Seedy Furikake Crackers

I’ve been out and about, here and there, but one thing that seems to follow me around is furikake. “What? A Japanese seaweed-based condiment?” you might say. While I do tend to tote French salted butter, fleur de sel, and Dijon mustard along with me on my travels, I’ve always loved furikake as well, and find myself craving it more and more these days. In…

I’ve been out and about, here and there, but one thing that seems to follow me around is furikake. “What? A Japanese seaweed-based condiment?” you might say. While I do tend to tote French salted butter, fleur de sel, and Dijon mustard along with me on my travels, I’ve always loved furikake as well, and find myself craving it more and more these days. In all honestly, I get a little antsy when I don’t have some around, which happened last time I tried to restock in Paris and couldn’t find any.

There are different types of furikake. Some contain bonito (fish flakes) or dried shrimp, and others have bits of desiccated egg. Some are relatively mellow and others have a pleasant funk to them. In the last few years, “funky” has been a dicey word to describe certain foods, but to me, at the risk of cancellation, funky isn’t a bad thing. Some of my favorite foods, like fish sauce, kimchi, and Camembert could be described as “funky” (just as songs like Funky Nassau, Uptown Funk, and Play That Funky Music use “funky” to complement, and compliment, their respective subjects) so I’m fine with having a funky-friendly blog.

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Tahdig

Ever since I heard of Tahdig, I’ve loved it, even though I’d never tried it. The idea of a plate of rice with a brittle, crackly crown appealed to me. It wasn’t until I was in Dubai with my friend Anissa Helou where she ordered a plate of just the crunchy shards of rice, I made a statement that it may have been the best…

Ever since I heard of Tahdig, I’ve loved it, even though I’d never tried it. The idea of a plate of rice with a brittle, crackly crown appealed to me. It wasn’t until I was in Dubai with my friend Anissa Helou where she ordered a plate of just the crunchy shards of rice, I made a statement that it may have been the best thing I ever ate. There’s nothing wrong with speaking in superlatives, which is hard not to do about Tahdig. Enthusiasm is a good thing. It’s taken me over ten years to try making it at home, but I finally did. And I’m happy to report that now, I can have Tahdig whenever I want. And so can you.

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Spiced Kefta

Persian food, like many of the foods from a region that’s often broadly referred to as the Middle East, takes cues from a variety of influences and cultures as people traverse borders and bring their delicious foods with them. Which is why the food in America is so diverse; people have gifted us with foods from their homelands, such as tacos, sushi, pizza, beer, and…

Persian food, like many of the foods from a region that’s often broadly referred to as the Middle East, takes cues from a variety of influences and cultures as people traverse borders and bring their delicious foods with them. Which is why the food in America is so diverse; people have gifted us with foods from their homelands, such as tacos, sushi, pizza, beer, and bagels. Similarly, France has been blessed to have beans for cassoulet, chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), and croissants.

As a cook, I like dipping into various cuisines and cultures and lately, I’ve been working on Tahdig, a Persian rice dish that’s cooked on the stovetop until the bottom gets crusty, which can take an hour or longer, and requires some patience. Once done, you take a leap of faith and turn it out onto a plate so the crispy part (the tahdig) forms a golden, crackly crown on top of a bed of fragrant, saffron-infused rice…if you do it right.

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Brined, Roast Pork

I’m often asked what my favorite cookbooks are and invariably I pull out a copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. It’s one of those rare books where you learn something from every sentence on every page, and in every recipe that you make from it. Judy was an amazing cook and whatever she made was unusually good, in spite of its (seemingly)…

I’m often asked what my favorite cookbooks are and invariably I pull out a copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. It’s one of those rare books where you learn something from every sentence on every page, and in every recipe that you make from it. Judy was an amazing cook and whatever she made was unusually good, in spite of its (seemingly) relative simplicity, ranging from the lightest ricotta gnocchi you’ll ever have to the legendary Zuni roast chicken, which was worth the one-hour wait after you ordered it at the restaurant. It gave you plenty of time to have a margarita, a pile of shoestring fries, and a classic Caesar Salad. (Fun fact: I worked at Zuni Cafe when I first moved to San Francisco and made a lot of Caesar Salads, which, if I may be so bold, were excellent and the recipe is in the book.)

