Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Valentino

Keeping with my spirit of procrastination, I finished this Valentine's Day special this morning. Hold your applause.

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Flourless cakes are a bit challenging at altitude. They aren't difficult to make, but they can easily turn dry if you're not ultra attentive. I was not. The only technique that I'd like to share on this dessert is that I bake it on the bottom of my silicon pan. What you're actually seeing in the picture is a cake baked on the bottom of my heart pan using pastry rings to form the outside of the cake. Once baked, I had an indented cupcake that I was able to fill. In this case I filled it with cinnamon ice cream.

Nice, but nothing earth shattering even though I used some great chocolate. Still, I overbeat slightly and tried to rescue the dryness by freezing the cake, which only made a subtle impact.

Alright, a few more procrastinated posts will come later this weekend. I hope some of you are still reading :)

TGRWT #15: Dark Chocolate & Smoked Salmon

Nothing celebrates the month of love like smoked salmon!

But, before we get to my monthly stomach turning obsession, you may have noticed that instead of near daily posting, I've only posted a few times this month. What happened? How could (as Tri2Cook refers to me) the chef who never sleeps not have time to post on his beloved blog? Well, I committed to expanding to hot dinners to go in February. We needed it to expand our business, and the town was clamoring for it since we're still the only freshly prepared food in town. That's meant very long days, and this chef really needs his sleep at this point. But back to the TGRWT!

The MexMix blog is the host of this month's challenge featuring the odd combination of dark chocolate and smoked salmon. Now, owning a gourmet store never makes these easy. My first thoughts were, "What percentage of chocolate," "Single origin or blend," "Can I do a 100% cocoa," and "Lox or dry style salmon?" So many questions, too many options. Just give me some direction dammit!

But then I took a deep breath and procrastinated until the very last

I knew that I wanted a hot chocolate with marshmallow, but I wasn't sure if I should take the easy road of a sweet marshmallow, or if I could create a savory version. I did both.

The sweet version was a standard recipe except I infused lox style salmon into the water before boiling it with palm sugar. I also added maple syrup instead of vanilla extract.

The savory version is a bit more interesting. Thanks to an eGer, I used an el Bulli recipe for my template:

500g Milk
18g Gelatin leaf, softened
40g Salmon oil

I took a chunk of dry style smoked salmon - a good oily piece, and heated it in the 40g of canola oil. Once warm, I covered and let steep off the heat for an hour. Next I chilled 400g milk until almost frozen. I then added the softened gelatin to the remaining 100g milk and heated in a sauce pan over low flame. In my mixer, I then whipped the gelatin milk mixture for 30 seconds, then added all of the cold milk at once, whipping for another 3 minutes. At the end of the 3 minutes, I poured the oil, which I had strained out the salmon chunks and chilled slightly. Another 30 seconds of whipping and then spread, chilled and cut.

The hot chocolate was a 72% Guittard couveture melted in boiling water (I didn't want a dairy taste in the drink) until it was a thick water drink. I seasoned with a hint of cinnamon, clove and stirred with a lavender branch. The drink was outstanding by itself and was inspired by Kakawa in Sante Fe.

So how was the salmon/chocolate combination? The sweet version was excellent. I served it to a number of my customers to get their response and all of them really liked the combination...I didn't tell them what it was before they tried it. The salmon taste lingered on the back of the tongue for quite some time. The savory version was good, but the salmon didn't infuse quite enough to have an impact. If I re-did this, I would probably try a vacuum infusion of the salmon and let it sit for a good long time.

Once again, TGRWT broke barriers and proved that if you turn off your preconceptions, you might just find something really enjoyable.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Winter Tasting Dinner: The Kama Sutra - The Results

As I was developing this menu I had docsconz's voice in my head (I often have eGers' voices in my head when I do things like this). In various topics, but mainly in the thread on best MG restaurants in the world, I remembered John talking about the MG restaurants that jump the shark and are more interested in pursuing an idea/gimmick versus putting out great food. I know that I have a tendency to do that because the more techniques I learn, the more I want to play. And that often leads to my emphasis being on technique instead of taste. So with John's voice ringing loudly, this menu wasn't a slave to the concept of aphrodisiacs or Kama Sutra. I worked in aphrodisiac ingredients when appropriate, and let the KS titles find an appropriate home with a dish instead of modifying a dish to fit the KS position.

Here's the setup. Four times per year I put on a tasting dinner that themes with the season. Winter was surely the hardest to theme with since I also try to source much of my food locally. For this dinner I was only able to use a handful of locally produced foods. This meal also happened to land on Valentine's Day which was coincidence not design, and that led to the theme of the Kama Sutra.

