A Holiday Must: The Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet at Mr. Purple

         Mr. Purple, a swank rooftop restaurant and bar on the 15th floor of Hotel Indigo in New York’s Lower East Side, is again hosting Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet.

         As my friend Victoria Collins describes this special pop-up event, it’s a funky apres-ski lodge in the sky with fur-lined seating, ambient lighting and a custom Veuve Clicquot champagne bar inside a magically lit igloo–think the ultimate snow globe experience–one with drinks and food.

         Sip this classic Champagne and nibble on the limited-time menu featuring such foods as a rich cheese fondue as well as other sweet and savory fondues, short rib empanadas, tempura baby zucchini, and pretzel bites while enjoying the all-encompassing views of the city and locally sourced foods as well as the vibrant feel of the pulse of New York.

         Operated by the Gerber Group, the hospitality industry powerhouse, Mr. Purple has garnered high praise from Thrillist and Gotham and is definitely the place to be this holiday season.

         While sipping Veuve Clicquot, give a toast to the Widow Clicquot who after her husband’s death took over his business and ensured that it would become, in time, an international company. The word veuve is French for widow and Barbe-Nicole was only 27 when her husband died in 1805. It was a time where there were few if any French businesswomen and none were allowed to even have a bank account. Yes, we have come a long way.

         But Widow Veuve was audacious and bold. To encourage Napoleon’s Officers to protect her property she gave them bottles of her Champagne and plenty of it. Of course, being on horseback meant the officers couldn’t hold both bottles and glasses. So they jettisoned the glasses and used their swords to cut through the necks of the bottles, a practice now known as sabering according to Tilar J. Mazzeo who described this incident in his book, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It.   Needless to say, you shouldn ‘t try this either at home or on a horse. Just pop the cork instead please.

         The widow’s bribe worked. The officers got to drink fine Champagne, riding away happy and the Widow Clicquot’s property was safe. The Widow also revolutionized the Champagne industry with her innovations including a way to produce a crystal-clear champagne free of sediments as well as creating the first blended rose champagne and the first registered vintage Champagne. Her dream all those years ago was stated by her plainly in 1831: “I would like my brand to be ranked first in both New York and St. Petersburg”

         We’d say her business plan worked out quite well. But what we really love is another of her famous quotes.

         “Lobster salad and champagne are the only things a woman should ever be seen eating.”

         We can drink to that.

         See you at Mr. Purple.

         Reservations for Veuve Clicquot Winter Chalet, which begins November 15, can be made up to can be made 10 days in advance at https://www.mrpurplenyc.com/.

Le Relais de Venise’s Secret Sauce

 Little did we know that when we dined at the corner restaurant near our hotel in Paris that we were eating at a place where for years there’s been a fight over the secret sauce that’s served with their steaks.

        Maybe it’s a French thing.

        For some background, my husband and I were on our honeymoon and had booked a Viking River Cruise on the Seine and then added some before and after stays in Amsterdam where it is more easy to get run over by a bicyclist then a car and Paris where we stayed at a little hotel near the metro in the 17th arrondissement so we could visit other parts of the city without spending a fortune on cabs. Though we didn’t plan it this way, Hotel 10 Le Bis, our hotel was near numerous little cafes and a little grocery store where we could easily—and cheaply eat or buy food for quick meals and snacks.

        One intriguing café was Le Relais de Venise where every night we would see long lines of people waiting to eat either in their dining room or on their outdoor patio. Though the interior of the restaurant looked so French bistro with its polished dark wood, tiny tables with crisp white table cloths, and servers dressed in black uniforms, the outdoor section was right on a busy corner filled with traffic and pedestrians, noise, and the rumbled of trucks and sounds of horns honking.

        What could be so great about lining up to eat there, we wondered. But one evening, after climbing up from the metro station and seeing there was no line, we decided to give it a try. The only tables available were outdoors and so we sat at a very small table next to another small table where a single woman sat, smoking a cigarette. That turned out to be a very lucky thing.

        When our server arrived I asked to see a menu and she (we would find out later her name was Gertrude) abruptly told us she was the menu. Well, what could we order? Steak frites, she replied—either “bloody or well done.”

        We told her “bloody”, and she gave us an approving look. But we were a little baffled. Was there really only one dish on the menu?  It turns out that at this restaurant which opened in 1959, there was only one entrée and steak with French fries was it. When our waitress returned with a salad topped with walnuts (no one inquired whether we had a nut allergy—which fortunately we don’t) and a crusty French baguette, I saw there wasn’t butter on our table and asked for some. Oops, one would think I had tried to order a Big Mac.

        “No butter,” Gertrude told us.

        “There’s no butter?” I asked.

        “No butter,” she replied.

        “How about olive oil?”

        “No olive oil,” she told us.

        Now, I knew that in a French restaurant there had to be both in the kitchen, but I guess neither butter nor olive oil was allowed to be carried into the dining area, so we ate the bread—which was very good—without either.

        This is when the woman at the table next to us decided to intervene. She lived in Paris she told us but had spent years in the United States working as a publicist for musicians in New York. Le Relais de Venise was unique, she continued, because they only served one dish—steak with French fries served with Le Venice’s Sauce de Entrecote.  I guess that makes decided what to order for dinner super easy.

