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Happy Cooking

November 8th, 2009

Friday was a great day.  I got to meet one of my heroes, Jacques Pepin.  He was doing a demonstration/book signing at Stew Leonard’s in Connecticut.  As luck would have it, my work has an office there, so I was able to work from Norwalk for the day and get to the event with no problem. 

Once there I dutifully bought a copy of More Fast Food My WayThe were also selling The Apprentice:  My Life in the Kitchen, but I already had a copy.  During the event he prepared some of the “Minute Recipes” from the book:  Cheese Balls with Pignoli Nuts, Radish Toasts, Cured Salmon Morsels, and Butter Bean Canapes (which I got to try).  Pepin would make the base of each appetizer and plate one or two talking about variations that could be made.  When he moved on the next dish his assistant (Chef George) would plate the rest which would then be handed out to crowd. 

One thing that I noticed during the event was that he never stopped eating.  He’d taste a little of this, a little of that.  The man really enjoyed his food.  While making the radish toasts he sampled some of the butter and had to remark that it was very good butter.  He was so taken by it that he asked his assistant if they still had the wrapper for it so he’d know what it was.  George chuckled when he handed Pepin the box of Land o’ Lakes. 

At the end there was a question and answer period where a 13 year old asked him how to toss the contents of a skillet properly.  After a bit of an explanation Pepin summarized it by stating that you really just have to have “the courage of your convictions and just go for it.” 

At the end I got my books signed and got to have my picture taken with the man.

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Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Fluff

October 21st, 2009

In case you were wondering, yes.  Fluff can go bad.  But even when it does, it still tastes so good.

After a spring and summer of not having any hot chocolate, I just went to make my first pack of Swiss Miss for the year.  The jar of Fluff that I keep in my desk was was expired, but only by about a month.  I figured nothing could go wrong and continued anyway.  The delicious mallow creme was dried out and hard in the container.  After some scooping with a knife, I was able to get some into my chocolate beverage.  I had hoped that the heat would melt the mallow a bit, but to no avail. 

I’ll just have to  buy another jar for the rest of the season.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

The Return of a Hero

September 30th, 2009

We put our ailing Magic Bullet to the test today.  Would it survive after yesterday’s smoking incident?  I am here to tell you unequivocally yes.  The Bullet is a hero in every sense of the word.  It has struck back against adversity and provided us with yet more smooth goodness. 

We went easy on it at first, but soon realized not to patronize the Bullet.  Magic Bullet, I applaud you.

Author: Josh Categories: Story, Uncategorized Tags: ,

The Death of a Hero?

September 29th, 2009

It has been a dark day for my 4pm ritual of making smoothies.  Running on low supplies because my office fridge had undergone a sneak inspection, we managed to make a few smoothies.  During the fifth smoothie the bullet went berserk, whirring at a higher pitch than ever before releasing the magic smoke

Luckily, two of the floor’s voluntary fire wardens were present at the time, making sure that we all survived the ordeal, physically if not emotionally.  One of them called out asking if there was a fire extinguisher available.  Interestingly enough, it was about 3 feet from her at the time.  I’m glad we have these people watching my back.

Now the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the Bullet will perform tomorrow at 4, or if we will have to shoot it like the trusty steed it has been. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

Live to Die

September 29th, 2009

Wednesday the 20th was another bright and sunny day in Paris.  Our host had taken the day off and would be joining us in our touristy exploits.  Originally she wanted to spend the time looking for a new apartment (her lease was coming up soon), but she had unexpectedly gotten that taken care of already.  So what should we do with the gorgeous weather?  Float down the river?  Meander about another museum?  Get lost in a maze like section of town?  Nah.  Let’s venture deep underneath the city and wander about some of the 186 miles of the Catacombs.

During the late 18th century all of the cemeteries in Paris were condemned.  The current inhabitants were al moved to the depleted quarries under the city.  Any new guests are redirected to the surrounding suburbs.  People line up to be allowed down for a walk of the 2 miles that are open to the public (for a small fee).  Only 200 people are allowed in at any given time, so the line gets rather long.  During the hour and a half while waiting for our turn we went through several baguettes and croissants from the nearby bakeries. 

