Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bourride rapide--Provencal Fish Stew with Aioli

This fish stew (MAFC II 50) is all sunny and Midi. It reminds me of Uzès, where I spent a lovely lunch before biking down to Pont du Gard.

I used flounder last time I made this (pictured). But snapper or sea bass or catfish or mahi mahi or a range of other fish will do fine, or a combination. Shellfish is great too, and cooks even faster.

Serves 4

1 to 1.5 pounds of fish fillets (firm-fleshed) in pieces no more that 1/2 inch think
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1/2 cup clam juice
1/2 cup vegetable stock (best quality)
1 cup aioli mayonnaise with red pepper (see the blog post on aioli light)
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence or chopped fresh herbs
1 bay leaf
(optional) 1 tablespoon Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
(optional) herbs or green onions for garnish
(optional) Nice olives for garnish
  1. Over the highest heat, bring the wine, clam juice, aioli, and stock to a boil in a large skillet or saucepan.
  2. Cut up the fish and add it to the pan along with the other herbs and bay leaf.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the fish is just cooked through (about 4 minutes).
  4. Add the optional Pernod. Mince the optional green onions or herbs or olives for garnish.
  5. Serve in a soup bowl with a slice or two of crusty French bread in the bottom. Garnish with chopped basil (a chiffonade, as in the picture).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rattatoulli in 10 minutes

I had lunch in a little restaurant in Avignon, near the ancient wall. The plat du jour was grilled tuna with ratatouille. And it was so different from Julia's (MAFC I 503), so full of little morsels of colorful vegetables al dente, and grand flavor, that I thought it might be 10 minuteable. The little morsels of red pepper, lightly golden zucchini, diced eggplant, and onion sat there on the plate in Provence as a challenge.

After some tries, and a lot of dirty cookware, I conclude that it is possible. (Note that no-stick skillets are cleanable with a good wet wipe, one minute tops.) The trick to 10 minute ratatouille is to be good with a knife. If you can't rough dice an onion in 1 minute, then forget 10 minutes. But really, if it's 15 minutes for this, then it's worth the stretch. It serves six easily. And the ratatouille that's been around awhile gathering character and delicate flavor is much, much better than the fresh--like my wife.

olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced about 1/2 inch.
1 zucchini halved lengthwise and then sliced 3/8 inch thick
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch dice
1 large red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch dice
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
optional: three strands of fresh thyme and two basil leaves
  1. 0.00 Heat three pans (two large and one smaller is fine) over high heat
  2. 0.30 Dice the onion and saute it in the small pan, in 1 tablespoon oil, tossing frequently. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. 1.30 Peel the eggplant and cut it into 1 inch dice. Saute it in the second large pan. Season with salt and pepper. 
  4. 2.30 Cut the pepper into 1/2 inch dice. Saute the peppers in a large pan, in 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. 3.30 Halve the zucchini lengthwise, slice it 3/8 inch thick, and sautee it in the pepper pan adding an another 1 tablespoon olive oil, tossing when the first side is begins to brown. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. 4:30 Add the tomato paste to the onions and lower heat to simmer
  7. 6.00 Peel and mince the garlic. Add it to the pepper/zuchinni pan and toss.
  8. 7:00 Stem the thyme and make a chiffonade of the basil
  9. 9:30 Using a rubber spatula, scrape the peppers/zuchinni and garlic into the eggplant pan, along with the onion mixture.
  10. 10:00 Add the thyme and toss, correcting the seasoning as necessary. Let stand 5 minutes or more. Garnish with the chiffonade of basil.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Shrimps a la plancha

Shrimps are so sweet. When my John was about 12, he used to do them on the grill for Sunday lunch, carefully heating it up with charcoal to get two minutes of fire--all it took to make them juicy and full of smoke. And he'd put them proudly in the middle of the table and we'd dig in peeling them, with lots of crusty bread.

Now I usually just saute them quickly, with a bit of butter, lemon and garlic--or other seasonings. And I buy them peeled and deveined. Something lost. But are still sweet and good, if I don't overcook them.

But last month I got to go to Barcelona where they cook everything A la Plancha, on a stainless steel griddle, hot, with olive oil. I had the best meal of the trip no doubt at a seafood bar in city market, La Bouqueria--the butcher shop. It is a huge market, with all the fruits and vegetables and meats laid out like a painting. And this little bar is tucked in the back, and locals and vendors come by for a quick coffee or cava (Spanish champagne, drunk like Coke, as far as I can tell). The combo platter I had contained seven things. And all was drenched in an herbed seafood broth (la soupa). Salty and marvelous. The best seafood I think I've ever had.

