Friday, June 25, 2010

Football needs Wings

It's the World Cup of Football right now, and I can't stop watching matches. Last night , I cheered as Japan made it on to the next qualifying round. In a few hours, I'll put aside my things and watch Portugal vs. Brazil and North Korea vs. Cote D'Ivoire on split screens. But all this football is making me hungry.

If you're from North America, you likely think of the game with quarterbacks and huddles and big headgear when the word football is mentioned. I've never really understood the appeal of this game, it goes a little too slow for my taste. However, I love the beer and wings that go along with it. So, even if this is a different kind of football - one actually played with feet - I made some wings to go with the game. And having a Buffalonian around means that there are going to be Buffalo wings.

The wings are pretty easy, if you have a bottle of good hot sauce.
1) boil wings
2) place wings in bag with hot sauce and melted butter (lots of melted butter)
3) bake wings at 200°, turning them over once.
4) broil wings if not crispy enough
5) place wings in bowl, toss with more hot sauce and melted butter
6) serve with celery and dip.

The dip is normally a blue cheese dip, which is spelled "bleu cheese" for some reason I am yet to understand. I took 125 g of roquefort, 2 tbsp of mayonnaise, 3 tbsp of yogurt and 1 tsp of lemon juice.

There are higher fat versions of both the wings and the dip, but considering I'll be eating a few of these over the next few weeks, I can't really afford to go for the full-fat versions. Although I'd be tempted if I was in Buffalo.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Things That Come in the Mail: Green Tea Kit Kat

Not so long ago, a coworker announced that he was finally going to go for his dream trip to Japan. Happy that he was embarking on his adventure of a lifetime, I told him to try some Wasabi Kit Kats. At this point, all I really knew about the Japanese food that isn't really imported is: 1) you can buy nearly everything in a vending machine and 2) they really like their Kit Kats in Japan. Little did I know that Wasabi Kit Kats actually exist, but are only sold in Shizuoka. Apparently, they are intended as gifts - you travel to a certain area of Japan and you can buy an exotic Kit Kat for your friends at home. This is what I'm lead to believe, but I'm not 100% certain.

My coworker came back, full of stories, and with 1 Kit Kat in hand. Green Tea. He left the price tag on for authenticity. I didn't mind that it didn't come from a vending machine. The package is actually a box, and you can send it in the mail, like a postcard. While I love getting mail, this Kit Kat was already doomed to being crushed in my purse. It didn't need an extra crunch from a postal worker.

What's the green tea kit kat all about? It's white chocolate that has green tea in it. That's it. Not really exciting, not really offensive. Is it something that I will really crave? I don't think so. Is it something to write home about? Only if you write on the back of the box & stick it in the mail.

New Find: MSC Salmon Steaks

Although I like to cook exotic things, I stay away from fish. There are two simple reasons for this: 1) I believe in sustainable fishing and try my best to support it, at the cost of popular, flavourful fish, and 2) I'm sort of allergic.

After having seen fish in the seas, I was frightfully aware of the fact that they are not as numerous as in Jaques Cousteau films. I believe in sustainable fishing, that is, fishing that is done responsibly, ensuring that there is something in the ocean the next time we want a salmon steak.

The allergy was discovered years ago when I was a child. My face puffed up and my allergist tested my reaction against various fish. I did not seem to show a reaction to tuna, but I choose to eat tuna very rarely because, 1) it could have been in contact with other fish and 2) it is not normally caught in a sustainable manner. Yes, the dolphins will survive but they will not necessarily be playing in the oceans with tuna.

In Paris, I was severely tempted to try the salmon tartare before me. I hesitantly picked up my fork, took a minuscule piece and waited. I know what it feels like when I'm allergic to something and I knew that this was something I could eat. I discovered that I like salmon. At least I liked this salmon. Maybe I'd like other salmon. Not something I thought about much until I was in the local discount supermarket and saw this:

MSC approved salmon steaks.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent non-profit organization that promotes responsible fishing. Their logo is on fish products that meet their standards for fishing. This is fish that I can eat with a clear conscience. It's fish that I know has been harvested in a way that will allow future generations of fish & fish lovers to exist side by side.

I grilled the salmon steaks for the workaholic and took a small bite. It wasn't the mind-blowing salmon that I had in Paris, but it wasn't bad. The best part is, we can eat it with a clear conscience and, because it's at the discount supermarket, a clear conscience doesn't have a high price.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Daring Kitchen: June - Terrine

Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

An ideal challenge for someone who loves pate. Unfortunately, the free-range chicken livers that were purchased for this challenge turned into a buttery rich meal with caramelized onions and grapes. More on that later.

We all know that I'm not a baker. Bread and I don't get along. There was the time, years ago, that I tried to make croissants. I put hours into the ordeal, only to wake up on Sunday morning, pop the effort of the last 6 hours into the oven and a few minutes later ask: where's the rest of them? I don't know why bread does not rise in my kitchen. Presumably, bread has risen in those kitchens when other people inhabited them, but there is no remaining evidence. This is my excuse for not posting photos of my malformed loaf.