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Tartiflette

One French dish I’ve not made is Tartiflette. It’s one of those things that you tuck into after a day of skiing down alps, which I did once with a family of expert skiers, realizing too late that my intermediate-level of skiing was no match for my friends, who pointed their skis straight down the top of the alps and took off. I tried my…

One French dish I’ve not made is Tartiflette. It’s one of those things that you tuck into after a day of skiing down alps, which I did once with a family of expert skiers, realizing too late that my intermediate-level of skiing was no match for my friends, who pointed their skis straight down the top of the alps and took off. I tried my best to keep up, but in spite of the spectacular scenery (and dizzying heights), I realized my talents were better in the kitchen than on slopes, especially compared to a French family of élite-level skiers.

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Spicy Mushroom Lasagna

When the very first Ottolenghi book came out, I had no idea what this mysterious restaurant, or person, was. But I was immediately captivated by the spectacular salads, cakes, vegetables, flatbreads, and more piled up on tables at Ottolenghi. The pictures in the book had a vibrancy that I’d not seen in any other cookbook before; mounds of vibrant-green fresh herbs piled atop salads, charred…

When the very first Ottolenghi book came out, I had no idea what this mysterious restaurant, or person, was. But I was immediately captivated by the spectacular salads, cakes, vegetables, flatbreads, and more piled up on tables at Ottolenghi. The pictures in the book had a vibrancy that I’d not seen in any other cookbook before; mounds of vibrant-green fresh herbs piled atop salads, charred vegetables and lavish use of tahini (which I narrowly once thought was only used to make hummus), and plum-marzipan cakes with the rosy, glistening fruit juices sliding off the top and pooling at the bottom. Wow.

We’ve since seen that style in plenty of other books, but the Ottolenghi books continue to evolve and each one marks another evolution in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cooking. And even when you don’t think he could come up with another great idea, he does.

Flavor is Yotam Ottlenghi’s latest book which he’s written with Ixta Belfrage. The title refers to the concept of the book, which is about how (and which) ingredients can be used to amplify flavors when cooking and baking. Ixta had a multicultural upbringing and she’s brought references and flavors from around the world in this book, which includes this Spicy Mushroom Lasagna. The recipe features dried and fresh mushrooms, as well as dried chiles, likely influenced by Mexico where she spent time with her grandfather, who lived there. The photo of it in the book made me want to make it. So I did!

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La Buvette Terrine

It amuses me when people talk about snooty people sitting around, leisurely eating pâté, because pâté is rustic, country fare, not considered fancy in France. While pâté can have a pastry-type crust (pâté en croûte) and some are a little fancier than others, the cousins of pâté, terrines, are truly down-to-earth. They can be baked in a special mold (you can come across them at…

It amuses me when people talk about snooty people sitting around, leisurely eating pâté, because pâté is rustic, country fare, not considered fancy in France. While pâté can have a pastry-type crust (pâté en croûte) and some are a little fancier than others, the cousins of pâté, terrines, are truly down-to-earth. They can be baked in a special mold (you can come across them at French flea markets for around 5 bucks, like the one I used here), they can also be baked in any ovenproof bowl, which I did with this terrine. So there’s no excuse not to sit around and eat pâté, or terrine, all day. And not only is this one incredibly easy, it’s also one of the best terrines I’ve ever had.

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Turkey in White Wine Sauce

Being a baker, braising wasn’t something I did a lot of. I also didn’t cook a lot of meat or poultry. Actually, I didn’t cook much at home as I ate most of my meals on the fly when working in restaurants. (I was also going to say that when I lived in California, I tended to grill as much as I could on my…

Being a baker, braising wasn’t something I did a lot of. I also didn’t cook a lot of meat or poultry. Actually, I didn’t cook much at home as I ate most of my meals on the fly when working in restaurants. (I was also going to say that when I lived in California, I tended to grill as much as I could on my patio but someone sent me a rather pointed message to stop talking about living in California…so I guess I should work on that.) It wasn’t until I came to France, which has a plethora of butchers and volaillers (poultry sellers), that I started branching out from my usual fall-back meals from when I was a professional baker and line cook in San Francisco (if that woman is reading this…sorry!), which included chips & salsa, bbq from Flint’s in Oakland, or a burger at The Smokehouse.

