French Cheese: The Process and the Palate


I am an advocate of the growing community of cheese aficionados that believe for you to truly appreciate cheese you must have at minimum a cursory understanding of the cheese making process, it’s steps, and where what you are consuming comes from. The three main types of animals cheese comes from, and the only ones we will be concerned with here, are cows, sheep, and goats. After all cheese is simply concentrated milk with salt added so where do these three species milk vary and why do I have preferences for one over the other. Cows by far produce the most milk, but it is also the thinnest as opposed to Sheep’s milk which is the most concentrated – it has a higher percentage of fat solid, and thus flavor. Of course sheep produce far less of it. Cow’s milk has a fat content of 3.25 percent by weight, whereas sheep’s milk is 7.4 percent milk fat by weight. For some perspective as far as cow’s milk and milk fat: skimmed milk is 0 to 0.5 percent milk fat, low fat milk 1 percent, reduced fat milk 2 percent, whole milk 3.25 percent, half-and-half 10.5 to 18 percent, light whipping cream 30 to 36 percent, and heavy cream 36 to 40 percent milk fat. There is an old adage that goat’s milk is best for drinking, cow’s for making butter, but sheep’s is the best for cheese. Generally speaking it take 6 to 12 units (either pounds or kilograms) of milk to make a unit of cheese.

Raw Milk vs. Pasteurized vs. Ultra-Pasteurized
Raw milk is just that, milk which has not been processed in any manner. It possesses all of its natural bacteria and thus makes more flavorful cheese. Raw milk will separate and curdle if left at room temperature. In the United States it is advised that raw milk should either be pasteurized or used to make cheese aged over 60 days. In many states you are unable to obtain raw milk. It will spoil in about a week.

Pasteurized milk is the best option for most people in the United States that do not have access to raw milk. Pasteurization kills dangerous pathogens, but as a result also to a great extent destroys vitamins, beneficial bacteria, texture and flavor. It will curdle if left at room temperature. Homogenized milk has been processed to break up the fat globules and force them into suspension within the milk. In an effort to prevent the separation of the milk and the cream it changes the Molecular structure which prevents it from producing a culture at room temperature. Most milk available in the United States is both pasteurized and homogenized.

In the United States we also have ultra-pasteurized and ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk. These two groups are unable to produce cheese and should be avoided. Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to 191 degrees and UHT to 280 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately these processes are used on a lot of organic milks as they are more fragile and susceptible to slower retail sales.

Ripening the Milk
You can pick up most any professional cheese making book, or visit a website, and they will all basically show you the same eight steps in making cheese outlined by professor Kosikowski, the first of these is ripening the milk. This first step involves two interrelated functions acidification and coagulation. Starting with the freshest milk possible, ideally from the most recent milking, a starter culture is added. Traditionally this was done by adding a bit of soured milk from the day before. It is of course still possible to make cheese according to the traditional method, however it is much more difficult and time consuming. It is much more common, nearly universal, that cheese makers use freeze-dried starter cultures containing the beneficial bacteria. These starter cultures offer the cheese maker predictability and consistency.

Coagulation is the process which turns milk into the solid which makes cheese possible. Traditionally animal Rennets are used which are extracted from the stomach of young ruminants. Today there is also a vegetarian option with the rennet coming from various plants, most commonly the cardoon thistle. Rennet induced coagulation takes from half an hour to an hour depending upon the cheese recipe, the temperature, and the kind of coagulant used.

Cutting the Curds
Ince the curds have formed a regular mass they will begin to expel the whey, which is mostly water, as they contract. The greater the surface area of the curds, the more whey they will expel. This is precisely the logic behind cutting the curds. To produce a softer cheese with more moisture content the curds are cut larger, likewise for a harder cheese they are cut small.
The curds should be cut to a consistent size so that they yield a consistent texture and moisture content. Many cheese makers use wires stretched in a metal frame called a harp. The cheese maker will pass the hard through the mass of curd in one direction and then again at the perpendicular.

