Our Daily Dinner

Our Daily Dinner

June 28, 2010

Chef’s Night Off: Chef Dimitri's Moussaka

Comes the weekend, Chef Dimitri of  The Mansion* cooks moussaka. The other night, I ordered it again. One portion is ample for the two of us. The accompanying Greek salad, could easily feed a party of four. Getting ready to write about the moussaka for Chef’s Night Off, I asked Dimitri what the moussaka contained.

“Why don’t you come tomorrow morning and we’ll cook moussaka together?” asked Dimitri.

How could I resist?

I appeared at the appointed hour, put on an apron and watched the making of moussaka to the delight of the kitchen crew.

The basics had already been prepped: sliced potatoes, sliced eggplants, sautéed chopped onions, tomato sauce, and chopped beef. The latter had been cooked slightly to remove the fat. With the preheated oven and four burners going, the kitchen temperature seemed 100 degrees. We drank plenty of bottled water.
The cooking began: Dimitri roasted the sliced potatoes and eggplants, sprinkled with olive oil, on a sheet pan in the 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Next, he combined the sautéed onions and tomato sauce with the chopped meat, and seasoned the mixture with allspice, cinnamon, salt and black pepper, nutmeg, some white wine, and tarragon. Then he assembled the dish in one large pan:

1 layer of sliced potatoes
1 layer of the meat, sprinkled with grated Parmesan
1 layer of eggplants
1 layer of meat

Came the time for the Béchamel sauce. Dimitri heated butter, milk and half and half cream in a pan. He added some cold water, plus a generous portion of grated Kasseri cheese.

“If you can’t get Kasseri, you can use Swiss cheese,” he said.

Next he added some flour, stirring it with an electric mixer not to form lumps. He stirred the mixture constantly, until the sauce was smooth and creamy. He removed the pan from the heat and called for some eggs. These he beat vigorously before folded them into the béchamel.

“Taste it,” he suggested, obviously pleased. “It may need a little bit more salt and pepper.”

Once done, he poured about one inch of Béchamel over the last layer of meat, sprinkled the top with grated Romano parmesan and breadcrumbs, and baked it in the oven for 20 minutes.

“It should be lightly brown,” he advised. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.”

I nodded.

“So when will you make moussaka?” he asked. “If you need help, just come and asked me.”

I looked at him amazed. “Dimitri, why would I ever want to cook something as labor intensive as moussaka when I have you next door?”


Greek Salad
Wine: Côtes du-Ventoux 2007, Delas
Dessert; Strawberries

*The Mansion (212) 535-8888
Corner 86th & York

June 24, 2010


I woke up with a sudden urge for skate. To follow up on it, I promptly went to Citarella* and bought one small skate and had the fishmonger bone it and cut into two pieces.


Tomato Salad
Wine: Hogue: Fumé Blanc, Columbia Valley 2007
Dessert: Häagendasz Chocolate Ice Cream

Recipe Skate

Following an old recipe in my file, I soaked the skate in milk. When ready to serve, I dried the skate and dusted it lightly with flour. Next, I sautéed the fillets in hot oil in a pan for three minutes on each side and carefully transferred the delicate-looking wings onto a platter. As instructed, I wiped the pan clean, melted butter and added one finely chopped shallot and about two tablespoons of capers. I cooked these briefly and deglazed the pan with some white wine. Then I poured the sauce over the skate and garnished the dish with chopped parsley.

The skate was perfectly cooked. But I don’t know if the milk had anything to do with it. Also, without the milk, I wouldn’t have bothered to dredge the fillets in flour. The skate wings are as light as air and cook within minutes. The less done with them, the better.

George and I tasted our first skate, called ray, on a trip to Normandy. It instantly became one of my favorite fish. I recall it was served with beurre noir (black butter). That’s how I’ll cook it, the next time.

The tomatoes for the salad came from pour obliging two tomato plants. I simply cut them into thick slices, sprinkle them with sea salt and some olive oil. 

