The Secret Ingredient (Avocado): Mémé’s Avocado Carpaccio

RECIPE: Avocado Carpaccio
Avocado Carpaccio

Avocado Carpaccio

The other night, I was out to dinner at Haru in New York, a favorite sushi bar of ours where we often order outrageous rolls.  The Kiss of Fire with pickled and fresh jalapeños stacked over a rainbow of tunas.  The Golden Passion, with torch-charred super white tuna and yuzu tobiko.  The Kamikaze, the Spider.  The list goes on.

“I want an avocado roll,” I announced.

“An avocado roll!?” they incredulous exclaimed.  “Really?”

They thought I was being boring.  But it’s my absolute favorite.  A sparse stick of avocado at the heart: creamy, buttery, vegetal.  Perfect with a hint of salty soy and the snap of nori.  Avocado, I thought to myself, is a phenomenal ingredient.

So here we are: avocado is January’s secret ingredient for a number of reasons.  First, as I mentioned, it tastes ridiculously awesome.  Second, and let’s be real, it’s January, and I need something healthy in my life and in my body.  Third, it’s texture is so adaptable, and it’s flavor so mild, that you can really do myriad phenomenal dishes with avocado.  I’m not going to teach you how to roll an avocado roll, because some things are best left to the experts.  And I’m not going to do guacamole, because I covered recently in our chipotle month.  And I’m not going to do avocado gelato, because I doubt you’ll actually make it, but I wanted to mention it because if you can find some, you must try it.  In the spirit of avocado month.  But I think that we are going to do some fantastic avocado dishes this month, starting with Mémé’s Avocado Carpaccio.

Mémé is my French-Moroccan grandmother.  Every Moroccan family begins a big meal with a spread of salads: carrot salads, beet salads, chili salads, cucumber and tomato salads, eggplant salads.  And in Mémé’s case, avocado salads.  She makes this simple fan of avocado, and floods it in lemon juice and olive oil.  She bedazzles each Hass half with slivers of scallion, cilantro, and parsley, and then adds the crunch and flavor of flour de sel.  It’s gorgeous, simple, healthy.  Buttery and fresh.  Light and decadent.  In short, it’s perfect.  I love serving it to kick off a healthy fish dinner.

Excerpted from my weekly column The Secret Ingredient on Serious Eats. Continue reading

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French in a Flash: Cassoulet-Style Sausage ‘n’ Beans

RECIPE: Cassoulet-Style Sausage 'n' Beans
Cassoulet-Style Sausage 'n' Beans

Cassoulet-Style Sausage 'n' Beans

I think of French dishes like boyfriends. I remember asking “grown-ups” how they knew they’d met the loves of their lives. They’d always say something cheesy like, “You just know.” I’d roll my eyes. That’s ridiculous.

And then, last summer, I met cassoulet. Brawny, rich but humble, supportive, with an excellent lineage and a bright future. It’s what the French call a coup de foudre—love at first bite. And I just knew. Cassoulet is my favorite French dish. Bouillabaisse. Bourguignon. Gigot à Sept Heures. All just flings! Every moment that I’m away from cassoulet, I’m thinking about it.

I was lucky enough to spend last summer outside of Toulouse near the famous birthplace of cassoulet: Castelnaudary. Cassoulet, if you haven’t yet become acquainted, is a simple, hearty dish from the southwest of France made of duck, goose, or pork confit; garlicky sausage; pork; white beans; and breadcrumbs. It’s life-altering, despite its simplicity. Despite the summer heat, or perhaps in amorous defiance of it, I ate cassoulet every other night, forgetting waistline, expense, and all common decency. I ate it out of a can and I ate it at the best restaurants. And now, so far away from it, I can’t stop craving, and wishing, and hoping, and dreaming about it.

Here’s my quick fix because this is, after all, French in a Flash, and homemade goose confit does not fit under the “in a Flash” heading: white beans flavored with smoky bacon, sausage drippings, herbs, garlic, and wine, crowned with sausage and super-flavorful breadcrumbs. I bake it for 20 minutes, and dive in. Not quite cassoulet, but close enough to the real thing that I can stop crying for one meal.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats. Continue reading

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Working Girl Dinner! Mind-Blowing Smoky Guacamole and Spiced Black Bean Soft Tacos

RECIPE: Mind-Blowing Smoky Guacamole and Spiced Black Bean Soft Tacos
Guacamole and Black Bean Tacos

Guacamole and Black Bean Tacos

These tacos leave me speechless.  Which is a rare thing.  I can’t figure out if it’s because they’re so mind-blowing that I literally cannot speak, or because my mouth is fuller than it has ever been before.  Definitely a combination.

