Saturday, January 30, 2010

Upcoming book reviews

When it rains it pours! I have a slew of new books, some to review and some just for the library:

Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday
Migoya's The Modern Café
Samuelsson's New American Table
Young's Adventures in Chocolate
Pern's Black Pudding and Truffles

My enjoyment:
Torreblanca 2
and a bunch of Dutch cookbooks given to me by a friend
A really good looking edition of the Art of Eating magazine

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Catching up on projects...

Lot's of little stuff that I've been filling my time with lately. First, rice krispie treats where I puffed seasoned sushi rice (hitomobore), raisins, pecans and homemade salmon marshmallows.

I think I served my last Ethiopian for a while. With dinners coming, the kitchen may not be able to handle my Ethiopian specials - always a huge hit, but always very demanding on my kitchen space.

I've been selling this breseola lately - really good stuff.

I made this black cake last June and we finally made time to eat it last week. Since I can never leave well enough alone, instead of wrapping in cheese cloth and adding a drop of rum every so often, I doused in rum and vacuum packed it. It was..ahem..very potent.

A friend gifted me with a back strap from his deer hunt this year (very generous of him).

Committing complete blasphemy I sliced it very thinly with my meat slicer, sprinkled with porcini salt, reformed it into its original shape...

Vacuumed and sous vide for 24 hours and served it as a peel-off appetizer at our staff holiday party last week. Tyler asked, "What, you couldn't just grill it?" I can't.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Royal Foodie Joust: Fish, Nutmeg & Coconut

It's been a while since I've made time to do the online competitions, but I like reviving old favorites. The January Joust featured fish, nutmeg and coconut. Naturally I thought of MARSHMALLOWS!

I've done something similar to this in the past, but this time I used coconut milk instead of regular milk and made the marshmallow savory instead of sweet - letting the coconut serve as the sweetness.

500g Coconut milk
18g Gelatin leaf, softened
40g Salmon oil
Pinch, Nutmeg

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 coconut 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 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. Add the pinch of nutmeg. Another 30 seconds of whipping and then spread, chilled and cut.
Finally, I dipped the marshmallows in tempered 85% chocolate.

I know you think this sounds gross but smoked salmon and dark chocolate go great together - really. I made an ultra rich 74% drinking chocolate with a hint of orange rind and cinnamon and slurped myself into oblivion.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Piloting a New Menu

When I started the idea of serving dinners at our restaurant my plan was to do mini tasting menus. I wanted people to give me an idea of what they liked by picking an entree and I could essentially do the rest. As the menu evolved, I offered them a choice of packaged meals - first course, entree and dessert, and then I would throw in two or three other bites to complement the meal.

As I get down to the final stages, the vast majority of people whom I show the draft menu to are wanting more control and more options. The latest menu let's them pick whatever they want, letting the entree control the price.

That's fine, but now a diner could pick a first course that simply doesn't go with the entree. I know not everyone eats like me, nor do they think through their foods like me, but my revised hope is that with time diners will come to trust my selections in a way that they will turn themselves over to me (as many of my lunch regulars do).

Here is my latest draft:

Big Opportunity

I'll be getting posts up later but I wanted to share some great news with my blog readers. Conde Nast magazine (I'm assuming the Traveler magazine) is doing a story about our area in a couple of months and I'm going to be cooking for them. The meals will be served over two days at a back country ghost town. I'll be doing my usual - regionally inspired, locally sourced molecular gastronomy. What will be fun is that this is in the back country which means my food will be packed to the site on an ATV, no power to cook with...should be fun. I'm obviously giddy and I'll be sure to share my menu as it develops.

