Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hot Chocolate in Paris

When planning a trip you can imagine the number of food sites that I visit and the restaurant research that goes into it.  One item in pasris that kept coming up was hot chocolate.  We are not talking your American cocoa.  Theirs is a rich thick decadent but small cup.  The surprise was to me was that it was not sweet.  It is made with unsweetened chocolate and half and half, even the whipped cream on top is unsweetened.  It is served with sugar packets on the side just like coffee, and yes I used 2 of them.  It was very good and interesting.  I was expecting something very sweet and syrupy, bound to make me just little regretful after drinking it.  This was fabulous.

It was hard to mix and keep it all in the cup. I think I need to work on a recipe, obviously Mr PSC enjoyed.

I've read about Parisian hot chocolate repeatedly, and no one ever mentioned this.  It makes me wonder if this was just a specialty of this restaurant; with all we ate on that trip, we never did manage to get a cup elsewhere.

Any experience with French hot chocolate?

David Lebovitz book "The Sweet Life in Paris" referred us to this particular cafe (Pâtisserie Viennoise).  His Hot Chocolate recipe can be found here, which is obviously not sweet.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ode to the Irish

Here's my March column from the Petaluma Post:

With March upon us it is time to bring out the corned beef to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, but wait a minute; the Irish don’t celebrate St Paddy’s Day, just us Americans.  But who cares!  It’s an Irish-American tradition we all embrace, it is great fun and a good excuse to make a classic New England boiled dinner that we all love.  It is easy to write about it now since the 400+ pounds of corned beef have not yet made their way across our stoves here at PSC.  By the end of the month I won’t be able to give it away.  I really prefer mine in November.

Saint Patrick was a Christian missionary to Ireland in the first half of the 5th century.  Actually a welsh boy who was a slave in Ireland before escaping back to Briton and joining the church, only to return to Ireland as a Bishop, and to be so hailed by the Irish for his good works to become the patron saint of Ireland.  That speaks very well of his character, talk about someone with a cross to bear!  But he served the Irish people well and true to his calling.  Our Irish (from Ireland) friends tell us he is respected and remembered on his day, with a bit of hoo-ha, but they don’t make a party of it, don’t particularly associate corned beef with him either.  That’s all us.  So enjoy a good old fashioned Irish American holiday!

What is corned beef you ask?  To corn something is to preserve it in salt. It doesn’t actually have anything to do with corn.  The “corn” refers to the large rough granules of salt they used in the past.  The meat was preserved in either a wet or dry method which also tenderized it.  Originally the brisket and the eye round were used but today you will often also find bottom round which is a much larger cut.  The most popular and common is the brisket, this cut comes from the lower quarter of the cow and is thin and known to be stringy, which makes it a great candidate to be tenderized by corning.  It takes best to long slow cooking and needs to be carved correctly for the best results.  The brisket will have a fat cap on the top, it is best to leave it intact when cooking, and then remove while carving.

Corned beef is packed with pickling spices; they may be loose with the meat or in a separate packet.  If loose it will rinse away when you rinse the meat, it has been in the packaging and added flavor already.  You can add additional if you have in your cupboard.  If it includes a packet with the meat add to the top of the pot when you boil.

Buying corned beef depends on the use.  As I mention there are eye rounds, usually in the deli case and are best for sandwiches, then there is the bottom round, which is quite large at 12 to 15 pounds and good for feeding a big family, and finally there is my favorite, the brisket.  A full brisket will weigh about 12 pounds,  however you can find it cut into 2 or 3 pieces for home use.  It is a triangular piece of meat.  The tip of the brisket is usually on the thinner side getting thicker towards the blunt end. This can be helpful if you are short on time.  If you are in a hurry and only have an hour or two to cook look for the tip portion, as the blunt end will likely take 2 to 3 hours of cooking.

To serve 4
4 lb piece of corned beef
1 lb new potatoes
1 lb carrots, you can cheat and use baby or peel and cut your own
1 head white cabbage
1 large pot

Open the corned beef package and rinse well.  Then place it in a large pot and cover well with water, it will float and that is okay since you will turn it during cooking.  Bring the pot to a boil, then turn down to a low boil and leave to cook.  For a thin piece 1 hour, for the blunt end approximately 2 to 2½  hours. Make sure there is always in enough water to cover and turn 2 to 3 times.  After enough time, test with a fork, which should go in and come out easily.  Now add the potatoes and carrots, and boil for an additional 15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender.  Add cabbage and boil another 5 minutes till all is tender.

