Monday, April 30, 2012

Updates All Around, Dinner # I-Lost-Count

So, my reader (again, singular) may have noticed my prolonged absence.  Despite my lack of blogging, I have still kept cooking (kind of).  Two more dinners since my last post, which I will blog about, someday.  Likely while I am on maternity leave.  Yep, we are having another baby, a little girl, and I cannot wait.  Unlike with my first, I did not suffer from the kind of morning sickness that is utterly life-altering and renders one incapable of doing anything.  But I didn't feel like eating much of anything, yet alone something squicky like oysters (which reminds me... need to get the raw oyster dishes out of the way while I can still beg off because I am pregnant!).  So, an extended absence.  But then I started reading all these things about how the sale of foie gras won't be permitted in California anymore, and I realized that I still have FOUR recipes that need foie, and I thought "I better get myself in gear."  I did, and i'm glad I did.  My husband emerges from a pool peaceful, like his soul is better for a swim.  I emerge from a kitchen the same way (well, if you ignore the screams at my dogs to GET.OUT.of the way.)

And, so, for my most recent dinner, I loaded up on the foie:

Starter: Gruyere Cheese Gougeres
First: Gewurzterminer-Poached Foie Gras
Second: Lobster with Poached Figs and Foie Gras
Main: Pekin Duck with Corn and Morels
Dessert: Strawberry Shortcakes with Creme Fraiche.  I can feel little E bouncing around in my stomach just thinking about this deliciousness!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Perail de Brebis with (Arugula) Aux Lardons

This was simultaneously the easiest dish to make and the dish I would eat for dinner 3 times a week for the rest of my life.  You know, if I kept things like quail eggs stocked in my fridge.  I did make a minor change to the recipe, and substituted argula for frisee.  Frisee tastes like dental floss.  Argula tastes like peppery lettuce, except a thousand times better.  No one complained about the substitution, and everyone finished their plate, so i'm guess that it was ok.

First, brioche!  I had intended to make my own fresh brioche.  Due to pesky work, it didn't happen... so Bread and Cie came through for me on Friday morning.


Slicing the brioche into 1" thick slices, and cutting holes out using my cutters took like 30 seconds.  For all of them.  AND I had some little 'cooks snacks' (leftover brioche rounds) that I got to nibble on as I prepped. 

The dressing took like 2 minutes.  Olive oil, sherry vinegar, mustard, along with a dash of salt and pepper.  My friend asked me for the recipe like two months later, and didn't believe it was so simple because it was so good.

The dressing was unusual, in that you didn't use the mustard as an emulsifying agent.  Instead, I whisked the mustard and vinegar together, then stirred in the olive oil with a spoon.  Easy, easy stuff.

Right before serving, I cut the cheese into wedges (another 2 minutes), and tossed the bread rounds in a pan with some melted butter.  Flip the round, then creak a quail egg in the hole.  Drizzle dressing on top of the arugula.  Total time: less than 5 minutes.
 I realized after serving that I forgot to put the lardons on the salad part, so I brought them to the table and let people do it themselves.  Unsurprisingly, no one complained, and there was no lardons left.

Seriously, if you have The French Laundry Cookbook and you are afraid to tackle something, start with THIS.  It was amazing.  Like, so good that I used leftover ingredients (well, subbing brie for the cheese) to make this for dinner twice that week.  And each time, it was like a 15 minute dinner, start to sitting down to each - even with doubling the recipe to make it dinner-sized and cutting the bread into pretty circles!!!!  AND it was easy to find all of the ingredients, except maybe the cheese (but it is easy enough to find a cheese close to perail de brebis).  This isn't just on my "keepers" list, it is literally in my monthly list of "things I make when i'm busy."  And, oh, have I been busy lately... but more to come on that. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Venison Chops with Pan Roasted Butternut Squash

Like so many of the other 'firsts' involved in cooking my way through the French Laundry Cookbook, this was my first time cooking venison... AND my first time eating venison.  I don't have anything against game, per se, its just that I don't really like meat that much, so I certainly wouldn't go for a good venison chop over, say, a nice steak.

The first step in making this, like with most of the meat dishes, was making the anything-but 'Quick Sauce.'  Ideally, I would have had venison bones.  I didn't.  I couldn't find any anywhere (anyone in SD want to give me a hint about where this is possible?), so I got beef bones.  I figured, if anything, it would hide the potential game-yness of the venison chops.

