French Category

New Year’s Eve Seafood Stew

Feasting on seafood stew has become tradition for us every New Year’s Eve. The basking and bubbling of clams, crab, meaty fish, and aromatic vegetables, in a silky, buttery tomato broth, have come to symbolize all that each year brings, from its boiling points to its steady simmers to finally, its moments of celebration.

This is a recipe I adapted from the Carla Hall and Clinton Kelly recipe for Pike Place Market Seafood Stew. The biggest difference is that I make a Quick Shrimp Stock to enrich the stew, and less white wine. I always prefer amplified seafood flavors.

It’s simple to make and customize this stew to whatever seafood you prefer or whatever looks fresh at the market. If you use Alaskan King Crab legs, make sure the crab isn’t too salty and its shell should be hard and crisp, not too pliable.

Making the stew (before adding any seafood) a day ahead and letting it sit overnight will help concentrate the flavor. These types of stews are always better the next day.

Ingredients
2 Leeks, chopped (white part only)
1 1/2 to 2 bulbs Fennel, chopped (save some of the green fronds from the top for garnish)
5 Shallots, chopped
5 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
2 28 ounce cans whole San Marzano Tomatoes
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1/2 bunch fresh Parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh Basil, chiffonade
1 cup dry White Wine
5 cups Quick Shrimp Stock, strained
1 32 oz box of low-sodium Chicken Broth
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
1 dozen Littleneck Clams
1 pound shell-on Wild Shrimp, deveined and peeled (shells saved for Quick Shrimp Stock)
1 pound Sea Bass or other meaty white fish, cut into 2″ pieces
4 or 5 Alaskan King Crab Legs, cut at segments, and scissor cut for shell removal when eaten
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons Butter, with extra to enrich stock
Salt and Pepper
Crusty Bread

For the Quick Shrimp Stock:
Over high heat, add the shells from the peeled shrimp to an 8-quart stock pot and saute them with a tiny bit of olive oil until they crisp up and are golden brown. Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until the stock has reduced by about half, about 15 minutes. Strain stock and toss out shells. Set aside.

For the Stew:
In a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and butter, then the leeks, fennel, shallots, garlic, and half of the parsley. Sauté the vegetables with a wooden spoon until they are softened and begin to caramelize, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and mix it in with the vegetables, then add the wine and shrimp stock. Stir for a few minutes, making sure to get any fond or the caramelized brown bits at the bottom of the pot, stirred into the mixture. Hand crush the tomatoes into the stew, then add the remaining puree from the can. Stir in the basil, red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Return the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat so the stew is at an even simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Check seasonings, adjusting if necessary. Add butter to further enrich the stew and make it have a silky finish.

Add the fish and the clams, removing clams to a plate as they open. Discard any unopened clams. Then add the shrimp, cover, and cook until the seafood finishes cooking, about 10 minutes. Finally, add the crab and the clams, just until they are heated through in the stew.

To serve, spoon stew into big bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley, fennel fronds, or a bit of fresh tarragon. Serve with chunks of crusty bread or toast up a halved baguette, rub with fresh garlic, and slather with herb butter.

Ring in the New Year, ready for anything! 🙂

London Calling! – From Britain to Belgium in a day

Morrissey woke me up this morning.

“Here is London, giddy London, Is it home of the free or what?” So, what’s got me so giddy?

Medieval torture of course! Traitorous prisoners, the beheaded ghost of Anne Boleyn, the reviled White Tower, and the infamous Crown Jewels!

On the menu today: The Tower of London!

A nice addition to the tour was a trip through the Royal Armories. Jordan and I geeked out so hard on all the swords, axes, crossbows, and overall medieval pageantry of the exhibit.

It hit me only afterwards that today was our last full day in London. Yikes, we still had so much to do!

The British Museum was next, but before that, we headed straight for the Underground. We absolutely couldn’t leave London without sampling Britain’s “true national dish” Chicken Tikka Masala!

