Archive for the ‘lunch’Category

London meat pie saves pretty penny at lunch

pie sign
I sometimes find myself doing business in big international cities where the cost of living far exceeds my budget. The challenge at lunch is to eat well without breaking the bank. In Paris that could be a croque monsieur or a sidewalk hot dog on a baguette. I’d opt for a square of pan pizza in Rome. My preference in Madrid is a thick wedge of tortilla española (Spanish potato-onion omelet) and a beer. In London (and many other British cities), the solution is a meat pie.

Back when Simple Simon met a pie man, a British meat pie cost a penny. In the cafe of a department store like Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, or John Lewis, a meat pie will now set you back about £10. That’s a bit over $12 at the current exchange rate. A meat pie is one of the cheapest full meals in London. As a general rule, they have a flaky crust filled with plenty of meat, vegetables, and thick gravy. On cold and rainy days (which are so rare in London, right?), they are gastronomic revelations that make a Yank sorry for every mean thing he’s ever said or thought about British food.

Outstanding meat pie spots


Not all department store pies are bargains, but the Welsh lamb shank pie in the Gallery restaurant at Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly, London; +44 20.7734.8040; www.fortnumandmason.com) justifies its £19.50 price tag ($24). Deeply savory and encased in a delicate puff pastry crust, it is a very civilized way to partake of what is basically a workingman’s dish. You get to sit at a real table with linens and metal cutlery, after all.

eating in London pubFor a superb compromise between a humble pie and an exalted one, it’s hard to beat the Coal Hole (91-92 Strand, +44 20.7379.9883, nicholsonspubs.co.uk). This classic high street Victorian pub boasts a serious kitchen and a cellar full of cask ales. In the last year, Coal Hole has embraced a new culinary identity as a “speciality pie house.” That means the kitchen downstairs in the old coal cellar bakes a variety of meat pies, most of them selling for £12.75 to £13.95 ($15-$17). On my last visit, I enjoyed a beef and ale pie and a pint of ale. That’s another good thing about British gastronomy: a “pint” is 20 fluid ounces.

CHICKEN, LEEK, AND BACON PIE


homemade pieThis classic British meat pie is a distant cousin to an American chicken pot pie yet tastes completely different. This version can be made in a springform pan or in a souffle dish. It serves four with a salad. For less messy serving, prepare one day ahead and refrigerate. Remove pie whole from pan and cut into quarters. Reheat each quarter in a separate serving dish.

Ingredients

Pie crust
2 cups flour
10 tablespoons butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
pinch salt
ice water

Filling
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
2 leeks, white only, thinly sliced
4 strips bacon, chopped in 1-inch pieces
2 cups diced roast chicken (about 12 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

For crust
Place flour and butter in a food processor with steel blade. Process until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk, a pinch of salt and just enough water just to bring dough together (about a tablespoon). Pulse until mixture comes together. Remove from food processor, roll into ball, and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes. (Refrigerate if kitchen is warm.)

For filling
Meanwhile, make the filling. Place butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add bacon and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Stir in chicken and thyme,

Place flour in bowl. Slowly stir in chicken stock and whisk to dissolve. Stir in milk. Add mixture to pan with chicken, bacon, and leeks. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously until sauce thickens. Set aside to cool.

Set oven to 400ºF.

Divide dough into four pieces. Combine three pieces and roll out to 11-inch circumference. Line 6-inch springform pan, draping extra dough over edge. Spoon the chicken and leek mixture into the pie case.

Roll out remaining dough into 7-inch circle. Lay on top of filling. Crimp the edges of the pie and place in the oven over a drip pan to bake until pastry is golden and crisp and filling is cooked through, about 30-35 minutes.

24

01 2017

Mixing it up with authentic New Orleans gumbo

A bowl arrive at the Gumbo Shop in New Orleans
A hearty bowl of gumbo is a powerful argument for open borders. It took four different cultures to create Louisiana’s leading contribution to American cuisine. French settlers contributed the cooking technique, while the Spanish brought bell peppers, onions, and celery—the so-called “trinity” of seasonings. Africans added okra for flavor and as a thickening agent. For variation, some cooks thicken their dish with the filé powder favored by the local Choctaw tribe.

