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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Steakhouse of one's dreams

     Ever since fellow blogger and fervent Disney investor Joshua Kennon wrote with praise about his visit, I have wanted to go to the Yachtsman Steakhouse.  This restaurant, which opens only for dinner, is located within the Yacht Club Resort, in the Epcot area of Walt Disney World. 


     Because I am local to the area, I have been around Epcot a few times, yet it required the use of my faithful GPS to arrive at the place.  The resort is themed as a typical Maine yacht club.  The entrance to the restaurant is not grandiose, and the décor and general ambiance are quite unassuming, yet the quality of the food offered is prime, and the service efficient.  One can hardly expect this to be a high-end restaurant by its looks, especially by the way the clientele dresses (I think Disney should emphasize the importance of dress code even more for this place).


The restaurant’s main dining room faces the pool area of the 
resort, and showcases an especially made, wooden chandelier.  
The window theme just above gives the feeling of typical Maine 
construction close to the seashore.
    When I arrived I was asked to wait for a few minutes while my table was getting ready in an area facing a frigorific with prime cuts of meat aged to improve flavor.  If I wasn’t very hungry at the time, the view certainly woke up my taste buds.


     My first choice was an aperitif plate of a most excellent charcuterie.  The selection consisted of a bacon-wrapped boar terrine, which was cooked to perfection with pieces of aged Gouda, dried cherries and pistachios.  It was flavored with ginger, mace and clove, which gave the terrine a unique balance of sweet and savory, all wrapped in heavenly smoked bacon.

     There was also a truffled sucling pig pie, very much as it is traditional in England, baked in pastry and served with little cubes of port gelée.  The gelée homogenized the dish together within the mouth, providing the perfect measure of flavor, whilst each and every component could still be identified.  Perhaps my favorite was the warm lardo toast, served on sourdough and garnished with arugula, pickled onions and parmesan shavings.  Lardo is an Italian specialty, where the fat of the pig is hand-rubbed with salt and cured with spices (in this case peppercorns and rosemary), and then aged.  The Yachtsman’s ages theirs for 2 months, and the result is the best lardo you would try out of Italy.

     The Spanish style chorizo had large chunks of pork, heavily spiced with pimentón (sweet Spanish paprika), garlic and cumin, and reminded me of the likes of my mother, who always had some at hand to snack on.  The one thing I did not find it quite belonged on this selection was the beef merguez sausage, an African specialty which is not really charcuterie (charcuterie to me is always pork, pork and more pork).  Yet everything else was so good, it did not deter to the excellency of the dish. Grainy mustard and pickles were succinctly placed as accompaniments, as well as the warm bread basket and butter with roasted garlic to make a proper amuse-bouche.  I chose a dark ale to wash down all that amazing goodness!


The bread basket comes with a slab of salted butter and half a roasted garlic.
It was perfect to pair with the charcuterie plate.
     Since this is a steakhouse, the main course was, of course, steak.  The menu offers several prime cuts at an also very prime price.  I went for the biggest one, a 16 oz. Boneless Rib-Eye, perfectly charbroiled to medium-rare.  It was topped with a touch of Point Reyes blue cheese butter and served with a halved bone with richly exposed marrow which, in turn, could be perfectly sucked up by imbibing the sweet brioche herbed roll it came with.  Very few times I have had meat this good, and so well accompanied and perfectly served.  It was undoubtedly a succulent dish, yet it was not heavy.  The waiter poured me a glass of Château Aney Cabernet, but there are also exclusive wines like Caymus to accompany the excellent cuts of meat served.  I chose this light red that was more herbal than fruity, somewhat creamy and quite unobtrusive to the flavors of the meat.


     The desserts are presented as a composite.  I tried two.  The apple profiterole had no sugar added, and it was light and fruity and everything a dainty dessert should be.  The profiterole had the texture almost of a macaroon, with a floral apple mousse inside.  It was surrounded with caramel apple crunch, alongside a quenelle of chopped rosy apple and a tuille made out of Cheddar cheese.  The latter provided the cheese note to the end of a heavy meal, without actually having eaten any cheese.  Small drops of chocolate and raspberry sauces framed the dish as in a painting.