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Brick Lane and Whitechapel are known as ethnically diverse, primarily Bengali, neighborhoods in London. Devon Avenue in Chicago has a similar vibe.

Funny enough, Whitechapel is also where the Jack the Ripper murders occurred apparently, but today, it’s a vibrant community where English it seems is everyone’s second language.

We decided on Zayyabs. It’s actually a Pakistani place so we knew the dish would be slightly different than the creamier Indian version. But as chicken tikka masala is also one of those dishes that varies from chef to cook to region like any good paella, gumbo, or feijoda, we decided to go for it.

And we are so glad we did. Every dish was densely spiked with spices, richly layered, heavily perfumed, and authentic to the bone.

The only bad thing about our lunch at Zayyab’s was the inevitable food coma that followed.

Thank ye gods for the long Tube ride to the British Museum.

Power nap, go!

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The British Museum is an unbelievable treasure.

Packed inside this enormous structure is an arena of antiquities spanning from the Far East to the Far West and everywhere in between.

I had to force my mind to focus. The countless stories behind these objects of old pushed and pulled at my imagination as I walked the halls. It was marvelously overwhelming!

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As we descended the grand white steps in front of the Greek Revival façade of the Museum, Jordan and I felt we had zoomed through centuries of history in just a few short hours. Naturally our heads were buzzing and our stomachs rumbling.

So we made our way down a few streets to Le Bistro Savoir Faire.

The charming French brasserie invited us in with its rosy ambiance. Its cherry wood framed windows, French sconces, white napkins, and quotations and French cartoons painted across the walls fit our contemplative moods perfectly.

We supped on paté, bouillabaisse, warm baguette with butter and salt, bone-in ham, and a light Pinot Noir.

And for dessert, we exchanged thoughts on the past few days whilst taking turns cracking the caramelized sugar sheet on our crème brulee.

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I felt I was dream walking when we left Le Bistro only to “wake” up in another dream – this one full of sparkle, whimsy, and good cheer. It was Christmas on Oxford Street. Amongst cascades of twinkling white, blue, green, and silver lights, Jordan and I shared one final sweet before surrendering to sleep.

Liege gauffre or Liege waffles from The Waffle Place. What makes the Liege waffles so up and beyond is the batter which has chunks of sugar in it. When cooked the sugar chunks caramelize to form a crispy almost candied coating on the top of the waffle.

Happy Christmas indeed!

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London Calling! – WWII, Churchill, and The Wolseley

Being a big WWII history buff, one of Jordan’s life goals was to visit the Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms in London. Through the years I’ve also become a bit of a fangirl for this stuff, especially after watching documentaries like The World at War and reading books like Alan Clark’s Barbarossa: The Russian German Conflict, 1941-45.

We were both awed by what we saw today.

T-34 and M4 Sherman tanks, Spitfires, an Enigma de-coder that helped turn the tide of the war, personal letters between lovers, a moving look at the Holocaust, and much more painstakingly displayed. It was all there for us to experience and we soaked in as much as we could.

One could easily spend days here, and seeing both old and young faces around us, it’s clear how impactful WWII has been on generations.

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Churchill’s Bunker was both surreal and kind of spooky to walk through. It seemed a place frozen in time. One’s mind was filled with sounds iconic to WWII like old-timey phones ringing, crackly speeches from tube radios, and Churchill’s monotonous and gruff British voice that inspired so many.

We spent copious hours down there back in the 1940s, and emerged from the bunker into a dazzling London night.

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After a quick nap for me and a stroll across the bridge for Jordan, we met back up to decide on supper.

Oddly enough both of us were in the mood for meat and potatoes. Perhaps our souls were hankering for a good old fashioned meal.

Again our trusty concierge set us up with a great recommendation. Although The Wolseley was booked for reservations that night, we suggested we try our luck and stroll by.

And lucky for us, the host at The Wolseley was such a nice gentleman and he was able to accommodate us straight away despite how busy they were.

