Monday, March 24, 2008

Smoked and Steamed Salmon Rillettes

Starting with this post, I'm going to add a new feature to each new adventure of Cooking Bouchon. Somewhere, somehow I'm going to document the the 'firsts' that I encounter during that particular session in the kitchen. The new stuff is the most challenging and the most interesting to me, being that I started this whole activity mostly for my own education and edification. Now on to Smoked and Steamed Salmon Rillettes.

First, Keller's introduction provides us with the usual insight into both how the cooking should be approached as well as the final dish itself. Here we get a little lesson on rillettes (First #1). For the uninitiated like me, rillettes are typically meat mixed with its own fat served as a spread. I've heard of pork and rabbit rillettes, but not of salmon ones until now. This might be in part due to the next statement of truth from Keller. Salmon, while fatty as fish may go, is certainly not pork. Because of this lack of fat, we're going to put some butter in this sucker. Last up, a little lesson on steaming raw salmon. I don't have any kind of steamer other than a vegetable steamer, so that's what got used. Another proposed option is poaching the salmon in court bouillon. Court bouillon, by my count of Keller's recipe, requires 14 ingredients. Granted, some of these everybody in the world has laying around their kitchens (water), but that's a ton of work to poach a half pound salmon filet. Vegetable steamer it is for me.

Ok, some actual food. The only modifications I made to the recipe were to cut the yield in half and to not marinate the salmon in Pernod. I've never actually cooked with Pernod, but I am not a fan of anything that even remotely tastes like anise, licorice, or any thing similar. So that was out. Everything else was by the book.

The recipe calls for salmon filet, smoked salmon, shallots, creme fraiche, lemon juice, eggs, butter, and chives. And some basic seasonings, but I don't give away entire recipes here, remember?

What, you don't see the chives there? That's because I totally forgot about them until I was about three rillettes in right before dinner. We ate them with chives, but you're not going to see any pictures with chives in them around here. Ok, if you really want to see some chives, head over to the asparagus post.

First up is to steam the salmon (First #2). This took all of about four minutes for me. This was probably because I had halved the recipe and then halved that piece of salmon to fit into my little vegetable steamer. It came out medium-rare, as directed, and not eating all of it right then was a bit of a challenge. While all of this was going on, I sauteed up some shallots in a tablespoon of butter.

Now for the fat. What? I just talked about a tablespoon of butter? That's not fat. How about throwing in another stick and and mashing it around. That's fat. Once that's nice and creamy looking, in goes some creme fraiche (First #3).

Everything gets combined in a bowl in some pre-determined order so that the fish doesn't get absolutely pulverized, and then transferred into glass crocs. In my case there were two crocs, one to be eaten in a couple of hours and one to be sealed with clarified butter (First #4) for later enjoyment. Here's a picture of the results:

And one step closer to my mouth:

Now it's not the most visually pleasing dish of them all, but it's probably one of the best I've made so far, save possibly the desserts. It was smoky, salmon-y, and creamy. You could make a meal out of it fairly easily. That might not be the healthiest option, but it would be delicious. So, here's a recap of the new things:
  1. Rillettes. I'd never really even heard of them, except for a possibly skimming over in Bourdain's book.
  2. Steaming salmon. I hadn't done this before either, and it turned out to be very easy. I was a bit wary of getting the doneness right, but it was pretty easy. And deliciously moist and tasty.
  3. Using creme fraiche. I've eaten it before, but never cooked with it. Not much else to say here.
  4. Clarified butter. I'd never made it before. I was worried that skimming the junk off of the top would be difficult, but it really wasn't. It was pretty easy in fact. You want to see the rillettes, sealed with clarified butter? Are you sure? Ok then:

How great of a picture is that? That really is it, I swear. Here it is from a bit of a better angle:

In a few days I'll crack open that top layer, and enjoy that butter-soaked salmon in the middle. If I'm feeling healthy and hungry I may even go for the plain old rillettes at the bottom. Mmm, rillettes.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Vanilla Macaroons, Part Deux

Hopefully you enjoyed reading about Part Un of the Vanilla Macaroon saga. Needless to say it didn't turn out how it was supposed to. So earlier this week I didn't have anything to do at about 8:30 PM and thought I'd give it another shot. A final shot. At $20/lb for almond flour I wasn't about to repeatedly torture myself.

