If you live on this planet (even if only in a physical sense) and read food blogs, then you are surely familiar with the wildly popular and hilarious French Laundry at Home . If you are not, then you're in for a treat.
FLH is written by Carol Blymire, who described herself as "a pretty good cook" when she decided to cook and blog her way throughThe French Laundry Cookbooknearly two years ago. Her razor wit and quirky obsessions with 80s music and Mike Bloomberg have garnered her many fans and readers, myself included.
I found the blog, late one night, through an email link to her April 1, 2007 post. The maniacal mess that she created in that post made me laugh out loud. And I don't mean LOL, but the kind of uncontrollable, gut-busting, tear-streaming, soul-cleansing howls that wake your dog and make him charge at you, barking in concern. I've bookmarked that post and refer to it often when food gets too intense and I need to lighten up.
I am not posting about French Laundry at Home merely as a recommendation, although I am glad to do so. Instead, some recent news has piqued my interest, and maybe yours too. As Carol runs out of recipes to cook from the book, she has announced in arecent posther plans to launch a new site this fall. Although she is keeping mum about the specifics while ironing out the details, she promises that it will involve two books thatI am eagerly awaiting: Thomas Keller's Under Pressure and Grant Achatz's Alinea, and will go so far as to say: "So, while I may not cook my way through an entire El Bulli volume, I am going to continue to push past my comfort zone to see what I am capable of in some new arenas."
Late summer, in Northeastern gardens, is when most flowers decide to call it a day. Spent by their explosive displays, they leave the show before the grand finale. Few flowers will wait this long to bloom, but phlox hold out patiently for their turn in the limelight.
Phlox (Phlox paniculata) possess all of the qualities that I look for in flowers:
grow in part shade (I've got plenty of that)
like moist soil (ditto)
display deep, saturated colors (haughty hussies that they are)
bloom for a prolonged period (up to 6 weeks!)
require little care (yay for that)
have a heavenly scent (mmmm)
are edible (jackpot)
If you're wondering what phlox taste like, think barely ripe bananas and pears. Add to that the sweet muskiness of figs.
Cooking with phlox is a study in flower pigmentation. When heat or extreme cold is applied, the anthocyanin (water-soluble pigment responsible for pink, purple and blue color in plants) bonds with other compounds already present in the flower, turning the petals from pink to blue. As the reaction continues, the blue mellows to a lavender-mauve. This is the same chemical reaction that occurs with red cabbage and onions.
Longan (Dimocarpus Longan) is a close relative of the lychee and rambutan. Longan, literally, is dragon's eye, referring to the dark seed that shows through the translucent flesh. The hard seed, when cooked, has a nutty flavor.
The flesh of the longan has a juicy texture reminiscent of a grape, with a mildy sweet, floral flavor. It is not as sweet as the lychee, making it a popular fruit for savory preparations in the East, where it is widely grown.
The delicate flavor of longan pairs nicely with sake
sweet and salty longan
1 quart peeled and pitted longans
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup sake
1/4 cup kosher salt
Pack longans into a clean, sterilized jars. Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil and pour over longans, leaving a 1/2" headspace at top of jars. Seal, and refrigerate. Use after 2 weeks.
Juniper is an coniferous (cone-bearing) shrub that belongs to the Cypress family. Along the east coast of the United States, the native juniper is Juniperus Virginianaand is identified by tiny scale-like needles and small berries that are green throughout the summer and turn dusky blue in the fall. These berries are actually cones and are used in the production of gin, providing it's distinct flavor. The berries, like the needles, have a clean, bracing botanical flavor.
