Monday, November 30, 2009

Royal Foodie Joust: Pear, Ginger & Fennel

This month's joust featured pear, ginger and fennel. Not too unusual, but unusual enough that I felt like I was doing one of the TGRWT events. Since I had been playing around with pithiviers I thought I would combine the two concepts. What I ended up with was a ginger pear filled pithivier with fennel infused butter puff pastry.

I used Jacques Torres' Quick Puff Pastry recipe, but any will do. I started by melting half of the recipe's butter in a sauce pan, sautéeing it with one cup of diced fennel. I let that sit for an hour covered to cool, then strained the fennel. I allowed the remaining butter to come to room temp, then in a mixer I creamed the infused and remaining butter until will combined, then chilled. I proceeded with the recipe as usual at this point.

Next take 4 pounds of crisp pears, peel them, cut them vertically in half, core them and then slice them 1/16" thick uniformly - I used a meat slicer. Butter a baking dish - preferably glass. Fan the pears over the entire surface, brush with melted butter and lightly sprinkle with dark muscovado sugar. Keep layering until all of your pears are used - I ended up with about six layers in this dish. Grate a fresh ginger on the top. Wrap the entire dish with two good coverings of saran wrap to make it airtight. Then poke a few holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Place the pan on a foil lined jelly roll pan. Throw it in an oven set to 175ºF and bake for 10-12 hours. Make sure that if your oven has an automatic shut off that you disable it - mine is called Sabbath Mode. What comes out is perfectly soft and moist pears that maintain their structure. (You'll note that this is exactly what I did a couple of days ago with apples.)

Finally, make an almond cream:
1 C. Almonds, processed into powder
1/3 C. Sugar
1/2 C. Butter, softened
1 Egg
1/4 C. AP Flour

Cream the butter, almonds and sugar until light in a mixer with whisk attachment. Add the egg and whisk for about 5 minutes or until doubled in bulk and very light. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour stopping when just combined.

Roll your puff to 1/16" and cut your first disk. Place a dollop of the almond cream topped with a spoonful of the pears. Brush the edges with an eggwash (1 egg, 2 yolks, 1 T water). Cut the second disk and place on top of the first sealing the edges. On the top, cut a vent in the center then carefully cut in decorative work if you want. Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes. While its baking, combine 1/4 C. of corn syrup with 1 T. warm water. Brush the syrup mixture on top and return to oven for another 20 minutes or until the puff is a nice dark brown.

New Cheese: Ossau-Iraty

A brought in a small amount of this great cheese for our special cheese loving customers. From Wiki:
Ossau-Iraty is rather medium-soft light in color and very complex yet delicately smooth flavors. This cheese tastes slightly akin to cow's cheeses of similar texture such as alps cheese. Ossau-Iraty is complex and includes an edible slightly white-moldy tart rind which adds considerably to the experience. This is a creamy, not bitter, not overly sweet, perhaps slightly nutty cheese with a gentleness and ability to please. Finishes rich and smooth.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Recent Desserts

Here are a few recent desserts...stop me if I'm boring you.

Pierre Hermé's Mozart: Chocolate mousse with rum spiked apples sandwiched with cinnamon thin crust.

A simple cake for a Thanksgiving order: flourless chocolate discs, chocolate mousse, orange curd, mirror glaze and silver.

Chocolote Orange Explosion (aka using my leftovers): Chocolate mousse, orange curd, orange buttercream, candied peel, cacao nibs

Two tartlets: Drunken Cherry Orgasm Tart & Orange Curd with Almond Tart

Our anniversary cake: Amernick's pound cake, orange buttercream

This was supposed to make it into a dessert, but it was so good that I ate the whole bowl - Pierre Hermé's 24-hour Apples. Take 4 pounds of Granny Smith (or other firm, tart apples), peel them, cut them vertically in half, core them and then slice them 1/16" thick uniformly - I used a meat slicer. Butter a baking dish - preferably glass. Fan the apples over the entire surface, brush with melted butter and lightly sprinkle with sugar. He calls for white and next time I'll use palm sugar. Keep layering until all of your apples are used - I ended up with about six layers in this dish. Wrap the entire dish with two good coverings of saran wrap to make it airtight. Place the pan on a foil lined jelly roll pan.

Throw it in an oven set to 175ºF and bake for 10-12 hours. Make sure that if your oven has an automatic shut off that you disable it - mine is called Sabbath Mode. What comes out is perfectly soft and moist apples that maintain their structure. I was planning on making pithiviers filled with these but I'll have to start from scratch. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of these while warm would be diving!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Re-Offering: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

This is one of my most requested recipes, so I offer it here again just in time for holiday meals:
When Tyler and I met and he started bringing me home to his parent's house, it was a bit awkward. That very first time started with us sitting down to a pot roast with potatoes, carrots and some dessert. I don't think it was sugar cream pie, but it might have been since his family is where I learned about this fantastic decadence filled pie shell.

