We always start somewhere.
We always start somewhere.
January 22, 2005
We always start somewhere.
We always start somewhere.
January 22, 2005
We wanted a crunchy, salty seasoning for our mushroom dish. Instead of reaching for the usual go-to, Maldon salt, we created one of our own. (Our hand was played because Justin was out of Maldon salt. Necessity is the mother of invention.) We thinly sliced king trumpet mushroom ends and fried them, beginning in cold oil. When the mushrooms were crispy and just shy of foxy brown we transferred them to a plate lined with paper towels, and seasoned them heavily with fine sea salt. When they were cool we put them into a bowl and broke them into fine fragments, about the size of Maldon salt flakes. The mushrooms had an intense, nutty, earthy flavor. The aggressive salting transformed the mushrooms into "mushroom salt," resembling a kicked up Malden salt to finish our mushroom dish. It's a great new application and that first dish is just the beginning.
January 21, 2005
We started the evening with Ranch powder dusted trout skins topped with their roe and fried rice paper with a celery root and blood and tongue sausage remoulade.
The first dish was chilled king trumpet mushrooms (resembling sliced scallops) with a carrot-apple-ginger-lemon vinaigrette, frozen buttermilk, pistachio oil and mushroom Maldon.
We moved into black toro (mimicking the famous black cod in marinade with sorghum and squid ink added as mid-western audibles) on a salad of dried and marinated cuttlefish and braised pig skin. The dish was finished with an intense porky dashi and a sesame heavy furikake.
We brought our Ramenized risotto to the table. We enriched it with Parmigiano Reggiano and broiled unagi. We finished the dish with powdered nori.
We followed the risotto with a cranberry bean soup enriched with Pepperoni XO. The carrots, and salsify were glazed and roasted with the XO sauce. A crunchy pesto topped the vegetables.
Smoked duck fat roasted Brussels sprouts were topped with blood orange and brown butter vinaigrette, caramelized coconut milk, and a spaghetti squash tuile.
We brought our vision of pork and beans to fruition. We wrapped bean curd skins around Mexican 'Nduja to make a ravioli. We glazed the ravioli and seared ring bologna in baked bean sauce. To cut through the richness we added a touch of seaweed mustard.
Korean rice cakes were seared in a caraway infused bacon fat-brown butter mixture. They were folded into kimchi and bacon bolognese sauce. We lay them in a pool of smoked molten mozzarella.
Leg of lamb was served with a sunchoke and vadouvan puree. Crispy sunchoke skins and shaved lamb prosciutto accented the meat. Parsley stems added brightness and an espresso lamb jus piqued the elements.
Dessert began with a crushable coffee drenched yeast cake with crispy meringue, coffee mascarpone ice cream sticks, coffee pate bomb and white chocolate-coffee shortbread.
Cannele's were willingly sacrificed to make cannele bread pudding. We served it with cream cheese ice cream and rum caramel.
Mignardise were cookies and cream, pretzels and chocolate, and an oatmeal rum raisin ice cream sandwich.
We enjoyed a successful dinner and an inspirational weekend.
January 20, 2005
If perfection is an unattainable goal then the trick is reveling in the imperfections and appreciating what the flaws bring to the table. Being open to working with imperfect items allows us to discover new ideas, and occasionally even save some money along the way.
January 18, 2009
January 18, 2005
I am in Milwaukee, Wisconsin visiting with chef Justin Carlisle and his team at Ardent restaurant. Our dinner and a workshop combination allows chefs to bring us to them. They take advantage of some continuing education for themselves and their staff, and we have some fun in the kitchen. The inspiration for the dishes for the guest chef dinner begins early on. Stories and ideas are shared. They help shape my perspective of the kitchen and dictate the tenor of the interactions. For this dinner we are busting on Matt Haase of Ardent, who believes hot dogs should only be served in a bun. We are stretching the idea of hot dogs and beans to include ring bologna and bean curd. The bean curd will be braised in baked bean sauce. The ring bologna will be scored and seared like foie gras. And mustard will, of course, make an appearance. Letting the environment catalyze creative thoughts allows for great discoveries in the kitchen and anywhere else.
January 17, 2005
We started with our yeast noodles. There savoriness has a very toasted bread-like flavor and aroma that was quite similar to the buttery pie dough we use in our chicken pot pie. Amaya has a thing for broth so we've been making pressure cooked stocks from leftover meat and bones on a regular basis. This made it easy for Aki to put together a rendition of our base pot pie filling, keeping it on the looser side. She opted to use smoked flour instead of tapioca and cornstarch to add flavor while thickening the base. When the pot pie filling was ready we boiled the yeast flavored rigatoni, mixed the them together, and topped our bowls with a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano. We were eating chicken pot pie, as noodles, and nobody missed a thing
January 15, 2005
Inspired by Jeff Mahin, via his Twitter feed we dove into back into the Rice Krispie Treat arena. He was making Rice Krispie treat studded cookies. We saw that and asked how he was doing it. He responded, "a little think called by hand ;) we cut them and place them into cookie then re-bake for 5 more min! So good." This inspiration sparked a flurry of thoughts. On our end we came up with brown butter, pretzel, butterfinger rice krispie treats. Jeff continued to evolve, last I heard fresh mint and Oreo's were being Krispiefied into crunchy, gooey goodness.
Brown Butter, Pretzel, Butterfinger Rice Krispy Treats
113 grams unsalted butter, sliced
750 grams marshmallows
350 grams Rice Krispies
300 grams hand crushed pretzels (we used Snyders mini pretzels)
160 grams (6 bars) Butterfinger, hand chopped
Put the butter in a large deep sided pot set over medium heat. Use the butter paper to butter the inside of a 13x9-inch pyrex baking pan. Melt the butter completely and then cook, stirring, until the milk solids brown and the butter gives off a warm, nutty aroma, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the marshmallows and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, until the marshmallows melt and absorb the brown butter. Add the rice krispies and pretzels and stir them in. Add the chopped butterfingers and fold them in. Transfer the marshmallow mixture to the prepared pyrex container and use your spatula to press it flat in the pan. Let the Krispies cool if you can. Slice and devour. If you happen to have some cookie dough around, take on Jeff's brilliant idea by baking them into the top of your favorite cookie.
