Monday, August 31, 2009

TGRWT #18: Plum & Blue Cheese

This month's TGRWT challenge came from Aiden Brooks and featured plum and blue cheese, specifically candied plum and gorgonzola. Aiden is a British chef trainee in Spain, and he upped the typical TGRWT anty by offering to recreate the best recipe in his restaurant. Well...I couldn't pass up this opportunity!

So, playing to the audience I offer you: The Niña, Pinta & Santa María aka Espuma de Turrón con Ciruela (Turrón Mousse with Plum):

Candied Plum
3 Plums, fresh and medium sized
600g (3 C) Sugar
350ml (1 1/2 C) Water

Combine sugar and water in saucepan. Score an X into the bottom of the fruit and add to the cold syrup. Bring to a boil, reducing to simmer. Simmer for 60-90 minutes looking for opacity in the fruit. The skin should fall off on its own. Set to drip on cooling rack at least one hour. If you plan on using the skin for the finished product (such as the sails), then set flat to dry as paper.

(notice my waves?)

Turrón Mousse
80 g Almond butter
40 g Almond milk
125 g Gorgonzola Dolce
1 t. Almond extract
2 1/5 Sheets of Gelatin, silver, hydrated

190 g Honey - I prefer Big Tree Farms Coffee Blossom honey because of its bold flavor
10 g Glucose
2 Egg whites, room temp

250 Cream

In saucepan over medium heat combine almond butter and almond milk. Once warmed and combined, add cheese, gelatin and extract and mix until thoroughly dissolved. Set to cool to room temp - about 15 minutes.

In saucepan heat honey and glucose and bring to hardball stage. While heating, whip the whites to just under hard peak. Carefully pour the honey mixture into the whites and continue whipping until firm, glossy and room temperature.

Combine the meringue into the turron batter being thorough but not deflating any more than necessary. Whip the cream til firm, and fold honey/turrón mixture, as well as the finely diced candied plum into the cream.

At this point, set in glasses or, if you're more ambitious, make your own sugar bottle and make a ship in a bottle!

In TGRWT we always like to share how it worked. In this instance, it was all a natural. Of course honey goes well with Gorgonzola. And of course plums go well with blue cheese, so it is all well tied together. I found this dessert to not be overwhelmingly sweet, in fact, I found a bit on the savory side. Someone with more time (or staff) could really have fun with this ship in a bottle concept...I on the other hand, have other projects waiting in the wings!

Meat Lesson: Beef

I don't really like beef, and so I've cooked very little of it. However, one of my greatest food memories is of having green chile cheddar burgers in a small town of La Garita, CO, after a day of hard rock climbing. So, I guess I should embrace my inner bovine.

Chef shared that marbelling equates to tenderness and flavor except when it comes to filets. She also suggested cooking beef with the fat cap on the top of a roast or cut because the fat will drip down and auto-baste.

Skirt Steak
We started with salt and pepper and let it rest for a bit. Then we created a marinade of 5-spice, peanut oil, tamarind, muscovado and lemon (same as the lamb). Theoretically, the purpose of skirt is an inexpensive cut that works well in fajitas, stir fry, etc., but ours was not cheap.

For the skirt, we simply grilled and then held covered.

After 15 minutes of rest, we cut on bias agains the grain. We just served this as is to our friends, but again, it is intended for use in dishes, not a dish in itself.

Next was the classic steak. We opted for pan frying the steak since that is most realistic in my kitchen. Chef opted for au poire style - pepper encrused with cream sauce. Salted the meat slightly, then added clarified butter. Our goal was to cook to medium rare.

Next came the pepper.

And we both felt that we had medium rare. So, how did she come to this? I asked her to show me the old thumb test. If you press at the base of your thumb, you'll note how soft it is. As you continue pressing toward the heel of your hand/connection to the wrist, the meat becomes a bit firmer. She likened this to the progression from rare (soft) to well done (firm). Ultimately, we served the meat with the crispest side up, cooked a bit of cream in the pan until it reduced slightly and poured it over the top of the steak. I enjoyed it but still wasn't won over on steak.