So when I got back, I tried it shrimp a la plancha. I worked (see above, on the deck, where John used to grill them). I flamed them at the end with a little Pernod, to make it French of course. However, the Catalans have a strong French streak in them. And the southern French are starting to cook A la Plancha too, judging from recipes I've been reading. So here it is, with a few shots of Barcelona for good measure.

Serves 2. 5 minutes total.

1/2 pound peeled, deveined shrimp (24 to the pound or 32* to the pound)
1 tablespoon butter
1 lemon
1 clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon minced garlic in olive oil)

  1. Heat a large skillet on high.
  2. Peel and mince the garlic (or open the jar of minced garlic in oil)
  3. Combine the garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and butter in a ramekin and microwave 20 seconds
  4. Add 1 tablespoon cooking oil to the skillet and add the shrimp for one minute, or until they begin to just brown a touch, and turn pink on the cooking side.
  5. Off heat. Toss them to turn, and with a fork or tongs turn those that didn't flip.
  6. Add the butter mixture, cover, and shake.
  7. Serve after one minute under the cover.

Here's the cook at the seafood bar working two planchas at once. Even the two kinds of clams and the mussels go on the plancha, but with a domed pot lid to steam them. And the squid comes about three ways--the body cavity sliced like calimari, but grilled, the tentacles soft and meaty, and little teeny squid you eat whole and crunchy, like a hairy potato chip. The sardines were a truly amazing food. So sweet. In fact everyting literally tasted sweet.

Most of the secret is no secret. The fish is superbly fresh, and the stuff on the combo plate was (so they assured me) right out of the Mediterranean that morning. The vendors were great at cutting the fish up with these huge knives, and always offered to send the bones and trimmings home (por la soupa), and seemed disapponted when refused.

I also really liked all the meat, mostly pork. The hams were hanging in every butcher shop. They's strip off paper thin slices and sell them for very high prices. Each region, each farm even, noted and advertised, like wineries. I sampled several, and it tased different than the Virginia hams I've had or the French ones. Can't say how. And they also have, lots and lots of bones for sale too.
You can eat very high on the hog there, all the way around the ears and snout. Oh, but of course most of the time the ears and snout of a hog are down in the feeding trough.

The people at the conference were very genial, and we ate a lot of tapas together. In fact, one meals was entirely tapas. Here's the tapas we had at a fancy seafood restaurant on the harbor. Tiny clams, squid, codfish balls, and the lightest vegetables fried tempura-like. I don't know how they got them so light.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Salade de Carotte / Carrot salad : Django Bistro

This is a bistro favorite. It's refreshing. It gets better the next day, and the day after. And it makes this season--when things are just blooming but not ready to eat--promise the summer.

This dish is not at Django, the new Bistro in downtown Des Moines, Django, where J and I ate at 10 (the place was packed) after watching our Katie compete for Yale in the national collegate mock trial competition at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. (The results are kept secret till the end, so stay tuned).

But they do have sweetbreads, the only place in Iowa that I know of that has them. So this makes me miss the little places in France that do such simple things. It's better with freshly grated carrots. So if you have an extra, oh, three minutes, it's worth it. But hey, this is is MA10MFC, not MAFC.

Salade de Carotte / Carrot salad

10 ounce bag of grated carrots
1 tablespoon lemon juice (1/2 lemon squeezed)--double it if you like!
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (2 if you like)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons small capers
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the ingredients and toss

By the way, the bowl in the photo above is from J's grandmother, via her mother. When I was newly married and moving, we had a bigger bowl from her grandmother, and my dear sister-in-law accidentally slammed the door on my finger while I was putting the bowl in the car. The bowl broke (my finger didn't break, but was blue for weeks). And my dear s-i-l gave us this little bowl--also from J's grandmother--as a consolation. I have cherished it ever since.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Strawberries in red wine: Sonoma with J, J, J, J, J, and A.

Mid-March, John drove us up to Sonoma in a rented minivan. John, Jen, Jenny, Javier, Joyce, Amy and I. Such a sunny spring Saturday. The vines were dormant, but between them was wild mustard, yellow as can be.

Jenny and Amy proposed that we buy cask shares of new wine, which happens at this time in Sonoma. The idea is that you buy wine still in the cask, which is delivered in six months or so, when the wine is bottled. The ideal is that the wine will be as good or better than what you tasted in the cask--or cost as much or more--or both.

