Monday, November 12, 2012

Chocolate Drenched English Toffee with Toasted Pecans

Ok, so, as healthily (is that a word?) as I try to eat, and as much as I try to keep refined products out of my diet, every once in a while it's necessary to indulge and treat myself to something sweet (today I was bored, so the opportunity presented itself...).  If you know me personally or have been reading my blog for ever, you know that one of my guilty pleasures is pie.  Namely fruit pie, followed closely by pretty much any fruit dessert.  I tend not to go for candy or chocolate so much, but English toffee has a special place in my heart (right next to the artery that it's going to clog someday).

Today, I am going to share with you a recipe that I have adapted from the Tartine cookbook (Prueitt/Robertson).  It is very straightforward, and because of the minimal ingredient list, it's very important to use the absolute best of everything.

A couple of notes before we start; first, it's very important to have everything ready to go and to have read the instructions completely before beginning, because once the sugar reaches the proper temperature, there is no time to mess around.  In proper kitchens, this is called "mise en place," or everything in place.  Secondly, many books recommend keeping a bowl of ice water next to the stove in case you burn yourself with the hot caramel.  I have a better suggestion: just don't burn yourself.  Sugar is much, much hotter than you expect it to be, and sugar burns are usually worse than you'd expect them to be.  Please be careful.

Chocolate Pecan Toffee
yield: about 1.5#

2 cups pecan pieces, toasted lightly
(325 F until they smell roasty and delicious)
1.75 cups sugar
3 T water
4 oz unsalted butter

1 t. dark molasses

1/4 t. sea or kosher salt (a pinch more if you like it salty)

1 t. vanilla extract

1/4 t. baking soda

5 oz bittersweet chocolate, in chips or well chopped
~~~
Line a baking sheet with oiled parchment or a nonstick pan liner.

Spread half of the nuts over the pan.

In a heavy medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, molasses, butter, and salt.

Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Stirring frequently, cook until the mixture reaches 295F, which will take about 5-7 minutes.

Immediately remove from the heat, and carefully stir in the baking soda and vanilla.  The mixture will foam up and could very easily overflow the pot if you chose one that's too small.  The moisture in the vanilla will cause this minor eruption.  Make sure that the soda/vanilla are thoroughly dispersed, and pour over the nuts on the pan.  Use a lightly oiled spatula to spread the toffee if needed.
Let the toffee rest for about five minutes, and sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the still warm surface.  
Allow the chocolate to warm through, then smooth out with an offset spatula.  
Sprinkle the rest of the nuts over the chocolate, pat gently to set them, and then let the toffee rest at room temperature until it's firm and the chocolate is set.
Break into shards, and store in a sealed container, in a cool/dry place, for up to several weeks.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Very Mushroom Soup

Creamy Vegan Mushroom Soup
As I was experimenting and beginning to compose this recipe, all of the words I came up with were preceded by "very."  This soup is very vegan, very mushroom-y, very low fat, very creamy, very tasty...

In addition to being an avid gardener, my husband absolutely adores foraging for mushrooms and greatly looks forward to the first rains of the year, as they inevitably herald the start of chanterelle season.  In my dish tonight, I used 100% chanterelles since we have so many.  Really, any combination of flavorful mushrooms would work in their stead.  And, a splash of white wine or sherry just before you add the veg broth would be a welcome addition!

Creamy Vegan Mushroom Soup
about two quarts

olive oil, as needed
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
5 sprigs thyme, leaves picked and stems discarded
6 cups roughly chopped mixed mushrooms (plus 2 c set aside for garnish)
3 cups cooked soft white beans, drained (great northern, cannellini, navy, etc)
vegetable broth, as needed
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat a tablespoon of oil or so over a medium flame.  Add in the onions and garlic, and then turn the heat up to high.  Saute for a few moments until they are just starting to brown, and add the mushrooms.  Give them a good stir, and then let them sear on the hot pan, monitoring just enough so that the onions and garlic don't burn.  Every 90 seconds or so, mix the mushrooms to keep the bits from burning.  Stir in the thyme.  Season with salt and pepper, and cook until all of the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.  Deglaze the pan with about two cups of vegetable broth, add the white beans, and transfer the mixture to a blender.  Work in batches if you need to, and do proceed with caution, so that you don't cause the lid to blow off the blender, thus burning your self and dirtying the kitchen...  Spin until the mixture is completely smooth, adding broth as needed to keep everything moving.

