Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Restaurant Cooking and "Fait Maison"

Unagi terrine -- Pacific Rim Restaurant, Ann Arbor
I have two food experiences on my mind today.

First experience: last night, we ate at Pacific Rim restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. Every dish was delightful. You see above the Japanese-style eel (unagi) appetizer, topped with seaweed. Under the quite generous portion of fish: a layer of avocado slices on a timbal of rice. The sauce was similar to that served with unagi sushi. I asked about the eel, which is smoked: the restaurant receives it vacuum packed. Each separate ingredient was delicious alone and in combination with all the other tastes. And in my opinion, the presentation was perfectly matched to the food -- not too showy, but genuinely attractive. I'm not usually so effusive, but this dish was a masterpiece.

Second experience: Reading recent news stories about a new law just taking effect in France. In the New York Times today are two stories: "Made in House? Prove It" by Elaine Sciolino and "French Food Goes Down" by Mark Bittman. The Guardian covered this news last week in "Will France's 'fait maison' law save its culinary reputation?" The law is complicated, and if you want to know the details, by all means follow one of these links.

In sum: the new French law requires that restaurants there disclose whether they actually prepare dishes in the kitchen, or buy them from mass-production gourmet food facilities and simply reheat or even microwave them. Actually, the law is very weak, allowing many dubious practices to continue. And if a restaurant says nothing, it's assumed that they obtain the food from suppliers of some sort. If restaurants want to indicate that they make it in house, they are permitted to display a symbol designating that they DO. (So French, no?)

"Rich sablefish marinated in miso and sake, pan roasted
with a soy-tamarind sauce and served over sautéed
nappa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and Korean vermicelli noodles"
-- description from the Pacific Rim menu
You can see above my choice of a main course last night. The sablefish, an Alaskan-caught species which the restaurant receives fresh, has a delicate and velvety texture, and was delicious with the soy-tamarind sauce. The vegetables were also delicious. I'm persuaded that every vegetable came into the Pacific Rim kitchen raw and un-shredded (though I didn't ask if that was the case).

Here's what puzzles me: if a little restaurant in a little town like this can make all these house-prepared dishes with skill and imagination -- what's the matter with the French? They invented most of the ideas used in American restaurants, though it's true this Asian-fusion cuisine is not due directly to French chefs.

Hamachi (yellowtail) served
with soba noodles, watercress-daikon salad and a soy-ginger vinaigrette

Len ordered a completely different fish with a different preparation -- Hamachi with soba noodles. We shared both dishes. All so imaginative and delicious!

A quote from the Guardian article: "A survey carried out by French catering union Synhorcat suggested 31% of restaurants (not including cafeterias, bars and fast food outlets) used industrially prepared foods. Others claim the proportion is much higher – Xavier Denamur, restaurateur and fresh-food campaigner and filmmaker, carried out his own personal survey, which took him to dozens of restaurants throughout France. He believes closer to three quarters of restaurants relied on industrially produced food."

A quote from Sciolino: "...there is broad consensus that consumers need to be warned when their boeuf bourguignon has been vacuum-packed with chemical additives, or their escargots à la Bourgogne made with soy filler and rehydrated garlic."

Everyone doubts that this new law will really work the way consumers wish it would, especially because the food processing industry has stonewalled effective regulation, but also because the rules are pretty weak and inconsistent and there won't be enough inspections to even see who's telling the truth.

Having heard Lenny mention that it was my birthday, the waitress brought this fabulous warm chocolate cake.
Obviously, the Asian fusion theme isn't part of the dessert menu!
Bittman says: "By relying increasingly over the years on fast and pre-prepared food in most arenas of our lives, we — including, at this point, the celebrated French — have allowed un-fresh food to take over. There are exceptions, of course — part of my work is looking for them — but that’s exactly what they are. The fait maison logo does nothing to address the fact that chains and pre-prepared food now dominate the restaurant industry globally. And whether it’s a chain, school, hospital, workplace, prison or restaurant, there’s only occasionally reason to expect fresh ingredients prepared on the premises."

I'm not really persuaded that Bittman's pessimism is justified. Last night wasn't the only good meal I've eaten recently. But I guess I'm just very lucky to have access and afford such foods.

The "fait maison" logo

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pomiane in Montmartre

Old postcard of Montmartre in 1890
Edouard de Pomiane was born in Montmartre in 1875 at 28 rue des Abbesses. From time to time, in his radio broadcasts and his cookbooks, he provided brief memoirs of  his childhood in what was then a semi-rural area of Paris. He wrote:
Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre, 1885
Public domain image from Wikipedia
"Looking back on my childhood, I remember the delicious golden galette I ate from time to time at the Moulin  de la Galette on the summit of my dear Butte Montmartre. There was a garden round the windmill with arbours and a showcase with cardboard pastrycooks rolling out sheets of dough ... I knew the Moulin de la Galette when Montmartre still had its vineyards, its streams and its fields of oats. 
"Do you know that in 1830 there were still twenty windmills on top of the Butte Montmartre? And do you know that on 30 March 1814 Pierre-Charles Debray, the miller who owned all these mills, fired the last cannon shot which, alas, did not halt the charge of the Russian troops. ... Perhaps my digression  has wearied you, and I ask your forgiveness. When I think of my dear Butte Montmartre of long ago I could go on and on..." (Cooking with Pomiane, p 243-244)
The Sundays of Pomiane's boyhood were special with exceptional treats to eat. He particularly remembered friands, which were small stuffed pastry rolls made in charcutrie shops, and delivered to homes in "shining metal containers" along with piping hot cutlets, sausages, and black puddings. After lunch, "the children went to play on the Butte at the edge of the fields of oats which grew where the busy rue Caulaincourt now runs. As they were wearing their Sunday clothes, they were not allowed to paddle in the streams which flowed all about the Butte Montmartre of my childhood." (Cooking with Pomiane, p. 58)

