Archive for the ‘Cookbooks’ Category

For our favorite ‘food writer’ on the occasion of his 141st birthday

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Marcel Proust in 1900

Because we are huge fans of the formidable French novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922), and because today marks his 141st birthday, we honor this writer with a post of his own because he was a master at exploring human sensation and is renowned for his ability to write about taste.

American food writer and chef¬†James Beard,¬†in his foreword to¬†Dining with Marcel Proust: A Practical Guide to French Cuisine of the Belle Epoque, observed:¬†“I feel that Proust must have had a deep sensual and intellectual appreciation of food…. I am certain he must have possessed the faculty I call ‘taste memory’; that he enjoyed a good meal–whether a picnic, a luncheon in a garden or a formal dinner–not for the moment but for a lifetime, storing it in the memory….”

Recapturing time through taste and smell

Petite Madeleines

The most celebrated passage in Proust’s seven-volume, 3,200-page novel¬†In Search of Lost Time¬†describes how this monumental work–a fictional “remembrance of things past”–is set in motion when the book’s narrator dips a petite madeleine into a cup of lime-flower tea.¬†“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon this extraordinary thing that was happening to me.”

A subsequent sampling ultimately awakens a long-dormant memory of the same taste-sensation experienced in childhood, and–out of the blue–“something leaves its resting place and attempts to rise, something that has been anchored at great depth.”

What conscious effort and intellect couldn’t recapture is unleashed by the taste of the madeleine dipped in tea. All of a sudden and¬†involuntarily,¬†people and places and the essence of the narrator’s childhood “sprang into being, town and gardens alike” from this cup of tea.

Art meets the science of taste

Taste and smell connect to this part of the brain

In a fascinating book that explores the intersection between art and brain science, Jonah Lehrer, in Proust Was A Neuroscientist, reports that “our senses of smell and taste are uniquely sentimental. This is because smell and taste are the only senses that connect directly to the hippocampus, the center of the brain’s long-term memory.”

“Proust intuited this anatomy,” Lehrer continues. “He used the taste of the madeleine and the smell of the tea to channel his childhood. Just looking at the scalloped cookie brought back nothing.” It was the taste and smell of the little cake dipped into tea that was the “revelation.”¬†

Inspired, not nourished, by food

Up until his mid-thirties, before he committed to writing his masterpiece, Proust frequented the salons of ¬†the¬†Belle ¬†√Čpoque, enjoyed dining with friends, had a strong appetite,¬†and relished a wide variety of food. Some described him as a gourmet.

Over time, though, his habits changed. By 1919 he was so fully occupied with his novel that he rarely left his Paris apartment, where he often worked nights and slept days and eventually subsisted on a diet of croissants and coffee. (At the end of his life Proust drank only iced beer.) Apparently it was no longer food as physiologic sustenance that mattered; instead, it was how he felt about food (and so much else) and what food (and so much else) meant to him that was key.

What if Proust had been able to order from Jules?

Of course we’d never dream of interfering with an artist’s productive habits, but we like to think that culinarily speaking and in terms of health outcomes things may have been different for Proust–that he might have regained his appetite for actual food and been better nourished and lived beyond the age of 51–had he been able to pluck up his telephone (which, in fact, he had disconnected) and place an order with Jules!¬†

If Proust had called on a midsummer day and had asked for a recommendation, we might have suggested a juicy heirloom tomato filled with salmon salad:

Salmon-salad-stuffed heirloom tomato for Marcel Proust's birthday

Happy Birthday, Marcel! Who knows what Jules' heirloom tomato with salmon salad might have inspired!

And, of course, Jules also bakes petite madeleines.

Finally, for “extra credit”…

We know that Marcel Proust isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if we’ve succeeded in whetting your appetite for more, you may enjoy the following passage from the first volume of¬†In Search of Lost Time.¬†It highlights the artistry of Francoise, the family cook and “the Michelangelo” of the kitchen. James Beard describes the food Francoise prepares as the unpretentious and savory “glories of French bourgeois food.”

