It is exciting to work in, see, and observe other people's kitchens. What we find exciting is that while many of the same base elements exist, from knives to stoves, each kitchen has its own signature style. Learning from other kitchens and their environments has been instrumental in our growth and understanding of cooking. Every kitchen leaves it's imprint, no matter how long or short our visit. Just as the way a cook handles his or her knives tells volumes about their personality, each kitchen is a clear illustration of it's chef. We learn something new in all of them.
Peeled citrus fruit is pretty delicate. Knowing this and still wanting to see if vacuum compression would benefit the fruit we opted to compress a variety of citrus from ugli to tangerine. The change, the difference, the benefits...are small and significant. It is the tiny increments, the delicate adjustments which are often overlooked that allow for innovation and evolution. The skin of the fruit protected the fragile citrus flesh while still allowing the cells to be compressed and the juicy factor to be increased. The tangerine on the left has been compressed the one on the right, simply sliced. We look forward to applying this approach and utilizing its benefits.
Turns out a white paper bag makes a pretty good light box. This one came full of first of the season morels. I am quite excited about the use of the bag as a light box. It focuses attention while doing an interesting job filtering natural light. And since a paper bag is not that hard to carry around for an impromptu photo shoot, we may have to start keeping one in our back pocket for spontaneous picture taking.
Cured fish were first developed as a means to preserve them. Before refrigeration was readily available in homes, fish were salted and dehydrated in order to provide an inexpensive source of protein through the winter in coastal regions. As with many old preservation techniques, the process of salting or curing fish has become a way to introduce new flavors and textures into an ingredient and create something truly delicious. One idea that we've been tossing around is that of coffee cured fish using cracked roasted coffee beans. The upcoming Kindai dinner seemed like the perfect opportunity to play with the idea. We discussed the idea with Scott & Joe at Elements and they were game, so we combined the coffee beans with nonfat milk powder and a beautiful Okinawan sugar that they happened to have in their pantry. It has a complex, haunting sweetness that really lingers on the palate. You can easily substitute Muscovado sugar for a similar effect. The result is striking with a rich coffee flavor at the front of the palate (choose your beans carefully because the nuances will make a real difference here), with a sweet surprisingly earthy middle palate, fading to a clean meaty salinity that highlights the flavor of the fish.
1000g loin of Cobia
Combine the first four ingredients and run them through a wide screened food mill. This keeps the coffee in large enough particles so that it does not overpower the fish while also blending it with the other ingredients. We spoon the cure generously on a sheet of plastic wrap, place the fish on top and then sprinkle the rest of the cure on top. Wrap the fish in plastic wrap and then vacuum seal the fish in its cure. This expedites the curing process and allows for a uniform infusion. Leave the fish in the refrigerator for 18 hours, unwrap it, and rinse off the cure. Pat the fish dry and either wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate the fish or slice it and serve it immediately.
I am still brimming with inspiration and putting words to smiles is not always an easy task. Here is a sneak peek at a neighborhood, actually our new neighborhood, farm, which we were able to get a better look at today. What lies beneath the tunnels only scrapes the surface of the greatness this farm has in store. It turns out we cooked for these artisan farmers a few years back when we were on Martha's Vineyard. Where were we? Well the question is more like where are we? We've relocated to Bucks County, PA, just outside of Philly. This photo was taken today on a tour of Blue Moon Acres with Kathy, Jim, Ashley, and Shola. It was a great reintroduction to possibilities and passion.
In looking for connections and unifying links in cooking sometimes association leads to confusion. I am the first to get hung up with the connection of ingredients or perhaps with an underlying theme, which I let drive and dictate the development of a dish and the assemblage of ingredients. Recently we started working with lettuce trunks or stems. In seeing these often discarded pieces as a central element it led me to look at other stems. We had mushrooms and basil on hand and I looked to utilize their stems in a dish with the lettuce cores. A compilation of all kinds of stems. Sounds neat, could be fun. Though sounding out a dish and then executing the pieces are often two quite different processes. What I did learn is that mushroom stems may have a purpose on their own, as do minced basil stems. However not all stems need to be served together. In looking more closely at my associative tendencies, I see a fair amount of time spent examining the connections and the paths they create. While it is essential to look at these connections, it is equally important to realize that associations do not always lead to an ideal pairing; rather it may just open new thoughts and approaches.