Bake fingerling potatoes in a 350 F oven until tender. Cut each in half and scoop out most of the flesh. Rub with juniper oil and return to oven until they begin to crisp. Put a dollop of creme fraiche in each potato skin and top with caviar. Serve immediately. To make juniper oil: Wash sprigs of juniper and pat dry with paper towels. Add to blender with enough extra virgin olive oil to cover. Blend until sprigs are finely chopped and oil turns green. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
83C is the optimum temperature for sous vide vegetables as explained by Chad on this post. Cooking the potatoes with vinegar and salt pickles them as they cook. The grated juniper snow is a refreshing jolt against the warm spice of mustard and earthy potatoes.
potatoes: fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/8" slices white wine vinegar salt olive oil
Lay potato slices out on a plate and sprinkle liberally with vinegar and salt and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Pack potato slices into a vacuum bag in a single layer and add excess vinegar from plate. Vacuum and seal. Place in 83C water bath and cook for 90 minutes. Remove bag from bath and chill in refrigerator until cold.
mustard mayo: 2 parts prepared mayonnaise 1 part whole grain mustard honey, lemon juice, and salt to taste
Combine all ingredients until well blended. Chill.
juniper snow: 200 g water 25 g juniper needles 10 g agave nectar 3 g salt
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until juniper is finely chopped. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Transfer to a plastic storage container and freeze until solid. Simultaneously, place an empty metal bowl into freezer. Pop block of ice out of container and grate to form snow, letting it fall loosely into chilled metal bowl. Freeze until ready to use.
This is a reconstructed potato, made from potato puree set with Methocel and wrapped with a melted raclette cheese skin. For recipe and step-by-step illustrations, see previous post.
juniper roasted potato
Roasting the potatoes wrapped in juniper releases it's aromatic essential oils, perfuming the potatoes (and your kitchen) with it's scent. Alternately, they can be roasted over hot coals for a primal experience.
Lerida makes a blended oil from extra virgin olive oil and virgin coffee oil that is simply amazing. Here, it rounds out the spicy, woody tones of the juniper.
balinese hollow salt
Preheat oven to 375F. Wrap juniper sprigs around potatoes and fasten in place with small gauge wire. Place on baking
sheet and roast until potatoes are tender. Unwrap while
hot, drizzle with coffee oil and sprinkle with salt.
Creamy and comforting, earthy potatoes with the complexity of smoke, the bite of blue cheese, and a kiss of gin, delivered with a crispy potato spoon. A satisfying finish.
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
2 cups milk
3 Tblsps butter
3 oz Maytag blue cheese
salt and pepper
Place potato chunks into saucepan with enough salted water to cover. Cook over high heat until very tender. Drain, and pass through a ricer. Set aside to cool.
When cool, place potatoes in a smoker and lightly smoke. Or, to create your own smoker, use a pan that can be fitted with a steamer basket and a cover. Fill the pan with wood chips and a small amount of water. Cook, covered, to create the smoke. When the water has evaporated, place the potato puree in the steamer basket, quickly covering to hold in the smoke. Remove the potatoes after approximately 1 minute or when the flavor of the smoke has permeated the potatoes.
Place the milk, butter, and blue cheese into a saucepan and heat until butter and blue cheese have melted. Add the smoked potato puree and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Keep soup hot until ready to serve.
hot gin foam:
150 g gin
100 g water
2.5 g soy lecithin
Combine water, gin, and lecithin in a small saucepan. Heat until very hot. Quickly form foam by blending with immersion blender. Keep foam hot until ready to serve.
Crispy potato spoon:
Cut a 1/2" thick slice from a large potato. Cut a spoon shape from the slice. Carve out the underside of the handle, leaving it 1/4" thick. Scoop out the bowl of the spoon with a melon baller. Carve the underside of the bowl until it is of a uniform thickness. Rub the spoon on all of the surfaces with olive oil. Place, bowl-side-down, on a baking sheet and bake in a 250F oven until it is browned and crispy. (If the handle browns faster than the bowl, wrap it with parchment paper, then foil.)
I am a sucker for babies. They reduce me to a pile of cooing, quivering jelly. When I encounter a neonate, i have to fight the urge to stuff their pudgy cheeks, fists, and feet into my mouth. This may seem bizarre, but I'm willing to bet there are some of you that are nodding in recognition.
This same compulsion applies to baby vegetables (just ask Sid Wainer). These, I recognize, are OK to put in my mouth.
My first vegetable garden was largely dedicated to the cultivation of baby root vegetables. I planted miniature varieties of white turnips, red and yellow beets, cylindrical and round carrots, and red and white pearl onions in neat rows. It was a garden fit for a dollhouse.