Proust’s writing is as fresh and sensual as Francoise’s food:

“For upon the permanent foundation of eggs, cutlets, potatoes, preserves, and biscuits which she no longer even bothered to announce, Francoise would add–as the labour of fields and orchards, the harvest of the tides, the luck of the markets, the kindness of neighbors, and her own genius might provide, so that our bill of fare…¬†reflected to some extent the rhythm of the seasons and the incidents of daily life–a¬†brill¬†because the fish-woman had guaranteed its freshness, a turkey because she had seen a beauty in the market at Roussainville-le-Pin,¬†cardoons¬†with marrow because she had never done them for us in that way before, a roast leg of mutton because the fresh air made one hungry and there would be plenty of time for it to ‘settle down’ in the seven hours before dinner, spinach by way of a change, apricots because they were still hard to get, gooseberries because in another fortnight there would be none left, raspberries which M. Swann had brought specially, cherries, the first to come from the cherry-tree which had yielded none for the last two years, a cream cheese, of which in those days I was extremely fond, an almond cake because she had ordered one the evening before, a brioche because it was our turn to make them for the church. And when all this was finished, a work composed expressly for ourselves, but dedicated more particularly to my father who had a fondness for such things, a chocolate cream, Francoise’s personal inspiration and speciality would be laid before us, light and fleeting as an ‘occasional’ piece of music into which she had poured the whole of her talent. Anyone who refused to partake of it, saying: ‘No, thank you, I’ve finished; I’m not hungry any more,” would at once have been relegated to the level of those Philistines who, even when an artist makes them a present of one of his works, examine its weight and material, whereas what is of value is the creator’s intention and his signature. To have left even the tiniest morsel in the dish would have shown as much discourtesy as to rise and leave a concert hall before the end of a piece under the composer’s very eyes.”

In Search of Lost Time, “Swann’s Way”
Translation by  C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin 

Photo Credits:
Marcel Proust: Wikimedia Commons
Petite Madeleine: Pierre Ferland and Associates
Hippocampus: Gray’s Anatomy, Wikimedia Commons
Heirloom tomato filled with salmon salad: Liz Muir 

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“When fate hands Jules a lemon…”

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Golden Egg Custard

…they don’t necessarily follow Dale Carnegie‘s advice and “make lemonade.” ¬†Instead, Jules’ chefs may prepare the exquisitely crafted, individually portioned desserts known as Golden Egg Custards.

Even before we dipped a tiny spoon into this meringue-topped lemon concoction we knew we were in for something special, because the instant a ‘golden egg’ was served to us, we felt we had received a gift.

In its entirety it was such a pretty package we hated to disturb it. But of course we succumbed, and when we did we felt doubly rewarded because this tiny treasure tasted as great as it looked.

Receiving this golden egg was also cause for inspiration because it happened to catch us at a time when we were pondering How to Win Friends and Influence People. After just one taste we knew that we must plan a Jules-catered party and add these exquisitely crafted lemon-merigue eggs to the menu. 

Both the neatly topped-off egg shells and the sugar sprinkles atop the meringue are colored gold

 

How does Jules ‘hatch’¬†golden eggs?¬†

Egg artisan Albert Rosado

This was the first question we posed to Jules’ Executive Chef Albert Rosado¬†when we caught up with him soon after we had indulged.¬†

“We start with the egg shells,”Albert explained. “In days gone by we prepared our own, using a scoring device to precisely top off the shells, which we then sanitized and spray-painted on the outside with gold. Now, though, a vendor supplies us with ready-to-use shells.”

Then what?

“Slowly…gently we¬†make a lemon custard…and then we pour it into the empty shells, where we allow it to cool. Meanwhile, we beat up egg whites and sugar to make the meringue.”

It can’t be that simple, we thought, quoting a passage from¬†The New Best Recipes by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated¬†magazine, who wax poetic about “tricky” meringue:¬†

“On any given day [meringue] can¬†shrink, bead, puddle, deflate, burn, sweat, break down, or turn rubbery.”

