While visiting friends in Phoenix, we had brunch at Chico Malo. For now, it is just the local Mexican/South American restaurant around the corner but keep an eye on this one. The Group that owns it is about to explode on the scene. Chico Malo literally means “bad boy” in Spanish. The menu is only good things but with a bad boy edge. The food was AMAZING!! Each item on the menu sounded better than the next. I loved that they aren’t trying to re-invent who they are with a whole new menu, for brunch. There are things like burritos and Chimichangas and in some cases, they turn those up.
Everything we ordered was great, but I can’t get my mind off the Nana Marcella’s Drunken French Toast. I’m going to do my best to duplicate. The presentation was so beautiful and the melding of flavors so incredible. The long pieces of baguette and caramelized bananas were stacked as if building a campfire. I learned from the menu that the bread had been soaked in a tres leches bath that not only enhanced the flavor but softened the tough crust to make it easy to cut with a fork. The 5-spice butter was the perfect balance of flavors to cut the fat in the butter while giving a blend of spices that danced all around my tongue, finally landing at the back with just a hint of heat. I had my idea of what the spices were but a quick visit with the General Manager confirmed allspice, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon.
These two hints gave me the start I needed to play mad scientist in the kitchen. I mixed eggs into the tres leches bath and I let the bread soak overnight. I did the same thing with the butter. I played around with amounts of each spice until I felt they all shined but the heat from the cinnamon was what you remembered. And so, I began. A couple of things I would be sure of before I started. When cutting your baguette, make sure your pieces will fit comfortably in the pan. You want them long but not so long that they fall apart when they are in the pan. Have everything you need to “build” the dish ready to go before you start cooking. This dish is better served hot, so don’t waste time getting everything together at the end. I noticed when I looked at the picture of the recipe again that there is a pool of tres leches under the toast then syrup. I ordered the Aged Rum Syrup and piloncillo from Amazon. You can probably get the piloncillo at a Latin market and make your own rum syrup by adding rum to maple syrup and reducing until the right thickness.
This dish was such a decadent start to the day. It was rich and the Mimosa I had helped to ease the richness. This is a great breakfast to share or even multiply for a breakfast buffet.
I have returned from Julia’s, La Peetch! It was everything I thought it would be. It was so much more and a little less at the same time.
For anyone that fancies themselves a good cook. For anyone that has ever watched a black & white episode of The French Chef, on PBS; walking into the kitchen at Julia Child’s home in the south of France and seeing the peg board wall still adorned with every kitchen utensil imaginable is awe inspiring. Somewhere in your mind you understand that these can’t all be original pieces but it doesn’t seem to matter. YOUR IN HER KITCHEN!!! As you “tour” her approximately 10X13 kitchen, you can feel her, you can smell the remnants of meals past and your fingers want to graze over every edge.
Our first evening there we were served appetizers on her cottage table. They were simple, as I thought they should be. We had a little cheese and both green and black olive tapenade on crostini. Each of us explored the home and compared it to pictures on our phones. We sat on the green velvet couch and walked the grounds imagining Julia and Paul walking every step with us.
The next morning, we met again at that cottage table for coffee and “morning pages”. We were given a prompt and our writing began. For me, this is where I think my separation from Julia began. I had a crazy expectation that she would work through me and I would suddenly have words flowing from my fingertips. Not so much. As the week went on and this exercise got more frustrating for me, the bloom fell of the rose, as they say. But, in a good way. I became less focused on Julia and more focused on the women I was with. I started listening to their words. I paid more attention the food and beverage I was consuming, in the moment, instead of what Julia would have been eating and drinking. As I did that the words started to come for me. The drink started to taste sweeter and I had a keener sense of how our food tasted. I was able to enjoy even the simplest meal of pasta with Roquefort sauce.
It was last day and I had yet to find my perfect magazine pitch or outline for my breakout cookbook. Some had already began their journey home and others were taking in a sunny day at the pool. Some had gone exploring in St. Paul de Vence. I decided to take my camera and journal and explore the property practicing my new camera skills. I was composing some artsy photo of an olive or a leaf when the piano started. It was so beautiful and magical. It stopped me mid-shot and I started to write. In that moment I found the soul of Julia I had been looking for. It wasn’t her words but her inspiration that came through me.
On the very last day, I found my words and started my project. So while I continue to walk with you on your journey to good cooking I will share some peeks into my project along the way. Here is my version of the Roquefort Pasta we had a La Peetch. Bon Appetit!
Pasta with Roquefort Sauce
A creamy, not overpowering sauce of Roquefort cheese & butter tossed generously with fettuccine pasta. Serve with baguette and a fresh green salad.
Note: I cook my pasta in a well salted boiling water. As the saying goes the water should taste like the sea.
Reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking water for the recipe.
Right before putting everything together, while the water is still boiling hot, swirl it in your serving bowl, to warm it, then toss out.
In a small bowl combine Roquefort and butter with a fork until well blended and soft.
Put pasta in warm bowl with butter mixture and toss slowly so pasta can absorb flavors of cheese and butter. Slowly add cup of cooking water until "sauce" forms and pasta is coated (you may not need whole cup). Season with nutmeg. I use a good amount. There's something about cheese and nutmeg.
Toss with lemon zest and rosemary. Taste and adjust seasoning with fresh ground pepper.
Serve with fresh greens dressed with a simple vinaigrette and fresh bread with butter. Don't forget the wine ENJOY!