Monday, December 28, 2009

Boxing Day

On those years when Madame and I are in the country over Christmas and December 26th is a weekend, we have a Boxing Day (day after Christmas, feast of Stephen) party. This year was no exception. Our typical approach is to ask the people who come to bring food items for our local Church's food pantry. Those who came (about 75 people in all) did the church proud. So a heartfelt thanks to everyone.
We made a few dishes to set the scene, nowing that in addition to the church pantry food, guests would bring all manner of wonderful things. And they did! It was a wonderful day.
We made a couple of different kinds of chili and almost 3 gallons of mulled wine - most of which got drunk. So in this posting I will do what I can to put a couple of recipes out...

First the mulled wine:
12 bottles of dryish red wine. We used a Cabernet/Merlot from Spain - the key is that it is fruity enough
1 bottle port
24 inches cinnamon stick broken into small pieces
60 cloves
2t coriander seeds
2T whole green cardomoms
4 oranges - greated zest and juice
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

Place the wine, port, orange juice and zest into a large heavy pan and place on ,ow heat. Make up spice bags from most of the cinnamon, cloves and all the cardomom and coriander. Immerse the bags in the wine mixture. Put the sugar and remaining cinnamon/cloves in a small pan and heat to dissolve the sugar and make a flavored syrup. As the wine comes to temperature (not boiling, but very hot), add the syrup to taste. depending on the wine, you may find you do not need all the syrup. Steep the pices for at least an hour. Serve hot in small mugs.....

And now the chili. There is of course a lot of discussion and controversy about chili, so I can only tell you what I did, not what's right! For me the first rule is that it must neither be wimpy, nor blow your head off. I also prefer to use finely chopped meat, not ground beef. The chili has a mixture of dried and fresh peppers of various strengths and a fair amount of cumin. At least this chili did not make such a large amount as the mulled wine!

3 1/2 lbs beef chuck see method for details on preparation
2 ancho peppers ground finely
6 dried cayenne peppers
3 fresh cayenne peppers
3T cumin seed ground finely
1 medium yellow onion chopped finely
3 large carrots  grated
1 can tomato paste
2 cans crushed tomatoes - drained
2 bay leaves
1 Chipotle pepper (dried - not in adobe)
Salt/pepper as necessary.
2 Raw green jalapenos - thinly sliced
1 white onion thinly sliced
Remove the fat from the chuck and set to render over low heat in a large skillet. Letting the beef fat render adds greater depth to the dish than using oil for browning the meat. Slice the meat into 1/4 inch cubes. Do not salt the meat. Brown the meat in the hot beef fat in several batches. making sure you have plenty of browning.
While the beef is browning, grind the dry spices finely in a spice grinder (or old coffee grinder). Slice the onions, grate the carrots and slice the fresh cayennes thinly.
Once the beef is browned, pour off some of the fat. Add the dry spices to the remaining hot fat and heat until fragrant (1bout 15 seconds). Add the onions and carrots, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the fond mixed it and the spices well incorporated. Soften the carrots/onions for several minutes - do not allow to brown. Add the fresh cayenne peppers and stir.
Move the onion mixture to the side and add the can of tomato paste to the exposed pan. heat it until it browns and varamelizes a bit. This adds extra depth to the chili. Once it is suitable caramelized, mix it in with the onion mixture.
Drain the crushed tomatoes, add to the onion mixture and stir. Check for seasoning - I added about 1t salt at this stage.
Put the browned meat back in to the pan and add the chipotle and bay leaves. Transfer to the slow cooker and cook on low heat for 6 hours. When cooked, allow to cool overnight.
Heat the oven to 275F. Place 1/2 of the chili into an ovenproof casserole. Spread with the thinly sliced onions and jalapenos. Cover the onions/jalapeno layer with the rest of the chili. Place a layer of jalapenos on top. Cover the dish and heat for 2 hours - until the interior is hot enough.
Serve with raw onion, grated cheese and sour cream.

Friday, December 25, 2009

This takes the cake

To a Brit, having Christmas cake is an important part of the holiday season. It is a fruit cake - but doesn't (at least in my house) have any of the neon candied chemistry set that we sometimes see. This year my mum made us one and we brought it home to Dallas at the end of November. The poor thing was naked - it hadn't been iced yet when we brought it home, so it needed icing - but only after its twice weekly baths in brandy - to preserve it of course.

Earlier in the week I bought some marzipan and some apricot jam. All ready to roll out the marzipan and top the cake with it. Another somewhat strange tradition is that we put marzipan on the cake first, let that set up a bit (ideally a week, but in my case a couple of days), and then top with frosting of some kind. Sometimes it's royal icing, sometimes Italian meringue. This year it was Italian meringue.

It is further traditional to eat said cake with tea on Christmas Eve. After which we just scarf it down! So this post is about the fine art of icing a Christmas cake.

Ingredients - marzipan layer
3T Apricot jam
12 oz marzipan - especially made for toppings like this. We bought ours at Whole Foods.
1 Christmas cake. Ours was about 7" in diameter

Put the apricot jam in a small pan - to soften enough to make it spreadable. While the jam is melting, take 1/2 of the marzipan and roll it out to about 1/8" thickness. Maybe a little thicker if you like. The important thing is to get it into a circle about the same diameter as the cake.

Place the cake flatter side up on a paper plate. Poke some holes into it and give it its last brandy spa treatment.

Spread melted apricot jam on the top and sides.

Put the rounded rolled section of marzipan on the top. The jam will hold it in place and stop it from sliding

Now roll strips out  to lay around the cake. It is easier to do this in several pieces than trying to get a single strip to work. Remember this will be covered with white icing, so it doesn't have to be perfect.

Leave to set for at least 24 hours.
Ingredients - Italian meringue
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1" piece of vanilla pod
2 egg whites

Heat the sugar, water and vanilla bean gently in a heavy saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. You should stir fairly often at this stage to make sure the sugar does not catch and burn. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat slightly and boil until the syrup reaches 240 C.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks stage. Once the sugar syrup has come to temperature, pour it in a this stream over the egg whites while whisking at high speed. Continue to whisk at high speed until the mixture has cooled to room temp - about 7-10 minutes.

Ice the cake the usual way - spreading the icing in a circular pattern on top of the cake with an offset spatula.

When the cake is iced, let stand 24 or so hours for the icing to set up.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmassy salad

This is Christmassy because of the colors not the flavors. I had to stop to buy bread (too lazy to bake at the moment) on the way home from work. So, since Central market is on the way home I stopped in there. I also knew that I had better buy something for dinner as well. We haven't eaten in much - too many parties, so I wanted something special. The scallops looked nice and the store had blood oranges. Aha! a wilted spinach salad with blood oranges, kiwi fruit and seared scallops. Lots of red and green for Christmas.