“Sounds like me on a bad day,” Albert laughed.¬†“But seriously, preparing the¬†meringue for these eggs is less tricky, say, than when we construct meringue birds’ nests or even certain types of cookies. When we prepare some of those¬†temperamental meringues, we need to pay heed to the overall temperature and humidity in the kitchen. But with Golden Egg Custards we don’t have to worry so much because we simply heat the meringue with the brulee torch, until the fluffy peaks turn gold.”

Assembling the eggs must be painstaking, we persisted.

“It is,” Albert agreed. “But it’s worth it, because who in the world doesn’t love a golden egg?”

Lemon-custard and meringue-topped 'golden eggs' are served in egg cups with little spoons

 

An irresistible dessert

When we asked a party guest how she felt about Jules’ Golden Egg Custards, she refused to reply until we guaranteed anonymity:¬†“I’m not kidding,” ‘Mme. X’ said as she surveyed emptied egg shells with sideways-tipping spoons, “Jules should issue a warning when offering these desserts. The lemon custard and the meringue are so light and frothy it’s dangerously easy to inhale three…even four…(could it have been¬†more?!)¬†without feeling filled up.”

"All gone!"

Photo Credits: Liz Muir

 

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Happy (gourmet) Presidents’ Day!

Monday, February 20th, 2012
Thomas Jefferson Gourmet President

John Trumbull miniature of Thomas Jefferson, 1788

While¬†George Washington described his manner of living as “plain,” and noted that those who expect more than “a glass of wine and a bit of mutton may be disappointed”–and while Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard reported that the President “never lost his taste of the things a growing farmer’s boy would like”–Thomas Jefferson, having lived four years in Paris as U.S. Minister to France (1785-1789), was a culinary adventurer and an influential gourmet.

Some of this we gleaned from¬†The Presidents’ Cookbook¬†by¬†Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, now out of print, but cited at¬†The Food Timeline, a fascinating resource created by food editor and librarian¬†Lynne Olver.

Keen for fine cuisine

Even before his years abroad, Jefferson was a dedicated foodie.¬†Dining at Monticello, a richly illustrated book¬†edited by Damon Lee Fowler¬†and published by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, notes that just prior to his diplomatic appointment Jefferson sent for a French chef in Annapolis, to train one of his slaves. Then, when Jefferson knew he would be moving to Paris, he instead decided to bring 19-year-old slave¬†James Hemings¬†with him, to study “the art of cookery.” Hennings’ first mentor was the caterer who provided Jefferson’s meals. This was followed by “workshops” with a pastry chef and other training. Before long, Hennings had taken charge of Jefferson’s kitchen on the Champs-Elysees, and he served as Jefferson’s chef from 1787 to 1796.

Our “Pasta President” and his imported macaroni machine

Upon his return to Virginia Jefferson wrote to his valet, still in Paris, to “bring a stock of macaroni, Parmesan cheese, figs of Marseilles…raisins, almonds, mustard…vinegar, oil and anchovies.” In fact Jefferson was so fond of macaroni, he subsequently ordered a pasta-making machine from Naples, which–after a circuitous journey via Paris and Philadelphia–eventually found its way to Monticello.

Jefferson’s meticulous notes on the macaroni machine, which can be found with his papers in the The Library of Congress read, in part, as follows:

“The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, & not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. a paste is made with flour, water & less yeast than is used for making bread. this paste is then put, by little at a time, vir. about 5. or 6. tb each time into a round iron box ABC. the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF….”

Just below, Jefferson’s wonderfully illustrated notes appear in their entirety:

Thomas Jefferson pasta-making machine

Thomas Jefferson's notes on a pasta-making machine are in The Library of Congress

Also in The Library of Congress, is a macaroni recipe written in Jefferson’s own hand:

Thomas Jefferson’s “Maccaroni” Recipe

6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 tb of flour
a [?] salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length.
put them into warm water a quarter of an hour.
drain them.
dress them as maccaroni.
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water

Since Thomas Jefferson’s time, macaroni and cheese has been associated with America, and the first recipe appeared in 1824 in The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook written by Jefferson’s cousin¬†Mary Randolph. (We applaud the book’s¬†epigraph: “Method is the Soul of Management”!)

