Friday, April 25, 2008

Pear Sorbet

This was the third of the three recipes I completed over a couple of days a week or so ago. I had already made one ice cream recipe, so I thought a sorbet might be a nice change of pace. Bouchon has recipes for five different sorbets, and only one of them has more than three ingredients. If you guessed it was this one, you're right. That being said, this was still an incredibly easy recipe. Just like I said in the chocolate ice cream post, there is absolutely no reason for you not to make your own ice cream. It's very easy, very cheap, and infinitely better than anything you'll buy at any store.

On with the cooking. The ingredients here are pears, sauvignon blanc, water, sugar, and a vanilla bean. The recipe called for Red Comice pears, but my single produce source did not have them. Oh well.

Aren't those some nicely oxidizing pears? I combined the wine, water, and sugar in a saucepan, then added in the vanilla bean. In went the pears, and I simmered everything for about 30 minutes. At that points the pears were no match for the blender. Not wanting to scald everything in the kitchen with hot sugary syrup, I left the mixture to cool for a few minutes. All of it when into a blender until it looked like applesauce.

This got refrigerated overnight, and then finished by the ice cream attachment of my Kitchen Aid mixer. A couple of hours in the freezer after that and it was time for some dessert.

This turned out really well. It was pretty sweet, but it's dessert right? Pear is not a flavor that you, or at least I, wouldn't traditionally associate with sorbet, so it was a nice surprise. It only took about half an hour of active time plus some extended stays in the fridge and freezer. This goes in the book as a quick and easy dessert that is delicious.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Roquefort and Leek Quiche

Hopefully this if funny now, because it sure wasn't last week...

I started the quiche the same day I started the chickpea and carrot salad as well as the pear sorbet, so needless to say things were a little hectic. Each of the recipes were multi-day events though, so I didn't think it would be too bad. This was 110% false. So lesson number one today is to never start cooking something at 7PM if it takes over 3.5 hours to finish. It will not work out well.

Day number one was for making the dough for the shell . Keller has a small manifesto on quiche preceding this recipe, and he makes it quite clear that we are all stupid Americans for using pie crusts as quiche shells. I, however, was not about to be a stupid American. I wanted to be a regular American. The shell ingredients looked simple enough:

Flour, salt, butter, water. Pretty simply so far. This just gets mixed up, all the while ensuring that there are no signs of butter anywhere when you're done. If there are, it'll just melt away in the oven and leave you with a 350 degree version of the Titanic. I prepared the dough, formed it into a not-so-nice disk, and put it in the fridge overnight.

Day 2. It's time to bake the shell, cool the shell, make the batter, fill the shell, and bake. The baking of the shell part scared me more than probably anything I've made so far, only because dough is not my favorite thing in the world to work with. The first thing I did was to oil the ring mold. Now I didn't happen to have a 9"x2" ring mold laying around, so I decided to use the side of a 9"x3" springform pan that I have. The recipe calls for rolling the dough to a thickness of 3/16". That would seem pretty thin. It would seem much thinner, however, it you were using a pan with higher sides than you were supposed to. That would mean the dough had to be about 25% thinner than pretty thin. I did it anyway, and thought that I did a pretty reasonable job. After it was all nice and rolled out, I ploppedcarefully centered the dough over the mold (which by now was sitting on a parchment-lined baking sheet) and gently formed it to the sides. This went ok, but there were a bunch of overlapping areas. I didn't think this would be too big of a deal, I was much more worried about holes than anything else.

I baked the shell according to the directions, reinspected it for any holes that may have formed (none did), and then moved on to the batter. This was quiche simple step number 3, but about step number 15 if you put everything together that I was working on that night. The ingredients are again very simple; milk, cream, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg.

The first sentence of the recipe says, and I quote, "Combine the milk and cream in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until scalded." I read, well, absolutely none of this. This was probably not good, since the aforementioned manifesto had this to say, "When you're ready to fill the quiche, it's important that all the ingredients be warm. The custard needs to start cooking as soon as it's in the oven. The milk and cream should be scalded." Oops.

