Steak Tartare or Filet Americain?

Many many years ago, Himself ( way before we, were We) took himself off to Berlin to University. It was the days, of the Berlin Wall, where the S Bahn rumbled through the western sector of Berlin ( without stopping) but when it reentered the Eastern sector, Guards lined up with huge mirrors to inspect the underneath of the train, just in case there were escapees hiding underneath!

Himself travelled via slow train through East Germany and arrived at midnight and was starving, well it is all relative. Help was at hand as in the Central station, the restaurant was still open. At the time he only knew scientific German, not much help in day to day situations, but undeterred, ventured forth. Umm, didn’t understand a word on the menu , except, Steak ! Duly ordered, it came as raw steak, chopped, served with raw egg and Chips !

These days, things are very different, is fluent in German and would know better and one of his favourite dinners is Steak Tartare or some places it is called Filet Americain.

Nowadays, not so common to find on a menu, though I have to say that the Côte middle of the road chain in the UK does feature it and it can be served as a starter or as a main. Otherwise not so common, more the pity.

There are ways of preparing the steak,it has to be the best ( filet) and fresh. In France it is possible to go into any butchers and have it ground for you, even in our local, uninspiring supermarché. However if making it at home it is far better to sharpen your favourite knife and chop. The result should be finely chopped, with no sinews and no fat.

We went the other evening to a newsish restaurant in Les Gets. It is in an apartment hotel called Vina-Annapurna. It had great promise, it was a Jazz evening, and the group were very good, albeit way too loud to allow dinner conversation.

The menu is small both for starters and mains ( we didn’t look at the desserts). I chose, along with 2 others, the Tuna, which was delicious, even though a tad on the small side. Peculiarly, himself chose the Cheese, a slightly odd choice, but then he can be slightly odd. It was enormous, even as a cheese course, but for a starter. He ended up passing it around the table !

For the mains, David chose the Lamb, having been warned that he might remain hungry, , Lee and Carolyn the duck with Satay sauce, Katia, the trout with a sauce and Himself and I the steak tartare. This we looked forward to with relish, only to be disappointed. The steak was in chunks with both fat and sinew, only two capers, no chopped onion, no parsley, ( even though it said with fresh herbs) ( having looked again at the photograph, there seem to be a few herbs! So minuscule, as easily missed! No sign of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco or mustard,the last three are optional but my preference . The chips were very mediocre and as for the salad, a few scrappy leaves, a bit brown and wilted at the edges. After a few bites I handed over the rest to Himself who seems to have no such qualms about the quality of the beef.

The other dishes, were I believe good, the duck with Satay, very tasty and the lamb, cooked for 7 hours, which may explain why it had almost disappeared! ( ( apparently it was tasty though rather on the small side, and yes he was still hungry ). The trout in a sauce seems equally nice and the sauce interesting, made with Savoury as the herb. It is an old fashioned herb, which I actually have never come across, I am now on the lookout for it, might just have to grow my own !

So to quote Escoffier

Beefsteak à la Américaine.

Take a piece of fillet of beef ( or any other very good steak) remove any fat and sinews and finely chop the meat. Season with salt and pepper, here I add a small amount of Dijon mustard but this may also be added later.

Mould to the shape of a beef burger, make a small indentation in the middle and into it place an egg yolk. Serve with capers, chopped ( spring ) onion and chopped parsley. The following maybe served on the side, French mustard (Dijon), Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. And of course Gherkins, but they must be small!

Serve with very crisp French Fries.

Umm wonderful ! ( only if it is made correctly).

Raining in the Alps!

Last week, as in most of Europe, it was unbelievably hot, so days were spent in various lakes around here ( we have little ones staying) but then on Friday afternoon the clouds burst, the lightning flashed, the thunder roared and the hail came thumping down. ( Just look at any videos from the Tour de France and you will see what I mean ). Being in the Alps, when it is dreary is a bit like being in Blackpool or Galveston ( apologies) in the summer when the weather is bad.

