Thursday, December 25, 2008

Roast Duck for Christmas

Madame and I stayed with my sister, brother-in-law and nephews for Christmas this year. We decided to have duck as the main course meat and then the usual raft of roasted potatoes, roast parsnips, sugar snap peas, carrots and braised red cabbage to cut through the duck's richness.

During our visit to London earlier, we had bought a pair of ducks from the local butcher (Lidgate), so we were assured of some nice birds.

#1 nephew and I made brandy butter and a cranberry relish using bitter orange marmalade and Ribena (an English blackcurrant drink) the night before.

On THE DAY, there was quite a complicated timetable of vegetable and duck prep starting at 09:00 for a 1pm lunch. While others were at Church, I was busy preparing the ducks, peeling onions, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, apples and chopping cabbage, while making sure that the ovens came on at the right times, the Christmas Pudding was properly cooking, my dad was getting his coffee. Somewhere in all of this I had to shower as well.

Most of the dishes were commonplace, but the duck was a new experience for me. Ducks are very fatty and require a lot of cooking time.

Roast Duck
Ingredients (To serve 8)
2 Good sized fresh ducks (about 4 1/2 lbs each)
4 Cups boiling water
Salt/Pepper to taste

For 24 hours prior to cooking leave the ducks uncovered in the refrigerator. This helps the skin dry out and crisp up.

4 hours prior to serving remove the ducks from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature.

Trim wing ends from the ducks. Prick the skin on the breast side of the ducks all over with a roasting fork. Just pierce the skin, do not go deeply into the flesh.

Remove the giblets and rinse the ducks thoroughly, inside and out.

Put ducks on a rack in a pan and pour the boiling water over the ducks allowing the water to collect in the bottom of the pan.

Dry the ducks thoroughly and cover the skin and inside the cavity liberally with salt and pepper. Put the ducks breast side up on the rack and roast in a preheated 425F (210C) oven for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, rotate the ducks so they are breast down and roast for a further 40 minutes. After the second 40 minutes rotate a second time so the breast is up again. Roast for another 40 minutes - or until the ducks are done. You can tell that they are done because the leg joint will loosen and any juices will run clear/yellow with no traces of blood.

Remove from the oven, allow to rest for at least 20 minutes, under a foil tent. When rested, quarter the ducks and serve on a bed of braised red cabbage, garnished with some rosemary stalks and thyme sprigs.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


This isn't a recipe posting just a paean in praise of a new (at least to me) way of making coffee.

I have long been a fan of the French Press as a way of making coffee, but don't like having to filter the grounds through my mustache (especially after shaving it off!) Also I was finding the coffee to be bitter and not really enjoyable any more. Same roast, same grind, but my taster was clearly not working right.

On a plane trip recently, I saw this

Well, I thought $30 how good/bad can it be? I found out after buying one – it is exceptional. All the benefits of the French Press + easier clean up + tastier/less bitter coffee. Downside is that you do use more coffee (just like in the Starbucks Clover), but the rewards are well worth it. Hurry to your nearest Sur la Table and grab one!

Madame also pronounces it delicious – although the strength needs adjusting. It brews up very strong coffee which you ten need to dilute to make an Americano or Latte. It's got me convinced to drink coffee again.

We roast our own coffee (aged Sumatran from to 2nd crack (well a little beyond). I am hoping to roast the coffee a little less to get some of the more subtle flavors out, but without the accompanying acidity.

The Faculty Holiday Party Potluck

Apart from seeing how many nouns in a row I could use adjectively, this post is about the holiday party yesterday.

Madame's department chair is vegetarian, so whenever we go to a party where she will be, we like to take something vegetarian – because for vegetarians these events can be tricky indeed. Last weekend we had been hiking up in the Palomar Mountain State Park and had a pretty good vegetarian chili for lunch, so thought it a good idea to make one for the party. No it was nothing like the one up at Palomar Mountain, but it turned out well and it was all eaten up, so we did something right.



1T + 1t vegetable oil

2 Medium onions (Not sweet, use yellow or white), diced

6 cloves garlic, diced – not pureed

4 t Paprika

2 T cumin - ground finely

1 t dried oregano

2 t finely ground black pepper

1 t salt

2 Jalapenos or other moderately hot peppers - chopped finely

1 Chipotle – whole

3T Chopped parsley

1 Bay leaf

2 Medium carrots - rough chopped medium

1 Large green pepper – rough chopped medium

2 large (28 oz) cans plum tomatoes

2 15 oz cans red kidney beans – drained and rinsed. (Divided use)

1 15 oz can black beans – drained and rinsed

2 large packets frozen corn (not sure of the size, but about 2lbs in total)


In a sauté pan, heat the 1T oil until shimmering and sweat the onions. After 3 or 4 minutes add the garlic and continue to sweat. The onions should not take on any color. In another (non stick) skillet heat the 1t oil and add the cumin, pepper, paprika and fry gently. When they begin to be aromatic, dump them into the onion/garlic pan and combine well. Toss in the carrots, green pepper, jalapenos and allow to warm through for a few minutes.


Place the onion mixture into the bottom of a "crock pot" or other slow cooker. Add the bay leaf, salt, chipotle, oregano, tomatoes (including their liquid) to the mixture and mix well. Puree 1 can of the red beans (I did it on the chopping board with the knife to save dirtying the food processor). Add the pureed beans and the remainder of the kidney beans + the back beans and mix. Add the frozen corn and mix again.

Set the slow cooker for at least 10 hours on low or 6 hours on high, cover and ignore the dish.


Remove the chipotle and the bay leaf and then serve piping hot with the traditional chili accompaniments of sour cream, raw onion and grated cheese.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Madame's birthday...

It was Madame's birthday yesterday, so it was time for something special for dinner. Rex's Seafood had some lovely red snapper fillets, so Snapper en papillote came to mind. However, that while visually appealing can be a bit dull, so what to jazz it up with? The plums in the store looked nice, and their sweetness would do good things for the fish - at least I hoped so. That turned out to be a good guess! The sweetness of the plums and the tartness of the lemons really served to coax out the gentle flavors from the fish - without overpowering it.

All in all a very successful dinner.

Red snapper en papillote with plums
Ingredients (for 2 people)
1 cup cooked couscous
2 red snapper fillets (6-8 oz each) (160-200gm each)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 red plums each cut into 16 thin wedges
1/2 of a sweet onion cut sliced thinly
1 large bunch of straight leaf parsley
3 T dry white wine.


Preheat the oven to 400F

Cut 2 sheets of parchment paper into heart shapes. Divide the couscous equally between them and lay on one lobe of the heart as a bed for the fish. Lay one fish fillet, skin side down, on each couscous bed. Season the fish very lightly with salt and finely ground pepper. Cover each fillet with the sliced lemons. Tuck the plum slices under the edges of the couscous to hold them in place. Cover the lemons and fish with the parsley and onions. Pour the white wine over the top of the onions/parsley/fish and fold the parchment over, sealing the edges to make a bag.

Bake the bags on the center rack of the 400 degree oven for about 15-16 minutes. Don't worry - it will be cooked. If the fillets are very thin, then 14 minutes will suffice.

Serve with steam fried baby eggplant (aubergines) - recipe follows. The steam fried method of cooking the eggplant preserves (to some extent) their lovely purple. It also softens the skins a little and makes them less chewy.

Steam fried baby eggplant

8 baby eggplant (each weighing about 2 oz/55 gm)
4T olive oil (not extra virgin, divided use)
1/2 cup water
Left over lemon slices from previous recipe - especially the ends.


Slice the eggplants longitudinally and brush the cut sides only with 1/2 of the oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet. When almost smoking, place the eggplant into the hot pan, cut side down. Turn the heat to medium and continue to cook until the bottoms of the egg plant are lightly browned. You will see the eggplant turning soft up the sides while this is happening. Probably around 5 minutes.

Cover the eggplants with the lemon slices, add 1/2 cup of water to the pan, and cover the panimmediately. Allow the egg plants to braise for a further 5 or so minutes until soft.

Place a pouch of fish on each plate, and arrange the eggplants decoratively at the edge of the plate. Cut the pouch with sharp scissors at the table, to allow the steam to escape.

This goes especially well with a crisp, dry white. We served a Sancerre, but any dry crisp white would work. I would not serve a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc because they tend to be too grassy.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pavlova Redux

This somewhat messy dessert was for a party last night. This time we decided to take it fully formed - in the car for about 7 miles.

So we wrapped Madame in an apron, spread a towel over her lap, and bundled her into the car. When she was well situated, I gave her the cake stand with Pavlova on top for her to hold while I drove, gingerly, to the party.

We got there intact, much to our surprise and then came time for the dismount. I opened the passenger side door and tried to pry the cake stand and dessert from Madame's death grip. She was holding that sucker as if her life depended on it. I had these visions of being attacked by "the claw" afterwards. Fortunately her hands loosened up to grab onto a champagne glass and order was restored.

