"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Salted caramel hits the big time

The NY Times dining section traces the trajectory of salted caramel from French gourmet goodie to high-end American foodie treat to mass-market taste sensation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Hanukkah and Happy Christmas!

Here at the Gateau household we're cheerfully celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas simultaneously (with a little Winter Solstice thrown in on Sunday for good measure, via a red velvet cake with a sun decoration and Happy Birthday to the Sun sung together). I have latkes frying while a pork roast with port-coffee cream sauce is in its final stages. Plus, Mr. Gateau made his wonderful Three Sisters Stew that I missed at Thanksgiving, and we have broccoli. I'm posting between latke flipping and snorts of eggnog with the good rum.

Tomorrow we'll have our annual chocolate chip pancakes with bacon, and then head to the grandparents, who will be doing up a standing rib roast, and I'll probably make some Yorkshire pudding to go with.

Happies, dear readers!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

In which we expand our horizons

After enjoying our Sweet and Savory Baking class over the summer, Ms. Cake and I decided to sign up for another cooking class as soon as possible. This being NYC, land of a zillion activities and opportunities, a zillion people are having the same idea you are, so everything is oversubscribed immediately. We weren't able to sign up for another class until mid-December, but the wait was worth it. Last Saturday night we spent 4 1/2 extremely pleasant hours learning all about Thai cooking, preparing numerous dishes in teams, and then eating our feast with a selection of wines and Asian beers.

As an extra bonus, the instructor was Chef Jane, who had taught our baking class. Chef Jane is cheerful but firm, and really seems to love not just food and cooking but also teaching non-pros. The class was large, and everyone seemed happy to be there, unlike our last class when we had to share our workspace with a miserable couple who seemed to hate all of humanity, including each other.

After a discussion of Thai ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques, we broke into groups to start cooking. Our team was assigned sticky rice with mango (unsweetened, and served as a side dish rather than as a dessert), tapioca with young coconut (over which was served another team's fried bananas with black and white sesame seeds), summer rolls, and whole steamed fish with tamarind sauce. Ms. Cake was in charge of preparing the fish, and I made the tamarind sauce, which is a thing of fabulousness. Really, that sauce would probably make artgum eraser taste delicious.

Other teams worked on Pad Thai, chicken with green curry, chicken satay with peanut sauce, hot and spicy shrimp soup, green papaya salad, cucumber salad, and grilled shrimp with cilantro and chiles. By the end of the cooking session, we had three cooking stations covered with dishes of food ready to eat.

My sticky rice got overcooked, and neither of the Pad Thai executions were terrific, but it didn't matter, because there was so much good food to eat. Idiotically, neither of us thought to take photos, but trust us, it was a beautiful spread, and delicious. I'm searching for a good place in my area to buy some of the necessary ingredients, but if need be I'll just make a pilgrimage to Queens and stock up on curry pastes, rice paper wrappers, and other necessaries.

Meanwhile, the top tip was to use a Japanese wasabi grater to grate ginger root. It won't nick your fingers, it's quick and easy to use, and it catches all the ginger flesh and juice while eliminating the stringy bits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yes We Can.....eat at Olive Garden

Ms. Cake and I decided this was the year we could no longer sit on our asses and watch the election unfold around us, so we signed up with the volunteer lawyers' arm of the Obama campaign to do voter protection in a swing state on Election Day. We were assigned to the southeastern Ohio operation, and so the day before the election we got up at the crack of dawn and flew to Columbus, OH, rented a car, and drove to Athens, the home of Ohio University, for training. In honor of my respect for Barack Obama and my love of fatty foods, I wore my "Donuts and Bacon: Taste We Can Believe In" t-shirt, a gift from my friend Jeffrey. Fortunately, my fellow travelers found it as amusing as I did (I was a little afraid the overly-earnest might find it offensive, but not that afraid).

Having arrived at the Holiday Inn Express for the training session a bit early, we had time to kill and needed lunch. Off the same parking lot was an Applebee's, which Ms. Cake had never patronized. I assured her that you can get a perfectly respectable lunch at Applebee's, and in fact I happen to enjoy their "Oriental" chicken salad with crispy chicken quite a bit. So we had that. Could not get a cup of coffee because the Athens area was under a "boil water" order due to a water system problem, so we made up for it with extra Diet Coke.

Following training we needed to head to Zanesville, the location of our assigned polling place, but first we needed to lay in sustenance supplies for the remainder of our time. We were expected to staff our polling places from opening to closing, and could not be assured we would have access to meals, so we went to Wal*Mart, also a first for Ms. Cake. Of course we went into a major fugue state and found ourselves loading our cart with necessaries such as cute notebooks, candy, and so forth. But we also bought relatively healthy snacks to last us through the election, like nuts, apples, dried apricots, carrots, Clif bars, Luna bars, juice boxes, water, etc. We also bought a small stool in case there was no other place to sit.

We drove from there to Zanesville, a very attractive drive on a winding county route, and arrived at the Comfort Inn just as night was falling. We were very pleased with the Comfort Inn, which was well appointed and clean, and discovered that our room was equipped with a refrigerator and microwave. We were also pleased to discover that our polling location was 5 minutes away, which would make getting there by 5:45am that much easier.

We were exhausted, but had enough energy left to want to sit and have a decent dinner. Within walking distance of the hotel was an Olive Garden. Neither of us had ever eaten in an Olive Garden, and we'd encountered enough New Yorkers sneering about the middle-American mediocrity of it to be dubious. But it was right nearby, and we weren't feeling picky anyway.

To our quiet delight, our dinner at Olive Garden was more than adequate and in fact quite pleasant. The only chain restaurant feeling to it was the presence on the tables of photo-illustrated dessert menus, overpraising the "decadence" of the chocolate desserts. But the lighting was soft, the tables large and well-spaced, and though the menu had some overly fatty and too-complicated combinations, we each found dishes that were appealing. Ms. Cake had a nice pasta with garlicky tomato sauce and shrimp, and I had steak simply grilled with olive oil and rosemary and served with roasted potatoes and vegetables. Certain it was going to come too well-done, I ordered it medium rare and had to send it back for a little more fire. We each had a perfectly decent glass of wine. One of the widely advertised offerings is the "unlimited salad and breadsticks." The breadsticks were a hit with Ms. Cake, and we were both happy to see a large, chilled bowl of tossed salad served family style, with chilled plates, and a nice vinaigrette. The salad was mostly romaine lettuce, and had the type of fixings you'd add when you make a salad in your own home. The waitstaff were incredibly friendly, and as an added bonus, we both got carded. The portions were, naturally, too large, but we had them wrapped and took them back to our room to eat as leftovers the next day.

We slept like the dead, then got ourselves to our assigned polling place before dawn, at a local Methodist church. We weren't entirely sure what to expect, but I can say that it was an honor and privilege to spend such an important day with the people of Zanesville, Ohio, who regardless of political affiliation were almost all to a person friendly, enthusiastic, and polite to these New York lawyers in their midst, and it was very gratifying to help ensure that anyone who was entitled to vote, who wanted to vote, was able to do it in our little corner of Ohio. We met old people and young people, Republicans and Democrats, country and cosmopolitan, international election watchers (who brought us hot tea), Vets for Obama, a gentleman from the VFW who was aiding the Obama GOTV effort, children with their parents, church members (who kindly let us use the facilities all day), a group of gay men who were seeking signatures on a petition supporting gay rights legislation, and all manner of good folks who showed up before early morning shifts or on their way home from school or with their entire families in tow to step up and vote.

At the end of the day we were wiped out, and a little apprehensive about the results. As we counted up the final tallies posted at our precincts, and took in the fact that Obama had solidly taken three of the four, we thought about the people we'd met, and realized that our narrow New York prejudices hadn't adequately prepared us to understand that guys in trucker hats with gun racks on their pickups and church ladies with seasonal sweaters would be just as likely as Williamsburg hipsters or San Francisco computer programmers or Vermont hippies to vote for change.

After that, we went back to our room and all but collapsed. We ate our leftovers and munched our snacks and watched the returns just long enough to hear that Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida were called for Obama before we fell asleep. Later, brief text messages and a call from Mr. Cake informed us that McCain had conceded. So no parties, no tearful embraces -- in fact, it took us a few days to really take in the magnitude of what had happened -- but my best friend and I did our small part together to help this happen, and got a chance to broaden our perspectives of our fellow Americans. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Yes We Can. And Yes We Did.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So good, so cheap

Well, given the abysmal state of the world economy, pretty soon I'll have to rename this blog "1001 Things To Do With Giant Sacks of Rice and Beans." But until then, at least I can practice the time-tested household frugality of actually eating up the leftovers before they turn into unidentifiable mush in the back of the refrigerator.