I also planted Yukon Gold potatoes that were intended to be full size, but when I prematurely dug them up, I was delighted to find tiny, marble-size potatoes clinging to the roots. Within minutes, I was in my kitchen, rinsing off the still-wet earth, their skins so thin that the force of the water nearly peeled them away. After a few minutes in boiling, salted water, they went into a saute pan with fruity olive oil, smashed cloves of garlic and sprigs of thyme. Heavenly, they were; creamy inside, crisp and earthy outside. Later that day, I made a simple dinner of roasted baby potatoes with melted raclette cheese, good bread and wine. I will never forget those humble meals; they rekindled my love affair with the potato.
Nowadays, I seldom grow potatoes, mainly because I don't want to sacrifice the space in my garden required to grow and hill them. At this time of year, I am on the lookout for new crops of spuds that appear at the market and will rummage through bins and baskets, picking out the tiniest specimens.
The newborn fingerlings that I found, just hours old I was told, were prime for simple preparations. But, of course, I had to play.
Methocel SGA forms a firm gel when heated and reverts to it's original state (here, a soft puree) as it cools. For best results, allow it to hydrate overnight.
160 g hot potato puree
75 g milk, cream, or buttermilk
15 g butter
100 g water
5 g methocel SGA150
raclette cheese, cut into thin slices.
To make potato puree: Peel potatoes and cut into chunks. Drop into boiling, salted water and cook until very tender. Drain and pass through a ricer, tamis or sieve 2-3 times or until a very smooth texture is achieved. This is best made just before proceeding with recipe, while still hot.
Combine hot potato puree with milk, butter, and salt, stirring vigorously until butter melts.
Add methocel to water and blend it in with an immersion blender. Combine gel with potato mixture, stirring until well blended. Cover and chill overnight in refrigerator.
The next day, preheat oven to 250F. Fill molds with potato mixture and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until firm. Remove from oven and unmold onto baking sheet lined with silpat.
Lay slices of cheese alongside potatoes and return to oven just until cheese softens and begins to spread.
Peel cheese off silpat and drape over potato. Lift potato and mold the cheese around the bottom, pressing into place.
If desired, the raclette potato can be painted with strongly-brewed, finely-ground coffee. Serve warm.
A tasting menu is a cogitative journey through a progression of flavors that begins with the prolegomenous amuse bouche and ends with the sating mignardise. Modern menus play with the line between savory and sweet by including elements of each throughout the courses, but there still remains a distinction between the savory courses and the desserts, both in flavor profiles and placement within the menu. The pre-dessert acts as a bridge between the two. This is the tightrope course; it must perfectly balance the fine line between the sweet and the savory. When executed successfully, it makes the transition feel seamless.
I made this dish as an example of a pre-dessert. The delicate whisper of sake, grassy notes of matcha, and the smoky after-tones of the shiso echo the preliminary courses, while the inherent sweetness of the shiro plum, along with the up-front mint and apple notes of the shiso prelude the increasingly sweeter courses that will follow. It could have gone either way: replacing the plum with a protein such as a pristine scallop, would have worked beautifully if the dish was placed at the very beginning of the menu. Alternately, sweetening the herbal elements would have transformed it into a bright, focused dessert.
Side note: For a graphic illustration of flavor progression within a tasting menu, check out the menus at Alinea. The circles are not design elements, they act as a flavor map of the meal:
The size of the circles relates to the size of the course.
The intensity of color corresponds the intensity of flavor.
The left/right position indicates the savoriness/sweetness of the dish.
My husband's baked beans are legendary. The recipe has been handed down through the generations of Canadian men in his family like an heirloom. They are not the stuff that you find in cans--they are the real deal. And they are made in a pressure cooker.
When he first told me of his cooking method, I scoffed, believing that beans should be baked long and slow. A challenge ensued. After an overnight soak, the beans were divided. His went into a pressure cooker, mine went into the oven. Thirty minutes later, his were ready to eat--soft, but firm enough that each bean kept it's integrity and the sweet, tart, and peppery syrup had penetrated them to the core. Five hours later, mine were still hard and inedible, the sauce had all but dried up. I had to concede.