We bought shares at a delightful winery offering what they called a Rhone blend, mostly Cabernet. But aged in acacia wood casks rather than the traditional French oak. This is the very articulate winemaker, and our cask, and his acacia tree flowers, which happened to be in bloom, and as impossibly yellow as the mustard flowers.

The Sonoma wineries are lovely, full of spring and tipsy young people (Jen kindly designated herself driver on the way back, a sacrifice not adequately acknowledged, I say here to perhaps make up for in part.) The most lovely was an organic winery, with oranges and chickens in the yard. They sold olive oil from their trees, as well as wine from their vines. And I learning from the young women there that the mustard is not planted but grows wild, and is not generally harvested, but instead tilled under to fertilize.

They also have a large vegetable garden, with marvelous California produce that I have never seen growing. The artichokes for example look prehistoric. I wonder that there are so many plants in this green world that I have never seen growing, yet consume every day (coffee, for example).

But the most delightful thing in any spring, for me, is strawberries. It is too early for strawberries in Iowa, but I don't care. I buy them from California, or wherever. And I eat them even when they are woody and anemic in flavor and sandy and I don't care, obviously. They are strawberries, and they comfort me that spring is coming in this horrible cold Iowa. And I take great pride in the fact that the strawberries coming from the Ames Farmers' Market will be deeply flavorful and small and better than last year's, invariably.

While we are waiting until the time is ripe (love that phrase), I take whatever strawberries there are and soak them in red wine and black pepper until they are soft and full of wine, and the wine is full of them. This is an old trick but a good one. And it is especially good with zinfandel, for some reason. And Sonoma is famous for its Zin. I would not actually waste ripe Iowa strawberries on this. But for California ones . . . so here we are, adapted from the amazing Paula Wolfort:

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half if very large
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup dry red wine
a few "tears" of fresh lemon juice
2-4 turns of a pepper mill

  1. Hull the strawberries and add 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let stand for 2 hours at room temperature, covered with a towel.
  2. Just before serving, add the rest of the sugar, if needed for sweetness, a few drops of lemon juice and a few turns of the pepper grinder.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Official MA10MFC Launch and the Forgotten Cabbage

I had a party Saturday night to launch this blog, officially. I released it to the grinding search engines, and to the world (wide web). Nine people. Champagne. A lot of 10 minute dishes, of course. Brie with jam, salmon rillettes, roasted salmon, parfaits, and the best: grilled asparagus from my gourmet brother-in-law (who also took this commemorative photo).

And gifts of very slow food from my colleague and farmer's market friend right: pickled beets and beans and onions.

As sometimes happens, I forget to serve a dish. In this case it was red cabbage with raisins and balsamic vinegar. It stayed quietly in the microwave, until the next morning, when J discovered it there. "Did you forget to serve this?" Hmmm.

It's so fast to cook that it's easy to forget. Like so many of my vegetable dishes these cruel winter days with no farmer's market, it begins with a bag of pre-cut vegetables thrown into the microwave and cooked unopened.

Serves 4

16-ounce package shredded red cabbage
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup golden raisins
salt and pepper
  1. Place the bag of cabbage in the microwave and cook 4 minutes on high (if the bag breaks, no problem).
  2. Carefully open the hot bag (scissors or a knife help) and pour into a serving bowl.
  3. Toss with the other ingredients and serve.
    Note: this keeps a good long while in the microwave--or the refrigerator
It's also very good with black raisins, and it makes a really nice little first course with red wine, especially if the balsamic vinegar is good. Very refreshing and crunchy.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Soupe de carottes au curry--Curried carrot soup

The secret to 10 minutes is buying a 10-ounce package of grated carrots and throwing it unopened into the microwave.

This soup is even better the next day.

