Our Daily Dinner

Our Daily Dinner

April 26, 2010

Leek Soup

Two reasons prompted me to make this dinner. I love leek soup and wanted to enjoy it before the weather gets too warm. I had enough cheese left from our cheese dinner to compliment the soup.


Leek Soup
Bread & Cheese
Bartlett pear
Wine: Côtes du Rhône Guigal Blanc 2004
Dessert: Biscotti

The recipe is based on “The Fine Art of Italian Cooking” by Giuliano Bugialli with whom I once took cooking classes.


2 medium leeks, trimmed, washed and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
2 tablespoons butter
About 1 teaspoon Wondra flour, more if needed
3 to 4 cups clear chicken broth*
2 thick slices of left over bread
About 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

I prefer thick leeks with dark green stalks because they have a more pronounced flavor than the young, white leeks. That choice, however, comes with a price: there seems to be more sand in two stalks of leek than in three pounds of spinach. One way to get rid of that sand is to make a deep cross-like incision at the center line, fold it open, and run the leek under cold water.

Once done, cut the leeks into half-inch rounds and dry them well because they won’t brown otherwise. Browning the leek in butter without burning requires about 15 minutes of constant attention and, incorporating the right amount of flour over the browned leeks to coat, takes another ten minutes. Then add the simmering broth slowely. I like to toss in saved Parmesan ends which intensifies the soup's flavor. All of this takes time; that's why I do the prep the day before.

When ready to serve, place a slice of bread into a deep bowl, cover with grated Parmesan, ladle the soup over it, and top with the remaining cheese. It’s a yummy dish and quite filling.

To get a good pear is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. The Bartlett wasn’t great, but it was ripe and juicy enough to compliment the Roquefort and Taleggio.

* Schaller& Weber’s frozen Clear Chicken Broth has a good flavor and is not salty.

April 25, 2010

Cheese Update

My cheese dinner entry brought a flood of responses from enthusiastic cheese lovers. With the exception of English Cheshire or a Cheddar, all of their favorite cheeses were French. High of the list were Reblochon, from Savoie, Epoisses from Burgundy, Camembert from Normandy, and Munster from Alsace—the crème de la crème of French cow’s milk cheeses--unpasteurized, all of them, hence unavailable here.

I could just as cheerfully compose an all Italian cheese plate; a Swiss or a Spanish one, or a combination of top European cheeses, not to forget our own American artisanal cheeses. And how about The Roaring Forties, that creamy, full-bodied cow’s milk blue cheese, named after the ferocious winds that whip around its native King Island south of Australia?

With your input I could compose a series of cheese dinners, each with its own libation. Please let me have your thoughts and suggestions.

April 21, 2010

Chef's Night Off

Vietnamese Seafood Dinner

Royal Seafood Bouillabaisse*
Brown Rice
Wine: Trimbach Gewürztraminer 2006

According to The Red Michelin Guide, a three-star rated restaurant is worth a detour. The 299 seat Saigon Grill, may not earn anything for its decor, but its Royal Seafood Bouillabaisse is worth a trip: its bouillabaisse is a culinary feast, on par with its top French counterpart.

The Royal Bouillabaisse** (# 63 on the menu) contains prawn, scallop, salmon, crab claws, shrimp, New Zealand mussel, calamari, squid, and assorted unidentified pieces of fish. Vegetables include okra, red, yellow, and green peppers, onion, string beans, and cellophane noodles. The broth is heavily spiced with curry.

There is nothing subtle about this dish. You don’t necessarily know what you are eating. But what you taste is a heady combination of seafood and vegetable delights. One portion, put into two 1-quart size containers, yields two ample meals. At $19.05, including tax, it’s a bargain,even with bus fare.

I find the stretch on Amsterdam Avenue from 86 to 91 Street fascinating. There is Barney Greengrass, the Sturgeon King, the Popover Café, Schatzi, The Butcher, nine different ethnic restaurants, a few delis, the Gold Leaf Stationary store, a wig store, and a Funeral Parlor.

