Sunday, October 24, 2010

From Scratch- Membrillo

If curiosity killed the cat, and if that, by chance, translates to the kitchen, to the process of cooking, I may be toast.

Making everything from scratch - everything- is not just about my paranoia with processed foods, which I totally own up to; it is about my love for the process, each and every part of it. I want to know how it gets to be what it is- the butter, the pasta, the stocks and sauces, and preserves. This time, it was membrillo. Never tried to make it before and cannot claim to be a huge fan, but I appreciate it. And I wanted to know how to make it- how to turn quince into membrillo.

Processing quince is an interesting little experiment of its own. Quince was common when I grew up. Gutuia, its Romanian name, showed up in the fall, coated with white soft hairs, a sort of fuzz that rubs off easily exposing the rock hard, bright-lemon-colored coat, waxy and fragrant. If we had a few of them, the scent would fill up the kitchen. And we always made the mistake of biting in, because the flavor was irresistible; the taste and texture- not irresistible.

Quince is really the pear's sort-of-Neanderthalic cousin. It is related to both apples and pears, but most reminiscent of the latter. You see, those little stoney cells that make the texture of the pear more coarse, grittier, those are what defines the texture of quince- just more exaggerated. When cut, it oxidizes quickly; it browns the way a pear would. The taste of quince is sour- pucker-your-mouth-pungent sour, so it's not exactly the sort of thing you may want to take a bite out of. But smell it- it's intoxicating- a good ripe quince smells intoxicating. Save it for preserves or membrillo.

Membrillo, a recipe from the Moro cookbook

Ingredients: 4 quinces, up to 2 lbs sugar.

Cut up the pretty yellow quinces, such a weird fruit, into chunks. Cover with cold water in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Cook until the fruit is very soft.

Strain off all water but keep a cup. Place the soft pieces of quince in a blender. You might need to do this in batches. Blend until very smooth. If you need to add a little water to allow it to become really smooth without burning your blender.

Even smooth, the quince will have those little stoney cells that give it the gritty texture. Those are not exactly ideal in membrillo. To get them out, pass through a sieve or a food mill. Weigh the puree and measure out an equal quantity of sugar.

Return the quince along with the sugar to the heavy-bottomed pan and start cooking it on low heat stirring often. The sugar will melt and it will start to bubble and will attempt to stick to the sides and bottom of the pan. Stir and turn the heat on lower if that happens. And watch your stirring hand- one of those bubbles is enough for a blister.

Allow it to cook slow, to reduce, to brown gently and reduce, and thicken. This will take probably a couple of hours. When it is really really brown and thick, it's ready. If it's too sweet, add a little lemon.

Pour it in a flat bottomed pan, preferably rectangular, lined with parchment paper and allow it to cool completely.

After it cools, cut it up into whatever shape or size you want. I served it with Manchengo cheese and a little toast. You can choose to just eat a slice. It's that good.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Confession Wednesday- On Dining Out

I may be in the process of ruining my enjoyment of dining out. Little by little, as I learn more and more in the kitchen, I enjoy meals out less and less. Has that happened to you yet?

Somewhere around the time I cut 8 pounds of onions into identically shaped and sized 1/4 inch slices for French Onion Soup I have ceased to enjoy most French onion soup available for purchase. The stock is not deep and flavored enough; texture is off because the onions were not cut evenly; the color is not dark enough because the onions were slowly browned for 5 hours; too much cheese; too little bread; the wrong kind of cheese and bread; the list goes on. The mashed potatoes were not passed through a ricer. The sauce on the meat is cloudy. The sweetbreads are not pillowy and crispy enough. Pasta is not homemade and neither is the butter and why in the world are they trying to make bread cause clearly they are not succeeding.

The thoughts keep on coming and getting in the way of enjoying the moment. When I can't find fault, or when I had two drinks to deter my mind from the crazy food criticism, well, then I really have fun.

