Monday, February 23, 2015

Stupid, stupid Academy

Todays is the first Piglet review of the year with which I completely concur. In case you aren’t motivated to link and read the whole review, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt explains in detail why he prefers David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen to Bar Tartine by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns.

I share his feelings. I’ve made two excellent dishes from Bar Tartine -- a cauliflower salad and their fabulous, strange kale salad with sunflower seed pesto, yogurt, and rye croutons, but I will probably never cook from this daunting book again. As for Lebovitz’s affable Paris Kitchen, I’ve already gone back to two of the recipes because they were so simple, tasty, and useful.

Which brings me to last night’s all-Piglet Oscars menu:

Mimi Thorisson’s roquefort and walnut gougeres
Mimi T’s almond mussels
David Lebovitz’s barbecued pork (repeat from Super Bowl because it was easy, great, make-ahead, and feeds a crowd)
David L’s vegetables slaw (repeat from Super Bowl because it was easy, great, make-ahead, and feeds a crowd)  
Mimi T’s apple tart w. orange flower water
Brooks Headley’s ricotta ice cream

Other than the fact that Boyhood didn’t win Best Picture, everything was good. Two dishes were delicious enough that I actually went to the trouble of typing out the recipes, which I am generally loath to do because it feels like stealing. But you need these recipes and I did make a few amendments to each.

-I’d never eaten mussels as finger food straight out of the shell before and I’m not sure why not. Mimi Thorisson’s almond mussels from A Kitchen in France were a runaway hit. We all sat crowded around the TV with two big trays of these mussels and devoured them like potato chips. You got a little bite of mussel with some crunchy-buttery topping and then you pitched the shell into a bowl. Surprisingly tidy -- no napkins necessary. My niece Stella must have eaten a pound all on her own and I ate another pound, but we deserved the lion’s share because we were the ones who assembled these lovely things, which wasn’t hard, but took a while. Definitely find a companion for this job.  Do it alone and you risk becoming resentful, which makes you a worse host than if you just put out a bag of Fritos. 

In a bowl mix 7 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter with a handful of chopped parsley, 3 minced garlic cloves, and a cup (60g) of fresh breadcrumbs. Season well with salt and pepper. Stir in 1 1/2 cups (180g) finely ground almonds and mix until you have a paste. Cook 4 pounds of mussels in a covered pot for a few minutes with a splash of water until they just open. Discard any that don’t.  Remove the top shell of every mussel and leave the meat in the bottom. (They might be very small and you’ll wonder if that’s ok; it is.)  Top with a teaspoon or so of the almond paste, pressing it down. Put the mussels on a sheet and bake at 425 degrees F for 6 to 8 minutes until hot. Thorisson says “until golden and bubbly” but that never happened and based on what I saw, was never going to. Enough for 8.

2. I’m glad Adam Roberts convinced me to revisit Fancy Desserts because otherwise I wouldn’t have made Brooks Headley’s ricotta gelato, which is a gem of a recipe and so easy I couldn’t believe it was going to work. Three cups ricotta (Headley recommends Calabra brand), 1 1/2 cups simple syrup, 1/4 cup honey, big pinch of salt. Blend well with a stick blender -- or any way you choose. He specifies stick, but I don't see why you couldn’t mix in a stand blender or Cuisinart or whisk by hand or even just stir. Chill. Freeze in ice cream machine. Makes a quart of a fantastic pure-white gelato.


  1. I know - how could it not be Boyhood?

    1. "epochal" mistake, as someone wrote in Slate.

  2. The Kenji review was awesome. I love that he put the same care into his review as he does with all of his own recipe testing. I'm hoping next year there will be a Food Lab cookbook in The Piglet!

    1. I was previously unfamiliar with Kenji Lopez-Alt. I will have to google "Food Lab."

    2. Oh Jennifer! Kenji is a man after your own heart in his ceaseless efforts to reproduce restaurant and store-bought foods in his own kitchen without sacrificing taste. Here's all you need to know: he's a refugee from America's Test Kitchen. You'll enjoy his work; he writes for the website Serious Eats. Food Lab is a column there.

  3. Although I liked the review on today's Piglet, and respect both the judge and the verdict, I still find myself wishing for MORE COOKING. There's a lot of talk in today's review and it's all insightful, relevant, and interesting -- but I still felt the actual recipes were a very small part of the larger review, and I guess I will forever be frustrated when the cooking isn't front and center. Of course the larger picture has some relevance, and the analysis today was useful, but for god's sake, people: COOK! All this is to say that this blog post of yours, Jennifer, was a breath of fresh air. Thank goodness I can come here and get the real lowdown, and have intelligent conversation to boot.

    1. I agree, Maggie -- in general there is a dearth of recipe testing in these Piglet reviews. But in this particular instance, I don't think the reviewer was able to find anything he COULD (or wanted to) cook out of "Bar Tartine"!

    2. That's a good point about Bar Tartine, which Kenji very accurately describes. I do own a copy of the book and purchased it after having some intriguing meals there, but it's a dead end of a cookbook for anyone but the most zealous purist or ambitious DIY'er.

    3. And Kenji probably falls into one of those camps! So the point is even further made.

    4. It's true, there wasn't a lot of cooking in that review and I really like when reviewers explain their reasoning THROUGH the cooking. But I still think he did a thorough job and supported his argument, which isn't always the case w. Piglet reviewers. He clearly didn't toss this off. It helps that I happen to agree with his conclusion, having cooked slightly more from both books than he did. Bar Tartine is indeed a "dead end" for most cooks and you don't need to cook anything from its pages to figure this out. I went through every recipe in the book 3 or 4 times looking for things I could make without extreme, multi-week efforts and a dehydrator and only managed to cook three of the dishes. (I forgot -- I also made the black lentil soup.) I guess I view those dishes as "due diligence" even though I already knew Bar Tartine was a dead end. KJA just saved himself a little time and effort and I didn't mind.

  4. I'm reading the David Lebovitz book now. I have to agree that although the recipes aren't original or groundbreaking they do make me want to A. cook them and B. rush off to Paris and eat for a week!

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