More Menu Madness

November 20, 2015



From my collection of old menus.  I’m guessing this is from the thirties, before Spenger’s moved from Benicia to Berkeley, when you could still get a shrimp cocktail for thirty-five cents.

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Thinking Ahead to the Gift Guide

November 19, 2015


This year’s Gift Guide will begin right after Thanksgiving, but if you want to order this superb fruitcake, it might be a good idea to do it now.  The cakes – the small one weighs in at two and three quarters pounds – are made to order from organic ingredients, and even people who hate fruitcake like this one.

Full disclosure: Robin McKay, the fantastic fruitcake baker, tested all the recipes for My Kitchen Year, so I’m not exactly unprejudiced.  She’s a wonderful cook, a great baker – and these fruitcakes are really special.  I just sent off my order for a few friends, and it occurred to me that I might mention it to you.

And now I have.

Details: the fruitcake is made in small batches with organic currants, flame raisins, sultanas, figs, dates, apricots, candied orange, lemon peel, almonds, and hazelnuts. The ingredients are organic and locally sourced: even the eggs come from the coop next door. The flour is organic, the ginger is fresh, the butter cultured.  Brown sugar, baking powder, powdered ginger, nutmeg, and sea salt are all organic.  The Germain-Robin Craft brandy is made in small batches, but it is not organic.   Well-wrapped, the cakes last a couple of months. But they won’t.


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Celebration at Jean Georges

November 18, 2015


Any meal that begins with this – sea urchin on black bread with a little hint of jalapeno and a splash of yuzu – is bound to be great. Frankly, I loved this so much we could have stopped right here and I’d have gone home happy. Jean Georges – almost seventeen years later – continues to make each evening there pure pleasure.  The room is understated, graceful, elegant, the service superb, the wine list a treat. And the best of the dishes, like the one above, are designed to thrill.



Tartar of sweet, briny bay scallops tangled with sea beans and tossed with toasted sesame seeds.  It’s hard to know what to do with bay scallops – they’re pretty perfect on their own – but this honors their simplicity.



How to make crab crunchy: almost addictively delicious.



Here seafood goes on an entirely different journey: sweet little shrimp mingle with crisp bits of water chestnut, their flavor teased out by a gentle hint of saffron. So fresh, the textures so sprightly. We were drinking  a 2014 white Burgundy from Alice et Olivier de Moor, which made the dish even more seductive.



Grilled foie gras dumplings with papaya.  Need I say more?



Cheddar dumplings with white truffles. See comment above.



My favorite of our entrees: magret of Muscovy duck with Jordan almonds and tiny butter-poached turnips.  Jean-Georges seems enamored of turnips at the moment, serving them in every possible presentation (including topped with heaps of caviar).



A medley of fall flavors – pear, concord grape, apple – and a lovely way to end a meal.



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Cauliflower a la Joe Beef

November 17, 2015


I have to admit that since visiting Vin Papillon in Montreal last week I’ve been slightly obsessed by Joe Beef.  Pulled their cookbook off the shelf the other day,

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and lost myself in its quirky pleasures….

an ode to trains

instructions for building your own smoker

opinions about steaming clams (very simply)

foie gras for  breakfast

and this lovely recipe for cauliflower au gratin.

Made it last night. Loved it.

Herewith their recipe:

Cauliflower Gratin

To make the sauce, combine 1 1/2 cups of milk with a bay leaf, a chopped clove of garlic, 1/4 cup ham or prosciutto trimmings and bring to a simmer.  Turn off tahe heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  Toss the bay leaf.

Make a bechamel by melting 3 tablespoons of butter and whisking in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooking, whisking, for a minute or so. Slowly add the milk mixture, whisking constantly.  Continue until it’s thick, then stir in a quarter cup of grated mimolette and a quarter cup of grated gruyere.  (Had no mimolette; used aged Gouda instead.)  Add salt and pepper and keep warm.

Salt a large pot of water, bring it to a boil and toss in a head of cauliflower, separated into large florets.  Cook for 3 minutes. Drain.

Toss the cauliflower with the cheese sauce, pour it into a casserole dish and scatter a mixture of grated mimolette (or aged gouda) and panko crumbs over the top.  Bake in a 400 degree over for about 15 minutes until bubbling and golden.

It does, as they say in the book, resemble Kraft Mac and Cheese.  But it tastes SO much better!

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Let the Thanksgiving Baking Begin!

November 16, 2015


There’s not a log of wiggle room in our Thanksgiving meal.  Everyone’s got a dish they simply have to have, which doesn’t leave a much room for the new.  There are two stuffings Michael considers essential. Nick wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t have mashed potatoes. I want sweet potatoes with miso butter.  Betsy wants smashed peas. Pat doesn’t think it’s Thanksgiving unless there’s red cabbage. Peter requires a salad….. You get the point.

Dessert, however, is different. While we always have pumpkin pie (for Michael), pecan pie (Michael again) and cranberry crostata (me), every year I get to make at least one new pie. It’s been a great apple season, and last night I began experimenting.

No need to keep going; this pie will definitely be on this year’s Thanksgiving table.

Apple Crumb Pie with Sour Cream

Begin by making an all-butter crust.  Put a cup and a quarter of all-purpose flour into a bowl.  Shake in a bit of salt.  Slice a stick of cold sweet butter and then cut it into the flour, either by hand or using a food processor, until the butter is reduced to the size of small peas.  Sprinkle in a couple tablespoons of ice water and a tablespoon of vodka, and keep adding liquid until the ingredients will just hold together in a ball. Gather it up, flatten it to a disk, wrap it in wax paper and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or up to a few days). 

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it gently out on a floured surface. Fit it into a deep-dish 9 or 10 inch pie pan, flute the edges and put the crust in the freezer while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Mix a cup and a quarter of sour cream with a half cup of sugar.  Whisk in a couple of eggs, 3 tablespoons of flour, a bit of salt and a couple teaspoons of vanilla.  Grate in a small shower of lemon rind. 

Peel 5 large interesting apples – Cox’s Orange Pippins are good, as are Ashmead’s Kernel, Knobbed Russets, Arkansas Blacks and Esopus Spitzenbergs.  (If you’re stuck with supermarket apples, opt for Granny Smiths.) Core the apples, slice them and fold them into the sour cream mixture.  The aroma, as you pour it into the chilled crust, will make you very happy.

Mix a half cup of flour with a quarter cup of sugar.  Sprinkle in some salt and about a teaspoon of cinnamon. Cut in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of butter until it’s crumbly, pick it up and shower it evenly across the top of the pie.

Put the pie on the bottom shelf of the hot oven.  After 10 minutes turn the heat down to 350 and bake for another hour or so, until the top has puffed into a lovely golden dome.  Cool on a rack before serving.


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