Aunt Lucy and Uncle Alex were constants in my childhood. We traveled to Pittsburgh to visit them every Christmas and Easter, two holidays that are indelibly related to food in my mind. Aunt Lucy was a wonderful cook, from a family of good cooks who all lived nearby and the holidays were a time of good food and lots of company. When Aunt Lucy passed away after what seems to my childhood memory a long painful battle with illness, Uncle Alex soldiered on. When we arrived for our first Easter without her he had valiantly endeavored to cook all the traditional dishes right down to the stuffed artichokes. The food was surprisingly good and even though we all felt the loss of a warm and wonderful presence no one had the heart to say so. As I chewed my way through the artichoke leaves and tasted the garlicky stuffing I noticed something different. "It's cornflakes." he told us proudly. "I used them for the stuffing instead of the bread crumbs for a little something different." These days you can actually buy cornflake crumbs for breading although economy would dictate buying regular cornflakes and crushing them on your own. Alex is currently enchanted with idea of cooking with cornflakes and I am looking forward to seeing what new dishes come of it.
White Chocolate Water
350 grams white chocolate
300 grams water
4 grams salt
Roughly chop the white chocolate and place it in a heavy bottomed pot with the water and salt. Place over a low heat and bring to a simmer, slowly stirring, to melt the chocolate and combine it with the water. The cocoa butter will separate from the mixture and float to the top during the cooking process. This is to be expected. When the chocolate is completely melted into the water and everything is well blended, turn off the heat and place the white chocolate mixture in a bowl over an ice bath to cool down.
White Asparagus White Chocolate
475 grams large white asparagus, preferably in 4 large pieces
White chocolate water
1 vacuum bag
Peel the white asparagus with a vegetable peeler while holding it on a flat surface. Starting at the tip, peel downwards towards the base in continuous, even strokes. When all of the asparagus is peeled, trim .5 cm off the bottom of each piece. Place the asparagus in a vacuum bag and add the white chocolate water. Seal the bag using a liquid setting so that the air is removed though the liquid remains in the bag.
Place the sealed bag in a circulating water bath set at 83°C. Cook the asparagus for 45 minutes and then remove the bag from the water bath and place the sealed bag in an ice bath to cool the asparagus. When the asparagus is ice cold, open the bag and pour the braising liquid through a fine mesh conical strainer into a bowl. Reserve this liquid. Take the asparagus out of the bag and rinse in cool running water to remove any cocoa butter solids. Pat the asparagus dry and place in a shallow pan large enough to hold the asparagus in one layer. Weigh out 360g of the braising liquid and reserve for the white pudding. Pour the remaining strained white chocolate braising liquid over the cooked asparagus. Cover the container with plastic wrap and reserve in the refrigerator.
360 grams white chocolate braising liquid
46 grams egg yolk
1.62 grams iota carrageenan (0.4% of the total weight of the liquid and the egg yolk)
Place the egg yolk and 100 grams of the braising liquid into a blender. Turn on low and blend to combine. Remove the blender lid. Increase the speed so that a vortex forms in the center of the liquid. Sprinkle the carrageenan into the side of the vortex. This will allow for an even dispersion of the carrageenan in the liquid. Once all of the carrageenan has been dispersed, let the blender run for one minute and then turn it off. Add the remaining liquid to the blender and use a spatula to stir it together. We do this to avoid the generation of excess air bubbles in the pudding. Once the blended liquid and the remaining liquid are stirred together turn the blender back on low for fifteen seconds to complete the mixing process. Pour the blended mixture into a heavy bottomed pot. Turn the heat to medium and stir the mixture with a spatula making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to prevent sticking. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture until reaches 85°C. A laser thermometer is ideal for taking the temperature of the pudding. When the pudding reaches 85°C, remove the pot from the heat and strain the mixture through a fine mesh conical strainer into a bowl. Place the pudding bowl in an ice bath to chill the mixture. Stir the chilling mixture occasionally to expedite the cooling process. When the pudding reaches 10°C, place it in a container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the final dish.