The dessert seemed to be a success, it was set upon by the gannets at this wonderful party.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Pavlova is a dessert made from meringue, whipped cream and tropical fruit. It is very simple to make and looks spectacular.

Ingredients: Meringue base

4 egg whites (making sure that there are no traces of yolk)

1 cup superfine sugar (granulated sugar pulverized in the food processor)

1t white vinegar (do not use cider or wine vinegar)

2 t corn starch



Put the egg whites into the very clean bowl of a stand mixer. Best if the whites are at room temperature. Mix them slowly to break them up, and then beat at high speed until they form stiff peaks. Continue to beat while adding the sugar a little at a time. You know when they are done when if you rub a little of the egg white/sugar mixture between your fingers it doesn't feel gritty. Sprinkle the corn starch and vinegar over the surface and fold in to the mixture with a spatula.

On a sheet of parchment paper, place the meringue mixture in a circle, with the edges mounded higher than the center.

Bake on center rack of the oven set at 250F for about 75 minutes, and then allow to cool in the oven with the door ajar and the oven off.

This can be done a day or 2 ahead. Just store the cooked shell in a cool, dry, covered place.


Ingredients - Filling/topping

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

4t granulated sugar

1t pure vanilla essence

Some (total about 2 cups) of fruits - include at least one tropical fruit (e.g. mango). Choose among Kiwi, mango, raspberries, blue berries, peaches, nectarines, strawberries. Make sure there is a good mix of colors.


Chill a medium mixing bowl in the freezer. Whip the cream in the chilled bowl until it is floppy with soft peaks. Cream whips better when cold. When whipped add the sugar and vanilla, whip more to incorporate. Be careful not to overwhip or you will have sugary/vanilla flavored butter.

Chop the fruits into raspberry sized pieces - trying to have the fruit even in size. Leave the raspberries whole.

Fill the center of the meringue base with whipped cream and decorate randomly with the fruits.


Serve immediately (it will hold for about 2 hours, but the meringue does go a bit soggy after that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lamb, pita and the grill

The bread compulsion continues. I thought it might be fun, interesting, delicious,… to make pita. I have taken to putting a pizza stone onto the racks of the outdoor grill and cranking the heat up. That's what pita needs anyway. Of course with pita you must have lamb, lettuce, onion, tomato, tzaziki and cheap red wine. That was dinner yesterday.

First the pita.

Pita is pretty easy to make. Takes some kneading, but nice and straightforward – wuick too.


500 gm bread flour (although next time I may use AP flour, it was a wee bit chewy)

325 gm room temp. water

1 ½ t active dry yeast

2T Olive oil

2 t kosher salt.


When using active dry yeast, you need to hydrate it a bit first. You can't just dump it into the flour and hope. So stir the yeast into the water. Leave for the time it takes to weigh the flour. Add the water/yeast to the flour. Mix together and add the olive oil. Continue to until it has all come together. Turn out on to the work surface and knead until the mass is cohesive. About 2 minutes. Then add the salt – simply sprinkle onto the dough and knead smoothly and vigorously for 10 minutes. The dough should become shiny and elastic.

Transfer to your fermentation container and leave at room temp for a couple of hours (until doubled). If it is going quicker than you want, retard it in the fridge for a bit.

After it has risen, dump it out of the container onto the work surface. Pat the dough into a rectangle – about 8 inches by 5 inches (size doesn't matter here). Cut the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a circle, and leave to rest on a lightly floured parchment lined baking sheet. Flour the top of each ball lightly and cover with plastic wrap.

Heat the grill with a pizza stone on it until the temperature is around 550 degrees. You will want to use low heat and letthis take at least 30 minutes – preferably an hour.

Rest the dough balls until they have increased in size by about half. Taking each ball, flatten it gently on the floured work surface, flour a rolling pin and roll the individual dough balls out until they are 6-8 inches in diameter. Transfer 2 dough rounds to a baker's peel or upside down baking sheet (having sprinkled some cornmeal onto the peel or sheet to prevent sticking)

Slide the dough rounds onto the hot pizza stone, and close the lid. Cook for 60 seconds – the sheets should puff up. Flip them over and give them another 60 seconds. The timing is not precise, so check carefully. When done transfer to a wire rack and cook the remainder – 2 at a time. For a final warming (if you want) sprinkle each pita with a little (few drops) of water and put back in the hot grill for a few seconds – while the meat is cooking.

Grilled lamb pieces

These are cut to go nicely into the pockets of the pita, above. For the 2 of us, I used about 1lb leg of lamb cut into ¾ inch cubes.


1lb leg of lamb in ¾ inch cubes

1 cup olive oil

A handful each of marjoram and oregano roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves

Salt and pepper to taste.


Season the lamb. Mix the herbs, olive oil and garlic together. Add the lamb to the marinade and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove from the fridge and let stand for at least 30 minutes to warm up. This helps it cook more evenly.

When ready, grill the lamb pieces over the hot part of the grill, moving it around to limit flare-ups. Flaring is inevitable because of the olive oil. After a couple of minutes, the flare-ups stop and you can leave the meat to get nice marks from the grill.

Leave to stand while you tear some lettuce leaves, warm the pita and chop some tomatoes.

Serve with the pita/lettuce/tomatoes/tzaziki/raw onion and a bottle of light red wine – we had a chilled Beaujolais costing all of $7 per bottle!

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I am getting more and more encouraged by the bread making. There is beginning to be consistency and I can mostly predict what is going to happen. Madame is visiting her mother this week, so since her mother is from Bohemia originally, I though a Czech rye would be a nice thing to take. It was – they devoured it apparently. But that isn't the point of this post!

While Madame is away, I like to experiment with ideas – it keeps me off the streets and out of mischief. I had made ciabatta yesterday – and taken a loaf to my physician so he would give me a clean bill of health! I got to thinking, "I wonder what would happen if I made pizza out of a ciabatta type of dough". It clearly shouldn't be as wet (the ciabatta comes in at about 81% hydration, and you need a spoon to move it around.). So I made up a dough at 70% hydration and added 2T of olive oil as it was kneading in the mixer. It had maybe a bit much yeast, so I will back that off next time. The biga had been fermenting for around 15 hours before it got used.

Now thinking about toppings. Well the farmers' market had a lot of local tomatoes very cheap, so they were a given. I had had prosciutto and provolone in my ciabatta sandwich last night so had some left. Thus the tomato/prosciutto/provolone and basil pizza was born.

A while back Williams Sonoma (the high end cooking equipment store) had sent me some details on the "pizza-que" – essentially a pizza stone for use on the grill. $99 seemed a lot, so I thought I would try one of the pizza stones from the oven on my gas grill.

I was all set to bake. So for lunch took 1/4th of the dough, made a circle from it (it seemed just the right consistency), put the cornmeal on the peel and made a pizza. I cooked it on the stone on the grill and sadly the bottom became burned before the edges were nicely browned. Of course I ate the melted cheese, etc. anyway – and made another.

This time I made less of a rim to the crust by pushing the topping nearer the edge. Also formed the whole thing thinner, so there was less dough to cook through at the rim. Spread the toppings, some olive oil and salt and cooked it. It took 3 minutes to cook and was absolutely magnificent. Not quite wood fired oven delicious, but definitely worth repeating and suitable for company.

I don't know if it is bad for the grill to work this way, I don't know if pizza stones are set to explode when placed directly above such eat – and frankly I don't care! The results are so amazing, it's worth it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Thai Beef Salad (Yum Neua)

It's been hot here in Texas – so hot that cooking indoors has been a non-starter. However, we still want things that taste good and we both had a hankering for meat. So, what better than a nicely spiced Thai Beef salad with the meat cooked on the grill. Everything else was raw, so didn't introduce extra heat to the kitchen. The dish is a pain to make – it elapses about 2 ½ hours, with serious attention needed for about 30 minutes. It doesn't meet my 45 minute concept to table at all. As can be seen from the ingredient list, there are some rather strange ingredients – some of which might be hard to come by. After all, who has roasted rice powder on hand?

The dish got rave reviews from Madame, including the premier accolade, "We can serve this to people". That is goodness in itself!

Anyhow, here goes (Serves 4 as a main course, 6-8 as an appetizer).


16 Oz Beef steak (sirloin or flank work well. Meat should be no more than ½ inch thick)

1 6oz can frozen pineapple juice concentrate

Vegetable oil spray

Juice of 3 limes

3 inches of lemongrass, minced

3 Thai lime leaves (kaffir lime) minced (or 2t lime zest)

1T Roasted rice powder

1T Roasted dried chile powder (e.g. de Arbol. Do not use chipotle, they are too smoky)

1 Cup dressing (recipe follows)

½ medium yellow onion

1 cucumber peeled (1/2 sliced thinly on diagonal, ½ shaved into strips with a peeler for garnish)

12 lettuce leaves, torn into bite sized pieces

12 cherry tomatoes halved

A handful of mint leaves

A handful of basil leaves (Thai basil is best, but regular sweet basil is OK)

A handful of cilantro coarsely chopped


Marinade the meat in the pineapple juice concentrate for 1-3 hours. Spray the meat with cooking spray, and grill until medium rare (Total grilling time about 8 minutes depending on grill temperature). Allow the meat to rest until about lukewarm and then slice very thinly across the grain. Add the lime juice and leave to sit for 10-15 minutes.