*Citarella (212) 874-0383

June 21, 2010

Salade Niçoise & Cherry Soup

Salade Niçoise is usually a lunch dish. However, since today is midsumme night—summer solstice-- I thought this typical summer salad would be perfect for dinner. The recipe comes from Julia Child’s “Mastering The Art of French Cooking”, tailored to serve two. As luck would have it, my two tomato plants on our terrace had just rendered two beautifully ripe tomatoes. I always use imported canned Italian tuna, packed in olive oil.

Sour Cherry Soup*
Salade Niçoise
Wine: Ocha, Rosado Garnacha 2009, Navarra
Dessert: Biscotti

The cherry soup reminded me of my childhood in a farming area in northern Germany. During the summer, Father used to rent a cherry tree. As harvesting time grew near, he visited the orchard every evening. Trying to determine the right moment to pick the fruit was akin to “being a general in the army,” he said. “You have to know when to strike.” If the cherries were picked too soon, they would be sour; if left too long, chances were the starlings would make a clean sweep of them.

But came the day when Father gave his command: “Tomorrow.” Armed with a handcart, ladder, and baskets, my two sisters, our helper and I set out at sunrise. When we arrived at the orchard, I climbed on top of our tree and began gorging myself with cherries. So did all the other kids; each one perched on top of their family tree. Next we engaged in cherry-spitting contest, giggling so hard, occasionally one of us fell off the tree.

In a good year, a single tree produced about 50 pounds of cherries. To pick them took all morning. Returning home, I limped behind the cart, usually suffering from a dreadful bellyache. Father greeted us, taking full credit for the size of the crop. “My three cherry princesses,” he called us--enough praise to have us willingly trudge to the kitchen to begin the job of cleaning the cherries. First the stems had to be removed, then the pits. We sat in a circle, armed with cherry pitters and hairpins. It was a messy job that took the greater part of the afternoon and left us looking like butchers. I could not imagine ever wanting to see another cherry. However, by supper time, I was eager to taste the first cherry soup of the season.

For tonight’s dinner I had bought a ready-made cherry soup from Yorkville Meat Emporium. The soup was lush and refreshing. According to the label, it contained sour cherries, sugar, flour, sour cream, water, cinnamon, sticks of cloves. It will definitely become a summer staple.

The only disappointing note was the Rosé. With its strawberry-colored hue, it looked promising. Alas, it lacked tannin and tasted flat. A Fume Blanc would have been better.

*Yorkville Meat Emporium (212) 628-5147
2nd Ave & 81st St.


June 17, 2010

Boudin Noir

When I saw a package of boudin noir (blood sausage) at Murray’s at Grand Central Terminal, I couldn’t resist. Reading the label—lean pork meat, pig’s blood, onions and spices-- I knew this was a genuine
French blood sausage. It reminded me of the days when we served boudin noir at our restaurant every Thursday evening while an accordionist played French tunes. I knew George would be pleased.


2 Boudin Noir*
½ lb.Sauerkraut**
Sautéed apple slices
Boiled potatoes
Wine: Côtes du Rhône Esprit, Delas 2007
Dessert: 85% Lindt chocolate

Let’s face it, boudin noir doesn’t look so great, but it certainly tastes good. The sausage was fully
cooked. All I had to do was warm it in a sauté pan. To heighten the flavor of the cooked sauerkraut
I added some goose fat  and white wine. I used Granny Smith for the sautéd apple-- the classic accompaniment to boudin noir. The potatoes were an overkill. Next time I will know better.

*Murray’s Real Salami
24 Grand Central Terminal

**Schaller & Weber

June 13, 2010

Marketing Update

My marketing post of May 31st received several interesting suggestions. I haven’t yet checked them out, but will definitely go to the Westside Market for their octopus salad.