Cooking and Holding
This third step involves some amount of heating the curds, hence cooking them, and allowing them to rest while the effects of acidification, heating, and cutting runs its course. It is crucial to watch your curds carefully during this step as the smaller curds will get hotter. Due to this is one of several reasons consistent curd size is so important.

Heating the curds is done slowly to prevent them from developing a hard outer skin. Oftentimes they are carefully stirred to aid in whey expulsion and prevent them from sticking. Commercial cheese makers usually employ large stainless steel vats with hollow walls through which hot water circulates to gently warm the curds. The harder the cheese the more it is cooked at higher temperatures and more it is stirred. Sometimes washing the curds is employed. In which case some of the whey is drained and replaced with water. This procedure lowers the acidification of the bath while adding moisture to the curds.

Dipping and Draining
Dipping is when you carefully scoop out the curds to transfer them to a draining vessel or mold. Another way of draining is to open a valve at the bottom edge of the cheese vat. Soft curds will take on the shape of the draining vessel in a mass.

The curds in this stage fuse together to form a uniform consistency. Knitting can happen in the vat, mold, cheese press, or draining vessel.

Over a few hours or a few days varying degrees of pressure are applied to the curds until the desired moisture content, density, and texture of the cheese is achieved. The softer the cheese the more gradually it is drained with little to no pressure. Sometimes this is referred to as being pressed under their own weight. Conversely harder cheeses will have weights placed on top of them or other pressing measures.

Salt is the major ingredient added to cheese to control moisture content, bacteria growth as well as for taste. This may be applied in two ways: wet and dry. In dry salting the salt is applied directly to the curd mass, often before pressing. Wet salting, also known as brining, is when the cheese is placed in a saltwater solution for anytime from several hours to several days.

Curing is a term used for a multitude of special procedures used for desired effects during aging. Some of these are: rubbing, brushing, spraying, wrapping in cloth or leaves, regular turning, etc. This is where the aging process is employed from immediately ready for consumption to several years. In general the harder cheeses are aged longer, for instance true Parmesans are aged 3 to 4 years.

Traditional cheese makers relied on special ripeners (affineurs) for their cheese which could be immediately ready, while some might need days or even months to reach their ideal ripeness. This relationship is still in effect in many old world instances for example with Roquefort. Affinage is about nurturing the cheese to bring about its ideal ripeness. There are numerous variables the affineur must control including: setup of the cheese cave, temperature, humidity, duration of aging, and the treatments employed. There is quite some debate over the validity of the craft. Opinions run from not screwing up the cheese to you can’t save a poorly made cheese but you could ruin a good one to you can make a good cheese great.


Cheese Types
There are multiple ways to consider cheese types by fat content, by water content, by aging period. Americans have a multitude of categories which the American Cheese Society breaks them up into. There are some basic categories however as follows:
Fresh – Unaged, unmolded, unpressed. What is commonly referred to as tub cheese.
Chèvre – Goat’s milk soft-ripened Loire valley style cheeses. An example is Selles-sur-Cher.
Bloomy Rind – Also known as soft ripened. Unpressed cheeses produced from the curds being gently ladled into a mold. An example is Brie or Camembert.
Washed Rind – These are often slimy on the outside, melting on the inside, mild tasting and stinky. A prime example of this type is Epoisses. They can also be semi-hard with strong flavors.
Natural Rind – Any cheese for which the rind is allowed to develop on its own without special treatments. Blues are actually a member of this group.
Uncooked, Pressed – These are semi-hard and hard cheeses that feature pressing. Examples of these are Cantal, and Laguiole.
Cooked, Pressed – These are hard aged alpine style cheeses. An example is Comte or Gruyere.
Blue – A large class of cheeses who a categorized by their blue-green mold. Most of these molds run through the interior (the paste) while a few only bare the mold on the outside. A famous example is Roquefort.