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Once down the stairs, the path to the bones was as pleasant and inviting as any dimly-lit narrow stone passage could be.  Which was to say before I saw a single bone, I was already put into a Halloween kinda mood.  When we finally came across the bones we were shocked by several things.  They were densely stacked about 4 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide with skulls artfully positioned.  I couldn’t even begin to guess how many people were represented by each section.  And the tunnels just kept going.  We were allowed to walk through a little over a mile of the ossuary.  Throughout the entire length of that, the walls were just crammed with bones.  And that was barely half of a percent of the entire place.  Some of the literature stated that the catacombs holds remains of about six million people.  An exact figure is not known. 

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After all of that death we decided to have a quick lunch and head over somewhere a bit less spooky.  So we went to Père Lachaise.  Among others, this great cemetery houses the remains of Chopin, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison.  We spent about 4 hours wandering around the cemetery with our $5 map (currency converted for simplicity – I can’t find the Euro button on my keyboard).  A few things of interest to note:  Morrison’s grave is discreet, but fenced off and has its own armed guard.  Wilde’s grave is smothered in lipstick stained kisses and no one really knows why.  At least I don’t.  That crazy gal over at Polish Outlander spent a similar day in the cemetery.  You may find her insights insightful.  I know I did.

After a day of death and more death, the three of us were famished so we head back to Chez Gladines for the second time.  We really liked the food here.  This time around The Girl got the duck confit and loved it.  I decided to be a bit more bold and went with Escargot Cassolet Basque as an appetizer and an order of Andouillette poelee for my meal.  The escargot was served in a creamy tomato soup that was absolutely delicious.  I just kept dunking my bread in there. 

And then there was the andouillette.  The waiter described this item as “a sausage, but with the guts.”  This item would definately allow me to cross eating offal of of my French to do list, and it sounded pretty good.  I was excited.  It was the type of excited that wanes with each bite.  My first bite was good, while my second reminded me vaguely of pig intestine.  By the time I was halfway, I knew I was done.  As with most things of this variety, it was both the taste and the texture.  Whenever I cut into the sausage the guts would fall out.  They were not ground up like a traditional sausage, rather they were just crammed in there.  It reminded me of the classic peanut brittle/snake practical joke.  When I woke up the next morning, I could swear I could still taste intestine.

Happy birthday to me!

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

Renovation Update

September 28th, 2009

The past few weeks have been productive.  We gutted the kitchen completely and have begun to put things back together.  The electrical and plumbing have both been redone and the walls are being put back up.  Pretty soon the room will have walls, a ceiling, and a floor.  With any luck at all we’ll be done around two weeks from now.  I know I’m really looking forward to cooking something good.  The Girl has already requested duck confit for my first meal.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , ,

Anyone for a pint?

September 16th, 2009

What do you do after a long day at the museum?  My first impulse was to go to dinner.  The Girl and I walked to a nearby brasserie we had heard was pretty good.  A hand written sign explained that they were temporarily closed but would open again in about an hour.  With an hour to kill in Paris we did the only logical thing and went in search of a cafe.

The Girl was in need of some good old fashioned sugar and caffeine and ordered a $6 coke.  I wanted something new and tried to order a 1664, a popular beer brewed in France.  The waitress took one look at me and said no.  Evidently I would enjoy a Grimbergen more.  Since I was the dumb tourist and she was the local, I took her word and happily drank the beer.  It was yeasty and good.  As I recall, it tasted like a darker Blue Moon.  A Midnight-Blue Moon, if you will.  Later in the week I was able to successfully order the 1664.  It tasted like a watered down Bud-Light.  The waitress was right. 

After the pint – or half liter, they have the metric system over there – we made our way back to the brasserie.  This time we had a little more success, but just a little.  We made it into the dining room before being told that there was something unexpectedly wrong and that they would not be open that evening.  But in French.  I replied by asking for a table for two politely smiling and holding up two fingers to demonstrate.  After a quick back and forth I began  to realize that I was probably not going to be eating there that night.