In a clean pot, heat a bit more oil, and repeat the steps for searing the mushrooms that you set aside for garnish.  After the mushrooms are seared, add the puree back in, and heat through.  Season to taste, and serve with a drizzle of fabulous olive oil, a sprig of thyme, and a few flecks of fleur de sel.

**For those of you at home who are critiquing my presentation, that little squiggle in the olive oil is where the cat bit the back of my knee.  I think she's hungry.**




Monday, October 8, 2012

The Ubiquitous Croque Monsieur


Really, when it comes down to it, what could be better than an ooey-gooey-melty sandwich made on exceptional bread, topped with good ham, and covered in fantastic cheese? If you take that, and then throw some béchamel in the mix to up the creaminess factor, I believe you may have found just a piece of French paradise on your plate. What I am referring to here is the croque monsieur sandwich - it's classic, it's delicious, and it makes the American tradition of white bread with a slice of Kraft look plain lazy. And, I honestly believe that once you go croque, you'll never go back...

The recipe below is adapted from Bar Boulud - esteemed chef Daniel Boulud's casual bistro across from Lincoln Center in Manhattan. I have adapted this slightly to suit my needs, and here is what I have done... First, I skipped the second slice of bread on top - usually this sandwich is of full dimension, I prefer to serve it open faced. It's a fork and knife affair anyway, and most of my clients are watching their carbs, so I don't see the need for a second piece of bread (though you could certainly do this if you were using this as a main dish). Secondly, I love to use Beecher's Flagship in this recipe; partly because I like to use local ingredients when I can, and partly because it's just plain delicious and melts just right! Now, on to the good part! 

Croque Monsieur (adapted from Daniel Boulud) 
serves: 4 

For the Béchamel Sauce: 
1.5 T unsalted butter 
2 T all-purpose flour 
1.5 c whole milk 
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg 
Salt and freshly ground white pepper 
For the sandwiches : 
4 slices high-quality bread, sliced 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick (a Pullman loaf or similarly fine grained bread) 
12 oz thickly sliced good ham (Jambon de Paris if you can, or good quality black forest ham if you can't) 
10 oz delicious melty white cheese, coarsely grated (Gruyère is traditional, I happen to enjoy Beecher's Flagship in this situation) 

1. For the béchamel: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and whisk in the flour until blended but not colored. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside. (May be made up to 24 hours ahead of time and stored, refrigerated, with a layer of plastic wrap placed directly on surface of sauce; gently reheat before serving.) 
2. For the sandwiches: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. On a work surface, place bread slices in a single layer and spread each one evenly to the edges with béchamel. Divide ham among four of the slices, trimming it if necessary so it is within 1/4 inch of edges. Top all eight slices with equal amounts of cheese, spreading it evenly to within 1/4 inch of edges. 

3. Transfer sandwiches, cheese side up, onto sheet pan. Bake until grated cheese topping is melted and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately. If serving as a Madame, top with a fried egg.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dehydrated Strawberry Jam

Dehydrated Strawberry Jam and Amish Butter on Essentials Bakery "Fremont" Sour White
A while ago, on Facebook, I posted a photo of a cookbook that I had purchased:  The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant.  I think this was perhaps four months ago?  Maybe six?  I can't remember, but I finally had the time, inclination, and extra fruit laying around to try a recipe this past weekend.


I was initially very excited about this book since it has *different* preserves- not only does it have jams and jellies, but it has a whole section on mostardas and aigre-doux.  And...they are fairly low in sugar compared to many formulas.  This is something that's pretty atypical in American preserving books.  Also, the author advocates making your own pectin, which I think is very cool...


I've been canning for years- mostly fruit preserves since I have yet to purchase a pressure canner.  We have put up our own sauerkraut, made various pickles, and butters, jams, and compotes...all items with enough of an acid content to be processed in a water bath.  I would like to expand into other items but haven't made the leap yet.

For this recipe, I picked the second flush of strawberries from our totally organic garden.  We have two varieties growing this year- something standard and then (the belle of the ball) some heirloom Olympia berries that are softer, sweeter, and more intense.  The Olympias sent out quite a good sized batch of fruit, and since it's been so warm, they all ripened very quickly.  It is very important to use good quality strawberries in this recipe.  Since they are dehydrated, everything, for better or for worse, gets concentrated.  The only adaptations I made in the recipe were to use store bought pectin, and mash the mixture roughly before jarring.