I love this recipe for several reasons.  One: it’s super healthy.  And it’s January.  It’s time to stay home, save money, and eat well.  Or at least better.  This dinner is black beans, avocado, and tons of flavor.  No greasy pulled pork (how good is that stuff?), no runny cheeses.  But two: it’s still filling and packed with the smoky flavor of chipotles and cumin and chili powder, and the power punch of lime and jalapenos.  Let me break it down.

There are two equally important fillings in this taco.  The first is the guacamole.  Fresh smashed avocados with red onion, tomatoes, lime, and cilantro.  I spike it with chipotles in adobo for an extra smoky, spicy punch.  Keep in mind, it’s not a topping, but an actual taco filling.  I got the idea at Rosa Mexicano in New York.  They make your guacamole to your specifications tableside, and serve it not only with tortilla chips, but also with small warm corn tortillas for making guacamole tacos.  That’s my favorite bit.  So I stole that idea for these tacos.

The second filling is spiced black beans.  I just warm up some canned black beans with chili powder, cumin, ground coriander, and bay leaf.  Use whatever you have on hand.  Then I either char the corn tortillas on the stove, or microwave them, so they’re warm and pliable and the perfect wrapper for all that good filling.  Sometimes I top with sour cream.

This recipe, as with all Working Girl Dinners, is extremely easy, and pretty darn cheap.

When I tell you I love this recipe, I’m talking first-born love.  First-love love.  Soul shattering, earth moving love.  Romeo and Juliet didn’t know love, love.  I love these tacos.  Bon app!

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French in a Flash: Awesome Mushroom Pâté

RECIPE: Awesome Mushroom Pâté
Wild Mushroom Pate

Wild Mushroom Pâté

It is my New Year’s tradition to make something with truffles.  They’re so luxurious—and I’m so superstitious.  I figure they will bring a successful year, the way birthday cake brings a sweet one.  This year, I want to make something sophisticated for a New Year’s party.  Something that would go with Champagne.  Something up to the occasion.

This is my mushroom pâté with truffles.  So easy, vegetarian, versatile, scrumptious.  The key is to roast the mushrooms with freshly ground dried mushrooms, whole cloves of garlic, and thyme, so the mushrooms sear and caramelize, the garlic gets softly charred, and the dried mushrooms add that extra shroomy oomph to the whole thing.  I whiz it up with Neufchatel cheese, which is quite low fat, so you can feel good about this in a New Year’s kind of way, and some parsley, and lemon juice.  I finish it with a drizzle of black truffle oil, and some rounds of baguette for smearing.

It’s not a vrai pâté.  But as something light, and fresh, and of course, vegetarian, this trumps it all.  Happy New Year!

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Wild Mushroom Pate 2 Continue reading

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The Secret Ingredient: Homemade Honey Sticks

RECIPE: Homemade Honey Sticks
Homemade Honey Sticks

Homemade Honey Sticks

I’ve always been fascinated by honey sticks. I only ever see them when I go apple picking, or pumpkin picking, on the counter next to some country store’s register. Arranged like a colorful bouquet in a pencil cup, sealed tubes of honey dyed fall sweater yarn hues. Purple grape. Blue blueberry. Pink strawberry. Like psychedelic spiked honey. I don’t want to think what would have happened to Winnie the Pooh if he’d got his hands on some honey sticks.

But I love them, and I couldn’t do a month of honey without trying my own version. I love these for a fun party that includes kids—something fun and different for them. I buy organic honey, so it’s ostensibly healthier than some sugary snack. I fill drinking straws with honey and work in drops of excellent flavored extracts, letting the color of the straw tell the story of the flavor within. Blue for vanilla. Orange for orange. Pink for strawberry. Green for almond. Put them in a cherished yogurt pot, and let the sticky fun begin.

Excerpted from my weekly column The Secret Ingredient on Serious Eats.

Homemade Honey Sticks
serves a party

Homemade Honey SticksINGREDIENTS

  • Acacia honey
  • Excellent quality different-flavored extracts, such as orange, lemon, almond, vanilla, peppermint, and strawberry

PROCEDURE

This is less of a recipe than a method. Press the bottom of the drinking straw so that two opposite sides of the straw meet. Tape to secure. Trip off the bendy top of the straw. Using honey in a squeezable plastic bottle makes this infinitely less difficult. Stick the open end of the straw inside the honey bottle, turn the bottle upside down, and gently fill the straw about 4/5 of the way up with honey. Use the pipette (or a steady hand) to add 4 or 5 drops of extract into the straw, and massage it a bit into the honey. Use different colored straws for different flavors, and make as many or as few as you want. One word of caution: don't make these too far in advance. One night out on the counter and the honey will seep through the tape on the bottom of the straws.