With Kendra's help, we repeated almost the exact same process as the previous time except for the extra 2 hours of waiting. Almost you say? Well, at 8:30 PM on a weekday night we were pretty much out of places to places to go find a vanilla bean. Or at least out of places to find a vanilla bean and finish before midnight. I would later realize that this may have been the reason the batter was a little more liquid than usual, which lead to some running together of the macaroons. Here's what the unbaked halves looked like, you can tell size control is not one of my strong points:

We kept the wait to just a bit over an hour this time, and into the oven they went. Fifteen minutes or so later out they came, looking like this:

Did mention that my piping abilities need to be improved? Most of them ran together a least a little bit. Getting these babies off of the parchment paper was no easy task. After a few casualties, I generally got the hang of separating them with a knife and then lifting them off with a spatula. Those I couldn't get off with the spatula I turned over and peeled off the paper.

Now for the assembly. This is the easiest step of any recipe I've cooked so far. Take two halves, add buttercream in between. That's it, you're done. Eat away. Just kidding, this is Thomas 'Details' Keller we're talking about. He suggests letting the buttercream come to room temperature and then whisking it smooth. My poor planning abilities meant the buttercream was still in the fridge and it was pushing 11 PM. I wasn't about to wait for it to come to room temperature, so we just put it together. I'm not sure you'd ever notice the difference. Here's what it looked like:

How were they you ask? It's a two part answer. My initial reaction was to immediately go brush my teeth. They are incredibly sweet. Being an engineer, I decided to figure out exactly what I was eating. Suffice it to say there is about 1/4 cup of sugar per macaroon. That's around 130 calories per, just for the sugar. To put it in perspective, that's close to a Coke and a half.

My second, and lingering, reaction was that they are very good. It was probably only my first or second experience with macaroons so by no means am I an expert, but they were good. I found myself coming home each of the next several days and putting one together right away. There are no more left now, which is kind of sad.

As for improvements, I have only two, and one probably doesn't count. I would use an actual vanilla bean as called for because I suspect it made the batter a little runny. I'd also trim them a little bit with a cookie cutter for appearance's sake. The picture above is probably the nicest looking pair I had. A little trimming would fix that in no time. Would I make them again? You bet, if only I didn't have to make 175+ other recipes first...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Vanilla Macaroons

The vanilla macaroons recipe was probably the most complex of all I've done so far, at least in terms of the number of ingredients. I did not have high hopes at the beginning, as there are a couple of other people like me that didn't have too much success. No matter what happened, I was at least going to eat the ice cream I made with these so the night would be a partial success at a minimum.

Keller introduces the recipe with a disclaimer that you had better not screw up the size or they will not be good. Hmmm, good start I guess.

The prep work here consists of drawing a bunch of circles on parchment paper. 72 to be exact. It took me longer to find something to trace around than most of the rest of the recipe combined, but I was able to move on after some Inspector Gadget-type creativeness.

Now it's time for food. Here's the ingredients list: almond flour, confectioners' sugar, egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla beans. You also need some buttercream, but that gets it's own write up. Wait, you don't have any almond flour? Make some. Flour is just a fancy way of saying 'thoroughly processed blanched, slivered almonds'. Either way, be prepared to spend nearly $20 to acquire the smashed up nuts. Here's what everything looks like:

Combine the almond flour and confectioners' sugar (which I've already done in the picture above. Combine them thoroughly using a food processor, which should also lighten things up a little bit. Meanwhile, add some egg whites. Gradually add in some sugar and then a bit of cream of tartar and beat until the whites hold stiff peaks.

Now it's time to put the two separate mixtures together. Start by folding in just a little bit of the flour mixture, add in the vanilla, and then finish adding in the flour mixture little by little. Eventually it will come together. Don't mix too violently though, you whipped those whites for a reason.