     My second choice just had to include some chocolate, particularly after such a rich meal.  Again, a perfectly light dessert of a single rectangular slice of chocolate cheesecake, topped with chocolate ganache and accompanied by a purée of Asian pears and a quenelle of butter walnut ice-cream.


    Undoubtedly, the Yachtsman’s Steakhouse is a restaurant to talk about.  The service is quite competent.  Waiters recommend dishes diligently and they know how to pour wine to taste it first.  One can tell they are gourmets themselves.  You should take anyone there who you want to impress, but also knows how to savor the indulgences of a good meal.  I cannot overemphasize reservations, which should be made well in advance.  You won’t get in otherwise.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oysters and a life of crime

     Police procedurals have never been my cup of tea.  I much prefer a cozy type mystery with an amateur sleuth such as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.  However, because I am presently into an all-things-Paris mood, I couldn’t pass an opportunity to read a culinary mystery set in that city, even if it is a police procedural.

     Capucine Le Tellier is a papa’s girl, coming from a bourgeois Parisian upper-class family, married to a high-profile gourmet and restaurant reviewer (who ostensibly sports the same name as the book’s author), she could have a glamorous life, just as her husband repeatedly tells her, full of caviar and comfort, but chooses instead the dark world of “la crim” in the streets of Paris.

     The intrigue in The Grave Gourmet centers about corporate espionage, when the president of world-renown car manufacturer Renault is found dead in one of Paris’ most famous restaurants: Diapason.  Diapason and its Owner-Chef  Jean-Basile Labrousse sound very much like the now defunct “Le Divelec”, a famous restaurant that for decades delighted Paris with a uniquely crafted menu of fish and shellfish.  The restaurant became even more notorious when Chef Jacques Le Divellec created the famous lobster press in conjunction with silversmiths Christofle.  The piece works in exactly the same way as a duck press, which extracts the blood and juices from a duck carcass to be transformed into a delicate elixir of a sauce for duck à l’orange, but in this case, it does the same for a lobster carcass.  Consummate gourmets would know that a proper lobster sauce requires the crustacean’s carcass for eximious flavor.

Jacques Le Divellec and his lobster press
     The plot is no short of red-herrings in this novel, sometimes too many of them, which made it necessary to do a second reading.  It will also prove definitely useful to have a map of Paris at hand, as a car chase through the Bois de Boulogne and into Paris’s chic 7ème arrondissement take the reader into a frenzy of streets and roundabouts. 

     Capuccine’s investigation is dizzying to say the least, and the book does not offer many culinary options, as I would have expected in a culinary mystery.  Mainly, the victim dies of saxitoxin, a poison found in spoiled shellfish that causes paralytic death.  The medium were, apparently, oysters, which were served in the form of a sorbet in-between meals to Prèsident Delage during his last dinner at Diapason.

     Oysters have always been considered a chic hors d’ouvre.  They should be consumed in Autumn and Winter and they pair wonderfully with a chilled glass of champagne.  Ideally, they should be gulped along with water inside the shell and may be a few drops of lemon.  To make them more special, why not try the classic mignonette.  Basically, a simple sauce made of red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar dissolved into it, then add a very finely chopped shallot.  Spoon a minimal amount on top of the oyster then let the cool flavor slide down your throat.  Follow by a sip of your best champagne, and tell me you’re not in heaven.


Perrier-Jouët champagne is ideal to accompany oysters.  It has a hint of fruityness without being totally dry.
     In a typical French brasserie, oysters can sometimes be served warm.  The following alternative is very savory without being overpowering, something we should always strive for when eating oysters.  Their flavor must always prevail.


Huîtres chaudes:

Ingredients for 20 oysters:

·         3.5 oz finely chopped shallots
·         1 Tbsp. of butter
·         2/3 cup crème fraîche
·         Freshly ground white pepper
·         ½ tsp. curry
·         1 Tbsp brandy

Preparation:

     Shack open the oysters (preserving the water), leaving them in the lower half of the shell and
discarding the other half.  Put the shallots with the water from the oysters in a pan, add butter and reduce by half.

     Heat the broiler.

     Add the crème fraîche to the sauce, season with white pepper, curry and brandy.  Reduce by a third while stirring.

Arrange oysters on a plate and make a bed with coarse sea-salt or brightly coloured gravel stones (the latter will make for a very appealing presentation for a cocktail party).  Spoon some sauce on each shell and brown the oysters quickly for a few minutes under the broiler until they are golden brown. Serve immediately.




