Dinner for Aubergine’s Birthday

We went to Glen Svarc’s excellent Osteria Da Clara. As an appetizer, he offered a parfait of buffalo mozzarella cream, layered with roast pepper and roast tomato and topped with anchovies. (Pictured) Aubergine had spaghetti with fresh figs and guanciale. I had homemade tagliatelle with Italian sausage and roast peppers. Both were excellent. We had a carafe of wine, and enjoyed the lot for under $40.

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Quail, saffron, and chanterelles

From the farmers market we had 2 large quail and a quarter kilo of chanterelles. At the tea festival on Saturday, we met someone directly importing saffron from Iran. So today I put them together.
I salted and peppered the quail and put them in a glass casserole with a little white wine and a couple bay leaves. Sadly I had no fresh thyme. I put the casserole in a pre-heated 175• oven while I made sauce.
I diced 2 shallots and 2 cloves of garlic and coarsely chopped the chanterelles. In a long handled saucepan on the small burner, I put a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of rendered duck fat. I heated them until the butter frothed and added the shallots. After stirring about for a minute on low heat, I added the garlic. I stirred until I smelled the garlic, then added the chanterelles. I sauteed the lot on medium heat until liquid started to come out of the mushrooms.
Meanwhile, I was bringing a jar of chicken stock to a boil in another pot. When the liquid came out of the chanterelles, I added half a cup of stock and a quarter cup of white wine. I brought the sauce to a simmer and added a pinch of saffron, about ten threads.
At this point, the quail were ready. So I took them out, removed the cover, poured the sauce over the top, and put the lot back in the oven uncovered for ten minutes.
At this point the legs and skin of the birds were nicely browned and the sauce was slightly thickened and a vibrant yellow.
I served them with plain sauteed spinach and followed by a salad.
The combination of chanterelles and saffron worked really well!

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Eggs Florentine

I made proper Eggs Florentine out of Joy of Cooking for brunch today. Making Sauce Mornay was interesting, but I think I prefer plain poached eggs on a bed of spinach, maybe with a thin slice of prosciutto.

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Hake soup

Got a couple line-caught Adriatic hake from Mijo, our fishmonger. He suggested making soup from them.
Looking around the fridge and cupboards, I decided to base the soup on both bun ca and asam laksa.
So, I put together the following:

  • 1 large onion
  • Some small cloves of garlic
  • A 3cm piece of ginger
  • Two fresh hot peppers that had started to shrivel
  • Half an unwaxed lemon
  • About a tablespoon of deseeded tamarind paste
  • A small jar of homemade reduced fish stock
  • A tin of tomatoes
  • A cup or so of white wine
  • Water
  • A kaffir lime leaf
  • About 2 cups of chopped fresh red chard
  • A bunch of fresh dill

I julienned the onion and sauteed it in olive oil in a heavy 5 liter pot. To this I added the ginger, hot peppers, and garlic, in that order, as I diced them.
When the onion etc were fragrant, I added the tomatoes, wine, and stock, along with the lemon and tamarind. I brought the lot to a near boil, added the hake, and simmered the lot for about 20 mins.
I took the fish out, let it cool, and boned it. While the fish cooled, I added the chard and water to cover and brought the lot again to simmer. After the fish was boned, I put it back in the soup along with half a cup or so of chopped dill and heated through.
I served the soup with a salad of young spinach, oak leaf lettuce, kohlrabi, radishes, “salad nut mix” (mostly sunflower and pumpkin seeds), and Slovak sheep’s milk curd, dressed with virgin pumpkin seed oil and herb vinegar.
Results: delicious!

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Mackerel and sprue asparagus

Courtesy of the farmers’ market on Jiriho z Podebrad this morning, we enjoyed a light, fast, and delicious supper of grilled Adriatic mackerel and blanched sprue asparagus. I assume you don’t need the recipe.

Anyone have a suggestion on how to grill mackerel so half the skin doesn’t end up stuck to the grill? Oil the heck out of it?

