Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Christina Tosi represent the two insular, mysterious, chilly poles of the little universe on which I spend far too much of my free time casting my gaze – that of haute, hoity-toity, over-intellectualized cuisine.
(I mean, really …. it’s just food. No one obsessing over the merits of a milk-based vs. egg white-based meringues is saving lives. But yet … food is the place where we meet and explore the fault lines of our war and peace; battles, treaties, mergers and marriages are made and broken over bits of crusty bread. Can the relative merits of one’s comestibles somehow influence the outcome of the discussion that is embarked upon while ingesting them? And if so, should a chef use his or her culinary powers for good or evil? Discuss.)
Jean-Georges is the apotheosis of modern French dining; he is the grand pooh-bah of a restaurant empire spanning the globe, and encompassing all it has to offer. There’s ABC Kitchen, a love letter to seasonal, locavore, organic cuisine written in Careme‘s blood (think roast suckling pig, smoked bacon marmalade, grilled baby leeks), and then there’s the 3-star eponynmous Jean Georges, nouvelle cuisine to the hilt with a dash of Asian influence (think sea trout sashimi draped in trout eggs, lemon, dill, horseradish).
Christina is the apotheosis of DIY, punk rock, high-brow comfort food that turns bored, too-cool NYC hipsters into pie-hoarding, drooling, hyper-active, gleeful, credulous school girls. I thought only Lady Gaga was capable of inspiring that kind of personality-shifting devotion among the baleful downtown set, but judging from the lines that have snaked around Momofuku Milk bar’s block on 2nd ave. for three years, her fans are as die-hard and unwavering as Gaga’s.
My husband Stephen is the apotheosis of the anti-foodie movement. While he sympathizes with the socio-political implications of Slow Food, the notions behind the move to systematically revamp school cafeteria food, various organic vanity gardens planted by sundry political figures and the democratization of farmer’s markets; while he likes a hedonistic simmer in a delicious pile of yummy, bountiful, seasonal food as much as the next guy, his inherent no-nonsense approach to life and his violent and visceral distrust of fussiness and superfluous flights of whimsy render him less than bedazzled by, say, the presence of $18 chicken liver presented on crisp triangles of artisanal flatbread, on anyone’s menu. $32 a pound cheese? Don’t get him started.
Please! Whatever you do … don’t get him started.
And when he’s being honest with his stomach, his appetite, his desires and his palate, the first thing he reaches for is a cheesy, carb-y, bacon-flecked wedge of processed transfat.
When I told him I was making him dinner involving endives and asparagus based on a Jean-Georges recipe, he furrowed his brow and offered, “I like pasta.”
Click below for the recipes and his verdict on all of the foodieness.
Asparagus, Endive and Ham Gratin
Makes about 6 servings
Based on a recipe by Jean-Georges with tweaks
- ¼ cup butter + 1 TBSP, separated
- ¼ cup flour
- 32 ounces milk (don’t cheese out with lowfat or God forbid, skim)
- Salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste
- 1 1/2 pounds of asparagus and 3 endives
- 1/3 lb. sliced smoked Virginia ham
- 4 ounces of favorite hard cheese, grated
- To make béchamel sauce, melt butter in large saucepan over high heat; don’t let butter brown. Whisk in flour slowly and whisk until smooth and creamy, like pudding. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of milk or so and cook until thickened over medium heat. Don’t let milk boil. Whisk in the remainder of milk, continue whisking briskly for about 3-5 minutes, longer if you can stand it (the more vigorously you whisk, and the longer you stay at it, the smoother, creamier and shinier the sauce will be). Continue cooking over low-medium heat until thickened. Season to taste with salt, pepper and just a touch of nutmeg. Nutmeg is extremely potent – a dash will infuse the entire dish. This can be done a few days ahead (just store the sauce in a container, covered, in the fridge).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Wash asparagus and endive. Cut woody stems / bases off. Peel the bottom half of asparagus and core out the tough center of the endives. Boil the asparagus in salted water until tender (about 3 minutes), scoop out and put in ice water bath to maintain green color if you like, otherwise rinse in cold water; boil the endive in the same water for about 12 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse in cold water.
- Meanwhile, melt 1 TBSP butter in small skillet. Cut about 10 slices of ham into ribbons, reserving enough to wrap up the asparagus and endive, about 16 slices. Fry the ribboned ham in butter, adding salt and pepper to taste. Set aside when golden brown.
- Group the asparagus into four-six small handfuls. Wrap each bundle with a few slices of ham. Wrap the endives with a few slices of ham. Sprinkle with fried ham.
- Pour with béchamel sauce and garnish with grated cheese. Pop in oven for about 20 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and cheese is golden brown and melty.
Nutritional Breakdown of Asparagus Gratin: About 350 calories and 19 grams of fat per serving.
Cost Breakdown of Asparagus Gratin: About$3.00 per serving.
Verdict / In the Future: “I have nothing to compare this to. Without context, proper judgment is difficult,” he droned on in a lawyerly manner, while I stood over him impatiently waiting. “The flavors are great, but it’s drowning in sauce. Like a somewhat healthy mac and cheese. With too much sauce.” Got it. Next time, I will definitely reduce the amount of sauce. Or just use the excess on sandwiches, as a binder for grilled cheese, tossed with rice, etc.
Cherries and Cream Cookies Recipe
Makes about 36 cookies
Based on Christina Tosi’s recipe
Ingredients for Milk Crumbs:
- ¼ cup 1 TBSP nonfat milk powder
- 2 TBSP AP flour
- 1 TBSP cornstarch
- 1 ½ tsp granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 TBSP butter, melted
- ¼ cup white chocolate, melted
Method for Milk Crumbs:
- Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.
- Whisk 2 TBSP plus 1 ½ tsp milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt. Stir in melted butter until combined (it will still be crumbly). Spread on silpat and bake in oven until its dried and slightly crumblier.
- Cool completely. Transfer to bowl, stir in 2 TBSP plus 1 ½ tsp milk powder and milk chocolate. It will still be crumbly – don’t stress if it doesn’t “come together.”
Ingredients for Cookies:
- 2 ½ cups AP flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 cup butter, unsalted (two sticks!)
- 1 cup + 2 TBSP granulated sugar
- 1 cup + 2 TBSP light-brown sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- 1 large egg, beaten in small bowl
- ¾ cup dried cherries, blueberries or cranberries
- 1 recipe milk crumbs
- Line two baking sheets with silpat or parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and soda, salt.
- Cream butter with sugars and corn syrup until fluffy, ideally in a stand mixer; this will take longer than it feels like it should, about 7 minutes. Add egg and incorporate.
- Add dry mixture in three separate intervals, mixing until just incorporated each time and pausing to scrape down the sides. Add milk crumbs and mix until just combined. Fold in dried fruit with a spatula.
- Spoon batter onto baking sheets. About half of the dough will fill two baking sheets, leaving two or so inches between healthy golf-ball sized scoops of dough. Freeze dough for use in future or bake second batch when first batch cools.
- Pop first batch in oven and cook for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on racks.
Nutritional Breakdown of Cherries and Cream Cookies: About 135 calories and 5.5 grams of fat per cookie.
Cost Breakdown of Cherries and Cream Cookies: About $0.30 per cookie.
Verdict / In the Future: “Did you put crack in this?”