Another thing that happened when I no longer had to work in the evening was that I began to have people over for dinner. But I’ve learned in France not to make something that needs to be served at a precise time. That’s because it’s considered impolite to arrive on time. If you do, you’ll surprise your hosts which I did recently when I was invited to someone’s place for dinner who I didn’t know. I arrived 15 minutes after the time I was told, and I was the only one there, except for the host, who was surprised to see my standing in his doorway. And it was a somewhat uncomfortable twenty minutes I spent making small talk, and watching him put the last-minute preparations on things while I just stood there like a dope. Oops.

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Cheese Souffle

The word soufflé used to strike terror in the heart of cooks far and wide. I never got that memo, though, and one of the first things I ever baked was a chocolate soufflé when I was less than sixteen years old, from my mother’s copy of The Settlement Cookbook, the 1951 edition. The ingredient list is pretty concise; looking at the book now, there…

The word soufflé used to strike terror in the heart of cooks far and wide. I never got that memo, though, and one of the first things I ever baked was a chocolate soufflé when I was less than sixteen years old, from my mother’s copy of The Settlement Cookbook, the 1951 edition. The ingredient list is pretty concise; looking at the book now, there are two chocolate soufflé recipes in it – one with four ingredients and the other with six.

The author explains how to put the soufflés together with only four or five concise sentences. There are no mixing bowl or baking dish sizes given, and chocolate is just listed as “chocolate.” There’s no mention of whether it’s bittersweet, semisweet, or unsweetened chocolate. (There are also no substitutions for any ingredients offered, and storage instructions weren’t included, presumably because people just figured that out for themselves.) It’s fascinating how times have changed in terms of how recipes are written today.

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Croque monsieur

France has been creeping (or bursting, in some cases) out of lockdown. As of May 11th, people can come and go without carrying a written permission slip. The outdoor markets, hairdressers, and other types of shops have reopened, under the advisement of the health ministry, who is encouraging people to wear masks and practice social distancing, keeping 1 meter (3-feet) apart from others. Some stores…

France has been creeping (or bursting, in some cases) out of lockdown. As of May 11th, people can come and go without carrying a written permission slip. The outdoor markets, hairdressers, and other types of shops have reopened, under the advisement of the health ministry, who is encouraging people to wear masks and practice social distancing, keeping 1 meter (3-feet) apart from others. Some stores (and people) have been strict about this, while others remain cavalier.

No one quite knows where this is going, with many proclaiming “It’s over!” while I’m remaining prudent. But on June 2nd, restaurants and cafés may be allowed to reopen.

While everyone waits, some restaurants in Paris have started serving food-to-go, either to pick up sur place, or be delivered. We’ve had food delivery services for a number of years, which are popular, but their offerings lean heavily on burgers, poke bowls, and bagel sandwiches, which aren’t very inspiring to me. In response to the virus, better-quality restaurants have gotten on the bandwagon and even my local French bistro is serving la cuisine française for pick-up…although bringing home a Steak-frites and Frisée salad in a box isn’t quite the same as sitting inside with a carafe of vin rouge.

For the record, I would love it if restaurants were allowed to put tables on the sidewalks and squares, distanced apart, which clients from any of the nearby restaurants would be allowed to use. (And while we’re at it, and since it’s my fantasy, let’s make the tables no-smoking, too.) Diners could still interact and remain “together,” as if they were inside, but if restaurants can only operate at half-capacity, most dining rooms are just too small and the profit margins are just too tight to make a go if it if they can only fill half of those seats.

In other news, I know a lot of you out there have been making your own bread. And I can’t think of a better use for it than to make yourself a Croque monsieur.

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