Macaroni and cheese at Jules

Curious to learn how Jules’ very own French Chef, Jean-Claude Banderier, approaches macaroni and cheese, we asked him to weigh in.

Jules Catering French Chef

Jean-Claude Banderier says "the mac and cheese we prepare at Jules is a time-honored American dish."

“We prepare a classic B√©chamel¬†with heavy cream, half-and-half, milk,¬†and three types of cheese: White Cheddar, Parmesan, and Pecorino Romano. For additional flavor we boil a whole onion that has been pierced with cloves, and then we blend this into the mix.”

This approach, we subsequently learned, is basically how¬†Auguste Escoffier¬†outlined his recipe for¬†B√©chamel¬†presented in¬†Le R√©pertoire de La Cuisine: “White¬†roux¬†moistened with milk, salt, onion stuck with¬†clove, cook for 20 minutes.”

And the topping?

“Dry panko bread crumbs mixed with butter and sprinkled with paprika forms a crispy crust when the elbow macaroni and cheese is baked,” Jean-Claude explained.

Pasta geometrics

Macaroni pasta geometrics

Finally, because we have no doubt that both Jean-Claude Banderier and Thomas Jefferson would be fascinated by an article we recently read in The New York Times, we post a link here:  Pasta Inspires Scientists to Use Their Noodle.

Photo Credits:
Wikimedia Commons: Miniature of Thomas Jefferson and macaroni
The Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson’s pasta machine notes
Liz Muir: Photo of Jean-Claude Banderier

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Tears of Chios Cocktail

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

We love our bubbly, but when recently celebrating New Year’s Eve in Athens, our drink of choice was the Tears of Chios Cocktail served in the Roof Garden Bar atop the historic Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square.

Day or night the view from the Hotel Grande Bretagne Garden Bar intoxicates

Hotel Grande Bretagne Roof Garden Bar with Acropolis view

At first sip we knew we were onto something special, but we were puzzled….

The cocktail menu itemized ingredients, but what accounted for that that elusive taste?

Luxury cocktail menu Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens

Was it the Skinos mastiha?

Tears of Chios Cocktail Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens

The Tears of Chios cocktail we sipped in Athens also featured muddled mint and grapes

Mastiha

In Greek,¬†mastiha¬†(pronounced MAHS-teeh-hah) is an aromatic resin harvested from a shrub in the pistachio family¬†that grows on the island of¬†Chios¬†in the northeast Aegean. When the bark of this shrub is slashed, globules of sap form the mastic ‘tears’ used by the makers of Skinos¬†mastiha.¬†In her encyclopedic journey of a book¬†The Glorious Foods of Greece,¬†Diane Kochilas¬†writes that “in a way, the trees have to ‘cry’ for mastic to be harvested.”

Mastic "tears" and shrub

Mastic 'tears' and shrub

Kochilas goes on to explain that in cooking, “the rock-hard, somewhat sticky crystals have to be pounded to a fine dust, usually with a bit of sugar, to keep them from sticking to the mortar and pestle or spice grinder.”

Anthropologist-author-cook Susanna Hoffmann also waxes poetic (without being “sappy”) on the topic of mastic resin. In¬†The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking, she writes: “I place small open jars of the sap in my kitchen to scent the atmosphere…. Mastic tastes like lush piney vanilla. It smells like the perfume Shalimar, but with a conifer tinge. It is irresistible.”

Which brings us back to our¬†cocktail, because when mastiha is mixed into a refreshing beverage, “irresistable” says it all.

Made in Chios, available in U.S.

When we returned to Boston we placed¬†Skinos Mastiha¬†at the top of our shopping list because we knew that even without an Acropolis view Tears of Chios would taste pretty great. But the key ingredient wasn’t available! At least not at first try, when we stopped by our neighborhood store.

