Saturday, December 15, 2012

Soft boiled eggs - genius from Americas test Kitchen

It has always been a crapshoot cooking eggs in their shells - to a soft cooked stage. Getting the whites nice and firm and leaving the yolks runny. Coming from England, "boiled eggs" are a staple with toast strips dipped into the runny yolks ("soldiers"). Why is it so hard? Because there are no cues. The egg is cooking away with no externally visible signs. There is magic and mystery, but it is only at that moment of disappointent when one takes the top off that you realize that it is messed up again.
The clever people at America's Test Kitchen have done a lot of testing and seem to have come up with a foolproof way. I followed it and have achieved boiled egg perfection.

Ingredients

Large eggs in their shells at refrigerator temperature (see further notes)
Water to cover the bottom of a saucepan to a depth of about 1/2"

Method

Place water in bottom of a lidded saucepan. Bring water to a boil. Place the eggs in the bottom of the pan. Put the lid on the pan. Turn heat to low. Set timer for 6 1/2 minutes. When timer goes off, eggs are cooked. This is essentially steaming the eggs, not boiling them.

Further Notes.

Cooking the eggs this way fixed my "how do you peel soft cooked eggs?" problem. These peel really easily.
Does 6 1/2 minutes sound too long? I thought so at first, but actually the elapsed time is about the same (and maybe a bit shorter) than the elapsed time using a pot full of water.
I had been bothered for a while about the whole physics of egg in the shell cooking. It was obvious to me that the initial temperature of the eggs, the amount of water, the number of eggs, the rate at which the burners are capable of delivering heat, whether to put the eggs in cold and bring them up gradually, whether to dump the eggs into already simmering water all are going to affect the outcome. That's too many variables. This way, the only variables are the size of the eggs, the initial temperature of the eggs and whether they will fit in the pot in a single layer. Piece of cake, really!
I haven't timed these for different sized/different temperature eggs.
Control parameters for my house.
  • Fridge temperature 36.5F
  • Egg weight ~ 2oz (56-58 gm) in the shell
  • Pot sizes (2qt and 4qt) - results identical

Monday, December 3, 2012

A visit to the BGE nursery

I was working on a project near Decatur, GA last week. One of my coworkers, knowing of my interest in cooking and Big Green Eggs, directed me to the retail store and warehouse.
A couple of delightful and helpful guys showed me round, took me into the warehouse to illustrate how I should adjust something.
They sold me some "stuff" as well. A BGE Christmas tree ornament of all things. Nothing more.
Interestingly, it does seem as if BGE has distributor issues. I hate the distributor I went to in Dallas. A random persom from Alabama came in after me. he was as annoyed with the Alabama distributor trying to gouge him as I am with teh Dallas guys.
I hope BGE are paying better attention to the distributor network.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 was to be an adventure. A close friend wanted to do the "grand opening" of her newly redecorated dining room. Lovely new furniture, light fittings, elegant placeware, etc.





So we were to be 12 people for thanksgiving itself, and I was deputised to at least cook the main course.

Some guests brought pies (cheesecake, pecan, pumpkin)
 



 





and some fantastic devilled eggs.


















Jim Brewer was pressed into service to eat, be witty and take pictures. He excelled on all counts. The pictures in the attached posts were all taken by him.

Our hostess made a salmon ball, and stuffed celery, which we ate with aforementioned devilled eggs and some cheese  on while final touches were made to the formal part of the dinner. Wines from the very helpful Heather at Veritas helped everyone along! The cheeses were all from Scardellos in Dallas and comprised a Twig Farm raw goats washed rind cheese. a Tallegio, Cabot Cloth Bound Cheddar and the centerpiece looking like a mound of snow, a whole Pierre Robert - a triple cream with brie flavors.



 
 
And so to the sit down part of the dinner The first course was Butternut Squash Soup with Cinnamon Croutons. And then the main course....
 

Roast Turkey
Roasted Potatoes

Home made ciabatta rolls
Cornbread wild mushroom dressing
Green beans with almonds

Swet potatoes
 And the wines?
Veritas supplied the majority. With appetizers a rose cremant de Bourgogne, NV. With the soup and into the main course a Pinot Blanc d'Alsace from Paul Blanck 2009 For the main course a robust Hahn GSM. And then a vintage sherry with dessert. A 1985 Pedro Ximenez Bodegas Toro Alba.











Thanksgiving - sweet potatoes

Where would thanksgiving be without sweet potatoes? But I am not wild and exceted about overly sweetened, overly flavored sweet potatoes. I like foods to have their own flavors, accented by spicing, etc. This method takes advantage of the water already contained in the sweet potatoes - and uses no other water. However, it does use cream as the cooking liquid. Not much, but enough to get it kick started. This recipe if the full 12 person version.

Photograph by Jim Brewer

Ingredients

6T unsalted butter
6 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced evenly into 1/4inch slices.
1 cup cream
1 spice packet (4" cinnamon, 6 cloves, 12 black pepper corns, 12 allspice berries in a cheesecloth bag)
Any left over cinnamon sugar (in this case about 1T from the cinnamon croutons)
salt/pepper to taste

Method

In a wide pot, melt the butter, place the spice packet and the sweet potatoes. Stir to coat the sweet potatoes. Pour the cream over the potatoes. Simmer gently over low heat, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are soft and mashable. This may take as long as 30 minutes.
Remove the spice packet, check the seasoning and add salt/pepper as needed.
Place in a gratin dish unvovered in a cooling oven (on its way down from 425 perhaps) to keep warm and develop a slightly dry crust.

Thanksgiving - green beans

Easy green beans without a lot of glop! Wanted to make sure we had something of a different color to put on the plate. Everything was from the earth tones side of the color wheel, otherwise.

Ingredients - Serves 4.

1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 T unsalted
12 oz green beans. Topped/tailed and cut into 2 inch lengths
1/2 cup water
1T lemon juice (fresh)
Salt to taste

Method

Toast the green beans in a 325 oven until just brown - about 15 minutes. Melt the butter in a large saute pan- until foamy. Add the beans and toss to coat. Add the almonds. Add the water. It sjould hiss a bit. Place the lid on firmly and simmer for about 7 minutes. The beans should be bright, glossy and slightly firm. The should have all but disappeared. Squeeze the lemon juice over the beans once they are in the serving dish.

Butternut squash soup

This was the first sit down course at Thangsgiving 2012. It is my go to soup when I want something silky and elegant, with the slight possibility of it being healthy. This recipe was adapted from the aproach I saw in America's Test Kitchen. Fortunately it keeps really well over night so can easily be made ahead of time. The white pepper in this recipe gives some heat but without the visual of the black peppercoorns, nor the distinctive pepper taste.

