Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cucumber Salad with Mustard and Dill

From "The Whole Beast"

Very easy salad. Vinaigrette was very tasty, the mustard was present but not overwhelming. The the technique that was interesting which I had never heard of before was to toss the cucumbers in some salt and place them over a sieve; this would pull moisture out and make the cucumbers crunchier, plus it would salt them.

I think this salad is meant to be eaten with something else. I cannot see making a meal out of just cucumbers, tossed in a vinaigrette and dill.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Deconstructed Piccalilli

From "The Whole Beast", page 22.

This salad, besides being fun to say, is one of my favorites. It is is one of the items from this book that I have made often in the past. One of the reasons I like it is because it contains no lettuce, which is the one food that makes me feel like I am eating rabbit feed. But also the balance of salt, brine, tartness, richness and the texture, which is almost pure crunch. Plus, it is very easy to make.

Ideally it is dressed about 30 minutes before eating, which helps the vinaigrette cling properly onto the vegetables.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Snails and Oak Leaf Lettuce

From "The Whole Beast", page 21.
I have to come clean here: I find the though of eating snails revolting. I can eat conch no problem at all... in fact I love conch. So, not sure why, I have a problem with it's land cousin. Maybe it's the slime... the poop (which, these critters can produce plenty of during purging. What? You didn't know they had to be purged? If they weren't, you'd be eating snail poop). And it also has to do that I place them in the bug category, as ignorant as that may be, they are bugs to me. Which is contradictory for me even more, because I have eaten bugs and lots of them. In Mexico, where I am from, they are abundant and readily available in all shapes, sizes and forms. I have eaten grasshoppers, agave worms, ant eggs, etc. But I think it is also the sheer size of these babies. It's like a clam. I have eaten snails before too, when I was a kid and restaurants that were "fancy" and French back in the 80's would all serve them in their shells with plenty of butter, garlic and parsley. But that's all you tasted. There was no distinguishable snail taste.

They smelled delicious while cooking with the shallots, garlic and red wine. There was no "snail" aroma wafting from the pot, so that was a good start.

Once the ingredients were all tossed together, I tasted one of the leaves of lettuce, and it was pretty darn good. The next step was to taste a snail. It wasn't so bad. It reminded me of wet earth and fallen leaves. Which is, I suppose their living quarters.

I think I can do without snails for the rest of my life and not feel a craving for them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Breakfast radishes and butter

From "The Whole Beast"

It does not get any easier than this. Breakfast radishes and butter. I have tried them before, and I just didn't get it and I have to admit I still don't. Why would you eat radishes with butter? What does the butter add to the radish and vice versa?

There's not much you can do to this dish, so I made a quenelle of the butter and sprinkled some flake salt coated in ash. It was alright, but no big revelation. Not that everything has to be a revelation, but this was just underwhelming. And there it is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Grilled Jerusalem Artichoke, Red Onion and Olives

From "The Whole Beast", page 19

No, I am not done with soups yet. There are two missing: the Pumpkin and Bacon soup (waiting till fall for Pumpkin season) and Cock-a-leekie (say that with a straight face), which calls for brisket, which needs to be brined for at least 10 days. So this Thursday or Friday it's 10 days are up.
Jerusalem artichoke, which is not originally from Jerusalem (anyone know the origin of this tuber?), and is not even close to being an artichoke, was an ingredient I had never worked with before. I have had it in soups and as chips, but never grilled. They taste and smell very similar to an artichoke (hence it's name, I know, but it should be noted for those who have never seen or eaten it), but are closer to a potato I would say.

I cannot overstate the deliciousness of this salad, and I am not a huge salad fan. I eat it because I have to and I resent their existence for that. I always feel like I am eating rabbit food.
This is a well though out combination of ingredients and temperatures that is beyond words. The sweetness and heartiness of the roasted onions, the nuttiness of the grilled Jerusalem artichokes, the bite of the watercress, the brine of the olives, and, as F.H. puts it"...and parsley (parsley acts as a great marrier of disparate parts in a salad, the dating agency of the salad world). The dressing is a very straightforward vinaigrette, doing its job to tie it all in and add some acidity and richness. I don't think I did so bad with this salad. Again, the recipes are spot on, except I would have mentioned that the grilled Jerusalem artichokes should be cut down to bite size pieces, since they can be quite long, and you don't want to eat your salad with a knife.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New Season Garlic and Bread Soup

