Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Picnic Game 2014

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 
and C -- Chicken Piccata, my contribution:
Check Louise's blog on July 1 for a list from A to Z!

Chicken Piccata Ingredients
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

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


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, 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.