Friday, September 30, 2011
C'est le fin d'été et j'en ai bien, bien marre de ce putain de courgette qui pousse, qui pousse, qui pousse. Si par contre il avait un goût bien, mais non. Son goût fade, sans intérêt ne m'attire pas. Son goût est si fade en fait que les gens du potager parle de faire broyer et de le mélanger avec d'autres ingrédients pour le faire disparaître. Pour ne pas gâcher leurs légumes, cultivés avec tant de soin pendant tout l'été. Ceci n'est pas un poivron ou un tomate, des legumes qui vaulent leur poids en or. Non, c'est une merde facile à cultiver, quelque chose que n'importe quel con puisse avoir dans son potager. Qui donne des résultats qui sont (pour un con) étonnants. Des courges grandes,gigantesques, comme si ils étaient des exemplaires de son sexe. L’aspect du virilité, sans goût autre que de l'eau mélangée avec de la terre. Bien, peut-être, pour les jardiniers machos, mais pour les amateurs du goût, décevant.
Today, we had to grill this shit in class. As if that would make it taste better. Zucchini grilled is better than say, boiled, but that's not saying much. Now, if this vegetable had some wonderful taste or could be made into interesting things... like a tomato or a pepper. Or an eggplant. But, no. These things are the wonderment of idiot gardeners everywhere since they produce, produce produce. The garden is a success, measured in kilograms of zucchini spewed forth from even a small number of plants. No matter that it tastes like leafy mud. If not picked young, they grow huge, perhaps equated by some to the gardener's virility; yet still tasteless soggy blobs of vegetable not really worth the effort of cooking.
So, I applied heat to vegetable, searing attractive char marks into its soggy virtually tasteless flesh. In the process, it lost it's crispiness. That was the whole idea, because grilling concentrates what meager flavor these poor things have even if it makes them limp as a wet noodle. Well, not quite that limp, but still not exactly erect. Then I compounded my sin by liberally dousing the things in za'attar spice mix to cover their tastelessness. This was apparently a crime against zucchini, an insult to chefitude, and a total lack of respect for their subtle essence. What f'ing subtle essence? Mud and lawn clippings? No, lawn clippings would probably have more flavor (and pesticides and herbicides and toxins...).
So, limp lifeless zucchini slices grilled to death, drowned in an excess of spice. Is that such a bad thing? At least they didn't taste like zucchini any more. After four months of eating zucchini from the garden, they could have tasted like natto and it would have been an improvement. Alas, I was scorned by all.
The first was the skinny woman, a student. "Too much spice!", she hiss-snarled, wrinkling her nose and giving me a look that would wither, well, zucchini. No, she's not a fan. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The person whose opinion counted, the chef, also hated the things. Overcooked, over spiced. Yeah, that's so it doesn't taste like zucchini. I know, not an excuse. She probably hasn't been eating it all summer, but still.
I scraped the rest into the trash, sending it on its merry way to the landfill where it can no doubt nourish hordes of bacteria, fungi and worms who will enjoy it much more than did my classmates.
Well, fuck zucchini. Who the hell orders a plate of that shit in a restaurant, anyway? $12 for a plate of stuff that tastes like whatever spices you happened to put on it, but not to excess, please. I might order fried zucchini flowers, or quesadillas de flor de calabaza, but that's different. No mush.
Well, that's what cooking school is for. So you can screw stuff up where it doesn't really matter so that when it does matter, you'll get it right.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
I don't know what came over me, since I don't normally do mainstream American food, but somehow I started with some chicken. Then threw in some potatoes. Hmm. Some biscuits would work well here. If there's potatoes and biscuits, might as well have gravy, too.
Part of this is because we did chicken in class, then we talked about roux. So I suppose this could be a form of studying. If I want to twist things that far. Or is it twisting? This could be on a test!
Buttermilk fried chicken
- The marinade
- Minced garlic
- Chicken, dark meat pieces, skin on
- Puréed onions (you can throw the garlic and onions in a blender with the buttermilk for this)
- A bit of salt
- Nutmeg to taste
- More minced garlic
- Black pepper
- The day before, marinate the dark meat pieces of a chicken, skin on, in a mixture of buttermilk, puréed onions and garlic, salt, fresh thyme and black pepper.
- The day of the feast, preheat the oven to 375° F.
- Heat some oil in a pan, about enough to come half way up the chicken pieces.
- Put some flour in a more or less deep, wide bowl. Add a bit of salt, a dash of nutmeg, some more minced fresh garlic, and some black pepper.
- Dredge the buttermilk-covered chicken through the flour, making sure it's well coated, then slowly lower it into the hot oil.
- Cook the pieces until browned, turn over, then take out and place on a parchment paper covered baking sheet.
- When all the pieces have been fried and are waiting on the baking sheet, place the sheet in the oven for about 20 minutes. This will finish the cooking, and also allow some of the cooking fat to drain off.
- The chicken is now ready to eat.
- Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium dice
- Duck fat. Yes, you could use vegetable oil. Or lard. I happen to like the flavor duck fat gives to potatoes that no mere vegetable oil could ever hope to match without a lot of chemical additives that would probably be worse than the duck fat.
- Minced fresh garlic (paste)
- Chicken stock
- Buttermilk, cold.
- Heat a deep frying pan.
- Put in a bit of duck fat. Add some more. Hmm. That might be a bit dry. A smidgen more won't hurt.
- Throw in some fresh garlic paste, just enough for it to sizzle a bit and release its aroma. Burning it would be a faux pas here, making it bitter. A bit of light browning is fine, though.
- Throw in the potatoes. Add some salt. This will lower the pan temperature and stop the garlic from burning.
- Let them sizzle a bit, then add some chicken stock. Turn the heat way down, cover and let things simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked and just starting to get a bit mushy.
- Scrape all the potatoes off the bottom of the pan, stir them around a bit.
- Mash the spuds with a fork, then slowly add some buttermilk. Don't panic, it's only 1% milk fat, so it's actually leaner than whole milk. Add bit by bit until you have a smooth, creamy consistency. Cover and reserve.