I texted Dave Gilbert to let him know about the blood oranges. He, of course wanted to know what I was making. When I told him he suggested some pickled ginger too. We always have that in the house, so I tried it. Yumm. This dish gets the ultimate accolade from madame, "We can serve this to people." Also it takes about 12 -15 minutes beginning to end. Sadly I wasn't organized enough to take pictures, so I will just have to do it again!

4T olive oil (not extra virgin) + 1T for the scallops
1 small red onion sliced pole to pole and then into strips
3 blood oranges, peeled and then thinly sliced across the orange
2 kiwi fruits peeled and sliced
Some pickled ginger - maybe 1T + 1T of its vinegar
4 jumbo scallops
salt/pepper to season scallops
a couple of handfuls of young spinach washed and drained
Extra Virgin Olive oil to drizzle
A few sea salt crystals for extra crunch

Place the 4T of oil in a non stick skillet. Heat until shimmering and add the onion. This seems like a lot of oil for one onion, but this becomes the oil base for the salad dressing. Soften the onion for a few minutes, taking care not to get any color onto it.
Once the onion is soft add the blood orange, kiwi, pickled ginger and juice. Turn heat off, and let the pan heat finish the job.
Add the 1T of oil to another skillet. Salt and pepper the scallops and immediately sear one side. This will take about 2 minutes (depends on thickness).
While the scallops are searing plate the spinach in rough mounds.
Turn the scallops over and sear for another minute or so. They want to be just cooked through. Too much and they become tough.
While the second side is searing, stir the onion/blood orange/kiwi mixture, and pour it over the spinach - essentially dressing the salad.
When the scallops are cooked, place them on the dressed spinach. Hit them with a little coarse sea salt and s drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Because of the citrus in the dressing, you want a wine that can cut through it a bit, and also contribute some citrus flavors of its own. I suggest an NZ Saufignon Blanc - Brancott from Marlborough would be a good choice, I think

Chicken in a pot

It seems like most of the major culinary styles do some kind of one dish, chicken based thick stew or soup. Chicken in a pot is our generic term for these. It is usually subtitled with a flavor profile. So we have "Chicken in  a pot - Mexican", "Chicken in a pot - North African", etc. I use the same essential technique, basically the same ingredients and adjust the flavoring, spicing, legumes and garnishes to adapt the basic dish to the style. This is not a dish of any great subteltly - it's job is to provide a warming dish for cold winter evenings. Because it is so "in your face", minor regional variations are not present. So, for example in today's version I have made no attempt to distinguish among the various North African cuisines - have just lumped them together into this single dish.
So, here are some of the key philosophies.

  • Use chicken thighs - they stand the longish cooking better than white meat

  • Make sure that the legumes you are using will get to the desired consistency in about 30 minutes

  • Use a sausage that matches the region (Mergez if yoiu can find it for North Africa, Chorizo for Mexican, etc.). Although, in a pinch a nice kielbasa can be used for everything!

  • Drain the fat early, and skim at the end

  • Make sure you sanitize the equipment that has been in contact with the raw chicken.

Apart from the chicken stock which was still defrosting, here is the collection of ingredients for this North African variety. The board on which the chicken thighs are laying is only used for raw meat, and will be sanitized in a bleach solution after use.

2T Vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs smoky sausage (kielbasa in this version) cut into 1/2 " thick slices
4 Chicken thighs, salted and peppered on both sides
2 Dry chipotle peppers (I know, not North African, but do add a nice smoky heat)
8 Cardomom pods
1 t whole coriander
1 2" piece of cinnamon bark
8 Cloves
2 Star anise
1t Cumin
2T Paprika
2 Medium onions peeled and chopped pole to pole
1 Head of celery
6 Large carrots sliced into 1 inch knobs
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) chicken stock
3 14 oz cans garbanzo beans - rinsed and drained
Salt/pepper to taste

Heat the oil to shimmering point in a large dutch oven. Add the sliced kielbasa and fry gently until the sausage takes on some color. This will take about 5 minutes.
Remove the sausage from the pan, and turn up the heat until you get wispy smoking. Lay the chicken thighs skin side down the oil, and cook until well browned (about 7 minutes).

While the thighs are browning, chothe onion in slices pole to pole, skice the celery. I don't bother to pull the ribs apart - just slice through the whole head. This is a rustic presentation after all.

Turn the chicken thighs over and cook on the meat side until browned - about 4 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, clean up the meat board, tongs, etc. using  mild bleach solution.

Remove the chicken from the dutch oven and allow to rest - with the sausage. Pour off all but 2T of the chicken fat. I use a small bowl with a foil insert. The fat is caught in the foil, solidifies when cold and you can throw the whole thing away. Do not pour the fat down the drain!

Finely grind the cardomom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, star anise, and coriander seeds. Add these to the hot oil in the dutch oven, along with the chipotle and the paprika. Stirquickly. Immediately add the chopped onions, celery,nd carrots. Stir thoroughly and scrape up the browned bits. The cool vegetables will prevent the spices burning.

Stir frequently until the onions are soft and all the brown bits at the bottom of the pan are gathered up. There will be slight color on the onions/carots/celery. Add the sausage back to the pot and mix into the vegetables thoroughly. Now add the bay leaf, the rinsed beans, and the chicken stock. The stock should not cover the vegetables. Put the chicken thighs back in (with the skin still on), and nestle them into the vegetables.

Cover the pot tightly with a sheet of foil  and then the duch oven lid. This provides a tight seal and prevent the flavors from escaping too much.

Simmer on the stove top on low heat for about 30-45 minutes - until the chicken is cooked through. Skim any fat off, adjust the seasoning, remove the skin from the chighs, and serve piping hot.
You can, of course, allow it to cool (in the fridge overnight), by which time any fat will have risen to the top and solidified. Then you can simply remove it with a spoon.

Changing the spicing completely changes the dish. So for the Mexican version, use chorizo, don't use cinnamon or star anise at all. Amp up the cumin and coriander. Use a chipotle in adobo sauce instead of a dried one. Use more chicken stock - make it sltly soupier, and used red kidnns instead of garbanzos.Garnish with a lot of fresh cilantro - limes, slice of avocado, etc.

