Posts from December 2010

Worth the Climb, Himalayan Salt Bowl Chocolate Fondue. Holiday Recipes

Life is all about contrast, rain and sun, sweet and salty, summer and winter.

Have you ever thought of salt as both cooking bowl and serving dish.

Here's your chance to give it a try with this recipe from Salted (Ten Speed Press) by Mark Bitterman.

While dipping fruits and cookies or marshmallows in the decadent results read Our Interview with Mark, the Selmelier.

Himalayan Salt Bowl Chocolate Fondue

Serves 4


1/3 cup heavy cream

1 heavy bowl of Himalayan pink salt (pint or quart capacity)

1 dash old-fashioned bitters

2 cups dark chocolate chips (60 percent cacao or darker is preferable)

2 bananas

24 strawberries, washed and greens trimmed



Remove the cream from the refrigerator so that it loses its chill.

Place the salt bowl on a stove burner over low heat and allow to warm for 30 minutes.

When the salt bowl is warm, about 125°F, add the cream and heat until just warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Add the bitters and stir in 1 cup of the chocolate chips. When the chocolate is mostly melted, add in the remaining chocolate and stir until completely melted.

While the chocolate is melting, peel the bananas and slice into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Arrange the strawberries and bananas on a serving plate.

With oven mitts, remove the salt bowl from the heat and place on a trivet. Serve the fruit with long skewers for dipping into the chocolate.

To clean the salt bowl, allow to cool, moisten and scrub with a nondetergent scrub pad, rinse under cold water, and pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towels.

“Reprinted with permission from Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by Mark Bitterman, copyright © 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”   Photo credit: Jennifer Martiné© 2010

Umbrian Farro, White Big Beans, Umbrian Lentils, My Bartolini Try Out

Unless there is a story to tell, a visual element that gives me a feel for what the people are about, I am often reluctant to mention a food, a wine until I try it.

I noticed some beans, grains from Bartolini that Di Palo Selects recently added to their selection. They were kind enough to let me try three of them.

The Umbrian Lentils came first, lentil soup is one of my favorites for a quick dinner in the fall and winter.

They were smaller and brighter in color than most lentils I had tried until now, stayed firm throughout, showing the benefits of coming from a small crop.

I will have to give them another spin in the spring for a lentil and herring salad.

Next came the humongous White Big Beans, finished with tomato sauce and garnished with sausage. It made for hearty fare, the beans had a crunchiness to them, texture was definitely different. Not sure where I stand on these.

Last came the Umbrian Farro (semipearled). I do not remember ever having Farro until then. Italian Food ( in Grain of the Legions calls it the mother-father of all grains and notes that "Farro would probably still be an extremely local specialty had the farmers of the French Haute Savoie not begun to supply it to elegant restaurants that used it in hearty vegetable soups and other dishes. Their success sparked renewed interest in farro among gastronomes, and now the grain is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in Italy as well, especially among trendy health-conscious cooks."


Farro proved to be firm and earthy, I enjoyed it simply accompanied with vegetables sauted with garlic and oil.

An Italian excursion in the countryside

Thanks again to the De Palo family for sending these treats from earth my way.

Celebrate with Prosecco, Merry Berry Cocktail, Holiday Recipes

Put a little fizz and dazzle in your Holiday celebrations with this liquid recipe.


Merry Berry Cocktail:

3 oz Mionetto Brut Prosecco

1 oz PAMA Liqueur

Splash of fresh lime juice

Pour PAMA into a rocks glass filled with ice.  Top with Mionetto and add a splash of lime juice.  Garnish with slice of lime.

Home for the holidays!

French Guy Sits Down at Dorie Greenspan's French Table, Dorie Speaks

Her latest book Around my French Table (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) being such a runaway success, I am grateful that Dorie Greenspan managed to find time to answer my questions.

Having lived in France until my early 30's influenced how I approached this interview.

Here's Dorie:

Q: Dorie, reading your introduction and browsing through your book, I wonder if the 'wow' factor you had on your first trip to France could have been experienced as well by a French visitor to New York?

I think you can get the ‘wow’ factor anywhere.  What was so extraordinary about my reaction to Paris on that first visit was the strong sense that I belonged there.  I’d never had that feeling before and now, so many years and so many voyages to so many places later, I’ve not had it since.  For sure I think a French visitor could have that feeling about New York.

Q: When I was a young kid, every Friday, the whole family had a meal at the Creperie up the street, did your family visit a neighborhood place for local fare?

