for a vinaigrette with honey and olive oil. And that’s just what I did!


I used 8 ounces of orange juice, 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato powder, 1 tablespoon of honey, and 8 ounces of olive oil.

I drizzled the lettuce leaves with the dressing, and added goat cheese and walnuts.

To say it was magnificent is an understatement. Barely four hours later, I had the same salad for dinner, including a ripe avocado. I added a little white balsamic vinegar to the dressing.

There are certainly other, more exotic spices I could have experimented with from Mr. Sercarz’s book, assuming I could have even gotten my hands on some of them, but I’m really excited about tomato powder.

And the book will be a great reference for the spices I can purchase. I especially love how he makes recommendations on unique ways in which to use the spices, even common ones.

My only complaint with the book is that the photo pages are not labeled.

Cast-Iron Grilled Chicken

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The name of this recipe isn’t terribly exciting, or unique for that matter, but when you find out where I got this recipe, I think you’ll be intrigued.

The book is Anthony Bourdain’s “Appetites: A Cookbook,” published in October of 2016.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a fan for a long time, originally because of his non-fiction book about the restaurant business, called “Kitchen Confidential.” “Medium Raw” was also terribly enjoyable.

His first cookbook was the “Les Halles Cookbook,” from the famed NYC restaurant where Mr. Bourdain was the chef.

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And then there are also his television shows that continue to take us with him around the world, from crazy-busy food markets or remote deserts. We’ve witnessed him drunk, hungover, chain smoking, but mostly, enjoying every strange bit of food and drink offered to him. That’s the Anthony Bourdain I think most people know and love.

He’s opinionated, maniacal, and open to adventure. I’m not sure his tv fans were aware he was an actual chef when he became popular on tv.

There have been many different shows over the years, although they have the same theme. Some of my favorite episodes are when his good friend, Eric Ripert, goes along. Talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum! I would so love to hang out with the two of them. It makes me giggle just to think of them together.

And speaking of Eric Ripert, his pretty French face is featured in Appetites amongst the interesting array of photographs. There’s one photo where I’m not sure if he’s about to laugh or cry. He’s definitely a good sport.

So what’s Appetites about? It’s about what Anthony Bourdain loves – what he likes to cook for himself, for his family, for his friends. Although I did spot a few hard-to-come-by ingredients like truffles, the food in this cookbook is not frilly and fancy. I guess the premise is, even though you’re a chef, at home you’re a home cook, doing home cooking.

So why did I pick this cast-iron grilled chicken recipe as the first to try from Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook? Well, the reason behind it is that in NYC, according to Mr. Bourdain, “outdoor grills and the space to operate them safely, are tough to come by… but anyone can use a cast-iron grill pan to get real char on their food.”

I don’t have limitations with outside grilling space, but for much of the summer it’s just too darn hot to stand outside and watch meat cook. Even with cold beer.

So for this yogurt-marinated chicken recipe, the chicken is seared on the stove, and finished in the oven, just like one would do with really thick steaks. I’ve never thought to “finish” chicken in the oven!

Mr. Bourdain doesn’t give any insight into the yogurt marinade, which is disappointing, because it’s sort of Indian, but not really.

Here’s the recipe.

Cast-Iron Grilled Chicken

1 1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
15 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1-2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
Salt to taste
Hot sauce, optional

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, cumin, cardamom, oregano, and pepper.

Place the chicken in a plastic zip-seal bad and pour the yogurt mixture over, making sure each piece of chicken is evenly coated on all sides. Seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Rub a grill pan with 1-2 tablespoons of oil, depending on its size. This is the grill pan I used. It has nice sharp edges, even though most of the time I don’t get the char stripes. It’s a Le Creuset.

Begin to heat the grill pan over high heat; you’ll know it’s ready to go when you can see waves of heat shimmering off it. This would be a good time to turn on your kitchen vent and turn any other fans on.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip off. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season it liberally with salt.

Place on the hot grill pan and let cook, undisturbed, for 6 to 7 minutes, so that is is distinctly grill marked.

Using tongs, turn the chicken to cook on the other side for about 5 minutes.

As you can tell, there are no char stripes. However, I did forget to remove the skin on the thighs.

I “grilled” the thighs in two batches. Transfer the chicken, still on the grill pan, to the hot oven to finish cooking for about 10 minutes. The internal temperature should be 150 degrees F at the thickest part.

Remove from the oven, let rest for a few minutes, then serve, sliced or whole, with hot sauce if desired. The flavor of the chicken is fantastic. The cardamom, cumin, and oregano really worked together.

So in the future I think I’ll stick with my cast-iron skillet, and not worry about grill marks.

The whole concept of charring/searing the chicken on the stove, then finishing it in the oven is brilliant. And it worked beautifully. I will certainly be using this technique in the future.

Oh, and adding hot sauce? Brilliant!!!

Chicken Paillard

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Avec Eric is a PBS TV show in the United States. It features the Eric Ripert, co-owner and executive chef of Le Bernardin in NYC – still one of the most highly rated restaurants in NYC.

