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Friday, August 31, 2012

French Travel Tales: Croissants and Jasmine Perfume, Part One.

Part One.

It was mid-October in 1999. My friends Luli and Nick and I were headed for a barge trip along the Canal Midi from Castelnaudery to Beziers. Would we be able to understand enough French, to drive, tie the barge, and maneuver through the various locks? We had a start - and I hoped it was a good one.  

On the way to Paris’s Gare Montparnasse from our hotel on Rue Raspail we passed little green men, who were not aliens, except to me. They were sanitation workers, ever so well-dressed in uniforms, methodical and as friendly as you please. In proud and complete control of the trash, they might even join us for a cup of coffee, I thought as we walked by. Why was life so different in Paris? Unlike the street scene during the Association of Food Journalists conference in NYC in 1995 during a garbage workers strike, here in Paris there couldn't possibly be a street left with piles of trash reaching to the second floor of anyone's hotel. Quel horror! 

 Men in Blue, Close Enough to Green, Right?

Further along, a few café's were opening or closing from the night before. I don't know which. There was a feeling of warmth, of people, and their French lives. Everything we walked past seemed well taken care of. I felt well taken care of. 

Morning in Paris

I turned around. Luli's and my suitcases and Nick's metal cases, which reminded me of the movie Airport where a bomb was hidden inside the gun-metal silvery-reflecting-everything-around-us-case, were loaded in what seemed to be reverse order from yesterday. A little wobbly, perhaps, but we had a train to catch. We walked in a reversed fashion as well, instead of Nick's surefootedness, Luli led the foray while singing, with me in the middle, and behind me Nick was pulling and alternately pushing an almost as tall as he was, tower of our bags. So much so was this fury of pushing and pulling that he seemed to be dancing in circles with the bags as we hurried. Hurried along. Everyone was going to the station, Gare Montparnasse. 

            Once inside the station we searched out which track or as I learned a new word, voie, we would need to find and be on in an hour. Luli’s nephew, Ben, had not shown up yet. A bit breathless we plunked down at the little café, which at home certainly would not have looked very promising. It would have offered watered down coffee, stale muffins, tough bagels, and canned fruit cup. Well? Am I lying? Just take a look at the train station next time you go. What? You mean there is no FOOD? What did I tell you. Disappointment. Okay take the airport. Anything worthwhile to eat there? No? Okay, it must be because there is different soil in France. Different air + Different water + Different culture = Different food.

We ordered. Most of what I wanted was the coffee. Thick and rich and warm milk to boot. AMAZING. Something so simple. But I surmise that even the Sienna Hotel in Chapel Hill doesn't serve coffee this way, whether it’s called Cappuccino or Café au Lait. But I might just have to ask for it. Next time I go and visit the just imported, and oh so self-important, Italian chef there.

What fun to have coffee talk with coffee in Gare Montparnasse. Luli was here. Nick was too. We were all still here. Each of us proclaimed a night of well-sleeping.  And then our breakfast arrived. Three large trays, one for each of us. Well-sleeping followed by well-eating? Maybe I could do this. Again and again. With practice. 

Choices, oh the Choices. 

Le Garcon never even made a motion to move our pile of luggage blocking the aisle on the side of our table. He was so nice. And so professional. He didn't look like he had just scraped through the night and now as here back at work because he had to be here. The tray had a ficelle, a crispy small baguette. Narrower, thinner than a full size baguette.  A croissant. Lots of butter. And Jam. And a full pot each, though small ones, of coffee and warm milk.  The ficelle was a miracle of crispness. Perfect with the butter which I can still feel cold and hard against the tender inside of the bread. Butter could be the main event. Umm. butter was the main event. Umm, and now I was butter. Every pore of mine was butter. It really was hard to eat all of it. I barely resisted the urge to take it with me. Fighting down the last bite of croissant as if there would be no more where I was going. But, standing up the last bits of flakes fell away from my lap and I was comforted with the reality close at hand. There were other people with luggage, and they were, yes, they too were still here, and speaking French. Women looked well-heeled with scarves floating out fragrant notes of yellow May roses, July lavender fields, wedding day gardenia and Arizona star jasmine that wafted out as a dimly discernible spirit. Oh, that’s right. Perfume. Yes, this was France. It was true. I was in France where crisp bread and cold clean sweet butter are possible. With a jolt of jasmine I was reminded of my mother, Aileen, who wasn't French, but who had named me, Dorette. She had passed away in a different land entirely in February of 1998. I didn't want to think about her. She had gone to Paris, too, and only now I wonder if she didn't walk down the same street. 