The variations really are up to you. This dish never comes out the same twice. That's one reason we like it so much. In the words of Jacques Pepin, "A recipe only exists at the time you make it."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Tale of 2 Trifles

We were invited to 2 parties on Saturday. Each one of course wanted us to bring something. We always bring something meatless to these affairs because the vegetarians get rather short shrift. This year, however, we decided on desserts and not to vegetarian meat courses. That was because a good friend said, "you are English, you must know how to make trifle. It is one of my favorite desserts." Since she was co-hosting a party, it seemed wise to go with the flow.
Trifle is deceptively simple. You can do it the easy way – or the Chris way. I, of course chose the Chris way. That involves making custard (the easy way would have you buy it – or horror of horrors, use vanilla pudding. Also I decided to use crème de cassis instead of sherry. Not traditional, but goes so well with raspberries. We always have crème de cassis on hand for kirs and kir royales, but that's a different posting.
This isn't really about 2 trifles – it is one giant recipe placed into 2 bowls. The recipe below is the recipe I started with before doubling (well kind of because it doesn't double exactly – the cornstarch for example is less than you might think).

32 fl oz whipping cream (1 US Quart) divided use
4 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
1 ½ oz sugar
1t cornstarch
1 packet lady fingers (trifle sponges)
3T Raspberry jam, warmed so it is spreadable.
12 oz frozen raspberries
3 oz crème de cassis
2 large bananas, peeled and thinly sliced (30 slices per banana)
A few drops pure almond essence
A few slivered almonds toasted lightly for decoration

Place half of the cream into a saucepan. Preferably a pan with a rounded edge between the base and the sides. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add to the cream. Also add the pod. When sieved the seeds will stay in the custard, but the pod will be extracted and thrown away. (I used one pod for the double sized recipe and it was fine. You don't really need to double that).
Turn the heat under the cream on to a medium temperature. Stir the cream occasionally until it is close to boiling point. You will see an occasional bubble rising and lots of steam coming off it.

While the cream is heating, break the egg yolks into a bowl. Whisk gently to break them up. Add the cornstarch and sugar and whisk until light and foamy.

Now add the hot cream a little at a time at first to the egg mixture. As you can see in the photograph below, I am using a small bowl to do the transfer. A ladle would work fine, of course. Whisk all the while you are doing this addition.

Once you have added all the hot cream to the egg mixture, return the combined mixture to the pan, and start to heat slowly. The custard will be quite foamy at first, and quite thin. You must stir it pretty constantly at this stage otherwise the eggs will set without the cream. You will have very expensive, vanilla flavored scrambled eggs. The picture below shows the foamy egg/cream mixture.

Keep heating and stirring and the mixture will start to thicken. For those that care about such things, the mixture needs to come to about 172F (77 or 78 C). At that point it should be nice and thick.

In fact so thick that it does this (see picture below). The custard coats the spoon, and when you draw your finger across it, it is rather like Moses parting the red sea.

There will be some egg bits, and of course the vanilla pod to get rid of, so strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer.

Immediately transfer the custard to an ice bath to chill it before refrigerating. Need to make sure it gets cold quickly to eliminate chances of food-borne bugs. Using a larger bowl filled with ice water does the trick nicely.

Before refrigerating the custard, cover with cling wrap. To make sure a skin doesn't form, press the cling wrap right on to the surface.

Cool the custard in the fridge as long as you want. In my case it was about 4 hours while I ran errands. When you are ready to assemble the trifle, melt the raspberry jam in a small pan. It just needs to soften enough to be spreadable on the rather delicate lady fingers

Spread the lady fingers out on a cutting board….

And spread the warmed jam on them. Much easier to this way than trying to do them individually.

Now, cut the lady fingers up into your serving bowl. Add the raspberries, mix well by hand. Pour the crème de cassis over them and let them sit for a few minutes. Layer the sliced bananas on top of the cake/raspberry/cassis mixture.

Layer the custard on top of the bananas. It will be a fairly thin layer. It is so rich that you don't want it to overpower the fruit. Whip the remainder of the cream with the almond essence. It needs to be slightly soft and floppy. Certainly you don't want to overwhip it (and end up with something resembling butter). The cream should not be sweetened. Then ad the whipped cream on top pf the custard, spread it out to the edges and make it flat. Dot with the toasted almonds.
The trifle should now be refrigerated for at least 3 hours before serving.

Friday, December 11, 2009

3 people, 2lbs clams, 1lb linguine

I needed a quick dinner for 3 of us last evening. Quick because I had didn't get out of a meeting until 7:15 and needed to drive home, cook and have dinner on the table by about 8:15. Also it had to be good since Dave Gilbert (an unbelievably creative local chef) was one of the three! The idea then was to create something tasty within the time it took for the longest thing to happen (essentially in less than 30 minutes).
No problem. Linguine alla vongole to the rescue. This is in some ways a perfect timed dish. If you get the amount of water right, you can start the water pot, then do the small amount of prep (chopping parsley, cleaning clams, peeling/slicing garlic, etc.) while the water is coming to the boil. Thne the clams themselves cook in the amount of time it takes to cook the pasta.

2 T olive oil (cooking oil not finishing oil)
4 cloves of garlic - sliced thinly. Not mashed/pureed/pressed
1 dried cayenne pepper (could use flakes) chopped finely. Include the seeds
2 lbs littleneck clams
1/2 cup dry white wine - I used a cheapish Pouilly Fume
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Handful of parsley chopped fine
Salt/pepper to taste

The clams purging themselves of their grit - in a cold water bath

Put a sufficient quantity of water on to boil. I used 2 gallons for the pound of linguine. I could have gotten away with less, but that's the size of my pasta pot. As soon as the water is boiling, place the pasta into the water and set the timer for 9 minutes (or 1 minute less than the directions on the packet call for.

In a large skillet heat the oil to the shimmering stage over medium heat. Add the garlic and hot peppers, turn down the heat to medium low and cook, stirring or shaking often, until the garlic is fragrant. Once the garlic is fragrant, add the clams and shake the pan to coat the clams with the hot garlicky oil.

Add the wine and lemon juice to the pot, and cover immediately.

Cook the clams until they all open (about 6 minutes). After all clams are open, add a little of the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. In the picture below, you can just see some salt crystals falling.

Toss the ingredients together and turn the dish out into a large, warmed bowl. Sprinkle some more of the chopped parsley over the top. I served this "family style" so each guest had the opportunity to help himself.

With this dish I served a bottle of Gravonia which was one of the best wines at the Texas Sommelier convention held at the Four Seasons in the early fall.