        Since the creation of the sauce, its exact ingredients have been kept secret and that probably worked until the invention of the internet.  After some type of family squabble and a going of separate ways, the sauce itself became a battleground so complex and full of intrigue that the Wall Street Journal did a lengthy article about it all six years ago.   I guess when you serve only one dish and the sauce is a necessary part of it, feelings about who owns the recipe loom large.

        Anyway, after we ate our salad (no choice of dressing as it already was dressed with a vinaigrette which was very good), our steak with fries arrived—with the sauce spooned over the meat. It was delicious.

        What’s in it? I asked the woman next to us.

        “It’s a secret,” she said. “But I’ve been eating here for decades so I know it. But it’s really better to come here.”

        She promised to give me the recipe, but I think she changed her mind because she never sent it. She may have been afraid that Gertrude would get mad at her or maybe the restaurant owners wouldn’t allow her back in. Neither would surprise me.

        I noticed, as we were eating, that the servers were moving through the crowded café with platters of meat and piles of French fries. And almost as soon as I had cleared my plate, Gertrude showed up again, heaped—without asking but that was okay—more French fries and slices of the sliced steak and sauce on my plate. At no charge.

        “They’ll do that until you say you don’t want anymore,” the woman told us.

        “Is there a charge?”

        “No, it’s all part of the meal.”

        Which was a deal as the tab wasn’t very high even with the addition of a glass of the house wine which is made at the family owned vineyard Chateau de Saurs in Lisle-sur-Tarn, 30 miles northeast of Toulouse. Indeed, the restaurant was opened by Paul Gineste de Saurs as a way to help market the wines but now there are at least three—the one in Paris and then another in New York and London. As for the sauce there are several stories. A rival restaurant said to serve a similar sauce says that it is not new but instead was one of the classic sauces said to be the backbone of French cuisine.

        Another has it that the restaurant where we ate was modeled after Cafe de Paris bistro in Geneva which has served this dish since the 1940s. The sauce, according “The History and the Development of the L’Entrecote Secret Sauce,”  a Facebook page devoted to the subject, was developed by the owner’s father-in-law.

        I told you it was complicated.

        Of course, as soon as we got back to our room, I Googled the restaurant and the sauce. It took some digging, but I found recipes for both the secret sauce and the salad. Or so I think. I’m planning on trying them soon along with a French baguette or two from Bit of Swiss Bakery which I will be serving with butter.

Le Relais de Venise-Style Salad Dijon Vinaigrette

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Kosher salt to taste (nutritional info based on 1/4 tsp)
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil)

Whisk or shake in a mason jar until mixture is homogenous.

Serve on a bed of mixed salad leaves topped with some chopped walnuts and shaved Parmesan.

Serving Size: 4

Le Relais de Venise’s Steak Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 large shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 1 bunch tarragon
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Peel and slice the shallots.

Peel and roughly chop the garlic.

Add the olive oil to a small pot over medium heat.

Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft and slightly colored.

Add the chicken stock. Simmer for three minutes.

Pull the tarragon leaves off of the stems and put them in a blender.

Add the remaining ingredients to the blender.

Carefully pour the chicken stock mixture into the blender.

Puree until completely smooth.

Pour back into the pan and bring to a boil. Cook for one minute. If the sauce is too thin simmer for a few more minutes.

Pour over slices of rare or as Gertrude calls it “bloody” or however you like your steak. Serve with potatoes or French fries.

Midwest Made: Honeyed Raspberry and White Chocolate Cream Pie

After more than a decade of living in California, Shauna Sever resettled with her family in her home state of Illinois and rediscovered the storied, simple pleasures of home baking in her Midwestern kitchen, developing what she calls the 5 tenets of Midwest baking: Bake Big, Bake Easy, Bake with Purpose, Bake from the Past, and Bake in the Present. You may have seen Shauna discussing these tenets and sharing some of her favorite Midwest foods recently on CBS This Morning: Saturday.

As she’ll tell you: “From the Dakotas to Ohio, from Minnesota to Missouri, the Midwest is a veritable quilt of twelve states full of history, values, recipes, people, and places that make up the baking culture of the Heartland.” And with MIDWEST MADE, Sever offers bold recipes for treats we’ve come to know as all-American—from Bundt cakes to brownies—most traced to German, Scandinavian, Irish, Polish, French, Arab, and Italian immigrant families that came to call the American Midwest their home. Recipes include             Swedish Flop, Polish Paczki, Danish Kringle, German Lebkuchen, Candy Bar Baklava, Ozark Skillet Cake, Cleveland-Style Cassata Cake, Nebraskan Runzas, Apricot and Orange Blossom Kolacky, Dark-Chocolate Pecan Mandelbrot, Marshmallow Haystacks and so much more…

Here’s one that you’ll be sure to love.