BTW, if you are on FaceBook, feel free to friend me for more frequent, short updates (Rob Connoley or gfron1). If you do, just add a message line so I know you came from the blog.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Great resource - Spice website

I just found this website which is a wonderfully rich database of spices. Enjoy!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Quick Dinner: Pasta with pecan, blue cheese & squash

This was one of my favorite meals in a while. I took an onion and cooked them in olive oil til soft. Remove and let sit. Cubed an acorn squash. Cooked a few strips of applewood smoked bacon. Remove the bacon but keep the drippings. Get the dripping really hot and add the squash. Cook them hashbrown style browning them on all sides. Add the nuts and the cooked onions. Finish with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on top of the pasta and add a few dollops of blue cheese - we used Roaring 40's Australian Blue. Washed it down with a good white wine.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Truth or Consequences, NM

What can you say about a town that changed its name to be on a game show? Originally called Hot Springs, NM, TorC (as we call it) is renowned for its warm baths and access to Elephant Butte. The warm waters bring with it a slew of artists, hippies, psychics, and such, along with the New Mexico regulars of ranchers and farmers. TorC is not a place I would normally consider for a getaway. But friends got us a room at the Blackstone Hotsprings.
Each room is themed - we were in the Jetson's room, and each room has its own hot spring tub - very large tubs.

Very clean and worth a visit - you can also soak in the tubs as a visitor daily from 12-6.

For breakfast I recommend the Happy Belly Deli. Its a greasy spoon that's not so greasy. Just your basic breakfast fare, but fast, friendly and filled with talkative locals.

For dinner we ate at Bella Luca Café. Let me take my snob hat off and say that this was a very good meal. Slightly piqued classic Italian and pizza - everything was prepared well and generous portions. But, for any regular readers, you'll know this isn't really my thing. I find classic Italian to be unimaginative and boring. However, I can guarantee that this will be your best dinner selection if you visit. For an appetizer we had aranciani - fried risotto balls.

Our table had the eggplant Parmesan and filet, but I opted for the scallops on risotto. Very classically prepared and just al dente enough. The server said their scallops are flown in twice a week which as a restaurant owner I think is slightly inaccurate. My guess is that their Sysco truck delivers twice a week and these most likely come in frozen. Either way, they were good.

We were so stuffed from pre-dinner apps in the hotel that we all split a creme brulée which was adequat if not large.

So I obviously did not fully take off my snob hat. Really, you'll like this place, but don't go expecting a gourmet meal. And don't take my word for it - they're listed with Fodor, Frommers and Wine Spectator, so they have a nice backing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Savory Pithiviers

These have made it into my regular catering repetoire - pithiviers. It started with the recent FoodieBlogRoll Joust but has morphed. Make your favorite puff pastry, or buy the store bought stuff. (BTW, I've heard many Trader Joe's no longer carry their puff). Use a cookie or biscuit cutter to cut your base. Brush it with a whisked egg. Cut the middle section using the same cutter. Then use then next smaller cutter and remove the center. Lay on top of the bottom and brush again.

For this job I used Gorgonzola Dulce, truffle oil, honey and pecans as my filling.

Ain't she pretty...

Cut your top square and cut a vent in the center. Lay on the pithivier, brush the top with melted honey and sprinkle with truffle salt.

And, of course, I forgot to get the final picture as I raced out to my cater :( But they were very good.

Quick Post Sneak Peak - My new dinner menu

Many of you know I've been working on our dinner menu which will start up in February. Here's the behind the scenes menu with actual descriptions. I would really like to hear feedback.

Pommes frites- The name will probably change on this, but it will be a 'potatoes three ways' plate
88061 Hamburger - The number is our zip - we'll be focusing on local foods. I'm still working on the formula for making a really special burger, but it will have a sampling of sauces. I'll make my own pretzel rolls for the bun.
Beer poached pear - You can imagine (if you've read the blog before) that this will be a multi-component dessert featuring a stout infused pear.
Not listed on menu: an amuse - probably a stout cheese soup

Pinon Seafood salad - Stacked salad of local greens, unagi (broiled eel) and poached egg
Marks Embutido - Niman Ranch pork, picadillo - Manggy's recipe souped up
77% Philippino chocolate flourless tart - very silky with salted caramel
Not listed: an amuse of mango, ginger and serrano

Avocado Bombé - Reconstituted avocado (as previously seen on this blog)
Pork belly blue corn tacos - Smoked paprika flavored with a variety of fancy toppings
24-Hour apple - PH's apples with a bunch of different components
Not listed: an amuse of prickly pear jalepeño sorbet set in tequilla

Smoked salmon salad - Greens inside a pate choux ring topped with dry smoked salmon
88061 Petit filet - Sous vide, grill finished, rye french toast, blue cheese, walnuts
Carrot cake
Not listed: an amuse of beet wasabi sphere

So what do you think? I'll change the menu each month and throw in all sorts of molecular components for each menu.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Recent Booze

I'm not sure what I want to do with this yet.

