Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fig and Blue Cheese Savories

Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries
Anna and I made these for a party from a recipe at Food52. Dead easy to make, though they do require fig preserves... which is probably not in every pantry, but said preserves pretty awesome to have around for any number of reasons. The texture is kind of crumbly (in a good way) and the flavor is a good contrast of sweet and tangy. Worth making in general, but a good thing to bring for a holiday party.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Boiling Bacon (or Sautéing Bacon the Ruhlman Way)

Boiling Bacon?
After making Ruhlman's Coq au Vin, I was left with half a package of bacon... not a tragedy by any measure, and a situation easily remedied... but while paging through his 20 I ran across a recipe for sautéing bacon in water that just had to try. It's so simple you don't even really need a recipe: 1) put bacon in pan 2) cover with water 3) cook on high until water boils off 4) turn down to medium low until bacon is done to your desired crispness.

Now, this obviously takes a lot longer than cooking bacon in the pan normally, so what's the point? It tenderizes the bacon making it significantly softer with less chew. I didn't perform a side by side taste test, but I found it to be a pretty dramatic difference to your standard bacon. Obviously if you like your bacon so crisp that it shatters into fragments with a stern look then this method is of no use to you.

Now we are Frying

A concern here is the water leeching out the smokiness of our bacon... after all boiling in water is how you turn bacon into lardons... but since you boil all the water off you get all that flavor back in the glorious fat.

Finished Product

I've long been of the opinion that making bacon in the oven was bay far the best method... but when not making it for a crowd this really might be the way to go. You get a more tender product and none of that "curled up" bacon you get in a pan that irritates me to no end. (What? I like aesthetically consistent pork products, so sue me) I definitely recommend you try it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blog Down

The power supply for my PC kicked the can last week... and thus I have been unable to upload photos or spend any serious time blogging... and while a new one is ordered and expected to arrive today or tomorrow... the fact is that it's Thanksgiving Day week and we are headed to Maine Tuesday night, so don't expect anything exceptional (it actually might be best for all involved if you never expect this) until after the holiday. We have cooked and I do have things to post about, but they're not about turkey and/or stuffing so they don't seem appropriately topical... though I suppose many get tired of seeing endless Thanksgiving posts, especially if you are not an American. Anyway, while I might put up a post or two, don't expect much until Monday the 28th.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ruhlman's "Weeknight" Coq au Vin

Ruhlman's Weeknight Coq au Vin

You know, I've always been a fan of Michael Ruhlman's books and blogging, but I haven't really made many of his recipes. I mean, sure, he taught me how to make a real quiche but otherwise I mainly think of him as yelling at people to make stock and being a charcuterie hero... and with Ratio I almost thought he had abandoned recipes in their entirety. But apparently recipes are not dead, as the principles of cooking in Ruhlman's Twenty are illustrated with one hundred of them... which may make this book more accessible to the beginning cook.

The dish you see pictured above is "Weeknight Coq au Vin" and it appears in the "Water" chapter. Yes, that's right, he has an entire chapter (and a handful of recipes) dedicated to the wonders of water. But you know what? I think he's right on with this: water is a very important element in cooking but it's obviously not one we often think of, and understanding how it works seems a good way to become better in the kitchen. In this particular case, water is used to tenderize the bacon and extract flavors from both it and the onions and garlic. What's clever about this is that in the Julia Child method of making Coq au Vin you turn regular bacon into lardons by blanching it, which neutralizes the smokiness... and added hassle that might not seem worth it... but Ruhlman achieves this, along with extracting sugars from the onions to help them caramelize, all in one step with the creative usage of water.

The other clever part of this recipe is another simple addition... and that is finishing the chicken under the broiler to crisp up the skin. Weak and flabby skin is the bane of any braise of chicken parts, but for whatever reason you seldom see recipes that try to mitigate it. It's a nice touch and it makes leftovers much more appealing, as you only have to put one leg per diner under the broiler... and if somebody wants a second serving, it's only 3 minutes to the table.

The one complaint I do have is the assertion that this dish can be prepared in an hour. Maybe if you have a sous chef who has all your mise en place all set up and the oven preheated when you walk in the door... but otherwise I'd say plan on an hour and a half if you are super efficient but I'd expect closer to two. Admittedly this kind of time underestimation is de rigueur in cookbooks... and I guess you just have to know the times are always ridiculous, but I can't help it... it's still a pet peeve. I feel like unrealistic times end up discouraging aspiring cooks who try a recipe expecting to get dinner on the table by 7, but are still slaving in the kitchen and fending off a hungry family at 8:30. I mean, how is that fun? Doesn't that push you to the side of "let's just get takeout"? Why not itemize the times and show where people who aren't as good in the kitchen where it's likely to take longer? Maybe that means less people will try cooking it on a weeknight, but I think it also means fewer frustrated cooks... which is a net positive in my view.

I also think the sauce needs to be defatted if you care about presentation. Maybe the bacon I used was especially fatty, but the sauce was swimming in it at the end... still very tasty, but I recommend letting it cool or a fat separator if you are trying to make an impression.