Next up, getting this semi-dry blob of dough onto a baking sheet in something shaped like a macaroon. Keller says use a 'pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip'. Don't have one? Me either. What I did have was a gallon-sized ziploc bag which I cut the corner off of. Perfect.

The next step after piping 36 macaroon halves is to sit around and wait for somewhere around 90 minutes. Apparently this is an important step. I was cool with waiting, but not as ok with the sitting around part. I decided to run out and do a couple of quick errands. That should only take half an hour or so and I'd be back and ready to finish this baby up. So here's how the next few steps of my night went:
  1. Put on coat
  2. Open door
  3. Lock door
  4. Exit door
  5. Close door
  6. Realize you forgot step 2.5
Step 2.5 is the step for getting your keys so you can get back inside. This was not a good situation. Thankfully our landlord only lived a block away, so I figured she would be able to let me right back in. Incorrect. She would not return home for another three hours. Not really having any choice, I walked up to the neighborhood bar and got some dinner, each step of the way watching the clock keep advancing. Past 60 minutes. Then 90. Then 120. Then 150. I had a bad feeling about my macaroons.

I finally got back inside and just about ran over to turn on the oven and to check out the macaroons. The were pretty dry at this point, so I my hopes weren't too high. Thank God for low hopes, because here's what came out of the oven:

Needless to say, the write up is going to end here for now. Hopefully I can get I got another shot at this later in the week. It's really pretty easy, so you can pull it off on a weeknight without much problem. Just don't lock yourself out. If you do, there's always chocolate ice cream...

Chocolate Ice Cream

Editorial Note: Ice cream is probably the most valuable food a home cook can make. In this case, valuable means that's it's absurdly easy, incredibly cheap, and many many times better than store-bought ice cream. Seriously, go buy an ice cream maker and use it. It'll pay for itself in, oh, about 10 gallons. Also buy a treadmill while you're out; you'll need this later.

The chocolate ice cream recipe probably has the fewest ingredients in the entire book, save Vanilla ice cream. What we've got here is some 61% chocolate, some milk, some heavy cream, a bunch of sugar, and a measuring cup full of yellow-orange blobs of fat.

Essentially, all you do is make some ganache and freeze it. Good write up, eh?

All right, here's some more details. I spent a little longer than I should have trying to chop up the chocolate that I bought. I made the mistake of buying about 1000 little pieces instead of a larger block, so that was lesson number one. Anyway, the chopped up chocolate goes into a bowl and waits patiently.

Meanwhile, combine the cream, milk, and sugar and bring it to a simmer. While that's happening, mix together a little more sugar and the egg yolks until it looks a little like partially thawed orange juice concentrate. Add a bit of the cream mixture to temper the eggs and then combine everything back into the pot and simmer for five to ten more minutes. Eventually the custard will thicken up a little. I believe the word, and thickness were looking for here is nape.

Divide the custard, adding about a 1/3 of it to the chocolate and the rest into a separate bowl. After a few minutes, the chocolate will be very soft and can be combined with the cream. Whisk it until it's smooth, and then combine with the other bowl. I'm not totally sure why you can't do it all at once, but if there's one thing I've learned about Sir Keller so far it's this: Seemingly unnecessary steps tend to be the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. So I followed his instructions.

I cooled the custard in an ice bath, put it into a bowl, and refrigerated it over night. This seems to be standard procedure for every ice cream I've ever made. Think of it as marinading your meat, only for dessert. The final step is to make the ice cream in your ice cream maker. It will finish with a consistency of soft serve ice cream, but a couple of hours in the freezer will take care of that.