After we had pigged out on the clams, I served a cheese course with some cheeses we brought back from Neal's Yard in London. The cheeses are a Coolea - a Gouda like cows milk cheese made in Ireland. Very citrusy, rich, thick, dry. With a nuttiness that is indeed reminiscent of Gouda. Lovely firm, almost crystalline texture. A very well made cheese. The second cheese is a Duckett's Farm caerphilly. It has all the characteristic Caerphilly taste and texture. A good sharp bite, almost honey like sweetness at the finish. It is a pale cream colour in a thick gray dry rind. Finally we had some Harbourne goat blue cheese that is about as subtle as a kick... A very bold, assertive blue. Not much mould for a cheese as potent as this. It felt like a lot of the whey was retained - giving it a strong acid bite.

As a final treat we each allowed ourselves a small glass of the Angostura 1827 rum. This is a rum that has been barrel aged for a considerable amount of time. It has huge vanilla notes and a strong oaky presence. It is a very smooth rum indeed. I am indbted to my friend Thor for introducing me to it.

So, there was the evening a terrific time was had by all. many stories, much concentration and minimal clean up!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Seabirdskitchen joins the culinary underground

Dave Gilbert and I met a few months back and just plain hit it off. We had promised ourselves a day together doing our favorite things. Sunday was that day. We got together at Dave's house having raided the farmers' market, Rex's Seafood Market, and our herb/veg gardens for stuff that might come in handy.
I hied myself off to his house at around 11 on Sunday armed with Rex's smoked salmon, some marjoram, mint, rosemary, and various hot peppers from the garden. Oh and some delicious New Zealand honeycomb (thanks sis and nephews), some margarita/salt cookies, the vacuum sealer for the sous vide and, of course the guanciale (cured pork jowls).
The main point was the cooking, but we managed to press-gang some friends into coming to eat. Yes there were nine of us in total. The dinner stretched for about 3 1/2 hours as we ate, discussed, ate some more, tried the wines, got to know each other better and just had a terrific time. The clean up was rather excessive, but somehow that isn't the abiding memory. The memory is of working under pressure with a good friend, making innovative and exciting food, and serving it to friends and strangers - all becoming friends by evening's end.
Dave has done such a wonderful job of documenting this here that I don't have any need to elaborate.
Recipes? What recipes? I am sure we will document better next time, but the wine and rum took their toll.
My parting comment is simply, "let's do this again, soon"

Monday, November 30, 2009

garlic, lemon, potatoes Oh My!

This is another dish inspired by Cooks Illustrated. As usual, I have taken a couple of liberties - but only out of necessity! The original as published is very good. There are a couple of technique keys that are worth pointing out here. The first is that the potatoes should be in even wedges. Not even in size = not even in cooking. The second is that the flavor enhancers (garlic, oregano, lemon juice) are all powerful but quite transient. Add them late in the process - i.e. when the recipe says so, and not before.
It is a bit irritating to make these because the potatoes do have to be in a single layer in a large skillet (typically 12") and not everyone has one handy. I used 2 10" skillets for this - one non-stick and one not. Not a lot of difference between them, but the caramelization on the untreated pan was slightly better.

You want to use potatoes that are not mealy (e.g. russets) and not waxy (e.g. reds). I use Yukon Golds but Maris Piper would be fantastic.

2T canola oil (1T per pan)
2T unsalted butter (1T per pan)
3lbs medium sized yukon gold or other intermediate potatoes. Peeled and cut lengthwise into wedges. Typically 8 wedges per potato. I cut the largest into 8 wedges and then look at the size of the others before deciding how many wedges per potato.
6 cloves of garlic pressed through a press. (1/2 of the pressed garlic per pan)
2T Extra Virgin Olive oil (1T per pan)
3T lemon juice + grated zest of 2 lemons (divided between the pans)
4T minced fresh oregano (can use marjoram if that's what you have - but always ensure it is fresh)
4T minced fresh parsley
Salt/pepper as needed

This method is per pan. So if you are using 2 pans (like I did) then do them simultaneously.
Heat vegetable oil and butter until foaming dies down. Add potato wedges in a single layer keeping heat at medium. Don't let the oil smoke, but do keep the sizzling going. They should be a deep golden brown after 5 or 6 minutes. Don't peek until at least 4 minutes have gone by. Turn the potatoes and cook on the other side until that side is golden brown.
Cover the potatoes tightly and turn the heat down to allow the potatoes to cook through.
Make up the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and organo into a small bowl. When the potatoes are cooked (6-9 minutes from when they were covered), add the lemn/garlic/organo mixture, stirring to prevent burning. Stir gently fo as not to break the potatoes. Cook uncovered for a couple of minutes. Serve in a warmed bowl, garnished with the parsley.

Madame's comment: "More Please."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Seeing red - meat that is

In a previous post (when will it be done?) , I wrote about rate of change - knowing when something will be done by observing its rate of change of temperature increase. There is a flip side to this. When faced with a tricky challenge - in this case very uneven pieces of meat, how do you manage the cooking so that it all comes out OK. As always, there is a story.
For the Steak au Poivre, I wanted three nice pieces of New York strip. I asked the butcher at the local "Central Market" for 3 pieces of about 12 oz each. That isn't what I got, as I discovered when I got home. One piece was a honking great 16 oz - about 1 inch thick. One piece was about the 12oz that I asked for and a bit thinner. One was about 9 oz and much thinner. We all wanted medium rare steaks, so what to do?
Luckily my old friend rate of change comes to the rescue. I know that the large piece will take the longest to cook (and as it happens, I will eat meat more rare than anyone else), so that piece went into the pan a full minute before the next sized piece. The last piece went in a full three minutes after the first piece. I flipped the steaks in order (largest first). When the largest piece was done, they all were.
So the moral of the story - good technique and taking size into account, you can adjust the major variable (time) to suit the dish at hand.