Of my 18 guests, four had been to the previous dinners and had an idea of the style of food. The other 14 had no idea, had never heard of Alinea or el bulli, etc. I did a brief introduction that explained the style of preparation and then told them to shut off their analytic brains and enjoy the ride. This meal leaned more heavily on meats since its an area where I need to grow in my skills. As such I had been studying the new Keller book and borrowed from it for this meal, as I did Alinea, which I'm much more comfortable with Achatz's techniques. Enough intro, here's the meal.

Course 1: Amuse Bouche: The Lotus

A direct ripoff from Alinea. Freshly squeezed granny smith juice sphere encapsulated in horseradish white chocolate/cocoa butter shell, set in celery juice. For those of you who know this dish, my shell was a tad thick, meaning it did burst easily in their mouths, but required a second of chewing to swallow the shell. Not ideal, but the flavors always have been, and always will be a great starter to a meal. I stayed mostly in the kitchen which was out of site (normally I find houses where the kitchen is visible so as to add to the drama), but I knew we were off to a good start when I heard the roars of laughter - it is a fun dish!

Course 2: Splitting the Bamboo

My adolescent male went wild with this one. I flew in ultra fresh tuna loin, cut it into smaller stips, coated in black and white sesame seeds, a bit of seasoning, and a quick pan sear to leave the inside very sumptuously red and meaty. I then split the strip and spread the legs (so to speak). Set inside the crotch was a reverse spherification of smoked oysters to which I added a high end tonic water. The plating included a nori flakes, savory malt, soy granola and miso nage.

Course 3: Caressing the Bud

In this course I was using Keller's technique for sous vide radishes, but I made some modifications which had nice results. The radishes were cooked in a sweet vinegar sauce, served with sunchoke soup, fried carrot threads and what I was calling a rubic's cube of root vegetables. I considered this one of my two courses for people to relax the senses - nothing too fancy, just comfort foods to take a break before the onslaught that was coming next.

Course 4: Mirror of Pleasing

My favorite course to plate although my pics sucked hence the ultra close up. Caviar set inside of a geleè with lime pudding, banana foam, curry salt, citrus flakes and sous vide monk fish cooked with fennel.

This course evolved greatly. First, the geleè was supposed to have sea urchin gonads. I couldn't get them. Next, the geleè was supposed to have crawfish brains. I couldn't get them. What kind of Cretans are running this town! So I settled for caviar.

Second, the monkfish was supposed to be a much more important part of this dish. I ordered a fresh whole and received frozen fillets - I wasn't happy. I had been studying Morimoto's processing demo at the Chef's Congress and really stressing over it, and then these frozen bags showed up. Bummer - no liver, no gills...boring. Still a really good course that had exquisite plating.

Course 5: Pair of Tongs

OMG! This was the first time I had ever prepared or eaten belly. First, I've sent a deposit to my cardiologist, but second, this was one of the best things I've ever eaten. Riffing off of Alinea's recipe, its a sous vide cooked belly seasoned with cayenne and smoked paprika. Each cube is then topped with a thin sugar shell also seasoned and set under a broiler to melt. The result is a thin crisp shell over a luscious moist and highly flavorful cube of meat. Plated with mascarapone polenta, juniper berry sauce and savory chocolate soil.

This was the course that I first started hearing, "I don't know if I'll be able to finish this meal," - damn that tuna steak! Everyone did finish however, and nothing came back on any plates.

Course 6: Congress of Crow

Help! Plating Emergency! Duck breast pastrami, rye gnocchi, pickled mustard seeds, chestnut oil pudding, slaw and a roasted chestnut financier.

A quick note about the use of a chestnut financier. A while back I had bought chestnut flour and accidentally wound up with roasted instead of regular. The smokey flavor has ruined one dish after another - the only combo that I've really liked has been in a white chocolate scone. During NPR's Thanksgiving food show this year, one of the guests made a passing comment that "The cabbage family loves smokey flavor." I wrote it on my prep board at the cafè and sat on it waiting for the right time. Finally this dish came into being and I knew it was my chance to apply that statement. It worked incredibly well. Good combo.

Course 7: Milk & Water

This was the only course that I didn't think was good. Most of the guests liked it but I did hear one say, "I guess my palate isn't developed enough to appreciate this." :/ I don't like hearing that. My snobbery is self-imposed, not intended to be passed on to the guests.