*These were on the crunchy side of the Krispie treat spectrum, if you prefer something a little more gooey you can increase the marshmallows to 1000 grams.
January 14, 2005
We've been playing around with sprouted flours lately, just to get a feel for what they're all about. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of flavor in this sprouted spelt flour and felt that while the flavor of the grain was pronounced, it lacked the bitter edge that sometimes appears in whole grain flours. All in all it got us fired up to find some more sprouted flours to work with. The noodles pictured were made with 50% sprouted spelt flour and 50% semolina. The cooked pasta was supple and elastic, with a nice chewy texture. The flavor was earthy and sweet with a hint of nuttiness from the spelt. We tried them with pepperoni bolognese, they'd be equally good with spicy lobster or crab.
January 12, 2005
We combined 100 grams of the roasted yeast flour with 900 grams semolina flour. We put the two into the hopper of the Arcobaleno AEX 18. We added 300 grams water for 30% hydration. After mixing for 8-ish minutes we extruded thick walled rigatoni, die #80 1.2mm thick.
The flavor of the yeast added a dynamic savory flavor to the noodles. It diminished a bit after boiling. It was not lost, it became an accent rather than the focus.
January 11, 2011
January 11, 2005
We revisited the idea of mosaics. Visually I suppose these are closer in appearance to stone: marble, granite, quartz. Since the idea of avocado on toast has somehow taken the world by storm, we felt we could play with it too. We started with an avocado mosaic. We cut the avocado into pieces and sealed them in a vacuum bag. Then we flattened the avocado inside the bag into a thin layer and froze it. While the avocado was in the freezer we brushed phyllo dough with brown butter seasoned with smoked paprika and sprinkled each layer with Parmigiano Reggiano. We made our phyllo six layers thick and then baked it between to silpats. We put the golden brown phyllo onto a cutting board and cut it into planks. We cut the frozen avocado into identical planks. We removed the plastic from the avocado and placed it on top of the phyllo. We let the avocado thaw. Just before serving we seasoned it with lime zest, lemon olive oil, Maldon salt and Espelette pepper. It was a delicious test run on the idea. Now we can build upon it.
January 10, 2007
January 10, 2005
We started with our egg yolk pasta dough. We substituted 50% whole wheat flour. It adds a great nutty flavor to the pasta and by limiting the quantity of whole wheat flour, the dough retains its elasticity. For the filling we blended ricotta and queijo flamengo limiano, a Portuguese cheese. I had never had this cheese before. It is soft and slightly tangy, with a nice creaminess. It is sort of like a marriage between American processed cheese and the Flemish Edam. We blended 3 parts ricotta with 1 part of the queijo flamengo limiano and 0.5% salt based on the weight of only the ricotta--the Portuguese cheese was well seasoned on its own. We put large dollops of the cheese mixture into the center of the thin disks of pasta dough. We folded and and then pinched the dough together, making large tortellini. We boiled the tortellini and dressed them in brown butter seasoned with a pinch of smoked paprika. The queijo flamengo limiano melted into the ricotta creating a molten smooth ricotta filling. They seemed to explode in my mouth, oozing rich creamy flavor, balanced by the slightly earthy pasta casing. We built the dish based on the flavor of the cheese rather than focusing on its origins and that made all the difference. And begs the question, is an American cheese based ravioli too far of a stretch?
January 9, 2005
We revisited our miso pasta dough from Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work. We substituted barley miso for the white miso we usually use. The noodles took on a dark color and rich aroma. The barley miso changed the perception experience of the noodles from light and delicate to full bodied and hearty. Even in their evolution, the noodles remained subtley intense. The flavors and aromas build as you savor them, one bite at a time. The barley pasta is better suited to the frigid weather we were experiencing. It will stand up nicely to a variety of braised meats and roasted vegetable sauces, enhancing their flavor while still retaining their own character in the dish.
January 6, 2005
We were having lobsters. Aki wanted baked stuffed lobsters for her birthday. Specifically stuffed with the potato chip and shrimp filling I made on the fly years ago. With baked stuffed lobsters comes the mess of shells and the process of picking and digging out the meat at the table. Given that we had both younger and older at the table, this did not seem like a practical approach. Instead we took the potato chip stuffing in another direction.
I removed the lobster and shrimp (key stuffing element) from their shells and then cooked them in salted butter right before serving. I was inspired by Amaya's love of polenta and an alliteration presented itself. I decided to cook polenta in the pressure cooker (with a little water of course) and fold in potato chips at the end. We have been exploring longer cooking times, so I cooked the polenta for 45 minutes. When it was done and the pressure had dissipated, we stirred in potato chips and a large amount of cheddar cheese. The polenta attained its signature creamy texture accented with the toasty, nutty flavor of the potato chips. The cheddar cheese added salt, creaminess, and acidity to cut through this rich porridge. Finally we spooned buttery crustaceans and sauce over a bed of potato chip polenta and roasted asparagus. A delicious evolution for 2015.
...And look for pretzel polenta coming soon.
This is a dish that needs no explanation. Layers of fried eggplant, sauce and cheese--I like a blend of mozzarella and ricotta, baked together into a gooey, delicious casserole.
It's also a dish that benefits from being made at home. Peel and thinly slice your eggplant, I like to use my Chinese mandoline, and soak it in cold salted water. All the bitter juices will be drawn out, generally I change the water once but if I've stumbled across older eggplant I might need to change it twice. Flour, egg, and breadcrumb coating, spiked with parmesan and garlic. The beauty of home cooking is that you get to eat a few hot out of the fryer before using the rest for another dish.
After frying the first few rounds I let my eggplant rest on paper towels or on a rack set over a sheet pan and I start building the layers as I continue to fry. Make sure you've got an hour or so before dinner so everything has time to come together in the oven. Homemade sauce is wonderful but in a pinch Rao's with a little bit of water does the trick nicely. It costs a little more but it's worth having in the pantry.
