Many of us love chicken. The flavor, the texture. Constant, never changing.
Yes, I just said chicken is boring. I’m sorry, but too often we get “regular” chicken and every now and then our taste buds just rebel. Okay, we’re going to have chicken but can we please just have something exciting.
Enter Casual Cooking by Sara Foster. This delightful book is filled with easy, stress-free recipes that you would surely call comfort food. But different comfort food. Green curry paste is a spicy Thai ingredient that comes in small cans or jar. You can find it in Asian markets, which we all seem to have access to now. Even more than when Casual Cooking was published in 2007.
Sara suggests that you make this dish a few hours ahead of time, so that the chicken can absorb some of the curry dressing. That way, the flavor infuses into the meat and the chicken does not taste like chicken. Just, just the break we need!
Oh, besides that green curry paste, you’ll use ginger, cumin and coriander, scallions, cilantro, celery and pineapple. There’s lots of flavor, texture and wonder awaiting you.
Green Curry-Ginger Chicken Salad
Yield: serves 4 to 6
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger (from a 3-inch piece)
1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
Juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cup slivered or sliced almonds
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
2 celery stalks, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh pineapple
Whisk the mayonnaise, ginger, curry paste, lime juice, cumin, and coriander together in a small bowl.
In a separate large bowl, combine the chicken, raisins, coconut, almonds, cilantro, scallions, and celery. Add about three-quarters of the curried mayonnaise and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the chicken and add more mayonnaise, if desired. Serve or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve or for up to 1 day. Just before serving, add the pineapple and stir gently to combine.
Source: Casual Cooking by Sara Foster [Clarkson Potter, 2007]
Suzi and I have a problem. We go to France. We fly into Paris with the best of intentions: stay a few days, then take the train somewhere else: south, east, north, west. Finally a couple of weeks ago, sitting in a Paris café on our tenth consecutive day in the city, Suzi made a statement: “We are not flying into Paris next time. Find somewhere else to start.”
And we when we came home, what did I find but my review copy of Flavors of the French Mediterranean by Michelin three-star chef Gérald Passedat. Next time, we are flying to Marseille. And if you look at this book, you will want to journey too to the south of France. All the way south to the coast with its abundance of wonderful foods so beautifully displayed in this book. This is still France, but it is not Paris.
We hear “Marseille” and we think about a French seaport. It is certainly that. And the second largest city in France after Paris. But Marseille has a history that extends back tens of thousands of years. Humans have roamed the coastline there for 30,000 years. The first city itself was established about 600 BC by Greeks coming from the Aegean coast of Turkey. Greek cities dealt with overpopulation by sending out groups of settlers to found new cities – and those settlers were not welcome back. It was “go forth and succeed.”
First the Greeks then the Romans controlled the city which early on became one of the main trading hubs of the world. As Gaul evolved in France, Marseille evolved into a military and commercial bastion, and remains that power today.
Gérald Passedat was born and raised in Marseilles. He apprenticed in leading restaurants, mastered his craft, began his own restaurant, and earned his three stars in 2008. Only 27 chefs in France, and 117 in the world, enjoy this top status. His book is a tribute to the very special cuisine of sea and countryside that he knows so well. Here are two recipes, typical of those in the book, that are simply and impossibly inspiring.
First, for a main course, here is the Beefed Filled Squid in Tomato Sauce:
And for dessert, Baked Figs in Provencal Wine Sauce:
I would simply die to delight with these meal. And, with this book in hand, I can.
These two examples are wonderfully attractive recipes, but I hesitate to call them the best in the book. They are truly, simply representative of the wonders that unfold and you go from one page to the next. Oh, yes, that book cover itself is Skate-Filled Zucchini.
It is one talent to conceive of a great recipe, another talent to produce it, and still a third talent to plate it with the quality of a Renaissance paining. Perhaps that is one reason for the three stars that grace Gerald’s resume.