     Yet another option to serve oysters had me a bit skeptical at first I must admit, due to its slightly Mexican twist.  After all, anything Mexican means spices and chili, something oysters shy away from.  However, I need not have worried.  The Aleppo chile just adds the necessary hint of flavor without being spicy, and the chile oil rounds up a mouthful of soft vinegary flavor that washes away the day’s worries.

Oysters with saffron-pickled cucumbers and Aleppo:

Ingredients for a dozen oysters:

·         1 cup white wine vinegar
·         1 cup water
·         3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
·         1 Tbsp. Himalayan pink salt
·         2 tps granulated sugar
·         ½ English cucumber, two opposite sides peeled and cucumber sliced into ⅛-inch strips, stacked and then sliced crosswise into ⅛-inch matchsticks
·         2 pinches saffron threads
·         2 tps. finely chopped fresh dill
·         2 cups coarse salt or coloured gravel
· ½ teaspoon Aleppo chile
· Chile oil

Preparation:

First pickle the cucumbers: In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the vinegar, water, garlic, salt and sugar to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cucumber matchsticks and saffron. Transfer the cucumbers and the pickling liquid to a bowl and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, preferably overnight.

            Transfer 2 tablespoons of the cucumber pickling liquid to a medium bowl. Drain the chilled                           cucumbers (save the pickling liquid for another use) and toss them with the reserved pickling liquid and the dill.

To a medium bowl, add the salt and enough cold water to create the consistency of wet sand; or spread a bed of coloured gravel.  Shuck the oysters and nestle each one into the salt or gravel bed. Top each oyster with some of the pickled cucumbers and pickling liquid and finish with a pinch of Aleppo chile and a few drops of chile oil.



For either of the last two ideas at your next oyster party, a nice cold beer will do.  In honour of the true French brasserie, I prefer either Belge or French beer.  Salut, to a life of crime and scrumptious eating!





Thursday, December 25, 2014

A cake fit for a Queen

     Birthdays, I find, should always be about receiving pleasure.  The ultimate pleasure.  To me, nothing brings more pleasure than chocolate, especially when it is the best, most refined European chocolate made into a dense, unique, cake.  It is the philosophy of one of New York’s best chocolatiers, Maribel Liberman. 

     Liberman, a native of Honduras, understands good chocolate when she tastes it.  She owns an exquisite store in New York City called MarieBelle Chocolatier.  And as someone who understands the importance of a good piece of chocolate, she also finds that “life is all about the pleasure and happiness we find in food, art and beauty”.

     Until I became a fan of all things French, I couldn’t picture beauty as being present in food.  The French excel at this.  Everything from the packaging to the way edibles are presented, the thought placed in creating and enjoying meals, the quality of the ingredients, and the sharing of those experiences is conducive to beauty.  Beauty inspires art, and chocolate was the venue, this birthday when I turned 45, for that inspiration.

     The treat for my birthday was a Marie Antoinette Vintage Truffle Cake, made by this chocolate house that also creates artfully illustrated chocolates, raw cacao confisseries, signature ganaches and decadent hot chocolate mixes.

     I ordered the cake through Dean &Deluca, but it is also available through the company’s website.  The cake honors Queen Marie Antoinette of France, who adored the chocolate pastilles that then chemist to the French Crown, Debauve & Gallais, created for her so she could swallow unpleasant tasting medicines.  Marie Antoinette adored chocolate, and this cake, which comes packaged inside a box simulating an ancient book, includes a poem in her honor, and her chocolate:


She stares with puzzle at her treasure book
She can’t help but wonder
What the story is all about inside
She flips the cover
And to her surprise:
A mysterious dark slab
With a rich golden chandelier
Simulating the entrance of a Palace
How amazing!!!
He contemplated her with joy
As she closed her eyes as if
She was going into a trance
He was the man she loved
But at that moment
He took a second place
People warned her that one
Becomes a prisoner of obsession
She held the slab and took a first bite
Melting cream in her mouth she screamed
                                    OH… CHOCOLAT!!


