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!