This dish received mixed reviews. We served the verbena infused sweetbreads with pickled watermelon rind, which was also kissed by the lemon verbena. It was light and rich, with a brightness and clarity that was woven together by the threads of the herb. Sometimes you go out on a limb for flavor combinations that suit your palate. Discussing the dish with Aki she pinpointed the dual use of verbena as the issue. She thought that using it twice would be overpowering because it is such a strong floral essence. My take was that the unusual presentation of sweetbreads as a light dish threw people off. No way to know who was right. Still I stand by the dish and the flavor profile. Is there room for improvement? Almost always, but if you you don't love the flavors in the first place there's no point in making the dish.
Alex had dinner at One Market while he was in San Francisco and one of the things he tasted was their "fresh polenta" essentially a scraped and cut corn gently heated with its juices and finished with a touch of butter and salt. It tasted like summer corn at it's peak. The texture was amazing, close to that of soft polenta, with the gentle texture of corn kernels against the tongue. He was smitten and proceeded to describe the dish to me in great detail several times. Fortunately local corn is just coming into season around here. It was no surprise when Alex walked out of a kitchen store with the American Corn Cutter to try and reproduce those results. Now I'm mostly a purist when it comes to summer corn at home. When the corn is really fresh and cooked properly, each kernel bursts like caviar releasing the sweet corn essence on my tongue. Nothing more seems necessary. Alex was not daunted by purist beliefs. He cleaned the corn and happily decorated the patio with corn silk. At least he husked the corn outside. When Alex came in, he methodically scraped and cut the corn from the cob. Once all the cobs were bare he put the corn and its juices in a pot and gently warmed his bounty. As the heat cooked the corn, the natural starch in the juices thickened the mixture. A pinch of salt, a dash of cayenne and a knob of butter finished his fresh polenta. At least until he looked in the fridge and decided to gild the lily by adding fresh snipped basil. I have to say, as a purist, that fresh polenta is an admirable use of summer corn. Yet another staple to add to the repertoire especially since Amaya gives it two thumbs up.
You can read Ruth Reichl on Twitter describing making blueberry pie, nudge your wife a bit by showing up with a large container of blueberries, and somehow, magically, the aroma of pie fills the house and breakfast pie is there for the eating. Since pie is on the breakfast menu I must confess I like my pie with vanilla ice cream. It is very important to know, in my world fruit pies get ice cream, other pies are accompanied by whipped cream, and crostatas require both. Just in case you happen to invite me over for baked desserts...
The difficulty with summer is that the heat really puts a damper on my enjoyment of cappuccinos. Pouring hot espresso on ice waters it down. Pouring hot foam on ice cubes melts the cubes and deflates the foam. An iced cappuccino is a disaster waiting to happen, inherently flawed based on the steps needed to create them. In order to come up with a great iced cappuccino we began with the vision of a perfect cold cappuccino and backed into the preparation.
We started the cappuccino with a espresso consomme. We used .25% agar to clarify the espresso which we seasoned with a bit of salt and agave nectar. Once we were satisfied with the coffee, we took a portion of it and used some xanthan gum (.15%) and versa whip (1.5%) to whip it into a cloud. The foam has the body and texture of the traditional steamed milk while amplifying the coffee flavor. The two elements came together to become the icy cold cappuccino I have longed for on these hot summer days.
Which is good to know because we are cooking an incredible dinner with the team at restaurant Elements, in Princeton, NJ on August 10, 2009. The dinner will feature both cured and fresh Mangalista pig. The dinner will also blend communal dining and family style dishes with a tasting menu and an exploration of be all that it can be can be pig. The Mangalista is renowned for its fat. We will certainly play to its strength while looking at what is possible beyond the rich decadence which is its main attraction. A number of cured preparations are already in development, interpret that as aging, a necessary step for maximum flavor.
Some ideas in the works at our end: blood sausage and corn soup, sweet and sour pork consomme en gelee with lardo and raw fish, pork and clams (duh!), sausage and peppers (again duh!), pasta...of course, powdered lardo, bacon oh bacon, prosciutto ice cream with Sardinian chestnut honey and a fig financier, pig ear confit with gremolata, green eggs and ham, cracklings in the style of Cracker Jacks (a la Aki), and who knows what Scott and Joe are bringing to the table...it will be a night to remember, for us and the pigs.