Some of us took a walk in the rain to the local river, to see if there were any tadpoles left ( no, the river was too fast) before Himself made them Crêpe Salée for lunch ( cheese and ham pancakes to you and me) . Himself has become a Dab Hand at pancake making, making them fresh every morning to order. Sometimes with scrambled eggs, sometimes with a fried egg, mostly with crispy bacon, beautifully arranged by Miss Tess ( along with a drizzle of maple syrup) or plain with a light sprinkle of cassonade for young Master Sam.

The latest breakfast order, is still pancakes for Sam but Miss Tess has moved onto fried eggs on toast!

Whilst they were out I decided to make my Tart Abondance, this time I have had a recipe update courtesy of La Grange restaurant in Morzine, and as I had apricots to use ( it is apricot season here) I went ahead and made double the amount of pastry, as I am about to concoct an Apricot tart.

For the filling, I made Almond paste, using 250 grams ground almonds, 100 grams caster sugar and one beaten egg, mixed together either by hand or in a food processor.

I stoned 500 gram of apricots

Line a quiche type dish with the pastry and bake “Blind” at 200 C for about 20 mins. Remove from oven, cool, then spread the almond paste onto the pastry case and then arrange to apricots on top of that. Bake again for about 15 mins, to finish the pastry and to cook the apricots.

Cool and then glaze the apricots using apricot jam, diluted slightly with water and heated so that it will pour over the tart.

Serve Luke warm with vanilla ice cream.

Funnily enough, the following day we went to the Zip wire park and whilst the little ones were zooming through the trees, I sat and watched from the nearby cafe. The special of the day was Apricot Tart! Later on we took the kids to La Grange for dinner, where Miss Tess, had the Abondance tart for her main course, Chocolate fondue ( she shared this with Himself) for dessert, But the special of the day was ? Yes Apricot tart !

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Laissez Les BonsTemps Rouler, the motto of the Big Easy.

The Big Easy, New Orleans. Along with Cajun and Creole cuisine, Beignets at Cafe du Monde, Zeydecko music, Mardi Gras, Swamps and Bayous, this is New Orleans.

I received a new cook book. A gift from a dear friend, who hails from Louisiana, or to be precise New Orleans ( and I do wish that UK TV and Radio presenters would pronounce it correctly. It is not Or – Leans but New Or-LONS). Anyway putting pronunciation to one side, for those of you who do not know, New Orleans prides itself on its gastronomy.

Foods from the area have been immortalised in the Hank Williams song, ” Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, Filé Gumbo. I have several cook books from this region, all thanks to Phyllis and so it was with interest that I scoured this one for some new ideas. And what did I find? A new recipe for Calves Liver, and as himself had been asking for it, I made it my mission to source some, and I did!

New Orleans has become, a melting pot of cultures. It is a wonder that the city survived and grew, it is below sea level and surrounded by bayous and swamps. There was a huge influx of migrant workers, from Canada ( French speaking, Cajuns ) Spain, it had been a Spanish colony, and from all over Europe, Germans included, the Caribbean, as far afield as the Philippines, and of course the African slaves

Many of the famous New Orleans restaurants serve more traditional food, that is what the locals like and that is what the tourists want to try! Food that is rich and heavy, laden with carbs and calories, but oh so yummy! ( my favourite is BBQ shrimp! Not what you think, giant shrimp baked in the oven with BUTTER, garlic and lashings of black pepper! Oh So Bad, but OH so Good!) Traditional recipes might include such things as, Alligator, Opossum, Turkey, Dove, Quail, Frogs, Squirrels, Rabbit, Snake, Venison ( home slaughtered) Turtle, Salt Pork, Wild Boar, Catfish, Oysters, Crab, Shrimp and Crawfish ( mudbugs). Not forgetting also the vegetables, celery, peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, okra, rice and corn.