- Flour and butter (equal amounts by weight) for the roux
- Chicken stock
- Garlic, minced fresh
- Make the roux with the flour and butter (I use butter, but who would object to duck fat?). Mix them together and put them in a pan on low heat. Stir frequently so nothing burns or sticks. You want to cook the flour to eliminate any raw taste, but beyond that how dark you cook it is up to you. I went for a light tan, a bit beyond white. I want some color in my gravy so it doesn't just look like Bechamel sauce.
- When the roux is your favorite shade of tan, get a whisk and add the cold chicken stock and the nutmeg. Whisk frantically and pour moderately so everything blends together happily.
- Put the pan on low heat until it thickens. Remember to keep stirring. If you made thick gravy stir more often. If it's thin and watery you can relax a bit since convection currents will do some of the stirring for you.
Fire-roasted pepper biscuits
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Bell peppers, seared
- I wanted something a bit more fun than normal biscuits, so I added a brunoise of flamed bell peppers.
- First, burn the peppers over a gas burner, on a grill or blast them with a chef's torch. You could also use another type of pepper, but would get more heat in the biscuits.
- The peppers have a lot of moisture content, so I reduced the liquid in the recipe to compensate. I weighed the peppers and subtracted a bit less than this amount from the liquid. If you forget, you may need to increase cooking time to compensate and dry things out.
- The biscuits go together the usual way: mix the sifty stuff together dry with a whisk: flour, baking powder, salt. These are savory biscuits, so no sugar. Then add the butter and mix it in well. Then the pepper brunoise. Finally, the liquid - in this case, buttermilk. Knead lightly until the dough firms up, roll or smash it down (if it's too wet, smashing works better). Cut into whatever size you think is appropriate, place on parchment paper lined baking sheet and pop them into a 425° F oven for about 15 minutes.
When the chicken comes out of the oven, it's showtime. Spoon some mashed potatoes into a plate, arrange the chicken on top, pour a bit of gravy around the potatoes, and garnish with a biscuit and whatever other garnish you have around. I only had flat leaf parsley. Not too original, but a bit of green is better than none.
Monday, September 26, 2011
We backed out of the driveway. The button pressed, the garage door lowered. What is that? Some jerk had stuck an advertisement on our garage door. There must be some school of marketing that says obnoxiously sticking ads on people's garage doors is more effective than simply stuffing mailboxes. Now I have to get out of the car, rip the thing off the door, and dispose of it properly.
What kind of jerk would do this kind of thing? A pizza place, strangely enough. Looking at the ad, this place looks like they have a big freezer full of ready to cook kibble, a deep fryer and a pizza oven.
They have eleven "delicious appetizers" on their menu. Seven look like things that come in bags, get dumped into the deep fryer and served. The others look like they come in bags, get stuffed into the pizza oven and served. But I could be wrong. Some could come in a box instead of a bag.
They have cinnamon rolls, too. They don't look appetizing in the ad, and even though they're easy to make, my psychic powers tell me these aren't made in house (although my powers been known to be wrong from time to time in the past).
They have ten pizzas on their flyer. No mention of fresh ingredients, home made dough or other words that indicate quality. Lots of low prices, though. Their pies are pretty much the usual gang of suspects, only heavy on the chicken, with four bird-based pies. There's a Hawaiian 'za, presumably "delux" because it has both Canadian and regular bacon - but thankfully no chicken.
One or two have ground beef. Why? Do I ask for pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato sauce on my hamburger? No! It's even combined with sausage, basically ground pork with spices. So, ground beef plus spiced ground pork but still sort of separate. Why not just make meat balls out of the beef, slice them, and keep things Italian?
Call me opinionated, but there are only a few kinds of meat that belong on a pizza: pancetta, prosciutto, pepperoni and sausage. If we expand the term to mean "animal protein" then I'd add shrimp, mussels, anchovies and maybe even oysters (imagine parsley, cream sauce, chives, oysters, garlic, chili flakes, lemon zest and you'll get the picture... damn. Now I'll have to make this and see how it turns out). Probably not mainstream enough for Main Street USA. But ground beef and Canadian bacon don't add much flavor, especially when overpowered by spicy things like pepperoni, sausage and linguiça.
Linguiça? No, that really shouldn't be there. I love linguiça, but it's really something that should be grilled so that the grease can run out of it and go away instead of running all over a pizza. Think next morning here. Congealed white fat mixed with tomato sauce. Breakfast, cold? I think not.
Two garlic-based pies, a strange thing if you stop to consider that garlic is normally a flavor enhancer and not the star ingredient. Unless you drizzle some olive oil over a bulb, add salt and pepper and bake it slowly until the garlic is meltingly soft and mellow. Not likely to happen in a 600° pizza oven in ten minutes or less.
Wisely, no eggplant on their vegetarian pizza. Eggplant pizza is usually a disaster. Eggplant doesn't cook in ten minutes, even in a Vesuvius-hot oven. It needs time, preferably spent in hot oil. If you do that first step, it works fine on a pizza.
One pizza lists salt as a topping. Salt? Why not list all the other stuff, too? Like oregano, pepper, chili flakes... you could probably top out with fifteen more ingredients that way. Like there's no salt in the meat pizza, loaded with cured meats, each packing a hefty dose of NaCl?
Since when is salt a pizza topping? Bet you'll never see this on a menu: Five salt pizza, featuring French gray sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian black and red salt and my personal favorite, Spanish smoked sea salt. Also features tomato sauce, onions, potatoes, egg and anything else I can think of to mellow out that dose of salt. They could call it the Medusa because if you eat enough of it parts of you could very well turn to stone.
They have four almost identical photos describing their salads. All look like they came in a bag, à la Trader Joe's. In fact, the toppings on the pizzas all look like they came in bags.Uniform cut, sprinkled uniformly over the tops of the pies. Artists, they're not.
