Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lifesavers: Pickled Cauliflower, Pickled Carrots, Red Onion-Cranberry Marmalade, Quince Paste

Sorry for the delay in posting; I wanted to get a post up before Thanksgiving as my wife and I were heading to Las Vegas on Black Friday for a long weekend. I have a couple of dishes on which to report - so I should be back to a normal schedule for the next couple of weeks. Expect another delay around Christmas/New Year as I will be traipsing across the eastern half of the United States as I visit family in three states.

These three lifesavers (as they are called in the book) were all done in one day and they were all straightforward and easy to complete. The hardest part of these recipes was finding canning jars in November. I tried Wal-Mart. No luck. The grocery store? No. Hardware store? Sorry pal, we just put out our holiday displays, no room for canning supplies. The craft store? Success! Kinda. Our local craft store only had one size and no swing-top lids whatsoever. So I was stuck with what they had. You'll notice the shortcomings later in the post. (Edit: I'll be damned! Found a full shelf of canning supplies at Wegmans today (12.6.09) right next to the shaving cream aisle. Obviously.)

Pickled Cauliflower and Carrots

Let's start with the pickled cauliflower. Here is the mise en place:

The mix is pretty simple: water, champagne vinegar, sugar and Piment d'Espelette (a slightly smoky, slightly spicy, not-quite-paprika-not-quite-chili-pepper spice that I picked up from the Savory Spice Shop in Colorado (via mail order). The ingredients for the pickling solution are combined in a saucepan and warmed until the sugar dissolves:

I then started to break down the cauliflower looking for uniformly sized pieces that would blanch at the same rate; the book suggests pieces the size of a quarter. I perhaps got a little obsessive about this step, but I think it paid off in the end. However, my kitchen looked like a cauliflower massacre - parts and pieces everywhere. Those leftover parts and pieces make a mighty fine soup or gratin though...

Tee uniformly sized pieces are blanched and drained, added to the jar (warm) and the pickling liquid is poured over. The jar if left to cool on the counter, then put into the fridge for up to a month of storage.

This shot gives you a nice look at the Piment d'Espelette in the solution:

Onto the carrots. Just as easy, just as straightforward. The carrots are flavored with curry and jalapeño and the same basic pickling liquid of champagne vinegar, sugar and water. The carrots in my garden were not quite ready for picking, so I was stuck with grocery store carrots. The large carrots were a little too big and a little to not-so-fresh looking. Luckily, Wegmans has baby vegetables on a fairly regular basis - here are the baby carrots bisected, ready to be pickled:

After cutting the carrots, the yellow curry powder is toasted in a dry pan before the pickling liquid is added:

The 1/4 jalapeno is added to the warm liquid along with the carrots and they are simmered for a couple of minutes to soften he carrots and dissolve the sugar.

Remember when I said there was only one jar size available at the craft store. Here is that shortcoming I promised before:

I guess I could have made more pickling liquid, but I didn't need a full recipe worth and I didn't want any extra curry pickling liquid around and then i would have had to add like an eighth of a jalapeno. Not difficult, but in my mind I wanted to get onto the quince paste, so I skipped it. I also figured that since these were not sitting on the shelf but rather in the refrigerator for the rest of their little lives, I didn't have to worry about mold and spoilage.

Red Onion-Cranberry Marmalade

I was a little hesitant about this flavor combination. I have not really heard cranberry and onion as a classic taste, but knowing that red onions have a nice sweetness when they are cooked down, I thought this would be a nice lifesaver to give a try and to have in the refrigerator.

I also wanted to cook a jam, jelly or marmalade on my marathon lifesaver cooking day. I have a very distinct food memory of making grape jelly in my grandmother's kitchen as a kid. We used to go to her farm in Missouri every summer from age 5 until age 11. We would go for a month at the end of the summer right before we had to return home to Chicago for school. When the grapes were ripe, Grandma would assemble all the cousins together to help smash the grapes (by hand), add the sugar and pectin and help jar the bounty. I have never made any sort of jam or jelly since - thus, I am very excited that I will have the opportunity to make the ones in the book.

Onto the onions and cranberries (dried in this case):

The red onion-cranberry marmalade starts with red onions cooked over low heat for 30 minutes:

The rest of the ingredients for this dish include apple pectin (a hard-to-find ingredient that I purchased from Sotiros Foods in Chicago via mail order), apple juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, granulated sugar and orange zest.

