Monthly Archives: November 2013

Tarte à l’Oignon

While several Thanksgiving dishes call for onion – stuffing, for example – the onion is certainly not the star.  So, four sweet onions remaining in the refrigerator after the holiday called out to be featured in one of this weekend’s dinners.  As I was not yet ready for a decadent onion soup, I decided on an onion tart.  Below is my recipe for this savory tart.

For the crust:

  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ¾ stick chilled unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons iced water

For the filling:

  •  4 sweet onions, sliced
  • Dijon mustard (I recommend Edmond Fallot mustards from Burgundy)
  • Gruyère and/or Emmentaler cheese
  • Fresh thyme
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

To prepare the crust, mix the flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  With a sharp knife, cut the butter into small cubes and add to the dry ingredients.  Rub the pieces of butter and the dry ingredients together with your fingers until the butter is broken into tiny pieces.  Add the egg and mix it into the dry ingredients with a fork.  Then drizzle in the iced water.  Begin to knead the dough quickly into a ball.  Add more iced water until the dough is just wet enough to form a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

When you are ready to start putting the tart together, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Place two tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter in a large sauté pan on medium heat.  When the butter is melted, add the onion and sauté until the onion softens, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough and add flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin and the work surface.  Roll the dough until it is about ¼ inch in thickness and large enough to cover the bottom of a 9 or 10 inch tart pan.  Prick the crust with a fork in several places to prevent the bottom from bubbling.  Pre-bake the crust in the middle level of the oven for 10 minutes.

Crust

Rolling out the crust with a French rolling pin

Remove the crust from the oven and turn down to 400 degrees.  Spread a thin layer of mustard on the bottom of the tart shell.  Then place slices of the cheese on top of the mustard.  Top with the onion mixture and some fresh thyme.  Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and slice into wedges.

Onion Tart

Just out of the oven

Enjoy the tart alongside a salad of fresh greens and pomegranate seeds for a colorful dish.

Slice of Tart

Slice of onion tart served with fresh greens

Bistrot La Minette

I wrote the below review after my first dining experience at Philadelphia’s Bistrot La Minette in the summer of 2011.  After dining there several times during the past two years, most recently for dinner on Sunday, I can still say that it is a top choice.

My husband, my dear friend and I started the evening with a toast of Kir Royales sweetened with Crème de Cassis.  Looking back, those cocktails should have been a hint at the luxurious meal that was to come.

Although the menu changes every three months, the chef insists on preserving some staples, including the escargot and rabbit from our first trip.  As a result, the menu on Sunday contained some old favorites as well as new options.  For our first course, we ordered the following:

  • Terrine de foie gras – duck liver paté with arugula, cognac raisins and a honey vinaigrette
  • Salade d’endives – endive, fennel, walnuts, Comté, pears and a walnut dressing
  • Tartar de saumon – salmon tartar, mustard vinaigrette, Puy lentils, crème fraiche and a blood orange vinaigrette
Endive salad

Endive salad

The foie gras was silky and rich; the sweetness of the cognac raisins and the toasted brioche on which the foie gras was served were complemented by the peppery arugula.  Our waiter, Kane, paired the foie gras with a Domaine Berthet-Bondet MacVin du Jura, a white dessert wine that was the perfect counterpart to the lush foie gras. The endive salad made for a lovely presentation and a perfect combination of fall fruit and greens.  The blood orange vinaigrette gave the already refreshing tartar a wintery twist.

Terrine of foie gras

Terrine of foie gras

We then enjoyed the following main courses:

  • Joue de boeuf bourguignon – Burgundy style beef cheeks, bacon, mushrooms, pearl onions, potatoes and roasted carrots
  • Ravioli aux poireaux – leek ravioli, brown butter, carrot puree, spinach and Boucheron cheese
  • Lapin roti à la moutarde – mustard braised rabbit with tagliatelle

The beef cheeks were a rich and hearty, but not heavy, dish for a cold, windy day.  One of my favorite things about the bourguignon was that the potatoes were sliced in long strips and caramelized to a golden brown on one side.  The leek in the new pasta offering served as a mild yet tasty filling to the ravioli.  In addition, we were happy to find that the rabbit was as good as it was the first time, braised to a perfect texture.