Years ago, a friend brought me a can of green boiled peanuts from his travels to the Low Country. He warned me that they were an acquired taste. For me, the acquisition was quick and complete. It was the one and only time that I had access to them, until recently.
When in season, Asian markets carry raw peanuts, still in the shell. I wanted to cook up a batch in heavily salted boiling water as they do in the South, but the four hour cooking time was putting me off. Then I looked at the pressure cooker. And then I looked at the individual shelled peanuts.
Making the connection to my husband's baked beans was just a logical progression.
Pork belly, when properly cooked until tender and succulent, is downright obscene. Choose a belly with a high ratio of fat. It can be cooked with the skin on, then sliced off to expose the creamy layer of fat that will be seared. For an added treat, the cooked skin can be sliced into thin strips and fried until crispy. The belly can be cooked in one piece or cut into individual portions for a shorter cooking time and thorough penetration of flavor. Cooking in a pressure cooker will cut the cooking time further. 3 lbs. pork belly
1 qt. rich chicken stock
1 cup peach juice
2 Tblsp molasses
1 Tblsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
In a heavy skillet, sear the pork belly on both sides until golden. Remove and place in a deep baking pan or a pressure cooker. Pour about 1 cup of chicken stock into the skillet and deglaze pan, then pour over the pork belly. Add the rest of the stock and the remaining ingredients.
To braise in the oven: Preheat the oven to 300°F. Cover the casserole and bake for 4-5 hours or until fork tender.
To pressure cook: Cover pot, lock lid and bring up to pressure. Cook for 1- 1 1/2 hours.
When tender, remove the belly from the liquid. Remove skin, if still attached, and cut into serving pieces. Sear the fat side of the belly until crispy, then brush with glaze.
For glaze: In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of peach puree with 2 Tblsps of brown sugar and 1 Tblsp lime juice. Cook over med-high heat until thickened, about 5 minutes. To make crispy thin sheets: Cut very thin slices of raw pork belly (this is easiest when partially frozen). Lay them out on a sheet pan, slightly overlapping, and lightly sprinkle with salt. Cover the slices with a smaller sheet pan and weigh it down with a heavy skillet. Place in a preheated 250F. oven until they have crisped and taken on a light golden color.
Salt pork is pork fat, usually from the back, that has been cured in salt. Fresh pork belly can be used in it's place.
4 oz. salt pork or fresh pork belly
1 lb. shelled green raw peanuts
6 Tblsps molasses
6 Tblsps brown sugar
1 Tblsp prepared mustard
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salt pork)
1 whole large onion, peeled
Cut the pork into 1/2" pieces and fry in a pressure cooker until browned and crispy. Add peanuts, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, pepper and salt (if using). Stir to combine. Place onion in center. Cover, lock lid, and bring up to pressure. Cook for 30 minutes. Release pressure and remove onion.
August is peach season here in the Northeast. My Redhaven peaches need another week or two to ripen, but there are earlier local varieties now available at the markets. The kernel of the peach pit is a good source of Benzaldehyde (the essence of bitter almonds). To extract the kernel, strike the pit with a heavy hammer or mallet until it breaks open.
3 ripe peaches
2 cups peach juice
1/2 cup Sauternes
2 Tblsps agave nectar
3 peach kernels
Wash peaches and cut each in half. Remove the pit and extract the kernel. In a pan large enough to hold the peaches in a single layer, combine the peach juice, Sauternes, and agave nectar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peaches, laying them skin-side-up, and their kernels. Poach gently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from liquid, peel off skin, and cut into 1" cubes. Serve warm.
Poblano peppers are a staple in my vegetable garden, along with the other chilis: jalapeno, serrano, thai dragon, and habanero. Poblanos are the mildest among these. Towards the end of their growing season, I allow the dark, glossy green pods to ripen on the plants until they turn a deep red. When dried, these are known as Ancho chilis. Charring the poblanos accomplishes three things: it allows the waxy skins to be easily removed, it softens the flesh to a tender-crisp texture, and it infuses them with a smoky flavor.