Dehydrated Strawberry Jam
(adapted from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant)
yield: 5-half pints

4 # strawberries
4 1/2 oz sugar
2 t Pomona Pectin
2 t calcium water (from Pomona Pectin)

Rinse and hull the strawberries, halving if they are large.  Spread out on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet or on dehydrator trays.  Dehydrate at 135F (or as close as you can get to this with your oven or warming drawer), until the juices are thickened and the berries are about half their original size (4 to 8 hours, depending on the temperature).

Transfer the berries to a non-reactive bowl, stir in the sugar, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, and up to five days.  This draws out all of the remaining juices and primes the mixture for jamming.

Move the berried into a heavy-bottomed pot, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the juices are reduced by half.  Meanwhile, scald five half-pint jars in a boiling water bath.  Whisk in the pectin and calcium water, return to a simmer to dissolve the pectin, and then turn off the heat.  Mash with a potato masher lightly to break up the larger fruit pieces.

Remove the jars from the bath and prepare to fill them with the hot strawberry mixture.  Heat the rings and lids.  Ladle the strawberries into the jars, leaving 1/2" head space, wiping the rims clean, and then screw the lids on firmly but gently.

Place the jars back in the water bath (preferably in a jar rack, or you can improvise with whatever you have on hand to keep the jars from bouncing around).  Make sure there is enough water in the pot to cover the jars by at least 1".  Process for a full ten minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to sit in the water for a couple of minutes.  Remove to a safe spot and allow to cool to room temperature.  

The resulting product is fruit-leather intense, packed with flavor, and more spoon-able instead of spreadable.  It has tons of texture and is perfect on toast, pancakes, scoops of ice cream...  It truly is the essence of strawberry.

Monday, July 16, 2012

...and these are a few more of my favorite things...

As a follow up to a post from a couple of months ago, I would like to share a few more of my favorite products, sources, and local businesses.  One of the most frequent topics of discussion when I am speaking with clients and students is where do I purchase supplies, and what brands do I prefer?  Here are a few I want to share, in no particular order...


For The Love Of Spice
Delicious spice blends for those of you who don't have time to make your own...  Scented sugars, rubs for the grill, super cute tins...  Find Windy at the Gig Harbor Farmer's Market or online.

accents
Bella Kitchen and Home
Because I get to teach classes there, and besides, who could possibly entertain without darling radish salt and pepper shakers!


 
Bautista Farms, Mabton, WA
Find them at the 6th Ave Farmer's Market on Tuesday evenings.  I've included them in this list because they sell all kinds of yummy legumes...favas...shelling peas...dried chickpeas...



Jacob's Creamery
www.jacobscreamery.com 
Another 6th Ave Farmer's Market find, I love this creamery for their Reblechon cheese.  It's creamy and delicious, with a hint of blue vein.  Oh my goodness, it's fantastic with bing cherries!


1022 South
http://www.1022south.com/
This Hilltop bar makes the list for their creativity and the fact that they can make a fantastic drink without making it too sweet.  I am not a frequenter of bars, but this is my place of choice if I want to step out.  And their tag line is "Better Living Through Alchemy."  How can you not love that.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Raspberry Brulee

First, a little disclaimer...this recipe is straight off of the Saveur website.  I did not alter, change, add, delete anything because it is perfect the way it is.  I cannot take any credit.  This recipe is one of my absolute favorite desserts.  It is, indeed, perfection through simplicity, and as long as your berries are superb, you will be nothing but thrilled.  I promise.


Raspberry Brûlée


Raspberry Brûlée
SERVES 8
1 1⁄4 cups heavy cream

3⁄4 cup superfine sugar


7 cups (about 2 lbs.) raspberries 

 (discard any "bruisers")


1⁄3 cup demerara sugar
1. Put the heavy cream into a large bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Add half of the superfine sugar and beat to stiff peaks again. Gently fold in the remaining superfine sugar until well combined.
2. Add the raspberries to the whipped cream and fold gently to coat. Carefully transfer raspberries to a wide serving dish and liberally strew the top with demerara sugar. Using a kitchen torch, evenly caramelize the sugar (creating "sworls and runs", as Lee puts it) until it gets bubbly and darkened in some spots.
