A tandoor is a cylindrical clay pot used in south Asian cuisine, notably (but not limited to) northern India and Pakistan, in which food is cooked over hot charcoal or wooden fire at high temperatures. The earthen oven is commonly sunk neck deep in the ground. Strictly speaking, Tandoori simply describes a dish cooked in a tandoor, which can include meats, fish, poultry or breads…but, in western parlance the term has seemed to have been enlarged to include a spice mix, which varies from kitchen to kitchen. Not having a true tandoor at hand—which would no doubt violate numerous building codes—this is the closest we can get.

SEARED YELLOWTAIL TUNA TANDOORI

1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
2 T tandoori spices*
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 (4 oz) yellowtail tuna filets, fat and skin trimmed away
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/2 C rice wine vinegar
1 T honey
1/2 t mirin
1 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 C cilantro leaves
2 C watercress
1/2 C arugula

Lemon zest

In a small bowl, whisk together rice vinegar, honey, mirin, salt and pepper. In a steady, narrow stream, slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly. Set aside.

In a bowl, place olive oil, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of the tandoori, salt and pepper. Rub the top of each filet with the smashed garlic, season with salt, pepper and the rest of the tandoori on both sides. Then dip the filets in the bowl, coating both sides evenly. Reserve the remaining flavored oil for sauce.

Place a heavy skillet over medium to medium high heat, and sear the tuna filets gently, approximately 2 minutes on each side. When done, the tuna should be rare in the middle but not cold. (Alternatively, the tuna could be grilled over a charcoal or wood fire prepared to medium high heat to loosely imitate a tandoor.)

Toss greens with vinaigrette, arrange tuna over, and then drizzle reserved sauce over the top. Grate a touch of lemon zest over each filet before serving.

*Tandoori Spices

2 T coriander seeds
2 T cumin seeds
1 T cardamom seeds

3 T sweet paprika
2 T turmeric
2 T sea salt
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t cayenne pepper

Strew the coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds in a dry heavy skillet over medium heat and roast for a few minutes until essences are released. Place in a spice or coffee grinder and reduce to a powder. Then, place in a bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Stores well tightly covered in a cool, dry place.

The Spanish ladies of the New World are madly addicted to chocolate, to such a point that, not content to drink it several times each day, they even have it served to them in church.
~Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

A lush endorphin rush.

“FLOURLESS” CHOCOLATE TORTE & GANACHE

6 large organic, free range, eggs, separated
16 T (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
9 ozs high quality bittersweet chocolate (70-85% cocoa), chopped
1 C granulated white sugar, divided
1 t pure vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1/4 C all purpose flour

Confectioners’ sugar or high quality cocoa powder

Ganache:
8 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate (70-85% cocoa), chopped
3/4 C heavy whipping cream
2 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 F

Butter a 9″ x 3″ springform pan and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

Separate the eggs while still cold, placing the egg whites in one bowl and the egg yolks in another bowl. Cover both with plastic wrap and bring to room temperature.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Cool to lukewarm.

Place egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of the electric mixer and beat with the flat paddle on medium high speed until thick, ribbon-like and lemon colored, about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract, salt, flour and melted chocolate mixture.

In another bowl, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula or whisk, fold a small amount of whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten the batter. Add the remaining egg whites, gently folding just until incorporated. Do not over mix.

Pour into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-45 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, still in pan. Refrigerate for several hours. Remove cake from refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving. Remove springform pan sides, invert cake onto a large plate, and peel away the parchment paper from bottom. Reinvert cake on another large plate or serving platter.

Either serve with confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder with homemade vanilla bean ice cream or crème anglaise, unless you opt for ganache.

If covering the torte with ganache (below), cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least several hours.

Ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a stainless steel bowl. Heat the cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a strong simmer, then pour the cream and butter mixture over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5-10 minutes. Stir until smooth.