The cranberries are added to the cooking onions followed by the sugars, pectin, apple juice and cider vinegar.

The mixture was then brought up to 215 degrees and put into the one-size-fits-all crafts store jar.

I put a small amount on a plate so you could see the texture and color of this marmalade. It is a deep red color that is hard to capture in the jar.

Quince Paste

The final creation on my Lifesaver Day was quince paste. Prior to this recipe, I'm not sure I could have picked quince out of a crowd. I am not sure I have ever had them before and I'm certain that I have never cooked with them before. Luckily, the fine folks at Wegmans had several California grown in stock. I had actually been looking trying to catch them in season but had not had any success finding them locally (both locally grown and locally sourced). They magically appeared one day in November, I bought all of them, and I have not seen them since. I should say that I have kept an eye at Whole Foods as well and didn't have any luck when I was there in September and October.

For the other quince virgins out there, take a look:

Kinda homely looking if you ask me. They look almost like a pear without a neck. I found the flesh to be more spongy rather than dense and juicy like a pear or apple. These were not juicy at all, they had a dry-ish texture that reminded me more of cutting into the kitchen sponge rather than a delicious fruit.

The recipe calls for a sachet (I used cheesecloth this time) of cinnamon, star anise and clove. The sachet is added to a pot of water containing the quinces and a vanilla bean.

The quinces are cooked until tender and then pureed:

The quince is measured after being pureed in order to measure the quantity of sugar needed for the next step.

The puree, sugar and some lemon juice are added to a clean pot, brought to a simmer (simmering quince and sugar is like lava), and simmered for several hours until the quince is thick and a deep red color.

Many hours later:

The lava, um, quince is then put into a baking dish and placed in a low, low oven in order to dry.

Once dry, the paste easily holds its shape and can be sliced and served with cheese, in this case, Manchego and Brie. Keller puts the shelf life on the paste at 6 months in the refrigerator.

Tasting Notes

The pickles: I have never been much of a sweet pickle fan. I find both of these recipes to have more sweetness than my tastes can handle. I also thought that the flavoring agents (Piment d'Espelette, curry, jalapeño) would have more of an impact on the final flavors than they did. I also like the combination of curry and carrot, but the flavor is lost in the vinegar and sugar. Perhaps the flavor will develop as the pickles hang out in the fridge for a while. Unfortunately, these items aren't flying out of the jar at this point.

The red onion-cranberry marmalade: I was initially worried that I would never use such a condiment. I have made a fair share of onion confit-type sides that I have always likes, but I didn't know how the orange zest and apple juice would all work out. Not to mention that I was all but convinced that I would screw up something with the apple pectin and I would end up with something that more resembled a hard candy rather than a jam or marmalade. But, to my surprise, I didn't screw it up and the flavors really work well together. A little savory with the onion, a little sweet with the cranberry, a little tart with the cider vinegar. The first application was as a condiment to a little pork tenderloin and cauliflower gratin (told you I would use those leftovers). It kicked ass. I loved it, my wife loved it. We had to break the jar back out of the fridge mid-meal to refill our plates. This stuff really worked with pork, I could see how it would work well with duck confit and a variety of other applications. This one's a winner.

The quince paste: I don't care if I boiled gym socks for 45 minutes in a pot of water with a vanilla bean and three aromatic spices, they would probably be edible. However, take a fruit that is known for its floral qualities, add those same ingredients and it is bound to be a hit. As expected, this recipe is very good. In addition, this was a great way for quince and I to get to know one another. This paste goes great with all kinds of cheeses and adds a fancy touch to an otherwise pedestrian cheese board. The flavors evolve in your mouth: first sweet, then floral (with hints of vanilla), then spicy (cinnamon, clove and star anise spice, not cayenne). It is really, really nice and is something I will no doubt make again. Not to mention the darn thing lasts SIX MONTHS in the fridge (if you can stretch it that long - we ate half of ours in a month).

Next Up: Pan Roasted Chicken with Sweet Sausage and Peppers

Champagne Vinegar from Whole Foods
Piment d'Espelette from Savory Spice Shop
Apple Pectin from Sotiros Foods
Quince from Wegmans

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Post Coming Soon

Sorry for the delay - a combination of a nasty work schedule and an extended Thanksgiving holiday has put me behind in my posting by a few days. I should have a post up this week and another next week - no more hiccups until Christmas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Grilled Asparagus with prosciutto, fried bread, poached egg, and aged balsamic vinegar

Look at the title of this recipe.