It seems every restaurant near St. James and Picadilly Circus has a grand story to tell. And The Wolseley was no exception.

According to their site, the space was owned by Wolseley Motors in 1921 and was designed to be a prestigious car showroom. Venetian and Florentine influences are clearly apparent with the restaurant’s grand pillars, arches and stairways.

The addition of a banking counter and offices with a Japanese lacquer theme came in 1927 when Barclays Bank acquired the building. The post box and stamp machine are still there today.

It was only in 2003 that it became the remarkably unstuffy restaurant with impeccable service and food that it is today.

Escargots Ă  la Bourguignonne

Endive salad with bleu cheese and candied walnuts

Chopped Liver

Filet de Boeuf au Poivre

Tenderloin, pommes frites, kale

Lyonnaise Potatoes

Apple Strudel with vanilla ice cream

After our sumptuous meal, we walked the graceful London streets around us and mooned over this great city with its long turbulent history and its leading-edge present.

I think I’m starting to feel quite at home here. 🙂

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London Calling!

November 5-9, 2010

“The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.”
– Oscar Wilde

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Only a month after we visited Italy, I had the opportunity to travel to London for business.

I pondered whether or not to make a 2nd vaca out of it for, oh I don’t know, a good two milliseconds or so.

Are you kidding? London?! Of course we were going!

Visions of medieval knights, architectural wonders built with bricks steeped in history, the Tube, and of course, British food (famous or infamous depending on who you talk to), filled my mind to bursting for weeks before our departure.

This girl was on a mission and wasn’t going to leave London hungry that’s for sure.

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For me, our weekend had to start with fish and chips. But where to go? There were literally hundreds of fish and chips places all over London.

After a little online elbow grease, we headed out to The Rock and Sole Plaice in Covent Garden.

It’s a small joint with the fryers right where you walk in and a tiny basement sit-down with walls adorned with groovy aquatic art. Family-owned for 130 years. They fry up all manner of fish from cod to plaice (flounder) to prawns. Malt vinegar, curry sauce, onion gravy, mushy peas and pretty much the lot you’d expect at a proper fish and chips place also garnished the simple straightforward menu board.

Seriously, this was what you call damn good fish fry.

Haddock and Chips with Mushy Peas

Haddock with Curry Sauce

Classic Cod and Chips

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We emerged from Rock and Sole – our clothes smelling wonderfully fried – and took a brisk walk through hip youthful Covent Garden under a slight drizzle.

We pretty much just let our eyes and feet lead us where they wanted to.

And it seemed all roads led to Trafalgar Square!

Yinka Shonibare’s “Nelson’s ship in a bottle” art installment

General Sir Charles James Napier

Whitehall to Big Ben

Admiralty Arch

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Despite the grey skies and sheen of rain on my cheeks, I was giddy.

And also ravenous for more English grub!

So after a quick change and chat with the concierge at the Cavendish, we were off to Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill which was just a few doors down.

Now don’t let the name fool you. “Bar and Grill” may conjure up images of loaded potato skins and Miller Lite, but Bentley’s is a veritable institution.

Opened in 1916 in the same Victorian building it occupies today, Bentley’s gothic facade speaks of a London from the past. But upon entering, Bentley’s gorgeous interior feels contemporary and undeniably British at the same time.

And the food – classic, crafted, local, and infused with pride.

Oysters sourced off the coast of Scotland – delicately sweet then refreshing like a salty spray of sea against rock

Pot of Wild Cornish Mussels – white wine, parsley, garlic, butter

Sole a la Meuniere for Two – butter, lemon, capers, parsley. Incredible.

Steamed Cavolo Nero

Local Cheeses – sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, bleu, fresh figs, arugula

I can truthfully say that I sampled English food from casual to classical all day today, and the exquisite flavors of fresh fish and shellfish, sweet thick butter, good salt, and creamy tart cheese lingered on my tongue all the way home.

Brilliant.