Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bacon and egg ice cream

The always amazing Chef Heston Blumenthal (he of the fat duck restaurant in Bray, England) makes bacon and egg ice cream. I was watching one of his programs and he showed how it is done. It looked pretty straightforward - and by doing it table side it has a definite wow factor. Well it isn't actually done table side, but the final freezing is - using dry ice.
Now dry ice is cold and potentially nasty stuff. It is carbon dioxide (CO2), and so you don't want it in a confined/airtight space. It comes in a solid block. It goes straight from solid to gas without going through a liquid phase. That means if you seal it up, the gas pressure build up will cause it to explode/ It is incredibly cold. You will get frostbite if you handle it wrong. In other words consult an expert before trying this at home.
1 lb smoked bacon
1 1/4 pints (US pints or 1 Imperial pint) of WHOLE milk
10 large egg yolks - make meringues with the whites?
1/3 cup of maple syrup. (Chef Blumenthal's recipe uses sugar, but I wanted the maple flavor)
2T dried milk powder.
2 lbs dry ice
Cook the bacon - I did it in the oven for 15 minutes at 425F.

Drain the bacon on paper towels. Cut into small pieces and infuse into the milk. Let stand in the fridge for at least 12 hours - preferably 18.
When the time comes to make the ice cream base, heat the milk/bacon mixture + the milk powder in a saucier until almost boiling. Temper the egg yolks with a little of the hot milk. When the yolks are tempered, strain the hot milk onto the eggs, whisking it in.
Discard the bacon. return the custard base to the saucier and heat slowly until thick (175F), stirring continuously. It will thicken and coagulate. Don't worry if it looks a bit like scrambled eggs at this stage - but do not allow to become solid!
Strain into a bowl, and immediately cool in an ice water bath. 

Refrigerate until ready to do the theater.
This dish was served with melba toast triangles

and a little maple syrup garnish. To freeze the ice cream, pulverize the dry ice in a plastic bag until it is a very fine powder. take care to wear gloves and safety goggles. Dump the dry ice into the custard base and stir like crazy with a metal spoon. The ice cream will freeze instantly and be very smooth in texture.

Soup and Sandwich

This course was the "lunch" course of the Day in Dinner party. It was the soup course, but like everything at the party, it was to have a slight twist. The soup was a simple tomato/roasted red pepper soup. The twist was the sandwich. With the soup you don't have to be precise about the size of the vegetables - it is going to be blended and strained so it is completely smooth.
Ingredients  - Soup
2 red bell peppers, left whole
2T vegetable oil
2 oz butter
1 large onion (I used yellow) minced
1 shallot minced
3 cloves garlic smashed
3T all purpose flour
1 large and 1 small can of whole tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
3 sprigs of thyme
salt/pepper to taste
A few drops of extra virgin olive oil for serving
Sea salt crystals
Method - Soup
Heat the oven to 450F and roast the peppers until the skin is well charred (about 45 minutes). Meanwhile heat the oil/butter gently until hot but not brown. Add the onion, shallot, garlic and sweat gently. Do not allow any color to form.
Place the tomatoes into the blender and pulse quickly to break up the larger pieces. It is better to this than to but crushed or sauce tomatoes. This way they are less metallic tasting. Also if you are lucky enough to have some home canned tomatoes (as we were), they will almost always be whole.
Once the onion, shallot and garlic have softened, add the flour to the pot and stir to coat, and make a light roux. Add the tomatoes, stock, thyme to the pot. Stir to incorporate. Peel and roughly chop the roasted peppers (having removed the seeds), add the peppers to the pot.
Bring up to a simmer - gently to avoid sticking. Simmer for about 35 - 40 minutes stirring occasionally.
Puree the soup in the blender in several batches. Do this while it is hot - make sure you place a kitchen towel over the blender while doing this. You do not want hot tomato soup flying around the kitchen!
Strain the soup using a fine strainer and discard anything that remains in the strainer.
Chill overnight to allow the flavors to develop. Reheat when ready.
Ingredients - Sandwiches
16 oz Parmesan cheese - grated finely. Use the highest quality you can
6 oz fresh goat cheese
A good handful of fresh basil leaves
2T milk (may not be needed if the goats cheese is soft and creamy)
1t sherry vinegar
1t extra virgin olive oil
Method - Sandwiches
Make Parmesan tuiles by spreading the Parmesan cheese on a baking sheet
and baking in a 475 degree oven until it is melted and bubbling. (3-4 minutes). Allow to cool a bit. While still flexible (they do become crunchy eventually), cut them out into the shapes you want. I used a 1" ring cutter. One guest remarked that they looked like Communion Wafers.
When ready to make the sandwiches, form the filling pr processing the cheese, basil, milk (if needed), vinegar, oil until a smooth green paste is formed. There is no need for salt because the tuiles have enough salt for the whole sandwich. To make the sandwiches spread a little filling on one tuile and top with another.
Serve alongside the soup.