But I have many plans for this. I want to poach a halibut and when I let it rest, I want to douse the fillet in this truffle vodka so the meat soaks it up.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cater: New Year's Day

One of my uses of this blog is menu memory, so feel free to ignore this post. These are a few of the dishes I did for my New Year's Day party cater.

Bloody Mary granité with olive sphere. Need to work on that sphere a bit.

Greek 7-Spice and goat cheese stuffed piquillos.

Pistachio and pomegranate (and wild rice) stuffed sweet peppers wrapped in fillo strips.

Black-eyed pea soup in roasted squash - squash was dusted in smoked paprika.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Balsamico di Monticello...New Mexico

I just returned from a short vacation to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and had a most unexpected and amazing experience! What a way to start the new year.

Jane and Steve Darland are creating a world-class balsamico right in our back yard. Better than a Modena balsamic?...You scoff, but I've tasted it. And I'm here to say that this is no joke. But let me back up. I've mentioned many times in this blog how remote my town of Silver City is. However, when you look at a map of Silver you'll see other towns around it and even highways. But look at this map of Monticello:

Not much to see, so let's back the view out a bit:

Still not much, so let's go way back:

Okay, now you can see that its a half hour/forty five minutes Northwest of TorC - in the heart of ghost town territory. I can tell you that this is no gourmand heaven, although there is a nice slow foods movement happening in their town.

Let me back up even more. A few months ago, a customer who makes the two hour drive from TorC to our store to shop once a month, was looking at our silver-cap and gold-cap balsamicos. I was sampling them for him and he mentioned this little producer near TorC. I, naturally, was skeptical but always happy to make a customer feel good about their great find. The more he told me the more this sounded like it could be real, but I never dreamed the vinegar could be as good as it turned out to be.

And they've had a bit of press
EricaDemane's blog
Foodinista's blog
Oliveto Restaurant
Edible Santa Fe (great article)
oh yeah, and a couple of little rags:
LA Times
Savuer's Top 100

So they've had a bit of press, but haven't exploded on the scene since their vinegars are just now being released. And that brings us to this weekend. I had been given the lead by a customer but didn't know anything about the place. We checked the GPS and drove toward Monticello. A few backtracks and turnarounds later, we found the town that we thought must be Monticello. Not a soul to be seen. Fears of shotgun blasts and angry dogs swirled as we puttered around in our little Toyota Yaris (which wasn't big enough to fend off shotguns or pit bulls). Near the edge of town (a stone's throw from the center) we saw a human and asked if they knew where the balsamic place was. She lifted her head and said, "you're parked in front of it." And so we were.

Really, don't be rude intruders like us thinking you can just stop in and they'll stop everything and give you a tour. It turns out that Steve and Jane had just returned from a trip with 15 hours of driving, Steve was napping and it really was a bad time for us to be so presumptuous. That said, Jane, it turns out, is a customer of our store, and decided to give us an impromptu tour. They are happy to give tours, but usually give them to groups, and only with advance notice.

Steve and Jane have a fantastic pedigree to be producing such a difficult product - prior lives in the wine and food industries. Associates of Paul Bertolli of Fra'Mani (formerly of Chez Panisse) and Dimitri from Molinari Salame. Active participants in the San Fran/Napa food community. They have a bit of knowledge and experience to impart.

But, New Mexico?! It actually makes more sense than you might imagine. Steve and Jane had friends and family in the area (including Silver City), and bought their little property many years ago. They knew that Europeans had been planting Gruet grapes in the nearby Elephant Butte area and at one point decided to plant a few things. Their first grapes went in in 1997.

They pack in far more grapes than you would see in a commercial vineyard. What appeared to my untrained eye to be a very small plot yields three to three and a half tons each harvest. Out of their grapes, each ton will result in 60 gallons of juice. They do a gentle pressing which is called "free run" which gives them their starting point for production. They have planted Trebbiano Tuscano, Barolo, Sangiovese and Oli de Gati (eye of the cat). On the farm you'll also find a wide variety of other plants, herbs, and such:

And just beyond their small plot is this unassuming little building.