Fresh eggplant parmigiana, that hasn't rested overnight in the fridge, is pretty special stuff. The eggplant layers are soft and silky and you can really taste the flavor of the vegetable. The ricotta adds sweetness and a little creamy texture to balance out the rich sauce and oozing mozz. It's a pretty wonderful dish. All you need is good bread and a salad to serve alongside. The leftovers are nothing to sneeze at either, but after a night in the fridge everything melds together and you lose a bit of the individual textures and flavors. Still tasty but not necessarily better than your favorite Italian restaurant. Go for the gusto, try this one at home. It's a great way to start the new year.
Rather than diluting we are amplifying. We infuse and flavor many ingredients from vinegar to bourbon. We even flavor our lemonade with fruits, herbs and spices. Somehow it never crossed our mind to cold brew tea in lemonade. Instead of diluting both elements, as in a half and half (or an Arnold Palmer if you're a golf fan), we build with them. Taking the idea to the table we put two Earl Grey tea bags and one Chamomile-Lemongrass tea bag in a bottle of lemonade. We will let them steep in the refrigerator overnight. Tomorrow we will taste. We should have the full strength of the lemonade balanced by the full strength of the tea. Not everything needs to be more difficult. Not everything needs to take twice as long. That said, everything must be as delicious as we can make it.
Skins provide structure. They cover and protect what is inside. Skins have flavor. That flavor can be transferred to vegetables, fruit, fish and meat during the cooking process. It is not always easy and convenient to peel an ingredient after it is cooked. Forethought can allow us to cook ingredients in their skins and then peel them for later use. When we do this, generally the ingredient needs to be handled quickly, while still hot, in order to make peeling easier.
Fingerling potatoes that are to be roasted benefit from an initial boiling and then a hot/warm peeling. If done properly, the skins peel off easily leaving 100% of the potato behind. We then cool them down and allow the starch to retrograde. This firms up the potato and allows for it to be roasted uniformly, keeping its shape through the entire process. Of course, if we are making mashed potatoes a different approach may give us better result. A smart solution there is to peel the potatoes in advance and boil the potatoes and skins together to cook them. The skins in this case provide extra flavor. Alternatively the skins may be cooked first with butter to caramelize them and allow them to exchange flavors with the fat. The crisped skins can then be a delicious accompaniment or they can be used to flavor the water used to cook the potatoes for mashing. And then the potatoes can be enriched with the leftover flavored butter when you mash them or roasted in the potato skin butter. You don't need extra ingredients to create more flavor, you just need to use the ones you have to their best advantage.
Shio-koji is an interesting condiment. Koji (Aspergilillus oryzae) is the fungi that, among other things, is used to ferment soybeans for miso, soy sauce, and sake. Shio-koji is koji that is fermented with salt. It combines the enzymatic powers of koji with sea salt to make a seasoning that is extremely savory and rich, allowing cooks to use less salt to get their desired results while adding an additional umami punch. In many ways it is a very quick miso. We are just beginning to understand its capabilities. And with that we are looking at the possibilities.
An issue we have experienced with shio-koji is that everything it touches tastes like it. That does not fly in our world. A seasoning should support without overwhelmng. With that in mind, we have started to explore variations on classic shio-koji. Our first avenue is bourbon shio-koji. We started with a gift of Jasmine rice koji from Rich over at OurCookQuest. We combined the jasmine koji with bourbon and sea salt. We mixed them together and stored them in a covered container at room temperature so that they can ferment and develop. We shall see what happens. The biggest variable is the bourbon's impact on the fermentation process. We know that many fermentations are fickle. Starting one with a high alcohol ingredient may doom the process or reward us with something wonderful. With the bourbon shio-koji in process, several others are in the wings: Coffee Koji, Ketchup Koji, Seaweed Koji. Time to wait and see what develops.
We wish to share the collection of quotes I (Alex) assembled exemplifying the lessons taught by my grandfather, William Lowell Putnam III. His life was full and our time together too short. We hope that reading these words will bring to mind your own experiences with someone you loved who was a great influence on your life.
A Bear’s Life
“The middle of the road is where the white line is - and that's the worst place to drive.”
“The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.”
“We do not grow absolutely…We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
― Anaïs Nin
“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
― May Sarton
“Be loyal to what you love, be true to the earth, fight your enemies with passion and laughter.”
― Edward Abbey, Confessions of a Barbarian
“If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
---Henry David Thoreau
“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
“My hope is that we continue to nurture the places that we love, but that we also look outside our immediate worlds.”
“Go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company.”
― Mark Twain
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.”
― Jim Henson
“Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.”
― Garrison Keillor
“The difference between genius and stupidity is; genius has its limits.”
― Albert Einstein
“... If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.”
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
---Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
“The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”
“To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”
“When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.”
“Living creatively is really important to maintain throughout your life...It means being yourself, not just complying with the wishes of other people.”
“In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”
---Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”
“…Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
“Heroes are never perfect, but they're brave, they're authentic, they're courageous, determined, discreet, and they've got grit.”
“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
“I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
― Mae West
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
― Edward Abbey
“Start every day at the beginning and squeeze the moments chiseling, refining, tweaking. Eventually it will be what you are looking for.”
---William Lowell Putnam III aka Oso
The day after Christmas we have an outing. We go to Nick's Nest and then Herrell's ice cream shop. Their proximity to each other allows for just enough digestion between stops to indulge in both in one afternoon. These establishments resonate with us and, clearly, with many others too because they've been there for years and years. Each one does what it does best, hot dogs and ice cream. They haven't changed with the times. They evolved quietly. Ironically their nostalgic feel is exceptionally in vogue. Nick's has a pull handle by the register to open the door for patrons with arms full of hot dogs. Herrell's has its ice cream boards on rope pulleys for their constantly changing flavors. Nick's has its dogs warming in a slick of fat. (I think I've figured out what the fat is, buttered popcorn flavoring.) Herrell's has its signature chewy hot fudge and penuche. These specialties are what I got to these establishments for, others may have their own favorites. All I can say is my holidays aren't complete without these annual visits. In the midst of many changes it's comforting to see that some things remain the same.