     Indeed, the Marie Antoinette Vintage Truffle Cake is like biting into a truffle.  It is quite small, about 6.5” by 4.5”, but it compensates in richness.  The truffle cream chocolate lies on top of crisp chocolate wafers, so when one bites into it, there is also a certain crunch.  It is decorated with the image of an antique chandelier, faintly showing out of a sprinkle of gold glitter, and to my surprise, it did not fade throughout the life of the cake.

     I recommend a rich, dark shot of Italian espresso to accompany this luscious dessert.  And of course, a trip to this chocolatier is de rigueur during a visit to New York City.



      After the cake is consumed (which will not take long, believe me), the simulated case can be used for storage of cherished secrets – love notes, valentines, etc.


A small piece with a cup of strong espresso is all this cake needs.  It should be cut in triangles as shown here.
You will get 8 portions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Drinks for a good cause

     The holidays offer the perfect excuse to have nice drinks, and as many of them as possible! This year I was able to get my hands on some supreme quality vodka, and it came with a good cause too.  Snow Leopard Vodka is the contribution of entrepreneur and philanthropist Stephen Sparrow, who after learning of the challenges of the communities in the area the snow leopard inhabits and the danger of extinction of the species, came up with the idea of this beverage.

     The snow leopard (panthera uncia) is the least known of the big cats.  Personally, I find its coat the most beautiful – a white, mushy coat with black markings.  It has an unusually long tail, which serves him well to prowl in the mountains.  These animals are loners, getting together only during the breeding season in winter.  They inhabit the highest mountains in the world – the Tibetan plateau throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal.  The species is on the critically endangered list due to deforestation and black market trafficking with none other than China.  Thanks to people like Sparrow and the Snow Leopard Trust, the species may have a chance.


© 2014 Snow Leopard vodka
      The Snow Leopard vodka is produced in Poland.  It comes in a beautifully designed bottle with a painted picture of a snow leopard.  The drink is distilled 6 times directly from the ancient grain of spelt and has a superbly clean taste, round and creamy.  It makes for a great base for cocktails.  Not surprisingly it has won numerous awards.  Here are two of my favorite recipes.

Appletini (the best version you’ve EVER had)

Ingredients:
  • 3oz. Snow Leopard vodka
  • 2oz. Schönauer Apfel schnapps
  • 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preparation:

      Shake all ingredients with ice in a shaker and pour into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with an apple slice pierced with a cinnamon stick.




Snow Kitten
     This is a recipe created by the bartenders at the Light Bar, in London’s modern St. Martin’s Lane Hotel.  A place that offers cocktails with a European twist, using ingredients like Elderflower liqueurs, champagne and lychee juice.  It is worth the work in finding the ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 2oz. Snow Leopard vodka
  • 12 blueberries
  • 2 to 5 bar spoons of damson plum preserves
  • 2 bar spoons of honey
  • 1/4 oz lemon juice
Preparation:

     Muddle the blueberries.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir, then shake with ice and strain into a Martini glass.  Garnish with blueberries on a stirrer.


     Keep in mind that when you purchase a bottle of Snow Leopard vodka, 15% of the cost goes to the species conservation.  The company aims to sell 100,000.00 bottles a year.  That would provide about $450,000.00 towards conservation.  An amazing effort and also utterly delicious.

Monday, December 1, 2014

A cozy Thanksgiving

     Thanksgiving is the most celebrated holiday in the American calendar.  That is because mostly every family who lives in the United States participates in the holiday in some way, regardless of religion or race. 

     But what is the essence of Thanksgiving?  Beyond the eating and the shopping, it is the foremost way to celebrate the harvest, and send hopes into the void for a future bounty one.  I like this latter idea of Thanksgiving.  Since I moved to Florida, over 20 years ago now, I especially enjoy the Autumn.  Once the last days of August hits I seem to become alive, and the smells of the new season come alive in my kitchen as well.

     From the entertaining point of view, it is the ideal time of year.  The fruits of the harvest invite a varied sort of cooking, and the chillier weather makes for wonderful get-togethers and cozy moments.

     This year I decided to by-pass the ubiquitous turkey and made an Argentinian classic – carbonada.  This version is by Chef Guillermo Calabrese, one of Buenos Aires top chefs, who started his career at the famous Gato Dumas Restaurant in Recoleta.  I remember eating at this trendy restaurant in the 90’s.  It was a mixture of refined Argentine specialties with a touch of French cuisine, in an ambiance that was stylish without being presumptuous. 