This is for a 4 person serving. I trebled everything for the 12 personThanksgiving sit down

Ingredients

1 Large butter nut squash (around 2 lbs)
2 oz unsalted butter
1 medium shallot finely minced
salt
Freshly ground WHITE pepper to taste

Method

Cut the bulb end off the butter nut squash, and scrape out the strings and seeds. Set them aside. Cut the butternut squash (unpeeled) into quarters. Do not bother to peel/
In a dutch oven or large saucepot over low heat, melt the butter and saute the shallot with the strings and seeds. This takes about 10 minutes. Once the strings and seeds are cooked, add about 3 cups of water to the pot, set a steamer basket into the pot and then place the rest of the squash in the basket. Return to the heat, and steam the squash until fork tender. About 15-20 minutes. When the squash is cooked, remove, set aside and allow to cool. Strain the liquid off the strings and seed, throw away the strings/seeds - they have given their all.
When the squash is cooled, peel the skin off and reserve the chunks of squash. Blend the chuncks with minimal water in the blender (better not to use the food processor unless you want to change your kitchen color scheme - and no I don't have that experience). Blend in batches until smooth, adding liquid as necessary to get the thickness you want. You want to end up with about 20 oz (1 pint + 1 cup - US) of liquid for 5oz portions
Once blended, strain through a fine meshed strainer to ensure the soup is silky smooth. Add salt (up to 1t of kosher salt), white pepper, and maybe a few drops of sherry vinegar. I did not add the vinegar this time but have in the past.

Serving

Serve piping hot in heated bowls with a few croutons artfully arranged on top.
 

Cinnamon Croutons

We made these especially to go with butternut squash, but they are so tasty, they might be worth having around as a snack anyway. Fortunately they are easy to make.

Ingredients

6 slices white sandwich bread (thick sliced if possible), crusts removed.
4T melted butter
3T cinnamon sugar.

Method

Set  oven to 375, tray on lower middle rack. Butter both sides of each slice of bread, then coat with cinnamon sugar. Cut the bread slices into cubes, and place the cubes evenly on a sheet pan in a single layer. Place into the oven for a total of 10 minutes, inspecting and rotating after 5. Once they are hard on the outsede, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. When cold, store in an air tight container until ready to use.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving - Roasted Potatoes

My sister, Alison, is the "roast potato queen." She does them better than anyone I know, but I think I may be catching up! Certainly the guests at dinner last evening couldn't get enough of them!

Photograph by Jim Brewer
 

Ingredients

6lbs russet or other starchy potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4T kosher salt (divided use)
4 oz unsalted butter

Method

Set the oven to 450F. Par boil the potatoes in salty water, using 1/2 of the salt until nearly cooked - about 12 minutes. Drain the potatoes and dry them in the saucepan. Place a roasting pan into the oven with the butter in it and allow to get got. While the butter is heating, shake the saucepan containing the potatoes firmly to roughen the outsides. When the butter is hot, tip the potatoes into the roasting pan and immediately toss to coat with butter. Place the pan into the oven. After 30 minutes, check on the potatoes, turning them over with a spoon. Return to the oven for a further 30 minutes - or until golden brown. Immediately shake some kosher salt onto the potatoes and turn out into a serving dish.
 
If you are serviong these with beef instead, you could use the beef fat for an even more delicious flavor and omit the butter. Duck fat or goose fat  are the absolute best, however! Turkey fat, not so much.
 
Note, these potatoes are just as good when cooked with eggs the next morning for breakfast!

 

Thanksgiving - Wild mushroom and pecan dressing

For Thanksgiving 2012, we made a cornbread/wild mushroom/pecan dressing. Tarted up with bits of turkey unmentionables. It was pretty popular with the gathering, so is probably a keeper. The herbs are all fresh. The Mexican oregano is in the ingredient list because we have a whole lot of it growing. Marjoram would be equally good.
Picture by Jim Brewer

Ingredients

6T unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion - diced finely
6 ribs celery - chopped small
1 fresh red cayenne pepper, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic - crushed to a paste
4 large carrots, grated
4 oz Shiitake mushroms chopped
4 oz oyster mushrooms chopped
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms reconstituted and chopped
2 portabella mushrooms - peeled and chopped
1 hot pepper (cayenne preferably) minced
1 cup toasted pecans roughly chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup Mexican oregano chopped
3T thyme - finely chopped
2T sage - finely chopped
8 cups sweetened cornbread, made at least 1 day ahead - 2 packages of Jiffy or equivalent
3 cups whole milk
Finely minced, cooked liver and heart of the turkey (after making the giblet stock) (optional)
1/2 cup giblet stock
1/2 cup turkey pan drippings
salt and pepper to taste.

Method

In a large skillet, soften the onions, celery, carrot, cayenne pepper and garlic. The onions should become translucent. Add the chopped mushrooms, some salt (1/2t) and pepper. Cook until the pan is dry. Allow to cool to room temperature.
About an hour before serving time, combine the mushroom mixture, pecans and herbs. Crumble the cornbread into the mixture, stir and add the milk, giblet stock and turkey liver/heart. Season with salt and pepper. Place into a greased casserole dish. Pour the turkey pan drippings over the top. Cover with foil and bake at 425F for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 20-25 minutes - until the top is golden brown.

Turkey




In many ways the turkey is the easy part of thanksgiving provided a few basics are adhered to. I have tried just about every method known for roasting and serving a whole turkey. High heat, low heat, wrap in cheesecloth and soak in butter, bacon on the breasts, wet brine, dry brine, stuffed, not stuffed. The list is endless. However, I have settled on the simplest approach that I have found so far. And now having done it 2 years in a row, I am hooked. 2011 we did a small one (12 or so lbs). This year a monster (22+lbs) Diestel. It is (of course) the well named “Judy Bird” which I found here. What I am about to describe is my take on that – including the inimitable Alton Brown’s method of trussing the bird. My goal is to produce a perfectly cooked bird that could grace the cover of a magazine. And yes, the pic above is the one we did this year - the picture kindly taken by my friend Jim Brewer.

I start this on Monday at midday prior to the Thursday Thanksgiving feast. The time doesn’t depend on the size of the turkey.

Ingredients


1 22lb turkey (this is for a fresh turkey, no comment for a frozen one)
5T Kosher salt (master recipe calls for 1T for every 5lbs of turkey)
3 large yellow onions
½ head celery
6 large carrots
1 lemon quartered
1T unsalted butter
3T flour (more or less as needed)
Method

Remove the giblets, plastic bags, clips and any other strange items that you might find on the turkey (including that irritating pop-up device). Remove the wishbone (to make for easier carving – you will thank me later)
Rinse the inside and outside of the turkey with cold water. Dry the inside and outside thoroughly. Sprinkle 1/3 of the salt onto the breast of the turkey, ¼ on each thigh/drumstick and the remainder on the back. Place the turkey inside a large bag, seal closed and place in the refrigerator for 2 days. It is now Wednesday at lunch time. Remove the turkey from the bag, and set uncovered in the fridge to dry out. This helps the skin brown when cooking.

Cooking time should be (in total) less than 12 minutes/lb. But you are advised to pay attention to the rate at which it is cooking. Use a probe thermometer to ensure that you are doing it right! See this post. That's why I am so opposed to the little pop ups. You want to know when it will be done, as well as when it is done!