Kane was not only very attentive and knowledgeable, but also very creative and generous.  When we ordered the house special dessert, the tarte tatin – an upside down apple tart with caramel ice cream – Kane told us that he would also bring a tasting of sorbets and the mille feuille aux framboises to our table.  The cassis, pear and apple sorbets (all made in house) were as fresh as the fruit themselves, and I would recommend them as a light postlude.  I also must mention Kane’s dessert wine pairings, especially his Calvados cocktail with ground cinnamon and ginger to accompany the tarte tatin.  The sweet spices softened the Calvados and transformed it into tarte tatin in a glass.

Trio of sorbets

Trio of sorbets

After another superb meal, I am confident that there is no cozier place to be on a frigid fall or winter evening than in the dining room of Bistrot La Minette.

Tarte tatin and mille feuille

Tarte tatin and mille feuille

Calvados (paired with tart tatin) and Port (paired with mille feuille)

Calvados (paired with tart tatin) and Port (paired with mille feuille)

Bistrot La Minette – Authentic French Bistrot in Philadelphia’s Queen Village

 by Susan E. Poppiti, Esquire

This month, cousin Susan offers this interesting restaurant review.  For those of us who don’t get out of Delaware much, “bistrot” is an alternative spelling for “bistro”.  –Ciro

When I think of restaurant reviews, I think of Ruth Reichl, former restaurant critic for the New York Times and last editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.  Prior to writing a review, Ms. Reichl would dine at a restaurant up to five times over a period of many months.  In addition, Ms. Reichl frequently visited restaurants in elaborate disguises to prevent chefs, servers and sommeliers from discovering her true identity as she dined.[1]

I therefore begin my review with a disclaimer.  I did not visit Bistrot La Minette five times prior to writing this review; I dined there once.  Also, I was not incognito; I went during the heat wave in early June and decided that it was just too hot for a wig, hat and heavy make-up.  Despite my nonconformance to Ms. Reichl’s practices for my first restaurant review (at some point, I would like to find myself in a position to follow her practices), I believe that I can offer a thorough, objective opinion.  I dined at Bistrot La Minette with three other discriminating palates – my husband Vincent and two of my original cooking students who will attend my program for the third time this summer (part of the program will include accompanying us on “A Food Tour in Provence, France”).  Together we sampled ten dishes from the menu, each ordering a different appetizer and main course and then sharing two desserts.  This deliberate selection gave us the opportunity to enjoy a multitude of taste sensations.

Bistrot La Minette, located on 6th Street just south of South Street, is a truly authentic French bistrot.   I first realized this when I scanned the drinks side of the menu and saw the four brands of Pastis offered and the variety of options for Kir Royales, from the traditional Crème de Cassis to the St. Germain elderflower liqueur.  Then, words like sardines, rabbit, duck and escargots started to pop off the menu, and I knew this restaurant was truly français.

The appetizers ranged from a pâté en croute to wild mushrooms served in a Jura wine over a puff pastry with fava beans.  One of our starter selections was the grilled sardines served with roasted red peppers.  The presentation was striking – the alternating silvery sardines and red pepper strips created an attractive mosaic.  The lemon fennel seed vinaigrette was an ideal accompaniment to the sweet peppers and slightly salty sardines.  Another of our choices was the Pissaladière, a traditional Provençal onion tart with anchovies and olives.  Rather than serve a slice of a larger tart, Chef Peter Woolsey created an individual small square of crisp pastry, perfect for cutting into four smaller squares for sharing.  The favorite appetizer was unanimous – the Escargots de Bourgogne.  These snails were served with herbed butter in individual tiny potteries.  Each was topped with a thin crouton to provide a perfect crunch along with the slight chew of the snail.  Not only was the presentation ideal for passing around to share, it provided the perfect vehicle to enjoy every last drop of herbed butter.  Once the snails were consumed, we tipped back the small containers like shot glasses and left no trace of delicious butter behind.