My food is far from perfect. I certainly don't criticize because I think I am better. I learn, test, play more. I have fun doing. Eating out is becoming harder but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it will keep me in the kitchen playing more. Or maybe I'll just have the two drinks every time I eat out to take the edge off.

Butternut Squash Soup, a recipe from The Kitchen Cafe - find more in the Colorado Organic Cookbook.

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon unsalted butter; 1 medium yellow onion, chopped; 1 garlic clove, sliced; 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed; 1 small butternut squash, about 1 pound, peeled and chopped; 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth; 1/2 heavy cream; 2 teaspoons olive oil for garnish; 2 tablespoons creme fraiche, chunky bread crumbs and chopped parsley- all for garnish also.

I always weight my squash- for some reason, those little suckers are heavier than you would think. If you end up with a heavier one, reserve the extra for another use or adjust all the quantities to match your squash.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over low heat and add onion, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cover and sweat for 15 minutes - or until the onions are melted but not at all browned.

Add the squash and sweat covered still over low heat for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken or vegetable broth and increase the heat to medium. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes or until everything is soft.

Allow it to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes- the flavors do wonders together during this time. Blend the soup well, until it has the texture of a smooth soup. Return to the pot over low-medium heat and gently incorporate the cream.

Serve a bowl garnished with creme fraiche, a few drops of olive oil, some bread crumbs and a little bit of parsley.

Enjoy your meals at home or wherever you are!

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Small Things-the Truffle

Happiness comes quick and vanishes the same in my cooking life. A new large stock pot can make my week. Missing an ingredient from a recipe I have my heart set on making can ruin the night. Calling every butcher in town to find veal breast and failing can kill my mood the same way that finding a flawless stunning fresh black truffle can send me into elation. The small things, when it comes to food, are big.

When I made up my mind on this recipe, I knew I had a challenge- finding a fresh black truffle. I was ready to settle for frozen but when I found the fresh one, I was thrilled. I took pictures of it and tweeted it. I bragged about how beautiful my truffle was for two days...until I cooked it. It was just as tasty as it was beautiful.

I was not sure how this recipe would turn out. Custard is a tricky little item for me. It works or it does not with no exact rhyme or reason. But it looked appealing enough to try and because it worked it renewed my confidence in my custard-making-talents.

White Truffle Oil-Infused Custard with Black Truffle Ragout, a French Laundry recipe

You will need 4 sort of intact eggshells to bake the custard in. You can use the shells from the 2 eggs you use in the custard and 2 other eggs that can be reserved for other uses (an omelet or something!).

For $4.95, the egg cutter is actually a very fun little tool. There is something enthralling about just being able to take the very top off a fragile shell without damaging the rest of it. Once you get the egg out, the shell needs to be rinsed and the thin white lining-membrane removed- gently- it is an egg shell.

Chive Chips
Ingredients: 1 large russet potato, 2 tablespoons clarified butter, melted; kosher salt, 20 chive chips (trimmed a little smaller than the potato strips).

This was so much fun to make and it made such a tasty treat! You need a couple of things you may not normally use- 2 silpats and a mandoline.

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Peel the potato and trim it to bandaid shape (about 4 inch long, 1 inch wide). Cut the potato lenght-wise on a mandoline paper-thin. Keep the slices together so you can match them up again.

Brush both silpats with melted clarified butter and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Lay the potato slices in pairs on the silpat. Place a chive on the center of a potato slice and place the mate of the potato slice over it. Get any air bubbles out of there with your fingers so that the chive is perfectly sealed inside. Place the second silpat over the potatoes, salted side down, and top it with a baking sheet to keep the chips weighted down. Bake for about 25-30 minutes rotating the pan half way through. The chips should be golden brown and crispy.

Ingredients: 2 large eggs + 2 egg shells and the egg carton; 1/3 cup whole milk; 1/3 cup heavy cream; 2 teaspoons white truffle oil.

Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan until it reaches a boil. Pour the milk and cream into a blender and give it a short blend. Add the truffle oil and the 2 eggs and blend again. Strain through a chinois into a small pitcher (yes, in a pitcher, not a bowl or other container of your choice cause you will not be able to pour it out right). Let the custard sit for a few minutes and skim off any foam.

Put the eggshells in the carton and fill them up three quarter of the way up with custard. Put the egg carton in an oven-proof pan at least 4 inches deep and cover with water two thirds of the way up the eggs, inside the egg carton and out. Cover then pan with a lid or baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes. The finished eggs can be kept in the water in a warm place for up to 2 hours.

Truffle Ragout
Ingredients: 4 teaspoons veal stock, 1 teaspoon finely minced black truffle; 2-3 small drops of white wine vinegar; 1/2 teaspoon butter; salt and pepper.

Combine the veal stock, truffles, vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until it reduces into a silky sauce that coats the back of a spoon. Swirl the butter and the truffle oil in right before you serve it.

Put the eggshell in an egg-cup-holder. Top with a little ragout and a chive chip.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Confession Wednesday- Indecency, My Way

Writing this post has proven harder than writing any other post so far. It is not more personal than the rest. It may just be something I have not yet made peace with. My age. Two weeks ago I turned 30. I wanted to write this post the day after my birthday. I could not bring myself. Instead, I wrote nothing that Wednesday. I had made the recipe, I had the pictures, I just could not write it. I am 30 and I was not ready to be 30. There. Phew.

The day came, it went, and truly not much changed. I still got carded occasionally when I ordered a drink- a compliment. I still fit in the same clothes I fit into the day before and still have the same cravings, the same mood swings, the same wrinkles under my eyes. No overnight change occurred, of course. No, I did not think it would. It is not a calamity - I understand that. I just was just not ready.

I almost made a list of things I have done, haven't done, will never do, might consider doing, etc. Then I contained myself. There's lot behind me, good and bad, that has made me who I am. The most important thing has been the constant learning, the continuous challenges. Cooking falls right in there. I have enjoyed more than ever the process of cooking, of building flavors, slowly, never rushing, always doing it right, never skipping a step. I have enjoyed this so much that my mother took one look at this little tomato salad I threw together and exclaimed that it is borderline indecent. I admit, I did not expect that. Indecent? Of all things?

At the ripe age of 30, the indecency I engage in is on a little salad plate topped with a French Laundry summer tomato salad. An indecent tomato salad! I made it again, for my birthday -- as much as I wanted to deny the existence of the birthday.

A year ago, I was deprived of a birthday wish. I found myself obligated to use it on the results of the bar exam. I couldn't wish for anything aside passing the bar exam. I felt robbed. This year I had a wish- and wished it wasn't my birthday yet. Thankfully I passed the bar; unthankfully, it was still my birthday.

So I had to come up with a different wish. A big important wish that a 30 year old should make. I still want to make mistakes, only new ones. I still want to love fearlessly even if I'll get hurt. I still want to be able to give and not expect anything back. But this year, I suppose, I want to learn- to be more flexible, more kind, and more forgiving to myself. And to make grotesquely indecent meals!

Indecent Tomato Salad, a French Laundry recipe

Basil Oil
Ingredients: 1 cup packed basil leaves, 1/4 cup olive oil.

Bring a pot of water to a high boil. Place the basil leaves in a strainer and dunk the strainer (without letting the leaves escape it) in the high boiling water for 10 seconds. Seriously, count the 15 hippopotamuses, and promptly plunge in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Place basil and oil in a blender and blend until very smooth. Place the mixture in a strainer lined with a coffee filter and allow it to drain without touching it- messing around with it will make the oil cloudy. Store the oil in a small squeeze bottle ($1.40 at Sur la Table) in the fridge for up to 2 days. After that it loses some of its brightness but I admit, I kept it longer and it was still delicious.

Tomato Coulis
Ingredients: 1 lbs tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1 inch pieces; 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar; 1/4 cup olive oil; salt and pepper to taste.