Mis: stock - chicken and veal, mirepoix, beef bones, and blueberries (my substitute for the also-unfindable huckleberries)


This time, when roasting the bones (and UNLIKE when I did the lamb quick sauce), I had a little splatter screen.  It's amazing how much pain a little $3 accessory from Ikea can save a person.


Also as a result of the splatter screen, I was able to take some extra pictures - here, after the second 10-minute bone roasting when I added the mirepoix


Eventually, I cooked the bones, mirepoix, stock, and blueberries down and strained, then strained again, then reduced again.  Yeah, not quick.

Next, I roasted the shallots.  Super easy - shallots, thyme, and a little oil...

All tossed in a foil packet, then tossed in the oven

Next, I frenched the bones.  The ruby-red meat was both a little freaky and beautiful.

The butternut squash!  My very favorite vegetable, at least when roasted (and especially when roasted then make into a soup). 

The instructions said to peel, then cut circles.  But I seriously saw no point in doing this when my circles were smaller than the neck of the butternut squash, so I just cut them lengthwise, then cut out the circles (shhh.. don't tell anyone)

These were boil (not pictured), then pan-fried (also not pictured).  And, most excitingly, they were scored, so that they had a little diamond pattern.  Really wish I had a picture of that!

The finished plate (a little out of focus, sorry):

The meat was great - not gamey at all.  In fact, I think its way less gamey than lamb, and I love lamb chops.  The bacon was a perfect amount of added fat, since the dish was generally pretty lean.  And it was super pretty when served - just look at the perfect circles and pretty bacon handle and stuff (but ignore that the sauce isn't that good a circle - i'm not great with making a circle using a spoon).  Pretty delicious, and not that hard.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tasting of Potatoes with Black Truffles

Wow, I can't believe a month has slipped by since i've last posted.  It's been a busy month.  Christmas, skiing, parties, working (boo!), and some exciting news to come helped December and the first half of January fly by.

Where was I with this dinner thing?  Oh yeah, second course.  Tasting of Potatoes.  It doesn't sound that fancy when you read it - it's basically a recipe for glorified mashed potatoes.  But after making potatoes this way, I never want to go back to plain ol' Thanksgiving mashed potatoes again (notwithstanding that this recipe is so finicky and exacting that it would be near impossible to make it as part of a dinner served all at once). 

I started with the truffle chips.  Unlike 'Tasting of potatoes,' truffle chips do *not* sound like something we would have at a holiday meal.  They were surprisingly easy to prepare, but at the same time, had some issues with the cooking.

First I shaped a potato into something resembling an oval (look at how many scraps I had trying to get there!):


Then I thinly sliced potatoes and a truffle using my Japanese mandoline (and my new 'cut-proof gloves' - a worthy $15 investment if, like me, you need fingers to work), and laid a truffle between two potato slices on a buttered-salted sheet.  Notice how the ones on the right are sliced much thicker.  If you want the chips to cook in normal amounts of time, make them as absolutely thin as you can.


And, like an hour later, truffle chips!  They weren't as crispy as I imagine they should have been.  Were I to make them again (and I think i'm supposed to for 'Chips and Dip'), I would cook them in the over until they were really "stuck" then try deep drying them.  Not that this is guaranteed to work, but it would take a lot less time than the HOUR they spent backing (with me examining them every 10 minutes saying '.... still not chip-looking, hopefully more time will do it.'

Extreme close-up!

The truffle chips were definitely the most time consuming step.  Next I (gently) boiled some potatoes, put them through the tamis, and then basically created an emulsion with ungodly amounts of cream and butter.  Best mashed potatoes ever.
Finally, I cut what felt like a million fingerling-type potatoes into tiny pieces, blanched, then cooked with some truffle bits, truffle stock, and brunoise until it got thick.  Well, thick-ish.  It said to blanch the potatoes for 3 minutes (an insanely short time, but it makes sense when they are all fingernail-sized), then to add vinegar/stock/etc, and reduce.  I think it should have reduced longer, but I didn't want to spoil the potatoes or have them break, so we went with 'not-quite-thick' potato-topping-stuff.

See?  Looks a little runny.


