Food to Comfort our Minds & Souls

Have you noticed how similar dating and job hunting are? Not that I have dated a lot in the past few years, but I do have a recollection of what it feels like. The joy when the person you like asks you out on the first date; the preparation (“What am I going to wear? What am I going to say? How should I present myself?”); the joy if the first date goes well. The “how come he has not called me yet?“; the second thoughts (“Maybe it did not go so well after all, it’s true that he actually didn’t talk that much. I was all over the place. Oh my god, I was pathetic after all.“)
And then the renewed joy when he calls back, the pressure that builds on you for the second date: “That’s when I need to score. That’s when I need to impress the guy“. And then the preparation. The talks with girlfriend, the “I have to wear something different from last time. What should I be? Corporate yet sexy? Sexy yet corporate? Funny yet focused? Ironic & realistic yet enthusiast?
The dialogues in your head (or even out loud, yes) . Of course you are the wittier funnier sexier yet corporate ever. Insomnia the night before. Butterflies in your stomach the morning of. And then comes the second interview. Well, second date, sorry.Your mouth is really dry, despite the four gums you’ve been chewing for the past three hours and the bottle of water you drank. You can’t talk. Everything you’re trying to say sounds like a pathetic rumble. Your Frrench accent ees strronger zan ever. Seriously, was that a joke I was trying to make? And there you are. Date is over. Interview is done. Your ex-future husband/ex-future boss is no doubt convinced that he made the biggest mistake in his life when accepting a second interview / granting a second date – or vice versa.

What on earth is she talking about? You’re asking yourself. This is a food blog here, not a sexandthecity/monster kind of blog. But you’ll see where I am getting at: for all this job searching has triggered a frequent and nagging need of comfort food. And I am pretty sure that, in this city of lonely souls and high unemployment, I am not the only one. So I thought it might help me, and my gazillions of lonely/unemployed readers to understand what it is that makes a dish comforting.

So here’s my stab at it. This will be my new category – my own little research on comfort food. First of all, let’s define the subject at hand.

Comfort food – i.e. food supposed to make you feel better. But let’s add one limit, just now (and this, after lengthy discussions with Fabrice on the definition and limits of comfort food). Let’s indeed, first focus on food that comforts your soul, not your body. Je m’explique: Fabrice and I agreed (and also Christian, who’s been a great help here) that there are two different types of occurrences when one might need comfort food:

1. When your body aches. For us thirty-something-with-no-kid, this most often happens when we are hangover. OR, when you have the swine flu and miss your mommy (don’t tell me this never happened to you).

2. When your mind or soul hurts. For example, when you’ve just been dumped. Or when you’ve just made a complete fool of yourself at a job interview. Or when you miss your mommy and daddy, alone on a Sunday night in an unfamiliar city.

Why, will you say, am I separating the two kinds? Well because comfort food will not answer to the same needs. In 1. comfort foods caters to a physiological need. In 2., comfort food answers to a psychological need.

So, let’s focus on the second one, and let me start by some rhetorical questions (which you gazillion readers of mine should feel free to answer nevertheless):

  • Is there an ultimate comfort food? or, rather, are there specific ingredients (and here I am thinking FAT, PASTA, POTATOES and CHEESE) which are universal comfort ingredients. OR – is comfort food completely and utterly cultural? OK – I think I know the answer to this one, but still…
  • Is comfort food mostly savory – or sweet?
  • Can comfort food be found in a restaurant? Or is comfort food quintessentially homemade?
  • Is comfort food comforting because it reminds you of happy moments in your life? La madeleine de Proust, quoi.

I won’t answer these questions today. But these will no doubt guide my thinking, which I will happily share with you in the next few weeks.

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Bacon, Bacon, Bacon

IMG_0381Did you notice how PORK was on everybody’s mind these days? Well, unless you leave in a cave, you should have. What with the swine flu, pork cheeks, pork butts, Little Giant’s Swine of the week, Park Slope Pork-Off, not to forget my Pork Shoulder of course, David Chang’s love affair with pork. Et j’en passe.

I have to say that this is actually to my liking. I love Pork. For many reasons:

  • it is cheap
  • it reminds me of my father (the venerable man was infatuated with pork, especially pork chops)
  • it is versatile
  • and it is cheap
  • also my mother (who grew up in a farm) told me that pigs were very nice pets and she would always have a pig following her around all day long (that is, before the poor animal was slaughtered).