The other night I'd ordered a pizza and tossed salad from a local pizzeria, then never gotten around to the salad, which fortunately arrived with dressing on the side. I ended up making a tasty dinner for myself of the salad plus about a third of the giant bowl of excellent rigatoni bolognese (with fresh ricotta on top) I'd ordered for lunch and not finished. With that I had the last glass in a bottle of white wine we'd opened for Canadian Thanksgiving (referred to as "grown-up juice" by Baby Gateau) and the kids had pizza with an advance preview of the Halloween candy for dessert. Cheap! Good! Thrifty!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another dose of reality

We made a family trip to Whole Foods to pick up some stuff for Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend, plus things for a simple dinner at home (a nice jar of vodka sauce, some ziti, and the Whole Foods turkey meatloaf, that I remade into tiny meatballs and cooked in the sauce). As I was taking the baby out of the car, he said to me "Lindsey [his nanny] coming?" I said, "No, not until Monday." He said, "Evie [teenage babysitter] here?" Uh, I guess we've been going out too many Saturday nights.....

Anyway, the boys ate their ziti and meatballs with incredible gusto, so Mr. Gateau and I were trying to think of some similarly simple dinners that are quick to prepare and the kids will enjoy, but aren't too kid-like (for our benefit) and/or made of junk. Some ideas:

--chicken quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas, guacamole, salsa
--tacos or nachos made with the fancy organic taco shells or chips, turkey or buffalo meat, and decent quality fixings
--rotisserie chicken or any grilled/roasted meat with Near East rice pilaf and a vegetable
--chicken noodle soup
--chicken sausage and potatoes baked in one dish and served with grainy mustard
--beef stew or other crock-pot stew

Others? Anyone? Bueller?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back to Reality

I haven't posted since we left Paris (final day report: baguettes with butter and jam from the less stellar bakery in the neighborhood, but still: Parisian Baguette! and lunch at attractive outdoor cafe in the Jardin du Palais Royal, which had a bit of a Moroccan theme: had soft drinks, a salad with hams and air-dried beef and a Moroccan tomato salad, and then sadly we were off). 

But it's been mostly back to reality -- take-out, simple meals (I made my standby white bean soup with red pepper-garlic swirl and we ate that for a few days). Today, though, is the first real rainy Saturday we've had in a while, and the first one of fall, so I've hauled out the Crock Pot and have just put up a brisket with slightly sweet, tangy sauce with plenty of onions. We'll have that with smashed red potatoes and broccoli. I also have the supplies to make giant chewy molasses-ginger cookies later with the kids. I may get ambitious and do mini brown sugar-apple cakes for Rosh Hashanah, but then again I may just lie on the couch and watch Battlestar Galactica.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crossing the museum threshhold

Mr. Gateau is a cultured guy, but he has his limits, and until yesterday, that limit was one museum per day. However, they say travel is broadening, and by the end of the day he was suggesting that we fit in an extra museum.

We started the day, after our usual breakfast, with a bike ride to the Musee Rodin, which was a major hangout of mine when I was doing my semester abroad and studying Rodin and Claudel. If anything, the museum and its gardens are even more beautiful, with late-season roses still in bloom. It seems to be field trip season in Paris, with throngs of students ranging from middle school to high school to art college descending in groups on major landmarks and museums. It's always amusing to see how kids behave like all other kids, regardless of nationality.

After a leisurely visit to the museum, we took a nice stroll around the St. Germain area, peeking in shop windows and settling into a cafe across from St. Sulpice. We had a simple cafe lunch -- a couple of beers and a sandwich jambon-fromage for Mr. Gateau, and a croque monsieur on pain Poilaine for me. After lunch we continued our stroll, dodging art students and their giant pads in front of St. Sulpice drawing the sculpture, and made our way around into St. Michel, where I resisted buying endless blank notebooks. That was where we decided to tackle another museum, this time the Musee Cluny, or the national museum of the Middle Ages. I have always been entranced with medieval art, but it wasn't a huge fascination of Mr. Gateau's, until this visit. The Cluny probably has one of the best medieval art collections in the world, and we were both taken with the carvings, the tapestries, and the rich paintings.

We left the museum thinking we'd take a short Metro ride back to our neighborhood and have tea, but that plan was foiled when all the local Metro stations were closed, and barricades set up, to contain the crowds gathering to see the Pope, who is in town for two days. So we walked, with part of our route down along the edge of the Seine, which was lovely. We had our tea and shared a pain au chocolat and the last of the day's baguette, with jam, and had a bit of a nap.

For dinner, we'd made a reservation at a small restaurant in the 1st Arrondisement, on the Place du Marche St. Honore, called the Point Bar. It had good reviews, touting the simple menu and very fresh ingredients. It was a lovely place, on a square ringed with small, lively restaurants, and we enjoyed sitting outside and eavesdropping on a couple of American businesspeople who were clearly having some kind of doomed affair. Mr. Gateau had a foie gras terrine with pain Poilaine, and I had a plate of nice sauccisson sec with little cornichons, to start, along with a bottle of bordeaux. For the main course he had the plat du jour, roasted loup de mer with very nice baked zucchini shells with a red pepper sauce, and I had delicious, rare duck breast in a sweet, slightly tangy, honey sauce, served with olive oil potatoes. For dessert we shared a plate of ripe Camembert, finished our wine, and had a coffee.

It was still a bit early to turn in, so we took a stroll around the square, then walked back over to Willi's Wine Bar to sit at the bar and have a glass of port. After lingering over that, it was finally time to call it a day, but not before talking to the boys at home, and having a good chuckle over their funny expressions.

Just a bit of a day left, before we head for home!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Paris Day 5

Thursday we forced ourselves back to reality. OK, not our real reality -- after all, we were still in Paris, still pretending to be people of leisure, still sleeping past 10am and then lingering over the newspaper and baguette for a couple of hours before heading out to explore the little streets again. We found a radio station featuring jazz, standards, and blues, and that has become the backdrop/soundtrack for our visit.

Also, the weather has been spectacular. With the small exception of a couple hours of rain on Thursday evening and afternoon, sticking an umbrella in my purse seems to have done the trick -- it's been warm, breezy, and sunny, with big puffy clouds. As a result, we've only set foot once in the Metro, and have spent the rest of the time on foot and on bikes, hopefully burning off the insane number of calories we have been consuming.

Day 5 started off as usual, with a sleep-in, crusty bread, and tea in the apartment. Then we decided to visit the Marais and the Musee Picasso by bike. When we got to the museum, though, we found it was closed for a month of renovations, so we sat in its little park drinking a bottle of water and then decided to see the Musee Carnavalet, which houses a collection on the history of Paris. We were both taken in particular with the exhibit of items from the revolutionary period and the last days of the royal family.

After the musuem we strolled along the rue des Rosiers, the old Jewish section of town, mostly so I could check an item off my must-eat list -- the best felafel in the world. I've never eaten it in Israel, but compared to anything you get in the States, this is as good as it gets. A generous helping of felafel balls are stuffed into a pita, alternating with various eggplant, cucumber, cabbage, and tomato salads, then finished off with tahini sauce and, if you request it, hot sauce. We took these over to the Place des Vosges, where we ate them on a park bench. After that, we decamped for a cafe across the street and I had a glass of rose while Mr. Gateau had a beer.

Then back to walking -- we explored the Bastille area by foot and then walked around the Ile St. Louis until we found the world-famous ice cream parlor, Bertillon. Naturally, we needed to sample the wares. I was disappointed they were not offering salted caramel that day, but was very content with my nougat au miel, which had a strong honey flavor and lots of crunchy chewy bits of nougat. Mr. Gateau's bitter chocolate was incredibly rich and flavorful. Unlike the gelato places, they don't splash the ice cream around, so one scoop really is one scoop, which is probably just as well.

We then continued strolling, and set off in search of a couple of wine bars we'd read about, but one wasn't open until later, and one was closed for vacation, so after a bit of a rest on a park bench while we consulted our guide books (I have not mentioned that we brought a library's worth of books, and also found tons at the apartment), we decided to bike back to our place and regroup. My bike was in lousy shape, and didn't want to stay in gear, so the trip home was a little hair-raising. Since bikes share lanes with buses, I kept worrying that I wouldn't be able to accelerate out of the way, but we all survived just fine. Just as we got back, it started to rain, so that was a good call.

We decided to try Willi's Wine Bar for dinner, a highly regarded wine bar in our neighborhood that is British-run. It's a tiny place, and at first we were only able to be seated at the bar, which suited us fine. But then a table became available just as we were ordering, so we had a really perfect evening sampling the generous 34 euro menu. To start, I had marinated white anchovies with dilled cream, a little polenta cake, and tomato coulis. Mr. Gateau had grilled baby artichokes with foie gras, all of which we shared, along with a basket of Pain Poilane and a couple glasses of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. For our next course, he had a spectacular crispy-skinned guinea hen with wild mushrooms, while I had lamb tagine with apricots and vegetables. We also had a carafe of St. Joseph. For dessert we ordered the plate of 4 cheeses and swooned over each one, plus a slice of probably the best chocolate terrine either of us has ever had, in a vanilla sauce. And of course a glass of port each. There were probably more people speaking English (American and British versions) around us than French, but it's a truly wonderful little place, and it's good to remember if you're ever feeling a little homesick in Paris.