Pour the ganache into the center of the cake. Spread the ganache with a spatula, using broad strokes to push the ganache over the sides of the cake, to create an even coating over the entire cake. Refrigerate until served.

Cold soup is a very tricky thing, and it is the rare hostess who can carry it off. More often than not, the dinner guest is left with the impression that had he only come a little earlier he could have gotten it while it was still hot.
~Fran Lebowitz

Oddly, I chose this cool, rainy, ruminative day to write about cold fare. But, our sultry and sometimes sweltering summer will soon swoop down, so now is the time to dust off and unveil some cold soups—and I do mean well chilled, not room temp.

The English cucumber makes a much superior choice of these green vegetal cylinders. After all, it handles the rigors of shipping well, appears in decent quantities and has such sweetly flavored flesh and skin that you can eat the entire vegetable. The flesh is smooth and refreshingly moist.

It is generally sold wrapped in plastic to reduce water loss, and so is usually not waxed as are other varieties. Contrary to popular belief, English cucumbers are not enitrely seedless, but the seeds are much smaller and less prominent. Cucumbers contain surprisingly high amounts of protein and vitamin B1 as well as an enzyme called erepsin, which aids in digesting protein.

Here is a trio of fresh and crisp chilled soups that soothe on those torrid days…

CHILLED ENGLISH CUCUMBER SOUP WITH DILL

1 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onions
4 English cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/2″ slices
1 russet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3 1/2 C chicken broth
4 large fresh dill fronds
6 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 t salt

1 cup crème fraîche
Thin smoked salmon slices, about 3″ long

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until slightly softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add cucumbers and potato; stir 1 minute. Add broth, dill fronds, and salt. Increase heat and bring to simmer, then reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until cucumbers and potato are tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Remove and discard dill fronds.

Working in batches, purée soup in processor until smooth. Return to pot and cool 30 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup crème fraîche and 4 tablespoons minced dill. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. Taste soup, adding more salt if desired.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls. Spoon a dollop of crème fraîche in the center of each bowl, and artfully arrange smoked salmon slices over the dollop. Lightly sprinkle with the remaining minced dill.

CHILLED ASPARAGUS SOUP

8 T unsalted butter
3 lbs fresh asparagus, bases snapped off and spears sliced in 1″ lengths
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 small spring onions or cippolinis, white part only, peeled and finely chopped

2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into eighths
1 qt chicken stock
1 qt vegetable stock

1 C tarragon leaves, stems removed and discarded
1 1/2 C spinanch, blanched, ice bathed and drained on paper towels
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1-2 T Champagne vinegar

Crème fraîche
Caviar or salmon roe (optional)

Over medium heat, add butter to 1 large, heavy saucepan. Just when the butter has become foamy, add onion, spring onions and garlic. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Sweat mixture until soft and translucent, but not browned.

Add both stocks and potato to pan. Lightly season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until potatoes are tender. Once potatoes are tender, bring to a rolling boil and add the asparagus. Once the soup returns to a boil, reduce and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to a large bowl and chill soup immediately in an ice bath.

In a food processor or blender, add tarragon and spinach to soup mixture and purée well in batches until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and champagne vinegar. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours.

Ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish each with a dollop of crème fraîche and a teaspoon of caviar or roe.

Pourboire: in lieu of crème fraîche and fish eggs, you may consider crumbling some fine goat cheese over the soup. More rustic, but no less flavorful.

CHILLED AVOCADO SOUP

4 ripe medium avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 C buttermilk
1 C plain organic yogurt
3 T fresh lime juice
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and diced
2 T chopped seeded jalepeño chili
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 C chicken broth

White pepper
Sea salt

Sour cream
Lime zest
Red chili pepper, finely minced

Place avocados into processor and add buttermilk and yogurt; purée until smooth. Mix in lime juice, red oninon, jalepeño and cayenne pepper and purée further. With machine running, blend in 1/2 cup chicken broth. Season with salt and white pepper. Chill soup until cold, about 4 hours.