Tasting Cheese
The very first thing you should consider doing is to slow down and really taste it, smell it, touch the cheese. Be certain your palate is clear, your nose is ready. Americans in general shy away from funky smells. With great cheese expect some smells that you are used to shunning. Get a good smell of the cheese. hold the cut slice of cheese right up to your nose. Be sure your hands are clean and unscented, perfume or even scented soap or hand cleanser can effect your appreciation.

Look and examine the cheese closely. Look at the rind and take note of the color, the texture, any imperfections. Some cheeses that look bad taste great, so know what you are looking for. Touch the cheese and give it a poke. Take note of the consistency, how did the knife go through the cheese. Is it soft, meaty, brittle?

Finally taste the cheese, yes this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Always start with a thin slice, how does it stimulate your tongue and get your juices flowing, take note of the evolution of flavors and finally the finish. Shutting your eyes when first tasting a new cheese really does shut out other distractions, so you can become one with the cheese. Take note of the flavor – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, but also the texture or mouthfeel. Is it buttery and smooth or is it dry and crumbling or gooey and runny?

When serving cheese there are some general guidelines you should follow, especially if it is for your cliché wine and cheese tasting party:
• Cheese should always be cut fresh – the air begins the oxidation process be which the cheese loses its aromas, taste and not to mention begins drying it out. The longer you wait the more you lose.
• Trim all leftovers carefully.
• Always serve cheese at room temperature – the cold diminishes the cheeses flavor and aroma, this is the most common mistake people make. Remove cheese from the refrigerator at least one hour prior to tasting.
• If possible use a separate knife for each cheese, if not possible at least use a different knife for each type of cheese we discussed earlier. If this is not possible clean the knife well between cheeses so as not to mingle flavors.
• Small wedges with some of the rind is the objective when slicing cheese. This isn’t always possible with crumbly blues or with gooey cheeses.

The cheese plate or the progression needs to be considered. The traditional classic progression is from simpler to complex, young to older, light to heavy, mild to strong. I always recommend following this progression. What should I serve with my cheese? Keep it simple. The oldest and best accompaniment is bread. Bread is a useful palate cleanser between cheese while also being the ideal complement to fine cheeses. Some classic bread options include:
• Classic baguette
• Olive breads
• Tuscan rounds
• Focaccia, plain or with herbs
• Flatbreads or crackers that are fairly neutral in flavor.
Robust cheeses such as cheddar go with the more strongly flavored bread. Mild bread like the baguette are ideal for the subtler cheeses. Strong cheeses such as the blues can support a sweet but bread.

Fruit and vegetables also make great accompaniments. The sweet juiciness of many fruits make a fine contrast to the saltiness of your cheese. Consider using fresh figs, apples, grapes, as well as dried apricots, preserves and chutneys for starters. Select vegetables as well provide the contrast when putting together a cheese tasting. For a luncheon try fresh vegetables such as carrots, radishes, zucchini, bell peppers, etc. You can also consider pickled vegetables to go along with your cheese and bread. Make certain though not to overwhelm the lighter more mild cheeses.

With the rise in charcuterie in America there are more and more meats available to add to your cheese tasting. When in France stop in the neighborhood charcuterie and pick out some sauccion. Make certain again you don’t overwhelm the lighter cheeses. When home consider prosciutto, sopressata, capitols, or salami. For a touch more you can consider Spanish jamon serrano or chorizo, German speck, or Virginia country ham.



Molecular Gastronomy : Agar Agar


Agar, Agar (Often abbreviated Agar) is derived from red algae or seaweed.  Agar is a natural vegetable counterpart to gelatin which is animal based and completely vegetarian.  For vegetarians, it makes foods like marshmallows, jelly beans, and gummy bears possibleIt forms rigid, brittle gels.  White and semi-translucent, it is sold in packages as washed and dried strips or more commonly in powdered form.  It can be used to make jellies, puddings, custards, and aspics.

Agar is the primary ingredient in one of Asia’s new fad diets.  Kanten (The Japanese word for Agar, Agar) triples in size and absorbs water, thus you feel fuller.

