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)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Behind the Curtain

I am jealous of Helen Rosner; really jealous. She was able to peek behind the curtain at Ad Hoc as she and chef de cuisine Dave Cruz made a dish from the cookbook.

Rosner, from Grub Street fame, has posted a photo step-by-step where she and chef Cruz make Chicken Mar i Mutanya. Rosner does a nice job of letting us know when Chef Cruz deviates from the printed recipe as well as noting some of chef Cruz's useful tips along the way. There is also a link for a printable version of the recipe and another link with behind-the-scenes photos. If you are interested (as you should be), the link is below:

Next Up: Cauliflower Soup

Monday, November 2, 2009

Roasted Beet and Potato Salad with soft-cooked egg, smoked salmon, and mustard vinaigrette

I don't like beets.

Actually, I don't know if I like beets or not because I avoid them. I'm not sure I've ever even eaten a beet - any beet - let alone one of the three varieties needed for this recipe. But, while at the New Amsterdam Market, I saw these beauties - red and chioggia varieties:

While at the market I also purchased a dozen eggs from Stone Barns and I wanted to use them in a way that would show them off - not scrambled or in a quiche. The last component I needed were marble potatoes. I was not able to find the marble variety so I substituted baby white, yukon gold and red bliss potatoes from the grocery. In reality, this recipe came together naturally because of the great ingredients available at the market. I love that.

This recipe, like a lot of others in the book, requires each individual component to be cooked and seasoned separately and assembled to create the final presentation. I have mentioned before that these are not one-pot dishes; by giving each ingredient individualized attention, each ingredient is going to shine in the finished product. Such construction will be a common theme as this project progresses. I started by roasting the beets (each variety roasted separately, of course):

Once cooked, I let the beets cool before I peeled and cut them into bite-size pieces. I don't have pictures of this process because I was trying not to stain my hands/kitchen/everything with red beet juice. I peeled them with paper towels and managed not to get too much staining on my hands. I was pretty proud of myself but, knowing my luck wouldn't last, I went to Walgreens to buy latex gloves for my next beet preparation.

Step Two: Eggs. I took the huge, beautiful Stone Barns eggs and cooked them according to the "soft-cooked" instructions (I usually give my eggs ten minutes in the hot tub for regular hard boiled - the recipe called for seven minutes).

After they spent seven minutes in the water I put them into an ice bath to cool. Once thoroughly cool, I peeled them under running water and stored them in the refrigerator:

Step Three: Potatoes. The recipe calls for each variety of potato to be cooked separately (obviously). However, I did not have purple potatoes that could potentially discolor the other non-blue potatoes, so I cooked them all together. Also, the potato water was seasoned with salt and a sachet (a bouquet garni of sorts). The sachet is supposed to be wrapped in cheesecloth and removed after cooking. I didn't have any cheesecloth and figured that I could pick the potatoes cleanly from the sachet ingredients, so I skipped this step. In retrospect, it would have been easier if I had used the cheesecloth - but it was not totally necessary. I will tell you that I snacked on a few of the cooked potatoes before I plated the final dish and they were good. This treat-each-ingredient-separately idea is pretty ingenious (and delicious).

Step Four: Vinaigrette. This is a pretty straightforward mustard vinaigrette with champagne vinegar, mustard, extra virgin olive oil and it is finished with some whole grain mustard so you know what you're eating.

Step Five: Assembly. Lettuce, potatoes, beets, eggs and dressing. The potatoes are tossed in a little dressing before being added to the salad.

The recipe calls for the salad to be built in layers:

The finished salad - sorry for the terrible light. I'm working on it. I promise. But look at that salad - colorful, complex, fresh, smoky (with the salmon):

So, how was it?

Not exactly CleanPlateClub status, but close. My wife and I started eating this salad thinking that we would have another component of our dinner - I had some skirt steak marinating in the fridge - but after this dish, we were full. Not stuffed, but satisfied. It was rich enough with the smoked salmon; the potatoes were tasty and filling. But this salad was not my favorite. Not to say that it was nasty or terrible, just not get-the-defibrillator good.

Some of the problems were my creation:

See those nasty yolks? My fault. I should have cooked the eggs longer than the seven minutes suggested. These were very large eggs, but I didn't want to overcook them. I wimped out and second-guessed myself. Dammit.

Regarding those Stone Barns eggs - the yolks were orange, not yellow. My always eloquent wife said, "Holy Crap! Those yolks are like, neon orange." In her defense, they really were remarkable - even more than other farmer's market free-range eggs I've gotten in the past.

However, I don't think properly cooked eggs would have saved or made the salad. They would have added a certain richness and cut some of the sharpness of the mustard vinaigrette, but still, the earthiness of the beets was too overpowering for my beet-virgin palate. While I preferred the chioggias to the red beets, I would not say that I "liked" either of them. The smoked salmon was a nice touch. This salad would have been a complete pass without it.

Most likely, I will not be making this preparation again. But I did give it a try and now I know for sure:

I do not like beets.

Beets from NA Market: 2.89/lb.
Salad Greens from my garden
Smoked Salmon from Wegmans
Potatoes from Wegmans
Eggs from Stone Barns: 5/doz.