Life had not been perfectly idyllic for Pomiane's parents, who were of Polish origin, and whose name was Pozerski. (He later used his alternate Polish surname, Pomiane, as a pen name for his cooking publications, and I use it exclusively, for consistency.) Both parents had participated in the Polish revolution against Russia in 1863, and both were arrested. His father served time in Siberia -- where he was Dostoevski's only Polish friend. His mother, who was the daughter of a Russian general and a Polish woman, was condemned to death. She escaped to Paris; his father eventually escaped also, and joined her there.

The Pozerskis' first son starved to death during the Paris Commune in 1871. Pomiane's sister was born in 1873, and he in 1875. Pomiane attended a Polish primary school, and then continued his education at the Lycée Condorcet, a French secondary school and continued with scientific and medical studies at the University of Paris and various laboratories. These facts of his life appear in both Ginette Mathieu's book A Table avec Edouard de Pomiane, p. 9, and in his official biography at the Institut Pasteur where he was employed as a scientist. The preface to the English edition of Pomiane's The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes claims that he was born before his parents left Poland, but this is contradictory to many other facts of his life.

As Pomiane became a scientist, a food writer, a radio personality, and a recognized expert on both biology and cuisine, he appears to have been grounded in his early experiences as a French boy with a dual French and Polish identity. He often offered recipes from Polish and other cuisines as a supplement to the fairly classic French family cooking that he documented. During World War I, he was in an ambulance company and often tried to help find and prepare food for the troops as well as treating the wounded. During World War II, he wrote several books about how to deal with the extreme deprivation caused by the occupation of Paris, and how to make the best of very sparse available rationed food. While I have not seen any direct reference in Pomiane's own writings to the misfortunes of his parents prior to his birth, I wonder if he saw in his life a repetition of some of their experiences.

Note: this is one of a series of blog posts I've been writing about Edouard de Pomiane, French food writer and broadcast journalist -- he was the first person to have a cooking show on radio, in 1923. Pomiane spent his entire life in Paris, so I'm linking this post to the ongoing blog event "Paris in July." For more of my Pomiane posts, click on the "Pomiane" label.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Bien Manger pour Bien Vivre"

1922 edition:
Still available from amazon.fr
Edouard de Pomiane's first food book was Bien Manger pour Bien Vivre: Essai de Gastronomie Théorique (eat well to live well: an essay in theoretic gastronomy) published in 1922. It's never been translated into English and was reissued only once in 1948 to my knowledge. Pomiane's other books have been more influential and better liked: his French Cooking in 10 Minutes has been in print in English for over 50 years and is cited frequently in popular articles about cooking.

I found to my surprise, when I received my copy of Bien Manger, that it is not in fact a cookbook, but a book about gastronomy and gastrotechnie (Pomiane's word for food science), about French and international foodways, about nutrition, and about a number of other subjects. Pomiane expanded on many of these topics in his later cookbooks and in his radio broadcasts, which he began in 1923.

Most impressive about Pomiane's works is his ability to see his subject matter from several points of view at once. When he eats, he is a gastronome, a lover of food, a French gourmet. When he cooks he is an excellent amateur in the tradition of French home cooking and hosting dinners for friends. He never forgets that he is also a physician and a scientific researcher -- as the then-famous food writer Ali-Bab (Henri Babinski) says in the preface to Bien Manger: Pomiane is before all else "un savant biologiste" -- an expert biological scientist. But he is also a doctor, and in a general way, says Ali-Bab doctors fear no one in the area of gourmandise. He praises Pomiane for not proposing the traditional scientific solution to the general question of food: for Pomiane, there's no joy in thinking of a pill to replace all nutrients efficiently. For Pomiane, in my view, there's joy in food, cooking, eating, and understanding the processes.

Most of Pomiane's topics are still of interest to readers, though we now, of course, want to read about the state of the art today, not 90 years ago. The science Pomiane called gastrotechnie has in the last 25 years or so become identified with the modern area called molecular gastronomy, which combines science and cuisine, and whose practitioners include both laboratory scientists and famous chefs. In many of their works, Pomiane is acknowledged as a precursor of their activity. When reading Bien Manger, it's interesting to contemplate how he compares to this recent intellectual trend.

The first third of the book treats the science of cooking and choosing food. Pomiane describes his area of research, that is, the processes of digestion. He treats the chemistry of cooking, the composition of nutritional elements in food (remember, vitamins were a pretty recent discovery at that time), the idea of a balanced diet, and the choices of foods in the order that they appear in a traditional French meal. He gives a charming treatment of what people in various places drink with food (red wine? white wine? beer? water?...).

To contrast with his French-centered discussion, he then offers a chapter about food traditions outside France: a little anthropology to balance all the hard science, I guess. He greatly admired the food of  his own ancestors in Poland and Russia, as well as the foods of Italy and a few other countries. In later works he covers North and South American foodways in addition to those of Europe -- but not here.

The remainder of the book is about cooking. First, "Les Grands Principes Culinaires" (major culinary principles) -- twelve cooking methods, or principles, including boiling, grilling, roasting, braising, frying, and more, ending with pastry-making. A few years later, in La Cuisine en six leçons (cooking in six lessons) Pomiane used some of these principles as the basis for an elementary cookbook. Here, he explains them in detail.