We continued down the street  to our second choice, an upscale looking bistro.  Upon entering I felt under-dressed in my T-shirt and jeans.  Regardless, we were politely received and asked if we were reservations.  Not having any, I was worried that we wouldn’t be seated.  Then I noticed that there was only one other party in the dining room and realized that it probably wouldn’t be an issue.  Throughout the evening there were only a total of 3 parties at any one time. 

Whenever The Girl orders food she politely inquires, “Can I have…” Each time I picture the waiter saying no, so I was shocked when he actually did this time.  It turns out that they were out of the mushrooms required for that app.  She settled for a plate of sautéed chanterelles which were a special to start and mushroom risotto for her entree.  I went with a half-dozen order of escargot and a sirloin pepper steak. 

The chanterelles were good, but it was just too much mushroom.  My guess is that the chef really needed to get some old mushrooms out of his kitchen.  I think the dish would have worked much better as a side.  The mushroom risotto was good, but after the mushroom overload in the app it was a bi much.

Served in their own shell and not a ceramic prosthetic, the escargot were drowning in butter, garlic, and parsley.  I had some trouble with with the escargot tongs at first.  The shell kept slipping out whenever I tried picking them up.  At one point i had spilled so much of the butter that I was worried the shell would shoot out and hit The Girl in the face.  She suggested I admit defeat and just use my fingers.  If they weren’t so darn hot, I may have considered it.  When I managed to actually get one in my mouth it was delicious, buttery and tender, not rubbery at all.  Once I got the hang of it, I was able to finish my plate without incident. 

This will sound silly, but I was surprised just how peppery the pepper sauce on my steak was.  The sirloin was cooked just right and was very satisfying after the long day.  The side of fries were crispy and accompanied it well.

Overall, Le Grand Colbert was enjoyable.  The wait staff was friendly and attentive, the food well prepared.  This was an evening of being happy with the second choice.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: , , ,

Day 5: Lunch with the Cardinal (Wednesday the 19th of August)

September 16th, 2009

On Wednesday we got up bright and early and got to the Louvre right when it opened.  Being the ever-prepared tourist that we were, we had bought tickets the day before, allowing us to skip the lengthy line forming at the pymidal entrance.  Once in, we made good use of our head start by racing to the museum’s most famous tenant, Mona Lisa.  We got our view of Leonardo’s lady and avoided the Italian wing for the rest of the day.

Overall we really enjoyed the museum, seeing gall sorts of interesting paintings.  We even spotted some good food related ones.  Although I don’t really understand what type of hunt results in rabbit, fowl, and a cooked lobster.Nice Hunt

We had lunch at the museum restaurant the Richelieu Cafe.  Richelieu was a cardinal of France who gained some fame in Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.  The food here was good, but nothing particularly special.  Pretty much what you’d expect for museum cafe.  The best part was definitely the court yard from the terrace and the fact that it was a palace.  This was the first meal I ever ate in an actual palace, but it is not the last for this trip.  As for food, we went the traditional route with The Girl getting quiche Lorraine and a croque-monsieur for me and a piece of cheesecake to split for desert. 

A croque-monsieur is a popular sandwich in France.  It is a ham sandwich with béchamel sauce.  Gruyere cheese is then sprinkled on top before being put in the broiler.  The name literally translates to “”Mister Undertaker".  Several versions exist, including the croque-madame which is topped with a fried egg.  Evidently the egg looks like a lady’s hat. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: ,

The Tantalizing Tail of the Tarte Tatin

September 4th, 2009

Our fourth day in Paris was both busy and relaxing.  We raced from the landmark to landmark:  Notre Dame; Sainte-Chapelle, the royal chapel; the Conciergerie, an old palace that was converted into a prison during The revolution and housed Marie Antoinette prior to her appointment with the guillotine; and a boat tour up and down the Seine.  We also took a leisurely walk don Ile Saint-Louis – the expensive section of town, but walking is still free – and stopped off in a cafe or two where I had my first French French onion soup.  Two hundred pictures later, we went over to Boulevard Saint-Michel to have drink with some friends just getting off of work.