And, like a lot of people, one of my favorite cuts is BACON. Why? Well, for the afore-mentioned reasons. The good thing about bacon is that it is a cheap and a quick way to give that soup this smokey flavor it lacked. Or to turn regular pates au fromage (the French version of the Mac&Cheese) into some sort of carbonara.

One of the problems I faced when I emigrated here though, was that bacon was not cut to my taste. Or rather, packages were so huge I was always afraid bacon would go bad. And I hate to throw food away. So I found my own little trick: I freeze it, and slice it while it’s still frozen (this way I can put the rests back in the freezer). See the picture: it’s cool, he? OK, I guess that doesn’t really work when you want your slices of bacon for breakfast. But I don’t usually do this. It’s not in my culture.

So what do I do with bacon? Pretty much everything:

  • Soups: I always add a little bacon in my soups – to give it that extra flavor of meat, fat & smoke. Granted, it is not as good as throwing the bone from the roast, but it’s pretty close. (I have the most joyful memory of a soup made by my then-best-friend’s-mother when I was a kid in the Lot (merveilleux Lot, country of melons and asparagus), cooked in the antic fireplace (and, no, I swear, I am not making this up) where she threw the rests of the night before’s roti. That was memorable. It could also be nice to add a little bacon to your chicken stock (because yes, you HAVE to make your chicken stock yourself, no excuse).
  • Add bacon to your pasta – to turn it either in carbonara (see for example my Baby Spinach Carbonara), or to your Bolognese sauce.
  • And of course, bacon is good with eggs. Very good even. Particularly in Quiche Lorraine I must say. Or any form of quiche you may think of.

Last but not least: I would advise AGAINST buying the cheapest bacon you could find. You know I am cheap. So I tried. But it was gross, let me tell you. I could barely find the bacon once I had sautee it. So please buy the good stuff. Also, when I sautee bacon (especially for Quiche Lorraine), I usually get rid of the fat before adding any other ingredients.

A Perfect Dinner…ou presque

Homey & Designy Little Giant

Homey & Designy Little Giant

So here we are at Little Giant (Lower East Side). The sun is actually shining this time. A perfect Saturday evening is unfolding before our eyes (I know it is a perfect day when I sing Lou Reed’s “oh it’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you” for myself – no kidding).
I love the decor of the restaurant, there is a table on the terrace and Florent and I can sip our cocktails there – and we end up eating there as well. The menu sounds promising, all the more that there are some ingredients I quite don’t understand – and one in particular that pops up almost everywhere in the menu: RAMPS.

“Euh, excuse me, miss, please – what are “ramps” ?
“It’s a wild leek – tastes between a leek and a scallion.

Niiiiiiiiice, I thought: the sweetness of the leek with an onion twist.

So, as I said, it all started well, with a truly homy yet designy decor.  Florent, his cousin, his uncle and I ordered some of the “nibbles” well, to nibble on. The deviled eggs were a bit too dry for me, not enough mayo, quoi. I liked the ricotta in the braised artichokes: very rich. The artichokes were not very tasty though. I really liked the warm spinach & feta dip. I couldn’t quite taste the feta in there , but it reminded me of a dish I loved when I was a kid. My mother’s ex-boyfriend’s mother (my mother’s love life is…complicated) used to make it for me for Sunday lunch. That’s how I learned to like spinach:  it was a very rich and creamy spinach gratin, with the spinach du jardin and a nice thick bechamel. Delicious. And Little Giant is right to serve this as a nibble. It is pretty heavy, as you can imagine. So, Little Giant: for your Spinach Feta Dip – I am eternally grateful.

The Menu looked appetizing too

The Menu looked appetizing too

So far so good – or at least OK. I can’t say I was hugely impressed by the appetizers (besides the Feta dip, that is), but I was in good company and I liked the waitress (efficient but not in your face). In fact, we were in such a good mood that we barely noticed that 30 minutes had passed and our entrees were still not served. Let me be clear here: I hate, HATE when you are barely done with your appetizers and they already serve the entrees. I may have a big appetite (and I think Florent tends to think that my appetite is really too big these days) but I need time  between my dish, so that I can look forward to the next dish. Donc, a good 45 minutes after we finished our “nibbles”, entrees were served. And that’s when disappointment arised. Big time.