From "The Whole Beast", page 16

It really doesn't get easier than this. Basically you boil (then simmer) whole heads of garlic with chicken stock until the garlic is tender (about 45 minutes on low heat... covered). Pass the garlic through a food mill (or ricer), return the resulting pate to the broth and then season. Serve with dried day old white bread.
I have two observations though:
I think the recipe requires more than the amount of chicken stock it calls for, especially considering that it is supposed to be for 6 people. To which I should add that the recipe should also mention that while the soup is simmering is should be covered to reduce any evaporation, since you have so little broth to begin with.
Finally, I wish I was clear on what it means to use white it Wonder bread or just a lean dough? I used the guts of a loaf of Pugliese bread, which is a classic Italian bread, white as snow on the inside. Since I made this soup without reading ahead, I had no day old bread which is what it recommends, so I just cubed the guts of the Pugliese (by guts I mean the crumb without the crust) and tossed them in a dehydrator for about 30 minutes until they felt like day old bread.
It is important when eating this soup to make sure the bread goes in at the very last minute so that you can in fact have a secondary texture. You can of course go the opposite way and let the bread absorb all of the broth (note: dry old bread absorbs moisture faster than fresh bread, which is why day old bread is recommended for making French toast since it will absorb more custard than fresh bread), which turns into whole nother soup than what you started with. I very much appreciate how simple and straight forward this soup is, and I would make it again. What would I add or do differently? Well, definitely add more broth to begin with (I ended up adding more broth as the soup cooked) and cover it while it simmers. I don't know about adding anything, but I think this could be really nice with a fried egg on top.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Onion Soup and Bone Marrow Toast

From "The Whole Beast", page 13

One of the things I have not mentioned about FH is that he can be hilarious. Here's a quote from the footnote on the page this recipe is on:

"Curly Parsley: As the swish, swish, swish of bunches of flat Italian parsley is to be heard in kitchens across the land, it seems time to celebrate the strength and character of the indigenous curly parsley."

Anyway. I am a huge fan of bone marrow, especially the one served at Blue Ribbon in NYC. It is served with an oxtail and onion marmalade and toasted challah bread. Amazing. Especially after a few Martinis, I am not going to lie. So needless to say I was extremely excited about this soup. It is a regular onion soup, up until you have to add a bottle of apple cider (the alcoholic cider, not the cloudy apple juice). I was hesitant at first, because I thought it would just make the whole thing bitter. But as it was cooking the whole kitchen had a wonderful oniony-apple-y aroma. When I tasted it, it was the best onion soup I had ever tasted (it used to be the onion soup at Bouchon, but this one takes the prize for my money).

The recipe recommends to top the marrow with "a healthy topping of parsley, dropped in the dump-truck style (rather than sprinkled)..." And so I did.

The recipe method was spot on to the last detail, except I keep wondering what he means by white bread? This the second recipe that calls for it (the other is the "new season garlic and bread soup" to be posted soon). I wonder if he knows that white bread here in the U.S. is crappy Wonder bread? I think he may mean like a lean dough such as baguette or ciabatta. Unless they happen to have Wonder bread in England which is entirely possible for all I know. But I just can't see it being used as an actual ingredient. So I used a slice of our baguette.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leek, Potato and Oyster Soup

From "The Whole Beast", page 12.

First of all, I have to say that this is the first savory food cookbook I have ever cooked out of. Savory food... desserts and bread are another story completely. It is ironic, considering that I have a large collection of cook books with pretty pictures, and this one has no pictures. But it is also remarkable how accurate the recipes are and how well they have worked for me so far. It is not complicated and it is so straightforward that it almost would seem that something is missing, and yet it is not.
This recipe recommends using most of the leeks, including the green part. I usually have only known the white part to be used. But as you can see from the picture, the soup is very vibrant green. That could not have been done without the green leafy part.
It also seemed that there was way too much leek. 9 pieces total, which is why I chose smaller leeks as opposed to big fatties. It turned out to be just the right amount.

The soup is easily done in very little time. The flavor is intense and the texture smooth and velvety. I have to say, that I didn't "get" the oyster part. I enjoyed the actual soup tremendously, but the two sad oysters sitting in the bowl did very little for me. I mean, look at how sad and lonely they look in the bowl just above. So I took the liberty of shucking five more oysters, coating them simply with bread flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and then deep frying them. I was happier with the texture they added, and to find more than two of them in the bowl. Is it wrong that I enjoyed my version a little more? Did I miss something? I mean, the oysters were very fresh, plump and flavorful on their own, but I think I may have missed something that was a little to subtle for my palate. Besides, I love fried oysters.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pea and Pig's Ear Soup

From "The Whole Beast", page 10.

The hardest part was to actually secure the pig's ears. Even just two of them. It seems that there is a fairly large market for them in China. I would be lying if I told you I know why. If anyone knows, I would love to know.

First of all, if you have never seen or touched pig's ears, it is very disconcerting. They are big and they used to be on a pig's head. Obviously, but this is for real. It has veins running through it, hairs (which you must singe with a torch before cooking them), a thin cartilage that runs all throughout it (see photo below) and unidentifiable stomach-churning gunk.
Needless to say, I washed those babies well.