Kanten Basic Diet

7 Ounces Water

2 Grams Kanten (Agar, Agar)

Fruit or Seasoning (Optional)

Bring water to a simmer and add kanten.  Simmer for 2 minutes stirring constantly.  Pour into a heat resistant container.  Add fruit or seasonings if desired.  Cool and allow to set.

Agar, Agar is genrally added to cool liquids and then heated to a boil.  The gel sets once it cools to 95° F and must be reheated to 185° before it melts again.

Agar, Agar uses and recipes:

Add to soup as a thickener.

Add to puddings and chill.

Balsamic Vinegar Gel

6.8 Ounces Balsamic Vinegar

2 Grams Agar Agar

Simple Syrup to taste

Bring vinegar to a boil and add Agar Agar.  Simmer for 2 minutes.  Season to taste with simple syrup.  Pour into container and allow to set.  Add jelly to a blender and blend until smooth.  Strain mixture through a chinois.  Pour into a squeeze bottle.  Refrigerate until needed.

Balsamic Vinegar Pearls

7 Ounces Balsamic Vinegar

1.5 Grams Agar Agar

1 Cup of Oil

place the oil in a tall glass in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  put the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan, dissolve the agar agar and bring it to the boil, stirring constantly.  Take off heat.  Wait a few minutes until the temperature drops to 120-130˚ F.  Fill a syringe with the hot balsamic agar solution and expel it drop by drop into the cold oil.  Wait a few minutes and then carefully remove them from the oil bath using a slotted spoon and rinse them in water.  Serve on salads, etc.

Molecular Gastronomy : Intro


What is molecular gastronomy?  Why molecular gastronomy?  When did molecular gastronomy start?  Is molecular gastronomy real food?  Who practices molecular gastronomy?  Is molecular gastronomy foods safe to eat?  These are but a few of the questions about molecular gastronomy that are commonly asked.  Along with such statements as: I don’t like molecular gastronomy.  Molecular gastronomy is not real cooking.  Molecular gastronomy is a fad.  Molecular gastronomy is poor cooking.  I’ll attempt to touch on some of these topics.

Molecular gastronomy is a sub-discipline of food science that seeks to investigate, explain and make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general.

Blah, blah, blah…

Everyone probably reading this already knows that, but might not have put it into such terms.  Let’s instead look at the objectives of molecular gastronomy as stated by one of its pioneers the French chemist Hevré This.

Original Objectives (1990’s) :

  1. Investigating culinary and gastronomical proverbs, sayings, and old wives’ tales.
  2. Exploring existing recipes.
  3. Introducing new tools, ingredients and methods into the kitchen.
  4. Inventing new dishes.
  5. Using molecular gastronomy to help the general public understand the contribution of science to society.

Updated Objectives :

Looking for the mechanisms of culinary transformations and processes in three areas…

  1. the social phenomena linked to culinary activity.
  2. the artistic component of culinary activity.
  3. the technical component of culinary activity.

What does all of this mean?  A few examples is probably the easiest way to demonstrate what This and other molecular gastronomers were and are investigating:

  • How ingredients are changed by different cooking methods.
  • How all the senses play their own roles in our appreciation of food.
  • The mechanisms of aroma release and the perception of taste and flavor.
  • How and why we evolved our particular taste and flavor sense organs and our general food likes and dislikes.
  • How cooking methods affect the eventual flavor and texture of food ingredients.
  • How new cooking methods might produce improved results of texture and flavor.
  • How our brains interpret the signals from all our senses to tell us the      “flavor” of food.
  • How our enjoyment of food is affected by other influences, our environment, our      mood, how it is presented, who prepares it.