We had a ramp theme going on on our table. I was rooting for the “ramps & orrecchiette, with ramp puree & braised ramps, poached organic egg & bread crumbs” but was keeping a close eye on Florent’s “veal shortribs, all-natural milk-fed veal, sauteed ramps stone-ground grits, roasted cherry tomatoes”. Let’s start with my dish:

  • the pasta was al dente – much to my liking;
  • braised ramps. What? Braised ramps? Where? Believe me I looked. But I couldn’t find them. So I asked:

“Excuse me euh sorry to ask but, where are the braised ramps please (and sorry again)? Well, they are in the sauce. Ah, ok”*

I was not convinced by her answer. Don’t mention braised ramps if they are not visible on my plate.

  • and then the taste.  Well, let’s just say ramps are very, very powerful, more on the garlic side than the leek side of the family. And that’s something I would have liked to know before ordering. Second, I am a firm believer of using garlic & onions in reasonable amounts. Florent doesn’t like garlic or onions so I have to play tricks. Here, I couldn’t finish my plate. Which is highly, highly unusual (to Florent’s great despair). Since then, I did a little research. Turns out it is a wild leek – which smells & taste half way between garlic & scallions and looks similar to scallions. It’s harvested in the Appalachians and apparently they go crazy over that little thing there. There’s a Ramp Festival, and even an entire website dedicated to wild leeks recipes.

Let’s focus on Florent’s plate now:

  • Sauteed ramps? Check . And it was not nearly as strong as my ramps puree (or maybe my palate was numb after the orecchiette)
  • Stone-ground grits. Ok, that definitely sounds cool and natural and fancy too. But does it imply that I can actually feel the grains of grits under my teeth? Well, not in my world. In my world, polenta – and grits are all about creaminess, smoothness and tenderness. Ok, there might be some graininess involved too. But these grits were not cooked enough.
  • Veal shortrib : tenderness? Check. But the ribs were white. I mean there was no color or crispiness there. It was a bit sad.

Ramps by Adrianne Picciano

Ramps by Adrianne Picciano

So yes, I was disappointed. Luckily the desserts made everything better. I am not usually not a fan of desserts but I would give a big high five for the sticky toffee pudding. And the lemon-ricotta fritters with lemon curd were also very light and the tanginess of the curd was nicely counterbalanced by the ricotta…

Sadly, the bill came. L’addition etait plutot salee.…$90 per person (we did order two bottles of wine though).

Would I go back? Well…maybe. First because I completely trust Catherine’s tastes, (she recommended the restaurant) and I am pretty sure that she had a very nice meal when she went there. Also, they change their menu all the time (they are all about seasonality, organic, all-natural, etc.) and I certainly commend them for using unusual ingredients. And, they made me want to try and cook ramps (if I ever find any).

*I have to say that, to my despair, I am not the most assertive kind of gal. I hate scandals and people yelling and am usually a perfect well-behaved costumer.
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Booking a Table at Momofuku Ko? Check

Yehaaaaaaaaaa! I got in. And here is the proof :

Monday, May 11, 10:01 am

Monday, May 11, 10:01 am

See the green check at 9:30 pm? That’s me – At Ko – Sunday, May 17, 9:30pm.
OK – because I am an honest gal – I’ll have to tell you that I did not pursue and confirm the reservation: 9:3opm  is usually the time I go to bed on a Sunday (well – not really, but am in my pajamas). But now that I know I can do it – will do it again, and again and again, for when Fabrice is in town.

A Perfect Brunch…

Le roi des bread basket @ Get Fresh

Le roi des bread basket @ Get Fresh

Yesterday I woke up in a perfect mood. Not too early – but not too late either. No hangover. I could feel that I was getting hungry – but not the kind of hunger that puts me in a bad mood if I don’t get fed with what I crave right away. (I know, living with me must feel like living with a pregnant woman 24/7 – and NO mum, Delphine, Nathalie & Francoise – I am not pregnant)*. So far so good. The weather was OK (i.e. not raining, not freezing, and sometimes there was a little bit of sun even).

And Florent and I had our entire day planned out: brunch with papers at Get Fresh, and dinner with Florent, his cousin & uncle and I (again, Florent’s extensive family) at Little Giant at 7. What we had planned in between didn’t really matter to me, as long as brunch & dinner were secured.

And it all started, really really well. Here we are at Get Fresh. I already mentioned Get Fresh as one of the mandatory stops when Fabrice is in town. And again, I was not disappointed – no no no. We had this perfect table – not outside because it was still a bit chilly for us – but next to the doors to the terrace so that we could pretend to be outside.