Butter Rosemary Almond Biscuits and coffee flavored vodka

These biscuits (cookies) are a variant on a recipe from my grandmother, handed down to me by my mother. So when I was last in England talking to her, I asked whether she made them by the "creaming method" or whether she made them like pastry. She also told me to use "proper butter" not the unsalted stuff! I ignored that admonition, but added salt anyway!
In the first post on the subject, I had assumed the creaming method, but 2 weeks ago, she corrected me and said that she always makes them like pastry. So for a Day in Dinner I made them like pastry. I also increased the rosemary slightly to get a bit more flavor.
Ingredients - Biscuits
4 oz powdered (icing) sugar
6 oz all purpose flour
4 oz slivered almonds, toasted
a pinch of salt
2 T rosemary leaves
8 oz cold unsalted butter - cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
Method - Biscuits
Place the flour, almonds, salt, sugar, rosemary into the food processor. Pulse several times until the almonds are ground finely and well incorporated. Add the cubed butter and pulse to incorporate. Continue to pulse until the dough comes together into a single piece. Don't overmix as you will end up with too much gluten.
Turn the dough out, form into a disk, wrap in cling wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, up to a couple of hours.
Heat oven to 350F
Roll dough out into about 1/8in to 1/4 in thickness. Cut into 1in rounds.
Bake on a lined cookie sheet for 7 minutes, turn the temp down to 325 and bake until brown (another 7 mins or so). Rotate the pan when you change the temp.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Ingredients - Coffee Infused Vodka
2 Cups good quality vodka - we use Tito's because it is the nearest we can find to locally made.
2T Roasted coffee beans ( medium/dark roast works best).
Pour the vodka over the coffee beans in a glass bottle. Leave to steep at room temperature for at least 2 weeks, turning occasionally. When the vodka is the color of  Scotch whisky, place the bottle in the freezer. It will keep almost indefinitely. You do however want to drink it very cold.
Serve the vodka in chilled vodka glasses (1 oz per person) with three coffee beans in each glass, accompanied by 2 or 3 of the biscuits.

Coffee and Baileys Gelee

For the "Day in Dinner" event, we made a coffee/Baileys gelee. A simple 2 level composition with a drop of cream on top. The trick is to make the gelees separately pour the bottom (in this case the coffee) first before it has started to set. Allow it to set up, and then very gently add the second.
Ingredients - Coffee Gelee
1 pkt gelatine
1/2 cup cold water
3 t plain sugar
2 cups of strong coffee (double strength, carefully filtered)
Method - Coffee Gelee
Bloom the gelatine in the cold water. Brew the coffee - make it double strength. Ad the sugar to the coffee and make sure it is very hot. Add to the bloomed gelatine and stir until combined. Place in an ice/water bath to cool, but not set. Put some of the coffee into a demitasse and refrigerate until set. About 3 hours.
Ingredients - Baileys Gelee
3/4 pkt gelatine
1 oz cold water
5 oz boiling water
8 oz Baileys Irish Cream
Method - Baileys Gelee
Bloom the gelatine in the cold water. Add the boiling water followed by the Baileys Irish Cream. Stir to combine. Chill in an ice/water bath until cold but not set.
Once the coffee has set, use a pipette, place a thin layer of the Baileys gelee on top of the coffee. Take care not to disturb the surface of the coffee.

Chill until set and ready to serve. Again, with a pipette place a drop of cream into the center of the Baileys.

Day in Dinner

We thought it would be fun to do a dinner where each course comes from a different meal - with a twist, of course. This was described to the guests as an experiment in tastes, temperatures and textures.
So after some pretty intense menu planning, and testing we decided upon the following:

The event was a great success. The wow factor of the bacon/egg ice cream really got people talking. Thanks to Heston Blumenthal for the inspiration. The recipes for the various dishes are in individual blog postings. The cooking of the oxtails is shown here. However we served it differently, so I will describe that in the appropriate posting.
Plates were cleaned! One guest asked us all to close our eyes so he could lick his plate. 
I had learned some terrific lessons from my very good friend Chef David Gilbert
  • Keep an area aside for plating/serving - we added a picnic table to the kitchen for this.
  • Sous vide cooking can make food incredibly rich, tender, tasty with little risk
  • Make everything, using great ingredients
  • Don't be afraid 
  • Keep the work areas clean
Working alongside him for the dinner theater was an eye opener. So, as is often the case when stretching myself in the kitchen, I like to channel the "Little Fella". Thanks Dave - and thanks for the gear!