At least an hour before you want to start cooking the turkey, remove it from the fridge. Pat dry (it will in all likelihood be completely dry anyway, but it is safer to ensure it. Slide some sage leaves up between the skin and the breast – just to make it look nice. Put a chopped onion and the quartered lemon into the cavity.  Truss the turkey as mentioned above. Follow the Alton Brown video carefully.
Heat the oven to 425F. Into a roasting pan put 1 remaining onion, rough chopped, ½ of the celery toughly chopped, 4 carrots roughly chopped and 2 cups of water. The water helps moderate the heat at the bottom of the pan and prevents burning of the initial drippings.. Place the turkey on a V rack, breast side down over the onion/carrot/celery in the roasting pan. Place the pan into the oven, and cook for 20 minutes (small turkey) or 30 minutes (large turkey). Remove from the oven, and turn the turkey breast side up, and set the oven to 325. Roast the turkey uncovered until the temperature reads 160 or so in the thickest part of the breast. Carry over heat will take it to the 165 temperature recommended by the FDA.

While the turkey is cooking, dice one onion, and the remaining carrot and celery. Soften in the butter until the onion is translucent. Dice up the giblets, heart, neck and other unmentionables from the turkey, add to the onion mixture and sauté until browned and fragrant. Cover with water and simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Of course you can do this the day before - especially if you plan to use some of the unmentionables in the dressing as we did.
Remove from heat, strain the pan liquid and discard the onions and giblet solids (retaining the liver and heart for adding to the dressing if you like). Allow the fat to rise, and separate it. This fat will be used as the basis of the roux for the gravy.

To make the gravy, take the remaining fat, the remaining onion, diced and sauté until translucent. Add the flour and cook for about 10 minutes watching carefully to prevent burning to make a light brown roux. Add the reserved giblet stock, stirring constantly to remove lumps. This will be very concentrated, so thin to desired thickness with water. Bring to boil to thicken.
When the turkey is cooked, remove from the pan and stir some of the roasting pan juices into the gravy. It will darken it a bit and add extra richness. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Casserole or Gratin

Whether you call a dish a casserole or a gratin may rather depend on whether you like it or not. Needless to say there is some history around tonight's offering. A whole lot of unrelated events combined to make this a must do.
First, there had been the threat of cold weather and we had a massive amount of basil. Needed to get it in so it wouldn't go to waste. I made basil oil from it. Second, we had some stale bread - no surprise there given the amount we make. Third, Fine Cooking came and it had some gratin recipes. Fourth. Madame has said that she would like more veges. 5th, we had some zucchini, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and onions left over from a farmers' market trip.
Now making vegetable gratins is a bit of an art. because the veges can have a lot of water, it is possible to end up with a rather sorry puddle of water with some limp vegetables lying in it. Now that is a casserole!
The trick for this dish is to roast the watery vegetables first in a pretty low oven - not so much for browning, more to drive off some liquid.



Ingredients

3 Tomatoes, chopped into medium dice.
1 sweet potato peeled and sliced very evenly and thinly
1 large zucchini, peeled and sliced more thickly than the sweet potato
2T neutral oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced and squeezed
1/4 cup heavy cream
6 thyme sprigs
1/2t pepper
1/2t kosher salt
a little adobo from canned chipotles in adobo
1 cup breadcrumbs (freshly made from stale breadmentioned earlier)
3T basil oil
2T chopped parsley

Method

Place the tomatoes, sweet potato and zucchini on an oiled baking sheet, add the thyme, salt and pepper sprinkle with oil and bake at 250F for 90 minutes - uncovered. Just to dry out. When dried, remove from pan, remove the thyme sprigs and place in a bowl with the raw onion. Add the cream, stir and allow to cool so the flavors come together.
About 45 minutes before serving, heat the oven to 450F. Place the vegetable/cream mixture in a grain dish. Warm the basil oil slightly. Combine the breadcrumbs, chopped parsley and basil oil and toss. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the vegetable mixture. Bake at 450 for about 30 minutes - covering with foil if the top browns too quickly.
Allow to cool for about 10 minutes and serve.
 
 
As you can see there was no nasty pool of liquid. Also, Madame pronounced it delicious (not, "We can serve this to people" delicious though).
Bottom line - definitely a gratin

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall Salad on North Texas Now



Madame's students asked if I would do a guest segment on the North Texas Now television show that they produce. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it was scheduled for October 26 - a bitterly cold and blustery day to be out in the Botanic Garden in Fort Worth. The segment was only going to long enough for one dish and a crafty technique. I chose to make a fall salad with a warm onion/kiwi/clementine dressing. It had yellow tomatoes so it looked proper for the season, and some baked pita chips to give it some crunch.
Halving small tomatoes is a pain to do, but luckily there is a trick to i. Here's a link to the blog page that illustrates the "trick" (albeit with olives, but the principle applies). Wow your friends and family with your knife skills as you zip through masses of small tomatoes in a matter of seconds.

Ingredients (serves 8 as a side salad)

1/4 cup olive oil (doesn't need to be extra virgin)
1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped - not diced small, you want some size and shape
2 kiwi fruit peeled and each sliced into 8 or 9 slices
3 clementines, peeled and segmented (use canned mandarins without their juice if you prefer)
24 yellow cherry tomatoes halved (by the technique referenced above to save time)
1 lemon - zest and juice
Some roughly torn lettuce leaves (or baby spinach as a substitute if you wish)
A handful of baked pita chips broken into small bite sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

In a large skillet (preferably non-stick) heat the oil gently over medium heat. When shimmering, add the onion and stir. Cook slowly (sweat) the onion for about 8 minutes to soften it, but do not allow to brown. When the onion is softened, add the sliced kiwis, the segmented clementines and the lemon zest. Heat through, stirring gently so as not to break up the fruits. When warmed through turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and stir to combine. This essentially makes the dressing from the pan contents + the lemon juice.
Meanwhile place the lettuce, pita chips and tomatoes in one large or several individual bowls. Add the dressing (solids and liquids) over the top of the greens, tomatoes and pita chips. Season to taste.
Serve while still warm.
 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Chicken Peanut Soup

Yeah, I know this sounds crazy, but it came out really nicely. Madame had been feeling under the weather a bit, so I wanted to make sure that she had something tasty, hearty and comforting for dinner when she came home yesterday - especially as I was out drinking good red wine and eating fantastic pizza!
I had recently watched an episode of "The Minimalist" - Mark Bittman's somewhat crazy cooking show. Crazy because it is about cooking more than it is about recipes. Also, I think he is certifiably mad (in a good way!). So as usual, I will tell you what I did. You can treat it as a recipe, but I suspect it is pretty forgiving. The only real thing to worry about is having it become too brothy. It wants to be the thickness of cream at the end. Luckily that thickness can be controlled by the amount of peanut butter added.