Some restaurants offer such dazzling appetizers that the main courses are anticlimactic.  This was not the case at Bistrot La Minette.  The main dishes were just as attractive and tasty as the starters.  We enjoyed the lapin rôti à la moutarde, rabbit braised in Dijon mustard, with homemade tagliatelle pasta on the side.  The tanginess and bite of the mustard in this classic French preparation highlighted the mild, sweet rabbit.  Our group also sampled the pan roasted duck breast with black currant sauce, white asparagus and potato confit.  The white asparagus served as a light and bright contrast to the thick, sweet sauce.  My main course was the faux filet, a pan seared NY strip, with porcini jus.  I was compelled to order it when I saw that it would be served with one of my favorite spring delicacies – ramps.  (As you’ve probably noted from the fava beans, ramps and asparagus, the chef does an excellent job of incorporating fresh, seasonal ingredients.)  This beef proved to be a very tender and flavorful cut.  As one of my student friends is a Peggy, we had to order a side of the Gratin de Pâte “à la Peggy”, the baked macaroni and cheese named after the chef’s wife.  Even this classic American dish was made more French when enjoyed alongside the above dishes.

To conclude our dining experience, we ordered a trio of sorbets and a trio of gelati.  The highlight of the fruit sorbets was the dark, rich cassis, and the focal point of the gelati was the rich, creamy coffee.  This was a light, refreshing ending to a meal filled with a myriad tastes.

On a practical note, the prices were reasonable, with appetizers ranging from $10 to $14 and main courses ranging from $18 to $29.  The wine list is also affordable and offers a good variety – an important feature in light of the many BYOB restaurants in Philly.  We noted that the restaurant also offers movie nights on its outdoor patio where diners can enjoy a French movie along with a French meal.

I highly recommend Bistrot La Minette for anyone in search of a French culinary adventure on this side of the Atlantic.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association.  Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2011.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


[1] See Ruth Reichl.  Garlic and Sapphires.  New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Styer’s Garden Café

A hidden gem of a restaurant, Styer’s Garden Café is set in an antique greenhouse at Terrain in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.  The walk from the parking area to the café is a treat in and of itself.  You can stroll through the store and browse among gourmet food items, cookbooks, candles, terrariums, table settings and bath products.  Or, you can follow the path through the nursery to check out the outside décor, which, at this time of year, will include pumpkins and gourds of all shapes and sizes as well as colorful pepper plants and ornamental cabbage.

Arriving at the café, you will enter a conservatory of tables covered in linen tablecloths where the horticulture, lighting and friendly servers create the most serene and pleasant dining atmosphere in the area.  Unlike many restaurants where poor acoustics prevent you from hearing the person across from you, Styer’s Garden Café arranges the tables and greens to provide a peaceful and private surrounding.

The ever changing seasonal menu offers a taste for every palate.  I dined there on two occasions in the early fall – the first was with my husband Vincent and two friends and the second was just the two of us.

Our favorite appetizer was the Doe Run Hummingbird Cheese served with pickled farm beets and micro greens.  This soft ripened mild cheese from Doe Run Dairy in Chester County paired perfectly with the tartness of the pickled beets.  The colors in this dish were lovely – the red and gold beets, the creamy white cheese and the splash of green.  We also enjoyed a fall salad of roasted squash and arugula topped with blue cheese, candied walnuts, cranberries, balsamic and sunchoke crisps.

On one visit we focused on the seafood entrées, while on the other we opted for the meat dishes.  Overall, the seafood choices prevailed.  The grilled whole branzino was superb.  The skin was crispy, and the bed of toasted faro, pickled heirloom tomatoes, fennel and toasted almonds on which it was served was the ideal complement to the mild taste and flaky texture of the fish.

We also ordered the lobster three ways – butter poached tail, knuckle and radish salad and tempura fried claw.  Typically, poached lobster would not entice me, but the variety of preparations (especially the tempura claw!) along with the cauliflower vadouvan, a curry spice blend with a French flair, made this a noteworthy dish.  The only minor problem with the plating was the lack of a plate – it was served on a wood board that permitted the melted butter to run over the sides.