All in all, however, I thought it was a very good recipe. The flavors are great and it's easy to follow. You can find it here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Zucchini Tart with Puff Pastry

Zucchini Tart
This dish was made by Anna a couple of nights ago (recipe from Epicurious), with I think the prime attraction being that you could make it with store bought frozen puff pastry dough instead of going through the trouble of making a pie dough... which would add a couple hours to the prep time. Using the puff pastry makes this at least conceivable (if not exactly "quick and easy") to do on a weeknight, as long as you are together enough to get the dough defrosted. I guess if I was trying to save time I'd defrost the dough overnight and roll it out before I went to work... and then prep the rest of the ingredients while the crust was blind baking.

With sundried tomatoes and lots of herbs this is quite a flavorful tart, but it's not overpowering. I liked it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Turkey Stock

Moist TurkeyRuhlman exhorts us to get started on the Thanksgiving Day prep in the form of turkey stock:
I don’t know where we got the idea that a roasting turkey results enough juices to make gravy. It doesn’t. And you certainly want to have way too much gravy on Thanksgiving so that you have leftovers. My favorite day-after meal is hot turkey sandwiches, smothered in gravy.
It's also important to note that with this method you can make the gravy the night before and reheat it while the bird is resting... spiking it with pan drippings if you so desire. Not having to worry about the gravy could make the last push to get everything on the table a little more bearable, but if that's not enough then Melissa Clark has a list of other things you can do ahead.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Apps vs. Cookbooks

iPad Epi App In Action The New York Times has a trend piece that asks: "Are cookbooks obsolete?" with the advent of a new style of cooking apps (i.e. not just a collection of recipes). The obvious answer being "No, don't be silly" since iPads still cost $500+ and I can get a cookbook for free at the library. Of course we all know that these kind of articles aren't really about any truly widespread change occurring, but about a small slice of early adopters that are excited about the possibilities in the future... and it is clear that there is some innovation going on in the cooking app world. "Baking with Dorie" and all the other apps they mention sound pretty neat, but I'm not sure I really buy the logic in this pronouncement:
Many developers say that recipe animation, either employing stop-frame photography, line drawings or infographics, is the future of digital cooking instruction. Video, on the other hand, while it can be valuable for bringing a personality into the kitchen, has several drawbacks. It is expensive to produce, and eats up precious memory. Because there is so much video in Baking With Dorie, its mere 24 recipes pushed the app to the maximum data size allowed by Apple in the iTunes store. In contrast, the app for “How to Cook Everything,” illustrated only with line drawings, holds 2,000 recipes.
Why on earth do the videos actually need to be contained within the app? A well produced video seems so much more valuable to me than an animated line drawing, and it seems there simply must be an internet (dare I say cloud) based solution to the issue of onboard memory and app size limits. Regardless, despite some strong promise in teaching people how to cook via app... having quick and easy access to technique videos in the kitchen sounds great (I've stopped cooking to look up how to do something on YouTube many many times)... I'm still not planning on ditching my cookbooks any time soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homesick Texan - Carne Guisada

Homesick Texan - Carne Guisada

I've only been reading Homesick Texan's blog for a few months... so I can't call myself any sort of longtime fan... but I definitely dig her style and the Tex-Mex thing even living all the way up here in New England. As a Baltimore native, I'm also well aware that regional cuisines often don't travel very well or very far - either not being available or only available in some bastardized form (see New England crab cakes)... and so if you want to eat the food you grew up with you have to wait until you go back home to visit, or make it your own damn self. To all of our benefit, Homesick Texan took the latter route, publishing recipes that allow those of us in places with terrible Tex-Mex scenes to still experience the food at home.

So enter the carne guisada that you see above. A type of "carne" I had never even heard of, but which translates into "stewed meat." Just by looking at it you can tell it shares a lot of similarities with chili, but calls for fresh green chiles and tomatoes (definitely a no-no in Texas chili). While I cooked this from her cookbook, the full recipe is also available on Homesick Texan's site, so there is no sense in reproducing it here. The only major change I made was using a mixture of pork shoulder and bottom round instead of just beef. I did this on a whim (because that's what looked good at the store), not for any specific reason, but I thought it came out great this way (though I have no point of comparison). The bottom round which was much better marbled than the pork, completely fell apart, imparting some nice body to the stew, while the pork stayed together in chunks - creating a nice contrast.

Pretty easy to prepare as most of the cooking time is hands off simmering and final dish is quite tasty. Not as complex as Texas chili, but quite hearty with a nice kick of heat. According to Homesick Texan you would traditionally serve it either in a bowl with some tortilla chips, with some refried beans and rice, or just wrapped up in a tortilla. As you can see I went with the simple bowl presentation, and enjoyed every bite.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Obviously it can be tough to "vegetarianize" a holiday built around eating a bird, but the New York Times has got your back...  with an interactive feature where they are allegedly going to add new recipes (some vegan, some with dairy/eggs) every day in November. If that's not enough ideas for you then you can go back to the 2010 recipe collection. So no excuses for making a boring spread... the pressure is on.