After the first recipe, beyond the Gomasio, I coerced Aki into integrating our toasted yeast into was chewy ginger cookies. It was a good excuse to get her to make another batch of ginger cookies amidst the holiday fervor. She humored me.
I felt the addition of the toasted yeast would fill out the flavor profile of the cookies. The originals were sweet, spicy, crunchy from the sugar, and chewy from the molasses. I was looking for a bit more savory richness. And when toasted yeast came into our world it seemed to be solution. Aki added two teaspoons of the toasted yeast to the cookie dough. When they were baked we tasted. The flavor was fuller. The yeast seemed to balance the sweetness and support the spice.
Of course more tests are necessary and I am thrilled to be part of the tasting committee.
Large format meats are trending in our kitchen. Our latest discovery is a shoulder end rib roast. What is key to this cut is the top layer of meat and fat. It cooks up like the deckle on a rib roast except, this richly marbled layer of fat in meat resides on top of the pork rib eye. It is a secondary deckle. And it is by far the best bit of pork we have tasted in a long time. The meat is juicy and richly laden with fat. The one difficulty, if there is one, is trimming and cutting out the large fat pockets and ropey connective tissue veins that intersperse the meat. On the other hand, as the roast cooks, the center meat beneath remains juicy, and is substantially leaner for people who enjoy that too.
With the large format roast, we can carve it into pieces, spread them out, and let everyone pick the slices that are right for them. As you can see, the meat is juicy and easily sliced. This roast creates a satisfying meal for everyone at our table (except the vegetarians, but that's what super side dishes are for).
We are fans of the Herve Mons cheeses.
When we saw the truffle mascarpone layered camembert at Whole Foods we were captivated. It was worth the splurge for our palates and our minds. The cheese was ripe and pliable, not a molten mess. The truffle layer was a thick band of mascarpone blended with truffle bits and truffle oil (or so it tasted). The mascarpone layer was very similar in texture to the cheese, and that was the brilliant idea. We have seen gorgonzola layered with mascarpone many times as a torta. The layering of the truffled mascarpone in the camembert was deliciously smart.
It triggered an avalanche of ideas. What flavors may we introduce using a mascarpone layer in the center of camembert or other soft cheeses? We could add chestnut, squash, corn, hay, coffee, eggnog--the possibilities are endless. And does it have to be mascarpone? Can we use homemade cream cheese? If we are making our own cream cheese then we can explore a tremendous range of flavors and infusions. What about using coconut cream cheese?
May your ideas be plentiful and the results be delicious and thought-provoking pleasures.
The inspiration was gomasio, the Japanese seasoning of toasted sesame seeds and salt. We combined Cypress flake sea salt and our pressure toasted yeast. We pulverized them with a pestle. The flakes retained some of their irregular texture. The yeast pulverized but did not become a fine powder. The savory, toasty flavors of the yeast combined with the salt to make an intense, umami-rich, go-to seasoning.
The words are not coming easily. I thought they would. You were eloquent and clever. Quick witted and sharp. Loving and caring. You were gruff and kind. You needed to teach lessons. And we needed to learn.
You saved lives on mountains, in board rooms, and living rooms. You loved a good fight, to test your mind, and voice your opinions.
We are sorry you are gone. And we are thankful for our time together.
Thank you for showing us the way and not dragging us down the path behind you.
Your last lesson to me: Do it for yourself.
The idea is not selfish. It is a directed, focused view. If you don't pursue things for yourself, while still helping others whenever you can, you will never be happy. Live life with this in mind and you are onto something.
I met you as a child and dodged foam rocks from you, as Mr. Putnam. I learned life lessons driving cross country and spending time in the mountains wit you, as "Bear". You became family as "Oso". And then I lost you both as a loving grandfather to me and glowing great grandfather to our little girl Amaya.
With salty tears and loving memories your love is celebrated.
We are often asked if the Arcobaleno can make sheets of noodles. During a recent workshop we demonstrated the functionality of the lasagna die. The dough being extruded is 100% semolina flour, hydrated with 30% water. These sheets are flexible with a firm bite. The white lines on the dough are signs that we are nearing in the end of the extrusion. The machine is almost out of dough and is pushing out the last of it. The end of the dough behaves well, though occasionally the lines are signs of weakness in the sheet where it may tear, so use those pieces accordingly. We roll the sheets around a dowel and then wrap the dowel in plastic wrap until we are ready to cut the sheets. The lasagna sheeter may also be used for ravioli dough. We change the formulation for that, adding all purpose flour and eggs. After extruding a large sheet we cut the dough into workable pieces and then roll the dough thinner using a sheeter. The extruder gets us 90% of the way for ravioli dough. The sheeter allows for an added level of refinement that we look for in a delicate stuffed pasta, especially when making them in quantity. There's something special about sinking your teeth through an almost transparent layer of fresh pasta to release the goodness tucked away inside. It's one of those small details that make a dish memorable.
When we find good looking cuts of meat at the store we pick them up. Aki found a good looking, well marbled 2-bone end cut rib roast. We scored the meat with 1-inch cross hatching that was a 1/4 of an inch thick. Then we seasoned the meat with our meat seasoning from Ideas in Food. Aki adapted the meat seasoning on the rib roast with the Izak N.37 sweet chili blend from La Boite. We let the meat air dry in the refrigerator at least overnight, and with thick cuts like these, 2 nights is fine. When the roast was dry I fired up our tube smoker. We cold smoked the roast for 2 hours. Then we returned the meat to the refrigerator for another day. We could have used it immediately. The original plan was to roast it whole. But with various delays and a shifting number of people at the table, we called an audible and cut it in half. The rib eye was seared and slow roasted it at 200°F until it reached a perfect medium rare. The other half was frozen for another day and another project.