I grew up in Brooklyn and every Sunday we had Chinese food.  It was hardly local fare in the sense that we know it now, but the restaurant was certainly local – so local that everyone in the place knew everyone else.

Q: Was no one at the time of your first visit to France offering Galettes de Ble Noir (buckwheat 'crepes) in New York?

You know I can’t remember.  I think there was a chain of crepe restaurants in NYC, I can’t recall the name, but I know it had some form of ‘crepe’ in it, and they might have served buckwheat crepes.  Certainly such crepes were not something I ate regularly in New York.

Q: Do you think Americans romance the French or Italian experience?

I think we Americans do have a somewhat romantic view of France and Italy, but like all sentiments that hang on, they’re based in some measure in reality and I think they remain because of love.

Q: When the English edition of the Ginette Mathiot cookbook came out, I realized I had a tattered copy of a paperback by her that must be 25 years old now.  Were there books in your pre-France love affair that were central to your home cooking?

I learned to cook from The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne.  I’m sure it’s as tattered as your Mathiot.  My copy has lots of penciled-in notes about what I thought of a recipe, whom I’d made it for and what, if anything, I’d want to change. 

Q: Your au pair Marie-Cecile Noblet, did not make a big fuss about the food she cooked. I grew up on my grandmother and mother's cooking. Seeing them in action in the kitchen, do you think visual memory of how things get done matters?

I wasn’t lucky enough to come from a family of good cooks – or even of cooks – so I can’t really respond to your question.  If I were to answer your question based on my experience, I’d have to say ‘no’, since I learned to cook from books. However, I always learn a great deal when I watch someone else cook – even when that person is making something that I know how to make very well – and I have food memories, of course, and these inform my style of cooking.

Q: Since your first trip to France, have you noticed a big change in what people cook at home and for friends?

I think that over the years that I’ve been traveling to France, the style of cooking for friends at home has become more easy-going.  People everywhere are busier than they were 30+ years ago, and more women are working, but no one wants to give up the pleasure of sharing a meal at home with friends, so the dishes have become simpler, I think.

Q: Looking back, growing up, there was a form of insularity, food traditions were very different from one region to the other. I had lamb chops for the first time while vacationing in the Pyrenees. Do you see these regional traditions as still strong?

I do see that regional traditions are strong and the romantic in me hopes that they will always remain strong.  But what I find so interesting is the way that food in France is changing today.  I think that French food has never been more recognizable to Americans than it is today.  The French have found a way to keep their traditions and to add new flavors, exotic ingredients and foreign influences to their food and I love this about today’s cuisine.  I also love that the food is getting simpler and very easy for Americans to make in their own homes.


Q: Can you share a few dishes from 'Around my French table' that reflect their region of origin?

I love recipes that have stories and so many regional recipes have interesting stories.  Among my favorites are Gougeres, cheese puffs that are often served with Kir from Dijon; Socca, a chickpea pancake/crepe from Nice; Provencal Vegetable Soup, finished with pistou (pesto’s cousin); Gateau Basque, a cherry preserve- or pastry cream-filled cake from France’s Southwest; and Sable Breton, butter cookies from Brittany.

Q: When you bought a place in Paris 13 years or so ago, did your language skills stand in the way of communicating with local shops, did they at least give you an A for effort?

I spoke French when I moved to Paris as a part-timer, so that was never a problem.  But I’ve noticed that more and more merchants speak English these days, so it’s easier than ever for Americans to make their way in the city.  Also, you’re on to something with the ‘A for effort’ – if people smile and say nothing more than ‘bonjour’, I find that most merchants are happy to make an effort on their end.

Q: The 'Salted Butter Break-ups' could be a version of Galettes de Pont-Aven, maybe?

No, I’d say that the thick, salty, butter cookies known as Sablé Breton are closer to the Galettes de Pont-Aven than are the Salted Butter Break-ups.  The Break-ups – I love this recipe – are a cross between a butter cookie and pie dough.  They’re both crunchy and tender and fun to eat: you roll the dough out any which way, bake it and then bring it to the table whole and let everyone break off pieces.  It’s easy and it’s a great party treat.

Q: Where have you had your best Steak Tartar?

The best one I’ve had recently was at T-Bar Steak and Lounge on Third Avenue and 73rd Street in Manhattan.

Q: Would sardines on toast with whole grain mustard cut it for you?