3. Refrigerate brûlée for about 15 minutes to let the sugar harden. Scoop servings into bowls, making sure that each scoop includes some of the crunchy sugar topping. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Ultimate Pastry Shell



I am here today to share my go-to pastry crust.  The result is flaky, buttery, perfect in every way, and otherwise fantastic.  It's sturdy enough to stand up to almost six cups of quiche filling yet delicate enough to be the perfect base for a tart.  It is not healthy, low fat, or gluten free but it is extremely reliable and I don't think I could do my job as well without it.


The recipe is originally from Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame, and coincidentally my old boss...).  I believe it was first published in the Bouchon cookbook, though it is now available on the the Food & Wine website (http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/buttery-pastry-shell).  The text here is from that site.  


This recipe is a bit different in method than the standard crust, but if you follow these instructions exactly (in other words, do not deviate, and for the love of whomever, do not skip the part about draping the crust over the sides while blind baking!), you will end up with a pastry that trumps most.  

For 1- 9" shell

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup ice water
Canola oil, for brushing

-In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix 1 cup of the flour with the salt. At low speed, add the butter pieces, a handful at a time. When all of the butter has been added, increase the speed to medium and mix until the butter is completely incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and add the remaining 1 cup of flour just until blended. Mix in the water just until thoroughly incorporated. Flatten the pastry into an 8-inch disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour or overnight.

-Set the ring of a 9-inch springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving the hinge open. Brush the inside of the ring with oil.
-Dust the pastry on both sides with flour. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 16-inch round, about 3/16 inch thick. Carefully roll the pastry around the rolling pin and transfer to the prepared ring, pressing it into the corners. Trim the overhanging pastry to 1 inch and press it firmly against the outside of the ring. Use the trimmings to fill any cracks, saving some scraps for later patching. Refrigerate the shell for 20 minutes.
-Preheat the oven to 375°. Line the pastry shell with a 14-inch round of parchment paper; fill the shell with dried beans or rice. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the edge of the dough is lightly browned. Remove the parchment and beans and continue baking the pastry shell for about 15 minutes longer, or until richly browned on the bottom. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let the pastry cool. Fill any cracks with the reserved pastry dough.


If you want to proceed and make a quiche, this is the base I use, adding a generous two cups of seasonal sauteed veggies to the mix.

3/4 cup shredded cheese
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
Freshly grated nutmeg

-Preheat the oven to 325°. Scatter 1/4 cup of the cheese and half of the veggies evenly over the bottom of the Buttery Pastry Shell. In a blender, mix half each of the milk, cream and eggs and season with 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper and a pinch of nutmeg at high speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Pour the custard into the pastry shell. Top with another 1/4 cup of cheese and the remaining veg. Make a second batch of custard with the remaining milk, cream and eggs, plus the same amount of salt, pepper and nutmeg as before and pour into the shell. Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese on top.

  1. -Bake the quiche for about 1 1/2 hours, or until richly browned on top and the custard is barely set in the center. Let cool in the pan until very warm.
  2. -Using a serrated knife, cut the pastry shell flush with the top of the pan. Carefully lift the springform pan ring off the quiche. Cut the quiche into wedges, transfer to plates and serve warm.  You can also chill or freeze this quiche with good results.  

  3. One quiche of this dimension will make about 12 servings.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

...these are a few of my favorite things...

Many of you, at one time or another, have asked me for advice on the best place to buy spices, find good produce, dine out, or track down the best meats.  I thought I'd do a blog post highlighting a few things that make me just giddy thinking about them...  I'll do this every once in a while until all of my secrets are out : )



Big John's PFIhttp://www.bigjohnspfiseattle.com/ ~ 206.682.2022
This is, hands down, my best source for bulk spices, flours, legumes, and good Mediterranean products.  It's one of those places that I walk in to with a specific list and end up with a shopping cart full...  They have very good olive oil, cheeses, bulk olives and feta (bring a container from some brine), and lots of bulk chocolate (Callebaut, Guittard, and some new single-origin brands).  PFI is kind of hard to find the first time, but once you discover it, you will consider it a hidden gem as well!  Besides, they have perfect food phrases painted on all of the store pillars...

Tacoma Farmer's Marketshttp://www.tacomafarmersmarket.com/
Local produce and products abound at the 6th Ave and Broadway markets.  For me, the 6th Ave market is the most convenient market in the area since it's in the evening on a Tuesday! 


