Pottoka

Pottoka in Paris

Sometimes I feel like a nitwit, especially when people start talking about all the new restaurants in Paris. I am a creature of habit (and I don’t like disappointment), so I generally go to the same places. I also tend to stay on the Right Bank, where I live, as the restaurants tend to be more exciting and less-fussy, with a more casual ambiance.

But I’d heard good things about Pottoka, over in the 7th arrondissement, helmed by chef Sébastien Gravé, who likes to improvise on his native Basque cuisine, known for lots of colors and contrasts, as well as a hint of spice. The restaurant is named for a breed of smallish horses from that region, which is located in the southwest part of France, and spans into Spain as well. So the foods often feature red peppers, lively seasonings, and seafood. It’s also famous for the Ibaïonan (Basque) charcuterie, which is some of the best in the world.

Pottoka in Paris

Since I was on my own, I didn’t start with any of the nice charcuterie on offer. But the list had some notable things on there, including cécina (dried beef, which if you haven’t tried, is great stuff) and cochonailles (cured hams and sausages) from the notable Eric Ospital. Scanning the dining room at midday, from the looks of things, this was a working lunch crowd that probably had to go back to their desks afterward, so not many people were drinking wine. I had a ton of work piled up back at home, too, but couldn’t resist a glass of cool Jurançon from Domaine Cauhapé that was pleasantly dry (some are sweet). It was a very generous pour and I cursed the unpleasantness that was waiting for me at my own desk.

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At the Market: Bitter Turnips and Smoked Garlic

figs

I regularly visit the outdoors markets in Paris to do my shopping. It’s a lot nicer than the supermarket and I’ve gotten to know many of the vendors personally. Last Friday I took a lovely journalist from Poland through the market, who was writing a story about me and my new book. And I thought I’d be fun to take her shopping with me.

bitter turnip

She asked me a lot of questions as I blazed through the market, where I dialed in on the fresh figs immediately. Worried that the fragile beauties would get smushed in my bag, I made a mental note to go back and get some. The best market tip I can give is to see what everyone has, then go back, and get what you want. But another is not to go with any expectations, because what might be available in abundance one day, will (invariably) be gone a few days later when you go back to get it. So I stock up when I see things things, like the ripe ‘n ready black figs, shown up above.

baguette and smoked garlic

The ones that were syrupy and sticky-soft got eaten fresh, right away. A few others were roasted in the oven with some white wine, honey, and a few branches of fresh thyme.

I also bought a magnificent head of lettuce, since I eat a lot of salads. And even though I had plenty of cheese at home – as usual – while introducing her the women who sell the stellar cheeses that I’m fortunate to have so close by, I was powerless to resist the artisanal goat cheeses, each wrapped in a chestnut leaf. And into my basket one of those went.

cherry tomatoes

She asked me about root vegetables, which are having a renaissance in France, so I took her to the stand that specializes in les légumes racines. I’d gotten bear’s garlic from that vendor last year (and, of course, when I went to get more a few days later, it was nowhere to be seen), and while perusing her colorful radishes and beets, I noticed a basket holding tresses of ail fumé, or smoked garlic.

smoked garlic

Parisians aren’t know for the abundant use of smoky flavors. So it’s a little surprising to see smoked garlic at the markets. This specimen that came home with me hailed from the north of France and a little research led to me learn that they’re Ail fumé d’Arleux, which have been in production for over four hundred years. Smoking was originally a way to preserve the garlic. Before refrigeration, people would store foods in their chimneys (including cheese), which would help preserve it, as well as lend a smoky taste. So why not garlic?

tart dough

tart dough

tart dough

The most notable dish using smoked garlic is soupe à l’ail d’Arleux; a simple soup of smoked garlic, potatoes, carrots, and thyme, sometimes topped with grated cheese or crème fraîche – you can find some recipes here and here, in English.

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Peppermint Stick Ice Cream with Hot Fudge Sauce

peppermint stick ice cream with hot fudge sauce recipe-8

One of my favorite bakeries anywhere is Baked, located way over yonder, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a ways to go, since that part of Brooklyn lacks subway stops. (And it’s about 3000 miles from Paris, and no métro goes there either.) So I’m happy to hear they’re opening in Tribeca, so when I’m in New York, I can make it over there more frequently. But what’s just as good as visiting their bakery in person, is their latest book, Baked Occasions, featuring Matt Lewis and Renato Polifito’s favorite cakes, cookies, and candies, for entertaining, including during the holidays, and on other festive occasions.

Peppermint stick ice cream with hot grudge sauce

What endears me to this duo is that we share similar tastes in treats. Leafing through the book, I immediately dialed in on the recipe for Lebkuchen, those wonderful German spice cookies iced with a swirl of dark chocolate, and the Salted Caramel Soufflé, which sounds oh-so-good. But the lure of the Old-School Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 110) was too powerful to resist, and I gave those a go first. After mixing up the dough, while shaping the cookies for baking, I was grabbing clumps of the cookie dough and stuffing it in my face. People who actually got to taste the baked cookies should consider themselves fortunate that I had any dough leftover to bake.