Absolutely!  I also enjoy Sardine Rillettes.  I have the recipe in Around My French Table and it’s a cinch to make.   I mash together sardines and cream cheese, shallots, herbs and lemon juice and serve it as a spread on baguette slices or crackers.  (It’s surprisingly good on Thin Triscuits!)  This dish has made sardine-lovers out of people who’ve sworn they wouldn’t go near the little fish.

Q: Where did you get your best couscous? Was it vegetarian or with meat? Spicy? Were you offered Sidi Brahim to go with it?

I never go out for couscous in New York and rarely in Paris.  Although, every once in a while I’ll go to a café on the Boulevard Raspail, where they serve couscous on Sundays after the market.  The couscous is only so-so, but the ambience is wonderful.  And I make couscous at home, usually with chicken and usually fairly mild, and then I pass harissa at the table so that everyone can season the dish to his or her liking.


Q: I don't see any Rabbit dish in your new book, any reason why?

The answer’s simple:  My husband doesn’t like rabbit, so I don’t cook it and, oddly, it wasn’t a specialty or a favorite of any of my friends whose recipes I include in the book.

Q: What is the best part about Marie-Helene's apple cake?

That the cake’s so easy to put together – mix a few ingredients in a bowl, bake and serve?  That it looks so homey and inviting?  That it tastes so good?

Q: If you had to pick a last meal, what would it be?

I’ve been asked this question several times and I’ve never really been able to answer it well.  Maybe it’s because I hate to think about a last meal.  I’m not sure what the meal would be, but I’d want it to include Mont d’Or (cheese), great ice cream, World Peace Cookies, Vanilla Sablés with salt and Chateau d’Yquem, not that it’s the best match with ice cream, but it’s such an amazing wine.  As for what would come before?  I still haven’t figured that out.

Thanks for your time, Dorie!

(* Photos of endives, apples and grapes (page 338) and smoked salmon waffles (page 171) by Alan Richardson, reproduced courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher)

Pot Roast Italian Style, Beef in Barolo by Michele Scicolone, Holiday Recipes

On the first day of winter, it's cold outside and a pot roast Italian style will make many people happy.

As a plus, the cook will stay warm while preparing it.

Here's this fine recipe from The Italian Slow Cooker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Michele Scicolone.

Beef in Barolo

Hearty Barolo is the wine of choice for this pot roast in Piedmont, in northern

Italy, but any good dry red wine can be substituted. The sauce is enhanced with vegetables and a hint of ground cloves. Serve with potato gnocchi or Creamy Polenta with Gorgonzola and Mascarpone (page 81).

Serves 6


1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 3-pound boneless beef chuck or bottom round roast

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 ounces pancetta (see page 13), chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 cup dry red wine, such as Barolo

2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped fresh or canned tomatoes

1 cup Meat Broth (page 47) or canned beef broth

2 medium carrots, sliced

1 medium celery rib, sliced

1 bay leaf

Pinch of ground cloves



Combine the flour with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture on a piece of wax paper and roll the meat in the flour.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown it on all sides, about 15 minutes. Place the meat in a large slow cooker. Add the pancetta and onion to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender. Stir in the garlic. Add the wine and bring it to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan.

Pour the mixture over the beef. Add the tomatoes and broth. Scatter the carrots, celery, bay leaf, and ground cloves around the meat. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork.

Transfer the meat to a platter. Remove the bay leaf from the sauce. Slice the meat and spoon on the sauce.

( * From The Italian Slow Cooker, © 2010 by Michele Scicolone, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the photo as © 2010 by Alan Richardson, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Nopi, Ottolenghi Work In Progress, From Testing Dishes to Marble Floor, See For Yourself

With The Restaurateur Roger Sherman filmed all the the twists and turns and delays leading to the opening of Eleven Madison Park and Tabla restaurants in New York.

In London, Yotam Ottolenghi takes the Tumblr route to document Nopi, his new restaurant in project on Warwick Street in Soho, from testing recipes to laying the marble floor and putting up shelves.


Right now it is still a construction site with someone shown "preparing the shelves that will run along the wall in the basement. On them we will store dry ingredients for the kitchen. So brace yourselves, basement diners, to chefs coming round to grab what they need" (December 21)

I tried to get him to share the recipe for dessert with no name posted on December 20 to no avail.


I would have this Seabass in Tomato Essence for dinner if I could.


Realized I forgot to ask what Nopi planned opening date is.

Farm Together Now Book Tour Kicks Off in San Francisco, December 21

Farmers left rural areas for work in the cities, now farms are finding a place in or near urban centers through groups like Farm Together Now which puts a human face on the experience.