Just before serving make up the salad. First add the lemon grass/kaffir lime) and toss lightly. Next the roasted rice powder and the ground chile – again toss. Pour in the dressing and toss. Next add the onion, sliced cucumber, lettuce and toss. Finally add the cherry tomatoes and toss again. Plate the salad garnished with the cilantro, basil, mint and shaved cucumber strips.

Serve while the meat is still slightly warm.

The Dressing

The dressing is an intense mixture of fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, chile peppers and cilantro roots or stems


1t Kosher or sea salt

¼ cup fish sauce (nam pla)

2T light brown sugar

2T granulated sugar

Juice of 6 limes

At least 3 hot fresh minced chile peppers (cayenne) – more to taste. Depends on personal level of heat

1T minced cilantro roots or stems

1 Clove garlic minced finely (or pushed through a garlic press)


Combine ingredients stirring to ensure that the sugars are dissolved. Let stand until ready to use.

Roasted Rice Powder

This adds body to the dish without imparting a lot of flavor. It is made by heating rice in a skillet until the rice is uniformly brown. Allow to cool and then grind in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Don’t try this at home

I was inspired by a television program to make a mango/avocado smoothie. It was ostensibly "simple and delicious". Simple it was, delicious it wasn't!

Take 1 avocado, 1 mango, some lime juice and blend until smooth. Top off with a little club soda (disgusting) or 7-up (almost as bad). Pour down sink and try something different.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Enough of the !@$#! bread already

The next foray is ciabatta. An entirely different kind of bread from the baguettes - it is made with a starter and has a long starter preparation period. The dough uses a lot of yeast and then looks more like pancake batter than bread dough. So lots of challenges.

Of course Dan Leader came to the rescue again, and we have turned out some very good looking ciabatta - and to please nic, I even remembered to take some pics!!!

So let's get the pics out of the way first.....

See how wet, flat and sloppy this loaf is before baking. It is about 11 inches long and 7 wide at its widest point. Shaping it is like shaping quicksand!

After baking we are left with this beauty... See how well it has puffed up. It stays that way as it cools. The crust softens a bit and the crumb is light, airy and holey!

So, how to achieve this magic? Again, I will borrow from Dal Leader's book called "Local Breads".

Ingredients - Starter
1/2 cup (65gm) water
1/2t (2gm) instant yeast
2/3 cup (100gm) unbleached bread flour - the stronger the better

Method - Starter
About 12 hours before you want to make the ciabatta, make the starter by mixing the water, yeast and flour in a small bowl. Then knead a few times to make it almost smooth. Cover and leave to rise 1 hour in a warm place (around 80F, 25C) and then refrigerate for the remainder of the time.

When ready to make the bread, remove the starter from the fridge.......

Ingredients - Bread
1 Cup (167 gm) starter (from before - the exact quantity of the starter recipe above is what you need)
1 1/2 cups (425 gm) tepid water (70-75 F, 21-23C)
2t (10 gm) instant yeast
3 1/4 cups (500gm) unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 t (10 gm) sea salt or kosher salt

Method - Bread
Place the starter and the water into he bowl of a standing mixer. Break the starter apart with a spatula. It does not need to be completely smoothed or dissolved. Stir in the flour, yeast, salt and mix until a dough forms.

Mix the dough in the stand mixer using the dough hook on a medium speed for about13-15 minutes. You will have to stand by because the mixer will likely start to walk around the counter. The dough won't really clear the sides of the bowl. Stop periodically and scrape it down and off the hook. After giving it about 13-15 minutes, turn the speed up to high and knead for a further three minutes. The dough mass will be quite creamy and shiny looking.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl that has room for it to triple in size. Cover with cling wrap and leave to stand at room temperature until it has tripled in size. This takes 3-4 hours.

In most household ovens it is unlikely that you will be able to bake 2 loaves at the same time, so here's what I do...

After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and immediately divide in half.

Cover a peel (or the bottom of a baking sheet) with parchment and make sure it slides. Lightly dust the parchment. Take one half of the dough mass and pick it up stretching it to about 11 x 7 inches and place it into the middle of the floured parchment. Press it flat gently with your fingers. Don't burst too many bubbles. Then wet your fingers and just dimple the surface. Do the same with the other loaf onto a different pan or peel. I do the first one on a peel and the second on a pan.

Leave to rest/proof at room temperature for 40 or so minutes - you will see bubbles forming under the top surface (they look like blisters).

1 hour before baking, heat the oven to 475F and ensure the stone is on the upper middle rack. On the lower rack put a cast iron container into which you can introduce ice.

When the bread is ready to bake, slide the first loaf onto the stone (still on its parchment paper), add 1 cup ice to the pan below and close the oven door. Add more ice 2 more times. Opening the door quickly. After 10 minutes turn the temperature down to 425F and bake until the loaf is a beautiful caramel colour. That will be another 13-20 minutes depending on your oven.

Remove the loaf (using the peel) and put on a wire rack to cool. Resist the temptation.....

Turn the oven back to 475F, slide the second loaf on its parchment onto the peel. Let the oven come to temperature (about 10 minutes). Bake the second loaf just like the first one. You do need to keep adding the ice to make steam. That is a key part of getting the crust nice!

We ate it various ways. Initially while warm with butter.

Then for supper, cut a large piece off the loaf and halved it horizontally. Toasted one side then added some ham (sliced and folded into a thickness of 4 layers), some Caerphilly cheese that Madame had brought back from England, diced tomatoes from the Farmer's Market all grilled under the grill (broiler) until the cheese had melted, with some hot English mustard on the side. No there are not pictures of that, we ate it before we could get to the camera!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

It is so good to have Madame home..

Madame came home yesterday, so today we were abole to have a nice dinner. Our friend Bette came and we had a terrific time. I had bought some plump scallops earlier in the day, so it was a matter of preparing them so that they tasted really good. When you have great ingredients, often less is more. These were great! I made a wilted spinach salad dressed with an hot onion/grapefruit dressing and garnished with toasted almond slivers.

5 small red potatoes in 1/4" dice
3 grapefruit peeled and segmented, including all it's juice
12 Oz baby spinach
1 Medium onion sliced pole to pole
1/4 cup slivered almonds
6T High quality extra virgin olive oil
12 sea scallops (about 2 oz each)
salt/pepper to taste


In a medium pan put 1T olive oil and the sliced onions. Cook over medium low heat until the onions are translucent.

In a small pan over low heat, toast the almonds until brown and nutty.

Cook the potatoes in simmering sated water until just cooked through. Drain and add 3T olive oil and 4T grapefruit juice while they are still warm.

Add all but 8 segments of the grapefruit and all its juice to the onion pan and leave to simmer. In a separate pan, heat the remainder of the oil until almost smoking and then put the scallops in carefully. Leaving the heat on medium sheck the first sid of the scallops for browning. When a good crust has developed (about 2-2 1/2 minutes) flip the scallops over, and brown on the other side. Do mot overcook.

Wash the spinach and make sure it doesn't have any stalks. Combine the spinach with the almonds, the potatoes and the hot dressing. Toss while the spinach wilts, top with the scallops, garnish withthe raw grapefruit segments and serve immediately

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This bread thing is getting out of hand!

I have been so into bread making while Madame has been away. But now with the help of Dan Leader, I am turning out baguettes that are just to die for. No I don't (yet!) have a steam oven, but I am getting the really crusty outside with a tender crumb. I haven't asked Dan's permission to repost here, but I hope he won't mind. I have varied it a bit (adding cake flour), and I can't get it done in the 4 hours he says it takes. It usually takes me 4 1/2. But still that is not long for a really good tasting loaf.

So yesterday I baked, loaves came out of the oven at about 3:30, and of course I couldn't wait for them to cool. I had to try a piece. Yup! That hit the spot. So for dinner, I took 7" of baguette, split it lengthwise, layered some tomatoes from the Grapevine Farmers' Market directly onto the bread so the juice would soak in a bit, spread some fresh goat cheese (also bought at Grapevine Farmers' Market) fresh basil from the garden some salt and a little sherry vinegar. WOW a perfect sandwich.

So here's the bread recipe (adapted from Local Breads by Daniel Leader, published by WW Norton ). I would strongly recommend getting his book, he explains it so much better than I can - and he has pictures!

It is a very long recipe although it is easier to do than it looks.