Fallen Rose Blooms

Perfume also made me remember a croissant I will never forget. A  powdered sugar dusted almond one from the bakery along the Canal Lateral in Serignac or Brax. I was sure until a moment ago that it was Serignac but it could have been Brax. I hadn't gone out for it. It was Kate Hill's then husband, Patrick, who went. But I remember the cool summer morning on the Canal Lateral, the coffee I had made, and the welcome feeling of being in her stone house with my sons Erick and Jaryd, and my husband, Rich.

Come back for Part Two!

Pure Butter Croissants

It is a sure luxury to make these yourself. But what sheer luxury. Ok, stop reading this and begin.  

croissant dough: 
1 kg flour (about 2.2 pounds)  
25 g salt 
100g sugar 
30g fresh compressed yeast 
600 ml milk and or water

for the turns: 600g dry butter

egg wash for the finish bake at 170c (not farenheit)

mix the yeast and sugar. put flour in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and yeast mixture. add water and mix with spatula. don't overmix! add the salt. mix again.

set dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for 6 hours. take dough out and put on floured counter (granite or marble preferably) make three simple turns refrigerating in between the second and third turn for 20 minutes.

after 3rd simple turn, place in the fridge again for 20 min. take dough out of fridge and roll out into a long rectangle about the width of parchment paper sheets.

cut dough into triangles and weigh each one to make sure they're around 70-80g (you can add on scraps to the short side of the triangle is you need to )

brush egg wash over croissants (2 eggs, and 1 egg yolk mixed)

roll from big edge to tip of triangle and pinch the edges. 

for butter croissants the ends should not be folded in but left straight. 

this, by the way, is how to tell the difference between pure butter and half butter half margarine croissants.
put immediately in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours.

heat oven to 375 lightly egg wash again after croissants have doubled in size. 

