Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to get a reservation at The French Laundry

We're using the early November wedding of one of our friends in Healdsburg, CA as an excuse to visit California Wine Country for this first time. And we all know what's in CA....foodie mecca, The French Laundry. I couldn't miss my chance to eat at Thomas Keller's flagship -especially since we were staying in Yountville. By all accounts, the reservation line at French Laundry is busier than the one at Babbo, perhaps because it only has 16 tables. But I gained a resy at the latter a few years ago by coordinating clocks and hitting the redial button like a crazy woman until it connected. I knew it was possible.

Step 1. Use technology

At midnight pacific time, The French Laundry releases two tables of four for their 5:15pm and 9:15pm sittings two months ahead of the calendar date on i.e. tables for August 1st are released on June 1st.

Note: this did not work for us. We forced ourselves to stay up (aided by recently purchased Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City) until 3am Eastern, and faithfully re-submitted our reservation request as the clock turned from 2:59 to 3:00am, yet still we did not get a table. I thought this was our best chance and went to bed exhausted and somewhat dejected.

Step 2. Massive Bombardment via Telephone

Call 707.944.2380 at 10am Pacific Time and pray that you get into the reservations queue.

I figured there's strength in numbers so all four members of our potential four-top called on separate phones: me, my husband, my mother and father. Crazy, I know. But it worked. At exactly 1pm EST the lines started giving a busy signal, so we re-dialed and re-dialed and finally were given the option of pressing '3' for reservations. Then we nervously waited on hold, listening to elevator music and recorded messages teasing us about how great our potential meal would be. After 10 minutes my husband, then I got through. Our options? 5:30 or 9. 9 it was, and the whole family rejoiced!

Our reward? The privilege of paying $240 per head for dinner in the fall. Better be good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The October Issue of Cook's Illustrated brought to you (minorly) by me!

I tested a bunch of the recipes that appear in the October Issue of Cook's Illustrated and have the following recommendations:

The "Super Crisp Over-Fried Fish" on page 12 is excellent. The best baked-crusted fish I've ever made. It is a little time and labor intensive (crumbing and baking the bread, drying and dredging the fish in various coatings) but the result is a moist fillet with a wonderfully crunchy herb crust. Worthy of a dinner party. The homemade tartar sauce is also top-notch.

The no-roll Pizza Bianca on pag 20 is great. Easy, chewy, tasty. The best pizza dough I've made at home. I tested a version with coppa, sage and fontina that was out of this world. Those toppings seem to have not made publication, but the base is so good, I'd use it to experiment with all manner of toppings. Great fun.

I do not recommend the "Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup" on page 18. For me, substituting bread for cream just didn't do it taste-wise. I'd rather have the calories and taste and go whole hog with the cream or make a purposely thinner, lighter soup. I'd be interested to know if anyone else thinks differently after they've tried this bread-thickened version.

Lastly, the feature on making cheap vodka into high-end vodka via your Brita filter on page 30 fascinated me. I sense a liquor experiment in the future!

I'd be happy to share any recipes you might like. Just request in the comments -or email me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

La Cantine de Quentin -The World's Duckiest Duck

When I saw this month's Gourmet Paris issue, I was reminded that I haven't written nearly enough about our wonderful Parisian meals. One of the best was a lunch at La Cantine de Quentin in the 10th Arrondissement. Recommended by a native Parisian friend of a friend, the food store slash lunch hot-spot held lots of insider promise. And boy did it deliver! It was instantly clear that this was to be an authentic parisian lunch, not a touristy one: we were the only diners not smoking. Deciphering the french-only menu (another encouraging sign), I suggestied the duck confit to my carnivorous husband and chose a shrimp risotto for myself. After ordering the requisit carafe of house red wine (a surprising tasty and reasonable priced bordeaux) and being told that my order was 'an excellent choice,' we dug into bread and some amazingly flavorful french butter.

Then came the main event. I apologize for not taking pictures, I was simply too distracted after tasting my risotto. The rice itself was perfect, rich, thick, warm -with pieces of cooked shrimp (tail on) and thin slices of parmesan, which added the perfect amount of salt, to mix in as I liked. The most surprisng part was that there was a sort of saffron? foam around the edge of my risotto: playful, delicate and delicious. But this was nothing compared to the moans of delight coming from the man at my left. He proclaimed his duck confit the platonic ideal of duck, the duckiest duck that ever ducked, exactly what one wants when one orders duck. It was, I admit, a revelation in poultry form. Falling off the bone, but not laden with fat, this duck was simple perfection. Needless to say, we were too filled and giddy for dessert. We shall return! We must return as I'm sure the menu contains even more pieces of culinary transcendence.