Among the famous restaurants to be found in New Orleans, are Antoines (1840), where they created Oysters Rockefeller, and Eggs Sardou, Tujagues (1856), Café du Monde (1862) ,Commanders Place (1893), Madam Begue (1894) now incorporated into Tujagues, Galatoires (1905) and Broussard’s (1920)

Onto Liver and Bacon, I had to try this recipe, which is to be found in the Tujagues cookbook, by way of Madame Begue. She served it for breakfast to the dockers and port workers and to this day Tujagues serves it for Brunch. The recipe calls for it to be served on Grits, almost not available in the UK, even Whole Foods did not stock it, ( to my mind, not missed, but if you are from the Deep South, then it must be grits!) What are grits, I hear you ask! Well just watch the movie “My Cousin Vinnie” and it will give you a clue!

Due to the lack of grits, I served it on Pasta. Not sure He really appreciated the effort, and I think I will stick to my usual, simple quick fry of thinly sliced calves liver.

However, if you are in the mind to try this traditional New Orleans way of cooking, here goes!

You will need

1Kilo Calves liver sliced ( not too thin)

2 Large Onions sliced

Flour for dusting

400 Grams streaky bacon or lardons

1 Cup stock

Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy frying pan, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove, drain and allow to cool. Chop bacon. Season liver using salt and pepper. Dust liver in flour. Pan-fry liver in the bacon fat until golden brown on each side, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from pan and keep warm. Add onions to the pan, sauté over medium heat. Until caramelized. Add the bacon and liver ,pour in stock, bring to a boil, and cook until heated through, serve over a bed of Grits ( if you can find them !)

Bon appétite

What would you like for dinner?

Occasionally, I make the mistake of asking Himself the question “What would you like for Dinner?”

I say,  Mistake, as he always comes up with some phantasmagorical answer. He mutters, well I really liked the pasta  dish you made last night, or a Stir Fry ( what does he mean by that?) or Steak and Kidney Pie or Pudding ( for one person, I don’t think so) and so yesterday, he said Liver and Onions. He really likes liver, especially Calves Liver, and so I thought I would indulge him. Well, it was not to be, I went to Whole Foods, who can always be relied upon to have good meat, but not a bit of Offal in sight. SO that threw me a bit, and I wandered into Marks and Spencers food hall as I needed Milk anyway.

Inspiration hit me, a Poké Bowl. I hear you ask, what on earth is a Poké Bowl. I first ate a Poké Bowl in The Ned, in the city of London. The building itself is worth a visit, it is part of the SoHo House group but was designed by Sir Edwin Luytens (NED) over 100 years ago. It is a hotel but has 8 restaurants one of which is KAIA, and that is where I ate a poké bowl.

Poké is Hawaiian to slice, or to cut crosswise, and is one of the main dishes of Hawaiian cuisine. It moved across to mainland USA ( probably California in the 1970’s) and was predominantly served using raw fish, usually Tuna and Hawaiian spices. As with everything else, the traditional food becomes mainstream and cooks started adding their own touches to this dish that around 2012 it became popular in the USA and by 2016, the number of restaurants serving Poké rose to over 700. Cooks now added chicken, shrimp, avocado, Ponzu sauce, teriyaki sauce, mushrooms, onions, coriander, carrots, peppers and noodles. There is even a three day “I Love Poké Festival!”

And so it was, in Marks and Spencers, I found my inspiration, egg, noodles, coriander and bean sprouts. This is the Ultimate, make up your own poké dinner. This is a rough guide.IMG_2038

  •  egg noodles ( could use rice, vermicelli)
  • Some chopped Spinach ( Kale or broccoli)
  • sliced mushrooms (enoki, shiitake, chestnut )
  • grated carrots ( raw beetroot, radishes)
  • beansprouts
  • sweet red pepper cut into strips
  • crushed garlic
  • small bunch of coriander, chopped
  • spring  onions cut and sliced
  • grated fresh ginger
  • half an avocado per person, cut into slices
  • edamame beans ( frozen, but defrosted)
  • some chopped chillies if desired
  • salt to taste
  • Seaweed, dried ( Nori)
  • sesame oil
  • 1 Litre vegetable stock ( I used  Swiss vegetable Bouillon powder)
  • fresh salmon, skin removed and cut into strips, (I used about 6 oz for 2 people)
  • large raw shrimp ( I allowed 6 each)
  • chicken breast  cut into strips  if using chicken

Start by making the stock, IMG_2039then

  • Heat some sesame oil in a wok and sauté first the shrimp and then the fish  and then the chicken if using. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Add more oil and sauté the garlic and ginger, do not let it burn. then add the vegetables followed by the stock and then the noodles. The noodles only take a couple of minutes to cook so make sure you have your serving bowls ready
  • Ladle the mixture into bowls adding the fish and/or shrimp and/or chicken divided equally between the bowls, garnish with the avocado slices
  • And there you go, what could be easier, but totally fresh and having many of our fresh  vegetables in one go.