bake until golden brown.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

C'est si Bon! Travel Tales: The Jolly Roger Fishing Pier + Three Fish

            As summer draws to a close I have a fish story to tell, from a good long while ago. Though it's not a tall tail, it’s a potentially “scaly” one.
            During an extended family excursion to Topsail Beach, we tried our hand at landing the "big one."
            All day long while we strolled, lolled, built sand castles, caught minnows, and chased the kids along a stretch of bars and shallow waters, the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier loomed out in the ocean. It was the epitomy of a focal point of SOMETHING. Was it an unquenched desire for a life unlived? A life close to the tides, the rhythms of the sea? It looked close and approachable but in fact it was miles away. Far enough so you couldn’t really see. You could imagine (and I did) that so much was happening there. That fish of all natures and deliciousness were being reeled in constantly. That whatever banter was playfully being bandied about was delightfully rogueish and risque and the tales of seafaring adventures were spilling out and over buckets of bait much as they had always done and composed the legends of Moby Dick and Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
            At this point in time the films of Pirates of the Carribbean or even Little Mermaid hadn’t yet been born. But the ingredients were there. All there. On the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier.
Apparently I was not the only one with this pier fantasy. My sons and my friend’s daughters exclaimed, over and over again, just how much. How very much, in fact, they wanted to go fishing. It might be the only thing they wanted that year. And they had wanted to go fishing all their lives. And quite possibly well before, even before, that.
After dinner of macaroni and cheese we walked towards the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. I always wonder in these situations if it is really wise or even satisfying to confront the reality that your fantasy is based on. I leave it to you to decide.
We walked up and into the shop of ice cream, pool tables, kid coin operated whale rides, giant fishing poles, photos of all the world’s fisherman and their BIG fish. After much consideration we acquired our bait shrimp and squid, and a few snacks. We walked out on the seagull splatted wooden boards. The ocean rushed below us and the moon climbed in the sky to get a better view of the evening.
            I tell you now, even from the distance of many years,  the adrenaline still rushes forth in me to remember the characters in attendance that night on the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. They were everthing that central casting had promised. Gnarly old men. Women in false eyelashes and supenders. Rusty old knives, scales and fish bones. Buckets of mystical writhing sea creatures, an occasional claw that slipped over the edge and then fell back. Fish, caught and some with hooks in their mouths, were proudly shown to us swimming in leaky old Styrofoam coolers. Would they become bait for their friends? Out on the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier it was a promised land of debauchery.
            The kids decided on a point system for what they considered really memorable characters. Smokers. Two points. Drinkers. Three. A shark pulled in (that we all witnessed) would be awarded a generous six. And if you spotted a pirate ship out in the deep. Ten out of a possible ten points.
Ah, we had young imaginations and minds to nourish and we were here To Fish.
Boy legs and girl legs kicked anxiously back and forth on our weather beaten perch, our wooden bench at the Jolly Roger Pier. Launching our lines from this perch we began enthusiastically To Fish at 8:30 P.M
Pier-Pressure mounted. Before 15 minutes had passed we sat smugly among the others having snagged a skate and a crab. 
            By the light of the moon they looked downright sensational.
            But, once reeled in and landed smack on the woody pier surface, we were unfamiliar with the next step in this fish procurring process.
            "Grab a ma-an,” My friend said in her exaggerated Southern drawl, "to help us get out this hook."
            All I saw were creatures of the deep. "We can take care of this," I assured her. And after a few more minutes of joint floundering we managed to maneuver him over the edge, hookless to boot.
             A thankful creature splashed homeward bound.  Farewell, seafaring wonder.
            Our crab, as we fondly remember him, had clawed his way to the top of the line.  Perhaps possessed by a fear of boiling, he clung fast for dear life. Until, the inevitable kerplunk.
We saw others pull in sharks (10 points!) and heard the call down the boards of a sea-turtle cut loose. We hadn’t even considerd that possibilty. We remained hourly steadfast and subsisted on our bait of Sun Chips, Cheetos, and Diet Pepsi's.
But as the kids tiredly asked if that was the sun coming up, we knew that our free-reeling adventure was over. And so on that sea-swept note, and at 12:30 in the A.M, we were weary and dog-fish tired.
Mr. Limpet, we love you!
The following day at the over-the-bridge fish market we had no trouble netting fresh wahoo, flounder, and claw crab meat.
            "Eat as much fresh seafood at the beach as possible."  My friend’s words were music to my sun-burned ears.
            So if your fishing experience at the local seafood market isn’t as fishy as you’d like get thee hence to the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. You may not catch fish, but you’ll swagger amongst a crew that’s got a tale or two to tell.
And you just might see that Pirate Ship.
            The similarities of the crab, corn, and onion flavors make a sweet diversion from spicy seafood. I no longer use bread of any kind in crab cakes. When these were first made we fried them in a heavily buttered skillet over the burner of an outdoor grill because the power had just gone off on our half of the island. This kept the heat to a minimum in the kitchen. But, they can be cooked in that more traditional indoor method if you prefer. There's more than one way to hook and cook a crab!

makes 6, 3 inch cakes

2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon butter 
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 ears of silver queen corn, dekerneled
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound lump crab meat
panko bread crumbs 
1/2 cup butter for frying

In a 10 inch skillet over medium heat, melt the 1 Tablespoon butter and fry the scallions till soft but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the scallions, egg, corn, parsley, and crab.  Mix gently and well. Divide mixture and form into 6 cakes. Pour the panko crumbs on a large paper plate. Press the panko into the cakes. Refrigerate them for about an hour, if possible, to firm the breading.. When ready to commence cooking, heat a 12 inch heavy bottomed skillet on the side burner of the grill if cooking these outside or on the stove top if cooking inside. Meanwhile, have a coastal compadre make the tartar sauce.  Fry the crab cakes over medium heat till golden, about 3 minutes per side. Place on serving platter and pass the tartar sauce.  Sit outside, watch the sun go down, and savor the moment and the crab.

1-1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 teaspoon or so of Lan Chi garlic chili paste, adjust taste
1 teaspoon or so of chopped hot and sweet peppers, adjust taste
Mix above ingredients in small serving bowl.

If you have a large grill, you can prepare both of these fish recipes at the same time. Plan to grill the flounder over a lower heat so a few minutes after the wahoo steaks, so both will be finished at about the same time.The crust gives way to tender flounder inside. 

makes 4 servings
1 large flounder, filleted
1/2 cup mushroom soy sauce
1 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice powder

Place the fish and soy sauce in a shallow glass casserole. Marinate about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Slide the sesame seeds and spice seasoning onto another plate. Have the older kids press the fillets in the seed/spice mixture and then turn to the other side to coat. Wash hands afterwards. Refrigerate to firm the seed coating for an hour,  if possible. Heat the grill to medium high and if grilling the wahoo steaks too, grill the sesame fish afterwards on a lower heat, giving each side 3-5 minutes.  Place on serving platter and pass the peanut pineapple ginger sauce.

