Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pine Nut Crust

Dough and pastry type recipes have been my downfall so far during this adventure. There was the macaroons, then the quiche, and the quiche again. Needless to say, I was hoping not to repeat the past here. It seemed like this was going to be significantly easier than the others were, and it made my day when I read this sentence:
There may be some cracks in the crust; they will not affect the finished tart.
Fantastic. There will be no lemon sabayon coating the inside of my oven pretending to be quiche batter.

The ingredients are pretty simple. There are pine nuts, sugar, flour, butter, egg, and vanilla. I initially wasn't too sure about the pine nuts, and therefore the whole crust. Not to give everything away so early, but the crust didn't really taste of pine nuts too much, and it certainly was not overpowering.

This crust is started in your handy food processor, and it's very quick. Add the pine nuts to the processor and blend it for a few seconds to roughly chop the nuts. Then add in the sugar and the flour and process until it's completely combined and homogeneous. Now I have a food processor that I would say is at least as big as the average home food processor.

It holds 7 cups, and I needed every little bit of that for this crust. My guess is that it wouldn't be a disaster if you didn't have a processor that was large enough. The same general result can probably be obtained by sifting the flour and then mixing it by hand with the sugar and nuts until it's all well combined before proceeding. You really do need to make sure at least the nuts are processed though, otherwise I imagine the dough would not have a very good texture.

I transferred the dough into the bowl of my mixed, and added the butter, egg, and vanilla. That all got mixed together for a few minutes. For some reason I was expecting the dough to come together in a ball, but it turns out that wasn't meant to be. Here's what it looked like when it was nice and mixed:

Now the recipe says you can mix it by hand, but I would not recommend that. You're arm would either be excruciatingly tired or the ingredients wouldn't really mix too well together. So unless your name is Rocky, stick with the mixer.

This recipe makes enough crust for three tarts. You might respond to that the same way that I did:
Hey Keller, how about just divide everything by three and make just one crust. What am I going to do with three crusts?
To which T. Keller would calmly reply:
You know, I was about to go ahead and do that, but I got tired. Running some of the best restaurants in the world is tough work. That, and it's kind of tough to divide an egg into three parts, so that's just the way it's going to have to be.
So I ended up with three crusts. All three were wrapped. Two went into the freezer for future use, and one got to spend 10 minutes in the fridge before it's date with the oven.

You probably remember that my current excuse reason for not succeeding with the quiche crust is that I don't have the right pan. That's happened for a number of the recipes so far, but this time I actually have a tart pan!

After the 10 minutes had passed, I took the dough and pressed it into a buttered and floured tart pan and trimmed off the excess dough. In to the 350 degree oven it went for about 20 minutes, during which I rotated it once about half way through. Out of the oven it came, and voila:

It's a fairly successful tart crust. And you can tell it's mine because you can still see my fingerprints in there somewhere. You'll have to wait for the lemon tart post for full results, but it was very good. A little on the thick side, which was my fault, but very good none the less.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Salmon Tartare

I'd never had salmon tartare before, so this dished just barely registered on the 'I'm a little unsure about this one' meter. I've eaten plenty of raw salmon in sushi, so that wasn't the issue. For some reason the different preparation was just a bit foreign to me. But hey, that's what we're here for, right? It's pretty incredibly easy to make once you have the ingredients for this dish. If you don't mind chopping that is. And then chopping some more. And then some more. Needless to say, you're going to want a good knife for this.

Let's get (not exactly) cooking. You're going to need some salmon (obviously), hard-boiled eggs, chives (home grown greatness here), shallot, lemon, red onion, and creme fraiche. The recipe also calls for capers, which I really really do not like at all, so they were left out.

First up was cleaning the salmon. This step is optional if you bought pre-prepared sushi grade salmon like I did. Then it was time to chop, chop, chop. I chopped for probably five straight minutes, and easily could have gone for another five minutes if it wasn't for the fact that I was getting bored. Here's how far I got:

I transferred the salmon to a bowl and mixed in some shallot, salt, half the chives, and olive oil.

With the salmon ready to go it was time to move onto the garnishes. Garnishes is kind of the wrong word, because there is probably twice as much garnish as there is salmon. It's not the main ingredient though, so call what you whatever you want. I'm going to use garnish.

The first step was to chop up the hard boiled eggs. The direction here is to separate the yolks and whites, push each through a grater, and then chop it up. The grater apparently allows for more uniform pieces. I'm not sure the extra time is really worth it. The eggs were followed by chopping the red onion into 1/8" squares and mincing up the chives.