The book has three chapters and here are some of the fascinating recipes:
Eggplant with Garrigues-Style Goat Cheese
Mackerel Served in a Savory Lemon Broth
Heirloom Tomato and Strawberry Salad
Shellfish Stuffed with Herbs and Ginger
Main Courses includes:
Sea Bream in Garlic Broth
Shoulder of Lamb Baked in Hay with Asparagus
Spider Crab Soup
Spelt Tabbouleh with Mussels, Raisin and Mint
And Desserts suggests a bounty of potential happy endings:
Apricots Poached in Vanilla Syrup with Almond Milk
Almond and Pistachio Nougat
Provencal Lemon Fritters
Spiced Honey Cake
There literally is not one recipe in the book that I don’t want to try. Not one. It’s all that impressive and that inviting. The invitation is not formidable. Yes, the ingredient lists are longish here: sometimes only eight but sometimes up to 20. Yet, each recipe is written on one page in short sentences that literally command you through the recipe. Each verb, like “slice” or “arrange”, is printed in bold as if Gérald were standing over your shoulder and giving you kind but direct guidance.
Not one of the dishes here seems too complicated or challenging. You cannot say that about many cookbooks of beauty where the beauty comes at the price of endless complications. Not here. Flavors from the French Mediterranean is not going to go up on my kitchen bookshelf. It’s going to sit on the kitchen island, a constant reminder and an inspiration.
You, too, will be intrigued, inspired and surely pleased with this book. And, perhaps, we will all meet in Marseille one day. At Gérald’s restaurant?
Oh, if you are a food photographer or a stylist, then this book is a marvelous training ground. The photos here are delightfully superior.
“Just so you know, I have ripe peaches. They have to be used.” It was Suzi giving me a heads up on Sunday morning.
“We’ll drink them,” I said. “Peach margaritas?”
“Perfect.” She sat back in her chair already relaxing.
It’s always good to make your wife happy. It’s actually very important to make her very happy. Peaches, as you know, are a difficult fruit to buy, store and use: hard one hour, then unexpectedly perfect the next, and sadly downhill by the next morning. They drive me nuts, but I love peach flavor and I just cannot find myself buying frozen peaches. I know, that’s a hang up but I’m not making any progress in therapy on it.
I have, however, perfected the concept of the perfect Frozen Peach Margarita. The secret is, I believe, fresh, ripe peaches. Those peaches close to turning on you, so they are soft and sweet.
Oh, and Secret Number Two here is the tequila. I used homemade mango tequila. It’s really, truly wonderful with a complex flavor that is idea for cocktails. At end of this post, I’ve included the recipe I used for this special tequila from the glorious Infused by Susan Elia MacNeal.
You’ll enjoy this beverage with its combination of peach and mango flavor. It’s subtle and a perfect match for food of any kind. We drank ours with a meal of artichokes served with chipotle mayonnaise and a curry onion quiche. Look for the quiche recipe to appear here later this week!
Frozen Peach and Mango Margarita
Yield: serves 4
1 ½ cups peach slices, from fresh peaches ripe with flavor
½ cup simple syrup
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup mango tequila
½ cup peach schnapps
Put the peaches and liquids in a blender. Add ice and blend until smooth. Add more ice if you desire to thicken, a little more syrup to thin. Pour into chilled margarita glasses.
Source: Brian O’Rourke
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/5 for1/50th second at ISO‑3200
Mango Liqueur [Tequila and others …]
Yield: 1 quart
1 750-ml bottle of brandy, vodka, rum, tequila or cognac
3 cups sliced mango
¼ to 1 cup sugar syrup [optional]
Decant the spirits into a clean 2-quart (2-liter) glass container with a tight-fitting lid. Soak the original bottle to remove the label. Let dry.
Add the mango slices to the spirits. Allow the spirits to 3 infuse away from direct sunlight and intense heat for 1 month. Shake the container a few times each week.
When you're satisfied with the intensity of flavor, strain the liqueur through a metal sieve into a bowl. Discard the mango. Add the sugar syrup to taste, if desired.
Using a funnel, pour the liqueur into the original bottle (or another container). Label with the name of the liqueur and the date. Age the liqueur for 1 month away from light and heat.
Source: Infused by Susan Elia MacNeal [Chronicle Books, 2006]