This was the cheese course. I had numerous technical difficulties and the highlight never worked. It was supposed to have cheese caviar which never would set for me. The cheese cracker was supposed to be filled with cheese sauce - the cracker was too hard. So I went for the punt and put the sauce on the bottom, a bit of pear puree, and szechuan peppercorns. Let's forget this one and move on...

Course 8: Pop!corn

A mechanical difficulty here - my immersion blender died. Always bring a backup system! Alinea's popcorn soup with caramel foam - a foam that I had no way to froth. On the skewer is a popcorn ball dipped in chocolate and rolled in neutral pop rocks - our menu orgasm! Roars of laughter filled the room.

Course 9: Butterfly

Such a pretty dish, and such perfect flavors after all the previous food. Iuzzini's citrus compari granite, lemon curd, grapefruit geleè, citrus flakes, and damiana geleè cube.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Winter Tasting Dinner: The Kama Sutra

This Saturday is my next Tasting Dinner. I've got ten courses modelled after the Kama Sutra lined up for 18 lucky's the menu draft:

1. The Lotus: ripping off Alinea's apple celery shot just because I've been wanting to do it for a while now

2. Splitting the Bamboo: Seared tuna tube, split and flayed open; a smoked oyster sphere set in between (not sure how oyster will work in the spherification process); Savory malt/soy granola set in sugar tube (a recent TGRWT creation of mine that I really liked), fresh bamboo shoots (not sure what I want to do with them beyond looks); bamboo green tea geleè

3. Caressing the Bud: sousvide sunchoke and radish; SV root vegetable rubics cube; cilantro crisp (not sure about this here); beets; artichoke petals in trout mousse (this also feels forced but might work)

4. Mirror of Pleasing: Sea Urchin (if I can get it); micro herbs; vanilla foam

5. Pair of Tongs: Pig tails with quail eggs; arugula salad - I'm having trouble sourcing the tails

6. Clasping Position: Pork belly; potato

7. Congress of the Crow: Duck pastrami with rye gnocchi

8. Milk & Water: Blue cheese cauliflower; cheese crakers (ala Alinea); cheese crisp; fresh figs if I can get them.

9. No position, but popcorn with poprocks

10. Butterfly - orange and rose stuff that I'll come up with

Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: Under Pressure

I'll preface this review with a plug for The Gastronomer's Bookshelf. This site "is a collaborative book review site covering a wide range of titles on food, wine and gastronomy." I encourage you to check it out and offer reviews of some of the books on your shelf. Here is my first submission:

The 2008-2009 class of modernist cookbooks was stellar. It seems that chefs and authors have recognized that a growing class of home cooks has filled their pantry with calcium lactate, agar agar, gelatin sheets and lecithin. The days of flashy coffee table books filled with out-of-reach food porn has pushed aside for star studded cook books filled with National Geographic worthy photos and accessible (albeit challenging) recipes. Among this class we can find Johnny Iuzinni, Grant Achatz, Joel Robuchon and Thomas Keller. The latter leads the class in its yawp to cooks and chefs across the globe that its time to look forward while keeping your roots solid and well honed.

Keller’s Under Pressure quickly rose in the sales ranks with the ancillary support of a rash of media espousing the virtues of sous vide cooking. In this day and age, which cook hasn’t thrown their marinated chicken breast into their food saver in hopes of punching out impeccable flavor?!

As someone more keen on pastry than carnage, I bought the book to make sure I wasn’t going to kill anyone with my sous vide play. Once I cracked the spine I realized I was in for a surprise. I expected both forms of sous vide – beef and chicken, but was happy to see vegetables and fruits, fish and shellfish, “variety meats,” and cheese and desserts. These recipes are sandwiched between “The Fundamentals” of Basic Principles, Basic Techniques, Safety and applications in the home kitchen.

At just shy of 300 pages with high quality color pictures on half of the pages, and more recipes than my vacuum packer can handle, this cookbook packs a wallop. Consider sous vide’s espoused virtues – “Fruits, which are especially susceptible to rapid oxidation and discoloration, remain bright when cooked sous vide rather than becoming dull and brown,” or “Fish, perhaps more than any protein, has such a small window of doneness that it requires the most finesse on the part of the cook. Sous vide makes cooking fish easier and more consistent, especially in a busy kitchen.” These are tidbits that welcome the home cook into the industrial kitchen with open arms.

