Halibut en Paupiette, Leek Royale, Red Wine Sauce

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One thing off the top here: Leek royale is awesome velvety delicious stuff. Ok, now that I’m done with that, the rest of this dish is very good too even if my execution is not as ideal or refined as I would’ve liked.

Chef Daniel Bouloud made this, a version of it actually, popular when when he was working at Le Cirque. At his restaurant, Daniel, he kept the popular dish in spirit but updated it a lot. In this version here I am doing a hybrid of sorts. The classic original is a fish, usually sea bass, wrapped in thin slices of potato and pan fried in butter. It is then served on top of sauteed leeks with a rich red wine sauce.

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In his book, Daniel: My French Cuisine, we get the updated version of the classic. It’s a steamed bass fillet with potato lyonnaise “rolls”, a rich leek custard (the aforementioned royale) and the classic red wine sauce, a Bordelaise. I started working on the recipe with the leek custard because that takes the most amount of work and needs to set in the fridge. I simmered the green part of the leeks along with Italian parsley until tender. I then cooked the drained greens in some cream and blended the whole thing, strained it through a fine sieve, seasoned it and blended in eggs and more cream.

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To cook it, I lined a small loaf pan with plastic wrap for easy removal later. I wrapped it with aluminum foil and cooked in a bain marie in the oven until set. This took a bit longer than the recipe recommends. I let the royale cool and popped it in the fridge until dinner time. Before plating, I gently unmolded the royale and cut it into neat 1 inch cubes and let them temper and come to room temperature. I tasted a few on their own. It’s rich with a lovely flavor of leek and has such a great smooth and comforting texture. For a few days after serving it with this dish we enjoyed the leek custard leftovers as a random side dish with dinner. It also goes great spread on crispy bread for a snack.

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Next I prepared the red wine sauce by reducing stock, plenty of red wine and some port along with shallots and thyme. Then I whisked in a crap load of butter until we had a glossy rich sauce. Chef Bouloud uses a vegetable sheeter to make long perfect sheets of potato which he uses to make strips to wrap the fish. I don’t have one of those contraptions so I bought the longest potatoes I could get my hand on and used the mandolin to make long paper thin sheets. This worked pretty well. I seasoned the halibut fillets with salt and pepper and some thyme. Then I brushed the potato sheets with clarified butter and used them to wrap the fish.

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The mistake I made here is to let the wrapped fish sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. The salt drew some moisture out of the fish in the meantime. So, it was a bit of a pain to get the fish to brown in clarified butter when I was cooking it for dinner. With some careful gentle heat I got the potato/fish packets cooked well, but next time I will wrap and fry the fish right away.

To plate, I poured some sauce on the plate and topped it with the fish. I put a couple of royale cubes on the side. I dressed a small salad made primarily of parsley leaves with lemon and olive oil. The salad went between the leek custard cubes. The flavors were awesome and the whole thing worked. With a bit of care with cooking the fish the dish could be quiet spectacular.

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Uncle John (Steven Piet – 2015) B+

I love to slow cook a brisket on my smoker every few weeks or so. I wake at at 3:00 AM, get the meat on the smoker, make some coffee and start a semi-random possibly good possibly crappy movie. I call these brisket movies. Since I’m half awake half asleep I mostly expect these to be mediocre. Well, this brisket movie is pretty damn good. Uncle John is not a serial killer as I expected him to be. The film actually unfolds with very little exposition as we meet John and his nephew who lives in Chicago. We learn about the murder victim from John and his old buddies at the coffee shop. We go along while the nephew is falling for his new cute coworker. The romance might be a bit clunky but it is very sweet and stands in stark contrast to the turmoil of the little Wisconsin town where John is keeping secrets and trying to stay a step ahead of his murder victim’s unstable brother. When the two stories meet up we expect big emotional explosions, expositions but no, the director does a good job maintaining the tension and giving us just enough of a peak into the past and John’s motivation. We manage to stay with the story, care and look forward to what happens next.

