Sunday, November 21, 2010

Osmanthus (Sweet Olive) Sweet Water Ice & Hudson Valley Duck Confit

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I recently found some lovely floral extracts from Silver Cloud Estates. Osmanthus, Jasmine, Rose, Pimento (Allspice)… I bet their vanilla is very good too. I lurve sweet olive and have enjoyed many iterations of Harold McGee’s various Ice recipes from The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore (Fig, Mango, Strawberry). This is from his Sweet Water Ice chart for “Water” infusions.

I dissolved 2 1/2 C. sugar in 4 C. water and added 2 Tb. Lemon juice, 4 Tbs. Osmanthus extract and then added about 1/2 C. water to bring the total to just under 6 C. of liquid which will fit in my KitchenAid Ice Cream maker attachment. I had added the extract and lemon juice teaspoon by teaspoon to try to get the correct flavor (cold foods usually need to be stronger than those at room temperature to get the same effect).  It seems to taste stronger than what I thought it would, so I may cut back on the extract next time for guests (though I like it over-the-top for myself).  By luck, my Sweet Olive trees were in bloom to provide a fresh flower garnish.

At the opposite extreme of cooking from scratch, my local grocery store – Calandro’s – has recently started stocking Confit de Canard from Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

So our decadent, almost fast-food meal consisted of steamed broccoli with Plugra butter, sea salt, and fresh-ground black pepper;  skillet heated duck confit with crostini from Whole Foods French baguettes. Almost an unventing of the universe.

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Steamed broccoli with Plugra, pan-seared duck confit, baguette crostini, and Pinot Noir from Saxon-Brown Winery.

I had to sneak out in the middle of the night and have “just-one-more” bite of the Osmanthus Sweet Ice before I went to bed.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

McDonald’s type French Fries and Fresh Ground Beef Burgers


I’ve been looking forward to trying this method for making McDonald’s type French Fries at home ever since I read this post, How to Make Perfect Thin and Crisp French Fries, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. My husband just completed 3 months of exercise and dieting, and wanted to have an over-the-top nasty (in a good way) dinner to celebrate. I decided I wanted to try frying the potatoes in beef fat for old-style McDonald’s fries.



My husband persuaded a local butcher to save us some beef fat to render for frying. This is 12 lbs. trimmed beef fat ready to go in a slow oven to render over several hours.


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After straining and cooling overnight; I got lovely, creamy-white beef tallow.


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The fries must be exactly 1/4 inch for the process to work. My Oxo mandoline worked very well with the French Fry insert.


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The cut potatoes must be parboiled in acidulated, salted water until tender. Unfortunately, I made a slightly larger batch than called for in the recipe and since the water took longer to come to a boil, the potatoes were overdone. It finally occurred to me to check them before the time specified, but I was a bit too late. They didn’t crumble into mashed potatoes, but most of the long ones broke in half when I drained them. I’ll start checking them much earlier next time.

After drying on a paper towel-lined baking sheet, I fried the potatoes in the beef fat for 50 seconds, then spread them on another paper towel-lined sheet and froze them for several hours. They are supposed to be even closer to McD’s fries if frozen overnight, but I didn’t have the time.


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I wanted a great burger to serve with the fries, so I adapted another of Kenji’s recipes:  The World's Best Burger for a Single Man (or Woman). I ground a well-marbled chuck roast and some boneless beef short ribs with my KitchenAid meat grinder attachment.


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Very minimal handling is key to preserve the ground beef “noodles” for a greater surface area for crisping and catching melted cheese, and to prevent a dense interior. I ground the meat directly onto the lined sheet pan and gently coaxed the burgers into shape.



A close-up of the desired loose structure of the patty.


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The burger recipe called for frying one burger at a time (hence the “Single” modifier) in a small skillet so the fat from the burgers would get about 1/8” deep to get the edges as crispy as the bottom. To get all the burgers to finish as the fries were getting their final 3.5 minute fry (by my husband outside on the grill side-burner), I just added a bit of the beef tallow I had made to reproduce the effect.


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My goodness! Everything came out so delicious. The burgers were crispy outside – tender and juicy inside with lots of crags for the cheese to melt into. The fries (though shorter than they could have been) were light-golden bits of heaven. They were fluffy inside, not greasy (really), and stayed crispy to the last fry. I hope to get the gumption to make some batches up to the freezing stage (they are supposed to keep frozen for 2 months). How nice to be able to serve fresh fries like this in just a few minutes. But, I’ll think I’ll just buy the tallow next time…


Can I get a little extra credit for difficulty - cooking in the American Mastiff Obstacle Course?


