Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fancy French Fish

Plus français et tu meures. 

As they'd say in France.

I had some leftover shrimp stock, so we decided to see if I could successfully do something with a few  frozen flounder fillets from the freezer. Fantastic!

I soaked the fish in cold water for about 30 minutes, out of the bag. The water sucked in a lot of fish protein in the process, and I probably would have lost a lot of flavor if I'd thrown the water out. Instead, I heated it, skimmed off the white foam (a.k.a. protein) and added it to the shrimp stock.

A bit of clarified butter, some flour for a roux, some salt and that stock and voilà! Velouté sauce. That's the stuff under the fish and those strange arcs of unknown vegetable.

The fish got a bit of salt, some lemon juice, some Aleppo pepper. The dredging flour got the same things, sans lemon juice.

Into some more clarified butter it went, then out just before it was done to throw together a fun little pan sauce with some scallions, lemon thyme and a whiff of garlic. Throw in some pastis, a bit of dry Vermoouth, a bit of salt and there it is, a dab of something tasty to keep the dish from falling flat as a flounder.

This is one of those things that's not going to jump out and grab your taste buds. It's subtle. The acid balance (lemon juice) and salt have to be just right. Not enough salt and flat flounder. Not enough acid, ditto. Taste, taste, taste. Adjust, adjust adjust. When it's right, you'll get a clean fish flavor that will start to fade into boredom, then suddenly get picked up again with a salty-savory-acid zing.

Those aren't potatoes. That would be boring. Something with more flavor needs to happen here. Something brassicaceous. Something you can bake slowly to draw out all its flavor while letting it stay crunchy. The miracle vegetable? Kohlrabi. In this case, the fancy purple variety. It was just oven braised at 350°F with a brunoise of celery, some salt and some turkey stock. It took about an hour before I was happy with it. This is something to keep checking so that the stock doesn't scorch. I didn't add oil, since the slices were going right into the velouté sauce, and there's enough butter in that to keep any fat freak fabulously happy.

A bottle of Muscadet sur Lie, a bit of sourdough whole wheat bread and the meal is complete. Unless you want a piece of that tarte tatin for dessert.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pies: One required. One fun.

I had to bake a pie for Thanksgiving, as part of a class. A complicated cake wasn't enough; there had to be a pie, too. So, I made my favorite French pie: Tarte Tatin. Then I made the required Good Old American Apple Pie (also a favorite).

So here they are, with a posting date before class. Just in case someone says that I missed another deadline. They're often rather vague and confusing. Late work isn't worth sweetened condensed armadillo spit, so it's best to turn in something crappy on time than something well done a bit later.

I also made a banana/ginger hand pie. But that's really outside the scope of this class.

J'en ai marre! La plupart des gâteaux faits dans ma classe contiennent des noix, des noisettes, des saloperies d'allergènes divers... et je ne peux pas les manger après avoir passé un temps fou à les préparer!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Turkey Sausages

It's the day after Thanksgiving and not a creature is stirring. At least, not in the kitchen. Everything is pretty much ready to go. The sausages were made from the wings and thighs when the turkey was boned. We did make some garlic mashed potatoes and pita bread, but that stuff is easy.

Turkey sausages
  • Dark turkey meat, silver skin removed.
  • Powdered milk (binder)
  • Minced celery & parsley
  • Lemon juice
  • A bit of cider vinegar
  • Fresh cranberries
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Duck fat. Use a lot to keep the sausages from getting too dry. Pork fat could also work.
  • A trace of sage

  1. Get everything really, really cold. If you're using a meat grinder, put it in ice water for a while to chill. 
  2. Season the meat, mix everything together and run it through the grinder.
  3. Make a small patty and fry it. Taste to adjust seasonings. Adjust the spice mix as needed
  4. Stuff hog casings with the sausage mix.
  5. Preferably, hang in the refrigerator to let the casings dry out a bit overnight. If you can't do this, no big deal.

Grill the sausages and enjoy. I cooked the pita bread on the grill, too. Fast and easy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


So, you were expecting photos of roast bird and apple pie? The bird looks like a big, skin-covered sausage when it comes out of the oven. Sliced, it's tender slabs of meat veined with green flavor-enhancing herbs. There was no cranberry sauce - the berries went into the rice, and were very happy there. No stuffing, either. Just tangy, sweet-sour yams that complimented the turkey and rice to perfection.