Mr. Holmes (Bill Condon – 2015) A-

He’s 93, his brilliant mind is not what it used to be but the character of Holmes played here by Ian McKellen is as interesting to me as ever. In this film, Sherlock is a real person who reads the books Watson wrote (fictionalized) about him and even goes to a showing of one of the movies based on him. What really kept me interested is the wonderful performance by McKellen who plays old Holmes and very old Holmes as two distinct characters. It might not be a tightly wound mystery movie but it is a tender and well made film.

The Overnight (Patrick Brice – 2015) B+

A young couple move to L.A. with their son. They meet a cool hip couple, Kurt and Charlotte, with a kid the same age as theirs. They are invited for dinner and drinks at the L.A. couple’s awesome house. They have dinner, then drinks, then pot, and slowly things get…weird. This is a pretty good drama that keeps pushing the limits of its protagonists. How far would they go? What is plain old weird and uncomfortable as opposed to dangerous or creepy? Maybe Kurt and Charlotte are just lonely and need friends.

Atelier Crenn: Kir Breton

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A Kir Breton is a simple cocktail made from apple cider with creme de cassis. Another “Kir” that is popular is the Kir Royal wich uses Champagne instead of apple cider. The Kir Breton as the name suggests is a specialty of Brittany, the French region famous for great seafood, salted butter and apples.

That’s where chef Dominique Crenn comes from. She is a proud Breton and chooses to serve all her diners this one bite “cocktail” as soon as they settle for dinner at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. The recipe is from her book, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste and like dinner at her restaurant it is the first recipe in the book.

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I chose it as part of a three course dinner I prepared for Diana and I. It’s neat looking, delicious and really not terribly difficult.  The orbs are filled with liquid hard apple cider, encased in a thin shell of cocoa butter and topped with a gel of creme de cassis (black currant liqueur). Sounds daunting? It does, but really it is not difficult to make and requires mostly time in the freezer.

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First step is to prepare frozen spheres of the base liquid – the apple cider in this case. I cooked the hard cider down a bit to remove some of the alcohol or it will never freeze. I froze them in half-sphere molds. When totally solid I removed them and “glued” them together by gently melting the flat sides and attaching them to each other. Now I had frozen apple cider orbs. For the cassis part, I blended creme de cassis with Ultratex-3. This very quickly gives us a thick gel that is not heated at all so it retains the delicious taste and all the alcohol.

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A few hours before service, I made the shell mixture. This is mostly comprised of melted cocoa butter and very little white chocolate. The cocoa butter is relatively tasteless and not sweet. It also hardens very fast if anything cold touches it. So, I used a toothpick to pick up the frozen cider spheres and dip them in the melted cocoa butter. This instantly created a shell around them. With some practice I got some nice smooth ones. I let those rest in the fridge until service. This allows the cider to melt creating the liquid in the shell. To serve it I put the cider filled spheres on spoons and piped a good dollop of the cassis gel on top.

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Trainwreck (Judd Apatow – 2015) B-

It’s mostly a good movie. We get lots of funny moments and a surprisingly good performance by LeBron James of all people. I do think it goes on for far too long (seems like a common problem with Apatow) and the final “show” just did very little for me. It is tough to create a character like Amy, unlikable, honest and funny and sustain it throughout a whole movie. So, big props go to Schumer for doing just that.

Victoria (Sebastian Schipper – 2015) B

This takes an A+ for effort and technical achievement and a C for character motivation, plot and common sense. To clarify this is a 2+ hour film, shot in Berlin and the whole movie is one shot/one take, there are no cuts and no edits. This is truly amazing. We follow Victoria and we stick with her. Everything we know and see is from her perspective throughout the films run time. She is from Madrid and living in Berlin. She meets a group of four guys after a night of partying and quickly strikes up a flirty friendship with them, specifically one of them called Sonne. For the first hour or so I was fascinated by this thing, with the performances and the conversation…and then…well then it turns into a heist film where people make ridiculously dumb decisions. Hey, Victoria, do you want to join us and be the getaway driver? Why yes. Hey Victoria, why not leave and go home now? Nope, I want to drive damn it. Well, this heist seems to have worked out, we should all quietly go home and hide. Right? Nope, let’s go party and leave our drunk buddy in the car right in front of the club for the cops to find. Victoria is an admirable piece of art work and I am glad it exists but as a whole it is the ultimate style over substance.