Friday, May 28, 2010

Divine M’semmen with Goat Cheese, Harissa Honey and Olives

Villa Oasis Lisl Dennis/”Living in Morocco,” Thames & Hudson
I read in the NYT’s magazine a few weeks ago that Bill Willis had died. You may not know his name but if you are a fan of design you probably know his iconic style from his work on Yves St Laurent’s Villa Oasis in Marrakech. He made Marrakech chic again in the 60’s by creating sensual retreats where one could live and breathe in the vivid colors and patterns of the harems and souks of Morocco. It was decadent and exotic to lie on silk cushions before a pool scented with rose petals, the intoxicating perfume of spices (and drugs) coming over ancient courtyard walls… no wonder it was a playground for rock royalty and wild young rich things.
Jardín Majorelle
As I looked at the images of Jardin Majorelle (the painter Jacques Majorelle’s 1924 homage to cobalt blue that St. Laurent adopted that you can see here: Majorelle : A Moroccan Oasis (Small Books of Great Gardens)I had a hankering for a favorite dish I had discovered at Orangette’s blog 2 years ago when I was seduced by this passage: “I should begin by saying this: do not underestimate the combined power of fresh goat cheese, honey, and olives. (Or spicy olives, to be specific, coated in something akin to harissa.) It is the trifecta. It will slay you."
She later mentioned M’semmen as the buttery vehicle for this gathering of delicious ingredients inspired by a Moroccan stall in Brussels. By the next day I had made the breads, spread the goat cheese, sprinkled on the olives and drizzled my spiced honey. Just so you know, m’semmen are flaky breads like chapati with buttery layers. They are easy to make and to store (freeze them uncooked then thaw for a few minutes and fry). M’Semmen with honey is a traditional breakfast in exotic Marrakech. These will get your sexy back. There is something deeply sensual about the combination of warm flaky bread with that sweet hot honey, melting soft cheese and piquant salty olives. I have made it regularly since finding the description 2 years ago. It never ceases to delight, nay, to woo and romance with its flavors. Licking the hot peppery honey off your fingers is…well…you know… a good experience to share.

Finding the cheese and honey is simple and you can buy harissa fairly easily, but I love a version from the late Bert Greene's Kitchen bouquets (there are so many great things in his books) and it is very good with the honey.

M’semmen with Goat Cheese, Harissa Honey and Olives

Soft goat cheese (I use a wonderful spreadable chevre from Patches of Star Dairy in NYC Union Sq. Market)
1 Part Harissa* to 2 Parts honey (I like my favorite Champlain Valley crystallized honey or a mild acacia or heather honey for this)
Chopped Moroccan wrinkly olives (remove pits)
Mint (optional)

Take a m’semmen and cover with goat cheese. Sprinkle with chopped olives and drizzle with 1 or 2 t. harissa honey. Add mint if you would like. It’s great served with mint tea.

M’semmen (makes 14)

1 ½ c flour
1 ½ c semolina
1 c warm water
1 ½ T oil
½ t salt
4 T butter

Add the ingredients together and knead for a few minutes. Let rest for half an hour. Roll into 14-16 balls. Roll out till thin and cover one side with butter, fold 1/3 over and butter the top. Fold the other side over. Turn. Repeat process and rest in the fridge for a few minutes. Roll again to a thin rectangle about 8”x5” cover one side with butter place the other side in a buttered skillet, fry on till brown spots appear then turn and do the buttered side.


2 cloves garlic
2 oz dried chili pepper, seeded (ancho is good for this)
2 t. Aleppo pepper (optional)
4 t caraway seeds
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 t salt
1 T hot pepper sauce

Toast chili for a moment, add spices and put in blender with salt and garlic. Slowly add ¼ - ½ c olive oil.

This keeps for months in the fridge.

And, thanks again to everyone for hitting the Google Ads...

Friday, May 21, 2010


Luis Meléndez (Spanish, 1715 - 1780) 
Still Life with Bread, Bottle, and Jug 1770

Bread, brød, brot, brood, pan, pane, paine, cheleb, хлеб, パン … however you slice it it’s the staff of life.

I have been making bread for a zillion years (nearly BC at this point). After hundreds of recipes and a million successes and failures this is the one I am sticking with.

It addresses 2 problems I have with making bread. The first … well I’m cheap about some things and it always ticked me off that I have to blow nearly a buck for a yeast packet to make bread. With this recipe a packet makes 5 loaves!!! Second is flavor. Something was missing. Yup, this has it too, complex and fragrant. The secret is that it rises for 3 days. Mix it and forget it. It uses some of the techniques of Jim Lahey’s legendary No Knead –– and it was from this I started developing the recipe using the Dutch oven as my vessel. You pop it in the mixer for 8 minutes, put it in the bowl and forget it for 3 days in the fridge. The outcome is naturally sweet (yes sweet—deliciously so with no added sugar!) with a cake-like texture, a perfect crust and it is much more digestible. Wait, did I say more digestible????

Here’s the deal.

Dr Mark Sircus said “Bread was first leavened by the Egyptians around 2300 BC. They discovered that a mixture of flour and water left uncovered for several days bubbled and expanded. If mixed into unleavened dough and allowed to stand for a few hours before baking, it yields light sweet bread. This kind of natural leavening remained the basis of Western bread baking until the 20th century when bread 
made from commercially prepared yeast was introduced.”

Andrew Whitely wrote in the Guardian, “The so-called Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), invented in 1961 and now used to make most industrial bread, has turned out to be a culinary and digestive disaster. Traditionally, most bread was fermented (allowed to rise) for many hours, often overnight. The CBP used high-energy mixers and a slew of chemicals to make a very white loaf in double-quick time.

Only if you let dough ferment for long enough can naturally occurring beneficial bacteria work to make the bread more digestible, nutritious and tasty. Most British bread is made too quickly for these bacteria to have a chance. Fermenting dough for six hours as opposed to 30 minutes removes around 80% of a potentially carcinogenic substance called acrylamide found in bread crusts, and long yeast fermentations conserve the highest levels of B vitamins in dough.”

Dr. Sircus revealed: “Most of us do not know that before the 1950’s most bakeries ran 2 shifts of workers because the dough was fermented throughout the night with a long and slow natural fermentation process. The very first things corporate bakers did to increase profits was to introduce the fast loaf (3 hours from start to finish), effectively eliminating the need for this second shift of workers. This seemingly innocuous cost-cutting decision would prove to have an incredible impact on our health as have a host of commercial processes in the food and agricultural areas… Only when wheat gluten is properly fermented is it healthy for human consumption. When not it is potentially one of the most highly allergenic foods we eat. It is similar to the controversy with soy which also can only be considered a health food if it is fermented long enough. Correctly fermented wheat contains 18 amino acids (proteins), complex carbohydrate (a super efficient source of energy), B vitamins, iron, zinc, selenium and magnesium, and maltase…. Sourdough [long-rise] bread rates a 68 on the glycaemic index as opposed to the rating of 100 by other breads. Foods that have low ratings on the glycaemic index are prominent in societies that tend to have lower incidence of diseases and unhealthy conditions that run rampant in our culture such as diabetes.”

I bet you didn’t know that, did you? I know I didn’t. I made this because it tasted better and found out all this remarkable stuff later. You will find that friends who can’t eat bread can eat this. Total work time is hardly 15 minutes, the rest is sit back and wait time! Enjoy!

Long Rise Bread

3 c unbleached white flour
1 ½ c rye flour *
½ c whole wheat flour
1/2 t. yeast
2 t salt (hopefully sea salt with minerals)
1 ¾ - 2 c warm water (filtered is best—no chlorine)- the dough should be a little loose
oil for the bowl
1 T flour

Put all the dry ingredients in your standing mixer with a bread hook. Start the machine and add the water slowly…what you want is a small attachment of dough twirling in the bottom. Once you have that let it mix for 8 minutes on low (or knead for 10 minutes).

Remove from the mixer and turn into a ball. Put in an oiled, covered bowl (I wash the bowl and leave the cover unwashed to keep my natural yeast going--I use one of those covered batter bowls)place the lid on the top but don't snap down and let it sit on your counter for a few hours, then stick in the fridge.

Leave this for 3 days (I do fully open the top once a day for extra air). Do not snap the top down completely. On the 3rd day, remove from the fridge and sprinkle one side with a T of flour as you peel it out of the bowl. Roll the ball in on itself (like turning the ends of a shower cap under) for a minute and put the rough end down in a parchment-lined bowl that is about the size of your Dutch oven and cover. Allow it to get to room temperature and rise for a few hours.

Put the Dutch oven in the oven at 425º for ½ an hour to heat. Put the bread in the Dutch oven using the parchment as a sling and put the lid on. Cook for 30 minutes with the top on the Dutch oven, turning it around at the 15-minute mark. Remove the top and cook another 20 minutes (internal temperature 210º). Remove from the pot, peel off the parchment and cool on a rack.

(I must tell you I tried it once without kneading or mixing at all and adding a little more water. It still worked but the texture wasn’t as perfect…your choice)

**I think you can mix up the proportions of flours and still get the same result... I accidentally used buckwheat flour and it still worked (but was denser and darker). The rye adds a nutty quality and isn't overpowering... you could go all white too but it would have less personality!

** you can do this overnight if you don't have the time but the flavor isn't as complex.  Just leave it out  overnight unless the weather is very hot -- then let it rise for a few hours till double and put it in the fridge.  Let it come to room temp the next day and proceed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Next ~~ 1853 ~~ Filet Mignon & Port Wine Sauce

Grant Achatz’ blazingly original “Next Restaurant” (watch their great video HERE) will be creating its menus around a single year and place starting with 1912, Paris. Brilliant. You know how I love history. All the food and drink will be based on meticulously researched food and beverages (hello Escoffier!). They will move backward and forward (yes, Hong Kong, 2036) in time as well as from place to place. I can’t wait to see what they come up with when they open Fall 2010. Next Restaurant has inspired me and it just happens that I have a reason to want to go back to---- 1853!!!

In 1853, Men wore plaid
1853 Fashion Plate

Women wore…bedspreads?

The first fire engine was used (horse drawn, of course)
La Traviata premiered
Vincent Van Gogh was born
The 1st patent for a machine to make envelopes was granted
Harriet Tubman began the Underground Railroad
Stephen Foster wrote “My Old Kentucky Home”
Elisha Kane’s Artic Expedition left NY
Admiral Perry arrived in Japan
Cornelius Vanderbilt owned the first yacht to make a trip around the world. 

Also -- a pre-phylloxera port was casked in 1853 from grapes from the Cima Corgo.
148 years later it was rediscovered and bottled. 9 years after that I used some of it to make filet mignon with port wine sauce.

I have been a port lover most of my adult life. Once a year, I splurge on an old bottle of vintage port around birthday time. It takes me a few weeks to drink it and I enjoy every last sip from my favorite port glass. Another personal tradition that has developed is the making of filet mignon with port sauce and Stilton.

I buy the best beef on the planet ( grass-fed from the wonderful Grazin Angus Acres in Union Square NYC), and use some of that birthday port to make the sauce. This time, instead of a 37-year old port I have a sample of 157-year old port. The sauce was incomparable with layers of flavors that amplified the greatness in the beef and the Stilton custard, the beef was richer, the custard more unctuous and luxurious.

The Reserve King Pedro V (you can read its amazing history HERE although prices have gone up! ) named after the Portuguese King whose reign began in 1853, came along with my 1850 D’Oliveira Verdelho Madeira. Mannie Berk of the Rare Wine Company let me compare the flavors of these two different fortified wines of great age.