Now that all that technical background is out of the way, what does it mean to me as a foodie, cook, diner, etc.?  In the late 1990’s the term molecular gastronomy was adapted away from the merely scientific to describe a new style of cooking which focused on technical advances in equipment, natural gums, hydrocollids, etc.  A number of famous chef’s focus on this type of cuisine among them: Grant Achatz, Feran Adria, Jose Andres, Richard Blais, Heston Blumenthal, Wylie Dufresne, etc.  Many of these chefs do not like the term molecular gastronomy and prefer terms such as:

  1. Avant-garde cuisine
  2. Culinary constructivism
  3. Experimental cuisine
  4. Forward-thinking movement
  5. Modernist cuisine
  6. Progressive cuisine
  7. And many others.

Several chefs associated with the movement (Ferran Adria of El Bulli, Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck, Thomas Keller of the French Laundry) released a joint statement in 2006 stating that the term “molecular gastronomy” was coined in 1992 for a single workshop that did not influence them, and that the term does not describe any style of cooking.

Some ingredients used in molecular gastronomy :

  1. Carbon dioxide source, for adding bubbles and making foams.
  2. Liquid nitrogen, for flash freezing and shattering.
  3. Maltodextrin – can turn a high-fat liquid into a powder.
  4. Sugar substitutes.
  5. Enzymes.
  6. Lecithin – an emulsifier and non-stick agent.
  7. Hydrocolloids such as starch, gelatin, pectin, and natural gums – used as thickening agents, gelling agents, emulsifying agents, and stabilizers, sometimes needed for foams.
  8. Transglutaminase – a protein binder, called meat glue.

Some tools used in molecular gastronomy :

  1. Ice cream maker, often used to make unusual flavors, including savory.
  2. Anti-griddle, for cooling and freezing.
  3. Thermal immersion circulator for sous-vide (low temperature cooking).
  4. Food dehydrator.
  5. Syringe, for injecting unexpected fillings.
  6. Edible paper made from soybeans and potato starch, for use with edible fruit inks and an inkjet printer.


The Five Classical French Mother Sauces : Velouté


The term “mother sauce” refers to any one of five basic sauces, which are the starting points for making various secondary sauces.  The five mother sauces:

  • Béchamel
  • Velouté
  • Espagnole
  • Hollandaise
  • Tomate

Velouté is another simple mother sauce.  It is made by thickening white stock with roux and then simmering.  This sauce is then flavoured and the foundation for numerous sauces.  The two most important sauces derived from velouté are sauce allemande and sauce suprême.  Sauce allemande is finished with egg yolks and mushroom cooking liquid, while sauce suprême is finished with mushroom cooking liquid, heavy cream and butter.  These sauces are usually flavoured additionally to make different sauces.


5 Cups White Stock (Chicken, Veal, or Fish)

2 Ounces Butter

¼ Cup Flour

Simmer stock in a 3 quart saucepan.  In a second saucepan melt the butter.  Add the flour.  Stir the butter and flour over medium heat for approximately two minutes or until the flour has a toasty scent.  Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Whisk the stock into the roux.  Return the stock to heat and bring back to simmer whisking continuously.  Once sauce return to a simmer lower heat, cook sauce gently for one hour skimming off the skin that forms on the surface.

Strain the velouté.  Stir until it cools.

Sauce Suprême

1 Quart Sauce Velouté

1 Quart White Stock (Chicken, Veal, or Fish)

1 Cup of Mushroom Cooking Liquid *

1 Cup of Heavy Cream or Crème Fraîche

3 Ounces Butter

Combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Lower heat and reduce by 2/3, approximately one quart.  Skim off fat during reduction.  Finish sauce by stirring in 1 cup of heavy cream and 3 ounces of butter.

Sauce Allemande

5 Egg Yolks

2 Cups White Stock (Chicken, Veal, or Fish)

1 Cup of Mushroom Cooking Liquid *

1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

1 Quart Hot Sauce Velouté

4 Ounces Butter

Whisk together egg yolks, white stock, mushroom cooking liquid, and lemon juice.  Add to hot Sauce Velouté and whisk returning to heat.  Reduce sauce by one-third, approximately one quart.  Whisk 4 ounces cold butter into the sauce.