But it tasted delicious; earthy and rich.  I really liked it.  Not loved, though.  I think that maybe, at heart, i'm just not a huge fan of truffles (blasphemy in the foodie world, i'm sure).  It's funny, because I love mushrooms, but I just feel like truffles are overwhelming.  I thought maybe it was just a white truffle oil thing - because that stuff IS overwhelming - but it applies to black winter truffles too.  Still, the potato-emulsification was awesomeness, something that I am going to repeat (but never after a workout, because, dude! all the stirring hurt my arms).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

White Truffle Oil Infused Custards with Black Truffle Ragout

I have admired the picture of the completed custards over and over.  I've contemplated cutting the shells, how pretty the standing chive chip would be, how delicious double-truffle custard would be.

Well, at least I got one of those right.

Let's start with the eggshells.  I bought an egg cutter (against all instinct, because I thought I would be terrible at cutting eggshells).  The stupid, stupid thing did not work (what a waste of $10!)  But, I was right about the eggshells: I AM terrible at cutting them.


(and let us not even mention the number I broke.  Luckily, I needed a lot of eggs for the dinner overall).

I knew the chive chips would be a challenge.  I mean, i'm making chips out of potatoes squished together!

First, I prepped the sheets - two silpats, clarified butter, salt.  Hint: don't put a ton of salt.  The chips may have been pretty, but they were kind of like eating a salt lick.


I peeled the potato, cut it into a band-aid shape, sliced it thin on the mandoline.  I laid a chive between two slices, and baked on low low heat.

The recipe said they were supposed to take 20 minutes.  Um, more like an HOUR before they were golden brown and crisp-like - they never got crisp like a real chip, but at the least they were cooked.  Some of this may have been me, since I did confuse the instructions and think that I needed to sandwich those between two cookie sheets.  They were delicious, once I got past the salt lick thing.
Finally, a couple of hours before people were due, I made the custard.  It was actually simple.  There were only like four things in it - how could it not be??

I warmed the milk and cream to just under a boil, turned the blender on, and poured it in.  Yes, turned the blender on THEN poured it in.  I have to admit, I was scared - visions of scalding milk flying in my direction.  But Thomas Keller said turning it on first would actually STOP splashing, and who am I to argue with TK?  Unsurprisingly, he was right.

So, where was I?  Oh yeah, milk/cream, blending, then I added a couple of eggs, salt, pepper, and (at the very end) white truffle oil.  As i've said so many times, i'm not a huge fan of the smell of white truffle oil, so it didn't smell heavenly.  Pour it into a spouted measuring cup, into the egg shells, which went into a big glass pan that I filled 2/3rds of the way with water.  Baked for about an hour, perfect custards!
Finally, right before serving, I reduced some truffle-infused stock, a dash of vinegar, some truffles, and some brunoise.  Beautiful stuff.


The finished dish:

The chip is standing!  At least it did for a minute - it quickly wilted in the sauce/custard.  Eating it... well, lets just say this is the 'playfulness' in this meal.  I served them in these shotglasses (sake glasses?) I found when unpacking hubby's old high school pottery he made that had been boxed up for at least a decade.  Innocent high school times, i'm sure.  And to go with pottery shotglasses?  Baby spoons.  The only thing I could find that actually fit into the eggshells.  Well, I found one espresso spoon, which husband used, because he said there was 'absolutely no way' he was eating off a baby spoon.  Marked contrast to one male guest who told us about how he used to eat baby bananas and HIDE THE JARS and how eating off a baby spoon brought back memories.  Hilarious things that come out when you have co-workers over for dinner.

I think the fact that I talked about the container and spoon for so long tells how I felt about the custard.  I mean, it wasn't bad.  But it wasn't my favorite.  I was disappointed, after admiring the picture for so long.  With so few disappointments so far, though, it only seems fitting that something wouldn't be the most amazing thing ever.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dinner 11: New House, New Kitchen, New Outlook

Well, maybe a readoption of an old outlook.  I'm simultaneously gaining and losing steam.  On one hand, I just planned and executed a FIVE course menu from TFLC.  Five courses!  And it wasn't even that hard (well, obviously this was due in part to the menu).  I yearn to spend more time in the kitchen, learning, cooking.  At the same time, i'm becoming less confident in my ability to do this.  By this, I mean make it through The French Laundry.   I've made it just shy of halfway (48% to be exact!), but, well, whole lambs are crazy.  And pigs heads and feet are gross.  Obviously, making it through The French Laundry will be the biggest challenge of the Keller collection (well, not sure how Under Pressure is, but Bouchon and Ad Hoc are both pretty simple after TFLC).  Does this mean that i'm going to spend my next decade cooking Keller for my friends, family, and co-workers?  I'm just not sure.