Of course this was our first time in the area.  To be honest it was kind of magical.  Following the map to our destination, The Girl and I saw bright lights and shops down a small alley way.  We decided that we had plenty of time and side tracked down the alley.  Coming out the other side, my first thought was hat we were in the Paris equivalent of Time Square.  It was all lights and tourists.  Here and there you could see people selling mini Eiffel Towers chanting “One Euro, one euro, one euro…”  Something that really surprised me were all of the Greek places.  They looked exactly like the ones back home, with their blue signs and the same exact font advertising the gyros.

Once we were settled into yet another cafe, we ordered some drinks.  Bordeaux for the Americans and fruity cocktails for the Parisians.  The Girl and I also ordered a tarte tatin each.  These were possibly the best we had during the trip, and we had our fair share.  They were complete tartes, not just wedges tossed in the microwave.  And oh, the white stuff spooned on the side, too thick to be whipped cream.  I had to ask to be sure, but yes, it was creme fraiche.  This was actually my first time eating it.  Ever.  Another thing to check off of my France-To-Do-List.  I was very happy.

After some drinking and a lot of talking, the inevitable occurred:  The Girl had to go to the bathroom.  Being a relatively logical (and highly hygienic) person, she went off in search of the bathroom.  Upon her return, she asked if anyone had fifty cents.  You had to pay to pee.  No one had that particular coin so she decided to wait until we went back home.  Well that took longer than anticipated, so one of the French speaking members of our party asked the waiter for change.  He wound up hooking us up with a metal token the size of a fifty cent coin that would unlock the bathroom door.  Maybe it was the wine (probably) but I felt like I was in an old 16-bit RPG.  “Your party has received a Metal Token! Dun-duh-duh!”  The Girl was relieved.

Time went by and more of the ladies went to the bathroom, asking for a Metal Token each time.  Eventually I had to go, so I flagged down the waiter and in my limited French asked “toillette?”  I did not receive a Metal Token.  Instead he told me to go downstairs.  I must have looked confused because he then went on to explain that men pee for free.  Now I was very confused.  It costs fifty cents (that’s seventy-five American cents) for women to take a leak, but a man can drain the lizard gratis?  I’m sure this would not fly in America. 

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags:

Paris is about trying new things

September 3rd, 2009

One of my goals for this trip was to try things that I have either never had before, or something I can’t get as easily in the States. (Another of my goals was to drink lots of French wine.) The duck confit on my first day fell in to the second category. It was something I knew I liked (a lot) but wasn’t on a whole lot of menus back home. At least where I ate. So, on my third day I thought it was time for some foie gras of duck.

I had the terrine variety for the first time last year during Restaurant Week at Delmonico’s. It was tasty, but this time I figured it would be worth getting the cooked variety. It was served in a chestnut soup which was wonderfully thick and velvety. The actual foie gras tasted marvelous. So flavorful and subtle. The two flavors mixed well together.

 

My main plate was a little tamer. Roast veal with morel sauce and potato slices. I mostly ordered it so I could taste morels, which were delicious. The veal was overcooked and dry. Thank god for all that sauce. The dish wound up being worth the price, but I wouldn’t get it a second time.

 

One thing that surprised me a little bit was that The Girl had enjoyed her bite of my duck two days earlier that she decided to get an entire leg of her own. She was a bit disappointed that hers didn’t come with mushroom sauce like my confit had previously. Based on my quick bite, a sauce would have helped this dish a bit. Like the veal, the duck was a bit on the dry side. To me, the best part of confit is the fact that it is moist and succulent.

 

By the time dessert rolled around, I had already made so much progress on my second goal that I forgot to take a picture of my tarte. It featured a light green berry that I had never heard of before – and can’t remember the name of – with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A la mode in Paris. The Girl went with the classic tarte tatin. It is an apple tarte that is cooked upside down, which creates a wonderfully golden caramel on the top of the tarte. She enjoyed it thoroughly.

There was one more thing from this meal that I really noticed. The stereotypical French arrogance and bad customer service which is only that much worse for tourists. Yeah, I haven’t seen it. The waitress that night was very friendly and funny. When she learned that we were from New York City she was jealous. As it turns out, she loves visiting NYC and it’s her dream to move there someday.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: