Meal 112: Monaco

Another beachside birthday party, another meal from a tiny, rich European country! The principality of Monaco is a Central Park–sized nugget on the French Riviera, whose Italian-sounding name is a giveaway of a linguistic, cultural, and culinary heritage that’s more closely connected to northern Italy than southern France.

For such a small place, there’s a surprisingly thorough culinary heritage, which is far better documented online than those of countries several orders of magnitude larger. Of course, it’s squarely within the Mediterranean flavor realm, though with its own twist.

Barbagiuan | Chard turnovers | Recipe

Nobody knows why these are called “Uncle John” in the Monégasque language, but these tasty, stuffed-dough, fried nuggets are the national dish. They’re stuffed with chard, which almost makes you think they’re healthy. Quite tasty, a great accompaniment to sparkling wine or rosé. Thanks to Ellen for prepping and folding the dough!

Oignons monégasques | Stewed baby onions | Recipe

This one was the crowd favorite. Small onions — you should probably use pearl onions but all I could find were little cipollini, which seemed to work too — are first sautéed, then gussied up with tomato paste, vinegar, and, intriguingly, raisins. A delicious sweet-and-sour appetizer.

Socca | Chickpea flatbread | Recipe

I’m figuring it’s a North African influence that brought chickpea flour to this corner of the world. With it,street vendors in the area whip up a sort of crêpe that’s eaten as a snack. Frankly, I found it pretty bland and thin, and I clearly did something wrong because I then had it at a restaurant and it was thicker and fluffier and a whole lot better. Also, I left the big heavy round skillet I used to bake them at the rental house, so it was frankly a doubly disappointing dish. (Maybe choose a different recipe to avoid my fate, but even that won't help you keep track of your cookware.)

Fougasse | Focaccia bread | Recipe

The fougasse for which Monaco is known is actually a dessert covered with sprinkles and studded with various dried fruits and spices like fennel. I didn't make that. Instead, I made this lovely herb-y bread, which all went very quickly toward sopping up the onion sauce.

Stocafi | Salt cod stew | Recipe (scroll to "Le Stockfish")

I saw a few different variations on the name, but all are local adaptations of the English work stockfish, which itself is a misinterpretation of the Scandinavian term for white fish dried on a stick. It’s not even true stockfish that’s used, but rather bacalao, or salt cod. (Stockfish traditionally has no salt, it’s purely the passing wind that dries the fish-on-a-stick into eternal preservation.)

Anyway, stocafi is a seafood stew with a very Provençal assortment of ingredients: tomatoes, olives, potatoes, plenty of garlic, and a generous dose of olive oil. The dish was nice, though nothing special. We didn’t do the optional anchovy-garlic-basil puree at the end, perhaps we ought to have.

Pogne au fruits | Fruit cake | Recipe (scroll to "Le pogne au fruits")

Laura wanted cherries, so cherries she got. This is a fairly simple dessert, just fruits pressed into a fairly rich flat yeasted dough. And tasty!

Meal 110: Mexico

Just like other great cuisines like Chinese and French, there's plenty of regional variety in Mexico's food. And just like rice with Chinese and bread with French food, there's a ubiquitous starch tying it all together, in this case tortillas. This meal's menu is an attempt at a sample of regional foods, all while trying to get good variety at the table. From the oven-baked, olivey-sauced huachinango a la veracruzana representing the Caribbean coast's fish and heavy colonial influence, to the annatto-coated and banana-leaf-enrobed cochinita pibil demonstrating the Yucatan's tropical direction, to a beefy salad called salpicón that reflects the livestock and temperature of the North, this meal drew from the many reaches of the country.

We had a pretty full house, with friends including Alondra, Derek, Jen, Quinn, Katia, Sarah, Estel, Julie, Levi, Kaely, Brett, and Mayra and family.


These humble corn flatbreads are a battleground of authenticity, at least in my world. When I pronounce the name with the best Mexican accent I can muster, with a trilled R and a slight affrication on the LL, Laura critiques me for putting on airs. (Don’t even get us started on the pronunciation of bruschetta.) And I’d blithely figured that homemade tortillas would be far more “authentic” than store-bought, until I read this fascinating article making the point that most people in Mexico buy their tortillas out of the house, so in many ways doing the same would best replicate how people eat today.

But, darnit, homemade tortillas just taste better, so we made them. In a nod to practicality and acknowledging the reality of how most tortillas are made in the Mexican kitchen, we used the ubiquitous Maseca flour rather than seeking the more flavorful, rarer, and far more expensive freshly-nixtamalized masa. We got a mini tortilleria going in the kitchen for an hour, passing from mixing to balling to pressing to toasting on the griddle. They were simply delicious.

Salpicón | Shredded beef salad | Recipe

Just as with the Southwest and West Texas across the border, cattle is king in the north of Mexico, so I went about looking for beef recipes from this region. The search ended when I arrived at this dish of cold shredded beef with citrus, onion, scallion, cilantro, and chilies, kind of like a bizarro land-lubber ceviche where the base ingredient is cooked forever rather than not at all. Then again, there was also cheese, so maybe this metaphor falls apart.

Anyway, this was a really yummy dish. If you've got the time, it'd make for a great potluck dish: easy to scale, interesting enough to raise an eyebrow, tasty enough to satisfy, and no need to reheat. What with how hot it is in that part of the world, it being cold is perhaps the best part.

Birria tatemada | Roasted goat | Recipe

Birria comes in two variations. The more common one is as a rich soup, but since this was a meal built to have an abundance of bites on a plate, I went for the roasted version, known as tatemada from a native word related to roasting, one of the treasures of the state of Jalisco. I do not regret the decision.

Usually I decide what dishes to cook for these meals, but sometimes the dishes find me. For the Mauritania meal I had bought and defrosted two goat legs, but it became evident that that was one leg too many, even for a crowd of 15. The day after that meal I got to researching how goat would work into a Mexican meal, and this dish soon showed itself to be the obvious choice.

The overnight marinade is a beautiful blend of worlds: toasted dried chilies and allspice from the New World, and cloves, oregano, and cumin from the old. From there, it's as simple as roasting until the meat is falling apart, perfect for its role as party food.

Mole verde de pollo | Green mole with chicken | Recipe

The name comes from either the Spanish moler, to grind, or the native word molcajete for the three-legged stone bowl in which ingredients are traditionally ground. The “seven moles of Oaxaca” are thoroughly codified, and I chose this one for two reasons: to demonstrate how not all moles are made with chocolate, and to represent the tomatillo, an important if lesser-used native vegetable. (Yes, it's actually a fruit, I know that.) In fact, I used the last of these tart green fruits from the collection I froze the prior summer. (Confusingly, the recipe calls for "tomate verde," or green tomato, but rest assured that it's tomatillos you should use.) Pumpkin seeds add some thickness and texture when tossed with the tomatillos in the blender, which is way easier than grinding in the traditional way. Even though I forgot to add the cactus thanks to all the commotion in the kitchen, and the ingredients and technique are fairly simple, this was a tastier dish than I expected. Once this year's tomatillos come in, I very well might make this again.

Cochinita pibil | Annatto-rubbed roast pork | Recipe

If the Yucatan Peninsula had a national dish, I’m pretty sure this would be it. (A heads-up from a friend though: apparently it’s considered a breakfast food there, so don’t expect to find it for lunch or dinner!)

While traditionally made with a baby pig, hence the name, it’s more common to use a hunk of tougher pig, such as shoulder. A generous coating of a deep red annatto, garlic, and citrus rub penetrates the meat overnight and then through the course of a long, slow roast on the grill, with banana leaves holding in the flavor and generating steam. Both because I’m an overachiever and ran out of cooking space, I did this one on the grill, with lump charcoal and mesquite chunks. The result is irresistible for any carnivore: meat tender enough to pick apart with your fingers, with a tangy flavor that runs all the way through, and of course that smokiness from the grill dancing with a slight musky flavor from the banana leaves. Assuming you’ve got the time to make it — and it’s definitely worth making in the oven if you don’t have the equipment or the will to grill — taco night will never be the same.

Huachinango a la veracruzana | Snapper in tomato sauce | Recipe

On a group trip to Mexico in high school, we went to a nicer restaurant one night. Orders got mixed up and our dean of students ended up with my order of huachinango a la veracruzana. Upon discovery of the error, Dean Dean (yes, he was Mr. Dean) refused to give me my dish, claiming that he liked it so much he couldn’t stand to give it up.

What dish could cause an authority figure to swindle a student? A baked dish of snapper in a sauce of tomatoes, capers, olives, chilies, and herbs. The Caribbean coast is where the Spanish launched their conquest of what’s now Mexico, leaving a legacy of a local cuisine with a higher degree of European influence, hence several ingredients that are more often seen in the Mediterranean.

Snapper’s both an environmentally iffy choice and wasn’t available when I was looking, and the fishmonger accidentally sold the somewhat similar rockfish I’d ordered, so I ended up with a black cod. What an unexpectedly great substitute this flaky yet soft fish made, melting in the mouth along with that tangy, almost marinara-like sauce.

Arroz a la mexicana | Tomato rice | Recipe

Either this recipe, or my preparation, failed. Perhaps it was the fault of the “sauté then simmer” function of my rice cooker, but it came out pretty flavorless and quite mushy. To be safe, look for another recipe, and make sure to do this one on the stovetop.

Frijoles de la olla | Black beans |Recipe

I made these with the classic recipe, and it turned out just right: beans that are tender yet retain their shape, and with enough flavor to stay interesting but not so much that they overpower. If you can find epazote, a sort of razor-toothed herb that’s somewhere between mint and basil with an earthy overtone, it adds a subtle depth and apparently also improves the beans’ digestibility.

Agua de tamarindo | Tamarind drink | Recipe

You’ve likely seen them: those big, pale brown pods, some of which are broken, exposing haphazard strings coated in a darker brown goop. Maybe you’ve even tasted one and recoiled from the tartness. Well, with some hot water and a lot of sugar, you can turn tamarind into a tasty, refreshing drink. Also works great as a mixer for margaritas!

Flan | Custard | Recipe

One of the region’s preferred desserts is torta de tres leches, “three milks cake,” made with a can each of evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and light cream. Another is flan, that cold, jiggly custard with a caramel sauce, just as they enjoy in Spain and France. So what a delight to see that you could make a tres leches flan!

The hardest part of the recipe is making and pouring the caramel, it requires particular attention to avoid burning the sugar or yourself. The second hardest part is setting up a bain marie for even cooking in the oven. Other than that it's as simple as opening cans and blending the contents. The result is a flan that’s thicker and milkier than the traditional custard. It was a hit!

Meal 90: Kuwait

When I asked my parents if we could host the Kuwait nosh at their house while visiting over Thanksgiving, I had no idea that their new neighbor across the street, Amira, had grown up in Kuwait! The happy coincidence made planning and cooking this meal a dream, especially because Amira's father Al, now living in northern Wisconsin, was more than happy to dictate his family recipe for a chicken-and-rice dish with a great deal of precise advice.

Amira taught me a fascinating perspective on recipes: in Kuwaiti cuisine, what defines a dish isn't so much what kind of meat or vegetable is used, but rather the blend of spices. Hence, a machboos could be chicken, or lamb, or something else, but if the spices are about the same, then it's all under the same name. And if we were going super-authentic, we'd all be eating cross-legged on the floor with our hands, but that didn't quite feel comfortable with over a dozen people two days after Thanksgiving, so we stuck to a table.

This may look like a small menu, with only two dishes plus dessert, but trust me that there was plenty of variety to be had. The machboos is essentially three dishes in one, and we also had an assortment of pickles and olives on the table, plus copious lemons and parsley to freshen up each dish at will.

It was a full house at my parents' place: Chris, my Aunt Jody, Uncle Guy, Amira and her husband Grant, Chris, Terry, Albert, Karen (another neighbor!) and Betty (who wrote a story on us in 2013); my cousin Bryan and his wife Shilpi joined soon after Laura snapped the photo.

Vimto | Berry-flavored drink

Alcohol is completely illegal in Kuwait; not even foreigners can bring it in or enjoy it at a hotel bar as in Dubai. One favorite beverage in Kuwait and several other Arab countries is this cordial from a British company. I thought it tasted one step above cough syrup, but many around the table took more than just polite sips, particularly appreciating the dash of rosewater. Although most of us were enjoying wine with our meal, Amira stuck with Vimto, declaring that even though she has a drink now and then, it just felt too strange to have alcohol with Kuwaiti food!

Laban | Yogurt drink

Another, more traditional, beverage is kefir or yogurt mixed with an equal amount of seltzer, plus a pinch of salt. From Turkey to Afghanistan, this is a very popular and healthy beverage in a hot part of the world. While yogurt has finally cemented its position in the American kitchen, it rarely makes it into our beverages. I happen to love it (particularly with the slight improvement of a crumble of dried mint), but this pitcher just didn't get passed around as much.

Machboos | Chicken with spiced tomato sauce and split peas over rice | Recipe at end of post

I've never done so much to chicken in one dish: you first boil it, then sear it, then braise it, then finally bake it. All this work is to lend flavor to the rice and the sauce, and also serves to make the meat simply fall off the bone by the end. None of the individual steps in this dish is particularly difficult, but the combination, especially when tripling as we did, makes for a whole lot of chopping, stirring, and monitoring. Making the spice blend from scratch also added to the effort.

The peas also took more attention than expected, particularly because it took them longer to soften up than expected when simmering with the raisins and onion. It was worth it, 'cause they ended up tasting so nice! I'd never considered that split peas could marry well with sweet, but it sure did, and that gentle sweetness was a good contrast to the thoroughly meaty chicken.

If you've got a few hours for a weekend cooking project, the effort will pay off. Even an hour before dinner, the enchanting smells of freshly ground spices, earthy chicken, and tangy tomato got us all really hungry. And the final result, of cinnamon-encrusted chicken on top of all that rice and sauce, was just fantastic. The split peas, with that improbable studding of raisins, also exceeded expectations — just a great dish overall, and easy to see why Amira's family cooks it time and again.

Zubaidi | Stuffed fish over rice | Recipe

What with so many people coming over, and knowing that Kuwait has a long and storied maritime history, I wanted to try out a fish dish. As with many meals from far-off countries, I had to substitute the fish, as silver pomfret is a few oceans away from the West Coast, and went with snapper. The dish came out okay, with some of the haunting tang of the dried lime playing off the sweetish white flesh, but it just couldn't hold a candle to the fantastic chicken. It felt to me like the ham on the Thanksgiving table: it has to know from the start that it's just playing second fiddle to the turkey.

Gers ogely | Cardamom saffron sponge cake | Recipe

While Amira suggested we cook lugaimat, a seasoned doughnut rolled in honey, I passed because of the "don't deep-fry in other people's kitchens" rule we codified early on in the project. It was probably a kind gesture to our full stomachs to give them something lighter, in the form of this fragrant sponge cake. With bold but not overpowering spices, a little went a long way: a single cake fed the whole crowd. Which is good, because Mom's first attempt at making a double batch failed. Turns out some recipes simply can't be scaled, such as those leveraging the complex and delicate physics required to make a sponge cake.

We ate the cake with sweet, strong black tea with cardamom, in classic Kuwaiti style. Unfortunately, being unused to a late-night caffeine jolt, many of us stayed awake into the wee hours! The occupational hazards of experiencing other cultures!

Thanks again to Amira and Al for all the help, and to everyone who came and gave generously to our new non-profit cause, Mercy Corps!


Recipe for Machboos from Al, Amira's dad

Serves four, but if you're going through all this effort, consider doubling it and inviting friends over or freezing it.

Basmati rice, according to how hungry your crowd will be (maybe 1/2 cup per person) 1 chicken, cut in half, or in pieces; or four leg quarters A few cloves Vegetable oil 2 onions, chopped 2 cloves of garlic, minced Small can of tomato paste Arab spice blend: look for “bezar” or “chicken spices” at an Arab market, or make the fantastic blend from this recipe (and use the leftovers for barbecuing) 1/2 pound yellow split peas 1/2 cup golden raisins Ground cinnamon Pinch of saffron

Thoroughly wash the rice, then leave to soak as you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat water, cloves and a pinch of salt in a pot to boiling, reduce the heat to medium, and cook the chicken just until the flesh turns white, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Save the flavorful broth for cooking the rice. Note that some recipes call for adding other spices to the boiling water: cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and whatnot.

Heat a skillet on medium heat. Sauté half the onion and garlic with vegetable oil until soft. Add the chicken, and nestle it in so as much flesh as possible is touching the pan, skin-side-down. Once the first side is seared, flip and sear the other side. Add the tomato paste, a generous dose of the spice blend, and enough water to let the chicken braise. Add some salt, too. Stir to break up the tomato paste into the water, and once things starts bubbling, turn down the heat. Cook until the chicken is soft and the sauce tastes amazing, maybe a half hour. Remove the chicken to a baking dish, which you can optionally line with foil for easier clean-up.

While the chicken’s simmering, get the split peas going. Cover them with water in a small pot, bring to a boil, and simmer until tender but not mushy. Drain and set the peas aside for a moment. In the same pot, sauté the remaining onion and garlic, plus the raisins, with oil until the onion is soft. Add the peas back in with a splash of water if it, add salt and your favorite seasonings (to keep it simple just use a pinch of cinnamon, or you could add allspice or whatever other spices strike your fancy). Simmer gently until it’s all nicely soft.

You can cook everything up to this point well in advance if that suits your schedule better.

45 minutes before you want to serve, start heating the oven to 350, Sprinkle a healthy dose of ground cinnamon all over the chicken on both sides, if it’s too hot use tongs to flip. Bake skin-side-up until the smell is unbearable.

About a half-hour before it’s time to serve, drain the rice and put it in a pot or a rice cooker. Add enough of the chicken-clove broth to cover the rice by the length from your fingertip to your first knuckle, somewhere between a half an inch and an inch. (Don’t throw out the remaining water just yet, you may need a splash at the end if you didn’t use enough water.) Crumble some saffron in your fingers and sprinkle it over the water. If using a rice cooker just set it going; if on the stovetop, bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer and cover tightly for about 20 minutes. Fluff.

Serve on a large platter, with the rice in the center, the split peas on the edge, and the chicken and tomato sauce in the center. Whether to put the tomato sauce under or over the chicken is a matter of your aesthetics. (Ours was actually on the side to accommodate allergies.) Serve alongside abundant parsley and limes.


Meal 66: Greece

Greece has seen myriad civilizations, invaders, and influences over the millennia, and a climate in which most anything can grow, all of which have contributed to a cuisine that is both abundantly flavored and for the most part extremely healthy. It's also built to be sampled in abundance, with a wide range of mezedes for nibbling and sharing. Fortunately, most of these dishes didn't need to be served piping hot, which made it a little less insane to prepare ten dishes in a medium-sized kitchen with one helper (thanks so much, Neil!).

Our setting for this Nosh certainly encouraged relaxed enjoyment of the Earth's bounty: the porch of our friends' home in Asbury Park, on the Jersey Shore, on a very pleasant summer evening (thanks so much, Jenifer and Phil!).

Fasolada | Bean and vegetable soup | Recipe

In our culinary journey through time, this humble vegan soup of beans and vegetables brings us both to the very beginning and the most recent days of the history of this part of the world. The Minoan civilization, which preceded the Greeks, grew legumes -- this soup, save for a few New World additions such as tomato, is pretty much their direct legacy. Nowadays, with the Greek economy in a shambles, this soup is as popular as ever, as a big pot is cheap to make and fills the family's stomach. The flavors are simple, with few seasonings or fancy techniques to hide the true flavor of the ingredients, so if you're making this dish as a matter of recreation, make sure to get high-quality beans and vegetables, and take your time simmering to draw out the flavors.

While fasolada is considered by many to be the national dish of Greece, I don't know if I've ever seen it at a Greek restaurant; I've only known avgolemono, the egg-lemon soup that nursed me back from many a college hangover. Why is such a common dish, about which so many Greek food blogs tell deep stories, barely seen on menus of Greek restaurants in the US?

Horiatiki salata | Country salad | Recipe

Unlike the soup, this classic Greek salad is known around the world. The real version, apparently, has no vinegar or lemon juice, it's simply vegetables, feta, and olive oil. This one was pretty good, especially with the farmer's market tomatoes, but unfortunately the cucumber was fairly bitter. (Too bad there was no tartness to balance it out!)

Horiatiko psomi | Country sourdough bread | Recipe

I once read (but can't find again, alas) that a good sourdough starter is so cherished in Greece that saints are invoked during its cultivation, and that despite modern science, many Greek homemakers insist it's a magical, spiritual substance. While I'm all cool with the symbiotic relationship of those yeast and bacteria, to me the magic of Greek bread is the additions of little splashes of milk, honey, and olive oil, which turn mere leavened dough into a springy treat with just enough crunch and tooth to stand up to dipping, spreading, dunking, and straight-up nibbling. The protein and oil make the dough more forgiving to work with, and also crisp up more impressively in a standard home oven. Noted for future baking! Since our hosts weren't going to make bread anytime soon, I figured I should double the recipe, and use the whole five-pound sack of bread flour. By the morning, only one of the five loaves remained.

Skordalia | Garlic potato dip | Recipe

Is this a really garlicky, oily, cold version of mashed potatoes? Or is this a cavalry of garlic (after all, "skorda" means garlic in Greek) hitching a ride on potatoes and oil onto your bread and into your mouth? Either way, it's a surprisingly simple dish to make, and lends itself to endless modification. Creativity, too, because we didn't have a mortar and pestle handy for mashing the garlic, so I put it into a ziploc bag and pounded it a few dozen times with an empty wine bottle. Just don't freak out about all the olive oil in the recipe. If you've got good quality stuff, it'll really make the dip sing.

Alevropita | Feta-olive oil tart | Recipe

From the northwestern reaches of the country comes this dish that's equal parts simple, tasty, and ridiculous. If you can make pancake batter from scratch, you've already got more than enough skill to put this together. If you like feta and flatbreads and the taste of olive oil, you'll eat the whole pan. And with nearly a half a cup of olive oil and a quarter-stick of butter with a little more than a cup of flour, you'll probably be half grinning and half cringing as you make the dish. Even without the feta this would be a tasty starch halfway to fry dough, but with the cheese, it's just super good.

Piperies gemistes me feta | Feta-stuffed peppers | Recipe

Macedonia, the covering much of the north of Greece (not to be confused with The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia directly to the north), is apparently the most exciting place for food in a country that seems pretty stimulating all over. It's a real convergence location between Balkan, Greek, and Turkish, and also has the legacy of a once-sizable Jewish community. These peppers themselves mark a convergence of spicy, creamy, and toasty, making use of the broiler twice: once to soften the peppers, and another to heat the cheese filling to brown. Greece is, of course, a wine country, but if you ever need a Greek dish that goes well with beer, look no further.

Kolokitho keftedes | Zucchini fritters | Recipe

Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is the home of what is essentially a latke (i.e., potato pancake), but made instead of zucchini. Poor Neil spent upward of an hour shredding by hand the two largest zucchini I'd ever seen in my life, along with onion, carrot, and other ingredients. And all that yellow in the photo? That's extra virgin olive oil, in abundance. The fritters were darn good, especially accompanied by the tzatziki I whipped up (Greek yogurt, shredded cucumber and garlic, mint, salt, done). The only problem with making them for a crowd is that you're spending valuable minutes right around service time standing impatiently around a skillet, waiting for them to cook -- out of all the dishes we made, this is the only one that held up our starting at the appointed hour.

Keftedes me saltsa domata | Lamb meatballs in tomato sauce | Recipe

"What do you do with this stuff?" asked the butcher at Fairway while handing me the ground lamb. "I had it once at an Arab stand and it was weird." Well, dear friend who doesn't enjoy what he's selling, you might enjoy this dish as a re-introduction to the other red meat. The lamb is first blended with spices, especially the ever-present oregano, then fried as little meatballs, and finally nestled in with a tomato sauce -- which I made from fresh tomatoes from the farmers market rather than canned. This one was a winner, especially with the little kids!

Karithopita | Olive oil walnut cake | Recipe

For what the EU called its 50th birthday, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, all its members sent two cakes representative of their national cuisines. This is one of the two Greece sent. The cake starts out rich enough, with a cup of olive oil, lots of walnuts, and semolina and cake flours. But the real treat comes when it's drenched in a lemony syrup -- so much so that you have to pour it a third at a time to make sure it all absorbs. Not too hard to make, and really nice, would make for an excellent coffee cake and is also great with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Galaktoboureko | Milk custard phyllo cake | Recipe

I've already made baklava for Armenia, but I felt the need to make something with that flaky phyllo dough for this meal. Behold this amazing pastry, made of an astonishing 10 cups of milk, seven eggs, and a half pound of butter. As long as you're patient and attentive with the stirring, it's actually pretty easy to make, and it's really tasty, a little more subtle and less heavy than baklava. The only tweak I made was to replace about half of the sugar and water in the syrup with honey, which I would definitely do again. The Ottoman influence on Greek cuisine is clear here: "boureko," meaning stuffed pastry, comes from the Turkish "börek."


Meal 60: France

No single country has contributed more to the world of cuisine than France. For sure, folks around the world have figured out how to cook food and serve it, but it's the French who codified the process and lent us words like chef, sauté, and restaurant. France enjoys a unique physical situation, with both the olive-oil-pressing Mediterranean and the butter-churning north, coastlines teeming with sea life as well as rich interior lands for grazing livestock, and a variety of soils and climates and elevation that make for a stunning variety of cheeses, wines, and other delicacies. Add to this a culture that fiercely appreciates and legally defines regional variations, an economy that centralizes transportation and commerce through its capital, plus a colonial legacy and a culinary porousness that's incorporated foods from neighbors near and far, and you've got a delicious gargantuan of a cuisine that's incredibly intimidating to unpack in a single meal.

It just so happens that our very good friend Sarah-Doe is the great-great-granddaughter of the author of La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, a book that's been described as "The French Joy of Cooking," a foundational text to both Julia Child and Chez Panisse, and continually in print since its 1924 publication. What's more, her cousin Julia is an accomplished food editor and cooking instructor who's done plenty of research on French cooking history in general and this same ancestor in particular. How relieved I was when Julia agreed not only to help plan the meal, but also to come from Ithaca for the weekend to join me in the kitchen!

We had three goals for the meal: to make it a properly structured multi-course affair, represent as much regional diversity as possible, and choose dishes that Laura would be most likely to enjoy because it doubled as her birthday party. A secondary guiding factor was to cook dishes appropriate to the season, which happens to be Easter week. Although we did seven (!) courses, paired with wines, there's still so much we left out — sorry if you were hoping for crêpes or beef or a potato side dish or anything with chocolate! —but alas, there's only so much room in the stomach and the kitchen.

Our valiant guests for this epic meal were Lisa, Anna, Julia, Tennessee, Kirsty, Sarah-Doe, Elsa, and Jessica.

Oh, before we get started, a shout out to Thirst Wine Merchants in Fort Greene, who patiently and enthusiastically provided all the wine pairings!

Terrine de campagne | Rustic preserved meat loaf | Recipe

Hors d'œuvre means "outside of the work," so applied to the meal, it means a little something to get you started before things ramp up. Somehow, in the French logic, a cold, spiced loaf of various ground-up meats is a nice light way to spark the appetite!

A terrine is pretty similar to better-known sibling, pâté; in the end, they're both various types and parts meats chopped or ground up, pressed into a mold, gently baked, and served chilled, though often a terrine is chunkier, with more meat and less liver. (Technically, a pâté should have a bready crust; the word itself means "doughed." But that crust is more often than not skipped these days, to the point where it's assumed you don't have it unless it's called pâté en croute. On the other hand, terrine comes from the word for "earth," but I cooked it in a metal pan, so there goes my credibility as a pedant!)

Anyway, I thought this recipe turned out super well. It wasn't terribly difficult to make, in fact the part that gave me the most trouble was that the water bath plus the terrine proved too heavy for my oven shelf so it kept falling. The allspice, cream, and cognac make it all pungent and rich, the moderate amount of chicken liver makes it smooth, the pork and veal are just fluffy and fresh enough, and the bacon wraparound is both pretty and practical. This recipe does make quite a lot, we had half left over after enjoying it quite a bit. Consider serving it as we did, with radishes, cornichons (those sour little pickles), and grainy mustard, and of course a good crusty bread.

Wine: A birthday party needs some bubbly! A true Champagne was a bit out of our price range, so we went with Buronfosse Cremant de Jura, from the mountains east of Burgundy. Made from pinot noir grapes with the skins removed just after crushing, it retains a light pink hue but is considered a white wine, a style known as blanc de noir, or "white from black." This was definitely not the sort of crisp, nutty, yeasty-nosed flute you'd get from Champagne, but rather a plenty dry yet intriguingly fruited wine that paired surprisingly well with the spices and richness of the terrine.

Chaudrée à la poitevine | Fish chowder | Recipe

A classic French formal meal has both soup and fish courses, and we tackled both with this really nice stew. It's a deceptively simple recipe, little more than butter, onions, firm white fish, and wine. French cuisine isn't always restrained, but when it is, and a dish is treated less as a masterpiece of the chef but rather the addition of just enough heat and technique to make the inherent flavors of the ingredients shine through, it can be sublime. The finishing sprinkle of parsley and squeeze of lemon add just enough freshness to counterbalance the rich butter, fleshy fish, and earthy onions.

This recipe comes from the Atlantic coast in the western part of France, which was the major port area for journeys to the New World. It's quite likely that what we know today as chowder — you know, stuff from the sea in a dairy-based broth — derived from this very dish, carried from a French port to what's now the Maritime Provinces of Canada and down into New England. (And what does that word come from? Chaud is quite simply French for "hot.")

Wine: The famous Loire Valley forms the northern reach of this region. We went the Domaine de Salvard Cheverny, made from sauvignon blanc. The reviews correctly talk of grapefruit, which is the most common impression for this grape, but what I remember more than any fruitiness is a really restrained sweetness that balanced the buttery broth so well. In fact, several guests commented that this pairing made them reconsider a general aversion to white wine!

Magret de canard au miel, orange et thym | Duck breast with honey, orange and thyme | Recipe

I'm gonna be honest with you all: I'm not sure I've ever made anything this delicious before. I'm serious.

Unlike chicken breast, which is very lean, mildly flavored, and dries out easily, duck breast is rich, robed in some of the best fat Mother Nature has invented, and an excellent canvas for bold flavors. Remember when I praised that part of French cuisine that's all about the simplicity of ingredients? Well, this is the other side, the one that makes some absurd combinations to be greater than the sum of their parts. The technique is actually quite simple, just a long marinade followed by the classic technique of cooking on the stovetop and finishing in the oven.

But oh my God — I mean mon Dieu! — this dish was just amazing. The honey, orange, and thyme all contributed their distinctive flavors in abundance, in an unholy marriage with the gamy duck. Plus, since it's cooked medium-rare, there's still a visceral mouth-feel to the flesh, so you get just the right number of chews to have every second be a beautiful one. I guess I shouldn't regret that each person only got three slices, since there were after all six other courses, but I probably could have served close to one breast apiece if it were the main event.

Wine: To stand up to the complex and deep, yet also sweet, flavors of this dish, the choice was the Domaine Elodie Balme Côtes du Rhône Villages Roaix Champs Libres. Behind that really long name is a short story, of a woman who at 23 started making her own wines in a part of southern France famous for its particular blend of grapes — in fact, I find a Côtes du Rhône to be generally my sweet spot for rich flavors, balanced earthiness, and good value. This wine was no exception, though I found this one a little rougher around the edges than some of the bigger commercial brands. While I generally appreciate a good, deep red like that, especially to appreciate on its own, I think at this point in the meal and with such a knockout dish, something a bit gentler, like maybe a Burgundy, might have done better.

Gigot d’agneau pascal | Easter lamb leg | Recipe

Bear with me on this story. The Jewish holiday Passover is called Pesach in Hebrew, derived from the word meaning "to pass," in reference to when the Jews in Egypt painted their doors with lamb's blood to signal to the Angel of Death that their firstborns shouldn't be killed in the last of the Ten Plagues. Fast forward a few thousand years, and Jesus is sharing a Passover seder meal which we now call the Last Supper — which, if they were following the rites properly, would have included lamb. And then to the present day, where in French the word for Easter is Pâques, derived from the Hebrew. And that's why so many cultures eat lamb for Easter. (Also, just happens to be that lambs born in the winter are particularly tasty in early Spring.)

This is one of those back-to-basics recipe, really just one big ol' lamb leg, rubbed with salt, pepper, thyme, and oil, and studded with garlic slivers. I don't really know how long it took (2.5 hours?), and the temperature was wildly inconsistent because at one point the oven freaked out and somehow went past 500°! (I really don't like this oven very much.) But luckily I managed to get it out at the right time, and it was really tasty. It even got a sort of red glaze on the outside, kind of like Chinese pork! Yum.

I should note that we also made the beans referred to in the recipe technique but not the ingredients. One pound of Great Northerns turned out great, the clove and bouquet garni creating an abundance of flavor that our non-carnivorous guest really enjoyed.