Their personalities are so vibrant and powerful that even after a century and a half they are both magnificent with taste patinas that are complex and rich like the finish on 18th c furniture.

"Exquisitely deep, luminescent mahogany color. The nose is deep and full, with ambrosial scents of walnuts, figs, crème brulée and tar." The port smells like history. Close your eyes and listen to Heifitz play La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin HERE … there, that’s the feeling… a luminous sweetness tempered with supreme virtuosity.

Yes, history… in 1853 Alexis Soyer of London’s famous Reform Club was Victorian England’s hot chef, but he was so much more... a real food hero of his day (like Jamie Oliver in our time!).

He made major innovations in the way the troops were fed during the Crimean war, inventing a camp stove that was still in use till the late 20th century and he helped to end rampant food poisoning and malnutrition in the army (probably saving as many lives as the more famous Florence Nightingale was doing in the field hospitals). He had just published his cookbook, “The Gastronomic Regenerator”in 1852 and this would have been a popular treatment for beef filets or escalopes in 1853:

(*A la Bohemienne marinade is a brine with mace and bay, thyme, marjoram and brown sugar!)

Also hot off the presses would be “The Ladies' New Book of Cookery”
By Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879) in 1852. After penning “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, Hale was the editor of Godey’s Ladies Book (the most widely read magazine in America) for 40 years. She helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday conducting a 16-year campaign through 5 Presidents (Abraham Lincoln finally agreed to the holiday 1863, believing it would be a healing gesture after the Civil War). She had these great recipes in her book:
In what would have been an old favorite by 1853, “The Housekeeper's Guide” by the prolific English children’s author and pamphleteer Esther Copley from 1838, I found this:
Alessandro Filippini, Delmonicos chef from 1849-62, used this sauce:

My recipe is inspired by these 19th c. classics.
Filet Mignon with Port Wine Sauce for 2

2 filet mignons
Salt (ideally smoked salt) and freshly ground pepper
1 T oil
3 T butter
1 T shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 t dry mustard
pinch of cayenne
2 T port ( Rare Wine Co. lovely 1983 Warre Vintage Port* would be best, but you can use Ruby Port or Madeira)
1/3 c demi-glace (or 2 c stock reduced to a thick glaze)
¼ c mushroom liquor** reduced to 1 T (optional)
1 sprig marjoram or thyme

Bring the filets to room temperature and season them all over with salt and pepper then sear with oil at medium high.
Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and marjoram or thyme and reduce the heat to medium-low. Baste the steaks with butter while they cook. Cook for 5-8 minutes for rare. Transfer them to a plate and tent.

Sauté the shallots and garlic then add the demi glace, mushroom reduction, mustard and cayenne and the port and warm (or—add the stock and raise the heat to high, and cook until reduced by three-fourths and then add the port).

Strain the sauce and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 piece at a time (honestly, the sauce is so delicious, you could skip the extra butter and lose the calories!)

Plate flan and place filet on top, spoon sauce over all.

*1983 Warre Vintage Port is available from The Rare Wine Company for $69.95. Contact them at:

**mushroom liquor can be made by adding water used to re-hydrate mushrooms and the stems and peelings of mushrooms cooked together for ½ an hour and strained. This freezes beautifully in ice cube trays.

Stilton Flan for 6

2 lg Eggs, 2 yolks blended
2 c ½ & ½
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 c Stilton Cheese – crumbled (around ½ lb.)

Whisk eggs together. Warm cream, add Stilton, remove from heat and cool to warm and add the eggs. 

Taste for salt,  Stilton is salty and you probably won’t need it Gradually whisk in the yolks into the mixture . Pour into buttered ramekins and put into pan with boiling water going about 2/3rd’s the way up the dishes. Bake 350º for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Raspberry Rose Truffles and Champagne


Although celebrations of mother worship have existed since before the Greek’s honored Cybele and Roman women held their festival of Matronalia to honor Juno (goddess of war and motherhood), Mother’s Day as we know it was born in the common grief of loss after the Civil War.