Then to bed with the jazz radio station playing in the background.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A meal to write home about

Day 4 in Paris was also the day of our very special-planned ahead-celebrate the 40th birthdays in style-meal. I had been able to get a lunch reservation at L'Astrance, even though calling 2 months in advance won't guarantee you a spot at dinner. It didn't matter, because L'Astrance showed us an amazing time in the middle of the day, and at least this way we were awake enough to enjoy it.

The restaurant is very small, on two levels on the rue Beethoven in the 16th. The walls are a deep slate gray, the ceiling and upholstery are soft gold. Each table has a small cube of lava rock into which a bouquet of orchids is set, and the chargers are multicolored platters of venetian glass. It's an elegant but playful interior, perfect for the food. The waiters are all young men in suits who swoop over your table and leave behind the most beautiful dishes, but not without engaging in a friendly (and comic) way -- more on this later.

The menus simply list the available seasonal ingredients, not actual dishes, and you can choose from a variety of tasting menus and wine pairings. In fine French dining style, only Mr. Gateau's menu listed the prices. We went with the "Dejeuner d'Ete" menu with paired wines and put ourselves in their hands. And what hands.

Amuse: a tiny square of shortbread decorated with a thyme flower, served on a spoon, which rested on a slate alongside a green grape, a raw hazelnut, and an amber raisin. We also had our bread service of simple bread with butter, no fancy baskets or anything.


To prepare the palate: a small parfait of ginger yogurt, orange melon puree, and cassis foam. Beautiful clean flavors and lovely summer colors.


Seafood: Grilled langoustines served with beautiful paper-thin slices of translucent summer vegetables (pepper, zucchini, carrot, squash), a dollop of spiced peanut butter, and the plate decorated with the yellow and pink petals of flowers. This was served with a white wine from the north Rhone, but of course I forgot to write it down.


Fish: Succulent sea bream, served with a leaf of young bok choi, a baby leek, a small marinated red onion, a circle of red pepper, and finely diced parsnip that looked like rice, in a light, slightly sweet sauce. Alongside was served a bowl of mussels and abalone in daishi. Same white wine.


Meat: The tenderest, pale pink baby lamb, with a beautiful layer of fat, served with an assortment of the season's first wild mushrooms in thin slices, along with a smoked eggplant puree. With this we had a chateaneuf de pape. These were perfect early fall flavors, getting your mouth ready to be reintroduced to rich sauces, mushrooms, game, red wine, and smoke.


Cheese: In front of us was placed a dish of some creamy mousse with what looked like ice cream. The waiter insisted he had no idea what it was, as it was his first day and didn't know the recipes yet. We tasted. It was delicious -- some kind of fresh white cheese mousse with pure vanilla ice cream and maybe a few thyme blossoms. We said we couldn't quite put our finger on the flavor. The waiter returned with a bowl of just the mousse and said he wouldn't bring us the rest of the meal until we identfied it. I dipped my spoon, and nailed it. The most light creamy whipped mashed potatoes you have ever eaten, with the fromage blanc. I have a sneaking suspicion that our "novice" waiter has been around for a long time, and possibly even owns the restaurant.


Dessert: More like 4 desserts. Out comes a giant tray of 8 pink and red items, 4 for each of us. As the plates are being laid out, I gasped. Without a word, the waiters started removing my dishes, until I begged for them to return. The waiter said "If you really think you can...." and I did. We were told to eat from right to left. First, a chili and lemongrass sorbet that was perfectly balanced, mostly citrusy refreshment, with a little chili kick. I wish Ciao Bella sold it in pints. Next was a sabayon with red fruits and -- my hand to god -- Super Sugar Crisp for garnish. Next up was a sponge cake with red fruit coulis, and then a beautiful tart with a mosque-like pointed dome of raspberry mousse decorated with petals. With this we were served an Austrian dessert wine from near the Hungarian border, made from dried cabernet sauvignon grapes.


Coffee: Having completed the gorgeous flower-strewn meal, our coffee and tea were served with a stunning spread of little bites and fruit. The fruit dish was a rectangular platter of tiny translucent green grapes, little golden plums, and orange and red heirloom cherry tomatoes. It looked like it could have walked out of Cezanne's studio. There was a tiny basket of madeleines made with tree honey, and set on a green glass tray were two brown eggshells containing jasmine eggnog. Just as the lamb dish evoked early fall, so did the sepia-toned palette of these last nibbles. The jasmine eggnog was incredible -- perfumed and ethereal.


Of course we vowed we'd never eat again.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Eiffel Tower, past my uncle's place on the Quai Branly and the new Musee du Quai Branly with it's fascinating glass-walled grounds, and along the Seine. We ended up at our apartment for a cup of tea, then decided to have a light dinner at the local cafe -- Mr. Gateau had sausage and frites, I had a salade composee with ham, potatoes, and string beans. Following that, we decided to check out a laid-back bar with live music in what is left of Chinatown, and we enjoyed a couple of beers there on a warm night, then checked out a noisier club near Les Halles for another beer. We got home around midnight, and got to speak to our two little cupcakes at home, who seem to have learned to pepper their conversation with "Bonjour!" and "Au Revoir!" in our absence.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paris, Day the Third

We've developed a bit of a routine, now. We go out until about midnight, then sleep late. Mr. Gateau goes out in the morning to get the International Herald Tribune, a baguette (and anything else that tempts him), and a mocha, while I rest a bit more. Then we have breakfast and read the paper, and figure out what to do in the afternoon. So we're not out and about all morning, but we're enjoying the quiet relaxing time, too.

Yesterday we took advantage of Paris's wonderful municipal bicycle program. All over the city are racks of sturdy gray 3-speed bikes, attached to a computer system. You buy an access card (a day pass costs 1 Euro) which allows you to take a bike. You are then charged a nominal fee by the time you use it (first 1/2 hour free, next couple of hours is 1 Euro, etc.) and you can return it to any rack, where it is checked back in. In addition, the city has made a significant commitment to creating bike lanes, and everywhere you go you see people commuting and getting around by bike. We rode ours down past the Tuileries to the Place de la Concorde, then across the river and back over to the Musee D'Orsay. A little indirect, but fun by bike.

At the museum, we were both extremely taken by the extensive collection of Art Nouveau decorative objects. We even battled the crowds that always seem to surround any Impressionist or post-Impressionist exhibit. We also checked out some of my old friends, the Rodin sculptures. We had lunch in the pretty museum restaurant -- Mr. Gateau had a creamy ravioli with truffle sauce and a Limonade; I had a salad of arugula, pecorino, prosciutto, and sun dried tomatoes, with a glass of rose and coffee.

After the museum, it was drizzling lightly, but we walked anyway, heading to St. Germain to the outpost of the venerable salon de the and bakery Laduree, famous for its gorgeous and vibrant macarons, packed into beautiful pistachio-and-gilt boxes. Mr. Gateau was quite taken with these delicate little items, and ordered an extra box of assorted flavors. We took them back to our apartment and each had two (he had chocolate and lemon, I had caramel and raspberry) with Earl Grey tea. Then we read a little and napped.

For dinner, we went to Le Caveau du Palais, a small restaurant on the Ile de la Cite, that is an apparent favorite of the lawyers and judges who work at the nearby Palais de Justice (there is also a store selling law books right down the block). Each table begins with a basket of bread and a hunk of the country pate that sits in a large terrine in the front of the restaurant. We shared a bottle of nice red wine and ate some actual vegetables -- grilled vegetables with shaved Parmesan and basil-infused olive oil for Mr. Gateau, tomato tartare with marinated anchovies and pesto for me. For main courses he had entrecote au poivre, and I had a saute of veal with vegetables that tasted like the best pot roast you've ever had.

After my coffee (and Mr. Gateau eating his share of the little chocolates and cookies that always come wrapped along with a coffee), we took a stroll along the Seine, stopping to view Notre Dame by night, and around the Marais. We stopped for a last beer at a bar on a quiet corner near my apartment from student days, and then called it a night.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Paris, Day Deux

Well, Day 2 was all about getting blisters on my blisters. We've been walking everywhere, and haven't set foot in a Metro so far. I even had to buy (poor me) a new pair of comfortable and cute leather sneakers at Camper.

We started the day with baguette, butter, and jam in the coziness of our own little eat-in kitchen. Mr. Gateau went out to the Boulangerie (and Starbucks, for his mocha) while I slept the sleep of the righteous dead. We then headed out to the Centre Pompidou to see a large chunk of the permanent collection of modern art. We had lunch in the beautiful rooftop restaurant. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the views were spectacular. I had a nice cheese and mushroom omelette, and Mr. Gateau had a sliced chicken dish with a rich curry sauce, chutney, and rice, and we shared a half bottle of rose. My coffee came with little squares of dark chocolate, so Mr. Gateau was content.