They say their pizzas are hand tossed. They also say they're gourmet, but until someone puts gormeh sabzee on a pizza I'll just consider that a hollow marketing term. (yes, that was an Iranian food joke. Feel free to laugh or not, as you please). The real question is why bother to hand toss a pizza if the ingredients really fell pre-cut from a frosty bag delivered in bulk from some wholesaler? Maybe they take a pre-formed, frozen crust and toss it like a Frisbee. Would that qualify as "tossed"?
Could they actually make their own dough, in house, shape it and adorn it with wholesome locally grown produce, artisan meats and natural cheeses? It certainly does not look this way in their ad. Sticking the thing on everyone's garage door definitely does not make me think they're a class outfit that cares about quality. More like a pizza mill that buys in 95% of everything they sell pre-made, so some uncaring pimply-faced minimum wage slave can put it together without ever pondering what would happen if they made a real effort to create wondrous pies to the delight of all.
So, here's the Big Question: does buying in 90% of what goes out the door, presumably at the lowest possible cost, truly maximize your profit margin, more than if you created everything fresh, from scratch, with love, striving to bring forth unique pizza variations that could draw the faithful from miles around (or let's face it, fail due to it's nonconformity but live on forever in your die-hard fans' memory)? Does serving something that everyone familiar with the cuisine in question has seen dozens of times ensure your profitability? Or does it cause your establishment to fade into the background of "me-too's" and disappear? I guess I'll find out if no more ads appear stuck to my garage door.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
The French don't mess around when it comes to enjoying a bit of bone marrow (os à moelle). They slather it on some bread, sprinkle on some coarse gray sea salt and consume. On the other hand, I felt that a bit different approach might work well
Strangely enough, both use almost the same ingredients, although crafted totally differently. On one hand, the French purist approach: Flour, water, salt, yeast (in the bread), marrow, salt. On the other, the somewhat richer Yorkshire pudding: flour, milk, salt, eggs, stock, marrow. The French probably gets you higher sodium, since the crunch of that sel gris is much of the fun; the Yorkshire pudding probably gives you a bit more fat, but this is like saying that Everest gives you a bit more mountain than K2. Yeah, at what point does it matter?
My mother used to make Yorkshire pudding at special occasions like Christmas, when she'd roasted off a nice piece of beef. Her main complaints were the smoke, subordinate to the the crucial "Do you have any idea what goes into this? This is not good for you" concern of mothers everywhere. To which I always wondered, "if it's really so bad, why do you make it and, more critically, enjoy eating it so much?". Perhaps its part of the food guilt ritual.
We started with the French version, since it's easy, fast and direct. It also gave us something to do whilst the Yorkshire pudding was rising ("Whilst" sounds so British. We really should say it more here in the States).
First the smoke question: traditionally, the pan is heated with the fat in it to the point where the fat starts to smoke. This, clearly is stupid. A waste of flavor. And the smoke point is well above the temperature needed to puff things up. So, I preheated the pan quickly in a 450° F oven while warming the marrow and fat in a pan on the stove. I just wanted to get the chill off the pan, basically get it over 212° and maybe a bit more. The reduced beef stock went directly into the Yorkshire pudding batter, since it had already been degreased and should not greatly affect anything in the puffing and rising department. The pan went in, warmed up, came out, got dosed with hot marrow off the stove, popped back in the oven for a couple of minutes to make sure everything was hot enough to flash the steam and puff the pudding. Out came the pan, not smoking hot but good enough. In went a bit of batter into each well, and the whole thing got popped back in the oven for twenty minutes to puff and brown.
In the meantime, we enjoyed the French style marrow, warm from the pan, with some French bread and coarse French sel gris de Guérande. With some beer, since this food a bit too salty to accompany with wine.
I walked by the oven after about five minutes. No puffing. Had there been a miscalculation? Would we be greeted with greasy hockey pucks instead of wonderfully browned, puffy Yorkshire pudding? Fifteen minutes more would tell.
We retreated to our table for some more moelle, bread and beer. The timer ticked down to its inevitable finish. Time to check the oven! Besides, we were out of moelle.
I peeped through the oven glass, straining to see the pan placed on the top rack for maximum heat. Yes! Where things had been flatter than the Devil's golf course, there were now mushroom-like shapes sprouting from the top of the pan.
Out they came, deflating like the stock market after the latest unemployment figures. The photo captured the pudding at about the three-quarter point, but since it was already browned, better deflated than carbonized. The pan was hot enough to kill a parrot, so we carefully brought it to the table where we'd placed potholders to protect the tablecloth.
The flavor? Just like Mom used to make, except with almost no smoke in the cooking process and more of a marrow flavor than roast beef. I'm sure if I had a cardiologist, he'd call me after reading this and yell so loud I'd need an audiologist to fix things up again.
Less Smoke Yorkshire Pudding
- Equal parts flour to milk, by volume. I used about 3/4 cup of each.
- eggs, three worked with the above flour/milk amounts
- brown stock, reduced down almost to dampness (au sec).
- reserved bone marrow, warmed in a pan to liquid (basically bits of flavor drowning in beef fat).
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Sift the flour and salt together.
- In another bowl, beat the milk and eggs together until things are frothy like a wave by Hiroshige.
- Fold in the flour to the milk/egg mixture.
- Put a cupcake pan in the oven for about three minutes or so to take off the chill
- Take out the pan, pour a bit of the bone marrow into each well and pop the thing back in the oven for another 3-4 minutes. The marrow mixture is already quite warm, as is the pan - so you don't need to risk crossing the flash point here. You just need to get it over 212° F so that the water in the batter will turn to steam and puff things up.
- While the marrow is heating, scrape the reduced stock into the batter mixture and fold it in. By separating the water based stock from the oil based marrow, we avoid cooling the pan by boiling off liquid.
- Whisk the pan out of the oven, ladle in the batter to about 3/4 full, and slide the pan back in the oven for twenty minutes. No opening the door and peeking! You want to keep that oven hot to maximize the amount of puff-producing steam in the pudding.
- After twenty minutes, you should have a nice crop of mushroom-like puddings growing out of the top of the pan. As soon as they're removed from the heat, they'll probably start to deflate, but as long as they're well-browned all is well. They'll still taste great, since all that fat has now magically combined with the batter to produce an alchemical blend of crunchy, greasy and savory.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
"What kind of wine would you like? We have two Cabernet Sauvignons - a reserve and another one that the Wine Spectator loves for the price."
