So much in life seems to be in exchange for something else, starting with “you can have dessert once you eat your vegetables.” For me, eating broccoli was never the problem. When it comes to watching football, though, I tend to be reluctant.
It’s the food that gets me to the Super Bowl party. The promise of pigs in a blanket and Doritos. If you want to take it to the next level and offer a homemade bounty of salty, crunchy snacks on Sunday, I’m going to recommend these: Fried Cornichons. Fried pickles are one of my all-time favorite American comfort foods. The pickles are crispy. The breading is crispy. They’re pucker-sour and salty. Amazing. Instead of sliced bread and butter or dill pickles, I use cornichons, crispy, mini, super-tart French pickles. I bread them lightly in cornmeal, give them a quick fry, and serve them with a parsley and mustard mayonnaise. I think they pack a bigger punch than any linebacker, but hey, that’s just me talking.
Fried Cornichons with Parsley and Grain Mustard Mayonnaise
serves 4 to 6
- 32 cornichons
- ¼ cup buttermilk
- 6 tablespoons cornmeal
- 3 tablespoon cornstarch
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Canola oil for frying
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- ½ teaspoon grain mustard
Pat the cornichons dry with a paper towel. Put the buttermilk in a small bowl. Combine the cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in another bowl. Heat 1 inch of canola oil in a small saucepot to 375°F.
While the oil heats, dredge the cornichons. Dip them first in the buttermilk, and then shake them, one at a time, in the cornmeal mixture until well coated. Fry at 375°F in batches of 4 or 5 pickles at a time until crisp and golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel, and season lightly with salt.
To dip, whisk together the mayonnaise, parsley, and grain mustard. Serve the pickles hot, with the sauce on the side.
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Steak and Horseradish Croissant
I’m not exactly a “gamer.” I don’t have any game, I don’t play games, I don’t participate in games. My high school sports memories are still fresh—raw—enough for me to heed them as warnings. Like the time I scored a goal for the OTHER team in soccer, or when I was moonlighting as the line ref for a volleyball game, and couldn’t remember which hand motion was “in” and which was “out”. Let just say, I had enemies on both sides. So I’ve decided when it comes to games, it’s best to have people over, make them some food to soothe any tensions, and watch safely from behind the pillows of the couch.
Braised Fennel Crunch
The last time I had braised fennel was in France at a restaurant called Pères et Filles on rue de Seine in Paris. And not to speak ill, because I love that restaurant, but I didn’t love the braised fennel. It can often be too mellow to me, even with its anise aroma and soft-crisp texture. However, it’s a great, easy side dish that’s unusual, and I think unusual food is important—it keeps you interested.
So I decided to jazz up this vegetable side my way. My boyfriend, Mr. English, always tells me he fell in love with me because of my treatment of a certain set of roasted Brussels sprouts. Needless to say, I am of the opinion that vegetable sides are not an afterthought, but a highlight. Or, at least they should be. I quick-braise shards of fennel in white wine and stock, and top it with a simple crust of panko, chervil, fennel fronds, and olive oil. A quick stint under the broiler, and the fennel not only has that acidic twang of white wine but also a fresh anise crust. Not so drab anymore. I love to serve braised fennel with roasted pork loin or grilled or broiled fish. And take comfort in the fact that if you don’t like anise, fennel is much more mild once cooked.
Braised Fennel Crunch
serves 4 to 6
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons
- 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 large fennel bulbs, cut into 1/4-inch slices through the root
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 cup panko
- 1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil
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- Preheat the broiler.
- In a wide non-stick skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted and just begins to foam, add the fennel slices. Sauté, turning the slices often with a silicone spatula, until just turning golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, and allow it to reduce for 30 to 60 seconds. Add the chicken broth, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the fennel is tender to the tip of a knife, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the lid from the pot, and allow any excess moisture to evaporate.