1 1/2 cups of tepid water (70-75 degrees F, 21-23 degrees C)
1t instant yeast
3 cups Organic unbleached AP flour
1/4 cup Cake flour (not self rising)
1 1/2t Kosher salt
Cooking spray to grease the bowl

Pour water into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes until refreshed. Then mix in the flours and stir with a spatula until you have all the water involved and the dough is kinda shaggy. Leave to sit for 20 minutes so the flour hydrates.

Empty the dough onto the board, and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead for 12-15 minutes. Try to avoid flouring the board or your hands. It will feel a bit sticky, but persevere and it will come together into a nice smooth dough. Every now and again release the dough from the board with a bench scraper. If you prefer to use a standing mixer (and I have not tested this), put in the bowl of the mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low (number 2 setting) for 8-10 minutes. You will still need to give it a few hand strokes at the end, so I am not sure what using the mixer would buy you.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave to sit for an hour at 70-75 degrees (21 to 23C). It will not double, but it will have expanded some.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured (very lightly!) board and shape into a rectangle of about 6 inches by 8 inches (15x20cm). Fold the dough like a business letter from the short side. Plop the dough back into the bowl and allow to rise for another hour.

About an hour before baking you will want to heat the oven. Ideally you want a baking stone in there, but an upside down sheet pan will work too. The oven should be heated to 450F. The bread is quite sensitive to temperature so do check the oven. Make sure the rack is just above half way and on a lower rack there is a container into which you can put ice to create steam.

When the bread s ready to shape, place a sheet of parchment paper onto a peel or another upside down rimless pan. Flour the parchment.

Turn the dough onto the board and divide into 3 pieces each of around 10oz (280gm). Pat each piece into a small rectangle fold in half. Cover lightly with cling wrap and leave to stand for 10-15 minutes to relax.

Now we are ready to shape the dough. For each piece of dough, make a 3x5 inch rectangle (8x12 cm) and fold as follows. Take the long side, fold to about the center and press the seam lightly. Do the same with the bottom edge. Then quickly roll the dough into a 14" length (275 cm) (or however wide your sheet pan or peel are). Place the loaves onto the floured parchment 2-3 inches (5-8cm) apart. Then make a little pleat in the parchment between the loaves and pull it up sliding the loaves together, but still separated by parchment. At the outside edges roll up kitchen towels and use them to bolster the loaves so they are held in neat cylinders. (This is called a couche, by the way). Sprinkle a little flour on the surfaces and cover with cling wrap to rest. This resting will take around 45 minutes - until the dough springs back slowly when you press it lightly.

When you are ready to bake uncover the loaves, remove the kitchen towels from the sides and pull the pleat out of the parchment. The loaves will separate, but retain their shape. Score them with a very sharp knife - or use a single edged razor blade. Make the scoring about 1/2 inch (a little more than 1cm) deep. Make the score marks long - don't just cut straight across. Immediately slide the parchment off the peel or baking sheet onto the hot stone (or rimless baking sheet) in the oven and add 1/2 cup ice to the container. After 2 minutes add another 1/2 cup of ice and again after a further 5 minutes. You do need to add the ice in instlments to get a shot of steam. Adding all at once cools the container too quickly.

Bake the loaves for 15-20 minutes - until they are a light caramel color. Remove fom the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Devour greedily!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Breakfast outside

Today was the last day of the old patio furniture and the first day of the new. Madame is still in England, but I just had to cook - it has been too long and I get withdrawal symptoms. So the people who bought the old patio furniture came over and I made breakfast.

Hardly traditional breakfast fare perhaps, but I also wanted to practice a couple of things for when Madame does finally come home. So, we had a Spanish tortilla (except that I used zucchini and not potatoes, so it isn't really Spanish) , topped with allioli (that wonderful Catalunyan garlic/olive oil/salt condiment), a cup of chilled carrot/coriander soup, some freshly baked pain au levain (a new recipe I had wanted to try), and coffee.

First the allioli. Don't even think of trying this. It is serious work! It took about 45 minutes of serious mashing of garlic salt and oil in the pestle and moortar. Even after that, it wanted to break. So there was a little oil around the edges instead of a thick emulsion.

This garlicky oil condiment is great on just about anything I haven't tried it on shoe leather yet, but...


8 Cloves garlic
2T Sea salt
1 cup high quality olive oil

Peel and mash the garlic cloves. Add the salt and mash to a fine paste using the blade of your knife. Transfer to a mortar and mash with the pestle. Add 1 drop of the oil and pound until incorporated. Keep adding the oil a drop or 2 at a time until incorporated. This takes around 45 minutes. Do not be tempted to add the oil too quickly or the emulsion will break and I could find no articles on how to recover the situation when I was researching it. Probably the most interesting statement was that "many Catalunyan cheffs no longer make this because it is so hard to keep it from breaking." A lot of the chefs essentially make aioli - the French version that has an egg yolk.

Spanish Tortilla
1 medium zucchini
1T Kosher salt
1/2 medium onion sliced (leaving bite sized pieces)
4 eggs
6 strands of saffron
a little butter to cook the onions in
salt/pepper to taste (probably do not need much more salt)

Peel the zucchini and slice into rounds about the thickness of a silver dollar. Transfer to a colander, sprinkle the salt over them and allow to drain for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile soften the onion in a little butter in a small (8") non-stick pan. Transfer the onions to a bowl when translucent and sweet. The onions should not take on any color.

Once the onions are cooked, rinse the zucchini and pat dry. With no extra oil, fry the zucchini in the pan that the onions had been in, in a single layer. They should just atrt to take on color.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a little salt/pepper and the saffron. Beat the eggs with a fork until they become homogenous. Leave to stand.

Place a layer of zucchiniin the bottom of the pan in which the onions had cooked. Cover the zucchini layer with the onions and another layer of potatoes. Place the pan on a med/low flame and warm them. Press the zucchini/onion mixture with the back of a spatula to squeeze out any air.

When the zucchini are warm, pour the egg mixture over them. Pull the cooked edge of the eggs away from the pan, allowing more raw egg to come in contact with the pan. Turn the heat to low and leave to cook for about 10 minutes - until set in the center. Invert the mixture in the pan and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes - until the whole tortilla is fully cooked.

Serve at room temperature

Carrot and Coriander Soup
This soup appears to be a British staple. Madame has been eating it for about 6 weeks, so I am expecting an orange pallor and floppy ears when she gets off the plane on July 4. The version that I found has no fat added and counts 0 weight watcher points. This uses the seeds stalks and leaves of the coriander (cilantro) so has lots of hearty coriander flavor

1 Medium onion - diced finely
1 Carton stock (about 900 ML, I believe - or a bit less than a US quart) - divided use. Could be chicken or vegetable. If chicken, home made would be better!
2T ground coriander seeds
2 T ground cumin seeds
1/2 fresh cayenne pepper finely chopped
1 garlic clove mashed
Small handful Cilantro stalks and leaves
500gm (just over a pound) carrots peeled and roughly chopped into small pieces.
Salt/pepper to taste
Creme fraiche, quark or sour cream, soft goat cheese as a garnish

Put the finly chopped onions in a sauce pan and just cover with the stock. Do not use all the stock at this stage. Bring to the boil and simmer until all the liquid has cooked off. The onion will be translucent. Add the coriander, cumin, garlic and the cayenne. Cook over low heat until the color has changed a bit. Add the chopped cilantro stalks, the carrots and the rest of the stock. Bring back to the boil and simmer until the carrots are cooked. Turn the heat off and leave to stand for a few minutes. Then puree the soup until it reaches the desired texture.

Either reheat and serve immediately, or chill and serve in icy bowls. Either way garnish with the white dairy product and sprinkle finely chopped cilantro leaves over it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Man cannot live by bread alone..

But with Madame's absence from May 30 until July 4, I am doing my best. I have used the time to learn about breadmaking After all, how hard can it be? There are 4 ingredients (for most breads) - Flour, water, yeast and salt. A single baking temperature (well almost always at 450, but there are exceptions), a couple of simple techniques - and as I discovered to my horror almost infinite variety. o wonder there are learned tomes devoted to bread making. No wonder they all conflict with each other. Bread making is personal, your own styles and rhythms greatly affect the finished product.

Proportions matter, technique matters, ingredients matter, temperature matters. Every possible variable you can think of matters! So it has been an instructive month. Just the flour has been giving me fits. I have settled on using 1/8th (by weight - yes everything works better when you weigh it) of cake flour to all purpose flour in most breads. For every 100 gm of AP flour I use 12 gm of cake flour. I have not been using bread flour - although of course I have tried that. You can get a much softer, more delicate crumb with a great tasting chewy exterior this way. Of course there are some breads that demand bread flour - especially those that use other grains (like rye) as well. I haven't graduated to them yet.

I have made Ciabatta, I have made baguettes, I have made ordinary rustic loaves, I have made the no-knead bread. I have used sourdough starters as leaveners, I have made poolishes, I have made up couches (no not the kind I sleep on when I am banished), but the kind that shaped loaves live in when they are resting and recuperating after a hard knead.

