Summer, Spain and Soup

After a less than perfect spring, the garden is finally yielding an appreciable number of tomatoes. They’re all cherry-sized… the squirrels had their way with all of the full-sized ones, as well as the eggplant, the peppers, etc.

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Last night, in a Spanish mood, we made some tapas (a couple of which we’ve posted before), and a riff on this Thomas Keller dish. We used sustainable lingcod from Hooked, substituted manila clams for the mussels, and threw some lovely Baja shrimp in with the lingcod, poaching both of those in olive oil.

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Today, we whipped up this Chilled Corn Soup with Basil.

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A mandoline makes short work of stripping corn from the cob.

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Good, full-fat buttermilk is worth searching out. It’s so much better than the thin, supermarket kind.

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Leeks and garlic added depth (though I should have sweated the leeks…)

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A drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkling of home-grown piment d’Espelette finished the dish.

Tour d’Apple

Yes, we’ve been bad, absentee bloggers, and we owe you Mexican food and photos, and we’ll get to that. But first! A dessert from Thomas Keller’s “pro” volume: Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide. For anyone without a chamber vacuum, this book is a beast to deal with. But it is possible to muddle through some of the recipes with a Foodsaver-style vac. Dégustation des Pommes – “Tasting of Apples” – is one of those. It’s composed of six sub-recipes: candied apple spheres, apple genoise, milk jam, ginger custard, green apple sorbet, and apple chips.

The milk jam has four ingredients: sugar, milk, liquid glucose, and vanilla bean.

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Cook the sugar, milk and vanilla (scraped into the milk) for a couple of hours over low heat until it looks butter-scotchy, stir in the glucose, chill it, and you’re done. I messed up by putting the glucose in at the beginning, but it wasn’t a disaster.

The apple genoise is more of a production. The first step is to toss fuji apple wedges with sugar and a pinch of citric acid. These are then vac-packed and cooked sous-vide.

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The idea here is to avoid diluting the apple flavour and aroma (which would happen with poaching), and to cook them at the optimal temperature to coax them to tenderness while keeping their character intact. Here they are in the Vita-Mix after being sous-vided for 35 minutes at 185’C:

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And here they are in the stand mixer with the rest of the genoise ingredients: eggs, sugar, cake flour, and apple oil:apple 018After that, the genoise is spread out into a 1/4 sheet pan, baked in a convection oven, cooled, frozen, and cut into rounds. Mine didn’t turn out very well. The top was crusty and threatening to brown before the inside was really set. I blame the lack of a real 1/4 sheet pan… I only had a baking dish, whose high sides may have interfered with airflow.  Note the dense, apple-saucy interior:

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Onward and upward. The candied apple spheres were fun. Using a parisienne scoop (a #22 rather than the specified #18… oh my!), I made about four dozen spheres of Golden Delicious apple. Because we don’t have a chamber vacuum – you are welcome to buy us one – and liquids don’t do well in domestic vac sealers, I used the Foodsaver’s marinating jar to force the wine-sugar-water syrup into the apple balls:

apple 020I then packed them in a Mason jar brim-full with syrup, and put them into the Sous-Vide Supreme for a few hours at 167’C before chilling them.

The custard was also done sous-vide. I’d never done this before, and now I’m not sure I’ll make custard any other way. The water oven lets you cook the custard base at a single, constant, precise and optimal temperature. In this case, the base was infused with fresh and powdered ginger, strained, and bagged. Lacking a chamber vacuum, I used the displacement method – yay, Archimedes – which involves dunking the open bag into water up to the lip of the bag, until the water pressure forces almost all of the air out. Truthfully, this ended up being the most frustrating part of the recipe. Even though it looked like there was a negligible amount of air in the bag, it refused to stay submerged. Getting it to do so, while splashing around in 185’C water, was no fun. Anyway – here’s the bag of finished custard:

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This was mixed with gelatine and whipped cream before being left to set in the fridge… which it didn’t. I used silver-strength gelatine rather than gold-strength, but I’m not sure it would’ve set in any event. Since I had time, I threw it into the freezer, where it turned into excellent ginger ice cream.

Okay, we’re in the home stretch. Green apple sorbet was also fun to make. Keller’s sorbet base uses a stabilizer – haters will hate, but it prevents large ice crystals from forming, and this means smooooooth sorbet, so, meh. The recipe called for apple juice made from unpeeled Granny Smith apples (with precisely 16 baby spinach leaves and a pinch of citric acid, to provide and stabilize colour). Lacking a juicer, I turned to the Vita-Mix plus a Superbag(!) – a tough, synthetic bag with 100-micron pores. Basically, a big, reusable, über coffee-filter. This was a very successful substitution:

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The juice and the base spent some time in the ice cream maker, then joined the ginger ice cream in the freezer.

Last component: apple chips. Easy. Get your mandoline, make paper-thin slices of Granny Smith apples, punch out 2-inch circles:

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and poach them in sub-simmering sugar syrup for 90 minutes:apple 024

then place them on a teflon sheet (seriously, folks – go get one – these are awesome) in a 200’F oven for 2 hours.

Aaaaannd we’re done. Here’s the assembly:

The verdict on the dish? Too sweet. Waaaay, way too sweet. The genoise was punitively sweet. I’d say this was my fault, but I’m afraid it’s becoming a pattern with recipes we’ve made from Keller’s pastry chef. We’ve made madeleines and the madeleine cake from the Bouchon Bakery book, and they were also far too sweet. The other components of the dish were much more successful, but the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Keller’s cooking is notable for its attention to balance of flavour; that wasn’t the case here. Still, I learned a lot, and I’ll gladly make the custard (aka ice cream) and the sorbet again.