An old flame? - Steak au poivre

Our friend Bryan - he of the champagne dinner fame, sometimes calls up saying, "I was thinking of opening a bottle of (insert interesting wine here), I'd like to share it with you and Madame, so what would go well with it?" This means that he would like to discuss a pairing with me, and have me cook. Of course that's not a problem. An excuse to drink something delicious, enjoy Bryan's company and have something pretty special. Friday night was no exception. The phone call (on Thursday evening) went something like, "Are you guys busy on Friday, I was thinking of opening a 2004 Clos de tart and would like to share it with you both, what would go well with it?"
The tasting notes suggested pepper and silkiness - among some herby fragrances. So what to do? Well steak au poivre came to mind. The black and pink peppercorns giving some help to the peppery nose, and the cream accentuating the silkiness of the wine. There is a slight sweetness to the dish, courtesy of the shallots (I don't know if they are classic or not, but they seemed necessary), and there you have a terrific complement.
I am not a fan of beef tenderloin, so used New York Strips instead. They turned out rather well served with pommes boulangere and a simple salad. A very good (and easy) time was had by all.
To make this dinner you have to start a bit in advance. The potatoes take about 1 1/4 hours to cook. You also have to factor in prep time.
Pommes Boulangere
2 oz. unsalted butter
2 lbs Yukon Gold (or other intermediate not waxy/not floury potatoes) peeled
1 small onion
8-10 sprigs of thyme
1 cup warmed chicken stock
Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Warm the chicken stock slowly until nearly boiling. Better not to boil it because you don't want any evaporation. However adding it warmed to the potatoes makes them cook more quickly. Less danger of burning the top while still cooking them through.
Grease a gratin dish with a small amount of the butter.
Slice the potatoes thinly and evenly (about 1/4 inch thick). This is easiest done with a mandolin or V slicer. You really do want them to be of even thickness so they cook evenly. Do not rinse the potatoes. Peel and slice the onion into rings - a bit thinner than the potatoes.
Place a layer of potatoes, overlapping very slightly, in the bottom of the well greased grain dish. Cover with a scattering of the onions and 3 sprigs of thyme, a couple of good pinches of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper. repeat with 2 more layers, then finish with a layer of potatoes.
Pour the warmed stock over the potatoes, then dot with the remaining butter, season with more salt and pepper (again about 2 pinches of salt and a couple of healthy grinds of pepper).
Place the gratin onto a baking sheet and then into the oven for about an hour. It isn't terribly time sensitive, but when the top is crunchy and light brown it will be cooked. If you need to hold it until other dishes are ready, then simply turn the oven off.

Now for the steak au poivre. This is one of those dishes that looks really impressive - so much so that the natural instinct is to think it is difficult to do. It isn't! That's the beauty.

Steak au Poivre
4 12 oz ribeye steaks (off the bone)
Kosher salt
2 1/2 T cracked black pepper
2 oz butter + 1 short glug of olive oil. No need for extrav virgin. You could use safflower, etc.
2 good sized shallots (about 2 oz total) minced
1/4 cup brandy (make sure it isn't salted. Use the real thing not the supermaket flavoring)
1 cup thick cream
1 T whole pink peppercorns (optional)

make sure the steaks are removed from refrigeration about 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking. Lightly coat them with kosher salt about 15 minutes before cooking. Meanwhile crush the black peppercorns in a pestle and mortar until you have fairly even, but still well textured pieces. You do not want dust!
Heat a large skillet on the stove, add the butter/oil and allow to become very hot - almost smoking. You may need to keep an eye on this as it can burn easily. Put the cracked black peppercorns onto a flat plate and coat both sides of each steak with them. Pressing them in as necessary.
Cook the steaks in the hot oil/butter to the desired degree of doneness. If you want them any more than medium, you will probably need to finish them for a couple of minutes in the oven, since prolonged time over the direct heat will cause the outside to become overcooked.
Once the meat is cooked, remove from the pan, tent with foil, and allow to rest while you make the sauce. Into the still hot pan, add the chopped shallots and gently sweat. They will help get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, and add extra flavor and sweetness. Making sure that there are no open flames nearby (turn the flame off under the shallots too), add all but 1 T of the brandy. Reignite the flame under the pan, and flame the brandy. This will burn off some of the alcohol and add a slightly woody, charred flavor. It is subtle, but pretty important. When the flames have died down, add the pink peppercorns and the cream. Allow the sauce to boil for a short time to thicken. It should not separate. Finish the sauce with the remaining T of brandy, stirred in at the last minute (again, make sure that all flames are off).
Traditionally this is served with the sauce poured over the meat, but we prefer to place the sauce on the plate first and rest the meat on top. If I had been thinking, a little thyme as a garnish would have been nice.
Because this was an informa dinner, I plated the steak, but served the potatoes and a light salad family style.
Oh and yes, it did indeed complement the Clos de Tart perfectly. Even though we opened it a good hour before drinking, it was really only towards the end of the course that it showed its true potential - opening up with a surprising amount of floral notes - probably heightened by the pink peppercorns. As predicted, though, the black pepper and silky sauce was the perfect pairing.

So Bryan, what are you bringing next?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Champagne Dinner

We were challenged to create a dinner where each course would be paired with champagne. Of course, champagne is pretty versatile, but we wanted to make sure that we had a different experience, both in texture and flavor for each course. So after much thought we decided on the following menu:
  • Mushroom crostini
  • Smoked cheddar souffle
  • "Poached" fish over petits pois bon femme
  • A cheese plate
  • Coffee and chocolates

There was, of course, some adventure involved - I was not due back from Canada until after noon of the day of the party. The fish had to be picked up, the cheeses selected and then the cooking done. All for a 7pm start. Of course with Madame doing all the major shopping, setting tables, and making the house look especially nice, we were off to a good start.

The mushrooms for the crostini were cooked with shallots, thyme, and (of all things) rum. I didn't have sherry in the house, so figured that a medium rum would add that woody flavor that we would normally get from sherry. Yup it worked! Also, I had been wanting to try locally produced raw milk (from Layla farms in Plano, TX) for the souffle, so I figured that thinning a little fresh goat cheese with the raw milk would make a nice topping for the crostini. It did.

The souffle was served with a lightly dressed mesclun salad. The fish was suzuki - a type I had never heard of, but turned out to be a fantastic choice. Thanks to Rex's seafood market as always.

The cheeses were picked with the help of Rich at Scardellos. We always get good, thoughtful advice from Rich. The champagnes were all awesome from the Montaudon that we had with the crostini, the Pol Roger with the souffle, the Rouelle Pertois with the cheese, the Delamotte as a transition from the crostini to the souffle, the Francois Montand at the end of the cheese course and the Brut de Peche that we had as an after dinner drink with the chocolates and coffee.

Now for the recipes:

Wild mushroom crostini


2oz unsalted butter

6 Oz each of wood ears, shiitakes, white mushrooms

2 large shallots - minced finely

3 Oz dried porcini mushrooms

Boiling water to cover the porcini

4 sprigs of thyme - left whole

6T medium/dark rum (I used Mount Gay) divided use

3 Oz fresh goat cheese (e.g Montrachet)

2T whole milk

24 small crostini


Hydrate the porcini. Melt the butter in a large skillet and when the foaming has finished, add the finely chopped shallots and sweat them until translucent. Add the roughly chopped mushrooms (including the hydrated porcini) and the thyme stalks. Allow to cook down and dry out. Meanwhile strain the liquid from the porcini to make sure there is no grit. When the mushrooms have cooked down, add the strained porcini liquor. Again allow the mushrooms to dry out over medium heat. Off heat, add 3T of the rum, bring the mushrooms back to heat and evaporate the liquid. repeat with the second 3 T of rum. Season to taste with salt and pepper

Mix the goat cheese and milk together to make a thick topping - the consistency of whipped cream, almost.