Bottom line of all of this is that I now have massive respect for artisinal bakers. This is hard! However, with the help of Dan Reader's books and articles, a steady stream of absolutely delicious bread is coming out of the oven at last. The 4 hour baguettes are the current project - we will see what gives there, but I have high hopes for them.

Oh and during this orgy of bread baking, butter slathering, eating and drinking, I am down 9 pounds for the month. I must be pining away! Carbs who says carbs are bad??????

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Iron Chef

The Event
Every year the Sports Club at the Four Seasons in Las Colinas does an "Iron Chef" competition. This year was no exception. The rules are simple - 4 teams, one secret ingredient, a shared pantry, countertop burners only (no oven), 90 minutes to make 2 or 3 dishes. How hard can it be? Oh, and of course the club members are wandering around, getting up close and watching carefully, and a film crew was filming it for television.

First, the staff at the Four Seasons are to be commended for arranging this excellent event. It was part of the regular theme of "Club Dinners", and about 95 people came to watch. I had the honor of being the captain of team 4. The other team members were Juan, Elena, and Kathryn. All good cooks, and a more compatible group would have been hard to find.

We knew ahead of time what the secret ingredients might be - it was going to be either "onion family", "pepper family" or "zucchini family". Zucchini are also known as courgettes (for European readers). We had done some work ahead of time thinking what we would make for each secret ingredient, so that when the ingredient was unveiled, we would have less time planning and more time to cook. Especially as we knew that if the ingredients were onions, we would need a lot of time - caramelized onions would play a strong part in our dishes and that is a good 45 minutes to an hour monopolizing a burner.

The general observations that I gave to the team were, "keep what we are doing simple and tasty, and the key is managing the time carefully."

The ingredient was unveiled and was onions, so here's what we did.

Asian inspired onion soup:
The idea for this was to have a clean tasting soup that clearly said "onion", but didn't have any of the tongue coating effects that sauteing the onions would leave. This dish was executed beautifully by Juan and Elena.

1 1/2 cups diced sweet yellow (e.g. Vidalia or TX 1015) and white onions
10 scallions - white and 1/2 green parts
7 cups chicken stock
4T soy sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar+1/4 cup water mixed. (Should be rice wine vinegar, but not available)
1 cup dried mushrooms reconstituted and chopped
1 chicken breast cut into small bite sized pieces
2T dark sesame oil (divided use).
3 cloves garlic mashed to a fine paste
1 finely chopped chile pepper (we used jalapeno because that is what was there!)
Salt to taste
3 eggs lightly beaten with 2T water
Finely chopped red pepper for garnish

Into a saucepot put the diced onions, 8 of the chopped scallions (white and 1/2 the green parts), chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, mushrooms (chopped into the same sized pieces as the onion and chicken), and the chicken. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Towards the end of the time, add 1T sesame oil and the mashed garlic, chopped chile pepper and salt if necessary. That depends on the soy sauce you use. Set the soup aside.

Before serving (we did this with 15 minutes to go), reheat the soup to a simmer, swirl in the beaten egg. Serve in bowls garnished with diced red pepper, the remainder of the green onions (white and most of the green) cut on the bias and a few drops of sesame oil on the surface.

Tilapia on a bed of caramelized onion mashed potatoes, garnished with flash fried yellow squash peel and basil


This dish was designed to create intensely flavored mashed potatoes, but with no dairy. The dairy in a traditional mashed potato tends to overpower the delicate fish. The fish was rolled and served vertically with some quickly sauteed yellow and red peppers and green onions as a kind of visible stuffing. The yellow squash peel and basil were flash fried in 375 degree oil to make them very crispy and feathery. This dish was executed mostly by Kathryn, with help from me on some of the fiddly bits.

3 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 8 pieces each
Salt to taste (divided use)
2 Sweet yellow onions and 1 white onion
2T Vegetable oil + 1T for the peppers/fish
2 cups Vegetable (peanut is better) oil for flash frying the garnish
3/4C Extra Virgin Olive oil (doesn't have to be the highest quality!)
1 yellow squash (or zucchini) peeled with a vegetable peeler - use the peel only
8 Basil leaves
Julienne strips of red/yellow pepper
4 green onions (green parts only)
4 tilapia fillets
Salt and pepper to taste
Small amount of very finely chopped lemon zest

Peel and chop the onions pole to pole in thin slices. Add 2T of vegetable oil to a large saute pan, warm the pan and add the onions and about 1t of salt. Heat over medium until you hear a slight hissing, and then turn the heat to medium low and cook the onions down, stirring frequently. The onions will darken and sweeten. If you want a little more sweetness add a good pinch of sugar. This step takes almost an hour. This recipe will use 2/3 of the caramelized onions. Once the onions are caramelized, they need to be turned to a puree. For the contest we did this by turning them out onto a board and running a knife through them several times. This left a little texture in the onions.

Bring the potatoes to a simmer in a large pan of salted water until they are just cooked through. Do not overcook. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and put back on the heat briefly to drive out any remaining water. Rice the potatoes. and mix with 2/3 the caramelized onions. Stir in the warmed olive oil, add salt/pepper to taste.

Salt the squash peel for about 15 minutes and pat dry. Bring the 2C of oil up to 375 degrees. You can tell that it is hot enough when a small piece of bread dropped in browns very quickly. Put the squash peel into the hot oil (carefully it will hiss and spit) and leaving the heat medium high, cook until crispy. (3 minutes or so) Remove the fried peels, set aside to drain on paper towels. Leaving the heat medium high, add the basil leaves. These will spit and hiss even more! They take about 30 seconds to become crispy. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Gently saute the julienned peppers and the scallion ends in a little oil. Set aside.

Roll the fish fillets and tie. Season with salt/pepper. Cook them in the oil on all sides.

To serve, using a 3 inch diameter ring, make a round of the mashed potatoes. Gently set one cooked tilapia fillet so that it has a hole pointing upwards. Fill the hole with the strips of julienned vegetables. Sprinkle a little lemon zest onto the fish. Garnish the dish and the plate with the flash fried peel.

Caramelized onion ice cream with fresh mango


Heston Blumenthal would have been proud. We had some time left, and Kathryn is an ice cream fan. Knowing how sweet caramelized onions are, she thought it would be a good idea to make an ice cream using them. To freeze the ice cream quickly without an ice cream maker was the major challenge. The kitchen had a supply of dry ice, so we borrowed from Heston Blumenthal's approach and used the dry ice to freeze the ice cream. This was truly a team effort. Kathryn for inspiration and base recipe, Elena for mixing (adding the dry ice is a 2 person operation), Juan for harrying chefs to get vanilla, etc. Chris for ensuring that the onions were the right texture and sweetness and for the preparation of the mango.

2/3C Heavy whipping cream
1/3C Whole Milk
1/3C Granulated sugar
1Vanilla bean - seads scraped out
1/3 of the caramelized onions from the previous recipe
1 mango
1lb of dry ice pulverized in a plastic bag

Chill a large stainless steel bowl in the freezer. Add the milk, sugar and vanilla bean seeds to the bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the cream and whisk the mixture incorporating a little air. Addd the cooled, pureed, caramelized onions and chill it in the freezer. Do not allow it to freeze or crystallize.

Pulverize the dry ice in a plastic bag. Make sure the dry ice is essentially powdered. Add the dry ice into the ice cream base 1 cup at a time. Taking great care because dry ice can cause "freezer burn" on any exposed flesh. All the while you are adding the dry ice, whisk the ice cream base. This incorporates extra air and prevents crystals from forming. The ice cream will foam slightly and set. You want to add enough dry ice so that the ice cream is soft set. Cover the ice cream and transfer to the freezer until ready.

Meanwhile on the serving plate, fan 1/2 a mango, dust with a little vanilla and immediately before serving (in our case with 1:30 on the clock) place a scoop of the ice cream onto the plate.

The Overall Experience

Sadly we didn't win :-(. We did have a wonderful time cooking together. We made new friends, our ie cream was the talk of the evening. We executed our dishes well, we achieved the goal of creating relatively simple dishes and were never under time pressure. So we felt we deserved our beverages afterwards!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Using rice wrappers

Last evening I went to a Yelp event at a Vietnamese restuarant in San Jose. Lots of people mostly Vietnamese there. What a terrific experience. But from my rather selfish point of view, I learned how to roll up those wonderful Vietnamese spring rolls. The kind that have a thin, translucent rice wrapping around tasty ingredients.

I had made these kinds of rolls before, but had always found it a bit finicky and not as successful as I would have liked. One of the Vietnamese guys at the event let me into the secret. I had been soaking the wrappers for too long in the warm water. My way they become slippery and quite fragile.

However by soaking them for less time - essentially until they are pliable, but not flaccid they are much easier to control.

