Maigret and the Chicken Paillard

Books and food, two of my favorite things, perhaps why I enjoy combining those subjects in a post.  The Inspector Maigret mystery series by Georges Simenon is one I've been working my way through.  Still more to go as he was a very prolific author, with close to 500 novels to his credit.  Simenon started very young, working as a newspaper reporter, which saw him visiting the seamier side of life in the city, but later provided plenty of material for his books.  The one I've just finished, Maigret and the Wine Merchant is typical.  They're all fairly lightweight, and not exactly cozy mysteries, but creative stories and interesting from a Parisian post-war perspective.  And I like his good relationship with Mrs. Maigret, who is always cooking up some delicious meal.

To go along with the French theme, we have a chicken breast, sort of a butterflied technique called paillard.  New to me, but maybe you all do up paillards on a regular basis.  I even had the grill, which had only ever been used, until lately for pancakes on the opposite side.  What a revelation, a use for something I already have.  Got to love that.  In case you're not familiar with the method, I'm going to lay it out for you from Serious Eats.  If you go to the link there will be photos of each step.


Asparagus Gratin and Rules of Civility

 Don't you just love coming across a new author, one who is witty, erudite, and just plain fun to read?  Rules of Civility, the very well-written debut novel of Amor Towles, hits all the high notes and then some, transporting us to the last years of the 1930's, .New York City prewar Cafe society,   Another time, and peopled with a cast of carefully drawn, singular characters, and an engaging narrative.  Highly recommended.

The book's heroine at one point determines that, being in a singular state at the time, is not going to stop her from enjoying a meal out on her birthday.  Dining alone was not usually something done by women.  Even today, it's not always an easy thing.  Assumptions are made.  She takes a taxi to a good French restaurant.

"After taking my name the maitre d' asked if I would like a glass of champagne while I waited.  It was only seven o'clock and less than half the tables were taken.  'Waiting for what?' I asked.  'Are you not meeting someone?'  'Not that I know of'.

This scenario is repeated with the waiter.  She perseveres however and orders an asparagus gratin and a glass of white wine, and for the entree, the specialty of the house: poussin stuffed with black truffle.

Now you have it. Where the urge came to make an asparagus gratin.  I've done various things with that lovely vegetable, but this was my first gratin.  Enough of a description was given to guide my selection of a recipe, and to make the appropriate adaptations.  Most had the stalks laid out whole, but I prefer eating them cut to a more reasonable size.


Skordalia and Horta - Not Just for Cretans

 I've just finished reading The Tomb of Zeus, by Barbara Cleverly, author of the terrific Joe Sandilands series.  This novel introduces her new series with protagonist, Laetitia Talbot, archeologist and occasional sleuth. The story takes place on a dig in Crete, where they will be searching for the legendary tomb of Zeus.  Of course a murder takes place and needs to be solved.

Her first night after arriving, Letty is served some local dishes, as her host, an eminent archeologist, is also a proponent of all things Cretan.  Their fare includes horta, and fried fish with Skordalia. His starter, which turns out to be a test of Letty's nerves, is a "chalky white mound of animal tissue folded in tightly curling waves and sitting in the middle of her plate...This culinary delicacy was surrounded by a moat of reddish-brown fluid..."  lamb's brains, just to see how she'd react.

I was not tempted to reproduce that particular dish, but the horta and skordalia piqued my interest.  Skordalia is a sauce (or dip) often served with fried, battered fish.  I wanted to try that.

When I visited Crete several years ago, it was during the off-season, and many restaurants were closed.  Nevertheless,  I do remember enjoying all of my meals. Complementary raki everywhere may have helped.  No one served me lamb's brains.


Meat Pies with Guacamole, Hooroo Curtis!

It's Hooroo Curtis week, we're saying goodbye, Aussie style to our currently reigning IHCC chef, Curtis Stone.  I don't always get a chance to participate, but have enjoyed the times I do.  For my farewell meal we had Meat Pies and Guacamole Curtis.

I lapped my pies over, empanada style however, and they paired nicely with his tasty guacamole, served on beds of crisp lettuce.  Here's the recipe from his web site, where you can find the meat pies as well.  Mine differs a bit, as I used left-over lamb stew from the freezer, which needed clearing out mate.  And, the extras make super lunches for the next day(s).  More on meat pies here and here.