     The carbonada is a fulfilling dish for a cold day, not unlike the weather we were lucky to have for Thanksgiving.  It is served inside an acorn squash, making for a beautiful presentation.  Although it takes some time to prepare, it beats the long hours of the turkey and proves for a dish full of the typical flavours of Fall for which you will be remembered.


Argentine Carbonada in acorn squash:

Ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 4 small acorn squash (about 6” in diameter)
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • 3oz sugar
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 3 small corn stalks
  • Corn oil, as needed
  • 12oz plain rice
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 small white onions
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1pd veal, cut in cubes
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • 3.5oz white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 5 oz veal stock
  • 3.5 oz dried apricots
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ Tbsp cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ Tbsp sweet paprika
  • ¼ grated goat cheese
  • More salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

     Wash and dry the acorn squashes.  Cut the tops, which will be used as covers, clean and remove the seeds, and cut small incisions on the inside with a knife. 

     Coat the insides of the squashes with softened butter, dust with sugar and bathe with a bit of milk.  Place on an oven plaque and bake at 380F for 25 minutes.  Check halfway to ensure the squashes are not disintegrating.  They should only be partially cooked at this point.

     Cut the corn in smaller pieces, blanche and reserve.  In a separate saucepan add about 2 Tbsp of corn oil and sauté the rice no longer than 3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and reserve.

     In another saucepan with 2 more Tbsp oil sauté the onions, previously chopped.  Add the pepper, the meat (make sure you clean all the fat) and brown.  Add the tomatoes and deglaze with the wine.  Season and cook until the alcohol evaporates.

     Add the rice, the veal stock, dried apricots and season with sugar, cumin, bay leaves and paprika.  Cook for 15 minutes on high.  Fill the squashes with this stew and bake for another 25 minutes at 380F.  Sprinkle with a nice grated goat cheese.  I chose a Spanish one from La Mancha, flavored with paprika, which you can buy HERE.  It mimicked the flavor of the pieces beautifully.  Serve with corn cobs on the side.


A tablescape inspired by the colours of Autumn
      After such a nice main course, the dessert had to be just as memorable.  And maybe a bit more patriotic.  I find nothing more authentically American than cheesecake.  Thanks to the Martha Stewart magazine, I became aware of a uniquely crafted maple syrup, infused with Tahitian vanilla and Egyptian chamomile.  As soon as I saw the recipe, I ordered it immediately.

     This is a very rich, creamy cheesecake, ideal to have with some strong Earl Gray tea.

Maple-Walnut cheesecake:

Ingredients for 8 to 12 servings:

            Crust:
·         9 Graham crackers
·         ¾ cup black walnuts
·         1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
·         4 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
·         Pinch of fresh nutmeg
·         Pinch of salt, ideally Himalayan pink salt
Filling:
·         Four 8oz packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
·         ¾ Noble Tonic 02 Maple syrup, available HERE
·         ½ cup granulated sugar
·         4 large eggs
·         3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
·         ½ cup heavy cream
·         1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
·         ¼ tsp maple extract

Preparation:

     Fill a roasting pan halfway with water and set on a rack in the lower third of the oven (this will ensure a very moist environment for the cheesecake to cook into); position another rack in the middle and pre-heat to 350F.  Wrap the outside (bottom and side) of a 9” springform pan with foil.

     To make the crust, pulse the Graham crackers in a food processor a few times until crushed.  Add the walnuts and brown sugar and continue pulsing until finely ground.  Add the melted butter, nutmeg and salt and pulse to combine.  Press into the bottom and about 1” up the side of the prepared pan.  Bake until the crust is golden, about 10’.  Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

     For the filling, beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until nearly smooth, about 1’.  Add the maple syrup and granulated sugar and beat until smooth, about 2’ more.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Increase the speed to medium high and beat in the flour, heavy cream, lemon juice and maple extract until the filling is smooth and silky, about 1’.

     Pour the filling into the cooled crust.  Transfer the cheesecake to the oven, placing it on the middle rack, directly over the water bath.  Bake until golden and set around the edge but still jiggly in the center, about 45’ to 1 hour.  Transfer to a rack and let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until cold and set, preferably overnight.  Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature 20”, the run a thin knife around the edge and remove the springform pan.  Serve and enjoy!