Before Tyler and I moved out West, we used to go to his parent's house every Sunday, where his mom would make a pot roast or chicken and dumplings (noodle style) or some other easy to prepare, Sunday-day-of-rest appropriate dinner. The meal would be followed with football or rodeo or other Sunday-day-of-rest appropriate TV show. We would NOT talk about politics or religion. No good could come from those conversations. But those were wonderful visits that I remember and miss.

To this day I'm not sure if anything beats a Wick's Sugar Cream Pie. Those things were addictive and worth gluttonous onslaughts. I would sneak a small sliver for myself before the rest was served so I could get two portions, and even then, I would cut a big piece for my real serving. They are good, and I am willing to say they are the best store bought pie I have ever had - and possibly better than any homemade sugar cream pie I have ever had. Yes - big claims!

But, there is no Wick's in New Mexico. In fact, not one single customer had heard of this type of pie when I sold them this year. They would ask what it was and I would just say in a very slow, deliberate manner, "They have sugar (pause) and cream (pause). That's about it."

Tyler asked his mom for her recipe, which was an evolution of her mom's recipe. I'll provide both below. Grandma Meeks' recipe calls for the cream, sugar and flour to be mixed together, poured in a pie shell and sprinkled with nutmeg. That's all. But, about one out of three pies wouldn't set up. The flour would settle near the bottom causing a runny pie - still, a very good runny pie.

So Tyler's mom tapped into more modern techniques. She added some half-n-half to the recipe for more moisture, then microwaved the mixture prior to pouring into the pan, to give the liquid a head start since it needs to come to a boil in order to set up. This is the pie I know and love.

But I'm a gourmet store owner. I sold Tyler's mom's version, and people loved it. But for our personal Thanksgiving, I wanted to add some flavor depth and complexity. Enter my evolution.

I had two thoughts. First, white sugar is pretty linear in its flavor profile. But, caramelizing that sugar would add the flavors I sought, and would not effect the structure. Second, I have access to palm sugar which is just the cow's meow. So here are the three recipes:

Grandma Meeks' Sugar Cream Pie
Oven to 425F
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Sugar
5 T. Flour
Pinch of Salt

Combine all three ingredients, pour in unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn oven to 350F. Cook until set. Expect pie to boil over.

Margie Connor's Sugar Cream Pie
Oven to 425F
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Half-n-Half
1/2 C. Sugar
5 T. Flour
Pinch of Salt

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl or large measuring cup. Microwave in one minute blasts on high until liquid becomes hot, but not boiling. Pour into baked pie shell. Sprinkle with nutmeg and bake for 5-10 minutes, then lower to 350F. Bake until set.

My Sugar Cream Pie (Tyler called it a Dulce de Leche Pie)
2 C. Heavy Cream
1/2 C. Whole Milk
1/4 C. Sugar
1/4 C. Muscovado (or dark brown sugar)
4 T. Palm Sugar (I used coconut palm sugar)
5 T. Flour
Pinch of Salt

Put the three sugars in a small sauce pan with just a couple of tablespoons of the cream. Heat until melted and starting to caramelize. Don't take this much further than it starting to darken. On the heat, whisk the remaining cream and milk into the caramel, and continue whisking until it is all melted and combined - it should hav ea nice caramel color at this point. Combine remaining ingredients with the caramel milk. Microwave in one minute blasts on high until liquid becomes hot and slightly thickened, but not boiling, whisking after each increment. Pour into baked pie shell. Sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg and bake for 5 minutes, then lower to 350F. Bake until set.

So that's the evolution of the Meeks/Connor/Connoley Sugar Cream Pie recipe. It may continue to evolve throughout the season. Tyler very much liked the tamer sweetness of my version, but didn't consider it a sugar cream. I liked the sweetness of his mom's recipe, but the complexity of my own. In the end, I'm sure none is as good as Grandma Meeks' version, but we all are thankful for her recipe.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Recently RachelD suggested that I do a demo on one of my desserts, so here we go...

In general know that I think upside down with my desserts since that is normally how I assemble them. The first thing to cross my mind is the flavor combination that I want to feature. In this case I had a jar of brandy soaked chestnuts and I wanted to pair it with a light dark chocolate (64%). Chestnuts scream France to me and because of the movie Vatel I wanted to use my Babel mold. That got thrown on the white board to be stewed over for a few days until I could work it into my schedule.