Place a small teaspoon of the mushroom mixture on each crostini. Top with a dab of the goat cheese/cream mixture.

Serve slightly warm. We served them cool and one of the guests suggested that they might be even better warmed. She is probably right!

Smoked Cheddar Souffle


2oz unsalted butter (+ extra to grease the dish)

2 oz all purpose (plain) flour

2 cups (16 fl oz. 1 US pint) whole milk warmed

1/4t freshly grated nutmeg

1/2T freshly ground white pepper

1/2t kosher salt

5 large eggs (uses 4 yolks and 5 whites)

2T chopped chives

1 very finely chopped red chile (optional)

1 oz finely grated parmesan cheese

3 oz smoked cheddar cheese - grated

2 oz sharp cheddar cheese - grated


Melt the butter in a large saucepan. After the foaming subsides, add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 3-4 minutes to remove floury tastes. Whisk in the warmed milk and bring to a boil. You will have a thick bechamel sauce. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

separate the egg whites and yolks. In a large bowl whisk the yolks to break them up and make them smooth. Add one third of the hot bechamel to the egg yolks and whisk vigorously to incorporate. Gradually add the rest of the egg yolks to the mixture whisking vigorously to incorporate. Once the bechamel is Incorporated into the egg yolks, add the grated cheddars. Set aside while preparing the oven and the dish.

Grease the inside of a 6 cup (1 1/2 quart) souffle dish with the remaining butter. Coat the inside with the grated Parmesan making a well covered layer. This gives the souffle something to cling to as it rises.

Heat the oven to 375 and make sure it has had a few minutes to stabilize at temperature. Put the rack in the bottom third of the oven.

beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the cheese base. carefully so as not to upset the foam. Quickly fold in the chives and minced chile (if using). Put the dish into the preheated oven for approximately 35 minutes. The souffle should be jiggly in the middle.

Carry the souflee to the table and serve on small plates which have had the salad already placed on them. Eat immediately!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What matters?

The wonderful French cookbook, "Je sais cusinier" has been translated into English. The English title is "I know how to cook."
There's good news and bad news. It was some of the bad news that prompted this posting.
There is an unwarranted degree of precision in the book - the recipe that calls for 1lb 8 3/4 oz of mushrooms, for example. That is as a result of a slavish and direct conversion from the metric measurement (700 gm) to imperial measure.
So, how much does that 3/4 oz actually matter? I am sure not much - although I haven't made the dish. When is a measurement really a guideline, and how can you tell? That's a conundrum, so I will try to sort it out - or at least talk about how I pay attention.
  1. Ask why there are fiddly bits at the ends of the measurements? Like the 3/4 oz at the end of the mushrooms. If it looks to be a critical ratio item (flour/fat/water in a bakers recipe, then obey it)
  2. If the recipe has (obviously) been converted from the metric system to imperial, you could do the conversion mentally and see if it started as round number (25/50/75/100 gm endings). If so, then there's a decent chance that as long as you are not baking you can round off the lb/oz amounts.
  3. Be careful with strong flavorings (herbs and spices especially) rounding can throw flavors off, so round down and adjust after tasting.
  4. Be careful with anything that is in a smallish quantity (salt/yeast/pepper...) again that can throw off the balance/effect of the dish. Seasoning is always to taste - most of us under season, but again be careful

The good news is that the author uses words like scant and generous to indicate the precision required for many items that are measured by volume. So you know that a scant cup of stock is about a cup but likely to be a bit less. That's a definite clue that you can wing it.

While I am talking about the book, there are a few "duh" moments. First the book starts with sauces. So important to French cuisine, so neglected by most of us. So it is good to have the sauces lumped (no not lumpy!) together so they are easy to find. However, that is a bit of a double edged sword because there are recipes that point you to several other sub-recipes. For example the "Candlemas Rolls" recipe looks like it has 6 ingredients, but 2 of the ingredients are actually complete recipes in their own right. So when doing the recipe for the first time, you need to have bookmarks in several places. I guess the author thought of this - the book comes with 2 built-in bookmark ribbons.

There are some interesting subtelties. For example when making a ham souffle, the oven is set to a constant 400F, while the cheese souffle starts at 350F for a while and then the oven temperature is raised to 425 for the last 15 minutes. The reasons are that the number of eggs and the ratio of eggs to bechamel sauce is different and that the cheese incorprates into the sauce while the ham doesn't. You would think that the same recipe base would work for both kinds of souffle (but it doesn't!). You need to get more lift before the browning stops the expansion wuth the cheeses version, I presume. It's things like this that can make French cooking intimidating - the patterns are not obvious. It's also this kind of attention to detail - and figuring what's important that seperates good cooking from excellent cooking.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Steamed fish over petits pois bonne femme

I have unashamedly pinched this from Gordon Ramsey's show, "The F-Word". However because i have a terrible memory, I am sure I have done something differently. I will be doing this dish for a champagne dinner in a couple of weeks, and thought it a good idea to try it out. Also it was Madame's birthday and we ALWAYS have champagne. So the stars were aligned.

First a quick trip to Rex's Seafood Market (Lovers' Lane in Dallas) to check out the fish. I ended up with red snapper (gulf, wild) the other choice was striped bass (California/farmed). In retrospect I should have chosen the striped bass.

2 fillets (red snapper) with the skin on
24 basil leaves
1T Extra virgin olive oil
salt/pepper to taste
2T pure olive oil (not extra virgin) - you could use another vegetable oil if you prefer
5 oz frozen pearl onions
3 oz guanciale or pancetta
5 oz frozen petits pois

Score the skin side of the fish - cutting just through the skin, but not into the flesh. Oil 2 pieces of cling wrap (each big enough to enclose one fillet) lightly with the extra virgin olive oil. Lay 12 basil leaves onto each oiled piece of cling wrap. Salt, pepper and oil the skin side of the fish and lay skin side down on the basil. Salt and pepper the other side of each piece. Wrap the fish tightly in the cling wrap.

Bring a large pot of water almost to the boil. Slip the wrapped fish into the water and hold at a simmer for 8-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

Meanwhile, heat the pure olive oil until almost smoking and toss in the pearl onions. saute on high heat for about 7 minutes - until the onions are sklightly browned. Add the chopped guanciale and cook until the guanciale has become slightly crispy. Add the pease and toss quickly until the peas have warmed through.