Why do cherries and cheesecake go hand and hand? Every cliche has roots in true flavor pairing. The smooth, rich, slightly bland, vanilla scented flavor of the cheesecake can be nicely balanced by sweet, meaty cherries with their subtle tang. We're talking fresh cherries, not the fluorescent cherry topping so ubiquitous in a certain style of restaurant. Frankly they just taste good together, each subtly enhancing the other. We have enjoyed lightening cheesecake in the style of our blown up brie and paired with cherries the texture is pure dynamite.
Chef A and Chef T are both part of the same restaurant group. Chef A calls Chef T looking for a helping hand.
Chef A: Dude, I'm in a pinch and looking for some Activa. Can you spare some RM and YG?
Chef T: RM and YG, I don't think I have any of those. I only use the new stuff. It works for pretty much anything.
Chef A: The new stuff?
Chef T: Yeah, Activa FU, haven't you heard about it?
Chef A: No, FU huh? And it works for everything?
Chef T: Everything I've ever needed it for.
4 hours later. Chef A calls back.
Chef A: You a--h---! It took me four hours to figure that out...
New is not always better, a lightly fictionalized account of a true story.
The transfer of flavor is always exciting. We encapsulated yogurt in a.5% gellan bath and then soaked the kidney shaped capsules in clarified grapefruit juice. Since I was doing a variety of consommeés for the various classes I tried out a number of agar ratios. In my trials I became happy with .25% to produce an exceptionally clear liquid with an optimum yield. Since we were soaking our encapsulations in consommeé the skin remained visually transparent. Another idea which blossomed from looking at the white bean looking yogurt was encapsulating a white bean purée and marinating it in chorizo water to produce the tenderest white bean around.
Today we realized we can impart all kinds of aromas into foods, liquids and dishes. Seeing the hose attachment designed for directing aroma proved the spark. Here we are infusing vodka with cinnamon. We also made black pepper infused whipped tomato. We are just beginning and with oysters on the brain I see some great potential.
I came across these cool mini raclette makers on my travels through the Ferry building. Thankfully I snapped a picture because when I went back the next day they were sold out. At least we know the maker so we can locate the machines and have raclette on a more regular basis.
smoked paprika-lobster coral shake
lemon verbana and pickled watermelon rind with scallops
roe flecked dough
spice bread stock
white bean ragout with powdered chorizo
tomato gratin set with gellan
prosciutto on vanilla ice cream
hummus grits made with pressure cooked sesame seeds
lemon aroma with oysters
what can be a shank?
dessert wine snow
pastrami spiced lemons
lemon cured lardo
salt cured melons, dried and then zested
red wine enrobed melons
ask when you do not know
coffee grounds are an incredible deodorizer
what makes duck fat roasted so good?
what can be a hot dog?
bagna cauda stock: oysters, poached fish, braised artichokes...
powdered pickled peaches
ranch creme fraiche
what is the bottarga equivalent in the vegetable world?
roast fig consomme
the beauty of precise
the artistry of organic
the substitution of ingredients
pink peppercorn and candy canes: sauce, ice cream, cake, cookie
smoked sweet cream ice cream with prospect tomatoes
pine needle pickled peaches green or otherwise
tomato-corn ice cream swirl
duck noodles: yes that's the intestines
Ideas are like eggs. You need to break a few to get results.
One of the great things about the internet is that when you throw ideas out there, people will run with them, and then toss them back. We were so excited about compression clarification that we posted about it as soon as we had finished with the experiment. Things have been kind of crazy around here, the life of a free lance artist is all or nothing, and we haven't had time to summarize our notes and do a full write up. It's coming, we promise. What we love about vacuum compression is that it's relatively fast and uses equipment commonly found in a restaurant kitchen. We always like to find ways to maximize functionality. Alex is going to demonstrate the technique for the Vacuum Sealing class at Le Sanctuaire this weekend, so we'll definitely have it up by Monday. In the meantime check out the write up at Cooking Issues where Dave ran with the technique.