I did read, and follow, the rest of the recipe. It's easy, just mix all that stuff together in a blender for quite a while. Quite awhile times two if you're blender is normal sized like mine is. On to the final step...

This quiche was going to contain nothing more than the batter, some leeks, and some roquefort cheese. Roquefort is a blue cheese, which I don't generally like, so that was a bit scary. Carrying on, the leeks get chopped up and boiled for a few minutes, then laid out to dry. The oven was preheating to 325 while all of this going on.

Somewhere in the background I could hear the Jaws theme slowly starting to get louder.

I sprinkled half the cheese and half the leeks across the bottom of the shell. After reblending the batter to ensure it was plenty aerated, half of that joined the leeks and cheese. Now I didn't believe that the batter would hold the remainder of the leeks and cheese without just allowing them to fall to the bottom of the shell. It did, and that was cool. I poured the remainder of the batter over the coolness. It was go time.

Why is the Jaws theme playing so loudly?

Into the oven it went. Very carefully, I might add. There's nothing like walking around with half a gallon of batter suspended only by about 1/32" of quiche shell. Next time I'll probably heed the advice of the recipe and put in the last bit of batter while the shell is sitting on the oven rack, but today was not the day for reading recipes. I gently closed the door and planned to return in about in an hour to check on things.

Five minutes later, and I'm watching TV thinking to myself, "That's weird, it kind of smells like egg in the apartment. That was fast. And why is that freaking Jaws theme absolutely screaming right now?" I decided to go peek in the oven. Things were not good. Egg batter was starting to ooze out of the shell and drip on to the oven coils below. Burning egg is not a great smell. At this point it was just barely oozing, so I decided to wait (and hope really hard) that it would set up pretty quickly. Needless to say, it did not. It got worse, and worse, and worse. Finally, I had to pull the plug. My first major failure. At least some of the pictures are entertaining.

That looks good, right?

Scrambled eggs, anyone?

The oven still smells whenever I use it. Hopefully that goes away in the very near future. Whatever happens, I do not get credit for this quiche, so it will be making another appearance somewhere down the road. Oh well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Carrot and Chickpea Salad

I made this salad during a week in which I stormed my way through three recipes. Either that, or they stormed through me. Suffice it to say that I won't be trying three recipes in a week again. It's not that this recipe is hard; it's not at all. The problem that I'm finding with several of these recipes is that they're not always worth the time required to put them together. That is by no means an indictment of their quality, but as you'll see below three days for what essentially amounts to a side dish is probably more time than 95% of us have to give to Tuesday night dinner.

Enough with the ranting, let's do some cooking. Just kidding, first you have to soak the chickpeas for 12 hours. Night number one is now toast. Ok, done with the ranting...

The next night it was time to start applying some heat to some food. Here is the first set of ingredients:

That would be a leek, a carrot, an onion, some chickpeas, and the stuff required for a bouquet garni. For the uninitiated like me, bouqeuts garni (or is it bouquet garnies?) are all of those remaining ingredients wrapped up in something. Keller calls the herbs wrapped in leek greens a bouquet garni and a sachet if you wrap it in cheesecloth. I was hoping to find a super extra high res photo and description from Ruhlman's excellent blog, but it was not to be. You'll have to look it up if want more information. Carrying on...

Into a pot went the soaked chickpeas, a bunch of water, half the leek, the bouquet, carrot, and onion. All that stuff got brought to a boil and then simmered for quite awhile. I cooked them for about an hour, even though the recipe gives a 45 minute guideline. I kind of wish I'd cooked them a little longer, as the chickpeas still had quite a bit of bite in the finished dish. Oh well. I transferred them to a dish and let it cool and then removed all of the things that weren't chickpeas or water. Into the fridge it went, and day 2 was over.