Squeeze any excess liquid out of the chopped tomatoes. The less liquid, the silkier it gets. Place the tomatoes in the blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. I strained twice, but that is not necessary. You can refrigerate, but be sure to allow the coulis to return to room temperature before serving.

Brioche Crouton
Ingredients: 6 brioche slices.
Cut them up into pieces 2 inch round and 1/2 inch thick- no crust. Then toast in the oven until golden brown.

Cherry Tomato Castle (*smile)
Ingredients: 4-5 dozen mixed cherry tomatoes

All you need to do is flash boil these, dunk in an ice bath and peel them. It is so tedious even I thought it was ridiculous. Before serving, toss with a little salt and olive oil.

Tomato Sorbet
Ingredients: 2 1/4 lbs tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped into 1 inch pieces; 1 tablespoon canola oil; 1/3 cup finely chopped onion; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar; pinch of cayenne; 3/4 cup simple syrup; zest of 1/2 orange julienned and chopped, boiled twice.

Simmer the tomatoes for 45 minutes or until they reduce by half. Add the oil to a skillet and place over medium heat. Cook the onions for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Place the reduced tomatoes and cooked onions into a blender and blend until smooth. Press it through a fine sieve or tamis. Return to the blender and add the remaining ingredients. Strain again and place in the ice cream maker.

Garlic Tuile

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons flour; 1 tablespoon sugar; 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt; 2 tablespoons butter, very slightly softened; half egg (probably the tricker part- eye ball it!); 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic, almost into a paste; 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano- Reggiano.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In one bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter until smooth. Beat the egg into the dry ingredients. Whisk the butter in a little at a time. Add garlic and Parm and mix until smooth and silky. Place a Silpat on an cookie sheet and start spreading the batter into 2 1/2 inch rounds leaving about 1 inch in between them. Perfect rounds are not mandatory. Bake until brown and crisp- about 10 minutes. These are the tastiest little snack!

To assemble: draw a circle with the basil oil on your plate of choice about 4 inches in diameter. Don't worry if it is not perfect- it will shape up. Place a couple of tablespoons of tomato coulis inside the basil oil circle. Center a brioche crouton in the center of the coulis and build two small layers of cherry tomatoes on top of it. Top with a pretty tomato sorbet quenelle and a garlic tuile and voila- the indecency! It is outrageously delicious, even my mom agreed.

Be kind to yourself and get as indecent as you can.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Liquor Up! Tomato Consommé Martini

I appreciate a good drink. A lot. In fact, I appreciate a good mixed drink more than any glass of wine or beer. There is serious creativity going into it, great potential for surprise, infinite possible combinations.

Some stand out and I will always remember- the Honeysuckle Champagne cocktail at Robuchon in London, the Red Sour at Crush in Seattle, the Indian Mojito at Vij's, Bryan Dayton's Stefania at Frasca in Boulder (I must take a moment to say I love Bryan!), and the Margarita that Jose Andres foamed up here.

They stand out because of a surprising ingredient - honeysuckle, a creative way of using wine essence- red wine syrup in Red Sour, an unlikely combination- Garam Masala in a Cuban drink, just a fabulous mix all around (Gin, St. Germain, Aperol, and grapefruit juice- I am drooling!), or well...the margarita because Jose Andres handed it to me.

You would think that it is a sad moment when one cocktail overshadows an entire dinner at a nice restaurant. But it isn't. It is a glorious moment, one that deserves celebrating and replicating over and over.

The Clear Tomato Consommé Martini at Kelly Liken Restaurant in Vail (Top Chef contestant most recently) did exactly that. It was so good that I can hardly remember the meal. It was outstanding- surprising and fresh, perfectly balanced,

Clear Tomato Consommé Martini

Ingredients: 2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, ripe; 2 garlic cloves; 1/4 cup basil leaves; 2 teaspoons kosher salt. And your vodka of choice.