I found the discussion of the chemistry of mayonnaise, an example of the principle of using emulsions in cooking, especially interesting. Pomiane tried to present some very new physical chemistry discoveries about emulsions at the molecular level. He tried to explain exactly, scientifically, what happens when you beat egg yolk and oil together -- a daunting undertaking. I find it ironic that some molecular cuisine writers of the current era are critical of Pomiane because he didn't get this science right by today's standards -- I'm pretty unwilling to accept criticism of someone who didn't know about things that hadn't yet been discovered. (Herve This, I'm looking at  you). In a footnote Pomiane acknowledged a collaborator on this chapter, Marcel Houdard, a young and promising chemist who had died as a result of experiments with radium!

The last three chapters of Bien Manger cover basic foodstuffs (like milk, butter, eggs, meats...), fermented foods (including a discussion of microbial actions), and conserving food by various methods including sterilization, freezing, preserving in alcohol or acid, smoking, and more.

At the beginning of the book, Pomiane asks: Is gastronomy an art or a science? As an art, Pomiane says, gastronomy allows us to find joy in eating. As a science, he implies, we find joy in understanding the processes of cooking and even digesting. I think these appealing ideas permeate the book.

Pomiane's contemporary Curnonsky identified four types of French cookery: "La Haute Cuisine, la cuisine Bourgeoise, la cuisine Régionale, et la cuisine Improvisée" -- quoted in Elizabeth David, French Provincial Cooking, p.15. I doubt if you need a translation as these terms have been adopted into English. Pomiane's numerous books, beginning with Bien Manger, covered all of these and more.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why Welsh Rarebit?

Yes, it's an American dish...
so American that we can buy it in a box
and not bother melting cheese ourselves.
A little mystery: why did French food writer Edouard de Pomiane classify welsh rarebit as a typical American dish? Specifically in his Radio Cuisine, a book of transcripts of his popular 1920s radio show, welsh rarebit appears in the broadcast titled "A little American Cuisine." Also included: clam chowder and beef cube steak. His welsh rarebit recipe includes beer, cheddar cheese, mustard, and fresh-ground pepper, which are melted, poured over toast, and grilled briefly to brown the top.

Welsh rarebit was the only American recipe given in the book A Table avec Edouard de Pomiane, compiled by Ginette Mathiot from these same radio broadcasts. Many other cuisines were represented in Mathiot's extensive section titled "Recettes Étrangères" (foreign recipes). The Russian recipes, for example, were Koulibiak, borscht, and four others, all of which Pomiane quite liked and mentioned often. Of six British recipes, two are for curry, one for Christmas pudding. There are Turkish dolmas, pilaf, and two eggplant recipes; several South American countries are also represented by one recipe each.

Pomiane's view of what was typical, as shown in the various transcripts and re-writings of his radio programs, is quite interesting. Earlier, in Pomiane's first book titled Bien Manger pour Bien Vivre (eat well to live well) he has an interesting section on international foodways, but no mention of America or welsh rarebit at all, nor does the much later English-language adaptation Cooking with Pomiane mention this example of American food. Pomiane traveled widely in Europe and in the various provinces of France, always collecting recipes; however, in his broadcast about American food, he said he had never been to America, perhaps a reason why he provided such a small number of recipes.

Welsh rarebit seemed an obscure choice, so I've checked a few sources to see if I can understand why Pomiane considered it typical. I found some clues as to its popularity and iconic status in America of the decades before World War II and also some clues about its recognition in France at that time.

Laura Shapiro's biography of Julia Child supports the idea that welsh rarebit was a typical American supper dish. During Child's girlhood in California in the 20s, according to Shapiro, Child remembered eating "good, plain New England food." Shapiro says: "The family always employed a cook, and only on her night out would Julia's mother step into the kitchen to make baking powder biscuits and Welsh rarebit. ... The truth was, food hadn't been important to her when she was growing up." (Shapiro, Julia Child, p. 1)

Recipes for welsh rarebit appeared in the 1918 Fanny Farmer, in early editions of the Joy of Cooking, and the 1921 Settlement Cookbook. They still appear in many cooking columns, food TV shows, and so on, though I'm not convinced that they are any longer as iconically American as they once were.

Welsh rarebit as an example of American cuisine had appeared in Paris by the end of the 18th century. Specifically, Brillat-Savarin brought the recipe back to France from America after a period of exile during the French Revolution, according to a New York Times article: "His poverty and anguish during his two years in New York and its vicinity did not prevent him from visiting Fraunces and other good taverns and bringing back to France a recipe for welsh rarebit. ("Americans Hear Tribute to Savarin" by May Birkhead, NYT, Sept. 18, 1927).

Another article, "Step by Step Paris Becomes American," published July 8, 1928, in the New York Times also mentioned the dish: "... the Champs Elysees retains one special feature. It is one of the few streets in Paris in which one cannot eat outdoors... One may still drink... One may not eat a meal, but he may eat a sandwich or a Welsh rarebit." The article stresses many emerging similarities between Paris and New York in the late 1920s. Its subtitle was "Strollers Wonder Whether They are in Boulevard or Broadway Surroundings."

I think I have answered my own questions of why welsh rarebit might have seemed typically American to Pomiane, and of whether it was a popular dish in America at the time he wrote. And I've only spent a little time looking for examples -- I imagine there are many more.