They kick off their book tour in San Francisco on Tuesday, December 21 at The Green Arcade at 8 PM.

Sarah Henry in Farm Together Now Book Launch (Bay Area Bites, December 18) introduces us to the book itself:

"Now comes the home-grown Farm Together Now: A Portrait of People, Places, and Ideas for a New Food Movement by Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker (Chronicle Books, hardcover $27.50).

Tucker calls Chicago home, but folks may know San Franciscan Franceschini for her role in the city's Victory Gardens project. A member of the artist collaborative Future Farmers, Franceschini was approached by Chronicle to, well, chronicle a crucial time in the nascent alternative farming movement.

In the summer of 2009, Franceschini, Tucker and San Francisco-based photographer Anne Hamersky took separate road trips around the country, and logged thousands of miles and hundreds of hours of face time with farmers. This book is the result, a portrait of 20 farms that gives readers a sense of the challenges faced by people pursuing an alternative food system to conventional Big Ag.

The guide, which takes a Q&A interview format, gives immediate voice to a diverse range of farmers and food activists."

After San Francisco, the trio will visit the following cities:

Putting fresh food on the table for Green Day # 157

Previously: Green Wines from the Loire, Tremblay, Taille aux Loups, Roches Neuves

Rock Royalty, Princes and Paupers, Mick Rock 'Exposed'

Fame has its ups and downs.

Many of us might have fantasised at one point or another about basking in the limelight and our fans adoration.

Photographer Mick Rock looks back on 4 decades spent snapping Rock Royalty, Princes and Paupers and looks back on his career in Exposed (Chronicle Books). David Bowie in one of his 9 lives graces the cover.

Mick Rock Exposed

Does the heavy tome qualify as coffee table material? That's for you to decide.

There's quite a bit of Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy with or without The Stooges.


Ladies run the gamut from Madonna to Lady Gaga (no Grace Jones).

There's also Siouxsie and Debbie Harry (then and now).


It's not all rock'n' roll, mind you.

Kabuki theater has its place with Kanzaburo Nakamura

Mick Rock shares that in 2007 he did a book and exhibit titled Tamashii: Mick Rock meets Kanzaburo...

I will not give you a laundry list of those captured and featured in 'Exposed'.

I do appreciate the fact that the book documents 40 years of pop and rock without falling in the 'good old times' teary eyed nostagia trap.

(*All photos copyright Mick Rock, from 'Exposed' (published 2010), reproduced with permission of Chronicle Books)

Add to Gift List for the discerning music fan you know.

Cook Shepherd's Pie like Jane Only Can, Win Copy of What to Cook and How to Cook It

So you still lack confidence, inspiration, when time comes to tackle 'what's for dinner'. Do you need someone to break the process in little pieces for you or want to widen your repertoire beyond eggs and pasta?

I just counted. It takes 12 steps to make a ready to eat Shepherd's Pie in What to Cook and How to Cook it (Phaidon) by Jane Hornby. That's without writing the list, going shopping for ingredients and washing pots, pans and the rest, maybe you can delegate these 3 points to your better half.

How can you get your hands on this 'ultimate step by step cookbook for beginners', very simple?

Enter our current contest, answer the following question:

What is the word used in Great Britain for rutabagas?

Send your answer to info [at] njconcierges [dot] com

All entries must be received by  5 PM (US Eastern) on Thursday, December 23, 2010.

There is 1 copy to win so this contest is on a first come, first served basis.

This contest is limited to readers in the USA and Canada.

If you won anything from us in the past 30 days, please let others try their luck.


Wines for the Lunar Eclipse, Something Orangy

In the wee hours of December 21 (1:30 to 2:40 on the East Coast), we will be able to witness a Lunar Eclipse if we manage to drag ourselves out of bed.

I was informed (by a teacher and aerospace buff) that the total lunar eclipse starts around 2:40 AM and at that time the moon will turn orangy red.

Since it's not an everyday occurrence, what wine should we drink to toast the occasion as these colors set in the sky.

Something orangy if not red of course.

My first thought was a Muscat, a Ben Rye Vino Passito from Italy

Then a piece from Serious Eats on Orange Wines mentioned Savagnin from Jura, oxydation...

Ice wines would be another option of course.

Will you get up in the middle of the night to check the moon?

Are you thinking wine and moon pairing to toast the eclipse or will you go for an orangy beer or a cocktail?

Fee free to share!