* Mushroom Cooking Liquid

Is prepared by cooking mushroom for 15 minutes in a covered pot with an equal amount of water.  While cultivated button mushrooms work, as with all cooking adding more exotic wild mushroom will make a more flavorful broth.

The Five Classical French Mother Sauces : Béchamel


The Five Classical French Mother Sauces : Béchamel

The term “mother sauce” refers to any one of five basic sauces, which are the starting points for making various secondary sauces.  The five mother sauces:

  • Béchamel
  • Velouté
  • Espagnole
  • Hollandaise
  • Tomate

Béchamel is by far the easiest and simplest of the five mother sauces.  This is primarily because you do not have to start with a stock.  In its simplest form it is just Flour, Butter and Milk.  Béchamel is traditionally used in such dishes as lasagna, a gratin, soufflés, a soup base, etc.

The simplest form of the sauce requires thickening the milk with a white roux and heating long enough to cook out the flour taste.  More complex versions start with onion, or ham, or mirepoix (onion, carrots, and celery).  I have included a basic version upon which more complex sauces can be built and from which a number of derivative simple sauces are made.

The amount of roux used in the making of your sauce can greatly depend upon what the end use of the sauce will be.  A soufflé for instance would use a quite thick sauce, while a soup use a very thin sauce by comparison.  Here I have presented a sauce which falls squarely in the middle.  Many recipes do not call for heating the milk first, but I prefer this method.  If you do not wish to heat the milk whisk vigorously to prevent lumps as well as a skin.


1 Quart Milk

2 Ounces of Butter

¼ Cup Flour

Salt, Pepper and Nutmeg to taste

Heat the milk to a gentle simmer in a saucepan.  Whisk from time to time to prevent a skin forming on the milk.  In a second saucepan melt the butter and add the flour.  Stir the butter and flour for two minutes over medium heat.  It should have a slightly toasty smell.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Whisk the milk into the roux.  Return to stove and whisk continuously while bringing it back to a simmer.  Once it returns to a slow simmer, reduce the heat.  Cook sauce for 30 minutes to an hour.  Occasionally rub around the bottom of saucepan to prevent from scalding.  A skin will form on the surface which you will need to skim off.

By this time the starchy taste should have cooked out of the sauce.  Taste it.  Season sauce and strain.  Stir Béchamel while it is cooling to prevent the formation of a skin.

Traditionally there are three primary sauces which are directly derived from Béchamel.  These three sauces are Sauce Mornay, Sauce Soubise, and Sauce Crème.

Sauce Mornay

Sauce Mornay (Cheese Sauce) is usually used for the base of a cheese soufflé or gratin.  Classic recipes use half Gruyère and Parmesean.  Today it is often used with many other cheeses.  A combination of two well-aged cheddars works amazingly.  Blue cheeses also work very well, but please choose genuine Roquefort, gorgonzola, stilton, etc.

For Sauce Mornay add four ounces of cheese per quart of Béchamel.  Stir the sauce just long enough for the cheese to melt.

Sauce Soubise

Sauce Soubise is a combination of Béchamel and an onion purée.  It is a wonderful sauce used in all types of gratins.

For Sauce Soubise sweat one pound of white onions.  Do NOT brown.  Combine with two cups of Béchamel.  Cover the sauce and cook it slowly for 30 minutes.  Purée and strain.

Sauce Crème (Cream Sauce)

Cream sauce in modern times has been all but replaced by lightly reduced cream.  Traditionally cream sauce is finished by taking 1 quart of Béchamel with 7 ounces of heavy cream.  Reduce the mixture to three-quarters.  Add an additional 5 ounces of heavy cream.  This should bring it to the right consistency.

Photo Essay : Highlights… Palm Valley Fish Camp & Marker 32 Meals

Palm Valley Fish Camp

Palm Valley Fish Camp

Palm Valley Fish Camp and Marker 32 are two restaurants in the Jacksonville area that I frequent.  They are both seafood restaurants owned and operated by the same owners.  Palm Valley is a much more casual restaurant, and usually my preference, but Marker 32 is a great date or special occasion restaurant.