Feeding a baby is always an adventure. There's so much information out there, most of it negative. People are happy to tell you what not to feed them or to tell you that you're paranoid and that you can feed them anything at all. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between the extremes. Every baby is different and our approach is that she can taste almost anything and if she likes it and it agrees with her, then she can continue to eat it after the first bite. As chefs we probably give her more food than the average parent because when she looks longingly at our plates and reaches out for what we're eating, as she does at every meal, we just can't say no. There's been salt and spice and everything nice and so far Amaya seems pretty happy with it all. Still sometimes we wonder whether or not we're doing the right thing. It's in a new parent's nature to worry. That's why I was so happy to discover Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton. It's wry, entertaining, and altogether a fabulous read. It was so relevant and reassuring that I took it upon myself to take Alex's phone, download the Kindle app, and buy the book for him. He'll be reading it on the plane ride to San Francisco and if you have kids or ever plan to have kids or just like hanging out with kids you should read it too.
Anyone who knows me will testify to my impatience. Nothing happens fast enough. It is a wonder that I enjoy sous vide cooking because it often takes forever. At least once the ingredients are cooking I can do something else and maximize productivity.
Speed is a form of functionality. Time is really expensive. Refinement is essential. There is only so much burrata on grilled bread that one man can eat. (Perhaps if we rethought burrata we would change the game. That is another discussion.)
The process of clarification, particularly gelatin clarification is mind blowingly simple and yet it is not being used in every kitchen across the country because of the supposed labor, really time, involved in the process. Like sous vide, gelatin clarification takes time, though not active participation. There have been discussions about the use of agar agar in the clarifying process of broths to make them more efficient because agar allows the bases to thaw at room temperature, as opposed to in the refrigerator with temperature sensitive gelatin. It speeds up the operation although thawing anything still takes time.
Understanding the process of gelatin clarification and its subset agar agar clarificaton is important. The technique relies on controlled syneresis. Now the question is how to expedite the process. Using the freeze thaw approach, small ice crystals cut into the three dimensional matrix formed by either the gelatin or agar, which then allows for the clear liquid to be released upon thawing, while the impurities are contained within the delicate gel structure. This process is like a beautiful symphony, producing results which we could only dream of in the past. The Achille's heel is the time it takes to wait for a solid block to gently thaw. In looking more closely at agar agar we note that it is prone to syneresis. So the question we pose tonight is what if we add pressure to the process? Instead of freezing and thawing we vacuum sealed a delicate agar gel to see if it would release it's clear liquids. The answer is yes it will, in far less time than any previous methods that we have employed.
It is not often that Plan Q is needed. It is even less often that a Plan Q exists in a pe-conceived form. In our world, there are many variables involved in creating a meal. Realizing these variables exist and planning for them are two separate things. In developing dishes the underlying theme is always delicious. In planning out a dish there is always the underlying assumption that we can execute our vision. Some days this works out better than others.
In planning a dinner we start with what is available and beautiful. Procuring the ingredients and planning the menu are intertwined actions. You may start with one or the other, but the project is all just supposition until you have the ingredients in hand. Once they make there way back to the kitchen we evaluate the bounty. The elements before us are often quite different from what was on the shopping list. Here is where it gets interesting. Here is also where a willingness to drink the Kool-Aid is essential. We are often asked why we do not send out menus for dinners ahead of time? The easy answer is because ingredients change. If you commit to x,y and z and then go shopping and see l,m,n,o and p are much better the diner and cook both get short changed. The tougher part of that answer is that sometimes user error occurs and things change on the fly. The trick is for the diner to be completely unaware that these last minute changes were a hat trick of epic proportions.
Working in someone else's kitchen, no matter how well stocked, can be challenging. The container that you thought was Gellan may turn out to be xanthan gum. The water may be different, causing your standard hydrocolloid ratios to have unusual results. Extrapolating recipes may not work if you forget that the egg yolks in the original were there for a reason. Some cheeses may be more ripe than others causing a sponge to become a burrata. Things happen for a reason. A good chef will be able to produce no matter how many curveballs come their way. Plan Q is based on quick reflexes and the ability to change focus in an instant. As important as good knife skills and a well seasoned palate, flexibility is a culinary skill to be cultivated as it will save your butt more times than a handy deep fryer.