Saturday, October 18, 2014

My visit to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival 2014

     Once again, as it is customary for me, I have attended the Food & Wine Festival at Disney’s Epcot.  It is an event I look forward to every Autumn and I truly enjoy.  The festival has grown every year and includes more and more countries each time with more dishes to try.  As an added bonus, one gets to pair the sample-sized servings with regional wines.  A win-win no doubt.

     This year however, I found the quality of the foods offered quite lame, and at times without any flavor.


     My first stop was France.  It is always my favorite country when it comes to gastronomy.  One of the perennial offerings of this pavilion are the escargots.  This year, they decided to do a nice amuse-bouche and they put them into a crumbly pastry tart, thus a Tartlette aux Escargots.  The result was good, and accompanied by the Kir à la Pomegranate it opened up the appetite nicely.


     Next I headed for nearby Canada, as I wanted to try the Seared Rainbow Trout, topped with bacon, friseé and L8 harvest vinegar.  It is very hard to ruin trout, especially if it’s not overcooked.  Sadly, I have to report that these people have managed to do it.  The fish tasted like nothing at all, the only flavor contributing to it given only by the bacon.  And friseé and L8 harvest??  I definitely missed it.  A lonesome single string of lettuce without any dressing whatsoever.  Very bad indeed.  The Neige Première Apple Ice Wine I have had before.  It should have been chillier.


     As I kept walking I stopped at the Italy pavilion, where I tasted some very good Limoncello, and later a shot of acquavit in Norway.  The former very deliciously sweet and fruity, the latter highly alcoholic and without much flavor.  Italy also had in stock some very unique porcelain to serve espresso, and to which I couldn’t help myself.  The line is called I*Wares, by Seletti, and they’re worth exploring.  The espresso cups are made of fine white porcelain and include a spoon.  The only note of bright colour is on the painted handles, making them ideal to mix and match.

The beautiful porcelain espresso cup, here paired with my Mikasa sugar bowl
and some elegant Dalimayr coffee.  Perfect cremma.
     In Germany, I got my hands on some wonderful apple schnapps, which I’ve tried before and thought would be very good to have on hand to add to some apple desserts now that Fall is upon us.  Schönauer Apfel is a delicious mix of Germany's best apples and grain spirits that tastes truly like pure apple heaven.  In Germany, it’s the way a party starts.  It makes great apple martinis.


    For my main course I wanted something I’d never tried before, kind of exotic.  I stopped at Africa’s outpost.  After making sure there were no ivory animal carvings around, I tried the Bobotie with turkey and mushrooms.  This is the national dish of South Africa, pretty much like a frittata, made with egg, curried meat and grapes.  The portion was small, but it was very filling.  Going back to quality ingredients, it made me think that in South Africa, where produce is much fresher and better than here in the USA, this dish must indeed taste wonderful.  Here it was just okay.  I had it along with M.A.N. Vintners Chenin Blanc, refreshing and very helpful in counteracting the spicy flavours of the dish.


     The Bobotie left me without any more want for savory.  So I headed for the “Desserts & Champagne” booth, where I order the customary Dessert trio.  This was probably the biggest disappointment of all.  Usually this trio of desserts is a pleasure to indulge in, but not this year.  It consisted of Passion Fruit Coconut Creamsicle (an average custard with a jelly top), a Blueberry-Lime Cheesecake Roll (the best one of the three, should just have had this dessert in a bigger piece instead of the trio), and Chocolate Espresso Opera Cake, which was an insult to the excellent dessert created by the Dalloyau patissiers (for an excellent Opera cake that you can find locally, worth every one of your tastebuds, go HERE).  Dry, tasteless chocolate, lacking the requisite coffee flavour in the genoise layers.  A disaster.


     The best part of the dessert experience was the champagne.  I ordered a glass of very expensive Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.  It was refreshingly clean, very smooth, and did not overpower the flavours of the food.  A pity to have had it with such poor sweet pairings.

     But even if dessert disappoints at the Food & Wine Festival, if one is local, one has the privilege to bring some very good ones from the French patisserie on site.  I selected Lemon-Merengue tarte and Framboise at the end of my journey and hurried towards the car, as the day was quite warm.