I love asparagus all by itself - but add prosciutto, crispy croutons, a poached egg and aged balsamic - you have my attention. And, as a bonus, it's as easy to make as it sounds: poach the egg, cook the asparagus, warm the croutons, assemble.

This was actually a recipe of leftovers for me. It worked as a natural progression from the Cauliflower Soup recipe and the Roasted Beet Salad with soft-cooked eggs recipe because I already had the fried bread croutons (from the soup) and I had some leftover Stone Barns eggs (from the roasted beet salad).

Keller calls for pencil-thin asparagus - these were pretty close, perhaps a touch thicker. I snapped one of the bunch, then cut the rest of the asparagus to remove the woody ends. I also peeled the bottom half of each asparagus as directed in the recipe - I actually have made a habit out of peeling the stalks whenever I make asparagus. It makes them more tender in any preparation. It is a quick little tip that can really make a difference.

Next step was poaching the eggs. Keller is very specific about how he wants this done. Simmering, acidulated water is stirred TWICE (not once, not thrice) to create a small vortex and the egg is dropped in.

I never make poached eggs, so I was not necessarily comfortable with just banging these eggs out - I took Keller at his word and followed the recipe exactly. I will admit that the two-pot-stir technique worked very well. I will also admit that I did one of the eggs stirring the pot three times and there was no substantial difference. I'm a rebel. After 90 seconds in the water, the egg is removed to an ice bath (not that icy, I know. I kinda forgot to make sure I was stocked up).

I'm not telling which one was stirred three times.

With the eggs resting in the ice bath in the refrigerator, I moved onto grilling the asparagus. Except it was raining. And I don't have a grill pan (I think they are useless - guess I'm wrong). So I sauteed them.


C'mon, it's not that big of a substitution. I put a fair amount of carmelization on them in the pan (yeah that overcrowded pan below).

Alright. Fine.

I promise to make this again when I can grill the asparagus.

There, I said it. Happy?

Now for the assembly. The egg whites are trimmed with scissors to make them presentable and then re-warmed for thirty seconds in simmering water. I took the croutons out of the oven, arranged the prosciutto, asparagus and eggs then distributed the croutons. The eggs got a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a few cranks of pepper.

It should be noted that I added the aged balsamic and olive oil after I photographed the plate. Do not forget this addition as the olive oil adds a nice peppery bite and the aged balsamic adds the sweet-tart note that is a nice balance to all the richness of the eggs.

Take a look:

The sample presentation is one of my absolute favorites in the entire book; it is really hard to make this dish and not want to try to emulate Keller's plating.

This salad is the real deal. It has everything going for it. Salty (prosciutto), sweet (asparagus and balsamic), tart (balsamic), richness (eggs and olive oil), and texture (croutons). It is also surprisingly filling - yet another example where my wife and I had every plan to have a protein along with this meal, but after eating this salad, we were satiated. No need for anything else. I am really impressed when a salad is able to satisfy my hunger. This one earns CleanPlateClub status.

I also like this recipe because it looks elegant. I mean, it is elegant, but it really looks like something special. It is a perfect easy impress-your-friends kind of dish. It has individual components for easy plating in single-serving or family style portions and a dramatic, colorful presentation that is easy on the eyes.

Asparagus from Wegmans
Prosciutto from Wegmans
Eggs From Stone Barns via NA Market
Torn Crouton leftovers
Balsamic Vinegar from Whole Foods
Fleur de Sel from The Spice House

Thursday, November 12, 2009

AHaH Press, News and Notes

Just a quick update as the good news keeps rolling in about Ad Hoc at Home. First, according to Michael Ruhlman, AHaH has made it to #7 on the New York Times bestseller list. Wow. Such a distinction speaks to the widespread appeal and accessibility of this book - it tells me that the recipes/difficulty are exactly what people are looking for and that many, many people are pleased with the quality of the book and the word-of-mouth is spreading like crazy.

In addition, Ruhlman posted one of several YouTube videos released by Workman Publishing. The videos are brief anecdotes including tips for the home cook, information about the lightbulb moments included in the book as well as some of his favorite recipes. In his Ad Hoc post Ruhlman also does an excellent job of recognizing the "non-Thomases" that made a contribution to the entire Ad Hoc at Home package.