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Jazz Dock

First, an apology for not posting in years! I’ve finally got access to the blog from my mobile phone, so I hope Aubergine and I will be posting more often.
Tonight we’re at Jazz Dock, listening to the 15th anniversary performance of Clarinet Factory. Last time we were here I thought the menu was a bit interesting but not worth the money. Today however the menu was very interesting. I ended up having the fennel and bryndza salad. Strips of fennel and Slovak sheep’s curd with apple slices and walnuts on a bed of spring lettuces, with a very light honey and orange dressing. The lettuce was perfectly fresh and the flavors were very well balanced, a rarity in Czech salads. The only letdown was the sunflower seed bread, which seemed a bit stale. However it was one of those “worthy” breads that start life fairly dry and joyless.
I had a Spring cocktail called an R’n’B, with cognac and rhubarb syrup. Also excellent, and certainly unusual.
We’ll have to find another concert that bypasses Aubergine’s dislike of most jazz, and give this place a proper review. With pictures. (Sorry, I was hungry.)

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Malesice vs Sapa

I see that one of the top search terms on this blog is “malesice vs Sapa,” regarding the two big Vietnamese markets on the edge of town. I think it mostly comes down to which one is closer to you. Having said that, I prefer Malesice market. It is smaller, which means on the one hand the selection is a little more limited. On the other hand, it’s a much more navigable size, and it feels a bit friendlier overall. There also aren’t those dodgy “cinsky bistro” eateries at Malesice, which the hygiene authority has been busily trying to shut down in Sapa. At most of the places in Malesice, you’re sitting down right in front of the cooking area and watching them make your food. So you can judge for yourself if it’s clean enough.

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A market, and a chicken

This is a story about electoral cycles and local politicking.  More importantly, it’s a story about a fancy chicken.

Just over a month ago, we saw a lot of construction works going on in the little square near where we live, and assumed that they were resurfacing the pavements.  Turns out that they were actually implanting permanent market stalls, because local elections are coming, and the politicians want the fact that they Build Stuff For The Community to be uppermost in everyone’s mind.  (There are brand-new flowerbeds by the tram stop where Zucchini’s not-really-a-grandmother lives.)

Just under a month ago, the FARMARSKE TRH signs went up.  Splendid, I found myself thinking.  Just what we need, a farmers’ market that sucks.  Another outlet for horribly overpriced sausages and the sort of earnestly-organic cheese that always looks like it’s going to be more interesting than it really is.  But seeing as I have to pass through there on the way to work, might as well check it out when it opens on Wednesday.  And hey, there’s going to be a gala opening with dechovka music (this is essentially Bavarian oompah music translated into Czech, although Czechs will not thank you for saying so) and fairytale puppets.  Hell, might as well bring Zucchini too.  Zucchini is a sucker for food markets, and it should entertain him at least.

(yeah, you see where this is going, don’t you?)

“Oh Aubergine, Best Beloved and guiding light of my existence, could you be an absolute dear and take this whole chicken, flat of enormous eggs [all double-yolked] and bushel of salad back to the flat so I’m not late for my important meeting today?”

Yeah. Between the pretty decent vegetable stalls, the posh-mushroom stall, the apples-that-taste-like-apples guy, the live fish people, and of course the Chicken Lady, our farmers’ market entirely failed to suck.

There are no pictures of the Chicken Lady, because it always seems rude to take pictures of people who are working.  She’s a small woman who runs a small chicken farm and has a huge grin.  The huge grin probably has something to do with the fact that every time she shows up at the market, she sells everything she’s got.  On the second market day, the Sunday after, we showed up half an hour after she’d opened and everything was gone.  Apparently one person bought up her entire stock of eggs.

So we had this fine chicken, a chicken far too nice (and too expensive) for any treatment other than roasting a la mode d’Anthony Bourdain (and just buy his book dammit, because his description of how to roast a chicken is a lot more amusing than mine).  Oven up to 190C.

Hello, Mr. Chicken.

Raw market chicken

No pictures of the next steps, because it would mean holding Zucchini’s camera with raw-chickeny hands.