Not sure how authentic this is, but certainly tastes good and looks good, so much so that himself said after one bowl, “Please ( sir) can I have some more!”

 

Catalunya and Tapas galore

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in Catalunya, joined by himself for the last week. At this point I think I am a bit Tapas out, all of these wonderful sharing plates, I think one tends to over-ndulge just a tad, and not to mention the wine. Had no idea that the local wine was so more-ish, but it certainly is!

Girls On Tour ( golf that is ) indulged themselves in the local food. One of the Tapas which was served, was Snails, and I thought that these were in fact sea snails, so Winkles. However, apparently not but more in the form of Petit Gris, small snails. In the town of Leila, in the centre of Catalunya there is every May a festival (L’Aplec del Caragol) dedicated to Snails, which unites 12,000+ “Snail Clubs“! One way of serving them is “a la Catalana”a typical tapas where they are served in a thick, sauce of tomatoes with finely chopped onion, red peppers, almonds or pine nuts, chopped ham or pancetta, and chorizo with paprika. For me they were indeed very tasty, though a bit fiddly, but I think that the majority of the girls were less than impressed. This was the one and only time that Snails were on the menu!

IMG_0212 2

One Tapas which appeared more or less on a daily basis was “Pa amb Tomàquet” , Catalan tomato bread. This obviously can be made with sough dough or baguette, but in Catalunya it is made with, what is called Crystal Bread, similar to banquette but has more water. A very simple snack to make

Toast the bread over open flame, if possible, but just toast will do.

  1. Rub over the surface of the bread some garlic, obviously can be omitted for non garlic lovers.
  2. Slice a tomato in half and rub it liberally across the bread, shredding the pulp in the process, until just the tomato skin remains.
  3. Drizzle generously with olive oil.
  4. Season with salt.

 

Consequently, we ate copious amounts of ham, tomato bread, mussels, sardines, cod and prawns and drank equally copious amounts of Spanish wines. One dinner my starter was Mozzarella di Bufala Campana . Absolutely delicious, would choose it again, and another was fresh fois gras.

If I had known it to be so wonderful, I would have chosen it for both starter and main ! All of our restaurants were a bit of a shot in the dark, I was choosing them for a group of 16, boys and girls, with different tastes, a non drinker ( she was easy ) , a non fish eater ( more difficult, lots of fishy stuff on all of the menus) one who was gluten free and allergic to garlic, one who really only like his roast dinners, and the list goes on.

Nonetheless the less, we ate in two very good restaurants in Girona, twice in our hotel, which worked out well and once which really was pot luck, but Mallorquines turned up trumps. With no set menu available, they served the 16 of us perfectly, starters all came together as did the mains. This is the home of the Fois Gras and 8 of us chose it ! Umm Umm!

Four of us, had tried months ago to have a reservation at El Celler dan Roca, a three Michelin starred restaurant in Girona. All to no avail. Not wishing to give up entirely, himself and I tried the restaurants own ice cream shop. Worth the trip, no not really, only 6 flavours, and those not very exciting.

Himself and I moved onto Barcelona, did the usual tourist viewings of everything Gaudí.

We also of course visited the market, which is of course to my mind a wonderful place, and after touring La Rambla, looking at more Gaudí buildings and Miró tiles in the middle of the pavement, we returned there to have  dinner.We chose quiet by chance Bar BOQUERIA, which our Catalan friend subsequently told us, it was the best.