Finishing the dish up was pretty easy. I needed a few more things:

Round the clock we have bay leaves, thyme, garlic, lemon (juice), olive oil, parsley, and carrots. Everything that wasn't bright orange went into a skillet. I haven't posted much in the way of photos of the actually cooking process, so here's my attempt at starting that:

That cooked for just a minute or so until everyone in the vicinity (me) could smell that I was in fact making something that we get to eat in the very near future. After that, in went the carrots:

I cooked them and tossed them around for another minute or so, then in went the chickpeas and some salt and pepper just until everything was warmed through. It was finally almost time to eat. I let everything cool down and took out the aromatics, and stirred in the lemon juice and parsley. Here's what made it to the table, and I have to say it's one of the prettier things so far.

The verdict? It was pretty good. The chickpeas probably could have been cooked a little longer, but I'm not really sure how tender they would have ever gotten. One thing we agreed on was that the carrots would have made an excellent dish on their own. And it certainly wouldn't have taken three days...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mussels with Saffron and Mustard

Mussels are probably one of my favorite creatures of the sea. Really, it's anything that comes in a shell, followed by tuna, a long chasm of emptiness, and then everything else. This dish, as I'm making a habit of in the early going, was pretty simple. That does not bode well for the end of this little Bouchon saga but we'll deal with that when we get to the end.

Here are the ingredients:

Starting with the mussels and going clockwise, we've got mussels, parsley, butter, shallots and garlic confit, mustard, and salt and pepper. There's also a bottle of wine involved, but that was already opened and somewhat consumed, so good photography it would not make. What's that in the middle? That enriched uranium. Not really, it's saffron, but it should of been for how expensive it was. One gram of it will set you back about 5 bucks. Five bucks isn't bad though, so what am I'm complaining about? Let's change from dollars/gram to the more American friendly dollars/pound. How does $2,270 per pound sound? It sounds absurd to me. Wikipedia has all sorts of facts about how little saffron you can get from a flower. There's also an insanely scientific way for quantifying the quality of saffron. So scientific in fact, that it sounds like everybody skips it for the more tangible 'How does it taste?' test.

Ok, back to the cooking. This is a one pot deal, so you're going to need a big pot.
Melt the butter, then add all of the dry ingredients. Cook that for a bit, then add the wine and mustard. Cook that for a bit more, and the saffron, put on the top, and stop cooking that for a bit. Wait somewhere between 5 minutes and a few hours.

Let's prepare the mussels. I was introduced to mussels by James, and I still take most of my muscle mussel advice from him. This seems reasonable, since he's from here. Where there's water, there are mussels, right? After a brief discussion on de-bearding them, we decided that it looked like it was already done. Hint for later: They weren't.

Meanwhile, I was bringing the broth back to a simmer. This didn't take too long because I waited much closer to five minutes than a few hours. In went the mussels, mix it up a little, cover, and cook. Three or four minutes later it was time to throw on some parsley and pepper and head for the table. Here's what we ended up with:

They were very good, if not beard-y. It was incredibly easy to make, and pretty inexpensive as well. My unrefined palette had a tough time finding the saffron, but I chalk that up to not really knowing exactly how much 4 pinches is. I probably did not use enough because each little thread is worth more that the rest of the dinner combined, so that may have been my fault. Other than that though, everything was delicious.

House Vinaigrette

No pictures here, this one is too short. The house vinaigrette recipe is amazingly simple. You're going to need 1 part Dijon mustard, 2 parts red wine vinegar, and 6 parts canola oil. If you take out the mustard, you can probably figure out that the oil to vinegar ratio is 3:1. From what my brief look at other recipes tells me, 3:1 or 4:1 is pretty standard.

Anyway, combine the mustard and vinegar in a blender. Slowly add in half the oil and blend, blend, blend. Transfer everything to a bowl, and slowly add in the rest of the oil, whisking like you've never whisked before the whole time. Your arm will be tired, but it's all right, because it'll be good.

I made this for the asparagus, but it stuck around for a couple of weeks as a salad dressing. It's pretty mustard-y, so I might cut back on that the next time. I'd also add some seasonings and shallots to more of a salad dressing and less of a sauce base kind of feeling. This was easy though, so it'll definitely get used again.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Garlic Confit

I really like garlic. Not in a 'eat it with corn flakes' kind of way or a '13 cloves per serving of pasta' kind of way, but I do like it. Roasted garlic and bread is one of my favorite appetizers. Needless to say I was pretty interested in making the garlic confit.