Of the meats on the menu, we chose the pork duo of braised cheeks and crispy belly and the braised lamb neck.  The duo was served with roasted Brussels sprouts, crispy polenta, hazelnuts and fig and cider jus – a side dish of true comfort food.  The braised cheeks were cooked to perfection, falling apart at the push of a fork.  The belly, on the other hand, was not sufficiently rendered to melt in your mouth.  As a result, the meat was tough and required forceful cutting to attempt a taste.

The braised lamb neck with local mushroom ragout, maple glazed squash steak and spicy carrot harissa made for a much better main course. The lamb was tender, the “steak” had a sweet maple crust and the harissa added an agreeable spice flavor.

For dessert, we enjoyed the generous cheese board of five local cheeses, including Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert and Rogue River Smokey Blue, along with honeycomb, quince paste and crostinis.  Ordering a cheese board for dessert is just the thing to do to finish your final few sips of wine.

Last, but not least, I must mention one of the highlights of the meal – the bread.  So many restaurants do not pay enough attention to the quality of the bread, while the bread makes one of the restaurant’s first impressions.  The bread at Styer’s Garden Café is meant to impress, and it succeeds.  It is a soft, buttery brioche baked in a clay flower pot accompanied with fresh butter and a unique salt – lavender or sage, for example.

Its tranquil setting and quality ingredients make Styer’s Garden Café difficult to beat. The fact that you can BYOB is an added bonus, making for a reasonable night out.  As the café also serves brunch and lunch, there is no excuse not to stroll through the store and nursery and then stay for a comforting meal.

Pumpkins at Styers

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association.  Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2013.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Which Came First…the Quail or the Egg?

The best place to find both quail (and quail eggs) is on the D’Artagnan website.  This purveyor of gourmet meat and game based in Newark, New Jersey, sells semi-boneless quail, perfect for a quick roast.  Each package contains four quail, ideal for a dinner for two.

For the stuffing, prepare a mixture of dried berries, including blueberries, cranberries and cherries, slices of crystallized ginger and shelled pistachios.  Add a tablespoon of olive oil and sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  Stuff each quail with two tablespoons of the berry mixture, and place the quail in a baking dish.  Drizzle with additional olive oil and place the dish in an oven preheated to 425 degrees.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the quail are golden brown.

This is the season to serve the quail with roasted root vegetables, such as parsnips, beets and turnips.

While the quail and root vegetables are roasting, start cracking those eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast!

Quail eggsAnd add some of the shelled pistachios…

omelet

Salmon and Soba

Last night my husband returned from the fish market with two large salmon steaks.  While we typically enjoy salmon fillets, the steaks were a tasty alternative.  I decided on an Asian theme as I remembered some soba – Japanese buckwheat – noodles among our pastas.

I sautéed the salmon steaks in a nonstick pan with a few tablespoons of salted Irish butter.  The total cook time was about 11 minutes as the steaks were so substantial – we shared one and saved the rest for today’s lunch.  I flipped the steaks back and forth several times with large wooden spatulas so that each side became a golden brown.   After removing them from the pan, I sliced each steak into two along the center bone and topped with chopped chives, French finishing salt and a squeeze of lemon.

For the side, I prepared the soba noodles according to the package instructions, boiling them for 5 minutes and then running cold water into the pot to prevent them from sticking together.  Using a wire ladle, I scooped the noodles into a serving dish and mixed in fresh greens, including baby bok choy and red chard.  A generous drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce as well as some fresh ground pepper served as the seasoning for the side.

Chopsticks are optional!Salmon

Noodles

Saucisse Provencale

Last night I prepared a simple but tasty first course featuring a lamb, garlic, rosemary and mint sausage made in store at Whole Foods.  I sautéed the thin link sausage in a bit of extra virgin olive oil until it browned, only about five minutes, turning it several times.  Accompanying the sausage on the appetizer plate were some baby greens – red chard, spinach and arugula – drizzled with spicy harissa oil; a sun dried tomato; and a dollop of Edmond Fallot Provencal Dijon mustard flavored with red peppers, garlic and olive oil.  The perfect bite consisted of a slice of sausage, a leaf of green, a small piece of tomato and a touch of the mustard.