As you know if you follow this blog, I'm working on a project about Edouard de Pomiane, and that is why this somewhat peculiar subject occurred to me.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Question for Food Bloggers: "Camera Cuisine"

Can food be too pretty? Does photogenic food -- plates that look good on Twitter, Instagram, or a blog -- necessarily taste good? Is it worth more? Or do elaborate food arrangements leave normally hot food cold? Does the possibility of an online photo inspire chefs and cooks to think more deeply about how food looks than how it tastes?

Two recent articles discuss these questions:

In the Guardian: "Why does artistically presented food taste better?" 

Writer Amy Fleming cites a study (haha) showing "that an artful plate of food tastes better – perhaps due to the effort that has been put in, or maybe for more complex reasons."

From the Guardian article: Kandinsky painting, left.
Kandinsky-inspired salad, right. 
Charles Michel, a chef who now works at the Crossmodal laboratory at Oxford University designed an experiment to present a salad with many ingredients in three ways: with the ingredients separated, with the ingredients tossed, and with their arrangement inspired by a Kandinsky painting!

Result: the participants deemed the Kandinsky salad as more complex, artistic, appealing and tasty. They were willing to pay more for it, too.

Several of the comments on this article pointed out something important: TV chefs ONLY have to worry about what food looks like. Their audience can neither taste nor smell their creations. This really skews their motivation, right? And maybe skews food standards.


In the New York Times: "Your Eyes Are Happier Than Your Stomach:Dishes Worthy of Instagram, but Not Your Appetite.

Former restaurant critic Pete Wells presents his viewpoint on the same question with a slightly different twist. The emphasis on photos of food posted online, and the growing technology of low-light small cameras for instant online sharing has, he believes, "deeply changed food photography, of course. But it’s changing food, too." And not for the better. He calls it "Camera Cuisine."

Wells is mainly interested in high-profile very trendy internationally-known chefs, not in home cooks or food bloggers. He says: "At the influential handful of restaurants pursuing a contemporary style, each plate plays to two audiences. One is you, with your napkin in your lap. The other is a global club whose members, checking out their phones or laptops, constitute an invisible gallery in the dining room."

Wells offers as an example the followers of the famous restaurant of chef René Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen. Under his influence: "Ingredients, invariably arranged on earthenware or wood or stone, seem to have washed in on a wave or blown in on a forest breeze."

But, asks Wells, are these followers trying to create a look or a flavor? Few of them have actually eaten in Redzepi's extremely exclusive restaurant. (Another article, "Noma restaurant creates garden as buffer zone against gawkers" recently described exterior landscaping meant to discourage crowds of wannabe diners rubber necking into the windows because hardly anyone ever gets one of the very few tables). Wells writes of this derivative cuisine:
"Not all the time, but often enough, the flavors aren’t as vivid as the image; they’re spectral, washed-out. Foraged plants and other ingredients sometimes seem chosen for size and color more than for taste. That borage flower or sweet potato leaf is almost never dressed in a vinaigrette, which would make it tastier but may also create a distracting glare for the lens and cause it to droop before its photo op."
Wells is very aware of the effect of image on the taste of beautiful food. He's very aware that involved "plating" leads to delivering cold food to the table. In fact, hot food isn't as important to these camera-aware chefs as it used to be. Everyone loves a steak -- not a very photogenic dish, he points out. He says that cooks used to shout: "I’ve got hot food!" And servers were supposed "to get plates to the table right now."

Now, not so much -- if food gets cold while being plated, too bad, implies Wells. It's interesting that the experimental art-inspired plate of food that Amy Fleming described was a salad, so the question of serving hot food was avoided completely! I wonder what would have happened if the experimenter had arranged a steak and baked potato according to a Kandinsky painting.

What does this have to do with food bloggers? A lot, I think. We and our readers form our expectations in the context of the high-level activities by food journalists, food stylists, and the restaurants that make the most splash. Food bloggers who invent recipes or try recipes from cookbooks have to be the recipe author, the chef, the food stylist, the server, the photographer, and also the taster, while these functions are better distributed in magazines and restaurants. So if we cook a modest meal, serve it hot, and take a slap-dash photo of something downright delicious, that's understandable, and if we spend a lot of time "plating" maybe it won't taste as good. The choice is ours, but we can choose mindfully. (I am ignoring those bloggers who repost someone else's photos without attribution.)

The expectations spread through other blogging possibilities. Food bloggers don't just write about what they cook. Many food bloggers describe and take photos of restaurant food, recipes from the mainstream press or published cookbooks, food publications or ads from the recent or distant past, and other food subjects. Besides blogging, they also post on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Is it better to find beautiful food and take a beautiful photo? Or to find delicious food that doesn't lend itself to visual perfection? We are in the same situation as TV chefs: no one can smell or taste what we write about. But I wonder if that means we have to forget the flavor and just make things look good?


Sunday, July 06, 2014

I love fish

Waiting for the salmon... yes, we eat fish in Michigan too!
Salmon on the bbq -- Nat, Kaywin, Carol, and Adam, who baked a
fabulous rhubarb pie for dessert. 

And ok, here is a photo of the last fish sandwich I ate in Hawaii
with a side of sweet potato fries and my favorite Diet Coke.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Back from Hawaii, Happy 4th of July

Holuakoa Cafe Fish Dinner
Happy Independence Day. We are celebrating by doing nothing -- after our very busy trip to Hawaii. During the trip when we ate out, we often ordered fish. Once I bought some mahi-mahi and cooked it with a little wine and butter in our condo. Very fresh! We've heard that Safeway has the freshest fish because they pay fishermen the best prices, so that's where we shopped for it.