Palm Valley Fish Camp

Broiled Oysters

Broiled Oysters

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Cajun Crawfish

Cajun Crawfish

Stone Crab

Stone Crab

Mussels Marriniere

Mussels Marriniere


Pan Sauteed Flounder With Mashed Skin-On Red Potatoes And Sauteed Zuchinni & Yellow Squash

Fried Shrimp

Fried Shrimp, Fries, Hushpuppies, Coleslaw

Bacon Butter Beans

Bacon Butter Beans


Roasted Cod with Blackeye Pea Succotash, Squash Puree over a Fried Green Tomato.

Lowcountry Boil

Lowcountry Boil : Shrimp, Clams, Crawfish and Andouille Sausage for two.

Marker 32

Broiled Oysters

Broiled Oysters Appetizer : with bacon, spinach & sundried tomatoes.

Crab Cakes

Southern style Blue Crab cakes with caper dill aiolli, Crushed Portatoes & steamod Spinach

Fried Shrimp & Fennel Fries

Fried local shrimp with celery root slaw, sweet fennel salt fries

Seared Scallops with spicy shrimp and corn broth, Grits, Collard Greens and House Dried Tomatoes

Seared Scallops with spicy shrimp and corn broth, Grits, Collard Greens and House Dried Tomatoes

Herb grilled Snapper with basil pesto and Hoppin John

Herb grilled Snapper with basil pesto and Hoppin John




Snails with a Mushroom Duxelle in Puff Pastry (Escargots Pot Pie)

Les escargots Avec UN Duxelle de Champignon Dans la Pâte feuilletée (Tarte de Pot d’Escargots).


1 Can of Escargots

1 Box Puff Pastry

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound wild mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and finely chopped

1 large shallot

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup white wine or chicken broth

Salt and black pepper

1 egg

Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-low heat.  Add mushrooms, shallot and minced garlic and sauté for 5-10 minutes or until mushrooms are cooked.  Drain.  Add cup of wine or chicken broth and bring to a simmer cooking until liquid is absorbed seasoning with salt and pepper.  Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 450 or directions on puff pastry box.  Add two tablespoons of mushroom Duxelle to a ramekin.  Add 3 -6 snails depending upon size and preference.  On top place a 1 teaspoon of butter.  Cut puff pastry to size to cover ramekin.  Crimp puff pastry over the ramekin and brush with a beaten egg.  Cut a small slit in puff pastry to release steam.  Place in oven until puff pastry if golden brown.  Serve immediately.

Tomato Tartare with Pickled Vegetables and Jumbo Head-on Shrimp


Tartare de tomate Avec Légumes Conservés au vinaigre Et Tête-Sur Crevette Géante

Serves 4

3 Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

Kosher Salt & Black Pepper, to taste

2 Teaspoons Finely Minced Shallot

1 Teaspoon Minced Chives

Fresh Thyme Sprigs

1 Bunch White Asparagus

1 Jar Pickled Asparagus

¼ Pound Haricot Verts

8 Baby Carrots

½ Pound Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half

Baby Arugula

Fresh Herbs

8 Head On Jumbo Shrimp

2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning

½ Cup Vinegar

½ Cup Water

½ Cup Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar

½ Teaspoon Dijon Mustard

Herbs de Provence, to taste

Take tomatoes in a bowl and toss with shallot, chives, finely chopped thyme and salt and pepper to taste.  In a bowl mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and herbs de Provence.  Whisk to create emulsion.

Bring small pot of salted water to boil.  Blanch white asparagus, haricot verts and baby carrots.  Individually place the vegetables in boiling water for a few minutes or until tender.  Immediately move to an ice bath to stop cooking and preserve color.

In a pot add vinegar, water and Old Bay seasoning.  Bring to a boil.  Add shrimp and cover.  Boil for 2 minutes and check shrimp so as to not overcook.  Shrimp should be opaque.  Immediately remove to ice bath.