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ice Chest Sous Vide

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Ah, near perfect medium-rare steak from edge to edge with no large, grey ring of overdone meat around the sides. (I’m sorry the plate is so messy; I’m always rushing to eat when the food is done and forget proper plating.)

I’ve been interested in trying sous-vide for a couple of years but didn’t want to try to build a homemade system and certainly couldn’t afford a commercial setup. With the SousVide Supreme now available for home use, the technique is approaching the realm of the possible; but I wanted to give it a trial run before thinking of plunking down around $500 (though it’s not that much more than a nice KitchenAid mixer). Thanks to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats, a limited version (not hot enough for vegetables, thickness of meat and cooking time limits) of sous-vide is possible for just about anyone. In the comments section of the article Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World's Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack, I found a wonderful calculator Sous-Vide in a Cooler - water temperature calculator that will tell you what temperature of water is needed based on the dimensions of your cooler; type and starting and ending temperature of the meat, etc. Check out Kenji’s Sous-Vide 101: Prime Steak Primer for a detailed explanation of the process.


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Start with a couple of rib-eyes.


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Season with fresh-ground black pepper and Kosher salt and enclose in plastic. You can use Ziploc bags with the immersion method to remove as much air as possible, but it’s nice to vacuum seal the bags if you have one.


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The steaks relaxing in their (should have been) 139.6 degree bath. (I swear I scrubbed out the cooler – those are stains – not dirt. And the steaks are vacuum sealed anyway.) I was pretty lucky for a first try. My hot tap water is 130 degrees. I filled the cooler to 8” deep with the hot tap water then added 1” of simmering water from a large pot on the stove. It looked like about a gallon of simmering water (and that’s what the Sous-Vide in a Cooler - water temperature calculator shows). I had figured on a final water depth of 9” and the temp. was 139.9 degrees at this point. I probably should have added some ice to get the temp. to 139.6, but I was afraid to mess with it too much. That may be why the steaks weren’t quite perfectly medium-rare; or, perhaps the final sear on the charcoal grill lasted a tiny bit too long. I’m sold on the technique, however. The steaks were tender, juicy and delicious. There’s no need to rush with sous-vide steaks. Suddenly decided you want to oven-bake rather than microwave your potatoes, forgot to decant the wine, or expecting chronically-late dinner guests? The steaks will stay at your chosen doneness for another hour or two, no worries.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppadew Peppers

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I only recently heard about Peppadew peppers (though they’ve been around for several years), so when I saw them at Martin’s Wine Cellar, I had to give them a try. I thought they would be good stuffed with goat cheese. I’ve made a goat cheese spread before with a bit of butter blended in to make it spreadable, but decided to try a bit of Colatura (a wonderful essence of anchovies I also only recently heard about).


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I drained the peppadews in a sieve, blended about a tablespoon of the colatura into the softened goat cheese, and stuffed the peppers.


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I placed them under the broiler until the cheese was warm and bubbly, and the peppers charred just a bit. Wow, it was hard to share half of them with my husband. They are addictive – sweet peppers with just a bit of heat – tangy goat cheese with that extra bit of umami from the colatura. I ordered a case of the peppadew peppers so we can have them often. I may even be able to part with some for guests.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mai Tai

My first job in high school was at a Tiki restaurant in Key Largo with the Polynesian fire dancers, Pu-Pu platters, and tropical drinks…
I recently found Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, “America’s leading authority on tropical drinks and Polynesian pop-culture” on Amazon and have started to collect the myriad ingredients necessary to recreate these tropical libations.

Rums for tropical drinks
I found most of the rums at Martin’s Wine Cellar, though I still need a good Demerara 151 for Zombies.

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Mise for the Mai Tai: Aged Martinique and aged Jamaican Rum, lime juice, simple syrup (in the Grolsch bottle), Orgeat syrup, and Cointreau [A fine, colorless, orange-flavored liqueur made from the dried skins of Curaçao oranges grown on the island of the same name in the Dutch West Indies. The Generic term is Curaçao, and if redistilled clear is called triple sec. "...before Prohibition the Cointreau bottle still read Cointreau Triple Sec. The liqueur was not only the first triple sec, it's how the term was coined. After imitators reproduced the signature square bottle and imprinted the words "Triple Sec" in the Cointreau typeface, Cointreau dropped the words from their bottle. The premium liquor has long since transcended the category, but that's how it started out...the first and best triple sec. ... Use generic triple sec only if you are short on cash."].