To be clear, garlic confit isn't really a recipe in the book. It's included in a appendix-type addition that gives instructions for just about every type of building block you could imagine. I'll try and write about them as I make them; they'll all have the label 'Staple'.

Making garlic confit is incredibly easy. By far the most difficult part is peeling these:

After that it's into some canola oil for about 45 minutes. The book says cook it nice and low, so that the bubbles just barely rise through the oil. I did this for the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes. Somehow in the middle things got a little out of hand and started boiling pretty vigorously. Boiling oil is not a great thing, so if it happens to you I'd suggest approaching it carefully. Now for the least exciting cooking picture ever taken:

Storage is as easy as letting the oil cool and then moving it to an airtight container for storage in the fridge. I made this because I needed it for some mussels, but we also tried it smeared on some bread. I didn't think it was quite as good as roasted garlic served this way, probably because it lacked the carmelization. It's pretty obvious why this would be better for additions to other recipes though. So if you like mellow, soft and creamy garlic, stop on by my house because I have a ton.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Chilled Asparagus with Vinaigrette and Eggs Mimosa

All right, mimosas for everyone! Let's get drunk. No, not really. They say you learn something everyday, and on this day I learned that a Mimosa is actually a plant. Or maybe a tree. Either way, at least some of the species has yellowish-orange flowers. Hence the naming of the drink and the eggs mimosa part of this dish. This was also the first dish I was able to find a picture of the version actually prepared at Bouchon. The original blog, which contains a review of Bouchon and is very good in itself, can be found here. The dish is supposed to look something like this, so I had something to go on this time:

Let's get started. The ingredients here are pretty straightforward. That theme would follow throughout the day, as this dish was one of the easiest I've yet made. It's essentially asparagus, hard-cooked egg yolks, radishes, vinaigrette, and chives plus some seasonings.

Can't find the chives or vinaigrette in the picture? Oh, well, they blend in with the table. Just look more closely.

I started by blanching the asparagus, transferring them to an ice bath, draining them when cool, and setting them aside. Wait, you did know to break off the woody ends, trim them so that they're exactly the same length, peel them and then tie them in bundles to protect their gentle tips, right? Good.

Next up for the same treatment was a couple of cups of the asparagus trimmings. These got cooked a little longer and then pureed with just a tiny bit of the cooking water. I blended them into a coulis that would form the base of the finished plate. When I say blended, I mean really blended. For a long time. With a lot of scraping. Homogeneous doesn't begin to describe the end result.

Looks pretty great, right? Yeah, I didn't think so either. That said it was surprisingly good and pretty strongly asparagus flavored. There was going to be no shortage of bad smelling pee on this night.

After painstakingly peeling the hard cooked eggs and getting rid of the pesky whites, I pushed all of the yolks through a cheese grater. What came out looked more or less like I'd just stepped on the yolks and picked it all up and put it in a pile. Next time I'll probably just chop them up and save a little time and a dirty dish.

Now that all of the essential parts have been put in place, it was assembly time. I, as mentioned above, started with the coulis. Then down when the asparagus.

Things were getting salted and peppered and pretty much every stage now. On top of the asparagus went some vinaigrette, then the egg yolks, radishes, and chives. The finished dish looked something like this:

See how I stuck that flash in there to try and make things look a little brighter? Way to go me. I thought this was pretty outstanding, if not almost a meal in itself. The coulis and then egg yolks were fairly rich, and my god were there a lot of egg yolks. Kendra thought the eggs were a little over the top, and I didn't use more than 2/3 of what the recipe had called for. All that richness was balanced out by the vinaigrette, and the asparagus was fantastic. This currently takes the cake for vegetables so far. That really only means it beat the beets, but it was very good none the less. There were no major firsts for me in this one, but blanching is relatively new to me, so it was nice to see that turn out well.