Off with his neck!  Off with his wing-tips!  Out with his giblets!  Put them somewhere safe.  Wash him inside with cold water, and let him dry.

In with the cracked black pepper and salt, a bunch of thyme and rosemary, half a lemon and half a peeled onion.

In with the herb butter under the breast skin, a tablespoon on each side.  (My herb butter: chop the herbs you have around and squish up with the amount of butter called for in the recipe.  Mr. Bourdain’s herb butter is a little more involved.)

On with the trussing string.  Round one drumstick, round the other, tied up nice and tight so the legs are raised over the breast meat.  The second time you do this, you will know that it’s easier and more hygienic to sever the string before doing the trussing.

On with more of that salt and pepper, rubbed all over the skin.

Giblets and neck in the roasting pan with the other half of the onion.  Mr. Chicken on top of them.  (Wing-tips set aside to go into the stock you’re going to make with his skeleton.)  Half a cup of cheap white wine into the roasting pan (if it’s good white wine you should be drinking the stuff).  Into the oven with Mr. Chicken for 30 minutes, basting whenever you remember.  If your oven is anything like mine, Mr. Chicken should be shifted around every time you baste so he can cook evenly.  After 25 minutes, crank the oven up to 220C (says Mr. Bourdain) or as high as it goes (Mr. Chicken was a big chicken!) and cook for another 25 minutes.  Make an enormous salad (not pictured).  Take Mr. Chicken out and stick him on a plate ready for carving.

Roasted chicken

(If you don’t like gravy, omit this part and just rest your chicken for 15 minutes before carving.  And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.)

Put the roasting pan on the stovetop, pour in a cup of that cheap white wine and turn the heat on, scraping away at all the crusty bits.  A Pyrex or earthenware roasting pan will almost certainly not explode provided you keep the heat down very low.  It does add a little extra frisson of excitement though.

Pour the contents of the roasting pan into a milk pan and boil until reduced to half the volume.  Remove the giblets and onion, and set aside as the cook’s prerogative.  If you are a total butter-ho like Mr. Bourdain, this is the point when you can whisk a tablespoon of softened butter into the gravy.  I’m not altogether sure it’s necessary.

Open some white wine that’s at least one notch better than the wine you gave Mr. Chicken, and drink a toast to electoral cycles, local politicking and the Chicken Lady.

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Veal and chanterelles

It is the season locally for both veal and chanterelles. (Before anyone gets upset, pen-enclosed, milk-fed “white” veal is quite beyond the agricultural infrastructure of this country. All the veal is “pink”, meaning the animal had no worse a life than any other cattle. And they have been moving away from barn-enclosed to grazed dairy cows and cattle for a while now. Also, pink veal is much cheaper.) Here are a couple of dishes I made recently.
First is leg of veal pot roast with a sauce of chanterelles sauteed in butter in shallots and thinned with demi glaze, pan juices, and a little cream. Served with mashed potatoes. I’m very pleased with how this came out.

Then for Aubergine’s birthday I got a veal tenderloin. I grilled it very rare…

…made a sauce from some chanterelles I’d already sauteed with shallots, fresh thyme, and butter along with white wine and demi glaze…

…and then finished the tenderloin in the oven, in the glass casserole with the sauce. Served with a mix of white rice and frikkah (frika? frikah?), which is a Middle Eastern thing of lightly smoked whole green wheat.

I know I served a green vegetable with both dishes but I can’t remember exactly what. :(.  I’m pretty sure there were some nice fresh green beans, blanched and then stir fried, involved at some point.

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Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise with all the right things

This is a Salad Nicoise I made a while back. I splurged on a bit of actual tuna and poached it, following some poached tuna I had at the salad bar at Aromi. Mine wasn’t quite as good. But it had fresh green beans, white anchovies, kalamati olives, fat capers, new potatoes, local tomatoes and Romaine, and a free range hard boiled egg. Dressing is a mustard vinaigrette with a bit of lemon juice replacing part of the vinegar. It was marvelous, if I do say so.

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