"Which one is your favorite?"
"We've never had either. I know! We'll bring them both!"
"That works for me!"
Since the wines are both from California, and one is a reserve odds are they'll be big, bold monsters that would overwhelm a poor chicken or pork dish. Grilled beef, however is another story. Why not with a bold reduction sauce like moelle... yeah, that should work.
Let's use up the meager end of season tomatoes, throw in a variety of peppers from the garden, add some fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil for a starter. Top the thing with a basil chiffonade. No vinegar, so that things are ready for some wine right off the bat.
Luckily, tri-tip was on sale at the market. Prepped with a salt, tarragon and black pepper rub, it waited until the mesquite coals were sparking then off it went, seared over coals with direct heat, then moved to indirect heat to finish. Nothing like meat and potatoes, so some fried Russet potato cubes with a bit of truffle salt to round off the plate. I knew that truffle oil would be useful!
This week's quiz in cooking class will include brown stock, so might as well make some, reserve the bone marrow and use a bit of it with a reduction sauce, throw in some tarragon, add a splash of red wine to liven things up and drizzle it over the beef. Not bad. The sauce worked well to elevate the meat into something more haute cuisine than backyard BBQ, adding complexity and depth that enhanced the beef. It also tested how well the wines would cut through the fat to cleanse the palate and bring forth more flavor.
The reserve wine had lots of vanilla and oak. The other was more fruit-centric. Both were good, but didn't have much in common at the end, other than being grown in California and being mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. Both went well with the beef, but one brought out the char-grilled flavor while the other favored the meaty saucy notes.
Just to give those wines a chance to show their harmonizing skills, some cheese. We just went to Nicasio Valley and had some washed rind and some Swiss style cheeses, along with a piece of Roquefort to challenge things. Roquefort really isn't a red wine cheese - it's better with Port or sweeter wines like Montbazillac. Nobody seemed to mind, though.
To finish things off, celebrate summer's last hurrah of strawberries with a mousse. Cool and refreshing, and never mind the fat content. This is dessert, so not a good time to diet. Besides, rowing four kilometers should help us atone for our gustatory sins. Somewhat.
Monday, September 19, 2011
|Ciao! Venite mangare qui!|
I was flipping through a local magazine, and noticed a chef standing in front of a restaurant with an Italian name. Hey, this looks like a great place! It's in an ad for a bank, but it says "celebrating Sacramento's entrepreneurs", with words like "neighborhoods" and "community". I must have somehow missed its opening. I think I would have heard of the place if it were an established Sacramento house of fine dining. We could really use a great Italian restaurant (or another one, if you like that place with all the cookbooks).
A quick trip to Google gave me the answer: the restaurant is in Alameda! With all their hyperbole about how great things are in Sacramento, they had me thinking that this place is here, in town, where I can drive fifteen minutes, park (good luck, but that's another story), sit down and be treated to sumptuous pastas, sizzling saltimbocca, perfect pesce, titillating tiramisu... well, you get the idea. Alas, I can't,unless the restaurant is opening a branch in Sacramento (no mention of this on their web site).
Bad bank! Spank! Spank! Whack! Crack! Snap! Pow! Biff! Thwack! Boff! Crash! Zzzap! (this is my only chance to spank a bank, so indulge me here). You tell us how proud you are of Sacramento. All this while showing a photo from a restaurant 90 miles away. What, we're not good enough for you? Too cheap to hire a photographer and shoot someone local? Weren't our buildings photogenic enough for you? Think we're too dumb to notice that the featured restaurant isn't even in our town?
Now, if you're praising Sacramento but showcasing Alameda, what do you really think of us? You love us, right? Yeah, you love me like a fresh case of scombroid poisoning. Why should I get a loan from some megabusiness that can't even put a real Sacramento entrepreneur in their ad? Non sono pazzo!
Sunday, September 18, 2011
|Pizza dough from a box? Yep. Just add water.|
Cognitive dissonance. It's what happens when you thought you knew something and someone (or something) comes along and tells you something significantly different.
I like learning new cooking techniques. I like it much better when it seems the person teaching the class actually knows what he's talking about.
One of our local cooking stores held a class on pizza making. I assumed that the class would be led by someone from a local pizzeria, someone who makes pizza dough, tosses pies, tops them and bakes them on a daily or almost daily basis. A seasoned expert in all things pizza. This did not seem to be the case. Far from it, in fact.
Professional chefs have confidence. They don't waste movement. Their hands move to precisely the right place, their motions precise and accurate. When they snap the bowl into the mixer, there's no fishing around: their hands move, the bowl clacks into place. Removing the bowl is equally precise. The dough hook goes on or off with a deft lift and twist that's done so fast it's almost invisible. Hand kneading dough is like some kind of sleight of hand where an irregular mass comes out of the mixer and after a couple passes of the hands becomes a smooth, uniform ball. When chefs chop ingredients, the knife moves in rhythmic uniform arcs. The knife moves away, leaving perfectly sliced product on the bench. They use bench scrapers to lift the dough as they work it, leaving no trace on the work surface.
This didn't happen.
Mispronouncing "semolina" as "seminola" was not a great way to start. When people in the class start repeating the word, it becomes comedic. When they pass the box of semolina flour with the word clearly spelled right on the label, and people still say "seminola" it becomes surreal. Even my spell checker knows it's "semolina"!
It was kind of scary watching him chop ingredients, using what looked like a $200 knife, the kind that can be sharpened to the point where it will slice through a fingernail with virtually no resistance.
He was slicing stuff without even bending his fingers down. There are two reasons for bending your fingers down, as he would have learned in cooking school. One is to keep from chopping the tips of your fingers off, as this is bad form and can spoil your sauce. The other is that your bent fingers guide the knife, making for more accurate cuts. No cognitive dissonance here, since finger bending has been repeatedly stressed at ARC, along with using a rocking motion on the knife. He did more of a vertical chop, slightly bent fingers. Scary, but his fingertips did look intact. For now.
