Waiting for Anton Part 2


So the 48 hours after my last posting were a continuous panic attack.  What could I possibly scrounge up for a 3-star Masterchef to eat?  Sure this would be a great story to tell, but at the moment it was far from funny.  Although it was the first thing C had to share with everyone we crossed paths with last week.  And everyone sure thought is was hilarious!  And an unlimited budget and creative freedom only made the scenario a bit more daunting.

Although it has been over a month since I have been back in France, I am still relearning my tools of moderation.  My day usually revolves around my daily treat, which usually is product of a trip to the boulangerie, or I happen to be in the neighborhood of Laduree, or a something else that involves a helpless pastry.  Needless to say, because I’m surrounded by decadent, comforting foods, I am starting to crave things spicy and fragrant things that remind my life out West (meaning NYC and the 31 flavors of takeout).  Speaking of which, I’ve been on a bit of a curry kick the past few weeks.  And I was confident enough in my technique to pull it off elegantly for the big dinner.

I made a special trip to Passage Brady in the 10eme for some authentic spices at sensational prices.  I fried up some onions and ginger with my spices (fenugreek, tumeric, mustard seeds, and divinely aromatic curry leaves) and added the last heirloom tomatoes of the season.  I hit it with some coconut milk for some richness.  I carefully threw my curry sauce through a sieve to give it a touch of refinement for French tastes.  And from there, I used the sauce to slowly poach a few chicken breasts.  Paired with basmati rice with lemon zest and curry leaves, it was a simple, but special dinner for a very special guest.

The real star was my first course: empanadas of espinacas catalan.  I did a quick sautee of garlic, baby spinach, chickpeas, pinenuts, and golden raisins.  I hit it generously with salt, pepper, and lemon juice and wrapped it all up in puff pastry.  A tasty first course full of surprises.

Following the dinner party, I got a text from the host exclaiming it was a hit and the food was ‘supergood’.  Bon!  Success!  Does this mean that I, Jessie Kanelos from the Midwest USA, might have a chance at becoming a French Masterchef via reality tv simply by cooking a humble chicken curry for the big judge?  Sure enough, the guest star of the evening was caught up at work and did not attend.  Here I am, feeling played like Stanley Tucci in a Big Night that I did not even attend.  Although Frederic Anton could not enjoy my empanadas, maybe you will!…

Espinacas Catalan Empanadas makes 4

1 sheet puff pastry

6 cups baby spinach

1/4 cup pinenuts, gently toasted

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 egg white

zest of one lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt & pepper

1.) Preheat oven to 400 f.

2.) Heat olive oil over low heat and cook garlic for several minutes until fragrant, but not brown.  Add golden raisins.  Start adding spinach one handful at a time.  When it has wilted, add more until all cooked.  Add chickpeas.  Place mixture in bowl and let cool.

3.) Roll out pastry dough and cut into 4 parts.  Add a handful of the spinach mixture on one side of the parts and fold over.  Crimp edges to close the triangle.  Poke a few holes on top of the empanada.  Brush with egg white for a pretty sheen.

4.) Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Serve as light lunch with a green salad.  Or as a first course at a very important dinner party…

Barley Risotto…An Accidental Delight

Continuing my post-France cleanse, I’m still attempting to be a vegan as much as possible, give or take the Girl Scout cookies that have miraciously popped-up in New York City these days.  Nevertheless, being a veggie has not been as restricting as I have always imagined…although I do get a few groans from friends when making dinner plans.  Although I often lack the discipline to resist those delectable afternoon Tagalongs, being a vegetarian has challenged me to explore new ingredients and think creatively about all those stockpiled beans and whole grains in my cupboard.  Needless to say, let’s talk about barley!  Plus or minus the mushroom barley soup of my childhood, the grain was more or less foreign to me.  I picked up a Goya bag of it from the market, cooked it up, and was hooked.  It can be mixed with soymilk milk and sugar for breakfast, mixed in with soups, or as a perfect addition to a chopped salad.  And it’s a nutritional powerhouse!  Amino acids!  Fiber!  Antioxidants!  And let’s not forget that it has a similar texture of pasta!  What’s not to love?

This afternoon, I had planned to do my own take on the classic mushroom and barley medley by just cooking the barley as instructed and giving it depth by adding sautéed mushrooms.  I started by sautéing the mushrooms with shallots and onions.  In the meantime, I had some homemade vegetable stock simmering away next to me.  To my chagrin, I had all the components of a risotto at my fingertips.  Since barley has the same rounded shape as Arborio rice, why not give it a try as a risotto?  I threw the barley in with the nicely caramelized vegetables and added a half-cup of broth.  I stirred the bubbling barley mixture until the liquid evaporated then added another half-cup of the broth.  Continue stirring in the broth one half-cup at a time until the barley plumps up and the risotto begins to develop a creamy texture.  But be prepared to stir; elbow grease is the only fool-proof ingredient added to risotto.  I added a splash of red wine to give it a touch of depth and sweetness.  And added a little brightness with a handful of chopped parsley and a small squeeze of lemon juice.  And top it off with a handful of parmesan cheese (controversial for a vegan, but necessary for a risotto) and a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.  And voila!  Your accidental dinner is done!