Book Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais

This is a book for foodies, especially ones that are fascinated by the French restaurant business.

I like how Ligaya Mishan of the New York Times describes the book:  “Slumdog Millionaire meets Ratatouille.

Hassan is a Muslim Indian who leaves his native country after tragedy hits his family. His larger than life father directs his family in a culinary journey across Europe, eventually settling in France and opening Maison Mumbai, a flamboyantly Indian restaurant in a small town in the Alps.  Across the street, Madame Mallory is the proprietress and head chef at a well respected Michelin two star restaurant.

I wish the story settled here with the relationship between the young Indian man and the classically trained French chef, because the pages devoted to their relationship are the best parts of the book.

But the book follows Hassan as he climbs the French cooking ladder, gaining Michelin stars along the way, and making friends in the French food industry.

Rags to riches isn’t a bad storyline, but I think this book has so much more potential than this simple story of ascent.  As the story left behind Madame Mallory, I grew more and more dissatisfied, anxious for it to return to her and the small town in the Alps.  It never did, even though she’s fondly recalled throughout the story.  Her reach into Hassan’s life never completely disappears.

Another peeve of mine is how Hassan abandons his rich Indian culinary heritage once he begins training in the classical French style. I was looking forward to hybrid Indian/French cuisine and instead got a return to the most classic French style possible.  Hassan had so much more to offer!

There’s one powerful spiritual moment for Madame Mallory that is so poorly depicted (and understood by the author), that I was very put out.  Mallory has an encounter with Jesus in a roadside chapel, but the author doesn’t realize that’s what’s going on.  It’s a powerful, transforming moment that changes the entire trajectory of the book, and the author gives credit to an inspirational painting. Only Jesus is capable of that kind of transformation in someone’s life. But sadly, he doesn’t get the credit.

Despite my minor annoyances with the book, it is truly enjoyable and a great chance to dive into the world of high cuisine, with a focus on supreme quality ingredients and extravagant preparations.  Read it for the relationship between an old French chef, stuck in her ways, and a young Indian boy with a unique gift for preparing food.

If you’re considering purchasing this book as a result of this review, please consider using my link to Amazon, so I get referral credits to purchase more books to review.

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Published in: on September 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Fondue Revisited

Last night, I hosted a fondue party for my book group, and I decided to make it from scratch (largely because Trader Joes was out of my favorite mix). I’ve heard some competing methods about preparing it (and that it’s notoriously easy to mess up), so I made a couple different batches to compare. And WOW, the same ingredients can turn out very differently, depending on how you put them together. One batch turned out like a pile of glue, even though the taste wasn’t bad. The other worked perfectly. Even though I’ve done a post about fondue before (read it here), I wanted to revisit it to update the preparation method, since it makes such a huge difference.

I need to give credit where is due, since Chari, my friend with the Swiss husband, told me the secret to preparing it. And, of course, it turns out her method worked best. (Sorry to have doubted you, my dear.)

Foolproof Fondue

For 3-4 People

Ingredients:

8 oz Emmentaler Cheese
8 oz Gruyere Cheese
2 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp
1 cup white wine (Sauvingnon Blanc is my favorite) + ¼ cup
1 tbsp kirsch (cherry brandy)
1 large garlic clove

Directions:

Grate the cheese and place it in a gallon sized Ziplock bag. Add the cornstarch. Zip it up and shake it until the cheese is covered with cornstarch. (At this point, you can refrigerate it overnight, if you want to prep it ahead). Dump the contents in a large bowl. Add the wine. Let it sit for an hour, so the cheese absorbs some wine.

In a small cup, combine reserved wine and cornstarch. Set aside.

Cut the garlic clove in half and smear it all over the inside of a large sauce pan (this keeps it from sticking and tastes yummy). Place the pan on the stove and set to medium low heat. Allow the pan to heat. Slowly add the cheese mixture, a handful of a time, constantly stirring slowly until the cheese melts. Don’t allow it to boil!

Once all the cheese has melted, assess the thickness of the sauce. If it’s too thin, slowly add some of the wine and cornstarch mix and stir. Add more if you need it.

Once it achieves the desired consistency, transfer the mixture to a heated fondue pot (unless you cooked it in your fondue pot to begin with, then place it on the fondue pot stand with heat).

Remember to stir the fondue regularly to keep the bottom from burning.

Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm  Comments (1)  
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Swiss Fondue

How could I talk about Swiss food without mentioning fondue?  Technically, I didn’t have fondue during this last trip to Switzerland.  The reason is probably quite surprising to most of my readers.  Mainly, it’s not official fondue season.  Sure, you can find it in some touristy places year round, but the Swiss don’t tend to eat fondue unless it’s colder out.  Winter is prime fondue time.  A burbling pot of molten cheese tastes best on a chilly day, anyway.

In the states, we’ve gotten some of the fondue craze, so we’re familiar with some of the different forms of fondue out there, especially chocolate fondue, served for dessert (or in my case, any old time).  But, the Swiss eat several different kinds of fondue, some which you might not have experienced before.

There’s the classic cheese fondue which typically includes the hard Gruyere cheese mixed with the softer Emmental or Appenzeller.  It’s melted and mixed with wine or kirsch and served over a flame in an earthenware pot, like this one, which Chari and Chris brought back for me one year. 