Dish of the Week: 2013 Week One

Let’s see if we can stick to this New Year’s resolution: a weekly post, highlighting the best thing we cooked and/or ate, and listing other noteworthy meals.

This week’s pick was a Rick Bayless recipe for Potato and Chorizo Tacos with Simple Avocado Salsa.

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Despite the link to Her Royal Marthaness, we actually stumbled across this recipe in a new (to us) video cooking app-zine, Panna, that features some very cool chefs: Bayless, Anita Lo, Jonathan Waxman, et al. It has some bizarro interface issues, but it’s well worth checking out.

Since our butcher du jour didn’t have any Mexican chorizo sausage, but did have unseasoned sausage meat, we went with Ruhlman’s chorizo recipe (scaled down to a pound of meat). We had to almost double the chipotle and ancho to give it that nice brick-red tint that finds its way into the pork lipids and stains everything it’s cooked with so, so appealingly…

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We also used Bayless’s recipe for tortillas, which involves two pans at different temperatures.

tacos 010There’s a tortilla, mid-press. And here it is getting all puffy-like in the hot cast-iron pan:

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The salsa that accompanied the dish is pure awesome sorcery: tomatillo, jalapeño, avocado, garlic, and salt. The acid in the tomatillo keeps the avocado from oxidizing, which means you can enjoy this salsa for a good couple of days.

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This week’s other dinners:

Kabocha Pumpkin Hot Pot, from Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat’s Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals. Some substitutions: We added some tofu, and made a quick pressure-cooker chicken stock rather than the five-hour mushroom infusion.

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Scallops Grenobloise, eliminating the veggies but adding Thomas Keller’s asparagus coulis. (To be honest, this was kind of a shit-show: terrible croutons courtesy of lame white bread from these hacks, which I forgot to add anyway because of  too much of this week’s wine pick, which also made me forget to season the asparagus coulis. However, substituting meyer lemon in place of regular lemon was sort of genius.)

Poulet au Riesling, from the foodporny The Country Cooking of France. Delicious made with a big old capon and a hefty dollop of crème fraîche. As usual, Willan’s recipe needed some tweaking: some cornstarch at the end to thicken the sauce.

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And finally: take-out pizza from Il Fornello. Not as good as Pizzeria Libretto, but better than it used to be.

The next two weeks’ DOTW posts will be delayed, but for good reason: we’re taking the show on the road to Oaxaca, Mexico. Among other things, look forward to stories from our cooking lessons with Nora.

Hot Stock Tip

You may as well start making stock this way, because I think you’re going to end up doing so sooner or later. Pressure cooker stock has been around for decades… like so many things that are now in fashion (canning, foraging, bread making). It is now being popularized by the new generation of “modernist” cooks: it appears in the massive, multi-volume Modernist Cuisine and its forthcoming little brother, Modernist Cuisine at Home, as well as Heston Blumenthal at Home.

In this case, I think the attention is well deserved. I’ve made half a dozen batches of stock this way, and it has several advantages over the standard method:

It takes less time to produce great stock: two hours rather than several
It takes much less energy (gas or electricity)
It doesn’t fill the kitchen with heat and steam
It keeps all of those aromatic molecules in the pot
There’s a lot less hands-on work (skimming)
It forces the ingredients to give up everything they have
It produces a clearer, cleaner looking stock more easily

The downsides?

You might not own a pressure cooker, and really good ones (stainless steel rather than aluminum) are not cheap
Unless you buy a seriously expensive pressure stockpot, you won’t be able to make more than 2 or 3 liters at a time
You miss out on some of the sensory pleasure of stock-making: the tending of it, the sight of it bubbling away, and the house-filling aroma. The pleasure of opening the lid and suddenly: “whoa, it’s stock!” has its merits, but it’s not exactly traditional.

When push comes to shove, though, I’m more likely to spend a little time making stock a few times a month rather than a whole lot of time making it once a month. This is something that’s going to result in me making more stock, and better stock.

Bonuses: pressure cookers are obviously good for a lot more than stock. For dried beans and grains, in particular, I find the pressure cooker makes the difference between never cooking them, and being generally happy to cook them even on a weeknight. And a really good pressure cooker is also a really good standard pot: our Kuhn Rikon ‘cooker is a heavy beast that’s never going to warp.

Heston Blumenthal’s White Chicken Stock

1.75kg chicken wings
150g peeled and finely sliced onion (approx. 2 medium onions)
150g peeled and finely sliced carrot (approx. 2 large carrots)
100g finely sliced button mushrooms
60g finely sliced celery (approx. 2 sticks of celery)
50g cleaned and finely sliced leek, white and pale green parts only (approx. 1 leek)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and bashed with the flat part of a knife or by hand
10g flat leaf parsley (stalks and leaves)
6 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
5g black peppercorns

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The precise ingredient amounts might seem a little obsessive, but it’s worth paying attention to them the first couple of times – you’ll then develop a good sense of what 50g of leek looks like.

Method:

Blanch the wings: put them in the pot, cover them with cold water, and bring them to a boil, skimming any scum that rises to the top. Strain them out, rinse them thoroughly under cold running water, clean the pot, and return the wings to the pot.

Cover the wings with cold water, and bring them up to pressure. Cook under high pressure for one hour. Let the pressure come down naturally.

Open the lid, and add the vegetables (but not the herbs). Bring the pot up to pressure again, and cook for 30 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally.

Now, add the herbs and spices and cover the pot, but keep it off of the heat. This extracts the delicate flavours without cooking them away.

Strain the stock through damp muslin or several layers of damp cheesecloth. Cool it rapidly in a sink of ice water, and refrigerate. The following day, scrape off the fat. There you have it: truly excellent stock.