While many home cooks are intimidated by cookbooks of this girth and lingo (which is quite accessible), Under Pressure offers easy to follow recipes. I have recently prepared a handful, each resulting in perfect dishes: Spanish mackerel and Serrano ham en brioche; Salad of heirloom beets, Anjou pear, mache, dried walnuts and blue apron goat cheese coulis; and Peanut butter mousse with caramelized bananas.

Just as university tuition balloons, this book carries a hefty price tag ($75US, although it is already marked down to $47.25US on Amazon). Is it worth it? If you’re buying it for the food porn, it is a good option, although better exists. If you’re buying it for the sous vide technique basics, you’re better off reading eGullet’s expansive (and overwhelming) thread for free. But if you’re interested in rolling up your sleeves, plugging in the circulator, and cranking out some amazing foods, then this is a great option for you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Recipe: Chocolate Ravioli with White Truffle Ganache & Blood Orange Sauce

Each year before Valentine's Day our Mimbres Region Arts Council holds a Chocolate Fantasia fundraiser event. For $20 you get 20 handmade chocolates ranging from brownies and fudge to truflles and bon bons to confections that are a bit more exotic. My goal each year is to provide a show stopper. For my regular readers you can anticipate that I never do just chocolate. This year was no exception!

Inspired by Flagrantedelicia's chocolate tagliatelle, I morphed the pasta in ravioli, then filled it with a white truffle infused ganache, and dressed it up with blood orange sauce and cracked black pepper. First the pasta:

150g Wheat Flour
50g Semolina
2g Salt
3 Eggs
40g Powdered Sugar
50g Cocoa Powder, Natural
1C. Sugar

Whisk the flour, semolina and salt together. In separate bowl combine eggs, powdered sugar and cocoa. Pour egg mixture into dry ingredients and combine with a wood spoon and then fingers and work until thoroughly combined. Form into a ball, wrap in saran wrap and let it sit for a couple of hours or overnight.

Make your ganache:

150g Heavy cream
300g Chopped 70%+ Chocolate
15g White truffle oil (add more if you want it more intense)

Pour cream in a measuring cup and microwave until just starting to bubble. Immediately pour the chocolate in the cream and let rest for one minute. Using a small silicone spatula combine until shiny. As soon as you have a good sheen, add the oil and continue whisking/folding until thoroughly incorporated. Let rest until firm (one hour in the fridge or 3 hours on the counter).

If you want to make ravioli, roll out the dough as thin as you can either with a pasta maker or on a lightly floured counter. If you use a pasta maker, work toward the 6 setting. If you're rolling out go for 1/16". Also, feel free to make linguine strips and top them with the ganache meat balls although it won't be as much fun.

Once you have two strips rolled, brush the bottom (thinner of the two) with an egg wash. Using a melon baller, scoop a ball of ganache and set it in the center of the pasta strip.

Place the second strip of pasta on top and gently press to seal the ravioli. Using a ravioli press, seal the balls in. If you don't have a ravioli press (they're only about $5 each), then cut with a pizza cutter and seal with a fork. Let these sit in the open air for a few hours to dry or overnight.

Fill a stock pot with water and the granulated sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add the ravioli one at a time and cook for about 8 minutes. I'm at higher altitude so you'll need to adjust your cooking time and temp.

Drizzle with blood orange sauce:

1 C. Blood orange juice, pulp removed
1 T. Corn starch
1 T. Butter

Bring juice to a simmer. Slurry the starch with a couple of tablespoons of warm water and whisk into the juice. Add the butter and whisk until combined. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Crack some pepper over the top and enjoy!

If you have leftover ganache, make balls and roll in crushed cacao nibs for a little treat while you watch your water boil.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

TGRWT #14: Malt & Soy Sauce Wrap-Up

When I was asked to host this round of TGRWT, I was looking for ingredients that were accessible to everyone around the world at this time of year. I also wanted something that would give those of us in the Northern hemisphere a bit of comfort food during these cold months. One participant deemed the ingredients tame (now that's not something people usually label my choices as!), but tameness is all in how the ingredients are used. And with that we plow forward. Below are the diverse dishes that were created.

Hannah at Bittersweet Blog: Malted Ice Cream with Soy Caramel Ripple
With just enough sweetness to counteract the high level of salt in the soy sauce, the caramel ripple adds bursts of bright flavor, livening up the smooth, musky malt ice cream. An odd couple, perhaps, but they really do create a harmonious symphony of flavor!

M. at M's Blog: Fruit Cake with Whiskey & Kecap Manis
My colleagues (no whiskey drinkers) could not detect the whiskey nor the kecap manis but said the fruit cake was delicious!