Peppermint stick ice cream with hot grudge sauce

However the pièce de résistance for me was learning that they loved Peppermint Stick Ice Cream with Hot Fudge Sauce as much as I do, which was one of my childhood favorites. And I jumped at the chance to churn up a batch of it, to relive those innocent days of my youth, before life corrupted me and made me the person — for better or worse — than I am today.

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Pickled Jalapenos

PIckled jalapeno peppers and carrot recipe-6

Yes, I know I’ve been presenting a lot of chile pepper recipes lately. But, well, ’tis the season. And when nature speaks, ya gotta listen. So I promise a chocolate recipe up shortly — fortunately, chocolate is an all-year round kind of thing — but I wanted to preserve a nice bag of jalapeños that happily made their way into my Paris kitchen. And since they’re something you don’t see at Parisian markets, I wanted to make my bounty last as long as possible.

Pickled Jalapeños

So I decided to preserve them for my next Mexi-fest, and pickle them in the style of those you find at taquerias, where they’re used as a condiment.

Pickled Jalapeños

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La Trésorerie and Café Smorgås

La Trésorerie and Café Smorgås

The word trésorerie in French means “treasury.” But in spite of its vaguely unpleasant connotation with the place that receives your taxes, it can also mean “treasure trove,” such as in this case, to describe La Trésorerie.

La Trésorerie and Café Smorgås

One of the nice things about living in an international city like Paris, is that you can visit “another country” by just taking a métro, bike, or a short walk, and find yourself in the middle of another culture. Behind the Gare du Nord are streets lined with Indian and Sri Lankan restaurants and épiceries (food shops), and the Goutte d’Or has a few lively markets, such as the one at Barbès, that caters to the African community.

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Roasted Peppers

roasted pepper recipe

One of the things I don’t like are bell peppers. They’re one of those things that people are, for some reason, always trying to convince me to like. (What’s up with that?) And they always seem to put them on airline food as well, presumably due to their forceful, overpowering flavor, which helps the food make more of an impression on our dulled palates at higher altitudes. (And in my experience, my brain, too.) And if there wasn’t a ban on bringing pointy metallic objects on planes, I’d travel with a set of tweezers to remove the offending red and green strips they seem to like to drape over everything.

Roasted Peppers

However, like just about every other thing in my life, there’s a contradiction. And in this case, it’s that I love chile peppers — in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Go figure.

Roasted Peppers

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New York/Brooklyn Booksigning: Friday, October 10th

This Friday, October 10th, I’ll be at The Brooklyn Kitchen for a book party!

My Paris Kitchen Book Cover

For this free event, on hand will be samples to tasting from My Paris Kitchen, and there will be copies of Ready for Dessert, a collection of my all-time favorite dessert recipes, and My Paris Kitchen, a collection of stories and recipes from my French kitchen, that I’m happy to sign for you. And – gulp – since holiday season is slowly approaching, signed copies of my books make great gifts for friends and family. I’m just sayin’…

Ready for dessert cover blog

The fun, food, and wine will take place from 6pm to 8pm.

If you can’t make it to the shop, or live elsewhere, and would like a signed book, you can order one from The Brooklyn Kitchen — I’ll sign it, and they’ll send it. Click here to order.

The Brooklyn Kitchen
100 Frost Street (map)
Brooklyn, New York
(718) 389-2982

[If you plan to come, you're invited to confirm on the Facebook Event page to let them know about how many guests to expect, although it's not required to RSVP. If you have other questions about the event, feel free to contact The Brooklyn Kitchen.]

Thai Stir-Fried Chicken with Chile Jam

Thai Stir-Fried Chicken with Chile Jam recipe

I was recently interviewed about cookbooks that I like and when I thought about the ones I’ve been most intrigued with, a few stood out. They were single-subject books that explore a single topic, which I find useful when looking for a straightforward recipe to try out. But the more complex, thorough books help me understand cuisines that I’m not all familiar with. For example, I have a massive, magnificent 688-page book on Thai cuisine that is the ne plus ultra of Thai cookbooks. But every time I’ve cracked it open, I feel like if I don’t get all twenty-seven ingredients called for in the recipe, it’s not going to work. Or that I’m doing something wrong and I’ll be cursed by a thousand Thai grandmothers (or the internet) for the rest of my life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great book and I love sitting in am armchair, reading about food traditions and so forth. But in reality, and in the kitchen, it’s a different story. And often we have to make compromises or make do with what we can, if we want to make a dish.

Thai Chiles

It can quickly become tiresome having the authenticity police breathing down your neck, with people picking out anything that you’re doing wrong when making dinner. (As I wrote in my recent book, cultures and traditions change over time. Italians didn’t always have tomatoes, chiles weren’t always part of Thai cooking, and hamburger meat didn’t originally come from America.)

So it’s a true pleasure to have a reassuring voice like Leela Punyaratabandhu, in her terrific book, Simple Thai Food, telling you that – you know what? – you don’t need to make yourself crazy to cook Thai food. We can all breath a sigh of relief. And, if necessary, you can make a few adjustments and still retain the original flavors of the dish.

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