The smoke permeated the meat. It did not turn the roast into bacon, what it did was add a wonderful layer of deliciousness. The finished beef was reminiscent of pastrami in flavor, the floral chili blend replacing the coriander and black pepper. The meat was juicy and succulent. And since Aki served the steak with roasted fingerling potatoes finished with sauteed sauerkraut (thanks Rich!) the association to pastrami was amplified even further.
After 2 weeks buried in the salt, our Fish (salted) Egg yolks had matured. The fish salt had penetrated the yolks fully. They had darkened in color. After washing the excess salt and exterior gunk off the yolks we had concentrated yolks of flavor. The flavor of fish sauce was intense. The salinity was high. And the flavor of the egg yolk held its own. The first plan was to press the yolks into a block and dry the block out for grating.
When I vacuum sealed the yolks together I became smitten with the idea of rolling the yolks into a thin sheet instead. We would then freeze and cut out thin pieces of the yolks. Except that didn't work out so well. The high salt levels combined with the natural texture of the yolks has created a sticky mess instead of a smooth sheet. I am back to the original idea, that is, if I can scrape the yolks back together into a block-like shape then we'll see what happens in the dehydrator. If not, the moment will help dictate where we take this.
A mason jar, a pressure cooker, and a fresh bag of yeast walked into our kitchen. It seems the start of a bad joke and it is a commonplace occurrence in our world. We have caramelized some fantastic ingredients in mason jars in the pressure cooker: milk solids and candied ginger were highlights. We were looking at the flavors of yeast and wanted to exploit its funky notes combined with the aromatics of toasted bread, only without making the bread. We wanted to amplify the flavor of the yeast. It dawned on us that we could toast the yeast in the pressure cooker and then use it as a flavorful ingredient. So we did. We put the yeast in the jar, lightly sealed the lid, put 2 inches of water in the pressure cooker and cooked the yeast for 90 minutes at high pressure.
The result was evenly caramelized, foxy brown yeast. It has the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread. The pressure toasted yeast has tremendous potential in our kitchen. Finely ground with salt--think yeast gomasio, infused into dairy for ice cream, and or blended with cream to season butter. We could fold it into a bread dough for an intense yeast flavor without the functional properties of yeast. Cookies too, ideally shortbread to get started. And of course we could put it in noodles. There will certainly be more ideas to explore. These will get us started.
Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Someone, who shall remain nameless, insists on buying bunches of bananas and then not eating them. It kills me to watch them slowly over-ripening on the counter and so every now and then they get thrown into something just to use them up. In this case I folded 2 large, black, perfectly sweet, firm bananas into our basic scone dough. Instead of keeping them chunky and adding them at the end, I pulsed them in with the butter so that they were absorbed into the dough, leaving me with a something more like a very thick batter, that you could scoop up with a large ice cream scoop. The portions relaxed slightly on the sheet pan but still held their shape. The banana scones baked up sweet, and soft, with a slightly chewier crust than my usual scone dough, though still moist and tender on the inside. Alex dubbed them drop muffins and a new addition to our morning repertoire was born.
Frying donuts in lard has a perverse feel. New England frugality meets trendy porcine popularity. The idea of frying in lard evokes days past, a kiss of nostalgia wrapped up in the idea of old fashioned flavor. Lard doesn't taste like canola oil. It lends a soft sweetness to the ingredients bathed in its goodness, adding a rich flavor that coats your lips, and makes the reality of eating fried food inescapable.
These donuts were crisp. Really crisp. The cakey interior was soft and sweet, tender and tasty. The donuts absorbed the flavors of the lard, giving the exterior a faint earthy sweetness that acted in counterpoint to the shattering crunch of the crust. At first bite the richness and flavor may give you pause. Someone said they weren't sure whether they liked the doughnuts or not, a common reaction. But one bite inevitably leads to another. The crunchy exterior seduces, while the sweet, soft crumb comforts your palate. After the third donut I was certainly converted and the empty bags would seem to indicate that everyone else was too.
Tete de Moine is a semi-sacred cheese. It's a monk's head and you get to shave it yourself. It requires a specific curler, a girolle, which we happen to own. In spite of this, it has been years since we purchased a whole tete de moine. When we were planning our Thanksgiving feast this year, we saw an opportunity to share this delicious Swiss cheese with the crowd. We ordered the cheese from Murray's and on Thanksgiving day our guests shaved and savored curls of cheese all night long. Still, we only put a small dent in the whole cheese. We continued to serve and shave the cheese in small doses for several days afterwards. The Tete de Moine continued to entertain and delight. But since we had a surplus, I figured we could do more with it. Half of me thought it would be blasphemy to smoke the cheese. The other half thought it would be brilliant.
I pulled out our tube smoker and placed the remaining half a monk's head into our cold grill. It is a great space to smoke foods, especially in this cold weather. We smoked the cheese for two hours. Then we wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it. We put it back onto the girolle. The first shaving was intensely smoky. I expected that as we were scraping off the full top layer that was covered in smoke. The second shaving was incredible. The smoke permeated the cheese, accenting it, without overpowering the natural flavors. The shaving process makes the cheese soft and malleable. It gently melts and dissolves on the palate.
Smoking the tete de moine was so good. It reminded us that even though it can be hard to push against the idea that something is sacred and should remain untouched, it's important to trust our instincts. Evolution is a part of life. Great ingredients are a foundation. Improvising with them is essential to finding new pathways to delicious.
We were fortunate enough to have been gifted with a jar of quince marmalade. And with a lovely present comes the question of how to best utilize it. How to make it shine? What will be the best way to highlight, show off, and appreciate the gift. And perhaps even share it with a few other people who might enjoy it too. Well, for a while we dithered, dathered, and eventually pushed the marmalade to the back of the cupboard. And then we forgot about it for a few months. We did the complete opposite of what we were hoping to do because we were searching for the best way, rather than simply enjoying the gift.