Service was fast, cooked to order and with a smile and a joke. we shared the Squid to start, and then I chose their Speciality, Fish and Chips, Their way. Now Fish and Chips would be for me, if I were the condemned man, my last meal, but it would be equally awful, to be condemned and to have something that was covered in a slimy batter, soggy chips and everything greasy. So this was a real test and it WAS Perfect. a selection of fish, Whitebait, small sardines, a small flat fish, chunks of cod in crispy panko crumbs and Chips to die for. Perfect! Himself chose the giant prawns, and for once I did not have food Envy!

The bar was full and the chefs were kept busy. someone had the octopus, which was beautifully arranged.

The following day we dined with our Catalan friend and his American wife, who were in Brussels with us a lifetime ago. Once again we had the tapas and then himself chose the Oxtail. I have often cooked him Oxtail, but this was a notch above my rendition, served beautifully on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, so I can see that next time I cook it, he will expect mine to also look like this.IMG_1979 2

 

 

Bacalhau ( Salt Cod, to you and me)

I think I am correct in saying that to the average English man, the word Salt Cod, is not something that we would relish and I have to admit that until our very recent trip to Portugal, I had not eaten it nor even tried it, almost to the point of avoiding it. Even Himself who prides himself on trying everything that is different on a menu, had not even tried it.

And so it was, when we visited the market in Porto, which had been held in a wonderful Neo Classical Building in the city centre since 1914. However, unfortunately on our visit, the merchants had been rehoused in the basement of a shopping centre nearby, as the building was in a deplorable state. The mayor of Porto had the idea of simply demolishing the structure, but such an outcry ensued that plans were changed to basically renovating but with such a major undertaking, it was necessary to move everyone out. Shame for us as the basement of a shopping centre just didn’t hack it for me ( lover of markets)!

However, there were several vendors, selling Salt Cod. What I hadn’t appreciated was that there are different qualities of Salt Cod, and why not, but it had never crossed my mind. Often, it is yellow (a sign of progressing rancidity) or excessively dry and thin. Look for the thickest filets as these are by far the best. The vendor told me exactly what to do to reconstitute the fish and then vacuum packed it for me.

Packed in my suitcase and ready for London.

Once home I set to, to create my Salt Cod dish. Salt cod croquettes.

First it is necessary to soak the fish in water, in the refrigerator for 4 days, changing the water daily. Drain and pat dry, transfer the fish to a baking tray, and place skin side down, lightly sprinkle some olive oil over the top and bake at 200C/Gas6 for about 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.

Remove the skin and then flake the fish, being sure to remove any bones.

Using equal quantities of potatoes, boil and mash them, add some chopped chives or spring onions along with some lemon zest and Salt! Yes, Salt, even as it is preserved in salt, the salt has been washed out in the soaking and so it is important to add seasoning, otherwise it will be very bland!

Refrigerate for an hour or so and then roll out into a long sausage. If it is done on cling film, easy to do and not much mess. Cut into sausage lengths, beat and egg, and dip the croquettes first in the egg wash and then into dry breadcrumbs. I prefer Panko crumbs (Japanese) but sometimes they are just a bit too chunky.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and when hot fry the croquettes turning so all sides become brown.

Serve with a salad and preferably a remouldade sauce or just lemon wedges and a vinaigrette.

Also on our Portugal trip we came across in the town of Aveiro, “Ovos Moles de Aveiro”. These sweets were created in 1502 by Nuns ( who else) and they are on the outside, Rice paper and a mixture of eggs and sugar on the inside. And they do look like eggs! They were awarded in 2008 the EU Protection of Origin. The first Portuguese bakery to be so honoured!

To be honest, I tried one, himself had a nibble, way too sweet. And as for Aveiro, a cute town, impossible parking and full to overflowing with Tourists. It is called the Venice of Portugal, with its canals, and boats, cute and busy, we didn’t linger.

Green Wine, Bacalhau and Heart Attack in the Making !