Ingredients

3T grapeseed oil
1 medium onion - finely diced
1" piece of ginger, grated
2 large garlic cloves, minced to a paste
4 chicken thighs - skinned, boned and cut into 3/4" chunks
1 cup roasted, salted peanuts roughly chopped
a pinch (or 2!) of cayenne pepper
2 cups chicken stock (home made preferably)
3 cups water
3 small sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/3" thick rounds
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes. Drained, tomatoes roughly chopped
1 bunch of curly kale - leaves only, stripped from the stalk. roughly chopped, large pieces.
salt/pepper to taste
1/2 cup chunky, unsweetened peanut butter (I used one of the "natural" varieties)

Method

Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven until shimmering. Add the onions and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant. Add the chicken and continue to cook until the chicken is lightly colored on all sides. The chicken is NOT fully cooked at this stage. Add the peanuts and the cayenne and stir to combine. Add the stock/water combination and the sweet potatoe slices. Make sure the sweet potato slices are well distributed through the pot, and are immersed in liquid. Bring to a gentle boil, add the chopped tomatoes. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the kale and simmer until the sweet potatoes are just tender.
Stir in the peanut butter until the desired thickness is reached. Check the seasonings, adding salt/pepper, to taste.

It did get the "we can serve this to people" accolade, so it must have been good! Thanks to Mark Bittman and the New York Times for the inspiration

Monday, October 22, 2012

The brisket and the egg

Ok, this was to be the acid test. Can the big green egg (and this operator) turn out an edible brisket? You know the one that has great bark, is meltingly tender, tremendous flavor and doesn't need sauce.
The bottom line is yes! And really without any great difficulty. I used my standard technique of rubbing the dry rub on, wrapping the meat in cling wrap and refrigerating for at least 8 hours.  As always, the rub was going to be critical. None of the kinds of floral/aromatic notes that I use on pork. Just some bold spicing, but nothing too fiery.

Ingredients

2T coarse sea salt
2T black pepper corns
2t coriander seed
1t cumin seed
8 cardomom seed pods - seeds only
1 ancho chile, seeds removed
2T Smoked paprika
1T sweet paprika
2t cayenne powder
1t powdered ginger
1T garlic powder
1T onion powder
1/4 cup jaggery (Indian crystallized sugar cane) - can use light brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt (Morton's)
12 lbs brisket - with fat cap on

Method

Grind the first 6 ingredients to make a fine powder. The coarse salt helps grind the coriander finely. Mix in the remaining rub ingredients. Pat the brisket dry, and rub the spice mixture into it thoroughly. Wrap tightly in cling wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours - or overnight.
Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking to come up to room temperature. Smoke (over oak wood) for at least 11 hours at 225F. Longer would be OK too.
Remove from smoker, allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Slice thinly and serve.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The tartaric acid files

For any who have been following the thoughts of using tartaric acid to set cream based desserts, I am here to tell you that the results are quite mixed. Interesting, but it is a whole lot harder than I expected.
Tartaric acid is very bitter, so the quantity is crucual. I am zeroing in on it, but am not there yet. All of these experiments have been using 1 US pint of heavy cream (2 cups, 16 fl oz).
The basic ratio has been to use 4 oz sugar per recipe also. However, the chocolate experiment didn't have added sugar because the chocolate should have been sweet enough - it wasn't!

Experiment 1 - Pink peppercorns

This was in many ways the easiest recipe, but ot really brought home the bitterness of the tartaric acid. Here I used a (US) pint of cream, 4 oz sugar, 1/2t tartaric acid dissolved in a little sugar syrup (ginger flavored). This set up beautifully, but was dedinitely bitter.

Experiment 2 - Chocolate

This one was Ok, but I messed up by using too much espresso powder in an attempt to boost the chocolate. For 1 (US) pint of cream I used 4 oz sugar,  1 whole disc of Ibarra chocolate, 1/4 t tartaric acid and 1t espresso powder dissolved in hot water. Set up fine. But again was a bit bitter. The coffee was overwhelming. The texture was nice though.

Experiment 3 - Orange

This one did not set up properly. Shame because the flavor was superb. Here the 1 (US) pint of cream, 4 oz sugar, finely grated zest of 3 oranges in the base and then juice of 1 orange 2T Grand Marnier and 1/8t tartaric acid. Clearly not enough tartaric acid to get the set that I wanted.

Experiment 4 - Kaffir lime/ginger

Again, terrific flavor, Perhaps my favorite. 6 fresh jaffir lime leaves (from tree in garden), a 2 inch chunk of ginger minced finely + 1 (US) pint cream and 4 oz sugar. 1/4t tartaric acid in ginger syrup. Surprisingly didn't set up quite enough, But probably my favorite in terms of flavor.

My local Tom Thumb now has an official cream shortage!

A kind of panzanella



It was a warm evening in September, here in TX. While the tomatoes are over, I was able to find some nice cherry toms and yellow small tomatoes at the store. Madame likes to use our home grown basil and bread in salads, so here is a variant on panzanella. It uses the bread in 2 ways - one mixed in to soak up all the juices and the other as a large crostini for display and crunch. The beer served with this is the excellent DuPont Saison.

There's a handy tip for slicing tomatoes and olives here http://seabirdskitchen.blogspot.com/2012/09/halving-olives-and-baby-tomatoes.html

Ingredients

10oz mixed small (cherry sized) tomatoes, sliced in half
6 oz pitted mixed greek olives
2T rinsed and drained capers
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
Juice of 1 orange
1 cup whole basil leaves (divided use)
4 large slices of bread, grilled (or toasted)
High quality olive oil (drizzling)
Large crystals of sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
a couple of ounces of Pecorino Romano, shaved from a larger piece using a vegetable peeler.

Method

Halve the tomatoes and olives. Place in a gallon zip lock bag. Add the capers, garlic and all but 12 leaves of the basil chiffonaded. Add the orange juice Refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend.
When ready to serve, grill the bread slices (or toast then if you prefer). Cut 2 of the slices into croutons, halve each of the other 2. Mix the croutons into the olive/tomato mixture and allow to stand for a few minutes - to soak up the juice.
Place the halved toast on the plate, and pile the olive/tomato mixture over most of the toast, leaving some of the toast uncovered so that it remailns crunchy and acts as a handle.
Drizzle the olive oil over the salad, decorate with the remaining basil leaves and a few grinds of pepper. Sprinkle large sea salt crystals for crunch. Arrange the sliced Pecorino Romano on top and serve.

Note

There were only 2 of us eating this as a main course. There was about 1/3rd of the olive/tomato mixture left over for a lunch time salad today.
 
 

 

 

Halving Olives and baby tomatoes


Halving cherry tomatoes, olives, grapes etc. is such a pain. Mindless, precision. So I have come up with a better way. I don't remember where I saw this technique - on one of the cooking shows, I think. Since then I have seen Chris Consentino (twitter @offalchris) talking about it.

Equipment

2 plates
1 sharp knife

Technique

Place one plate on your cutting surface - face down. Note the ridge. The plate in the picture is on a damp piece of paper towel to prevent it slipping.

 
Place some pitted olives (cherry or grape tomatoes, grapes, pitted cherries, etc.) into the dish on the bottom of the plate.
 

 
Place the other plate face up on top. The olives are now trapped between the layers.
 