You may see that I decided to add an orange disc and that my electrician is going to cost me $2500! You'll also notice that I typically do double duty so I made extra orange discs and threw them in some pistachio mousse for a different dessert.

I begin with a chocolate mousse from Hermé:
1 3/4 C. Cream
2 Eggs, room temp
4 Egg yolks, room temp
10 oz Chocolate, chopped small - I used Cocoa Barry 64%
1/2 C. Sugar
3 T. Water

Whip cream to med-firm peaks. Hold in cooler. In mixer whip eggs for a just a few seconds to break them up. Melt chocolate in microwave or stove top and allow to cool to 114ºF. In sauce pan combine sugar and water and bring to a boil until 257ºF (at altitude I only go to 255º). Carefully pour the sugar into the yolks with the mixer on low, then increase speed to high and whip for about 5 minutes or until pale and doubled. Fold a quarter of the cream into the chocolate, then combine the remaining cream. Very carefully fold in the egg mixture into the cream mixture. Put in piping bag.

Then I made an orange curd ala Johnny Iuzzini with a few sheets of gelatin added to ensure stability. These were frozen in discs.

On to the assembly. A good splotch of mousse into the mold, followed by an orange disc pressed in to remove air pockets. A bit more mousse on top of the orange, followed by a dollop of the processed chestnuts which reeked of brandy.

That was then topped (or bottomed as the case may be) by a flourless chocolate disk, again from Hermé:

115 g (4 oz) Dark chocolate
87 g (6 T) Unsalted butter, softened
142 g (1/2 C) Sugar
1 t. Dutch processed cocoa
2 L Egg yolks
1 L Egg
6 L Egg whites

Melt chocolate and cool to 114ºF. Cream butter, 3 T of sugar and the cocoa. Add the yolks and then the eggs. It will look gross at this point, but don't worry. Next add the melted chocolate and mix only until satiny. Don't overmix. In separate bowl, whip whites to soft peaks and add the remaining 5 T of sugar gradually. Whip until glossy and firm. Fold a quarter of the whites into the chocolate, then add the remaining whites until consistent. Spread on a silpat or parchment, sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and bake 350ºF for 25-30 minutes. Once out of the oven, cool, then cut into desired shapes.

Next, freeze them bad boys until hard. At this point let me say that if you don't have fancy molds (available at and other places), just use a silicon muffin pan. It will still be a way cooler dessert than anyone else's at the potluck. Now, pop them out of the mold.

See how the bottom became the top. For these I gave a quick spray of orange cocoa butter and then slapped some chocolate on a transfer sheet to get a little bling going.

I boxed them and ran off to a party to listen to the oohs and aahs....little did they know I cranked these out with less than 30 minutes of active work. Now, RachelD, go give it a try!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review: In Search of Total Perfection

Heston Blumenthal is known as a gastro-wizard. Not only does he helm the Fat Duck, once considered the top restaurant in the world, but he also has popular notoriety through his In Search of Perfection television series on the BBC. In Search of Total Perfection is the culmination of the TV series put in print (combining his two previous books from the series into one volume), and offers not only the recipes and exploratory work leading to the recipes, but also the behind-the-scenes tales from the studio. And whereas a movie can drop a book’s plot, story lines and even characters to help the story fit into a two-hour reel, this book flips a page and gathers all of the information presented in the series and expands on the shows with useful and fun details. The reader is left as plump and saturated as Blumenthal’s roast chicken. And that’s where we’ll peck away at this book – roast chicken. Read the rest of the review at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf.

Monday, November 23, 2009

TGRWT #20: Pumpkin and Cooked Chicken

Since I've blabbered on about TGRWT so many times before, if you don't know what it is, go HERE. This is not a competition, nor is it for chefs and professionals, so if you're ever inclined, jump in and give it a go.

This month's event was hosted by old time eG friend Docsconz. I say friend, but spirit guide is more accurate. He has guided me to so many amazing restaurants and culinary experiences that I owe much of my current success to him. Doc chose pumpkin and cooked chicken. I won't get into the mental anguish this led me through debating what cooking method (BBQ tastes very different from boiled), or chicken breed (Wal-Mart steroid chicken v. happy free-range clucker). I'll cut to the chase and say that leading into the holidays I just wanted to get this done in a proud, but easy manner.

The idea came to me immediately - this had to be a molé. Normally I do my TGRWTs very goofyish, but I enjoy making molés and my customers enjoy eating them. I started with chile negros that I brought back from Oaxaca. These were lightly toasted in a dry skillet then softened in boiling water for 30 minutes.

Next, I sautéed a half an onion and dried pumpkin seeds until softened.