In a food processor mince the celery, carrot, onion, celery root, garlic and jalapeno. The vegetables should be finely minced and not a paste. Heat the olive oil in a large pan. When the oil is hot add the vegetables. Cook the vegetables until they release their water and begin to brown. Add the salt and continue to stir the vegetables allowing them to cook until a dark golden brown. When the vegetables are evenly browned add the red wine. Cook the wine until it is almost evaporated. Add the soy sauce and the tomatoes. Turn the heat down and cook the mixture slowly. As the mixture cooks, stir occasionally and break up the plum tomatoes. When the mixture cooks down and the tomato liquid is evaporated by half add the heavy cream. Continue to cook the mixture until the color of the base darkens again and half the volume of cream evaporates. Let the mixture cool and reserve.
What will you make with this dough?
Potato Chip Pasta Dough
100g dark roasted potato chip flour (potato flakes cooked for 20 minutes at 350, then ground into a flour)
300g whole egg
75g egg yolk
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. Combine the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk them together. Pour the egg mixture into the flour and slowly mix them together, working from the center of the bowl outward. Once you have a cohesive dough, turn it out of the bowl and knead it, adding more flour as necessary until the dough is silky and dry. Place into a vacuum bag and vacuum seal and let rest for at least ten minutes before rolling out your pasta.
Our latest article is up on Popular Science. It explains how we use a whipped cream machine and a couple of hydrocolloids to aerate brie cheese. The technique can be extrapolated for use with other ingredients and the equipment is relatively inexpensive and low tech. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Weeds are often unwanted, worrisome pests. However, when they are edible, plentiful and easily grown perhaps they are not the weeds we thought they were, rather just underutilized ingredients. Thanks to Scott and Joe, my weeding list just got a bit shorter.
It's berry season and often our eyes are bigger than our execution. We scoop up pints and quarts of gorgeous fruit and then they molder on a refrigerator shelf. So this week we resolved to keep up with our produce, not an easy thing now that our CSA has kicked in, and stay on top of things. To that end I decided to make muffins. We can eat a fair number and fortunately there are neighbors near-by happy to accept the excess. We had a quart of still beautiful raspberries sitting beside a newer one of blueberries so the decision of what flavor was easy, golden corn muffins with fresh raspberries and a hint of lemon.
We like a rustic muffin that could never be confused with a cupcake. I used masa harina corn flour because that's the finest cornmeal we had on hand. It produced a light, flavorful muffin with a slight crunch. As I was putting together the muffins I looked at my bowl of dry ingredients and the plate of washed berries and wondered about the wisdom of adding the fruit last. They always seem to clump so that the final muffins have less fruit and soft berries tend to run and break no matter whether or not I dust them with dry mix in advance. Why not add them to the dry ingredients first? So I did, tossing them lightly in the flour before pouring in the liquids. The presence of the raspberries made me very gentle in my mixing process and although they did break up a bit, they were well distributed and the juices didn't run in the batter. I'm one of those people who are usually starving when the muffins come out and eat one within five minutes or so of them landing on the counter. The berries themselves were very tart straight from the oven. The fruit this season has been particularly acidic around here and I discovered that if you let the muffins cool the berries become much more flavorful and the less abrasive. For breakfast a tasty muffin, or three, really can't be beat.
Raspberry Corn Muffins
1 cup of fine corn meal or masa harina
1 cup AP flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
2 eggs at room temperature
3 tablespoons melted butter
zest of a lemon or 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil
1 pint fresh, clean raspberries (or in my case a light quart)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin by lining with cupcake papers or spraying with non-stick spray.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together. in a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, butter, and buttermilk. Stir in the lemon zest or lemon oil. Add the berries to the dry ingredients and mix gently with a rubber spatula until they are coated with flour. Pour in the buttermilk mixture all at once and fold the wet and dry ingredients together until just blended. Fill each muffin cup with 1/3 cup batter.
Bake 18-20 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool for ten minutes and remove muffins from the tins. Let cool an aditional ten minutes before eating.