Our last afternoon as we waited for our red-eye flight back to the mainland, we returned to Lava Java for a super fish sandwich. We also tried the fish sandwich and combo plate at an island-style restaurant called Sam Choy's, which has a really spectacular view and uses Asian and island flavors very nicely. Another night we ate at the Kona Brewing Company where there's no view at all, just a really long wait for a table, but where we enjoyed a good fish sandwich, great crabcakes, good beer, and nice pizza.

There were so many other beautiful things, and all fish sandwiches look alike, so I didn't keep photographing them. I'm not in Hawaii any more, so here are just a few that I love thinking about:

At Holuakoa Cafe
At Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden, Hilo
Onomea Falls at the Botanical Garden -- everybody posts a photo of the falls!
Onomea Bay from the trail through the Botanical Gardens
The lily pond at the Botanical Gardens

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Picnic Game 2014

chicken-piccata5
Chicken Piccata for Louise's Picnic Game, 2014 

Chicken Piccata is an old favorite, featured at traditional restaurants and often cooked at home, for example by my sister-in-law. Thanks to her mentioning it, I started thinking about this classic.

Served with garlic mashed potatoes, Chicken Piccata is on the menu at Merriman’s Cafe in Waikoloa on the Big Island of Hawaii where we are currently on vacation. The cafe is a spin-off of Merriman’s restaurant, one of the originators of Pacific Rim cuisine in the 1980s. Perhaps oddly, Italian/Mediterranean food is very much a part of Pacific Rim cooking. (We speculate that it's because of the longstanding Italian traditions of San Francisco, which IS on the Pacific Rim!)

When I decided recently – a few weeks before my trip –  to try making Chicken Piccata, I found a recipe on Epicurious, but I changed it in several places and especially, I simplified the cooking technique. My recipe made around 5 servings. We ate some hot from the oven with salad (shown above) and some cold with additional parsley: perfect for a picnic.

Specifically, it’s just the thing for the 2014 Picnic Game
sponsored by Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations.

To start the game, all participants have promised to go through the alphabetical list up until the letter of our own contribution, just like the old kids’ memory game. In this game, though, we link to the blog post and recipe of the other picnic goers: just click on the caption of the images for A and B below.

So here it is: I’m going on a picnic and I'm bringing:

B -- Basil Leaves in Caramelized Prawns 
chicken-piccata4
and C -- Chicken Piccata, my contribution:
Check Louise's blog on July 1 for a list from A to Z!
Recipe

Chicken Piccata Ingredients
chicken-piccata1
4 boneless chicken breast halves or equivalent amount boned by hand – skin optional
3 tablespoons butter (less if you left some skin on the breasts)
4 teaspoons flour to make kneaded butter
Additional flour, salt, and pepper for dredging the chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil for browning the chicken
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice plus lemon zest (Don't forget to grate lemon zest before squeezing juice!)
1/4 cup canned chicken broth ... or use homemade stock from the chicken bones
1/2 large shallot, chopped or sliced very thin
1/4 cup drained capers
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Method
chicken-piccata2 chicken-piccata3
  1. If using whole unboned chicken breasts: remove bones and cut meat into ¾-inch-thick cutlets. Optionally, use the bones and some carrots and onion or shallots to make stock. If you remove the skin, also use it to make the stock.
  2. Make kneaded butter: mix 1 tablespoon of butter and 4 teaspoons of flour in small bowl until smooth.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dredge chicken cutlets at last minute in flour-salt-pepper mixture. Brown chicken in batches in a frying pan in olive oil, and put them on a cookie sheet. When all are browned, bake them in the oven until done while making sauce in the same frying pan. Baking time depends on how thick you cut them, somewhere around 15 minutes.
  4. In pan juices in the frying pan, brown a few slices of shallot. Add wine, lemon juice and broth to frying pan and simmer for around 5 minutes over medium-high heat with shallots and additional butter as needed. Whisk in butter-flour mixture and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Leave on low heat until chicken is done. Add more stock if needed.
  5. Assemble dish. To the frying pan add the capers, parsley, lemon zest, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter (if needed). Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Place chicken on serving platter, pour sauce over chicken, and serve. Or place chicken breasts in storage container, pour sauce over chicken, and chill until needed, adding more freshly chopped parsley before serving.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lilikoi

I love the flavor of lilikoi -- that's the Hawaiian name for passion fruit.
Lilikoi fruit growing on a tree in Maui when we were there a few years ago
Ono with several vegetables and
passion fruit sauce, Keei Cafe
Last night at the Keei Cafe (an old favorite where we go almost every visit to Hawaii) both my entree and my dessert included a sauce flavored with this delicious, citrusy fruit. Usually they offer fresh locally caught fish with Thai curry sauce, lemon-caper sauce, or peanut-miso sauce. Last night they added a special choice: passion-fruit flavored sauce. I loved it! Like lemon only more complex. The sides were mushrooms, potato puree, asparagus, wilted spinach, one broccoli floret, and julienned peppers and carrots -- just a little of each vegetable. Len had the same preparation but with seared ahi (tuna).

For dessert there's lilikoi cheesecake or coconut flan with lilikoi sauce. I had the flan, also delicious. Of course it was a different sauce than that served on the fish, but in fact it was quite tart which contrasted delicately with the sweet, silky flan. Remember, that volcano tart I had the night before was a lilikoi tart. 

I think you could adapt any lemon-based recipe to use lilikoi. I know that people here with a lilikoi tree freeze the fruit or pulp and use it lots of ways.