The instructions for plating this dish seemed to me to be a lot more complex than they needed to be. The outside ring, which will make sense in a minute, was supposed to be assembled by layering the egg yolks, then onions, then egg whites, then the chives. I went a little crazy and just mixed it all together at the start. Why do something four times when you can do it once and nobody in the world will know? Except for you guys now I guess...

So here is what I started with. Looks great, right?

And here was I made out of it. I didn't have the requisite ring mold to make the salmon nice and circular. Actually, I still don't have it. I just made something that was almost circular. For a minute I was afraid the oblong shape would cause it to not taste like salmon anymore, but lucky for me that was not the case.

I finished it off with a little scoop of creme fraiche, which really did make a difference, in a good way. It was really good, the two of us ate almost all of it. That's saying a lot, since there was probably close to 1.5 lbs of food on the plate. The salmon was pretty fatty (you can kind of see in the first picture) and that led to a slightly odd, less than appetizing color. Hopefully next time I can get some leaner fish, but it's kind of hard to find a lot of sushi grade choices around here. I'd make this again for sure, not only because it's easy, but also because it's relatively simple to make.

Most of the discussion while we were eating it centered around whether or not tartare would be an acceptable hors d'oeuvres at a party. It's certainly tasty, but would you trust your host enough to eat raw fish at their house? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Quiche, Try #2

Devoted readers of this blog probably remember the first time I attempted to make a quiche recipe. What, you're not a devoted reader? Then time-out for you while you go and read all about it. Actually, everyone should probably go read it or risk being 100% confounded by this post. Now that we're all on the same page with regard to that disaster, let's proceed with try number two. The plan this time was to make bacon and onion and quiche, mostly because I thought it sounded better than roquefort and leek quiche. Anyone want to argue that point?

The main lesson I took from trying to make the shell in the last episode was that you won't have enough dough if your pan has three inch sides and the recipe is for a pan with two inch sides. To do away with this issue I had two options: buy the right ring mold or make more dough. I chose the latter because I could do it without leaving the house. I made 1.5 times the recipe, so I had a lot of dough. More than enough to cover the pan, that's for sure. I wish I could show you with a picture here, but I forgot. Take a look at the last try though, it's more or less the same.

I put the shell into the oven and came back fifteen minutes later. Disaster! Again! The dough had fallen down the sides of the pan in several places. Apparently dough does not care that you tried very hard to make sure it's secure. And that you're not sure you can mentally handle another mess of a quiche. It just falls. We'll end this conversation about the quiche shells with my latest hypothesis on what went wrong (because there's no way it's me): I think that pan I have has sides that are just too tall. I don't think the shell can support that much of itself. I think...

So I abandoned that attempt and moved on to quiche shell recipe number two. This was much more successful for me, just look at how it turned out:

Perfect! Look at those edges! I'll bet you twenty bucks you can't find a human on this planet that can make edges like that. This is what I was forced to resort to. It wasn't that I was giving up, but it was getting late and I really wanted to make the quiche that night. Oh well. The crust sucked. What are you going to do?

So let's just forget about the whole crust saga and move onto the filling. This is also identical to the last time I made it, except for without all of the mistakes this time. The first mistake that I didn't make was to scald the milk and the cream.

Action shot, right? It's awesome. For the uninformed, Keller would like you to know that the milk is scalded when 'a skin begins to form on the surface'. Why scald, you might ask? Because scalding the dairy ensures the custard can start to cook immediately upon arrival in the hot oven. We wouldn't want it to soak through that fancy shell we just made, right? Bitter every step of the way, I completed the scalding and then let it cool for a few minutes. Ever put really hot liquids in a blender? Me either, but I've seen it done and it's not pretty. Half of the recipe went into the blender until it was nice a foamy, then the other half. Batter complete. Time for the next steps, and they had better be quick or you'll be reblending everything to keep it nice and aerated.

Aside from the shell and the batter, the ingredients for the quiche are pretty simple. It's bacon and onion quiche, so obviously there's some bacon and some onions. There's also some Emmentaler cheese and some thyme. That, plus some seasonings, is about it.

That's a nice hunk of meat, isn't it? The namesake onions were actually the delicious onion confit. Go ahead, click it. You know you want to.

The first step is to render the bacon in the oven for about half an hour. That's kind of an attempt to make it seem a bit more healthy by rendering some of the fat, but who are we kidding here? It's still bacon. Drain the little lardons on paper towels.

I combined the onions, bacon, thyme, and seasonings in a skillet for a few minutes to heat everything through.

Looks good, right? I suppose at this point you could just throw the batter in the skillet, bake it, and call it a frittata, but that's not what we're here for. Continuing on, it's now time to assemble the quiche, which is really just an exercise in layering.

First up, some cheese:

This is followed by a layer of the bacon and onions.