A thanksgiving menu

Cranberry rice medley
Citrus-baked yams
Boneless turkey breast roast
Tangerine Dream cake
Sweet Potato Pie
Whole wheat country loaf au levain

Pinot Gris Reserve | Jean Albrecht '10
Grüner Veltliner | hugl '10

The turkey
  • Bone the turkey, separating the breasts from the tenders. Reserve the drumsticks, use the thighs and wings for sausage meat, make stock with the neck & bones. Save as much skin as possible.
  • Brine the turkey breasts with some rosemary sprigs overnight.
  • Puree celery and parsley. Add lemon juice. Add room temperature butter and puree until you have a gooey mess with butter and herbs. Place this in a bowl and rub all over the turkey breasts and tenders.
  • Place the reserved skin on a cutting board, place the breasts & tenders on top, pull the skin around over the meat and truss. We didn't have enough skin to completely cover the meat, but it's not a problem as long since the exposed meat will be placed on the bottom in the braising liquid.
  • Place in a ceramic or other non-reactive baking dish, add whatever liquid is left from the celery/parsley/lemon mixture, then add some turkey stock made from the bones.
  • Roast at 360° for about 90 minutes.
  • Let rest, then carve. Done. Serve with some of the braising liquid and pomegranate seeds as a garnish.

The Rice
Simple. Salt. Brown rice. Wild rice. Fresh whole cranberries. Unsalted turkey stock.
Put all this in a pan and simmer for about an hour on very low heat. We used brown basmati. Don't use white rice since it needs a lot less time to cook than wild rice and will turn to mush.

The yams...
I'm not sure what's in these, except lemon juice and simple syrup flavored with nutmeg, lemon juice and zest. They're steamed, mashed, the syrup goes over the top and they're baked.

Tangerine Dream cake
The base is a dark chocolate wafer, then orange marmelade, then tangerine genoise flavored with simple syrup infused with pureed tangerine, orange and vanilla extract. Then tangerine Bavarian cream. Then another layer of the genoise. Cover the whole thing with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream and garnish with tangerine wedges.

I didn't make the sweet potato pie (a friend brought it), so I can't say much about it except that it was excellent.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Big Healthy

Whole grain wheat. Buckwheat. Sunflower seeds. Sourdough starter. Slow proofing. All this makes for some interesting and healthy bread.

First step, the night before: mix some whole wheat flour with some buckwheat flour, add some sourdough starter and water, but no salt. Mix well, and place in the refrigerator.

The next day, roast some sunflower seeds, add to the mix along with more whole wheat flour, a bit of bread flour, some salt and more water. Knead well, until you can do a windowpane test with the dough - stretch it into a flat sheet between your fingers without tearing. The dough should be a bit sticky and supple. Don't worry about the soft, sticky dough - as long as it more or less holds its shape as a ball (instead of collapsing/melting) you should be fine.

Set the thing in a bowl to proof, until it doubles in volume.

Punch down, form into a ball , turn out into a basket lined with a couche well coated in flour with the pretty side down. Let it proof some more.

When it looks large and fluffy, transfer it to a cornmeal coated peel and slide it onto a hot stone in an oven preheated to 500°F. Carefully squirt some water on the sides of the oven, or if you want to be really careful, into a heavy-duty sheet pan. This creates steam that helps the loaf rise.

Bake about ten minutes at 500°F, then lower the heat to around 450°F and bake for approximately 40-45 minutes to develop a wonderful, thick crust. Watch the loaf occasionally to make sure it's not burning.

When it's ready - the interior will test about 205° F - place the loaf on a cooling rack. Eat it any time after it's cool.

This loaf, being whole grain and full of nuts, should taste great and give you lots of fiber and vitamins in the process. It's kind of like drinking a rich, dark beer compared to that light diet stuff.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Loud, enthusiastic applause! Welcome! We love you! You're our greatest asset!