Sidebar: Cooking of cabbage- this is very personal; I like cabbage and do not feel the need to cook it to mush, but others expect it that way.  You might need to add additional time for your taste.

Gently remove everything from the pot, and cover cabbage, potatoes and carrots to keep warm.  Transfer the corned beef to a cutting board for carving; the key is to carve across the grain, it should look like you just cut across a rope.  Platter and serve.  Our family likes it with a good stone ground mustard.

Enjoy your meal, save the left overs, and now the best part of corned beef --- the Hash! It’s not just for breakfast. Yes that I can eat any time of the year.  It is also a great make ahead dish and freezes very well.

1 lb left over corned beef, chopped well or ground
1 lb boiled peeled potatoes
1 lb yellow onions well diced
Additions- diced red bell pepper, diced carrots

Hash is so simple; make it to your liking. Some like a very big and chunky style, some a very smooth patty.  I am somewhere in the middle, a good hand chop fits the bill, pieces small enough to get a bit of everything with every bite, but big enough to be recognizable.

In a large skillet heat ¼ cup of vegetable oil, start with the onions, sauté till tender and golden.  Add the beef and potatoes, if you like it crisp, stir well and then turn the heat down and step away.  Control the urge to stir, instead use a spatula to turn over areas at a time. If necessary finish it the oven till heated through.

Top with the classic poached eggs, and for a very decadent meal think about topping with hollandaise.


Friday, March 9, 2012


Charcuterie is the art of preparing meat, especially pork, such sausages, ham, rillettes and pates.

A small piece of a Charcuterie shop
I just returned from a fabulous trip to Paris, which was a food lovers delight.  Everyone laughed that all of the photos were of food!  But why were they surprised?
In Paris, they have supermarkets, but most lack the gourmet sections that ours do, but they don't mind at all; every neighborhood has its line of specialty shops that any foodie would love to have.  The bakery (both a boulangie for bread and a patisserie for goodies), the cheese shop (fromagier), the produce stand, perhaps a wine shop, the butcher shop, and separate from the butcher is my favorite, the charcuterie (think of the best most gourmet deli ever).

State side when people think of prepared meats they think of bologna and salami, but there is so much more.  Pate, campagne, rillette, sausages fresh and dry, made from everything, pork, duck, rabbit, liver... The shops are so full it is hard to choose what to have.  One of the best picnics we had was with a rabbit and pistachio terrine plus a classic piece of campaigner with a baguette and some cheese (I could rave about the cheese shops too!)

Next time you are putting out a cheese tray try adding a slice of pate, they make a great pair.  See my 2/13/12 blog for more:

Pâté is a rich savory mixture of meat of just about any type presented as a te.  It can be very smooth like pâté de foie gras or a chunkier country style pâté de campagne.   There is pâté en croute, which has a pastry crust.

Rillette is potted meat cooked with herbs in its own fat and then preseved in a dish with a fat layer on top.  It is distinct from pâté in that it is more spreadable.  It would not hold its shape without the pot, while a pâté does.

While the difference to me has always been so obvious, I've always found it hard to explain, and I can't even find a satisfactory explanation on-line.  But Mr PSC described it as ... (and I cringe at this description, but can't say it's wrong)...  "pâté is like a gourmet spam, while rillette is like a gourmet deviled ham".  Please, please stress the word gourmet in that! :)   But just go to your market and look near the gourmet cheeses to find some true pâté and rillette and find out for yourself.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tomato Bisque @ Barrel Tasting Weekend

We've already had requests for the recipe we paired with Dutcher Crossing Winery last weekend.  You also have another chance to try it, and enjoy a beautiful ride through the wine country, this Saturdary and Sunday for the Barrel Tasting Weekend.

Tomato Bisque
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup Olive Oil
1½ tsp. dill weed
5 cups chopped tomatoes
4 tsp. honey
1 ¼ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper

In a large pot, sauté onions in Olive Oil along with the dill weed for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent.

Add tomatoes.

Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Add honey, and cream.

Remove from heat and puree.

Add salt and pepper to taste.