2 poblano peppers
1 Tblsp avocado oil
1 1/2 tsp lime juice
Char the peppers over an open flame until the skins blister and blacken. Place them in a heatproof container with a tight-fitting lid and allow them to steam in their residual heat for 10 minutes. Remove the blackened skins by rubbing them off with your fingers or a dry towel. Resist the temptation to rinse them off--you will only be diluting the flavor. When peeled, rip them open and remove the stem, membranes and seeds. Finely julienne the flesh and toss with the remaining ingredients.
chilled poached salmon caviar persian cucumber creme fraiche green dill seeds leek buds hyssop flowers
At the restaurant, we make tons of poached salmon.
Well, maybe not tons, but on the weekends we make enough to feed the masses. I'm told that it's been on the catering menu for the past 20 years and that attempts to remove it have been futile. I am not surprised by it's popularity; every time that I taste it I'm reminded of the complexity of flavor that can be achieved through simple, classic techniques. The secret to it's success at the restaurant is that it is consistency prepared the same way. The fillets are cut off the bone and two whole sides go into a hotel pan, skin side down. Chopped onions, celery, lemons, and parsley are strewn over the top along with a liberal sprinkling of salt. Half of a magnum of white wine is poured over, followed by enough water to cover by an inch. They go into a cold convection oven at 375F. After 20 minutes, the court-bouillon just begins to steam, the vegetables begin to soften, releasing their aroma, and the oven is turned down to 325F. The salmon cooks slowly and gently until it is opaque all the way through. After the pans are removed from the oven, they cool on a rack until they are no longer hot, then they chill overnight in the walk-in. This is where the magic happens: as the salmon cools, the flesh retracts and draws in the aromatic liquid, locking in the flavor. The next day, the flesh, although cold, is soft and unctuous, and the flavor is deep and complex. When I begin to play the what-if game with this particular preparation, I always come up short. I can think of no other techniques (short of sous-vide, which is unpractical with the quantities that we do) that would yield the same results. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
hot poached salmon salsa verde court-bouillon
whipped buttermilk potatoes
At home, hot poached salmon with salsa verde and softly whipped buttermilk potatoes is my go-to dish when I have salmon, fresh herbs, and a good bottle of Chardonnay on hand. The ripe flavors of the wine marries well with the richness of the fish and the assertive herbs. Because the salmon is served hot and does not benefit from the flavor-boosting overnight chill, the court-bouillon must be concentrated. Copious amounts of aromatics are simmered in white wine and water until all of their flavor is extracted. This becomes more of a stock than a court-bouillon (court, in French, means short or quick). When the temperature of the stock is at 185F, the salmon are dropped in and poached for about 8 minutes, or until a translucent core remains. Sometimes, when I can't bear to throw out the flavorful stock, I will surround the salmon and potatoes with it in shallow bowls. Doing this transforms the dish into something else...not a soup, but not quite a sauce, either...it becomes both. The soft potatoes melt into the stock along with flecks of herbs, so that after the salmon is consumed, a delicious potato-herb soup is left in the bowl.
Here, I have taken the dish and played with the textures. The salmon has been left alone, in it's state of perfection. The salsa verde, consisting of parsley, tarragon, golden oregano, common thyme, lemon thyme, anchovies, shallots, capers, extra-virgin olive oil, and white wine vinegar, has been set with agar. The agar has a higher melting point than most gels, allowing it to be served hot, while retaining it's shape. The potato base is cooked potatoes that have been passed through a tamis, blended with olive oil, salt, and buttermilk to a pourable consistency. 1.5% Methocel SGA150 is added and the mixture is whipped to aerate and lighten. The mixture is dropped off of the end of a spoon into the hot stock to form small, leaf-shaped dumplings that are firm while hot, yet melt on the tongue. The tips of herbs, planted in the sheet of salsa verde, is directly inspired by my new planter. After years of trekking up to the garden to pick a few sprigs of herbs to season a dish in progress, and returning to a find that it has scorched or overcooked (I am easily distracted in the garden), I have planted an assortment of my favorite herbs in a windowbox on the front porch. Such a simple solution, and now I have no excuses to not use fresh herbs when the inspiration strikes.