Be not fooled! As you walk into the room, minions of the Great Pomme clap, long and loud. Yet in their hearts, how could the very people who greet you so enthusiastically not know that in a mere two days a message like this will be sent to many of the people they so enthusiastically applauded:


Thank you for your interest in opportunities with Apple. As you can imagine we received a large number of qualified applicants for this role. At this time we have chosen to move forward with other candidates. I want to personally thank you for your interest and for investing the time to speak with us about this opportunity.

Thank you again for your time and interest in Apple. We wish you the best in your future endeavors."

It started with people being herded to tables in the cheap hotel's breakfast lounge. We seated ourselves at cheap looking round tables clad in cheap synthetic wood, on cheap looking metal chairs with cheap looking red vinyl cushions. There was nothing to read. Bare. Cheap. Eventually, our handlers infiltrated the space, handing out papers to fill out, duplicating information that we'd already been sent electronically. They chatted with some, ignored others.

Once the chatting was over and the forms filled out, we were ushered into another nondescript room filled with ranks of the same cheap steel and vinyl chairs, greeted by a wildly clapping line of interviewers standing in front of a large screen.

We had to watch videos about how great Apple is. How successful they are. How it would be such an honor to work for them. While all the while they were hatching their strategies to eliminate an unknown number of people in the room. Yes, unknown, for when the question of how many hires they were contemplating, they said they didn't know. Disingenuous for geniuses, masters of dataflow, analysis and computation. Don't know? I suspect they knew to sixteen decimal places, but were too sneaky to blurt out the truth!

Like Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, the adversary, father of all lies, prince of darkness, the devourer, Mammon, enemy of righteousness, Abbadon, angel of the bottomless pit, their apparent sincerity was but a deception. Their "handpicked" candidates were not so appreciated as they would have you believe. We were like sand to be sifted for pearls, discarded after false show of sincerity and enthusiasm. It was, alas, nothing but smoke and mirrors. Hype. Hollywood. False feel-good.

The event was presented as something different, somehow better than other companies. Yet, in the end it wasn't. It was just Apple's way of spinning a cheap way to screen people into some kind of "festival". Five employees interviewing probably 300 people. Cheap. Nobody had a personalized interview. Some might say they cost-reduced the initial rejection interview screening phase by conducting group interviews. Even the pens they gave out were from the hotel, not Apple. If Truth were to walk naked through the corridors to proclaim a fit title, it might be the Screening And Rejection Event. Who would come for that?

Hotel logo pens? They were too cheap to even part with a souvenir branded with the Apple logo? The pens weren't even retractable. It's not like anyone was expecting an iPad, but still... doesn't Apple believe in swag to add physical hype to their cheerleading? No? No. Did they bring signs directing people to the event room inside the hotel? No! Unnecessary cost! Not too user-friendly, when it comes to recruiting. Clapping and video is cheaper than creating a look with actual objects, it seems.

They even spin the job benefits. Full time employees get some; part-timers get scraps, but only after three months' employment. Let's see the likely outcome… work November, December… (let's just imagine that the work is seasonal) FIRED. Not even two months. No bennies! iFail!

The applause was in the end more a brutal slap in the face than if it had never happened, a mockery of everyone they rejected, like a hot kiss followed by a kick in the groin. Better that they had saved their applause for the anointed few who passed through the fruity gates into Apple Nirvana. Why waste applause on people you plan to reject a mere 48 hours after you so "enthusiastically" greeted them?

I remember noting that none of the people doing the interviewing had been at Apple for more than five years. Some had been there less than a year. I then thought: if this company is so wonderful, how come none of these people has been there longer than a few years? If Apple is Nerd Asgard, why the relatively short employment spans? I'll never know. The applause wasn't for me; it was only for the people they wanted. I was but a spectator.

Monday, November 14, 2011

White hot chili

Every time I've had white chili, it's been boring. Not much depth, no heat, not a lot of campfire. It's not something I see people making in the Wild West. Still, when I looked in my cupboard, there were some Cannellini beans. Normally the things are for cassoulet, haricot de mouton, fool... but this time for some reason white chili just popped into my head, and stayed.