Musings aside, my five course menu for dinner!

Canape - white truffle oil-infused custards with black truffle ragout
First Course - tasting of potatoes with black truffle
Entree - Venison Chops with pan-roasted butternut squash
Cheese course - Perail de brebis with frisee aux lardons
Dessert - ile flottante

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sally Schmidt's Cranberry Apple Kuchen

We've established that I have gone literally months - *months* - without cooking.  Life is busy, deadlines, work, lawyer, blah, blah.  We all get busy sometimes.  Mine led to no cooking.

By November, I was really starting to have French Laundry withdrawals.  Four months without using my round cutters or chinois!  Four months without making a new flavored oil!  Four months without worrying about accidentally setting my kitchen on fire!  So, I insisted on having people over for Thanksgiving.  It was a long, hard fight; I won.  We had a small crowd (six people), so I stuck to traditions: turkey, mashed potatoes, grilled veggies, stuffing.  I threw in one unusual item: pumpkin-thyme rolls (which were a giant hit).  

And, I managed to seamlessly add a dessert from The French Laundry Cookbook.  Since we didn't have cranberry sauce, since no one coming over really loved pie (except me and angry toddler), I decided apple-cranberry cake would be a perfect way to end the meal.  It was.  And easy to boot.  I actually managed to prep it and cook it during the five hours that it took me to do all of Thanksgiving dinner.

The mis.  Notice something unusual about this picture? 

If you said 'granite counters, so that must be your new kitchen'... dingdingding!  Good observation skills.

Next I peeled, sliced, and cored some apples.

To make the batter, I creamed some butter, sugar, and an egg, then added flour and baking soda.

I spooned that into a cake pan (or in my case, really a cheesecake springform pan, which is nice because it releases easy but can turn out poorly for a bunch of reasons I dont understand.  I used it because it was the only cake pan I had that was anywhere near the right size) and arranged the apples in a pretty ring.

Sprinkling cranberries is fun!

With cranberries arranged around all of the edges and center.

Then I dusted with cinnamon/sugar/possibly nutmeg (I have no recollection of that, but looking back at my mis I see nutmeg and milk, which must have been in the batter)

Forty-odd minutes later, it emerged from the oven all beautiful.  And without any natural light to make a pretty photograph, and with people who had just finished dinner clamoring for a bite.

I whipped up the hot cream sauce - which was basically fat, more fat, and a different form of something that will make you fat (ie, cream, butter, and sugar).

The cake was delicious, although I wished that I had used a slightly smaller cake pan, since the batter part of the cake seemed a little thin.  It was a little tart without the hot cream sauce.  The dessert-hater crowd was happy about that, since (1) they could pretend like it was healthier and (2) it wasn't really sweet.  The hot cream sauce brought the sweetness up a tinge, and soaked through the batter to almost make it like a tres leches cake.

I thought it was delicious both ways.  It definitely reheated better with the cream sauces as breakfast (and maybe lunch... and dinner) the next day.  The combination tart-sweet seems like it would be a good holiday cake or like a nice cake in the summer, when its hot and you don't want to feel weighted down by something super sugary.  It just occurred to me that cranberries are near impossible to find in the summer though - so maybe its more of a September/October in San Diego cake (when its still hot, but we like to pretend its fall.)  Just find a time to make it.  It will take less than an hour, including cooking time, and will get rave reviews.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Staff Lasagna and Dressing

In addition to the gazpacho, I brought some lasagna along to whatever family gathering where I though lots of people would eat it (i'm thinking Father's Day, but not positive).  Despite being the "staff meal," it still required a lot more work than *I* put into an everyday meal!

 Mis - look at all those ingredients!


Now, part of the extensive work involved had to do with making my own tomato sauce.  To be honest, i'm not sure if I had ever done this before (there isn't much of a point, since marina affects me more than any other tomato product aside from ketchup).

First up, I cut little x's and blanched a trillion tomatoes (notice how I didn't bother taking the stickers off?  It was because I knew I had to peel them, so why bother!)

