30 November 2012

Thanksgiving à la Aix


I had not been out of Algiers since early August, and it was so good to walk around in crunchy fall leaves, to see the Christmas markets in Aix-en-Provence, do some shopping and drink wine in cafes. We cooked Thanksgiving dinner in the cutest rental house (centerpiece: a turkey thigh rolled and stuffed with apples, prosciutto, herbs, and rye breadcrumbs) walked a lot, and ventured out into the countryside. We brought home some delicious cheese, lots of mushrooms (a scarcity in Algiers), and some local wine.


Recommended in Aix:

Contemporary cuisine in an elegant small restaurant, the fixed price menus are a good deal, and the service is lovely (they don't mind if dining partners order different numbers of courses, which is refreshing). 

Le Zinc de Hugo
In case you didn't get the memo with the guy butchering big hunks of meat and cooking them in the stone fireplace, this place is a meat restaurant. Despite the fact that it's a very casual rustic kind of place, they have an extensive wine list and a great sommelier.

Coming form North Africa, we're always looking for a different flavor profile, like Japanse or Mexican food. This place hits the spot.

La Mado
Good atmosphere with generous salads and lots of seafood.  Nice for a leisurely lunch.

Ze Bis
Classic French home-cooking. They serve everything out of big cocottes and you can serve yourself as much or as little as you want. They had a fantastic pâté de la maison served with pickled girolle mushrooms that I'm dreaming about recreating. I imagine this might be a bit touristy in the summer, but in the winter it was full of locals.

No list would be complete without this classic patisserie. Paul recommends the Tropezienne and I recommend the caramelized apple tart.

Places we did not get to but were recommended:
Le Formal

23 November 2012



(I know, you're all busy trying to eat those Thanksgiving leftovers, but while we're on vacation I wanted to leave you with a brunch idea, maybe something to make for your family on a quiet holiday morning.)

Shakshouka is probably the most famous North African dish, made popular by North African Jews who took the dish on their diaspora to Israel and elsewhere. But shakshouka is still made across Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, with many regional variations. In Algeria, the pepper-tomato mixture alone is sometimes referred to as shakshouka, though it is more likely to be called felfel. Basically, you make felfel, you crack some eggs straight into the mixture and let them poach, and voila. No matter the variation, the poached egg is the signature component of shakshouka.

It has taken me a long time, but I have to say I am more and more into the Middle Eastern thing of eating salty/briney/spicy foods for breakfast. Pickles, feta cheese, olives, poached eggs in spicy yogurt sauce (cilbir), I enjoy all of them. There's something really great about a runny egg yolk and a spicy warm tomato mixture, with some good bread to soak up the sauce.


Shakshouka (Poached Eggs in a Spicy Tomato-Pepper Sauce)
I usually roast and peel the peppers when I buy them, then keep them in the fridge to toss into dishes whenever I need them. If you don't have harissa then Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes will work. Serve with Algerian kesra bread.

2 gloves garlic, minced
3 large or 4 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
4 long green peppers, roasted per below
1/4 teaspoon harissa, or to taste
4 eggs
chopped cilantro and parsley for serving

To make shakshouka:
1.  Heat some olive oil in a wide pan. Add the garlic and let saute until aromatic, do not let the garlic brown. Add in the tomatoes and season with salt. Let the tomatoes simmer until thick and saucy, about 15 minutes. Add in the chopped roasted peppers, the harissa, and simmer another 5-10 minutes to combine.
2. Crack each egg directly into the pan, spacing them evenly. If you are using a very shallow pan the eggs may poach quickly on their own, however if your pan is a bit deeper I find the eggs poach more quickly and evenly if you cover the pan with a lid. Poach until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle with cilantro/parsley.
3. Serve by scooping the eggs and tomato-pepper mixture into bowls. Serve with good bread. Some yogurt on the side is also nice.

To roast peppers:
1. Preheat the oven's broiler and set the oven temperature to 500 F. Rub a baking sheet with olive oil. Halve the peppers and set the cut side down on the baking sheet, rubbing their tops with a bit of olive oil. Broil until the pepper's skin is blackened and bubbly in spots - this could take anywhere from 15-25 minutes depending on your oven, so just keep an eye on them and be sure not to burn them.
2. Immediately place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap - this allows the peppers to steam and their skins to loosen. When the peppers are cool carefully peel off the blackened skin. You don't have to be perfect about it. Slice the peppers lengthwise and cut them crosswise into rectangular pieces. Set aside.