Sunday, May 2, 2010

“Pesto” Marathon


I somehow stumbled onto the book Very Pesto on Amazon and noticed in the editorial and customer reviews that it included recipes for “pesto” using many herbs other than basil. As I’m a bit behind on my basil crop and most of the other herbs in my EarthBoxes are growing so exuberantly, I thought trying these recipes would be a great excuse to prune back the over-achievers.


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Sage and parsley. Too bad my parsley wasn’t a bit larger. It is used as a filler with some of the stronger herbs so they don’t overpower the pesto and I didn’t have enough to make the tarragon or thyme pesto.


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Oregano and cilantro.


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Tarragon and basil. I was able to cut enough basil before taking this photo to make one batch of classic basil pesto.


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Chervil and thyme.



Washed basil, sage and others drying.



Two portions of parsley for the sage and oregano recipes, cilantro and oregano. The Oxo salad spinner was a great help washing all the herbs.



Garlic for the various recipes, lime zest for the cilantro pesto, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano for the classic basil pesto. I toasted the pine nuts in the microwave; I’m much less likely to burn them than when I try to do it in the oven.




I grated the P-R in the food processor and portioned it out by weight (about 1 0z. for each 1/3 cup) called for in the recipe. Since I only needed 2 tbsp. of Romano for the basil pesto, I used a microplane to grate it.




I didn’t plan ahead well enough to make my own bread so I bought a baguette at Whole Foods to make crostini. My husband stole one end and ate it with spreadable butter while I was making a red pepper tapenade to serve with the pesto.



I feel rich! All that lovely pesto. And all those abundant herbs are put to great use.



My husband and I had a smorgasbord of pestos, the red pepper tapenade, salami, goat cheese, gruyere and emmental cheese for dinner.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Egg & Herb Ricotta Ravioli

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I was trying to think of some way to use up some leftover ricotta and decided to make egg yolk ravioli again. I adapted the filling from this delicious days days post.


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And I’ve been looking forward to using the new ravioli mold my husband got for me.


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Giant sage leaves (my herbs love their EarthBoxes), oregano, a little thyme, Parmigianino Reggiano, ricotta, nutmeg, extra virgin olive oil, pepper & salt for the filling.


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I love this attachment for the microplane grater.


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And this mini chopper my mother found for me at a garage sale.


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It works well when you need herbs very finely and evenly chopped.


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Ready to mix all the filling ingredients together.


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I put this in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld while I made the pasta dough.


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While surfing for egg yolk ravioli variations, I found a great post on total food processor pasta dough (no kneading) and was anxious to try it. The instructions may look overwhelming, but the actual method is easy and the detailed instructions are to help insure success and troubleshoot any problems. I found a similar post here – the instructions aren’t as detailed, but there are some helpful photos of the stages involved to show you what to expect.


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Either the instructions were very good, or I’m very lucky. The dough was wonderful to work with on my first attempt. Not too sticky, not too dry.


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No cracks, easy to handle with minimal flour.


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Unfortunately, I put in a little too much of the filling trying to make a nice nest for the yolks. I tore the back, right “sling” while pushing the filling low enough to leave room for the yolk and the yolk slipped out the side.


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I managed to retrieve the yolk from the counter by moistening the spoonula and my fingers with egg white and easing the yolk up onto the spoonula. As the ravioli with the yolks are so rich, I decided to only use eight. I put a sprinkle of P-R on each yolk to protect it while adding the top layer of dough. I used a pastry brush to paint some reserved egg white beaten with a bit of water to seal the dough.


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I was afraid to push too hard with the rolling pin and risk disrupting the yolks so I sealed the dough by pressing along the seams and cutting them apart with a knife run along the cutting ridges.


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One of the yolked raviola blew apart when I flipped the form over – hence the smeared yolk on the parchment paper. I also discarded the one the rescued yolk had escaped from. (It’s best to start this recipe with lots of extra eggs.)


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I cut up some odd pieces of my pancetta-style bacon into near-lardons.


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While cooking the bacon I made beurre noisette.


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Then I fried some small sage leaves in the bacon fat for garnish.


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Served with the beurre noisette, bacon, fried sage and a sprinkle of P-R. I wish I had thought to cut into one  and photograph it before my husband and I ate all of them. Oh well, it looked a lot like my first egg yolk ravioli:

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I had enough filling and pasta left over to use the other, smaller form that my husband also got for me.


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No yolks this time. I will freeze these for another day.


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I love the little rolling pin that came with this form.