Boil water in a large pot. Core the tomatoes and cut a little X on the bottom of each one. When the water comes to a boil, put the tomatoes in for 10 seconds. Remove quickly and cool in an ice bath. Cold water running over them in a large bowl also works.

Chop the tomatoes up and place them in a blender along with the garlic, the basil, and salt. Now the tricky part- get a very clean kitchen towel and place it over a strainer over a bowl. Ideally the towel would need to hang over the strainer so that the weight of the tomatoes pulled down to allow the tomato water to drain out. I moved the tomatoes around from time to time and squeezed the towel very gently. The danger is that the tomato water gets cloudy with red particles. After a couple of hours hanging you should get about as close to all of the tomato water out. If it is at all cloudy, rinse the towel well, wring it dry, and strain again.

This is what comes out of the straining- pure clear amazingly flavorful tomato water.

I liked an equal ratio of tomato water and vodka. You may adjust this to your own taste. Add ice, give it a good shake, and pour it in a fancy martini glass.

Add a few peeled cherry tomatoes on a toothpick and share it- or plan on going straight to bed after 4 of them- all good options!

Photography by Jennifer Olson (who shared one of these with me!).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Rule, an Update

Not that long ago, in this post, I said 'no more cookbook until we make 5 things out of each of the 20+ cookbooks we already have. Since than, however, I had a wedding anniversary and a birthday get in the way of my resolution. Technically, I did not buy any new books.

The first to break the rule was none-other-than my husband. Seven years of marriage warranted a copy of this book and breaking this rule and really any rule I ever came up with. I'm not saying I don't like it; just noticing that blog-rules do not deter the man from breaking rules. The second rule breaking was so right on and such a double yet unrelated incident that it can't even count as a rule-breaking. A family member and my best friend from law school got me the same book- this one. I have been dreaming about touching my own copy of David Tanis's book since I finished reading the Alice Waters bio. A long time coming and to make up for all the time, I now have two copies. One of these will turn into another book- what should it be?

New rule and new books aside, I am on the second soup from the Moro cookbook and I am loving it.

Garlic Soup, a traditional Spanish Dish

Ingredients: 4 tablespoons olive oil; 4 large garlic bulbs, broken into cloves, skins kept on; 3 oz cooking Chorizo, small dice; 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves; 1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika; 4 cups chicken stock; 4 eggs, organic poached right before serving; 4 large slices of a hearty crusty bread, toasted right before serving.

Heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the garlic cloves in one tight layer. When the oil warms up, add the garlic cloves and gently cook on a low flame until the skins are golden brown. This cooks the garlic slowly and softens it the same way that roasting it would. Stir often and about 20 minutes later check the inside flesh- it should be soft.

Remove with a slotted spoon and allow it to cool enough to handle with your fingers. When cool enough, discard the skins from the garlic cloves by squeezing out the flesh out by hand. Place the garlic flesh in a small food processor.

Puree into a very smooth paste. It will be thick, creamy, almost looking like hummus.

Be sure you removed all of the garlic skins from your pan. Add another splash of oil if you discarded most of it with the garlic. Turn the stove back on on medium and add the chorizo. Cook until caramelized and crisp. Add the thyme and cook for a few seconds stirring. Then add the garlic puree.

Cook for a minute stirring to combine well. Add the paprika and the chicken stock. Bring it to a simmer and allow it to simmer very gently for about 10 minutes.

Just a couple of minutes before you serve, get your eggs poached and bread toasted. Then serve like this.

Poaching an egg is one of those things you can think you got down and still botch every now and then. A tall pot full of water helps- the distance that the egg travels when it plunges in the water matters-the longer it has to go, the more likely to return itself to en egg-like shape. A good amount of salt and vinegar in the water also helps. I never measure- generous depending on how big your pot is. The goal is a cooked but perfectly runny yolk.

This makes 4 portions, but don't feel obligated to serve it in one seating. It is fabulous the next day.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.