Monday, February 20, 2012


We have a rather inventive dinner coming up. It's called "a day in dinner", where each course comes from a different meal/time of day. The course corresponding to dinner is a sous-vide oxtail. On the night it will be served with celeriac puree and bitter greens. I did think it might be a good idea to try it out before actually serving it - especially as it takes 3 days to cook. Like many things sous vide, it is pretty straightforward - as long as someone gives you a clue. I wanted some 5-spice flavorings on this - they go so well with the richness of the oxtails, but how much?
2 t Szechuan peppercorns
1 t whole cloves
1 t pink peppercorns
4 whole star anise
1" piece of cinnamon
2 t salt
1T vegetable oil
2 lb oxtail (1 whole oxtail  of variable size)
3 leeks chopped roughly
1T vegetable oil
6 oz linguine
Toast the Szechuan pepper, cloves and pink peppercorns in a hot skillet until fragrant. Allow to cool. Grind finely together with the star anise and cinnamon. Sieve the ground spices into the 1T of vegetable oil. Add the salt. Coat the oxtails in the oil/spice/salt mixture and double seal in a vacuum bag. Cook at 55C for 24hrs in the circulator, and a further 48 hrs at 70C.
Remove, chill and refrigerate.
Empty the contents of the bag into a saucier and start to reheat, melting the juices. Saute the leeks and when slightly browned, add the pan juices, stirring to combine.
Cook the pasta. About 5 minutes before the pasta is cooked, sear the oxtails on a hot skillet. Serve the oxtails over the pasta with the leek/sauce drizzled around.
The spicing was just right - cutting through the richness of the meat nicely. Of course the bottle of M. Chapoutier Chateau Neuf du Pape 2006 didn't do a lot of harm either!
And, oh yes. This does get the "we can serve this to people" accolade from Madame. Just as well really because we are going to anyway!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Butter-Almond_Rosemary biscuits

These cookies (biscuits in England) are in preparation for a party in a few days. We made them as a test, and sent them to school with Madame. Apparently they were a hit - the recipe was demanded. If I didn't post it, she would be held hostage until I did. Since I want to see her again, I figured I had better do it!
1/2 lb unsalted butter at room temperature
pinch of salt
4 oz confectioners sugar
6 oz AP flour
4 oz almonds toasted and ground into flour
1T fresh rosemary, minced fine

Cream the butter/salt/sugar together until it is light and creamy. Add the flour, almond flour and the rosemary. Mix until it just comes together. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 350F
Roll dough out into about 1/8in to 1/4 in thickness. Cut into 1in rounds.
Bake on a lined cookie sheet for 7 minutes, turn the temp down to 325 and bake until brown (another 7 mins or so). Rotate the pan when you change the temp.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Chicken Breast Search Continues

Part of the inspiration for the sous vide experiments was to see if boneless, skinless chicken breasts could be made edible. A difficult challenge - usually they are tasteless, tough dry. Brining is an option, but still they are just plain difficult to do. Browning them, hoping for some good Maillard reaction flavors is possible, but futile. So with despair in my heart I reached for the circulator. In previous posts I mentioned the various experiments. Today's was to see what happens when cooked with a sauce.
Of course, given what I put in the sauce, the fat under the chicken skin would have hardly made any difference. The reason? heavy cream! Yes, this dish had a cream sauce placed into the bag with the raw chicken, and then cooked in the circulator at 71C (160F) for 4 hours. It got the "we can serve this to people" appellation, so I guess it came out OK!
1T butter
8 oz White mushrooms - sliced
2 large shallots - minced
5 sprigs thyme
3/4 cup whipping cream
2 whole chicken breasts patted dry
Heat the butter in a large skillet until the foaming has subsided. Add the minced shallots and stir quickly. Add the mushrooms and thyme sprigs. Salt and pepper the contents, and then cook down until most of the water has cooked out of the mushrooms. Add the cream to the hot pan and bring back to nearly a boil.
Place the chicken breasts in a vacuum bag, cover with the cream sauce and pump out the air. Place in the circulator at 71C for 4 hours.
If eating immediately, serve over simply cooked rice with some colorful (peas and carrots, for example) vegetables on the side.
Otherwise plunge in an ice bath to chill the bag, and place in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge, reheat - taking care to ensure that the chicken is heated all the way through. Serve as above.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sous Vide vegetables

With the sous vide experiments in full swing, it was time to turn attention to vegetables. I was inspired to do this when Chef Gilbert and I worked on this dinner together. There we had cooked parsnips sous vide and finished them in the oven - so why not other veg too?
The whole sous vide experiment is, for me, a way of making good stuff, freezing some and reheating/finishing when madame gets home from work. Think boil in the bag but with fresh, wholesome, natural ingredients.
Ingredients (for 4 portions)
4 leeks, white and light green parts only washed very thoroughly
2 fennel bulbs, quartered
8 medium carrots cut into batons 1"x1/4"x1/4"
4 red (sweet) peppers
1t coriander seed toasted and ground fine
1/4t cardomom seed toasted and ground fine
2t whole cumin seed toasted and ground fine
4 pieces of lemon grass
1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1t vegetable oil
Salt/pepper as desired

Method (Sous Vide)
Set the circulator to 80C (175F).
Coat the vegetables lightly with oil and rub in the spices. Portion the vegetables into 2 gallon vacuum bags and pump out the air. Double seal the bags.
Place the bags in the circulator for 3 hours. Remove, plunge into an ice bath to cool. Freeze if desired.

Method (Finishing)
Thaw the bags (if previously frozen). Heat the oven to 375, place the thawed vegetables onto a sheet pan, and heat through in the oven, taking care not to allow the leeks/fennel to dry out. Serve piping hot with salt/pepper as desired.

The carrots were a little to dried out/woody. The oven really caused them to lose to much liquid. The other vegetables were excellent. tender, cooked through, strongly flavored. And best of all really simple to make.