If you haven't yet seen (heard) the NPR interview with Keller, you can find the interview audio and four recipes here. I'm actually somewhat surprised (impressed?) with the variety of recipes being released from this book. The promotional mailer for the book included recipes for chocolate chip cookies and pineapple upside-down cake, caramelized sea scallops and leek bread pudding. The New York Times published recipes for Chicken with Tarragon and Leek Bread Pudding; Helen Rosner (Grub Street) published the Mar i Mutanya recipe; Today Show has the recipe for the fried chicken; NPR printed the recipes for caramelized sea scallops, iceberg lettuce slices, rainbow chard and brownies. Edit: Just found this recipe for the Blowtorch Prime Rib.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Red Beet Chips

So maybe beets aren't my thing, but there is one veggie with which I have a love affair:

Cauliflower. As a kid, I couldn't stand the stuff - mainly because we were a broccoli family. Cauliflower looked like a bad impostor to my trusted (and tasty!) broccoli. It really wasn't until recently that I started to get along with cauliflower. First, we became friends, then more than friends; now, me and cauliflower, we're tight.

Keller already has his cauliflower hooks in me from the Bouchon Cookbook. The recipe for Cauliflower Gratin is fabulous. That dish is in a consistent rotation at my house - we are averaging twice per month right now. The secret ingredient in the gratin dish is the same secret ingredient in this cauliflower soup: yellow curry powder.

Butter, leeks, onion, cauliflower (with some florets reserved for garnish), salt, and the curry powder are added to the pot and cooked over medium heat for about 20 minutes under a parchment lid.

After the twenty minutes, the vegetables are starting to soften and the soup is ready for the dairy.

After thirty more minutes of cooking, the mixture is quite broken down and ready for a spin in the blender. The book recommends a Vita-Mix (if Santa is listening, the book recommends a Vita-Mix); I slummed it with my Kitchen-Aid and got an acceptable result.

The book warns that the soup is thick; as you can clearly see below it is very thick. I needed to thin it out slightly as it was more like a pudding than a soup. A darn delicious pudding, though.

Once the soup is complete, the next step was to make the garnishes for the final presentation. The garnishes for the soup are torn croutons and red beet chips (I am getting back on the red beet horse). The torn croutons are fried in the oil from the garlic confit:

The reserved cauliflower florets are blanched in salted and acidulated water until tender. Such a technique is similar to the technique that we have seen throughout - individually executed components combined at the last moment to make a final composed dish where each layer stands out because of the precise execution.

After they are drained, the florets are sauteed until golden brown:

The last step is to slice beet chips on the mandoline in preparation for frying. You'll notice the gloves which I think made mandoline slicing more treacherous. At one point, the beet went flying out of my hand, shot across the counter, onto the floor missing the dog's forehead by about three inches. While a red stain on the dog's head might sound funny, I would have been a dead man. The jury is still out on the rubber gloves.

The chips were fried in hot oil until the beets are crisp and the bubbling subsides. The beet chips are drained and finished with salt.

The composition starts with the sauteed cauliflower, the creamy soup, torn croutons and beet chips. The soup is topped with olive oil and ground pepper. I finally got my lighting situation somewhat under control and I was able to capture some nice images:

Verdict? Un-fricking-believable. Keller describes this soup as unctuous, velvety, elegant and satisfying. Yep, yep, yep and yep. The curry adds a nice savory spice note to offset some of the sweetness of the cauliflower but the curry is not overpowering. The sauteed cauliflower florets add a nice subtle texture while the crouton and beet chips add a firmer crunch to the soup. The garlic confit oil in which the croutons were fried did not overwhelm the dish - the garlic flavor is very soft.

What about the beets? We've made up. The beet chips are sweet, salty, beautiful, and they add a nice texture to the soup. They don't add a flavor profile that the dish needs to be successful, but they do add to a striking presentation that would make the dish perfect for company. I am staring to run out of adjectives to describe the dishes that are coming out of this book. This particular soup is definitely going to make its way into the rotation at my house.

Locally grown cauliflower, dairy, bread for croutons from Wegmans
Curry Powder from The Spice House
Beets from NA Market

(Edit 11/10/09 to add sources)