Serve the fish skin side up on a mound of the peas/onions/guanciale. A bottle pf Perrier Jouet seemd to help too!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Tuna has been a battleground in our house. Madame likes the canned variety (aka catfood in my book), and I like it fresh, preferably raw. So how to create a rapprochment because after all it can be pretty good for us. Tuna salad using fresh tuna sounds like a good idea, but what about the texture with all that mayo? We realized that mashed avocado is about the same texture as mayonnaise and better tasting too, so an elegant light lunch dish materialized.

Serves 2 - scales up easily

6 oz fresh tuna steak (I used yellowtail)
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
a few drops of a sweet chili sauce
4 scallions (spring onions) white and green parts chopped finely
2T finely chopped cilantro
1t olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lettuce leaves
1 tomato chopped for garnish


Pat the tuna dry, cover with oil, salt and pepper. Sear grill it, so it it is nicely browned on the outside and still rare in the middle. About 2 mins per side depending on your grill. You can, of course do this in a saute pan on the stove top, in which case you will need a little more oil.

Slice the avocado pole to pole, removing the seed. Scoop out the flesh, taking care not to damage the skins - you will use the hollowed out halves as serving dishes (hackneyed, yes but still a nice way to do it).

Shred the tuna into rough bite sized pieces. It wants to be the same kind of texture as pulled pork. mash the avocado and combine all ingredients, adjusting flavoring/seasoning to taste.

Chill the salad for at least an hour. Serve in the empty avocado shell on a little lettuce and some diced tomato for color and effect. A hit of sea salt and/or finely ground pepper can be added too.

A crisp dry white wine and where did Saturday afternoon go?

Watermelon and mango soup

Madame and I ate at The Edge, a very nice restaurant in Rodney Bay St. Lucia. Madame had the watermelon soup and it was excellent. I couldn't decompose it, but I knew I wanted to make something like it. So after much fiddling around, I came to this.

Serves 8

For the sugar syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup water
8 green cardamoms
1 1" knob of fresh ginger cut into thin slices
8 peppercorns
2 kaffir lime leaves (or the zest of 2 limes)
2 cloves

For the soup
1/3 cup of sugar syrup
1T powdered arrowroot
1/4 cup water
6 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
2 ripe mangoes
1t fresh mace chopped fine or 1/2t powdered mace
A few drops of your favorite hot sauce
24 croutons
a little extra virgin olive oil - used as a finishing garnish
a little sherry vinegar - used as a finishing garnish
a little coarse sea salt - used to finish the soup and give a flavor burst and crunch

Sugar syrup
Place the sugar and water into a small saucepan. Stir to dissolve as much as possible. Add the flavoring ingredients. Bring to a boil slowly, and simmer for about 10 minutes. You are really just keeping it hot, not trying to caramelize it. The goal is to speed flavor extraction.

Strain the syrup. Left overs are good in many cocktails that require simple syrup.

The soup
Make a slurry from the arrowroot and water. Add to the warm sugar syrup and stir to combine. It should thicken up.

Place the arrowroot mixture, watermelon, mangoes, mace and hot sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Strain into a large bowl, cover with cling wrap and chill for at least 4 hours.

To serve, ladle the soup into small bowls, dot the surface with some olive oil and vinegar. Place 3 croutons in each bowl, sprinkle a few coarse salt crystals.

After dinner drink or dessert?

This recipe is inspired by a drink that we had in St. Lucia recently. The drink is a BBC (Baileys, Banana, Colada). However I wanted to make a quick and easy dessert. The colada is gone - and replaced with coconut rum. The drink is thickened with pureed bananas and a little gelatin to give it that special jiggle.

Serves 8

1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup boiling water
1 envelope gelatin
1 cup Baileys Irish Cream
1/4 cup banana flavored rum
1/2 cup coconut flavored rum
2 ripe bananas

Place the cold water into a bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and stir to mix. Add the boiling water, stir again and leave to stand for around 5 minutes.
Put the rest of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. There should be no discernible chunks of banana. Add the gelatin mixture and blend quickly on low speed until it is all incorporated.

Transfer into cocktail glasses, cover each glass with cling wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours until set.

Serve garnished with mint leaves.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Grape Focaccia – With Acknowledgement to Daniel Leader

We had an invitation to a July 4th party and it involved a bit of a drive. So what to take? It's hot here in Texas, so didn't want something that needed reheating. Yet also didn't want something that was going to need coddling on the drive. The host is a bit of a foodie too, so we also had to make sure that the dish was interesting enough. Enter Grape Harvest Focaccia – adapted a bit from Daniel Leader's wonderful book, "Local Breads". Who would have thought that grapes, bread, sea salt, olive oil and rosemary would be such a good combination? The juice from the grapes permeates the focaccia, dissolving some of the salt. The heat of the oven intensifies the sweetness of the grapes. A truly wonderful dish – and impressive looking too.


300 gm room temperature spring water

1.5t active dry yeast

500 gm AP Flour (plain flour – not bread flour)

60 gm (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil + extra for oiling pan and moistening fingers

10 gm (1 ½ t) kosher salt

250 gm seedless black grapes – washed and dried

10 gm (3t) fresh rosemary finely chopped

7gm (1 ½ t) coarse sea salt


Add the yeast to the water in a large bowl, and leave to stand while weighing the other ingredients. Add the flour, olive oil and kosher salt and stir with a plastic spatula until a shaggy dough forms. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead for about 15 minutes until the dough is very smooth and elastic. As usual, do not add extra flour to prevent sticking. While the dough will be a bit sticky at first, it eventually smooths out and the stickiness goes away.

Transfer to the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave in a warmish (75-80F) place to ferment and rise.

Towards the end of rising time, lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet (half sheet pan) with olive oil. When the bread has risen, transfer from the bowl to the lightly oiled pan. Leave to settle for about 5 minutes. Oil your fingers and flatten the dough in the pan, pushing it gently into the corners. You should have the pan completely covered with the dough. Dimple the surface with oiled fingers. Press the grapes into the dough at intervals of 1 ½ to 2 inches (4-5 cm). This doesn't have to be precise. Do arrange them neatly in rows though since you will be cutting pieces between the rows. Evenly sprinkle the dough/grapes with the rosemary and sea salt. Cover lightly with a towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise for 45 mins – 1hour.

About 15 minutes to go before baking, turn the oven to 375F. Place the upper rack in the middle. I always keep a baking stone in the oven, so the temperature is evened out a bit. It also causes the focaccia to bake a little more slowly.

Place the pan into the oven and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Mine needed more – about 35 minutes, but the baking stone contributed to the extra time. When I have made this without it is nearer 30 minutes. This is all in a conventional (not convection) oven.