Now that I've already declared that homemade ice cream is the best thing since homemade sliced bread, I guess I should tell you how it turned out. I made this to go with vanilla macaroons, but you can read about that disaster as soon as I write it up. Until then, let's just say there were no macaroons. The ice cream, on the other hand, was pretty fantastic. It was creamy, chocolatey, and frozen. There are probably only two improvements I would make. These are personal preferences only, and reflect nothing on the delicious recipe. First, I would use slightly darker chocolate, or maybe mix the 61% with some 72% or something along those lines. Second, and I would probably cut back on the fat for health reasons. Next time I'll use light cream instead of heavy cream just to try it out. It certainly doesn't lack creaminess with heavy cream, so I'd tone it down a bit just to see if it makes a noticeable (and unacceptable) difference.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Roasted Beet Salad

The introduction to this recipe talks about beets being one of the best vegetables in the world. It read, verbatim, 'Beets are about the best vegetable in the world.' See, you get the truth around here.

The ingredients and preparation of the recipe is about as easy as it comes. The grocery list for this was nothing more than beets, red wine vinegar, OJ, red onion, and herbs and seasonings. For the visually-inclined:

The procedure goes something like this:
  1. Roast beets
  2. Marinate beets
  3. Plate beets
  4. Eat beets
Step one takes a lot longer than you would think. I left them in there for about 1:45, and they probably could of used another 15 minutes or so. There's a neat little hint on peeling beets using a paper towel after they're cooked that works really great, certainly a lot better and neater than peeling them while they're uncooked.

Step two is pretty self explanatory. Step three is as well, with the note that you add the onion somewhere in between steps two and three. That lets them mingle with the beets and marinade for a bit, and turn a really cool color.

Step four was about as expected. The marinade wasn't overwhelming by any means. In fact, it was really way way in the background. I say that was as expected because of the little love fest paragraph introducing the recipe. This is meant to taste like beets with a slight onion tang, and that's exactly what it does. We ate it with gnocchi with mushrooms and butternut squash. It wasn't exactly a magical pairing, but it worked out all right.

Oops, two more steps:
  • Wash your hands and everything in your kitchen.
  • Throw all the paper towels, foil, and everything else that's disposable away. Helpful hint: Put everything in a clean bag first. If you skip this step, you're neighbors will probably strongly consider calling the cops after they stumble upon your twenty blood red paper towels in the trash.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Butternut Squash

Gnocchi, part 2. I wanted to write gnocchii or gnocchies or gnocchis, but I couldn't figure out which one was correct. This is the first actual finished recipe I've made from the book, so hopefully these reports get a little more interesting as time goes on. Not to say this one is going to be boring...

This dish is basically prepared in three steps. First comes the squash, then the mushrooms, then the gnocchi. After all was said and done, it was really pretty easy to put together. That doesn't mean it turned out perfect, but that wasn't the recipe's fault. Here's the 'before' picture:

Preparing the squash consisted of cooking it in a skillet with some butter, sage, salt and pepper. Very simple really. The recipe says to cook it for four to six minutes over medium heat and then to lower it and cook until done. I managed not to wait long enough and the squash was a bit underdone. I don't totally blame myself for that though. Given the 4-6+ minutes guideline, I cooked them for a solid 15 minutes. I thought they would have been done by then, and in fact some of them were. Either way, it was decided that the squash was probably the best component of the finished dish. It could easily be a side on its own. So two lessons here:
  • Cook stuff until it tastes like they're done, not by time.
  • Dice your food evenly, or else half will be done and half will still be rock solid.
Next up was the mushrooms. Same general principle here, except for use shallots and thyme instead of sage. Mistake number two came in here. The recipe called for 1.5 teaspoons of salt. As I was pouring it over the mushrooms I thought to myself, 'Man, this little adventure is going to raise my cholesterol by 50 points.' Well, they were very salty. So here's lesson number 3:
  • Trust yourself. If it looks like more salt than you'll like, it probably is.
So now you have some squash and mushrooms hanging out with nowhere to go. We'll remedy that by putting some of the already made gnocchi into a skillet with some olive oil and butter. Heat those mustard-y pillows of dough up until they're nice and browned on all sides. This again was longer than I thought it would take and longer than the recipe seemed to think as well. Who knew recipes could think? Anyway, once they're finished add in the squash, mushrooms, and some chives until everything is nice and warm. Almost done...