He tossed the onions and mushrooms in the oil at the same time, instead of sweating the onions first and then adding the mushrooms. Not a big deal. Unless... don't onions have a longer cooking time than mushrooms? Or could this be the right method? Cognitive dissonance. He did pre-heat the pan before adding the oil, so everything's in sync there.
According to my mixer's manual, you're not supposed to use the dough hook above speed two. More to the point, a high speed would probably result in the mixer throwing flour all over the counter. A mess. Yet, he said setting four was OK. Maybe the speeds on mixers of the same brand aren't the same across models? Cognitive dissonance, again.
He made up about a quart of sauce. A pinch of salt, about four fresh basil leaves cut up, about one clove of garlic. To one quart of canned crushed tomatoes. One lousy pinch of sea salt. Throw it all in the blender, give it a whirl and it's ready to go. No cooking required. No oregano, either. I guess it's OK if the pizza is going to get spiced with pepperoni and chili flakes later, but it seems that this sauce would have tasted like raw canned tomatoes prior to getting spread on the pizza. Cognitive dissonance again - but I'm thinking that if the sauce were reduced down a bit, the garlic cooked and maybe a bit more herbs and spice then it would just give that much more flavor to the pizza.
They heat their oven to 425° for pizza. Another attack of cognitive dissonance. Don't you want to max out the oven for pizza? Professional ovens are 600° - 700° F or even hotter, so I would have thought the procedure would be to preheat to maximum with the pizza stone inside, slide the pizza onto the stone with a peel, wait about ten minutes, remove the pizza with a peel, slice and serve on a wood serving board. They removed the entire stone with the pizza on top. Now, maybe I'm crazy but if that stone stores heat and was over 400° F, isn't that pizza going to keep cooking on the stone? Is that a good thing? Cognitive dissonance again. Wait... slicing pizza on a stone will dull your fancy knife, too. Won't it? Isn't that why you slice on wood or a plastic cutting board?
Then, there's the whole peel thing. They only used wood. Wood peels are great for sliding the pies into the oven, since pizza doesn't stick to them if they've been floured properly. You can make up the pizza on the peel, slide it onto a hot stone in the oven, and ready the peel for your next pie. You use a metal peel to remove the pie, since a cooked pizza won't stick to it, the blade is thinner and the peel won't scorch from contact with the hot stone (the wood peel has less contact with the stone since the pizza slides off the inclined peel). Yet, there there were: wood peels. That dissonance thing again, but not so much. Wood peels with short handles? Pretty, but I want some distance between my knuckles and a 500° oven. Give me a long handle, please!
This is a store that likes "starters" and "mixes". One of the pizzas came from a box of pizza dough mix. I don't really know what's in the box, except that there are two packets. Each will make a pizza. So, presumably they contain yeast, flour, salt and probably other things that I'd know if I'd bothered to read and note the ingredients. So, if they're all into fine cooking, what's with this "pizza crust in a box"? You might think the idea would be to sell the fancy mixer, a scale, some herbs, a pizza stone, a brush for cleaning, a peel or two and have people make their own dough. It's really not that hard if you do your formulas by weight.
Speaking of which, their formula for flour was in cups, not ounces. Depending on how firmly it's packed, there can be a couple of ounces difference in the amount of flour in each person's "cup". Weighing the flour removes this inconsistency, so why not mention it? They sell scales, after all, and this could generate even more revenue on top of pizza stones, pizza stone cleaners, box mixes, doodads, cheese slicers, gadgets, herbs and whatnot.
They made one pizza with a stand mixer. Equal parts all-purpose flour to semolina flour (a.k.a. seminola). Add salt, water. Not surprisingly, when we got to taste the pizzas after the class, the from-scratch dough version won. In my opinion, at least. The crust had better rise, and seemed a lot more tender. Maybe mixing to develop gluten and fresher yeast do make a difference. The semolina flour gave it a different texture and changed the flavor a bit, so it might be worth a try to experiment with the stuff.
They also mentioned "fresh yeast". This seemed to imply cake yeast, sold in cubes for professional bakers. So I asked if they sold cake yeast. No, it's not cake yeast. Fresh means that the yeast has not yet reached its expiration date. No mention of SAF Instant, so I guess they don't sell that, either.
He never tossed a pizza, nor did he shape one by hand. Everything was done with a rolling pin. When he wanted a border, he formed it by hand. Funny, when tossing the pie would have given him the thicker border automatically. Tossing was not even mentioned. Perhaps it doesn't work with the box mix dough? Still, tossing pizzas is a lot more dramatic and impresses your friends more than going over a ball of dough with a rolling pin. Unless you drop it on the floor. Or your head.
So, in the end I came away with the idea of adding semolina flour to some future pizza, if I want to add a second formula to my repertoire. I just didn't feel like I was in the presence of a master. Worse, I felt like I could have given this talk and covered the subject better, thanks to my training at ARC (pizzas, calzones and piegatas* with Chef Teresa) and my experiments with pizza dough and formula development.
* This blog now comes to the top of the search heap for "pizza piegata". Maybe it's a milestone, but I'm still light years away from getting a zillion hits per day. Click here for more on pizza piegata.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Someone was selling what I thought was rather small bags of popcorn with cheddar and truffle flavor at the market today. Their price seemed a bit steep considering the quantity of product, even though the stuff tasted good enough. Then there was the idea that something covered in cheese that doesn't require refrigeration probably underwent a fair amount of processing.
So, truffle oil. Salt. Cheddar (or whatever cheese I wanted). Popcorn. This should not be too difficult to concoct, and I can always use the truffle oil for something else.
My first idea was to grate the cheese in a food processor. Then, add a bit of salt to lower the moisture content, then drizzle in a few drops of truffle oil. All that would remain would be to mix this with some freshly popped popcorn, and voilà!.
Somehow I'd forgotten what happens when you add salt to proteins. We did this in class to make mousseline, but that was ground up fish, not cheese. Well, guess what? Cheese works exactly like fish. Instead of getting more powdery, the salt caused the cheese proteins to coagulate into a paste, not too different from mousseline. With a bit of truffle oil, this could become an interesting cheese spread. What it could not become, at least not easily, was something that can be sprinkled on popcorn.