But I have to eat it here: I really can't find any lilikoi/passion fruit flavorings at home, I've tried!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dinner at Lava Java

Dessert first: a volcano made from a passion fruit-meringue tart.
Delicious! I actually ate it after my entree. I love passion fruit!
Sunset from Lava Java on the longest day of the year is to the north. 
Len's main course: fish tacos made from ono. 
My main course: salade nicoise, which I've ordered before at
Lava Java in downtown Kona.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Local Food, Kona, Hawaii


A banana from Hamakua Springs. According to their website: "Hamakua Springs Country Farms, located on the slopes of Mauna Kea in beautiful Pepe‘ekeo on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, is run by three generations of the Ha family."



Our condo cupboard in Kona came supplied with a few ounces of 100% Kona coffee, salt, pepper, and a few bottles of vinegar. Refrigerator: empty. So this morning after drinking some of the coffee, which is wonderful, we went off to the nearby supermarket, the KTA. We've shopped there on many previous trips, and it seems to me there is more local produce than in the past -- and even local meat.

As always bread comes from the Punalu'u bakery, including several flavors of special Hawaii sweet rolls. You can see the Hawaii banana label on Lenny's banana -- I was happy to see Hawaiian bananas in the market, and to learn from the farmer's website that their business is expanding. There have always been local papayas, Maui onions, tomatoes -- and sometimes bananas, but sometimes Central American bananas. This time we also found lettuce, avocados, and cucumbers grown on farms around the island. In the past, I think we would have had to go to the Farmer's Market for such variety.

100% Kona coffee used to be unusual in the supermarket: now there's around a ten-foot stretch of shelf dedicated to local coffee growers. The prices vary. All are high, but I think Kona coffee is worth it.

I don't know which market forces and trends have been at work here, but I suspect that more Big Island farms are now producing more food for local grocery stores, not just for boutique restaurants. The Hamakua Springs website implies this. Beef cattle on the ranches in the center of the Big Island were established close to 200 years ago, but the cows used to be sent to feedlots on the mainland. The beef we ate for dinner was chewy, as if it was grass-fed. But I have no real information, only speculation and very subjective memories.

Of course we aren't really here for the food, but to enjoy the beautiful ocean. On a beach walk this afternoon, we saw a variety of birds and a turtle sunning himself under a pile of sand he had thrown on himself, using his flippers.

At first sight, I wasn't sure what I was seeing in the sand.
I approached, but not too close. Turtles need their space.
The turtle throwing nice warm sand onto his back.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Molecular Gastronomy

French scientist and author Hervé This claims to be the inventor of molecular gastronomy. He and physicist Nicholas Kurti invented the name molecular gastronomy in 1992. Their goals were to explore recipes; collect and test cooking lore; invent new dishes; introduce new tools, utensils, ingredients; and use cooking to popularize science in general. While these goals have changed over time, molecular cuisine is still expanding and producing new research results and new influences. (The Science of the Oven, Kindle location 161)

Hervé This is also active in molecular cuisine: that is, cooking that applies the knowledge from molecular gastronomy. Under the influence of himself and his fellow molecular scientists, he says, "today's cooks use liquid nitrogen to make their ice cream and sorbet, and ... they distill, infuse, and jell with the aid of jelling agents long used by the food industry." (The Science of the Oven, Kindle location 173)

Hervé This from Nature article
The laboratory of Hervé This has been a major source of techniques for the inventions of molecular cuisine, including the world-famous innovative ideas of Spanish chef Fernand Adrià. An article in the Guardian described their relationship: "Adrià's scientific approach [was] inspired by the work of, among others, French physical chemist Hervé This, who led Adrià to deconstruct ingredients and dishes." (source/link)

An interview in the journal Nature provides some insight into his methods. He states:
"Meat, fish, fruits and vegetables are organized mixtures of compounds. Cooking traditionally means mixing mixtures, and is not precise. This is why I proposed the concept of note-by-note cooking — using specific compounds to build consistency, taste and odour. It is difficult, but a huge unexplored continent is ahead of us." (Nature, vol 464, March 18, 2010, p. 355)
In the book The Science of the Oven Hervé This reviews a wide variety of research on specific reactions that take place during cooking or food preparation. He talks about "note by note" cooking, an advance beyond the original molecular cuisine. Purified flavors (specific molecular extracts) are added to a dish one by one, in contrast to the normal way using basic foods. Recognizable food products such as vegetables or chicken have many flavors -- in  his view, too many unpredictable flavors. He asks: "In the twenty-first century, why could we not produce a sauce beginning with water, glucose, tartaric acid ... and polyphenols, such as certain producers extract from grape seeds, for example?" (Kindle location 2654)

In one example, Hervé This explores the question of whether one can make a jelly from tea. The chemicals in a cup of brewed tea aren't compatible with gelation -- so he suggests making the tea, removing the chemicals that prevent jelling, and adding back distillations of the flavor molecules. (Kindle location 1512)

To me this sounds like what industrial food processors do. In fact, many of the techniques used by Hervé This and the chefs under his influence sound like an artisanal version of industrial food to me, and he seems to admire some of the work of food chemists who work in their laboratories. In the Nature interview, he says: "The food industry already recaptures and reincorporates ‘essential oils’ that are lost during cooking processes. As a result, jams and orange juice, for example, are now much better." I wonder if he's read some of the American books about the food industry and how they manipulate consumers' tastes! Or similar French ones, if there are any.

Unfortunately, in his books  Hervé This often repeats various linguistic quibbles, such as his dislike of the word "flavor," or his attacks on the term "applied science," where he spends a lot of time on peevishly attacking the names of a lot of existing university applied science departments, research programs, and publications. Aside from this annoyance, Hervé This is a very interesting author of many books, at least five available in English, and teacher of influential courses.