We have been travelling in Portugal this last week and started off in Porto, somewhere new to us. Porto is in the north of the country on the Douro river and the home of Port.IMG_1656

One might wonder, how come that nearly all of the brands of Ports have British names? Well, back then the Brits were every where, but were in the early 1700’s at war again with France, which meant that society could not get their supply of French wine, which led them to discover that this really rather nice drink called Port was equally acceptable. The British were always more friendly with the Portuguese  than with the French ( both disliked the French, which could be the reason). Consequently, most of the best known brands of Ports are British, such as, Broadbent, Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre being amongst the best known. Under European Union Protected Designation of Origin  (PDO )guidelines, only the product from Portugal may be labelled as Port (  french  appellation contrôlée for Champagne etc). The Portuguese wine region is the third oldest in the world, behind Chianti and Tokaj ( Hungary).

During the 1700’s as port became increasingly popular in England, the landed gentry would retire after dinner, to drink their Port, whilst the ladies did ( what I don’t know, gossiped or titivated themselves), William Pitt the younger apparently started drinking a bottle of port a day to combat his gout ( port actually exacerbates it)!

Porto is a very old city, much of which is in a state of disrepair.This could be because, the city  ( and country) was until about 18 years ago, in the grip of a drug problem. It was a huge problem and  HIV was the highest in the EU. The government took the radical step and decriminalised drug taking and that was a start towards recovery, for the nation. And so it was in Porto, people had moved out of the city and left it to the drug dealers, hence buildings were neglected. However, today, Rua das Flores in the centre of Porto has undergone renovation ( still ongoing) and is a bustling historic street.

 

We did another Food tour of the city which I booked through a web site called ” Get Your Guide” which seems to work in many major cities World Wide. I booked online and was told where to meet our guide, who would be wearing Orange. Perfect, we met Thiago (James), outside a small cafe in Rua das Flores which was our first port of call. Here we had our first taste of green wine  Vinho Verde, but green here equals young wine and not green in colour. With our glass of wine we ate Alheira sausages. These can be made with pork, chicken, veal, duck, quail or rabbit. Probably of Jewish origin and served as a bit of a mush of sausage and bread. But very tasty. Moving on down the street,  we stopped at another small cafe to try flamed Chorizo and a glass of Rosé Vinho Verde. Most of us would have had at sometime or another Mateus Rosé, and Rosé Vinho Verde is NOT Mateus Rosé. We then moved on to a larger restaurant which was very busy, ( we had reservations, thank you Thiago) and here we drank beer and ate Bifanas, which is another typical Portuguese dish which consists of Pulled pork in a bread roll with either the cooking juices poured on, or some home made Piri-Piri sauce.

Our last stop was in a real restaurant where we ate cream of pea soup, Chilli Cod followed by Chocolate mousse and a glass of Port. An interesting fact is that during the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar , 1932-1974, if anyone was a fisherman and fished for Cod, then they were exempt form Military service !

And of course we ate the famous Pastel de Nata!

One dish which we did not try in Porto was Francesinha. Basically a Portuguese version of Croque Madame. It is made with two slices of Bread, two types of sausage, maybe some steak or roast pork, some slices of ham, a fried egg, cheese sauce and a tomato and beer sauce to top it and the whole lot is served with French Fries! A heart Attack waiting to happen ! Apparently the real secret is in the tomato beer sauce, the recipe not to be divulged. Each little cafe has its own special ingredient and some will even sell the sauce to take away. I have tried recreating it at home, and of course it it is not difficult, but maybe someone from Porto, would not find it authentic enough!

On my obligatory visit to the market, we bought some salt cod, ( vacuum packed to bring home). Bacalhau is Portuguese for Cod, and is nearly always salted. We also ate a lot of Octopus whilst in Porto as well as when we decamped to the Lisbon area. The Portuguese grow a lot of rice and this is apparent when dining as many dishes on a menu are with oven baked rice. Our favourite Octopus dish was one we had in a beach side restaurant in Caiscais. Here himself ordered grilled Octopus and when it came, talk about Food Envy!! I had the grilled squid which was delicious but the Octopus Well !!!

Nest time, Ovos Moles de Aveiro and Bacalhau croquettes and fritters !

P.S Vinho Verde and Portuguese red wine can be bought at Majestic wines, but also from portugalvineyards.com, significantly cheaper, even with delivery. We are awaiting our first order !