Because I'm not posting on a malformed loaf, one could conclude that my pate was spectacular. The pate was spectacular, but only on relative terms. I thought it would be interesting to try something new, like a terrine or something that involved savoury jell-o. Years ago on the beach outside of Monte Carlo, I had a fantastic homemade terrine, made by my friend's mother-in-law. While I am aware of the fact that she is an excellent cook, as is her daughter, I thought I could improvise anything involving gelatin. Here, I was proven wrong. I should have added more gelatin to every layer. I tried spinach, roasted garlic & peppers and cream cheese with freshly grated horseradish. Did we eat it? Yes. Was it a surreal terrine on the beach of the South of France moment? No. Will anything be a surreal terrine on the beach of the South of France moment? Certainly. I just have to make a few phone calls first.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Paris: Le Bar a Huitres

One thing I really wanted to do in Paris was sit & have some oysters with my Workaholic. I had our getaway planned and oysters were scheduled for the first night. I booked a table at Le Bar a Huitres near the Bastille. We got out at the exact opposite metro exit, walked around the Bastille and found men shucking oysters on the street. That's how I knew that we were in the right spot.

We ordered a giant platter which had 2 different kinds of oysters, mussels, clams, cockles, periwinkles, prawn and North Sea shrimp, as well as a crab. I satisfied my craving for oysters while we drank a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé (a white wine from Bourgogne). We sat, shelled our crab, drank wine and let the hours pass. I found it was the perfect way to introduce the Paris to the workaholic.

Le Bar a Huitres has 4 locations. If you're in Paris and craving oysters, maybe there'll be one close to you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Paris: L'Argume

L'Argume is a little out of the way but it offers food that encourages you to make the journey. I called the day before our arrival, shortly after our plans had been ironed out, in the naive hope that maybe there might possibly be a table for 2 free on a Saturday night. A table on a Saturday in a restaurant that seats 30 and serves 5 course meals for under €50/person. An amusing thought. Well, instead of asking if they have anything available for lunch, we went down to see for ourselves. Everything was booked but we got one of the bar tables at the front. What awaited us? The most friendly service, explaining every aspect of the menu. We decided that the lunch sampler was our best bet, enabling us to try all 3 starters and 1 main each.

ham, belgian endive salad with apple and a mustard vinaigrette. In all honesty, this simple dish stole the show as the vinaigrette pulled everything seamlessly together
salmon tartare with lime juice. I was hesitant with this one as I have never had good experiences with salmon but it was beautiful. Oily fish in the tart lime juice with nothing but a mild olive oil, a hint of parsley and fleur de sel.
spider crab soup. All parts of the crab were used and so there was a mild bitter note at the end. Nonetheless, a nice sample.

braised beef cheeks. Done to perfection with a bit of jus and a hint of pepper.
red mullet. Again, very good.
sides: carrots and onions. They were not falling apart but they were a little overdone for our liking.

gorgonzola with arugula and apples.
warm cherry soup with rosemary and a scoop of raspberry ice cream. Both were a delight.

Having a good meal in Paris is easy if you're willing to spend loads of money. For me, the challenge was having an amazing meal for under 90€ a person. This was easily achieved at L'Argume. The food and the staff and the friendliness of everyone in the restaurant on this particular Saturday made this a meal to remember.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

L'As Du Fallafel, Paris

What makes a good sandwich? I believe it to be a combination of personal attachments, the contents, and the environment. Personal attachments might be an odd criterion for some people, but think of the popularity of peanut butter & jam; for most people it is a memory that brings us back to a certain time. My personal attachments to falafel sandwiches go back decades as my sister would sometimes bring me one when she picked me up after school. For me, L'As Du Falafel automatically has this one point in its favour.

The contents of a the falafel sandwich are good - good falafel balls that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. They are not in the least bit dry. More importantly, they have a reputation of consistently good falafel balls. The pita was soft; the pickled cabbages were also of good quality and quite delicious on their own. What really made the sandwich for me was the addition of 2 slices of marinated eggplant; enough for an eggplant lover, yet not obtrusive for those who hate the vegetable (at our tasting, there was 1 of each). Also, the sauces were good.

Ordering a falafel at L'As Du Fallafel is no mean feat. Many people get the €2 discount by ordering it at the counter & eating their sandwich, which comes with a plastic fork, on the street. This involves patience as well as a strict adherence to procedure. We went inside, and were treated fairly well for such a busy sandwich bar. The place is busy, it's loud and it seems as though the staff move in fast-forward.

The three components of L'As du Fallafel are firmly in place. However, when we bit into our sandwiches, we expected the "Wow, that's a sandwich!" moment. This moment never really came. It was a good sandwich, beyond a doubt, but it suffers under one additional element: hype and expectation. There's not a sandwich in the world that can live up to the expectation of being the best sandwich in the world.
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