A brief intro to fondue pots: they come in several materials.  For cheese, look for earthenware, which is traditional.  But, you can’t make chocolate or meat fondue in it.  For that, you need the metal kind, with the top tray that lets you rest your fork in it.  Technically, there are different forks for the types of fondues, with the bread one having 3 tines, and the meat ones having 2 tines. Although some fondue pots are electric (and probably the best for beginners and occasional users, since they are easy, Teflon coated and therefore easy to clean, and can be used for all forms of fondue), most use sterno fuel, which can be purchased in liquid or little gel pots. 

 I prefer the pots of gel, which are single use and have less mess.  I found the gel pots at Crate and Barrel here in the states at a really good price, 3 pots for under $5, which seemed like the best deal around. 

I learned that many Swiss don’t make the fondue from scratch but consider the boxed mixes perfectly satisfactory, and after trying a few myself, I have to agree that they’re fabulous.  I took a few home in my luggage and was pleased when customs didn’t confiscate them.  You can find some of these mixes in the States, but not all stores carry the authentic Swiss ones, which are superior.  The American versions aren’t typically as good.

While most Americans will stick to dipping white bread in their cheese fondue, the Swiss will use a variety of veggies, in addition to their artesian loaf bread.  I prefer lightly steamed mushrooms or boiled new potatoes, but cauliflower and carrots work great too.  With all those veggies, it’s a healthy meal, isn’t it?

When you eat fondue, it’s a good idea to drink wine with it. According to the Swiss, it keeps the cheese from congealing in your stomach. Basically, it helps you digest the huge quantity of cheese you just ingested.  Not sure about the medical basis to this, but it certainly tastes nice, when consumed in moderation, of course.

I haven’t yet tried it, but another popular way to do fondue is to cook meat in a metal fondue pot (different than the earthenware cheese one).  Fondue chinoise is a pot of broth, and you dip various meats into the boiling broth to cook it, before you dip it in a selection of dipping sauces (ie. dill or curry). Fondue Bourguignonne is also a meat dish, but the cooking liquid is boiling oil.  That one isn’t so kid friendly, or waistline friendly, if you ask me (Hey kids, let’s play around a vat of boiling oil!). 

To make the traditional, homemade version of Swiss cheese fondue, here’s a basic recipe.

Ingredients:

1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half

½ lb grated Gruyere Cheese (approx 2 cups)

½ lb grated Emmental or Appenzeller cheese (approx 2 cups)

1 ½ cups dry white wine (Swiss Fendent is best but a Sauvingon Blanc or Chablis would work.) (For a stronger wine taste, go up to 2 cups, but you probably need more cornstarch to make the texture right in the end)

1 tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp kirsch (Swiss cherry liqueur)

a pinch of nutmeg

Directions:

Use your fondue pot directly on your stovetop to prepare the mix.  Before you get started, you might want to get the sterno going on your fondue setup wherever you’ll be eating.  You’ll transfer the pot there when you’re done. 

Rub the inside of your fondue pot with the garlic clove.  Discard the rest or float in the mix. Your choice. The rub seasons it and keeps the cheese from sticking. 

Next, over medium heat, get the wine to a simmer. (At this point, I’ve seen several recipes add a tablespoon of lemon juice.  I cannot fathom why.)

Mix the cornstarch and kirsch in a bowl and set aside.

Here’s the tricky part.  Slowly add the mixed cheeses and stir as you add, careful to avoid clumps.  If it starts boiling, turn things down. No boiling allowed. 

Once the cheese is melted, slowly add in the mixed kirsch and cornstarch.  Everything should thicken shortly. Add your pinch of nutmeg to season.  I’ve also seen white pepper used here as well.  Some recipes have added powdered mustard, but I don’t think that sounds very nice.

Promptly remove the pot from the stovetop and transfer to your prepared sterno setup.

Make sure that you monitor the sterno’s heat to keep the cheese from boiling.

Dip your bread and veggies in the cheese and enjoy.

Rösti

I’ve been back from Switzerland for two weeks now, and I must admit, there’s some food that I can’t get out of my head.  I thought I’d introduce you all to some more Swiss food favorites, since I’m craving them something fierce.  In the next several days, I’m going to do posts featuring a Swiss food and a recipe for preparing it. Bon appetite!

First off, let’s talk about potatoes.  I thought the Irish loved potatoes, but if you ask me, the Swiss are the ones that have the most uses for them.  In particular, they use them in Rösti, their national hashbrown like dish that’s served at any meal. 

Chris and Chari took me to an authentic Rösti restaurant, where it was the main menu item. I got to experience the different ways the dish is served.  The pictured version has ham and Appenzeller cheese in it.  Yum.  But, I saw versions with chopped onion and diced bacon.  The Zurich version adds cumin and onion.  It’s also very common to add fried eggs on top. 

If you’re a cook like me who likes to find creative ways to use leftovers, this might be a good recipe for you.  Let’s say that one night you do steak and boiled potatoes.  A couple nights later, you can use the leftover potatoes in a Rösti that will be a very different dish. 

Here’s how to make Rösti

Boil unpeeled potatoes and refrigerate to cool, preferably overnight.  The next day, grate them with a course grater.  Now, the fun part.  Heat a heavy skillet with butter or lard over medium heat (nobody said this was low fat).  Press down the grated potato firmly with a wooden spoon.  The challenge is to flip the whole thing to brown the other side.  Chari suggests sliding it onto another plate.  You’d mix in the onions or other ingredients prior to browning.  As you can see from the version I ate, the cheese can be melted on top, but it’s often chopped into little slices and cooked in the potatoes as well.  Serve piping hot.

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 10:24 am  Comments (4)  
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