So good food, great company and lessons too. The only thing missing was Madame - she was at home while I am gallivanting in San Jose.

Practice, practice, practice

For me, using a knife properly is very important, but it isn't the most natural of motions. Whether it be slicing, chopping, paring, carving or whatever. So, to get around deficiencies I practice continually.

For example, when I am going to eat an orange, I always peel it as if I am going to segment it for an elegant salad or dessert. In the words of Gordon Ramsay, "Using a small sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of the fruit. Standing it firmly on the chopping board, cut along the curved sides of the fruit to remove the remaining peel and pith. Holding the fruit with one hand over a sieve, set on top of a bowl, cut along each side of the membranes to release the segments. Let each segment fall into the sieve as you continue segmenting."

Why when there is no real need? Because that way when I need to have elegant segments I have practiced enough to be able to handle the technique with confidence.

I was working on a project for 3 months - just outside Paris. The project hotel (The Marriott Courtyard near the airport) had a very good breakfast buffet. Anything that has unlimited smoked salmon and crusty bread gets my vote. They always had whole, unpeeled kiwi fruit in the fruit basket. I had seen Christopher Kimbell peel these whole using a spoon. Top and tail the fruit, and then slide a spoon between the peel and the fruit and rotate to loosen the peel. In Christopher Kimbell's hands this looked simple. It isn't! I practiced almost every day I was there - again not because that was the easiest way to eat the fruit, but because I wanted to have the technique in my back pocket. This of course became a project standing joke.

So practice in cooking techniques is like practice in everything. We do it to improve our abilities, but there aren't many opportunities. With food as expensive as it is, we want to be able to make sure we eat the results of our practising.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Now that warmer weather is here and the butter is impossible to deal with

Butter - my favorite fat(well fat/water combo). Nothing tastes as good on toast, in pastry, for cooking eggs, making cakes......

However butter is problematic to make usable. Keep it in the fridge and you can't spread it easily, keep it on the counter when the weather is warm and it spreads in a greasy pool all over the place. So, what to do?

Enter the butter bell. This is a clever little device that keeps the butter away from the air so it doesn't go rancid, and keeps it cool by immersing it in cold (icy) water.

So to use it, you follow the simple steps....

Step 1: put about 1/2 cup water into the base of the butter bell, and then begin to add the butter into the lid.

Step2: Push the butter firmly into the lid.

Step 3: Immerse the lid into the base. Store the butter bell on the counter. Do not put in the fridge - if you do all your good work will be for naught.

That's the instructions according to the official site. However because we live in Texas and during the day our kitchen gets kinda warm, we use a slight variant. I fill the base with crushed ice to the top. Then add chilled water. When I invert the top into the base, some water runs out. I place the whole butter bell close to the sink, so that as the ice melts, the top slips down into the water, displacing some water into the sink. This give maximal cooling, but because the volume isn't huge, the effect of the ice is minimized - i.e. the butter goes a bit hard, but we do this after breakfast, and by lunchtime the butter is nice and usable again.

Using the butter bell means we don't have to resort to whipped/processed/artificial/chemistry set tasting spreads on our toast - and we end up not using as much as we would if we attempted to spread it straight from the fridge.

The web site sells these, but any good kitchen store does too. We have used ours for 5 years now, and can't imagine being without it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Producers' picnic

All those hamburgers were for the picnic yesterday (Sunday). We were expecting between 30 and 40 people - and it topped out at 34. Since almost everyone is under 25, we were all ready for the hollow leg brigade - those people who can eat and eat!

We put out some home made guacamole, a jalapeno/quark dip, and chips for people to nibble on before the grill got cranking.

Since we doing both burgers and bratwursts, I needed a way to keep cooked brats moist and hot. The standard way of doing that is to make a caramelized onion/beer bath to put the grilled brats into. Brats and onions are such a good combination and beer? Well those folks in Wisconsin now something about that too.

The burgers themselves were pretty straightforward - grilled for about 4 minutes per side and they were done perfectly. I didn't season the meat prior to making the patties, so I simply had some ground pepper and salt in a small bowl beside the grill. As I put burgers on, I seasoned the top side, then when they were flipped I seasoned the other side. You end up using a lot less salt that way (maybe 2tsp for 64 burgers) and you get the hit of salt in the first bite. We put out traditional fixin's and were surprised that the raw onion (a Texas 1015) went faster than the tomato. Lettuce was (rightly in my opinion) of little interest to anyone. Ketchup, relish and mustard were used in about equal quantities. Surprisingly Swiss cheese proved more popular than "American" cheese for the cheese burgers.

I found it best to cook the burgers in batches of 6 or 8 - even though the grill has larger capacity. That way, I could ensure that we didn't have burgers sitting around drying out. And, oh yes the indentations did their thing - the burgers cooked up completely flat!

Onion and beer bath for brats.
4 large yellow onions halved (pole to pole) and sliced into wedges
1T butter
2T Vegetable oil
1t kosher salt
2x12 oz bottles of a well flavored beer (I used Shiner Bock. I would not recommend a light beer here, nor a stout)

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan and keep the heat going until it stops foaming. Add the oil, then the onions and salt. Stir to mix and leave over low heat to gradually caramelize. Mine took about an hour - but I deliberately had the heat very low since I was doing other things. When much of the water has been driven off and the onions are golden brown and very sweet and soft, add the beer and bring to a simmer.

Keep the onion/beer bath warm on a cooler part of the grill, and put the grilled brats in there to keep warm. When you serve the brats, make sure you get a good helping of the onions too, leave the liquid behind.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Burgers for a crowd

Madame and I will be having the annual "Thank you for all your hard work" picnic for the producers and staff at the TV station. This is the 5th. annual and is our way of saying thank you to all who worked so hard.

This year promises to be the biggest yet, with many burgers to be made. I don't know if Greg's record of 4 burgers (tied with Chad) will be broken this year, but we are determined to make sure there are plenty of burgers and brats.

So I was faced with the rather daunting challenge of making 64 burgers. Those who know me will recognize some obsessive behaviors (roasting coffee, baking bread, everything from scratch where possible), and burgers are no exception. Well, even though we live in TX we don't actually raise our own cattle! I like my patties to be around 5 oz in weight. That way they are thick enough to have something to bite into, and they perfectly fit a standard bun. Also, I like to use 75% chuck and 25% sirloin. I want the fat of the chuck, together with sirloin's beefiness. No off the wall seasonings...Obviously I am not about to trust my "friendly neighborhood grocery store". The local Tom Thumb doesn't grind meat to order and pushed me towards packages of mystery meat. The Albertsons at Lemmon/McKinney wouldn't either. I did however find a butcher on Lemmon who would grind meat to order. He didn't have enough chuck, but suggested that if I brought some chuck in, he would trim and grind it for me. He would also grind some sirloin and then regrind both meats together. Deal! Off to the nearest grocery store for 15lbs of chuck.

Who was this person who understands customer service? His name is Greg Geerts, and his store VG's Butcher Shoppe at 3527 Oak Lawn, Dallas.

So now I had the meat, how to shape the 64 patties? I don't like those hamburger presses that you can buy at high end stores - they produce excellent looking burgers, but I find the burgers tend to be dry. I hit upon what might be the perfect technique - learned from baking. If I were to roll out the meat to the right thickness, then I could use a cutter of some kind to cut out the patties. The challenge was, how thick to make the meat. Answer, weigh 5 oz meat and pack lightly into the ring that you are going to use to cut the patties out.

See how thick that is, and pat the rest of the meat to that thickness. Then simply stamp out the patties. Voila! 64 patties in 30 minutes without breaking a sweat!

Of course, don't forget to make an indentation in the top of the patty, so that when the burger is cooked, it doesn't create a little dome. The indentation before ensures a flat patty afterwards.

Look for the cooking results in the posting from the party tomorrow!

Monday, April 28, 2008


In the previous post, I promised the tzaziki recipe. This one isn't exactly traditional, but pretty close. I should have used yogurt, but I used home-made quark instead. It's what I had in the house and sometimes you just have to make do.

1 cucumber
1t Kosher salt - divided use
2 cloves garlic
1 cup loose packed mint - the fresher the better
1T high quality, preferably Greek, extra virgin olive oil
1 cup quark (or 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, strained for about an 30 minutes)
juice of 1/2 lemon (more or less to taste)
freshly ground black pepper, also to taste.

Peel the whole cucumber in stripes lengthwise, so that you have alternating peeled/unpeeled surfaces. You could completely peel it, but I likethe color and texture of a little peel. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Discard the seeds. Chop the cucumber finely (1/4" dice) and salt in a colander for 30 minutes. This removes much of the liquid and makes the tzaziki less watery.

If using plain yogurt, strain it through cheesecloth for about 30 minutes. You should have a little more than a cup of strained yogurt.