Ladel soup into shallow bowls. Serve each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of lime zest and minced red chili pepper.

My idea of heaven is eating pâté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets.
~Sydney Smith

Is there a food stuff that causes more audible moans than foie gras? And these are the genuine, euphoric, bone deep type—not the staged purrs of a cleavaged Giada undulating under hot lights popping risotto balls and sucking her fingers.

Foie gras has been the subject of a recent food fight, courtesy of animal rights advocates…almost like the new fur. The controversy rose to the level of having these delicacies outlawed in the Windy City in a move much akin to a ban on sex or wine. A two year prohibition on serving these heavenly morsels, which was openly flaunted by restauranteurs, was repealed by an overwhelming vote. There seems to be nothing more entertaining than the ever shifting dramas orchestrated or stumbled upon by Chicago’s aldermen.

Most American foie gras is gleaned from Moulard ducks which are a cross between the Muscovy and Pekin species.

SEARED FOIE GRAS WITH FIGS, PORT WINE & LAVENDER HONEY

1 whole duck foie gras, about 1 1/2 pounds, slightly chilled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T unsalted butter

1 T extra virgin olive oil
6 fresh black mission figs, halved
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
6 tarragon leaves, chopped
1/2 C port wine
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 T orange juice

2 T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 T lavender honey (warmed) or raw unprocessed honey
1/2 t orange zest
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rinse the foie gras and pat dry with paper towels. Carefully pull apart the 2 lobes of the foie gras and with your fingers remove the veins that are lodged between them. Cut away any extraneous fat and green spots and pull away any membranes. On the inner side of the small lobe, carefully pull away the large vein that runs through the center and remove any smaller veins that branch out from it. With the larger lobe, locate the larger central vein and remove it with any attached veins.

Using a sharp knife dipped in boiling water, slice each lobe into 1″ medallions. Score the top of each medallion in a diagonal pattern and season with salt and pepper. Add the butter to a heavy skillet over medium head and sear the medallions for 30-45 seconds per side. Please be careful not to overcook or you will be rewarded with a puddle of expensive melted fat. Remove to a platter lined with paper towels to drain and tent.

Lower heat to medium and pour out a bit of the rendered duck fat. Add the figs, cut side down, then add the shallots and tarragon, cook until figs are brown, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with port, apple cider vinegar, and orange juice, cooking about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and vigorously whisk in butter, honey, orange zest, salt and pepper. Spoon over foie gras slices which are arranged over a slice of grilled or toasted toast and surrounded by figs.

Israeli Couscous (x2)

June 6, 2009

In Hebrew פתיתים אפויים are “baked flakes.” These little curvaceous pearl gems that pop on each bite deserve more playing time.

COUSCOUS WITH PINE NUTS & MINT

4 T unsalted butter
2/3 C pine nuts
2/3 C shallots, finely chopped
3 C Israeli couscous
2 large cinnamon sticks
2 dried bay leaves
3 3/4 C chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 C fresh mint, minced

Preheat broiler.

Toast pine nuts in broiler until lightly browned. Set aside.

Melt butter in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and sauté until light golden, about 5-8 minutes. Add couscous, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves and stir until couscous browns slightly, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add broth and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer until couscous is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and stir in mint and pine nuts. Season with salt and black pepper.

COUSCOUS SALAD WITH OLIVES, LIMA BEANS & HERBS

1/4 C sherry vinegar
1 C extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 C Israeli couscous
1 C chicken stock
1 C water

1 C fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
1 C cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
1/2 C kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 C lima beans, cooked
3 green onions, chopped
1 C arugula, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk together the sherry vinegar and mustard, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuously whisking. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy, medium sauce pan over medium low heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add the couscous to the pan and stir regularly until it starts to turn light golden, about 5 minutes. Slowly add chicken stock and water to the pan and then cover. Turn the heat to low and let gently simmer until flat and fluffy, about 8-10 minutes. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid and allow the precious steam to be released.

