I HEART BACON
Monday, March 4th, 2013

Modernist Mexican

consumed 3/3/12

I’m in love with my new Modernist Cuisine at Home cookbook (thanks Mom!) and learning many things about equipment and specialty foods.  It also prompted me to buy my new favorite kitchen item: a Fagor Duo Pressure Cooker. This thing is magical and is going to transform the way I cook. Tamales? Done. 20 minutes. Pork so tender it shreds upon stirring? 30 minutes. Why did I not buy one of these sooner?!

After hours of poring over the cookbook I chose a Mexican theme. I was drawn to the corn tamales recipe made with masa and lard. At my local Mexican market I discovered they only sell lard in 10 pound buckets, but I had a tub of duck fat in my fridge (duck fat popcorn!) and used that instead. The trick is to really whip the fat so it’s light and airy and blend fresh corn into the masa, which gives it a deep, layered flavor. Decadent and delicious.

Because I managed to find store bought achiote paste and skipped the process of making the stock, the carnitas were very easy to prepare. I simply pressure cooked the meat in the broth and then stirred in the annato-based seasoning.

The recipe for the “Refried” Bean Foam looked a little iffy as it only called for 1 2/3 cups liquid and a cooking time of one hour. Sure enough, the first batch of beans were burnt to a crisp. Luckily I had time to try again–this time with copious amounts of water. Also, after the beans were cooked and blended there were still large chunks of tough bean skin that I knew wouldn’t make it through the whipping siphon. So I added a step of pressing the puree through a fine sieve before it went into the canister. So basically, this recipe was crap, but with a few modifications it turned out great.

I rounded out the meal with my favorite Caesar salad with buttery croutons.

The dinner was a huge success and I can’t wait to cook more from this book… next up might be a chicken wing party.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

A McSweeney’s Thanksgiving

consumed 11/22/12

A week before Thanksgiving my brother and I were still trying to figure out what to cook. Then he came across McSweeney’s Thanksgiving Gallimaufry–a collection of decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving recipes.  (I had to look up the word “gallimaufry” and it’s now my new favorite word. It means “A confused jumble or medley of things.”)

The final menu:

Corn with Miso Butter & Bacon – I wasn’t sure about this dish, as the recipe was written in haikus and was confusing to follow. But it turned out great and was a nice change from creamed corn.

Chinese Broccoli with Garlic & Chorizo – This was less of a recipe and more of a suggestion. How can you go wrong with Spanish chorizo as an ingredient?

Charred-Scallion Sour Cream & Garlic Confit over Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes – An extravagant departure from scalloped potatoes. This was delicious but we messed up on the temperature and the dish was served on the cold side. The bites with garlic confit cloves were the best.

Cornbread Stuffing – The was fairly straightforward and was one of the best stuffings I’ve had.

Biscuits w/ Butter – Oddly sweet biscuits that didn’t rise, but tasted great.

Burnt Miso Butterscotch Topping – This was a bit strange. I’m not sure I could get over the fact that I was spooning miso over ice cream.

The “Chinese turkey” recipe in the booklet was actually a duck so we decided to go traditional. I used the tried and true Roast Crisped-Skin Turkey with Giblet Gravy from Cooks Illustrated. Delicious, as always.

We also added in MFK Fisher’s petits pois a la francaise from How to Cook a Wolf. Ridiculously simple, but oh so good and buttery.

We made all this food for only four people. The leftovers were insane.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Brunch & Facial Party

Every now and then I crave brunch. About the same amount of time I crave a facial. I decided to combine and see what happens. The result was some very happy guests…

Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms & Monterey Jack – Kind of an old standby for breakfast for a crowd. I love the way the bread puffs up and almost becomes fluffy.

Mom’s Blueberry Scones – I swear when my mom makes these they are waaaaayyyy better. I think she’s holding out on a secret ingredient.

Bagels with Gravlax & Tomatoes – My latest cooking craze is making homemade gravlax. It’s so easy (recipe below) and it’s so much better than what you can get at the store.

Sweet & Spicy Bacon – Great for a brunch, as you can bake it in large batches and it can be made a day ahead and reheated. Coating the bacon in flour results in super crisp, crisp, crisp bacon. Did I say crisp?

Fruit Salad with Lime Creme Fraiche – I used winter season fruit (apples, pears, bananas and a crazy cinnamon/persimmon hybrid) and dolled it up with a sweet, lime creme fraiche.

Roasted Asparagus with Mustard Lemon Sauce – I found teeny, tiny, skinny asparagus and quickly roasted them with olive oil and salt.

Stumptown Cold Brew – I am straight-up addicted to this coffee. And I don’t drink coffee. I asked a friend to pick up a few bottles from the restaurant where he works (I don’t know where to get it otherwise) and it was the hit of the party. I am incredibly saddened that it can’t be ordered online, but I’m eying this as a substitute.