Using a very sharp long knife (long enough so that the length of the blade is greater than the diameter of the plates) slice between the plates, using one of the rims as a guide.
 






 
When you have cut all the way through, your olives are neatly halved
 
And ready for use in a dish.

 







Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lemon pots au creme


My lovely sister introduced me to these last Christmas. Possibly the best taste to effort ratio of any dessert I have ever made.

This has inspired me to try a whole lot of different treatments - using a different acid could be inspirational. So I ordered some tartaric acid (used to make mascarpone).

Ingredients
zest and juice of 3 lemons
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 oz granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2T brandy (optional)
suitable small fruit for color in the serving dish. We used blueberries

Method
zest the lemons into the sugar. Add the lemon zest/sugar mixture to the heavy cream and start to warm through. Put in the salt at this stage. As the cream starts to simmer, stir well. Then take it off heat and allow to cool to lukewarm. Mix the brandy with the lemon juice and stir into the cream immediately. When thoroughly incorporated, place into serving dishes/ glasses along with the fruit (if using). Chill for at least 2 hrs and serve cold.

Update - 9/11/2016

I streamlined the process a bit for the dinner yesterday evening. And used Meyer lemons instead of ordinary lemons. As insurance I added a pinch of tartaric acid too - I wasn't sure how well they would set using Meyer lemon juice.

Technique update (slight, but made a huge difference).

I hate it when you don't get all of the liquid out of a measuring jug. So on this occasion, I mixed the lemon zest and sugar in the jug in which I had measured the cream. That ensured we had cleaned the cream jug properly. I then squeezed the lemon juice into a small bowl - through a strainer.  Meyer lemons have a lot of pips. When the cream/sugar mixture had cooled, I strained it back into the measuring jug, Stirred in the lemon juice (and Calvados instead of brandy) into the measuring jug, mixed it and used the jug to pour the mixture into the chilled serving cups. Much less fuss than usual!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Barbecued Pork ...

My objective here was not to attempt to make pulled pork, I wanted something that was sliceable, tender, delicious, cheap and not require any sauce whatsoever. I am not a fan of BBQ sauces.


I had bought some pork shoulder at $1.99/lb from my local supermarket. It was from the blade end - still had the blade bone in it. I decided to practice the boning skills that I had learned at the hands of Chefs Christof Syre and Frederic Angevin at the 4 Seasons here in the Dallas area.

The Rub 

2T Very coarse sea salt
1T whole white peppercorns
2t whole coriander seeds
1 star anise - broken
2t whole all spice berries 
1t whole cloves
2t whole cumin
2t cardomom - whole, but just keep the seeds
2t smoked paprika finely ground
1t cayenne pepper finely ground
1t onion powder
2t garlic powder
2t dry ginger
1t dry mustard powder (Colemans)
4T kosher salt
2t white sugar

The Rest

2 pork shoulders - each weighing around 9 pounds
Soaking water
Jack Daniels oak barrel wood chips (about 1 lb)
Lump charcoal (unmeasured.)

Method

You will want to start this about 24 hours before you plan to eat!
In this case I boned and rolled one of the shoulders and left the other intact. This was an experiment to see if there was any benefit. The boned/rolled version was slightly spicier in flavor, but the whole one looked better. In future I will leave them whole. There was another slight concern - I wasn't sure they would fit in the egg if I left them both whole. I think they would have, but it would have been tight.
The reason there are 2 kinds of salt in the rub are because the very coarse sea salt helps the spice grinder to grind up the hard spices like the cloves, star anise, coriander, etc.
Place the sea salt and the whole spices in the spice grinder (an old coffee grinder in my case) and grind finely. Mix together this ground mixture with the spices that are already ground and the kosher salt.
For the shoulder that is boned, I butterflied it. Pat the surfaces of both pork shoulders dry, and rub all surfaces with the spice rub. Roll up the boned/butterflied shoulder and tie tightly with butchers twine.
Wrap each shoulder tightly in cling wrap and rest in the fridge for at least 12 hours. 
Soak the wood ships in water for at least 12 hours also.
About 12 hours before you intend to serve, set up the smoker (in my case with the big green egg, I built a charcoal fire about 2 inches above the higher vents) and light the charcoal. Once it is properly lit, scatter the soaked wood chips over the charcoal, put the plate setter feet up, an aluminum drip pan 2/3 filled with water in the plate setter and then the grill bars on top of that. Close the lid and allow the temperature to come up to around 250F. When the thermometer registers 250, put the meat on the bars. Close the lid, watch the temperature so that it stabilizes at 250, adjusting top and bottom vents as necessary.
The first batch of charcoal held temperature for about 5 hours.
At 5 hours, I added more coals and let it cook for another 5 hours - all at 250F.
The internal temperature of the meat was 165 at that point. 


Take the meat off the grill, tent with foil and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes. Being a barbecued piece of meat, it is best served warm, and not grill temperature.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Crystallized ginger and ginger simple syrup

Who knew that you could make fantastic ginger simple syrup from the left overs after making crystallized ginger? Further, who knew that making crystallized ginger at home is a royal PITA?!
However, I wanted a lot of crystallized ginger for some jam making, so had to make it. After trolling through the web, I came across Alton Brown's version on The Cooking Channel. His stuff is usually reliable, so I simply followed it. I reproduce the recipe from memory here, but all credit really belongs to him.

Ingredients (Crystallized Ginger)

1lb fresh ginger peeled
5 cups water
1lb granulated sugar

Method

Spray a cooling rack with Pam or other cooking spray. Set on top of a baking sheet lined with freezer paper or parchment paper.
Peel the ginger and slice thinly - preferably using a mandolin or V-slicer. The slices should be less than 1/4 inches thick.
Place the ginger and water into a saucepot and simmer for at least 40 minutes - until the ginger is soft.
Drain and strain the water into 2 containers. The first container will hold 1/2 cup of liquid. The second, whatever is left over - around 4 cups in my case. 
Weigh the ginger, and use the same weight of sugar. Add the 1/2 cup water and sugar to the ginger back in sauce pot. Cook stirring frequently to start with and constantly at the end until the pot is dry. The ginger will then be coated nicely with the sugar, and the sugar will have penetrated a bit. Be REALLY CAREFUL here, the pan goes from nice and bubbly to dark brown napalm in the blink of an eye. And then you have to figure out how to clean it. But that's another story!
Once the ginger is dry, lay it out to cool on the wire rack. Once cooled, store in a plastic bag. 

Ingredients (ginger simple syrup)

4 cups granulated sugar
3 3/4 cups of ginger water (left over from the crystallized ginger above)

Method

Mix the sugar and ginger water in a saucepot and bring to the boil over medium heat. Boil for 30 seconds, then allow to cool

Monday, July 23, 2012

Watermelon and feta salad

This goes nicely with grilled meat. We just happened to have some on Friday night - done on the big green egg (I told you I would become an egg bore).

Ingredients

6 cups watermelon cut into 3/4" cubes. Drained
7 oz crumbled Feta (use the real Greek, sheep's milk Feta) 
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped mint
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
salt/pepper to taste.