Allow the couscous to cool and then toss with the vinaigrette, then the basil, tomatoes, olives, lima beans, green onions, and arugula.

Champagne Vinaigrette

June 4, 2009

Light and crisp…with a vinegar that uses those same luscious Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes as found in fine champagnes.

CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

1 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, and shallot. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens you are serving.

SCALLOP PANCAKES, CREME FRAICHE & CAVIAR

1/4 lb. scallops, chopped
1 T fresh chives, minced

2 large organic, free range eggs
1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 C club soda
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

2 T peanut oil

Fresh chives, sliced lengthwise
Crème fraîche
Caviar or salmon roe

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, club soda, salt, and pepper and stir until a batter forms. Stir in the scallops and chives.

Heat enough peanut oil to cover a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Spoon enough batter into the pan to form a 3-4″ diameter pancakes. Cook until lightly browned and then turn and cook the other side.

Serve garnished with a dollop of crème fraîche, a spoonful of caviar and chives; or serve or over a fresh frisée salad which has been tossed with a champagne vinaigrette.

CREME FRAICHE

2 C heavy whipping cream
4 T buttermilk

In a medium heavy saucepan over low heat, warm the cream, but do not simmer or boil. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Transfer the to a large bowl and allow to stand covered with plastic wrap until thickened but still of pouring consistency. Stir every 6 hours for one day. The crème fraîche is ready when it is thick with a slightly nutty sour taste. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours before using. Crème fraîche may be made and stored in a jar the refrigerator for up to one week.

God forgives the sin of gluttony.
~Catalan proverb

Catalonia, formerly encompassing areas of what is now northeast Spain and southwest France, is now an “autonomous community” situated in northeast Spain. It has even been conferred this quasi sovereign status by law (the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, first passed in 1979 and later approved by referendum in 2006). Despite uncertain etymology, the word Catalonia is probably derived from “land of castles.”

Catalonia went through the usual Iberian progression: first the Greeks, then the Romans, followed by the Visigoths with a visit by the Moors. Already the makings of a culinary olio. Independent Catalan culture started to develop in the late Middle Ages stemming from a number of fiefdoms organized throughout northern Catalonia which were ruled by Frankish vassals nominated by the king of France. The region gradually became independent from French rule. In the 13th century, the king of France formally relinquished his feudal lordship over Catalonia to James I, king of Aragon (which flanks Catalonia to the west). Centuries later, Northern Catalonia (Catalunya Nord) was ceded by Spain to France through the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees thus creating the triangular wedge that is French Catalonia and recognizable today as the ancient region Roussillon.

The point of this meandering path is that gastronomy is about regions, not nations or countries. So, despite their distinct characters, it is little surprise that Catalonia and Languedoc-Roussillon have shared and borrowed not just cultural traits, but also culinary influences freely. Few deny the nexus between the soulful food of northeast Spain and southwest France.

Escalivar means “to cook slowly in hot ashes.” An apt description for prolonged foreplay. The vegetables in an escalivada can be roasted, but are preferable grilled as it imparts that smoky charcoal flavor which is the essence of the dish. The ending “-ada” denotes a Catalan tradition of a collective meal for many, served family style.

ESCALIVADA CATALANA—GRILLED VEGETABLE MEDLEY

2 medium eggplants, cut in half lengthwise
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thick
2 red bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise
4 large ripe tomatoes, cut in half
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

1 T sherry vinegar
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, minced
1 T capers, drained
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare charcoal grill to between medium and medium high heat.