Local choice

Dining room in the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansMade with sausage and either shellfish or poultry, gumbo is a forgiving dish that allows each cook to put a personal stamp on it. I sampled many versions when I was in New Orleans and was never disappointed. But I ate my favorite at the Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter Street, 504-525-1486, www.gumboshop.com). I shouldn’t have been surprised. The restaurant is a perennial winner in the Best of New Orleans readers’ poll conducted by the Gambit.

The Gumbo Shop was established in 1948 and features the traditional New Orleans style of ceiling fans, a large bar, big windows on the street, and decorative murals. It was hopping when I stopped in for a late lunch, but the waiters and waitresses were models of calm, even chatty efficiency. I opted for the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo over the seafood okra gumbo. While I waited for my bowl to arrive, I listened to the waiter at the next table chat with a couple of visitors. To relax, he said, “I’ll get a strong cup of coffee and sit outside and blow through a pack of cigarettes.”

My server Tyler (at top of the post) ceremoniously delivered my bowl, along with a hot loaf of crusty French bread. He also pointed to the array of hot sauces on the table. “Take a taste and then add a little hot sauce if you like.”

My gumbo was rich with okra, tomato, chicken, and sausage and had a pronounced green pepper flavor to the broth. I decided to forego the extra heat. The flavor was deep and satisfying. Initially it seemed a bit mild, but the heat snuck up on me. I was wiping sweat from my brow by the time I sopped up the last bit of broth with my bread.

CHICKEN AND ANDOUILLE GUMBO


Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop, New OrleansThe Gumbo Shop in New Orleans uses whole chickens in their gumbo, but I like to stick with chicken thighs because they impart an intense chicken flavor. Many cooks also use canned tomatoes, but I think fresh tomatoes make the dish brighter. The only tricky part about making gumbo is having the patience to brown the roux without burning it. Keep keep stirring and watch the color!

Ingredients

4 pounds chicken thighs
2 quarts water
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound fresh or frozen okra in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup flour
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced in 3/4” rounds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt

Directions

Simmer chicken thighs in water with bay leaf for 45 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside to cool. Remove bay leaf and reserve cooking water as chicken stock. When thighs cool, strip meat from the bones and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and fry the okra for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning. Cook until the stringy strands disappear and okra is lightly browned. Set aside.

In a large Dutch oven with a heavy bottom, heat 1/2 cup olive oil over medium high heat. Add the flour and stir and cook until flour browns into a roux. When color reaches dark brown, stir in onion, green pepper, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up brown bits from bottom of Dutch oven.

When vegetables are tender, add tomatoes, sausage, and sauteed okra and cook for 15 minutes. Add the spices and mix well. Pour in 8 cups reserved chicken stock, bring to slow boil, and simmer for an hour. Add cooked chicken and additional stock if necessary. Adjust seasoning and serve in large bowls with steamed white rice.

27

12 2016

Commander’s Palace lives up to the legend

Dining room at Commander's Palace in New Orleans
Enjoying a leisurely four-course Reveillon dinner (see previous post) is probably the best way to revel in the holiday spirit in New Orleans. But a fine meal is by no means limited to dinner—or to the historic French Quarter.

St. Charles streetcar in New OrleansFor office parties and ladies who lunch, many restaurants also offer midday holiday menus. Among them is Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221, commanderspalace.com). This dining institution is housed in a bright blue building in the Garden District, where American interlopers shunned by French Creole society built their own grand mansions in the 19th century. The St. Charles streetcar carries passengers from the edge of the French Quarter to the Garden District in trolleys decked with garlands.

Emile Commander opened Commander’s Palace in the 1880s. It was already a landmark when the Brennan family acquired it in 1969. In truth, it’s nearly impossible not to eat in a Brennan restaurant in New Orleans. The extended family has bred great restaurateurs the way the Bourbon family bred kings and queens. I’ll admit, though, that trying to decipher the family tree and follow the twists and turns of family disagreements could give anyone dyspepsia.

“This is a holiday lunch at Commander’s Palace,” the maitre d’ told me as he led me through a maze of dining rooms. “We can’t guarantee what’s going to happen.”