And then a layer of batter. Look at how that bacon and onion just sinks right to the bottom.

And then more bacon and onion.

What is going on here? First it sinks and now it floats. It's either an optical illusion or all of that blending of the batter paid off. Into the oven it went. This was a bit of a guessing game for me. The original recipe called for 90-105 minutes in the oven, but I was using less than half of the original amount of batter in some ridiculous frozen pie shell. I also live way up high, for what that's worth. It turns out that combination will shave off about 45 minutes of cooking time. It almost made up for the time I wasted on the original shell. Almost.

There's the finished product. I feel like it's not really fair to judge it. It was ok, but nothing special. There wasn't that much batter and therefore not that much egg flavor, which probably would have been solved by, um, following the recipe. The flavor was pretty good though, if you could get past the crust. The bottom line is that there will probably be an upcoming post titled 'Quiche, Try #3'. Better luck next time, self. Better luck next time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Onion Confit

I needed some onion confit for the bacon and onion quiche recipe. Lucky for me, there's an onion confit recipe in the back of the book. It's pretty easy to do, but it takes about two and half hours. That's not great, but it at least it tastes great.

There's no picture of the ingredients here because it's just onions, butter, salt, and a bouquet garni. You start by preparing the onions, which consists of cutting off both ends, cutting them lengthwise, and coring them.

They should look something like this. I then sliced each onion half into 1/4 inch slices. Everything will just kind of fall apart into nice pieces. I put the onions into a pot with just a little bit of water, a lot of bit of butter, and the bouquet garni.

This gets covered with a parchment lid. There are some instructions for making a parchment lid in the book, but it's way more complicated than it really needs to be. I just took a sheet of parchment, cut a small hole in the center, and pressed it against the surface of the onions. Perfect.

The onions have to cook on just about the lowest heat your stove top is capable of producing for two hours. I stirred them about every thirty minutes to make sure everything was happening nice and evenly. Here they are after the first hour, and then at the finish:

They're probably the best cooked onions I've ever had. They soft but not falling apart. Wilted but still colorless. Buttery but not greasy. Everything about them is great. Now I just have to come up with some other things to make that use onion confit.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hard-Cooked Eggs in Russian Dressing

This may be the simplest recipe in the book, but I wasn't overly enthusiastic about making it. How good could hard-cooked eggs smothered in Russian dressing really be? Regardless, this isn't a 'make the recipes you think will be good' blog, it's a 'cook everything in the book' blog. So here we go.

The first thing you're going to need are some hard-cooked (boiled to me) eggs. Because this book and Keller himself are so incredibly thorough, there are instructions on exactly how to do this: Cover eggs with cold water, bring them to a boil, simmer for about a minute, and then turn off the heat and let the eggs just sit there for ten minutes. Put them immediately into an ice bath. I have made eggs this way twice now. The first time was kind of a mess, which I attribute to not cooling the eggs in the ice bath for long enough. They were pretty much impossible to peel. This time was much better, and everything turned out just as expected. Because these shots are so interesting, here are a couple of pictures:

Now that the eggs are taken care of, let's make some Russian dressing. I, like Wikipedia, had always thought Russian dressing was mayo and tomato based. Bouchon apparently does not believe in Wikipedia. This Russian dressing is mayo, chili sauce, shallots, parsley, chives, and lemon juice. So it's close, but we're trading chili sauce for ketchup.

Those are home-grown herbs. Aren't they great? I don't usually quote the book verbatim, but in this case they're incredibly complex so here they are:
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, mixing well. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop.
That's pretty tough, right? Here's what it looks like:
More great shots, right? Again, a direct quote for the difficult serving instructions:
Cut the hard-cooked eggs lengthwise in half and place them cut side down on a serving platter. Spoon the sauce generously over the eggs.

I didn't really think they were anything great, that's for sure. It tasted more or less like you would expect that combination of ingredients to taste. Obviously there were eggs, there was mayo, and there was chili sauce. Nothing spectacular, but you can make it in about four and half minutes, so maybe it's a good addition to an set of appetizers.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Croque Madame - Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich with a Fried Egg and Mornay Sauce

The recipe for croque madame is on page 101, as if to subtlety say "If you can't make this you're an idiot." Not to spoil the outcome before we even get started, but I am no idiot.

The ingredients here are about what you would expect from a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with eggs and cheese sauce:

Every single ingredient shows up in the name of the dish. That's a Cooking Bouchon first, for sure. Oh wait, we threw some butter in, because no recipe in the entire book leaves out the butter. Almost a Cooking Bouchon first. Just for the image-impaired, we have brioche*, butter, eggs, ham, Swiss cheese, and mornay sauce.