So, my cheese and truffle oil popcorn became two recipes. And a lesson in molecular gastronomy.
Truffled cheese popcorn
This is my new, improved process that should allow the ingredients to remain sifty enough to coat the popcorn and give it that desired cheesy-truffly flavor. Remember that you only need a few drops of truffle oil - a little bit goes a long way.
- Coarse salt (Kosher or sea salt)
- Truffle oil. Black, in this case.
- Aged cheese. Cheddar, in this case.
- Oil for popping the corn, if you don't have a fancy air popper.
- Drizzle some truffle oil - a few drops will do - into the salt and mix it together well. Salt does not dissolve into oil (at least I remembered some molecular gastronomy!). Set aside. You could also buy truffle salt, but since I don't have any this is my solution.
- Grate the cheese.
- Make the popcorn.
- Toss the cheese and truffle salt into the popcorn.
Truffled cheese spread
This is in development, since I just discovered it by accident. Still, it might come in handy for an hors d'œuvre.
- Aged cheese
- Truffle oil
- Kosher or sea salt.
- Cream, mascarpone...
- Roughly chop the cheese, place it in a food processor (or mini-food processor) with a metal blade, add a few drops of truffle oil.
- Process down to where it looks more or less grated.
- Sprinkle a bit of salt at a time with the machine running. The cheese should form into a pasty ball. Adding something else, like cream (as in mousseline) or maybe mascarpone should transform this into a spread. Unless I forgot some other key principle of molecular gastronomy.
Yesterday was Annette's art show. We decided to eat dinner with a friend after the show, but nobody wanted to go out. So, our friend said he'd bring some ground beef. He did. Three pounds of it. We already had one pound. The expiration date on this stuff comes up fast, so it's time to be creative.
Today after running errands, I checked the expiration date on one pack of ground beef. Sell by today. Joy! Hamburger again! No time to make buns, since we were already hungry. So what if I made an arepa heavily spiced with pimentón pepper and a bit of salt... fry it off, slice it in two and use it instead of a bun. Then some of that Australian blue cheese, some uncured bacon, some sautéd onions, a bit of arugula from the garden. The result: something thinner and easier to eat than a bun, with a great crunch factor. Lots of umami richness from the cheese, smokiness from the bacon and pimentón and a bitter counterpoint from the arugula.
We were more or less traditional yesterday with our friend. 140g patties made into maxi-sliders, with sesame seed mini-buns, garlic aioli, fresh tomato relish, lettuce. The meat was really a tower of beef mixed with bacon and garlic and char-grilled. The buns got sliced in thirds, the burgers in half, the tomato and aioli sauces slathered on, everything stacked and held together somewhat tenuously with toothpicks.
Now we only have about 1-1/2 pounds left to go. This pack has a later sell-by date, so it looks like we'll be able to take a burger break and eat something else. Not that I'm getting really tired of burgers... yet.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Plants that were worth the effort, or at least let us feel that we saved money by purchasing plants instead of buying tomatoes at the market.
The first is an Italian tomato great for making sauces. The plants grew strongly, and so fast that I needed to add support. They tend to ripen late, but without complications. I did have some blossom end rot, but it was because I was a bit too vigorous scratching some organic fertilizer into the soil. They did not split after being watered, either.
This is an orange cherry type that produces like crazy and is very sweet, if somewhat lacking in the acidity department. These started producing early on, and are still going. No blossom end rot with these guys, either.
Anonymous reseeded red cherry.
Little water, lots of sun and still a great yield. It will probably reseed for next year, since plants have been coming up here for three years now.
These are not strictly speaking tomatoes. Yet, despite heavy infestations of white flies, sometimes looking more like a blizzard than anything else, the tomatillos managed to produce a consistent, usable crop. These were all reseeded from last year's crop, so we had well over the two plant minimum (one tomatillo plant produces nothing since the plants are not self-fertile).
These varieties gave mixed results and needed a lot of fussing, staking and fiddling. It's debatable if they were worth the extra effort, regardless of taste. Low yield, lots of labor and tragic disappointment as you find rotted, inedible fruit does not make a happy gardener.
One of my favorites for flavor, Cherokee Purple was unpredictable and fussy. Some plants bore little fruit. Others dropped their fruit. There was a good deal of blossom end rot, splitting and other reasons for a perfectly good tomato to transform itself into a rotten, mildewed blob. Other tomato varieties growing nearby did not have these problems, or at least not to this extent.
Supposedly a super tasting tomato, these were not up to the level of the few Cherokee Purples that managed to elude splitting and rotting.
A fairly reliable performer here. Still, although she might be quick she's not especially tasty.
Not a lot of fruit, but when the plant got in the groove toward the end of July we had incredible tomatoes, although not the mega-pounder size you read about in veggie porn magazines.
Tomato fail. Rotting flesh, sunburn, strange plant growth. These would be better as worm food than tomato plants. A real waste of time.
Supposedly more disease resistant than the normal Brandywine, these produced few fruits, grew strangely, sunburned since there wasn't a dense canopy of leaves. We were lucky to get three edible tomatoes per plant.
Initially a great producer and early, these plants took a trip to Zombieland as soon as the weather got hot. And this wasn't even a particularly hot year. So, the end result was that the majority of the crop looks like it's just going to sunburn and rot on the vine without fully ripening.
I grew this variety years ago and remembered it as excellent and a good producer. Not here, not this year. Lots of slow to mature fruit, sparse leaf growth, sunburn and aborted fruit littering the ground. Appeared to go zombie when the weather warmed up. Blecch.
Seasoned tomato farmers have all said that this was a bad year for tomatoes. It was a great year for zucchini, but when you want tomatoes that's little consolation. Spaghetti with zucchini sauce? I think not! Yet, there's hope since next year might be better.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Leftover slow-cooked pork shoulder. Arepa flour. That skinny chili from the back of the garden. A leftover carrot. Some cilantro. The other half of the onion I used for some stock. Sounds like a recipe.