After lunch, more museum, and the sneaker shopping, we took a nap at the apartment. I had a bath to soak my aching muscles and feet, and then we decamped to a very nice cafe on the corner near our apartment. I started with tea, but we both ended up with beers as we sat and watched workers at the Ministry of Culture building come and go, stopping for after-work drinks. From there we walked over to Les Halles, where we bought postcards and souvenirs for the kids, then sat in the plaza outside of St. Eustache.

We had dinner reservations at the venerable Chez Denise, where we sat with a couple of pretentious middle-aged Americans (one married to a Parisienne) to one side, and a pair of delightful young French men who work in hotels to our left. At Chez Denise you share tables and bread baskets with others, and the portions are huge and ungarnished. This is not a place for being delicate, and the cheek-by-jowl setting makes it very festive. I'd eaten there with my parents 20 years ago, and I was looking forward to seeing how it held up. Answer: very well. We started with a platter of assorted charcuterie: rillettes, pate de campagne, head cheese, various salamis, saucisson sec, and ham. This was served with a basket of country bread, hot mustard, and a crock of cornichons with wooden tongs for table. There are several house wines served by the bottle, but you only pay for the amount you consume (an eminently reasonable system). With that we had a frisee salad with croutons and hard boiled egg. Just for a little green, you know. We did respectably with the starters, even though they were huge. Next, we shared one order of hanger steak, which was served medium-rare and came with piping hot pommes frites, plus a dish of grayish sea salt. We managed to eat about half the steak -- astonishing when you realize that the French patrons were ordering one steak or cote de boeuf (with marrow bones) per person and polishing it off themselves. Never believe in the myth of the delicate eating, slim Parisienne. These ladies can pack away their steak like any Texan.

After dinner we decided to stroll across the river. It was a beautiful moonlit night, so we walked through the Ile de la Cite and made a reservation for the following night at a lovely place we found in Zagat. From there we headed back into the Latin Quarter, and magically found we could manage some ice cream, so we got gelato (bitter chocolate and hazelnut for Mr. Gateau; pistachio and creme caramel for moi). We strolled along eating those, taking in the sights of the various cheap ethnic and student restaurants and bars, until we came to a bar we just had to stop in: the Great Canadian, though there wasn't much Canadian about it. Indeed, we each got a beer and remained transfixed to two screen showing events taking place in Forest Hills -- the Sunday night Mets game against the Phillies, and the men's finals of the U.S. Open. From there we headed back to the apartment, to crash once again.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Greetings from Paris

After the most hideous possible travel experience (cancelled flight on Friday night, piss-poor communication by the airline, hours of line-ups, turbulence, stinky feet in the next row of seats, etc.) Mr. Gateau and I arrived in Paris very early Sunday morning. All the travel rottenness was quickly forgiven, and we settled into our lovely apartment just steps from the Louvre, right in the middle of the bullseye of Paris.

Naturally, or shall I say naturellement, we went out to eat almost immediately.

The Parisians seem to have adopted the concept of Sunday brunch, which fits well with their habit of lingering for hours over coffee and cigarettes. We walked over to the Galerie Vivienne, one of those beautiful interior passages with high ceilings, skylights, and carved stone and wood doorways that make sort of the proto-shopping malls of Paris. There, we ate at A Priori The, a lovely tea room. I had the "SHANGRILA" salad, a deep bowl of greens, shredded cucumber, fresh cilantro, marinated crispy sesame chicken breast, and soy dressing, with a pot of Moroccan mint tea. Mr. Gateau had the tart of the day, which was tomato and Gruyere, with green salad and a chai tea. We could see people around us ordering the 30 Euro brunch, which was an insane amount of food -- wine or cocktail, coffee or tea, pastry basket, fromage blanc with berries, choice of entree (these were huge themselves; I didn't even finish mine), salad, and dessert.

After lunch we began exploring the neighborhood, immediately noting the bakery recommended by our landlady, a gelato shop, and various nice-looking cafes. We listened to a chamber group perform on the plaza right outside the Comedie Francaise, then walked up to the Opera and around Les Halles, past the apartment on the Rue des Halles I'd lived in when a student here in 1988. Across the street we found an open little market, the equivalent of the bodegas in NYC, only these carry wine and a small selection of hard liquor, and got some basics (milk, butter, jam, coffee) -- our plan is to make our own breakfasts of croissants and baguettes. We spent the afternoon and early evening walking through the courtyard of the Louvre and wandering around St. Germain and St. Michel/Quartier Latin, where we found a touristy but pleasant place to sit and have a beer and people-watch.

Dinner we attempted to handle in an impromtu manner, ignoring everyone's reminders that reservations (even day-of) are recommended. The first place we wanted to try (a well-regarded bistro) seems to have disappeared, and we could not be seated at L'Ardoise until 10pm. We decided to take our chances at Pinxo, the Alain Dutournier tapas-like place in a chic hotel, even though (a) we didn't have a reservation and (b) we were wearing jeans. Something about us must have touched the heart of the maitre d'hotel, because he said "peut-etre" he could seat us, and then quickly found a choice of a table or seats at the bar facing the open kitchen. We chose to watch the kitchen at work and had a fantastic meal.

For starters we shared sauteed baby squid on little skewers with roasted peppers and shards of crispy artichoke and garlic chips, and a "cold fondue of tomato and peppers." This is not usually my favorite kind of dish, but this was a knockout -- ovals of tomato-sweet pepper terrine or aspic, inside of which was embedded a still-runny poached egg. This was served on top of a tomato-pepper jam and little toast and topped with a perfect basil leaf. Alongside was a pickled hot pepper and crispy Spanish ham. The whole taste profile was of concentrated fresh tomato flavor, basil, and the hits of salt, spice, and brine from the pepper and ham, with a smooth, cool, and velvety texture.

Next we had very nice beef carpaccio, with capers, lemon, parmesan, and artichoke, and tournedos of lotte (monkfish) with fava beans and onion marmalade. With all of this we had a nice carafe of white wine. I accidentally got an extra glass of wine when a server began to pour another customer's bottle into my glass. I'm not sure how they made up to that customer, but it was nice for me! Mr. Gateau could not resist dessert -- he chose spicy warm chocolate cakes, three tiny ones per platter, with orange marmalade sauce and sheep's milk ice cream, and I had coffee (served with nice biscotti) and half a little cake. Warm chocolate cake has become a bit of a cliche, but there is a reason -- it is delicious.

Day One came to a fine end. We have blisters and tired legs, but we have lots to see and eat.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm Not Waiting on a Lady, I'm Just Waiting for My Goddamned Sushi Delivery

An hour? AN HOUR??? And you know what? It won't even be that great. However, wasabi shumai are included, so there is that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hot Stuff

OK, so it's cold in temperature, but I made a kickass batch of very spicy gazpacho the other night, and as it's sat in the fridge for a few days, the kick has become really pronounced. I used a whole variety of the tomatoes that have overtaken my yard, a cucumber from the garden, and my own herbs, plus the usual peppers, red onion, tons of garlic, and of course tomato juice. I used a jalapeno for heat, and it didn't seem too spicy, but it really bloomed, which is fine with me. Seasoned with lemon and lime juice, a touch of honey, salt and pepper. It's goooood.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Gateau and Cake Bake

Yesterday, Miss Cake and I took a terrific course on Sweet and Savory Baking at the ICE culinary school in Manhattan. We had tried to get into something more cakey, but many of the classes were already full. As it turned out, this was a perfect class for us.

We worked in teams of two, and each team made 4 of 5 recipes. Working in a professional kitchen with a full range of equipment and supplies, plus a person on dishwashing and a chef-instructor and assistant to help us, was delightful.

The recipes were:

Pissaladiere (a sort of French cheeseless pizza, with onions, olives, and anchovies)
Calzones with Ricotta-Prosciutto Filling (also spinach or dried sausage options)
Blueberry Crumb Cake (sour cherries also available; we did half and half)
Triple Chocolate Biscotti with Walnuts and Chocolate Glaze
Breton Apple Cake (we didn't make this)

I am going to make that apple cake, though, this fall when I go apple picking and overdo it. It's very caramelly and has rum, so what's not to like. Also, it's gorgeous and is very easy to make look like it came from some fancy patisserie.

The whole thing was tons of fun, and Cake and I worked great together. The only downside was that we had to share the worktable with a nasty couple. They barely spoke to each other, and generally seemed to be having no fun at all. They were big space hogs, but would grumble if you edged into their space at all (and they had a long side of the table, while we had the short one). They'd hoard supplies, but take whatever anyone else was using, and act proprietary with the communal equipment. Basically, they sucked and our stuff came out better. So there.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My weekend of meats

My friends Pam and John are thoughtful enough to rent a beautiful country house in the summers just perfect for entertaining their friends. This past weekend, we packed up the little Gateaux and met them and their kids up there, along with our mutual awesome friend Meg. It was nearly a reunion of our Jamaica trip, and to make it even more so, the weekend specialty cocktail was the Dark & Stormy. Even Mr. Gateau put several away, and he's not usually one who's big on spirits OR sweet mixers.