The recipe calls for either a ham stock (the liquid in which you boiled a ham) or a ham bone and other aromatics. I chose the ham stock, which I made. No rocket science here: you basically boil the ham and use the resulting liquid, skimming every now and then.
After that, all I had to do was cook the dry peas with a couple of onions and the pig ears in the ham stock. Towards the end of the cooking process I found that I needed to add some more ham stock to adjust the consistency (this is advice given in the recipe) since it was getting way to thick. It had a very good consistency, creamy with still a few discernible pieces of cooked pea. I pulled the ears and the onions out and then turned the heat down to low and kept the soup covered.

I rinsed the ears off and cooled them down. Then I cut them into a thin julienne. It is remarkable how gelatinous they were, even leaving a film on my hands that took a while to rinse off. I fried them until they were crisp. I had never had a fried pig ear in my life. It was good but even though I fried it well, it wasn't 100% crisp like bacon is. It was crisp, don't get me wrong, just not as much as I would have thought. But then I realized that just because it comes from the same animal it doesn't mean the end result will have the same texture. The cartilage may have had something to do with that. But in the end it worked well with the hot pea soup, adding a crisp/chewy consistency. I did add, as the recipe recommends, some of the ham I used to make the ham stock as garnish for the soup.

It is amazing to me how much flavor the ham stock adds. I didn't even have to add salt. My conclusion is that the soup came out well, and the recipe, although simple, yields very good results.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Second try

I was able to get a good bunch of what is known as garlic chives, which are a member of the garlic family, specifically alliums (onion, shallots, leeks, ramps, etc. are all in the allium family). But they are not garlic as we generally know it. It is similar to regular chives but it has a flat blade and a bulb that almost looks like a baby leek (see photo below). It has a strong garlic flavor without the bite of raw garlic.

I believe this is what the recipe calls for when it asks for wild garlic leaves. As a recap, I am referring to the recipe on page 11 of "The Whole Beast", for "Chicken Broth and Wild Garlic". It asks for a bundle of wild garlic leaves. These were certainly wild since I harvested them with my own hands and they are definitely leaves. So I am just going with it as the right ingredient.
The actual "broth" is really a clarified stock, known as consomme to you and me.

This attempt spurred a rather fortunate twist. I thought of putting the piping hot soup in a hermetic jar with the garlic chives coarsely chopped to let the ingredients "get to know each other" faster and better than just sitting in a soup bowl. It seemed to make a big difference in the impact of the flavor of the garlic on the stock. In the first try (see posting below) you only tasted the garlic if it was in your mouth an boy was is present. In this case, the whole consomme was infused with a generous punch of garlic, without drowning the flavor and aroma of the actual consomme. I was quite content with the results. It was much better than the first try by far. I wonder if this could be better if I made the first soup with the garlic scapes in this way, with the hermetic jar, letting the flavors become better acquainted? Or maybe it would be too strong. Just garlic and no consomme.
In any case I think this was a good end result and I am moving on to the next recipe.

Friday, June 5, 2009

First try

This is a very simple soup that quickly became complicated. As a pastry chef I have to switch gears when cooking savory food, since the world of control, exactitude and precision that I am used to is often eschewed in cooking, and sometimes it is mostly about what you know from actual experience (technique, method, execution) than from what a recipe says; or maybe I just need to get over it and admit that I can do better... which I should and will.
This recipe is for "Chicken Broth with Wild Garlic" (from "The Whole Beast", page 11). I used garlic scapes, since they are in season and I initially thought that that was what FH was referring to, but I have the suspicion that they are not the same as garlic leaves. Garlic scapes are incredibly intense, and eaten in their raw form are like eating garlic x 10, so I think they should be tamed by blanching them slightly. The recipe calls for fresh leaves, so this is why I am thinking I may have used the incorrect product.
My wife and I belong to a local CSA (The Poughkeepsie Farm Project) and they definitely have garlic just starting to sprout as well as garlic chives, so I will be able to re-test this "simple" soup on Monday.
I think I can do better than I did with my first try. I think the final item was good, maybe a 6 or 7 out of 10.
What I like about this soup is its subtle complexity. At a glance it is just consomme with a few garlic leaves. But the making of a consomme is truly complex and there is little room for error. I think the last time I made consomme was in 1996, during my final job as a cook. But what is also complex is that it is so simple you might just miss its greatness if you cannot appreciate how both components can complement each other so well and be so different at the same time. And I don't think this would have been the same with plain chicken stock. The consomme is sightly thick on the tongue, dense with flavor, intermittently interrupted by intense garlic.

Will this be very different on the next try? Maybe slightly, but knowing how to detect those differences is part of this project. Why would FH have chosen to use garlic leaves instead of scapes? There is probably a very good reason and I may find out what it is.