17 November 2012

Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Pecans & Thanksgiving Ideas


It's November and it finally, finally feels like fall here. It's officially cool enough for sweaters, and for the past week and a half it has poured, poured, poured rain, the kind of chilly cold rain that makes you want to stay inside and wear fuzzy socks and stir a big pot of beef-prune tagine all afternoon long. (And yes, that's exactly what I did.)

Thanksgiving is this coming week, and admittedly I have done no planning. We'll be staying in a house in Provence and we plan to go to the markets on Thursday morning and just play it by ear. In thinking about what to serve, I realized that there's only one single lonely brussel sprout recipe on this whole site. I usually like to pan-roast brussel sprouts, and for Thanksgiving we often had a roasted then baked in cream brussel sprout dish. However, I first made this shaved brussel sprout recipe last year and it's really stuck with me.

First things first - shaving brussel sprouts on a mandoline is a huge pain. But you get a great delicate fluffy texture that totally transforms the sprouts into something new. I first had a dish like this in Portland, Maine, and I have to say even someone who really likes brussel sprouts was surprised they could taste so good raw. The rest of the salad is easy, some toasted pecans, a hint of cheese, and a simple dressing, and you're all done. For Thanksgiving, where so many dishes are so heavy, I like that this fall vegetable dish is light but still full of flavor.

More Thanksgiving ideas from the archives:
Roast Turkey with Pomegranate Gravy
Tamarind-Glazed Pearl Onions
Roast Cauliflower with Tahini, Almonds, and Pomegranate
Bulgur Pomegranate Walnut Salad
Potato Kibbe
Flaky Sesame Rolls
Lida Lee's Cornbread Dressing

Pecan Pie
Quince-Pear Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Chess Pie
Apple-Cranberry Crumble Pie


Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad with Pecans
This is one of those recipes that don't really need specific amounts- you can make as much or as little as you want as long as you keep things in proportion. If you want to make this ahead of time, combine the shaved sprouts, pecans, and cheese up to one day ahead. Then dress the salad before you want to serve it.  

3/4 lb brussel sprouts
1/2 cup pecans, broken into small pieces and toasted in a pan with a bit of butter
3 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon mustard
salt, pepper to taste

1. Whisk together olive oil, lemon, and mustard and set aside.
2. Using a madoline or slicer, shave the brussel sprouts. Hold each sprout by its stem end and shave, being very careful of your fingers. Discard the stem ends of the sprouts.
3. Transfer shaved brussel sprouts to a bowl and stir in the pecans and cheese. Add the dressing to coat- you may or may not need all the dressing, use your judgement. Season well with salt and grind some pepper over. I find this salad is best served about 30 minutes after it has been dressed. 

12 November 2012

Monday Link Action

Tree at the Kampinski Dead Sea

The Mobius Bagel

The State of the Short Story - I am a huge short story fan, often when I'm working a lot I just can't get into a novel, but a short story before bed is perfect.

I've always made my mother's parker house rolls for Thanksgiving, but I'm thinking about mixing it up and making these Georgene's Fluffy Rolls this year. Something about the dipping them in butter is calling to me.

Mona el-Tahawy on women in the Middle East now.

I've been making a lot of soups lately (recently purees of butternut squash-curry or spinach-leek), and this Spiced Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk is on my list to try.

Alex Ross on gay rights.

As soon as I get my hands on some unsulphured blackstrap molasses I plan to make these ginger cookies.

Yotam Ottolenghi's new book is definitely on my Christmas wish list. 

09 November 2012

Paul's Pickled Turnips


I've always thought of pickling and preserving as one of those things that you get into when you really, really like to cook. There's something about it that only a die-hard cook is willing to do - the long wait until gratification, the hundreds of peaches you have to peel or tomatoes you have to blanch, fiddling with glass jars and boiling water. But of course, preserving is one of those things good cooks have to love, because it's all about capturing ingredients at the peak of their season.