Peel and make a paste out of the garlic. Using a press is fine, or simply running your knife over it on the curing board works too. Put the garlic paste into a small non reactive bowl. Add the olive oil. Set aside. Pull the mint leaves off the stems and discard the stems. Mince the mint leaves and add to the oil/garlic in the bowl.

Add the quark (or yogurt if using) to the mint/garlic/oil in the bowl and stir well. Rinse the cucumbers, pat dry (very dry) and add to the bowl. Stir and taste. Add lemon juice a little at a time until you have the flavor you want. Check for seasoning, adding a couple of grinds of black pepper.

Set aside (well covered) in the refrigerator for at last an hour.

Serve with lamb souvlaki, gyros, shoe leather, pretty much anything. It should keep the vampires away for a bit too.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

strawberry season

April in North Texas is Strawberry time, so Madame and I always head to Gnismer Farms on Bowen Rd. in Arlington to pick them. Today was this year's pilgrimage, and what a wonderful day it turned out to be.

I had previously decided on Souvlaki for dinner, especially when I saw lamb shoulder at $1.99/lb this morning.

So I bought a chunk of lamb shoulder and boned it, cut it into 1 inch cubes and set it to marinate with olive oil, garlic, mint, thyme and oregano. It is so good having the fresh herbs to hand.

This afternoon we drove down to Gnismer farms to pick our own strawberries. It was a coolish ut sunny afternoon and there were several families already picking theer. It was wonderful to see how wxcited the kids were when they found ripe fruit. Also to see their happy faces and strawberry juice stained clothes. We picked about 14lbs of strawberries - some for freezing and some for eating now. Once we had paid for them, we engaged the farme owners in conversation to find out what else they had.

That opened the motherlode. We bought lettuce (by going down the rows of plants and pointing to the ones we wanted). Also they dug onions and leeks for us, found some honey comb taken from the bees on the property. What a treat.

So for dinner (and leftovers for Madame all week), we had the souvlaki (oh yes I made tzaziki for that, recipe in another post) and grilled eggplant, mushrooms, onions, leeks and cauliflower that I had bought before visiting the farm. A bottle of a Beaujolais Villages and we were happy campers.

It was so good to connect again with the growing of the food we ate and to marvel at the earth's bounty.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cooking school day 3

If I thought day 2 was intense, I was in for a real shock on day 3. The menu looked straightforward -
  • Beef pot roast
  • Grilled rib eye steaks with a mushroom sauce
  • Perfect mashed potatoes
  • Greens and blue cheese dressing
  • Green beans with a shallot vinaigrette
  • Individual chocolate soufflees
  • Blueberry muffins

Again 5 hours from start to cleanup. We missed this one it went almost 6 hours, there was so much to do.

This time the pressure was on to get it all done. Again planning and sequence were keys. Recognizing what can be done ahead and held, what has to be done right then and there, and what kinds of timing/oven collisions there might be so they can be avoided. For instance one of the ovens needed three different temps, with the souuflees being the most critical. They were at the very end of the meal, so we had to the temp. of the oven back to the right place for them. That meant cooking the muffins, then the bacon pretty early in the process to give the oven a chance to cool a bit.

Of course the pot roast was going to take 3 hours in the oven, let alone the amount of prep required. So that had to be done first, oh and the blue cheese dressing needed to chill a long while to let the flavors blend. My head was spinning.

Anyhow off to do it, and it became clear that the pressure was real. 2 potentially disastrous errors - one was I used the confectioner's sugar that had been measured for the muffin glaze instead of the granulated sugar. That meant that the quantity was wrong. Luckily I caght that one added granulated sugar to the muffins and baked them anyway. They came out fine. I was amazed that when recipes tell you that muffins don't require much mixing the really mean it. This was barely a batter. It didn't stay together at all, and when I scooped it into the pans it looked awful. Never mind they came out just fine with a lighter texture than I am used to. The Dallas Stars will have to look elsewhere for pucks.

The second error was that was about to make the world's first flourless soufflee. That probably would not have been a success. Fortunately the chef instructor caught that one and asked when the flour should be added. So good opportunity to see what happens if you add it late. It appeared not to matter, but of course it was a pain to add because I couldn't do it all at once for fear of lumps.

Everyting from that point on was a blur! It was nice to get my hands on a food mill for the potatoes - easier than the ricer I normally use.

Also interesting to use beurre manie to thicken the sauce from the pot roast. It is pretty straightforward to do and adds a nice richness. Another technique to add to the repertoire.

The result of all of this was pretty good, timing was a bit off, so things weren't as hot as I would of liked. However, it shows it is possible to get through this much work in about 5 hours. The extra time was the eating.

All in all, I got a lot out of the classes, thought they were good value and loved that attitude of Dianne and Emily. Of course I was lucky to have them all to myself.

Cooking school Day 2

Day 2 at the Milestone Cooking School proved as useful and interesting as day 1. I was still the only student, so was able to continue to work on weaknesses, while making the dishes that were on the menu for the day.

The pace certainly picked up and was more intense than day 1. Again, the dishes were expected to be made in teams, and probably each team would work on a single dish. Not so for this session.

The menu had the following dishes:
  • Vegetable Soup
  • Pasta with fresh tomatoes
  • Chicken stuffed with Mozzarella
  • Pork tenderloin with a dijon mustard glaze
  • Rustic apple pie

all to be made, eaten and largely cleaned up in 5 hours.

When planning a meal of this size, the sequence is pretty important, so the first part of the lesson was dealing with just that. Surprisingly (or not if you were already thinking this way), the pastry for the appple pie was the first thing to be made. Followed by prepping the chicken. At least in this class we didn't have to fabricate a whole chicken, although at home I probably would.

None of the dishes was particularly complicated, but they were all fairly laborious - well all except the pork.

Again, lots of learning. Keeping the workplace tidy and clean. Many trips to the sink for washing/sanitization. The pastry was interesting - the tricks there were keeping everything really cold and using a whole lot less liquid than you think. When you turn it out of the food processor it is kind of a shaggy mess which really does come together quickly and easily. Lots of resting time in the fridge and rolling was a cinch. Well, rolling was a cinch once they showed me what I was doing wrong.

Making sure that the pork tenderloin was cooked just enough (I like it at 140, the FDA recommends something much higher, but with modern pork cooking it a little less seems to preserve the juiciness). However if you have any doubts cook it to the temperature your country advises. It was seared to build a nice crust and flavor and then cooked on a rack in the oven (350 or so for about 12 minutes). Your mileage may very depending on oven callibration.

Prepping the chicken meant making a pocket, so of course I tore one. The flour coating helped to seal it after it stuffing it. These needed to be refrigerated as well prior to cooking them. More opportunity to ensure that I used one hand to handle the chicken and the other to dip into the salt/pepper for seasoning. You don't want a chickeny hand in the salt - contamination you know!

Everything therafter was pretty straight forward, but since there was a fair amount going on, it was amatter of staying organized and paying attention.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Seabirdskitchen decamps to cooking school - day 1

This weekend I am attending cooking classes at the Milestone School in the Viking kitchen in Dallas. 3 pretty intense days. The class is supposed to take up to 12 people, but they had no shows last evening. I was therefore privileged to have a private class with a wonderful chef and a culinary school student.

Quite the treat. The first evening involved making 2 main courses (a crispy lemon chicken and an Asian marinated mahi mahi) with a rice pilaf and stir fried veges. For dessert a made from scratch raspberry shortcake. Normally, of course, this would be done in teams, but I got to do it all.

Lessons at several levels. First the reinforcement - especially for the stir fry - that size matters. Getting the piecs even in size so they cook evenly and fit well on the fork is critical. Second, the emphasis on hygiene, hand washing and general sanitization after handling the raw chicken. Third a great tip for pounding the chicken - put the breast into a zip-loc bag and pound it in that. It's a whole lot easier than using cling-wrap.

I got to try using panko for the first time, and yes it is worth it. So I can see that becoming a staple.

Today will be an intense day - I am looking forward to it. More posts to come.

Bread starter

I had been wondering how long my bread starter would keep without the normal care and feeding. So 2 weeks ago I put cling wrap on it and put it in the fridge. I then left town, leaving the starter in a state of suspended animation.

On my return home on Thursday evening, I took it out of the fridge, added a scoop of flour and some water, covered it with cheesecloth and left it to sit out overnight. In the morning I looked at it, it was nice and bubbly - all ready to use. I made up a batch of bread with it, and baked it in time for breakfast today.


So yes, you can keep the starter refrigerated and it works like it should.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The rites of spring

Spring has most definitely sprung. There are so many terrific things in the stores, it is hard to know where to start.

Today Madame was reading at the Easter service at 7pm, and it wasn't clear when she would be home, so dinner needed to be quite flexible with regard to time. It also needed to be light - it was likely we wouldn't eat until after 9.

I had had a mediocre Spanish tortilla a couple of weeks back, and had a hankering for a tasty one. I also wanted to make sure we had some nice lamb for Easter Sunday, so off to Whle Foods I went.