Gravlax Recipe
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 T cracked white pepper
1.5 pounds skin-on salmon filet
1 large bunch of dill

Combine sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Coat salmon on both sides with mixture and put in a shallow dish. Pack the remaining mixture on top of and around the fish. Lay dill on top and cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge for 42 hours, checking daily and draining any excess water that accumulates. After 42 hours, quickly rinse salmon and pat dry. The salmon can be wrapped in saran for up to 7 days. Slice as thinly as possible and serve.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Course #11: Sous-vide sage & mint chocolate lollipops

For dessert number three, I found a tea & chocolate recipe in my Sous-Vide Cuisine cookbook. I vacuum sealed a pound of chopped milk chocolate with White Sage & Wild Mint Tea and placed in the water bath for 2 hours to meld. Afterwards, I strained the chocolate, poured into blobs on waxed paper, added a lollipop stick, sandwiched with another sheet of waxed paper and squashed them flat with a heavy atlas.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Course #10: Vietnamese coffee ice pops

A bazillion years ago, a fellow foodie sent me ice pop bags from Guam. I decided now was the time to use them. I found a recipe for Vietnamese coffee and carefully funneled the liquid into the bags. The trick was sealing them. For some reason I didn’t think of tying them with string, so resorted to using office binder clips to keep them closed while they froze. (Update: a very smart friend has since suggested sealing the bags with heat: folding over the top of the bag and running a lighter along the edge sealed them perfectly.)

People went nuts for these. My brother called it the “drug course” because they were so laden with caffeine that everyone was buzzing and giddy. Most people had two. A few even considered having three. Recipe here.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Course #9: Raspberry mousse with fizzy lime sugar

Dessert number one was a huge hit and a crazy sugar blast. I made a quick mousse by whipping heavy cream with raspberry jam and spooned it over donut crumbles (glazed donuts pulsed a few seconds in a food processor then toasted until very crunchy).

The “molecular” portion of this course was an effervescent lime sugar, which was a sugar syrup with lime zest heated to a soft candy stage and mixed with fizzy. As soon as the fizzy was added the liquid went crazy and started to foam and harden. I quickly spread it onto a silpat to let it cool, then crumbled the resulting candy into chunks. While it was really cool to make, it tasted a little like lime alka seltzer and I decided to leave it off the dessert.

 

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Course #8: Salt block seared steak with chimichurri air

For the meat course I seared New York strip steaks on Himalayan salt blocks–basically I heated a brick of salt in the oven until it was blazing hot, then tossed the steaks on to sear both sides. As the meat released moisture it made a salty, delicious crust.

I paired it with a chimichurri air–chimichurri liquid mixed with lecithin / lecite and whisked to form a light and airy foam. Unfortunately, at party time I realized my lecithin had moisture in it and had lost its foaming power. However, the chimichurri liquid was fantastic on its own, so we just drizzled it over the steak.

I can no longer find the original recipe online, so I’m including it here. It’s a definite keeper:

Chimichurri Sauce
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 medium jalepeno (or more if you like it hot)
8 oz red wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves
Sea salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until liquefied.
Pour the liquid through a strainer to remove any large pieces.

If you want to turn it into an air, mix 9oz of the liquid with 1.5 grams lecithin using an immersion blender and scoop out the resulting air.

 

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Course #7: Duck confit with arugula “spaghetti”

The duck course was next (I know it’s not really a thing, but it should be)…

Of all the recipes I researched for this party the arugula “spaghetti” sounded like the most fun to make. The arugula was pureed with water and agar agar and sucked into a tube with the aid of a syringe. The tube was then put into an ice bath to firm up. Once firm, the syringe was depressed and out shot the most beautiful, brilliant green “spaghetti” (video here).

I wanted to test out my new sous vide machine and make duck confit. Long story short, the machine broke and I had eight duck legs sitting in tepid water overnight. Not good. Amazon to the rescue… I actually bought canned duck confit online (Rougie Confit of Duck Legs, 4 legs, 53oz) and it turned out to be the best confit I’ve ever had!

The spaghetti honestly didn’t taste like much, but guests loved the rich, silken duck meat; even those who didn’t like duck were converts.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Course #6: Quinoa-coated shrimp with sweet chili sauce

For the fish course I found a recipe for quinoa-coated shrimp in A Day at El Bulli. The quinoa was mixed with a solution called metil, but it was difficult to coat each individual shrimp and get the quinoa to stick. It was even harder to fry them without losing the coating entirely, but it was worth the effort.

The shrimp were crisp and crunchy and delicious dipped in sweet chili sauce.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Course #5: Asparagus with soft poached egg & lemon mustard emulsion

Next up was a “greens” course. I wanted to make the asparagus with the soft poached egg recipe from Momofuku, but with a lemon-based sauce.

For the eggs I used my broken sous vide machine to monitor the water temperature and perform water circulation, but had to use a burner on low with an improvised heat diffuser made out of tinfoil for the heat. With this setup I could keep the eggs at 145° F for 50 minutes to soft-poach them in their shells.

I brought out a platter of asparagus roasted with olive oil and julienned mint and bowl of what looked like raw eggs and had everyone plate their own dish. I got some confused looks from guests wondering about the eggs, and loved the surprised and gleeful looks when they cracked them open to find a perfectly poached egg. Kind of like performing a magic trick.