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French in a Flash: Charred Whole Fish Soaked in Fines Herbes Sauce

RECIPE: Charred Whole Fish Soaked in Fines Herbes Sauce

Fines Herbes Whole Fish

Roasted Whole Fish Soaked in Fines Herbes

Mr. English’s whole English family came over for an early Christmas lunch yesterday, and I, a non-Christian American, was faced with the challenge of festively feeding eight avid British holiday revelers.  Traditionally, the English make a grand version of their weekly Sunday roast for Christmas: huge turkey or goose, or a big roast beef or ham, done with carrots and Yorkshire pudding and crispy roast potatoes and sprouts and the all-important, all-drowning gravy.  It’s just not really what I love to eat, and I can only serve what I what I love to eat.

So I did a playful take on the English Christmas roast: instead of a whole bird or joint, I roasted whole fish, soaked overnight in a fabulous, fresh sauce of fines herbes, and roasted with whole cherry tomatoes right on the vine.  Fines herbes is a French combination that goes gorgeously with fish: parsley, chervil, tarragon, and chives.  Delicate herbs, that would wither under a steady stare.  Blended with nothing but olive oil, the sauce is vibrantly green, and roasted along with the bauble-like cherry tomatoes, they make a festive, thought not gimmicky, play on Christmas colors.  Each person gets a whole fish, served with some of the fresh herb sauce set to the side, instead of gravy.  I served it with seared and steamed potatoes with parsley, and butter-soaked Savoy cabbage.

The herbs and olive oil soak into the flesh of the fish, and you get the wonderful freshness of the parsley, the anise of the tarragon and chervil, and the mild onion hit of the chives into every crack in the blistered fish flesh.  Mop up the juices with crusty, rugged bread.  And pop a cherry tomato in your mouth and feel it burst.  You rarely get so much freshness in winter, and get up from the table ready to celebrate, instead of nap.  ‘Tis the season to try something new.  And one thing I’ve learned living on the island that is Britain: there are plenty of fish in the sea.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Fines Herbes Whole Fish Raw

On the way to the oven...

Charred Whole Fish Soaked in Fines Herbes Sauce
serves 4

Fines Herbes Whole FishINGREDIENTS

  • 2 ounces flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 ounces mixed chervil, chives, and tarragon, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup olive oil, plus a drizzle
  • 4 whole trout, branzino, sea bream, or other individually sized whole fish, gutted and scaled
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 4 branches of small cherry tomatoes on the vine

PROCEDURE

Put the herbs and 3/4 cup olive oil in the food processor and let it whiz for 5 minutes, until it’s vibrantly green and almost homogenous.  Set half of the sauce aside in a small bowl covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Put the other 4 in a rimmed roasting tray that holds all 4 fish in a single layer.  Rub the fish, inside and out, with the remaining half of the herb sauce.  Cover the tray with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the broiler, with the oven rack in the second position down from the top (not just under the broiler, but slightly farther down).  Season the fish liberally, inside and out, with salt and pepper.  Lightly drizzle the tomatoes on their branches with olive oil and salt.  Arrange the tomatoes around the fish.  Broil for 10 to 11 minutes, pull out the fish, and carefully turn them over with a fish spatula.  Broil for another 10 to 11 minutes, then serve with the remaining herb sauce on the side.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Fish, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

A Poilâne Apple Turnover A Day…

Poilâne Chausson aux Pommes

Poilâne Chausson aux Pommes, or Apple Slipper

I never eat breakfast.  Never ever.  I’m allergic to eggs.  I don’t love sweets…especially not first thing.  What’s the point?

So, in my Saturday trip to Poilâne, I picked up what they’re most famous for: chausson aux pommes.  Apple turnovers.  Which really translates to slippers of apples.  And I love that kind of charming anachronism that the French language lends to its foods.  Apple slippers.  How old fashioned and absolutely lovely.

There are no chunks of apples.  There is no cinnamon.  It’s not really an apple turnover in the American sense of the word.  The middle is brimming and oozing with something like an apple sauce-turned-paste, honeyed in sweetness and color and flavor.  And as you bite into the hand-crimped edge of the flaky, crusty, substantial dough, every so slightly burnt on the underside because someone actually made it, the appleness oozes out around the corners of your lips and you can’t help but kiss back.

I had it cold, and in a rush.  A quickie before a seven-hour meeting at the office.  Imagine what might have happened if I had it fresh from a warm oven, on a Saturday morning.  Somethings are too magical to even bear thinking about.

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