That went in a blender with 2 cups of cooked pumpkin meat, a dash of clove and cinnamon, a T. of Valrhona cocoa, a nugget of dark muscovado, black pepper, a small pinch of oregano, and 4 C. of chicken broth. In a large stock I melted 2 T. of lard then strained the blender contents through a chinois and fried for about 10 minutes. I adjusted the broth to get the right consistency and let it simmer for two hours.

For the chicken, I wanted a pure "cooked chicken" taste so it was pressed and sous vide cooked unseasoned. I plated with a piñon tuile.

So the question is always, how well did they go together? This was a can't lose combination, so naturally they went great. I purposefully kept the pumpkin toned down so it didn't feel like a savory pumpkin pie, but that squashiness was very complementary to the chicken. For lunch the next day I took the scraps and threw them into a grilled pita with some goat cheese and had a very nice meal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Work smart, not strong

That's what they say anyway and I'm tired of spending hours filling my oven when I can have 24 loaves of bread done in less than an hour instead of the three hours it currently takes. I picked up this commercial oven for just $300. I'm waiting for the electric upgrade, but once that's done, I'll be able to produce so much more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Electrolux Magic Mill DLX 2000...say what!?

A couple of weeks ago I ranted about my Kitchenaid dying just weeks after the warranty ended. I had read numerous similar tales on eGullet so its clearly not a unique problem. And while some people swear by their KAs, I'm ready to move on to something more reliable. When it comes to issues such as this I turn to an online friend, andiesenji, who's opinion I trust more than almost any other. She has quite the background and certainly knows her equipment. She suggested the DLX. Its a price jump, but time will tell if its worth it.

I bought it at PleasantMills which has the best price.

Let me take some of their description:
The Electrolux Magic Mill DLX Assistent has been a Swedish secret for over 50 years. An exceptionally strong dough mixer, the Electrolux DLX has an impeccable reputation for long term reliability and quality results whether you're mixing a cake, whipping a meringue, or baking ten loaves of fresh, light, scrumptious bread.

The Magic Mill DLX Assistent mixer creates smooth, silky, elastic dough quicklyand easily with its unique roller and scraper design. This method effectively mimics kneading by hand, minus the time and effort. As the stainless bowl revolves, the deeply fluted roller of the Magic Mill DLX acts as your fingers, with the scraper mimicking the palm of your hand.

The Magic Mill scraper folds the dough with a rhythmic motion while the roller provides a powerful massaging action. Dough comes out smooth and elastic, in large or small batches. Any speed from 40 to 140 RPM can be selected, and an electronic speed sensor automatically adjusts motor torque to the load. A timer is standard equipment, so the Magic Mill DLX will do its work while you do other tasks, stopping when you want it to. The control panel is angled for comfortable use, and the large timer and speed controls are attractive and easy to read.

The large 8 quart stainless steel bowl of the Magic Mill holds up to 28 cups of flour (7 lbs.), to make approximately 15 lbs. of bread dough (7-10 loaves). The efficient, high-torque 600 watt motor runs smoothly and quietly; coupled with an advanced transmission design, it providing ample power to mix and knead even the largest batch of heavy bread dough without straining. The Magic Mill was given its nickname, "The Workhorse Mixer" not by its manufacturer Electrolux, but by users who praise this powerful kitchen helper that's so enjoyable to use.

So far I agree with this description. I did a large batch of dough today and couldn't figure out whether I was supposed to use the roller or hook, but I made 12 batards where my old KA could only do 6. Its interesting that this machine moves the bowl, not the attachment. Makes sense to me - one big honkin' gear to do the job. Here's some more from their site:
The Magic Mill's whisk beater bowl (the white bowl in illustration above) will create beautiful meringues, beating up to 18 egg whites (or as few as one) with excellent results. You can also cream butter, margarine and shortening with sugar to the creamiest texture for all your cookie needs.

When white bowl is used, it is stationary (unlike the stainless bowl, which turns during use), and the whisks drive from below via a center column in the bowl (the white bowl is shaped something like a bunt cake.) This arrangement provides total access to the top of the Magic Mill bowl, with no overhead motor drive in the way. The beater bowl is sold separately by Magic Mill, but we include it with your mixer at no additional charge. When mixing with either this bowl or the stainless bowl, the only metal in contact with your food is food-grade stainless steel.

The Magic Mill DLX mixer measures 13.5"H x 10.5"W x 15.7"D, weighs only 19 lbs. with stainless bowl. It sits firmly on solid rubber feet, and will not walk on the countertop during use. The entire motor enclosure is made of metal, and is available in your choice of four attractive finishes. The Electrolux Magic Mill DLX mixer has a 3 year manufacturer's warranty on the power unit, 1 year on other parts.