Erin Wiegand at House of 1000 Courses: Fermentation: A Celebration
(AKA Wine-Glazed Tempeh with Sauerkraut)
The resulting sauce was really intense, thick and somewhat pungent. I’d forgotten just how rich barley malt tastes, and with the added soy sauce, I worried that this flavor combination would overpower any dish I put this sauce into. Throwing caution to the wind, because I’m crazy like that, I decided to just go with the richness, and added red wine to the sauce. Originally I was going to make some sort of braised tempeh dish, but the barley malt was so thick (and strong-tasting) that a reduced glaze worked a lot better — and even that was pushing it. Seriously potent stuff.

Rasmus Dalsgaard of /GODT SULTEN: Baked cod with soy and malt beer sauce
The sauce was quite potent. First you get the salt from the soy, then the fresh notes from the lemon and then the bitter from the beer. I felt that the malt beer enhanced the umami flavour of the soy sauce and together with the honey, vinegar and lemon juice made for a complex but well balanced sauce that went well with the dish.

Gfron1 of The Curious Blogquat: Taiwan's One Night Stand

Malt cake topped with soy creme, a soy sugar tube filled with savory granola. Every element stood on its own, and combined I thought they were outstanding. In particular the granola was perfect - just a bit sweet and a bit salty, accentuated by the use of French Sel Gris (grey salt).

Dan at whats-cookin-good-lookin: Flourless Soy Sauce/Chocolate Mini-cake with Malted Milk Ice Cream
We both nearly cleaned our plates, but don't think we could've eaten any more of the cake. Dan left his last bite of cake behind, as he ran out of ice cream to balance it.

Joe Williams and Kristefor Lysne at Slarty's World: Seared Barley Malt Encrusted Ahi Tuna
We cooked several different versions of this dish, adjusting the amount of roasted barley each time. Too much roasted barley was too overpowering, not enough was not interesting enough. The final addition of salt (both in the coating and a sprinkling of French Sea Salt on the plate) really added to the flavor.

We thought that the sweetness of the malt and the saltiness of the soy were essential partners. The balance that we struck with the roasted malt helped to make a number of the darker flavors come out in the soy.

Martin Lersch at Beer sorbet with soy marinated melon
The beer sorbet was a pleasant surprise! Very creamy texture, perhaps a little on the soft side, but the gelatin helped maintain structure. The flavor was sweet, savory and acidic at the same time. The melon with soy sauce however was not so great. The leftover beer sorbet will be served with lemon and lime marinated melon in stead of the soy sauce.

Larry at Tri2Cook: Salmon, Malt, Soy, Beer
No weirdness to get the head around, no overpowering element to try to get the other ingredient to stand up to. They really do "go really well together".

Ryan Zimmer at Ryan Zimmer Hong Kong Pastry Kitchen: Malted Soy Ice Cream
My goal was to do this challenge and make it good enough to serve to a guest and in the end I must say I would for sure serve this to anyone who could get over the initial shock of soy sauce in a dessert.

If there are any late comers, just send me your entry and I'll get it posted.

Daring Bakers: Tuiles & A Spanish Moment

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.

I decided to integrate the tuile into a catering job I had last night for a Spanish dinner. Here's the whole menu...

We started with an amuse of piñon horchata genoise with cinnamon infused blood orange ice.

I could have stopped there. The ice was so amazing that I finished off the bowl of it in the kitchen while the guests ate the rest of the meal.

Next up was a small tapas plate:

The olives were a mix of hordelian (I don't think that's the real name) and black colossals warmed in a crock pot all day in olive oil with orange and fennel. Papas with hot smoked paprika and goat and avocado carnitas cones.


Organic greens topped with pan warmed pimiento strips, almonds and brandy soaked raisins.

Caldo Gallego from Menu del Dia:

Pork and bean soup with spinach. The pork was locally raised bacon ends and the beans were Chaco Canyon River Runner and Spotted Horse beans raised near Gila, NM. I finished it with some arbequina oil.

Braised Oxtails with Xèrès Vinegar:

Cooked all day, I seasoned the oxtails with Sel Gris, a few liberal dousings of the xèrès and onion. I plated it with saffron rice, spicy aged balsamic from Maletti, cauliflower espuma infused with black truffles and a white asparagus spear.

And finally, the postre - Spanish Nuts

The half sphere is orange almond cremieux inside of pistachio mousse, sprayed with chocolate, served with the tuile and savory chocolate soil.

This was one of the best meals I've ever made or served.