Monday, January 29, 2007

A Blog Come True

As someone new to blogging I am envious of those who have an archive filled with posts, comments, links and cross-references. 101 Cookbooks, She Who Eats, Grub Street, Diner's Journal... they're all on my weekly reading list. The first food blog I really enjoyed and began regularly reading is Chocolate & Zucchini. C&Z is written by an adorable 27-year-old French woman, Clotilde Dusoulier, who lives in Montmartre, Paris. I'm sure her location in my favorite city has something to do with why I love the blog so much. But Clotilde, who wasn't trained as a chef, is also an ideal host: a curious home cook, self-deprecating, unpretentious, and with a delicious sense of humor. I follow her as she writes about her culinary triumphs and failures, and the many meals that fall in between, as well as meals in restaurants in Paris and elsewhere.

As an avid reader of C&Z I was delighted to learn in late 2005 that she had landed a book deal with Broadway Books. So imagine my excitement when I spotted the advance galley for her book on one of the overflowing book carts in my office. There she was, Mlle. C&Z, grinning with a little basket of magnificent Parisian strawberries in her hand! I immediately requested to interview Clotilde and within a half-hour I had an interview set up. Lucky me, she's going to be in New York in mid-February, and we're set to chat over coffee. Maybe my day job isn't so bad eh?

The book will be published in May. Meanwhile, in preparation for the interview, I've set out to test recipes from the book. So far I've tried two: Navettes a la Fleur d'Oranger (Orange Flower Shuttle Cookies) and Caviar d'Aubergine (Eggplant Caviar). A cookie and a savory spread, both quintessentially C&Z in their simplicity and Frenchness. The cookies reminded me of Italian biscotti (the kind my family makes, not the chocolate-dipped, very hard kind Starbucks sells). Orange-scented and not too sweet, they were ideal with tea or coffee. They went over well at a family dinner, where my grandfather in particular enjoyed them.

The spread, on the other hand, was totally different from anything I'd had before. Made of the roasted eggplant flesh (the purple skin discarded), garlic, olive oil, balsamic, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, toasted cumin seeds, salt, pepper and chili powder, it made a fine appetizer (or mid-day snack, as I consumed it), with crackers or pitas.

More to come, as I prepare for my Feb. 13 rendezvous with Clotilde.--S

UPDATE: (3/19/07)
Read the interview with Clotilde here!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Run with It

Isn't it nice when you have a string of great culinary days in a row? No bombs, no duds, no curiosity-killed-the-cat expeditions to, say, Olive Garden? (Okay, I'll stop harping on Fork's and my life-altering [in a bad way] experience at OG). I've had a good run since Friday, though it's bound to end around 9AM tomorrow, when I order a sub-par cup of deli coffee before work.

This weekend, however, was just glorious. On Friday evening I tried a recipe from my cousin Kathy, an excellent baker, a Thyme and Cheese Bubble Bread. Intrigued? Kath's explanation:

a regular bread recipe, but you knead shredded monterey jack cheese into the dough. Then you roll the dough into a rectangle and cut it into 50 one-inch squares, roll each square into a ball and dip them in a mixture of thyme, parsley and butter. Then you place each ball in a loaf pan & bake. It’s like pull-apart bread.

As far as breads go, this is probably the coolest-looking one I've ever made: knobs of crusty, buttered bread, flecked with bits of thyme and parsley, mounded over the rim of the loaf pan. The look is trumped by the phenomenal smell: the aroma of freshly-baked bread, cheese and herbs. Its flavor also gets high mark, amazing out of the oven, but like a lot of breads, a little less exciting when cooled. Fork ate it day-old, and I knew he wasn't getting the full effect.

He did get to enjoy a piping-hot and delicious meal on Saturday. At the suggestion of my friend, Cara, I prepared Giada De Laurentiis' Pork Chops alla Pizzaiola. it's a simple dish: you brown bone-in pork chops, remove them and keep them warm under foil, then saute sliced onions, diced tomatoes (with their juices), herbs and some red pepper flakes in the pan. After 15 minutes, you return the pork chops to the pan with the veggies, get 'em nice and hot, and voila. Spicy tomatoes on top of browned chops: how can you really go wrong? This meal was augmented (actually, who am I kidding, it was dwarfed) by a sublime bottle of Caymus 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (pictured at the top of this post, with the pork chop) from my cousin Mike. We savored every sip.

Earlier on Saturday, I visited a landmark purveyor of homemade pastas on W. Houston St., Raffetto's. The place is family owned and operated, has been for 100 years, and the original owner's grandsons now help customers. Their mother works the register. Happy shoppers can choose between 18 varieties of ravioli and 16 pastas, including chestnut, saffron or squid ink. Most of their business is wholesale, about 300 local restaurants and hotels serve Raffetto's pasta, including Il Mulino and Patsy's. Good enough for me. I had a pound of bucatini weighed for me, and also picked up some bocconcini mozzarella and a loaf of semolina.

Sunday brought a visit to the Guggenheim to check out the Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso exhibit (we also checked out Bill and Chelsea Clinton, who were at the museum, too!). Fork and I had seen a number of the works on display at the Prado and the Reina Sofia on a visit to Madrid in 2005, but it was fabulous to see them grouped like this, periods overlapping, themes uniting--all in the stunning building that is the Gugg. After strolling about 30 blocks, we cabbed it the rest of the way home, and later ordered from one of our favorite pizzerias, Totonno's. The legend probably deserves its own post, but I can say it was the perfect ending to a very tasty few days.--S