Brush the vegetables with olive oil and roast over the grill until soft, turning once. You likely will need to remove the eggplants, peppers and tomatoes before the onions. The skin of the peppers should be blackened. The skins of the vegetables should be loose. When they are cool enough to handle, peel the skin off with your fingers. Stem and seed the peppers, and remove the tops of the eggplants and tomatoes with a knife. Cut or tear the peppers into strips and the tomatoes and eggplants into rough pieces. If necessary, slice the onions a little thinner. Mix the vegetables together with the vinaigrette and then arrange in a colorful fashion on a serving platter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place garlic and 1 teaspoon sea salt into a mortar and, using a pestle, pound into a smooth paste. In a small bowl add olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic paste and capers. Whisk thoroughly.

Hangs well with grilled meats. Serve hot or room temperature.

“Sauce” Gribiche

June 2, 2009

Akin to, but neither a classic mayonnaise nor hollandaise, it has been assumed that gribiche potentially has French parentage. So far, my research reveals that gribiche may be a culinary orphan with unknown lineage—which makes it deserve no less adoration. Think summer hues, picnics.

GRIBICHE

4 hard cooked eggs, yolks only

1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C white wine vinegar

2 T fresh tarragon, finely chopped
2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 T chives, thinly sliced
3 T capers, drained and chopped
6 cornichons, finely chopped
1 T dijon mustard
1 C extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the shallot and white wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the tarragon, parsley, chives, capers, cornichons, mustard and olive oil. Finely chop the egg yolk and add to the bowl. Then add the wine vinegar, shallots, a pinch of salt, and whisk vigorously. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If possible, chill overnight in the refrigerator so the flavors may meld.

Serve over asparagus, leeks, boiled potatoes, poached eggs, shrimp, fish, or cold chicken.

Yes, life has many onions.
~Skip Coryell

While tartes aux oignons are considered a specialty of the formerly embattled northeast border region of Alsace, they are found throughout the country — so it is a recipe that bodes well in any département.

Passed back and forth between tribes, royalty, governments and churches over centuries, Alsace-Lorraine (Ger: Elsass-Lothringen) eventually evolved into a region shaped by both French and German cultures. Space does not permit me to adequately recount its strife-ridden, treaty-rent past. Suffice it to say despite its beauty Alsace-Lorraine was partially born of a dolorous recipe with unsavory ingredients: men, liberally seasoned with lands, boundaries, intolerance, suppression and religion. Sound familiar?

Even an aperçu of modern times reflects these geo-political vacillations. Following the Franco-Prussian War, the area was annexed by the German Empire in 1871 via the Treaty of Frankfurt and became a Reichsland. At the conclusion of World War I, the province reverted to France under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Nazi Germany then again occupied the territory during World War II, beginning in 1940, but the end of the war placed Alsace-Lorraine back in French hands where it has remained since.  With each war, inhabitants of this fair land were made to overhaul their allegiances, citizenship, language, and the like to appease the conquering forces.

In more recent history, efforts have been made to embrace Alsace-Lorraine’s duel Gaullic and Germanic personalities. The cuisine of both cultures have retained their individual identities yet have also remained intertwined — bäeckeofe, foie gras, sauerkraut (choucroute), quiche lorraine, sausages, smoked pork, and so on, all cohabitate peacefully.

ONION TART (TARTE AUX OIGNONS)

1 recipe pâte brisée*

3 slices bacon or pancetta
2 C yellow onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 C chives, chopped
Pinch of dried thyme

3 large organic, free range eggs
2-3 C heavy cream
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the pâte brisée on a floured board, and line a 9” removable-bottom tart shell with it. Flute the edge of the pastry. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator while making the filling.

Cut the bacon into lardons and fry in a heavy skillet until crispy brown. Set aside and drain on paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions, stirring regularly, until they are tender and just beginning to caramelize. Stir in the bacon, chives and thyme until well mixed. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and cream together. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add this to the onions, stirring to combine.

Pour the onion and egg mixture into the pastry shell. Bake tart for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is firm. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or room temperature.

*Pâte Brisée

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
6 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T lard or shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Makes for rich but delicate fare when paired with a simple green salad, a crusty baguette, and a crisp Alsatian white or Provençal rosé