It took me a while to get used to brunch: in France, we don’t do brunch – we do breakfast and then lunch with real dishes (although apparently brunch is getting real trendy in France these days, so I am lying a little here). Quite frankly I did not understand what to make of this meal when, no matter which restaurant you would go to, you would get almost the same dishes all the time (that is: Egg Benedict, Pancakes, French Toast, Eggs, sausages & potatoes). But that was until I moved to New York and discovered perfect brunches. And then I understood: brunch is not about getting all original and fancy. Brunch is about cooking traditional meals to perfection – with the best products you could find. You could tell me that any meal should be just about that….Yeah, agreed, sort of. But with brunch, the selection of dishes available is not extensive: it’s the week-end, one is very probably hangover from the night before, or at least tired from the week. So let’s bring one some comfort food in its best form. And guess what – that is exactly what Get Fresh does. First: the bread basket. Comes with vanilla butter, orange marmalade & strawberry marmalade (which they make themselves, of course). Delicious cheddar & rosemary scone, marvelous warm pear muffin and, my favorite: the BRIOCHE. Boy they know how to make brioche there. And I am a big fan of brioche. The only thing I wished was that they didn’t toast it – it’s even better when it’s warm and tender. Baguette was ok (but I won’t go there – I gave up on finding fresh and crispy baguette elsewhere than in France – I am snob this way).

Pain Brioche Parfait (and no, it was not burnt, it's just the picture)

Pain Brioche Parfait (and no, it was not burnt, it's just the picture)

Then came the egg sandwich. A delish. The stars there were clearly the bun and the egg. Again, the bun (brioche – again, they make their own) was perfect: sweet but not so much as it would overpower the other ingredients. It might seem odd to list the egg as the star there – but believe me, it was. And for two reasons:

  1. It tasted like an egg. What? You don’t understand? Well, try to remember the taste of the last egg you ate. You don’t remember? Well, I guess that’s normal, because egg don’t taste like anything these days. I hate to play the “it was so much better before” card, but it’s true. And this egg TASTED like egg, and for this, Get Fresh, I am eternally grateful.
  2. And – it was cooked to perfection: it was poached, the white was white (and not transparent) as it should be – and the yellow was runny – as it should be.

Florent seems to want to loose weight these days (or he is pretending to want to loose weight to  have ME loose weight – I haven’t quite yet figured this one out, despite careful interrogation and scrutiny). So we ordered granola. And it was good too, I must say.

See the egg? It was Perfect

See the egg? It was Perfect

So, like I said, a perfect brunch, to start a perfect day. $40 was our total (with tips) – service was OK (I must say that I still get the feeling that the waiters are all new there and quite don’t know what they are doing – although they were all helpful and trying hard). I was content, and even more looking forward to Little Giant – as the idea of my next post was taking shape in my mind.

*I am the youngest of 4 in the family – and also the only one without kids. And thing is, when you turn 30, the old excuse of “I am too young, way too young” turns out to be a little old. So one has to find other excuses. The “I don’t have a job and we wouldn’t have enough money to even CONSIDER getting pregnant – especially in New York city” has worked for me so far. Also it would help if my friends stopped getting pregnant all the time – and if my sisters started having babies again.
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Lemon mi amore

Le citron c'est important

Le citron c'est important

You are going to think that I am flaky, unreliable even: still no luck at Momofuku Ko. But that’s also because I still didn’t manage to be there at 10:00 am on the dot. I was there at 9:58 – and then something happened and next thing I know it’s 10:10 am already and Momofuku Ko is all reserved for the next week.Oh well.

I already shared my love for flat-leaves Parsley. Wonderful Parsley. And with Parsley comes Lemon, often. Lemon is indeed another one of my must-haves. I am wondering whether I shouldn’t have started with it actually. For when I am out of lemon, I am not the same. Really. A little bit like when you are out of salt. Or when you get the filter in the coffee machine in the morning, add water…and then realize you are out of coffee. Well, you get the picture.

Lemon does wonder in the kitchen. It’s cheap: I got 5 for 2 dollars at Union Market the other day (and Union Market is not really known for being cheap). You can keep them forever in the fridge (which means that you CAN buy 5 lemons). And here is an idea of all the nice things you can do with them:

  • the obvious: la vinaigrette. I use it all the time instead of vinegar – I find that vinegar is usually not good if you are not willing to pay the price (don’t get me started on fake balsamic vinegar). So my usual vinaigrette is as follows:
  • 1 measure of olive oil+ 1 measure of lemon + 1 measure of water + salt & pepper
    + 1 handful of parsley

    Yes: water. Because it’s light – but wet also. Likewise, I use lemon in mayonnaise, but also in any sauce, cream with yogurt or cream cheese or both.