The biggest difference between dense, heavy baked goods and the delightfully textured products you want to enjoy is proper development of the gluten in the dough. The Magic Mill kitchen mixer is unexcelled in its ability to turn out fantastic dough. With the array of available accessories displayed below, it offers to add a myriad of exciting dimensions to your cooking experience. The Magic Mill DLX is a lifetime investment.

I started to max out my bowl with a double batch of butter cream, but I survived. I'll continue reporting on what I think of this and if its worth the investment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A new cheese: Toma Maccagno

Toma Maccagno is a cow's milk mountain cheese from the Valle Cervo in Biella, Italy and was the favorite of the queen of Savoy.

This toothsome toma is made in the alpine pastures from the whole milk of the rare Pezzata Rossa d'Oropa cow during the summer months and in the valley itself in the fall.

Silky and sharp with rich buttery flavors, this semi-soft cheese is washed with saffron which colors the young rind a vivid red. Delicious eaten unaccompanied with a light fruity wine.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

High altitude baking

I've talked about baking adjustments many times before on this blog, but this weekend demonstrated the single most important factor - oven temp. You can adjust leavener, sugar, fat, etc, but as the cake below shows, a simple slowing of the baking process cures most ills. The cake on the right was baked with no modifications to the recipe at 350º F. The cake on the left was baked at 340ºF. A one inch collapse versus no collapse at all. Makes sense doesn't it. The cake rises more slowly allowing it to set up at a rate closer to the rise. When it hits its peak, the structure is in place to stop it from collapsing. Both tasted equally good, however.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Recent desserts

I'm finally feeling caught up enough to play with some desserts (translation - its been slow at the store). Here are two I made this morning.

I was playing with a pâte à foncer dough and made a peach tartlet where I soaked the peaches in light rum and cardamom, and then drizzled a light caramel on top as it came out of the oven. That was a nice breakfast.

And, brushing up on some techniques...three layers of flourless chocolate disk (meringue based), two layers of cinnamon pastry cream, tempered chocolate, house roasted cacao nibs, rum soaked disk, mirror glaze, all surrounded by chocolate mousse. No chocolate was lower than 75% so that should give you a good buzz.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trip Report: Oaxaca - Final Thoughts

I've been sitting on this final post for a while because I'm going to step out and suggest that Oaxaca is not the great foodie destination its been made out to be. Prior to going, we researched a variety of forums, sites and guides, many of which stated that Oaxaca is one of the premier foodie cities, a top food-lovers region, or other such claims.

What we found was a community that had a vibrant organic and slow-food movement, albeit not marketed to death like an American community might. But is that enough to live up to the claims. We hit a number of restaurants on the suggestion list, as well as suggestions on Bayless' site and the foodie forums. Claims that Tllamanalli in Teotitlán del Valle was the best food in the valley appeared overblown. Meal after meal proved good, but not great. The food was clearly fresh and tasty, and often times very good, but enough to lift Oaxaca to the pedestal?

We both agreed that we would re-visit Oaxaca, and that we had a very enjoyable trip. We loved exploring the markets and neighborhoods and discovering the finds that they had to offer. We enjoyed the touristy moments as well as the more authentic local experiences. We particularly were pleased when we found non-tourist shops that featured specialty food items. There is no question that we would recommend Oaxaca to our friends, and would definitely consider it for a re-visit.

But, I still linger on the fact that the food was no better than most places that I have visited. Slow food movements, organic producers, great restaurants are everywhere these days. Is the claim to greatness because of Oaxaca's relative remoteness? Maybe a decade ago, but now there are direct flights from a variety of US cities including our route through Houston. At nearly 300,000 inhabitants, I would expect the quality of food that we found pretty much anywhere in the world.

One aspect that I do believe lifts Oaxaca to an important culinary destination is the convergence of cultures and how that plays out in the kitchen. Playing the historic role of buffer between the North and South, hosting the Spanish invaders, and currently playing home to Americans and Europeans seeking a unique affordable community - all of these aspects has influenced the cuisine of the community. And that is special, but not unique across the globe.

So, while many would suggest that we just didn't hit the right restaurants on the right day and order the right food, I will suggest that for people who are used to eating freshly prepared foods that celebrate indigenous ingredients, Oaxaca is a great vacation spot, but not a premier foodie destination.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cursing Kitchenaid

My fancy KitchenAid, which is one of the more expensive models, is starting to sound like its on its last leg. I checked the warranty and they will cover it for one year. Guess when I bought it - one year and two weeks! Grumbles very loudly!