Place a 3 inch ring mold on a plate.  Place about 4-5 teaspoons of tomato tartare in the center and use the back of a spoon to spread mixture so it fills bottom of mold.  Lift the ring mold and repeat on other three plates.  Toss white asparagus, haricot verts, carrots with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar mixture.  Place vegetables, baby arugula and fresh herbs carefully on top of tomato tartare.  Drizzle with balsamic mixture.  Add two shrimp to each plate and serve immediately.

Truffle Horseradish Potato Purée


2 Pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes

Kosher Salt

8 Ounces Unsalted Butter (See Instructions)

¾ Cup of Heavy Cream, warmed

1-3 Tablespoon Ground Horseradish to taste

¼ Teaspoon Black Truffle Oil

Place unpeeled potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold salted water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are thoroughly cooked.  Drain the potatoes and allow them to rest a minute or so to dry out.  Peel.  Put potatoes in a ricer and rice into a saucepan.  With each batch of potatoes add a chunk of refrigerated butter.  Cold butter emulsifies better than room temperature and keeps your potatoes from getting overly oily.  Joel Robuchon’s ultimate potato puree has a 2:1 potato to butter ratio.  Use between 8 – 16 ounces of butter if desired.

Stir in Horseradish.  Place saucepan over low heat and whip potatoes with a spoon for 1 – 2 minutes until smooth.  Potatoes can be held at this point until ready to serve.

Before serving place potato puree over low heat.  Warm potatoes stirring constantly.  Stir in warm cream a third at a time stirring constantly so as not to burn potatoes.  Stir in ¼ teaspoon Black Truffle oil or to taste.  Stir potatoes rapidly until creamy and soft.  If potatoes are too heavy or thick, stir in a tablespoon at a time of warm water to reach desire consistency.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

Ai Fiori : a guest review by Phyllis Hewitt

Originally published in 2011:

The beautiful place setting at Ai Fiori. We had the 4 course tasting menu.

I recently (October 2011) had a lovely meal at Ai Fiori, meaning Among the Flowers in Italian, in NYC on a Friday night.  It is one of numerous NYC restaurants by chef and owner Michael White.  I reserved at the last minute, which means simply that I called a few days in dvance.  I really wanted to snag a reservation at Eleven Madison Park, but that will have to be done with more planning.  My husband and I dined  at Ai Fiori right after they were awarded 28 points by the new Zagat Guide 2012.  We were lucky!

The space is large and lovely, and situated in the Setai Hotel in midtown.  The room is neutal with subdued lighting, bordering on a little too dark. Having an early reservation at six, we were able to watch the wait staff(numerous) perform their magic, and the changing of the guard with the clientele.  But of course, it’s all about the food.

The Amuse Bouche….wild mushroom soup with crouton.

Granchio (crab)….blue crab, watermelon, prosciutto di parma, sorrel.

We chose the 4 course tasting menu, and we believe it’s the best way to test the chef as well.  We started with an amuse bouche that was mushroom soup, but so much more in a beautiful presentation.  The appetizers and pastas were outstanding, as were the desserts.

1st course Sardine….mediterranean sardines, tomato confit, ceci mille foglia, olio nuovo.

2nd course Agnolotti (Ravioli)

2nd course Pasta stuffed with escargot (a special for the evening)

The fish or  meat course (pesche/carne) we could have done without.  My halibut with trumpets, corn, pomodoro and polenta was perfect with a beurre blanc sauce.  My husband felt that the rack of lamb was ordinary, and bordering on heavy.

3rd course Ippoglosso (Halibut)

3rd course Agnello (Lamb)

Desserts were a triumph.  I had a sweet called Budino and it may have been one of the best desserts of all time.  the olive oil, lemon cake was good, but not in the same class.

4th course Dessert

4th course Dessert Olive oil cake

Go to Ai Fiori and do appetizers, pasta, and dessert.  Amazingly creative.

Phyllis Hewitt