The show involves a visit to a part of the world, talking to fishermen or farmers or chefs. From his travels he gains inspiration and the shows end with Mr. Ripert preparing a dish influenced by what he saw, tasted, and learned.

Sometimes, for me, he is hard to understand because of his pretty heavy French accent. I shouldn’t really comment because my French is terrible, and at least Mr. Ripert is bi-lingual. But what really comes across in Avec Eric is his love of all things food and wine, and his perfectionism. And he seems like a really nice man.

What does make me laugh is that he’s best friends with Anthony Bourdain. Can you imagine a more opposite pairing of people?!!!

In any case, the recipe I’m posting today is based on one I saw Mr. Ripert make at the end of his show, after he visited Chianti, Italy, to witness olive oil production.

The recipe has many ingredients, and I’ve even left a few out. But the flavors and textures are fantastic.
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Chicken Paillard
Based on Eric Ripert’s recipe, to serve 1

2 tablespoons white raisins
2 tablespoons vincotto
2-3 small ripe tomatoes
1 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
Sliced green olives
Capers
Olive oil
1 breast chicken
Salt, pepper
Dried thyme
Pine nuts
Chiffonade of basil
Lemon

Soak the raisins in the vincotto, warmed slightly, and set aside.
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Set the oven on 450 degrees.

De-seed and finally chop the tomatoes and place in a small bowl. Add the shallot and garlic, and olives and capers according to your taste. Season with salt and pepper, stir well, and set aside.
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Pour a little olive oil in a small baking dish.

Slice the chicken breast horizontally, without cutting all the way through, so as to butterfly it. Place it in the baking dish and season with salt and pepper.

Add the raisins and vincotto to the tomato mixture along with a little dried thyme.


Stir well, then spoon the mixture on top of the chicken.
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Sprinkle on a few pine nuts and drizzle with a little olive oil
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Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then turn off the oven but keep the skillet in the oven 5 more minutes.
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Immediately place the paillard on a plate. Drizzle the liquid from the baking dish over the chicken.
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But we’re not done yet. Sprinkle on the basil and add a squeeze of lemon, and then serve!

Cooked this way, the tomato mixture caramelizes with the high heat, but the chicken remains moist.
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Because it’s still summer where I live and I was able to use wonderfully ripe tomatoes, I celebrated this dish along with rosé.
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This recipe than be doubled or quadrupled.

Cauliflower Gratin

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Maybe I should take a break making gratins for a while. My last gratin didn’t come out well, the Potato and Salmon one, and this one was sort of a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, they both tasted good. They just didn’t cook properly. And I even followed the directions for both, which I don’t often do.

The funny thing is, the recipe I followed for the cauliflower gratin was out of Bobby Flay’s book, Bar Americain. I bought it because I’ve been to Bar Americain during a trip to New York City with my daughter. She needed to go for an interview, and so of course I tagged along for moral and dining support.

We sadly went to Bar Americain only for drinks, because our dinner reservations that night were at Le Bernardin (incredible!).

But it’s a very large and beautiful restaurant. It reminded me of some of Stephen Pyles’ restaurants – very chic, in a casual way. After seeing the menu, I knew I wanted the cookbook.

Bobby Flay is extremely popular in the U.S. It seems like he’s been around forever, yet he still looks like a man-child! He must have 30 cooking or food-related shows on tv, because it seems he’s always on when I pass through the food channels.

My favorite is still an early show, when he barbecued everything outside on his patio with a view of downtown NYC in the background. He barbecued meats, vegetables, limes for the margaritas, because he always made a pitcher of something alcoholic, and then he’d barbecue peaches for a dessert. He seems nice and easygoing as a person.

But back to this recipe, I’m not sure what went wrong. But here it is as I made it, and anyone who has actually gone to culinary school can perhaps figure out what the problem was.

Cauliflower Gratin

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2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
3 cups whole milk, or more if needed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets, each floret cut into 2 or 3 pieces
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsely, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 10-inch baking dish.

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium heavy saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute; do not let the mixture brown.

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Slowly whisk in the milk, raise the heat to high, and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Monterey Jack, half of the goat cheese, and half of the Parmesan cheese.

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Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture seems too thick, thin with a little extra milk.

Transfer the sauce to a large bowl, add the cauliflower, and stir well to combine.

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Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish and top with the remainging goat cheese and Parmesan.

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Slip a rimmed baking sheet underneath and bake until the cauliflower is tender and the top is bubbly and golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

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Garnish with chopped parsley.

Now the only thing I did differently, was because I was too lazy to go into my pantry. My pantry is so full of food stuffs, that it’s difficult even to go get flour. So I substituted Wondra flour for regular flour when I made the roux. I added the warm milk and the sauce looked beautiful, but when I added the cheeses, the sauce curdled. I’ve never seen anything like it. So when the gratin cooked, it become watery. I personally think there should have been some cream in the recipe instead of milk, but I still don’t understand the curdling. Anybody?

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