Beef Ribs
I prepare ribs in my café already and they are quite popular, but when I described my technique, chef was aghast! I did it the way we do it in St. least the way my dad did it. I boil them bad boys for at least an hour if not two - with a bit of brown sugar in my water. I then put them in a roasting pan and slather them in BBQ sauce and bake at 200ºF for two or more hours covered. Talk about fall of the bone, finger lickin' good! My dad would also add a step of smoking the ribs in between the boil and the bake.

But I'm paying chef for her knowledge, so we'll do it her way. First we had to remove the membrane on the inside of the ribs. This is no easy task. The goal is to remove the membrane without damaging the meat itself. I kept mumbling something about an intern at this point in the workshop.

We then rubbed the ribs with an off the shelf blend from S. Africa and baked uncovered at 400ºF for 45 minutes. She made sure to point out that the dry rubs work on beef, not on pork ribs.

They were good, but I like my version better because I don't like to have to work for my food.

Finally we have the burgers. Mine are always dry. Always. I know its my attempt at making sure they are safe, but really, I needed a good technique. I asked her to grill and pan fry. Both were started with a mix of butter (because my ground was very lean), salt and pepper. Her trick on seasoning was to cover the bowl of meat twice with each season...which translates into enough to coat both sides of a burger.

I asked about over working the ground and she said its not so much of an issue with burgers. However, I watched and while she worked the ground, she patted them gently.

On a grill she said burgers will cook about 12 minutes.

For the skillet version she recommended cast iron. In my skillet we seared on both sides (she just peeked for doneness) on both sides, then covered the pan and let it rest on the lowest heat level. She very gently pressed for blood seepage to check doneness while at the same time telling me to never press my meat since it releases the juice that you want to keep in.

She explained that a medium burger still has a bit of pink, and that rare will be more crimson.

A few thoughts from some of my professional books:
1. High heat toughens and shrinks protein and results in excessive moisture loss. Therefore, low-heat cooking should be the general practice for most meat cooking methods.
2. Broiling is the contradiction to this since it cooks the meat quickly allowing it to retain its moisture.
3. Because both liquid and steam are better conductors of heat than air, therefore, to avoid overcooking, meat should be simmered, never boiled.
4. Red meat doneness: Rare-browned surface, thin layer of gray, red interior; Medium-thicker layer of gray, pink interior; Done-gray throughout.
5. By temp for beef: Rare 130º, Medium 140-145º, Done 160º

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meat Lesson: Pork, Fish, Chicken

Before I start, I have no doubt that some of you will say, "that's not the right way," or "that's totally wrong." I'd love to hear from you when you disagree. First, I am writing this a week after the workshop, so my memory and notes aren't perfect. In fact there were some pics that I just couldn't tell if they were beef or pork! Second, the chef was trying to replicate techniques for my specific kitchen. For example, we did almost everything on the ceramic stove top - I don't have gas nor an outdoor grill at my café (we did bring a mini-grill in just for a brief lesson). So, please do share your thoughts and corrections.

One overall tip that she provided to me was whenever you cook chicken or pork, be very selective in what goes into the pan because those two meats, moreso than others, will flavor the meat.

Pork Loin
Our grocery store called this thing a pork loin, but best we could figure, they left adjoining meat onto the loin - you'll see more clearly when we cut it. We marinated in a mixture of 5-Spice, peanut oil, tamarind, muscovado sugar and a bit of lemon. We started by coating with salt and pepper, added a bit of canola in the skillet and the pan seared so all sides were evenly browned.

We gave the loin a 15 minute rest (just cool to the touch), then butchered the meat into 3/4" steaks. We also sauteed onions to go on the finished meat.

With this shot you can see that this was more of a roast than a loin.

We coated the pork in the marinade again with the onions and cooked covered in skillet for 10 minutes.

We then wrapped them in saran wrap to simulate restaurant prep and hold. When it was time to serve we did two methods - a quick pan sear and also a microwave flash for 30 seconds. Both came out extremely juicy.

For the lamb I made a quick shwarma spice blend and mixed it with equal parts white balsamic and olive oil, with yogurt. The lamb was left to marinate for about an hour. We salt and peppered the meat and heated some canola in our skillet.