  • the less obvious: did you know that lemon is a thickener? That’s why I often use it in pasta sauce (see for example my Baby Spinach Carbonara). Not only does it thickens the sauce, but it’s also light (unlike corn starch) and it can give the sauce a little twist which I like.
  • also less obvious: in soups. I like to finish off a vegetable soup with a little lemon juice. It’s actually a trick I learned from my sister’s Hungarian husband (not only does he play a gazillion instruments, but the guy can cook too AND il a de la vigne (he bought a vineyard, yep).

Note that I also like lime – great in salsas of course – but also in vinaigrette when summer comes (which has yet to happen on my part of the world). And of course, there are also recipes entirely centered around lemons, including one of my very best favorite desserts: la tarte au citron meringuee de ma maman (my mommy’s lemon pie with meringue). Too bad I can’t bake, otherwise I would have shared it with you.

Oh – and one big caveat: please don’t use store-bought lemon juice. Please. It tastes like plastic. And what, you are so lazy you can’t squeeze the lemon with your hands? Your hands are so delicate you can’t use one of them as a colander to prevent the seeds to get into your vinaigrette? Please.

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Pulled-Pork & Roasted Vegetables Sandwich

Mon livre fetiche avec des traces de chocolat dessus

Mon livre fetiche avec des traces de chocolat dessus

Ok – so I didn’t try Momofuku this morning. But that’s because I do have – sometimes – to look for a job, go to interviews and what not. I could do it now, but that would be tricher (cheating) : everybody knows that it is impossible to get a reservation at 7:20pm.

Instead, I had long promised a recipe to use my leftovers of my pork shoulder roast – so here’s a start with this sandwich. You may remember also that I roasted zucchinis & bell peppers to go with the roast and I used the leftovers of this in my sandwich as well – so I figured why not giving you the recipe too?

Roasted Vegetables
I took this recipe from one of my favorite book Petits Plats entre amis from Trish Deseine. In France, Trish Deseine is a real mega super star. I think I offered her books to all my sisters (I have three), my mother (I have one), and any of my friends who had at least a vague interest in cooking (I have one) – or did not cook at all (I have one too)- and obviously had to learn, right?

Just to be clear, I made a list of what I love about Trish Deseine:
– she loves chicken and I do to
– most of her recipes are so simple I could do them les yeux fermes (blind folded)
– the pictures are nice (unlike mine)
– she loves soups and I do to
– she is not a big fan of appetizers and so am I (not a big fan).

Roasted vegetables are an example of how simple her recipes are. Here it goes:

Placer les legumes coupes en petits morceaux, arroses d’un filet d’huile d’olive, dans un plat sous le gril de votre four pendant environ 40 min. Salez et poivrer.

And here is the version I did last Monday:

4 zucchinis & 2 yellow red bell pepper
3-4 garlic cloves
Olive oil
A little bit of Thyme

Preparation: 10 min
Cooking 30-40 min
Yield: 4

Dice the vegetables and place on aluminum foil on your oven grill. Sprinkle a little bit of olive oil, salt & pepper and roast at 375F for 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of the vegetables). Keep an eye on it and mix from time to time so it doesn’t burn.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches (for 4 hot dogs)

2 tbspoons of roasted vegetables
1/2 cup of cream cheese
1/2 cup of yogurt
Lemon Juice
4tbspoons of roasted pork shoulder leftover

Preparation: 5min

Put the cream cheese on high for 30 sec. in the microwave if too cold. Mix the cream cheese with yogurt – add the roasted vegetables with a little bit of lemon juice, salt & pepper. You can also add a little bit of cumin. And, if you still have those garlic cloves you roasted, peel & puree them with the cream cheese.
Stuff the hot dog buns with the roasted vegetable mix, the pulled pork and add a little bit of mustard to taste.Yummy

You get the idea: if you don’t have roasted vegetables, you can use the same sauce but add parsley + cilantro and more cumin for example. If you have time, prepare the sauce a little early so that all the flavors blend in. And of course, you don’t NEED to have pork shoulder leftovers. Pork tenderloin leftovers will do to. I could also imagine this combination with chicken leftovers too.

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