7.30.2009

Vichyssoise is NOT pronounced "Veeshy-Swah"



For my 18th birthday – which fell during the summer in between high school graduation and moving off to college – my dad took me to a fancy dinner at a fancy French restaurant in Richmond, Va.; I believe it was called La Petite France. I had wanted to go there for some time. I will never forget that dinner. My dad, a man of few spoken (and even fewer written (sadly, a trait that I in no way inherited )) words, gave me a watch. He knew that I valued any evidence, trinkets, tchotckes, what have you, of his and my mom’s marriage (they divorced when I was 3, but have remained close friends to this day). The watch, he explained, was given to him by my mom before I was born. He had worn it for decades. The back of the watch was inscribed with his initials and the year 1972. He also went on to explain his interest in the concept of time – how our perception of it changes. I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time. But then I remember thinking a year was such a long time, and Summer vacations were always forever away. Now, a year is like a second, a blip. 

And that that meal seems like yesterday.

Still waters run deep, eh dad?

That night, among other food firsts, I tasted vichyssoise. I was absolutely blown away. This creamy and rich, yet delicate and subtle chilled soup was like nothing I had ever experienced. I could have had 4 bowls and not been sated. I am not sure if I have ordered vichyssoise out too many times since but I have endeavored to make it numerous times. Each time I do, I share it with whomever is close by and everyone seems to react the way I did when I first tasted it, and how I feel about it to this day. Except I have now learned that this is not a soup to have 4 bowls of. Considering it’s primarily potatoes, milk, heavy cream and butter, it’s best to show a little restraint (learned that the hard way with my last batch).

The culinary origins of vichyssoise, namely whether it is a genuinely French dish or an American innovation, is a subject of debate among culinary historians. Credit for the dish usually goes to Louis Diat, in 1917. Diat was the chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City for most of the first half of the 20th century. His inspiration for the soup was his mother’s much heartier potato-leek soup. He found it too hot to eat and poured cold milk into it to make it more palatable. The name is from Vichy, a city near where Diat grew up.

Interestingly, this culinary delight, which seems to have such complexity, is the most simple creation one can imagine. Call it the Cinderella of soups: its humble home cooking transformed into polished restaurant fare. Yes, you can gussy it up but why toy with perfection? I have found no variations that surpass the original but do often play with the garnish. A sprinkling of finely chopped chives tops a true vichyssoise, but I have experimented with fried leeks, a rosette of smoked salmon and torn croutons.

Since 1917 this recipe has remained almost entirely unchanged. If you order it out, you will see almost no chefs trying to put their bells and whistles on it. It is still as cool and soft as it was eight decades ago. And for the record, the aforementioned watch – I cherish it more than almost anything and wear it to this day. And every time I taste a vichyssoise I think of that watch, my dad, my 18th birthday dinner, and how while time does fly, it too stands still.

Loius Diat once prepared 8 portions of his famous soup to be delivered to the Manhattan town house of Sara Delano Roosevelt, Franklin D.’s mother, at her request – and enclosed this recipe (with one or two of my own alterations in parenthesis).

VICHYSSOISE
(Adapted from Saveur, 2008)

Serves 8
Ingredients
4tbsp. butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 medium white boiling potatoes (about 2 ¼ pounds), peeled and thinly sliced
Salt
2 cups whole milk
2 cups light cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. finely chopped chives

Directions
Heat butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add leeks and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 20 minutes. Add potatoes, 4 cups water (I use chicken stock), and salt to taste and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft, 50-60 minutes.

Strain soup through a mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing and scraping the solids with a spoon. Clean pot and return soup to it. Whisk in milk and light cream, bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and let cool. Strain soup through a fine mesh sieve (finer than the first), pressing and scraping it into a bowl with the spoon, leaving behind a thick paste of solids. Discard solids. Stir heavy cream into soup, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled. Season soup with salt to taste.

Divide soup between 8 soup bowls and garnish with chives (or fried leeks, torn croutons, or a rosette of smoked salmon). Serve cold.


Printable Recipe


7.21.2009

Pimiento Cheese – Good for the Soul Foodie

Back in Virginia pimiento cheese was standard fare, especially at my house. More often than not occupying a spot on the shelf in the fridge between Mrs. Marshall’s potato salad, Dad’s egg salad and, well, the mayonnaise. I don’t actually remember Mom or Dad making it, although one or the other did. While this was a place and time where pimiento cheese roamed freely in the dairy section at most markets, I had none of that. Why, you ask? Lucky me, I had only to open the refrigerator and voila! there was pure pimiento ambrosia to be enjoyed most often on soft, white sandwich bread sometimes garnished with a few slices of Hanover tomatoes. But also very tasty on crackers or perhaps smushed into a celery stalk (very Southern). Me, I go for the sandwich, crusts and all.

The recipe for most pimiento cheese consists of mixing just six or so ingredients. Typically, it includes sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimientos (not pimentos, mind you) and some simple seasoning such as salt & pepper. Common variations on the recipe include the addition of onion (or a shallot), cream cheese, garlic, bacon, jalapeños, or a variation of cheese types. Some use blenders (bad) and others use hand graters and forks (good). The recipe I will share with you here is my Mom’s. It is not to be altered or trifled with. Don’t get fancy. Don’t you dare. Don’t even consider it.