The final addition was a lemon & mustard emulsion (see recipe below) that used xantana for a thickener. It was a gorgeous, viscous sauce that had body and a great savory lemon flavor. This might have been my favorite dish of the night and I would definitely make it again.

Some of the fire happy people finished off their eggs a bit more with the blow torch.

Lemon & Mustard Emulsion
.5 grams xantana
1 cup olive oil (use a good quality one with a somewhat neutral flavor)
4 T water
1/3 cup mustard (again, use a really nice mustard)
1 T lemon juice (or more to taste)
zest of 1/2 a lemon

Add all ingredients to a bowl and whisk vigorously, or use an immersion blender. Will keep several days in the fridge.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Course #4: Deconstructed nachos

For the fourth course I wanted to use an avocado foam, which I’ve made with success in the past. I decided to pair it with polenta and make a kind of deconstructed nacho. I prepared the polenta, but didn’t want to stir it for an hour, so I mixed it with a good salsa, poured it into individual ramekins and baked it in the oven. This didn’t turn out so well as the polenta didn’t cook all the way through and was extremely dry.

For the second layer I put down some shredded cheese and had guests take turns with the blow torch to melt the cheese. I quickly made the avocado foam, but added too much milk and there wasn’t enough fat to create a good, thick foam. So the third layer ended up being a watery, anemic mess.

Not a good tasting (or looking) dish, but the blow torch part was definitely a success; all the guests came running to look once they heard the deep whoosh of the butane start.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Course #3: Pea “ravioli” with truffle oil

For the third course I wanted to make the infamous pea “ravioli”. Unlike the mint spheres, the pea ravioli were free form… and VERY hard to make into perfect spheres. If I put the teaspoon into the calcium bath it glommed onto the spoon. A fast drop from above the water wasn’t much better as it turned into spaghetti-like strings. A slow pour was the closest we came, but they were still misshapen blobs with tails (most of them were shaped like sperm).

To spice them up, I spiked the water bath with truffle oil, but the truffle flavor didn’t come through enough. They needed more salt and more… something. One guest had a brilliant suggestion of making them (next time) with tarragon.

So even though they didn’t taste too exciting, it was a very cool sensation biting into the “ravioli” and having them burst open.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Course #2: Mint sphere in cider

This course was originally going to be chorizo cream spheres in cider, a second recipe from “My Molecular Cuisine Kit”. I had the foresight to try this recipe out ahead of time and the results were disgusting; the cream mixture got very thick when spherified and it was the texture of wet cat food. Ugh.

I had already purchased bottles of Val de France sparkling apple juice so I decided to re-tool the recipe, and mint spheres sounded like they would go well with the cider.

I started with a simple syrup of mint leaves but the flavor wasn’t strong enough so I added some mint tea. Then the color was too brown so I added some green food dye to boost the color. I mixed 500ml of the mint syrup and 5.2g sodium alginate with an immersion blender, poured into 1/2 sphere silicone molds and froze for 2 hours.

Once frozen, the 1/2 spheres were dropped into a calcium bath (36oz water mixed with 5g calcium chloride). As they melted, they morphed into perfectly round spheres, like magic. And looked a lot like olives. The spheres were then rinsed in clean water and dropped into shots of apple juice.

The drink had a refreshing burst of sweet mint set against the carbonated, slightly sour cider.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Course #1: Baked Camembert with honey pearls

This was a recipe from “My Molecular Cuisine Kit”, which involved heating honey with some water and agar agar. Within seconds of taking the honey off the heat there was a swarm of crazed bees outside my door trying to get in. I never really knew what was behind the saying “make a beeline”, but now I understand.

The recipe said to drop the honey mixture from a pipette into a very cold container of grapeseed oil. We tried this over and over again, even adding more agar agar but unlike water and oil, honey and oil really do seem to mix.

We totally scrapped that recipe and at T minus 30 (T being party time) went hunting for a different one. My friend found this one and disaster was averted. It was a more traditional spherification technique using the combination of sodium alginate and calcium chloride to form the gel-like skin upon contact of the two ingredients. This time when we dropped the honey mix from the pipette beautiful little pearls formed. Because we didn’t have time to let the mixture set, ours were a little on the opaque side, but I kind of liked that.

The Camembert and a goat cheese brie were baked at 350° until the cheese started to ooze out. The combination of crusty French bread, gooey cheese and the delicate, clean burst of honey when the pearls popped was delicious.

See Molecular Gastronomy Party for the complete menu.

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Molecular Gastronomy Party

I must be insane. Last night I threw a molecular gastronomy party with 11 courses for 15 people. I was cooking for two full days and was exhausted by the end of it. But it was wildly successful, with a great guest list and lots of playing with food. Here was the menu:

Baked Camembert with honey pearls
Mint sphere in cider
Pea “ravioli” with truffle oil
Deconstructed nachos
Asparagus with soft poached egg & mustard lemon emulsion
Quinoa coated shrimp with sweet chili sauce
Duck confit with arugula “spaghetti”
Salt-block seared steak with chimichurri air
Raspberry mousse with effervescent lime sugar
Vietnamese coffee ice pops
Sous-vide sage & mint chocolate lollipops

More posts about each course to follow…