Hervé This acknowledges a variety of predecessors in exploring science as it relates to cooking. One of these is Edouard de Pomiane, the medical scientist and cookbook author that I've been researching. The book Cours de gastronomie moléculaire n° 2: Les précisions culinaires (not translated into English) offers a several page biography of Pomiane and summarizes many of the books he published between 1920 and his death in 1964. While acknowledging Pomiane's accomplishments, Hervé This is critical because Pomiane didn't do the type of laboratory research that has been done recently. He points out that Pomiane made some mistakes, or uncritically accepted commonly held ideas about (for example) the process of making mayonnaise and other chemical or physical reactions. He doesn't accept that Pomiane was a scientist -- though he's a little harsh considering that some of the science was still in the future.

Monday, June 09, 2014

At the World's Fair, 1939

"It is possible for the collector of wine and food books to do a bit of international browsing at our World's Fair." So began a New York Times article published July 30, 1939, titled "New Editions, Fine & Otherwise: International Gastronomy or Notes for the Xenomanic Pantophagist" by Edward Larocque Tinker.

The article provides readers first with a description of cocktails and rum drinks that appeared in an "educational leaflet" at the Cuban Pavilion, continues with a few notes on the Brazilian, Swedish, and Swiss reading materials, and finally reaches the French Pavilion, naming five books on sale, including their prices -- which can be compared to the 75-cent admission fee to the fair (eventually reduced to 50 cents), and similar additional fees for specific attractions.

The list begins with Auguste Escoffier's Le Guide Culinaire at $2.50. "Its author, who was born in 1847 and died only four years ago, was the most famous chef of the last two centuries, greater, some think even than Carême," Tinker says. Escoffier's Guide, with 5000 very sketchy recipes meant for professionally trained chefs, had been in print for a couple of decades by this time. A current edition of this classic is depicted at left; it's available in English translation as well.

Next: "La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange" ($1.50), described as "a useful book for the house-keeper exhausted with the arranging of daily menus," including "800 recipes and 500 planned meals."Madame E. Saint-Ange had written for a cooking magazine called "Le Pot au Feu" for years, and "La Bonne Cuisine" was a compendium of her writings that had been published in 1927. An English translation became available only relatively recently.

For "families who live on a more modest scale," the bookshop offered "La Véritable Cuisine de Famille" by Tante Marie. It was "designed to achieve an intelligent economy" and included 1000 recipes, 500 seasonal menus, and a glossary.  I've checked and Tante Marie's popular book had been in print in various editions since at least 1903. Tante Marie was probably fictitious, sort of like Betty Crocker, but very little information about her appears to have survived. The front cover of one of the many early editions is shown at right. The book is still popular enough to merit an English-language Kindle edition!

The next book on the list is by Pomiane, the author I've been researching. (In fact, I found this article when searching for information about him.) Tinker writes:

  "A very different kind of book is Edouard de Pomiane's '365 Menus, 365 Recettes' (90 cents). The author is a physiologist who, in accordance with the latest scientific discoveries, balances each menu with the proper relative quantities of fats, carbons, proteins, vitamins, etc. A preface contains a general discussion of the chemical role food plays in keeping us in  health and a treatise on diets for different ages and for those suffering from various diseases. Under each meal's menu is printed the recipe for the main dish."

The final two books from the French Pavilion were "L'Art Culinaire Moderne" by Henry-Papul Pellaprat, and "L'art du Bien Manger" compiled by Edmond Richardin. There may of course have been other books available, not mentioned in the article.

The French Pavilion at the New York 1939 World's Fair is a famous source of American gastronomy. At the French Pavilion (shown in a postcard, right) the French government decided to install a completely French restaurant, with restaurant professionals and all food products sourced from France. This was a major undertaking, but its importance long outlasted the fair itself because several of the French staff remained in the US after the end of the fair to work in restaurants in New York. The most famous offshoot was the restaurant Le Pavillon, run by Henri Soulé who had been the maitre-d'hotel at the fair.

Soulé and Le Pavillon have been written up numerous times. For example, in an article a few years ago, Le Pavillon was classified as one of the ten best restaurants ever in New York City:
"Under restaurateur Henri Soule, Le Pavillon began life as Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France, the eating establishment of the French pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair. The food it presented was a revelation to New York diners, who were still eating French food directly descended from Delmonico's, with heavy cream-based sauces and massive portions. Le Pavillon presented the cuisine for the first time in its evolved form." -- From "Our 10 Best NYC Restaurants," by Robert Sietsema, Jan. 14, 2011, Village Voice blogs. 
The enduring fame and influence of Soulé has been covered in the press ad infinitum and maybe ad nauseum if like me you don't appreciate New York restaurant snobbery. I find this list of historic cookbooks, which seem more or less forgotten, to be of at least equal interest.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Becoming a Cookbook Author

"Looking back to the earliest days of my youth, I remember the chestnut sellers at the corners of the Paris streets, close to the wine shops at the onset of winter. 
"'Hot chestnuts! Hot chestnuts!' cried the Auvergnat with the fur cap as we passed in groups on the way to school, and later to the lycée. The richest among us bought a sou's worth -- in those days, seven chestnuts -- and, when it was very cold he lent a couple to one or two of his comrades, who put a chestnut in each pocket to warm their hands. On arriving at school we gave them back to the 'rich' boy. We had benefited a little from his opulence, and we didn't resent it. In those days humanity was perhaps, in some ways, better than now." -- a memory from Cooking with Pomiane, page 177

At the start of World War I, a medical researcher at the Institut Pasteur in Paris named Edouard Pozerski took leave from his research to be a military doctor, working in an ambulance company that treated front-line troops. In the course of his duties, he saw many young men who were poorly nourished. When he returned to his research in 1918, he also began to expand his professional interest in the chemistry of digestion with an interest in cooking. His scientific career is summarized in a biographic sketch published by the Institut Pasteur.