This time, Venezuela is the starting point. The formula for the arepas is even simpler: 1/2 arepa flour, 1/2 water. Some salt. Mix. Sit. Mold. Fry. Bake. Slice open. Fill. Eat. Burp.
I think a bit of cheese in the arepa dough wouldn't hurt them, so more experimentation will happen in the future. Maybe some dry goat, Parmesan or a mix of Mozzarella and dry goat... or maybe it's time to clean out the cheese drawer in the fridge and see what happens.
This is the slow cooked pork from a previous posting. Pork shoulder, white wine, garlic, more garlic, onions, fresh thyme, fresh oregano, the tomatoes that needed to be used, pronto.
The relish is chopped raw onions, cilantro, carrots, that funny red chili that was supposed to be hot but wasn't, and a garlicky herbal vinaigrette.
Mesquite. Just repeat this word. Mesquite. Chunks of Mesquite. Glowing hot coals, sparks, smoke. This is how Hatch chilies should be blistered. As their skin blisters, cracks and darkens the smoke filters in, permeating the flesh. Bringing a hint of the wild, another level of flavor, the song of coyotes singing in the moonlight.
Now imagine chili verde made with this manna. A dash of heat, a soupçon of smoke, the tang of tomatillos, essences of herbs and garlic. A desert chorus like the smell of sage and flowers wafting across the desert on the night wind. Then a new element, perhaps an herbal bite of cilantro. A crispy, cheesy arepa lightly coated in green. Neutral white rice that carries the other flavors around your palate in a celebratory tango.
Very simple. The chicken doesn't get, need or want any special treatment. It's just there as a meaty foil for the sauce.
- Boneless chicken breast
- A bit of oil for a quick saute.
- Pre-heat the oven to 425°. Ready a baking pan and a sheet of parchment paper.
- Salt the chicken, then sauté it, skin side down in hot oil.
- Once the chicken has browned a bit, flip it over briefly to sear the other side, then slide it onto the parchment paper and pop the sheet in the oven for about twenty minutes, depending on how thick the breast is and if you decided to pound it before cooking (I didn't).
- When it's done, put it aside in a bowl to cool a bit.
Get some Hatch chilis, straight from New Mexico. This year, they showed up stacked in a pile at the supermarket. Buy a case. Like chili verde? Buy more. They'll cook down, or you can make a few ristras for decoration and chili powder.
- Blister the chilis over mesquite, let them steam a bit. Peel, seed and core them. Chop them up.
- Pick some tomatillos from your garden where they're growing with mad abandon
- Chop up some onion
- Chop and paste some garlic
- Add some kosher salt
- Have some chicken stock on hand (or pork stock, if you're doing a piggy version)
- Throw the onions in a pan to sauté. Add the garlic, the chopped chilis and the salt. Let it simmer a bit.
- Drop the mixture in something tall that holds hot sauce and blend it smooth.
- Add the juice that sweated out of the chicken as it sat, blend it in. Check for saltiness, adjust. Set aside.
Don't use masa harina for arepas. They have their own kind of flour: pre-cooked corn flour that's not nixtamalized like masa harina. So, it's not as good for you, because nixtamalization uses lime to eat away part of the corn kernels and free up vitamins somehow. Of course, that lime also changes the flavor, and you don't want that corn tortilla taste here.
- The formula is simple: 1/3 arepa flour, 1/3 water, 1/3 grated mozzarella. Plus an additional dose of grated pecorino romano cheese just for fun. A bit of salt, but be careful since the cheese is already salty.
- Mix all this stuff together until it forms a sort of pasty dough. Set it aside a bit to equalize the moisture content.
- Scoop out enough to make a small ball, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, then smoosh the ball down into a flattish disc. Smooth the edges as you go.
- Pop the discs into hot oil, brown one side. Flip. Brown the other. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and when it's full into the oven it goes for about 15 minutes at 425°F.
- The arepas should be crispy on the outside, light and a bit chewy on the inside. They should have a light cheese flavor backed with a subtle hint of corn.
If you've timed everything right, the sauce was ready first. Then the rice. Then the chicken. Then the arepas. That way, you get chicken juice to add to the sauce at the end and the arepas are red hot. Garnish with some cilantro and serve.
J'ai planté six grains vers le fin d'avril, qui sont devenu deux plantes. Qui ont donné deux pastèques. Beaucoup d'effort pour peu de mangeailles.
Mais, ces pastèques sont d'un type assez rare, avec leur char jaune-orange. C'était beaucoup plus orange dans le photo sur le paquet de graines, mais c'est quand même plus couleur soleil levant que le rouge-rose typique.
Peut-être ces fruits doivent être plus grande, comme ceux vendus dans le supermarché, que nécessitent presque une grue pour les lever.
Le gout? Assez sucré, mais avec peut-être moins de profondeur d'un pastèque rouge foncé cultivé par un fermier expert dans les subtilités des pastèques biologiques.
Six seeds in April. Two plants in May. Two watermelons in September. A lot of effort for not too many victuals.
But, these are rare watermelons. Orange flesh. A lot more orange on the seed package, but still more dawn yellow than the typical rosy red.
Perhaps they should be larger, like in the supermarket where you almost need a crane to lift them out of their bin.
What about the taste? Sweet enough, but perhaps with less depth than a deep red watermelon raised under the expert care of an organic farmer well-versed in the subtleties of watermelons.
Friday, September 9, 2011
We had to sacrifice potatoes to the knife today. Julienne. Bâtonnet. This dice. That dice. So, the result is lots of potatoes in different cuts.
Serving different cuts of the same vegetable is taboo in chefdom. Chef Teresa once graded me down for exactly this kind of sin against the Gods of Gastronomy. It's just not correct. It shouldn't be done.
Yet, here I am with all these potatoes. They're sitting there in the refrigerator, soaking in water and hopefully losing starch minute by minute. It's either offend the Gods by mixing cuts, or offend them by wasting food. A real dilemma.