The last step is to make a brown butter sauce. I had cooked the two gnocchi in two skillets for space reasons. One was stainless steel, one was nonstick. Since the stainless steel one was larger, all the gnocchi went into there. That means the butter for the sauce went into the nonstick skillet. Cool right? Not so much. It turns out that it's really hard to see when butter has browned if the skillet is black on the bottom. So after a half minute or so and a smell that was suspiciously close to the smell of burning I added the parsley and a spray of lemon juice. And that was that.

Add the vegetables and gnocchi to the plate, spoon on some sauce, and it's dinner time. Everything turned out deliciously well. How could it not with a stick of butter involved? I decided that if I had received this in a restaurant it would have passed, but probably only with a grade of B- or so. That certainly wasn't the recipes fault though. Almost all of the points lost had to do with my ability to tell when things were finished cooking, with the exception of the salt on the mushrooms.

So we'll end it there, blaming it on the book. Yeah, the book. Here's the picture, which I was pretty proud of:

Update: I made this again with the rest of the frozen gnocchi. After showing a little more patience and a more judicious use of salt, it was absolutely fantastic. I used cremini mushrooms instead of shiitake, but I believe that was the only deivation. Right now it holds the claim to the best Bouchon recipe yet.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Gnocchi a la Parisienne

First up, Gnocchi a la Parisienne. That, for the record, was the last bit of French you're going to get here. This is mostly because it's one of the few in the book that I could actually say. From now on you get the English names, in this case it's herb gnocchi. See, who knew that a la Parisienne really mean herb? Hint: it doesn't.

I chose this first mostly for reasons of convenience. I'm lacking somewhat in the pots and pans department, and my new dutch oven won't get here for a few weeks. That left me trying to find a recipe that does not use stocks or stock-based sauces. That's harder than it may seem in this book, but gnocchi will work just fine.

The ingredients here are pretty simple; some pate a choux (think profiterole dough and hence the a la Parisienne), mustard, herbs, cheese. That's it. Sound boring? It kind of is, and I probably should have already pointed out that these gnocchi are the base of another recipe. Everything looked like this before I had my way with it:

I'll be making Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Butternut Squash out of it. That brings me to the next point. I'll be making Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Butternut Squash out of half of it. And then the two of us will eat about 10% of that. It makes a lot. Like 240. Next time I'll be adjusting. In the meantime, the rest are nice and frozen.

The recipe takes a fair amount of time to make, but it's by no means hard. Putting the dough together took maybe half an hour, but the actually poaching took a long time. Not just a boring long time either. A long time during which you consistently splash 200 degree water on your arms. Fun stuff! Seriously though, between the mostly active cooking time and the waiting, it took a touch under three hours.

Anyway, you cook the little dough balls for a couple of minutes (remember that they get cooked again later), drain them, and put them in the fridge or freezer. Couldn't get any easier. How were they, you ask? Well, if you've been playing along, you've probably caught on that this recipe is just the base for another. Translation, I have no real idea yet, but they sure look like they have potential. I forgot to take a picture of the finished product, so you'll have to wait for the follow on recipe to get a look.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rules of Engagement

Rule #1: These rules will probably never stop changing.

Rule #2: Some decisions will have to be made about modifications to the recipes. This can be due to ingredients that are impossible to find or expensive, time constraints, or lack of equipment. Occasionally I may get lazy and decide it's not worth cooking a stock, turning it into a sauce, and the preparing it in order to add a tablespoon on top of a steak. It might be good, but see Rule #3. My goal is to keep these at a minimum, and I'll be clear about when they occur.

Rule #3: My goal is to make at least one meal a week. That could be just one recipe, or three. It comes with the territory of not being a professional cook and having to go to work during the day.

Rule #4: Most of the recipes will probably be reduced to make 2 servings. Why? Because I live in a house of two. Things that are easily stored for long periods of time may be an exception to this rule.

Rule #5: I won't be divulging any recipes here, so go buy the book if you want to make any of this. It's great to read, look at, learn from, and hopefully eat the results of.