North African Couscous

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Here is a great way to hide in the kitchen, feed a lot of people, and get those people to talk to each other. Merry Christmas from me!

North African couscous is a dish served in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and…Paris! This is because of the large number of immigrants from North Africa in Paris. Restaurants that serve it are abundant, and here is an excellent article with more history and information:
http://www.saveur.com/article/Travels/Maghreb-Cooking-in-Paris
The following is a simplified recipe with the most common ingredients; there is also a link to a more elaborate one in the Saveur article.

Season a pound each of boneless lamb shoulder or leg chopped into large pieces for stew and chicken thighs, and dredge in flour before browning in oil. Remove from pan, and saute a few chopped garlic cloves, celery stalks, and carrots, and one onion and turnip. Add a handful of golden raisins, a few tablespoons of tomato paste, a few cinnamon sticks, and a few bay leaves. Return lamb and chicken to pan, and include a cup of dried chickpeas that have soaked overnight (or you can use canned later in the recipe); pour in enough chicken stock to immerse all, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, until meat and chickpeas are tender (a few hours).

Add a sliced zucchini; a tablespoon of Harissa, a North African hot pepper paste; and a few cans of chickpeas, drained (if using). Simmer for about ten minutes.

Boil four cups of water with a few tablespoons of butter and a pinch of salt, and pour over two cups of couscous. When the water has been absorbed (in about ten minutes), stir with a fork. Use your fingers to further separate the grains.

While the stew is finishing and couscous is steaming, brown several merguez, a spicy lamb sausage, until done. This step is optional, as you may have trouble finding them.

To serve, spoon some couscous into a bowl, ladle over some stew, and stir in more Harissa to taste. Place a sausage on top (if using).

Truc (Tip): See my post “Gluten-Free Goodies” for an appropriate and easy dessert for this meal.

Your Ticket to the Best Restaurants

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There are some good tips in this slideshow on how to procure reservations at some of the world’s most famous restaurants. At Tickets in Barcelona, the closest thing to El Bulli you will find, we were admitted at the last minute in place of no-shows. (See my post “Ferran Adria Liquid Olives.”)
http://www.cntraveler.com/galleries/2014-12-18/worlds-toughest-restaurant-reservations-momofuku-ko-next-chicago/1

Music to My Ears

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At this time of year, you may be listening to what my father calls “flutey” music… The Champagne flute, named for the long, narrow instrument, seems to be losing favor with wine connoisseurs. I like the sound of this, because I have never felt comfortable imbibing from it. I have to tilt my head back to keep it from bumping into my nose, and the bubbles become so concentrated that they burn my sinuses. Better to ring in the New Year with a white wine glass, and maybe a saxophone…
http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-15/the-tragic-flute-why-you-re-drinking-champagne-all-wrong.html

Canneles de Bordeaux

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This petite patisserie is the chiaroscuro of pastry… The dark brulee of its exterior contrasted with the pale creaminess of its interior is a work of art. When done well, to dramatic effect, it will make you want to manically manger beaucoups!

All White

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Why not do an all-white arrangement for winter? Valentino conveyed the same sentiment with their recent couture collection. White is fashionable now…

That’s Pessac-Leognan to You

Eric Asimov explains the value of sauvignon blanc and semillon in Bordeaux. Also, it is a grave mistake to discount these white wines in winter; I for one will be serving some at my holiday celebrations…
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/dining/wine-review-white-bordeaux.html?referrer=

Yule “Logs”

French pastry chefs in Paris are getting pretty far away from a “log” with these buches de Noel…
http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2014/12/09/buche_de_noel_yule_log_the_traditional_french_christmas_dessert_redesigned.html

Braised Red Cabbage

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Pretty purple cabbage is a perfect companion to pork chops (see my posts “Pork Chops and Apple Sauce” and “How to Make Pork Chops Tender”). Heat a few tablespoons of butter in a covered casserole (see my post “A Case for the Casserole”), and saute a peeled and chopped onion and apple. Slice a head of cabbage into thin ribbons and place on top. Sprinkle on some cider or sherry vinegar, salt, and sugar. Cover and place in a preheated 300-degree oven. Stir after 30 minutes, and continue to cook until soft.

Chenin Blanc

Residual sugar is what I think of with chenin blanc. Shame on me, because Eric Asimov says it is quite versatile and that Vouvray sec can be bone dry. Attend his Wine School for advice on which ones to try:
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/12/03/dining/wine-school-vouvray-sec.html?referrer=

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