We ate well, and we ate a lot of meat. At lunch on Saturday we had lots of delicious composed salads from a good takeout place, and a portion of the quesadilla of the day, which happened to be a meatloaf quesadilla. Those who ate it said it worked much better than expected. Oh, and drank a bottle of rose with that.

For dinner, John hauled out a motherlode of grass-fed, thick rib eye steaks. Those were grilled and served up with grilled vegetables and roasted potato wedges, and we drank a few bottles of red wine and capped it all off with flourless chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.

On Sunday, Mr. Gateau cooked up a massive breakfast of challah french toast, which we served with mixed berries and three, yes three, different types of breakfast meats. We had two full packages of thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon, pork breakfast sausages, and chicken breakfast sausages. I thought this was overkill and almost put the second package of bacon away, but Mr. Gateau was thinking ahead, and insisted I make it all, and damned if we didn't put away all but about three slices.

Then we rolled home, but before that we got ice cream at a wonderful roadside stand. The children were basically covered head to toe in sticky drippings, which is just about the best way to end a summer weekend.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Deep Concern

I was coming over here to post about how Terra Red Bliss Bloody Mary flavor potato chips are basically the greatest thing ever, but first I figured I'd go get a link from the Terra website so you could see them for yourself. Imagine my chagrin when I find that the page listing all the Red Bliss varieties has no Bloody Mary to be found. To be sure, there is a sundried tomato-balsamic vinegar flavor that is probably really good, but I have gotten completely addicted to the slightly spicy Bloody Mary chips, with their hint of Worcestershire and celery salt. Terra, say it ain't so! I love putting these out in a bowl, serving cocktails, and calling it a day.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Minimalist Strikes Again!

Once again, Mark Bittman a/k/a the Minimalist provides a great go-to guide in the New York Times of 101 quick and easy things to make, this time for a picnic. I realize that it sounds sort of crazy for someone who chose slices of uncooked bacon as her personal icon, but I've been trying to cut down on the amount of meat I eat, in favor of eating only really good quality meat, and so I was pleased to see that at least half of the recipes are vegetable, grain, and pasta-based.

Since we're planning at least one picnic this long weekend, I'm definitely going to give a few of them a whirl.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Mark Bittman takes on the cocktail in his Minimalist way in the Times today.

Also tasty article about frozen blended cocktails and some intriguing recipes.

I enjoyed a drink I made the other night, based on my spotty recollection of a recipe I saw in Real Simple. What I did: cut up about a third of a lime, squeezed the juice into a pint glass, and dropped the lime pieces in. Cut up a big strawberry and tossed it in. Filled the glass with ice. Poured in a healthy amount of berry-flavored vodka, and topped with club soda. I later re-read the recipe and discovered that it calls for a mixture of berries (blackberries and raspberries would be nice) and wants you to add sugar. It was very refreshing and more adult than you might think (given the fruity vodka) without the sugar, but when I make this on Sunday for a lunch we're having, I think I may add just a touch of simple syrup. Plus I think sprigs of mint will be a nice addition.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Midsummer supplies

Just got back from the store with:

6 bottles rose (3 different types)
1 large bottle Grey Goose
1 bottle raspberry vodka (I want to try a recipe I read in a magazine, which mixes it in a pitcher with club soda, lime juice, and mixed fresh berries)
1 large bottle sake

Picnic with friends tomorrow, where the rose should come in handy. Will also pack the large wicker hamper (wedding present, heavy as hell) with various dips, cheeses, olives, and breads from the local grocery with the good prepared foods.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dining for Dads

We had a nutty weekend of numerous celebrations (a fantastic surprise party for Meg, glad we can let the cat out of the bag about that one, finally; a sweet first birthday for my nephew; brunch with the dads for Father's Day) but before we all collapsed from all the partying (and driving) the little gateaux and I took Mr. Gateau out for a special dinner. We went to Besito in Roslyn NY, which not only offers excellent high-end Mexican cuisine, but does it in a sophisticated environment that isn't so easy to find in our area of Long Island. I was a little apprehensive about bringing the kids to someplace so nice, and that is impossible to get into on the weekends, but we went early enough to make it tolerable and were accomodated beautifully. Lots of other people clearly had the same thought, and many tables had kids getting a kick out of the tableside guacamole preparation and other fun touches.

We started with the guacamole, made medium spicy in case Baby Gateau wanted some (he did, though we need not have worried--this kid has started eating Andy Capp Hot Fries, god help us all). With that I had a La Casa Margarita which was fantastic--frozen with premium tequila, fresh lime juice, and fresh pomegranate and tangerine juices as well. It was so good that Mr. Gateau, who rarely drinks hard liquor any more, had one as well. We were pleased to learn they offer a nice children's menu, so the kids shared a platter of plain chicken enchiladas with a light tomato-based sauce. Mr. Gateau had the fish of the day, Mahi-Mahi, prepared Veracruzana style, and I found myself going for the vegetarian option on the menu, fantastically tasty Chiles Rellenos stuffed with wild mushrooms, spinach, goat cheese, pine nuts, and raisins, in a tangy sauce. We shared a plate of crispy yuca fries, served with a spicy creamy dip and lime. These were truly fantastic. We skipped dessert, but each table is served a to-go bag of piping hot churros, as well as given tiny Mexican worry dolls to take home. In all, a great evening.

Of course, it will be even greater when we go back sans children and sit at the bar, where I expect we'll have more guacamole, more yuca fries, maybe a few fish tacos or ceviche platters, and of course more La Casa Margaritas.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Summer shows up early again

Just as it did 8 years ago, when Mr. Gateau and I got married, summer has showed up a bit earlier than expected with several steamer trunks and indicated its intention to stick around. This weekend ushered in a 90 degree-plus heatwave, complete with humidity and evening thunder and lightning. It's sticky and dehydrating, but it's also deliciously relaxing to slow down to a crawl, throw some stuff on the grill, and marvel at how the garden is already getting overgrown and lush.

We kicked off the season with an invitation to join our friends for a little cookout. They did hamburgers, hot dogs, sweet Italian sausage, and shrimp skewers rubbed with spicy Cajun seasoning (perfect). I made my Greek-ish pasta salad, which is really the only kind of pasta salad I can stand. It's tricolor rotini (I used whole wheat here, this is a good recipe for that) tossed with pitted kalamata olives, feta, thinly-sliced red onions, sundried tomatoes, halved cherry tomatoes, and a big handful of chopped mixed garden herbs, plus olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Other additions that would be good depending on who you're serving it to would be capers, anchovies, or roasted red peppers.

This evening we're expecting other friends for grilling, and I'll be serving roasted red pepper and feta dip with pita chips, lemon-marinated green olives, and marinated mushrooms to start, then grilled flank steak (in my mother's trademark marinade of ketchup, mustard, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic, pepper, salt, and a little soy sauce), leftover pasta salad, corn with lime-chili sauce or butter and salt, and a salad of stuff from the farmer's market -- roasted beets, baguette slices with herbed goat cheese, lettuce, and arugula, with raspberry vinaigrette. Then we'll have some fruit and ice cream for dessert. My friends are bringing a summer cocktail, can't wait.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The eating update

Just a quick update of some good and/or tasty things I have consumed recently:

  • medium rare burger with blue cheese and bacon, plus sweet potato fries, for lunch today
  • marinated and grilled leg of lamb with greek yogurt-garlic-mint sauce
  • lemon layer cake with buttercream icing
  • lime tartlets with frangipane filling and lime-flavored glaze
  • amaretto sours back in season
  • ginger martini
  • a large amount of Niman Ranch bacon
  • mandelbrot

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bacon in Jamaica, Part 3

By Day 3 we had really settled into the swing of things, and had our sleeping, swimming, sunning, eating and drinking routine down pat. I went for a morning walk with Pam up the hill before it got too hot, and that was lovely, plus, you know, justification for the eating to come. We got back for breakfast, which included more of the delicious sliced fruit, fried plantains, assorted breads, pancakes (very good ones, with nice crispy edges) with maple syrup, BACON, and scrambled eggs. Coffee, of course, and lots of it.

We then hit the beach, and were delighted to find that we were the only ones on it. After all the sunning and novel-reading we could stand, we headed back to the house for lunch. On the terrace we enjoyed a delicious tuna salad with sweet and hot peppers, which had a terrific bite, served with green salad with balsamic dressing and breads and rolls. With that we had more of the strong iced tea with lime and for dessert the leftover birthday cake from our first night, which was still fantastic.