This recipe does indeed have heat. My lips are burning (happily) as I type this. There are several ways to reduce the burn. You can buy medium or mild Hatch chilis instead of hot, or mix them with some other, less picante type of fresh pepper. Remember that the green chilis are what gives this soup its flavor, and leaving them out would leave it undeserving of its chili title.You could also remove all the seeds and white pithy stuff in the middle of the peppers - although that's difficult when the peppers are frozen.

  • Smoked ham hocks
  • Mesquite smoked Hatch peppers from last summer, kept in the freezer for just this moment. I left most of the seeds in for more heat.
  • Toasted cumin, toasted coriander seeds, ground
  • Garlic, lots of it.
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh oregano
  • Mirepoix (onion, celery, carrot)
  • Cannellini beans, soaked overnight
  • Garnish: strips of Mexican string cheese or Mozzarella, or queso seco. Fried tortilla strips would work well, too - especially if they were blue corn and tomato, mixed.
  1. Sweat the mirepoix, then add a bit of chopped garlic.
  2. Purée a lot of garlic (I used a bulb) in some water with some of the fresh herbs and pour it in the pot. Scrape the bottom to get any fond that might be sticking there. 
  3. Add the ham hocks.
  4. Add the pre-soaked beans and enough water to cover them plus a bit more. Keep checking the water level, and add hot water if needed. The goal is not to add too much water and dilute the flavor.
  5. Add the cumin and coriander. I want these ingredients in early so that their flavor mellows a bit and helps season the beans. I was pretty generous with these guys, but things mellowed out once the pot cooked a while.
  6. Add salt and Black pepper (White pepper if you're a French chef, but I like the taste of black better). Green pepper should work too. Some people say that if you add the salt before the beans are done, they'll be tough. Others say different. So, I added a bit of salt at the beginning, and adjust for taste before serving.
  7. Simmer at low heat for 90 minutes. They may need another 30 minutes or so - keep checking the beans.
  8. When everything is ready, take out some of the beans and water, add more fresh herbs and purée them all together. Add this back to the beans. If the broth is thin, you can purée more beans or just let it reduce at low heat, without boiling.
I'm just serving this with sourdough bread, heated to get it crispy. Simple enough.

It doesn't have the toasty, deep, earthy flavor of red chili - but the green chili does come through, along with the smoke and herbs. It's also lighter and shouldn't stain your tablecloth. It's not vegetarian, but if the bacon or ham hocks were omitted and more smoked chilis, herbs and garlic added, it could be.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More sourdough: bâtard

There are probably too many bread photos up here now, but since I baked this loaf it might as well settle down here with all the others. Besides, gotta have some French bread if I'm studying French cooking techniques.

This is a lean dough - flour, water, salt, sourdough starter. Knead well, and don't add too much water. This is supposed to be a stiff dough, so tacky to the touch is good enough. Primary fermentation overnight in the refrigerator, then a warm-up on the bench, then shaped into balls and benched, then formed, proofed in a warm oven and baked.

This bread is better warm, eaten not too long after baking. It could be the weather, too - it's been a bit humid lately.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sourdough Ciabatta

These take patience. Pure sourdough starter, a mix of whole wheat and unbleached bread flour. Some salt and water. The dough was mixed very wet by hand with a spatula, then immediately placed in the refrigerator for an overnight ultra slow proof and also to let any enzymes present munch on the whole wheat to develop more flavor. Then more proofing at cool room temperature in a bowl. Then stretched, proofed some more on the bench, then shaped, proofed some more at room temperature, then proofed some more at about 90° to speed things up. Finally, baked to an internal temperature of 96° C (205° F).

The initial dough is very, very wet. Like wet paste. Sticky, gooey, stringy. As the process moves forward, flour gets into the dough from the bench proofing, then when the loaves are shaped. The bread proofs on a couche to dry it out a bit more (funny word, but we're stuck with it). The end result is loaves that can't easily be picked up since without a lot of support they'd flow right out of your hands and on to the floor. However, all that moisture and stretching develops the gluten. The long proofing leads to happy yeast and lots of air bubbles in the bread that make it light and airy.

When the loaves go into the oven, they're almost pizza flat, but rise quickly. I'd rise quickly if I were in a 260° C (500° F) oven, too!