Dining at a grande dame


servers at Commander's Palace in New Orleans

Actually, they can guarantee a fine meal, which should start with a glass of Commander’s Palace Cuvée Brut Blanc de Noir. It’s made for the restaurant by Iron Horse Vineyard, a sparkling wine specialist in Sonoma’s Green Valley. The Christmas Celebration lunch starts with turtle soup, followed by Sugarcane Lacquered South Texas Quail. I opted instead for the soup of the day. I figured that roasted pumpkin soup with whiskey and toasted pumpkin seeds seemed like a pot I could try to recreate back home in New England.

Some of New Orleans’ most famous chefs have honed their skills in Commander’s kitchen. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both served as executive chef during the 1970s and 1980s. Prudhomme created the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle that remains the restaurant’s signature dessert (available à la carte or with the Christmas Celebration Lunch). For a dramatic end, it’s finished tableside with warm whiskey cream.

ROASTED PUMPKIN WHISKEY SOUP

roasted pumpkin soupThis isn’t the restaurant’s recipe, but it tastes very much the same. Any of the winter squashes can be substituted for pumpkin, though a nice sugar pie pumpkin makes a sweet, rich soup. Butternut squash also works well, and tends to be available all winter. I’ve given the directions here to make your own roasted pumpkin seeds, but snack jar pepitas are a lot less trouble.

Serves 8 as a soup course

Ingredients

3 pound pumpkin or butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
2 leeks, washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin rounds
1 onion, roughly chopped
8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 cup buttermilk
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced parsley

Directions

Set oven at 375°F.

Trim off the stem and base of the squash or pumpkin. Cut top to bottom into six pieces. Remove seeds and reserve. Paint the flesh with olive oil and place on a roasting pan. Roast in oven 15-20 minutes or until flesh is tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 300°F.

To prepare pumpkin seeds, rinse thoroughly to remove all pulp, then place in pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Toss with remaining olive oil and spread in single layer on a baking sheet. Salt generously. Roast in about 45 minutes until crisp and brown. Reserve.

In large soup pot, melt half the butter. Add leeks and onion and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Cover pot and sweat leeks and onion over low heat about 20 minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep them from sticking to pan.

Scoop roasted pumpkin flesh away from skin and add to leeks and onion. Pour in the stock, season and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then let the soup cool. Add whiskey, buttermilk, and remaining butter and stir to dissolve. Purée in a blender and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. Reheat for serving.

Serve sprinkled with a few roasted pumpkin seeds and minced parsley.

Vermont’s Crowley Cheese an American original

Crowley Cheese factory in Healdville, Vermont
Cheesemakers always seem like magicians, using a straightforward process and a few ingredients to transform perishable milk into tasty blocks that improve with age. Here in the U.S., the folks at Crowley Cheese in Vermont (802-259-2340, www.crowleycheese.com) have been doing it longer than anyone else on record, or so they say.

Dipping cheese at Crowley Cheese in Healdville, Vermont The Crowley family started selling their own cheese in 1824. In 1882, Winfield Crowley built the current factory to expand on his family’s farmhouse kitchen cheesemaking operation that used milk from their dairy herd. The factory still produces cheese with raw milk from several local herds.

In the world of cheeseheads, Crowley is an “American Original.” It is a cheese with a North American pedigree that owes nothing to the old country. Never big on the fine points of taste, the Food and Drug Administration disregarded the Crowley history when it classified Crowley as a “Colby.” The Colby category was “invented” in Wisconsin in 1885, six decades after the Crowley family started making their washed-curd cheese.

The factory and sales room is open daily to visitors. It’s on Healdville Road in Healdville, a village of Mt. Holly. Fortunately, Google Maps and most GPS systems have it in their databases. The workers only make cheese a few days a week—sometimes Tuesday through Thursday, sometimes Wednesday through Friday. It’s not a process to be rushed, and takes most of the day. However, much of the time is devoted to standing around and waiting.