After more sunbathing and napping we headed up to the Great House for afternoon tea. Not a spectacular spread, but we had little sandwiches and cookies and a cup of tea, and then checked out the wares in the gallery featuring local arts and crafts. After that, well, it was time for a drink, so we made it to the Beach Bar just before closing and got another pina colada under our belts (or Red Stripe, or strawberry daquiri, whatever your pleasure). It was a beautiful setting, and we walked out on a pier to the gazebo and looked back at the beach and the house, with a view up to Montego Bay.

Once we were back at the house it was, you guessed it, time for more eating. We fixed ourselves cocktails (I had local overproof rum with diet Pepsi -- in a small glass bottle, and why does soda always taste better from a small glass bottle? -- and lime) and Rhon served us some hors d'oeuvres of leftover jerk pork and vegetable wraps cut into rounds. So glad that pork did not go to waste! We watched a really spectacular sunset from the terrace. Eventually we moved onto dinner, which was spicy vegetable soup, salad with Caesar dressing, and a Thai-influenced spicy shrimp dish over fettuccine. The shrimp were really nicely cooked. Wine, of course. For dessert we had coconut creme brulee, which wasn't the chef's most accomplished dish -- it was a bit runny -- but tasty. We rolled ourselves to the living room, where Meg and I were the last ones standing. It reminded me of when we were kids and would stay up at sleepovers chatting half the night.

* * *
The next morning felt a little bittersweet, because our ride to the airport was scheduled for about 2pm, and time was running out. To fortify ourselves, we had a hearty breakfast following coffee on the terrace. This time we started with a platter of sauteed callaloo and tomatoes, plus fried plantains, and a platter of sliced fruit. As we were eating that and the plate of BACON, Rhon came around to take orders for eggs. I asked for a poached egg, and ended up creating a sort of Caribbean eggs Florentine by layering toast with the tomato and callaloo and topping with the egg, which was a fabulous combination.

We organized our packing and then headed to the beach for one last time. I floated around in the water and tried to memorize the exact feeling of being there surrounded by the warmth and the water and the sound of the waves. But all things have to come to an end, and so it was time to head back to the villa for lunch. It's hard for me to admit that this was my favorite of all our meals, but loyal Cookiestuffs readers won't really be surprised. Rhon laid out a nice big salad with Greek dressing and then brought out a big platter of crispy, spicy fried chicken fingers and more of those fantastic fries we'd had previously. I cut the chicken into bites and incorporated it into the salad, and it was so tasty and filling. With that we had more iced tea with lime, and it is possible that a few last Red Stripes were consumed.

And that was it. We got our ride to the airport, hoping for a quick check-in (it was the off-season, after all) only to find the departures hall crammed with travelers and some fans lackadaisically stirring the humid air. To entertain ourselves, we tried to figure out the significance of a sign in the line-up area stating PLANE HELPFUL with an arrow pointing nowhere. In the concourse I got myself a final ginger beer and Meg bought some Blue Mountain coffee. The flight itself was uneventful, save for an attack of hysterics when the nice flight attendant came by with dinner, repeatedly asking "Will you have chicken for dinner? We're out of fish." And if you don't see why this is funny, you can't come with us next time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bacon in Jamaica, Day 2

The spot where I found Nirvana

A smattering of drinks

Massages in progress

Lunch is served on the terrace

Day 2 began in about as perfect a manner as I can imagine. We got up at our leisure (none of us is constitutionally capable of sleeping late, due to children and dogs getting us up routinely early) and wandered, or should I say staggered out to the terrace. One of the glass-topped tables was set for breakfast, complete with carafes of coffee at the ready. We filled our cups and sat in one of the conversation areas on the terrace just taking in the beauty of it all.

When breakfast was ready, the little bell rang and called us to the table. On a sideboard were assorted cereals and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Rhon came out and served us delicious, chewy French toast with maple syrup, and a stunning platter of fruits, including drop-dead succulent juicy mango. As if this weren't enough, a second course arrived, consisting of an omelette with sweet peppers and a platter of bacon and Canadian bacon. This made two consecutive meals featuring pork products, a very good start to the vacation.

We spent the morning on the beach, sunning and chatting, reading books and swimming in the crystal clear, warm water. Anne and I spent some quality time out on one of the giant trampoline-floats, talking and jumping around.

And then it was time to eat again!

Lunch on the terrace was chicken club sandwiches, very well seasoned, with a big bowl of perfectly crispy French fries, and a pitcher of very strong iced tea served with lime. This prepared us for our next taxing activity: massages out on the terrace of the villa's west wing, overlooking the turquoise water. We went in twos, and those of us not being massaged at that moment enjoyed another platter of fresh fruit.

Following my massage I spent one of the most blissed-out hours of my life. I threw on a sundress and plunked myself on a chaise under a tree at the back of the villa, steps away from the water. With Great Big Sea singing drinking songs and sea chanteys (Newfoundland Celtic folk-rock is a strangely nice fit in the Caribbean, and less obvious than the incessant Bob Marley, not that there's anything wrong with that) on my iPod, and a Red Stripe in my hand, the waves gently lapping on the shore, the afternoon sun on my legs and the warm breeze flowing over me, my mind was perfectly at peace, my body felt like jelly, and I could have stayed like that forever.

But forever is a long time, and we had drinking to do! So we put ourselves together (we clean up nice!) and headed in the golf cart up to the Great House for cocktails. Hors d'oeuvres were advertised, but this turned out to be a few pieces of sausage bites. Not to worry, we enjoyed our drinks (I had a dark rum with ginger beer and lime) and the sunset, and then headed back to the villa for dinner.

We began with pea (bean) soup, then a salad with balsamic vinaigrette. The main course, served buffet style, was a chicken breast stuffed with tropical vegetables and fruits -- probably callalloo, plantains, papaya, and mango, with a nicely spiced citrus sauce, and served with mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. Of course we had wine, and of course we brought the rest of the bottle out to the living room, where we chit chatted and gossiped until bedtime.

Just another day in Jamaica.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bacon in Jamaica, Day 1

The Beach Bar

View from the Terrace

View from the Beach

First of all, thanks to Meg for the title.

Due to my friend Pam's excellent foresight in choosing a spouse, My friends Pam, Meg, Anne and I had access to a stunning and luxurious villa in Jamaica for a long weekend to celebrate an upcoming Very Special Birthday. I will not go into any greater detail on that matter.

Having departed New York at the crack of dawn, we arrived at the villa in time for lunch. We didn't have much settling in to do, because the excellent staff took care of all that. First, Pam sat down with the house staff to discuss menus for our visit. Pork products were stressed. Then we changed into light clothing and headed to the beach cafe. We started with a round of Ting soda, sort of a sugary Fresca, just to get the blood sugar flowing. I had a salad with papaya and curried shrimp that immediately got me into the Caribbean mood. Anne had the same, Pam had an Asian chicken salad, and Meg had a terrific looking club sandwich that not only contained bacon but also a fried egg, with fries.

After that, we hit the beach. And here I can say I wholeheartedly recommend visiting the Caribbean in the off-season. The beach and the resort's bars and restaurants were quiet, but not entirely empty, so there was no jockeying for a lounge chair or a table. It was pure, unadulterated relaxation. One morning we had the beach all to ourselves. It was bliss. That afternoon we enjoyed frozen drinks at the beach bar -- your pina colada, your strawberry daquiri, your gin rickey. I will simply say that the bartenders did not pour with a light hand.
We followed this with Red Stripe on the terrace at the villa while dinner was being prepared.
After relaxing at the villa's pool, we heard for the first time the sound that we came to know and love so well during our time there -- the sound of the bell calling us to the table.
Dinner began with conch soup, which was creamy but had a nice spicy bite. We then had a simple salad served with a homemade ranch dressing. I'm not usually a ranch fan, but this was all natural and thus didn't taste like sour glue with a few herbs in it. Next, the main course was laid out buffet-style -- a fabulously juicy and spicy jerk pork tenderloin, with carrots, stringbeans, rice and beans, and fried plantains. I'm sure we had red wine with this, because I don't think we ever turned down red wine. After we'd done major damage to the jerk pork, we were surprised with a birthday cake arranged by Pam's mother-in-law, served with champagne. The cake was strongly flavored with vanilla, and tasted sweet and warm and just like a birthday cake should.
After dinner we collapsed in the open-air living room, leafed through magazines, finished our drinks, and gabbed. We've been friends since forever, and what's really nice about that is (1) you never run out of things to talk about and (2) if you do, nobody minds just sitting silently and companionably until it's time to talk again.
Then we slept the sleep of the just, while our husbands took care of the kids and/or our fathers looked after our dogs.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thought of the Day

Anchovies are the bacon of the sea.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

If they could see us now....

It is my recollection that in the days of yore, not to put too fine a point on it, Passover desserts sucked. My grandmother really did a bang-up job with the sponge cake, but even at its best it had a funny matzah-y texture and flavor that wouldn't let you forget it was basically an imitation of a good cake. The only other thing you could rely on getting were those weird fruit slice candies, and though I always have loved gummy fruit-flavored things, those always seemed a little off to me too.