10-ounce package of grated carrots
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock in a microwave-safe container.
1/2 onion (pre-sliced or diced if possible)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt (a pinch--1/8 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon curry powder (or to taste)
1/8 Cajun seasoning (or to taste)
[optional: 2 teaspoons minced garlic]
[optional: 2 teaspoons grated freshly peeled ginger root]
1 orange
1/4 to 1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream, even no-fat)
  1. Put the carrots unopened into the microwave and cook on high for 5 minutes. (If the bag pops or breaks, no problem.) Put the stock in the microwave to heat also
  2. Heat a fait-tout on high. Chop the onion finely. Add the oil, butter, and onion to the pan and cook on medium high until the onions are softened, stirring often. [add the optional garlic and ginger]
  3. Add the curry, salt, and Cajun seasoning after about three minutes. Juice the orange.
  4. When the carrots are done, open the bag carefully (use scissors or a knife) and add the carrots to the pot, along with the stock, creme fraiche and orange juice.
  5. Puree the soup finely with a blender wand or in a blender (in batches).
  6. Serve garnished with a minced (chiffonade) parsley OR chives OR scallion tops.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

10 minutes really?! Pomiane who? FAQ's

10 minutes, really?!

Yes, I mean 10 minutes. For most of these recipes I mean 10 minutes flat (see index label) or 5 minutes flat (ditto).
  • Other recipes take 10 minutes or less active time, either at the start or the finish or both. So a slow cooker recipe may take 5 minutes at 8 am and then another 5 minutes about 6 pm, to finish the sauce or garnish.
  • There are a few roasts that take 5-10 minutes to start and then from 12 minutes to 45 minutes to finish in the oven. These take some timing--and sometimes some checking for doneness towards the end. But a timer and an instant-read thermometer will get it. These will be best with a starter that you can put on the table while the main is finishing in the oven.
Pomiane who? Do French people really cook that way?

Yes, there is a very long tradition of fast French food. For me, it's summed up in Edouard do Pomaine, author of the classic from 1930, French Cooking in 10 Minutes. Yes. He is part of that grand trend toward health and efficiency that makes the French thin and low heart attack despite the butter and cigarettes. He wrote several books, but the best is FC10M, as I will abbreviate it.

Written in a breezy style, with the funniest, sweetest illustrations, it makes anyone confident of doing one's family right in 10 minutes. I have included many adaptations of his recipes. But it's really just common sense kitchen management. And hey, he was a professor of what we in the U.S. would call home economics, only in Paris in the roaring twenties.

I feel like I'm rushing. I can't cook that fast.

Some people are faster cooks and some slower. I remember our old friend Peter, who could take 5 minutes to peel an onion. Meticulous. I respect that meditative cooking. But that's not me. I like to peel and dice an onion and get on with it. And it's easy to learn how. Here's a video that says it all:

But then you also must learn to hold a knife properly.

And peel an egg quickly.

What else do I need to google? Oh--it helps to keep a jar opener handy.

Another thing is to organize the kitchen. A place for everything and everything in its place. We have what I like to call a one-butt kitchen. 10x10. But oh everything is so so close. Including my J when we're cooking (or, more often, cleaning up after). I really like that set up.

You've got to organize the shopping too. Do some little bit of preparation. Wash and trim vegetables and fruits when they come home from the market. It's easier then.

Keep sauces on hand. Vinaigrette, mayonnaise (homemade or not). Some basic sauces take only 5 minutes to make. They last weeks in the frig. And they make the food taste and look so much better. I try to keep on hand in the frig--in squeeze bottles usually:
  • aioli
  • balsamic vinager reduction
  • beef stock from pot roast
  • chicken stock from coq au vin or pot au feu
  • creme fraiche
Julia Child is turning over in her grave (tombe)!

I hope not. Julia actually has many rccipes that can be done in 10 minutes or less. And she brags about it! She likes to save time too. Many of the recipes I do are adaptations of those in Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes I and II. And I say so in the recipe, chapter and verse--abbreviating as MAFC I or II.

But for those other recipes--the ones that take hours in MAFC and minutes on this blog--I have to confess that the ones in MAFC usually taste better (but not always). The fact is, I don't always cook fast. When it's a special meal (and I have made the time) I love to do it the old school way. Slow food done slowly is usually great. But fast slow food is also good.

Julia taught me to cook. In college, when I needed to learn and had no-one to teach me, there she was with that weekly show. It was a cheap hobby, a cheap date, and it impressed some women. It also was, well, French. And I loved things French then. Still do.

Why cook French food fast when you can buy it?!

Good question. The French buy frozen and prepared foods at their supermarkets (grands surfaces is a grand word). And this blog uses a number of prepared foods (so does Julia, so does Edouard). But one's own cooking tastes better. And if it doesn't, it's a hell of a lot cheaper. And if it isn't, it at least has more love. And the potential for creativity, surprises, fun.