While we were cooking the meat, we moved the lamb away from any pooling liquid.

And ultimately we deglazed the pan with white wine while rubbing the meat into the wine. As soon as we were deglazed the meat was taken off heat, fresh chopped mint was added and we rested the meat for service. Her test for doneness in this case was the caramelized color on the outside since lamb should be more on the rare side.


I tend to undercook my salmon, but its such a common cater food that we had to do some. I insisted on good salmon instead of the cheap stuff you normally get and banquets. We salt and peppered and rubbed oil on the fillets. The fish was placed flesh side down in the skillet. Chef explained that some would disagree with this technique, but her rationale was that if you mess up the skillet heat and the fish sticks then its better to rip a bit off the top than have the charred skin all over the fillet.

Her test for doneness was simply a knife poke peak to where its a bit pink on the inside. At that point we removed the pan from the heat and simply covered it to retain the moisture.

And sure enough the fish was moist and cooked.

We did two variations - a whole roast and breasts. Remember to remove the guts, neck and such.

The cavity was filled with a rough cut of celery, onion and green onion with fresh oregano tossed with salt and pepper. We opted for vegetable filling because a bread filling would extend the cooking time.

The bird was then patted dry and rubbed with sage and butter.

Into a 350ºF oven until a thermometer reads an internal temp of 180ºF. We finished the bird in the oven at 400º. This temperature switch is opposite of what you are normally told, but I neglected to ask the reasoning. The bird was regularly basted with the drippings. Chef suggested that you can also tell when the bird is done if the bones pop when pulled, as well as the juices running clear. After a good rest, she demonstrated how to split a bird for service cutting just along the rib.

For the breast, we seared them in my panini grill.

We then put the breast in a 200ºF oven that was covered in foil and that had a good layer of stock on the bottom. We held our chicken for a good hour like this and I was sure it would dry just like mine.

When it was time for service, we salt and peppered the breasts, tossed with oil and thyme, cut into service portions, sopped in the juices, covered in saran wrap and microwaved for one minute. And what do you was perfectly moist.

Beef lesson tomorrow.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Meat Lesson

One of my weaknesses in the kitchen is meats. My chicken comes out dry. My burgers come out dry. My fish comes out raw. Its not my greatest strength. I also listed meats as one of the skills I want to improve upon in 2009. I invited a local chef friend to give me a personal workshop where we covered a wide range of meats using my existing kitchen. She sent me to the store and I came back with...

Burger, sirloin, tri-tip, lamb chops, skirt, beef ribs, wild sockeye salmon, whole chicken and chicken breasts. I'll be splitting this topic up into three posts so as to not overwhelm you, but let's just say that any friends we were able to gather up that night were very happy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Technique: Sugar Bottle

I'm working on a project (to be posted next week) where I need a bottle made of sugar. On my first attempt I've melted isomalt and poured it to form a rectangle.

I then layed it on a lightly greased bottle and heated it with a heat gun to wrap the rectangle around the bottle.

That worked okay, but not cleanly enough for my liking, and it made the neck and bottom difficult.

Right now humidity is not my friend so this project is really struggling...but it will be done by the end of the month. (ETA - be sure to read my newer posts to see the final result - its already posted)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Technique: Super Fast Pastry Shell

Not that I want to play a game of one-upsmenship, but...

Recently David Lebovitz shared a unique pastry shell recipe from one of his French friends. I gave it a try and it was very good - not as good a traditional shell, but when considering the time and labor output, it is near the top of my recipe stack. But I started to think about what I liked and didn't like about his version and came up with my own which is faster, and in my opinion, even better.

90 g (3 oz) Unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 T Toasted walnut oil
4 T Water
1 T Sugar
1/8 t Salt
125 g Flour
25 g Almond flour/meal

My changes include more water to accomodate the tranfer to a microwave, the use of a nut oil (especially a toasted nut oil) and the addition of a nut flour. With these changes, we're talking shell in minutes!