Put the watermelon and crumbled feta into a salad bowl. Whisk the lime juice and oil, add the mint and pour over the feta/watermelon. Toss (hands are best) gently until the melon is coated. Add the sunflower seeds. Toss again. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Check the seasoning and adjust with salt/pepper as necessary.

I am going to become a big green egg bore!

After many years, we finally succumbed and bought a big green egg (a kind of kamado grill). The idea is that these large ceramic lined cookers will allow you to smoke/cook at pretty low temperature and get it rocking hot for pizza etc.
The thing arrived assembled (wrongly as it turns out), but being in the software business, I test and test, then test again! So no harm done.
I burnt it in by leaving it with charcoal all day at 350F. Didn't cook anything the first day. Then I made bread on it. Wow was that spectacular. Nothing like a charcoal/wood fire for bread cookery. And then more bread.
Eventually I plucked up the courage to do some meat. So I found the pickiest eaters I know (my next door neighbors). And invited them to be guinea pigs. Actually this happens quite often, so they now introduce themselves as Guinea and Pig!
The dinner was simple - steaks. So I hied me off to my local Costco - where they actually sell some USDA prime beef. There were some prime rib eyes (Costco does not seem to sell bone in beef though :-( ). They were 1 1/2" thick.
Did the obvious things. let 'em rest out of the fridge for a couple of hours - salted. Wiped dry then more salt/pepper.
Grill really hot - around 700f. I also had the gas grill next door with one burner lit so I could finish the cooking to a controlled temp. (125 for some 130 for others).
Unbelievably good. I am sold!
I promise not to become too boring about the egg. There are so many accessories, so much of a cult around it. I will not get sucked in......

Monday, July 9, 2012

Two in a bowl

We did a dinner from some very close friends on Friday the 6th. This was part of the cunning master plan to get them to move back here after they had been in the Arizona wilderness for 6 years.  I just hope it worked.
The first course was a pair of chilled soups (it was, after all really hot that day). One of the soups was the green goddess soup that we did a couple of years back. The other was a chilled cucumber soup whose recipe we weasled out of our next door neighbors. Of course the cucumber soup wasn't identical to the one they gave us, but it was pretty close - and tasted delicious. Why 2 in a bowl? Because when we poured the soups, we poured them at the same time so they divided the bowls in half.

Ingredients - cucumber soup

3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped coarsely
1 cup buttermilk
8 oz sour cream (full fat)
3 oz cream cheese (full fat)
3 small hot chile peppers - minced finely (red peppers, to taste. Because of all the dairy you may need more)
some finely chopped dill
salt/pepper to taste

Method

Place the cucumbers, buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese and chile peppers into the blender and blend for a couple of minutes - until very smooth indeed. Note the blender does a better job than the food processor. Adjust the heat by blending in more chiles if desired. Adjust the seasoning. Chill for at least an hour - preferably 2 in the refrigerator.
Just before serving, stir in finely chopped dill. Serve in ice cold bowls.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grilled watermelon and chicken thighs

Yes, I realise that this is an odd title, but it is hard to come up with anything different.
It is now officially hot in Texas, so we typically avoid adding heat inside the kitchen and use the grill for just about everything. Tonight's dinner was no exception. And, as usual there are leftovers: The dinner was a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, potatoes, grilled chicken and grilled watermelon. Sounds odd, I admit! But it did get the "we can serve this to people" accolade from Madame, so all is well.
Why thighs and not breasts? They are much easier to cook without drying out - more forgiving and more flavorful. Yes they are fattier, but we embrace the inner fat in this house. Flavor rules!
Also we typically don't dress our salads directly. We cook potatoes, dress them while hot and then use the dressed potatoes as the dressing for the salad overall. It is one way to make sure you don't overdress the salad. Oh, and since it is as fast to make a dressing as it is to open a bottle, the dressings are all home made. Where to start?

Ingredients

Potatoes

2 lbs waxy potatoes with the skins on
water to cover
salt

Dressing

1/4 cup cider vinegar
3T Sherry vinegar
1 small shallot - minced
1/2 t dry mustard
salt
pepper
3/4 cup neutral oil
2T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Watermelon

6 watermelon wedges
oil to lightly coat - prevent sticking on the grill
salt/pepper to taste

Chicken

6 Boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1/2t Hungarian paprika
1/2t Cayenne Pepper
1/2t Cumin
1T coarse salt
a few grinds of pepper
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods
1/4 t dried oregano

Salad

A few lettuce leaves torn into bite sized pieces
6 small tomatoes (not cherry or grape sized - larger than that, and nice and ripe), each cut into eighths
1 small cucumber peeled and chopped so the pieces are the same size as the tomatoes
Coarse sea salt

Method

Potatoes

Quarter the potatoes. Place in cold, salted water in a saucepot. Bring to a simmer. and cook until fork tender, but not mushy. Drain the potatoes. While still warm pour the dressing over the potatoes and allow to come to room temperature

Dressing

Combine all ingredients, except oils into a glass jar. Shake to mix. Add the oils, and shake again to emulsify. Use immediately. However it will keep in the fridge for a week or so.

Watermelon

Season the watermelon with salt/pepper and brush with oil. Grill for about 3 minutes each side. Serve slightly warm

Chicken

Pat the chicken thighs dry. make up the rub by vombining the spices in a pestle and mortar, grinding until a fine, uniform powder. Coat the chicken with the spice mixture and allow to stand while the grill heats up. When the grill is hot, grill the chicken thighs for about 5 min/side until they are cooked through. Remove from the grill, allow to stand for a few minutes before slicing thinly across the grain.

Assembly

Lay some lettuce leaves in the bottom of an individual salad bowl. Mix in the tomatoes/cucumber. Decorate with the chicken slices. Add some dressed potatoes to the salad, place 2 grilled watermelon wedges on top, and serve.

It looks like a lot of work, but from start to finish this took the requisite 45 minutes.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Tarragon mustard

This little jewel came to mind when we were polishing off the last of the tarragon mustard from Provence. Madame wanted tarragon mustard. Madame shall have tarragon mustard. However the second half - can we please go to Provence to pick it up? was not about to happen for a variety of reasons. The main one being summer school.
So the experiment began. It also turned out to be really quick, easy and cheap. Win all around.

Ingredients

1/2 Cup coarse Dijon-style mustard. We used the generic supermarket brand
1t Coleman's dry English mustard powder
1T Apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup loosely packed tarragon leaves (whole for measurement purposes)

Method

Make a thin paste with the dry mustard and vinegar. Chop the tarragon leaves - make them uneven in size. Some quite small, some almost whole. Do make sure you don't use the stalks though. Combine the coarse mustard, the mustard paste and the chopped tarragon. Put in a noon-reactive, covered bowl for 24hrs to allow the flavors to blend. Transfer to an airtight pot. Use in any way you can imagine.