Italian merengue, slightly caramelized, on this citron tart.  Heavenly creamy.
"Framboise" is a combination of velvety
raspberry mousse and chocolate genoise.
     The France pavilion has also recently opened an ice-cream parlor.  They carry some unique European flavours, and I couldn’t resist trying the Caramel Fleur de Sel.  I bought a cone.  It tasted mostly like caramel, and I couldn’t really detect the “sel”.  Still, who cares when you’re hurrying home with some really good dessert under your belt?

Creamy caramel ice-cream finished off the journey

Sunday, September 28, 2014

L'art du pain

     The French and their bread are a case apart.  One can spend hours debating on the subject of bread with French people.  It is just as important to them as wine is.

     In France, pairing the proper bread with one’s food is something taken very seriously.  Rye bread is the only one eaten with oysters, while breads made with lemon or aux hèrbes are reserved for fish.  Pastries, such as tea cakes or cookies, are mostly consumed for the mid-afternoon treat called le goutier and are rarely eaten in the morning.

     Originally, bread was the staple food of the peasants.  It was not until Louis XIV’s reign that bread started to be refined into what is known today as the ubiquitous baguette, and all its extensive varieties.   In the 18th century, the aristocracy decided that the pain de campagne was a bit too heavy for their stomachs, and the refinements of flour in order to produce white bread began.

     Bread was one of the main causes of the French Revolution.  Following a bad harvest, the government decided to raise the price of cereals.  This meant the common folk were not only deprived of the beautiful palaces and glamour the aristocracy enjoyed, but were now also going to starve.  The people revolted, and the rest, as they say, is bloody history – literally.


Kirsten Dunst uttering the famous line “let them eat cake” in a 
still from “Marie Antoinette”
Another still from “Marie Antoinette” showing beaucoup du pain!
     When Marie Antoinette uttered the famous qu'ils mangent de la brioche”, it was indeed an insult to injury to the already starving populace.  She could only keep her head for another four years after that. 

     Nowadays, in Paris alone there are about 35,000 bakeries, which produce about 3.5 million tons of bread per year.  When it comes to baguettes alone, it is estimated that 10 million are sold each day.  In France, it is illegal to put preservatives into the bread.  Hence one must buy it every day.  I remember the practice was the same in Buenos Aires (where I was born).  One would go to the almacén within one’s own neighborhood to get the bread for the day.

     This is unfortunately not the case with bread in the United States, where generally, the bread is very bad.  One can find excellent bread in any bakery in Europe, or even in the supermarket.  But in the U.S., unless one goes the extra mile to find it, all there is available is what I call “plastic bread”.  It is chewy like gum and has no crispness at all.  An insult to the art of baking bread really.

     Luckily, and thanks to the local farm-to-table movement, there are a few places where one can go for just the right amount of goodness when it comes to bread.  I am speaking, of course, of The Olde Hearth Bread Co., a local bakery with a stall at the most excellent East End Market.  They also sell their products over the weekends at the Windermere and Maitland Farmers Markets.  They supply the top local area restaurants and premiere hotels… and I have their breads all over my freezer at home too.  For me it is de rigueur, every 2 to 3 months, to place a large order and stock up on their wonderful bounty.


     Here’s what I got this last time I went, starting at the top right hand corner and then clockwise:


     -          Croissants.  Their plain croissants are the best ones I’ve been able to find in Orlando.

-          Fougasse a l’oignon.  Small breads with onion, ideal for substantial sandwiches to go on a picnic for instance.

-          Ficelles. Two small baguettes to laden with butter and preserves for breakfast in the morning.  For more details on the French breakfast, go here.

-          Chocolate boule.  Yes.  This is a pain the campagne made with chocolate and either dried mango or dried cherries.  I prefer the mango.  Toasted with a slab of cold, salted butter and a cappuccino, it is my weekend treat.

-          Pain de mie raisins.  Smells like the holiday season already.  Great toasted with some butter but even better for French toast.

Not pictured, but also worth trying, are the specialized baguettes aux figues and noisette (ideal for a great cheese plate), as well as the brioche challah loaf, which makes an ideal dipping bread.

     I’ve always longed to visit famous bakeries in Paris, but for now, I am happy I have The Olde Hearth Bread Co. for my monthly supply of bread.