1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 cup pineapple, crushed or tidbits
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons chopped pickled ginger
1 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix all the ingredients in small pot and heat on medium, stirring until all is combined.

These are best when they have a good 2 hours to marinate, which is more than standard for fish, but beneficial for this meaty selection. Though usually thought to be highly detectable, the anchovies in this marinade combine with the other ingredients to provide a depth and richness in flavor.  The persillade is a classic flavoring mixture with the added "zest" of citrus peel.  These flavors add up to a definite the dinner table. If wahoo is not to your liking or is simply unavailable look for tuna, bonito, yellowtail, mahi-mahi, marlin, or bluefish as appropriate substitutes.

makes 4 servings

For Marinade:
1/2 cup fruity olive oil
juice of 2 limes
2 anchovies, pressed with a fork
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
4 wahoo steaks

For Citrus Persillade:
1/2 teaspoon each chopped lime, orange, and lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 large garlic cloves

Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a shallow glass casserole with the aid of an innocent by-stander.
Place your fish steaks in and let the by-stander turn and coat well. Set in the refrigerater just before applying your sunscreen. Hats on and head to the beach! 
A couple of hours later return to make dinner and. fire up the grill. Fish needs a hot hot surface to sear in the juices. Direct sand shovels outside while retrieving fish from fridge. 
Prepare the persillade. Zest the lemon, orange and lime. Pound the garlic cloves to a paste, add chopped parsley and zest, pound some more. Set aside to "breathe."  place these fish steaks on the grill, and grill for 3 minutes per side.
Serve at once on a platter with the persillade on the side.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Write With Me: A Letter to Julia

Dear Julia,

It’s taken me far too long to write this letter. Can you accept my apology?

You were born in 1912, and would be 100 years old today.  Wow, what would you want to eat? I’d happily prepare you a good French meal. Not just good, but excellent! Most likely not Boeuf Bourguignonne, that’s been so overdone. But a delicious Piperade or even a nice old fashioned Chaud Froid Ham. I never thought Julie Powell really got the whole aspic thing and I just wanted to let you know that even though my birthday is the same day as hers I do understand and even like aspic. Or better yet, something from your days in Santa Barbara. I recently traveled there, and thought I even saw your ghost down at the wharf, haggling over Sea Urchins.

And even before I met you, I felt kind of like I was following in your footsteps, such was my devotion, though I don’t really speak about it openly. I lived in Boston (alright it was Boxborough) when you did. Then I went to the Culinary Institute of America, not the Cordon Bleu. You inspired me in so many ways. I spent about 8 years on a book too, about a women bread apprentice in long ago France. I hope to tell you good news on that soon. And what you felt, I felt about France. Yes, that. I too simply Must. Be. French.

Julia with the Cordon Bleu President 

Julia with Ellie Ferguson

I’ve tucked some photos in here I took in Paris for the IACP Conference in 1995. But you may not remember things exactly as  I do. I was starstruck for sure. I have a letter from you somewhere that has the header of Baking With Julia, and wouldn’t you know it a friend of mine even knew Stephanie who was your assistant then. I sent you the letter after  we chatted nonchalantly (as nonchalantly as I possibly could) in line for coffee at the FoodWriter’s Symposium at the Greenbrier in 1995. I spotted you the day before in Draper’s Café having lunch with your assistant from “And They Called it Macaroni.”

You were completely gracious and real, guffawing and chortling, and asking hard questions. I don’t remember if  I had any answers.  Maybe I actually didn't say anything. You see, I may be a better writer than speaker. 

Julia with Anne Willan 

Julia, About To Speak

Believe you me, I loved you (if that’s ok to say) from all parts of my being and my life, even as a girl when I would watch you on TV with my Nana. Well, you weren’t on TV with my Nana, but you knew I didn’t mean that. She was an admirer of yours and we talked about and made your recipes.

You made me laugh, and later I would find this method of teaching irresistible. In the movie Julie and Julia when you said to Paul, “But what should I do?” you (of course you were Meryl Streep then, just so you know I know) asked with such anguish and longing. I am so glad you decided to fall headlong into French cuisine. Julia, you were perfect in so many ways. That brings me around to the reason why I am writing. Other than to wish you a Happy Birthday. Of course.
 Gracious, Gracious Julia

But Julia, I don’t know how to tell you this, the food world is in a bit of a mess.