You can tell that it is cooked when the grapes have partially burst – there is juice staining the surface and the dough itself is puffed up and a light golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Transfer from the pan to the cutting board and cut (using a pizza wheel) into squares – 1 grape per square. For shipment to a party, transfer back into the pan and place in an insulated bag.


This is a very easy bread to make. It slips out of the pan, isn't particularly sensitive to exact times and quantities. You can certainly knead it in a stand mixer – or even using the knead cycle in a bread machine. You do need the whole 500 gm of flour though – it just covers the sheet pan nicely.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Using the tomatoes

We have had a good tomato crop this year. There are 2 varieties – red cherry tomatoes and yellow pear tomatoes. They taste divine and look beautiful when combined. For lunch today we decided to have some, simply prepared with croutons, garlic, mozzarella, basil and oregano. Talk about a taste bomb.

Recipe (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course salad)

1 T Extra virgin olive oil

4 Slices plain white bread with the crusts removed, and cut into ½ inch croutons

1 Clove garlic (or more to taste) sliced thinly

2 t Coarse sea salt

36 Tomatoes (mixed cherry/pear), cherry tomatoes halved, pear tomatoes quartered

24 Basil leaves chopped finely + a few smaller leaves as garnish

1 3inch sprig of oregano (leaves only) chopped finely

4 Mozzarella Bocconcini – preferably buffalo milk cut into the same sized pieces as the tomatoes

1T Sherry vinegar


Heat the oil in a small skillet – until it starts to look swirly. Do not allow to get to the smoke point. Add the croutons and toss to coat. Continue to heat over medium low heat until the croutons are just browned and are beginning to be crispy – about 4 minutes. Turn the heat off and immediately sprinkle the sea salt over the croutons. Add the sliced garlic and toss. Add the chopped tomatoes, the basil and oregano and toss until just warmed through.

Serve onto a plate, drizzle with the sherry vinegar, top with the mozzarella, garnish and serve slightly warm. We had it with a glass of Kim Crawford's unoaked chardonnay.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

The tennis brunch

Madame and I had been threatening to do this for a while. We finally got it together.

The menu was pretty simple – mimosas, peppers stuffed with tomatoes, chiles, olives, capers (see here) together with some eggs cooked with fontina/black truffles and prosciutto/parmesan. Since the link describes the stuffed peppers, I won't bother to expound on those here.

The egg dishes were adapted from something we saw on the food network a couple of weeks ago. I think it was the "Hearty Boys."

Ingredients (makes 24 individual servings)

48 Wonton wrappers

2Oz butter melted

24 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste.

Filling 1 – Fontina Cheese and Black truffles

2 oz Fontina cheese cut into 36 small cubes

12 thinly shaved black truffle slices

Filling 2 – Prosciutto and Parmesan

2 Oz thinly sliced prosciutto shredded finely

2 Oz Parmesan cheese

24 strips roasted red pepper


Melt the butter in a small bowl. Prepare 2 12 muffin pans as follows:

  • Brush each indentation with melted butter
  • Lay one wonton in the indentation with the corners sticking up
  • Brush the wonton with more melted butter
  • Lay another wonton on top of the first, but rotated 90 degrees – making 8 points
  • Brush the second wontons with melted butter.

For the fontina dish, place 3 small cubes of fontina in the wontons. For the prosciutto version place a small amount of prosciutto in the wontons. Into each indentation, break one large egg. Top with a thin slice of truffle (fontina dish, finely grated parmesan for the other dish). Place a little roasted red pepper on the prosciutto dish.

Bake the eggs in their pans for a total of 14 minutes at 375. Rotate the pans top to bottom and front to back at 7 minutes.

Serve nestled on a bed of spring greens .

Friday, May 8, 2009

Producers' Picnic 2009

We did the annual producers' picnic for Madame's students last weekend. Because I can't leave well enough alone, I tried a new trick for the burgers. This time I did the seasonings ahead of time. Because mushrooms complement beef so well (it's an umami thing), i thought it would be interesting to add some dried mushrooms to the ground beef, so here's what I did.


10 lb 85% lean ground beef. This was a mixture of chuck and sirloin

4 Oz. ground dried wild mushrooms (porcini, wood ears, shiitake, morels, hen of the woods)

2T Kosher Salt

2T finely ground black pepper

2T garlic powder


Using your hands, gently combine all the ingredients. Beware the mixture is cold and you may need to stop to warm your hands a couple of times. Take care not to compress the meat - if you do the burgers will become too dense and not very juicy.

Form the meat into 5 - 5.5 oz patties, making a small indentation in one side with your thumb. This allows them to stay flat while you grill them. Grill about 4 mins/side. Serve with usual condiments.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Pizza Dough

I have had several people ask me about this, so here goes. It has been a bit of an experiment. I used the same basic method as I use for ciabatta, but have adjusted the water down considerably (to 70% hydration).

This recipe introduces the concept of a starter – or biga. The The elapsed time is very long (20+ hours) because of the development of the biga.

The biga rests for 9-17 hours, most of the time in the refrigerator.


Starter (biga)



U.S. Weight

Metric Weight

Bakers' Percentage

Water (Tepid)

1/3 Cup

2.3 oz



Instant yeast

½ t

0.1 oz

2 g


Bread Flour

2/3 Cup

3.5 oz

100 g



Bread Dough



U.S. Weight

Metric Weight

Bakers' Percentage


1 Cup (approx.)

5.9 oz

167 g


Water (tepid)

1 1/2 Cups

12 oz

350 g


Instant yeast

1 1/2 t

0.3 oz

8 g


Bread flour

3 ¼ cups

17.6 oz

500 g


Kosher salt

1 ½ tsp

0.4 oz




Note the overall hydration percentage is hard to gauge because the biga itself has both flour and water in different proportions to the dough. The biga recipe makes just enough for the overall bread recipe.


The biga

Pour the water into a small mixing bowl and add the yeast. Leave to sit for a minute and then stir in the flour until a dough just forms. Scrape the dough out and knead for a couple of minutes to work the flour in. It will not be fully kneaded, nor perfectly smooth. Spray the bowl lightly with PAM and replace the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 1 hour. Place into the refrigerator and leave for 8-16 hours until ready to use.

Mix the dough

Remove the biga from the refrigerator and uncover it. Scrape it into a large bowl (ideally the mixing bowl from your stand mixer) and pour the water over it. Break it up into clumps with a spatula. Add the yeast and leave for 1 minute. Add the flour and stir with the spatula until incorporated. Sprinkle the salt onto the surface and proceed to the next step.


With the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed (6-8) for 13-15 minutes. Periodically stop the mixer and scrape down the dough.


Transfer the dough to an oiled box or bowl. Leave to ferment until tripled in volume (typically 3-4 hours).