In the end, the ingrained adage "don't waste food" won out. I remember when they used to say, "think of all those starving people in China. Eat your broccoli". I wonder if the Chinese now say, "think of all those --- big noses in America. Finish your char siu!". Not that I ever had any problems finishing my char siu, considering that all those people in China would surely disapprove of my throwing it, uneaten, into a landfill.
So, here it is, apologies to Chef Teresa for my indiscretion. It is definitely more trouble, since three different cuts all have different cooking times. Definitely not economically logical for a restaurant, but I'm at home with nothing better to do than finish projects, study, do homework, answer e-mails, deal with cat/rat issues, try to tame a half-wild cat who might want to adopt us but isn't quite sure, bake some bread and cook the rest of the pork.
This pork is a great example of fat is flavor. Almost enough to make me want to get that tattoo for real. Oh, I never posted it...
|Fat is Flavor|
The pork is just some ingredients and lots of time. Pork shoulder, cut into 3" cubes, white wine, fresh thyme, fresh marjoram (or oregano, but the marjoram needed trimming). Bay leaves, onions, garlic, more garlic, red, ripe tomatoes that it was really time to use, Yolo Wonder peppers, salt and black pepper. Throw it all in a pot and let it simmer for about three hours until the pork is meltingly tender and imbued with all the flavors floating around it. Unlike carnitas, I don't take fry the chunks in their rendered fat. The acidity of the tomatoes and the flavors of the other vegetables just seems to make any caramelization superfluous.
Meanwhile, about those potatoes. They should have soaked overnight, since every good plate has something that requires preparing a day ahead. But since I'm breaking the rules, a few hours will have to do.
Take the potatoes out of the water, dry them. Heat some oil. Fry the three types of potatoes separately, just to where they begin to take on color. Put them on a plate and do something else for an hour or so. Just before serving time, re-heat the oil and fry the three cuts separately until they just begin to show some color. If they overcook, they'll turn bitter and that would not reflect well on ARC, especially as it's an added sin over and above mixing cuts.
Toss the potatoes with some smoked salt, maybe a bit of Maldon sea salt for big flakes, a bit of fresh ground pepper, plate with the pork and serve. Eat the shoestring (julienne) and diced potatoes first and be hasty. Once you've polished them off, your sins are extirpated and you may continue your meal at a leisurely pace, sipping some Vinho Verde to keep Bacchus happy. Might as well have one happy god on your side, right?
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
They come from New Mexico. They're green. They're hot. They might cause you to act strangely, especially if you just fry some up and eat them straight. You probably won't glow in the dark, but then some things are found out after the fact.
Sorry to disappoint, but I'm talking about chilis, not LGMs. They're grown about 218 miles from Roswell, a drive that would take the average human a bit over four hours. The average ET could probably do a lot better than this, if he/she/it existed. Unlikely that an escaped alien from Epsilon Eridani 3 would bother heading toward Hatch when it could head West, sell movie rights for megabucks in Hollywood, retire in Zzyx, start a pedigreed targ ranch and live happily ever after.
You get a choice with these peppers. Hot, medium or mild. Choose hot. The others are wimpier. If you want a mild chili, you can always eat a bell pepper. Heat is part of life; bite into it, savor the burn, note how well it works with an icy cold beer.
There's not a lot of sweet in a Hatch chili. More an earthy, acid bite with a lot of chili flavor. They're easy to sear and freeze, or you can make ristras and be festive all year. Dried, they have a fruity aroma while frozen peppers maintain their acid.
Don't limit yourself to chile verde, just because these are chilis and they happen to be green (unless you dry them). They can be pre-cooked and put on pizza or in calzones with some goat cheese and garlic. The photo above is a variation of chile verde used as a pan sauce where the meat is braised, removed, the sauce reduced, butter added and the meat returned. I might try chiles en nogada, swapping pasillas for Hatch peppers. Probably less heat with the Hatches, too. Then there's Hatch tempura, salmon with chili sauce, chili-marinated chicken, pan-fried chili with shrimp... Good thing they sell the things by the case. Too bad that like that special offer on late-night TV, they're here for a limited time and then they're gone for another year.
Monday, September 5, 2011
|bun, lettuce, patty, egg, pimentón aioli...|
|...tomato, more tomato, a bit more...|
|... more tomato, lettuce, bun|
How much tomato is too much? Well, when they're fresh-sliced summer heirlooms, I really don't know. The slices were about an inch thick, but the burger didn't taste over-tomatoed. It did pour juice like a tropical storm hitting a mountain range, a deluge that filled the bottom of the plate.
These patties were a premium frozen brand. Lots of flavor, but nothing beats a hand-formed patty for thickness and browning without succumbing to dryness. With a half pound of meat (before cooking) beefiness was assured. Cooked medium, since I didn't grind the meat myself and thanks to my food safety class I know just what can live in the depths of ground beef.
Here's what went into these towering tomatoey treats:
Baguette dough using pâte fermentée, sesame seeds. Nothing on the buns, so they could better absorb the juice coming off the burger and tomatoes. They were formed flat so that with a bit of squeezing it would be possible to eat this like nature intended: with your hands.
Pimentón agridulce powder, garlic, red wine vinegar, chopped green olives (paste, really), egg yolk, lots of olive oil. Kind of an aioli with benefits.
Cherokee Purple and Brandywine, lightly salted and peppered after slicing.
Simply seasoned with salt and pepper. The aioli was there to add more spice and flavor, so the meat could be simple and pure.
How could this be improved? Maybe a bit of bacon, home-ground beef that's thicker and more seasoned, maybe broil the tomatoes to intensify their flavor and reduce moisture content, a touch more salt. I could have added fresh basil but that would have dominated the tomatoes, and the goal was to let their flavor come through to accompany the meat. I left off the cheese for the same reason, but it could have had a bit of goat, blue, dry white cheddar or Alsatian muenster for more richness (and calories).
Could it have had more tomatoes? Probably. Tomatoes smash down quite well, allowing the burger to be eaten despite its impressive initial height. At some point, still undetermined, the tomatoes would simply flow out under pressure like aa lava, ending up in a somewhat chunky pile on the plate.