Originally, “Mothers Friendship Day” was established in 1868 by Virginian Anne Marie Jarvis in an attempt to bind the wounds of enmity remaining between the North and the South.

I discovered on the West Virginia Civil War site that she was an amazing woman. Jarvis had saved thousands of lives during the war by teaching women the basics of nursing and sanitation that she had learned from her brother, physician James Reeves.
Julia Ward Howe had a Mothers Day celebration in 1872 and a temperance-inspired Mother’s Day was held in 1877, however, Mother’s Day was not declared a national holiday in the United States until May 9, 1914 when Woodrow Wilson decreed the holiday, thanks to the tireless work of Jarvis’ daughter Ann.
Times have changed since the Civil War in so many ways, but mothers still hold the world together when it comes near to whirling apart. There are still wars, mothers still cry and still do their best to make things “all better” as they have done since time began.
“The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men - from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
Although the carnation is the official flower of Mother’s Day (because it was Ann Jarvis favorite flower with red if your mother was living or white if she was not), I have always thought of roses for Mother’s Day.
Ah, roses. I remember one Mother’s Day many years ago at a NYC restaurant known for extravagant flower arrangements and favored by the older, Upper East Side beige-haired set. The genteel calm was broken when a well turned-out mother (whose accent revealed her ‘outer borough’ origins), announced ”What, no roses?” with a piercing squawk to her son. The dignified son was mortified but the rest of the children in the room looked at him empathetically and a shared a universal eye roll.
I like to think of Mother’s Day as a day to celebrate mothers everywhere and I devised a champagne cocktail redolent of and inspired by CRISPIN'S Rose Liqueur (that is made with an apple and honey mead and thousands of hand harvested heirloom roses!!!!) blended with ripe fragrant raspberries (that are kissing cousins to the rose under the large familial umbrella of Rosaceae, genus rubus) with rose chocolate raspberries that would please and amuse any mother for this occasion.
I tip my glass to my wonderful mother, Dorothy. This is my first mother’s day without her.
Here is a drink both romantic and delicious -- for all those things they are and for all the things they have done for us, here’s to a day for moms full of love and a little coddling from their children and spouses.
Raspberry Rose Champagne Cocktail for 4
1 c raspberries
1 T lime juice
3 T Basil syrup (In ½ c warm simple syrup, soak basil leaves, 1 smashed clove, pinch allspice, ½ t lemon zest, 2 T orange juice and 2 t balsamic vinegar) allow to steep for a few hours and strain)
Champagne, or any dry sparkling wine
Or… If you can’t get the wonderful Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, use ½ c of Cognac and 2 T Rosewater.
Macerate the raspberries, lime juice, cognac and basil syrup with ½ the liqueur for a few hours, covered. Mash and strain them (or use a food mill, if you have one) pressing hard on the solids then add the rest of the liqueur. Spoon 2 T or more into the glass and pour champagne over the puree.
Rose Chocolate Raspberry Truffles
2 oz chocolate, chopped or shaved
5 T heavy cream
1 T butter
1- 2 T CRISPIN'S Rose Liqueur or 2 t rosewater
1/8 t. vanilla
2-3 T sugar
1/8 t chipotle chili powder
1/8 t cinnamon
1 box raspberries
cocoa for dusting
Warm the cream and add the chocolate to melt with the butter. Add the rose liqueur and spices. Cool a little and then dip your raspberries into the chocolate and refrigerate. When nearly firm, roll in cocoa. Serve with fresh raspberries and your champagne cocktails!
Thanks to everyone for clicking on the Google Ads. They paid for 1/6 th of my ticket to England!!!
Thanks to Lazaro Cooks for this lovely award... he is a tireless promoter of everyone's blogs... for that we are all grateful!
It's World Cocktail Week. Here’s to 207 years of drinking!