But now we live in the era of flourless chocolate tortes and so forth, and the Passover desserts are actually getting good. You may recall this post last year. This year I made the matzah crack again, only I let the caramel cook for longer than the recipe calls for, so it has a richer flavor. I topped it with melted semisweet chocolate chips, a sprinkling of fleur de sel, and some toasted slivered almonds. It's GOOOOOD. Sticky and good.

Also to file under sticky and good, last night I made these French Almond Macaroons recently published in the Times accompanying an article about a new wave kosher chef. They're very elegant and light, with a chewy center, and that lovely, almost perfumey, almond scent. I didn't do a very good job of making them prettily round, but other than spooning the batter out more neatly, they're very easy to make. I think they'll be very good with the ice cream I made over the weekend, which is roasted strawberry with a hint of balsamic vinegar and port.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Definitely on the To-Do List

So I am one of those people who enjoys a page-a-day calendar in the office. Usually I get Dilbert or Why Do Men Have Nipples, or something like that, in the hope that I might get a little chuckle as I scrawl phone messages all over it. But this year I got Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything calendar, which is really a collection of recipe cards from the book and a box to store them in. The last two cards look fantastic, and I'm definitely going to make them. The first is Chicken, Provencal-Style, which sounds nice and browned with a sauce including anchovies, garlic, tomato, olives, and thyme. The other is for Fettuccine with Spinach, Butter and Cream, and which sounds basically like the heavenly marriage of pasta with cream sauce and creamed spinach.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Recent eats

1. I am currently stuffed full of good tapas and sangria from an Argentinian place in Huntington. Good food, good company. I love the Argentinians -- they truly appreciate the meats.

2. My latest One Cookbook A Week project led to the discovery of crack in the form of food -- spicy curry sweet potato chips. I made two sweet potatoes' worth (aided tremendously by the mandoline that Pam got me as a wedding shower gift!) and added spice in the form of hot paprika. They're a little labor-intensive, but worth every bit. Spicy, salty, sweet, crunchy, slightly caramelized. Mr. Gateau and I put them away in minutes, accompanied by drinks on the deck. Mine was, embarrassingly, an amaretto sour, which I really enjoy with spicy foods.

3. How much do I love that the latest Top Chef challenge was won by the maker of maple-miso-glazed bacon. Genius! Even if the winning chef is rather an uninflected c-word, frankly.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Haschich Not Included

In my Cookbook A Week project I was a little frightened to discover that The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook was up this week. If you've never read it, you're probably under the misapprehension that it's all crazy hippie recipes for pot brownies. It's true that Miss Toklas did include a friend's recipe for "Haschich Fudge" in her (terrifying*) section on friends' recipes, but the book is devoted to wonderful stories of life with Gertrude Stein and their circle of artist friends in France during and after war rationing, and amazing, classic French cooking, with Miss Toklas's often brilliant asides.** Recipes are interleaved with stories, and it's just a terrific read.

But I'd never though to try to cook from it, and now I was going to have to brave it. It's not just the rich and sometimes unavailable ingredients that threw me (endless butter, truffles, frogs' legs, hare's blood) but the recipes often call for outdated cuts of meat and kitchen equipment, and measurements are often vague, such as having you add a soupspoon or glassful of something.

It came down to two recipes, really -- one for rolled slices of beef filled with a paste of anchovies, garlic, onion, and parsely, browned in butter, and cooked in veal stock and then cream (to be served with "Gourmet's Potatoes" which called for tons of butter and truffles) or "Godmother's Chicken" which required not just one but two whole sticks of butter. I went with the latter, but did not make "Potatoes Smothered in Butter" to go with it. That was a good call, because even the one stick of butter was over the top. This butter is mashed with chopped tarragon and chicken bouillon, then stuffed in the chicken, which is sewn up and skewered and then simmered in stock. Once removed from the pot and drained of its cavity juices and butter, all of that and the cooking liquid is reduced and then ANOTHER stick of butter is added, plus Madeira, nutmeg, cayenne, and lemon juice. This is a lush, juicy, delicious chicken dish, not that exciting to look at, but easy to make and delicious.

*The friends section is terrifying in that various posh friends submit recipes for things like Aspic Salad, made with a can of Campbell's tomato soup, a package of Philadelphia cream cheese, gelatine, Miracle Whip, and chopped vegetables, all suspended in a ring mould.

**The book contains the second-greatest footnote in literary history (the first being Freud's footnote about men pissing on fires in Civilization and its Discontents). In a recipe entitled "Gigot de la Clinque," a leg of mutton is marinated for days and injected at regular intervals with a mixture of orange juice and cognac, delivered by syringe. For the uninitiated, Miss Toklas drops the following footnote:
Note. A marinade is a bath of wine, herbs, oil, vegetables, vinegars and so on, in which fish or meat destined for particular dishes repose for specified periods of time and acquire virtue.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

And the nominees are...

I am pleased to report that we have been nominated, and when I say nominated, I mean that I submitted us, for a Best of Blogs award in the food category, which is meant to recognize blogs with smaller readerships. So when the time comes, get your voting clicker ready!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Devilishly good

The best part of Easter, as far as I am concerned, is turning the dyed Easter eggs into devilled eggs. Last year I had the brilliant idea of making half the batch a little new wave by adding this yuzu-chili paste I bought at the local Japanese market thinking it looked interesting, and it packs quite a kick. So I did that again this year, and dusted those with some green tea powder to distinguish them from the traditional ones, which I dusted with smoked paprika. See before and after pictures above.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Queen of Tarts

As part of my "actually try the cookbooks teetering on the shelves" project, I made this Three Onion and Feta Tart last night. It's very easy to do, because instead of a crust you just spray the pan with cooking spray and lay down a thick layer of breadcrumbs. You could easily try various vegetable-cheese-herb combinations and I think it would work beautifully. For a 10" tart pan, it was 3 eggs and about 4 oz. of cheese. Of course, it would be even better if studded liberally with pork products.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My excuse

I know I haven't been posting lately, but I have an excuse. I am in the middle of a miserable root canal, which hopefully, when completed, will relieve me of the unremitting dental discomfort I've been in for months. I haven't been able to eat anything too hot, too cold, or too crunchy, which lets out most of what I like to eat. On the plus side: I've lost 5 lbs. and gained a new understanding of portion control and eating just as much as you need to not feel hungry any more. But it's pretty much been a diet of soft foods -- soup, pudding, yogurt, pasta. If anyone has tips on how to make a soft diet interesting, by all means, lay it on me.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rice is nice

I suddenly became consumed by a craving for rice pudding last night, which I adore, but had never actually made. So I browsed through a bunch of cookbooks and online recipes until I found one that called for a reasonable amount of milk and other ingredients I already had in the house. I ended up adapting a recipe from the giant Gourmet cookbook, and just did a simple, basic vanilla rice pudding, which Young Master Gateau and I ate warm with plenty of cinnamon. Then, because a cup of rice makes A LOT of rice pudding, I had a bowl of it for breakfast with coffee.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Gateau Kitchen: Before and After

All hail Mr. Gateau! Without going too crazy with the budget, we wanted to perk up our existing kitchen to make it more pleasant until we fill the coffers enough to to a real reno. From craptastic 60s Formica to new butcher block with a nice white sink and brushed stainless faucet. It all looks nice, but my favorite part is that I finally have a garbage disposal of my very own.

Friday, February 22, 2008

By the book

Like many people who like food and cooking, I have way too many cookbooks, a large number of which I've never/barely cooked from. So my chow friends and I decided to take on a little project -- we're going to take a book a week off the shelf, in whatever order we keep them, and cook one thing from it (something we've never made), then post about the results. So far what this has taught me is (a) we have too many vegetarian cookbooks from Mr. Gateau's vegetarian years, and (b) some of these are not very good.

In Week 1 I cooked from The Vegetarian Epicure, which is a classic, in part due to its very 70s entertaining advice about how nice it is to cook an extra post-dessert course "if grass is smoked socially in your home." I made the Blonde Lentil Soup, which is a little unusual for lentil soup, in that it is flavored with lemon and basil. I think it would be nice in early spring, but it needs some tarting up to be more flavorful.

In Week 2, I was faced with a horror -- the Meatless Gourmet Low-Fat Vegetarian Cookbook. Even finding an appealing recipe was difficult, as much of it was recipes like "Easy Mexican Cheesy Bean Bake" and so forth. I finally tried a strawberry jam-oatmeal cereal bar recipe, which looked OK in concept (and looked nice in the pan) but which tasted like overly sweet clumps of newspaper. I plan to give this book the old heave-ho.