Greek tragedy? Not at all, thanks to the hugely helpful Jeff Dolin, a buyer at¬†Blanchard’s Liquors, in Allston.¬†On our behalf Jeff initiated some online research, placed a special order, stocked his shelves, and…voila!

Variation on Tears of Chios cocktail with muddled pomegranate seeds

A variation substitutes muddled pomegranate seeds for grapes

Tears of Chios Cocktail Recipe

2 ounces Skinos mastiha
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce agave (diluted 50/50 with water)
muddled grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint

  1. Dilute agave syrup by adding an equal part of boiled water. Stir.
  2. Muddle grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and ice and shake.
  4. Serve on the rocks in a double Old Fashioned rocks glass.
  5. Garnish with bamboo skewer through a grape and mint leave, or–if you’re making the pomegranate variation–just the mint

Yield: Serves 2
Anita Baglaneas, Owner-Chef of Jules Catering, adapted this recipe from a cocktail menu at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece

Not just for cocktails

In case you were wondering… The Greek origin of the word ‘masticate’¬†derives from¬†mastichan¬†(to gnash the teeth), which is related to¬†masasthai¬†(to chew). If you’re looking for something¬†tangible¬†to chew on and you happen to find yourself in Manhattan, head down to the Lower East Side and stop in the¬†mastihashop New York, where you can¬†purchase mastic chewing gum and other¬†mastiha¬†products from the island of Chios. And if you’re inclined to delve further, two books that features¬†mastiha¬†recipes are¬†Mastiha Cuisine Cookbook¬†and¬†The Greek Vegetarian.

Photo Credits:
Mastic ‘tears’ and shrub: Wikimedia Commons
All other photos: Liz Muir 


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“…dishes to whet the appetite”

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Athenaeus, a scholar of food history who lived around 200 AD, observed that¬†“the ancients employed many dishes to whet the appetite.Focusing now on actual dishes–i.e., plates–we couldn’t agree more.

Ancient vessels

On a recent visit to Athens’ other-wordly-wonderful¬†Museum of Cycladic Art,¬†we were fascinated and puzzled by a clay vessel labeled “Frying Pan” and dated¬†2800 to 2300 BC. Delving further we learned that the popular name of this beautiful object relates to the vessel’s shape, not its function. While most of these ancient objects have been discovered in graves, some have also been found in settlements where Cycladic Islanders lived. Many theories about the “frying pan’s” function have been put forth, including one that posits that these exquisitely crafted objects may have served as plates for food.

"Frying Pan" Museum of Cycladic Art Athens

Incised decorations on this "frying pan" are thought to represent the sun and the sea

Also from the Museum of Cycladic Art, but much more recent (dating back “only” to circa 350 B.C.) is a red-figure plate on which food would seem to be superfluous.

Red Figure Plate Museum of Cycladic Art Athens

There's no doubt about what the figures on this plate represent

Ancient recipes

Pondering plates created by people thousands of years ago got us thinking about ancient recipes. So we turned to our bookshelves to check things out. “Antique” cookbooks worth more than a browse include:

  • Ancient Dining¬†by chef, restaurateur, and consultant¬†Maria Loi¬†(described by some as “the Martha Stewart of Greece”) was selected as the official book for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. While Loi’s cookbook is now somewhat hard to find, her food can easily be located at Loi, a restaurant she opened in 2011 on New York’s Upper West Side.
  • The Classical Cookbook,¬†written by historian¬†Andrew Dalby and chef Sally Grainger and published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is richly illustrated with scenes of food, hunters, and revelers depicted in ancient art.
  • The Glorious Foods of Greece, a compendium of recipes from many regions of Greece collected and described by chef-author Diane Kochilas, kicks off with a chapter on Greece’s culinary lineage that sheds light on the remote origins of Greek food and food lore.
  • The Philospher’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook¬†by food historian Francine Segan offers modern adaptations of dishes originally recorded in ancient sources, including–among others–Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.

A page from Maria Loi's 'Ancient Dining'

 Photo Credits: Liz Muir


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