- In a bowl, toss together the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, panko, and fennel fronds and chervil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spray a 9 1/2- by 12-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or olive oil. Place the fennel all around the bottom of the dish, and cover with the panko-herb mixture. Place in the boiler, 5 to 6 inches below the heat source, and cook until the panko is golden-brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.
Vanilla Cream Pots
I hope this month’s series on vanilla has given you some ideas about how to use it in different ways. This recipe is my attempt to recreate my favorite dessert in Paris: the vanilla pot de crème at my favorite restaurant in the Carrefour Odéon. When I lived down the street, I would order this several times a week. Pot de crème is most similar to our pudding, but really, they’re nothing alike.
Pot de crème is extremely thick; you have to tug it off the spoon with your lips. Dense and almost cloying, it is redolent of its flavor—whether that’s the Bourbon vanilla at my favorite place, or chocolate, or caramel, or anything else. There is no other flavor here besides vanilla, and the vanilla is use-the-bean-and-the-extract intense. It proves that vanilla can be special, even a bit glamorous. Continue reading
I like when food tastes familiar. It’s routine, and it’s comforting. Like the way clean sheets always smell out of the dryer, or the first perfume you remember your mother wearing (Shalimar), or the feel of a soft rug under your toes when you get home from work. It’s the same everyday, but that doesn’t make it any less precious or perfect or satisfying. It only becomes more so with every repetition.
I do tend to make a lot of comfort food–and maybe that’s reflective of where I am in life. Maybe, with all the imminent changes ahead, I gravitate towards familiar food because I need that warm, dryer-baked blanket or whiff of Shalimar to anchor me, to remind me that I’m not floating away like an untethered balloon out into the vast unknown. I come from somewhere, and I’m going somewhere, even when it feels like the wind may whip me in any direction on a whim.
Swordfish Paillard with Citrus Salad
Growing up in Florida, winter always meant one thing to me: citrus. We had a Lilliputian orchard on our small plot of land that produced Key limes, Persian limes, oranges, lemons the size of softballs, and ruby red grapefruits. We couldn’t get to the fruit fast enough. We gave away sacks upon sacks of tart yellow, orange, and green gems, running around under the trees like squirrels anxious to get ahold of their nuts before anything sinister might befall them. And that is why to this day I recoil at the idea of paying 69 cents for a stingy lemon in a New York grocery store. Ridiculous.
I’m in Florida this week, and the choices of citrus overwhelmed me—I’m like a greedy little kid in a Sour-Patch candy store. This dish was inspired by the bistro classic chicken paillard: thinly pounded fillet of meat, quickly seared on a hot grill, and served with salad. It’s one of those French dishes that is so simple, but made special by just the smallest amount of attention paid to preparation. When I’m in Florida, I eat nothing but fish, so I made this with thawed frozen swordfish fillets. You could substitute any meaty steak fish. Pound the fish thin, and grill it in seconds on a panini press. Top it with a salad of rough-and-tumble spinach and arugula, with pink Florida grapefruits and blood oranges, sweet fennel, and salty onyx oil-cured olives. Light and lovely, it’s the perfect lunch in the sunshine—or for dreaming about it. Continue reading
The history of vanilla is a rich one. It is the pod of an orchid, and long grew only in Mexico; when explorers tried to bring vanilla back to Europe, the plant could not survive without the little Mexican bee that pollinated it. It wasn’t until 1841, when a young slave on the Ile Bourbon discovered that vanilla could be hand-pollinated, which led not only to an international vanilla market, but also to vanilla’s high price. It is the second highest priced spice, after saffron.
Vanilla, for being so common and ubiquitous, has a very exotic history. This dish is a bit exotic itself, even though I had a version of it at the now defunct Hoot, Toot, and Whistle in Delray Beach, Florida. I crust tilapia with almonds and panko, and fry it until golden and crisp, and serve it with a mild and creamy vanilla beurre blanc. The original version, I think, was with catfish and pecans. So you can play around. But it’s an unusual and savory way to play with vanilla in your own kitchen. Continue reading