Making the cheese


Raking curd at Crowley Cheese in Healdville, Vermont Early in the morning, workers pump 5,000 pounds of whole raw milk into stainless steel tubs. The cheesemaker adds lactobacillus culture (the same microbe that turns milk into yogurt) to convert the milk sugar into lactic acid. After more heating, the cheesemaker stirs in rennet. This separates cheese curds from the watery whey. As the cheese sets up, the workers cut the curd into small pieces. When it looks like popcorn and has the resiliency of a pencil eraser, they start scooping the curds into a second sink. The staff—usually the cheesemaker and two or three assistants—knead the curd while running water on it to wash away the residual acidity. After salting, the curds are packed into molds and placed in a press. By the next morning, whole wheels of cheese are formed. They are ready to be dipped in wax and aged to varying degrees of sharpness. Because Crowley lacks the acid of a cheddar, it ages much more quickly. At two years, it is as ripe as a five-year-old cheddar.

The sales room has lots of samples, including several flavored cheeses. (The Crowley family used to give sage-infused blocks as Christmas presents.) One of the more recent flavor additions is “muffaletta,” which contains a chopped mix of various olives. Most folks opt for the medium sharp. Those with a hankering for old-fashioned general store cheese choose the two-year-old sharp. It can be pretty tangy, but lacks the back-of-the-throat bite of a cheddar. On our last visit in September, we stumbled on a rare cache of extra-sharp. It was spectacular for the grilled cheese, chopped tomato, and crumbled bacon sandwich below. (The filling is the same as a BLT that we posted last year: hungrytravelers.com/tomatoes-meet-match-bacon-basil/.)
Grilled cheese, bacon, and tomato sandwich made with Crowley Cheese

05

10 2016

Black truffle quiche

Black truffle quiche
Everyone always says that truffles pair well with eggs so I thought a black truffle quiche would be a natural. But when I went looking, the only recipes I could find for truffle quiche use truffle oil—an interesting ingredient in its own right if you like laboratory flavors, but not exactly real truffle.

To create a quiche worthy of truffles, I turned to two late, great chefs whose teachings inform pretty much everything I cook. I combined my favorite savory crust, which is adapted from Charles Virion, and Julia’s Child’s quiche Lorraine recipe, substituting truffles for bacon. She was right—quiche doesn’t need cheese. I scaled the recipes for a seven-inch tart pan that makes just the right size for light lunch or a good appetizer course. It goes very well with a glass of deeply chilled Muscadet.

BASIC QUICHE CRUST


1 cup cake flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cold
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (or lard), cold
2-3 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place flour and salt and process briefly to mix. Cut the butter and shortening (or lard) into half-inch pieces and drop through feed tube. Process about 3 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons ice water and process another 3 seconds. If dough masses on blade, you’re done. If mixture is still crumbly, add rest of ice water and process a few seconds.

Roll out on flour-dusted counter and drape into 7-inch fluted tart pan. Push dough into the flutes to form an attractive edge. Chill at least 2 hours.

Remove from refrigerator and bake in 450°F oven for about 7 minutes, or until crust begins to color. (Pie weights will help keep the crust from puffing up.)

BLACK TRUFFLE QUICHE


2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
10 grams grated black truffle
5 grams shaved black truffle

Mix eggs and salt. Add heavy cream and grated black truffle and mix.

Add mixture to partially baked crust (above) and bake at 375°F for 15 minutes. Check to make sure it’s beginning to set by inserting cake tester. Bake another 15 minutes. Remove quiche from oven and sprinkle shavings of black truffle on top. Return to oven for 2-5 minutes, or until egg mixture begins to brown slightly.

Cut in wedges and serve.

10

06 2015

Dublin gastropub’s inspired sweet potato soup

Front room at the Exchequer Pub in Dublin Pubs have always had some kind of grub to sop up the suds, but pubs all over Ireland began to take the quality of their kitchens seriously about 10 years ago. The turn toward better food was a matter of survival. Pubs lost a slew of customers after March 29, 2004, when Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking in the workplace — including restaurants, bars, and pubs. Once a few pubs introduced quality food with strong Irish roots, it became clear that the gastropub concept was the way to win new customers.

Two years ago, the Restaurant Association of Ireland began giving out awards for best gastropubs, and in the two competitions since then, one of the top contenders in Dublin has been The Exchequer, located on the corner of Exchequer Street and Dame Court (3-5 Exchequer Street, +353 1 670 6787, www.theexchequer.ie). It’s a cozy warren of several rooms, including two bars that stay open late, a small dining room, and a lot of high-stool seating along shelves under the windows. (That’s the bar at the Exchequer Street entrance above.) If you’re particularly fortunate, you might even score one of the old-fashioned sofas or armchairs in the bars. The waitstaff couldn’t be warmer (we got a big hug on leaving after lunch), and the menus run the gamut from steamed cockles and mussels with spicy sausage to a simple sandwich with the soup of the day.