Honeyed Raspberry and White Chocolate Cream Pie
Serves 8 to 10
From the outset, this pie appears to be one of those floaty, feminine food things, because it’s just so dang pretty. However! The fluff factor here—a cloud of white chocolate cream, bolstered by cream cheese—is quickly tempered by the thick raspberry layer beneath it, sharp and nubbly with all those nutty little berry seeds, which I happen to love. The mix of cooked and raw berries help to intensify the raspberry flavor, making you wonder: why there aren’t more raspberry pies out there, anyway?

Midwest Made by Shauna Sever.

CRUST:
2 ounces/57 g high-quality white chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
1 single batch My Favorite Pie Crust (see recipe at bottom), blind baked and cooled
FILLING:
2/3 cup/132 g granulated sugar
1/4 cup/32 g cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup/225 g lukewarm water
3 tablespoons/63 g honey
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups/500 g fresh raspberries, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
TOPPING:
1 cup/240 g heavy whipping cream, very cold
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
4 ounces/113 g full-fat cream cheese
4 ounces/113 g high-quality white chocolate, melted and cooled

Prepare the crust: Combine the white chocolate and cream in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave with 20-second bursts on medium, stirring until smooth. Spread evenly over the bottom of the cooled crust. Allow to set at room temperature.

In a 3- to 4-quart/2.8 to 3.75 L saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt until lumpfree.
Whisk in the lukewarm water, honey, and lemon juice. Add 2 cups/250 g of the raspberries. Cover and set the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the berries begin to break down and the mixture is slowly bubbling all over the surface like lava, cook for 2 timed minutes, stirring often. Stir in the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool completely, about 1 hour.

Prepare the topping: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream with the vanilla and almond extract until stiff peaks form. Transfer the whipped cream to a clean bowl. Swap out the whisk attachment for the paddle. Add the cream cheese and melted white chocolate to the mixer bowl (no need to clean it). Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gently stir about a third of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Assemble the pie: Scatter 1 cup of the remaining berries over the bottom of the crust. Spoon the raspberry filling over them, then add the remaining berries on top. Pipe or dollop the white chocolate cream topping over the pie, leaving a 1-inch/2.5 cm border of the ruby red filling all around the edges. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours to set. Let soften at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

My Favorite Pie Crust
Pie crust purists will likely object, but I’m a big believer in using a food processor for pie crust making. If you don’t overdo it, it just doesn’t get any easier or faster.

We’ve all heard a thousand times that keeping the fat as cold as possible is the key to great pie crusts, and that’s certainly a great tip. But I add a few pinches and splashes that I consider insurance, for when the kitchen is hot or I’m distracted by any number of children or things.
Vinegar is great for tenderness: I like red wine vinegar, but cider vinegar is good, too. A little pinch of baking powder makes a flakier crust a little more foolproof in case you happen to overwork the dough (happens to the best of us). For a crust with a savory filling, I include the smaller amounts of sugar as listed here for flavor and browning. For sweet pies, use 1 or 2 tablespoons, as you like.

SINGLE
MAKES: 1 (9- or 10-inch/23 or 25 cm) round bottom pie or tart crust
11/3 cups/170 g unbleached all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (see headnote)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup/113 g very cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup/57 g ice water
11/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
SPECIAL NOTES > Pat the finished dough into a round disk before wrapping and chilling to make rolling it into a circle later much easier.

DOUBLE

MAKES: 1 (9- or 10-inch/23 or 25 cm) round double-crusted or lattice-topped pie
22/3 cups/340 g unbleached all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (see headnote)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup/225 g very cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup/113 g ice water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
SPECIAL NOTES > Divide the dough in half before shaping and wrapping. For a lattice top, make one disk slightly larger for the bottom crust.

SLAB
MAKES: 1 (10 x 15-inch/30 x 43 cm) slab pie
51/3 cups/680 g unbleached all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
4 teaspoons to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar (see headnote)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups/453 g very cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup/225 g ice water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

SPECIAL NOTES: Make the dough in 2 batches (2 recipes of the doubled recipe, left), for the top and bottom crusts. Shape and wrap each batch separately.

METHOD: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Pulse a few times to blend. Sprinkle half of the butter pieces over the dry ingredients. Process until the mixture resembles cornmeal, about 15 seconds. Add the remaining cold butter and pulse about 10 times, until this batch of butter cubes is broken down by about half.

In a measuring cup, combine the water and vinegar. Add about three quarters of the liquid to the bowl. Pulse about 10 times, or until the dough begins to form a few small clumps. Test the dough by squeezing a small amount in the palm of your hand. If it easily holds together and your palm isn’t dusty with floury bits, it’s done. If not, add an additional 1/2 tablespoon of vinegared water and pulse 2 or 3 more times. Repeat this process as needed just until the dough holds together. Turn out the mixture onto a work surface. With a few quick kneads, gather the dough into a mass.

For a single crust, pat the dough into a disk, wrapping tightly in plastic wrap. For double crust, divide the dough in half and shape into disks. For 2 slab crusts, shape each half of the dough into a 5 x 8-inch/12.5 x 20 cm rectangle. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling.
TIP > The dough will keep tightly wrapped in the fridge for up to a week, and in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Reprinted with permission from MIDWEST MADE © 2019 by Shauna Sever, Running Press.