Magic (and science) is happening in there. Remnants of the magic are scattered all over the grounds.

They started with a mother brought over from Modena and have selected the world famous casks of Renzi - the top balsamic cask maker. Our tour was filled with wonderful balsamic traditions. My favorite was learning that in Italy, balsamico is a family tradition - often when a baby is born, the family will start a new vinegar to honor the child...and to mature around the time the child will enjoy it. Jane also shared that many older Modena men will drink their balsamic in small thimble-sized cups as a daily elixer.

We showed up on a perfect day. A transition was underway. The grapes had been fermenting and were being prepared to be transferred to the casks. We were allowed to peek in the fermentation room - the aroma is beyond description. Imagine the mustiness of your heartiest wine intermingled with freshly cut wood and slightly stale (but not unpleasant) air. I commented that if you could capture that essence, the smell could be used in so many ways. Jane let me know that I wasn't the first to think of that - many perfume makers use the essence of vinegar in their scents.

Finally we were brought upstairs and into the attic.

What a treat! Jane had no idea how special this was to me. Everyone has their heroes and for me, many of mine are foods. How can foods be heroes? Amazing things, not just a good dinner, but amazing things happen because of food. Memories are built. Traditions are created. Peace is achieved. Food does all of this...but not just any foods. 99.9% of the world has some crappy balsamic in their cupboard. It probably cost $5 or less, runs like water, and has a bite that would stave off your attempts to drink it. But having sampled our 25-year balsamico countless times, I can attest that the real deal can change you forever. This is a day I will remember for quite some time.

As I mentioned, they use only Renzi casks, and their blend includes cherry, acacia, mulberry, oak, chestnut, juniper and ash. The head may differ from the sides in terms of which wood is used, but this is part of the artistry of Renzi. Renzi has been so impressed by Jane and Steve's balsamico that he's sampled their wares at the big balsamico festivals in Modena, and is wanting to work on a special project with them.

So why New Mexico? Apparently it's about aridity. In Modena the aridity is around 40%. In our area its only 20%. For a product that improves by evaporating and absorbing, you can see how that might make a difference. Even Jane and Steve aren't sure exactly why exactly this makes such a huge difference, but their success demonstrates the opportunities of our climate.

Now here's a bit about the process. There are better authorities than me so check out some of the links I included earlier in the post. However, two aspects were unique and interesting to me. First, many balsamico producers boil their grapes at the start of the process. Steve and Jane do a 72-hour very gentle simmer at 140-160ºF which moves the color from greenish to dark honey. This gentler process they consider key to their flavor. The other aspect which is not necessarily unique or unknown (except to me) is a process is called the Porto method. In this method a balsamico is named for the year it is started. Their balsamico will always be called a '98 because whenever they bottle, a good portion is always left in the cask to season the next batch. This creates a continuity of flavor and chemistry.

When we walked into the attic Jane showed us a good problem. Some of their casks were leaking.

This is still a problem but its good because leaking rarely occurs before 25 years of aging. The thicker the vinegar becomes, the less it hydrates the casks, causing the casks to lose their swelling and allow for leaking. Their vinegar is ahead of its time.

All of this info is well and good, but then Jane grabbed a wine thief and gave us the highlight of our day! She started dipping into each of her casks. I could have fainted! We sampled a half dozen different casks.

One more process - I used to think that a 12 year balsamico meant that each year the vinegar was poured from one cask to the next, each time resulting in less vinegar, and each time into a new cask of a different wood. I always marveled at the planning needed to create a final taste based on the aging and cask wood variety. Close, but not quite. All vinegars of a certain vintage are aged in all of the different casks - and when it comes time to bottle, Jane's masterful tongue and food memory compile a combination that becomes their current-vintage balsamico. We saw how each cask made its own contribution. She sampled the mulberry, acacia, oak and finally the cherry. Ohhhh...the cherry. I could have died happy at that moment!

Jane and Steve only bottle 50 at a time so their small-run production truly is special. As we left I wondered if the big producers in Modena had the same connection that these two do to their vinegars. Jane and Steve had connections and stories associated with each harvest, each barrel. A true connection that surely makes their balsamico great.