Chilaquiles Verdes or Tortilla Casserole with Green Sauce

It's a real bonus when what you have, especially items that need to be used up, coincide with an easy, quick and delicious Mexican meal.  The IHCC theme this week was a Potluck with any of the past chefs, and Rick Bayless was my choice with his excellent book, Authentic Mexican.

I had just enough chicken, chicken broth, left-over tomatillo green sauce, the tortillas, and etc. etc.  Perfect.


The Bee's Kiss and Madeira Cake with Passion Fruit Glaze

This seems to be the season for slightly shady or shall we say perversely themed novels on my shelf.  The Frida thing done, I picked up The Bee's Kiss, by Barbara Cleverly, another in her Joe Sandilands mystery series.  I've enjoyed them so far, and am reading the books in order, this being her 5th in the series. The year is 1926 and Joe is back in London after a number of cases had kept the Commander in India.

A prominent, aristocratic feminist leader, Dame Beatrice, with high up connections, who turns out not not to be entirely what she seems, is bludgeoned to death in her suite at the Ritz.  Often mysteries will have a really unsympathetic and despicable character murdered at the start, and I am privately cheering.  This is definitely one of those.  Still the crime must be solved, the backstory discovered, and that is where we readers get involved and interested in the motives and whodunit.   Of course, this one does get resolved, not quite as we would expect, with all the internal betrayal, and upper level corruption going on, but still with unexpected twists and turns, solved in the end.


Pork Medallions in a Dark Chocolate Chipolte Sauce

Our current (August/September) Cook the Books Club selection is The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo, by F.G. Haghenbeck, hosted by Debra of Eliot's Eats.  I began his novel, intrigued to learn more about the famous artist.  My interest in her was originally piqued by a mole demonstration I attended at the Kona Chocolate Festival several years ago.  The very charming Mexican chef prepared a recipe for Mole Poblano which he said could be found in the book, Frida's Fiestas.  And after tasting his delicious meal, I ran right out (via Amazon) to get that book, which is indeed a beautiful one, filled with wonderful recipes, art and photography, much of it taken at her famous Blue House, and co-written by Frida's step-daughter, Guadalupe Rivera, who states in an Epilogue that the purpose of her writing was to offer "a different aspect of Frida's way of life, the joyous one."

That said, I must admit to dismay and a bit of revulsion at the other side of her life, as revealed in  Haghenbeck's novelized account of Frida's mostly painful and amoral life.  It was difficult finding very much to relate to or admire in the book, dragging on as it did with sordidness and pain. Not a fun or uplifting read.

In spite of the awkwardness of  the writing (due partly to translation?) and fictionalized bits, dream sequences, etc., it seems to be a true enough rendering, at least in spirit, of Frida's life, according to her more accurate biography, Frida by Hayden Herrera, upon which the movie was based.

Inspiring though, as far as food goes, lots of recipes and references to wonderful meals.  I just love eating and cooking Mexican.  How to choose??  Then whilst reading one of my little mystery thrillers, there happened to be a mention of "Pork Medallions in a Dark Chocolate Chipolte Sauce".  Now that grabbed my attention.


Tangy Larb with Roast Chicken

I only recently even heard of this dish, often found in Thai restaurants (though actually a Laotian specialty).  Guess I wasn't looking too closely at the menus.  Perhaps the name had something to do with that??  Anyway, I did make it last month with ground beef, but having a nice bit of left-over roast chicken, thought I'd mince that up for a quick no-cook dinner.  Always good to have something different to do with extra chicken, and a beautiful idea in this hot weather.  Usually larb has some sort of ground meat or tofu, which you then cook before adding the flavoring ingredients and lettuce leaves to dish it into.  Many larb recipes call for roasted, ground rice, which I left out, not being certain this added step is necessary.  Easy peasy dinner. 


Making Passion-fruit Mead

Is fermenting cooking?  At any rate, it's food related.  Wine or mead is something I make with excess fruit.  And right now it is passion-fruit, known in Hawaii as lillikoi.  Lots of it around here, some of which I've given away, some made into sorbet, or syrup.  Jam is good.  But, I have to say the easiest way to deal with large quantities of fruit is to dump it all into a nylon straining bag and ferment.  Yea, no worries about the seeds.  The bag will be pulled out at the end of the week, with only seeds left in it.