There are no peeled tomato pictures because my hands were burning.  My sister recently told me she broke out in hives from eating half a slice of tomato.  I know she breaks out in hives from touching ketchup (something hard for her to avoid being a waitress; I've avoided touching ketchup since hearing this).  I'm pretty sure the burning hands were related to the whole allergy thing, which means its getting worse.  Boo!

Burning hands aside, I cut them into chunks.

Next, I sweat some onions down with some tomato paste.  It smelled heavenly.


Then, I tossed all of the peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes into the mix, and cooked those down until it was sauce.  It took a long time to get something that smelled right - like 1 1/2 hours.  This may have been faster if I could have tasted it, though, since its a lot easier to adjust seasoning with tastebuds than, say, your nose.

While the sauce was cooking, I stirred some eggs and ricotta together.  I've made a lot of lasagna (mostly with white sauce instead of marinara), but i've never added eggs before.  I think that i'm going to use this in future lasagnas, since it made the ricotta a lot easier to spread evenly (plus, i'm pretty sure it held better once it was cooked).


Finally, lasagna!  Noodles, sauce, ricotta mix, and oodles of mozzerella - the way lasagna should be.

Because the sauce took so much longer than I guestimated, I was really in a rush and forgot to take a picture of it done.  Even worse (or better, says my body), we had two sets of plans, so we ran out before people had started eating -- so neither me or the hubby got to try it!  I heard it was delicious.  

Oh, yeah, what else... I made salad dressing and brought salad.

Here are the ingredients...


But nothing beyond that, whoops.  It was standard salad dressing - blend everything, add oil very slowly to emulsify.  I'm pretty sure the vitamix made fast dressing out of it.  It was good, but nothing to write home about.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gazpacho

The disaster that was the verjus sorbet was also the last of many dinners that I would have at my old house.  I knew this because... well, because the dinner was at the end of June, we were supposed to close on our new house in early July, and packing becomes ever more complicated as one builds a massive kitchen arsenal.  I decided that I couldn't leave my French Laundry dinner party project on such a well, utter failure, note, so I decided to squeeze a couple of recipes in (with the intention of bringing them over to big family gatherings).  The easy ones... like gazpacho!

Seriously, if you are looking for the easiest recipe to start The French Laundry Cookbook with, this is it.  There isn't even any cooking involved.  Well, unless you count the balsamic glaze, but I had some in my fridge, so no cooking!

The mis:

Basically, you cut everything up, put some tomato juice and vinegar in, and let it stew overnight.

The next day, I tossed the mix (minus the thyme) into my trusty vitamix....

And blended!

Now, wasn't that easy!  (pictured without balsamic glaze - I was waiting for it to warm up still)

Now, those of you that have paid attention might question how I ate this, since i'm allergic to tomatoes.  In truth, I only had a tiny sip.  I would have liked to drink/eat the entire serving.... but my body wouldn't have appreciated it, so I abstained.  The tiny sip was enough to realize the complexity of flavors, and that this would be a fantastically refreshing soup on a warm day.  So, to recap: hot day, feeling lazy, make gazpacho! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Verjus... uh, soup.. with Poached Peaches

There wasn't a lot to this dessert.  In fact, I was so intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb AND foie that I intentionally chose an "easy" dessert.

So, of course, I screwed it up.

The peaches went fine - I made pretty slices...


Then I poached them in liquid with a pretty parchment lid, peeled them, and put them in their poaching liquid.

For the sorbet, literally all I had to do was combine verjus and some simple syrup, and put it in the ice cream maker.  I didn't even take any pictures because it was so boring.

And I totally, completely, blew it.  Backing up... I couldn't find any verjus.  Anywhere.  I gave up and got some honey mead that was supposedly supposed to taste similar to verjus (and had a super low alcohol content).  Unsuprisingly to most, i'm sure.... the mead wouldn't freeze.  WTF?  I asked myself.  Then: 'DOH! Alcohol!'  So I boiled the crap out of it to get rid of the alcohol.  But the bowl had thawed a bit, enough to make only a slightly slushy, vaguely alcoholic mix.  (Slush that melted before I even made it to the table).

I present my poached peaches in "wine-sauce." 

The peaches were fine.  Most of us felt a bit more drunk after eating this, even though I contended (over and over) that there COULDN'T be any alcohol in it.  I was validated in that it did finally freeze, after 12 hours in the freezer.  I am currently 0 for 2 on sorbets, which are seemingly the easiest thing to make.  Pox on your house, sorbet... I *will* conquer you!