250 grams water
50 grams fresh angelica stems
2 grams salt
Rinse the angelica under cool water. Pat dry and slice into 0.5 cm rounds. Place the water, angelica rounds, and salt in a pot. Bring to a simmer and cook slowly for twenty minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot, and let it steep for twenty minutes. Remove the lid from the pot and strain the angelica tea, reserving the liquid and discarding the cooked angelica. Cool the angelica tea in an ice bath and reserve.
190 grams Angelica Tea
20 grams Chartreuse
1 gram salt
3.16 grams Versa Whip 600 (1.5% of the total weight of the tea, chartreuse, and salt)
0.42 grams xanthan gum (.2% of the total weight of the tea, chartreuse, and salt)
Place the angelica tea and the Chartreuse in a blender. Turn the speed onto medium and allow a vortex to form. Remove the blender lid. Sprinkle the versa whip and xanthan gum into the blender, allowing the vortex to pull the powders into the mixture and enabling uniform dispersion. Once the powders have been absorbed, turn the speed up to high and let the mixture blend for thirty seconds. The angelica liquid will be light and foamy. Remove the bubbles from the blender and place in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Turn the mixer on high and let the tea whip. It will gain volume and when its appearance is like soft peaked meringue, turn the mixture off. Place the whipped mixture in the refrigerator. The foam will begin to degrade and the bubble structure will increase in size. These larger stable bubbles are what we are looking for.
Braised White Asparagus
4 Nasturtium flowers
20 small nasturtium leaves with stems attached
Separate the individual petals from the flowers. Discard the flower stems and stamens. Trim the nasturtium leaves so that the stems are all 3-4 centimeters in length. Remove the asparagus from the braising liquid and pat dry. Cut each piece of asparagus into 4 sections each approximately 4 centimeters in length. Lay the pieces of one asparagus out on a cutting board horizontally with each piece standing up like a fencepost and touching its neighbor. The tip piece should be standing upright in the first position with the other three lined up alongside it.
Place one asparagus grouping on each plate, rotating the group so that the tip piece is lying at the top of the formation, with the tip itself pointing to the left. It will look like a small ladder lying flat. Spoon the white pudding to the right of the asparagus sections. Top the pudding with two nasturtium leaves and two nasturtium flower petals. Place one nasturtium leaf at the tip of the white asparagus and one at the base right of the white asparagus. Spoon the angelica bubbles on top of the asparagus stalks and then top each group with three flower petals and one more small nasturtium leaf. Serve immediately.
Think of it as an opportunity, the Kindai dinner at Elements Restaurant is almost full. Because of this they have opened up the communal table, fourteen seats, on the second floor of the restaurant. It's a chance to try some amazing seafood and meet some new, like-minded people at the same time. Communal tables are interesting in that their atmosphere is characterized by the patrons dining there. If everyone is lively and open to conversation it can become an inpromptu dinner party. The dinner opens with a casual cocktail hour with passed hors d'oevres and then everyone dines at the same time. This is conducive to the fostering of relationships at the table and the opportunity to chat with your neighbor about the food and anything else that comes to mind. If you're the adventurous sort this type of dining could make for an evening to remember. Of course we'll all do our best to make sure that the dining experience will be something to remember all by itself, and if you're willing to try something new you may end up with some new friends as well.
If you can learn to take pictures of your food you can become a better cook. I know this sounds a bit out of left field though if you think about eating with your eyes first and work to create delicious food and aspire to take pictures of your creations, the act of photographing the food will force you to cook better. Looking through the lens at the ingredients, the knife cuts, the sear marks, and the placement of ingredients, eventually it will all begin to come into focus. There are many details which go into both cooking and picture taking. I (Alex) am lucky enough to be speaking with two passionate photographers at the upcoming IACP conference in Denver. Jim Scherer and Steve Adams are talented food photographers and I am joining them on a panel to discuss improving photography for your blogs. While these two look through the lens at the food, we look through the food via the lens. The session will be exciting and will marry their years of photographic experience with our trials and tribulations learning to work with food photography from the perspectives and experiences of two chefs. The discussuion will look at everything from impromtu pictures to lighting to the mysteries of tethered shooting. We look forward to seeing many new faces in Denver. Please stop by and say hello so we can continue the conversation in person.