They had some local heirloom tomatoes - and the were as sweet as could be. So dinner was coming together in my head. The tortilla with som eof he left over olive/preserved lemon relish from the Mroccan feast and a simple salad of heirloom tomatoes, a couple of our new, tender, basil leaves, some toast strips, Mozzarella (from the Dallas Moxarella Co.) a hint of balsamic vinegar and some large sea salt crystals. It turned out wonderfully.

Now for the tortilla. There are a couple of keys. Mak sure that the potatoes/onions are pressed tightly together before adding the eggs. Make sure you cook the eggs really slowly. Oh and of course, don't forget the saffron.

Spanish Tortilla
1 large russet potato
1/2 medium onion sliced (leaving bite sized pieces)
4 eggs
6 strands of saffron
a little butter to cook the onions in
salt/pepper to taste

Peel and cut the potato into 8 pieces. Immerse in salted water and simmer for about 15 minutes - or until just cooked through (no rsistance to a knife). Meanwhile soften the onion in a little butter in a small (8") non-stick pan. Transfer the onions to a bowl when translucent and sweet. The onions should not take on any color.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a little salt/pepper and the saffron. Beat the eggs with a fork until they become homegenous. Leave to stand.

Drain the potatoes and slice very thinly. Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of the pan in which the onions had cooked. Cover the potato layer with the onions and another layer of potatoes. Place the pan on a med/low flame and warm them. Press the potato/onion mixture with the back of a spatula to squeeze out any air.

When the potatoes are warm, pour the egg mixture over them. Pull the cooked edge of the eggs away from the pan, allowing more raw egg to come in contact with the pan. Turn the heat to low and leave to cook for about 10 minutes - until set in the center. Invert the mixture in the pan and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes - until the whole tortilla is fully cooked.

Invert on the serving plate and garnish with some greens. Shake a little smoked paprika over the surface and serve.

Luckily there are left overs!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring time in Texas

The danger of frost has not completely past, but we are feeling safe now. The weather has been spectcular this weekend, so I have been filled with the desire to get the herb garden going again. Also the tomatoes . Probably a bit early yet for peppers.

So, I have been playing in the dirt. Lots of young basil, thyme, cilantro plants in. The oregano and mint are coming back nicely and even the parlsey is beginning to wake up.

We are so looking forward to home growwn tomatoes with home grown basil and home made bread. We don't grow olives here, or I might be tempted to make our own oil to go with it. Buffaloes (for fresh mozarella) would look a little out of place too, sadly. Oh well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Open That Bottle Night – Feb 23, 2008

The event

For the Wall Street Journal Open That Bottle Night party we chose to invite some friends over (originally planned to be 12, but because of flu season, reduced to 9) with the following instructions. “Please bring a bottle of a wine that is special to you, an appetizer that goes with it, and be prepared to share with the group why it is special.”

Everyone who came entered well into the spirit of the event with some delicious wines, excellent appetizers and much swapping of stories and general camaraderie.

The guests

· P* Phyllis and Christopher (hosts)

· ** Kat and Dan

* ·* Bette and John

· S* Suzy and Griffin

· C* Kathy

The party of the first part

The evening was divided into three quite distinct sections. The “Party of the First Part” was some general mixing/mingling and getting to know people. We held this in the kitchen with some relatively boring wines (provided by us!) and some appetizers – a caponata with toasts and garnished with olives carved to look like baby rabbits on a some mixed greens, and baked cheesy puffs called gougeres.

We played a variant of the guess who I am game where a label with a name is placed on your back and through elimination you have to figure out who you are. In this case we put grape varieties on the labels so everyone needed to figure out what kind of grape they were. The Gewürztraminer caused the most difficulty.

As people arrived, we placed their appetizers on the dining table which had been tastefully(!) covered with pages of a Wall Street Journal. The wines were sequenced for tasting, and the appetizers assigned sequence numbers. The mixing/ice breaking certainly worked well! After about 5 minutes there were no strangers.

The party of the second part

The “Party of the Second Part” was the main event. It was here that we were tasting the wines and listening to their stories. Now this was not a sophisticated tasting. It was as much about the stories, the reasons why things were special, the sharing of experiences, and the food pairings. We arranged the wines in the optimal (or close to it) tasting sequence.

First Pairing - Phyllis and Christopher

The wine

Domaine Du Duc De Magenta – Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru 2004

The food

A salad of baby spinach, oranges, toasted almonds, tomato, avocado and grilled chicken served as a summer roll in rice wrappers. The salad dressing was a mixture of orange and key lime juice with a little extra virgin olive oil. The wraps were softened in the dressing instead if the more normal warm water.

The story

This specific bottle was not in itself special, but the style and vineyard is. When Phyllis and Christopher were “dating” this was the first expensive bottle of wine that Phyllis had had. In fact it was the first bottle of white wine that benefited from being served warmer than ice cold. The experience of having something that luxuriant opened her palate to the delights that can be discovered in a bottle of wine.

Second Pairing – Bette and John

Bette and John brought 2 wines (one red and one white) from Oregon.

The wines

King Estates Pinot Gris - 2002

Firesteed Pinot Noir – 2006

The food

Bette had made some dense crackers with gorgonzola baked in. These crackers helped prepare our mouths and greatly enhanced the wines.

The story

In the 1960s when John was at the University of Oregon, all the land around was “truck farms”. Fresh peaches, plums and other fruit in the late summer – a really wonderful place to eat from the land. Bette was an East Coast Girl, so when John introduced her to the delights of Oregon, she was amazed. Move on to their 40th. Anniversary and they went back to Oregon. The area is now planted with vines, and making high quality wine. They tasted their way up and down the valley, settling on the Firesteed winery as a favorite. The story ends with a knock on the door about 2 weeks after the trip, and there is a delivery for Bette – 2 cases of the Firesteed Pinot Noir.

Third Pairing – Suzy and Griffin

The wine

Senorio D Las Vinas Rioja Crianza

The food

Suzy and Griffin brought puffs filled with a little white cheddar and shrimp. The wine was light enough to go perfectly with the puffs. They were much admired and few left!

The story

One of Suzy and Griff’s children had been in Spain last year. On a visit, they had become quite taken with this wine, and wanted to bring some home. Cutting to the chase – 17 bottles of it. So the bottles were packed in checked luggage (of course since security prohibits carrying liquids – especially 12 liters of liquids) on the plane too. Come to customs on reentry to the US, and they nonchalantly admit to having 17 bottles of wine – no problem for the inspector, and they were in – and able to share a bottle with all of us.

Fourth Pairing – Kat and Daniel

The wine

Sister Creek Reserve 2004 – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec blend

The food

Kat cannot eat dairy or wheat, so she always finds innovative ways of preparing things that would typically use bread or cheese. This evening she made stuffed mushrooms – stuffed with hot Italian sausage and topped with crushed tortilla chips – instead of breadcrumbs. The group was pretty quiet (for a change) while chowing down on these!

The story

Kat is a Texas girl through and through. On a road trip she discovered this little winery in Texas (near Sisterville) , and while she didn’t hold out much hope for it, she gave it a go. It was surprisingly well balanced and full flavored. It certainly gave the rest of us a new appreciation for the wines of the second largest state.

Fifth Pairing – Cathy

The wine

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2003

The food

Moroccan meat balls with plum sauce. The wine is such a big Cabernet Sauvignon that something with really bold flavors and, as advised by Chef Syre, the Executive Chef at the Four Seasons, without tomatoes. The small lamb balls were spiced with fresh mint, garlic, cinnamon, and cumin. The plum sauce added a little fruitiness without being overly sweet or cloying.

The story

Cathy is a “California Cabernet girl”. One day she was eating at Café Annie in Houston (one of the best restaurants in the state of Texas) and wanted a bottle of the Silver Oak Cab. To the restaurant’s embarrassment they were out of the Silver Oak. The sommelier suggested that she try the Long Meadow Ranch Cab, and that even though it was more expensive than the Silver Oak, he would let her have it for the same price. He thought it was a better wine.

The trouble is that the 2003 is now sold out, so Cathy had to scramble to find a bottle to bring. A few years back she had given a bottle to one of her better customers, so she called to ask if he happened to have any. Now we understand why there is none available, the customer had bought several cases. Fortunately he was delighted to return the favor to Cathy – thus giving us all a terrific experience.

The party of the third part

Now that the tasting was over, the party moved on to the conversation and carousing stage. We had placed some dark chocolate M&Ms on the coffee table – so it seemed natural to drink something bold with them. Since we had not yet had a Shiraz, I pulled one out from the collection – in this case an Ausvetia 1998 from South Australia. It was a bit long in the tooth, but went absolutely beautifully with the chocolate. While Zinfandel is often the chocolate choice, I really like a full-on Australian Shiraz.

Even the clean up wasn’t terribly hard – we had used disposable bamboo plates, so it was easy to toss them. Just a lot of wineglasses to wash!