As Aki was in the throes of making her first round of holiday cookies she needed jam for her thumbprints. Unfortunately, we were all out of the good stuff. Until I rummaged through the pantry and rediscovered the jar of quince marmalade. When I presented it to her she smiled. Unfortunately we no longer remembered who gave it to us (though we want to send a big Thank You! to whoever it was). What we did remember was that we wanted to do something special with it. Aki's cookie fervor had us opening the jar and tasting the marmalade. It was sweet and floral. It had a nice acidity and a bit of texture from cut up fruit. It would be a fabulous addition to the thumbprints.
Aki shaped, filled, and baked the buttery dough. The finished cookies were firm and tender. The aroma of the quince permeated the dough. The hint of vanilla in the dough accented the earthy sweetness of the quince. The thumbprints were no longer just dough filled with a jam. They were a well constructed cookie.
It turns out the best way, the right way, to use anything is the one that presents itself. If you have great ingredients, it doesn't take much to make them even better. The rest of the jam though? That we'll enjoy with our morning toast.
December 15, 2008
When an idea makes all the sense in the world sometimes it takes an eternity to put it into play. And that is how it felt when we smoked oyster crackers. Sure, we are known for smoking just about anything. Ritz cracker crumbs were our latest, should have done that a while ago instance.
I have been really enjoying working with the A-maze-n Tube Smoker. It allows us to impulsively smoke small scale items almost instantly. We used to smoke everything at the drop of a hat. It seems the tube smoker facilitates that impulse, keeping the pellets in place and the smoke smouldering long and slow.
Being in New England now little bags of oyster crackers magically appear on our counter tops as if placed by the oyster cracker fairy. I am not one to indulge in these little salty bites. And I most certainly avoid them in my chowder. And I'm not really sure why. When I saw a bag on the counter the other day, I just knew I needed to upgrade the crackers. I fired up the smoking tube and in 30 minutes had richly smoked oyster crackers. Those that do like oyster crackers were quite excited with my smokey evolution. I still may not be putting them on my chowder, though I do see an incredible breading potential for fried oysters and various other ingredients from sweet to savory.
Shape and sauce used to be the two instrumental variables when cooking pasta. Extruding noodles in your kitchen changes that. Now we can control the grains used, flours chosen, liquids for hydration, and, ultimately, the flavor of the dough. We have been extruding our own noodles for 3 years and have ridden the roller coaster of flavor. Originally we started with semolina and water. That was when the dam broke. We explored as many flavoring options as we could think of, from yuzu kosho to horseradish to garlic bread. When we exhausted the idea of adding flavors, we switched gears and started messing with the grains. We made 100% emmer noodles (way too intense) and 50% whole wheat noodles (still quite strong). We played with masa and rye. Not every noodle was a home run but each noodle taught us something: from how to create the best doughs to how to calibrate each dough for the best extrusions, and about our personal preferences. Having the tools to create is essential to encourage explorations. Many of our exploits could have been achieved by hand but it was the right machine that made the process easy enough for greater avenues to be pursued. From food processors to pasta machines, sometimes the right tool is all you need to set your imagination free.
We started with whole eggs. We cooked them for an hour at 65°C in the CVap. After an hour we cooled the eggs, cracked them open and removed the soft and pliable yolks. We discarded the semi-gelled whites. (We need to really work on something that utilizes the excess whites generated in slow cooked egg processes. The easy solution is to revert back to cooking the yolks by themselves and reserving the whites for noodle making.) We rinsed the egg yolks off in cool water.
We nestled the yolks into a bed of salt derived from making Red Boat Fish Sauce, i.e. fish salt.
We covered the eggs in the salt and refrigerated them overnight.
After one night we uncovered and rinsed off a few eggs.
They were firm and translucent. When we cut into them the interior was still soft. The yolks had a sticky, waxy texture with an intense fish sauce flavor and aroma.
The remaining eggs are still buried in salt and will be coming out shortly. We shall see how they have developed and then decide where we can take them.
We started with carrot tops. We picked the fronds and blanched them for about a minute, until they were cooked through, and then shocked them in an ice bath. When they were cold we squeezed out the water and spread the fronds on a dehydrator tray. We dried the tops for 2 hours. When they were fragile and crisp we broke them into pieces and put them in a spice grinder with fine sea salt and ground the mixture together. The carrot flavor was subtle, more of a aftertaste than an explosion. The green color was vibrant and deep. It worked more as a colored salt than as an intense expression of carrots. Still, it has potential. But we need to find ways to amplify the carrot flavor.
We started by soaking wild rice in our alkaline bath (0.5% salt and 1% baking soda) for 18 hours. Then we rinsed it off and began cooking. The wild rice took 30 minutes to cook. It was tender, with a nice chew. We decided to take some of this cooked rice and dehydrate it for frying. This took about 3 hours in a dehydrator. We fried the dried rice in 204°C/400°F oil. It crackled and puffed. Every grain. We drained it on paper towels and seasoned it. First with salt and then with carrot salt. If we were more clever we would have used rice salt or rice seasonings. Next time.
What was most interesting to us was that all the rice puffed. In our past explorations frying wild rice, we simply fried the raw rice. Every time we fried it, only a percentage of the rice would puff. Here everything puffed. The crackling rice was exceptionally crispy and light, tasting almost like popcorn. Finally, it stayed crispy all afternoon. Super crispy. The process of soaking, cooking, and drying seemed to make the fried results better. Then again pork skins and chicken wings are occasionally treated with baking soda to produce lighter, crisper, and more crackling skins. So why would it be strange that the process works for rice too. Makes me wonder about popped hominy and revisiting french fries.
The availability of ingredients and and the addition of time allows for the development of flavor. We marinate meats and vegetables for cooking. We dry rub too. Aromatics penetrate. Flavors combine. Spices hydrate. When it comes to making broths and stocks, we often overlook these flavor-ehancing steps. Until recently. We chose to rub a blend of lemongrass and palm sugar over pork shoulder bones, skin and fat. We added sherry and soy sauce to the mix and marinated the flavorful components overnight.