Hitchcock Restauranthttp://hitchcockrestaurant.com/ ~ 206.201.3789
This Bainbridge Island treasure is my current restaurant crush.  We've been up a couple of times and had the chef's tasting (you say how much you want to spend, they bring you the best dishes of the night); the quality surpasses any meals that I've had in Washington outside of Seattle.  Chef Brendan is definitely rocking the house and challenging us all to bring up the culinary scene in the south / west sound.
Minterbrook Oyster Company ~ http://www.minterbrookoyster.com/ ~ 253.857.5251
This ultra successful oyster farm is my best source for shellfish- clams, mussels, oysters.  I love being able to stop in and order a few dozen, then head over to the warehouse and have the staff sort them right there for me.  This is one of the most successful operations in the country (if not the world), and they are also espouse a strong philosophy of water quality preservation and sustainability.   


For goodness sake, just take one look at this guy's food and photography, and if you can't tell why this is my favorite blog, I'm not sure I can help you...  He is a private chef in New York City and I am completely jealous of his food (and camera)!


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, the next few sentences may seem redundant as I am sure I've said these words before...perhaps in this exact order...  The book "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi is awesome!  It's a vegetarian cookbook for the sake of vegetables, not to shun meat or support diet fads or whatever.  The author is not vegetarian himself, but he gives the veggies highlighted in his book the kind of care that most chefs reserve for meats and well, meats...  The recipe below is a recent favorite of mine; I love fennel in general (that almost rhymes!), and we have some great local goat cheese producers in the area, so this is a perfect way to bring the two together.

Caramelized Fennel with Goat Cheese
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s "Plenty")
yield: 4 servings

4 fennel bulbs
2 T unsalted butter, divided (preferably Organic Valley Pasture Butter, kind of because it's organic, but mostly because it's the butter version of heaven)
3 T olive oil, divided
2 T granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
sea salt to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T fresh dill, minced
1/2 cup fresh, local, goat cheese, broken into chunks or spooned into a pretty shape
zest of 1 lemon

Remove the branch and root ends from each fennel bulb, keeping a few lacy fronds to garnish with. Cut the bulb into 1/2-inch thick slices.

Melt 1 T butter with 1 1/2 T oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the sliced fennel in a single layer (don’t crowd the pan or the vegetables won't caramelize - this will take a couple of batches). Cook without moving until just brown, then turn and brown the other side. Remove and reserve on a plate. Repeat with the remaining butter, oil, and fennel slices. Add the sugar, fennel seeds, and a pinch each of salt to the pan. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly, then add the fennel back to the pan and cook undisturbed for another 1-2 minutes to caramelize. Return to the plate to cool. Gently mix the cooled fennel, garlic, and dill together. Spoon onto a decorative plate and top with the goat cheese, lemon zest, fennel fronds, and an extra pour of your favorite organic, extra virgin, unfiltered olive oil.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Strozzapreti with Duck Egg-Herb Carbonara

Now, let me ask you this:  If someone handed you fifty-four duck eggs, what would you say?  And, then assuming you accepted them, what exactly would you do with them?  Add in these two factors- duck eggs are at least twice the size of chicken eggs plus twice as rich, and you have at least two dozen chicken eggs in your cooler at home.  Thoughts?  Opinions anyone?  No?

I was presented with this exact issue this weekend.  And for those of you that know me personally, you already know that I accepted all of them, with glee and gushing thanks, not considering the two factors presented in the third sentence above.  So it begins...I managed to give away quite a few of them to unsuspecting neighbors, and am about half way through the rest.

The first recipe I made was a chipotle scramble with green onion and tomato on buttered toast.  It was pretty good, but it didn't necessarily highlight the unique richness of the duck egg.  The second item I made with the eggs was a play on pasta carbonara from the Herbfarm Cookbook.  It uses a whole bunch of herbs (surprise!) instead of pancetta, and I adjusted it slightly to accommodate what I had available.


Strozzapreti with Duck Egg-Herb Carbonara
yield: 4 servings



    • 4 large egg yolks  (or two duck egg yolks)
    • 1/3 cup heavy cream  (or some awesome unfiltered organic extra-virgin olive oil)
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chervil if available
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 12 ounces dried strozzapreti or fusilli
    • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

    • Directions
    • 1. Setting up. Fill a large (8-quart) pot with water, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Whisk together the egg yolks and cream (olive oil) in a large stainless-steel mixing bowl. Stir in the herbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a generous grind of pepper.