Next time you're in Paris, visit La Cantine de Quentin at 53 Rue Bichat and work off your lunch with a lovely stroll along the adjacent canal!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Quick Tip! Chop your Chives

Last week, I got home from whole foods and needed to start prepping for dinner right away. First up was finely chopping some chives. The recipe called for about 1 tablespoon for garnish, but instead of chopping just what I needed, I decided to chop everything I had. This turned out to be a minor stroke of culinary brilliance. I keep all but the tablespoon I used in a small tupperware in the fridge and had chives to use all week. They went on sandwiches, they went with eggs, in salad dressing and with butter. My chopped chives added a little something extra to lots of regular old dishes all week. So easy, so tasty, so obvious (in hindsight.) So, my quick tip is: chop your chives, asap!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Flowers, Yum! Squash Blossom Fritatta

I espied an abundance of beautiful squash blossoms at the market yesterday and was excited to do something with them other than stuffing them with cheese and deep frying them. I remembered seeing this frittata recipe and thought I'd give it a go. What resulted was simple, fresh and delicious. That could have been because everything but the cheese I had just bought at the farmer's market, but regardless, I highly recommend this for a simple brunch or supper dish.

Note: I used a cast iron pan, which worked just fine. I also had feta, not goat cheese so I substituted that.

Zucchini Blossom Frittata

- makes 4 servings -
Adapted from Bon Appétit by Lucy Baker


20 zucchini blossoms, stems removed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs plus 4 egg whites, whisked to blend
Generous knob of goat cheese (about 1/4 cup)
Handful chopped fresh parsley


1. Gently rinse and dry zucchini blossoms. Preheat broiler.

2. Heat oil in a 10-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; reduce heat to medium and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Add blossoms and sauté just until wilted, turning often, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Spread blossoms in skillet in single layer; increase heat to medium-high. Add eggs and egg whites and cook until beginning to set around the edges, lifting frittata with heatproof rubber spatula and allowing eggs to flow underneath. Crumble the goat cheese into the skillet on top of the eggs. Continue cooking until eggs are softly set, about 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to broiler; broil until top of frittata is set, 1 minute. Slide frittata onto platter. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The San Francisco Treat

I just listened to a great podcast in NPR's Hidden Kitchen's series. It's all about how Rice-A-Roni came to be and contains a couple great mini-stories about Armenia, immigration and learning to cook from an adopted grandma. Listen and enjoy!


Inspired in part by Dorie Greenspan's adoration of it, I dragged my husband to legendary Parisian fancy food store, Fauchon, last Saturday. They have two separate stores along the Place de la Madeleine in the 8th Arrondisement; one with ready to eat foods and a cafe and the other filled with packaged foods to take home. Decorated in pink, black and lucite, the former storefront is a foodie jewel box filled with oh so precious treats -both sweet and savory. A group of tourists was jamming the macaron and bread stations while the jars of ready-to-eat foie gras went largely unnoticed. Well, they did look slimy and icky all jarred up like that. Since our bellies were already full from some croissant or other, we moved across the block to buy some things to enjoy back in NYC. Equally pink, but not quite as precious, the latter store had open stock shelves and lots of employees walking about to help. We were thrilled to encounter a woman with excellent english near the condiment and spice area. My husband adores mustard almost as much as I love mayo and I was determined to buy a couple of special mustards for was his birthday, after all. After determining our type of palate (spicey=yummy), our helpful associate recommended a slew of varieties: champagne, truffle, horseradish, and piment d'espelette. The last incorporates a basque pepper that is so revered, it inspires week-long festivals as the peppers dry. Wanting the frenchiest mustard, we settled on small jars of the champagne and espelette -stay tuned for tasting review.

I CAN report on the prettiest and best artisinal marshmallows I've ever had. Each is fluffy and non-gelatinous with a hint of fruity flavor. So much better than any mass-produced marshmallow I've ever tasted -they're a different being, er, dessert entirely. They've has inspired me to try and make my own...perhaps these from design sponge for holiday gifts.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mille Feuille

One of the greatest discoveries from our Paris trip was something we saw on many bistro menus, a savory mille feuille. Literally translated as "a thousand leaves," the mille feuille is often seen as a dessert with layers of pastry, cream and fruit. At the Ambassade d'Auvergne I ordered an appetizer mille feuille of aubergine and goat cheese. It had delightful, chewy eggplant layers, alternated with creamy, tangy goat cheese whipped up like whipped cream cheese, and topped with thinly sliced zucchini and a drizzle of liquidy pesto. I tried to recreate it last night (substituting jersey tomatoes for the eggplant), but I'll have to work on the goat cheese layer a little more to get it to the absurd level of fluffiness of the Ambassade. This is a delicious and visually impressive way to serve your fresh summer veggies.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pepe's Clam Pizza comes to New York!

While struggling (and failing) to stay up until 9pm after our flight back from Paris, I came across this very exciting news. There will soon be a branch of Frank Pepe's pizza in Yonkers, just a short Metro North ride away from NYC! While going to school in New Haven, I noticed the most important debate was Sally's vs. Pepe's pizza. If I can get Pepe's without having to schlep up to mid-Connecticut, I hereby declare him the absolute victor.