*I actually couldn't find brioche, so I had to settle for challah bread. It was still good, but I wish I had been able to try it with brioche. I had considered making some on my own using the recipe in the book and writing about it, but there is absolutely no way I could have done a better job than this.

Ok, time to get cooking. First step, preheat the oven to 375. I'm 1-1 at this point. Next up, lay four slices of bread out. 2-2. Divide the ham, and then the cheese among all four slices of bread, being careful not to let it extend over the edge of the bread.

3-3 and 4-4. This is a little different than I had ever made grilled ham and cheese before, but those were the days when I made peasant grilled ham and cheese. This was Croque Madame after all! Sorry, continuing...In those, lesser, days I would have put all of the meet and cheese on one slice of bread, then topped it with the other slice. The Bouchon way turned out at least as well, although it took a touch longer than my old way.

Before I started all of the sandwich grilling, I reheated the mornay sauce I had made the previous day. Then I melted a tablespoon of butter on a nonstick skillet, and added all four slices of bread to it.

This is the first time in this whole endeavor that I actually laughed at the recipe. Keller and the gang found it necessary to tell us that the bread should be added 'cheese side up'. Whew, good thing that's taken care of. All those years I could never understand why the bread was would never turn golden brown, but come to find out it's because I had the cheese side down. Damn.

I cooked them on the skillet until they were golden brown and then everything went into the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese. I was worried the bread would continue to cook and eventually burn, but it didn't.

Meanwhile, I had started cooking a couple of eggs in another skillet. In another first for me, I never flipped the eggs, only allowing the bottoms of the whites to set before also putting them in the oven to allow the tops to set. In another inspirational note, the recipe reads "We cook the eggs in 4 inch individual skillets". Well, sorry guys, I don't have a bunch of teeny-weeny individual skillets laying around so these eggs are going to be ugly. Deal with it.

Anyway, everything came out of the oven exactly as planned. The cheese was melted and the top of the eggs had set. I placed two of the slices of bread together, thus creating a sandwich. Then I did it again because there were two of us eating. Each sandwich was topped with an egg, and then I spooned the mornay sauce around the whites of the egg. Done!

Let me tell you, this was good. And easy. Good and easy. It even looks really good. It was like the best grilled ham and cheese you've ever eaten topped with a very good egg and some cream and more cheese. It doesn't get much better. It's also a very rich, so a single sandwich is about all you need if you have a side dish of some sort. I whipped the whole thing up in half and hour too, so it qualifies to be the star of a Rachel Ray episode. Double bonus! I think I'm going to go make it again right now.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Roasted Beet and Mache Salad with Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

Beets seem to be one of the reoccurring ingredients here at Cooking Bouchon. First there was roasted beet salad, and now this. If you have read the other post, you'll soon figure out that this one was much better. There's not going to be too many pictures here, so read carefully.

The ingredients are fairly simple, although there are quite a few. We have walnuts, baby beets, olive oil, red wine vinegar, mache lettuce, shallots, chives, chervil, tarragon, parsley, some delicious walnut vinaigrette, and fresh goat cheese.

Just the herbs alone will set you back $15 if you don't have some growing on your windowsill. Lucky for me, we have herbs growing on just about every windowsill. Unlucky for me, none of them are called tarragon or chervil. 50% ain't bad.

I toasted the walnuts for about seven minutes to make them nice and tasty. To be honest, the first time I toasted them for ten minutes just like the book says to and they ended up nice and burnt. While the second batch was toasting, I cleaned and trimmed the beets and tossed them in some olive oil, some water, salt, and pepper. They went into a covered pan and into the oven for about an hour. Oh, you think I'm an idiot? I covered the pan after I put the beets in, thanks.

I employed the Thomas Keller beet peeling technique after they were done and had cooled for a few minutes. I put them in a paper towel and rubbed the skin right off. It's pretty easy even if it does leave you with what would appear to be a murder scene cover up in your trash can. Once they were peeled, I cut them into quarters and tossed them will a little more salt and pepper, some olive oil, and vinegar.

For the mache, which is one of the better lettuces I've had, I tossed it with the herbs and shallots and some of the walnut vinaigrette. The recipe called for tossing it with only a tablespoon of vinaigrette (which I thought was ludicrously little), but it was just about right.

Now it's time for assembly. I made a nice little mound of mache in the middle of the plate, and surrounded it with the walnuts, beets, and goat cheese. I also sprinkled some more vinaigrette around the outside of the plate.

It was pretty incredibly good for a simple salad. The goat cheese we bought was very good, and when mixed with the nuts and beets it was perfect. The vinaigrette was tart but not overwhelmingly so and the mache was neither overpowering nor underwhelming. All in all, a pretty great salad.