East Side
Agata and Valentina-- Garlic knots-- little twisted dinner rolls filled with chopped garlic.
First Ave & 79th St. (212) 452-0690

Dean and Deluca.-- expensive, but some of their prepared foods - notably the Chicken Pot Pie - are worth the price. Their Cubano sandwich is yummy.
Madison Ave. corner 85th St. (212) 717-0800

Lobel's--for what must be the priciest but exceptionally good roast chicken.
Madison & 82nd St (212) 737-1372

Sables – for smoked fish, chicken and beef barley soups, cold borscht
(Second Ave bet. 77th & 78th Sts) (212) 249-6177

Yura --for their Boxed Lunches
Madison Ave. & 92nd St. (212) 860=1707

West Side

The Kosher Market Place-- Excellent roasted chicken at half the price of Lobel’s.
Bway bet, 90th & 91st Sts. (212) 580-6378

Westside Market --infinitely nicer than their store Broadway in the upper 70's. Vegetable lasagna, spinach lasagna and octopus salad, all have been excellent.
Broadway & 110th

Zabars –among other things for their gazpacho
Bway bet. 81st & 82nd Sts. (212) 787-2000

June 12, 2010

Fresh Herring Festival


Matjes herring
Herring salad
Salmon roe
Blini and sour cream
Flying fish eggs with scallops
Anderson Aquavit
Apremont, 2009
Vin de Savoie, Pierre, Boniface
Dessert: Häagendas ice cream

Once a year, in early June, matjes, Dutch maiden herring that has not yet spawned, appear in the North Sea. Lightly cured, the young herring reaches its optimal fat content and is hailed for its distinct buttery richness. To herald their arrival, the Dutch Queen gives her blessing to the first barrel of Hollandse Nieuwe at the port of Scheveningen where the herring fleet makes its home.

With similar fanfare, New York’s Oyster Bar has been celebrating the “nieuwe maatjes” with a two week festival for the past 37 years. Since we couldn’t come to the matjes, I took the matjes home, together with one order of the Oyster Bar’s matjes herring salad. To expand the feast, I added salmon roe, blini and sour cream, plus my sister-in-law Jane’s flying fish eggs with scallops. Pumpernickel, rye bread and crackers did the rest.

Boned and butterflied, with the tail attached, the official way to eat the herring is to tilt your head back and let the matjes glide down your throat. It’s an acquired skill we leave to the Dutch.

True to its reputation, the fatty, slightly sweet matjes was the winner. The herring salad was a runner-up. The salmon roe offered a nice contrast to the herring, while Jane’s dish added a touch of mystery. We toasted the event with a shot of Aquavit after which we switched to Apremont, a white wine from the Savoie region of France, recommended by Jo from Mister Wright. It was an excellent choice.

Grand Central Oyster Bar (212) 490--6650
Grand Central Terminal

Mister Wright Fine Wines and Spirits (212) 722-4564

June 9, 2010

Poached Chicken Roulade

This was one of our favorite summer dishes at La Colombe d’Or. To cook it at home takes a bit of time, but it is well worth the effort because the entire dish can be prepared and cooked in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and served at your leisure. At the restaurant we served it with haricots verts. I like it with roasted tomatoes. It works equally well with other summer vegetables.


Poached Chicken Roulade
Roasted plum tomatoes
Wine: Louis Jadot, Beaujolais Villages, 2009, lightly chilled
Dessert: Cherry Garcia Ice Cream

Recipe for Chicken Roulade

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded to even thickness and split in half
2 chicken legs with skin, boned and cut in half
2 chicken thighs with skin, boned and cut in half
Salt and pepper

Since the success of the dish depends on having the chicken breast pounded to an even thickness, it’s best to let your butcher do that. Cutting the boned legs and thighs in half tends to be messy. But, once tightly sealed in plastic wrap, the roulade is very forgiving. I had some odds and ends pieces left and, together with the bones, an onion, and some carrots, made some chicken broth.

Place 1 leg and 1 thigh on a board, skin side down. Season with salt and pepper. Place chicken breast on top. Roll the chicken tightly into a package. Tuck in the edges. Season the outside with salt and pepper. Place the roulade on a piece of plastic wrap and seal. Repeat with the other pieces.

Set the roulades on a steamer over boiling water. Poach, covered for 20 minutes. Remove and let cool in the plastic wrap. Then refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, unwrap the roulades and slice them on the diagonal into ½ inch slices. Surround the chicken with roasted tomatoes or whatever vegetable you have cooked.