Under his alternate family name, Edouard de Pomiane, in 1922, he published a cookbook based on his expanded interest. In writing, he developed and shared his perception of the information home cooks needed to make themselves and their families better nourished. The preface to this book, Bien Manger pour Bien Vivre (Eat well to Live Well), was by Ali Bab, pen name of Henri Babinski, also a Polish-Frenchman and author of an earlier successful cookbook.

In 1923, Pomiane began to broadcast a weekly radio show about food and nutrition. Radio was very new, and the process of broadcasting regular programming was just becoming established. Pomiane's show became very popular. From this point he became a well-known personality and expert in cooking -- an accomplishment added to his prestige after more than 20 years as a scientist at a major research laboratory.

Each week docteur de Pomiane, as he was known, discussed a single topic from his many interests. The science of cooking which he called gastrotechnie was an important part of his material: he included what he knew about the process of cooking and tried to show how to apply this science for better results in the kitchen. He suggested menus for good health and digestion. He talked about economies in the kitchen -- how his listeners could save money without giving up nutritional value; for example he pointed out how much less expensive fish was compared to meat. That's not at all true any more, is it?

Sometimes he described his life as a boy in Montmartre, as in the example at the top of this post. And he gave recipes for a wide variety of dishes. Transcripts of his radio presentations were collected in two volumes called Radio Cuisine, published in 1933 and 1936. These transcripts were also used by the compilers of Cooking with Pomiane, a translation that's still in print.

In his broadcasts he described various aspects of his background as a Polish-Frenchman. Edouard Pozerski de Pomiane was born in Paris on April 20, 1875, and he grew up in Montmartre, then a poor neighborhood. His parents belonged to a community of Polish expatriates, many of whom had, like them, fled from Poland because they had been involved in its struggles for independence, especially in the large uprising of 1863. His mother's cooking was an influence on him: she often cooked Sunday dinner for groups of these friends -- dinners that included many Polish dishes.

Both French and Polish traditions contributed to his repertoire, along with recipes collected from his travels. He gave recipes for dishes such as pierogi and borscht; his methods of cooking vegetables come from both French and Eastern European traditions. Sometimes he made comparisons: for example, in one episode transcribed in Radio Cuisine, he describes a very elaborate preparation for fois gras. The recipe used a 900 gram whole fattened goose liver. I'm sure  his listeners were thinking just as I did when I read this: who could afford such a luxurious piece of meat? Fois gras has always been expensive: today in France 900 grams of it would cost upwards of 160 euros/$225. However, after describing the preparation, he proceeds to explain that as an alternative, one could make a delicious but much less costly Polish-style dish from pork liver, as his mother did in the old days when they lived on his beloved Butte Montmartre. (Radio Cuisine, pages 202-204)

In 1921, Pomiane began to teach at l'Institut scientifique d'hygiène alimentaire as well as continuing his medical research at Institut Pasteur. During the 1920s his work, both technical and popular, was prolific. His cookbook publisher was the prestigious Albin Michel.

As well as his first cookbook, Bien manger pour bien vivre, essai de gastronomie théorique, in 1922 he published a technical work titled Hygiène alimentaire, under the name Pozerski. In 1924 he published Le Code de la Bonne Chere, translated in 1932 as Good Fare -- dust jacket of the translation is shown at left. In it he presented his ideas on scientific cooking and how to plan meals for better health, as well as a large collection of recipes.

Pomiane also became a sort of ethnologist: he was interested in the cooking of the Jews he met or saw in Paris. On trips to Poland after World War I he made many observations of the customs and foodways of Jewish communities in Warsaw, Cracow, and other Polish cities in Poland, which had finally become an independent country after 1918. He published a book on Jewish cooking titled Cuisine Juive: Ghettos Modernes in 1929 (translated in 1975 as The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes). I wrote about it here.


By 1927, Pomiane was widely recognized as an authority on cooking, as reflected in a contest where 5000 chefs and gourmets voted to choose the "Prince of Gastronomes." Pomiane was a runner-up in this competition, along with the famous chef Escoffier. The winner was the cookbook and guidebook writer: Curnonsky. (Though he sounds like another Polish immigrant, Curnonsky was pseudonym of Frenchman Maurice Edmond Sailland).

Pomiane published his most lastingly popular book, La Cuisine en Dix Minutes, or Cooking in Ten Minutes, in 1930, and continued publishing throughout his life. Today, I've tried to show how he emerged as a cookbook author. If you follow this blog you know that I'm reading quite a lot about him, including trying out recipes from several of the originals and translations of his cookbooks. I'll be continuing to explore his career and accomplishments in later posts.

Edouard de Pomiane (1875-1964)
Photo from 1961; published in the Guardian article in 2010 naming
Cooking in Ten Minutes one of the 50 best cookbooks of all time.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Chelsea

Chelsea, home of your corn muffin mix.
We ate lunch in Mike's Deli this afternoon after a
morning of outdoor activity. The sandwiches were good,
but not photogenic.
Arny took this photo of us in a canoe on South Lake after our morning walk. 
A lady-slipper orchid on our earlier walk in the woods.