They're done in about 20-30 minutes, ready to eat in another 90. All bread needs to cool for a bunch of food science reasons, but the bottom line is that it has better texture and flavor after cooling than it does hot out of the oven.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's Alive!

My parents mentioned a few months ago that they'd bought some sourdough starter for me from King Arthur Flour. They put it in a box and everyone pretty much forgot about it. Until we showed up, and there it was, still in the box. Unfed, untouched.

I gave it a sniff. Smelled like sourdough. So back in the box and away it went to Sacramento, where I watered it, fed it and waited. In a few hours, there were some bubbles. Then froth, and a good sourdough smell. Still alive!

This was the first bread from the new starter. It's made with bread flour, a bit of whole wheat flour, water, salt, the starter, some pâte fermentée (previously made up bread dough), and a good dose of sourdough starter. I did throw in a bit of SAF yeast for insurance, but much less than normal. This dough is well hydrated and a bit sticky. It's not so wet that it sticks to the bottom of the mixing bowl like ciabatta, but rather wet enough to be supple and velvety in the hands.

As soon as the dough was mixed, it went into the refrigerator for an overnight cold, slow proofing. Initial fermentation was then done on the counter as the dough warmed. Then it was benched, formed and baked in a 500° oven with a bit of initial steam.

It has a light sourdough flavor, probably because I could have proofed it longer but didn't have the time. Next time I make bread, the leftover uncooked dough from this batch will be used as pâte fermentée. That should give a bit more sourdough flavor and complexity.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Beauty without brains

I tried Blogger's pretty new templates. Beautiful! Dynamic images flying off the pages, color, motion, glamor. User-chosen themes, the works. Too bad it was as stupid as it was beautiful.

This blog is powered by Google. So, you might naturally assume that it would let you find things easily and quickly from within the blog.


The pretty new interface's FIND function couldn't find every instance of a search term throughout the site and display it in a convenient spot atop the page for your convenience. You couldn't type "confit" for example, have it search this blog and display every article containing that word so you could pinpoint the post you were looking for.

It was like a retarded hunting dog that could find but not fetch. There was no feedback, like "not found". So if you typed "hojaldre" or "xercorsderefliers" you would get the same result: a blank search box. In fact, "hojaldre" does exist in this blog, but it's an older post. Older posts aren't displayed by the find function and brought to the top of the page. It's up to you to find them.

Oh, did you want social media? Well, forget it. Apparently impossible to link to a post. You could only "like" it in Facebook. Not link to it so that it would come up on your wall. No button for that.

No plug-ins, either. No extended functionality. Just pretty. Really beautiful. 

So, goodbye trendy dynamic interface. Hello old yet functional look. It was a beautiful relationship but alas beauty without brains only works in Hollywood.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Potato-Kale soup for a cold fall night

We were supposed to make potato-leek soup in class, but came up dry (no leeks). So, I decided to make it at home. I went to the market, and guess what? November is not a good month to buy leeks. Nothing. Drier than Death Valley in August (not counting badwater and Salt Creek).

They did have kale, though. Nice green color, healthy, should make good soup. Same basic technique as with the leeks, so still good for practice.

Potato-Kale soup
Small dice onions
Small dice Russet potatoes
Small dice celery
Kosher salt
Lemon juice
A dash of cream
Julienned carrots for garnish

  1. Sweat the onions and celery in some oil
  2. Add the potatoes and enough water to cover, and not much more
  3. Simmer until the potatoes are tender
  4. Rough chop the kale, push down over the potatoes, cover briefly to wilt.
  5. Blend everything with an immersion blender. If you want the kale to have a bit of texture, go to the next step. Otherwise, you can cook it 10-15 minutes to soften it up, but I thought the texture was more interesting, and less cooking normally means more vitamins.
  6. Add lemon juice to taste and just a dash of cream
  7. Adjust salt, garnish with julienned carrots, serve.
 The carrots aren't just there for color. They're the missing ingredient from the mirepoix, left out because I wanted a vibrant green soup with no ground up orange bits. Set on top of the soup, they bring back the earthy carrot flavor missing from the mirepoix. They even add a few gratuitous vitamins.

This was the perfect soup for the coldest, rainiest night this fall. It's filling, so it could almost be a meal in itself, accompanied by a bit of bread.