Oh, protip for Brooklynites: if you're looking for well-priced lamb, make your way to one of the halal butchershops on Atlantic Ave. This leg, from the butcher between Court and Smith, across the street from the Y, cost just $6.50 per pound, and was extremely fresh. They've also got goat, if you're into that.

Wine: We tried two different bottles with this one, both of which happen to have sorta punny names. The first is Le fruit du hasard (a French idiom meaning "the result of happenstance") from Domaine du possible in Roussillon, in the far south corner adjacent to Spain. It's a grenache-forward wine (or garnacha if you're more familiar with Spanish varietals), pretty fruity with enough terroir to stand up to the lamb, a good choice. The other was a lot more ambitious, an unsulfured, biodynamic one from the upper Rhône called L'indigène sulfureux, apparently meaning that all the sulfur in the bottle is naturally occurring. As the linked review implies, it's not a very welcoming bottle, it almost defies you to spend enough time with it to appreciate the minerals and funk. But this was several courses into a dinner party, and we just didn't have the time of day to give it!

Salade niçoise | Composed tuna salad | Recipe

Thanks to Julia Child, this delightful combination of potatoes, tuna, boiled eggs, olives, and various raw and cooked vegetables in a mustard vinaigrette has become the French salad par excellence to Americans. I gladly handed the reins to Julia for this one, as she boiled, chopped, whisked, and arranged this incredibly beautiful plate, composed in such a manner that each guest can choose their favorite elements. The dressing was particularly tasty, perhaps enhanced by the herb-infused vinegar I'd started several months ago and forgot about until I found it!

This is a great dish to make ahead of time, but if you do, follow the advice of Julias both old and current and toss the still-warm potatoes in the vinaigrette. It'll keep the potatoes moist and the heat helps release more of the flavor of the sauce.

Wine: Causse Marines "Les Greilles" from Gaillac, in the southwest near Toulouse. Honestly don't remember a ton about it, other than we weren't as impressed by this as we were with the other white wine. We're a tough crowd.

Fromages | Cheeses

By this point in the meal we were rather stuffed, but we somehow found room to heartily sample a variety of cheeses of different styles from around  the country. The cheeses were served with bread, thinly sliced apples, and grapes.

Chabis Feuille: a pleasant, soft chèvre. Came wrapped in some sort of leaf-shaped paper, which was a bit odd. The cheese was pleasant enough, but I'd been hoping for a bit more tartness.

Comté: Perhaps the best known of firm French cheeses, and what a delight it is. From the mountains near Switzerland, it has a nuttiness similar to Swiss cheeses such as Gruyère, though it's sweeter and has a creamier mouthfeel.

Délice de Bourgogne: The sign at the supermarket called this fantastically goopy cheese from Burgundy "what St. André was before it sold out." If you like the buttery richness of that cheese (you may have seen it at Trader Joe's), then you'll just love this one, with a mild and delightful bloominess and a texture so soft it's almost melting even at fridge temperature.

Normanville Camembert: From Normandy, in the northwest, this famous cheese is like the spunky younger sibling to brie — a similar composition and texture, but with a lot more of that sweet-moldy flavor. In fact, I almost found this one to be a little too pungent, giving me that odd dryness in the back of the throat.

Roquefort: The classic, surprisingly sweet, strong yet easygoing blue from the South, such a staple of the cheese world that its lent the name to one of the primary cheese-making bacteria strains, penicillium roquefortii. Lovely as ever.

Tarte au citron | Lemon tart

To welcome the spring, and to celebrate one of Laura's favorite flavors, we wanted to make a simple and classic lemon tart. Turns out there are a lot of different recipes, all of which seem to try different techniques to thicken it up. Madame St.-Ange's recipe involves a grated apple, another one I found has you make a sabayon of egg yolks and lemon juice cooked slowly and painstakingly on a double boiler. I then did what I've done so infrequently in five dozen noshes: I opened up a cookbook on my shelf! And in the parsimoniously labeled French, I found just the thing: a lemon tart with simple ingredients and technique.

Julia made the crust from memory — three cups flour, two cut-up sticks butter and a pinch of salt in the food processor until crumbly, then a tablespoon each of ice water and cognac until just massing together — and from there it was a simple task to whisk together the filling and bake it off. It set very nicely, a rich but slightly fluffy custard with a bold lemon tang.


It was an evening of five hours, seven courses, and about nine bottles of wine, plus lots of laughs — something about friends and food and wine tends to go very well together. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Julia for her time, expertise, and enthusiasm, I feel both spoiled and honored to have shared a kitchen with her.

As it was Laura's birthday party, she chose to have the donations go toward her fundraising goal of $1,000 for Planned Parenthood, as she's joining their team for the Five Boro Bike Tour next month. If you'd like to make a donation here, it would sure be appreciated.

Laura's heading up to the Hudson Valley for a two month artist residency, so we'll be taking a bit of a hiatus through the spring, but we'll definitely be getting back at it in June. 60 down, 134 to go!