No trip to Provence required. :-(

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dashed hopes

Madame was excited because she had found some soup recipes that looked to be nice and relatively low in calories. One was carrot ginger, the other chicken/leek. I did a frenzy of soup making over the weekend so we would have lunches at home this week. Interestingly the carrot/ginger was so thin and watery that I have no idea how to make it really tasty. And the potato/leek used Greek yogurt instead of cream (2% fat as opposed to the 30+ % that cream contains) was pretty uninteresting too. OK flavor (and needed a whole lot more salt than the recipe called for), but texture was off. No fat to coat the starch granules = lots of starch granules hanging out and being a bit gummy.
The chilled tomato soup - recipe from Cooks illustrated (with olive oil to give it body) and the avocado/spinach/lemon juice/yogurt soup were both fantastic.
I was hopeful that somehow I would be able to make something edible that had fewer fat calories (well fewer calories/serving in general).
In future I will make things the way I like and reduce the serving size.
No wimpy food!

Emergency Frozen bananas

I keep frozen bananas individually peeled and wrapped in cling wrap in the freezer for those moments when an emergency arises and you just have to use them. Admittedly the emergencies aren't frequent and they do usually involve drinks! Last night, however we found ourselves in need of some rejuvenation after a very healthy dinner. Well healthy if you think (as I do) that a small amount of pork fat is a good thing. Of course a large amount would be better. By using the frozen banana the drink requires less ice and is thus less diluted.
.
Anyhow, we decided that a Bailey's banana drink would be a good thing to have and within about 90 seconds it was in the glasses|

Ingredients

1 frozen banana
1/4 cup banana rum
1/4 cup coconut rum
1 cup Bailey's Irish Cream
1 cup crushed ice

Method

Put all ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth. Serve in tall glasses.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Playing with legumes

Tonight's dinner was an experiment. I saw some non-frozen edamame at the supermarket. On the back of the packet it suggested a salad with lentils and some other stuff. Well, I am not one to follow the packet instructions, but I am very happy to liberate ideas and make the results my own. Also, I had some sous-vide pork jowls in the freezer, some shallots, red peppers, tomatoes, various vinegars, sea salt etc. So of course the thing to do for dinner was a roasted edamame salad with red peppers, tomatoes, basil served on top of a lentil/shallot/pork jowl base. It got the "we can serve this to people" accolade from madame, so I guess it was OK. Also, I think it may have cost a whole $3 for about 6 servings. The beer with dinner was a whole lot more than the food!

Ingredients

4 oz cured pork jowl (can substitute pancetta or guanciale) diced very small
1 shallot, minced finely
1 lb of rinsed dry lentils
Water to cover (no I didn't measure it, sorry!)
1 red pepper, diced small
1 yellow pepper diced small
10 oz shelled edamame
2 small tomatoes diced small
8 basil leaves, chiffonade
Vinegar to taste (we used sherry vinegar)
Sea salt to taste

Method

In a sauce pot render the pork product gently. You don't want cripsiness, but you do want the fat to render a bit. When the pork is cooked, add the shallot and mix/stir for about 30 seconds. Add the rinsed, picked-over lentils and cover with water by 1/2". That may be enough water - you can always add more later. Bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender. About 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 400F. 
Once you have cooked the lentils, spoon some of the mixture into an 8x13 Pyrex or other non reactive pan. This should be to a depth of about 1/3". There will be lots of left overs. Combine the edamame, diced peppers and spread over the lentils, Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the edamame are just showing a little color and dryness. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with some sherry vinegar. I don't recommend balsamic here. Red wine or cider vinegar would be fine. Leave to cool.
Before serving, sprinkle the diced tomatoes and basil chiffonade over the edamame. Eat at room temperature. I was using salted jowls, so there was no need to add salt. However if you are using guanciale of pancetta you might need to salt to taste.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Compressed watermelon

One morning we were having breakfast at Sustenio in San Antonio when this thing that looked like a piece of raw tuna showed up. It was a about1"x2" in cross section and 6" long. Looked like a lot of raw fish and at breakfast? Hmmm
And then I had a piece of it. It turned out to be compressed watermelon, infused lightly with pickled ginger. Compressing the ginger expels some of the water (flavourless) and then any flavourings are reabsorbed. Clever stuff.
So on the phone to Chef Gilbert - "is this doable at home?" using a regular vacuum "FoodSaver" rig. His simple answer - "yes, go for it".
So here goes:

Ingredients

1 Watermelon (using the flesh near the skin only) - total weight 10-12 lbs
12" piece of fresh ginger - juiced. I chopped it finely and used a citrus juicer
Same volume Agave nectar as ginger juice

Method

Peel the water melon and slice into batons about 1/2" square and 3" long. Place batons into a vacuum bag in a single layer. Divide the ginger liquid evenly among the bags. Massage very lightly to ensure that the liquid is evenly spread across the watermelon in the bag.
Vacuum and double seal the bags. You will notice liquid being sucked out of the melon. Some may go into the channel. Don't worry too much that is easy to clean.
Refrigerate for at least 12 and preferably 24 hours.

Notes

This is amazingly flavourfull. You get a very firmly textured watermelon with the flavors permeating each piece. The watermelon flavour stays with you for an hour or so. 
Clever and simple.
Thanks Dave


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tarte Flambee (From Alsace)

It's getting to be the time of year when we want to cook outside. So the grill gets to become the star. Our favorite things to put on the grill are flat breads of one kind or another. We use pizza stones directly over the grill grates to help moderate and even out the cooking. Sometimes we do simple pizzas, sometimes other dishes. Yesterday was no exception. We had an old friend over for dinner and wanted to do a dish that she had never tried.
While tidying the cook book shelves the other day, I came across a book we had bought on a trip to Alsace several (about 10!) years ago. What better time to try one of the Alsacien classics. Hence Tarte Flambee.
Tarte Flambee is like a very thin crust pizza and is traditionally made using bacon, onions, and cream. Of course the recipe book was rather vague as to technique, cooking, etc. So some detective work was required.
So this is what I ended up doing:

Ingredients - 3 x 10" (25cm) Tartes

Dough

300 gm bread flour
175 gm water (room temperature)
1tsp instant dry yeast
2T olive oil
1tsp kosher salt

Tarte

2 medium onions sliced pole to pole in crescents
6 slices thick cut smoked bacon
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2t finely grated fresh nutmeg
finely ground black pepper to taste

Method

Dough

Mix the dough ingredients together (i usually add the yeast to the water first, but am told that is unnecessary). After they are well mixed, knead for 10 minutes by hand or 6 minutes in a mixer (e.g. KitchenAid). The dough wants to be smooth and elastic. It will be relatively dry. This is typically less water than I use when making artisinal breads (58% or so hydration for those who care). This dryer dough is much easier to roll out than the relatively wet (65+%) doughs I make for normal consumption.
Place in an oiled (use the same kind of oil as you used in the dough) bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave to rise n a warm place until about doubled in volume.
When risen, remove from bowl, knead a few times and divide into three pieces (each weighing about 160gm). Form these into individual balls until you are ready to use them. Time here is fairly flexible. From beginning to mix until rolling out was 3 hours. However you can speed up/slow down the process by controlling the temperature. If the first rise is going too fast, then it does little harm to slow it down by refrigerating the dough. However, always make sure that the dough is covered when in the fridge. It can pick up off odors and dry out very quickly (both extremely undesirable individually, and deadly in combination).