Ah, my Moms. About a year ago when she visited, there also happened to be a pile of other folks crashing at my house. To my mom’s delight she had a whole new world of people to feed. “But Kathy, what is this PIMIENTO CHEESE you speak of?", they asked. “It sounds kind of gross.” I guess compared to the Scottish eggs, lavender cupcakes and homemade loaves of bread (good for said sandwiches, fyi) mom had prepared, the gooey, orangey “cheese” with red things in it may have seemed less appealing. Well, let me just say that the pimiento cheese lasted about 10 minutes, with requests for the recipe (read - make more, please, Kathy).


About 6 months ago my dear mother moved here to the city of angels and among other fun food adventures, we recently returned to the ole pimiento cheese. I have to say, nary a soul tasting this magnificent, Southern concoction has been disappointed. Rather, I dare say, overwhelmingly surprised and titillated by the experience. It’s a perfect snackulation on a hot, summer afternoon (now).


And here we go…


Mom’s Pimiento Cheese


Let’s start with the rules:

NOT ALLOWED: food processors, pre-packaged grated cheese, grating cheese too finely or grating too coarsely


ABSOLUTES: Duke's mayonnaise, stirring mixture with a fork, the right consistency

Ingredients: 1 block of sharp & medium cheddar (yellow)

1 small jar of pimientos & pimiento juice

1/8 medium onion (Vidalia preferred if available) minced very, very finely

a couple of generous dashes of Worcestershire sauce

about 6 tablespoons (don't be afraid) of Duke's mayonnaise


In a mixing bowl: Grate the cheese on the smaller grates (not the tinies, though) and add the mayo and onion. Mix together vigorously with a fork until everything is “married”. Add the pimientos and continue to mix. Add pimiento juice and Worcestershire sauce to taste.

Now spread it on a cracker, a stalk of celery or make a bad ass sandwich to enjoy!
Don't you forget to share with your friends and/or neighbors like a good Southerner would...

“You think I don’t have culture just because I’m from down in Georgia. Believe me, we’ve got culture there. We’ve always had sushi. We just called it bait.” -- Ben "Cooter" Jones

Palate Food & Wine

Well, well, well… To my absolute delight Dixon treated me to dinner on my birthday! Not surprising as it has become our tradition; I take Dixon to dinner on his birthday as well. Included in the tradition is that it must be a new (or, at least, new for us) and exciting spot. We had both been curious about Palate since its opening about a year ago.

Located on the motor mile of Brand Avenue in Glendale, it occupies the former Bekins warehouse built in 1928. There's a curved bar at the front of a long narrow room, illuminated primarily by pink neon and candles with handblown glass grapes spilling over the sides of a pair of giant urns. While I found it to be an intimate and comfortable environment, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like part of a Patrick Nagel painting.


Palate is the breakout restaurant for Octavio Becerra, who put in years with Patina Restaurant Group and was the original chef at Pinot Bistro in Studio City. But his cooking at Palate is nothing like the saucy Joachim Splichal style. This is more of a California-Mediterranean bistro and wine bar.


We were seated immediately (at arguably the best table in the house). Just as timely was our server requesting our drink order (rosé for Dixon and a glass of champagne for me) and presenting us with fresh bread and a house made butter, topped with fresh herbs and sea salt. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned my predilection, no – my LOVE of butter? No? Well, let me tell you, this was some of the most fantastic stuff to hit my taste buds in memory. Wine. Bread. Butter. Done.

Palate’s menu, which changes every Thursday, is divided into four sections and is really a tasting menu of sorts. One is meant to try a number of different items, share, and pair them with one or many of the wines on their extensive list. Dixon and I skipped over the Porkfolio (a charcuterie plate with: prosciutto di parma / speck la quercia / salumi: nostrano / toscano / peperone /salame cotto ($12)) and went straight for the Potted Berkshire Pork ($6) from the Mason Jar section (rillettes and confits served in small clear glass canning jars). This was a lush mixture of shredded long-cooked heirloom pork, which was flaky and fork tender with a slightly smoky flavor. With this, we tried the Cherries ($3) from the Pickled section. I am generally dubious of cooked fruit, fruit touching other fruit, jellied fruit and fruit in my savory dishes. But this was something very special (and made me truly wonder how much I’m missing out with this fear of mine). They were fresh (and very much in season), simple and wonderful.
We then moved onto the roasted heirloom tomato soup, garnished with a fried ball of Serrano ham. Simplicity is the hallmark of genius and this soup was testimony. This was followed by Dixon’s Fried Pork Belly with apricots over stone ground grits and my Roasted Salmon over braised fennel and wild rice. Both dishes I found to be impressive, but the pork belly was divine. The apricot added a scrumptious accent and the grits were creamy perfection. The portions were, in the words of Goldilocks, "just right," not overly generous but enough to share tastes and experience every nuance.











We went with our server’s suggestions with the wine pairings and had a different glass with each dish. The plus was that he really knew his wines and did a stellar job with all of the pairings. The minus is that I had no idea what we were drinking and can’t share his suggestions with you. I suppose I would recommend that, should you go, trust your server. They all really know their beeswax and Palate has a wine cellar that would be any wine geek’s dream.

I look forward to more evenings at Palate, different seasons and new tastes.
Good plan: Have enough people at the table to order practically the entire menu so you can revel in share-y, noshy, nibbly times!


Palate Food & Wine
www.palatefoodwine.com

933 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91204-2107
(818) 662-9463
Palate Food + Wine
Palate Food + Wine in Los Angeles