Instead of making aïoli from scratch, I decided to improvise. I crushed one clove of garlic in a mortar and incorporated the paste into ¼ cup of Kewpie* mayonnaise, together with some lemon juice. There was nothing subtle about this concoction: the garlic won out, which was too bad because it overwhelmed the juicy, tender chicken.

Fortunately I have one entire roulade left. I’ll probably serve it tonight and definitely with another condiment.

*Katagerie Japanese Market
224 E 59 St.

June 6, 2010


The June 7 issue of New York magazine featured an article on New York’s top 51 sandwiches. Since I am a sandwich fanatic, I poured over their selection with great anticipation. In general, the emphasis was on the newly evolved sandwich, such as “baguettes blobbed with sea-urchin roe smeared with Korean mustard oil butter”, or Bánh Mì, the Vietnamese sandwich that has become the latest rage.

Among the 51 selections, there were only two that caught my fancy. One was Thomas Keller’s tuna salad sandwich at Bouchon Bakery (rated No. 19), the other one a porchetta with Calabrian chile paste and provolone from Salumeria Rosi (No. 34.) The strangest one was a pig’s head sandwich with maple Banyulos, pickled veggies and spicy aïoli from Resto (No. 44).

To restore my faith in a good sandwich we had sandwiches for supper.

George’s sandwich

Kaiser roll
Olive oil
Dijon mustard
First layer of low sodium ham, shaved
First layer of thick slice of creamy cheese Havarti
Cole slow
Second layer of ham
Second layer of Havarti
Sliced tomato and pickle on the side

Beer: St.-Sixtus

My sandwich

Ciabatta Roll
Olive oil
Dijon mustard
First layer of smoked Swedish ham, thinly sliced
First layer of medium sliced creamy Havarti
Thinly sliced pickle
Second layer of Swedish ham
Second layer of Havarti
Sliced tomato on the side

Wine: Willm, Réserve, Pinot Gris 2008

After I assembled the sandwiches, I pressed them down slightly, cut each in half, and baked them in the preheated toaster oven for about 5 minutes, just enough to melt the cheese.

Prosciutto and mozzarella is another favorite of mine. The only problem is that while Agata & Valentina has good prosciutto, their mozzarella tends to be rubbery; Ottomanelli makes good mozzarella, but carries no prosciutto, which leaves me with Schaller & Weber’s two different kinds of hams, Havarti cheese, sliced to order, Cole slow and dill pickle. Granted, I took the easy way out, but having a sandwich shouldn't be a major production.

The word Sandwich was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat who ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. It is said that Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards while eating without getting his cards greasy from eating meat with his bare hands.
The Cuban sandwich is a case in point. The one I occasionally get from Sandy’s is so packed with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, mustard, I need both hands to hold it, and never mind playing cards.

June 3, 2010

Triumph of the Lowly Potato

Shredded Potato Fries
Wine: Les Lauzerai, Tavel Rosé, 2009
Dessert: Häagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream

When I told George that we were going to have meatballs tonight, George said: “maybe you could make some fried potatoes to go with it.”

Since I had gone marketing that morning, I went around the corner to Gristedes and bought a baking potato. Thinking the potato would be a gratin, I looked at several recipes and realized this was not what George had in mind. Also, according to the recipes, I had bought the wrong potato. I peeled it anyway and grated it. I heated some Wesson oil in the sauté pan and added the shredded potatoes, spread them out like a pancake, and salted them lightly. Once the side had browned, I turned it around and sauted the other side.

George loved it!
“What should we call them?” I asked
“Shredded fries,” he said.

The meatballs, too, met with his approval. After having experimented with a combination of meats, I went back to my old-time practice of using chuck, old bread soaked in water, goose fat, some spreadable Braunschweiger liverwurst, plus catsup, a dash of Tabasco sauce, salt and black pepper.

I am still working on the broccoli. My sister-in-law, Jane, raises broccoli to a culinary height. She confided that she uses oyster sauce for seasoning. That and using fresh instead of frozen broccoli, didn’t do the trick. Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough.

Comes the summer, I’m leaning more and more toward Rosés. I always have a slight resistance to these wines at first, but once I get into the act, I enjoy scouting for them. Stay tuned for my summer selection.