The following morning we put the fat, bones, skin, and marinade into the pressure cooker. We covered everything with water and pressure cooked the broth for 45 minutes. After letting the pressure dissipate naturally we tasted the broth. It was rich, floral, and meaty. The flavors came together. Did marinating the skin and bones make a difference? We believe the answer is yes, because the broth had both nuanced aromatics and a deep, savory impact. This made a tremendous influence on the way we view the development of flavors. It has us thinking of bones and skin as essential ingredients, which absorb and then radiate additional, complementary flavors. And if we had roasted, grilled or fried the skin and bones prior to pressure cooking the combination of heat and the marinade would have created a unique profile we may not have achieved otherwise. How we think of ingredients allows us to get more out of them.
We started with the tastiest beet ever. Instead of steaming the beets, this time we pressure cooked them for 45 minutes. We have found that beets, especially when they are to be dehydrated, should be well cooked. Once the beets had finished cooking and cooled to room temperature we peeled them and dehydrated them for 12 hours. The exterior became dry and leathery. The inside was semi-soft. We put the still warm beets into a zip top bag and closed it. The residual heat generates steam, which softens the chewy skin that formed on the outside of the vegetable.
As we pulled the beets out of the bag to begin working with them we were struck by the difference between the outer skin and the interior. What if we made the inside even softer? We would have a beet ravioli. We gently massaged the beets with our fingers, breaking up the rest of the insides so the beet felt like a weird stress ball. With the beet ravioli in hand we still felt somewhat incomplete. We felt sure that we could fill it with with something delicious to complement the flavor of the beet.
We seasoned vanilla yogurt with 0.5% salt and filled a large syringe. Then we poked a small hole in the beet and injected the yogurt. The beet filled up like a water balloon. We removed the syringe and wiped the injection point clean. We patted it dry. We placed the beet on a plate, sprinkled on Murray River salt, and then spooned Concord Concentr8 over the top. With a knife and fork we popped the balloon and indulged.
In today's environment of exact and precise cooking, elements of chaos are sought out to keep the ideas fresh and cooks on their toes. The combination of precision and chaos leads to great achievements and greater failures. It is the juxtaposition of these disparate principles that excites us on a daily basis.
Soy sauce and butter are harmonious. When they are combined to coat grilled meat their impact is amplified. We cooked a second cut chuck shoulder for 24 hours at 57°C in the CVap. We seasoned it with Blue Grass #12 and put it in a hotel pan with roast turkey broth. We have found that adding broth to the cooking vessel in the CVap enhances the overall texture of the meat. It also rinses denatured proteins away from the meat. And the best part is that we are left with an intense jus when we are all done cooking.
After the primary cooking of the shoulder, we prepared a platter with slices of butter and spoonfuls of soy sauce. We went out to the big green egg and grilled the meat. Between high heat grilling sessions we would return the meat to the braising pan to let it rest and be coated with the broth again. We repeated this several times until the exterior was evenly grilled. Then we laid the hot meat onto the platter with the butter and soy sauce to rest. We flipped it twice and then covered it with foil to keep it warm. We turned the meat several more times before slicing to evenly coat it with the mixture of melted butter, soy sauce and beef drippings, our plate sauce. Finally we carved the meat and pulled the slices through the impromptu plate sauce. Messy and delicious, it was meat to make you lick your fingers.
We started with pressure cooked turkey broth. Nine out of ten times, probably more, the ingredients used in pressure cooked broths become spent, flavorless, remnants, with all their inherent goodness being transferred to the broth. But the smoked turkey legs we were using for our Thanksgiving and post-Thanksgiving exploits were moist, tender, and succulent. They were still full of meaty and smokey flavors after the broth was created. It seemed a shame to to discard them so we didn't. On Thanksgiving we used the picked, pressure-cooked meat in our stuffing and braised escarole.
As we continued to use smoked turkey legs we wanted to find other uses for the leftover meat we were generating. Our first thought was to dry it. If it has good flavor, we can concentrate it even further, and make great flavor. Crunchy smoked turkey jerky was pretty cool. By drying the meat we changed its texture and applications. Now we can grate it and grind the dried smoked turkey legs into a seasoning. That was a good start. Since we often dry and then fry foods to great effect, we took the dried smoked turkey down that path. It become crisper with intense maillard flavors and a rich roastiness. The frying also made the meat easier to eat. We ate it seasoned first with sea salt and then later with our carrot top salt. Both ways were crush-worthy. Smoked dried and fried turkey is an incredible snack. Now we need to integate it into our cooking in ways beyond just eating it by the handful.
Workshops allow us to break through walls. We have done a lot of work with our Ramenized Noodles. What we had not done was to work on eliminating the forethought of soaking noodles for preparation later that day. An idea we really should not have left alone.
During workshops ideas and perspectives combine with very positive results. We were exploring our ramenized noodles: dried noodles soaked in a bath of 1% baking soda and 0.5% salt for several hours, until they are pliable and tender. After preparing a batch of spaghetti, it soaked for 3 hours, we rinsed the noodles and layed them onto a tray as I usually do for overnight refrigeration. Except I held back some of the noodles. I put several handfuls, 75 gram portions, into deli containers and coverd them separately. I wanted to see if the noodles would do better stored as individual portions rather than a connected intertwined web on a tray. Because after a night in the refrigerator the noodles on a tray stick together quited fiercely. (Think fresh pasta noodles that have not been floured to keep the exterior dry.)
The following morning we prepared to cook the noodles. The noodles on the tray had become an intertwined web. They required some force to pull them apart. The noodles in the deli container were equally stuck together, just in a single serving. We cooked up batches of both noodles in boiling water. They cooked in about a minute. They were equally chewy and bouncy. I was happy. And then the question surfaced. "Have you ever frozen the ramenized noodles?" We had not. My internal excuses ranged from "we always cook all the noodles to it's easy to just soak them" to "freezing a whole tray of noodles is just not that sexy."
Except now we were in a different place. We realized we could portion the noodles into serving containers. Instead of muttering an excuse out loud, I said "Nope we have never frozen them. Let's try it now." We put the portioned noodles into the blast freezer. In under an hour, we were boiling up individual, frozen portions of ramenized noodles. They popped easily out of the deli containers. They cooked up beautifully. They had the same chew and bounce as the freshly soaked noodles and they were wavy and beautiful from their time spent coiled up in the freezer. The only real difference was that they took 2 minutes to cook instead of 1.