So, I was surprised when Paul, who here-to-for has always ignored my jam-making sessions while happily eating the results, has been on a pickling kick. First we made makdous (pickled eggplants), which thanks to a bit of an equipment malfunction failed miserably. Undeterred, Paul then expressed a desire to make Lebanese pickled turnips, which I had never made before.

You may not recognize them as turnips, since they're bright pink, but if you've ever eaten a spread of mezze, these were probably on there. Found throughout the Levant, the turnips are pickled in a simple vinegar solution, with some beets in the bottom of the jar to turn them bright pink. The pickling couldn't be simpler, combine vinegar and salt, pour over turnips. Ta-da, one week later you have pickles.

Paul added in some slices of hot pepper to give the pickles an extra kick, which worked really nicely. In the future, I would be sure to add some more beet slices (about 3-4 per jar) to make sure the pickles come out really pink. These are great, not only as a tangy side on a mezze table, but added to sandwiches and wraps too.


Lebanese-Style Pickled Turnips
Cut the turnips while your brine mixture cools, it's important that the brine mixture be cold so that it doesn't cook the turnips. Adapted from David Leibovitz and Aromas of Aleppo.

3 cups water
1/3 cup coarse white salt, such as kosher salt or sea salt
1 bay leaf
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 pounds (1 kg) turnips, peeled and cut into batons
1 small beet, peeled and sliced
a few slices of a chili pepper with seeds (we used a banana pepper)
equipment: clean glass jars, 16-32 oz works well

1. Heat one cup of water, the salt, and the bay leaf over medium heat, until the salt is dissolved. Let the mixture cool completely. Combine the salt mixture with the remaining two cups water and the vinegar.
2. Place a few beet slices and 1-2 chili slices in the bottom of each jar. Place the turnip batons into the jars. Pour the brine mixture over top to cover. Seal the jars and place in a cool dry place for one week to cure.
3. At this point your pickles are ready to eat. If you plan to store them longer than one week place them in the fridge - leaving them out longer at room temperture will cause your pickles to lose their crunch.

03 November 2012

Quince and Pear Pie


I saw a recipe for a quince and pear pie the other day and thought it was a brilliant idea. What could be more perfect for fall? However, when I started reading the recipe I was quickly disappointed - the recipe called for making a quince paste, and layering the paste with cubed pears in the pie. I just think the idea of putting a paste in a pie, especially a fruit paste, is rather uninspiring. Spending three hours to make said fruit paste - I was even less inspired. 


However, I still liked the idea of making a quince and pear pie, and now that I've got my quince poaching technique down, I proceeded without a recipe. Paul - pie maker extraordinaire - made the crust using a combination of butter and shortening (non-hydrogenated of course). The pie came out perfectly, filling the house with the smell of pastry, fruit, and spice. I know everyone is starting to plan their Thanksgiving menus, and this pie might just be on ours.


Quince and Pear Pie

for the quinces:
2 quinces, peeled, cored, and cubed
1 cup sugar
juice of one lemon
2 cups water or white wine
1 star anise pod
1 cinnamon stick

for the pie:
2 lbs pears, peeled, cored, and cubed
1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
prepared crust for a double crust pie
1 egg, for egg wash

1. Place the sugar, lemon, water or wine, anise, and cinnamon in a pot and bring to a low simmer. Peel, core, and cube the quince and slip the pieces into the simmering water as you work. Cook the quince for about one hour, until rose-colored and tender but still firm. Depending on your quince it may take more or less time. Remove the quince from the pot and let the liquid continue to simmer until it is reduced to a thick syrup. Discard spices and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out your two prepared crusts. Fit the bottom crust into the pie pan and place the pie pan, and the remaining top crust back into the refrigerator. Peel, core, and cube the pears and add them to a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, cornstarch, allspice and cinnamon. Let the mixture sit for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Fold in the quince fruit.
3. Scoop the fruit out with a slotted spoon into the pie crust, leaving behind any juices in the bowl. Drizzle the quince syrup over the fruit (if the syrup has solidified just reheat it until pourable). Cut the second crust into strips and weave them into a lattice pattern on top of the pie. Trim the crust and pinch the edges closed. Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and then brush over the crust. Sprinkle some sugar over the crust as well.
4. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the pie juices are bubbling and the crust is golden. Let cool on a rack.