For me, the food must pass the Big Mac test. An entree has to cost less than a Big Mac and be faster to get (than driving a mile to the closest MacDonald's waiting in the drive through, driving back. Hey, we're already past 10 minutes. 15 minutes. 20.

Hey, you're a guy. Come clean. Who does the clean-up?

I must confess, J cleans up most of the time. Or we do it together while she's making coffee. I have gotten better (haven't I J?) at cleaning up as I cook, even when I'm doing 10 minute French cooking. Replace caps and put the bottle away. Put stuff that goes back in the frig in one place, close to the frig, and then put it all away at once. Keep a towel on the shoulder for wiping up, and a trash can on the floor under the cutting board (that's where Julia kept one, which made people think she was spilling food off the counter onto the floor).

But to be honest, I have a ways to go. Yet there's progress, even, in not resenting the question. Which I don't. At all. Really.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Caviar and Martinis

I bought a copy of Escoffier, the bible of grand old French cooking, on my first trip to New York, in 1973, which was also the first time I ate at a French restaurant. I remember wondering why so many recipes were Russian--until I learned how many great French chefs cooked for Russian royals. Of course they brought back buffet favorites, the grandest of course was caviar.

J likes caviar for her birthday, which was last week. And it is of course very fast. As she is not finicky about her caviar (nor am I), we like whitefish roe from the state to the north of us. I like it as simple as possible, almost. Just some sour cream, chopped shallots or scallions, and chopped egg (another reason why Edouard is so right about having one or two always boiled and ready). We sat around the coffee table and put a bit of each on a cracker, as a way to make the Martinis special.

J likes a Martini most every evening, which is neither Russian or French, but thoroughly American. Cocktail culture began in New Orleans. The Martini was invented in the Bay Area. And come to think of it, the Martini combines Russian vodka with French vermouth. We just discovered Noilly Prat, the queen of all vermouths. (T. S. Eliot had a cat named after it.) We are anxious (in a bad way) to taste the reformulated product, which the cocktail critic J reads (Wall Street Journal Weekend) says is much inferior to the recipe in use for Noilly Prat in the U.S. market for decades. It will be a while before we find out, as a bottle lasts a very long time at a teaspoon a day.

J said she enjoyed her birthday. And as we drank, we reminisced about happening onto the Russian Tea Room by Carnegie Hall and having, for us, a record $16 Martini, surpassing our record from 07 set at the Algonquin. I looked on the Tea Room's web site and noticed there are some amazing specials. J said we need to get back to New York while there is still a financial crisis.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mussels: Moules marinière

These must be God's fast food, or fast food of the gods. Out behind the Gran' Place in Brussels, there are bunches of these moules joints, jammed full of locals at lunch (I was there in February). They bring these steaming crocks and tons of bread. And you just dig in and get good and messy, and then mop up the juice with the bread. The frites are the best in the world there, but they barely rate an afterthought compared to those black bivalves.

I was just amazed, years ago, when I first cooked them. They were cheap, I recall. I filled up a big pot, put in maybe a half cup of white wine i had left, steamed them up, and they pushed the lid off, like popcorn. There was just so much of their own liquor they drool out when they open! It mingled with the wine (or whatever) and made it better than the finest fancy fish fumet to me .

Serves 4 as a first course. [MAFC I 226 FC10M 75-76]
  • Two quarts of mussels, well washed and scribbed (have the market do this!)
  • 1 cup dry white wine or vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons scallion white, chopped finely.
  • 4 parsley sprigs
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • bay leaf
  1. In a four quart pot or fait-tout over high heat (ideally with a clear glass lid), heat all the ingredients, covered, except the mussels. Salt and pepper.
  2. Add the mussels and cover. Steam for four minutes or until they are almost all open.
  3. Divide them and the liquor into bowls. Serve very hot, garnished with chopped parsley.

Check out the full panoramic photo above from Wiki Commons, GNU Copyright. Click it, and when it opens, click again. Gran' Place looks just like that at night.

Smoked salmon roses, ol' fashion': Saumon fumé rosette

I like these little roses because the color is so beautiful. The color is, well, salmon.

4 ounces Scottish style, thin sliced smoked salmon
Dill or parsley sprigs.
Extra virgin olive oil or walnut or almond oil
Rose or mixed peppercorns in a grinder
[optional: and capers]

  1. If necessary (and it usually isn't) cut the salmon into long strips.
  2. Starting at one end, roll the strips into a rose shape, by rolling one side more tightly than the other.
  3. Drizzle with oil and garnish with herbs and [optional] capers.