    • 2. Pasta. When the water is at a boil, stir in the pasta and cook at a steady boil until tender but still firm. While the pasta is cooking, warm the egg yolk mixture by briefly holding the bowl over the pot of boiling water and whisking rapidly. Heat the mixture just to lukewarm; don't let the eggs cook. When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the egg mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and toss well. The egg yolks will cook from the heat of the pasta and form a thick sauce.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

I have to say that the meal I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns this past weekend ranked in the top two meals I have ever eaten, and may quite possibly be the top one.  The other meal was at The French Laundry, on the last night of my internship, when the sous chef's sat me down in the chef's box and fed me until I could not eat another bite...maybe it's a tie...

Before I get to the menu, I'll share a couple of thoughts.  First, I really enjoyed the fact that the restaurant is located in an agricultural area with a working farm that the guests are encouraged to tour.  Many people grow up and live in suburbia or in cities, far removed from the food production system.  Even though the farms at Blue Hill are not exactly an accurate representation of our modern industrial agriculture, I think there is still great value in people getting to see a pig in the mud, a carrot in the ground, and a barn full of chickens.  It all looks quite different than these "products" do at the grocery store, wrapped in cellophane, and very much un-alive.  Second, I thought we received better, more attentive service here than at many "higher" rated restaurants.  The waiter:guest ratio was outstanding and their attention to detail was greatly appreciated.  Lastly, the way the chef composes meals is very interesting.  You choose the number of courses (5, 8, or 12), give any dietary restrictions/preferences, and they take it from there.  As we observed service as the night went on, we noticed that while there were some common dishes, almost every table had at least one unique dish.  This must be a huge burden on the prep staff, but it meant that every meal is completely different from the one before.  And, every table has a specific experience that is not shared by the rest of the night's guests.  That's pretty darn cool.  Now, on to the good stuff.  Please forgive the photography; I was using my phone, trying to be inconspicuous, then the sun went down, and I didn't want to be "that table" using the flash every time a course arrived...! 

The View From My Seat
Spring Vegetables (carrot, radish, red lettuce, bloomsdale spinach, icicle radish) brushed with Vinaigrette, and Sunchoke Puree Soup with Ale Foam
Baby Turnips with Brown-Butter Butter (yes, they are set in shot glasses over a bowl of dirt) 
Pea Shoots with Citrus Vinaigrette (each table gets it's own set of shears)

"Dried Vegetables" (sheets of carrot and parsnip, kale and sweet potato chips suspended on metal [bronze?] branches)
Fish Balls on Lettuce with Phytoplankton

Beet Yogurt with Homemade Grape Nuts and Grated Beet Sugar, Pig's Heart and Liver Terrine with Salt and Bittersweet Chocolate
Mullet with Crispy Skin, Purple Mizuna, Watermelon Pickle Brunoise (I think...), Watermelon Molasses

Donko Mushrooms (the first flush of shiitake in the spring), Ramp and Walnut Marmalade, Spring and Micro-Greens with Blossoms served  on a polished cross section of a tree

Grilled Ramps and Spinach with Chorizo Vinaigrette, Honey Almond Puree, and a Dry Vinaigrette of Shaved Lardo and Immature Eggs
Brioche with Spinach and Currants, Cracked Black Pepper, and Fresh Ricotta

The Ricotta of Fifteen Pampered Cows
An "Onion That Want's to be a Shallot," Charred, served with Yogurt and Pumpkin Seeds, Greens Vinaigrette, and Curried Almonds

Parsnip Steak with Beet Ketchup and some sort of cayenne-black pepper sauce


Butter Service: sweet corn salt, parsnip and sage salt, whipped lardo (this had the texture of soft meringue), local butter

At this point, it became too dark for the photos to be of any worth, so I will simply list further items below:

Soft Poached Hen's Egg, Cheesy Potato Puree, Fried Hops Shoots
~
Goose Egg Pasta, Balsamic Reduction
~
Pork Loin and Belly with Salsify and Hazelnut
~
Seared Sea Scallop (the size of my fist, I swear...), Lobster, Mussels, with a Parsley "Chowder" sauce
~
San Andreas with Three-Apple Gelee, some Creamy Gooey Cheese with a Cinnamon Poached Crab Apple, Pretzel Bread
~
Poached Slice of Apple, Apple Brunoise, Honey Gelee, Some Sorbet, Candied Fennel
~
Chocolate Honey Torte, Beet Gel, Candied Beet, Yogurt Sorbet, Chocolate Sticks
~
Mignardise:
Chocolates with Pear Brandy, Honey-Chocolate Marshmallows, Flax Candy, Chocolate Sables
~
Lemongrass Infusion

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Asparagus Means Springtime

Even though the asparagus we are seeing all over the markets now is from Mexico at best, this vegetable still indicates the beginning of spring in my book.  It is hard to suppress the urge to buy it every chance I get, lest I become tired of the delicate flavor before our local asparagus shows it's gorgeous stalks in May.  Really it is worth the wait for the local stuff, but after months of kale and Brussels sprouts, the temptation is too much to resist!