Waiters Hate Coupons

They list five reasons, but I think it really only boils down to one: tip based on the original bill, not the discounted one.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tom Colicchio on Gnocchi

Uncooked GnocchiSome nice tips at the LA Times:
Moisture in the potatoes is the enemy because it means having to add more flour. So you want to start out with potatoes with lower water and higher starch content — Idaho or other russet baking potatoes work well, and Yukon Gold or other sweet, waxy varieties do not. Potatoes get starchier as they age, so older potatoes are actually preferable here.

You want to encourage the potatoes to release as much of their moisture as possible during the cooking process. Prick the skins all over with a fork before baking them; slice them open immediately out of the oven; and — trying your best not to burn yourself — scoop the steaming hot contents of the potato into a fine ricer or food mill as soon as possible. These three things will help steam escape.

Once you've riced the potatoes and turned them out onto a clean work surface, it's time to make the dough. Working a pastry bench scraper in chopping motions, distribute the potato evenly across your work surface, then drizzle that with your beaten egg yolk. Add pepper.

The flour that we use for gnocchi is what's called doppio zero in Italy — "00 flour" to us Americans — which is very finely milled and soft as talcum powder. It leads to a smoother, more supple, malleable dough, which is why it's often used in pizza dough and fresh egg pastas.
Much more, including a video and recipe at the link. I've actually only made gnocchi the one time, and Anna recently mentioned wanting to tackle the dish again, so maybe this will serve as inspiration. Giving clear directions on what you're trying to achieve (and why) is something many recipe sites and cookbooks fail to consistently do... and thus Colicchio's comments on gnocchi shows one of the main reasons I like these "Master Classes" by the LA Times... and note that it's value is completely separate from the recipe.

The Perennial Plate: Lobster Pie

I'm generally in favor of all things Maine... with the notable exception of UMaine's college hockey team... so I found this episode of The Perennial Plate to be particularly interesting. Also, being from the Chesapeake Bay region... an area that seems to have a new depressing environmental report or endangered population story come out every day...  it's really strange to see a seafood population as well managed as Maine lobsters seem to be. Thus I was fairly curious as to whether this particular lobsterman would have a different stance on government regulation than you typically see in watermen, but (not surprisingly) this do not appear to be the case. He seems to think the regulations actually made the pressure on the lobster population worse, which seems to me to be unlikely... but admittedly it's not an issue I've studied with any kind of thoroughness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mustard Oil

2007_12_09__17_07_13I found this New York Times article appropos mainly because I was trying to find out what "mustard essence oil" is not more than a week ago. For us it is about making mostarda (a truly transcendent condiment) as a holiday gift, but according to the times American chefs are being a little more experimental:
While Bengalis mostly use it for sautéeing, reducing its intensity, American chefs usually finish dishes with a trickle of the sharp raw oil, as Jean-Georges Vongerichten does with blanched mustard greens in his new book, “Home Cooking With Jean-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes” (Clarkson Potter).

Mustard oil is a key ingredient in the “uni panini,” a sandwich with a cult following at Alex Raij’s Chelsea tapas bar, El Quinto Pino. Playing on the Japanese pairing of sea urchin and wasabi, Ms. Raij mixes it into butter she slathers on a ficelle and tops with sea urchin. “It has these great vapors, but it’s not the kind of heat that lingers,” she said. “I think because it’s an oil, it hits the tongue differently.”

Ken Oringer said he discovered mustard oil when the Indian cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey made a guest-chef visit to his restaurant, Clio, in Boston. Now he marinates jalapeños in mustard oil for Indian-inspired pickles and poaches fish in mustard oil before searing it with Spanish paprika. “There’s no ingredient that comes close to it,” Mr. Oringer said. “It brings so much flavor.”

Few American chefs have featured mustard oil as prominently as Michael Hodgkins, the former chef at Hung Ry, a hand-pulled-noodle shop in Manhattan. In his time there, Mr. Hodgkins used mustard oil as his go-to seasoning in everything from a simple salad dressing for shaved apples and local greens to a fried squid dish with fennel and coriander seeds, lime and honey.

“It doesn’t have that thick, fatty texture that coats your mouth,” he said. “You taste it, and then it’s gone.”
The catch? The FDA says it has to be labeled "for external use only" because there is some data out there that it causes heart problems in mice. But:
Ramanan Laxminarayan, a research scholar at the Princeton Environmental Institute, said any benefits, like any risks, have yet to be conclusively proved. But Mr. Laxminarayan said he has no concerns about the safety of a drizzle of mustard oil.

“I can’t imagine that at that quantity of use it could do much of anything at all,” he said. “Just as it would require a lot for serious health benefits, it would probably require a lot for any harm.”
Caveat emptor, I suppose, but I'd be pretty confident in taking my chances... it's not like Bengalis are keeling over en masse.