Topping (can be prepared several hours in advance).

Cook the bacon lightly until much of the fat has rendered, but the meat is not crisp. You want it the same sort of texture as Canadian bacon. Cut into batons about 1/4" wide. Set the bacon aside
Slice the onions and sweat in a little oil without salt for about 10 minutes until translucent. Set the onions aside.

Assembly

Preheat the grill for about 30 minutes on as high heat as you can muster. The whole cooking time for one tarte is about 2 minutes.
For each dough ball, roll out thinly until it is 10" in diameter. Place the disk onto a peel with cornmeal on it to prevent sticking. Brush with a little oil. Ladle 1/4 cup of heavy cream onto the dough disk. Make sure you get close to the edge. Spread 1/3 of the onion and 1/3 of the bacon on each. Grate some nutmeg over the top, add a few grinds of pepper if desired.
Off to the grill! Cook on the pizza stone with the grill lid closed for around 2 minutes. You want a slight char on the bottom of the crust.

Serving

This dish goes well with a simple salad - although we served it with a Caesar salad and (of all things!) a Vinho Verde with its slight bubbles and yound, fresh taste.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More ceviche thoughts

We are hosting a party in a week or so where we will be making a variety of ceviches (well perhaps technically not), more really "seafood where the proteins have been affected by acid". So by freeing up the approach, we tried some different acids and ingredients. So these are conceptual ceviches rather than the proper dishes.
Also because we wanted a variety, we decided to try several kinds of fish. The upshot of yesterday's experiment was to make the identical base for 2 different kinds of white(ish) fishes and something way out there for the salmon. With help from Chase and Jon at TJ's fish market, the experiment got under way.
We had the dishes for lunch and shared them with our neighbors. The neighbors thought that the dishes could have used more heat, but agreed with us that the fattier amberjack was the right way to go. So, for the party itself, I will take their advice.
I had had a conversation with Chef Gilbert (of Sustenio in San Antonio) and he counseled me against doing the vinegar based approach. However, I am a stubborn old cuss and wanted to try it anyway. It came out very well - not something that could ever be described as ceviche but extremely tasty anyway. I am glad I experimented - these are not dishes you do for the first time at a party!

INGREDIENTS - White Fish
1/2 cup key lime juice
12 oz fish (we used 6 oz bonefish and 6 oz amberjack but made the dishes seperately) 1/4" cubes
1" piece of ginger, finely grated
6 scallions, white and light green thinly sliced
1 habanero - seeded and minced finely
1 small orange bell pepper cut into 1/4" dice
1 small red pepper cut into 1/4" dice
1/2 cup diced (1/4") watermelon
1/4 cup diced (1/4") jicama
1/2 cup cilantro leaves and stalks finely chopped
3T tequila
salt to taste

METHOD - White Fish
Place the cubed bonefish into one bowl, and the amberjack into another. Pour 1/4 cup of lime juice over each, cover with cling wrap and rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients in another bowl. Leave to rest also.
When ready drain the fish leaving them slightly moist. Add 1/2 of the mixed ingredients to each fish bowl and mix thoroughly with a stainless spoon.
Server immediately with corn or other chips.

INGREDIENTS - Salmon
6 oz Atlantic salmon - cut into 1/4" cubes (no skin)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 kaffir lime leaf - torn and bruised
1t sesame oil
2 Thai peppers minced finely
3 scallions, white and light green thinly sliced
3T finely minced fennel fronds
3T finely minced fennel bulb
1T red palm oil
1 small red and 1 small yellow sweet pepper, cut into 1/4" dice
2T sake
salt to taste

METHOD - Salmon
Place the salmon in a bowl. Pour on the vinegar and add the kaffir lime leaf. Leave covered in the refrigerator for at least 90 minutes.
Combine the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl and leave to rest.
When ready to serve, drain off the vinegar from the fish and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and serve with corn chips, fried wontons or other crispy chips.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ceviche adapted from Stephan Pyles

It's getting warm here in TX now, and we now want chilled, light, flavorful dishes. Especially those that go well with summer drinks - spritzers, margaritas and the like. Also we needed to take a dish to Madame's faculty party yesterday evening. In hunting through various recip books, I came across a scallop ceviche in a Stephan Pyles cookbook. We messed with it a bit, since we didn't want to overpower with heat. However, being cinco de mayo yesterday, we did want to make sure it had some tex-mex-ness.
Ingredients (Makes 50 little tostadas)
3/4 lb sea scallops (preferably dry) - cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3T orange freshly squeezed orange juice
4 medium tomatillos - husk removed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic - minced finely
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 serrano pepper - minced
6 green onions - white and light green finely chopped
2 avocados, peeled and sliced into 1/4" cubes
Cayenne seasoned salt - to taste
50 corn chip shells (we used "scoopers, white corn chips")
Method
Our method was a little unorthodox. We placed the scallops and 1/2 cup of the lime/orange juice juice into a chilled bowl and carried that mixture in the bowl in an insulated bag over an ice pack to the party. It was about a 45 minute drive. That's the perfect time for the scallops to "cook" in the citrus.
The other ingredients (except for the corn chips!) were combined, and the remaining lime added to make sure the avocado would not brown. This mixture was placed in a separate bowl, also inside the insulated bag.
On arrival at the party, drain the liquid from the scallops. Gently mix the scallops into the other ingredients. Spoon the scallop mixture into the chips and serve immediately. Add a little seasoned salt at this stage if desired.
These go extremely well with margaritas, by the way!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Seabirdskitchen visits Sustenio

Last weekend madame and I drove down to San Antonio to visit our good friend Chef David Gilbert (@beyondthekit on twitter) in his new adventure as the Executive Chef at Sustenio - the inspired restaurant at the Eilan resort in the North Western suburbs of San Antonio. And what a treat.










Even with all that magic, that wasn't the only high point! The resort and hotel are themselves fabulous. Great staff, wonderful place. But there's more. As many know, I am an avid baker. I was delighted when I was offered the chance to spend time with the brilliant bread maker Kelly Wiltshire in the pastry kitchen. The catch? Oh he starts at 4am. So at about 04:00 on the Saturday morning, I rocked up to the kitchen to find Kelly and get the training.
Intense. Fascinating to work with larger batches and the industrial sized Hobart mixers. Fresh yeast too.  So what did I learn (but come nowhere near mastering)?
  • That I am too nice to my dough. 
  • That shaping rolls has a rhythm and skill that I have yet to master, but am now on the way.
  • That doughs are more forgiving than I realized
  • The real importance of high gluten flours - and their ability to withstand jostling during transfer from making to baking
  • That you can (should) double bake artisinal breads to get extra crust
  • That it is even harder work than I expected!
  • That there is equipment I can only dream about 
Now That's a mixer!


 I also got to watch a Ernest, a pastry chef do some incredibly detailed work - and best of all let me taste some of the results. How do pastry chefs stay thin? beats me!