**Not to be confused with the Royal Bouillabaisse, the Vietnamese Seafood Bouillabaisse (# 62 on the menu), is distinguished by its hot and sour broth, lemon grass, tamarind and aromatic herbs seasoning. I don’t think it measure up to the Royal Bouillabaisse. However, that is a matter of personal taste. If you tried it, let me know what you think.

Saigon Grill is open seven days a week from 11:00 AM till midnight. If you live in the neighborhood, they deliver.

Saigon Grill
Amsterdam Ave. & 90th Street (212) 875-9072

April 18, 2010

A Cheese Dinner

We had dinner company; a rare occasion since our present dining facilities do not lend themselves to entertaining. To make the most of it, I decided to serve our favorite food: cheese.

The Cheese Tray
Roquefort Gabriel Coullet
Carré de Chevre
Old Amsterdam Gouda

The Bread Basket
Pane Francese
French baguette
Delba German whole grain pumpernickel
Ak-mak whole wheat crackers

The Accompaniments
Braeburn apples
Dried Turkish apricots

The Wines
Montagny 2007
Les Buys, Louis Latour
Côte d’Or
Staete Landt 2008
Sauvignong Blanc

Cheese aficionados consider Roquefort, France’s sheep milk cheese, to be the “King of Cheese.” Meanwhile, a good Roquefort is hard to come by. I tried three different Roqueforts at Zabar’s before I picked Gabriel Coulet’s. It was a good choice. The Roquefort had an ivory-colored interior, delicate blue-green marbling, creamy texture and that tantalizing sharp taste so beloved by connoisseurs. .

Carré de Chevre comes from the Poitous/Charantes region of France, known for their goat cheeses. Nearly snow white, the Carre was so creamy, the paste kept oozing out. It’s lively, fresh taste was a good contrast to Roquefort’s macho character.

Young Taleggio, the cow's milk cheese from Italy’s Lombardy region, is one of my favorite cheeses. Semisoft, pale, somewhat stinky, young Taleggio is mild and flavorful.

Old Amsterdam Gouda, from The Netherlands, is one of the most reliable cheeses around. I like its pure, sweet and nutty taste; its solid texture reminds of the sturdy Dutchmen. With its deep yellow color, it added to the overall appearance of the cheese tray.

The two white wines, although carefully chosen, did not live up expectation. I had hoped for a fuller, richer Burgundy. Most likely, a Kabinett Riesling would have been a better choice. Eric Asimov had just sung its praise in the Times' Wednesday food section. But none of the three wine stores I deal with had any of the wines in stock. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc faired better. Next time, I may go back to red.

April 15, 2010

Poulet Maison

This was La Colombe d’Or’s most popular dish when Rick Steffan was chef. The chicken breast are rolled into roulades and filled with pesto, which gives the gentle chicken an unexpected punch and a lovely appearance. The beauty is that the dish must be prepared ahead of time and then takes only 8 to 10 minutes to finish.


Chicken Roulade
Wine: Louis Jadot: Moulin a Vent, 2007
Dessert: Biscotti


1 Chicken breast, boned, skinned, and cut in half
1 Tablespoon basil pesto
1 Egg yolk
Flour to dust
½ Cup breadcrumbs, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Sprigs of parsley

I always ask the butcher to pound the chicken breast super flat, so that they cook evenly.
During the summer, when we had our house in Sag Habor, I used to prepare batches of pesto. Now I buy ready made pesto from Agata & Valentina. The pesto tastes good, but contains too much oil, which I drain through cheesecloth. It's important to cover one side with a thin layer of pesto, so that it doesn’t ooze out, then to tuck in the edges, and roll it tight.

Dust the roulade lightly with flour, dip it into the egg wash and roll in the breadcrumbs. Wrap the roulades in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.

When ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap, sauté the breasts in a skillet to sear, and bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven for 8 to 10 minutes. This part is tricky: if baked 1 minute too long, the chicken will be too dry. So, check it. When done, remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

To serve, slice each roulade into ½ slices on the diagonal, arrange it on a plate, and surround it with sprigs of parsley.

I am not a friend of Beaujolais because I don’t like Gamay grapes. Occasionally, however, Beaujolais is just the right wine for a certain dish. Louis Jadot’s. Moulin a Vent is a mature, sophisticated wine that pairs beautifully with the chicken roulade. I serve it slightly chilled.

April 12, 2010

Mussels 201

The meal was a triumph. “Best mussels I had in recent memory,” said George.

I wholeheartedly agreed: the mussels were plumb and juicy; the broth was so delicious, we nearly used a whole baguette to soak it up. The difference from my April 3 endeavor was I
used scallions instead of onion, left out the celery, doubled the butter, and a opted for a better wine.


3 scallions, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup Babich Sauvignon Blanc
2 lbs mussels
Chopped curly parsley


Moules Marinères
Wine: Babich: Sauvignon Blanc
Dessert: Vanilla Ice Cream
85% chocolate

“Let’s try it with a different wine, next time,” said George. “We could do a whole series, mussels with Muscadet, a Burgundy, Alsatian Riesling, Rías Baixas Alberiño, and so on.

I loved the idea; a sort of "Mussels of The Month Club." But it would have wait until September, because I don't like to buy mussels during the summer spawning season which coincides with the letter "r."

April 8, 2010

Table for Two: Two Seperate Orders

Skirt Steak & Meat Loaf

George and I are not big steak eaters. But when I noticed a tray with marinated skirt steaks at the butcher shop, I decided to give it a try. Skirt steak cuts, I learned, are taken from the diaphragm muscle. I almost stopped right there. But the butcher assured me that although skirt steaks maybe a bit tough, they are flavorful and juicy and highly prized by steak lovers.

George opted out which was no big deal since I had also made a meatloaf.


Skirt Steak
Meat Loaf
Baked Spinach
Roasted Red Baby Potatoes
Wine: Saint-Esprit 2007 Côtes-du-Rhône, Delas
Dessert: 85 % Lindt Chocolate

The skirt steak was so narrow, I just seared it briefly and let it rest. When ready to serve, I cut thin slices of the steak against the grain. As it turned out, the marinade had rendered the steak very tender; slicing the piece against the grain helped. The steak was as juicy and flavorful as promised. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The less said about the meatloaf, the better. In my desire to make a better meatloaf, I had bought equal amounts of chopped beef and pork. Since I didn’t want to taste the meat because of the pork, I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and hoped for the best. Alas, the best wasn’t good enough: the meatloaf was salty and too compact. Rolling it in Panko flakes rather than in ordinary breadcrumbs didn’t help.

George suggested I try 10 different ways to prepare meatloaf and write about the results. Not to worry. But, I might try one or two.

April 6, 2010

A Word About My Pantry

It always amazes me to read about the staples cognoscenti consider vital. My present kitchen is minimal: stove, sink, dishwasher; above some open shelves for dishes, and, on the opposite wall, floor to ceiling shelves holding glasses, cooking equipment, some decorative sculpture, canned and bottled staples.

Bottled staples:
1 large bottle extra virgin olive oil (I prefer Spanish Arbequina)
1 small bottle sesame oil
1 bottle Giuseppe Giusti Balsamic vinegar
1 bottle rice vinegar
1 bottle Mirin
1 bottle Squid fish sauce

Canned staples:
Genova tuna fish in olive oil
Sardines with skin in olive oil
Goya Cannellini

Dried staples:
Wondra flour
Chickpea flour
Sushi rice

On the shelve above the sink, I keep a bottle of Wesson oil, Kosher salt, sea salt, sugar, and dried spices.