Take the butter, oil, water, sugar and salt and place all of the ingredients into a pyrex measuring cup that is large enough to handle the soon to be boiling liquids. Microwave on high for 60 seconds, and fork whisk the ingredients. Now microwave in blasts of 2-3 minutes (depending on your microwave) until the liquid is hard boiling.

This method loses Lebovitz's brown butter taste, but gains flavor with the nut oil and flour. At this point you can dump the flours into the liquid and mix by hand, but I have the flours in a mixer bowl and pour the liquids into that bowl, turning the mixer on to med-low until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides. Stop - don't over-mix.

Just as in Lebovitz's version, then press the dough into your pan and make it as smooth as possible. Dock the bottom and toss in the freezer. You don't need to do this but I like a pretty crust. Bake in a 410ºF oven for 15 minutes or until nicely browned. As you can see in this pic, you can get very thin and very flaky. Let me know how it goes for you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Technique: Puffed Rice

I've had good and bad luck when it comes to puffing rice. Regular white rices puff just fine, but when you get to specialty rices, all depends. Recently I used the Jade Pearl rice from Lotus Foods and they puffed perfectly.

Cook as usual in rice cooker. When done, layer on a cookie sheet and swish around with your fingers to break up lumps and allow for the most even drying. Either put sheet in 200ºF oven for a few hours or an off oven overnight. When relatively dry to the touch, toss with a bit of corn starch. Heat your oil to 350ºF. Make sure you use a large enough pan to accommodate the foaming of the hot (and dangerous) oil. Let cook for about 2 minutes, skim out and dry on paper towels. Great for rice krispie treats, dessert garnish, savory granola, or whatever else you can think of.

Vacation - Oaxaca

We've picked Oaxaca for our October vacation. We had lots of great suggestions, but in the end, we're reward point rich and cash poor. Oaxaca was the best option for us. But, the foodie forums are very sparse with up to date info on traveling post 2006-07 uprising.

If anyone has reliable information, please pass it along - thanks.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Recipe: Vodka Tomatoes

I found this easy and superb recipe recently at epicurious:
  • 3 pints firm small cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup good vodka
  • 3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

Cut a small X in the skin of the bottom of each tomato. Blanch tomatoes in a saucepan of boiling water three seconds and immediately transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking.

Drain and peel the tomatoes, transferring to a large shallow dish.

Stir together vodka, vinegar, sugar, and zest until sugar is dissolved, then pour over tomatoes, gently tossing to coat. Marinate, covered and chilled, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Stir together salt and pepper and serve with tomatoes for dipping

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book Review: Seven Fires, Grilling the Argentine Way

Big. Bold. Burning! Those words summarize this near flawless book from famed South American chef and restaurateur, Francis Mallmann, and author Peter Kaminsky. Seven Fires refers to the techniques that Mallmann uses when cooking: Chapa, Little Hell, Parilla, Horno de Barro, Rescoldo, Asador and Caldero. You ask, “Where are hibachi and sterno?” Not to be found in this book. Seven Fires is about serious grilling – the type that you dream of doing. The cover teases us with Mallman genteelly grilling over burning embers, but open the cover and whole hogs are split wide, splayed above massive infernos. But not to fear, this book is truly accessible to all.

Please read my full review at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pizza Party

Friends of ours recently installed a backyard pizza oven...they had oven, we had! We bought a baby keg of hefe-weizen on a recent trip to Phoenix.

After the keg was nearly dead it was time for some food. Here was a really amazing salsa of shrimp and veggies:

The womenfolk headed to the kitchen to prepare the food to be cooked later - these ovens hold a lot of heat so they wanted to maximize the fire. A chicken in every pot!

And a pizza on every board!

And into Dante's inferno with ya you mis-shapen freak!
The ugly ones always taste best.

Lets fast forward through about a dozen pies and some chocolate chip cookies. Now it was my turn. Here's a little boulè that I whipped up.

You'll notice the chicken hiding in back, some quick breads on the side and who knows what off to the right. It was a left leaning group but we did seek political balance in the oven.

And near the tail end of the night, out came that chicken.

A great night of food. Soon you'll see a review of a book I did for The Gastronomer's Bookshelf that includes some great recipes for this type of cooking - possibly the most perfect cookbook I've ever read.