Now we know that when we soak our noodles, we can freeze the extras, and eat them anytime we want. It was a tremendous ramenization.
We have enjoyed using Activa to maximize and manipulate often overlooked poultry parts, particularly the skins. From our block of Ducks Skin to our Chicken Skin Crusted Grouper the potential inspires us. It was not until earlier this week, amidst a 4 day workshop, that chicken bellies revealed themselves.
We trimmed the two sides of the belly off the bird and dusted them with Activa. We pressed them together, keeping the skin on the outside. We vacuum sealed the bellies and refrigerated them overnight to give the transglutaminase in the Activa time to bond the pieces together. Then we cooked the vacuum sealed belly for 2 hours at 65°C in the CVap. After 2 hours we chilled it in an ice bath. When it was cold we took it out of the bag and seared it in salted butter. It browned gently, then we let it rest, and finally we sliced it for tasting.
The chicken bellies were rich, gelatinous, and juicy. They were also a little too firm and chewy. They could cook for another hour to continue to break down the collagen and connective tissue. The bonded bellies have a size and shape of a small veal cheek or a large striped bass cheek. The luxurious flavor and texture really got our attention. And besides, there are other birds, from ducks to turkeys, that have bellies too.
We started with the idea of potato skins. This process is a simpler and more straight forward approach than we used in our meat and potatoes. We cooked purple potatoes in their skins, then allowed them to cool slightly and peeled them. We put the potatoes into the dehydrator. The starch retrogrades in the potato and, as it dries, forms a beautiful skin. When the potatoes had lost about 1/3 their size and the newly developed skin felt sturdy, we removed them from the dehydrator and put them into a zip top bag to steam and soften the skin. This way it resembles a delicate pasta rather than a tougher jerky. The purple color from the skins stained the potatoes. And as we removed moisture the color concentrated. The interior is soft and supple with an intense potato flavor. The striking color, amazing textures, and full flavors are three great reasons to make these potatoes.
Connecting two memories: pop rocks and Christmas in one package allows for the creation of a lot of smiles. Taking this idea to the table is very exciting. Imagine what they can add to your holiday desserts, from cupcakes to yule logs, iced cookies to chocolate truffles.
While slicing our deep fried celery root on the slicer I noticed it looked remarkably similar to a pineapple. And two ideas were born. The first was pairing the sliced celery root with sliced pineapple. And the second was deep frying whole pineapples. The frying may help produce a fully cooked fruit with the potential of an edible skin. The pairing of the celery root and pineapple leaves many permutations to explore.
When the Nor'Easter was about halfway through dumping snow on us, Amaya was ready to go out and play. We bundled up and waded through the thick, heavy snow. As we were trudging along Amaya went off in a tangential direction. I stopped and watched her walk for a while. When she was 100+ feet away I yelled to her. "What are you doing? Where are you going?" She didn't miss a beat and responded "To save the trees Daddy."
This fall we planted 3 small apple trees. Amaya was part of the process: from planting them in the ground to daily waterings so they would take root and survive. She was connected. She was attached.
Amaya saw the power and strength of the storm. And she knew that she needed to free her trees from the heavy snow, gently brushing it off the bending branches. "So we can eat apples as a family." she informed me.
Connecting with your food makes a tremendous difference in how you look at it and how it makes you feel. Thanks to our almost 6-year old, the lesson was brought home to us again.
We had visions of turkey grandeur for Thanksgiving. Our Workshop schedule and a Nor'easter encouraged us to change our plans. And we listened. We cut the legs and wings from our birds and then we used our meat saw to cut the backs out of the turkeys. We cut up the backs and added some smoked turkey legs to make a flavorful turkey broth in the pressure cooker. We picked the cooked meat and folded it into the stuffing. We then used the broth to braise the legs. We picked the meat from the braised legs to serve at dinner. We used half of the braising liquid in the stuffing. We used the other half to make a quick gravy.
We used the meat saw to finish cleanly splitting the bird in half so we had breasts and thighs still together for roasting. We seasoned the rest of our birds with salt, put them on racks, and cooked the birds at 62°C for 6 hours in the CVap. Then we browned them in the wood fired oven. It took some careful attention to evenly brown the birds. And it was worth it. We let the turkey rest and then carved them. The breasts were juicy and tender. The thighs were equally juicy and a bit firmer. The meat had an incredible steak-like quality, rich and juicy with a little bit of chew. The turkey tasted like turkey. Not like a brine or a rub or even smoke. At first I was concerned about the texture of the thighs because it was different than what we had done in the past. And then I relaxed, opened up my mind, and enjoyed its meaty goodness. And for those that weren't open to a different texture, there were braised legs: picked, shredded, and equally delicious. Something for everyone, that's what a great Thanksgiving dinner is all about.
Thanksgiving dinner requires folks in kitchens everywhere to dig deep, scrub furiously, organize efficiently, and work hard. The pleasure we enjoy at the table cannot be accomplished without continuous dish and pot washing in the kitchen. Volunteer dishwashers don't just lend a hand. They figure out ways to cut through the mountains of pans, rivers of grease, stacks of plates, and piles of cutlery so that we can put them back into use and continue cooking and serving the meal.
Be thankful for those those kitchen helpers. They make a big difference in your world. And if you're not the one cooking, take a few moments to step back from admiring the Spatchcocked turkeys and slow roasted pork shoulders to lend a hand in the kitchen where it can do the most good. Cheerful dishwashers make the culinary world a better place. We are thankful for them and all of our loved ones, friends, readers, eaters, and fellow kitchen enthusiasts this Thanksgiving Day.
We thinly sliced Persian cucumbers, set them aside and then blended yellow mustard, white wine vinegar and salt together. We vacuum sealed the sliced cucumbers with the marinade and shortly thereafter discovered that yellow mustard pickles are the thing I never knew I was missing.