It’s no longer enough just to enjoy cooking – people want it to mean status or more than mere food and cuisine. Between you and me I don’t really think they enjoy it. They feel pressured to like it. Do it. Accomplish it. You see food has become a business, and once that happens well, the apple cart has toppled over. The cookie has crumbled. You know?

Listen I am the last person to argue with my students. If they want to learn the best Provencale dishes; I want them to know how! I love teaching, only I want them to relax and have fun. Forget their life for a little while. People come into my kitchen because they are afraid to touch chicken, or because they want to make food that their entire family will eat. They are afraid of fat and afraid of tofu. People are afraid of food. I wonder if you can do something about this predicament from where you are. They would appreciate it, I know they would. 

And Julia, maybe it still sounds silly but my faith in you is so strong that your  photo (you towered over me) with the President of The Cordon Bleu in Paris will always stand at the helm, the sink, where we do dishes,  look out over the garden and dream. And I am always listening to you, oh Queen of Quenelles!

At the Helm in C'est si Bon!

Merci, Julia! Merci for your help.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guest Chef Post: Jeremy Salamon

From time to time on Planting Cabbages I will feature a guest post. I am honored and thrilled to tell you about Jeremy Salamon, a dear young friend, chef and yes, writer of tales. Jeremy has been coming to C'est si Bon! for the last six summers, to help with Kid-Chefs and Teen-Chefs. But as if that weren't enough ~ in addition to cooking and writing Jeremy has a captivating perspective on all things food! Please cheer as he motors off to the Culinary Institute of America in a few days, his dream since he was 9 years old! Keep up with his jaunts via JeremyCooks or follow his photo stream on Instagram, also as  JeremyCooks.

For more story on our feasts and friendship, read my post on JeremyCooks

Merci, Jeremy, for sharing your thoughts and life! Keep On Writing.

(If you are interested in writing a guest post, please write to dorette at cestsibon dot net.)

Jeremy Salamon, 2012 (photo by Layne Sizemore)

A Time to Simmer

Back in June Dorette asked me a very reflective question. " What food or dish would describe this time in your life?". Well, to be frank I had no clue. As I thought about it more I came to the conclusion that this period in my life can best be defined as a veal stock. One that is in the process of simmering. You see, come this fall I'll be leaving for culinary school in New York (far away from the tentacles of South Florida).  

Like a stock, I've been through a lot. Now at eighteen you might say I'm a child. This may be true; I have my whole life in front of me. However, I'm no normal transitioning adolescent. I knew from an early age that I wanted to live food. I yearned to eat, create, read, write, and grow it. So when I was 12 I apprenticed in a country club peeling potatoes and cutting the ends of haricot verts (that'll teach you the virtue of patience).  From there I went on to work in Todd English's Wild Olives as a pantry cook making salads and plating desserts. I got "promoted" to fry cook, although they should call it a demotion at that point (just kidding). Recently, I worked as a line cook for a year in Brule Bistro located in Delray Beach, FL. Lucky for me I attended a high school that hosted a culinary academy. I competed in culinary competitions in-state and out. Somewhere in the middle of all this I created a website called JeremyCooks that took on a life of its own. To frost the cake, I spent summers with the most amazing and influential character in my life. She owns a cooking school with her husband and is in the process of publishing her first novel. I bet you can figure out just who she is for yourself.

Jeremy at Fickle Creek Farm, 2012

So my bones have been roasted with hearty vegetables, slathered in tomato paste, deglazed with port, and now sits on a back burner in large pot with peppercorns, bay leafs,and thyme floating around the top. I'm soaking up everything I've been taught and seasoned with. I'm enjoying what's left of this chapter in my life.

As I write this though I'm officially taking myself off the back burner. I'm finished simmering and I'm ready to move forward with my journey. Maybe I'll be made into a Port-Demi, an Au Poivre or I'll help braise a large piece of meat. I'll become something new but always retaining the flavor of my past. Because whatever it is I do transform into I'll always carry the people, the lesson's, and the adventure's with me.

At Gugelhupf, Durham

Alas, we should all simmer in our everyday lives. Soak up the laughs, every smile and beautiful moment; because one minute it's here and then, just like's gone.

Keep on Cooking,

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