Observation is important. Sometimes mindless repetitive tasks may present the opportunity to become aware of things that have always existed. In cleaning red leaf lettuce for this evening's dinner I was left with two lettuce hearts. I suppose they are more like stalks or trunks, though putting names aside, we were left facing an interesting new ingredient. The lettuce trunks have a solid nature to them,on the other hand, they do not come across as tough. They may be braised or shaved thin or perhaps pickled as a unique component to a dish. The meaty nature of these trunks leads me to imagine featuring them in their full form, perhaps paired with sweetbreads or seared foie gras. We are excited about the possibilities for this previously binned element. Now we must explore the paths it will lead us down.
I have no idea how I missed this video from Food and Wine magazine. They ran a great spread on Michel Bras and somehow hid the video. Looks like equipment is only a tiny piece of the puzzle and skill and innovation are the essentials. Next time you think you need all kinds of gadgetry take a look at what Michel and his team are able to do with a few sharp knives and the addition of a sweet electric range to an otherwise pristine kitchen.
We explored using salumi to cure fish and other meats. In the same vein these well rounded, highly seasoned meats may be used in different forms to flavor vegetables: powdered, as a marinade, and as an accompaniment in a composition (really who sells plain salad anymore?) Now flip the idea. Let's start using just picked, seasonal vegetables to infuse and/or cure fish and meat. We have often worked with herbs and spices, although the vegetables themselves are sometimes overlooked. What about a carrot and cardamom cured kampachi, a celery seasoned salmon, or a turnip infused trout? These particular examples are aquatic in nature, meats from rabbit to venison would also work well using this approach. If we start looking at how we season the vegetables with miso or spices to harmonize the flavors, we can then use the combinations with different proteins, which in turn creates a layered dish that allows for a blend of subtle and bold flavor profiles. Vegetables may occasionally be an afterthought, by allowing them to be part of the foundation of a dish we are able to build something truly delicious from the ground up.
Take a look at classic cooking. Strike that. Take a look at what you eat. Coq au vin is a good example. What if you served something, lets say Kindai tuna with a sauce made of Coq au vin. The sauce is rich, roasty, winey, and decadent, The tuna is meaty, slightly iron-y, clean, and bright. Now imagine them together. What direction can we take with a sauce to really highlight the fish? How about a beautiful cheeseburger? Could we turn its flavors and mouth watering deliciousness into a sauce? How about beef and broccoli? Or a Reuben sandwich? Now those blended flavors would make an amazing sauce. Perhaps the elements of a Reuben would be better suited to a relish: toasted rye croutons, minced sauerkraut, diced pastrami and the thousand island dressing constructed with lemon confit, minced tomatoes and shallots, fresh tomatoes, minced cornichons, and sieved eggs. Now what could we pair with this reworked condiment? Imagine it with roasted cod or crispy skate wing. What other dishes from your daily table can be reimagined in a new incarnation?
My on again, off again, love affair with cryo-blanching is back on. The process of vacuum sealing, freezing, and then thawing raw fava beans allows for them to be peeled easily, tenderizes the vegetable, and keeps the raw, green flavor of the bean intact. As you can see by the photo the peeled beans are quite juicy and colorful. A simple salad would be delicious, although I think a fine powdering with liquid nitrogen will allow us to revisit fava bean crusted sweetbreads of old or reinvent it with something more delicate like oysters and foie gras.
It is with great pleasure that I can link to the upcoming release of the book Ignore Everybody by Hugh Macleod. Hugh wrote the inspiring manifesto How to Be Creative? If you want a kick start for your brain start with the manifesto, digest it, share it, and then ante up for the full blown book.
It is quite humbling to read the manifesto and realize how spot on Hugh's observations are. I am simply amazed how scintillating Hugh's gruff and occasionally, ok more often than not, vulgar take on creativity inspires and motivates me on a daily basis.
Actually his unvarnished observations will easily strike a chord with those of us in the restsurant business...
In the continued exploration of life, which in our world often revolves around food and wine, questions, important questions pop up. Let us take a look at wine cellars. Why do people collect wine? Why are wines cellared? As we are packing up our wine cellar I come to question our reasons for collecting and wanting to cellar wine. When we started it was difficult to get on boutique vineyard mailing lists and the availability of specific wines was scarce for those not in the know. Today, almost anything is available if you know where to shop. Sure, at times you may pay a premium though ask yourself what it would have cost you to buy a cult bottle of wine and store it properly from day one so that upon drinking it is at it's peak. If you were buying cases and had the opportunity to buy cases then perhaps you are a wine investor with disposable income which can be tied up in the world of wine. I wonder about that world today when any bottle of wine seems to be only a click, or at most a phone call, away. You may pay more for a single bottle although when is the last time you sat down to drink a case of wine?