One cold and misty day the bowl on offer was “sweet potato chili soup.” It’s a great example of the gastropub approach to reinterpreting traditional dishes with a few smart tweaks. In this case, the soup was a fresh take on potage parmentier, the classic leek and potato soup. The cook used sweet potatoes instead of regular spuds and added just enough ground chile pepper to lift the taste. With a little experimentation, we figured out how to make a satisfying version at home. We eat it with a slice of Irish brown bread (see previous post).

SWEET POTATO CHILE SOUP

Sweet Potato Chili Soup at The Exchequer in Dublin Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter
6 leeks (white part only), well cleaned and chopped
2 large Garnet sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon ground Espelette chile pepper (ancho or New Mexican will do)
salt to taste

Directions

1. Over low heat, melt butter in soup pot and add leeks. Cook, stirring, until soft but not brown.

2. Add sweet potatoes and chicken stock. Bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook about 30 minutes until sweet potatoes are soft.

3. Remove from heat and purée until smooth. Stir in ground chile and heat through for another five minutes. Add salt to taste.

08

02 2015

What a great thing to do with an egg!

pisto manchego with cod a pil pil
We’ve been lucky enough to visit Sevilla’s Taberna del Alabardero every few years over the last few decades, but it’s possible that our most recent meal was the best yet—even though it was off the modest bistrot menu instead of from the haute cuisine fine-dining menu. Now with sites in Madrid and in Washington, D.C., Taberna del Alabardero began as a social-work program launched by a priest to teach marketable skills to boys from the streets. It’s evolved into one of the top hospitality schools in Spain. The original location in Sevilla near the bullring is the laboratory where all that hospitality training is put into practice. The townhouse mansion has fine dining rooms upstairs with a menu that would have made Escoffier smile. (The third level has elegant bedrooms for the small hotel.)

Taberna del Alabardero

Frankly, we’re just as happy to eat off the bistro menu in the tile-encrusted dining room downstairs that adjoins the central atrium café. The dishes are simpler and everything is prepared—and served—by the faculty and students of the hospitality school. (Note the students standing by, waiting to serve.) Dishes tend to be Spanish rib-stickers: the hearty potato and sausage stew known as Riojanas, or cod a pil pil served with pisto manchego (Spanish ratatouille) topped with a poached egg (above). Here the pisto and poached egg constituted a side dish, paying second fiddle to the cod. But we think it will make a great light lunch this summer when we’re swimming in tomatoes, squash, and eggplant.

The three-course bistrot menu at Taberna del Alabardero is a steal, costing 12.50 euros on weekdays, 17.50 euros weekends. Here’s the contact information: Calle Zaragoza, 20. The phone is (+34) 95-450-27-21, and the web site is www.tabernadelalabardero.es. The restaurant is closed in August.

13

03 2014

Casablanca puts a deft twist on tortilla española

Casablanca tortillaIn 2005, Tomás and Antonio Casablanca opened Bodeguita Casablanca on a busy little corner near the Puerta de Jerez in Sevilla, Spain. Their creativity with traditional dishes has made them the darling of chefs all over Spain. We first encountered their tortilla al whisky at Dani García’s La Manzanilla tapas bar in Málaga, where he acknowledges Casablanca right on his menu. So our first order of business on getting to Sevilla was to eat lunch at Bodeguita Casablanca. And the first thing we ordered was a tapa of Tortilla al Whisky, shown above. The sauce is made fresh, and carefully cooked so it retains some of the alcohol from the Scotch. And the roasted cloves of garlic on top are both pungent and sweet. This is a dish we hope to replicate, once we’re past the deadlines for the new Frommer’s Spain books. Meantime, you can find Bodeguita Casablanca at Calle Adolfo Rodríguez Jurado, 12, in Sevilla. The phone is 95-422-4114. Check out the new (2016) website at http://bodeguitacasablanca.com/.

27

02 2014