Although there’s a lot to be said for fresh spices, they don’t necessarily work for me. Depending on the season, I keep dried parsley, rosemary leaves, and thyme
Pimentòn de la Vera (Spanish sweet, smoked paprika)
Red pepper flakes
Black and white pepper corns, Juniper berries (to be ground with black pepper corns to cure salmon)
Ground nutmeg (George likes it over spinach; I don’t)
Turkish Bay Leaf leaves

I rarely buy fresh lemon, except when I need lemon zest, or lemon slices. Instead I use bottled Sicilia lemon juice. It tastes like fresh lemon and doesn’t spoil. Once, when we returned after a trip to Morocco, I was so enamored with everything Moroccan, I suddenly couldn’t live without homemade preserved lemons. These post trip culinary inspirations happened after nearly every trip. I had intense Greek, Turkish, Spanish, Scandinavian, Balkan and Indian periods, trying to prolong our wonderful memories.

Today, my must have staples, kept in the refrigerator, include
Maille Dijon original mustard
Maille Dijon grainy mustard
Tomato ketchup
White, grated horseradish
Capers (I love capers and happily add them to many dishes)
Kewpie Mayonnaise (this is a Japanese mayonnaise, similar in texture and flavor to French mayonnaise.)
Dipping sauce for our weekly Suchi/Sachimi dinner (see Chef’s Night Off, March 15 Post).

I am sure I’ve left out some items. I’ll make corrections when needed.

April 3, 2010


I had this sudden urge for mussels, my favorite dish on our many trips to Brussels, George’s birthplace. Moules et frites, the twice fried potatoes, is considered to be Belgium’s national dish. It was and still is the signature dish at Café dex Bruxelles in The Village, originally opened by George. To cook frites, whether the twice fried Belgian, or the once fried French, is beyond my present ambition. I decided a good baguette would do.


Moules Marinières
Wine: Hogue Chardonnay
Dessert: Lemon Bread Pudding**


2 lbs. Mussels*
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery ribs, cut into small pieces
¾ bottle Hogue Chardonnay
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Finely chopped parsley for garnish

I melted the butter in a heavy sauce pan and sautéd the onions and the celery until tender, but not brown. Next, I poured in the wine, added a bit of freshly ground pepper, and brought the liquid to a simmer. I added the mussels, brought the liquid to a boil, reduced the heat, and covered the saucepan. The mussels opened after 5 minutes. I discarded the few which hadn’t opened.

I served the dish in large soup bowls, together with chunks of crusty baguette.

The mussels were large and plumb and perfectly cooked. In classical style, we used the first empty mussel shell to retrieve the other mussels. The broth, however, lacked flavor. Next time I’ll use shallots instead of onion and eliminate the celery which didn’t add anything. George thought I should have used a better wine, such as a good Riesling.

I’ll definitely cook the dish again soon. Stay tuned.

*Bought at Citarella, which gets them daily from Massachusetts.

**Agata & Valentina

April 2, 2010

An Italian Feast

When I decided to crown my visit to Chinatown with a visit to Di Palo’s* in the remaining enclave of Little Italy, I had two surprises: Di Palo’s had expanded to three times in size; I was served immediately. Prior to that, I used to wait for nearly an hour until my number was called, meanwhile participating in every other customers’ purchases: sampling their cheese selections, prosciutto, salami, and getting advice on the best Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Now the spacious store is stacked with packaged, imported goods, including chocolate. Although it was Easter week, I was served right away. I sampled various salamis, tasted the Prosciutto di Parma, and was delighted by the Crucolo cheese from Trentino. But, I missed the former buzz. Maybe the rain held people back.

To complete my Italian mission, I went to Café Ferrara and bought a slice of Italian Ricotta cheesecake which, I know, George loves.


Prosciutto di Parma
Aged Genoa Salami
Crucolo cheese
Freshly made Mozzarella
Baguette from Eli’s Vinegar Factory
Wine: Nipozzano Riserva 2006
Chianti Rufina
Dessert: Italian Cheese Cake

It was a feast.

*Di Palo’s of Little Italy
200 Grand Street (bet. Mulberry & Mott Sts)