So now let us look at restaurants. Why are wine lists so important? Is there a better way? I believe there most certainly is although I'm not sure the best way to articulate the change. If there is a more efficient model for buying and storing wine, why aren't we looking into it? In the same vein, perhaps this thought process could be applied to the purchase and use of ingredients, particularly for those interested in seeing and tasting quality food and drink without major funds to invest. It's definitely something to ponder in the current and future economic conditions.
Our upcoming class on liquid nitrogen has forced us to revisit successes and failures and the need to share the experiences. My favorite ice cream-caviar preparation relies on the use of the nitrogen to freeze the ice cream quickly in irregular shapes, reminiscent of just made popcorn. We pair the ice cream with smoked wild char roe, crispy and soft lime leaf curd and sliced green onions. We fine tuned this dish for our last New Year's Eve menu though it is certainly not just a once a year ice cream, or dish for that matter. In fact, this ice cream would certainly work anywhere the elements of both corn and butter are called for.
Here's a link to a a pretty cool blog that we've recently discovered. We never realized that such interesting things were happening in Princeton, New Jersey. Clearly we've been wallowing in our own ignorance. While you're checking out their site, see if you can guess what we'll be doing on March 30...details to follow tomorrow.
is our new favorite breakfast coffee. It's from Counter Culture and in addition to having a great story, the coffee itself is excellent. We always look forward to trying new beans and the best part of a new shipment is that first moment when we cut open a fresh bag and breathe deep. Great coffee beans have an incredible aroma. They transport you to another place and wrap you up in their essence. Coffee is so much more than a caffeinated hot liquid, for us it encapsulates that feeling of easing into our morning and embracing the day ahead. A good cup is smooth and nuanced, perhaps slightly syrupy on tha palate. We like a morning cup that is bright and flavorful without being overpowering. The first day we brewed the Humure it made me sit up and take notice. I went back into the kitchen to see which new beans we were drinking because it was so delicious. Every time I drink this coffee I re-experience that moment. It's no easy feat to impress me, especially on a consistent basis and these beans from Rwanda do that. Humure may not be for everyone, coffee is a very subjective thing, although I find that Counter Culture has an incredible range of coffee beans that not only taste good, they also make you feel good about drinking them. What better way to start the day? (And yes, we pay for all of our coffee...)
use butter. Some days I feel as though our lives play out like the plot line from a bad soap opera. Whatever can happen usually does. At times like these meals call for quick, easy and tasty. They are as much about sustenance as they are about nourishment. A great burger can do wonders for a worn out psyche. A little bit of grated cold butter and grated onions can elevate a simple burger to something truly special. Add a healthy pinch of salt, a good bun and a lot of love (from a well seasoned cast iron skillet) and you've got the perfect meal at the end of a day of packing. Butter, it really does make everything better.
Are you really paying attention to what you do? If you walk down the street, do you remember what you just passed? When butchering the fish are you drawn into the moment of working with a beautiful fish or are you working on autopilot realizing that once again you are behind schedule and have too much to do? As you work with ingredients and interact with the people around you, remember to open up your mind because active participation is essential. If you are bogged down with texting and emailing and surfing the net rather than being in the here and now, most likely you have missed something. There's no point in being absent from your own life. You only get one shot at each opportunity. If you don't actively participate in what you're doing, you may not even realize when the next one passes you by.
Sometimes life just gets in the way of cooking. Our daily posts have stuttered a bit lately and for that we apologize. Life has take a few twists and turns that have kept us mostly out of the kitchen several days a week. We could write volumes about real estate, house hunting in another state, negotiations (three different bids and still no house, it's a buyers market in my dreams), and raising a baby but that's just not what this particular website is all about. So please bear with us as we push through some challenges in our personal lives, we'll keep up here to the best of our abilities. In the meantime, check out our twitter feed labeled as Off the Cuff Ideas in the side bar. Here we are able to present our musings in their rawest of states.