Mimosa is a classic technique/topping that has absolutely nothing to do with orange juice, champagne, or ladies at brunch.  It is, simply, sieved hard boiled egg yolks.  You can see in the photo that I deviated from tradition and used the whites as well.  This is not proper!  If you want to be true to the term, keep the whites for some other use and keep the mimosa pure.

Asparagus Mimosa
yield: 2-3 servings

1 pound medium asparagus

Kosher salt

2 large eggs, hard boiled, whites reserved for another use

Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 T red wine vinegar

2 T olive oil 

1 t dijon mustard


First, rinse your asparagus (or immerse it in a bowl of clean water) without removing the rubber bands, then take your bunch and lay it on your board, leaving one rubber band to hold the bunch in tact.  Take a length of 100% cotton butcher's twine and secure it about 3" from the stem end, and wind it up towards the blossom end, tying it off and removing the rubber band.  Cut the stem end about 1" below the lowest loop of twine.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, then lightly salt the water.  While the water is reaching the proper temperature, set up an ice bath for shocking the asparagus.

Blanch the asparagus for about four minutes, or until a knife inserted in the base end pierces the stalk easily.  Immediately transfer to the ice bath to stop the cooking and crisp the stalks.



After the asparagus has cooled, remove from the water, cut the string, and lay out on paper towels to dry.  

While the asparagus is drying, make the vinaigrette by whisking the dijon, vinegar, and oil together in a small bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  For the egg yolks, take a fine mesh strainer and force the  yolks through the wire into a small bowl.  Try not to stir the sieved egg as it will just turn in to paste.



When you are ready to serve this delectable side dish, you can either toss the spears with the dressing, or lay the spears out and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Your choice...both ways work.  Arrange the asparagus on nice plates, and then spoon the mimosa over the top.  If you like, you can garnish with a bit of chive or something of the sort.   

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Best Panna Cotta

Yes, those are penguin martini glasses...
Mmmmm....gelatin!  I am not usually a huge fan of the stuff, but when used properly, there are some really cool, fun, and crazy things you can do with it!  One item that is pretty common is panna cotta (literally cooked cream).  It is of Italian origin and is a very simple, straightforward creamy dessert that is excellent for dinner parties and such since you can make it up to a day ahead of time.  The recipe that follows here is adapted from the book "Indulge" by Claire Clark.  Claire was the head pastry chef at the French Laundry just before my time there (we only overlapped for a few weeks), and is a lovely lady and a fabulous pastry chef.  Her version if panna cotta is the best I've had yet- it is as light as air and delicious besides.  One hallmark of typical panna cotta is that you can turn it out of it's mold and have it jiggle like Jello on a plate; this recipe will not do that.  It is soft and delicate and would not hold up it's shape if ejected from the mold.

Yogurt and Buttermilk Panna Cotta
yield: 6 servings

2 leaves gelatin
18 fluid oz plain yogurt
4 1/2 oz granulated sugar
5 fluid oz creme fraiche
2 fluid oz buttermilk

Get ready:
Soak the gelatin in cold water for five minutes.  Squeeze out the excess liquid and set aside.  Put 4 ounces of yogurt in a small saucepan, add the sugar, and warm just until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Add the gelatin and dissolve in the yogurt-sugar mixture.  Do not boil it!  Get an ice bath ready (a large bowl with ice, and a smaller bowl set within).

Set:
Add the rest of the yogurt, mix well, and pass through a fine sieve into a bowl set over an ice bath.  Whisk the mixture gently and frequently to prevent lumps.  Once it is cool to the touch, remove from the ice bath.  It will have begun to thicken at this point but should not be fully set.

Go:
Whip the creme fraiche to soft peaks, and whisk it into the yogurt along with the buttermilk until it is smooth.  The mixture should be homogeneous and pourable.  Transfer quickly to decorative serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.

Serve in the vessels with fruit, compote, or whatever suits your taste!