Because I was so dispirited about the whole thing, I decided to make another recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure. I picked a curried lentil salad that was strange but oddly appealing -- the lentils are tossed with a spice mixture (cumin seed, mustard seed, turmeric, cayenne, coriander, salt) cooked in butter, and then mixed with cubed pineapple and tomato, and the whole thing tossed in a mustard-garlic-white wine vinaigrette. You're supposed to serve it in a hollowed-out pineapple shell, but the hell with that. It's got a really nice and unusual tangy-spicy-sweet blend of flavors, and I think it would be nice over greens as an entree salad. I picture this as the kind of thing a French lady would make for a picnic.

Oh, and for dinner I also made that lemony red lentil soup I posted about before. I'm on the verge of a root canal, and soup is pretty much the only thing I'm comfortable eating right now. Pray for me.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sunshiny goodness

Tonight I decided to let it all go to hell, so I made myself a big bowlful of lemon linguine a la Nigella Lawson. The recipe isn't on her official website, but it can be found all over the Internet, including on the site linked to above. The recipe was demonstrated on "Nigella Bites" and it's been a happy comfort food of mine ever since I first encountered.

Basically, it's a carbonara, only instead of pancetta you flavor it with lemon juice and lemon zest. That, with the egg yolk, makes it a pretty, cheerful yellow, and the flavor is sharp and creamy and just perfect.

And your cardiologist will love you and get to buy a lovely summer house, because in addition to the egg yolk and pasta it contains heavy cream, butter, and parmesan cheese!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Game on!

It's the Super Bowl, dammit, and that calls for the anti-gourmet, as far as I am concerned. I'm not much of a football person (or even much of a sports person) but I do enjoy championship games of whatever sport, and this one should be extra fun, what with the Patriots' winning streak and the fact that it's the home team playing them. And, you know, the commercials.

So here is the menu. It's just us, no party going on or anything:

  • Sweet & Sour Meatballs in the Crock Pot (the kind that uses a whole bottle of chili sauce, a whole jar of grape jelly, and I've used frozen Aidell's meatballs that YMG refused to eat)
  • Spinach dip with pita chips
  • Guacamole with plain and lime tortilla chips
  • Caesar salad, if anyone gets a craving for a vegetable
  • Various puff-pastry eclairs and cream puffs left over from the frozen hors d'oeuvre tasting
  • Beer
UPDATE: Our very, very fine next door neighbors, who have two excellent teenage daughters of the babysitting variety and YMG's best friend, are coming over with a pot of potato-dill soup and various other edibles and we're joining forces (and planning to make the big kids watch the younger ones). A good time, and adult imbibing, will be had by all.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Not just the candy of meat, but candy

Good morning!!!! I mean it! Really good morning!!!!!

My niece slept over last night, so to make things EXTRA SPECIAL for the kids, I did up an extravaganza of sugar for breakfast. Chocolate chip pancakes, mixed fruit, maple syrup, etc. But the real sugar fix came from the CARAMELIZED BACON from the hilarious Patricia Marx recipe published a couple weeks ago in the Times. I did not spice it up at all, as kids were eating it, but when I make it just for me me me I certainly will. Mr. Gateau is a sugar fiend, but not all that crazy about sugary bacon, so there was extra for me, and actually some left over in the freezer. It was particularly delicious when paired with fresh pineapple slices.

So I'm sugared up, caffeinated, and ready to face the day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pantry Cooking

You should know that I'm not from the great housekeepers. I don't keep my dry goods in individual, labeled canisters that all fit just so into the cabinet. My spices are not alphabetized. You could probably find pork chops from 2004 in the back of my freezer. There are odd cans and bottles and bags of pasta and beans all over the place.

So from time to time it becomes necessary to cook something incorporating all these dribs and drabs to make room for better, fresher stuff, but also I am dead lazy. In furtherance of this project, I like to make use of Trader Joe's simmer sauces (also thereby eliminating a jar from the pantry). Last night I pulled one of those out (masala, spiked with a little extra cayenne) and poured it over a can of chickpeas (drained), a bag of frozen peas (thawed) and some leftover roasted cauliflower. I didn't feel like taking the time to make a pot of rice, so I made couscous instead, cooked in the contents of an 8 oz. box of chicken stock. Served with a little Greek yogurt and some mango chutney we had in the fridge, this was actually a delicious dinner in the ethnic comfort food category.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Byoo-tee-ful soup

I made this red lentil soup from the New York Times tonight for dinner, and it's a keeper. It's very very quick and easy to prepare, and it packs maximum taste value. If you have a stick blender, and I am constantly delighted I bought mine a year or two ago, this is a one-pot preparation, so the only things to clean up are the pot, the blender business end, a cutting board, a knife, and a spoon to stir it. It's soup, so it's nice on a cold night like this, but with it's bright orange-red color, its lemony taste with a spike of fresh cilantro, and its spicy kick, it brings a taste of spring and wouldn't be out of place in warmer weather.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Real Simple, for real

I made a delicious, relatively quick dinner last night from a recipe I found in the current issue of Real Simple. Unfortunately, the recipe isn't on their website yet, and I don't feel like typing it out, but it involved dredging chicken breasts in a mixture of flour, cumin, lemon zest, and salt and pepper, browning them in olive oil, and then quickly cooking (in the pan you did the chicken in) some shallots, lemon juice, white wine, and green olives, then sticking the chicken back in for a brief while to mix it all together. I made it with some couscous, which takes about 5 minutes to make, and there we had an actual, tasty dinner in about 20 minutes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Good Cheesy Fun

In my never-ending quest to eat more meals composed primarily of fat, this evening we had opportunity to enjoy the first installment of a gift of six months of cheese from Murray's in NYC. Mr. Gateau's father and stepmother gave us this gift last year as well, and it was the highlight of the year.

Last year we ended up attacking each package ourselves, and while the cheese is always exquisite, it was frankly hard to use it all up before the remnants became sub-optimal. This year, we've decided to share the joy and use each delivery as an excuse to have friends over. This evening we invited a family in our neighborhood with kids roughly the age of ours -- their boy and Young Master Gateau were in preschool together, and are "best friends" as far as kids their age can conceive of the term. The parents are fast becoming close friends, the kind of people you can call at the last minute to get together for a cookout or something, and they share their stash of Chilean hot sauce with generosity.

While the kids ran around screaming and periodically snatching hunks of baguette and apples off the cheese board, we sampled two Vermont cheeses (a lightly pasteurized goat and a raw cow) and an aged French goat, along with several baguettes, crackers, apples, grapes, a roasted pepper-goat cheese-herb spread, lemon-marinated olives, and oh yes, two bottles of white wine. I'll post the cheese details when I have recovered somewhat, but it was all delectable. This kind of picnic in the living room is pretty much my favorite way to eat dinner, and it was especially nice to share it with friends.

Miss Cake will be up next month, so watch out.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Daily Bittman

My time-honored approach to holiday shopping is the old "one gift for you, one for me" method, so while buying myself stocking stuffers, I picked up the How to Cook Everything page-a-day calendar for 2008. It's actually a recipe box stuffed with excellent, simple Minimalist recipes, and my only complaint is that you don't get 366 of them, but a few days share each page. However, it comes with month and type of dish dividers so they can be organized, you can take them with you, and it's going to be very helpful at that time of day when you sit there at your desk going "what the hell am I going to make for dinner?"

Today's recipe is for "Sweet Simmered Pork Chops" in a soy-sherry-ginger sauce that doesn't even require you to brown the chops first. I'm definitely going for it.

This dish was AMAZING and easy. The only problem was that after I removed the cooked chops to the oven to keep warm while I reduced the sauce, I got caught up on the Internet and let it burn. So I had to remake the sauce, but it wasn't that much of a big deal, and so worth it.

Eat your heart out, Wimpy

Woo woo woo! The Shake Shack is now accepting orders by phone!

For those of you outside NYC, The Shake Shack is a very, very fine hamburger stand in Madison Square Park in the Flatiron District, and it's so popular that in the summer you can wait 45 minutes just to place your order. The one drawback: $25 minimum, so force your co-workers to order with you. They won't be sorry. (via peterwknox and soupsoup)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Proving once again that bacon makes it all ok

Probably lots of you read this latest Mark Bittman list of simple appetizers. I did, and it's time to close down my kitchen, because one of them is the best thing in world, and will simply never be surpassed, at least chez Cake: cut up pears into little pieces, sprinkle with salt, sugar, and a bit of cayenne, and put a piece of bacon onto each one. Eat.

Oh my god. Unreal. I'm serious. You should go make it right now.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Fishie Fishie Fish Fish

Here is something good -- frozen Alaskan Wild Salmon filets with "grill" flavoring I've been getting at Costco. One box has 6 individually vacuum packed filets, and they thaw in about 15 minutes or so in a bowl of water. The seasoning is probably basically paprika, salt, and pepper, with maybe a little lemon flavor, and all I do is bake them at 350 for about 15 minutes, then serve with a little Greek yogurt on the side and a salad. Presto! Low-carb, fish-oil-laden, virtually work-free dinner that isn't even embarrassing to serve for guests.